Jul 032019
 


Happy birthday Julian

 

 

Response to Open Letter of 1 July 2019 (Nils Melzer)
France And Germany Eye Lagarde For ECB and Von Der Leyen For EC President (R.)
The Inconvenient Truth About Ursula Von Der Leyen (Pol.eu)
Trump To Nominate Judy Shelton, Christopher Waller To The Fed (CNBC)
The Death of the Liberal Idea (Dmitry Orlov)
Stagecraft (Kunstler)
Families Of 737 MAX Crash Victims Say Boeing Has Not Contacted Them (BI)
Chinese Border Guards Put Secret Surveillance App On Tourists’ Phones
Italian Judge Rules Sea Watch Captain Carried Out Duty To Protect Lives (EN)
Austria Becomes First EU Country To Ban Glyphosate (RT)
Cockroach ‘Superbugs’ Evolve To Resist Pesticides In One Generation (RT)
Deep-Sea Mining To Turn Oceans Into ‘New Industrial Frontier’ (G.)
The Seabed Should Be Off-Limits To Mining Companies (Chris Packham)

 

 

Julian first on his birthday. Here’s Nils Melzer’s response to the 200+ academics who didn’t like how he described the -empty- rape allegations against Assange. These are the last few paragraphs. A man of great integrity.

Response to Open Letter of 1 July 2019 (Nils Melzer)

Beyond questions of law, you also take issue with my tone, which you deem to be “insensitive to victims”. Please let me assure you that, in two decades of work with victims of war and violence, sometimes under very difficult and dangerous circumstances, I have seen and suffered too much myself to be intellectually or emotionally capable of “mocking” potential victims. The countless testimonies I have collected in prisons, camps and villages throughout the world have marked me deeply, and some of them keep haunting me to this day. Whatever misunderstandings may have resulted from my article, they certainly do not warrant accusing me of “insensitivity to victims” or even a “profound lack of understanding that does a disservice to the mandate”.

Though the tone of my critique may be harsh, it does not aim at the women, but at the gross arbitrariness of the “rape” narrative, which has been wrongly imposed by zealous officials not only on Assange, but also on the two concerned women themselves, and on the general public. The State not only ignored the women’s own experience and interpretation of events, but also consistently declined to take the necessary measures which would have allowed advancing this matter beyond the stage of preliminary investigation, where it has been so conveniently left to simmer for almost a decade. As is well documented, both the two women and Assange fully cooperated with the police and the prosecution from the outset, he was questioned both in Sweden (2010) and in London (2016), and the only reason he refused to be extradited to Sweden was that Sweden declined to guarantee against further extradition to the United States, where I am convinced he would be exposed to serious violations of his human rights.


More generally, I fully share your concerns that sexual allegations against powerful men are often dismissed as attention-seeking or part of a conspiracy to bring them down. I would point out, however, that Assange is not a powerful man shielded by impunity, but an isolated and frail political prisoner persecuted for exposing war crimes and corruption. So, while we all work to safeguard the rights of victims of sexual abuse, let us not blindly dismiss well-founded doubts as to the veracity and / or appropriateness of rape allegations, where there are indications of duress or documented third party interests influencing the process. This holds particularly true in a highly politicized case which, in all involved jurisdictions, is plagued with a pervasive mix of grave and persistent due process violations, concerted public mobbing, humiliation and intimidation, and counterfactual accusations of hacking, spying and even causing death and injury.

Read more …

Right. The EU nominates two women. One is accused of gross incompetence, the other was convicted of negligence in a case of misuse of public funds, but never sentenced, no criminal record. Highly doubtful she would be seen as “fit and proper” for a commercal bank job. The entire nomination process reminds us about Groucho Marx’ famous line “Those are my principles; if you don’t like them, I have others”. So we get: “Who needs a Spitzenkandidat when you can have a Homecoming Queen?”

France And Germany Eye Lagarde For ECB and Von Der Leyen For EC President (R.)

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen may end up as European Commission President while IMF head Christine Lagarde may become new president of the European Central Bank following an agreement between France and Germany, said sources. One diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter said French President Emmanuel Macron had proposed to his German counterpart Angela Merkel that Lagarde should get the top ECB job. The source added that Merkel was “very positive” on the idea of Lagarde heading the ECB.

Read more …

“Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president..”

“..accusations that von der Leyen’s office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts worth millions of euros..”

The Inconvenient Truth About Ursula Von Der Leyen (Pol.eu)

A polyglot Brussels native who reared seven children and earned a medical degree on the side before storming to the top of German politics. News that this Wunderfrau — aka German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen — could become the Commission’s next president left European capitals abuzz on Tuesday. “Finally some good news” was the general tenor. Who needs a Spitzenkandidat when you can have a Homecoming Queen? At first glance, the affable 60-year-old minister with a camera-ready smile looks to be a perfect fit, with the requisite experience, political pedigree and personality to handle the EU’s toughest job. And yet a nagging question remains: Is she too good to be true?

In the German capital, the answer is clear. “Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president,” former European Parliament President Martin Schulz seethed in a tweet Tuesday evening. Though Schulz is a Social Democrat, his analysis of the minister’s record is shared by many of von der Leyen’s fellow Christian Democrats, though most are reluctant to criticize her publicly. Instead, they point to the state of the German military. “The Bundeswehr’s condition is catastrophic,” Rupert Scholz, who served as defense minister under Helmut Kohl, wrote last week before von der Leyen was nominated to the EU’s top post. “The entire defense capability of the Federal Republic is suffering, which is totally irresponsible.”


[..] In addition to problems surrounding the German military’s readiness, von der Leyen’s ministry also faces an investigation into suspected wrongdoing surrounding its use of outside consultants, including Accenture and McKinsey. The Bundestag, the German parliament, is currently holding hearings into the affair, including accusations that von der Leyen’s office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts worth millions of euros to the firms. Those hearings have taken a dramatic turn in recent days as testimony from key witnesses appeared to confirm suspicions of systematic corruption at the ministry.

Read more …

On our way to zero percent interest rates. Damn savings and pensions.

Trump To Nominate Judy Shelton, Christopher Waller To The Fed (CNBC)

President Donald Trump intends to nominate Christopher Waller, executive vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Judy Shelton, an economic adviser to the president during his 2016 campaign, to the Federal Reserve’s board. The announcements, in a pair of tweets late Tuesday, come after Trump’s earlier nominees, Stephen Moore and Herman Cain, both withdrew from consideration. Moore, a conservative pundit, dropped out of consideration in May, citing public scrutiny of his professional and personal lives. Cain, the businessman and former GOP presidential candidate, dropped out of contention for the Fed in late April. Shelton was earlier speculated to be a pick for the Federal Reserve board.


Shelton has previously said that if appointed, she would lower interest rates to 0% in one to two years, echoing calls from Trump to lower rates. Waller has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis since 2009, and previously was a chair of economics at the University of Notre Dame and a chair in macroeconomics and monetary theory at the University of Kentucky. He has written about the dangers of an inverted yield curve, in which short-term Treasury yields outpace long-term yields. The 3-month bond yield topped 10-year yields in May, the widest yield curve inversion since the financial crisis. Some economists and investors believe the curve sends a warning about economic growth. Both nominees will need Senate confirmation.

Read more …

Interpreting Putin’s words.

The Death of the Liberal Idea (Dmitry Orlov)

The migrant crisis is a perfect example of how liberalism has outlived its usefulness. Liberalism offers two ways forward, both of which are fatal to it. One approach is distinctly illiberal: halt the influx of migrants by any means necessary; insist that the migrants already in the country either conform to a strict set of requirements, including demonstrated competency in the nation’s language, detailed knowledge of its laws and administrative systems, strict obedience to its laws and demonstrated preference and respect for the customs and culture of the native population—or be not so much deported as expelled. The other approach is liberal at first: allow the influx to continue, do not hinder the formation of foreign ghettos and enclaves which native citizens and officials dare not enter, and eventually surrender to Sharia law or other forms of foreign dictate—guaranteeing the eventual death of the liberal idea along with much of the native population.

Thus, the choice is between killing the liberal idea but saving the native population or letting the liberal idea die willy-nilly, taking the native population along with it. It offers no solution at all. “We all live in a world based on traditional Biblical values,” quoth Putin. “We don’t have to demonstrate them every day… but must have them in our hearts and our souls. In this way, traditional values are more stable and more important to millions of people than this liberal idea which, in my view, is ceasing to exist.” This is true not just of the believers—be they Christian, Moslem or Jewish—but of the atheists as well. To put it in terms that may shock and astound some of you, you don’t have to believe in God (although it helps if you do—to avoid cognitive dissonance) but if you aspire to any sort of social adequacy in a traditional society you have no choice but to sincerely think and act as if God exists, and that He is the God of the Bible—be He Yahweh, Elohim, Jesus and the Holy Trinity or Allah (that’s the Arabic word for “God”).


Putin capped off his argument by ever so gently and politely putting the boot in. He said that he has no clue about any of this “transformer-trans… whatever” stuff. How many genders are there? He has lost count. Not that he is against letting consenting adult members of various minority sexual groups do whatever they want among themselves—“Let everyone be happy!”—but they have no right to dictate to the rest. Specifically, Russian law makes homosexual propaganda among those who are under age illegal. Hollywood’s pro-LGBT mavens must be displeased: their choice is either to redact LGBT propaganda from the script, or to redact it from the finished film prior to its release in Russia (and China).

Read more …

Fun with Bob.

Stagecraft (Kunstler)

I can think of a few 90-mph sliders I’d like to pitch to Mr. Mueller, some of them already floated in the press: like, why did you allow the GI cell phones of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to be destroyed shortly after you were informed about their unprofessional and compromising text exchanges, for which they were fired off your “team?” When did you learn that international men-of-mystery Stefan Halper and Josef Mifsud, whose operations spurred your prosecutions, were not Russian agents but rather in the employ of US and British government intel agencies? Your deputy, Andrew Weissmann, was informed by Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in the summer of 2016, months before your appointment, that the predicating documents for your inquiry, known as the Steele Dossier, amounted to a Clinton campaign oppo research digest — when did he happen to tell you that?

You devoted nearly 20 pages of your report to the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son, Donald, Jr., and two Russians, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. Why did you omit to mention that both Russians were in the employ of Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS company, candidate Clinton’s oppo research contractor, and met with Mr. Simpson both before and after the Trump Tower meeting? How did it happen that you hired attorney Jeannie Rhee for your team, knowing that she had previously worked as a lawyer for the Clinton Foundation? Under what legal standard did you pronounce Mr. Trump to be “not exonerated” in the obstruction of justice matter, considering you told the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, that it was not based on findings by the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel concerning presidential immunity from indictment?


[..] It’s just possible that Robert Mueller will not be reading chapter and verse from his sacred report, like an old-school Episcopal priest, but rather pleading the Fifth Amendment to avert his own potential prosecution.

Read more …

Lawyers tell them not to, in case they’d say something stupid. But bordering on criminal behavior.

Families Of 737 MAX Crash Victims Say Boeing Has Not Contacted Them (BI)

Families of those killed in two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 Max planes say they have not received any contact from Boeing since the disasters, with no apology or offer of support from the manufacturer. The parents of a woman killed on one of the flights told Business Insider they had received “no condolences” and “no direct communication” from Boeing despite numerous public apologies by the plane maker and said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg “talks to other people but not us, the victims’ families.” Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo lost their 24-year-old daughter, Samya Stumo, when the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed in March, killing all 157 people on board.

It was the second crash of a 737 Max plane in five months after a Max 8 operated by the Indonesian carrier Lion Air crashed in the Java Sea in October, killing all 189 people on board. Investigations into both crashes have centered on a software issue that Boeing has since been working to fix, with all its Max aircraft grounded around the world in the meantime. Other attorneys representing more than 50 families of those killed in the crashes told Business Insider their clients’ experience was the same. The Chicago-based aviation attorney Joe Power, the Los-Angeles based attorney Brian Kabateck, and the Miami-based attorney Steve Marks said Boeing had not reached out to their clients.


Marks said that this response was not “unusual” from manufacturers after a crash, but he described Boeing’s reaction as “worse” than a typical response. He said Boeing “came out really quickly after the second tragedy, and said: ‘We own it, it’s our problem.'” But then, he said, the company “has since backed those comments off, in many different ways, which I think has only inflamed the situation, as far as the families are concerned.” Mike Danko, an aviation attorney who is not representing any families in the 737 Max crashes, told Business Insider that Boeing’s action in this case were “not unusual” and that manufacturers typically did not apologize or offer support after fatal plane crashes, but he noted its public apologies.

Read more …

Not surprising.

Chinese Border Guards Put Secret Surveillance App On Tourists’ Phones

Chinese border police are secretly installing surveillance apps on the phones of visitors and downloading personal information as part of the government’s intensive scrutiny of the remote Xinjiang region, the Guardian can reveal. The Chinese government has curbed freedoms in the province for the local Muslim population, installing facial recognition cameras on streets and in mosques and reportedly forcing residents to download software that searches their phones. An investigation by the Guardian and international partners has found that travellers are being targeted when they attempt to enter the region from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.


Border guards are taking their phones and secretly installing an app that extracts emails, texts and contacts, as well as information about the handset itself. Tourists say they have not been warned by authorities in advance or told about what the software is looking for, or that their information is being taken.

Read more …

Maritime law. Don’t play with it.

Italian Judge Rules Sea Watch Captain Carried Out Duty To Protect Lives (EN)

An Italian judge ruled on Tuesday that the German captain of a rescue charity ship had not broken the law when she forced a naval blockade at the weekend, saying she had been carrying out her duty to protect human life. Carola Rackete, a 31-year-old German national, disobeyed Italian military orders and entered the port of Lampedusa on Saturday to bring some 41 African migrants to land in the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch boat. She was immediately detained and placed under house arrest, but in a blow for Italy’s hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini, Judge Alessandra Vella ruled that Rackete had been carrying out her duty and had not committed any act of violence.


Rackete still faces possible charges of helping illegal immigration, but Vella ordered her immediate release. Salvini said in a statement he had hoped for a tougher response from the Italian justice system and promised to expel Rackete as soon as possible. Rackete appeared before the Agrigento court on Monday and apologised for hitting the patrol boat, saying it had been an accident and explaining that her sole concern was the well-being of the migrants who had been at sea for more than two weeks.

Read more …

Question is: can they, or does EU law prevail?

Austria Becomes First EU Country To Ban Glyphosate (RT)

Austria has voted to ban glyphosate, the main ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s notorious Roundup weedkiller, becoming the first EU country to outlaw the chemical and creating a PR disaster for the troubled German company. “The scientific evidence of the plant poison’s carcinogenic effect is increasing. It is our responsibility to ban this poison from our environment,” Social Democratic Party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said in a statement on Tuesday. The resolution passed with the cooperation of her party, the right-wing Freedom Party and the liberal Neos Party, and remains only to be signed by President Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader, unless the upper house of Parliament objects.

“We want to be a role model for other countries in the EU and the world,” said Erwin Preiner, another Social Democrat MP who worked on the ban. Austria has embraced organic farming more than any other European country – nearly a quarter of its farmland is organic – and is thus not a major market for glyphosate-based herbicides, using only a few hundred tons per year. While a ban will have minimal direct impact on Bayer’s sales, the optics of the German company’s next-door neighbor nation exiling its flagship herbicide are likely to cause a few headaches at Bayer HQ.


Austria’s ministry for sustainability and tourism claims a total ban on glyphosate violates EU law, as the chemical is cleared for sale and use across the EU until 2022, but the bill’s backers have pointed to other examples of individual countries banning specific chemicals as proof of their right to legislate against the herbicide. France banned Roundup Pro 360, one type of Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weedkiller, earlier this year, and President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to phase out the use of glyphosate entirely within three years. “National bans on glyphosate-based plant protection products or restrictions on their use would be possible,” the European Commission declared in 2016, confirming that “the EU states do not have to hide behind the European Commission” in deciding whether or not to ban a particular formulation of an herbicide.

Read more …

“..cockroaches who survived treatment with one insecticide developed immunity not just to that chemical, but to other chemicals they hadn’t even been exposed to – increasing their resistance “four- to six-fold in just one generation..”

Cockroach ‘Superbugs’ Evolve To Resist Pesticides In One Generation (RT)

Cockroaches will soon be impossible to kill with standard pesticides, as they can develop cross-resistance to poisons they’ve never encountered within a single generation, an ominous new study has found.
German cockroaches – the small, quick-scurrying type whose traces can be found in 85 percent of US urban homes – are rapidly becoming impervious to pesticide chemicals, developing cross-resistance to a variety of insecticides within a single generation, a study published in Scientific Reports has demonstrated. And even the researchers who conducted the experiment are creeped out by the evolutionary capabilities of the ubiquitous six-legged pests. “We didn’t have a clue that something like that could happen this fast,” Michael Scharf, chair of the Entomology Department at Purdue University and co-author of the study, said in a statement last week.


“Cockroaches developing resistance to multiple classes of insecticides at once will make controlling these pests almost impossible with chemicals alone.” One experiment in which 10 percent of cockroaches started off resistant to a particular pesticide actually saw populations grow over the six months during which the researchers sprayed, a disconcerting result in itself. But it was the multi-chemical experimental groups that really caused a stir – cockroaches who survived treatment with one insecticide developed immunity not just to that chemical, but to other chemicals they hadn’t even been exposed to – increasing their resistance “four- to six-fold in just one generation,” Scharf marveled.

Read more …

N’importe quoi: “The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy..”

Deep-Sea Mining To Turn Oceans Into ‘New Industrial Frontier’ (G.)

The world’s oceans are facing a “new industrial frontier” from a fledgling deep-sea mining industry as companies line up to extract metals and minerals from some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, a report has found. The study by Greenpeace revealed that although no mining had started on the ocean floor, 29 exploration licences had been issued covering an area five times bigger than the UK. Environmentalists said the proposed mining would threaten not only crucial ecosystems but the global fight against climate breakdown.

Louisa Casson, an ocean campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The health of our oceans is closely linked to our own survival. Unless we act now to protect them, deep-sea mining could have devastating consequences for marine life and humankind.” The licences, issued by a United Nations body, the International Seabed Authority, have been granted to a handful of countries that sponsor private companies. They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, totalling 1.3m sq km (500,000 sq miles). If the mining goes ahead, large machines will be lowered on to the seabed to excavate cobalt and other rare metals.


Campaigners said that, as well as destroying little understood regions of the ocean floor, the operations would deepen the climate emergency by disrupting carbon stores in seafloor sediments, reducing the ocean’s ability to store it. The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy by supplying raw materials for key technologies including batteries, computers and phones. Its advocates say deep-sea mining is less harmful to the environment and workers than most existing mineral and mining operations.

Read more …

“They want to send gigantic bulldozers, decked out with rotating grinders and mammoth drills straight out of Robot Wars, into the deepest parts of the ocean, disturbing the home of unique creatures and churning up vital stores of carbon. ”

The Seabed Should Be Off-Limits To Mining Companies (Chris Packham)

When I was filming Blue Planet Live, I was struck by just how much of the ocean has been altered by humans. From industrial fisheries ensnaring ocean giants in kilometres-long lines, to finding our trash at some of the deepest parts of the ocean: it’s clear that however vast the seas are, we are causing profound harm. Yet at this point in history, when the oceans are facing more pressures than ever before, a secretive new industry is seeking to move into the deep sea, the largest ecosystem on the planet, to start mining for metals and minerals.

They want to send gigantic bulldozers, decked out with rotating grinders and mammoth drills straight out of Robot Wars, into the deepest parts of the ocean, disturbing the home of unique creatures and churning up vital stores of carbon. This is quite clearly an awful idea. As someone fascinated by weird and wonderful wildlife, the deep sea is a dream come true. Stoplight loosejaws, bearded sea-devils and vampire squid are just a few of the fantastically named creatures that make the deep ocean their home. On practically every mission down to the deep, scientists discover new species.


We know more about the surface of Mars and the moon than about the bottom of the ocean. Mining the deep sea sounds just as ludicrous as mining the moon. Far too often, industry has plundered the natural world before science has explored and understood its importance. Parts of the deep sea have already been ravaged by destructive fisheries. These ecosystems stand practically no chance of recovery if mining is allowed to start. Researchers who returned 30 years later to one mining test site on the Pacific sea floor could still see the wounds on the seabed – and warned of irreversible loss of some ecosystem functions.


A deep-sea blackdevil. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 202019
 


Pablo Picasso Woman in an armchair (Olga) 1922

 

Pelosi Rejects Trump Shutdown Deal Before President Announces It (O.)
Battle Royale (Jim Kunstler)
No President Since Lincoln Treated Worse Than Me – Trump (RT)
Theresa May Wants Irish Treaty To Break Brexit Impasse (R.)
One Thing To Be Grateful To Brexit For: Britons Are Buying Less On Credit (G.)
‘The Gilets Jaunes Are Unstoppable’ (Guilluy)
Yellow Vests Defy Macron ‘National Debate’ In 10th Saturday Of Protests (F24)
Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Regulator Has Plan To End Conservatorship (MW)
‘The Goal Is To Automate Us’: The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism (O.)

 

 

Pelosi and her ilk act as if they won the elections. They must be smart enough to know Trump does what he says he will?!

Pelosi Rejects Trump Shutdown Deal Before President Announces It (O.)

Donald Trump forged ahead on Saturday and proposed a deal to end the US government shutdown, despite Democrats having rejected it before he began to speak. If its timing was striking, the rejection was no surprise. In exchange for temporary concessions on the status of threatened migrant groups, the president doubled down on his demand for a border wall. A senior House Democratic aide told the Guardian the party, which has vowed not to give Trump funding for any wall, was not consulted. Speaking from the White House, the president outlined a plan that would extend protections for young undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers, and individuals from some Central American and African nations, in exchange for $5.7bn for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

“A wall is not immoral,” he said, adding: “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let that happen.” “As a candidate for president,” he said, “I promised I would fix this crisis, and I intend to keep that promise one way or the other.” Trump spoke as the partial shutdown of the federal government, the longest in US history, rolled through its 29th day. Prompted on 22 December over Trump’s demand for a wall, the partial closure of departments and services has left around 800,000 federal workers without pay. Hundreds of thousands of contractors are also going without a check.

Before the president took the podium, House speaker Nancy Pelosi panned his proposal. “Democrats were hopeful that the president was finally willing to re-open government and proceed with a much-need discussion to protect the border,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately … his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives. It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter.”

Read more …

“..a little dust-up in the meadows and cornfields known as the Civil War..”

Battle Royale (Jim Kunstler)

The effrontery of Ms. Pelosi, Speaker of the House, in cancelling Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address in the chamber she controls is perhaps the worst insult to institutional protocol since the spring day in 1856 when Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC) skulked into the senate chamber and smashed Senator Charles Sumner (R-Mass) about the head within an inch of his life with a gold-headed walking stick. Brooks’s attack was launched after Sen. Sumner gave his “Bleeding Kansas” speech, arguing that the territory be let into the union as a “free” state, and denouncing “the harlot slavery,” whom he imputed was Rep. Brooks’s dearest consort.

Many of us — except perhaps students immersed in intersectional gender studies — know how that worked out: a little dust-up in the meadows and cornfields known as the Civil War. We’re about at that level of animosity today in the two federal houses of legislature, though it is very hard to imagine how Civil War Two might play out on the ground. Perhaps opposing mobs (not even armies) meet in the Walmart parking lots of Pennsylvania and go at it demolition derby style, with monster trucks bashing their enemies’ Teslas and Beemers. Throw in clown suits instead of blue and gray uniforms and we’ll really capture the spirit of the age.

Not to be outdone, days after the SOTU cancellation, the Golden Golem of Greatness cancelled a Democratic Party grandstanding junket to the Middle East, led by Ms. Pelosi. A US Air Force bus has just departed for Andrews Air Force Base, where an Air Force jet waited for the junketeers. But then, with impeccable timing, Mr. Trump cancelled the junket — denying the use of military aircraft as Commander-in-Chief — and forcing the bus back to town with its load of elected dignitaries and their luggage — making the reasonable suggestion that they fly a commercial airline instead.

Read more …

Trump trolling America.

No President Since Lincoln Treated Worse Than Me – Trump (RT)

Not since Abraham Lincoln has a US president been treated so badly by the media, Donald Trump lamented in a series of Twitter rants before going to Delaware to honor the four Americans killed in Syria. “Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of four very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. Two US troops, a civilian and a contractor were killed in a suicide bombing in the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday. But the president had no intention to focus on his surprise visit to Dower Airforce Base in Delaware for too long.

His next Twitter post was dedicated to a completely different subject, as Trump cited former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, who – according to him – said: “There has been no president since Abraham Lincoln who has been treated worse or more unfairly by the media than your favorite President, me!” At the same time, he insisted that “there has been no president who has accomplished more in his first two years in office!” Trump’s invocation of Lincoln prompted reactions from his supporters and opponents.

Read more …

May cannot have a bilateral treaty with Irleand that would essentially be designed to bypass the EU, as long as Ireland is part of the EU.

Theresa May Wants Irish Treaty To Break Brexit Impasse (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to seek a bilateral treaty with the Irish government as a way to remove the contentious backstop arrangement from Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union, a newspaper reported. The Sunday Times said aides to May thought a deal with Ireland would remove the opposition to her Brexit plan from the Democratic Unionist Party that supports May’s minority government and from pro-Brexit rebels in her Conservative Party. However the Irish edition of the same newspaper quoted a senior Irish government source as saying the bilateral treaty proposal was “not something we would entertain” and a second senior political source as saying it would not work with the European Commission.

May suffered a heavy defeat in parliament on Tuesday when Conservative lawmakers and members of other parties rejected her Brexit plan by an overwhelming majority. That left Britain facing the prospect of no deal to smooth its exit from the EU in little more than two months’ time. May is due to announce on Monday how she plans to proceed. Many Conservatives and the DUP oppose the backstop that the EU insists on as a guarantee to avoid a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Earlier on Saturday, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said Dublin’s commitment to the Brexit divorce deal struck with the British government was “absolute,” including the border backstop arrangement. The Sunday Times also said a group of lawmakers in Britain’s parliament would meet on Sunday to consider ways they could suspend the Brexit process, wresting control away from May’s government.

Read more …

There’s that question again: a sign of confidence or despair?

One Thing To Be Grateful To Brexit For: Britons Are Buying Less On Credit (G.)

A sharp decline in household spending on the never-never, and especially spending on credit cards, is a trend that must surely be welcomed. The Bank of England said last week in its quarterly credit health check that high street banks were about to witness the biggest decline in such borrowing since records began 12 years ago. Threadneedle Street said its index of demand for credit card lending over the three months to the end of March had dropped to -20.7 from -7.2. That is a far cry from the summer of 2017, when consumer borrowing soared above £200bn and MPs across the political spectrum became alarmed at the return of binge buying on plastic.

At that time, with wages flat or at least not rising by more than inflation, policymakers feared that households were supplementing their incomes with borrowing to the degree that they had in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash. Regulators reacted to the rise by telling banks to tighten up their lending criteria. Most institutions obeyed, as anyone tracking the trend for borrowing across 2018 can see. So far, so good. That, after all, was supposed to be how the regulators looked after the interests of the country and its economy, and kept individual households from borrowing more than they could afford to repay.

However, it also seems clear that another force was at play – the Brexit effect, which began to have an impact once it became clear that Theresa May’s government was struggling to find a formula that could win over a majority in the House of Commons. The fall in sentiment since last summer has proved to be dramatic – far sharper than the banks would ever have expected from a few little tweaks to their lending rules. And the lack of consumer borrowing has been felt in few places more than it has in the car industry. Since 2010, cars have increasingly been sold through complex lease deals that fall under the credit figures. By 2017, nine out of 10 cars were being sold this way. Then came the diesel emissions scandal and a confused government reaction, which discouraged sales.

Brexit made the situation worse. Consumers were already reluctant to make major purchases such as a new home, or big-ticket household items like furniture. Next on the list of things not to buy was a car. Figures from the industry show that car sales in the UK declined by almost 7% in 2018. With a major slice of credit no longer in demand, the borrowing figures were bound to tumble. The shocking element of the story is how much harm a fall in personal lending can cause to the British economy, which has already suffered a lopsided expansion since the financial crash.

Read more …

Excellent essay on what the Yellow Vests actually are.

‘The Gilets Jaunes Are Unstoppable’ (Guilluy)

‘Paris creates enough wealth for the whole of France, and London does the same in Britain. But you cannot build a society around this. The gilets jaunes is a revolt of the working classes who live in these places. ‘They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else. ‘Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. …

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later. ‘The Brexit vote had a lot to do with culture, too, I think. It was more than just the question of leaving the EU. Many voters wanted to remind the political class that they exist. That’s what French people are using the gilets jaunes for – to say we exist. We are seeing the same phenomenon in populist revolts across the world. [ … ]

‘The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people. [ … ] Think of the ‘deplorables’ evoked by Hillary Clinton. There is a similar view of the working class in France and Britain. They are looked upon as if they are some kind of Amazonian tribe. The problem for the elites is that it is a very big tribe.

Read more …

Really, you think Macron can have his national debate? “..98 cases of serious injuries, including 15 cases of people losing an eye..”

Yellow Vests Defy Macron ‘National Debate’ In 10th Saturday Of Protests (F24)

Around 84,000 “Yellow Vest” demonstrators marched all around France on Saturday, marking a 10th straight weekend of anti-government protests, defying attempts by President Emmanuel Macron to channel their anger into a series of town hall debates. In Paris, Protesters assembled by the Invalides plaza near the National Assembly and marched through the city’s Left Bank in freezing temperatures. These demonstrations were largely peaceful but, according to reporters, clashes broke out late in the afternoon between police and demonstrators, some wearing masks, in Paris’ central Invalides district. Protesters threw firecrackers, bottles and stones at the police who responded with water cannon and tear gas to push them back.

Authorities said there were around 7,000 protesters in Paris, some of whom gathered near the world-famous Champs Elysees, while there were similar demonstrations in major cities across France. Rallies took place in Toulouse, Lyon, Rouen and other cities. According to the French Interior Ministry, some 84,000 people marched across France on Saturday, as many as last week. In the French capital though, there were fewer protestors on this 10th consecutive weekend than on the previous Saturday, when there were 8,000.

[..] the protesters behind the biggest crisis in Macron’s presidency remain fully mobilised. The centrist leader is hoping that the launch this week of a “grand national debate” on policy will mark a turning point. [..] many yellow vests have announced plans to boycott the discussions scheduled in dozens of towns and villages, seeing them as an attempt to drain support from a movement that erupted in mid-November over fuel taxes and quickly broadened into a campaign of weekly protests that have regularly ended in clashes with police and destruction of property. The growing number of demonstrators to suffer serious injuries at the hands of the police has compounded their anger towards the state. The “Disarm” collective, a local group that campaigns against police violence, has counted 98 cases of serious injuries, including 15 cases of people losing an eye, mostly after being hit by rubber bullets.

Read more …

Probably means they see a huge plunge come in housing.

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Regulator Has Plan To End Conservatorship (MW)

The acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency has told the agency’s employees that the regulator will announce a plan within weeks to take the government-sponsored enterprises out of conservatorship. Joseph Otting, who is leading the FHFA as Mark Calabria awaits Senate confirmation, said at an all-hands meeting on Thursday that a plan to lift Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of the conservatorship that has permeated the institutions since the financial crisis will soon be announced, according to an attendee of that gathering. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed there was discussion about ending Fannie and Freddie conservatorship but denied there was any talk of timing or details.

“Acting Director Otting held the internal meeting to meet FHFA staff and establish open lines of communication,” the FHFA said. “He mentioned, as he previously has, that Treasury and the White House are expected to release a plan for housing that will include details about reform and will likely include a recommendation for ending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conservatorships. [Treasury] Secretary Mnuchin has said that the goal of the [Trump] administration is to take the GSEs out of conservatorship. Acting Director Otting said that he and FHFA will work to advance that plan.” Fannie and Freddie were rushed into government control at the height of the financial crisis. Then, in 2012, the terms of the 2008 bailout were amended to steer the quarterly profits of both enterprises to Treasury. That wiped out holders of the companies’ stock, and they’ve fought the federal government in court ever since.

Read more …

Shoshana Zuboff’s new book The Age of Surveillance Capital sounds like a treat.

‘The Goal Is To Automate Us’: The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism (O.)

Surveillance capitalism is a human creation. It lives in history, not in technological inevitability. It was pioneered and elaborated through trial and error at Google in much the same way that the Ford Motor Company discovered the new economics of mass production or General Motors discovered the logic of managerial capitalism. Surveillance capitalism was invented around 2001 as the solution to financial emergency in the teeth of the dotcom bust when the fledgling company faced the loss of investor confidence. As investor pressure mounted, Google’s leaders abandoned their declared antipathy toward advertising. Instead they decided to boost ad revenue by using their exclusive access to user data logs (once known as “data exhaust”) in combination with their already substantial analytical capabilities and computational power, to generate predictions of user click-through rates, taken as a signal of an ad’s relevance.

Operationally this meant that Google would both repurpose its growing cache of behavioural data, now put to work as a behavioural data surplus, and develop methods to aggressively seek new sources of this surplus. The company developed new methods of secret surplus capture that could uncover data that users intentionally opted to keep private, as well as to infer extensive personal information that users did not or would not provide. And this surplus would then be analysed for hidden meanings that could predict click-through behaviour. The surplus data became the basis for new predictions markets called targeted advertising.

Here was the origin of surveillance capitalism in an unprecedented and lucrative brew: behavioural surplus, data science, material infrastructure, computational power, algorithmic systems, and automated platforms. As click-through rates skyrocketed, advertising quickly became as important as search. Eventually it became the cornerstone of a new kind of commerce that depended upon online surveillance at scale. The success of these new mechanisms only became visible when Google went public in 2004. That’s when it finally revealed that between 2001 and its 2004 IPO, revenues increased by 3,590%.

[..] Google began by unilaterally declaring that the world wide web was its to take for its search engine. Surveillance capitalism originated in a second declaration that claimed our private experience for its revenues that flow from telling and selling our fortunes to other businesses. In both cases, it took without asking. Page [Larry, Google co-founder] foresaw that surplus operations would move beyond the online milieu to the real world, where data on human experience would be free for the taking. As it turns out his vision perfectly reflected the history of capitalism, marked by taking things that live outside the market sphere and declaring their new life as market commodities.

We were caught off guard by surveillance capitalism because there was no way that we could have imagined its action, any more than the early peoples of the Caribbean could have foreseen the rivers of blood that would flow from their hospitality toward the sailors who appeared out of thin air waving the banner of the Spanish monarchs. Like the Caribbean people, we faced something truly unprecedented. Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.

Bowie in 1999. He was a long way ahead.

Read more …

May 252018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Moscow Red Square 1916

 

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)
When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)
Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)
North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)
Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)
About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)
Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)
Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)
EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)
Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)
Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)
How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

 

 

Perhaps not a good time to chase yield?

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds have had a hard time. Yields have surged as prices have fallen. The S&P bond index for AA-rated corporate bonds is down 3.2% so far this year. Losses are concentrated on bonds with maturities of 15 years and over. They’re down 7%, according to Bloomberg. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.47%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016:

In the chart above of the ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index, I marked some key events, in terms of the bond yield:
• The election in November 2016, after which the yield spiked.
• In December 2016, the Fed’s second rate hike in this cycle. This was when the Fed got serious and added an increasingly more hawkish – or less dovish – tone. But the market blew it off, yield fell again, and bonds returned to la-la-land.
• In September 2017, the Fed announced details of its QE unwind, and yields began to rise again and then started spiking in late-2017. This was when the bond market got serious.

But at the riskiest end of the spectrum, with corporate bonds rated CCC or below (deep into junk), there is no such pain. In fact, the S&P bond index for CCC rated bonds is up 4.3% so far this year. They’ve had a blistering 82%-run since February 2016, when Wall Street decided that the oil bust was over and plowed new money into junk-rated energy companies. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.78%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust:

Read more …

Looking for the third victim.

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)

When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates. Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates. Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out. There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up.

As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out. I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream. Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

Read more …

“..the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever..”

Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)

Many consumers are debt free and have lots of money and good jobs. Other consumers have large amounts of debt, lousy jobs or no jobs, and are paying for groceries by charging them on their credit cards. Credit problems always involve the most vulnerable consumers. During the mortgage crisis, the delinquency rate peaked at 11.5% in 2010. It wasn’t the 60% of homeowners that had significantly payed down their mortgages or owed no money on their homes who triggered that event. It was the financial mayhem among the smaller portion of the most exposed and most vulnerable. For a different view of the burden of debt, let’s look at non-housing consumer debt, because this is where the music is playing right now.

To eliminate for a moment the impact of interest rates, let’s look at the amount of debt – not the monthly payments – as percent of disposable income. And suddenly, the risks emerge a little more clearly. At year-end 2017, the ratio of non-housing debt – revolving credit such as credit card balances, plus auto loans and student loans – to disposable income reached a new record of 26.3%, up from 23% at the end of 2010, and up from 24% in 2007, the peak before it all came apart during the Great Recession:

So the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. And for them, debt service is getting very difficult. In Q1, the delinquency rate on credit card debt at banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks – spiked to 5.9%, higher than at the peak during the Financial Crisis, and the credit-card charge-off rate spiked to 8%.

Read more …

They seem more than open.

North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)

North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called “Trump formula” would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.

Read more …

Caitlin: “..Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon. ..”

Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)

Three days before President Trump announced him as the new National Security Advisor, deranged mutant death walrus John Bolton appeared on Radio Free Asia and said of negotiations with North Korea, “I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago.” Bolton has been loudly and publicly advocating “the Libya model” with the DPRK ever since. “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Face the Nation last month, and said the same on Fox News Sunday in case anyone failed to get the message.

Bolton never bothered to refine his message by saying, for example, “Without the part where we betray and invade them and get their leader mutilated to death in the streets.” He just said they’re doing Libya again. This was what John Bolton was saying before he was hired, and this was what John Bolton continued to say after he was hired. This was what John Bolton was hired to do. He was hired to sabotage peace and facilitate death and destruction. That is what he does. That is what he is for. Can openers open cans, John Bolton starts wars. You don’t buy a can opener to rotate your tires, and you don’t hire John Bolton to facilitate peace. It should have surprised no one, then, when the administration saw Bolton’s Libya comments and raised him a canceled peace talk.

“You know, there were some talk about the Libya model last week,” Vice President Pence told Fox News on Saturday. “And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.” “Some people saw that as a threat,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum replied, because there is no other way it could possibly be interpreted. Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon.

Read more …

The comments here on GDPR are at least as interesting.

About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin’s popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. The estimates were part of the non-profit group’s research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. “One problem that we’re seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys,” Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview. Jevans is also chairman of APWG.

Of the $1.2 billion, Jevans estimates that only about 20 percent or less has been recovered, noting that global law enforcement agencies have their hands full tracking down these criminals. Their investigations of criminal activity will likely take a step back with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect on Friday. “GDPR will negatively impact the overall security of the internet and will also inadvertently aid cybercriminals,” said Jevans. “By restricting access to critical information, the new law will significantly hinder investigations into cybercrime, cryptocurrency theft, phishing, ransomware, malware, fraud and crypto-jacking,” he added.

GDPR, which passed in 2016, aims to simplify and consolidate rules that companies need to follow in order to protect their data and to return control of personal information to EU citizens and residents. The implementation of GDPR means that most European domain data in WHOIS, the internet’s database of record, will no longer be published publicly after May 25. WHOIS contains the names, addresses and email addresses of those who register domain names for websites.

WHOIS data is a fundamental resource for investigators and law enforcement officials who work to prevent thefts, Jevans said. He noted that WHOIS data is crucial in performing investigations that allow for the recovery of stolen funds, identifying the persons involved and providing vital information for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminals. “So what we’re going to see is that not only the European market goes dark for all of us; so all the bad guys will flow to Europe because you can actually access the world from Europe and there’s no way you can get the data anymore,” Jevans said.

Read more …

Facebook makes contradictory claims: First, it says it’s a neutral platform. But then it also wants full freedom to edit.

Interesting court case: the claim is Facebook stiffed 40,000 (!) companies. Reason why? It completely missed the shift to smartphones, and its ads were not ready for that at all.

Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg faces allegations that he developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business. A company suing Facebook in a California court claims the social network’s chief executive “weaponised” the ability to access data from any user’s network of friends – the feature at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.A legal motion filed last week in the superior court of San Mateo draws upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives including Mark Zuckerberg. He is named individually in the case and, it is claimed, had personal oversight of the scheme.

Facebook rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dismissed using a free speech defence. It claims the first amendment protects its right to make “editorial decisions” as it sees fit. Zuckerberg and other senior executives have asserted that Facebook is a platform not a publisher, most recently in testimony to Congress. Heather Whitney, a legal scholar who has written about social media companies for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said, in her opinion, this exposed a potential tension for Facebook. “Facebook’s claims in court that it is an editor for first amendment purposes and thus free to censor and alter the content available on its site is in tension with their, especially recent, claims before the public and US Congress to be neutral platforms.”

The company that has filed the case, a former startup called Six4Three, is now trying to stop Facebook from having the case thrown out and has submitted legal arguments that draw on thousands of emails, the details of which are currently redacted. Facebook has until next Tuesday to file a motion requesting that the evidence remains sealed, otherwise the documents will be made public.

Read more …

Somewhat oddly similar to the article above, also Guardian. Facebook is up against people who actually DO understand the field.

Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges. The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”. Facebook did not directly respond to questions about surveillance.

Documents filed in the court last week draw upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives, which are currently sealed. Facebook has deployed a feature of California law, designed to protect freedom of speech, to argue that the case should be dismissed. Six4Three is opposing that motion. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

Read more …

All over the place.

EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)

Brexit negotiations have begun to dramatically sour after months of deadlock, with exasperated EU officials tearing into Britain’s “fantasy” negotiating strategy and warning that Theresa May’s latest customs plan would ruin any chance of progress. This week’s latest meetings are understood to have produced no progress on the core issues of the Northern Ireland border and customs, with last year’s business-like start to discussions having given way to bitter behind-the-scenes briefings. One senior EU official said the UK still lacked negotiating positions on a wide variety of issues and that in others it was “chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area” – while a UK government source accused Brussels of trying to “insult” the British negotiating team.

Another Brussels official close to talks told The Independent they had been warned internally that there would probably be no progress by the June meeting of the European Council – which would throw off the timetable and raise the risk of a disastrous “no deal”. News that Theresa May wants to align the whole UK with the customs union and single market on a time-limited basis until 2023 as a backstop to solve the Irish border issue was particularly poorly received in Brussels. The Prime Minister is due to actually announce the new policy in the comings weeks, but people familiar with the talks confirmed it had already been raised by UK negotiators. The European Commission’s negotiators have already rejected the plan before its public announcement

Read more …

Then agan, Tsipras folded too…

Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)

As Giuseppe Conte is asked to form Italy’s next government, I walk out of a screening of Loro, the controversial portrayal of Silvio Berlusconi by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. With images of drug-fuelled sex parties still in my mind, the uproar that accompanies the announcement about Conte appears odd. Italy has endured more than 30 years of dreadful governments. For much of the last two decades the country was led by a convicted tax fraudster. Before that, it was led by Bettino Craxi, a politician so corrupt that he ended his days as a fugitive in Tunisia. Why worry now? Part of the answer lies in the outsider nature of the new governing parties. Italian elites have traditionally been very adept at assimilating political newcomers.

Who, in turn, have been willingly co-opted by the system. But the new coalition of the Five Star Movement and far-right League appears peculiarly unconnected to Italy’s high establishment: the risk of loss of influence is real enough. Previous governments were quick to guarantee policy continuity, maintaining a neoliberal economic stance, overall respect for EU obligations, and a US-aligned foreign policy. The coalition promises to break away from this consensus, ushering in an era of fiscal expansion, resentment at Italy’s eurozone membership and closer ties to Russia. The key question now is: will the new government abandon its fiery stance or stick to it? Both alternatives are unfortunately dreadful.

The capitulation scenario is a familiar one. Just like Alexis Tsipras, who turned into a reliable implementer of austerity measures in Greece, so Conte’s government might decide to set aside its promises. The gulf is wide: the coalition programme contains at least €60bn of additional yearly expenses, or 3.5% of Italy’s GDP, while the EU is demanding a 0.6% deficit reduction for 2018. A bargain might look strikingly similar to what Matteo Renzi has achieved in recent years: a moderate loosening of deficit targets allowing for an insignificant fiscal expansion. In other words: business as usual.

Read more …

Cuts, cuts, cuts, taxes and sell-offs.

Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)

The sweeping agreement for the conclusion of the fourth bailout review, publicized early on Thursday by the European Commission, contains binding commitments for Greece until 2022. It more or less constitutes an extension to the bailout agreement for another four years, but without the inflow of money, while rendering the coalition government’s rhetoric regarding a “clean exit” and its so-called “holistic plan for growth” irrelevant. The text uploaded by the Commission on its website leaves open the possibility for the income tax discount reduction to be brought forward by 12 months to January 2019, and provides for the monitoring of the deal’s implementation in the context of the enhanced surveillance to be agreed in the next Eurogroup meeting on June 21.

Besides the almost 90 milestones that need to be implemented in the next three weeks for the completion of the program, the government is undertaking at least 20 post-program obligations to be applied by 2022. The post-program milestones start from the fiscal side: Apart from the well-known primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP, the adjusted bailout agreement calls for additional interventions should any court decisions annul any austerity measures in place.

The text also contains the reduction of pensions from 2019 to save 1% of GDP, the full abolition of the EKAS benefit for people on low pensions, the completion of the National Cadaster by June 2021, the implementation of privatizations such as the gas network operator (DESFA), the 17% stake in PPC, and the Elliniko development, among others, and ceilings on civil servant employment and salaries by 2022. The document further refers to the need to improve labor mediation to avert recourse to arbitration, the completion of the process for hiring general and special secretaries for ministries, and the immediate transfer of railway property company GAIAOSE and the company managing the Olympic Sports Center of Athens to the privatizations hyperfund.

Read more …

Don’t let accountants run your health care.

How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

It makes sense to sell this old place now, but he can’t bring himself to leave her ashes. Barry Gibbs lives alone in a single-story home among the loblollies of Hyde County in eastern North Carolina. The army veteran collects a small disability check after he tore tendons in his shoulder during a fall at his maintenance job at the local school. He winces every time he stands up. He’s 64 years old and the closest hospital is more than an hour away, a distance he came to understand too damn well on the day she needed help. Their wedding portrait still hangs on the living room wall. It’s one of those 1980s shots with the laser beam backgrounds, her hair big and his mustache combed, his hand on her shoulder.

The interior of the house is almost as she left it four years ago: white oak floors, paintings of black bears, family Christmas photos on end tables. Outside along the driveway, a line of cypress trees shades a headstone that marks where Barry cut a ditch and spread Portia’s ashes, right where she asked to be. Everybody called her Po. She was picking up sticks from the yard on 7 July 2014, five days shy of her 49th birthday, when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Six days earlier, their community hospital had closed. Pungo district hospital was 47 miles west of their house, in Belhaven, and had served the county since 1949, back when crab-picking plants and lumber mills kept these small waterfront communities working.

If you’re an accountant, hospitals are only as good as the number of paying patients. Belhaven’s population is about half what it was then. And Hyde county is now the fifth-sparsest county on the east coast, with nine people per square mile. This spongy stretch of North Carolina’s inner banks represents the suffering side of a modern migration pattern in which southern cities are flourishing, but rural areas are shrinking and losing healthcare options. Since 2010, 53 rural hospitals have closed in 11 southern states, compared with 30 in the other 39 states.

Read more …

Apr 202018
 
 April 20, 2018  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Daniel Garber The quarry 1917

 

The World’s First Total Bubble (MB)
Now Even a Fed Dove Homes in on the “Everything Bubble” (WS)
Recession Risks Are Increasing – Axel Weber (CNBC)
The Faster Tesla Makes Model 3’s, The More Money They Will Lose (SM)
Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis – And Points The Way Out (Varoufakis)
Market Power Wielded By US Tech Giants Concerns IMF Chief (G.)
Bill Gates Backs Plan to Surveil the Entire Planet From Space (Gizmodo)
Palantir Knows Everything About You (BW)
Comey Memos Already Leaked To AP (ZH)
US Sorghum Armada U-Turns At Sea After China Tariffs (R.)
EU to Reject UK Brexit Plan for the Irish Border (BBG)
Turkey Snap Election All About Power And A ‘Deteriorating’ Economy (CNBC)
Brazil Prosecutor Recommends Denying Total Oil License Near Amazon (AFP)
Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity (R.)

 

 

Australians think they won.

The World’s First Total Bubble (MB)

The regulators, yes, they’ll have to be reformed. But it doesn’t stop there. They were just the elite enablers. The corruption at the heart of the great Australian property bubble seeped into our entire economy and culture. It oozed under every door, entered every home and visited every BBQ. It bent every business. It ruined our media and distorted our politics. It infected our entire place in the world, disenfranchised from the Australian dream entire generations. It has choked our cities. And sold out the national interest to Chinese speculators, threatening our very freedom. There has never been a more comprehensive bubble in any nation. We have been engulfed by it. The world’s first total bubble.

Yet at its heart was not a miracle but prosaic bank corruption. Only the failure to assess expenditures and incomes, the failure to report accurately and honestly, the failure to advise with integrity and responsbility made any of it possible. Everything else flows outward from this black singularity. Your wealth. Your lifestyle. Your retirement plan. The roof over your head not being over someone else’s. All of it stems from the core corruption of a banking system that disgorged massive sub-prime mortgages across our firmament. I really have no idea what attempted snow job we will see next. But it is over. It is now only a matter of time before the Australian housing supernova collapses towards the banking black hole at its centre, sucked back into the void from whence it came. We’re all the royal commission now.

Read more …

Brainard. Warning about what the Fed itself has built.

Now Even a Fed Dove Homes in on the “Everything Bubble” (WS)

“If we have learned anything from the past, it is that we must be especially vigilant about the health of our financial system in good times, when potential vulnerabilities may be building,” explained Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard in a speech in Washington, D.C., this morning. This was a reference to a time-honored banker adage, now mostly forgotten after nearly nine years of easy money: Bad deals are made in good times. Brainard fills one of the seven slots on the Board of Governors. Two slots are filled by Chairman Jerome Powell and by Randal Quarles. Four slots remain vacant, waiting for Trump appointees to wend their way. She is a strong “dove” in the world of central banks, and she just pointed at why the Fed is tightening – and will continue to tighten: the Everything Bubble.

After rattling off a litany of indicators showing why and how the economy’s “cyclical conditions have been strengthening,” she added this gem, there being nothing like Fed-speak to make your day: “Currently, inflation appears to be well-anchored to the upside around our 2 percent target.” “Well-anchored to the upside” of the Fed’s target – and then she moved on to the “signs of financial imbalances.” “Financial imbalances,” in Fed speak, are asset bubbles, a phenomenon when prices are out of whack with economic reality. In a credit-based economy, assets are collateral for debt. And inflated asset prices put the financial system, meaning the lenders, at risk when those asset prices deflate. Since the Fed has to take care of the financial system, and since it blew up so wonderfully last time due to asset bubbles deflating, the Fed is right to be worried about it. At first the hawks, the rare ones; and now even the doves

Read more …

“Risks will begin materializing in 3 years ‘at the latest..'”

Recession Risks Are Increasing – Axel Weber (CNBC)

The world economy is set for one of its best years since the global financial crisis, with both developed and emerging countries growing while inflation is still subdued and monetary conditions remain largely accommodative. But such a good run could end in the next two to three years, according to UBS Chairman Axel Weber. “We’re at the end of a long recovery and, two to three years from now, at the latest, some of the risks could materialize. The recession risks are increasing,” Weber told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche this week at the Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. The IMF this week kept its forecast for 2018’s global growth at 3.9 percent which, if it materializes, would be the fastest expansion since 2011.

But the agency warned that global debt levels have hit a record, and governments should start reducing their indebtedness and build buffers for “challenges that will unavoidably come in the future.” Financial institutions should also brace for such risks, said Weber, adding that he thinks banks have become better prepared compared to before the last crisis. Like many in the industry, Weber said he doesn’t think a full-fledged trade war will happen as a result of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and China. But, he added that it’s time to reassess Beijing’s role in the World Trade Organization, especially given projections that China will one day become the world’s largest economy. Weber added that companies from around the world should be allowed to do business in China more freely.

Read more …

“..a “they will take over the world” and a “they will save the world” combination of hopes..”

The Faster Tesla Makes Model 3’s, The More Money They Will Lose (SM)

A few weeks ago, we shared a note about Tesla from the hedge fund Vilas Capital Management. The firm, which is short the shares, said “Tesla is going to crash in the next 3-6 months.” I received an update from Vilas this morning explaining why they’re even more bearish on Tesla today. The firm pared its short positions after the recent selloff. And Telsa now comprises about 98% of their short book. Clearly Vilas thinks Tesla’s reckoning is imminent. You can read the rest of Vilas’ thoughts on Tesla below:

We added meaningfully to our Tesla position in the first quarter at prices in the $340 range. We continue to believe that Tesla is extremely overvalued and that it will experience significant financial difficulties over time. All companies in a capitalistic system need to earn profits and those profits need to be attractive relative to the amount of shareholder capital employed. Tesla has never earned an annual profit. Along with digital currencies and Unicorns, Tesla appears to be caught up in a gold-rush-fever type of emotional response, both from a “they will take over the world” and a “they will save the world” combination of hopes, instead of their owners looking at the numbers.

Tesla bulls will argue that their production will rise to 5000 Model 3’s per week soon and, therefore, the stock will trade meaningfully higher. Given that the company lost $20,000 per Model S and X sold for roughly $100,000 each last year, due to the fact that it cost more to build, sell, service, charge and maintain these cars than they collected in revenue, as it is important to include all costs when evaluating a business, we predict it will impossible for Tesla to make a profit on a $35,000 to $50,000 car. As anyone with automotive experience knows, profit margins are far higher on bigger, more expensive cars. Therefore, the faster Tesla makes Model 3’s, the more money they will lose.

Read more …

Das Kapital.

Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis – And Points The Way Out (Varoufakis)

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan.

Empirically they were correct: European, US and Japanese multinational corporations operating in the “peripheries” of Africa, Asia and Latin America were confining themselves to the role of colonial resource extractors and failing to spread capitalism there. Instead of imbuing these countries with capitalist development (drawing “all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation”), they argued that foreign capital was reproducing the development of underdevelopment in the third world. It was as if the manifesto had placed too much faith in capital’s ability to spread into every nook and cranny. Most economists, including those sympathetic to Marx, doubted the manifesto’s prediction that “exploitation of the world-market” would give “a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country”.

As it turned out, the manifesto was right, albeit belatedly. It would take the collapse of the Soviet Union and the insertion of two billion Chinese and Indian workers into the capitalist labour market for its prediction to be vindicated. Indeed, for capital to globalise fully, the regimes that pledged allegiance to the manifesto had first to be torn asunder. Has history ever procured a more delicious irony?

Read more …

Yeah, sure.

Market Power Wielded By US Tech Giants Concerns IMF Chief (G.)

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has expressed concern about the market power wielded by the US technology giants and called for more competition to protect economies and individuals. Speaking at a press conference to mark the start of the IMF’s spring meeting in Washington, Lagarde said breaking up companies was not the solution, but added that her organisation was monitoring their impact on prosperity, financial stability and the workplace. “Competition is needed. From competition you get productivity growth and innovation. Too much concentration, too much market power in the hands of the few is not helpful to the economy or to the wellbeing of individuals.”

Pressure has been building in the US for antitrust laws to be used to break up some of the biggest companies, with Google, Facebook and Amazon all targeted by critics. Lagarde said: “I am not sure breaking up some of the tech titans in this country [the US] or in other countries will be the right answer. It used to be the right answer, but when most of the assets are intangible, how do you break them up? How do you facilitate access and allow market disruptors to operate? I think that is where a lot of new thinking has to be done.”

The IMF is carefully monitoring new digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which it says are prone to fraud and can be used for money laundering. “We have seen a flourishing of cryptocurrencies. There are now more than 100. That has stability implications eventually. We do not think it is systemic at this point in time but regulators and supervisors have to be watchful.” Lagarde expressed concern at the growing threat of a trade war between the US and China, saying that protectionism posed a threat to the upswing in the global economy and to an international system that had served countries well.

Read more …

Facebook is peanuts.

Bill Gates Backs Plan to Surveil the Entire Planet From Space (Gizmodo)

EarthNow is a new company looking to provide satellite imagery and live video in virtually real-time. Its unsettling pitch describes a network of satellites that can see any corner of the globe and provide live video with a latency of about a second. And a look at the startup’s top investors gives a lot of confidence that this thing is happening. On Wednesday, EarthNow announced that it will emerge from the Intellectual Ventures ISF Incubator to become a full-scale commercial business. Its first round of investors is comprised of a small group of complimentary powerhouses: AirBus, the SoftBank Group, Bill Gates, and satellite-industry vet Greg Wyler.

The amount of the initial investment hasn’t been disclosed, but the announcement says the funding “focuses primarily on maturing the overall system design to deliver innovative and unique real-time Earth observation services.” That makes it sound like the company is in its very early stages, but don’t be so sure. Wyler’s OneWeb has already deployed highly advanced satellites with a blazing fast 130ms latency and its goal is to have a constellation of hundreds of satellites beaming broadband around the globe by 2020.

EarthNow will use an upgraded version of OneWeb’s technology with a lot of hardware power packed into a 500-pound unit. “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined,” the announcement says. The satellites will also do an onboard analysis of the live imagery using machine learning, but the company doesn’t go into detail about what it will analyze or why it would be necessary to dedicate that processing onboard.

Read more …

“Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now,..”

Palantir Knows Everything About You (BW)

High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants. Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir, which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations.

Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel. Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team.

People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did. It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.

Read more …

It took less than an hour.

Comey Memos Already Leaked To AP (ZH)

Update 3: President Trump is up late tonight, we suspect reading through former FBI Director Comey’s leaked memos as he exclaims: “James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.” Trump is also quick to remind Americans of one of the reasons he fired him: “Also, he leaked classified information,” and ended with a jab at the endless farce: “WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”

Update 2: Less than an hour after Comey’s memos were released by DOJ to Congress, the 15 pages have miraculously “become available” to The Associated Press. Given that no source is provided, we assume they were leaked with the intent to embarrass President Trump. Comey’s memos detail private dinner conversations with the President in January 2017, during which Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty. Another conversation about former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is also detailed in the memos. In a memo dated Jan. 28, 2017, Comey recounted a dinner he had with Trump at the White House shortly after the president’s inauguration.

Trump asked Comey who he thought he should be in contact with in the administration, and Comey mentioned the national security adviser. The president said Flynn had “serious judgment issues,” Comey wrote in his memo. Trump then explained to Comey that when the president had complimented British Prime Minister Theresa May on being the first to congratulate him on his election, Flynn interjected that another leader had called first. That was the first time Trump learned of the other leader’s call, Comey wrote.

Read more …

Why is US farmland used to provide Chinese animal feed? Isn’t that perhaps what’s wrong with global trade?

US Sorghum Armada U-Turns At Sea After China Tariffs (R.)

Several ships carrying cargoes of sorghum from the United States to China have changed course since Beijing slapped hefty anti-dumping deposits on U.S. imports of the grain, trade sources and a Reuters analysis of export and shipping data showed. Sorghum is a niche animal feed and a tiny slice of the billions of dollars in exports at stake in the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies, which threatens to disrupt the flow of everything from steel to electronics. The supply-chain pain felt by sorghum suppliers on the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans underscores how quickly the mounting trade tensions between the U.S. and China can impact the global agricultural sector, which has been reeling from low commodity prices amid a global grains glut.

Twenty ships carrying over 1.2 million tonnes of U.S. sorghum are on the water, according to export inspections data from the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service. Of the armada, valued at more than $216 million, at least five changed course within hours of China’s announcing tariffs on U.S. sorghum imports on Tuesday, Reuters shipping data showed. The five shipments, all headed for China when they were loaded at Texas Gulf Coast export terminals owned by grain merchants Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland would be liable for a hefty deposit to be paid on their value, which could make the loads unprofitable to deliver. Beijing, which is probing U.S. imports for damage to its domestic industry, announced Tuesday that grains handlers would have to put up a deposit of 178.6% of the value of the shipments.

Read more …

Thie red lines are far apart. Hard to see how they will resolve this.

EU to Reject UK Brexit Plan for the Irish Border (BBG)

European Union officials are set to reject a potential U.K. solution to the crucial issue of what happens to the Irish border after Brexit, deepening the stalemate in negotiations. While the U.K. hasn’t made a formal proposal, it has indicated that the bloc’s “backstop” solution for maintaining an invisible border should apply to the whole of the U.K., according to three people familiar with the EU position. It would mean the whole U.K. stays in parts of the single market and customs union as a last resort to avoid a border on the island of Ireland. But the European Commission opposes it and only wants to offer that special status to Northern Ireland, according to the people, who declined to be named.

Finding a way to avoid customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit is proving the biggest obstacle for U.K. and EU negotiators trying to get a deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc. While both sides agree that withdrawal treaty must include a “backstop” on Ireland in case a better option doesn’t emerge from the final trade deal, they can’t agree on what it should look like. As talks fail to yield solutions, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Theresa May at home to backtrack on one her main Brexit pledges and keep the U.K. in the EU’s customs union after Brexit.

That would go a long way to solve the Irish border issue and would also please businesses that are keen on keeping cross-border trade easy. The Commission’s proposal would effectively cut Northern Ireland off from mainland Britain and May has said no British prime minister could accept that. In December, the two sides agreed on a backstop that would have applied to the whole of the U.K., rather than just Northern Ireland. The U.K. stands by that agreement, which also pledged that “no regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Read more …

Remember: Jim Rickards predicted Turkish default recently. Erdogan may see it too.

Turkey Snap Election All About Power And A ‘Deteriorating’ Economy (CNBC)

Turkey’s president surprised markets Wednesday by announcing that he would hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections in June with experts saying the move is a sign of both panic and genius. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said elections will be held on June 24, far earlier than previously expected, saying uncertainty over Turkey’s neighbor Syria, and macroeconomic imbalances, were a reason not to delay the vote originally scheduled for November 2019. He also said the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency, implementing changes to the Turkish constitution which give the president more power.

Fadi Hakura, Turkey analyst at Chatham House, told CNBC Thursday that the move was a sign of panic amid a deteriorating economy. “Erdogan’s calling of the election is a sign of panic and despair. Erdogan has previously viewed early elections as weakness and dishonorable to democracy, but now he’s panicking over the state of the Turkish economy,” Hakura said. “The very fact he’s called brought them forward by almost a year and a half should mitigate the fallout of a worsening economy on his popularity,” he said. [..] If Erdogan wins the election, as widely expected, he will be able to consolidate power following changes to the constitution which have changed Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, concentrating power in the hands of the president.

It will not be plain sailing for the president, however, with Turkey’s economy dealing with high inflation (at 10.2 percent) fueled by fiscal and monetary policies that have promoted rampant growth — the economy expanding 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the last reading available. The Turkish lira has been on a rollercoaster ride in recent months, reflecting wider fears on the prioritization of growth over inflation control, but the announcement of a snap election — and the likelihood that Erdogan will win – has calmed the currency somewhat.

Read more …

WIth Brazil as corrupt as it is, how long will this hold?

Brazil Prosecutor Recommends Denying Total Oil License Near Amazon (AFP)

A Brazilian prosecutor warned of “ecocide” in recommending against a drilling license for French oil major Total close to a huge coral reef near the mouth of the Amazon River. The prosecutor’s office for Amapa state said “the only way to guarantee avoiding environmental damage to the area is to deny the license.” “Authorizing oil drilling activity without adequate studies violates the international obligations that Brazil has signed,” the prosecutor’s office said late Wednesday, warning of “large-scale environmental destruction that would amount to ecocide and a crime against humanity.”

The recommendation was sent to the government environmental agency Ibama, which has 10 days to respond. On Tuesday, environmental campaigners Greenpeace said that a previously discovered coral reef had been found to extend right into where Total plans to drill. The enormous reef was found in 2016, but is only now said to overlap directly with Total’s blocks, 75 miles (120 km) off the Brazilian coast, the group said. The finding, made during a research expedition, invalidates Total’s environmental impact assessment, which is based on the reefs being located at least five miles (eight kilometers) from drilling, Greenpeace said.

Read more …

People say it won’t be that bad, because elephants do well in protected parks. But isn’t that the problem? That the best we can do is build big zoos?

Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity (R.)

The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims – early humans and related species such as Neanderthals – from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. “There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa,” the study’s lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday..

Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues “the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg”, the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world’s last male northern white rhino died in Kenya. [..] Smith said “my optimist hat would like to say that it’s not going to happen because we love elephants”. But she said populations of large land mammals were falling and “declining population is the trajectory to extinction”.

Read more …

Nov 192016
 
 November 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle November 19 2016


Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops 1864

Financial Conditions Are Rigged Against Donald Trump (BBG)
Big Short’s Steve Eisman: ‘Europe is Screwed’ (G)
Emerging Markets Borrowers Owe $3.2 Trillion In -Rising- Dollar Debt (BBG)
Dollar’s Rapid Gain Triggers Angst in Emerging Markets (WSJ)
Global Bonds Post Biggest Two-Week Loss in 26 Years (BBG)
Bond Carnage hits Mortgage Rates. But This Time, it’s Real (WS)
US Dollar Sees Steepest 2-Week Gain Against Yen Since January 1988 (R.)
Bank of Japan Surprises With Plan to Buy Unlimited JGBs at Fixed Rates (WSJ)
US Banks Close Rupee Exchanges After Large Bills Ruled Illegal (BBG)
Lobbyists Leave Trump Transition Team After New Ethics Rule (Pol.)
The Rise Of The ‘Un-Lobbyist’ (Mother Jones)
UK Approves ‘Most Extreme Surveillance In History Of Western Democracy’ (AFP)
Far-Right Group Attacks Refugee Camp On Greek Island Of Chios (G.)

 

 

Just as I wrote on election day in America is The Poisoned Chalice.

Financial Conditions Are Rigged Against Donald Trump (BBG)

The reaction in financial markets to Trump’s election victory – much like the win itself – has defied conventional wisdom, with U.S. equities surging following a sharp drop as the results came in. But if you’re an occasional real estate developer — a self-professed “low interest rate guy” who wants to fix America’s trade deficit while bringing factories back from overseas – it might seem as though markets have been rigged against you. The U.S. dollar spot index (DXY) touched levels not seen since the Clinton administration on Friday morning, and the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury has increased by more than 50 basis points since Nov. 9.

This rise in the greenback and borrowing costs for the U.S. constitutes a tightening of financial conditions — a potential obstacle to U.S. growth, as servicing new debt has become more expensive and goods produced domestically are now less attractive to foreigners. Earlier this week, the Goldman Sachs Financial Conditions Index rose above 100 to hit levels not seen since March, when the financial backdrop was trending in a more accommodative direction following the market turmoil that started 2016. The index tracks changes in interest rates, credit spreads, equity prices, and the value of the U.S. dollar: a rise indicates that financial conditions have tightened. “A stronger USD implies lower domestic inflation and higher real rates, a headwind to U.S. growth,” writes Neil Dutta at Renaissance Macro Research.

In her testimony before Congress on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen highlighted this rise in the U.S. dollar as well as interest rates since the election — but not the gains in the stock market. This may serve as an implicit nod at what’s reflected in many financial conditions indexes: There’s a certain degree of asymmetry at play, with the rise in the greenback and U.S. Treasury yields far outweighing the tightening of credit spreads and rise in stock values. That asymmetry perhaps speaks to an unintentional and counterintuitive overlap between how the president-elect and the Federal Reserve interpret how changes in financial conditions affect real economic activity.

Read more …

“What is very negative is that in every country in Europe, the largest owner of that country’s sovereign bonds are that country’s banks..”

Big Short’s Steve Eisman: ‘Europe is Screwed’ (G)

In the Oscar-winning The Big Short, Steve Carell plays the angry Wall Street outsider who predicts (and hugely profits from) the great financial crash of 2007-08. [..] In real life he is Steve Eisman, he is still on Wall Street, and he is still shorting stocks he thinks are going to plummet. And while he’s tight-lipped about which ones (unless you have $1m to spare for him to manage) it is evident he has one major target in mind: continental Europe’s banks – and Italy’s are probably the worst. Why Italy? Because, he says, the banks there are stuffed with “non-performing loans” (NPLs). That’s jargon for loans handed out to companies and households where the borrower has fallen behind with repayments, or is barely paying at all. But the Italian banks have not written off these loans as duds, he says.

Instead, billions upon billions are still on the books, written down as worth about 45% to 50% of their original value. The big problem, says Eisman, is that they are not worth anywhere near that much. In The Big Short, Eisman’s staff head to Florida to speak to the owners of newly built homes bundled up in “mortgage-backed securities” rated as AAA by the investment banks. What they find are strippers with loans against multiple homes but almost no income, the mortgages arranged by sharp-suited brokers who know they won’t be repaid, and don’t care. Visiting the housing estates that these triple-A mortgages are secured against, they find foreclosures and dereliction. In a mix of moral outrage at the banks – and investing acumen – Eisman and his colleagues bought as many “swaps” as possible to profit from the inevitable collapse of the mortgage-backed securities, making a $1bn profit along the way.

This time around, Eisman is not padding around the plains of Lombardy because he says the evidence is in plain sight. When financiers look to buy the NPLs off the Italian banks, they value the loans at what they are really worth – in other words, how many of the holders are really able to repay, and how much money will be recovered. What they find is that the NPLs should be valued at just 20% of their original price. Trouble is, if the Italian banks recognise their loans at their true value, it wipes out their capital, and they go bust overnight. “Europe is screwed. You guys are still screwed,” says Eisman. “In the Italian system, the banks say they are worth 45-50 cents in the dollar. But the bid price is 20 cents. If they were to mark them down, they would be insolvent.”

[..] Trump’s victory has sent the bond markets into disarray, with the yield on government bonds rising steeply. While this sounds good for savers – interest rates could rise – it is bad news for the holders of government bonds, which fall in value when the yield rises. Eisman sees that as another woe for Europe’s banks, who hold vast amounts of “sovereign bonds”. “What is very negative is that in every country in Europe, the largest owner of that country’s sovereign bonds are that country’s banks,” he says. As the bonds decline in value, then the capital base of the banks deteriorates.

Read more …

The usual victims.

Emerging Markets Borrowers Owe $3.2 Trillion In -Rising- Dollar Debt (BBG)

[..] Companies in these more-vulnerable economies have $340 billion of debt coming due through 2018, and they are going to have a hard time paying all that back if investors keep withdrawing their cash. [..] After the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president, many expect his infrastructure spending programs and trade policies to lead to higher consumer prices in the world’s biggest economy. Bonds tend to do poorly when inflation accelerates, especially because such an environment would prompt the Fed to raise benchmark interest rates faster than many expect. That would bad for all types of debt but particularly for notes in emerging markets. That’s because investors will migrate back to higher-rated bonds in developed economies instead of those in less-proven nations.

Also, more U.S. growth typically means a stronger dollar, which is a significant problem for emerging-market nonbank borrowers, which have accumulated more than $3 trillion in dollar-denominated debt, according to BIS data. The higher the dollar rises, the more expensive it becomes to pay back the debt. And already this week, the currency has surged because of the sudden prospect of tighter Fed policies and faster U.S. growth. The sheer scale of leverage in the economy, including “the large increase of emerging-market debt, much of it denominated in dollars,” is one of the biggest risks in the financial system right now, Adair Turner, former U.K. Financial Services Authority chairman, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. All that money is owed to somebody, and a failure to pay it back will cause big ripple effects.

Read more …

if the US doesn’t manipulate its currency lower soon, it’s going to lose export markets.

Dollar’s Rapid Gain Triggers Angst in Emerging Markets (WSJ)

The dollar extended its powerful rally, spurring central banks in developing countries to take steps to stabilize their own currencies and threatening to create headwinds for the long-running U.S. expansion. The US currency moved closer to parity with the euro after rising for the 10th straight day, the dollar’s longest winning streak against the euro since the European currency’s inception in 1999. The dollar also moved higher against the yen, which fell to its weakest levels against the U.S. currency since May 30. The gains are even greater against many emerging-market currencies, prompting central banks in a number of countries to intervene to slow the slide. The Mexican peso has fallen 11% against the dollar to record lows since the election, while the Brazilian real has tumbled 6.3%.

The currency’s gains make foreign goods and travel cheaper for U.S. consumers and could give a boost to exports from Japan and Europe. But they also are reigniting fears that the dollar’s strength could slow U.S. corporate profit growth and intensify capital flight from the developing world, which would complicate the prospects for economic growth. “The strong dollar is destabilizing for markets, for foreign assets, for emerging-market nations that pay back their debt in dollars,” said Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer Fiera Capital. “That’s pretty significant.” The dollar’s gains have been driven by bets that fiscal spending and tax cuts proposed by President-elect Donald Trump will spur U.S. economic growth, as well as by the rising probability that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.

Read more …

Too much is moving in the same direction. Sheep don’t make for healthy markets.

Global Bonds Post Biggest Two-Week Loss in 26 Years (BBG)

Bonds around the world had their steepest two-week loss in at least 26 years as President-elect Donald Trump sends inflation expectations surging. The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index has fallen 4% since Nov. 4. It’s the biggest two-week rout in data going back to 1990. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen contributed to the decline by saying Thursday an interest-rate hike could come “relatively soon.” “We’ve seen a sharp and swift move since the election, which is pricing in the potential future policies of Trump,” said Sean Simko at SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania. “The big question is to what extent these policies are going to be implemented, and how quickly are they going to be implemented.”

Treasury 10-year note yields climbed five basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 2.35% as of 5 p.m. in New York, reaching the highest since November 2015, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The 2% security due in November 2026 closed at 96 27/32. “Trump is a game changer,” Park Sung-jin at Mirae Asset Securities. “I was bearish, but the current level is more than I expected.” The selloff has gone fast enough that it’ll probably pause before yields press higher in 2017, Park said. Yellen, addressing U.S. lawmakers Thursday, signaled the U.S. central bank is close to lifting interest rates as the economy continues to create jobs at a healthy clip and inflation inches higher.

The president-elect’s pledges include tax cuts and spending $500 billion or more over a decade on infrastructure, a combination that’s seen as spurring quicker growth and price gains in the world’s biggest economy. Trump has also blamed China and Mexico for American job losses and threatened punitive tariffs on imports, a move that may spur inflation. The difference between yields on U.S. 10-year notes and similar-maturity Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, a gauge of trader expectations for consumer prices over the life of the debt, rose to as much as 1.97 percentage points this week, the highest since April 2015.

Read more …

It’s not just global markets being hit, the US ‘homeowner’ will also pay the price.

Bond Carnage hits Mortgage Rates. But This Time, it’s Real (WS)

The carnage in bonds has consequences. The average interest rate of the a conforming 30-year fixed mortgage as of Friday was quoted at 4.125% for top credit scores. That’s up about 0.5 percentage point from just before the election, according to Mortgage News Daily. It put the month “on a short list of 4 worst months in more than a decade.” One of the other three months on that short list occurred at the end of 2010 and two “back to back amid the 2013 Taper Tantrum,” when the Fed let it slip that it might taper QE Infinity out of existence. Investors were not amused. From the day after the election through November 16, they yanked $8.2 billion out of bond funds, the largest weekly outflow since Taper-Tantrum June.

The 10-year Treasury yield today jumped to 2.36% in late trading the highest since December 2015, up 66 basis point since the election, and up one full percentage point since July! The 10-year yield is at a critical juncture. In terms of reality, the first thing that might happen is a rate increase by the Fed in December, after a year of flip-flopping. A slew of post-election pronouncements by Fed heads – including Yellen’s “relatively soon” – have pushed the odds of a rate hike to 98%. [..] I still think that pullback in yields is going to happen any day now. As I said, nothing goes to heck in a straight line. In terms of dollars and cents, this move has wiped out a lot of wealth. Bond prices fall when yields rise. This chart shows the CBOT Price Index for the 10-year note. It’s down 5.6% since July:

The 30-year Treasury bond went through a similar drubbing. The yield spiked to 3.01%. The mid-week pullback was a little more pronounced. Since the election, the yield has spiked by 44 basis points and since early July by 91 basis points (via StockCharts.com). Folks who have this “risk free” bond in their portfolios: note that in terms of dollars and cents, the CBOT Price Index for the 30-year bond has plunged 13.8% since early July!

Read more …

This will now be scaring Abe and Kuroda.

US Dollar Sees Steepest 2-Week Gain Against Yen Since January 1988 (R.)

The dollar rose to its highest level since April 2003 against a basket of currencies on Friday, marking its biggest two-week increase since March 2015 as traders piled bets on a massive dose of fiscal stimulus under a Trump U.S. presidency. Also stoking the dollar rally were growing expectations the Fed would raise interest rates next month on signs of rising inflation and improved economic growth. The greenback has climbed 7.3% against the yen in two weeks, its steepest such gain since January 1988 and its second-strongest performance in the era of floating exchange rates. The dollar has been on a tear following Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over Hillary Clinton, tracking surging U.S. Treasury yields amid concerns government borrowing to fund possible stimulus programs could stoke inflation.

Traders have seized on the tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending that Trump campaigned on as negatives for bonds and positives for the dollar. “It has caused a wave of dollar buying across the board,” said Richard Scalone, co-head of foreign exchange at TJM Brokerage in Chicago. To be sure, it remained unclear how many, if any, of the policy proposals would materialize. Trump’s stance on immigration and trade, if they become law, could hurt the dollar, analysts said. “The dollar is the wild card,” said Richard Bernstein, CEO of Richard Bernstein Advisors. The dollar index, hit 101.48, its highest since early April 2003 before paring gains to 101.25, up 0.4% on the day.

Read more …

Yeah, like that’s in your power… “’Interest rates may have risen in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that we have to automatically allow Japanese interest rates to increase in tandem’, Mr. Kuroda said.”

Bank of Japan Surprises With Plan to Buy Unlimited JGBs at Fixed Rates (WSJ)

The Bank of Japan on Thursday offered to buy an unlimited amount of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates for the first time since the introduction of a new policy framework—a sign of its concerns over recent rises in yields. The move is the first clear sign from the central bank that it intends to take action to keep a lid on rising yields, and took market participants by surprise. “I thought there was still a lot more room left” before the BOJ took action, said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. The BOJ’s move followed a sharp rise in government bond yields globally, sparked by expectations that the presidency of Donald Trump would lift inflation and growth.

Japanese government bond yields have risen as well, but not as sharply. The 10-year yield rose to its highest level since March on Wednesday. Yields on two-year and five-year Japanese government bonds fell Thursday after the BOJ’s announcement. The 10-year yield also briefly fell to 0.010% after hitting as high as 0.025% earlier in the morning. Speaking in parliament, Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said he wouldn’t allow market pressure from abroad to dictate the course of Japanese government bond yields, highlighting his resolve to hold interest rates down. “Interest rates may have risen in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that we have to automatically allow Japanese interest rates to increase in tandem,” Mr. Kuroda said.

Read more …

And the winner is … plastic.

US Banks Close Rupee Exchanges After Large Bills Ruled Illegal (BBG)

Aruna Desai has a problem with the thousands of Indian rupees she has with her in the U.S. – she can’t find a bank to exchange her funds and couldn’t give the money away if she tried. Since Indian PM Narendra Modi removed 500- and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation, currency exchange providers in the U.S. have been unable to take the outlawed bills. Some of the country’s biggest banks, including JPMorgan and Citigroup work with vendors to provide rupees to clients and those vendors have made the bills unavailable, spokesmen for the banks said. Wells Fargo also said it can’t supply rupees at this time, while Bank of America said it has never accepted the currency for exchange. “If you have a euro, you can go to a bank and exchange it,” Desai, 76, of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, said. “For an Indian rupee, I don’t think there’s any bank that does that here.”

Five-hundred rupee ($7.34) and 1,000-rupee notes ceased to be legal tender Nov. 9, Modi said last week in a surprise announcement, sweeping away 86% of the total currency in circulation. The move has been seen as an attempt to fulfill his election promise of curbing tax evasion and recovering illegal income, locally known as black money, stashed overseas. The notes will have to be deposited in banks by the end of December, Modi said. “For our clients, it’s very hard,” Nandita Chandra, head of Great Indian Travel’s New York office, said in a telephone interview while visiting New Delhi. “A lot of people are affected and we don’t have a culture that is credit-card friendly, it’s a cash-based economy.”

Mastercard, the second-largest payment network, heralded the move as one that will reduce crime and drive growth in the Indian economy. Modi’s “bold action and leadership is a critical step in positioning India to be a leader in the global cashless and digital economy movement,” Porush Singh, the firm’s president for South Asia, said in a statement. “Mastercard is committed to working with the government to provide the cashless solutions that combat corruption and create growth, and inclusion for all members of society.”

Read more …

Will Washington fall apart without the lobbyists who keep it standing up?

Lobbyists Leave Trump Transition Team After New Ethics Rule (Pol.)

At least three lobbyists have left President-elect Donald Trump’s presidential transition operation after the team imposed a new ethics policy that would have required them to drop all their clients. CGCN’s Michael Catanzaro, who was responsible for energy independence; Michael Torrey, who was running the handoff at the Department of Agriculture; and Michael McKenna of MWR Strategies, who was focused on the Energy Department, are no longer part of the transition, POLITICO has learned. Lobbyists who piled into the transition when it was being run by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were caught off-guard Wednesday by a new ethics policy requiring them to terminate their clients.

“Throughout my time assisting the transition effort, I have adhered closely to the code of ethical conduct and confidentiality agreement that was provided to me,” Torrey said in a statement. “When asked recently to terminate lobbying registration for clients whom I serve in order to continue my role with the transition, I respectfully resigned from my role.” Torrey represents the American Beverage Association, Dean Foods and pizza franchise Little Caesars. Before founding Michael Torrey & Associates in 2005, he was Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman’s deputy chief of staff, advised Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and worked at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Catanzaro lobbies for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a refining group, as well as Hess, Encana, Noble Energy and Devon Energy.

Read more …

Let’s see how many will be left come January 20.

The Rise Of The ‘Un-Lobbyist’ (Mother Jones)

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s transition team announced one phase of the president-elect’s plan to “drain the swamp” of corruption—a prohibition on registered lobbyists serving in his administration and a five-year lobbying ban for Trump officials who return to the private sector. Trump’s plan effectively doubles down on a policy that the Obama administration already has in place—one that many good government groups and lobbyists alike believe may have created a new problem: un-lobbyists—that is, influence-peddlers who avoid registering as lobbyists to skirt the administration’s rules.

Obama, like Trump, campaigned on a platform of aggressively rooting out the influence of lobbyists. After taking office, he put in place several major good-government initiatives, including a ban on lobbyists serving in his administration and a two-year cooling-off period before ex-administration officials could register to lobby. Once Obama’s lobbying rules took effect, there was a sharp decline in the number of registered lobbyists. Industry insiders and watchdog groups that track the influence game noted that the decrease was not due to lobbyists hanging up their spurs as hired guns for corporations and special interests. Rather it appeared that lobbyists were finding creative ways to avoid officially registering as such. There was no less influence-peddling going on, but now there was less disclosure of the lobbying that was taking place.

The problem lies with the definition of who is a lobbyist. The federal government requires anyone who spends more than 20% of their time on behalf of a client while making “lobbying contacts”—an elaborate and specifically defined type of contact with certain types of federal officials—to register as a lobbyist and file quarterly paperwork disclosing their clients and the bills or agencies he or she sought to sway. But by avoiding too many official “lobbying contacts” and limiting how much income that kind of work accounts for, lobbyists can shed the scarlet L, describing themselves as government affairs consultants or experts in advocacy and public policy.

Read more …

All governments will use all new technology to encroach ever more on all people’s lives.

UK Approves ‘Most Extreme Surveillance In History Of Western Democracy’ (AFP)

The British parliament this week gave the green light to new bulk surveillance powers for police and intelligence services that critics have denounced as the most far-reaching of any western democracy. The Investigatory Powers Bill would, among other measures, require websites to keep customers’ browsing history for up to a year and allow law enforcement agencies to access them to help with investigations. Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, said the powers “went further than many autocracies”. “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” he tweeted.

The bill, the first major update of British surveillance laws for 15 years, was passed by the House of Lords and now only needs rubber-stamping by Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Minister Theresa May introduced the bill in March when she was still interior minister, describing it as “world-leading” legislation intended to reflect the change in online communications. It gives legal footing to existing but murky powers such as the hacking of computers and mobile phones, while introducing new safeguards such as the need for a judge to authorise interception warrants. But critics have dubbed it the “snooper’s charter” and say that, in authorising the blanket retention and access by authorities of records of emails, calls, texts and web activity, it breaches fundamental rights of privacy.

Read more …

The EU needs to act to stop this. But instead it still hardly resettles refugees at all, and won’t even allow for the refugees to be hosted in mainland Greece. Ugliness guaranteed. Couldn’t have been more effective if they planned it.

Far-Right Group Attacks Refugee Camp On Greek Island Of Chios (G.)

Dozens of people have been driven out of a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios after two successive nights of attacks by a far-right group. At least two people were wounded after attackers threw Molotov cocktails and rocks as big as boulders from elevated areas surrounding the Souda camp, activists said. Three tents were burned down and three others were hit by rocks. A 42-year-old Syrian man was assaulted, while a Nigerian boy was hit by a rock. Fearing a third attack on Friday night, about 100 former occupants refused to re-enter the camp, instead taking shelter in a nearby car park. “We do not have any kind of protection,” Mostafa al-Khatib, a Syrian refugee, told the Guardian. “No one cares about us.” Gabrielle Tan, an aid worker with Action From Switzerland, a grassroots organisation working on Chios, said those sheltering in the car park included families with babies and toddlers.

“They’d rather sleep outside in the cold than go back inside,” said Tan. The mayor of Chios said the attackers were thought to be affiliated with Greece’s main far-right party, Golden Dawn. “Of course Golden Dawn supporters are suspected to have participated,” Manolis Vournous told the Guardian. Activists and camp occupants said the rocks appeared to have been thrown with the intention of killing people. Tan said: “These rocks were probably the size of a shoebox, weighing approximately 15kg. Some of them I can’t even lift.” There were conflicting reports about who started the clashes on Wednesday. According to Vournous, the unrest began after Algerians and Moroccans stole alcohol and fireworks from a shop, frightening local residents. But some activists claimed the events escalated after a planned assault by Golden Dawn.

Read more …