Apr 292019
 


Pablo Picasso Head and guitar 1927

 

Ron Chernow At Annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (G.)
Aaron Maté Shreds Rachel Maddow (RT)
Why Did Mueller Let Trump Off the Hook? (Mike Whitney)
Did the Russians Really Interfere in Our Elections? (Unz)
Warren Buffett Thinks Most Newspapers Are “Toast” (ZH)
Iran Appeals Directly To Trump: Your Advisers Drag You Into War (ZH)
IMF Warns Of Slowing Growth, Rising Unrest Across Middle East (CNBC)
UK Tories To Lose 800-1000 Seats In This Week’s Local Elections (G.)
Spanish Socialists Win Most Seats, Far Right Resurgent (G.)
Yellow Vests Mutilated By ‘Sublethal’ Police Weapons Unite (RT)
Conservative Bavaria Forces Bold Action on Protecting Nature (Yale)
Up To A Million Species Face Extinction, Many Within Decades – UN (AFP)

 

 

An“erudite defence of the freedom of the press” in front of almost all Washington reporters. And it doesn’t mention Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning even once.

To me, there is nothing more upsetting in our world today. These people care about themselves only, about their petty little freedom. The truth be damned. But they have no freedom if Assange doesn’t, it’s all or nothing. Or one could say they have the freedom to lie. And that’s the one thing Assange never did.

Ron Chernow At Annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (G.)

In Washington, Chernow, biographer of founding father Alexander Hamilton and former president Ulysses S Grant, delivered an eloquent and erudite defence of the freedom of the press with some subtle barbs, winning a standing ovation from an audience that quickly forgot any disappointment over the lack of a comedian this year. “We now have to fight hard for basic truths that we once took for granted,” said Chernow, who mentioned Trump by name only once in an address that framed the current presidency as just one chapter in America’s epic novel. He told how the first president, George Washington, often felt maligned and misunderstood by the press but never generalised that into a vendetta. “Relations between presidents and the press are inevitably tough, almost always adversarial, but they don’t need to be steeped in venom.”


The second president, John Adams, used laws to crack down on the media and lost his re-election campaign in 1800, Chernow continued. “Campaigns against the press don’t get your face carved into the rocks of Mount Rushmore, for when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy. The tribunal of history does not deal leniently with presidents who punish the free press.” Chernow insisted that, while America has taken some wrong turns throughout history, democracy has endured. He told how, towards the end of the civil war, a chastened but hopeful Abraham Lincoln, sitting at a campfire with Grant, quoted his secretary of state William Seward as saying: “There was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency.”

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Cute, nice, see the Twitter thread at the link, but I must wonder: why bother? You’re just giving her more to talk about.

Question should be: how can this nutcase still have a TV show? And why do people watch it? Is this what ‘freedom of the press’ has come to mean? The freedom to lie?!

Aaron Maté Shreds Rachel Maddow (RT)

Journalist Aaron Mate has eviscerated MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for peddling “Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, falsehoods & innuendo,” after Maddow threw a tantrum when YouTube dared to recommend an RT video. Mate, a longtime skeptic of the mainstream media’s beloved ‘Russiagate’ narrative, was the subject of a recent interview with RT. When MSNBC’s Russiagater-in-chief Rachel Maddow found out that YouTube’s algorithm had actually suggested the interview to viewers, she saw more Russian meddling and proclaimed the recommendation “death by algorithm.” Mate unloaded on Maddow on Sunday, systematically destroying the MSNBC host for her two years as “the leading purveyor of now debunked Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, falsehoods & innuendo.”

Buckle up. “Just recently you were caught in real-time lying to your audience,” he began. “You claimed Barr was handling the redactions by himself. But the chyron — on screen right below — told viewers the truth, that Mueller was in fact ‘assisting’ w/ the redactions.” With Maddow seemingly content to lie on live television, it fell upon her show’s producers to flash the truth on viewers’ screens. Mate then recalled the time Maddow suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the ‘pee tape’ (the most far-fetched allegation in the Democrat-commissioned, internet-sourced Steele dossier) to force Trump into withdrawing US troops stationed near Russia. Of course, this never happened, and Trump recently announced plans to ramp up deployments to Poland. A swing and a miss for Maddow.

[..]Despite peddling baseless conspiracies and flagrant Russophobia every night, Maddow remains one of the US’ most popular news anchors, and one of the best paid. The MSNBC host regularly vies with Fox News’ Sean Hannity for the top spot on the cable news ratings, and earns a cool $7 million per year for her work. Although Maddow has been perhaps the most fervent promoter of Russiagate hysteria on television, her ratings have clumped after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report put most of her theories to bed last month. Maddow’s show slipped from its number one position after the report dropped, and lost half a million viewers in the space of a week. Mate, although reporting to a far smaller audience, has received an Izzy Award for his “meticulous reporting” that “challenged the way the public was being informed about the Mueller investigation.”

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Whitney back in conspiracy mode.

Why Did Mueller Let Trump Off the Hook? (Mike Whitney)

[Mueller’s] assignment was undermine Trump’s moral authority by brandishing the cudgel of criminal indictment over his head. This is how a D.O.J. appointee, who had never held public office in his life, became the most powerful man in Washington. My question is simply this: Why did Mueller give up all that power when he did? I think I can answer that, but first, we need a little more background. Check out this quote from candidate Trump in 2016: “We will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past…We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments…. Our goal is stability not chaos, because we want to rebuild our country [the United States]… We will partner with any nation that is willing to join us in the effort to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism …In our dealings with other countries, we will seek shared interests wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding, and good will.”

Imagine how terrified the foreign policy establishment must have been when they heard Trump utter these words. No more regime change wars? Are you kidding me? That’s what we do: Regime-Change-Is-Us., and now this upstart, New York real estate tycoon is promising to do a complete 180 and move in another direction altogether. No more destabilizing coups, no more bloody military interventions, instead, we’re going to work collaboratively with countries like Russia and China to see if we can settle regional disputes and fight terrorism together? Really? At the same time Trump was promising this new era of “peace, understanding, and good will,” Hillary Clinton was issuing her war whoop at every opportunity. Here’s candidate Hillary trying to drum up support for taking on the Russians in Syria:

“The situation in Syria is catastrophic. And every day that goes by, we see the results of the Assad regime in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, and the Russians in the air…When I was Secretary of State, I advocated and I advocate today a no-fly zone and safe zones.” Interesting, isn’t it? Here’s Hillary, the “liberal” Democrat, pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria even though the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, stated clearly that “Right now… for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia.”

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If they did we have no evidence of it. We have the word of CIA and FBI for it, but that has no value.

Did the Russians Really Interfere in Our Elections? (Unz)

The one issue that both Democrats and most Republicans seem to agree on, the issue which both say is “proven conclusively” by Mueller is that the Russians “attempted to interfere and did interfere” in our 2016 election. Interesting, is it not, that the Republicans who zealously defend the president and attack the obviously political nature of the Mueller Report would accept, as if on faith and without question, the accusations of Russian interference, also contained in the report? Turn on Fox and watch, say, Martha MacCallum (e.g., “The Story,” April 24, 2019) declare “we all know now without doubt that the Russians tried to interfere” in our elections, or listen to most any GOP congressman repeat that same narrative with unquestioning certitude.

But that assertion—is it truly backed up factually? Where is the evidence, other than largely questionable information sourced from our largely discredited intelligence agencies which, as we know, had a determined goal of overthrowing the president by any means possible? Almost three years have passed from the first fake news that appeared in the media on the subject of “Russian collusion,” a concerted effort launched to discredit at first the Donald Trump candidacy and then sabotage his presidency, including his efforts to stabilize Russian-American relations. As proof of Russian actions, the Mueller Report cites the indictments against twenty-five Russian citizens who were indicted for attempted “interference” (those Russians are, let us add, quite conveniently out of the country and thus not prosecutable).

When those indictments were issued, Russia pointed out the flimsy, unsupported and transparently made-up nature of the charges, and demanded that American authorities provide conclusive proof. Such requests were rebuffed. In order to evaluate the evidence, the Russian government proposed reestablishing the bilateral expert group on information security that the Obama Administration had terminated, which could have served as a platform for conversation on these matters. The American side was also invited to send Justice Department officials to Russia to attend the proposed public questioning of the Russian citizens named by Mueller. Additionally, Russia offered to publicize the exchanges between the two countries following the publication of the accusations of cyberattacks, exchanges which were conducted through existing channels between October 2016 and January 2017.

Our government refused every offer.

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“Not all papers are doomed, though. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal will survive, he said.”

Did Buffet really completely miss the change in business model from reporting to manufacturing the news? Maybe at his age that’s to be expected?

Warren Buffett Thinks Most Newspapers Are “Toast” (ZH)

Buffett, who through his Berkshire Hathaway BH Media subsidiary owns a veritable print-media empire, said during an interview with Yahoo Finance (which will carry the live stream of Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting on May 4) released on Tuesday that the newspaper industry is “toast”, and that most print papers (including, presumably, the 30 daily newspapers and 47 weeklies owned by BH) will soon cease to exist as they lose more vital advertising revenue to Internet powerhouses like Google and Facebook. Fortunately for Berkshire, the decline of the industry won’t have much of an impact on its bottom line because BH bought its newspapers at a “reasonable” price, Buffett said.


As Buffett sees it, the problem with trying to shift to a subscription-based model is two-fold: Consumers once sought out print newspapers not just for the news content, but for the ads. The classifieds included vital information about job opportunities and housing, while supermarkets ran fliers about what products were on special that week. That functionality has largely been subsumed by Craigslist. “It upsets the people in the newsroom to talk that way, but the ads were the most important editorial content from the standpoint of the reader,” Buffett said. Between 2006 and 2016, the newspaper industry’s advertising revenue had fallen to nearly a third of what it once was, with newspapers bringing in $18 billion in ad revenue, compared with $49 billion ten years prior.

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History is a lousy teacher.

Iran Appeals Directly To Trump: Your Advisers Drag You Into War (ZH)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Chris Walls on Fox News Sunday that he believes President Trump’s own advisers as well as Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel are “dragging the United States into a conflict” with Iran. It comes just days after Zarif made similar statements about the possibility of US and Iranian ships clashing in the Persian Gulf, warning that a false flag “accident” scenario could “lure” Trump into war — something which he thinks Trump himself doesn’t want to see happen. It appears Tehran’s new strategy as it reels from the sanctions squeeze on oil and Trump ending the crude export waiver program is to try and delicately peel Trump away from the American ‘deep state’.


Zarif specifically named National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israel, Saudi Arabia, along with close Saudi ally the United Arab Emirates, all as seeking to escalate tensions leading toward a regime change war on Iran. Wallace asked if they’re “all trying to exercise regime change?” according to Fox, and Zarif responded, “at least, at least.” Iran’s top diplomat explained: “They have all shown an interest in dragging the United States into a conflict. I do not believe that President Trump wants to do that, I believe President Trump ran on a campaign promise of not bringing the United States into another war. But I believe President Trump’s intention to put pressure, the policy of maximum pressure on Iran in order to bring Iran to its knees so that we would succumb to pressure, is doomed to failure.”

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Saudi Barbaria has the solutions.

IMF Warns Of Slowing Growth, Rising Unrest Across Middle East (CNBC)

Slowing global growth and elevated tensions in trade and geopolitics are posing economic challenges for countries in the Middle East, according to the IMF’s latest report. “Global developments are affecting the outlook for this year, namely the slowdown in growth especially on trade, the volatility in the oil price, as well as also the global financing conditions, in additional to a certain number of country specific issues,” Jihad Azour, the IMF’s director of the Middle East and Central Asia, told CNBC on Sunday. The Regional Economic Outlook report — published each spring by the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department — also highlighted how volatile oil prices are negatively affecting some countries, while others are grappling with rising public debt.

“For oil-importing countries where debt is high, it’s very important to tackle it and to reduce the level of deficit. That will allow those countries to reduce their debt burden over GDP,” Azour added. Growth for oil exporters is projected to dip slightly in 2019 to 0.4 percent, from 0.6 percent the previous year, driven by an economic contraction in Iran following the renewal of sanctions. For oil-importing countries in the region, growth is expected to slow, declining from 4.2 percent in 2018 to a projected 3.6 percent this year. However, that figure is expected to rebound to 4.2 percent from 2020 to 2023. “Despite the current increase in prices, the medium-term price projections of oil remain in the corridor of the mid-$60s,” Azour said.

“Therefore it’s very important for countries to pursue and accelerate their diversification strategies and at the same time, maintain their pace of fiscal adjustment that will allow them to reduce their dependence, in terms of revenues on oil,” he added. [..] In the past 18 months, the IMF’s Reported Social Unrest Index — which calculates the share of articles in major news sources that include key terms relating to protests, demonstrations, and other forms of social unrest — has hit multi-year highs in some countries in the Middle East region. “Clearly, the inability of governments and countries to address the unemployment issue has led to the feelings, especially among the youth, of social unease and tension,” Azour said.

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Boris Johnson’s fortunes are rising. Imagine that.

UK Tories To Lose 800-1000 Seats In This Week’s Local Elections (G.)

The Conservatives can expect to lose 800 or more seats at the local elections this week, as voters punish Theresa May’s administration for failing to pass a Brexit deal, a leading Conservative analyst has said. In his latest projection for Thursday’s polls, in which more than 8,000 council seats in England are being contested, the Tory peer Robert Hayward suggested his party could lose about 500 to the Liberal Democrats, and 300 to Labour. He blamed his party’s failure to assemble a majority for the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement for his gloomy forecast, and predicted turnout would be unusually low because of “disenchantment” with all the major parties.


“I have heard of no canvasser of any party who has received a detailed dissertation re Brexit. It is therefore likely that had Mrs May’s deal, or anything like it, been approved the Tories would have fared markedly better than they are likely to,” he said, adding: “The elections might even have been about local issues.” A poor showing will be a fresh blow to May’s shattered authority, and increase the pressure on her to set out a timetable for her departure – and signal how she plans to break the impasse at Westminster. Cross-party talks are expected to resume on Monday, but Downing Street has been forced to delay a high-risk plan to table its key piece of Brexit legislation.

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Apparently, in Spain, too, democracy is a system for the not-too-smart. You know that if this is how your PM addresses you after winning, “We want a country that looks forwards and advances.”. As opposed to?

Spanish Socialists Win Most Seats, Far Right Resurgent (G.)

Spain’s ruling socialists won the most votes but fell short of a majority in Sunday’s snap general election, a contest marked by the breakthrough of the far-right Vox party and a disastrous performance by the country’s traditional conservative party. Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) won 123 seats, the conservative People’s party (PP) 66, the centre-right Citizens party 57, the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos and its allies 42, and Vox 24. Despite it being the country’s third general election in under four years, turnout was 75.8% – well up on the 66.5% two years ago. Sánchez hailed the result and the high turnout as proof of Spain’s desire to move forward and reject the reactionary policies of some of his rightwing opponents.


“We made it happen,” he told supporters in Madrid, echoing the PSOE’s campaign slogan. “We’ve sent out the message that we don’t want to regress or reverse. We want a country that looks forwards and advances.” However, the PSOE will still need to seek the support of other parties to reach the 176 seats necessary to form a government in Spain’s 350-seat congress of deputies. Even with the support of Unidas Podemos and related groups, it would still be 11 seats short of a majority and would need the help of smaller regional and nationalist parties. Podemos’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already shown enthusiasm for a deal with the PSOE. He said that while his party would have liked a better result – it dropped 29 seats on the last election – “it’s been enough to stop the right wing and build a leftwing coalition government”.

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“..at least 154 people have been seriously injured by police use of non-lethal weapons during protests. Of that number, 22 people have lost the use of an eye due to flash balls. A further five have had their hand torn off by gas canisters..”

Yellow Vests Mutilated By ‘Sublethal’ Police Weapons Unite (RT)

Yellow Vest protesters who have suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of French police have launched their own association, promising fresh actions against police brutality. Called “the Mutilated for the edification of others,” the collective aims to accurately calculate the number of people who have been injured nationally by police during Yellow Vest protests. It also called for an end to the use of the non-lethal weapons deployed by French police — namely tear gas canisters and flashballs — and a large national demonstration is scheduled in Paris on May 26. Among those attending was Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent Yellow Vest leader who was hit in the eye with a gas canister during a demonstration in January.


“You have 19 people in front of you and you have only 26 eyes that look back,” he told the press conference. “Count, there is a small problem,” he added. We demand the truth, justice and the ban on so-called sublethal weapons,” said Robin Pagès, another activist. He accused French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner of “lying” when the minister suggested that only “10 people have been hit in the head by LBD [flashball] shots.” According to statistics gathered by the activist group Desarmons-les (“Disarm Them”), at least 154 people have been seriously injured by police use of non-lethal weapons during protests. Of that number, 22 people have lost the use of an eye due to flash balls. A further five have had their hand torn off by gas canisters.

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“Voters were surprisingly moved by a landmark study showing steep declines in flying insects in Germany.”

Conservative Bavaria Forces Bold Action on Protecting Nature (Yale)

Bavaria is known around the world for its Munich Octoberfest, beautiful alpine panoramas, old castles, and cars from the Bavarian Motor Works (BMW). But within Germany, Bavaria is known for something else: It is by far the most conservative of the country’s 16 federal states. Bavaria’s staunchly traditionalist governing party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has been in power continuously since 1946, pursuing a conservative agenda relating to family, bioethics, immigration — and the environment. Over the years, it has restricted the construction of wind farms, thwarted new environmental regulations for farmers, and blocked imposing a speed limit for cars on autobahns.

In recent months, however, Bavaria has taken a surprising detour from its traditional path. Responding to a grassroots citizens campaign and overwhelming support for a state referendum, the Bavarian government agreed earlier this month to implement one of Europe’s most progressive laws on protecting nature and restoring biodiversity, primarily through changing industrial farming practices. The about-face began in earnest in February when Bavarian citizens — increasingly concerned about the loss of natural areas, destructive farming techniques, and widely publicized reports that the populations of flying insects in Germany had plummeted — overwhelmingly supported a “referendum for biodiversity” that called for the state government to implement fundamental changes in nature conservation.

State law required that 10 percent of Bavaria’s 9 million registered voters support the referendum for it to become the basis for negotiations on a new nature conservation law. In fact, nearly double the required number of voters — 1.75 million Bavarians — showed up at their town halls to support what had become known as the “save the bees” initiative. [..] Now, Bavaria plans to implement a sweeping set of conservation measures, including setting aside 13 percent of the state in special ecological zones, committing to establishing organic agriculture on nearly a third of all Bavarian farmland, and taking steps to protect wetlands, waterways, and threatened insect populations. On May 8, the state parliament in Munich is slated to pass what Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU leader Markus Söder calls “the most sweeping nature protection law in the whole of Europe.”

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It’s not about nature anymore, it’s about our own survival. As if that will stop us.

Up To A Million Species Face Extinction, Many Within Decades – UN (AFP)

Diplomats from 130 nations gather in Paris from Monday to validate a grim UN assessment of the state of Nature and lay the groundwork for an 11th-hour rescue plan for life on Earth. A 44-page, draft “Summary for Policy Makers” obtained by AFP catalogues the 1001 ways in which our species has plundered the planet and damaged its capacity to renew the resources upon which we depend, starting with breathable air, drinkable water and productive soil. The impact of humanity’s expanding footprint and appetites has been devastating. Up to a million species face extinction, many within decades, according to the report, and three-quarters of Earth’s land surface has been “severely altered”.


A third of ocean fish stocks are in decline, and the rest, barring a few, are harvested at the very edge of sustainability. A dramatic die-off of pollinating insects, especially bees, threatens essential crops valued at half-a-trillion dollars annually. Twenty 10-year targets adopted in 2010 under the United Nation’s biodiversity treaty – to expand protected areas, slow species and forest loss, and reduce pollution – will, with one or two exceptions, fail badly. Based on an underlying report that draws from 400 experts and weighs in at 1,800 pages, the executive summary has to be vetted line-by-line by diplomats, with scientists at their elbow.

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“I hate the indifferents. Living means taking sides…Some whimper piously, others curse obscenely, but nobody, or very few ask themselves: If I had tried to impose my will, would this have happened?”
– Antonio Gramsci

 

 

Feb 252019
 


M. C. Escher Reptiles 1943

 

EU Explores Plans To Delay Brexit Until 2021 (G.)
May Delays ‘Meaningful’ Parliament Vote On Brexit Till March 12 (BBC)
Schiff Threatens To Call Mueller To Testify If Report Not Made Public (AP)
Trump To Delay China Tariff Hike After Trade Talks ‘Progress’ (AFP)
Global LNG Trade To Rise 11% This Year – Shell (R.)
Spain Surpasses Italy To Become “World’s Healthiest Country” (ZH)
African Union Seeks To Kill EU Plan To Process Migrants In Africa (G.)
One Million Tonnes Of Sludge To Be Dumped In Great Barrier Reef (BBC)
Concrete: The Most Destructive Material On Earth (G.)
Dearth Of Worms Blamed For Dramatic Decline In UK Songbird Population (Ind.)
Poachers Kill Elephant In Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (AFP)
Dozens Of Dead Elephants Discovered In Poaching Hot Spots In Botswana (BBC)

 

 

May is likely to ask for a few months’ delay, but Brussels won’t have that.

EU Explores Plans To Delay Brexit Until 2021 (G.)

Brexit could be delayed until 2021 under plans being explored by the EU’s most senior officials, at a time of growing exasperation over Theresa May’s handling of the talks, the Guardian can reveal. A lengthy extension of the negotiating period is gaining traction as the EU’s default position should the Commons continue to reject May’s deal, and a request emerge. Replacing the 21-month transition period with extra time as a member state would allow the UK and the EU to develop their plans for the future relationship with the aim of making the contentious Irish backstop redundant. Brussels is determined to avoid offering a short extension only to have to revisit the issue in the summer when the government again fails to win round parliament.

“If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches,” one EU diplomat said. “A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework [the EU’s budget period] and make things easier. Provided leaders are not completely down with Brexit fatigue, and a three-month technical extension won’t cut it, I would expect a 21-month kick [of the can]. It is doing the rounds in Brussels corridors. Martin Selmayr [the European commission’s secretary-general], among others, also fond of the idea.”

Exasperation with May’s handling of Brexit is growing in Brussels as senior insiders put the chance of the UK crashing out without a deal at “more than 50%”. Informed sources say there is dismay that senior government figures are focused on seeking domestic political advantage and appear wilfully blind to the opposition to reopening the withdrawal agreement. [..] There is also bewilderment that the recent flurry of meetings in Brussels involving May’s Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, and the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, are being characterised in London as “negotiations” when the reality is the EU is still waiting for the prime minister to show them the alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop for which she claims to have a majority in support.

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Why is May not in London, but in Egypt with the EU she wants to leave in a month and change? Arms deals?

May Delays ‘Meaningful’ Parliament Vote On Brexit Till March 12 (BBC)

MPs will be able to have a fresh vote on the Brexit deal by 12 March, Prime Minister Theresa May has said. Speaking as she travelled to an EU-Arab League summit in Egypt, Mrs May ruled out holding another so-called “meaningful vote” this week. But she said “positive” talks with the EU were “still ongoing” and leaving on 29 March was “within our grasp”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “recklessly running down the clock”. In a tweet, he said the move was intended to “force MPs to choose between her bad deal and a disastrous no deal”.

Labour, he said, would “work with MPs across the Commons to prevent no deal, break the deadlock and build support for our alternative plan”. On the plane to Sharm el-Sheikh for a summit between EU and Arab league leaders, Mrs May said her team would be returning to the Belgian capital on Tuesday for further talks. “As a result of that, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by 12 March,” she added.

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He wants No Collusion fully documented. Oh, wait, no, he wants to see if there are any scraps left that can serve to divert attention from the fact that there’s No Collusion.

Schiff Threatens To Call Mueller To Testify If Report Not Made Public (AP)

A top Democrat threatened on Sunday to call special counsel Robert Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill, subpoena documents and take the Trump administration to court if necessary, if the full report on the Russia investigation is not made public. House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff told ABC’s This Week his committee will be watching Attorney General William Barr to see if he were “to try to bury any part of this report”. There will be intense scrutiny and pressure on Barr, he said, to fully release the report. “We will take it to court if necessary,” Schiff said. “If he were to try to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy and it will be a tarnished legacy.

So I think there’ll be immense pressure not only on the department, but on the attorney general to be forthcoming.” Schiff is not alone in calling for the report to be made public, or in promising aggressive investigations by Democrat-controlled committees. He himself has made such calls. But the pressure is mounting as Mueller is showing signs of wrapping up his nearly two-year-old investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election. Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can. But during his confirmation hearing last month, he also made clear that he ultimately will decide what the public sees and that any report will be in his words, not Mueller’s.

On Sunday, Schiff suggested that anything short of Mueller’s full report will not be enough to satisfy Democrats. He pointed to a public interest in seeing some of the underlying evidence, such as information gathered from searches conducted on longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman. Schiff has said his committee planned to expand its own investigations by examining, for instance, whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates.

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From negotiations to dancing.

Trump To Delay China Tariff Hike After Trade Talks ‘Progress’ (AFP)

US President Donald Trump has vowed to delay a planned tariff increase on Chinese exports after both sides hailed “substantial progress” in trade talks, raising the prospect of a summit with President Xi Jinping to seal the deal. Trump said Sunday there could be “very big news” in the next two weeks, and he planned to meet with Xi at the US leader’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida if more progress is made. Top negotiators met in Washington for four days of talks that ended on Sunday in an effort to resolve a months-long trade war that analysts feared could torpedo the global economy.

The United States had been due to increase tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods on March 1, but Trump said he would now delay the punitive duties following the “very productive talks”. “I am pleased to report that the U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The official Xinhua news agency used almost the exact same language, reporting “substantial progress” on those thorny issues in the talks led by Xi’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He.

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Warning: someone will try to sell this to you as a positive for green.

Global LNG Trade To Rise 11% This Year – Shell (R.)

Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade will rise 11 percent to 354 million tonnes this year as new facilities increase supplies to Europe and Asia, Royal Dutch Shell said in an annual LNG report on Monday. Shell, the largest buyer and seller of LNG in the world, said trade rose by 27 million tonnes last year, with Chinese demand growth accounting for 16 million tonnes of those volumes. Shell’s forecasts, which see LNG demand climbing to 384 million tonnes next year, reflect a burgeoning industry with new production facilities opening in Australia, the United States and Russia and more countries becoming importers by constructing receiving terminals. Asia dominates the market with Japan remaining the top buyer.

China became the second largest in 2017 as demand soared due to a government-mandated push for power stations to switch from coal to cleaner-burning gas to help reduce pollution. Due to the uneven progress of developing liquefaction-export facilities on the one hand and regasification-import terminals on the other, many analysts see the global market becoming oversupplied if not this year then next year. But most also see a supply crunch around the mid-2020s because, at the moment, there are not enough liquefaction facilities being planned, financed and built. Such projects are underpinned by long-term supply contracts struck years in advance by their operators. Between 2014 and 2017 buyers were signing shorter-duration contracts for smaller volumes, making financing difficult to complete.

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Actually, it’s perhaps mostly about primary care.

Spain Surpasses Italy To Become “World’s Healthiest Country” (ZH)

As the US struggles with declining life expectancy (as deaths from suicides, drug overdoses and other “deaths of despair” climb), rising infant mortality and ballooning health-care costs that preclude access to preventative care for millions of Americans – not to mention the attendant ills of rampant obesity and tobacco use), America has seen its position among the world’s healthiest nations deteriorate, while, across the Atlantic, more European nations are claiming spots in the highest echelons of the global rankings. According to Bloomberg’s 2019 World Health Rankings, Spain has supplanted Italy as the world’s healthiest country. In the most ranking, published in 2017, Spain had placed sixth.

Four other European nations ranked among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, climbing three ranks to place fourth overall, and supplanting Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Rounding out the top ten were Australia and Israel, which ranked seventh and 10th, respectively. Variables including life expectancy are used to rank countries, while factors like tobacco use and obesity work against the overall ranking. Environmental factors like access to clean water and sanitation are also taken into consideration. Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among EU nations. Out of all 169 nations that BBG tracks, only Japan and Switzerland rank higher. By 2040, Spain is forecast to have the highest lifespan, at roughly 86 years, followed by Japan, Singapore and Switzerland.

The reason? Access to primary care. “Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain. Over the past decade, this has helped bring about a decline in deaths from heart disease and cancer. While China ranked 52nd overall, it’s on track to surpass the US by 2040, according to the Institute for health metrics and evaluation.

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“When the EU wants something, it usually gets it..”

African Union Seeks To Kill EU Plan To Process Migrants In Africa (G.)

The African Union is seeking to kill off the EU’s latest blueprint for stemming migration, claiming that it would breach international law by establishing “de facto detention centres” on African soil, trampling over the rights of those being held. A “common African position paper” leaked to the Guardian reveals the determination of the 55-member state body, currently headed by Egypt, to dissuade any of its coastal states from cooperating with Brussels on the plan. The EU set plans for “regional disembarkation platforms” in motion last summer to allow migrants found in European waters to have their asylum requests processed on African soil.

Brussels has a similar arrangement in place with Libya, where there are 800,000 migrants, 20,000 of whom are being held in government detention centres. The Libyan authorities have been accused of multiple and grave human rights abuses. A UN report recently stated that migrants in the country faced “unimaginable horrors”. Some northern states, including Morocco, have already rejected the EU’s proposal over the new “platforms”, but there are concerns within the African Union (AU) that other member governments could be persuaded by the offer of development funds.

Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has called for the centres to be based around the Sahel region, in Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan. An inaugural summit between the EU and the League of Arab States is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Sunday and Monday, and migration is expected to be discussed. “When the EU wants something, it usually gets it,” said a senior AU official. “African capitals worry that this plan will see the establishment of something like modern-day slave markets, with the ‘best’ Africans being allowed into Europe and the rest tossed back – and it is not far from the truth.”

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I’m sure this means Australia is going for some kind of award. Just don’t know which one.

One Million Tonnes Of Sludge To Be Dumped In Great Barrier Reef (BBC)

Australia plans to dump one million tonnes of sludge in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite strict laws on dumping waste, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) gave the go-ahead. A loophole was found – the laws don’t apply to materials generated from port maintenance work. It comes one week after flood water from Queensland spread into the reef, which scientists say will “smother” the coral. The industrial residue is dredged from the bottom of the sea floor near Hay Point Port – one of the world’s largest coal exports and a substantial economic source for the country. Larissa Waters, senator for Queensland and co-deputy leader of the Greens Party, called for the license to be revoked.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” she told the Guardian. “One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.” It’s just “another nail in the coffin” for the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is already under stress due to climate change, according to Dr Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton. “If they are dumping it over the coral reef itself, it will have quite a devastating effect. The sludge is basically blanketing over the coral. “The coral relies on the algae, that’s what give them their colour and what helps them feed – without this partnership the coral will suffer dramatically.”

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“..we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. ”

Concrete: The Most Destructive Material On Earth (G.)

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England. After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with around 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.

The material is the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over the heads of billions, fortifying our defences against natural disaster and providing a structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry. Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitise us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses. Our blue and green world is becoming greyer by the second. By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet.

Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly. All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The concrete industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally seen as less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. Which is exactly why we have come to rely on it.

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For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Dearth Of Worms Blamed For Dramatic Decline In UK Songbird Population (Ind.)

Britain’s first farmland worm survey has revealed that nearly half of English fields lack key types of earthworm and may help explain the alarming decline of one of the country’s most loved songbirds. The citizen science project, in which farmers dug for worms in their own fields, has prompted 57 per cent of them to pledge to change their soil management practices – a move that may benefit the song thrush, for whom worms are a vital food source. The English population of the song thrush, popular for both its voice and its habit of using stones as an “anvil” to smash the shells of its other favourite food – snails – declined by more than 50 per cent between 1970 and 1995, leading to it being listed as a species of conservation concern.

The #60minworms survey, led by Dr Jackie Stroud, a Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) soil security fellow at the Rothamsted Research centre, adds to the evidence that the song thrush is being affected by a reduction in farmland earthworm populations, along with the loss of hedgerow nesting sites. In a statement about the survey, Rothamsted Research said: “The results indicate widespread, historical over-cultivation, and may explain observed declines in other wildlife, such as the song thrush, that feed on these worms.” Stressing the importance of earthworms, Dr Stroud added: “Earthworms play vital roles in plant productivity and are great bird food as well. They are really important in our soil systems. “They influence carbon cycling, water infiltration, pesticide movement, greenhouse gas emissions, plant productivity, the breeding success of birds and even the susceptibility of plants to insect attack.

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Stop any and all trade with any and all countries where animal parts are traded.

Poachers Kill Elephant In Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (AFP)

An elephant has been found dead with its tusks and tail sliced off in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where wild elephant numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred due to poaching and deforestation. The Southeast Asian nation has emerged in recent years as a key transit hub for the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade, with demand for products made from tusks, pangolin scales and rhino horns high in China and neighbouring Vietnam. According to the Mondulkiri Project, an animal rescue NGO, there are about 400 elephants in the wild in Cambodia, and about 50 held in captivity.

The body of the male Asian elephant was found on Sunday in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Mondulkiri province, said Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra. “The elephant’s tusks were missing and its tail was also cut off,” he told AFP on Monday, adding the animal was killed about 10 days ago. “There was a wound from a gunshot under its right eye,” Neth Pheaktra said, adding authorities are still hunting for the poachers. A baby elephant was found dead last year in the same sanctuary when it was caught in a trap set by poachers, he said. The Asian elephant is hunted for its precious tusks, while its tail hair is considered lucky and embedded in rings and bracelets.


The body of a male Asian elephant was found in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Cambodia on Sunday (AFP Photo/Handout)

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“..Tanzania lost 60% of its elephant population in five years..”

Dozens Of Dead Elephants Discovered In Poaching Hot Spots In Botswana (BBC)

One of the last elephant sanctuaries in Africa has “a significant elephant-poaching problem”, according to the final results of an aerial wildlife survey in Botswana seen by the BBC. Elephants Without Borders, which conducted the four-yearly survey with the government, said there was a six-fold increase in the number of “fresh” or “recent” elephant carcasses in northern Botswana amid “obvious signs” of poaching. Mike Chase, the scientist who carried out the survey, sparked a fierce debate in the country when he went public half-way through his study in August last year with accusations there was a poaching problem and alleging the authorities were ignoring him. He told the BBC at the time that while flying over northern Botswana, he had discovered 87 recently killed elephants in one “hotspot” area – a number now revised to 88 – and 128 overall.

The government called his figures “false and misleading” and criticised “unsubstantiated and sensational media reports”. He received death threats and has since had one of his two research licences suspended by the government. President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the time described the allegations as the “biggest hoax of the 21st Century” and denied there had been a spike in poaching in the country. But the final report identifies four poaching hotspots, provides photographic evidence from ground surveys and has been peer-reviewed by nine international elephant experts. “The response from… various people was to try and deny or whitewash – label me a traitor and a liar – without having actually verified the evidence we bore witness to,” said Mr Chase.

Botswana is home to 130,000 elephants – a third of the total number in Africa – and it is an obvious target for poachers. Even when extrapolating poaching figures from the sample found in the survey, the numbers killed will not have a major impact on such a large population. “If we are talking about a number of carcasses that have accumulated over a period of two years, given the population of elephants in Botswana it doesn’t really raise eyebrows,” said national parks director Mr Tiroyamodimo. This was not satisfactory for Mr Chase. “At what point do we say we have a problem?” he asked.

“Is it at 10? 50? 100? 150? 1,000? Lessons have taught us – when we look at Tanzania that lost 60% of its elephant population in five years – that’s how quickly poaching can settle into a population. “We saw with our own eyes 157 confirmed poached elephants. We estimate that the total poached in the last year is at least 385 and probably far more because that is based on what we actually saw and have not had time or finances to visit all carcasses on the ground.”

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 February 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Glass, bread and cheesee 1923

 

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)
IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)
UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)
Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)
May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)
All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)
Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)
Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)
Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)
China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)
Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)
Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)
Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

 

 

This should be the only topic left on all media and political agendas. Instead, everyone’s talking about music awards. Mankind had its promises, but they came with fatal flaws. The ability to lie to ourselves and others -including about the relative importance of various events- is doing us in.

We do have the brain structure to foresee future dangers, but also to discard them. We can see ourselves do things we know are devastatingly stupid, but we cannot stop ourselves from doing them. In the end, no matter how smart we think we are, only stupidity is left.

Even here, when people talk about the collapse of nature, the media present it as something separate from us. While we’re right in the middle of it, and we know it only too well.

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

[..] “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades. He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said. [..] “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

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“It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.”

IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)

For the fourth time since October, the IMF revised its global growth forecast lower. The Wall Street Journal reports IMF Lowers 2019 Global Growth Forecast. “The global economy is starting the year on weaker footing, according to new quarterly forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.” That report was on January 21. For details, see the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update, January 2019.

“Last month, the IMF lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 3.7% to 3.5%. Lagarde cited what she called “four clouds” as the main factors undermining the global economy and warned that a “storm” might strike. The risks include “trade tensions and tariff escalations, financial tightening, uncertainty related to (the) Brexit outcome and spillover impact and an accelerated slowdown of the Chinese economy”, she said. Lagarde said trade tensions — mainly in the shape of a tariff spat between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies – are already having a global impact. “We have no idea how it is going to pan out and what we know is that it is already beginning to have an effect on trade, on confidence and on markets,” she said, warning governments to avoid protectionism.”

“Lagarde also pointed to the risks posed by rising borrowing costs within a context of “heavy debt” racked up by governments, firms and households. “When there are too many clouds, it takes one lightning (bolt) to start the storm,” she said.” The IMF is perpetually far behind the curve. It never sees the clouds or the lightening bolts in real time. It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.

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As if things are not bad enough. Get out while you can.

UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)

Many British public services risk ongoing real-terms cuts for years to come, despite a softer fiscal stance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a major think tank predicted ahead of a half-yearly budget update next month. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expects Hammond to give more details of the money available for a multi-year review of public spending when he updates budget plans on March 13, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. In his annual budget in November, Hammond loosened the government’s purse-strings, giving support to the economy as it slowed ahead of Brexit. However, rising healthcare spending leaves little spare for other public services, the IFS said.

“This suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services — albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years,” IFS research economist Ben Zaranko said. Public services outside of health, defence and overseas aid saw budgets fall by an average of 3 percent a year in real terms after 2010, and now look set for declines of 0.4 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms going forward, the IFS predicts. [..] “In the short run … government might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border,” the IFS said. In the long run, higher taxes or further spending cuts would be required to pay for this spending, as well as to compensate for weaker growth caused by trade restrictions, the IFS added.

[..] Brexit uncertainty has damaged the economy already and will slow growth further over the long term, even with a deal. Last week the Bank of England estimated the costs to date at 1.5 percent of GDP — more than the forecast budget deficit for 2018/19. During 2016’s referendum campaign, Brexit supporters including former foreign minister Boris Johnson said leaving the EU would free as much as 350 million pounds a week to spend on public services such as healthcare.

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OK, where are the street fighting men?

Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions. “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan. But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union. In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

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“..she successfully took another four days off the clock.”

May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May. She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock. Today we see, May Rejects Corbyn’s Offer as Businesses Warn of Brexit Cliff Edge. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” Great Question! Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock. Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union. Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics. The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal. [..] The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election. May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal. While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories. If she can do that, then she wins. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

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There are many more ways than these.

All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)

Reality bites. While millennials garner much of the negative press around financial issues — they live with their parents because they can’t get jobs! They spend all their money on avocado toast! — Gen Xers may be the ones who are really in trouble. Just 16% of Gen Xers say that they included financial planning in their 2019 goals, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. That’s compared with 27% of millennials. And when asked what 2019 resolution they were most likely to make, and to keep, just 38% mentioned managing money better and saving more; meanwhile 50% of millennials said that. That lack of planning and goal-keeping could make a bad situation worse — as Gen X may already be financially worse off than other generations in a number of ways.

They’ve got the most credit card debt of anyone — yet still spend more than anyone on non-essentials. Members of Gen X have higher levels of credit card debt — which tends to carry a higher interest rate than most other debt — than other generations. Indeed, credit card debt levels peak between the ages of 45-54 at $9,096, with the second highest levels of debt being or those who are 35-44 at $8,235. Meanwhile, the under 35 set has just $5,808. “Millennials and individuals over 74 years old held the least credit card debt. These two groups are also among the least likely to have a credit card, which can serve as a potential explanation behind the trend we are seeing here,” ValuePenguin explains of their data.

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Don’t do it, Elizabeth. Dumb move.

Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)

Back in Iowa as a full-fledged presidential candidate, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took aim at President Donald Trump on Sunday, saying he “may not even be a free person” by next year’s election. The Massachusetts senator’s comments came a day after Trump renewed his criticism of her past claims of Native American heritage. In a tweet, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” and said he would see her “on the campaign TRAIL.” The White House didn’t explain what the president was referring to in his tweet, though some Democrats accused him of making light of the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of Cherokee and several other Native American tribes from their lands in the 1830s. Warren’s campaign wouldn’t say what the senator believes Trump was referencing.

Warren has largely avoided talking about Trump since she began testing the waters for a campaign more than a month ago. During her first of three events Sunday in eastern Iowa, Warren said the president shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the direction of the campaign with divisive attacks. “Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet — something really dark and ugly,” she said. “What are we as candidates, as activists, as the press, going to do about it? We’re going to chase after those every day?” She continued: “Here’s what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

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Orban’s success: “..a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.”

Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has promised that women who have four or more children will never pay income tax again, in a move aimed at boosting the country’s population. Orbán, who has emerged as Europe’s loudest rightwing, anti-immigration voice in recent years, said getting Hungarian families to have more children was preferable to allowing immigrants from Muslim countries to enter. “In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the west to this is migration,” said Orbán in his annual state of the nation address on Sunday. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

Orbán’s Fidesz party won a third consecutive electoral victory last year on an anti-migration platform, and the Hungarian prime minister rarely gives a speech without presenting the upcoming years as a do-or-die battle for the future of Europe. He has voiced a hope that after elections in May, all European institutions will be controlled by “anti-migration forces”. He has repeatedly claimed that the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, a favoured target of the far right across the globe, is masterminding a conspiracy to destroy Europe by promoting mass migration. “The people of Europe have come to a historic crossroads,” Orbán said on Sunday, criticising the “mixed population countries” that result from allowing migration.

The process was moving so quickly, he said, that the transformation of previously Christian countries into those where Christians were a minority would happen in his lifetime. “There is no return ticket,” he said. [..] As the prime minister spoke, anti-Orbán protesters gathered in Budapest for the latest in a series of rallies against the government which began in December after parliament passed a “slave law” allowing employers to demand more overtime from workers. The law is seen as another result of the demographic problems in the country, as a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.

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And who does Pompeo visit first? Orban of course. Operating in the EU’s own back yard.

Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited. On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years. “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

“Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.” Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland. [..] Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

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Xi’s conundrum: does he play up how great this is, how it makes his economy look great, or does he try and cut down on borrowing even more, scared that Chinese are borrowing far too much?

China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)

China’s retailer and catering enterprises earned over 1 trillion yuan ($148.3 billion) during the Lunar New Year holiday, defying an economic slump to rise 8.5 percent from last year, the country’s commerce ministry said late on Sunday. The increase was down to the rapid growth in sales of new-year gifts, traditional foods, electronic products and local speciality products over a six-day holiday period ending on Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice on its website. Domestic tourism during the new year break generated total revenues of 513.9 billion yuan, up 8.2 percent on the year, with the number of trips rising 7.6 percent to 415 million, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing official data.

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The US is pricing itself out of the market: OPEC+ output cuts are meant to support prices, not to allow the US to fill in the gaps.

Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)

Crude prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as U.S. drilling activity picked up and as Russia’s biggest oil producer pressured President Vladimir Putin to end the supply cut deal with Middle East-dominated producer club OPEC. [..] In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday. Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd. Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the OPEC to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

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Mea culpa. On the news yesterday that the Catalan court cases begin this week, I said nothing appeared to have changed from Rajoy’s days. Not true.

Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)

Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to ease tensions with Catalan separatists, in a demonstration uniting the leaders of conservative and far-right parties. The protest of an estimated 45,000 people marked the first time that the leaders of the conservative Popular Party (PP), centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox were photographed together, El País reported. Protesters accused Sánchez of “stabbing [Spain] in the back” and called for a snap election because of his government’s decision to accept a long-held demand of Catalan secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties.

The ruling regional pro-independence parties in Barcelona have rejected the Socialists’ proposed framework for talks and are calling for a new independence vote, which the government opposes. “The time of Pedro Sánchez has ended,” said PP leader Pablo Casado. “There is no more room for surrendering by the Socialists, or further extortion from the separatists. Today, the reconquest begins.” Sánchez said at a separate rally on Sunday that “the government is working for the unity of Spain, and this means uniting Spaniards and not pitting people against one another like the right is doing.” He added: “Democracy is not heads or tails, there are many alternatives. Ours is coexistence, law and dialogue in Catalonia.”

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Off topic. What these works show, after you’ve watched them for 2 seconds, is how good Escher was, and others are not. The first one, cats and dogs, depends on cartoon animals. Escher used only real animals. The second comes closest to Escher’s work, but that makes it a bland imitation. The third is straight-up cartoon, not at all something Escher would have done.

Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

Alain Nicolas, aged 73, was inspired to create his own tessellations on seeing the work of Escher four decades ago. Escher’s tessellations of interlocking birds, fish and lizards are some of the most recognisable mathematical art of the twentieth century; striking and playful as well as breathtakingly ingenious. Nicolas’ work is also stunning and witty.

Now retired, he spends half his free time designing tessellations and recently finished his 400th. You can see many of them on his extensive website (but don’t peek until you have solved the puzzles!). Drawing tessellations is not easy. It takes a lot of geometrical acuity to make shapes that fit together and are convincing representations.

David Bailey, a British tessellation artist, believes that Nicolas is the best tessellation artist in the world. “His work has everything, recognisable silhouettes, quality, variety, number, level of innovation, next to no padding, and all rendered to a most pleasing standard of finish. Bravo, Alain!” Nicolas has – like Escher – no background in maths, but says all that is required is a sense of wonder and a desire to always do better. Here is a self portrait, sitting in a bar, reading his own book, and calling the waiter with his finger.

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Sep 032018
 
 September 3, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Courtyard of the hospital in Arles 1889

 

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Project Runs Into Debt Jam (AFP)
Should Africa Be Wary Of Chinese Debt? (BBC)
China’s Xi Says No Strings Attached To Funds For Africa (R.)
Anatomy Of A Fusion Smear (WSJ)
No-Deal Brexit: Study Warns Of Severe Short-Term Impact On UK (G.)
Boris Johnson Launches Fresh Attack On May’s Brexit Plans (G.)
Half The Staff Leaves UK’s Brexit Department (Ind.)
Britain Loses Medicines Contracts As EU Body Anticipates Brexit (G.)
Emerging Markets Haunt Spanish Banks (DQ)
Capitalism Is Beyond Saving, and America Is Living Proof (TD)

 

 

I’ve been saying for a long time that the BRI (Belt and Road) is China’s attempt at exporting its overcapacity. They make poor countries borrow billions, which these can’t pay back. And then… Only now do other parties wake up to that. And Xi is trying to do some damage control.

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Project Runs Into Debt Jam (AFP)

China’s massive and expanding “Belt and Road” trade infrastructure project is running into speed bumps as some countries begin to grumble about being buried under Chinese debt. First announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative also known as the “new Silk Road” envisions the construction of railways, roads and ports across the globe, with Beijing providing billions of dollars in loans to many countries. Five years on, Xi has found himself defending his treasured idea as concerns grow that China is setting up debt traps in countries which may lack the means to pay back the Asian giant. “It is not a China club,” Xi said in a speech on Monday to mark the project’s anniversary, describing Belt and Road as an “open and inclusive” project.

Xi said China’s trade with Belt and Road countries had exceeded $5 trillion, with outward direct investment surpassing $60 billion. But some are starting to wonder if it is worth the cost. During a visit to Beijing in August, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country would shelve three China-backed projects, including a $20 billion railway. The party of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency amid fears about the country’s ability to repay Chinese loans related to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Meanwhile the exiled leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has said China’s actions in the Indian Ocean archipelago amounted to a “land grab” and “colonialism”, with 80 percent of its debt held by Beijing.

Sri Lanka has already paid a heavy price for being highly indebted to China. Last year, the island nation had to grant a 99-year lease on a strategic port to Beijing over its inability to repay loans for the $1.4-billion project.

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“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site..”

Should Africa Be Wary Of Chinese Debt? (BBC)

African countries have shown a healthy appetite for Chinese loans but some experts now worry that the continent is gorging on debt, and could soon choke. The Entebbe-Kampala Expressway is still something of a tourist attraction for Ugandans, nearly three months after it opened. The 51km (31 mile), four-lane highway that connects the country’s capital to the Entebbe International Airport was built by a Chinese company using a $476m (£366m) loan from the China Exim Bank. It has cut what was a torturous two-hour journey through some of Africa’s worst traffic into a scenic 45-minute drive into the East Africa nation’s capital. Uganda has taken $3bn of Chinese loans as part of a wider trend that Kampala-based economist Ramathan Ggoobi calls its “unrivalled willingness to avail unconditional capital to Africa”.

“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site for rails, roads, electricity dams, stadia, commercial buildings and so on,” the Makerere University Business School lecturer told the BBC. The Chinese loans come as many African countries are once again in danger of defaulting on their debts more than a decade after many had their outstanding borrowing written off. At least 40% of low-income countries in the region are either in debt distress or at high risk, the International Monetary Fund warned in April.

Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Congo Republic, South Sudan and Zimbabwe were considered to be in debt distress at the end of 2017 while Zambia and Ethiopia were downgraded to “high risk of debt distress”. “In 2017 alone, the newly signed value of Chinese contracted projects in Africa registered $76.5bn,” Standard Bank’s China Economist Jeremy Stevens wrote in a note. “However, despite a sizeable remaining infrastructure deficit on the continent, there is a concern that African countries’ debt-service ability will soon dissolve,” he says.

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Until you can’t pay up. China knows many countries won’t be.

China’s Xi Says No Strings Attached To Funds For Africa (R.)

Xi said at a business forum before the start of a triennial China Africa summit their friendship was time-honoured and that China’s investment in Africa came with no political strings attached. “China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa. What we value is the sharing of development experience and the support we can offer to Africa’s national rejuvenation and prosperity,” Xi said. “China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects but in places where they count the most,” he said.

China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy but Xi is likely to use the gathering of African leaders to offer a new round of financing, following a pledge of $60 billion at the previous summit in South Africa three years ago. Chinese officials have vowed to be more cautious to ensure projects are sustainable. China defends continued lending to Africa on the grounds that the continent still needs debt-funded infrastructure development. Beijing has also fended off criticism it is only interested in resource extraction to feed its own booming economy, that the projects it funds have poor environmental safeguards, and that too many of the workers for them are flown in from China rather than using African labour.

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The Wall Street Journal is the only remaining paper of record. This is an editorial.

Anatomy Of A Fusion Smear (WSJ)

A partner at Foley & Lardner, Ms. Mitchell was astonished to find herself dragged into the Russia investigation on March 13 when Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued an interim report. They wrote that they still wanted to interview “key witnesses,” including Ms. Mitchell, who they claimed was “involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA).” Two days later the McClatchy news service published a story with the headline “NRA lawyer expressed concerns about group’s Russia ties, investigators told.” The story cited two anonymous sources claiming Congress was investigating Ms. Mitchell’s worries that the NRA had been “channeling Russia funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”

Ms. Mitchell says none of this is true. She hadn’t done legal work for the NRA in at least a decade, had zero contact with it in 2016, and had spoken to no one about its actions. She says she told this to McClatchy, which published the story anyway. Now we’re learning how this misinformation got around, and the evidence points to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the outfit that financed the infamous Steele dossier. New documents provided to Congress show that Mr. Simpson, a Fusion co-founder, was feeding information to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. In an interview with House investigators this week, Mr. Ohr confirmed he had known Mr. Simpson for some time, and passed at least some of his information along to the FBI.

In handwritten notes dated Dec. 10, 2016 that the Department of Justice provided to Congress and were transcribed for us by a source, Mr. Ohr discusses allegations that Mr. Simpson made to him in a conversation. The notes read: “A Russian senator (& mobster) . . . [our ellipsis] may have been involved in funneling Russian money to the NRA to use in the campaign. An NRA lawyer named Cleta Mitchell found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over.”

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But they still claim damage won’t be long-lasting..

No-Deal Brexit: Study Warns Of Severe Short-Term Impact On UK (G.)

The short-term impact of a no-deal Brexit on Britain’s economy would be “chaotic and severe”, jeopardising jobs and disrupting trade links, warn experts from the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has said he believes 80% of the work on completing an exit deal with the EU27 is already done, as negotiations enter their final phase. But his cabinet colleague Liam Fox recently suggested a no-deal scenario – which would occur if negotiations broke down, or both sides agreed to disagree – was the most likely outcome. In a 30-page updated assessment of the impact of no deal, the thinktank said on Monday it would mean “the disappearance without replacement of many of the rules underpinning the UK’s economic and regulatory structure”.

Its analysis claimed that in the short term: • Food supplies could be temporarily disrupted – the beef trade could collapse, for example, as Britain is heavily reliant on EU imports, and would be forced to apply tariffs, in accordance with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. • European health insurance cards, which allow British tourists free healthcare in the EU, would be invalid from Brexit day. • There would almost certainly have to be a “hardening of the border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, including some “physical manifestation”. • The status of legal contracts and commercial arrangements with EU companies would be unclear, as the UK would become a “third country” overnight. • Increased and uncertain processing times for goods at the border would be “nearly certain”, risking queues at Dover and forcing firms to rethink their supply chains.

In the longer term, UK in a Changing Europe’s experts say, the UK would have time to normalise its trading status, and agreements could be struck with the EU27 to tackle many other practical challenges. “It should not be assumed that the damage, while real, will necessarily be long-lasting,” the report says.

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6 months to go. It’ll be a spectacle.

Boris Johnson Launches Fresh Attack On May’s Brexit Plans (G.)

Boris Johnson has used his first newspaper column of the new parliamentary term to attack Theresa May’s Chequers plan, saying it means the UK enters Brexit negotiations with a “white flag fluttering”. The declaration amounts to a significant escalation the former foreign secretary’s guerrilla campaign against the prime minister and her Chequers plan a day before the Commons returns and at a time when party disquiet over the direction of the divorce talks is mounting. Johnson wrote that “the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat”.

Johnson added that by adopting the Chequers plan, which will see the UK adopt a common rule book for food and goods, “we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank”. It will be “impossible for the UK to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals,” he added. The intervention comes after a summer in which the former minister, who resigned over the Chequers deal, had avoided touching on Brexit in his Daily Telegraph column – although he did unleash a storm of complaint by describing fully veiled Muslim women as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers. It will be seen as preparing the ground for a leadership challenge to May just as the Brexit negotiations reach their critical phase in the autumn, which is to culminate in any final deal agreed by the UK government being put to parliament for a vote.

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“..the average age of workers left in the department is 32..”

Half The Staff Leaves UK’s Brexit Department (Ind.)

The number of officials who have left the Whitehall department trying to deliver Brexit is equivalent to more than half of its total staff, shock new figures reveal. Data seen by The Independent shows hundreds of civil servants went elsewhere as the department tried to get on its feet and cobble together a negotiating stance for the UK over the last two years. The exodus means the average age of workers left in the department is 32, though they are tasked with winning a complex deal that could change Britain for a generation.

The information obtained by the Liberal Democrats appears to corroborate previous reports about an extraordinarily high turnover at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu), with critics now claiming it points to “deep instability” at the heart of the government’s Brexit operation. According to the turnover data obtained under freedom of information, a staggering 357 staff have left the Dexeu in just two years. Yet the total number of those employed at the Whitehall department amounts to only 665, indicating a turnover rate of more than 50 per cent in that period.

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Expect many more similar examples.

Britain Loses Medicines Contracts As EU Body Anticipates Brexit (G.)

Britain’s leading role in evaluating new medicines for sale to patients across the EU has collapsed with no more work coming from Europe because of Brexit, it has emerged. The decision by the European Medicines Agency to cut Britain out of its contracts seven months ahead of Brexit is a devastating blow to British pharmaceutical companies already reeling from the loss of the EMA’s HQ in London and with it 900 jobs. All drugs sold in Europe have to go through a lengthy EMA authorisation process before use by health services, and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain has built up a leading role in this work, with 20-30% of all assessments in the EU.

The MHRA won just two contracts this year and the EMA said that that work was now off limits. “We couldn’t even allocate the work now for new drugs because the expert has to be available throughout the evaluation period and sometimes that can take a year,” said a spokeswoman. In a devastating second blow, existing contracts with the MHRA are also being reallocated to bloc members. Martin McKee, the professor of European health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has given evidence to select committees about Brexit, said it was a disaster for the MHRA, which had about £14m a year from the EMA. The head of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was akin to watching a “British success story” being broken up.

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Draghi!!

Emerging Markets Haunt Spanish Banks (DQ)

Almost exactly six years ago, the Spanish government requested a €100 billion bailout from the Troika (ECB, European Commission and IMF) to rescue its bankrupt savings banks, which were then merged with much larger commercial banks. Over €40 billion of the credit line was used; much of it is still unpaid. Yet Spain’s banking system could soon face a brand new crisis, this time not involving small or mid-sized savings banks but instead its alpha lenders, which are heavily exposed to emerging economies, from Argentina to Turkey and beyond. In the case of Turkey’s financial system, Spanish banks had total exposure of $82.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

That’s more than the combined exposure of lenders from the next three most exposed economies, France, the USA, and the UK, which reached $75 billion in the same period. According to BIS statistics, Spanish banks’ exposure to Turkey’s economy almost quadrupled between 2015 and 2018, largely on the back of Spain’s second largest bank BBVA’s madcap purchase of roughly half of Turkey’s third largest lender, Turkiye Garanti Bankasi. Since buying its first chunk of the bank from the Turkish group Dogus and General Electric in 2010, BBVA has lost over 75% of its investment under the combined influence of Garanti’s plummeting shares and Turkey’s plunging currency.

But the biggest fear, as expressed by the ECB on August 10, is that Turkish borrowers might not be hedged against the lira’s weakness and begin to default en masse on foreign currency loans, which account for a staggering 40% of the Turkish banking sector’s assets. If that happens, the banks most exposed to Turkish debt will be hit pretty hard. And no bank is as exposed as BBVA, though the lender insists its investments are well-hedged and its Turkish business is siloed from the rest of the company. In Argentina, whose currency continues to collapse and whose economy is now spiraling down despite an IMF bailout, Spanish banks’ total combined investments amounted to $28 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That represented almost exactly half of the $58.9 billion that foreign banks are on the hook for in the country. The next most at-risk banking sector, the US, has some $10 billion invested.

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Maybe you should define capitalism first.

Capitalism Is Beyond Saving, and America Is Living Proof (TD)

Real wage growth has been nonexistent in the United States for more than 30 years. But as America enters the 10th year of the recovery—and the longest bull market in modern history—there are nervous murmurs, even among capitalism’s most reliable defenders, that some of its most basic mechanisms might be broken. The gains of the recovery have accrued absurdly, extravagantly to a tiny sliver of the world’s superrich. A small portion of that has trickled down to the professional classes—the lawyers and money managers, art buyers and decorators, consultants and “starchitects”—who work for them. For the declining middle and the growing bottom: nothing.

This is not how the economists told us it was supposed to work. Productivity is at record highs; profits are good; the unemployment rate is nearing a meager 4 percent. There are widely reported labor shortages in key industries. Recent tax cuts infused even more cash into corporate coffers. Individually and collectively, these factors are supposed to exert upward pressure on wages. It should be a workers’ market. But wages remain flat, and companies have used their latest bounty for stock buybacks, a transparent form of market manipulation that was illegal until the Reagan-era SEC began to chip away at the edifice of New Deal market reforms.

The power of labor continues to wane; the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, while ostensibly limited to public sector unions, signaled in certain terms the willingness of the court’s conservative majority—five guys who have never held a real job—to effectively overturn the entire National Labor Relations Act if given the opportunity. The justices, who imagine working at Wendy’s is like getting hired as an associate at Hogan & Hartson after a couple of federal clerkships, reason that every employee can simply negotiate for the best possible deal with every employer.

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Jul 152018
 
 July 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Theresa May: Trump Told Me To Sue The EU (BBC)
Trump Reveals The Queen’s Private Views On Brexit (G.)
Theresa May Warns There Could Be ‘No Brexit At All’ (R.)
The Chequers Brexit Compromise Offers The Worst Of Both Worlds (Mandelson)
Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, German Business Groups Tell Members (R.)
Immigrant Children, Parents Reunited Faster Under New Court Order (R.)
Spain Saves Over 340 Migrants At Sea, One On Truck Tyre (AFP)
450 Migrants Stranded At Sea As Italy, Malta Dig Heels In (AFP)
Mobile Phones Are ‘The Best Spying Device You Can Imagine’ (CNBC)
The Wealthy Are Plotting To Leave Us Behind (Rushkoff)

 

 

Stranger things have happened.

Theresa May: Trump Told Me To Sue The EU (BBC)

Donald Trump told Theresa May she should sue the EU rather than negotiate, she has told the BBC. The US president said on Friday at a joint press conference that he had given her a suggestion but she had found it too “brutal”. Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr what it was he had said, she replied: “He told me I should sue the EU – not go into negotiations.” She defended her blueprint for Brexit and urged her critics to back it. She said it would allow the UK to strike trade deals with other nations, end free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

A White Paper published on Thursday fleshed out details of the agreement reached by the cabinet on how post-Brexit trade will work. Before the paper was published, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned, saying it would not deliver the Brexit people had voted for in the 2016 EU referendum. Talking about the president’s advice on how to handle the EU, Mrs May said: “Interestingly what the president also said at that press conference was ‘don’t walk away’. “Don’t walk away from those negotiations because then you’ll be stuck. So I want us to be able to sit down to negotiate the best deal for Britain.”

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Not really.

Trump Reveals The Queen’s Private Views On Brexit (G.)

Trump enthused about his reception at Windsor Castle on Friday, where he and Melania spent 45 minutes with the Queen. “It was a very easy talk,” he said. “You know, it’s hard to talk to somebody if you’re, sort of, if there’s not that something special. You know that better than anybody. Sometimes you’ll have a guest on where no matter what you do it’s not working, right? And then sometimes it’s magic. We had a great, a great feeling.” Morgan asked: “Did you get the feeling she liked you?” “Well I don’t want to speak for her,” Trump said, “but I can tell you I liked her. So usually that helps. But I liked her a lot.”

Asked if he had discussed Brexit, Trump said: “I did. She said it’s a very – and she’s right – it’s a very complex problem. I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be … Everyone thought it was going to be, ‘Oh it’s simple, we join or don’t join, or let’s see what happens’.” Trump would not say if the 92-year-old monarch told him what she really thinks of Britain’s attempt to leave the European Union. “Well,” he said, “I can’t talk, you know I’ve heard very strongly from a lot of people, you just don’t talk about that conversation with the Queen, right? You don’t wanna do that … Let me tell you what I can talk about … she is an incredible woman, she is so sharp, she is so beautiful, when I say beautiful – inside and out. That is a beautiful woman.”

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That’s not a warning, it’s a wish.

Theresa May Warns There Could Be ‘No Brexit At All’ (R.)

Prime Minister Theresa May has warned there may be “no Brexit at all” because of lawmakers’ attempts to undermine her plan to leave the European Union. “My message to the country this weekend is simple: we need to keep our eyes on the prize,” May wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “If we don’t, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.” Earlier this week two senior ministers resigned in protest at May’s plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc next March. Her blueprint was then criticised in a newspaper interview by U.S. President Donald Trump, a position he backtracked on during a meeting with May on Friday.

May also wrote in the Mail on Sunday article that Britain would take a tough stance in its next round of negotiations with the EU. “Some people have asked whether our Brexit deal is just a starting point from which we will regress,” she said. “Let me be clear. Our Brexit deal is not some long wish-list from which negotiators get to pick and choose. It is a complete plan with a set of outcomes that are non-negotiable.”

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Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

The Chequers Brexit Compromise Offers The Worst Of Both Worlds (Mandelson)

When I first looked at what had been agreed on Brexit at Chequers, I thought the plan would please nobody, but that the public might conclude that these proposals represent the best available. In reality, it’s a spatchcocked, half-in, half-out plan and the business response was frustration: it is better trade news for goods but a disappointing hard Brexit for services. Those who voted to “take back control” were more vitriolic: it is an attempt to remain close to Europe, full of concessions and compromises, and therefore a million miles from what they expected. In Brussels on the day of the white paper’s publication, I met officials on the British and EU sides, as well as the Irish, and found a desire to debate its content seriously.

For the last two years Theresa May has elevated sovereignty over trade and she seemed to be making a timely correction, as well as reaffirming her Irish border commitment. But as I returned home, my earlier doubts resurfaced. This plan neither allows us to receive the economic benefits of being fully inside the EU’s trade perimeter nor will it give us the freedom to market ourselves independently to the rest of the world. It is a halfway house that will leave us hanging by a thread, subject to the EU’s rules – whatever they are in future – with no say in their formulation. As a former EU trade commissioner, I know how complicated trade negotiations are and why they always end up with fewer gains on both sides than either expects.

So I am sympathetic to the government’s desire for something more ambitious and more customised to Britain’s needs. And I understand why the CBI has welcomed this ambition, particularly because it has chosen to prioritise international manufacturing businesses and their supply chains over services. However, it is services rather than manufacturing that make up the bulk of the UK economy and to relegate them makes no sense.

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They’re as slow as the British themselves.

Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, German Business Groups Tell Members (R.)

German business groups have urged their members to step up preparations for a hard Brexit that would see Britain crash out of the European Union next year without negotiating a deal. British Prime Minister Theresa May secured a cabinet agreement last week for “a business-friendly” proposal to leave the EU, aimed at spurring stalled Brexit talks. But the hard-won compromise has come under fire from within her governing Conservative Party and may yet fall flat with EU negotiators. “Even if the British government is moving now, companies must plan for the scenario in which there is no agreement,” Joachim Lang, managing director of the BDI, Germany’s biggest industry lobby, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Thilo Brodtmann, managing director of the VDMA engineering association, told the same paper: “It is urgent to prepare for Brexit and to expect the worst case scenario.” German industry is concerned about increased friction in trade with Britain after Brexit. Britain is the second-biggest export market for German car manufacturers. But Lang said some German businesses were only just starting to analyze what Brexit would mean for them, adding: “At least that has moved us forward from a few months ago.”

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I like Dana Sabraw.

Immigrant Children, Parents Reunited Faster Under New Court Order (R.)

When Yolany Padilla was released from immigration custody in Seattle last week, she assumed she would be quickly reunited with her 6-year-old son, who had been taken from her at the U.S.-Mexico border two months earlier. But caseworkers at Cayuga Centers in New York, where the boy had been placed, told her lawyer that the government’s vetting process for reunification would take time. Fingerprint collection and analysis alone could take 60 days, and there would also be background checks of all the adults with whom she and her son would stay. It would likely be weeks before her son could be returned to her. “I didn’t want to believe that could be true,” said Padilla, who comes from Honduras and is seeking asylum in the United States.

“It hurt so much to even think it could be 60 days.” That estimate changed abruptly on Thursday night after a federal judge’s order that the government streamline some vetting procedures for reunifying parents and children. Padilla’s lawyer, Leta Sanchez, received a call from Cayuga Centers’ general counsel saying the case had been referred for expedited processing. On Saturday, Padilla and her son, Jelsin, were reunited at the Seattle airport, where he was flown from New York. Padilla ran to her son as he entered the airport waiting area, dropping to her knees and embracing the small boy as he smiled broadly. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, imagine how I feel inside,” Padilla said, speaking through a translator at the airport after the reunion.

“It was like my heart was going to come out of my body,” Several immigration attorneys reached by Reuters said they had seen similar expedited reunions following a July 10 order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in a case brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union. The judge had previously ordered the government to reunify by July 26 as many as 2,500 immigrant children it had separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. The separations were part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, though some of the separated families are also asylum seekers. That policy was abandoned in June in the wake of widespread protests.

On July 10, after examining how an initial wave of reunifications of young children had gone, Sabraw concluded that government vetting policies could be streamlined to speed the process. Reunifications should not be delayed by “lengthy background checks,” the judge wrote, noting that such checks would not have been performed if the parents and children had never been separated.

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Spain is going to be the no. 1 destination.

Spain Saves Over 340 Migrants At Sea, One On Truck Tyre (AFP)

Spanish rescuers saved more than 340 migrants in the Mediterranean on Saturday (July 14), including one person from north Africa who was attempting the crossing on board a truck tyre, they said. Salvamento Maritimo, Spain’s coastguards, said their ships had rescued 240 people spread out in 12 boats, 10 of them in the Strait of Gibraltar and two others in the Alboran Sea, and on the truck tyre. A spokesman added that the Guardia Civil police force had also saved more than 100 migrants in the Mediterranean. Spain is set to overtake Italy as the country of choice for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Some 16,902 people have arrived in Spain so far this year, the International Organization for Migration’s most recent figures show, and a further 294 died in the attempt. All in all, more than 1,400 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year, they add. Last month, Spain also agreed to take in 630 migrants who arrived aboard three vessels, including the French NGO rescue ship Aquarius.

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The EU is conspicuously silent on this.

450 Migrants Stranded At Sea As Italy, Malta Dig Heels In (AFP)

Another 450 migrants on board two military vessels were stranded at sea on Saturday as Italy and Malta locked horns over whose responsibility it was to offer them safe harbour. The boats, which are currently in Italian waters, had initially set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday while passing through waters under Malta’s jurisdiction. But Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has authority over the country’s ports, on Friday refused to let them dock in his latest show of intransigence over migrants stranded at sea. And on Saturday, as those on board were transferred to two other vessels, he insisted the boats be instructed to “head south, to Libya or Malta”.

“We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention,” he said in talks with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his remarks carried by Italian news agencies. In an exchange of messages, emails and phonecalls on Friday, Rome had tried to push Valetta to take responsibility for those on board the wooden boat. But Malta said the ship was much closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa, insisting that those on board only wanted to reach Italy. On Saturday morning, they were transferred to two military vessels but where the vessels will dock remains unclear. Eight women and children were taken to Lampedusa for medical treatment. The new standoff kicked in just hours after 67 migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard ship in Sicily late on Thursday.

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A thousand ways to track you.

Mobile Phones Are ‘The Best Spying Device You Can Imagine’ (CNBC)

Could someone be tracking you as you drive around your city or town? You may think turning off your smartphone’s location will prevent this, but researchers from Northeastern University in Boston found that isn’t always the case. “Not a lot of people are aware of this problem. Mainly because when we think about location, we associate it with the GPS on the phone,” said Sashank Narain a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern. In a test, Narain and his team were able to track people driving through Boston, Waltham, Massachusetts, and London. Traditional locators, like GPS were turned off — so the researchers used other sensors. “The goal of our project is to make people aware that vulnerabilities such as these exist, and they should be taken care of,” Narain added.

Guevara Noubir, a professor at Northeastern University who was involved in the research and also directs Northeastern’s Cybersecurity & Information Assurance Graduate Program, told CNBC that “there’s a whole area, what’s called the side channel attacks, where you use side information to infer something that can have an impact on security,” and specifically, privacy. Using Android phones running Google’s operating system, the researchers did the tracking using sensors in smartphones that were not designed to track location. Those tools included an accelerometer, which tracks how fast a phone is moving, a magnetometer, which works like a digital compass, and a gyroscope, which tracks rotation. These sensors are responsible for things like changing the screen orientation from horizontal to vertical when the phone is moved.

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“No matter their embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral.”

The Wealthy Are Plotting To Leave Us Behind (Rushkoff)

[..] the more devastating impacts of pedal-to-the-metal digital capitalism fall on the environment and global poor. The manufacture of some of our computers and smartphones still uses networks of slave labor. These practices are so deeply entrenched that a company called Fairphone, founded from the ground up to make and market ethical phones, learned it was impossible. (The company’s founder now sadly refers to their products as “fairer” phones.) Meanwhile, the mining of rare earth metals and disposal of our highly digital technologies destroys human habitats, replacing them with toxic waste dumps, which are then picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.

This “out of sight, out of mind” externalization of poverty and poison doesn’t go away just because we’ve covered our eyes with VR goggles and immersed ourselves in an alternate reality. If anything, the longer we ignore the social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the more of a problem they become. This, in turn, motivates even more withdrawal, more isolationism and apocalyptic fantasy — and more desperately concocted technologies and business plans. The cycle feeds itself. The more committed we are to this view of the world, the more we come to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution.

The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug. No matter their embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral. Any bad behaviors they induce in us are just a reflection of our own corrupted core. It’s as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles. Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be “solved” with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.

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Jun 172018
 


George Grosz Apocalyptic landscape 1936

 

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)
Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)
Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)
Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)
First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)
Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)
Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)
China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)
Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)
Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)
May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)
Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

 

 

This morning Merkel’s coalition partner, Horst Seehofer, said ‘I can not work with this woman anymore’. Looks like game could be over.

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)

For nearly 14 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has defined and personified Europe’s middle ground: pragmatic, consensual, mercantilist, petit-bourgeois, above all stable. It is little wonder the leader of Mitteleuropa’s major economic power has dominated the political centre for so long. But what if Merkel falls? Can the centre hold? These are increasingly urgent questions as the once unassailable “Mutti” struggles to hold together a fractious coalition. The immediate issue, which is likely to come to a head on Monday, is a furious row over EU immigration policy. But other problems are piling up, with unpredictable consequences for Europe’s future cohesion.

Merkel’s political obituary has been written many times, but now the final draft is nearing completion. She is under fire from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which stormed into the Bundestag last autumn. She has problems with the failing, unpopular Social Democrats on her left, on whom she depends for support. More seriously, though, Merkel is being challenged from within by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, former chairman of Bavaria’s rightwing CSU, which is allied to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. In sum, Seehofer is demanding Germany no longer admit migrants who have first entered the EU via other member states – which is nearly all of them.

In Merkel’s view, such a bar would be illegal and would wreck her efforts – ongoing since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when Germany accepted 1 million migrants – to create a balanced, EU-wide policy of voluntary migrant quotas. She says Seehofer should wait for this month’s EU summit to come up with a joint plan. The problem with that approach is twofold. Seehofer’s CSU, which faces a critical electoral clash with the AfD in October, complains that the EU has been trying and failing to agree this for years. Another objection, as her critics see it, is that most Germans, recalling her 2015 “open door” policy, do not trust Merkel on this issue. Polls indicate 65% back tighter border controls.

Last week’s row between France and Italy, sparked by Rome’s decision to refuse entry to a ship, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off Libya, showed how improbable is the prospect of agreement at the Brussels summit. Italy’s new populist leadership, in common with an emerging axis of nationalist-minded governments in Austria, Hungary and Poland, believes it has a mandate to halt the migrant flow. Meanwhile, so-called “frontline states” such as Greece, Spain and Italy accuse “destination states” such as Germany, France and the UK of failing to accept a fair share of migrants. Divisions have been exacerbated by the failure, so far, of a key Merkel-backed initiative, the multibillion-euro EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to reduce migration by addressing “root causes” in places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.

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And this is of course far too late. This summit should have been held 3 years ago. And it should be a UN summit, not some talks with Greece and Italy. Give Africa a voice. And Central America. Stop inviting xenophobia.

Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to hold an urgent summit dedicated to the migration crisis and to discuss this issue with a group of the EU member states, local media reported. The Bild newspaper reported Saturday citing own sources in the leadership of several EU countries that Merkel would like to discuss migration-related issues with leadership of Austria, Greece, and Italy. According to the media outlet, a final decision about the date of the summit has not been made yet, however it could take place later in the month. Earlier, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, called for reforms of EU asylum rules, proposing that the EU set up centers to process asylum claims in migrants’ countries of origin. France’s President Emanuel Macron also stressed the need to modify current migration rules and criticizing the European Union for not sharing the burden with Rome over the migrant crisis.

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This comes at a bad time given Merkel’s problems.

Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Auarius was prevented from docking. “Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel. He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said. Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

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Greece, Italy and now Spain.

Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)

Spain’s coast guard rescued 933 migrants and found four dead bodies in the Mediterranean Friday and Saturday, as the country prepared for the arrival of a charity rescue ship that was denied a port by Italy and Malta. The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks in the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants. The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.

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Kudos to Sanchez. But what comes next?

First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)

The first boat of the Aquarius convoy carrying 630 people, who have become the focus of a pan-European disagreement over migration, has docked in Valencia. The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo arrived in the Spanish port just before 7am local time on Sunday, and will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione. The migrants were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since after the Italian government refused to allow the vessel they were aboard to dock in Italy. Among those rescued are seven children aged under five, 32 children aged between five and 15 years, 61 young people aged from 15 to 17 and 80 women, seven of whom are pregnant.

They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya. The Aquarius, a charity rescue vessel operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), picked up more than a hundred people in a complex night-time rescue before being asked by the Italian authorities to take on board hundreds more people they had recovered. However the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, then refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at Italian ports, fulfilling an election pledge to stop the arrival of migrants from Africa. Malta also refused to allow them to dock there, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.

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More kudos for Sanchez. France is moving.

Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)

Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants” scheduled for Sunday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said. The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states.

Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 migrants including many children and pregnant women off Libya’s cost last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments. Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered Thursday to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.

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Still negotiating.

Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)

By inflicting tariffs on the steel and aluminum of his allies, and then on tens of billions of dollars in goods from China, US President Donald Trump has quickly moved to fulfill the tough campaign pledges he made on trade. During his first year in office, Trump and his top economic aides made repeated threats and warned that preliminary investigations were launched into whether certain imports were being unjustly subsidized. But no concrete steps were taken. That all changed in March, when the “America First” president went on the offensive. “What happened for a period of time is the president was constrained by different members” of his administration, said Edward Alden, a specialist on US economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But the president has become increasingly confident in his own judgment on these issues… He is willing to do radical things he promised during his campaign and for many years before that.” In its latest move, the White House on Friday announced stiff 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking immediate retaliation from Beijing. The move, which Trump justified as payback for the theft of American intellectual property and technology, reignited a trade spat between the world’s two largest economies, spooking markets and worrying business leaders.

It came on top of the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum that went into effect in late March – measures that prompted Beijing to slap punitive duties on 128 US goods, including pork, wine and certain pipes. Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Trump has seemingly opted to go with his gut, sometimes over the protestations of his closest aides.

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Since there is no glut of soybeans globally, this looks improbable.

China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)

Perhaps Iowa farmers’ biggest fear is becoming a harsh reality: The escalating U.S.-China trade dispute erupted Friday, with each country vowing to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in goods. U.S. and Iowa agriculture is caught in the crossfire, with farmers selling $14 billion in soybeans to China last year, its top export market. Soybeans are among hundreds of U.S. products China has singled out for tariffs. The U.S. has an equally long list that includes taxing X-ray machines and other Chinese goods. Iowa farmers could lose up to $624 million, depending on how long the tariffs are in place and the speed producers can find new markets for their soybeans, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.

U.S. soybean prices have fallen about 12 percent since March, when the U.S.-China trade dispute began. “Any tariff or tax put in place will have a significant impact, not only to the U.S. soybean market but to Iowa’s, because we’re such a large producer,” Hart said Friday. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower, producing 562 million bushels last year worth $5.2 billion. “It will slow down the market. Even with the tariffs in place, we will ship a lot of soybeans to China,” Hart said. “It just won’t be nearly the amount we did before. “It’s likely to still be our largest market even with these tariffs in place.”

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Word.

Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)

At a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College (barf), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” and that “his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.” This would be the same James Mattis who’s been overseeing the war crimes committed by America’s armed forces during their illegal occupation of Syria.

This would be the same United States of America that was born of the genocide of indigenous tribes and the labor of African slaves, which slaughtered millions in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya and Syria for no legitimate reason, which is partnered with Ukrainian Nazis, jihadist factions in Syria and Iranian terror cultists, which supports 73 percent of the world’s dictators, which interferes constantly in the electoral processes of other countries as a matter of policy, which stages coups around the world, which has encircled the globe with military bases, whose FBI still targets black civil rights activists for persecution to this very day, which routinely enters into undeclared wars of aggression against noncompliant governments to advance plutocratic interests, which remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings after doing so completely needlessly in Japan, and which is functionally a corporatist oligarchy with no meaningful “democratic model” in place at all.

A casual glance at facts and history makes it instantly clear that the United States has no “moral authority” of any kind whatsoever, and is arguably the hub of the most pernicious and dangerous force ever assembled in human history. But the establishment Russia narrative really is that cartoonishly ridiculous: you really do have to believe that the US government is 100 percent pure good and the Russian government is 100 percent pure evil to prevent the whole narrative from falling to pieces. If you accept the idea that the exchange is anything close to 50/50, with Russia giving back more or less what it’s getting and simply protecting its own interests from the interests of geopolitical rivals, it no longer makes any sense to view Putin as a leader who poses a unique threat to the world. If you accept the idea that the west is actually being far more aggressive and antagonistic toward Russia than Russia is being toward the west, it gets even more laughable.

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“Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents..”

Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)

The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you. The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre. For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits.

One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. “Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.” Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago.

The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21. But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.

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First you kill it, then it needs to be revived. How much of the £20 billion goes to repairing the damage already done?

May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)

Taxpayers are to be asked to help fund a £20bn a year injection of extra cash into the National Health Service by 2023-24 that will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services, Theresa May will say today. The announcement, before the NHS’s 70th birthday next month, will represent the biggest funding boost since Gordon Brown imposed a one percentage point rise in National Insurance to pay for more NHS spending in his 2002 budget, in the face of Tory claims that Labour was slapping a “tax on ordinary families”.

Government sources said the increases, which would be paid for in part by a “Brexit dividend”, would amount to around £600m a week extra for the NHS in cash terms within six years. Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night that the government wanted to “show the world what a cutting-edge 21st-century healthcare system can look like”. He added: “This long-term plan and historic funding boost is a fitting birthday present for our most loved institution. Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.

He said the extra cash “recognises the superhuman efforts made by staff over the last few years to maintain services in the face of rapidly growing demand. But it also presents a big opportunity for the NHS to write an entirely new chapter in its history”. Details of how the public will be required to pay through tax rises, and the proportion of the funding increases they will pay for, will not be spelled out until the budget, because of ongoing arguments involving the chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt, and No 10.

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70% of Greeks is against the deal, protests are everywhere. But he pushed it through. In Foreign Policy, someone suggested giving him a Nobal Peace Prize for it. But, but, democracy…

Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are set to sign a historic accord to modify the latter’s name after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament Saturday. The accord is to be signed in the Prespes region, a lake district which borders Greece, FYROM and Albania, by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday. Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev will both attend the ceremony, along with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz and other European officials – including the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Following the ceremony, members of the two delegations will hold a working lunch in the town of Otesevo, in FYROM. Security at the event is expected to be ultra-tight. A protest against the deal will be held in the nearby village of Pisoderi. On Saturday, after more than two days of vehement debate in Parliament, Greece’s SYRIZA-led government survived a no-confidence vote brought against it by the main opposition New Democracy party, but with one less MP. The motion garnered 127 votes with 153 against. The junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) backed the government despite its opposition to the name deal with FYROM that Tsipras announced last week, bar one MP, Dimitris Kammenos, who backed the motion. He was subsequently expelled from the party, reducing the government’s majority to 153.

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Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

May 282018
 


Brassaï La Bande du Grand Albert 1931-32

 

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)
Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)
Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)
First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)
Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)
Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)
Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)
Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)
Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)
Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)
US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)
Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)
In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)
‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

 

 

“The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini.”

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)

I concede that there are issues over which I would welcome the Italian President’s use of constitutional powers that (in my humble opinion) he should not have. One such issue is the outrageous policy of the Lega and the promise of its leader, Mr Salvini, to expel five hundred thousand migrants from Italy. Had President Mattarella refused Mr Salvini the post of Interior Minister, on the basis that he rejects such a monstrous project, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, Mr Mattarella had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the formation of a 5S-Lega government on the basis that there is no place in a European country for scenes involving security forces rounding up hundreds of thousands of people, caging them, and forcing them into trains, buses and ferries before expelling them goodness knows where.

No, Mr Mattarella vetoed the formation of a government backed by an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: His disapproval of the Finance Minister designate. And what was this disapproval based on? The fact that the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s eurozone rules, has in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of euro exit just in case it is needed. It was as if President Mattarella were to declare that reasonableness in a prospective Finance Minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post!

Let’s face it: There is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share a concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. And there is no prudent finance minister who does not have a plan for euro exit; indeed, I have itr on good authority that the German finance ministry, the ECB, every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mr Mattarella telling us that only the Italian Finance Minister is not allowed to imagine having such a plan? Beyond his moral drift (as he condones Mr Salvini’s industrial-scale misanthropy while vetoing a legitimate concern about the eurozone’s capacity to let Italy breathe in its midst), President Mattarella has made a major tactical blunder.

In short, he fell right into Mr Salvini’s trap. The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini. Mr Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. Already last night hescaled the high moral with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”

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More than half of Italy feel utterly betrayed by their own president.

Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)

Italy’s president rejected Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte’s pick for the economy ministry, a political source said on Sunday, a veto that may lead to another election this year.Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experience, took his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella, but the president rejected Conte’s candidate to the Economy Ministry, the 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona. Before Conte or Mattarella had finished their meeting, far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said that the only option now was to hold another election, probably later this year, without directly confirming the president’s veto.

“In a democracy, if we are still in democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say,” Salvini said in a fiery speech to supporters in central Italy. Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio had met Mattarella informally on Sunday to try to find a solution. “The problem is Savona,” the coalition source said, explaining that the economist had not sufficiently softened some of his more eurosceptic positions. On Sunday, Savona tried to allay concerns about his views in his first public statement on the matter. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the EU, but he has distinguished credentials, including as industry minister in the early 1990s. “I want a different Europe, stronger, but more equal,” Savona said in a statement.

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Another technocrat. That won’t go well this time around.

Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)

Italy’s president is expected to ask a former IMF official on Monday to head a stopgap government amidst political and constitutional turmoil, with early elections looking inevitable. President Sergio Mattarella has called in Carlo Cottarelli after two anti-establishment parties angrily abandoned their plans to form a coalition in the face of a veto from the head of state over their choice of economy minister. In a televised address, Mattarella said he had rejected the candidate, 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona, because he had threatened to pull Italy from the single currency. “The uncertainty over our position has alarmed investors and savers both in Italy and abroad,” he said, adding: “Membership of the euro is a fundamental choice. If we want to discuss it, then we should do so in a serious fashion.”

Financial markets tumbled last week on fears the coalition being discussed would unleash a spending splurge and dangerously ramp up Italy’s already huge debt, which is equivalent to more than 1.3 times the nation’s domestic output. After Mattarella’s move, the euro gained ground, adding 0.6% against the Japanese yen and ticking up against other major trading partners as well. The far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which had spent days drawing up a coalition pact aimed at ending a stalemate following an inconclusive March vote, responded with fury to Mattarella, accusing him of abusing his office.

5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio called on parliament to impeach the mild-mannered Mattarella, while League chief Matteo Salvini threatened mass protests unless snap elections were called. “If there’s not the OK of Berlin, Paris or Brussels, a government cannot be formed in Italy. It’s madness, and I ask the Italian people to stay close to us because I want to bring democracy back to this country,” Salvini told reporters. [..] Cottarelli would be a calming choice for the financial markets, but any technocratic administration would likely only be a short-term solution because the majority of parliamentarians have said they would not support such a government.

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Portugal is supposed to be the Prince of the PIIGS.

First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)

While most investors are focused on Italian politics – the parallel currency ‘mini-BoT’ fears and potential for a constitutional crisis – Spain is now facing its own political crisis amid calls for a no-confidence vote against Rajoy. However, ‘Spaxit’ remains a distant concern for investors as another member of the PIIGS peripheral problems is starting to signal concerns about ‘Portugone’?

And the fundamental data confirms Portugal is next in line for a debt crisis… As Statista’s Brigitte van de Pas notes, on average, European Union countries had a gross government debt of roughly 81% of GDP in 2018. This average disguises real differences between EU countries. Whereas Greece had a government debt of 177.8% in 2018, Estonia had a debt of only 8.8% – the lowest in the entire EU zone.

While, the high Greek debt is well-known, a number of other countries however also have a debt that is higher than their own GDP. The Italian debt, for example, is lower than the Greek but still significant, at over 130% of GDP. Portugal, in third place, had a debt of 122.5%. One small positive note though: all three countries had even higher debts in 2017, and the European Commission forecasted a slow, but further decrease of their government debt in 2019. Whether this holds true for Italy, with their newly-elected government of Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega remains to be seen.

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“U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! [..] China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase!”

Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)

[First], Congress’s approving a bill to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act. If this passes, smaller financial institutions will find relief from the strict rules that have applied to Wall Street banks since after the 2008 crisis. This is sheer idiocy! It will not end well. The second is the U.S. corporate debt is suffering one of its worst sell-offs since 2000. This is another disaster in the making. U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! Only government debt has risen faster, from $35 to $64 trillion, or 83%. China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase! Of course, many of these bonds are simply financial engineering to buy back stock to increase earnings per share.

Uber-low long-term interest rates thanks to QE have allowed companies to do this cheaply. The problem is these long-term rates have been rising since just July 2016. They’ve gone from 1.38% to 3.10%. That’s an increase of 172 basis points in the risk-free 10-year Treasury bond. That naturally reverberates up through the risk spectrum from investment grade corporate bonds to junk bonds. You see, here’s the thing…Governments have artificially pushed down bond yields for so long that companies have embraced speculation rather than productive investment (i.e. they’re not spending money on productive assets that will serve them and the economy well in the long-term). This mentality only creates financial asset bubbles that burst.

When companies buy back their own shares at historically high valuations, they’re speculating, just like an investor or hedge fund. When stocks crash ahead, shareholders will demand to know why these corporations used the money they will need to survive the crisis to speculate in their own stock… at the highest prices in history! Well, as the numbers are now showing, this corporate bond bubble is starting to burst, and of course that will ultimately hit junk bonds the worst… then stocks and real estate. But the real story here is that we’ve been in this bond bubble since 1981. And the quality of this corporate debt has been falling for nearly 40 years now. QE has only accelerated the decline. We’re now at the point where the median corporate bond rating is borderline junk…

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You don’t say…

Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)

A veteran market researcher is out with a warning — saying the Federal Reserve is relying too heavily on economic surveys skewed by social media to mold their policies. According to Bianco Research President James Bianco, most economists mistakenly believe that leading indicators are signaling an “A+” economy that can withstand rising interest rates. “It’s more like a B- economy,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “It’s not this screaming home run that everybody thinks it is based on the survey data.” Bianco said social media is creating the bandwagon effect among survey respondents, a psychological phenomenon characterized by people following the herd.

“The advent of social media is allowing us basically to be inundated with financial news or economic news,” he said, adding the bulk of the news about the world’s largest economy has been largely favorable. “When somebody is asked ‘what do you think about the economy,” they are not answering ‘what do you think about the economy,’ Bianco said. “They are answering ‘What have you read about the economy?'” Bianco fears the Fed will make a policy error based on respondents’ answers. “Economists like at the Fed say ‘Wow, look at that data. It’s even better than we thought. We have to raise rates even faster,'” he said, adding that the tightening could derail the bull market. “The 10-Year [yield] could very well be at 3% by the end of next year with a 3% funds rate,” Bianco said. “[That’s when] you get an inverted yield curve.”

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Nobo’s popular at home anymore. Except for Putin.

Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)

Washington finds itself increasingly isolated in its economic and military policies. Merkel’s visit to Russia reaffirms the desire to create an alternative axis to the one between Brussels and Washington. The victory in Italy of two parties strongly opposed to new wars and the annulment of the JCPOA, and especially the sanctions against Russia, serves to form a new alliance, accentuating internal divisions within Europe. Macron, Merkel and May are all grappling with a strong crisis of popularity at home, which does not aid them in their decision-making. Exactly the same problems affect MbS, Trump, and Netanyahu in their respective countries. These leaders find themselves adopting aggressive policies in order to alleviate internal problems.

They also struggle to find a common strategy, often displaying schizophrenic behavior that belies the fact that they are meant to be on the same side of the barricades in terms of the desired world order. In direct contrast, China, Russia, Iran, and now India, are trying to respond to Western madness in a rational, moderate, and mutually beneficial way. And as a result, Europeans may perhaps begin to understand that the future lies not in piggybacking on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Trump seems to have offered the perfect occasion for European leaders to assert their sovereignty and start to move away from their traditional servility shown towards Washington.

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“This, as the saying goes, could be it.”

Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez really wants to be Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has been mostly flat in the polls for months, slowly trending down from 23% at the beginning of the year to 19% in the Metroscopia poll in El País on May 13. Articles had recently appeared wondering if Mr. Sánchez had anything relevant to say at all. His only notable intervention of late had been a meeting with Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa, the Prime Minister’s office, to agree on a joint response to the challenge posed by Quim Torra, the new separatist First Minister of Catalonia, whom Mr. Sánchez then decided to frame as “Spain’s Le Pen”, “a racist and a supremacist”.

With the publication of the Gürtel fraud case judgement on Thursday, the Socialist Party, which holds 84 out of 350 seats in Congress, has seized on an opportunity to move back into the political spotlight and oust the Popular Party from power with a motion of no confidence. Mariano Rajoy, famously unresponsive as political scandals erupt and opponents die off, wants to stay on as Prime Minister, of course, but this is a serious crisis: El País has characterised it as a “national emergency”. It is such a big mess that the PM felt he had to cancel his trip to Kiev to watch Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

He gave an unscheduled press conference on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his ministers, and accused Mr. Sánchez of wanting to destabilise Spain and wreck the country’s economic recovery. Moncloa sent out an unsigned, unofficial, unstamped “economic report” on Saturday, warning that the socialist motion of no confidence would cost €5 billion and 6,500 jobs. PP spokesman Fernando Martínez Maíllo said Mr. Sánchez would become the “Judas of Spanish politics” if he did a deal with Catalan separatists to take power. The Popular Party and Mr. Rajoy himself—also sliding inexorably downwards in the polls—sense real danger in the PSOE’s move. This, as the saying goes, could be it.

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“By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt.”

Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)

Spain’s maritime rescue service has rescued hundreds of people trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this weekend amid growing concerns that the country is struggling to cope with the migration crisis. The service said its crews had rescued 293 people from nine boats on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 250 migrants were rescued from eight boats, three of which were in poor condition and later sank, they added. The migrants were from various countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa. On a single day in August last year, Spanish rescuers saved 593 people from 15 small paddle boats – including 35 children and a baby – after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

According to statistics from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 21,468 migrants and refugees arrived in Spain by sea in 2017, with 224 people dying on the journey. The arrival figures showed a threefold increase on 2016, when 6,046 people reached Spain and 128 people died en route. By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has already warned that Spain is facing “another very challenging year” when it comes to helping and protecting those arriving on its shores.

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His case looks solid. But we’re talking the heart of these companies’ business models.

Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)

Accusing Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram of “intentionally” violating Europe’s strict new privacy rules that officially went into effect on Friday, Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems filed four lawsuits against the tech companies arguing they are still “coercing users into sharing personal data” despite rolling out new policies ostensibly aimed at complying with the new regulations.

Titled the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new rules require companies to explicitly and clearly request consent from users before mining their data, and Schrems argues in his complaints – which seek fines totaling $8.8 billion – that Google, Facebook, and the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are still utilizing “forced consent” strategies to extract users’ data when “the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service,” TechCrunch explains. “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Schrems wrote in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent. In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the ‘agree’-button—that’s not a free choice.” While Facebook—which is currently embroiled in international controversy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal—insists that its new policies are in compliance with Europe’s new regulatory framework, Schrems argues that Facebook and Google aren’t even attempting to follow the new law. “They totally know that it’s going to be a violation, they don’t even try to hide it,” Schrems told the Financial Times. Schrems believes that courts can curtail companies’ ability to poke around in our private lives and wean them off their idea that, “ ‘We’re Silicon Valley, we know what’s right for everybody else.’ ”

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Strong lobby for this in Washington.

US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)

The United States should freeze the sale of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because they are more likely to used against Greece than against terrorists, Democratic US Congressman Brad Sherman told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a Foreign Affairs Hearing on May 23. “I hope that the administration will oppose and prevent the sale of F-35s [to Turkey]. They are not a weapon to be used against terrorists. They are a weapon to be used against Greece,” he said.

A US Senate committee passed earlier this week a defense policy bill that includes a measure to prevent Turkey from purchasing the F-35s, citing the country’s detention of US citizen Andrew Brunson and its agreement with Russia to buy its weapons systems in December. Sherman also called on the State Department not to block a House resolution on genocidal campaigns committed by the Ottoman Empire. “I hope the State Department will at least be neutral should Congress consider, as we are considering, the remembrance of the millions of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac victims of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century,” he added.

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Fastest growing industry.

Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)

The UK’s largest food redistribution charity is helping to feed a record 772,000 people a week – 60% more than the previous year – with food that would otherwise be , new figures reveal. One in eight people in the UK go hungry every day – with the most needy increasingly dependent on – yet perfectly good food is wasted every day through the food production supply chain. FareShare said it was now redistributing food that otherwise would have been wasted with an annual value of £28.7m, up from £22.4m last year. “Three years ago we were helping to feed 211,000 people a week – today it’s three-quarters of a million,” said FareShare’s chief executive, Lindsay Boswell. “We reported in 2015 that we provided food across 320 towns and cities – now it’s 15,000. It’s not rocket science to see there has been a massive hike in demand for food from frontline charities.”

FareShare currently redistributes about 13,500 tonnes of surplus food every year donated by supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers to 9,653 charities including hospices, homeless shelters, care homes and women’s refuges, but its annual target is 100,000 tonnes. Demand for surplus food has soared against a background of growing dependence on food banks and rising in the UK. FareShare says it has the capacity – and a waiting list of charities wanting help – but needs access to more food. Its solution is a government fund that would cover the costs of storage and transport. Available to any charity or producer that incurs the costs of redistributing food, it would also save charities and other beneficiaries £150m by making free food available to them. A public petition supporting this move attracted more than 16,000 signatures, which guarantees a government response.

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People will start leaving in droves sson.

In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)

For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life. When Ms. Lewis and her husband bought their home a quarter-century ago, Prescot had a comforting village feel. Now, core government relief programs are being cut and public facilities eliminated, adding pressure to public services like police and fire departments, just as they, too, grapple with diminished funding.

By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says. “The government has created destitution,” says Barry Kushner, a Labour Party councilman in Liverpool and the cabinet member for children’s services. “Austerity has had nothing to do with economics. It was about getting out from under welfare. It’s about politics abandoning vulnerable people.”

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They should do that for all Americans stationed abroad today. Bring the living ones home while they’re still alive.

‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

Wearing bandanas, cowboy hats or gleaming helmets, tens of thousands of bikers descended on Washington Sunday to parade in honor of US soldiers missing in action in foreign wars, a now 30-year-old tradition known as “Rolling Thunder.” “We’re gonna keep riding until we get everybody back home, from all wars,” said Jack Richardson, who at 73 crossed the country from California for the 13th time to participate in the annual Memorial Day weekend spectacular. Dressed in a leather jacket emblazoned with patches, this Vietnam War veteran had assembled with thousands of other bikers in a parking lot near the Pentagon, awaiting the start of the parade.

The route will take them into the center of official Washington, past the monuments on the National Mall and the austere black marble memorial engraved with the names of the nearly 60,000 US soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. “Still there are families waiting back home here in the United States that have not found out where their dads, their fathers, their brothers – they don’t know where they are,” said Richardson, a retired Los Angeles police officer who served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. “They don’t know if they’re still in Vietnam, they don’t know if they’re still alive, they don’t know if they’re dead, they don’t know if they’re captured,” he said.

According to organizers, more than 85,000 US soldiers remain unaccounted for in conflicts as far back as World War I. Most are from World War II, but 1,598 of the missing are from the war in Vietnam, a conflict still fresh in the memories of older veterans. The parade was begun in 1988 with some 2,500 motorcycles under the motto “We will never forget” to press for an accounting of the Vietnam missing. It has grown every year since into a rumbling, roaring extravaganza that organizers say attracts over a million people, including spectators. Besides the missing, the bikers also come to remember their fallen comrades.

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May 252018
 


René Magritte The therapeutist 1937

 

The Spanish government is about to fall after the Ciudadanos party decided to join PSOE (socialist) and Podemos in a non-confidence vote against PM Rajoy. Hmm, what would that mean for the Catalan politicians Rajoy is persecuting? The Spanish political crisis is inextricably linked to the Italian one, not even because they are so much alike, but because both combine to create huge financial uncertainty in the eurozone.

Sometimes it takes a little uproar to reveal the reality behind the curtain. Both countries, Italy perhaps some more than Spain, would long since have seen collapse if not for the ECB. In essence, Mario Draghi is buying up trillions in sovereign bonds to disguise the fact that the present construction of the euro makes it inevitable that the poorer south of Europe will lose against the north.

Club Med needs a mechanism to devalue their currencies from time to time to keep up. Signing up for the euro meant they lost that mechanism, and the currency itself doesn’t provide an alternative. The euro has become a cage, a prison for the poorer brethren, but if you look a bit further, it’s also a prison for Germany, which will be forced to either bail out Italy or crush it the way Greece was crushed.

Italy and Spain are much larger economies than Greece is, and therefore much larger problems. Problems that are about to become infinitely more painful then they would have been had the countries been able to devalue their currencies. If you want to define the main fault of the euro, it is that: it creates problems that would not have existed if the common currency itself didn’t. This was inevitable from the get-go. The fatal flaw was baked into the cake.

 

And if you think about it, today the need for a common currency has largely vanished anyway already. Anno 2018, people wouldn’t have to go to banks to exchange their deutschmarks or guilders or francs, they would either pay in plastic or get some local currency out of an ATM. All this could be done at automatically adjusting exchange rates without the use of all sorts of middlemen that existed when the euro was introduced.

Americans and British visiting Europe already use this exact same system. Governments can make strong deals that make it impossible for banks and credit card companies to charge more than, say, 1% or 0.5%, on exchange rate transactions. This would be good for all cross-border trade as well, it could be seamless.

Technology has eradicated the reason why the euro was introduced in the first place, and made it completely unnecessary. But the euro is here, and it is going to cause a lot more pain and mayhem. Any country that even thinks about leaving the system will be punished hard, even if that’s the by far more logical thing to do.

Europe is not ready to call for the end of the experiment. Because so much reputation and ego has been invested in it, and because the richer nations and their banks still benefit -hugely- from the problems the poorer face. The one country that got it right was Britain, when it decided to stay out of the eurozone.

But then they screwed up the next decision. And found themselves with the most incompetent ever group of ‘chosen few’ to handle the outcome. Still, anyone want to take out a bet on who’s going to be worse off when the euro whip comes down, Britain or for instance Italy or France? Not me. Close call is the best I can come up with.

 

The euro was devised and introduced, ostensibly, to solve problems. Problems with cross border trade between European nations, with exchange rates. But instead it has created a whole new set of problems that turn out to be much worse than the ones it was supposed to solve. That’s how and why M5S and the League got to form Italy’s government.

In Spain, if an election is called, and it looks that way, you will either get a left wing coalition or more of the Rajoy-style same. Left wing means problems with the EU, more of the same means domestic problems; the non-confidence vote comes on the heels of yet another corruption scandal for Rajoy’s party.

And let’s not forget that all economic numbers are being greatly embellished all over the continent. If you can claim with a straight face that the Greek economy is growing, anything goes. Same with Italy. It’s only been getting worse. And yeah, there’s a lot of corruption left in these countries, and yeah, Europe could have helped them solve that. Only, it hasn’t, that is not what Brussels focuses on.

Italy for now is the big Kahuna. The EU can’t save it if the new coalition is serious about its government program. But it also can’t NOT save it, because that would mean Italy leaving the euro. And perhaps the EU.

If Italian bonds are sufficiently downgraded by the markets, Mario Draghi’s ECB will no longer be permitted to purchase them. And access to other support programs would depend on doing the very opposite of what the M5S/League program spells out, which is to stimulate the domestic economy. Is that a bad idea? Hell no, it’s just that the eurozone rules forbid it.

 

The euro has entirely outlived its purpose, and then some. But it exists, and it will be incredibly painful to unravel. The new game for the north will be to unload as much of that pain as possible on the south.

Europe would have been much better off of it had never had the euro. But it does. The politicians and bankers will make sure they’re fine. But the people won’t be.

The euro will disappear because the reasons for it not to exist are much more pressing than for it to do. At least that bit is simple. The unwind will not be.

 

 

May 182018
 


Leonard Misonne Waterloo Place, London 1899

 

Let me start by saying I have nothing against the English newspaper The Guardian. They publish some good things, on a wide range of topics. But they also produce some real stinkers. And lately they seem to publish quite a few of those. On Wednesday there was an entire series of hit pieces on Julian Assange, which I wrote about in I Am Julian Assange.

And apparently they’re not done. As I said on Wednesday, the relationship between Assange and the paper has cooled considerably, after The Guardian’s initial cooperation with Wikileaks on files Assange had shared with them. But does that excuse hit pieces, personal attacks, innuendo, suggestive and tendentious writing, in bulk?

There was one more article in the hit pieces series on Wednesday:

Assange ‘Split’ Ecuador And Spain Over Catalan Independence

Julian Assange’s intervention on Catalan independence created a rift between the WikiLeaks founder and the Ecuadorian government, which has hosted Assange for nearly six years in its London embassy, the Guardian has learned. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Assange’s support for the separatists, including a meeting in November, led to a backlash from Spain, which in turn caused deep concern within Ecuador’s government. While Assange’s role in the US presidential election has been an intense focus of US prosecutors, his involvement in Spanish politics appears to have caused Ecuador the most pain.

The Ecuadorians cut Assange’s internet connection and ended his access to visitors on 28 March, saying he had breached an agreement at the end of last year not to issue messages that might interfere with other states. Quito has been looking to find a solution to what it increasingly sees as an untenable situation: hosting one of the world’s most wanted men.

In November 2017, Assange hosted two supporters of the Catalan independence movement, whose push for secession from Spain had plunged the country into its worst political crisis since returning to democracy. Assange has said he supported the right to “self-determination” and argued against “repression” from Madrid.

He was visited by Oriol Soler, a Catalan businessman and publisher, and Arnau Grinyó, an expert in online communications campaigns. Their meeting, which was reported by the Spanish press, took place a little over a month after the unilateral Catalan independence referendum, and 13 days after the Spanish government responded to the unilateral declaration of independence by sacking the administration of the then Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and assuming direct control of the region.

I think that’s we call ‘leading’. Terminology like “..Assange’s role in the US presidential election..”, “..one of the world’s most wanted men..”, “..unilateral referendum..”, “..unilateral declaration of independence..”, are suggestive, they are meant to paint a picture in the reader’s head. What’s missing is any and all mention of the brutal violence in Catalunya on referendum day. That, too, has a purpose.

Assange has been a vocal critic of Madrid’s handling of the Catalan crisis and described the independence movement as “the redefinition of the relationship between people and state”, and “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi”. A Spanish diplomat told the Guardian that Spain “conveyed a message” to Ecuadorian authorities that Assange was using social media to support the secessionist movement and sending out messages “that are at odds with reality”.

A billion people have been critics of what happened around the referendum. So why not Assange? For what reason did he need to be shut up? Everyone can speak their mind, but not him? We no longer have freedom of speech? Isn’t that something a newspaper, most of all, first of all, should stand up for? An embassy of a democratic nation? No, not a word.

[..] “Spain has, on a number of occasions, informed the Ecuadorian authorities of its concerns over the activities that Julian Assange has engaged in while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.” [..]In December, Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, reminded Assange that he should refrain from trying to intervene in Ecuadorian politics.

US intelligence agencies and Spanish authorities have separately claimed that Russia has had a hand in their domestic affairs. US agencies have accused WikiLeaks of working with Russian intelligence to try to disrupt the US election by releasing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Spanish officials have suggested that much of the messaging on social media about the Catalan crisis originated in Russia.

Obviously, Assange has never interfered in Ecuadorian politics. That’s just utter nonsense. But that last bit takes the cherry. There is no proven link between Assange and Russia. There is no proven link between Russia and US elections. There is no proven link between Russia and hacked emails. There is no proof the emails were hacked. And as for Russia interfering in the Catalan referendum: oh, please.

Is this just very very bad journalism, or is it something more? You be the judge. But beware that almost all of this stuff consists of insinuations. It’s an affront to journalism.

Glenn Greenwald interviewed Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa after the Guardian pieces came out:

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture”

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.”

Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.” The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Maybe we should suggest that somebody may have interfered in Ecuador’s presidential elections?! You know, to get to Assange?!

Then today we read in the Guardian that in the aftermath of its hit series, Ecuador has dismissed security for Assange. Is this when MI6 and the CIA get to move in?

Ecuador To Remove Julian Assange’s Extra Security From London Embassy

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, has ordered the withdrawal of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years. The move was announced a day after an investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador revealed the country had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Assange, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police.

Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected him while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin.

[..] Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication systems in March after his pointed political comments on Twitter. Assange had tweeted messages challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in Salisbury.

What? Ecuador muted Assange because he challenged Britain’s accusation -unfounded as far as we can tell- that Russia poisoned the Skripals? But wait. I thought they cut him off because of Spain? Or the US? Now it’s Britain? Everyone and their pet hamster is suspicious of that Skripal story. But again, Assange is not allowed to be?

Oh, and all the terrible, and terribly suspicious, people that came to see him. “Nationalists” and “individuals linked to the Kremlin.” Leading, suggestive, truly repugnant “journalism”.

But then, also today, that same Guardian gives the floor to Melinda Taylor, one of Assange’s lawyers. Do they think that giving her a voice makes up for all the damage they’ve done to Assange, to themselves, to freedom of speech and to journalism? One might be tempted to think so.

Julian Assange Is Suffering Needlessly. Why Not Report That?

Breaking news: a series of articles has been published by the Guardian concerning Julian Assange, splashed over the front pages. The big reveal? That after the UK threatened to invade the Ecuadorean embassy, Ecuador beefed up its security and surveillance at said embassy. And that this costs money. And there is pressure to find a solution to a situation that has been described by the United Nations as illegal and arbitrary detention.

Lost in the lede was this: that Ecuador appears to be hoping “that Assange’s already uncomfortable confinement will become intolerable”. The Oxford dictionary defines “intolerable” as “unbearable, insufferable, unsupportable, insupportable, unendurable, beyond endurance, unacceptable, impossible, more than flesh and blood can stand, too much to bear, past bearing, not to be borne, overpowering (…)”.

Isn’t the headline story that the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks remains detained without access to fundamental healthcare? And since March this year, has been cut off from the outside world, bar meetings with his lawyers, which have apparently been surveilled?

Assange has won numerous awards for publishing information that has exposed egregious violations of human rights and abuses of state power. He has also won the more dubious prize of being placed in the crosshairs of US government attempts to silence free speech by silencing the publications and publishers that dare to speak freely.

 

And if only the ongoing Julian Assange tragedy was the only affront to news gathering. But no, there’s still always the Skripals. It looks like the gag order has been lifted. Yesterday, the Sun, which at least doesn’t pretend to be a quality paper, ran this:

Sergei Skripal Still Being Questioned Over Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack

Detectives are still questioning poisoned spy Sergei Skripal as he recovers in hospital, nearly 10 weeks after being attacked with a nerve agent, Sky News has learned. They are trying to piece together the Russian former double agent’s life in retirement in Britain, as more details emerged of his recent activities. They want to know more about his regular train journeys to London, his trips abroad, and his monthly meetings with his alleged former MI6 handler in a Salisbury restaurant. It was reported this week that the 66-year-old had been briefing intelligence agencies in the Czech Republic and Estonia on Russian spies and their methods, giving one lecture as recently as 2016.

Would that activity, years after arriving in Britain in a spy swap with Moscow, have been motive enough for the murder attempt on him and his daughter Yulia? The government insists the Kremlin was responsible for the attack, in which the deadly nerve agent novichok was smeared on the front door handle of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. But former KGB officer and espionage historian Alexander Vassiliev said it was more likely the work of the Russian mafia, out to embarrass Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Mr Vassiliev said: “It wasn’t the reason to kill him. I’m sure when Putin released him, and pardoned him, he knew Skripal would be co-operating with British secret services and other European espionage agencies. “All defectors are doing it, they work as consultants, they give lectures, they write books – it’s a normal thing. He had to earn his living somehow – he wouldn’t have been a taxi driver. “Skripal was arrested in 2004 – that was a long time ago and he didn’t know specific details about current objectives or operatives. The Russian government had no reason to kill Skripal – he was nobody and he wasn’t a danger.

Now, that’s funny. He’s been briefing Czech intelligence. The Czech Republic, we learned recently, is one of a group of countries that have the formula for novichok AND have produced small quantities of it. The “it could only have been Russia” narrative is, based on what we know, dead as a door handle.

That was yesterday. And lo and behold, this morning the Guardian writes that Skripal has been discharged from hospital. They got all the info they wanted out of him?

Sergei Skripal Discharged From Salisbury Hospital

The Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, who was exposed to a nerve agent, has been discharged from Salisbury district hospital, health officials have said. Skripal’s release follows that of his daughter, Yulia, and DS Nick Bailey, who were also exposed to novichok in March. The hospital said: “While these patients have now been discharged, their right to patient confidentiality remains and limits us from giving detailed accounts of the treatment these individuals received. “However, treating people who are so acutely unwell, having been poisoned by nerve agents, requires stabilising them, keeping them alive until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned.”

Yup, we’re sticking with the ‘novichok from Russia’ story. We’re not going to provide any proof, you will have to believe us. I think that’s the frame we must see this last article in, easily one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a while. And again it’s from the Guardian. “As if” to emphasize the dark and massive threat that is hanging over Britain. Create an atmosphere, paint a picture. Julian Assange and the Russians (and Trump!) against Spain, the US and Britain, those staunch defenders of human rights and ‘our values’.

Almost 100 Police Have Received Psychological Help After Salisbury Attack

Almost 100 Wiltshire police officers and staff have sought psychological support after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the Guardian can reveal. Among those who have asked for help were officers who initially responded to the collapse of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and those who were at or close to the various investigation sites in subsequent days and weeks. Some reported feeling disorientated and anxious while others were concerned about the possible long-term health effects on the public.

Wiltshire’s chief constable, Kier Pritchard, told the Guardian that officers – including himself and other police personnel continued to receive help more than two months after the attack. Pritchard took up the role of head of the force on the day of the attempted murders and said he had personally received the “best support” as he worked through the implications for him and his family of being a high-profile figure in the response to a state-sponsored attack.

One police officer, DS Nick Bailey, spent more than two weeks in hospital after being exposed to the novichok nerve agent and when he was discharged said life would never be the same again.

 

You know who might have helped us try to find out what really happened to the Skripals? Julian Assange. But he’s been silenced. Where do we turn now? How do we find the truth anymore? Have we effectively all been silenced?