Jun 192020
 


NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924 (he’d be in an electric car today)

 

Mainland China Reports 32 New Coronavirus Cases, 25 Of Them In Beijing (R.)
Mexico Posts Record Number Of New Coronavirus Infections (R.)
AMC Theaters To Reopen, Say Face Masks A “Political Controversy” (V.)
John Bolton’s Bad Reviews Don’t Stop Him Topping Us Book Charts (G.)
Bolton, Pelosi Agree: Trump Unfit To Be US President (R.)
Japan’s Deflation Gathers Momentum As Prices Extend Declines (R.)
Fed Chair: Keep Private Entities Out Of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CD)
EU Car Sales Crash 57% In May As Europe Amid Inventory Glut (ZH)
Australia Sees China As Main Suspect In State-Based Cyberattacks (R.)
Report Reveals CIA Incompetence To Blame For Vault 7 Breach (RT)
Americans Are Unhappiest They’ve Been In Nearly 50 Years (Ind.)
Indian Primate Jailed For Life After Carnivorous Rampage (RT)

 

 

Happy Juneteenth!

I made sure to check quite a few times, but it is what it is: according to Worldometer data, over the past 24 hours global new cases went from an almost record 141,872 on June 17 to an all-records shattering 177,168 on June 18. Maybe something’s off, but right now I couldn’t say what.

 

Worldometer reports new cases for June 18 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 140,528. Third consecutive day above 140,000.

My count 6AM EDT to 6AM EDT based on Worldometer numbers is much higher today at 177,168.

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 29,180
• Brazil + 23,050
• Russia + 7,790
• India + 13,827
• Mexico + 5,662

 

 

Cases 8,602,359 (+ 177,168 from yesterday’s 8,425,191)

Deaths 456,802 (+ 4,994 from yesterday’s 451,808)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunan we have a problem.

Mainland China Reports 32 New Coronavirus Cases, 25 Of Them In Beijing (R.)

Mainland China reported 32 new coronavirus cases as of the end of June 18, 25 of which were reported in the capital city Beijing, China’s National Health Commission said on Friday. This compared with 28 confirmed cases a day earlier, 21 of which were in Beijing. Local authorities are restricting movement of people in the capital and stepping up other measures to prevent the virus from spreading further following a series of local infections. Another five asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, those who are infected with the coronavirus but show no symptoms, were also reported as of June 18 compared with eight a day earlier. China does not count these patients as confirmed cases.

Read more …

Did we close the borders yet?

Mexico Posts Record Number Of New Coronavirus Infections (R.)

Mexico’s health ministry reported on Thursday a record 5,662 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 667 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 165,455 cases and 19,747 deaths. The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Read more …

“AMC Theater CEO Adam Aron says their cinemas won’t require masks upon reopening because they didn’t “want to be drawn into a political controversy.”

Is testing also a political viewpoint? How about COVID19 treatment at hospitals? Can we deny that to people who have political issues with facemasks?

AMC Theaters To Reopen, Say Face Masks A “Political Controversy” (V.)

AMC Theatres, the world’s largest exhibitor, has unveiled plans to re-open after coronavirus forced it to close its more than 600 venues in the U.S. for nearly four months. The company is expected to resume operations in 450 of those locations on July 15 and expects to be almost fully operational by the time that Disney’s “Mulan” debuts on July 24 and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” bows on July 31. As part of that process, AMC is reducing its seating capacity in order to help people social distance, it is implementing new cleaning procedures, placing hand-sanitizing stations throughout its theaters and encouraging contact-less and cash-free concessions. “We didn’t rush to reopen,” AMC CEO and president Adam Aron said in an interview with Variety.

“There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.” AMC’s competitors Regal and Cinemark announced their own plans to resume business earlier this week, targeting a similar mid-July timeframe for when they expect to be fully operational. [..] Prior to coronavirus there was a great deal of consolidation in the exhibition space, much of it made possible by debt financing. AMC’s decision to acquire rivals such as Odeon Cinemas, UCI Cinemas and Carmike Cinemas left it heavily leveraged with more than $5 billion in debt. In recent filings, AMC acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic could push it into bankruptcy. [..]

AMC will not mandate that all guests wear masks, although employees will be required to do so. Nor will AMC perform temperature checks on customers, though it will monitor its employees’ temperatures and have them undergo screenings to check for signs of coronavirus. The situation will be different in states and cities that require residents to wear a mask when they’re in public, but Aron said that AMC was wary of wading into a public health issue that has become politicized. “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” said Aron. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”

[..] the theater chain said that it is going to lean heavily on technological solutions such as deploying electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums and upgraded MERV 13 ventilation filters, which would eliminate airborne particles and reduce the chance that COVID-19 will spread. Other procedures being implemented include cleaning auditoriums between each showtime and allowing extra time between screenings for disinfection; blocking out every other row of seats to decrease congestion; pushing guests to use online ticketing and kiosks to limit interactions with staff, and designating various points within theaters for one-way foot traffic.

Read more …

“Orange Man Bad” beats Black Lives Matter.

John Bolton’s Bad Reviews Don’t Stop Him Topping Us Book Charts (G.)

John Bolton’s damning indictment of the Trump presidency is soaring up online charts in the US a week before its release, despite withering reviews describing it as “bloated with self-importance”, as the Trump administration makes a last-ditch attempt to prevent its publication. In the teeth of a series of critical assessments from papers including the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened is currently No 1 on Amazon’s US charts. Its sales are just ahead of another scathing take on Donald Trump, this time his niece Mary Trump’s forthcoming Too Much and Never Enough, which is subtitled How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Bolton’s book, which is out on 23 June, and Mary Trump’s, scheduled for 28 July, have knocked anti-racism titles by authors including Ibram X Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo and Robin DiAngelo off the top spots.

As the US justice department on Wednesday sought an emergency order to block publication of Bolton’s memoir, copies of the book were leaked to news outlets which revealed a series of explosive claims from the former national security adviser. According to Bolton, Trump pleaded with China to help him with his 2020 re-election campaign, praised China’s president Xi Jinping for his country’s internment camps, and was willing to halt criminal investigations to “give personal favours to dictators he liked”. Trump also weighed in, claiming on Twitter that the book is “made up of lies & fake stories”. Early reviews of the book have not been favourable. The New York Times said the memoir was “bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much”.

Filled with “minute and often extraneous details”, the review continued, it “toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged”. The Washington Post said that “for a memoir that is startlingly candid about many things, Bolton’s utter lack of self-criticism is one of the book’s significant shortcomings”, while NPR found that Bolton “clearly does not expect to attract the casual reader, or anyone else unable to digest sentences such as this one on the third page: ‘Constant personnel turnover obviously didn’t help, nor did the White House’s Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all)’.”

Read more …

Bolton, Pelosi Agree: Trump Unfit To Be US President (R.)

President Donald Trump came under attack from both sides of the American political spectrum on Thursday as liberal Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and former White House aide and conservative hawk John Bolton both declared him unfit to lead the country. “President Trump is clearly ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to be the president of the United States,” Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, told a news briefing. In a new book, Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, has accused the Republican president of sweeping misdeeds, including explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aid to win re-election in November. “I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in part of an interview aired on Thursday.

“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election.” Pelosi told a weekly news conference she was consulting with her fellow Democrats on whether to subpoena Bolton about the allegations in the book, which has not yet been distributed. If Bolton testifies before Congress, it could revive the issue of Trump’s competence as he faces a stiff challenge on Nov. 3 from Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, and fends off criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial injustice and police brutality. Bolton refused to testify in the House’s impeachment probe last year and threatened to sue if subpoenaed. He offered to testify in the subsequent trial in the Senate, but the Republican-controlled chamber did not take him up on the offer.

[..] Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry, sharply criticized Bolton as unpatriotic for withholding information from the probe. The new allegations are “further proof” that Trump’s actions in Ukraine were part of a pattern of abusing his power and the U.S. government for personal political gain, Schiff said in a statement.

Read more …

Abenomics will die with Abe’s political career regardless.

Japan’s Deflation Gathers Momentum As Prices Extend Declines (R.)

Japan’s core consumer prices fell for a second straight month in May, reinforcing deflation expectations and raising the challenge for policymakers battling to revive an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. The data will likely complicate the Bank of Japan’s job of restoring growth and inflation, with a raft of recent indicators suggesting the nation is in the grip of its worst postwar economic slump. Several BOJ board members warned that stronger monetary support and closer policy coordination with the government were needed to prevent Japan from returning to deflation, minutes of the bank’s April meeting showed.

“With the pandemic hurting the economy, there’s a good chance Japan may slide into deflation. Downward pressure on prices will likely persist throughout this year,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil but excludes volatile fresh food prices, fell 0.2% in May from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday. That compared with market forecasts of a 0.1% fall and followed a 0.2% drop in April, which was the first year-on-year decline since December 2016. The BOJ kept policy steady this week after expanding stimulus in March and April. But governor Haruhiko Kuroda conceded that inflation would remain well short of its 2% target for years to come.

[..} Some BOJ policymakers were concerned that bolder steps are needed to prevent the country from slipping back to sustained period of damaging price declines, the April minutes showed. “Japan is now facing the risk of deflation, so it’s possible to further enhance coordination between fiscal and monetary policies,” one BOJ board member was quoted as saying.

Read more …

“The private sector is not involved in creating the money supply, that’s something the central bank does.”

Fed Chair: Keep Private Entities Out Of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CD)

Private entities aren’t needed to build central bank digital currencies, said the head of the U.S. central bank on Wednesday. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, speaking before the House Financial Services Committee, said the idea of a digital dollar – a blockchain-based version of the current world reserve currency – is complex, and one that the Fed takes seriously, but also that the idea needs to be studied further before one can be created and implemented. However, in response to a question from Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Powell said he believed private entities did not have a role in designing a digital dollar.

“I do think this is something that the central banks have to design,” he said. “The private sector is not involved in creating the money supply, that’s something the central bank does.” Emmer was asking specifically about a recommendation from the Digital Dollar Project, which was launched earlier this year by former Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo, Chief Innovation Officer Daniel Gorfine and Accenture Director David Treat. The project suggested a digital dollar be issued by the Fed but designed in partnership with the private sector and accessible through a two-tiered banking system similar to the one in place in the U.S. today.

Powell said the general public may not be receptive to the idea of private employees being responsible for the money supply because they’re not accountable to “the public good.” Still, the idea is apparently being examined. A group of central banks have gotten together to discuss and better understand the concept as well as evaluate the implications on financial inclusion and concerns around cybersecurity, he said. “If this is something that is going to be good for the United States economy and for the world’s reserve currency, which is the dollar, then we need to be there and we need to understand it first and best,” Powell said. “So we’re working hard on it.”

Read more …

A guy I know said he was driving from Holland to Germany this week to pick up a car he bought, an 8-month old BMW at half the new price.

EU Car Sales Crash 57% In May As Europe Amid Inventory Glut (ZH)

New car sales in the EU plunged in May, falling 57% to 623,812, as Europe grapples with the same problem that the U.S. has had for weeks: a glut of inventory, despite re-opening some factories and re-starting production in certain areas. All 27 EU member states posted double digit declines in new car sales, with the U.K. falling an astounding 89%, according to MarketWatch. Production coming out of the EU remains “well blow” pre-crisis levels but the lack of demand continues to contribute to a growing inventory problem. This, in turn, has created a slowdown in an industry that’s already moving at a crawl to begin with. Jobs and profits are both threatened from the glut, in addition to the monumental threat they both still continue to face from the ongoing global pandemic.

Unsold cars on dealer lots are “at least 30% above normal” according to industry analysts, while unsold inventory in Germany alone was about $17 billion worth. Antje Woltermann, managing director of the ZDK industry group: “Unsold stocks are climbing, and on the other hand vehicles are not leaving the lots.” While Europe is struggling, many have looked to China, where sales were up 6% in May, for signs of optimism. For example, Stephan Wöllenstein, chief executive of Volkswagen Group China said: “The return of these kinds of figures is encouraging and gives us continued cautious optimism going forward.”

But those numbers don’t account for the recent second wave of lockdowns, including in Beijing, that China now faces. Countries like France and Germany continues to try and spur sales with government incentives, but Germany is focusing primarily on EVs while the glut is in traditional ICE cars. Recall, in May, we were ahead of the curve when we noted that European car registrations had plunged 76% in April. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the number of new cars sold fell from 1,143,046 to just 270,682 YOY in that month.

Read more …

Australia is but a lap dog.

The story changed overnight to name China as the main “suspect”. Of course what would be really suspect is if China DID NOT spy on Australia.

Australia Sees China As Main Suspect In State-based Cyberattacks (R.)

Australia views China as the chief suspect in a spate of cyber-attacks of increasing frequency in recent months, three sources familiar with the government’s thinking told Reuters on Friday. The comments came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a “sophisticated state-based actor” had spent months trying to hack all levels of the government, political bodies, essential service providers and operators of critical infrastructure. “We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting,” Morrison told reporters in the capital, Canberra, but declined to say who Australia believed was responsible.


Three sources briefed on the matter said Australia believed China is responsible, however. “There is a high degree of confidence that China is behind the attacks,” one Australian government source told Reuters, seeking anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media. Australian intelligence has flagged similarities between the recent attacks and a cyber-attack on parliament and the three largest political parties in March 2019.Last year, Reuters reported that Australia had quietly concluded China was responsible for that cyber-attack. Australia has never publicly identified the source of that attack, however, and China denied it was responsible.

Read more …

Russiagate revisited.

Report Reveals CIA Incompetence To Blame For Vault 7 Breach (RT)

According to a just-released internal CIA report, “CCI had prioritized building cyber weapons at the expense of securing their own systems. Day-to-day security practices had become woefully lax.” “Most of our sensitive cyber weapons were not compartmented, users shared systems administrator-level passwords, there were no effective removable media controls, and historical data was available to users indefinitely,” the report goes on to say. The heavily-redacted document actually dates back to October 2017 and was only made public Tuesday by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), in an effort to pressure the new Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe into imposing new security measures. While the CIA ineptitude is the obvious takeaway, no one seems to have noticed the real bombshell: the timing of the breach and its implications.

The report says the CIA “did not realize the loss had occurred until a year later, when WikiLeaks publicly announced it in March 2017.” Now, what all was happening between March 2016 and a year later? You guessed it: Russiagate! Even as his own cyber arsenal was getting swiped from under his very nose, CIA chief John Brennan was obsessing about “Russian hackers” of the Democratic National Committee, or Hillary Clinton’s emails, or something – and pushing the bogus ‘Steele Dossier’ alleging Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia, which eventually made it into the infamous ‘Intelligence Community Assessment’ that accused Moscow of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. It gets worse. According to the report, “Had the data been stolen for the benefit of a state adversary and not published, we might still be unaware of the loss—as would be true for the vast majority of data on Agency mission systems.”

So if the mythic bogeymen ‘Russian hackers’ had actually wanted to harm the US, they could have just used the CIA’s own, unprotected cyberweapons to stage false flags and wreak havoc across the world? None of which happened, obviously. Yet Brennan and his confederates have been telling everyone for years that the Kremlins wanted to “hack our democracy” by publishing some Democrat emails and posting memes on social media! [..] As for how Vault 7 got to WikiLeaks, the jury is still out on that. Joshua Schulte, the employee charged with leaking the files, is being prosecuted again after a hung jury at his first trial in March. His lawyers have argued the CIA security was so lax, anyone else on the team, or even outsiders, could have done it. The next time the media report some incendiary claim based on US intelligence “assessments,” try to keep all this in mind.

Read more …

How cann you be lonely when you have a TV set to keep you company?

Americans Are Unhappiest They’ve Been In Nearly 50 Years (Ind.)

Happiness among Americans has fallen to the lowest level in nearly five decades during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll. The Covid Response Tracking Study, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), found that morale was at the lowest point it has ever been since tracking emotional health trends began in 1972. The number of people who described themselves as very happy fell by 17 points to just 14 per cent in 2020. The previous record low – seen shortly after the 2007/8 Financial Crisis – was 29%. For the first time in 48 years, more people said they were unhappy than very happy. More than 60 per cent of Americans reported being “pretty happy”.


Interviews of the 2,279 US adults that took part in the survey took place between 21-29 May, while large parts of the country were under some form of lockdown designed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Feelings of loneliness have also increased as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, with half of all respondents saying they felt isolated either very often, often or sometimes. When asked the same question two years previously, less than a quarter of respondents said they experienced feelings of isolation.

Read more …

An alcoholic pet monkey…

Indian Primate Jailed For Life After Carnivorous Rampage (RT)

An alcoholic pet monkey has been locked up for good in Uttar Pradesh after a terror spree that left 250 people injured and one dead. Efforts to rehabilitate the animal were scrapped and zoo doctors affirm he’s a menace to society. The six-year-old monkey, named Kalua, received a life sentence of solitary confinement at India’s Kanpur Zoo this week after repeated attempts at normalizing his behavior left zookeepers and other monkeys much the worse for wear. Zoo doctor Mohd Nasir told local media the savage simian would harm people wherever he went if set free, explaining “he remains as aggressive as he was” when first brought to the zoo three years ago.

Kalua formerly belonged to an occultist in Mirzapur district, who fed him a diet of meat and copious alcohol. When his owner died, the grieving pet apparently went into withdrawal, becoming vicious and attacking locals. By the time forest and zoo teams succeeded in apprehending the aggressive creature, he had bitten over 250 people, including 30 children. One of his victims died of the injuries, while others – Kalua apparently has a thing for attacking women and girls – were left in need of plastic surgery. While the zookeepers had hoped to calm Kalua down, substituting a vegetarian diet for the human flesh he’d apparently come to rely on, they didn’t have much luck. The carnivorous creature has stayed hostile, especially toward female zookeepers, and plans to release him back into the wild a changed monkey have been shelved.

Kalua’s misbehavior predates the coronavirus outbreak, but he’s not the only monkey in Uttar Pradesh to make the news in recent weeks. A gang of monkeys attacked a lab technician in Meerut last month, stealing several blood samples taken from Covid-19 patients and running off with them in a scene that seemed lifted straight out of a Hollywood pandemic film.

Read more …

 

 

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Jun 182020
 


NPC Grand Palace shoe shining parlor, Washington DC 1921

 

Vitamin D New Hope In The War On Corona (DM)
Doctors Can Still Prescribe HCQ to Patients – US Health Secretary (N18)
New Zealand Reports Fresh Corona Case, More Quarantine Breaches Emerge (G.)
Beijing COVID19 Cluster May Have Begun A Month Earlier – Health Official (G.)
China Reports 28 New Coronavirus Cases In Mainland (R.)
Sweden Says Herd Immunity “Surprisingly Slow” To Develop (ZH)
Dr. Fauci, Health Officials Flag Coronavirus Risk Of Trump’s Tulsa Rally (CNBC)
Coronavirus Is Killing Our Economy Because It Was Already Sick (Levitz)
Massive Spying On Users Of Google’s Chrome Shows New Security Weakness (R.)
Arrest Of Former Japanese Minister Could Hasten PM Abe’s Departure (R.)
Sidney Powell Files Motion Against Gleeson: A ‘Wrap-Up Smear’ of Flynn (SAC)
Bolton Says Trump Asked China To Help Him Get Reelected (AP)

 

 

It was a long travel day yesterday, with an empty train and two almost deserted airports. Amsterdam Airport was running at maybe 20% of capacity, if that. Athens was empty in the evening.

But in between there was a full plane, with both the Dutch government and the airline bragging about the pathogen-killing capacities of the (Boeing 737, not MAX) plane’s air-circulation systems.

Once arrived in Athens, demands were much less stringent than announced in advance. There was no one night mandatory quarantine demand, it appeared to be a voluntary one. Write down your address (hotel) in Athens, and your phone #, get tested, we may or may not call you the next day, and off I was in a cab to the apartment I always stay in here.

It all seems a little risky, but the people at the airport also seemed a little overwhelmed, and they will soon have to deal with much larger crowds. We can only hope that it will work out alright.

I’m not sure I’m quite back yet (late in getting up, and lost an hour due to the timezone), but I did pick up a few stories.

Hoping the change of scenery, and meeting with my friends here, will do me good. 3 months of near total isolation is a lot.

 

 

I’m sure you didn’t miss that while I was missing, global daily new cases set a whole new whopper of a record. And it came as we were all hoping the trend was turning downward.

After all, June 15 was 124,600. But then June 16 was 142.557.

 

 

As global daily new deaths almost doubled from one day to the next (they came back down to 5,264 yesterday):

 

 

But that was largely due to a “correction” in India:

 

 

Forward to today, June 18. Worldometer reports new cases for June 17 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 141,872.

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 26,073
• Brazil + 31,475
• Russia + 7,790
• India + 13,802

 

 

Cases 8,425,191 (+ 283,802 from June 16’s 8,141,389)

Deaths 451,808 (+ 12,103 from June 16’s 439,705)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing new here for Automatic Earth readers. Try get vit. D while you can, if you haven’t stored up yet. Get the tablets, not just the sun and fish. Especially if you’re not pale white.

Vitamin D New Hope In The War On Corona (DM)

Nearly 99 per cent of Covid-19 patients who are vitamin D deficient die, according to a terrifying study that adds to mounting evidence that the ‘sunshine’ nutrient could be a coronavirus life-saver. Scientists in Indonesia analysed hospital records of 780 people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Results revealed 98.9 per cent of infected patients defined as vitamin D deficient — below 20ng/ml — died. Yet this fell to just 4.1 per cent for patients who had enough of the nuResearchers warned the study was not definitive, however, because the patients with high vitamin D levels were healthier and younger. It comes as health chiefs are urgently reviewing the use of vitamin D as a coronavirus lifesaver, with several studies suggesting that Covid-19 patients are far more likely to die if they have a deficiency.

One investigation – carried out by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge – found European countries with lower vitamin D levels have had significantly more pandemic casualties. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is conducting a ‘rapid evidence review’ of the issue – and publication is expected as early as next week. One in five British adults and one in six children is lacking in vitamin D, thanks to poor diets, indoor lifestyles and lack of sunshine. Experts fear that the lockdown and months of indoor living have cut levels even further. Some ethnic groups tend to be at higher risk because their skin is less able to make the vitamin in response to sunlight. And older people are also in danger because the body gets less efficient at producing the vitamin with age.

[..] Data in a Public Health England report showed that the mortality rate – the number of people dying with the coronavirus out of each 100,000 people – was considerably higher for black men than other group. The risk for black women, people of Asian ethnicity, and mixed race people was also higher than for white people of either sex. People with non-white skin are also at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency because it takes them longer to make it from sunlight [..]

Read more …

And this story keeps just going on. But Automatic Earth resident GP John Day can at least continue to do what he thinks is best.

Doctors Can Still Prescribe HCQ to Patients – US Health Secretary (N18)

Doctors can still prescribe anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to patients, US Health Secretary Alex Azar said, hours after the FDA withdrew the emergency use authorisation of chloroquine and HCQ in the treatment of COVID 19 patients. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision came on Monday after it concluded that the anti-malarial drugs may not be effective to cure the virus infections and lead to greater risks than any potential benefits. “At this point, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine are just like any other approved drug in the United States. They may be used in hospital, they may be used in out-patient, they may be used at home, all subject to a doctor’s prescription,” Azar said.


“In fact, the FDA’s removal of the Emergency Use Authorization takes away what had been a significant misunderstanding by many that had made people think that somehow it could only be used in a hospital setting, and we’ve tried to make that clear throughout,” he said in response to a question. During a White House media appearance with President Donald Trump, Azar asserted that HCQ was approved in the United States. “If a doctor wishes to prescribe it, working with a patient, they may prescribe it for any purpose that they wish to do so. And, this (FDA’s decision) actually removes a potential barrier to them,” the health secretary said.

Read more …

It’s not easy being green.

New Zealand Reports Fresh Corona Case, More Quarantine Breaches Emerge (G.)

A fresh coronavirus case has been reported in New Zealand as officials scramble to contain the fallout from Tuesday’s embarrassing quarantine breach and reports emerge of people disappearing after leaving isolation early. Thursday’s case – the third to emerge this week after a 24-day streak of no cases – was a man in his 60s who arrived in Auckland from Pakistan on 13 June on Flight NZ124, transiting through Doha and Melbourne. Officials were contacting all passengers on the flight and have alerted overseas counterparts for the other flights, said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health. The man was wearing a mask on all flights and was now in a quarantine facility in Auckland, Bloomfield said.

It came as police said six people absconded from managed isolation after being granted compassionate leave from Covid-19 quarantine to attend a funeral in Hamilton. And TVNZ reported that a birthday party for a girl in isolation brought people together who should not have been mingling. Bloomfield was forced to apologise on Thursday after initially claiming the sisters behind Tuesday’s new cases had not contacted anyone during their road trip from Wellington to Auckland. It was revealed late on Wednesday that they came into contact with at least two friends who helped them after they got lost on a motorway.

[..] On Tuesday, New Zealand recorded its first new cases of the virus for 24 days after the two New Zealanders, sisters returning after travelling to the UK, were found to be infected. The pair, who were permitted to leave their managed isolation early to visit a dying parent, had not been tested. Since then more reports have emerged. A Christchurch funeral director told Stuff that about 10 people had been let out of quarantine early to attend one of the funerals it had arranged on Tuesday. Steve Parkyn, chief executive of funeral directors Lamb and Hayward, said he refused to let them attend the service after being contacted by health authorities, but they joined mourners at the burial, accompanied by a health official. Around 200 people attended the funeral.

Read more …

I said on Tuesday that: “Given how fast it spread in the past 2-3 days, it’s obvious the disease had been present for a 1 or 2 weeks.”

Beijing COVID19 Cluster May Have Begun A Month Earlier – Health Official (G.)

Beijing’s cluster of new cases may have begun a month earlier than first thought, partly due to asymptomatic infections, according to the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Amid tight restrictions to stop the spread of the capital’s cluster, which now numbers more than 150 cases, Gao Fu said the outbreak probably did not occur in early June or late May, but probably a month earlier, according to state media. Gao said the volume of asymptomatic cases detected in the outbreak may be partially responsible, but that further investigation was needed. “A lot of asymptomatic or mild cases were detected in this outbreak and that is why the environment has such amount of virus,” said Gao at a seminar in Shanghai on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Beijing reported 21 new cases of Covid-19, down slightly from the 31 reported on Wednesday. There were two additional cases in Hebei province that were also linked to the Beijing cluster. The city on Thursday ordered all hotels be shut down, as well as restaurants in high-risk areas. Officials said Beijing was not under lockdown but urged all residents not to travel or gather unnecessarily, and pledged to ensure continued food supply. “We are now at a critical time for the prevention and control of the epidemic,” an official said of the outbreak, which centred on a Xinfadi wholesale food market A further five residential compounds were designated at higher risk on Thursday, bringing the total number to 32, including one high risk and 31 medium risk.

More than 356,000 people have been tested in a five-day period, with entire neighbourhoods walled in or under entry monitoring. Schools have been closed flights cancelled, and travel in and out of the city restricted. On Wednesday the emergency response level was raised from level three to level two.

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They’ve allowed it to spread for a few weeks. I love the assertion that salmon imported from Europe was the culprit. I tried my smell test on that, and it failed spectacularly.

China Reports 28 New Coronavirus Cases In Mainland (R.)

China reported 28 new coronavirus cases in the mainland as of end-June 17, 21 of which were in the capital of Beijing, the country’s health commission said on Thursday. The National Health Commission said four of the 28 cases were so-called imported ones involving travellers from overseas, and that there were 8 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases. A day earlier, the commission reported 44 confirmed cases, 11 of which were imported, and 11 asymptomatic cases. The total number of confirmed cases stands at 83,293. The death toll remains unchanged at 4,634. China does not count asymptomatic patients – those who are infected with the coronavirus but have no symptoms – as confirmed coronavirus cases.

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1,200 new cases yesterday in Sweden, 100 new deaths. And the guy responsible remains popular. Propaganda works.

Sweden Says Herd Immunity “Surprisingly Slow” To Develop (ZH)

Despite allowing its economy and schools to remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden is finding that the incidence of COVID-19 antibodies among its population is still surprisingly uncommon, suggesting that the country hasn’t yet reached the point of “herd immunity”, unlike other European countries which embraced much more drastic measures to stop the spread and the deaths. Speaking to the nation during an interview on a Swedish radio station, Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s government epidemiologist and architect of its coronavirus containment strategy (a model that Goldman analysts claim wouldn’t work elsewhere in Europe or in the US), noted that the development of herd immunity is taking much longer than expected. Per Tegnell: “the trends in immunity have been surprisingly slow.” He also says “it’s difficult to explain why this is so.”

To be sure, Tegnell noted, there is “always a lag in all such measurements,” and the percentage of the population with detectable COVID antibodies is likely higher today than it was a few weeks ago, when a surveillance test carried out by a private Swedish company found that only 14% of Swedes have antibodies, compared to more than 50% of Italians in some of the hardest-hit parts of Northern Italy. Critics of Sweden’s strategy have been more vocal lately now that the country’s death toll has surpassed the 5,000 mark, leaving Sweden with a mortality rate well above its Nordic neighbors. As the country’s mortality rate has climbed in recent weeks, polls have reflected a growing dissatisfaction among Swedes with the government’s handling of the virus, though Tegnell’s approach remains broadly popular.

To be sure, Tegnell has acknowledged that some mistakes were made, and has said if he could do it over, he would have done some things differently, including directing more resources toward protecting the most vulnerable. But he never disavowed his approach, as some English-language media outlets have twisted his words. For those who don’t understand the concept of ‘herd immunity’, Bloomberg created a helpful illustration. Even readers who think they understand how it works should probably take a look.

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After the mass protests, this has zero value. I can only guess at the reason to do it indoors, but better control might be it, in view of the protests.

Dr. Fauci, Health Officials Flag Coronavirus Risk Of Trump’s Tulsa Rally (CNBC)

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci as well as other health officials are raising concerns that President Donald Trump’s upcoming campaign rally in Tulsa will become a hotbed for coronavirus infections. The rally, Trump’s first since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. over three months ago, is slated to take place Saturday in a 20,000-person indoor arena. Asked whether he would attend the rally, Fauci said in an interview published late Tuesday by the Daily Beast, “of course not,” adding that when it comes to mass gatherings, “outside is better than inside, no crowd is better than crowd” and “crowd is better than big crowd.”


Studies have shown that the virus spreads more easily in crowded, poorly ventilated, indoor spaces than it does outside. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb echoed Fauci’s concerns Wednesday in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Personally, I wouldn’t attend a large gathering right now, especially one indoors. Certainly things held indoors are less safe than things held outdoors,” Gottlieb said. “But all these large gatherings are going to lead to spread. There’s just no question about it.”

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I guess it’s an OK piece.

Coronavirus Is Killing Our Economy Because It Was Already Sick (Levitz)

Channeling investment into genuinely productive projects gets harder once you’ve picked the low-hanging industrial fruit. And this challenge is all the greater in a context where the purchasing power of ordinary people has been systematically depressed: Simply put, when the vast majority of workers have little discretionary income, profitable business ideas are harder to find (businesses need paying customers, after all). Thus, at a certain point, wage suppression stops aiding growth and starts inhibiting it. In their (excellent) new book, Peking University economist Michael Pettis and Barron’s columnist Matthew Klein argue that China’s iteration of the invest-led development model has been obsolete for more than a decade.

Unwilling or incapable of enacting reforms that would increase wages — and thus, consumption — Beijing has sustained employment and GDP growth by financing useless capital investments. Instead of giving ordinary Chinese people the financial means to assert their material wants and needs — and then enabling investment to flow into enterprises that fulfill those mass desires — China is building housing developments in cities without people. In the U.S., the supply-side model has produced similar (if less egregious) imbalances. Before the coronavirus pandemic, record-high corporate profits coincided with aberrantly low business investment. As Republican Senator Marco Rubio lamented last year, America’s “nonfinancial corporate business sector routinely spends more on buying financial assets than on capital development.”

Many factors have contributed to this outcome. But the fact that America’s ultrarich have commandeered the bulk of the past four decades of income growth is surely one. [This] was a choice. With strong labor rights, high minimum wages, and more post-tax redistribution, the bottom 90 percent of U.S. households could have seen their incomes rise steadily over the past half-century. In that world, the typical American family would have less debt and more disposable income. And that mass purchasing power would allow the economy to support a wider array of businesses and services.= We opted for a different path. The U.S. slashed taxes on the wealthy, undermined unions, and left its social safety net remaining exceptionally threadbare.

As a result, America’s economic elites ended up with more income than they could spend or profitably invest in productive enterprises. So, they bid up the price of urban real estate, and bankrolled the development of socially useless financial innovation. Instead of directing the gains of growth toward better meeting the wants and needs of ordinary Americans, we built 1,000-foot towers full of perpetually empty luxury apartments that Russian criminals could use for money laundering.

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There should be huge penalties for things like this, but there never will be, because the CIA and its ilk find it far too valuable.

Massive Spying On Users Of Google’s Chrome Shows New Security Weakness (R.)

A newly discovered spyware effort attacked users through 32 million downloads of extensions to Google’s market-leading Chrome web browser, researchers at Awake Security told Reuters, highlighting the tech industry’s failure to protect browsers as they are used more for email, payroll and other sensitive functions. Alphabet Inc’s Google said it removed more than 70 of the malicious add-ons from its official Chrome Web Store after being alerted by the researchers last month. “When we are alerted of extensions in the Web Store that violate our policies, we take action and use those incidents as training material to improve our automated and manual analyses,” Google spokesman Scott Westover told Reuters.


Most of the free extensions purported to warn users about questionable websites or convert files from one format to another. Instead, they siphoned off browsing history and data that provided credentials for access to internal business tools. Based on the number of downloads, it was the most far-reaching malicious Chrome store campaign to date, according to Awake co-founder and chief scientist Gary Golomb. Google declined to discuss how the latest spyware compared with prior campaigns, the breadth of the damage, or why it did not detect and remove the bad extensions on its own despite past promises to supervise offerings more closely.

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“Abe cannot last,” said an LDP lawmaker who, like other politicians interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity. “He probably cannot last until the year-end.”

Arrest Of Former Japanese Minister Could Hasten PM Abe’s Departure (R.)

The arrest of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s former justice minister could be a devastating blow for the Japanese leader whose support is near record lows, raising the possibility of his departure before the end of his term next year. Some in Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are speaking of an early exit and rivals have stepped up manoeuvring to succeed him, party sources said. While Abe has rebounded from low ratings before, Japan’s longest-ruling prime minister now appears to be losing more internal support. Prosecutors on Thursday arrested former justice minister Katsuyuki Kawai, a one-time foreign policy adviser close to Abe, and Kawai’s wife, Anri, on suspicion of vote-buying in a 2019 upper-house election.


Tokyo prosecutors said in a statement that the couple paid 1.7 million yen ($15,904) to five people to get her elected. Separately, Katsuyuki Kawai gave a total of about 24 million yen to about 90 people. At the time, Anri Kawai’s campaign received 150 million yen ($1.4 million) in funds from LDP headquarters. The size of the contribution, although not illegal, raised questions about whether Abe approved it. Abe has declined to comment on the Kawais, but has said lawmakers had the responsibility to explain their actions. “Abe cannot last,” said an LDP lawmaker who, like other politicians interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity. “He probably cannot last until the year-end.”

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Almost entirely out of view of the mainstream media, the Flynn story churns on. I predict it will explode in their faces.

Sidney Powell Files Motion Against Gleeson: A ‘Wrap-Up Smear’ of Flynn (SAC)

Sidney Powell, the defense attorney for Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, filed a scathing response in the court Wednesday against federal Judge John Gleeson’s amicus brief, which asked the court to reject the Justice Department’s request to drop all charges against Flynn. Powell’s motion is powerful and contains a lengthy time-line revealing the stunning evidence discovered by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, as well as, the litany of new evidence uncovered by U.S. Attorney Jeffery Jensen, who was appointed by the Justice Department to conduct an independent review of Flynn’s case. Powell argues in her brief that the “irony and sheer duplicity” of Gleeson’s accusations “against the Justice Department now—which is finally exposing the truth—is stunning.”

Gleeson submitted his lengthy brief on July 10, on behalf of D.C. Federal Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who appointed him as the amicus and is refusing to drop the case against Flynn. He is doing all this despite the fact that both the Justice Department and defense agree the charges should be dropped against President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor. Powell also pointed out in her motion of opposition Wednesday that Gleeson’s amicus filing on behalf of Sullivan is a “wrap-up smear” against Flynn.

“It demonstrates the difference between a Department of Prosecutions and a Department of Justice,” Powell argues in her conclusion regarding Gleeson’s amicus. “It shows how the Department of Justice, as the government’s representative in every federal criminal case, has the power to walk into courtrooms and ask judges to remedy injustices. For these reasons and those stated in our other briefs, the only lawful action this court can take is to dismiss the case with prejudice on the Government’s motion and vacate the plea.”

Further Powell states in her motion, that Gleeson’s “Amicus elides the reality of the egregious government misconduct of the FBI Agents—particularly that of [former FBI Director James] Comey, {Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe, [former Special Agent Peter] Strzok, [Former FBI Attorney Lisa] Page, [FBI Special Agent] Joe Pientka, [former FBI Assistant of Counterintelligence Bill] Priestap and others who met repeatedly to pursue the targeted “take-out” of General Flynn for their political reasons and those of the “entirety lame duck usic.” Much of this has been revealed in the December 19, 2019, IG Report, the 86 pages of newly produced exonerating material produced by U.S. Attorney Jensen, filed in the Government’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 198), and hundreds of the texts between Strzok and Page demonstrating abject bias.”

“Amicus is lost down the rabbit hole on the other side of the looking glass— where “nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would,” argues Powell. Last week, Powell argued before the U.S. District Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit against Sullivan’s decision to appoint Gleeson. She noted that the government submitted an extensive and thoroughly documented motion to dismiss this prosecution based on the discovery of “extraordinary exculpatory evidence that came to light from an independent review… It can not go on any longer.”

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Look, we know in advance how the MSM will spiel this. And those are all the same people who for years, as it fit their goals, presented Bolton to you as the most dangerous man in America. Now Bolton is your friend. Because he says something negative about Trump, and that’s something half the nation can’t get enough of. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it dumps Trump.

Still, to rehash the failed impeachment probe and state that Trump was impeached, well, maybe that’s another level.

As for the claim that Trump asked Xi to help him in elections, that doesn’t pass my personal smell test. It makes no sense at all. It likely only does for those who still believe Trump asked Putin the same, and choose to fully disregard Mueller’s report to get there. But sure, I know I will be accused-again- of being biased for saying this.

A “journalist” named Eli Lake tweeted: “According to Bolton, Trump privately told China’s tyrant that he should keep building concentration camps for Uighurs. That is an obscenity. He deserves to lose every state in November.” I’m sorry, but if you believe that, you need to get professional help as much as Bolton and Eli Lake do.

Bolton Says Trump Asked China To Help Him Get Reelected (AP)

President Donald Trump “pleaded” with China’s Xi Jinping during a 2019 summit to help his reelection prospects, according to a scathing new book by former Trump adviser John Bolton that accuses the president of being driven by political calculations when making national security decisions. The White House worked furiously to block the book, asking a federal court for an emergency temporary restraining order Wednesday against its release. Bolton’s allegations that Trump solicited Chinese help for his reelection effort carried echoes of Trump’s attempt to get political help from Ukraine, which led to his impeachment.

“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Bolton wrote. The 577-page book paints an unvarnished portrait of Trump and his administration, amounting to the most vivid, first-person account yet of how Trump conducts himself in office. Several other former officials have written books, but most have been flattering about the president. Other former officials have indicated they were saving their accounts of their time working for Trump until after he left office in order to speak more candidly. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Bolton’s book in advance of its release next week.

Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser for a 17-month period, called Trump’s attempt to shift the June 2019 conversation with Xi to the U.S. election a stunning move, and wrote that it was among innumerable conversations that he found concerning. He added that Congress should have expanded the scope of its impeachment inquiry to these other incidents. [..] Trump was asked about the book Wednesday on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.” He turned to personal insults, calling Bolton a “washed-up guy. I gave him a chance.” He also took issue with copies of the book being released. “He broke the law. Very simple. I mean, as much as it’s going to be broken.” Trump said. “It’s highly classified information and he did not have approval.”

Read more …

 

 

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 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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Dec 262016
 
 December 26, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen) , 1902-1903

One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)
China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)
The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)
What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)
What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)
British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)
Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)
Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)
The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

 

 

Brilliant headline.

One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)

Texas-refined gasoline fuels Mexican cars. Natural gas from Canada helps heat the Midwest and cool California. Electricity flows over the northern and southern U.S. borders in both directions. The interconnections in the North American energy industry are huge and growing — and could grow even closer during the Trump administration unless it decides to alter the flow of a key U.S. export (and import) — at the border. The U.S., Canada and Mexico have intentionally worked to combine the advantages of their energy resources. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would renegotiate NAFTA between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While the new administration seems to be very friendly to the energy sector, there are still questions about whether there could be changes that affect the intricate web of energy connections between the three countries.

“It’s not so simple to say we’re going to renegotiate the trade deals. We set up the system to create those inter-linkages. You just can’t overnight legislate or executive order that away. If you try to do that, it’s going to have negative economic impacts, not just for the economies on the border but for these specific industries, like energy,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. Trump’s selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary, is seen as a positive for the oil and gas industry. Perry has spoken favorably about North America as an energy power house, including Mexico and Canada. Perhaps one of the most surprising recent developments is the boom in U.S. natural gas that’s flowing across the southern border, and the ambitious plans by the Mexican government to build more pipelines to take U.S. natural gas throughout Mexico and as far as Mexico City.

[..] The energy picture changed dramatically for North America in the last decade. The push by the U.S. energy industry into hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling unleashed an energy boom, making the U.S. the world’s biggest producer of natural gas and placing it firmly among the top three oil producers. That has changed the situation for all of North America, at a time when Mexico’s oil and gas output was in decline and Canada found some of its potential oil output landlocked. The ties between the three countries go way back. In the early 1900s, the U.S. began sharing electricity with its neighbors, and Canada is now a significant net exporter of electricity to the U.S.

One catalyst has been Mexico’s program of energy reform, intended to break the hold of state-owned Pemex on its industry and bring new private investment to Mexico’s energy industry. The decline in big part was due to a lack of investment by the government in Petroleos Mexicanos, and its increasing reliance on Pemex revenue stream for its own budget. “Before shale, the U.S. was importing a lot more gas from Canada,” said Anthony Yuen, global energy analyst at Citigroup. The U.S. was also worried not that long ago that it would need to import LNG, liquefied natural gas. But the shale boom changed everything.

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Fraud and shadow banking. Makes you wonder how pervasive this is. I have an idea.

China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)

The fate of a defaulted $45 million Chinese corporate bond sold through an Alibaba-backed online wealth management platform was thrown into doubt on Monday, after a bank said letters of guarantee for the bonds were counterfeit. China Guangfa Bank said guarantee documents, official seals and personal seals presented by the insurer of the bonds “are all fake” and that it has reported the matter to the police. The dispute highlights challenges in China’s loosely regulated online finance industry, where retail investors often buy high-yielding bonds and other assets, expecting them to be “risk-free” due to guarantees provided by various parties. At the center of the latest dispute are 312 million yuan ($45 million) worth of high-yielding bonds issued by southern Chinese phone maker Cosun Group that defaulted this month.

The bonds were sold through Zhao Cai Bao, an online platform run by Ant Financial Services Group, the payment affiliate of e-commerce firm Alibaba. Ant Financial has asked Zheshang Property and Casualty Insurance, which wrote insurance on the bonds, to repay investors. On Sunday, Zheshang Insurance published two documents on its website that it said were from CGB carrying the bank’s official seals, and that guaranteed Zheshang Insurance policies for the Consun bonds. The letters were issued at CGB’s Huizhou branch in December 2014, when the Cosun bonds were sold, Zheshang Insurance said.On Monday, CGB said the documents were fake and that it had reported the incident to police as “suspected financial fraud.” The dispute follows instances of financial fraud this year including forged bond agreements that led to brokerage Sealand Securities sharing potential losses of up to $2.4 billion. In May, the government advised banks to be vigilant after several cases of bill fraud.

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Well, yeah, that too.

The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)

A trade war with China – a country with a $473 billion of bilateral trade with America in the first ten months of this year – is an implausible assumption. But a serious conversation about the fact that Chinese exports to America represent three-quarters of that business is long overdue and entirely appropriate. The President-elect Donald Trump is seeking a better deal for America. That should be easy to understand and support for any fair- and free-trader. And, rest assured, Washington’s intent to correct its huge trade imbalance with China is not coming as a surprise to Beijing. The Zhongnanhai mandarins know that their trade surpluses with the U.S. – $366 billion in 2015 and $289 billion in the first ten months of this year – are difficult issues that must be addressed. That is the substance of the problem.The rest is rhetoric.

Mr. Trump’s opening salvo used legitimate trade remedies,such as import tariffs, anti-dumping investigations, and possibly other measures if China was recognized as an exchange-rate manipulator. China has announced that it would respond with unspecified retaliatory measures, but President Xi Jinping talked about the need for Sino-American cooperation in his congratulatory phone call to Mr. Trump. The Chinese also liked the appointment of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as an envoy to Beijing. They called him a “friend of China” and noted that he has known Mr.Xi since 1985. Difficult trade negotiating rounds are quite common. In this particular case, Washington also has the option of using non-confrontational measures to reduce the existing trade imbalance.

A change in the corporate taxation is one of them. That could bring back American manufacturing producing Chinese exports to the U.S. Some leaders of the U.S. Business Roundtable – a forum of 192 companies that account for most of investment activity in the United States – doubt that a large amount of that business can be quickly repatriated. They feel confident, however, that appropriate corporate tax cuts would keep firms producing and reinvesting their profits in the U.S. The corporate tax reform is at the top of Mr. Trump’s agenda, and that is perhaps one of the most effective trade signals he can send to China. Indeed, reducing the incentive for the exodus of American manufacturing, and bringing some of it back, would also stop large technology transfers that are part of mandatory Sino-American joint ventures for American firms doing business in China.

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Lazy?

What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)

Productivity is a guide to how good a country is at delivering the goods and services that are bought and sold. Technically, it is the rate of output per unit of input, measured per worker or by the number of hours worked. In layman’s terms, it is a measure of what goes in and what comes out. In some sectors, productivity is easy to measure. A factory that makes 1,000 cars a day with 50 workers is twice as productive as a factory that requires 100 workers to do the same job. In other parts of the economy, assessing whether productivity has improved is harder and less objective. At face value a fast-food joint that employed the same number of chefs to cook the same number of hamburgers as they did a year earlier would not be showing any increase in productivity.

But if the quality of the hamburgers improved, that would be a productivity gain and statisticians would try to capture the improvement in the official figures. There are a number of ways in which a firm can make itself more productive. It can invest in new machinery that makes the production process more efficient. It can employ more highly skilled staff. It can train workers so that they can fully exploit the equipment they are using. It is through productivity improvements that living standards rise. For many years, the annual increase in productivity in the UK averaged around 2%, although there were periods when it was lower and periods when it was higher. Each year since the early 1990s, the Office for National Statistics has published an international comparison of productivity.

This showed that UK productivity was 9% lower than the average of the other six members of the G7 (the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) but this gap narrowed to 4% by the time of the 2007 financial crisis. Since then, however, productivity in the UK has barely grown and the gap with the rest of the G7 has widened to 18%. The gap with Germany is 35% and with the US 30%. There have been a number of explanations for the dramatic deterioration in productivity: the availability of unskilled cheap labour has deterred firms from investment; the poor quality of UK roads, railways and broadband network; the shrinkage of the financial sector, which had been a source of high-productivity jobs in the boom before the 2007 crisis; and the misallocation of capital to “zombie” firms kept alive by ultra-low interest rates rather than to dynamic new enterprises.

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“Maybe the Americans [..] can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.”

What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)

Relations between Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama are poisoned and irretrievably damaged. It’s therefore a good thing that Obama is leaving office on 20 January. Bad US-Russian relations are of course nothing new. Since the Anglo-American war against Iraq in 2003, the US-Russian relationship has been headed downhill. For Obama, it appears that everything has gotten personal. The US president often acts like a petulant adolescent, jealous of a high school rival. You know, the kid who does everything better than he does. The lad takes it badly and won’t let it go. He challenges his nemesis to some new contest at every opportunity only to lose again and again. That’s got to be hard on the ego. Between Obama and Putin there have been many such encounters. Nor can it help that western cartoonists so often ridicule Obama as out of his depth in comparison to Putin.

Let’s consider Obama’s remarks at his last press conference on Friday, 16 December. «The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us», said Obama: «They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate». This was insulting both Putin and his country, but not enough apparently for Obama. «They [the Russians] can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Mr. Putin can weaken us, just like he’s trying to weaken Europe, if we start buying into notions that it’s okay to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like».

What on earth is Mr. Obama talking about? Intimidate the press? The Moscow newspapers and television media are loaded with «liberals». Many Russians call them «fifth columnists». They are «people with ‘more advanced’ worldview[s] who do not tolerate ‘Russian propaganda’ themselves», according to one colleague in Moscow. But Mr. Putin tolerates them and pays them no mind. «Lock up dissidents… discriminate against people»? What alternate reality does Mr. Obama live in? Doesn’t produce anything people want to buy? The United States buys rocket engines that it does not now produce at home. Maybe the Americans, a Russian commentator joked, can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.

[..] You have to give credit to Obama; he was ambitious, aiming for a big prize and the humiliation of Russia and its president. Again, he was thwarted not so much by President Putin but by the Russian people of the Crimea who immediately mobilised their local self-defence units backed by «polite people», Russian marines stationed in Sevastopol, to kick out the Ukrainians with scarcely a shot fired. They organised a referendum to approve entry into the Russian Federation. Reunification was quickly approved by a huge majority and celebrated in Moscow. Putin gave a remarkably candid speech, explaining the Russian position. «NATO remains a military alliance,’ he said, «and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round».

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And why not?

British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)

Councils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping, the Guardian can reveal. A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives. Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons. Wolverhampton used covert surveillance to check on the sale of dangerous toys and car clocking; Slough to aid an investigation into an illegal puppy farm; and Westminster to crack down on the selling of fireworks to children.

Meanwhile, Lancaster city council used the act, in 2012, for “targeted dog fouling enforcement” in two hotspots over 11 days. A spokeswoman pointed out that the law had since changed and Ripa could only now be used if criminal activity was suspected. The permissions for tens of thousands of days were revealed in a huge freedom of information exercise, carried out by the Liberal Democrats. It found that councils then launched 2,800 separate surveillance operations lasting up to 90 days each. Critics of the spying legislation say the government said it would only be used when absolutely necessary to protect British people from extreme threats. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem peer who represents the party on home affairs, said: “It is absurd that local authorities are using measures primarily intended for combating terrorism for issues as trivial as a dog barking or the sale of theatre tickets. Spying on the public should be a last resort not an everyday tool.”

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Masters of destruction. Who think they’re creators.

Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)

Over the course of history, humans have made a lot of stuff — buildings, bottles, oil tankers, iPhones. Some of it is useful; a lot of it ends up being junk. It’s more than enough to leave behind a fossil legacy, were humanity to disappear. And as a species, our collection of stuff is only getting bigger. Researchers publishing in the peer-reviewed journal The Anthropocene Review now estimate that the sum material output of humankind exceeds 30 trillion tons. Spread evenly, that would amount to 110 lbs of human-made stuff for every square meter of Earth’s surface, as FORBES contributor Eric Mack pointed out. That’s a huge number. Here are some other, totally massive ways to conceive of our collective output: That’s about 16.8% of the weight of Mount Everest.

Now let’s visualize that number in terms of human-made things. It takes 5.9 billion Type D GVWR school buses at 10,000 lbs each to match all of humanity’s creations on Earth. If you’d prefer to view it in terms of larger objects such as Boeing 747-8 jet liners or International Space Stations, you’ll be looking at totals of 123 million and 66 million, respectively. If doomed cruise liners are your preferred unit of measurement, you would need over 647,ooo Titanics to come close to the immense weight of humanity’s creations. Increasing the size of your vessel to a 102-thousand ton Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and you cut down the number of boats you’ll need to 293 thousand.

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“Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)

Because I personally only understand the world through different types of animals, I’m going to use an animal analogy to describe what I think. Let’s say you’re leading a horse and a donkey toward a river. When you reach the little slope that dips down to the riverbank, both of them are gonna pause and be like, “Hey, is this a good idea?” Typically, with a horse, maybe you tug the rope a little and, even though he’s still skeptical, a lot of the time he’ll defer to your logic. “I must be missing something here, it must be safe if you’re saying it is.” He’ll walk down the bank to investigate. The donkey is the opposite. If he has stopped to assess a situation and you try to force his hand before he’s ready, he digs in even deeper. “Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Convincing behavior can be a signal of emotional bias, which can be a signal of poor judgment. In other words, if you need me to cross this river so badly, you’re probably not thinking of my best interest too closely, so let me look over your work. And if you want to rush me along? Seems like a tally mark in the “scam” column tbh. Busyness is the river our culture is trying to get us to cross. To use another example, let’s say someone bursts into the office on Monday morning announcing that everyone has to see the new Star Wars movie because it’s amazing and they’ve never seen anything like it. I’d immediately assume, “This person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Why? Because I am a donkey. I know anyone who’s seen a movie that moved them emotionally or made them them think some new thoughts doesn’t automatically burst through a door like a manic sitcom character evangelizing everyone they encounter. That’s not how that feeling acts. And it’s the same with being busy: signifying is not the same as being.

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“When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.”

The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

When Jim Estill decided to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families, he didn’t tell anyone about it at first—not his accountant, not his friends, not even his wife. It was the summer of 2015, and the death toll in Syria had reached a quarter of a million people, while another four million had fled the country. All summer long, the news reported horror stories of Syrians drowning in the Mediterranean. Humanitarian aid programs were being cut across the Middle East. As he watched the news, Estill got worked up. “I didn’t want to be 80 years old and know that I did nothing during the greatest humanitarian crisis of my time,” he says. Estill was disturbed by the wave of xenophobia that had emerged during the Harper administration.

He wanted to demonstrate how refugees could help enrich our society. One of his best friends, Franz Hasenfratz, was a refugee who fled Communist Hungary. Hasenfratz went on to establish Linamar, a car-parts manufacturer, which is Guelph’s largest employer, with nearly 10,000 employees. “I was trying to drown out the xenophobes,” Estill says. “When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.” So he did some math. He checked Kijiji to find out how much apartments in Guelph were renting for, googled child tax benefits and GST/HST rebates in Ontario, and formulated a monthly food budget. He estimated that $30,000 could support a family of five for one year. He multiplied that number by 50 and realized the total cost—$1.5 million—was one he could easily afford.

[..] After Labour Day, Estill called a slew of local religious organizations—including three churches, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a synagogue—and aid agencies like the Salvation Army. On September 29, 10 civic leaders sat down in Estill’s boardroom at Danby. He’d made a PowerPoint presentation titled Refugees: The Right Thing to Do. Muhammed Sayyed, the president of the Muslim Society of Guelph, was amazed that so many faith groups were participating, even though most of the refugees would be Muslim. When he met Estill, he was filled with gratitude. “I thought, Wow, there are still people like him,” he said. An hour after the group sat down, the project was launched. The Muslim Society of Guelph would create the infrastructure, handle the paperwork and lead the volunteers. Estill would sustain the program with monthly donations. The group partnered with the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, which was a sponsorship agreement holder. This meant Estill could choose which refugees he wanted to sponsor.

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May 092015
 
 May 9, 2015  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Arthur Rothstein Steam shovels on flatcars, Cherokee County, Kansas 1936

Wall Street Soars On Hopes Of Fed Reprieve, Yet Sting In The Tail (AEP)
Wall Street Is One Sick Puppy (David Stockman)
Currencies’ Wild Ride to Get Wilder as US Rate Rise Beckons (Bloomberg)
Low Productivity Alarms US Policy Makers (FT)
Countdown To The Stock-Market Crash Of 2016 Is Ticking Louder (Paul B. Farrell)
‘Good’ Jobs Report? 15 Million Unemployed People Want To Work (MarketWatch)
UK Braces for Battle Over Europe After Cameron’s Victory (Bloomberg)
The $364 Billion Real Estate Threat Inside China’s Biggest Banks (Bloomberg)
Deflation Works! (Bill Bonner)
Documents Distributed by Greece’s Varoufakis ‘Baffle’ Eurozone Officials (WSJ)
Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Law to Rein in Public Sector Pensions (WSJ)
Democracy Is A Religion That Has Failed The Poor (Guardian)
Petrobras: The Betrayal of Brazil (Bloomberg)
The Clintons and Their Banker Friends- The Wall Street Connection (Nomi Prins)
Germany Spies, US Denies (Bloomberg)
Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Lead To A Global Race To The Bottom (Guardian)
Is There Such A Thing As A Skyscraper Curse? (Economist, March 28)
Global Crime Syndicates Are Buying Expensive Australia Real Estate (Domain)
Australian PM Adviser Exposes Cimate Change As Hoax, Shames All of Science (SBS)

“Markets keep treating weak data as “good news” (because it delays Fed tightening), but there comes a point when the macro-economic malaise does so much damage to earnings that reality catches up.”

Wall Street Soars On Hopes Of Fed Reprieve, Yet Sting In The Tail (AEP)

Pay packets have fallen across the gamut of US industry, manufacturing, and trade over the last two months, greatly reducing the likelihood of any rise in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve until later this year. The Dow Jones index of stocks soared by 260 points to 18,186 in early trading after the US non-farm payrolls report for April revealed that wage pressures remain all but dead in the American labour market. Contracts on the futures markets immediately pushed out the first rate rise for several months, pricing in a 51pc chance of ‘lift-off’ in December. The long-feared inflexion point for the global monetary cycle may have been delayed once again. Emerging market equities rallied strongly on hopes of another six-month reprieve for dollar debtors across the world.

Companies and state entities outside the US have borrowed a record $9 trillion in dollars, leaving them acutely vulnerable to a currency “margin call” triggered by Fed tightening. This dollar leverage has jumped from $2 trillion fourteen years ago. It is heavily concentrated in Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, China and the rest of emerging Asia. The US generated 223,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate fell to a 7-year low of 5.4pc, yet the underlying trend remains disappointingly weak. Both overtime and the number of hours worked edged down. The jobs figure for March was revised down sharply to 85,000. The labour participation rate for men is still stuck at 69.4pc, six percentage points lower than it was fifteen years ago and the lowest level since modern data began after WWII.

Had it not been for a surge in pay for financial services – the spill-over from an increasingly frothy asset boom – overall weekly earnings would have dropped for a second month in a row. It is unclear how the Fed will respond this soggy data. Dennis Lockhart, head of the Atlanta Fed, remained hawkish this week, insisting that the economy would soon return to growth rates of 2.5pc to 3pc after grinding to halt in the first quarter. He warned that a rate rise in June was still “in play”, contrary to market assumptions. “I’m still of the view that the conditions will be appropriate in the middle of the year, which we are getting closer to,” he said. Yet the US economy has not yet recovered from a winter shock.

Mr Lockhart’s own advance indicator – the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow series – suggests that growth has been running at a pace of just 0.8pc in the five weeks to early May. It is below the Fed’s stall speed gauge. China’s exports fell 6.9pc in April from a year earlier and remain shockingly weak. The eurozone’s retail sales unexpectedly slid 0.8pc in March, and Germany’s index of core industrial orders has turned negative. Markets keep treating weak data as “good news” (because it delays Fed tightening), but there comes a point when the macro-economic malaise does so much damage to earnings that reality catches up.

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“..the number of full-time jobs dropped by 252,000 in April – hardly an endorsement of the awesomeness theme.”

Wall Street Is One Sick Puppy (David Stockman)

The robo-traders – both the silicon and carbon based varieties – were raging again today in celebration of a “goldilocks” jobs report. That is, the headline number for April was purportedly strong enough to sustain the “all is awesome” meme, while the sharp downward revision for March to only 85,000 new jobs will allegedly enable the Fed to kick-the-can yet again – this time until its September meeting. As one Cool-Aid drinker put it, ‘“Probably best scenario in which the market was hoping for growth but not (so strong) that the Fed needs to hike in June,” said Ryan Larson at RBC Global Asset Management.’ Today’s knee jerk rip, of course, is the fifth one of roughly this magnitude since February 20th, but its all been for naught.

The headline based rips have not been able to levitate the S&P 500 for nearly three months now.In fact, however, the incoming data since February 20 has been uniformly bad. The chop depicted in the graph, therefore, only underscores that the market is desperately churning as it attempts to sustain an irrationally exuberant high. Indeed, today’s jobs data was not bullish in the slightest once you get below the headline. Specifically, the number of full-time jobs dropped by 252,000 in April – hardly an endorsement of the awesomeness theme. True enough, the monthly number for this important metric bounces around considerably. Yet that’s exactly why the algo fevers stirred by the incoming data headlines are just one more piece of evidence that the stock market is completely broken.

What counts is not the headline, but the trend; and when it comes to full time jobs there are still 1.1 million fewer now than at the pre-crisis peak in Q4 2007. Needless to say, a net shrinkage of full-time jobs after seven and one-half years is not exactly something that merits a 20.5X multiple on the S&P 500 or 75X on the Russell 2000. That’s the case especially when that same flat lining jobs trend has been underway for nearly a decade and one-half. To wit, since April 2000 the BLS’ full time job count has grown at only 0.35% annually. Now how in the world do you capitalize earnings at a rate which implies gangbusters growth of output and profits as far as the eye can see, when the US economy is self-evidently trapped in a deep rut that represents a drastic downshift from all prior history?

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Rollercoaster ahead.

Currencies’ Wild Ride to Get Wilder as US Rate Rise Beckons (Bloomberg)

If you thought the past week in the foreign-exchange market was wild, you haven’t seen anything yet. That’s the outlook from investors and strategists ranging from State Street Global Advisors to Cambridge Global Payments after price swings in the euro versus the dollar approached the highest level in more than three years. Volatility surged as traders unwound bets for gains in European bonds and stocks that had been funded in euros, prompting demand for the shared currency to close out what are known as carry trades. Price swings accelerated Friday after a lackluster U.S. employment report, raising more questions than answers about the timing of Federal Reserve interest-rate increases. “This unusual backdrop is going to create some turmoil,” Dan Farley at State Street.

“The next several weeks are likely to be choppy as things continue to be absorbed, bouncing off the good and the bad news.” The euro’s one-month implied volatility jumped as high as 13.2%, inching toward the 14% level where it last closed in December 2011. The common currency was unchanged on the week at $1.1199 as of 5 p.m. on Friday in New York. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index slid 0.7%, falling a fourth week in its longest run of declines since October 2013. The greenback weakened 0.3% to 119.76 yen. Europe’s bond rout wiped more than $400 billion from the value of the region’s debt in the past two weeks as investors questioned whether the ECB will continue its program of asset purchases through September 2016 amid signs the region’s economy is picking up.

The selloff eroded the premium Treasuries pay over bunds to the narrowest since February, lessening the attractiveness of dollar-denominated assets. “You’re going to see continued volatility driven by the bond markets,” said Karl Schamotta at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto. “Investors are increasingly concerned that they could be caught in the exits when everyone rushes out of the theater.”

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Apparently these people find it hard to see what’s wrong.

Low Productivity Alarms US Policy Makers (FT)

US innovators claim they have never been busier, but their ideas are persistently failing to transform the country’s economic data. Labour productivity fell an annual 1.9% in the first three months of the year, while unit labour costs rose sharply, official figures showed on Wednesday. The output per hour figures came as the country’s gross domestic product barely grew during the quarter even as it added an average of nearly 200,000 jobs a month. The numbers confirm a longer-run trend of slowing productivity that is alarming policy makers and complicating Federal Reserve decision-making. “It has slowed in quite a worrying way,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank.

Productivity, which measures how efficiently inputs such as labour and capital are used, evolves over years and decades. This means a single quarter’s data should not be over-interpreted — especially one that was hit by one-time factors including freezing temperatures. The first quarter dive mirrors a weather-affected first quarter in 2014. But the numbers, which follow a 2.1% annual productivity drop in the fourth quarter, confirm a broader tendency that has been mirrored in a number of advanced economies and has perplexed economists. Analysis from the San Francisco Federal Reserve shows there was a surge in US productivity between 1995 and 2003, driven by the IT boom, with growth doubling from the annualised average of 1.5% set in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The picture then reversed, however, and the US has been stuck in a lower-productivity growth trend since. Internationally comparable figures from the Conference Board show a broader slowdown among advanced economies including the UK and Japan over recent decades. Some economists say these weak numbers are jarring given the inventiveness being displayed in sectors such as software, medicine, and advanced manufacturing, and the rapid advance of robotics. “People are saying the pace of innovation has never been higher,” says Martin Neil Baily, an economist at Brookings, the think-tank.

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“2016 sounds more and more like McCain/Palin’s 2008 loss when the GOP was also deep in denial about the coming market crash..”

Countdown To The Stock-Market Crash Of 2016 Is Ticking Louder (Paul B. Farrell)

Warning bells just keep getting louder and louder as the countdown to the Crash of 2016 keeps ticking. Wall Street’s in denial, but the Washington Post warns: “U.S. economic growth slows to 0.2%, grinding nearly to a halt.” USA Today hears “Bubble Talk” at the Vegas “Davos for Geeks.” Earlier the Wall Street Journal warned, “declining population could reduce global economic growth by 40%.” Then recently the “slow-growth Fed” was blamed. Wrong, former Fed chief Ben Bernanke counterattacked: “I’m waiting for the Journal to argue for a well-structured program of public infrastructure development, which would support growth in the near term by creating jobs and in the longer term by making our economy more productive.”

But for years the Fed “has been pretty much the only game in town as far as economic policy goes.” Today “we should be looking for a better balance between monetary and other growth-promoting policies, including fiscal policy.” Fiscal policy? No, Ben, not a chance. The GOP controls economic policy. And they will never give “growth-promoting fiscal policy” victories to President Obama and Hillary Clinton before the presidential election of 2016. Never. In spite of Bernanke’s obviously rational solution to the core problems of the American economy, one that would help the American people, the GOP will never, ever agree to fiscal stimulus programs that give the Democrats bragging rights and make Obama and Clinton look good before the elections.

The GOP is hungry for power, very hungry. They lost the presidency twice to Obama. They want it back. And now their collective ego is convinced that with the $889 million backing from the Koch Empire they can beat Hillary and take absolute control of the American democracy: win the presidency, hold Congress, gain the power to issue executive orders and veto legislation, appoint more than 6,000 insiders including cabinet officers, regulatory heads, federal judges, ambassadors, staff bureaucrats, and more. Yes, the GOP knows all that power is on the line in 2016. Listen: 2016 sounds more and more like McCain/Palin’s 2008 loss when the GOP was also deep in denial about the coming market crash. Money manager Jeremy Grantham’s predictions see beyond the Big Oil-funded GOP’s gross denial, he sees that “around the presidential election or soon after, the market bubble will burst, as bubbles always do, and will revert to its trend value, around half of its peak or worse.”

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Only 15 million out of 93 million not in labor force? So 78 million bluntly refuse to work? Hard to believe.

‘Good’ Jobs Report? 15 Million Unemployed People Want To Work (MarketWatch)

There is good news in the jobs market, just not enough of it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the U.S. economy continued to create jobs at a healthy pace of nearly 200,000 per month in the first four months of the year, and the unemployment rate dipped to 5.4% in April, the lowest since May 2008. But we are still far from achieving an economy that offers a job for everyone who wants one. And wages are barely growing for the 148 million who do have a job. Nearly 15 million jobless people say they want to work, but the Federal Reserve seems nearly ready to declare victory, figuring that the unemployment rate can’t go much lower without setting off a harmful inflationary spiral.

There is scant evidence that tight labor markets are putting any pressure on companies to raise their prices: Unit labor costs are up just 1.1% in the past year. Inflation — no matter how you measure it — is not a risk in the near term, or even in the medium term. There’s little evidence that workers have gotten those hefty raises that economists insisted were coming any day now. Growth in average hourly earnings is stuck in the same tight range of about 2% per year that it’s been at for the past five years. In April, average hourly earnings rose only 0.1%, bringing the change over the past year to 2.2%. And the “average” wage overstates the reality for most workers.

The average is boosted by rapid pay increases for just a few, including executives, whose “salaries” include bonuses and the receipt of shares of the company’s stock or options to buy shares. The encouraging acceleration in compensation that was reported in the employment cost index last week was largely due to sales commissions and bonuses collected by only a few. Most workers aren’t seeing that 2.2% pay increase. For the median full-time worker, usual weekly earnings are up just 1.5% in the past year, far below the 4% pay raise they got the last time that the unemployment rate was as low as 5.4%. (The “median” means that half of the workers got less than a 1.5% pay raise, and half got more.)

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“While the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for an EU exit, has only won one seat, the party won 13% of the popular vote..”

UK Braces for Battle Over Europe After Cameron’s Victory (Bloomberg)

David Cameron persuaded U.K. voters to give him a second term as prime minister. Now he needs to persuade them to stay in the European Union. The Conservatives’ surprise win came after a campaign that saw Cameron’s pledge of a referendum on EU membership by 2017 share almost equal billing with his record of delivering economic stability. Cameron, who has said he wants the country to stay in the EU, will first seek to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms. The Conservatives “may even try and bring things forward to stop this wrecking the next two years for them,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London.

“It’s a very tight majority which means he will have to make promises to people and do things to keep them on board on Europe, in particular as Cameron has a record of backing down under pressure to euro skeptics.” While the pound surged on Cameron’s victory amid optimism that an economic recovery will solidify under his administration, some investors warned that the euphoria could be short lived as a EU referendum draws closer into view. The vote is intended to settle a question that’s divided the nation since the U.K. joined Europe’s common market in 1973, and split the Conservatives for a generation. “Initial short-term cheer could be followed by a medium-term chill,” said Fabrice Montagne at Barclays.

“The referendum is likely to generate a substantial amount of uncertainty, particularly if polls fail to show more substantial support for EU membership in the coming weeks and months.” With most seats declared, the BBC forecast the Tories to take 331 of Parliament’s 650 seats to Labour’s 232 seats, a result that would allow Cameron to govern alone. While the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for an EU exit, has only won one seat, the party won 13% of the popular vote, according to the BBC. Last year, UKIP won the most votes in elections for the European Parliament, taking almost a third of Britain’s seats.

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That’s just China’s biggest four banks. “Property prices in 70 Chinese cities have fallen for more than a year..” “Loans backed by properties now comprise 40% of all facilities held by Fitch-rated banks..”

The $364 Billion Real Estate Threat Inside China’s Biggest Banks (Bloomberg)

Fitch Ratings has called real estate the “biggest threat” to Chinese banks as surging loans tied to properties coincide with defaults and falling sales. Corporate loans backed by buildings have grown almost fivefold since 2008 and residential mortgages have more than tripled in the period among lenders rated by Fitch, the company said Friday. That’s seen property loans held by China’s four biggest lenders soar to a total 2.26 trillion yuan ($364 billion), according to their annual reports. “Collateral is supposed to reduce bank risk – but the rise of property collateral in corporate loans may actually increase the chance of bank failure,” Fitch analysts Jack Yuan and Grace Wu said in the report.

“This is because the widespread use of such collateral has lowered the perceived risks of lending, fueling China’s credit build-up and spreading real-estate risk to other sectors of the economy.” Alarm bells sounded last month when Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd. became the first Chinese developer to default on offshore bonds, putting more scrutiny on a sector that made up a third of the nation’s economy in 2013, according to Gavekal Dragonomics. Property prices in 70 Chinese cities have fallen for more than a year, the worst losing streak in at least a decade, while sales have dropped for 11 of the past 24 months, Bloomberg-compiled data show. Loans backed by properties now comprise 40% of all facilities held by Fitch-rated banks, according to the report. Total credit to real estate could be as high as 60% if other types of financing besides direct loans are included, Fitch said.

“The property market is usually one of the main revenue contributors to the state,” said Raymond Chia, the head of credit research for Asia ex-Japan at Schroder Investment Management Ltd. “With the weakness in the sector, especially with excess inventory overhang as well as weak earnings by developers, economic growth will be affected.” Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world’s biggest bank by assets, held 443.5 billion yuan of real estate loans, or 6.6% of all facilities, at the end of last year, according to its annual report. The portion for Bank of China, the nation’s second-largest, was 714.6 billion yuan of advances, or 8.4% of its credit book.

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“Today, a long depression in the US would be unbearable. The public couldn’t stand it. Six out of ten households live paycheck to paycheck. Can you imagine what would happen if those paychecks ceased?”

Deflation Works! (Bill Bonner)

As we have seen, Japan has already had a 25-year slump. The US is now in Year 8 of its slump, with fragile growth at only half the rate of the last century. They could get better… or worse. Negative rates could keep the cronies in business. The slump itself – combined with peak debt and 500 million Chinese laborers – could keep inflation in check. But the point comes when investors see that the risk of loss (because something can always go wrong) is greater than the hope of gain. That moment must be approaching in the US stock market. Prices are near record highs, even as the economy flirts with recession. One day, perhaps soon, we will see stocks falling – as much as 1,000 points in 24 hours. Jacking up the stock market has been the Fed’s singular success. Activism has been its creed.

Interventionism is its modus operandi. It will not sit tight as the market falls apart and the economy goes into recession. Instead, it will announce QE 4. It will try to enforce negative interest rates. And it will move – as will the Japanese – to “direct monetary funding” of government deficits. That is, it will dispense with the fiction of “borrowing” from its own central bank. It will simply print the money it needs. The US Fed of 1930 was not nearly as ambitious and assertive as the Fed of 2015. In the ‘30s, it watched as the economy chilled into a Great Depression. As Ben Bernanke told Milton Friedman, “We won’t do that again.” It couldn’t if it wanted to. Back in the ‘30s, consumer debt had barely been invented. Most people still lived on or near farms, where they could take care of themselves even if the economy was in a depression.

Few people had credit. Instead, they had savings. There were no food stamps. No disability. No rent assistance. No zombie industries. No student debt. No auto debt. No cash-back mortgages. And cash was real money, backed by gold. Today, a long depression in the US would be unbearable. The public couldn’t stand it. Six out of ten households live paycheck to paycheck. Can you imagine what would happen if those paychecks ceased? Supposedly, the US economy is still growing… with the stock market near record highs. Yet, one out of every five households in America has not a single wage-earner. Among inner-city black men, ages 20-24, only 4 out of 10 have jobs. Half the households in the US count on government money to make ends meet. And 50 million get food stamps. What would happen to the cities – and the suburbs – in a real depression?

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They try to act as if Yanis were stupid, but they themselves lack understanding of the matter at hand.

Documents Distributed by Greece’s Varoufakis ‘Baffle’ Eurozone Officials (WSJ)

Economic plans and growth estimates distributed by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to some of his eurozone counterparts have baffled officials involved in the talks over its international bailout. Officials say that the files differ greatly from what has been discussed at the technical level in Brussels in recent days and underline how Mr. Varoufakis continues to complicate progress toward a financing deal. The 36-page document, entitled “Greece’s recovery: A blueprint” and seen by The Wall Street Journal, was presented by Mr. Varoufakis to his counterparts in Paris and Rome, as well as senior officials in Brussels, while he was touring European capitals over the past week, according to four European officials.

The Greek Finance Ministry said the document was a first draft of a new plan “for the recovery and growth of the country in the [post-bailout] era,” which it said Mr. Varoufakis had discussed informally with some of his counterparts. “This is a long-term project that goes well beyond the limits of the negotiation that is currently underway in the Brussels Group,” as the group of experts representing Greece and its creditors is known, the ministry said. Greece’s leftist-led government is locked in negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund over its next slice of financial aid as part of a €245 billion rescue package. Disagreements over cuts to Greece’s pension system and changes to its labor rules that would make it easier to dismiss workers have held up a deal on further loans.

While the talks have become more constructive, differences remain wide, European officials say. The paper focuses on the Greek economy and how it can return to growth. “Perhaps it is time to visualize a recovering Greece before we unlock the present impasse,” the document says, before going into areas where the country plans overhauls. While some of the outlined measures are the same as those agreed to in the negotiations—such as the creation of an independent tax commissioner—the paper differs in other areas. One significant difference is the creation of a so-called bad bank that would house and wind down Greek lenders’ bad loans. “Conveniently, the financing of the bad bank is not treated,” an EU official said.

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Prelude to multiple bankruptcies.

Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Law to Rein in Public Sector Pensions (WSJ)

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s 2013 pension overhaul, unraveling an effort by lawmakers to rein in benefits for the consistently underfunded public-sector system. The current pension shortfall is estimated at $111 billion, one of the largest nationally. The high court affirmed a decision in November by a state circuit court that the legislative changes violated pension protections written into the state constitution. The decision is a victory for a consortium of public-sector unions while creating a huge challenge for new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who already faces a yawning budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.

“The financial challenges facing state and local governments in Illinois are well known and significant,” said Justice Lloyd Karmeier, writing for the entire court. “It is our obligation, however, just as it is theirs, to ensure that the law is followed.” Illinois joins Oregon and Arizona as recent examples of high courts peeling back pension overhauls. Other states, including Colorado and Florida, have upheld laws cutting benefits. Mr. Rauner’s office urged a constitutional amendment to help fix the problem. Otherwise, the state will be forced to turn to tax increases, budget cuts or, as Mr. Rauner discussed earlier this year, municipal bankruptcy. Recent federal bankruptcy cases in Detroit and Stockton, Calif., have raised the question of whether pension benefits are fully protected.

After the ruling, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services put the state’s credit ratings on watch for potential downgrade, saying Illinois faces “profound credit challenges.” The Illinois law would have reduced retirement costs by shrinking cost-of-living increases for retirees, raising retirement ages for younger workers, and capping the size of pensions. “The court’s ruling confirms that the Illinois Constitution ensures against the government’s unilateral diminishment or impairment of public pensions,” said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois ALF-CIO, speaking on behalf of the We Are One Illinois coalition of unions.

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It’s not democracy, it’s what is not democracy but is still called by that name.

Democracy Is A Religion That Has Failed The Poor (Guardian)

Right now I feel ashamed to be English. Ashamed to belong to a country that has clearly identified itself as insular, self-absorbed and apparently caring so little for the most vulnerable people among us. Why did a million people visiting food banks make such a minimal difference? Did we just vote for our own narrow concerns and sod the rest? Maybe that’s why the pollsters got it so badly wrong: we are not so much a nation of shy voters as of ashamed voters, people who want to present to the nice polling man as socially inclusive, but who, in the privacy of the booth, tick the box of our own self-interest. Rewind 24 hours and it felt so different. Thursday morning was lovely in London, full of the promise of spring. Even the spat I had with the man outside my polling station shouting at “fucking immigrants” didn’t disrupt an overall feeling of optimism.

Were people walking just a little bit more purposefully? Was I mistaken in detecting some calm excitement, almost an unspoken communal bonhomie? Perhaps also a feeling of empowerment, a sense that it was “the people” that could now make a difference. But by bedtime the spell had been broken. Things were going to stay the same. No real difference had been made. The utterly miserable thought strikes me that Russell Brand just might have been right. What difference did my vote make? Why indeed do people vote, and care so passionately about voting, particularly in constituencies in which voting one way or the other won’t make a blind bit of difference? And why do the poor vote when, by voting, they merely give legitimacy to a system that connives with their oppression and alienation?

The anthropologist Mukulika Banerjee suggests a fascinating answer: elections are like religious rituals, often devoid of rational purpose or efficacy for the individual participant, but full of symbolic meaning. They are the nearest thing the secular has to the sacred, presenting a moment of empowerment. But is this empowerment illusory? Is, as Banerjee asks, “the ability to vote … a necessary safety valve which allows for the airing of popular disaffection, but which nevertheless ultimately restores the status quo. In such a reading, elections require the complicity of all participants in a deliberate mis-recognition of the emptiness of its procedures and the lack of any significant changes which this ritual brings about, but are a necessary charade to mollify a restless electorate.”

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The numbers are insane and growing. This may well make the country ungovernable.

Petrobras: The Betrayal of Brazil (Bloomberg)

Since March 2014, prosecutors have accused more than 110 people of corruption, money laundering, and other financial crimes. Six construction and engineering firms have been accused of illegal enrichment in what is known as a noncriminal misconduct action. On April 22, Moro delivered the first convictions. He found Costa and Youssef guilty of money laundering, including the Land Rover purchase. Moro gave both men reduced sentences two years house arrest for Costa and three years in prison for Youssef for cooperating with prosecutors. All of that is something of a preview of the big show: Prosecutors say they may accuse some of Brazil s largest builders with running an illegal cartel.

It’s been clearly proven in this case that there was a criminal scheme inside Petrobras that involved a cartel, bid rigging, bribes to government officials and politicians, and money laundering, Moro wrote in sentencing Costa and Youssef. There will be a cartel indictment, says Carlos Lima, a lead prosecutor in the case. I do’ t like to get ahead of myself and say this will happen, but it will. It’s just a matter of time. In filings in Judge Moro’s court, prosecutors have named 16 companies that allegedly formed a cartel to fix Petrobras contracts between 2006 and 2014. The list includes some of Brazil s largest construction and engineering firms, including Camargo Correa, OAS, UTC Engenharia, and the biggest of them all, Construtora Norberto Odebrecht. All of these companies deny being part of a cartel, except Camargo Correa, which declined to comment.

Petrobras says it knew nothing about the bid rigging and is collaborating with authorities in the investigation. As to whether it was the victim of a cartel, the company is certain, Mario Jorge Silva, Petrobras’s executive manager for performance, said at an April 22 news conference. In financial filings, Petrobras says 199.6 billion reais worth of contracts were rigged by the alleged cartel. For years, a co-owner of the engineering firm UTC called members to meetings at his offices in Sao Paulo via text messages, according to testimony and documents submitted in Moro’s court. The participants were greeted by an assistant, who handed out name tags. At the meetings, executives took copious notes detailing how the alleged cartel would divvy up Petrobras contracts, at inflated prices. One builder put together a 2 1/2-page encoded guide for group members that describes contract bidding as a soccer tournament, with leagues and teams.

Another document drawn up by a group member lists the chosen winners of upcoming bidding for 14 contracts for a refinery, with the title Fluminense Final Bingo Proposal, using a nickname for the state of Rio de Janeiro. Prosecutors say the builders got away with it by paying kickbacks, usually 3%, on every contract. Petrobras estimates that the graft added up to at least 6.2 billion reais, much of which, prosecutors say, was funneled into the war chests of the parties that backed Luiz In·cio Lula da Silva, president of the country from 2003 to 2010, and his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff. Lula and Rousseff haven t been charged with wrongdoing, but special prosecutors have opened criminal investigations into more than 50 members of congress and other politicians implicated in the corruption scheme.

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“..in all these years, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street or any individual Wall Street leader.”

The Clintons and Their Banker Friends- The Wall Street Connection (Nomi Prins)

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward. When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton. Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

To grasp the dangers that the Big Six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) presently pose to the financial stability of our nation and the world, you need to understand their history in Washington, starting with the Clinton years of the 1990s. Alliances established then (not exclusively with Democrats, since bankers are bipartisan by nature) enabled these firms to become as politically powerful as they are today and to exert that power over an unprecedented amount of capital. Rest assured of one thing: their past and present CEOs will prove as critical in backing a Hillary Clinton presidency as they were in enabling her husband’s years in office.

In return, today’s titans of finance and their hordes of lobbyists, more than half of whom held prior positions in the government, exact certain requirements from Washington. They need to know that a safety net or bailout will always be available in times of emergency and that the regulatory road will be open to whatever practices they deem most profitable. Whatever her populist pitch may be in the 2016 campaign – and she will have one – note that, in all these years, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street or any individual Wall Street leader. Though she may, in the heat of that campaign, raise the bad-apples or bad-situation explanation for Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, rest assured that she will not point fingers at her friends.

She will not chastise the people that pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to speak or the ones that have long shared the social circles in which she and her husband move. She is an undeniable component of the Clinton political-financial legacy that came to national fruition more than 23 years ago, which is why looking back at the history of the first Clinton presidency is likely to tell you so much about the shape and character of the possible second one.

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Deepening.

Germany Spies, US Denies (Bloomberg)

Reports of German spying on European corporate targets at the behest of the U.S. have led to calls that Chancellor Angela Merkel was hypocritical for complaining about U.S. spying on Germany. Well, yes — but the hypocrisy of politicians hardly comes as a shock. What’s more striking about the recent revelations is their targets – and what they say about U.S. government claims that it doesn’t spy on behalf of private U.S. corporations. Start with a rather obvious question: Why would the U.S. government rely on Germany to spy on European corporations? Why not just do the spying directly? It’s not as if the U.S. lacks the intelligence capacity to do it. After all, the U.S. spied directly on Merkel in the episode that made her object so strongly and publicly and hypocritically.

It’s hard to know for sure, and the answer may conceivably lie in complex interstate agreements that aren’t public. But there’s a highly plausible alternative answer, one connected to the recent history of U.S. efforts to vilify Chinese government’s industrial espionage. The U.S. may be using Germany to do industrial spying because it wants to claim that, unlike other countries, the U.S. doesn’t do spying on behalf of its corporations. In August 2013, a National Security Agency spokesman told the Washington Post in an e-mail that the Department of Defense “does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” In case you’re wondering, the six asterisks appeared in the original e-mail. Notice that the NSA statement didn’t say that other agencies avoid economic espionage, just those that are part of the Department of Defense.

Notice, too, that the statement didn’t say that no one shares stolen information with the U.S. The next month, after a fresh round of Edward Snowden revelations, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, issued a further statement. He acknowledged that “the Intelligence Community” (his capitalization) “collects information about economic and financial matters.” But he insisted that: “What we do not do … is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.” A close, retrospective reading of this statement reveals it to be completely consistent with the U.S. relying on foreign intelligence organizations, such as the Germans, to spy on private targets – and then share the proceeds with American companies for whatever reason.

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All globalization does.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Lead To A Global Race To The Bottom (Guardian)

At a time when economic inequality around the globe continues to widen, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will only make things worse. Unlike what President Obama claims, the agreement will only encourage a race to the bottom, in which a small percentage of people get ridiculously rich while most workers around the globe stay miserably poor. We can’t let that happen. Today, President Obama is visiting Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to garner support for the trade deal, which would be signed by the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries. That’s an apt place for Obama to beat the free-trade drum – Nike, like the TPP, is associated with offshoring American jobs, widening the income inequality gap, and increasing the number of people making slave wages overseas.

Since the passage of NAFTA in 1993, we’ve seen the loss of nearly five million US manufacturing jobs, the closure of more than 57,000 factories, and stagnant wages. This deal won’t be any different. In November, Zachary Senn, a college student reporter at the Modesto Bee, spent three weeks in Indonesia living with and interviewing workers who make goods for Nike, Adidas, Puma and Converse. When you hear Obama talking about those “high-quality jobs,” think of RM, a 32-year-old mother who told Senn that she works 55 hours, six days a week and makes just $184 a month after 12 years at the PT Nikomas factory, a Nike subcontractor that employs 25,000 people. That’s 83 cents an hour or $2,208 a year. RM works in the sewing department and is expected to process 100 shoes an hour.

“If we don’t meet our quotas, we get yelled at”, she told Senn. “And then the quotas are piled into the next day”. Eating lunch is difficult because the food “smells bad,” and worse yet, RM said there is only one restroom, with 15 stalls, for 850 women. RM told Senn that she doesn’t want Nike to leave Indonesia; she wants an end to verbal abuse and a 50% raise, which would allow her to better provide for her family. Is $368 a month too much to ask from a multinational corporation that posted $27.8 billion in revenue and spent $3 billion on advertising and promotions in fiscal 2014? Nike CEO Mark Parker was paid $14.7 million in compensation last year. That’s $7,656 an hour. Wages in Vietnam, a key TPP partner, are even lower than Indonesia. Nike’s largest production center is in Vietnam where 330,000 mostly young women workers with no legal rights earn just 48 to 69 cents an hour.

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6 weeks old, but too good to leave behind.

Is There Such A Thing As A Skyscraper Curse? (Economist, March 28)

The world is in the middle of a skyscraper boom. Last year nearly 100 buildings over 200 metres tall were built—more than ever before. This year China’s business capital will welcome the Shanghai Tower, which will be the world’s second-tallest building. Saudi Arabia is building Kingdom Tower, which will be the world’s tallest (and twice the height of One World Trade Centre in New York, the tallest building in the Americas). Does this frenzy of building augur badly for the world economy? Various academics and pundits, many of them cited by The Economist, have long argued as much, but new research casts doubt on it.

In 1999 Andrew Lawrence, then of Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, an investment bank, identified what came to be known as the “skyscraper curse”.* Mr Lawrence noticed a curious correlation between the construction of the world’s tallest buildings and economic crises. The unveiling of the Singer Building and the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York, in 1908 and 1909 respectively, roughly coincided with the financial panic of 1907 and subsequent recession. The Empire State Building opened its doors in 1931, as the Great Depression was getting going (it was soon dubbed the “Empty State Building”). Malaysia’s Petronas Towers became the world’s tallest building in 1996, just before the Asian financial crisis. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, opened in 2010 in the middle of a local and global crash.

Skyscrapers can be hugely profitable, since by building upwards developers can rent out more floor space on a given plot of land. But at some point extra storeys are no longer a good deal, since marginal costs—for more lifts and extra steel to stop the building from swaying in the wind, for example—increase faster than marginal revenues (rents or sales). William Clark and John Kingston, an economist and an architect writing in 1930, found that the profit-maximising height for a skyscraper in midtown New York in the 1920s was no more than 63 storeys. (The ideal height is probably not much different today.) Record-breaking skyscrapers could therefore be seen as an indication that gung-ho investors are overestimating the probable future returns from new construction.

Indeed, developers may be building record-breaking towers even though they know they are economically inefficient. There is, after all, a certain cachet to having a very tall building with your name on it. In 1998 Donald Trump, a magnate, presented a plan to build the world’s tallest residential building in New York as the righting of a historical wrong, not a shrewd business move. “I’ve always thought that New York should have the tallest building in the world,” he proclaimed. If such vanity projects can secure funding, the theory goes, financial markets must be out of control and will soon suffer a sharp correction. Mr Trump’s tower opened just as the dotcom bubble was bursting.

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And London, New York etc. Real estate is a great way to launder cash.

Global Crime Syndicates Are Buying Expensive Australia Real Estate (Domain)

Some of Australia’s most expensive real estate is being bought by global crime syndicates, one of the country’s top crime-fighting bodies says. So worried are they about the influx of dirty money that the Australian Crime Commission has launched an investigation looking at money laundering and terrorism financing through property. Concerns that criminals may be targeting real estate were raised within the commission about six months ago, according to an ACC spokeswoman. The Targeting Criminal Wealth Special Investigation is expected to run until June next year. “Taskforce investigations have uncovered information about organised crime entities investing in high-value commodities, such as real estate, to help launder illicit funds into the legitimate economy,” said ACC chief executive Chris Dawson, APM.

“The Australian real estate sector is perceived as stable and at low risk of significant depreciation in the short term, and potential for growth in the long term. It is likely that organised crime are exploiting these conditions to invest in the Australian real estate market to launder the proceeds of illicit activity including drug profits.” The ACC declined to specify countries of concern because the investigation is ongoing. Parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer said the federal government was being forced to play catch-up on the issue because there had been no co-ordinated data matching scheme on property records to date. The recently announced data-matching scheme set to start from December 1 as part of the federal government’s crackdown on foreign investment would be a big help to agencies like the ACC in these investigations, Ms O’Dwyer said.

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Brilliant.

Australian PM Adviser Exposes Cimate Change As Hoax, Shames All of Science (SBS)

Business Adviser Maurice Newman has been praised today for his stellar work uncovering that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the United Nations and the vast majority of the entire scientific community from all around the world. Newman, who also managed to expose the New World Order as something that actually exists and isn’t just made up by conspiracy theorising weirdos, has been widely praised for his efforts in bringing down what is thought to be the most elaborate conspiracy of all time. “Of course he will be in consideration for the Nobel Prize,” said one science observer. “To completely humiliate the vast majority of the scientific community like this on such a huge issue is almost unprecedented.

“In years to come we’ll say Maurice Newman in the same breath as we say Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. To think, thousands of scientists and millions upon millions of dollars of resources couldn’t uncover this conspiracy but one guy with no expertise managed to bring it all down on a lark.” The world’s scientists have reacted with abject shame at being found out after all this time. “I always knew we’d be found out,” said one scientist. “It’s only so long you can keep something like this up when you have to independently incorporate every person studying climate, sea levels, soil, and thousands of other aspects. The paper trail alone was incredibly obvious. Not to mention our connection with the United Nations meaning we had to have every nation on board with tricking Australia for some reason.

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