Sep 152019
 
 September 15, 2019  Posted by at 2:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pavel Filonov The Kolkhoznik (Member of a Collective Farm) 1931

 

Those winds just keep on shifting, no matter that the western press either doesn’t see them shift, doesn’t recognize them for what they are, or chooses to ignore them. But these winds bring tidings of a tectonic plate-shaking shift in the global political climate.

The fires in Saudi oil installations, whether they were caused by drones or missiles, and whoever fired those, are a major story, and rightly so, because they could shake up economies in drastic ways. But they may still, not be the biggest story after all.

Last Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley (already occupied territory, 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live there). He did that to steal votes from the far right in next Tuesday’s (Sep. 17) Knesset election. “Bibi” also called Donald Trump his “friend” every second word for that same purpose. Trump responded in kind. He may come to regret that. Choose your friends wisely. Bit of background from RT:

 

US, Israel Talk About Mutual Defense Treaty – Trump

The US and Israel are discussing a mutual defense treaty that would further cement the already “tremendous” alliance between the two countries, President Donald Trump has revealed. “I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” Trump tweeted.

Trump voiced not-that-veiled support for Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Israel. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!” Trump wrote. The support surely comes in handy, as Netanyahu’s backing appears to be quite shaky. The September 17 polls are the second snap legislative elections this year after Netanyahu failed to form the government back in April.

The outcome of the upcoming vote is hard to predict, as Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has almost equal support as their main opponent the Blue and White led by Benny Gantz, opinion polls show. Netanyahu was quick to respond to Trump’s announcement, lauding the prospects of the alliance and managing to call the US president a “friend” twice in a single tweet.

[..] Israel was one of the first major non-Nato ally (MNNA), a designation that goes with a whole set of benefits, such as generous loans, a priority in delivery of various military surplus, possession of war reserve stocks of Pentagon-owned hardware outside US military bases (Israel is said to have at least six sites) and others.

Yet in 2014 the US enshrined Israel into a new class of ally – a major strategic partner. The new designation, which is a step above MNNA, was basically established specifically for Israel. It greatly expanded the US wartime stockpiles in Israel from $200 million in value to a whopping $1.8 billion. Under the Trump administration, the trend has continued, and in 2017, the US established its first permanent military base – an air defense facility – in Israel.

A second thing Bibi is trying to do to win Tuesday’s elections is intimidating the prosecutors who are on his tail for three different cases or fraud. He has a grand plan to become immune from this prosecution (basically, become King Bibi), but he must win the election to execute it. Haaretz is Israel’s oldest newspaper, but it’s not Bibi’s biggest fan(club):

 

Netanyahu’s Plan to Escape Trial, in His Own Words: ‘Time for Them to Be Frightened’

Immediately after the last election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined to members of his inner circle a plan to extract him from facing trial. The plan was based on obtaining immunity from the Knesset and passing legislation to prevent the High Court of Justice from removing that immunity. If his bloc wins 61 Knesset seats next week, Netanyahu will presumably resort to this rescue plan. For him it will be the Day of Judgment.

“Stop being frightened. It’s time for them to be frightened,” Netanyahu told his confidants, referring to justice officials, headed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who have decided to indict him in three cases, subject to a hearing. Netanyahu told his confidants why he insisted on his destructive plan, telling them he had lost all confidence in the legal system on all levels – the attorney general’s office, the state prosecutor and the court system.

“They want me in prison,” he told one of his cronies, noting that if he were indicted that would indeed be the result – not because he had crossed a red line, but merely due to the jurists’ collective hostility toward him and his ideology. Netanyahu appears to wholeheartedly believe himself to be a victim, framed by prosecutors and that Mendelblit, who is weak, doesn’t believe in them at all, but couldn’t withstand the pressure.

In his interviews with the police Netanyahu acted like a hunted man. “It’s a wacky conception,” he told national fraud squad chief Koresh Bar-Nur in January 2017. Bar-Nur came to Netanyahu’s residence with a team of investigators to question him under caution on Case 2000, involving a bribery deal Netanyahu allegedly negotiated with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes.

 

And that wasn’t all. To court the right wing vote, Bibi also planned to bomb locations in Syria controlled by “Iran-backed” Assad troops, right about right now. And he needed permission from Vladimir Putin to do that. So he flew to Moscow, did a bunch of photo-ops with Putin to show Israeli voters he’s an important statesman, but all he got was a big load of coal in his stocking. Putin said: we’l shoot you out of the skies if you dare. And do note: this is not the first time.

In other words, Bibi was deeply humiliated one week before the election he so deperately needs to him to stay out of jail. Now tell me, which western paper or TV channel did you read or watch the news about this in/on? Remember, this happened before Trump announced his Mutual Defense Treaty with Bibi. By the way, what does that “Mutual” mean anyway, that Israel will save America? This is from Zero Hedge:

 

Israeli Attacks On Syria Halted After Russian Threat To Shoot Down Jets

According to reports in both Israeli and Arabic regional media, Israel this past week was preparing to expand major airstrikes against “Iran-backed” targets in Syria, but Moscow imposed its red line. The Independent has published a story describing that Russia’s military in Syria threatened to shoot down any invading Israeli warplanes using fighter jets or their S-400 system.

The Jerusalem Post, citing sources in the UK Independent (Arabia), writes just after the latest meeting in Sochi between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin: “According to the report, Moscow has prevented three Israeli airstrikes on three Syrian outposts recently, and even threatened that any jets attempting such a thing would be shot down, either by Russian jets or by the S400 Anti-aircraft missiles.

The source cited in the report claims a similar situation has happened twice, and that during August, Moscow stopped an airstrike on a Syrian outpost in Qasioun, where a S300 missile battery is placed.” Netanyahu’s hasty trip to meet with Putin on Thursday – even in the final days before Tuesday’s key election – was reportedly with a goal to press the Russian president on essentially ignoring Israel’s attacks in Syria.

Citing further sources in the British-Arabic Independent Arabia, The Jerusalem Post continues: According to the Russian source, Putin let Netanyahu know that his country will not allow any damage to be done to the Syrian regime’s army, or any of the weapons being given to it… Israel sources cited by the Arabic newspaper described Netanyahu’s attempts to persuade Putin as “a failure”. This in spite of Netanyahu telling reporters after the meeting that his relations with Moscow were stronger than ever.

[..] The Russian source said: “Putin has expressed his dissatisfaction from Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon” and even emphasized to Netanyahu that he “Rejects the aggression towards Lebanon’s sovereignty”, something which has never been heard from him.

Putin further stated that someone is cheating him in regards to Syria and Lebanon and that he will not let it go without a response. According to him, Netanyahu was warned not to strike such targets in the future.

 

 

This is where and how the winds -and with them the tectonic plates- have shifted. And don’t underestimate it. Bibi can presumably count on Trump more than any other US President in his time, and the US is supposedly this almighty force, also in the Middle East, but today Putin just tells him “don’t you dare!” Putin refuses to let him touch Assad’s territory and -Russian- weapons.

The clincher is those weapons have become so sophisticated that Bibi, Trump support or not, puts his tail between his legs and flies back, hoping nobody notices what shape he’s in. And in that humiliation, Lebanon is the cherry that Putin puts on top of the pie. “Now that you’re here, I want you to stop harassing Lebanon too. Yes, now you may go.” Lebanon must have stunned Bibi.

What these shifting winds tell us is that the shots in that part of the world, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, (I wouldn’t go as far as including Iran and Saudi Arabia just yet) are no longer called by Bibi or the US. The main reason, as we’ve mentioned often before, is that Russian weapons have become so powerful.

Because as also previously discussed, Russian arms may well be -far- superior to American ones, which in turn in due to the US arms industry developing weapons for profit, vs Russia producing them to defend itself. Putin outright humiliating Bibi Netanyahu may be the first real obvious consequence of that.

This is something that will play out over a long time, but it may change the global political climate dramatically very rapidly. Mike Pompeo can try to blame Iran for whatever it is that happened to Saudi oil facilities, but for the US to attack Iran, which may be the reason for that blame game, it would need to ask Putin for permission, just like Netanyahu did.

And why would Putin give that permission? That’s a real good question. Mind you, Netanyahu may on Tuesday get the Knesset seats he needs to stifle the investigations against him, and to annex the Jordan Valley, but he will still have to ask permission if he has big dreams. And neither Trump nor Jared Kushner nor anyone else can help him there.

The US neocons have been talking about a New World Order for decades. Well, now they got one.

 

 

 

 

Jul 252019
 
 July 25, 2019  Posted by at 1:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Salvador Dali The knight of death 1934

 

 

Another article from Alexander Aston, from whom I published among other things the series Quantum, Dada and Jazz this past November.

 

 

“Dulce et Decorum est” is a poem written by Wilfred Owen during World War I, and published posthumously in 1920. The Latin title is taken from Ode 3.2 of the Roman poet Horace and means “it is sweet and fitting …”. It is followed there by “pro patria mori”, which means “to die for one’s country”.

 

 

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendour never to be seen again.”

– Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August

 

Alexander Aston: If you have not read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August you should do so, it is one of the great, accessible works of history. Tuchman details with great clarity the diplomatic failures, miscalculations and political logics that ensnared the imperial powers of Europe into the cataclysm of the Great War. It was the book that Kennedy drew upon when navigating the Cuban missile crisis. Just over a century since the guns fell silent in Europe, and nearly fifty years since nuclear holocaust was averted, the world is teetering on what might very well be the largest regional, potentially global, conflict since the second world war.

The United States is a warfare economy, its primary export is violence and it is through violence that it creates the demand for its products. The markets of the Empire are the failed states, grinding civil conflicts, escalating regional tensions and human immiseration created by gun-boat diplomacy. In true entrepreneurial spirit, the United States has repeatedly overestimated its abilities to control the course of events and underestimated the complexities of a market predicated on violence. However, since the beginning of the twenty-first century the American Imperium has proven itself as incompetent as it is vicious. After nearly two decades of intensifying conflicts, a fundamentally broken global economy and a dysfunctional political system, Washington has turned feral, lashing out against decline.

The points of instability in the global system are various and growing, and the only geo-political logics that the Imperium appears to be operating under are threats, coercion, and violence. It is at this moment, with the most erratic president in the country’s history, surrounded by some of the most extreme neo-conservative voices, that the United States has been belligerently stumbling across the globe. In the past few months we have witnessed a surrealistic reimagining of the Latin American coup, the medieval melodrama of Canadian vassals taking a royal hostage from the Middle Kingdom and British buccaneers’ privateering off the coast of Gibraltar. The Imperial system is in a paroxysm of incoherent but sustained aggression.

 

It has long been clear that if another Great War were to emerge, it would likely begin in the Middle East. Just over a century later, we have found ourselves amidst another July crisis of escalating military and diplomatic confrontations. European modernity immolated itself in the Balkans though miscalculation, overconfidence and the prisoners dilemma of national prestige. The conditions of the contemporary Middle East are no less volatile than those of Europe when the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided to attack Serbia. If anything, conditions are far more complex in a region entangled with allegiances and enmities that transgress and supersede the national borders imposed in the wake of the first world war.

The United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and the stated aim of reducing Iranian oil exports to zero has enforced a zero-sum logic between the American Imperium and Persia. With each move and counter move the two countries are further entangled into the dynamics of a conflict. Much like the run up to July 28th 1914, tanker seizures, drone shoot downs, sanctions, military deployments and general bellicosity reinforce the rational of the opposing sides and make it harder to back down without losing face and appearing weak.

Due to the asymmetry of the two powers the Iranians have the fewest options for de-escalation while the American establishment perceives the least incentive. This dynamic is further exacerbated by major regional powers agitating for a conflict they believe they will benefit from. Indeed, the slide to war might be inexorable at this point, the momentum of historical causality may have already exceeded the abilities of those in power to control. Czar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm were cousins that desperately wanted to avoid war and were nonetheless impotent to avert disaster. There is nowhere near such intimacy, communication and motivation in our current context.

If war with Iran erupts, the Pax Americana will come to an end and humanity will fully enter a new historical epoch. The most unlikely scenario is an easy victory for the United States, yet even this outcome will only exacerbate the decline of the Empire. The other great powers would expedite their exit from the dollar system and drastically increase investment into the means to counter American hegemony. Likewise, victory would further reinforce Washington’s hubris, generating more serious challenges to the Imperial order and making the US prone to take on even bigger fights. Ironically, easy military success would almost assure the outbreak of a third world war in the long-term.

 

War with Iran would likely ignite violence in Israel-Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, re-energise and expand the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen as well as generate sectarian violence and domestic insurgencies across the Middle East. Under such conditions regional actors would likely utilise a dramatically intensifying conflict as cover for their own agendas, for example with a renewed Turkish assault on the Syrian Kurds. The conditions for rapid escalation are extremely high in which non-linear dynamics could easily take hold and quickly outstrip any attempts to maintain control of the situation.

Pyrrhic victory for either side is the most likely outcome, making the parallels to the Great War all the more salient. Global conflagration is a possibility, but with “luck” the fighting could be contained to the region. Nonetheless, amplified refugee crises, supply chain disruptions and immense geopolitical realignments will cascade out of such an event. Undoubtedly, there would be concerted efforts to abandon the dollar system as quickly as possible. Furthermore, rapid increases in the price of oil would all but grind the global economy to a halt within a matter of months, tipping citizenries already saturated with private debt into financial crises.

Furthermore, the entanglement of the military-industrial complex, the petrodollar reserve currency system and the omni-bubble generated by quantitative easing has left the Empire systemically fragile. Particularly, the bubble in non-conventional fuels precipitated by QE, depressed oil prices with scaled down exploration, R&D and maintenance makes the possibility of a self-reinforcing collapse in the American energy and financial systems extremely plausible. It is a Gordian knot which war with Persia would leave in fetters.

The most likely long-term outcome of a war with Iran would be the economic isolation and political fragmentation of the United States. What is assured is that whatever world results it will not look anything like the world since 1945. The first world war collapsed the European world system, dynasties that had persisted for centuries were left in ruins and the surviving great powers crippled by the overwhelming expenditures of blood and treasure. We are on the precipice of another such moment. The American world system is fundamentally dependent upon the relationship between warfare, energy dominance and debt.

 

Conflict is required to maintain control of the energy markets which prop up a financialised economy. A dynamic that puts the nation deeper in hock while amplifying resistance to financial vassalage. Losing energy dominance undermines the country’s reserve currency status and weakens the Empires ability to generate the debt necessary to sustain the warfare economy. Likewise, the system of national and international debt peonage parasitizes global populations to work against their own best interests. This fuels resentment and resistance which further drives the warfare economy. It is, in the inimitably American expression, a “self-licking ice cream cone.”

On August 3rd 1914, one week into the war, the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked that “the lamps are going out across Europe and we shall not see them relit in our lifetime.” At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we face similar, terrifying prospects. Indeed, we could witness the collapse of democratic societies for a very long time to come. If we have any hope of averting calamity we need to generate loud opposition to imperialist warfare.

This does not mean some hackneyed anti-war movement based on past glories and the parochialism of domestic politics, but earnest effort to find common cause in resisting the insanity of those that seek profit in our collective suffering. This means working with people that we have very deep disagreements with by respecting our mutual opposition to the masters of war. It also means serious commitment to strategies such as tax and debt strikes as expressions of non-consent as well as other peaceful means of direct action. Indeed, it is from a place of agreement that we can potentially rebuild civil discourse and renew our trust in the ability of democratic institutions to mediate our quarrels. Perhaps it is too late to change course, but how sweet and fitting it is to face madness with dignity.

 

“What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? …power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. ”

“Kings are the slaves of history.”

– Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

 

Just a thought from Beau of the Fifth Column:

 

 

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States.

 

 

 

 

Jul 102019
 


Pablo Picasso Guernica [Study] V 1937

 

Jeffrey Epstein Shipped Himself A 53-Pound Shredder (Grim)
Doubts Over Deutsche Bank Turnaround Plan Dent Shaky Shares (R.)
Trump’s Twitter Blocking Violates Constitution – Appeals Court (CNN)
Ocasio-Cortez Sued Over Twitter Blocks (Hill)
Facebook’s New Policy Says It’s OK to Post Death Threats Against Me (PJW)
EU Subsidy Loss ‘Could Wipe Out UK Farms’ Like The Coal Industry (BBC)
UK, France To Send Forces To Syria … But Americans Will Pay (RT)
U.S Wants Military Coalition To Safeguard Waters Off Iran, Yemen (R.)
US Urges Turkey To Halt Drilling Operations Off Cyprus Coast (R.)
EU To Cut Contacts, Aid To Turkey Over Cyprus Drilling Violations (K.)
Turkey Rejects Greek, EU Claims That Drilling Off Cyprus Illegitimate (R.)
Holland Covers Hundreds Of Bus Stops With Plants As Gift To Honeybees (Ind.)
David Attenborough: Polluting Planet May Become As Reviled As Slavery (G.)
Glacial Melting In Antarctica May Become Irreversible (G.)

 

 

The news will be all over Epstein for a long time to come. This overview from Ryan Grim is as good as the next one. We must wait till details start leaking out. Trump Labor Sec. Acosta will be gone, but who else pops up?

Jeffrey Epstein Shipped Himself A 53-Pound Shredder (Grim)

Jeffrey Epstein shipped a shredder from the U.S. Virgin Islands to his Palm Beach home in July 2008, shortly after reaching a non-prosecution agreement with then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, maritime records show. Then, in March of this year, shortly after a Florida federal judge invalidated that agreement, Epstein shipped a tile and carpet extractor from the Virgin Islands to his Manhattan townhouse, the records show. Epstein, a billionaire financier, was arrested in New Jersey last Saturday on charges of running a sex trafficking ring that involved luring underage girls to his New York and Florida residences, and taking them on global flights on his airplane, dubbed the “Lolita Express.”

Epstein was first accused of abusing underage girls, some of them as young as 14, more than a decade ago, and he evaded prosecution potentially due to his high-profile connections. A key challenge investigators faced when first targeting Epstein in the mid-2000s was an inability to obtain evidence through subpoena. A 2005 search of Epstein’s Palm Beach home came up empty in its quest for computers that investigators suspected contained critical evidence connected to his alleged sexual abuse of young girls. In 2007, a federal grand jury subpoenaed the computers. That August, Acosta, who is now Donald Trump’s labor secretary, entered into plea agreement discussions with Epstein.

Because of those talks, a motion to compel production of Epstein’s computers was delayed, according to the Miami Herald. Epstein held out, however, resisting the deal because it would require him to register as a sex offender. The FBI continued investigating and in March 2008, according to the Miami Herald, preparations were being made to take the case to a new federal grand jury. That would prove unnecessary, as Epstein agreed to a deal with Acosta. Without notifying the 32 identified victims, the federal government reached a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in exchange for his guilty plea in state court to a minor offense. He pleaded guilty on June 30.

On July 7, 2008, federal prosecutors told Epstein’s attorneys via email that they intended to notify the 32 victims about the agreement. Epstein’s lawyers and the prosecutors debated how much of the agreement to reveal, settling on a less than full accounting. A week later, on July 15, Epstein received a shipment at his Palm Beach home from the port in the U.S. Virgin Islands closest to his home there, according to maritime shipping records compiled by ImportGenius and provided to The Intercept. The shipment was a 53-pound shredder.

For the next decade, Epstein’s legal troubles appeared to be behind him. Then, in November 2018, the Miami Herald published a new investigation into Epstein’s alleged child sex trafficking ring, which prompted federal investigators to take a new look at the case. However, the agreement not to prosecute first had to be invalidated. That came on February 21, when a Florida federal judge ruled that Acosta’s office had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by keeping the women in the dark.

Read more …

They’re on “on a week-long roadshow to explain the restructuring”?! What century is this?

Doubts Over Deutsche Bank Turnaround Plan Dent Shaky Shares (R.)

Deutsche Bank shares extended losses on Tuesday on investor doubts that its chief executive can revive the lender by shrinking the investment bank and returning to its roots as banker to corporate Germany. Christian Sewing, CEO for just over a year, and his finance chief are on a week-long roadshow to explain the restructuring. To underline his commitment, Sewing plans to invest a quarter of his fixed salary — around 820,000 euros — in Deutsche shares, a person with knowledge of the matter said. Deutsche’s stock price has fallen 10 percent since Sunday’s restructuring announcement to cut 18,000 jobs in a 7.4 billion euro ($8.3 billion) “reinvention”. It is the biggest two-day decline in almost three years.


By 1312 GMT, shares were down 3.8% on the day, after sliding as much as 6.5% earlier. The bank’s bonds also fell. Analysts and investors say Sewing, who joined Deutsche Bank in 1989, is right to cut back its trading desks but question if he can make his plan work when interest rates are still low and U.S. banks have expanded their share of the German market. “There seems to be some concerns around the plan details, particularly the ability for the bank to retain revenues while cutting costs,” one of the bank’s top 25 shareholders told Reuters, citing worries the bank would need fresh equity to execute Sewing’s plan.

Read more …

But if this applies to Trump, who’s next?

Trump’s Twitter Blocking Violates Constitution – Appeals Court (CNN)

An appeals court said Tuesday that President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking users on Twitter. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a New York judge’s ruling and found that Trump “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by utilizing Twitter’s ‘blocking’ function to limit certain users’ access to his social media account, which is otherwise open to the public at large, because he disagrees with their speech.” “We hold that he engaged in such discrimination,” the ruling adds. The judges on the appeals court concluded that “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”


The challenge to Trump’s unprecedented use of Twitter in office came from seven individuals he blocked, as well as the Knight First Amendment Institute, which argued that the President’s personal account is an extension of his office. The Justice Department argued in March that the President wasn’t “wielding the power” of the federal government when he blocked certain individuals from his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, because while the President sends tweets in his official capacity, he blocks users as a personal matter. But the appeals court disagreed with that view.

Read more …

The goose and the gander.

Ocasio-Cortez Sued Over Twitter Blocks (Hill)

One former Democratic state lawmaker and one Republican congressional hopeful announced this week that they are suing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) over being blocked from her personal Twitter account. Former state assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) and congressional candidate Joseph Saladino, who is running in a Republican primary for the chance to battle Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), announced lawsuits this week against the freshman Democratic congresswoman, seeking injunctive relief in the form of a court order demanding they be unblocked. Saladino announced in a press release that he had filed suit in the Southern District of New York, while Hikind told Fox News that he had filed his claim in the state’s Eastern District.

“I have officially filed my lawsuit against AOC for blocking me on twitter,” Saladino tweeted. “Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally? Stay tuned to find out!” “If we can’t talk to one another, the whole system breaks down,” Saladino added in his press release. “Look what is happening in my district when entrenched NeverTrumpers are confronted by America First ideas. Like it or not we live in the same city and we need to be professional.” In an interview with Fox News, Hikind pointed to a recent court ruling declaring that President Trump is not allowed to block critics from his official Twitter account because of his status as a public official as legal precedent for his claim.

“Just today the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling that elected officials cannot block individuals from their Twitter accounts, thereby setting a precedent that Ocasio-Cortez must follow,” Hikind told the network. “Twitter is a public space, and all should have access to the government officials on it.”

Read more …

Think of Paul Joseph Watson what you like, but this is insane. Time to tackle Zuck.

Facebook’s New Policy Says It’s OK to Post Death Threats Against Me (PJW)

Facebook has issued a new policy update saying it’s acceptable to post death threats and incite violence against me, despite this being a crime in the United Kingdom. No, I’m not joking. A Community Standards update published by Facebook states (emphasis mine); “Do not post: Threats that could lead to death (and other forms of high-severity violence) of any target(s) where threat is defined as any of the following: “Statements of intent to commit high-severity violence; or Calls for high-severity violence (unless the target is an organization or individual covered in the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy)….”

Back in May, Facebook and Instagram banned me under the justification that I was a “dangerous individual”. They provided no evidence whatsoever that I had behaved in a “dangerous” manner or violated any of their policies. Facebook has designated me a “dangerous individual” and now says it’s acceptable for its users to issue death threats against me. This is a crime in the United Kingdom under the 1988 Malicious Communications Act which states, “Any person who sends to another person a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which conveys….a threat….is guilty of an offence.” The largest social media company in the world with over 2 billion users literally says its fine to incite violence against me, despite this being illegal. They are painting a target on my back.

[..] Two months ago, via my lawyers, I filed a Subject Access Request demanding Facebook turn over all information relating to me. Facebook has yet to respond to this request, despite it being a legal requirement to respond within 30 days. If and when Facebook ever responds to this legal demand, the next step will be to begin litigation proceedings. The fact that Facebook has literally said it’s OK to incite violence against me is going to be a very interesting potential addition to those proceedings.

Read more …

Maybe the coal industry is not the best example in the time of climate crisis.

EU Subsidy Loss ‘Could Wipe Out UK Farms’ Like The Coal Industry (BBC)

With three months to go before the UK could leave the European Union (EU), farmers say they still face uncertainty about future subsidy levels. Last year farmers received £3.5bn in financial support through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). One farmer from York said he feared farms could soon be “wiped out like the coal industry”. The government said farmers had been told subsidy levels would be maintained until the next general election. But the National Audit Office said farmers had been left unable to plan for the future and the main farming union called for “cast-iron commitments” from the government. CAP funding is one of the EU’s biggest policies with a Europe-wide budget worth more than £50bn a year.


The subsidies are designed to support the farming industry and help farmers and landowners maintain their land. Some farmers have said without long-term guarantees about future subsidy levels, farms could disappear from the landscape. “We could be wiped out like the coal industry,” said Roger Hobson, whose 4,500-acre farm near York qualifies for a subsidy worth £100,000 a year. “This is not just about growing food, these subsidies help us improve the landscape and protect endangered species. “What we fear is that in the future the farm industry will have to go to the government and compete for funding alongside the NHS and other public services. “In that situation the government is always going to pick the NHS over farmers.”

Read more …

Don’t.

UK, France To Send Forces To Syria … But Americans Will Pay (RT)

With US President Donald Trump hungry for a withdrawal from Syria, a new report claims Britain and France will send their own forces to pick up the slack, along with other allies. But the swap will cost Washington. Between 1,000 and 2,000 American troops are presently stationed in northeastern Syria, supporting anti-government Kurdish fighters. However, as the US looks to wind down its presence in Syria, the Trump administration has looked to its allies to pick up the slack. Germany rebuffed a request for ground troops on Monday, citing “well known” German policy. Britain and France, on the other hand, are willing to heed Washignton’s call, according to a new report from Foreign Policy.


Both countries have a limited number of special forces on the ground in Syria, and will commit to a troop increase of between 10 and 15 percent to allow the US to withdraw. President Trump is no fan of outsourcing American jobs to foreigners, so why have Britain and France to do America’s dirty work? Well, for one thing, it’ll silence saber-rattlers like John Bolton. Trump announced the US’ complete withdrawal from Syria in December, a country that he said at the time was “sand and death.” The move was seen as a return to the non-interventionist platform he touted during his election campaign, when he mused “why aren’t we letting ISIS go and fight Assad and then we pick up the remnants?”

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Yeah, we really need Europeans involved in the Saudi war on Yemen.

U.S Wants Military Coalition To Safeguard Waters Off Iran, Yemen (R.)

The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday. Under the plan, which has only been finalized in recent days, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition. Allies would patrol waters near those U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated those details to reporters following meetings on Tuesday about it with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” Dunford said. “And so I think probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that’ll support that.” Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes, if it was unable to export its oil, something U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has sought as a way to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a deal on its nuclear program.

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Or what? Sanctions? Erdogan is a wounded animal, beware.

US Urges Turkey To Halt Drilling Operations Off Cyprus Coast (R.)

The US State Department on Tuesday urged Turkish authorities to halt energy drilling operations off the Cypriot coast in the Mediterranean, a day after Cyprus protested a Turkish ship dropping anchor there. “This provocative step raises tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” a US State Department spokeswoman said in a statement. Turkey and the internationally recognized government of Cyprus have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.


Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has discovered natural gas in areas off the southern coast of the disputed island, though nothing has been extracted. Turkey contests the rights of Cyprus to explore for gas, sending its own drilling ships to stake claims around the island. Refinitiv Eikon shipping data showed a Turkish ship arrived off the east coast of Cyprus earlier this week. Another Turkish vessel has been spotted off the west of Cyprus since early May. The Cypriot presidency on Monday accused Turkey of a “grave violation,” and an EU statement also rebuked the Turkish action.

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“Such action could target companies, individuals, and Turkey’s deep-sea hydrocarbon exploration and production sectors..”

EU To Cut Contacts, Aid To Turkey Over Cyprus Drilling Violations (K.)

The European Union is considering suspending most high-level contacts with Turkey and cut the flow of funds in protest of the Turkish drilling activities in the Cyprus EEZ, Bloomberg reports. A range of measures will reportedly be discussed by EU ministers on Wednesday in Brussels. One measure could limit the European Investment Bank’s sovereign-backed lending in Turkey and confirm a cut of some 146 million euros ($163 million) in aid for next year. The options proposed by the European Commission also include suspending all ministerial and leaders’ meetings, as well as ongoing talks between the two sides on an aviation agreement.


The European External Action Service would also advise member states to refrain from high-level contacts with Turkey. Bloomberg reports that EU leaders have sided with Cyprus in the dispute, declaring last month that they are ready to consider sanctions if Turkey continues drilling. Such action could target companies, individuals, and Turkey’s deep-sea hydrocarbon exploration and production sectors, though they aren’t currently on the menu of the commission’s proposals. The measures will likely be agreed Wednesday and approved by EU foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels next week.

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Turkey claims northern Cyprus is Turkish land.

Turkey Rejects Greek, EU Claims That Drilling Off Cyprus Illegitimate (R.)

Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it rejected statements by Greek and European Union officials that Turkish drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus was illegitimate and said the EU could not be an impartial mediator on the Cyprus problem. The ministry said in a statement that Turkey’s Fatih ship had started drilling activities to the west of the Mediterranean island at the start of May and its Yavuz ship had recently arrived to the east of Cyprus and would conduct drilling activities.

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Sometimes it’s the simplest things. But when they start blabbing about “completely clean public transport”, you know they don’t really have a clue. A long struggle lies ahead.

Holland Covers Hundreds Of Bus Stops With Plants As Gift To Honeybees (Ind.)

The roofs of hundreds of bus stops have been covered in plants as a gift to honeybee, by a city in the Netherlands. Mainly made up of sedum plants, a total of 316 have been covered in greenery in Utrecht. The shelters not only support the city’s biodiversity, such as honey bees and bumblebees, but they also help capture fine dust and store rainwater. The roofs are looked after by workers who drive around in electric vehicles, and the bus stops have all been fitted with energy-efficient LED lights and bamboo benches.

The city aims to introduce 55 new electric buses by the end of the year and have “completely clean public transport” by 2028. The electricity used to power the buses will come directly from Dutch windmills. Utrecht also runs a scheme which allows residents to apply for funding to transform their own roofs into green roofs.

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He woke up late, but he did.

David Attenborough: Polluting Planet May Become As Reviled As Slavery (G.)

The attitude of young people towards tackling the environmental crisis is “a source of great hope”, David Attenborough has told MPs, as he predicted that polluting the planet would soon provoke as much abhorrence as slavery. Giving evidence to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee on how to tackle the climate emergency, the naturalist and TV presenter said radical action was required. Asked by the Tory MP Patrick McLoughlin, a committee member, whether the government’s new commitment of net zero carbon emissions for the UK by 2050 was rapid enough, Attenborough said such targets were not necessarily the best approach. “In a way I would think that is not the way of focusing on the problem,” he said.

“We cannot be radical enough in dealing with the issues that face us at the moment. The question is: what is practically possible? How can we take the electorate with us in dealing with these things?” He said: “The most encouraging thing that I see, of course, is that the electors of tomorrow are already making themselves and their voices very, very clear. And that is a source of great comfort in a way, but also the justification, the reality, that these young people are recognising that their world is the future. “I’m OK, and all of us here are OK, because we don’t face the problems that are coming. But the problems in the next 30 years are really major problems that are going to cause social unrest, and great changes in the way that we live, and what we eat. It’s going to happen.”

Asked by the Labour MP Vernon Coaker to expand on how public attitudes were shifting, Attenborough replied: “There was a time in the 19th century when it was perfectly acceptable for civilised human beings to think that it was morally acceptable to actually own another human being for a slave. And somehow or other, in the space of 20 or 30 years, the public perception of that totally transformed.” He said: “I suspect that we are right now in the beginning of a big change. Young people in particular are the stimulus that’s bringing it about.

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Not surte that talking about things that MIGHT happen in 600 years is very useful…

Glacial Melting In Antarctica May Become Irreversible (G.)

Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests. A Nasa-funded study found instability in the Thwaites glacier meant there would probably come a point when it was impossible to stop it flowing into the sea and triggering a 50cm sea level rise. Other Antarctic glaciers were likely to be similarly unstable. Recent research found the rate of ice loss from five Antarctic glaciers had doubled in six years and was five times faster than in the 1990s. Ice loss is spreading from the coast into the continent’s interior, with a reduction of more than 100 metres in thickness at some sites.

The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected. Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said.

Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability. Hélène Seroussi, a jet propulsion laboratory scientist at Nasa, said: “It could happen in the next 200 to 600 years. It depends on the bedrock topography under the ice, and we don’t know it in great detail yet.”

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Mar 282019
 
 March 28, 2019  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1907

 

UK MPs Vote Down All Alternative Brexit Options (G.)
Speaker Issues Fresh Warning Over Third Vote On May’s Brexit Deal (G.)
May Vows To Resign Before Next Phase Of Brexit If Deal Is Passed (G.)
DUP Vows To Block May’s Brexit Deal After She Offers To Resign (Ind.)
Turkey Is Unraveling Fast (Colombo)
Erdogan’s Big Turkish Ambitions Could Come Tumbling Down (BBC)
MEPs Approved Controversial ‘Meme Ban’ EU Copyright Law By Accident (Ind.)
Rachel Maddow Sheds 500,000 Viewers In Post-Mueller Slump (RT)
Deutsche Bank Seeking a “Guarantee of Existence” with Monster-Merger? (WS)
‘Why Not Give Israel North & South Carolina?’ Syrian Envoy Asks US At UN (RT)
‘Leave Syria First’: Moscow Reacts To Trump’s Demand To Leave Venezuela (RT)
Monsanto Ordered To Pay $80 Million In Damages To Cancer Victim (G.)
‘Doomsday Vault’ Town Warming Quicker Than Any Other On Earth (Ind.)

 

 

They can’t agree on anything. But they will keep trying, until they find something that can be accepted, by a narrow margin. And that narrow margin will be used to push through Brexit, which was voted for by narrow margin. A recipe for disaster. This can only end well if they put it off and talk first.

UK MPs Vote Down All Alternative Brexit Options (G.)

A first attempt by MPs to find a consensus route forward for Brexit has ended in deadlock and confusion after the Commons rejected every option put forward, albeit with a near-even split on the idea of joining a customs union. Oliver Letwin, the veteran Conservative MP who led the process which allowed backbenchers to seize control of the order paper to hold a series of indicative votes, said the results were “disappointing” but he hoped a new round of votes would be held on Monday. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he would allow this to take place, prompting shouts of protests from many MPs. The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, said the results strengthened the government’s view that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was the best and only way forward.


On the lack of a majority for any of the eight alternatives put to the vote on Wednesday, he said: “It demonstrates that there is not easy option here, that there is no easy way forward.” Groups of MPs had suggested 15 ideas, of which eight were selected by Bercow for votes. The closest result was a commitment for the government to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal. Put forward by the pro-EU Tory veteran Ken Clarke and others, it was voted down by 272 votes to 264. The only other relatively close vote was on a plan drawn up by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, and tabled by the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, to require a referendum to confirm any Brexit deal. This was lost by 268 votes to 295.

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But everything hangs on that vote.

Speaker Issues Fresh Warning Over Third Vote On May’s Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May’s hopes of putting her Brexit deal to a third meaningful vote have hit another obstacle after John Bercow said parliamentary procedures could not be used to present it unchanged, even as more senior Eurosceptics seem to be getting behind the agreement. Amid speculation the prime minister is making a private pact to set a date to stand down when the deal goes through, more than 20 Conservative Eurosceptics have publicly suggested they will change their minds because they do not want a softer Brexit. Even if this many MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) switched, the vote would be extremely tight, but there was mounting speculation the government could table it on Thursday or Friday. This plan, however, could be scuppered after the Speaker told ministers he stood by his ruling that the twice-defeated motion could not be put to MPs again without significant change.


Bercow said he had instructed officials to block any attempts to put forward the same or similar plan using procedural rule changes, for example, by using a vote by MPs to instruct the Commons to overlook the rule behind his block. “I understand that the government may be thinking of bringing meaningful vote three before the house either tomorrow or even on Friday, if the house opts to sit that day,” Bercow told the Commons before the start of a debate on indicative votes on Brexit. “Therefore, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the government to meet the test of change. They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding motion or a tabling motion.

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Is it too late to say she’s too late?

May Vows To Resign Before Next Phase Of Brexit If Deal Is Passed (G.)

Theresa May has played her final desperate card to tame the Brexit rebels in her warring party, by promising to sacrifice her premiership if they back her twice-rejected Brexit deal. The beleaguered prime minister, whose authority has been shattered by the double rejection of her deal and the humiliation of a delay to Brexit day, made the offer to Tory backbenchers at a packed meeting in parliament. It came as MPs held backbench-led “indicative votes” on eight alternative Brexit options, including no deal, a referendum, a customs union and a Norway-style deal – none of which secured a majority.


May told her party’s backbench 1922 Committee: “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.” She added: “I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.” [..] The prime minister had hoped to remain in No 10 after exit day, and build a legacy that extended beyond the humiliations of the Brexit talks to domestic policy. But if the withdrawal agreement is passed and Britain leaves the EU in eight weeks’ time, she could now be gone before the summer – after just three years in the top job.

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The fringe group she needed after her terrible election outcome now keeps her from pushing through her deal. Poetic justice?

DUP Vows To Block May’s Brexit Deal After She Offers To Resign (Ind.)

Theresa May’s plan to secure Tory MPs’ backing for her Brexit deal by promising to resign has been blown apart after her DUP partners in government vowed to block it in a new vote. Ms May announced she will resign within weeks if Tory rebels desperate to see the back of her, allow the Brexit deal she struck with Brussels to pass through the House of Commons. The move did see Boris Johnson and other rebels finally fall into line, but within hours the boost was wiped out when DUP leader Arlene Foster branded the prime minister’s Brexit plan an “unacceptable threat” to the UK’s integrity.


With the success of Ms May’s final gambit now heavily in doubt, MPs held a series of votes to determine if any compromise can be found to break the parliamentary deadlock – but none of the eight options tested gained a majority. Earlier in the day cabinet ministers went on the airwaves to show support after Ms May’s pledge and to urge MPs to get behind her Brexit deal, but several will now ramp up preparations for a leadership contest with the PM looking fatally weakened. Several Conservatives told The Independent that with her Brexit plan on its last legs and parliament having so far failed to find an alternative, a new election now appears a very real possibility.

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Erdogan is in full scale war with financial markets, even going up against JP Morgan. The classic failure of fighting against the shorts, which is like fighting windmills. But he thinks he has a right to be god in his own country.

Turkey Is Unraveling Fast (Colombo)

This week, Turkey further roiled markets by preventing foreign banks from accessing the liras they need to close out their swap positions. That’s made it almost impossible for bankers to short the lira or exit carry trades, and forced the overnight lira rate up to about 1,000 percent from 23 percent.

Turkey’s shocking intervention this week – which sought to punish speculators who were betting against the lira – is more confirmation that the country’s financial and economic situation is spiraling out of control. The primary reason for this turmoil is the bursting of Turkey’s 15 year old credit bubble. To summarize, a credit bubble formed in Turkey starting in the early-2000s, which led to an artificial economic boom. Private sector credit grew from roughly 15% of GDP in 2003 to 70% of GDP in 2016. Surging interest rates are now bursting the credit bubble and putting an end to the artificial economic boom.


Unfortunately, Turkey’s situation is only going to get worse – a 15 year-old credit bubble doesn’t resolve in a mere six months. This week’s currency intervention will only serve to scare away foreign investors, which will contribute to the downward spiral. Turkey is just one of many emerging economies that have experienced credit bubbles in the past decade due to the stimulative actions of global central banks. Bubbles – including the one in Turkey – have caused global debt to explode by $150 trillion in 15 years and $70 trillion in 10 years. Even if you do not invest directly in Turkey, you are still likely exposed to contagion risk – welcome to the downside of globalization.

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Yup. Biggest airport in the world.

Erdogan’s Big Turkish Ambitions Could Come Tumbling Down (BBC)

The crater is the size of a football pitch, dug 50 metres (165ft) deep into the earth. Mounds of rock line the surface. The only life here is the seagulls drinking from pools of stagnant water. It was supposed to be the site of Istanbul’s gleaming new development: a grandiose mix of apartments, malls and spas in the district of Fikirtepe. The promotional video from 2010 showed a symbol of Turkey’s newfound wealth. The houses of at least 15,000 people were demolished to make way for it. Many paid deposits to buy into the project. But as financial problems hit, investors pulled out – and most of the planned buildings never materialised. All that’s left is a gaping hole of bankrupt companies and broken promises.

It is symptomatic of a wider economic slump that poses the gravest threat to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 16 years in power. Polls before this weekend’s local elections suggest his governing AK Party could lose control of the capital, Ankara – and perhaps even Istanbul. Over the past 16 years, Mr Erdogan has championed construction as the engine of Turkey’s growth. His so-called “mega projects” – from airports to bridges to tunnels – have transformed the country’s infrastructure. And high-rise housing developments have changed city skylines, often to the horror of architects. Construction moguls close to the president have won state tenders through political support. The industry is mired in claims of corruption and cronyism.

But with inflation now at 20% and the Turkish lira having plunged by around a third, the cost of importing raw materials and servicing foreign loans has soared – and construction companies are failing. Pana Yapi, the conglomerate running the Fikirtepe project, told the BBC “the whole country is going through an economic crisis”, arguing that it too is a victim. Cranes suspended in mid-air and half-built skyscrapers that now dot Istanbul are a sign of that crisis. Turkey entered recession last year, shrinking 3% in the final quarter. Many fear there is worse to come. “Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign-denominated debt and when that’s harder to service, that’s when you see the problems we’re in”, said Can Selcuki, general manager at Istanbul Economics Research.

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The EU will split itself off the global internet because representatives didn’t understand procedures, and can’t correct their mistakes.

MEPs Approved Controversial ‘Meme Ban’ EU Copyright Law By Accident (Ind.)

The most controversial “meme ban” part of new EU copyright law was voted through by MEPs by mistake, it has emerged. This week, the European Parliament voted to pass the new copyright regulations, which critics claim could fundamentally alter how the internet works. And one vote on those specifics of those rules appears to have been decided on the basis of MEPs who approved them by accident. During deliberations on the new regulations, MEPs were offered the chance to specifically debate the two most controversial pieces of the law: Article 11, which would stop search engines from showing snippets of text from other websites, and the renamed Article 13, which requires that tech companies ensure their users are not violating copyright and has been accused of leading to a “meme ban”.

The MEPs turned down an amendment that would have allowed them to specifically reject those parts of the law, by a very thin margin, in advance of the main vote. But now some of those politicians say they mistakenly voted the wrong way – and enough of them that it would have swung the vote. That amendment was rejected by just five votes. But at least ten MEPs said they had accidentally cast their vote the wrong way, and if they had voted it would have fallen the other way. Video taken during the vote shows the confusion among the politicians as they attempt to quickly vote on the amendments, which could have fundamentally changed the regulations that were eventually passed.

The voting records have now been fixed to show that a number of MEPs had cast the wrong votes, and registers the names of those who had intended to approve the amendment. But despte the fact that the voting records now show the corrected results, the original ones will still stand. There is no way for those MEPs to change the official vote, even though the records can be corrected.

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How is it possible she was ever the no. 1 show?

Rachel Maddow Sheds 500,000 Viewers In Post-Mueller Slump (RT)

After putting all its eggs in the Russiagate conspiracy-theory ‘basket’ only to be let down by the contents (or lack thereof) of the Mueller report, MSNBC – and its top attraction, Rachel Maddow – are hemorrhaging viewers.
Russian-collusion high priestess Rachel Maddow’s nightly news show has slipped from number one in cable news to number six since Special Counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report on Friday, hemorrhaging half a million viewers in the space of a week. An MSNBC insider spilled the beans to the Daily Beast, assuring them that no one at the network was panicking.

“It was obviously a big couple of nights for Fox,” they said. MSNBC’s second-top-rated program, ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,’ was also down half a million pairs of eyes. #Resistance media reactions to Mueller’s “no more indictments” recommendation have varied wildly, from desperate pleas to “wait and see” what’s in the full report to claims that Mueller himself was compromised, or asking the wrong questions, all along. Maddow herself seems to have chosen the “denial” route:

“Can we expect President Trump and the Trump White House to finally accept the underlying factual record that Russia did in fact attack us?” she asked on Monday, interpreting the report summary of Attorney General William Barr, which found no evidence to suggest Russian collusion, as proof that the Russian menace was even more menacing than previously believed.

Maddow’s privileged status as Queen of the Russiagaters has largely insulated her from the standard journalistic responsibilities of telling the truth, fact-checking, and otherwise maintaining a reality-based narrative, but the Beast cited “many producers” at MSNBC who had noticeably backed away from other fiery preachers of the Russiagate gospel, like Malcolm “Russia has been plotting to invade the US for 20 years! Also memes are cruise missiles” Nance.

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It’s the German government trying to create a situation in which the EU/ECB catches Deutsche’s fall.

Deutsche Bank Seeking a “Guarantee of Existence” with Monster-Merger? (WS)

The chief executive of eternally troubled Too-Big-To-Fail Deutsche Bank, Christian Sewing, believes the time is ripe for a merger with its national rival, Commerzbank, combing Germany’s two biggest, most dangerous lenders. So, too does his counterpart at Commerzbank, as does US private equity firm Cerberus, which owns 3% of Deutsche Bank and 5% of Commerzbank. Germany’s Finance Minister and card-carrying social democrat Olaf Scholz is also firmly on board. Indeed, many say that he’s the one leading the charge despite the tens of thousands of job losses a merger between the two banks is guaranteed to produce. Scholz’s deputy, Joerg Kukies, has courted controversy for his previous role as co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs, which is reportedly advising Commerzbank on the proposed $28 billion tie-up.

But Kukies insists there are no conflicts of interest, which is a relief. For some time now, the German government has been exploring ways to lever a merger between the top two banks to add scale and slash expenses. As things currently stand, Deutsche Bank shows little sign of halting, let alone reversing, the “vicious cycle of declining revenues, sticky expenses, lowered ratings and rising funding costs” that the group’s CFO James von Motke says has been plaguing it. Whether lumping it together with a bank that has already been bailed out once in “a merger of weakquals,” as London-based brokerage Olivetree calls it, will help right the ship is highly debatable.

But right now, the big concern is that time is fast running out for one of Europe’s biggest and most hyper-connected lenders. Unless something drastic is done soon, the next downturn could prove fatal for an already gravely weakened Deutsche Bank whose stock has been in a death-spiral since 2007, having lost over 90% of its value, and whose price-to-book ratio — the equation often used to reflect the value that market participants attach to a company’s equity — is currently below 0.25%. Normally, when a company’s P/B ratio falls below 1, it means the market is either undervaluing it and thus it could be good value, or the company is in trouble. When the ratio slumps as low as 0.22%, as is the case with Deutsche Bank, it’s far more likely to be the latter than the former.

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The Arab world can’t let this go.

‘Why Not Give Israel North & South Carolina?’ Syrian Envoy Asks US At UN (RT)

Syria’s UN ambassador has suggested the US hand “a couple” of its own states over to Israel instead of flaunting international law and selling others’ land for favors with the Israeli lobby, like it did with the Golan Heights.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari offered a stark rebuke to the US-backed Israeli claim to the occupied Golan Heights at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday. Jaafari said the Trump administration does the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN to curry favor with the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. In a remark that elicited a chuckle and a head-shake from his Israeli counterpart, Jaafari suggested that Washington bargain away land that is actually its to give.


Trump’s decision to back the Israeli claim to the Golan Heights comes just ahead of the Israeli general elections on April, 6 and has been widely considered as an electoral boost for Netanyahu, who is facing charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust at home. “Don’t be misguided by thinking that one day this land will be yours due to hypocrisy or due to being a pawn in the electoral game where you bring each other support, so the Israeli can succeed in their elections and the Americans can also get support from Israeli lobbying groups in the US,” Jaafari said. The Golan Heights, seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day war and formally annexed in 1981, will ultimately “come back” to Syria, the Syrian diplomat said.

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“Trump upped the ante by warning Russia that “all options are open..”

‘Leave Syria First’: Moscow Reacts To Trump’s Demand To Leave Venezuela (RT)

The Trump administration should make good on its own promise to pull troops out of Syria before telling others where they should or shouldn’t be, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in reply to Washington’s threat over Venezuela. “Before they have their say in the lawful interests of other nations, I would advise the US administration to fulfill the promises that it had given to the international community,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s pledge to get American troops out of Syria. The US is behaving like a “cowboy in the Louvre,” undermining international order with its “chaotic moves and unpredictable behavior,” Zakharova said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that two of its military planes arrived in Venezuela as part of a 2001 military cooperation deal that does not require further approval by the Venezuelan National Assembly, which has been taken over by the opposition and the self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido. The planes carrying up to 100 Russian military specialists and cargo landed outside Caracas on Saturday, prompting wild guesses in the media. Washington was incensed over the arrival of the Russian troops and denounced it as “unnecessary provocation.” Trump upped the ante by warning Russia that “all options are open” when it comes to kicking Russia out.

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They’ll just keep on appealing.

Monsanto Ordered To Pay $80 Million In Damages To Cancer Victim (G.)

A federal jury ruled that Monsanto was liable for a California man’s cancer and ordered the Roundup manufacturer to pay $80m in damages. The ruling on Wednesday, which holds the company responsible for the cancer risks of its popular weedkiller, is the first of its kind in US federal court and a major blow to Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer. A spokesperson said Bayer would appeal. In a verdict during an earlier phase of the trial, the jury in San Francisco unanimously ruled that the herbicide was a “substantial factor” in causing the cancer of Edwin Hardeman. Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man, was the first person to challenge Monsanto’s herbicide in a federal trial, alleging that his exposure to the glyphosate weedkiller caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that affects the immune system.


The case has attracted international attention and raised new questions about the potential health hazards of Roundup. It also challenged the conduct of Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. The corporation is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US that allege Roundup has caused cancer. The jury ruled that Roundup’s design was “defective”, that the product lacked sufficient cancer warnings, and that Monsanto was negligent in its failure to warn Hardeman of the NHL risk. The jurors ordered the company to pay Hardeman $75m in punitive damages, $200,000 for past economic losses and $5.6m in non-economic losses.

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Another win for Monsanto.

‘Doomsday Vault’ Town Warming Quicker Than Any Other On Earth (Ind.)

The world’s northernmost settlement and home to what is known as the “Doomsday vault” – the subterranean Svalbard global seed vault which stores specimens of almost all the world’s seeds – is now believed to be the fastest-warming location on Earth, according to a new report. Longyearbyen, on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, had an average temperature in Svalbard was -7.8C in 1900 but since then, it has risen by 3.7C – more than three times the global average rise of about 1°C. Not only has it become significantly warmer, but wetter too, spelling trouble for the Doomsday vault as the seeds’ preservation depends on stable temperatures and bone-dry conditions.


“Svalbard is the ultimate failsafe for biodiversity of crops,” Marie Haga, the executive director of the Crop Trust told CNN. The vault was opened in 2008. Its construction was funded by the Norwegian government and built in partnership with the country’s Crop Trust and is now a secure storage unit for around a million seed samples, representing over 13,000 years of agricultural history. [..] Set deep within a mountain in a geologically inert area, there is a very low risk of earthquakes or volcanoes and similarly, Norway’s political system is also “very stable”, Ms Haga said. The seeds are stored at -18C. But the increasing likelihood of wet weather has already seen major upheaval at the site. Following heavy rainfall in October 2016, the entrance to the seed vault became half-flooded and ended up freezing into huge blocks of ice.

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Feb 242019
 



René Magritte The victory 1939

 

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)
China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)
Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)
Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)
“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)
France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)
Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)
The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)
Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)
‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)
UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

 

 

The Venezuela coverage is too obvious and predictable, I’ll leave it alone today.

Who can we blame? Certainly not ourselves.

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)

Prices for some prestigious properties have fallen by more than 40 per cent as vendors rein in their expectations in response to falling demand, tighter credit and lower prices. Buyers’ agents, who represent property buyers, are blaming the reductions on the “irresponsible” and unrealistically high prices set by realtors desperate to win business from sellers. “These price cuts are a result of bad agency practice,” said David Morrell, director of buyers’ agency Morrell Koren. “Professionals should set realistic values that reflect where the market sits.” Mr Morrell said such over-valuations were widespread and were partly driven by real estate agents trying to generate more revenue through advertising campaigns paid for by the vendor, which then generate commissions and other incentives from advertising companies.

The higher the forecast price of a property the more is likely to be spent on advertising. He said elite-end sales in the $10 million to $20 million range remain robust with the biggest issue being lack of new stock. “A lot of agents are losing money. The kickbacks help keep their businesses running,” he said. Properties in top-end suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne have been heavily discounted during sale negotiations or had their advertised prices cut as clearance rates and market pessimism grows. A property in East Melbourne, about 3 kilometres from the central business district, is selling for more than 40 per cent less that what it was listed in the middle of last year. The price for the single-storey Victorian house with two bedrooms and four living spaces is around $3.65 million to about $3.9 million, compared with between $5.75 and $6 million six months ago.

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I must have said it 1000 times: China has relied on shadow banks so much for its ‘growth’, that now it has no more control over them.

China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)

Last week many traders were dumbfounded when, just as speculation was building that China was preparing to unleash a massive credit expansion a la Shanghai Accord, Beijing confirmed that it had indeed decided to massively reflate its (and the global) economy, in what may soon be dubbed the Shanghai Accord 2.0, when the PBOC announced it had flooded the economy with a gargantuan 4.64 trillion yuan in various new forms of debt which comprise China’s Total Social Financing in January, including notably, the “shadow” credit which Beijing had been aggressively cracking down on: an aggressive credit expansion which many took as a tacit confirmation that China was losing the fight with deleveraging.

As the following chart from BofA’s Michael Hartnett shows, which puts China’s latest credit expansion in historical context, January’s debt tsunami was vastly greater than China’s credit expansion during both the global financial crisis and the Shanghai Accord.

And while analysts, economists and markets cheered this unprecedented credit generosity by Beijing, [..] it appears that January’s gargantuan credit boost may end up being a one off event, because while China’s credit injection amounting to over 5% of GDP was welcome by global market, it also resulted in a rare public spat between Chinese premier Li Keqiang and the central bank, after he expressed concern about record credit expansion in January, a result of monetary stimulus intended to support flagging economic growth.

[..] the Prime Minister warned of risks from January’s credit deluge: “The increase in total social financing appears rather large on the surface, but if one analyses in detail, a large part of this rise was bill financing and short-term lending. Not only does this potentially create ‘arbitrage’ and ‘empty cycling’ of funds, but it may also bring new potential risks.” He is referring to what we said last Friday, when we noted that a big part of the TSF surge was the result of a fresh shadow banking expansion. The chart below indicates that Beijing may have thrown in the towel on its crackdown in Shadow Banking, which after contracting for almost all of 2018, not only rose for the first time in 11 months, but soared the most in nearly two years as Chinese regulators now appear focused on providing credit using the very same channels they spent the past two years desperately trying to block.

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As all the smart money will condemn AOC, she makes a smart move.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)

Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run. For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month. “It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”

[..] House lawmakers agreed to minor increases for fiscal years 2017 and 2019 in the amount of money appropriated to members’ offices for staffer pay and other expenses, called Members’ Representational Allowances, or MRAs. The total budget of $574 million in fiscal 2019 is still below a high of $660 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. [..] Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices… “We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.

[..] because all congressional offices get the same budgets to use for staff pay and other expenses, there is only so much that individual lawmakers can do. Ocasio-Cortez’s solution requires sacrifices for staffers at the top of the pay scale, potentially opening her to criticism from the right that her office policies, like her political identity as a Democratic socialist, call for a form of class warfare. It could also pose challenges to attracting and retaining older employees who have obligations such as mortgages and child care — which in D.C. can cost $23,000 a year for a single child. Salaries in Ocasio-Cortez’s office top out at $80,000, Trent said. That’s well below the median pay for Hill chiefs of staff at $154,634, according to the Legistorm analysis. And it’s a fraction of what experienced staffers could make in other jobs in Washington.

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So, think Charles is an AOC fan?

Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)

It’s been a long, strange economic boom since the nadir of the Global Financial Meltdown in 2009. A 10-year long boom that saw the S&P 500 rise from 666 in early 2009 to 2,780 and GDP rise by 43% has been slightly more uneven for most participants. First and most importantly, household income hasn’t risen by the same percentages as assets, GDP or costs of big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition. The broadest measure of income, median household income, has registered a 23% increase in the past decade, roughly half of GDP gains and a mere fraction of stock market and housing gains.

[..] The bottom quintile (20%) registered income gains of 20% from 2009 to 2017, while the middle quintile (roughly speaking, the middle class) gained 25.5% and the top 5% enjoyed a 31.6% gain. The raw numbers tell the story in a slightly more visceral fashion: Upper limit of bottom quintile: $24,638 up 20% since 2009 Upper limit of middle quintile: $77,552 up 25.5% since 2009 Lower limit of top 5%: $237,034 up 31.6% since 2009 (the median household income is much higher–around $350,000 according to Household Income Quintiles the Tax Policy Center.)

So the top 5% earn at a minimum 10 times the lowest quintile income and around 4 or 5 times the middle quintile income. Here in Northern California, this has manifested in rapidly expanding homeless encampments a stone’s throw away from new luxury rental apartments charging $3,000 and up for one-bedroom flats and $4,000 and up for two-bedroom flats. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with potholes and cracks. Maintaining streets–presumably one of the core missions of local government–is simply not being done in a timely manner. Major streets are in such disrepair that local businesses have taken to raising banners demanding “pave our street now.”

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Cut it out already! How are we going to survive the next 5 weeks?

Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)

Theresa May has vowed to Tory grassroots activists that she will not allow the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU to be frustrated. The prime minister is flying to Egypt for an EU-League of Arab States summit where she is expected to hold talks with key EU figures as she battles to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks. Downing Street has played down hopes of a breakthrough during the course of the two-day gathering in the Red Sea resort, despite the presence of major players including the European Council president, Donald Tusk. The prime minister is pressing for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop which she hopes will finally convince MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement following last month’s crushing Commons defeat.

Ahead of her departure, No 10 released details of her speech to a closed meeting of the National Conservative Convention (NCC) in Oxford on Saturday, when she told supporters the government’s focus on delivering Brexit must be “absolute”. Her comments came after three pro-EU cabinet ministers signalled they could back moves in parliament to delay Britain’s withdrawal to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal break. The intervention by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke led to calls for their resignations by furious Tory Brexiters – comments said to have been echoed in private by some cabinet ministers. Northern minister John Penrose warned taking no-deal off the table could undermine May’s efforts to secure concessions on the backstop.

“It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave,” he said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “We’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out.”

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“Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge.”

“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)

“Don’t underestimate the impact of the Italian recession.” This was the stark warning from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Marie in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We talk a lot about Brexit, but we don’t talk much about an Italian recession that will have a significant impact on growth in Europe and can impact France because it’s one of our most important trading partners.” Italy’s economy as measured in real GDP shrank for two quarters in a row, which puts it into a “technical recession”. It’s the second time in four months that France’s Economy Minister has expressed deep concern about the Italian economy in public.

At the end of October he urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after the EU’s executive had rejected the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded at the time that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.” The French government is now openly worried that such a crisis could begin in Italy. The economies of both Italy and France are tightly interwoven, with annual trade flows of around €90 billion. More important still, French banks are, by a long shot, the biggest owners of Italian public and private debt, with total holdings of €311 billion as of the 3rd quarter of 2018, according to the BIS — up €34 billion from the 1st quarter of 2018.

Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge. That knowledge is fueling the coalition government’s bravado, with some lawmakers now even talking about nationalizing Italy’s central bank, the Bank of Italy, for a total sum of €155,000 and taking control of its assets, including Italy’s large pile of gold.

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In France the arms industry has much more power than in Germany. WWII is a factor in that.

France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday that Germany should ease its strict arms export rules for countries outside the European Union to strengthen the defense industry. France has complained that joint arms manufacturing projects are being stalled by Berlin’s refusal to authorize future arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, a major buyer. Germany said in November it would reject future arms export licenses to Riyadh over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now.

“It is useless to produce weapons through improved cooperation between France and Germany if we are unable to export them,” Le Maire told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “If you want to be competitive and efficient, we need to be able to export to countries outside Europe,” Le Maire said. The minister said France also had relatively strict rules for arms exports. “Our hope is that we will come to an agreement with Germany in this crucial point,” Le Maire said. Germany and France are working on a joint proposal for arms export guidelines to non-European countries. Angela Merkel said in January the EU must deepen cooperation in defense and in particular weapons systems development, warning Germans that they may need to make compromises on strict export controls.

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As usual, hard to get decent coverage of Acte XV.

But Reuters does feel compelled to report increasing numbers of protesters.

While Macron is taking selfies with farm animals.

Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)

Tens of thousands of people marched on Saturday in Paris and other cities and dozens were arrested as France’s “yellow vest” movement staged its 15th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the government. Some 46,600 people joined the protests nationwide, including 5,800 in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. That was up from 41,500 last week, with 5,000 in Paris. Demonstrations have generally gotten smaller since a peak in December when the French capital saw some of the worst rioting, vandalism and looting in decades. Police said 28 people were arrested in Paris, but protesters marched mostly peacefully through the capital’s wealthier neighborhoods surrounded by a heavy police presence.

As the march wound down, scuffles broke out and police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the Place du Trocadero overlooking the Seine river and across from the Eiffel Tower. Some 18 people were also arrested in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and potentially dangerous objects were seized ahead of a march in which police said 2,500 participated. Another 18 people were arrested in the western city of Rennes where six police officers were slightly injured and six protesters were hurt by large riot control pellets fired by police. The movement has posed the biggest challenge to Macron’s authority since he came to office in May 2017, although it faces increased infighting as some members have sought to run in upcoming European Parliament elections.

Macron’s popularity has recovered from lows reached in the wake of violent clashes during protests in December, after he launched a series of debates across the country aimed at reconnecting with voters particularly in rural areas. He received a mostly warm welcome on Saturday at an annual farm show in Paris, taking selfies with the public and chatting with farmers as he strolled for hours among the crowd and animals.

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Impossible not to think of the last days of Rome.

The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)

When I first set out to map all the places in the world where the United States is still fighting terrorism so many years later, I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. This was before the 2017 incident in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed on a counterterror mission and Americans were given an inkling of how far-reaching the war on terrorism might really be. I imagined a map that would highlight Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria – the places many Americans automatically think of in association with the war on terror – as well as perhaps a dozen less-noticed countries like the Philippines and Somalia. I had no idea that I was embarking on a research odyssey that would, in its second annual update, map U.S. counterterror missions in 80 countries in 2017 and 2018, or 40% of the nations on this planet (a map first featured in Smithsonian magazine).

As co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, I’m all too aware of the costs that accompany such a sprawling overseas presence. Our project’s research shows that, since 2001, the U.S. war on terror has resulted in the loss — conservatively estimated — of almost half a million lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. By the end of 2019, we also estimate that Washington’s global war will cost American taxpayers no less than $5.9 trillion already spent and in commitments to caring for veterans of the war throughout their lifetimes.

In general, the American public has largely ignored these post-9/11 wars and their costs. But the vastness of Washington’s counterterror activities suggests, now more than ever, that it’s time to pay attention. [..] That our counterterror missions are so extensive and their costs so staggeringly high should prompt Americans to demand answers to a few obvious and urgent questions: Is this global war truly making Americans safer? Is it reducing violence against civilians in the U.S. and other places?

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Origianl AFP title: “Syria force to pluck more civilians from last IS pocket”. But are the Kuds a ‘Syria force’?

Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)

US-backed fighters said Saturday they are keeping a corridor open to rescue remaining civilians from the Islamic State group’s last speck of territory in Syria, as the UN appealed for urgent assistance. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the jihadist holdout since Wednesday, bringing the SDF closer to retaking the less than half a square kilometre still under IS control. “On our side, the corridor is open and we hope a larger number of civilians will arrive but that depends on IS fighters and whether they will give civilians a chance to exit,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP at their Al-Omar base. He said the SDF had evacuated “more than 2,000 people, including women, children and men” on Friday, mostly wives and children of IS fighters.

Nearly 2,500 people arrived the same day at a Kurdish-run camp for the displaced further north, compounding dire conditions inside the already crammed settlement, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said. It warned of the “huge challenges” posed by the influx. More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate”, they have lost all but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. Some 2,000 people are believed to remain inside Baghouz, according to the SDF. The force says it is trying to evacuate remaining civilians through a corridor before pressing on with a battle to crush the jihadists unless holdout fighters surrender.

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Life just continues on its way toward extinction. But we live in cities, so how would we know?

‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)

The team that cracked the case of the “amphibian plague” devastating frog and toad populations around the world are worried that worse is still to come. A killer fungus known as Bd has triggered a mass amphibian extinction that has spread across every continent and been described as among the worst infectious diseases ever recorded. Scientists have described rainforests struck silent as the plague wiped out entire populations of local frogs in mere months, stifling their night-time chorus of croaks. At least 200 frog species are thought to have been driven to extinction since the 1970s, with particularly heavy losses in Bd-infested parts of Latin America.

Intense research efforts have identified the disease and traced it to its source in east Asia, and local conservation groups have worked tirelessly to quarantine the fragmented populations that remain. However, with the international trade in amphibians continuing unabated, the team credited with discovering the disease are concerned about what the future may bring. In particular, the melding of different Bd strains from around the world has the potential to create hybrids that are even deadlier than current incarnations. [..] “If we keep hauling amphibians back and forth, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you might get something that’s more pathogenic [capable of causing disease],” said Dr Joyce Longcore, the scientist who first identified the unusual aquatic fungus known as Bd.


Photograph: Jamie Voyles

Unless you stop international travel and international trade, things like this are going to continue, and you can make your rules stronger for trade but if you have any volume at all something is going to get through.” For decades amphibians have been traded for food, as pets, or even – in the case of the African clawed frog – for use in crude pregnancy tests. This transport of living amphibians has already been identified as the trigger for the original Bd outbreak, and recent lab tests revealed hybrid forms emerging in Brazil and South Africa that appear to be deadlier than the original.

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Presented as ‘incredible revival’, but that’s just nonsense.

Just stop polluting your land to grow food. That’s all it is.

UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

They must survive government culls, gamekeepers, poisoning, persecution and increasingly busy roads but, in modern times at least, Britain’s carnivores have never had it so good: badger, otter, pine marten, polecat, stoat and weasel populations have “markedly improved” since the 1960s, according to a new study. The otter, polecat and pine marten have bounced back from the brink of extinction, and the country’s only carnivorous mammal now in danger of being wiped out is the wildcat, with the dwindling Scottish populations hit by hybridisation with domestic and feral cats.

Britain’s carnivores have largely “done it for themselves” and recovered often unexpectedly quickly after a reduction in harmful human activities – hunting, trapping and the use of toxic chemicals – according to scientists from Exeter University, Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But the scientists warn that, while carnivore populations have recovered over the course of a human lifetime, most are still at long-term historical lows, with much more scope for recovery in distribution and density. “Carnivores have recovered in a way that would have seemed incredibly unlikely in the 1970s, when extinction of some species looked like a real possibility,” said lead author Katie Sainsbury from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at Exeter University.

“Most of these species have essentially recovered by themselves, once pressures from predator controls and pollutants were reduced, and it’s taken them a while. Yes, there are more of them now than in most people’s lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for populations to grow and spread further.” The reasons for each carnivore’s recovery are different. Otters were harmed by organochlorine pesticides washed into rivers but have returned to every English county since the pesticides were banned and hunting was outlawed in 1978. There are now an estimated 11,000.

Polecat numbers have risen to 83,000 in the decades since a 1958 ban on gin traps, which were once used to control rabbits and also widely caught polecats. Polecat populations moved eastwards at about three miles a year between 1975 and 2015, finally returning to the south-east, Midlands and East Anglia. Badger populations are estimated to have doubled since the 1980s, assisted by a decline in persecution since their legal protection in 1973 and protection of setts in 1992. Researchers also believe that milder winters caused by climate change are helping badgers survive the season in better shape and raise more cubs.


Pine marten. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

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Jan 142019
 
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight Reflecting On Water c1850

 

EU Preparing To Delay Brexit Until At Least July (G.)
Theresa May Says No Brexit More Likely Than No Deal (Ind.)
May: Failing To Deliver Brexit “Catastrophic” For British Democracy (AFP)
China Says Its 2018 Trade Surplus With US Was $323 Billion, Highest Ever (CNBC)
China Investment Into North America And Europe Falls 73% In 2018 (R.)
French Police Deploy Semi-Automatic Weapons, Live Ammunition vs Yellow Vests (DM)
Macron Blasted For Saying Many French Want ‘Something For Nothing’ (RT)
Macron Seeks To Turn ‘Anger Into Solutions’ In Open Letter To France (G.)
Trump: Report FBI Investigated Him As Possible Russian Agent Is Insulting (G.)
WaPo Recycles Russiagate Memes In Latest Gossip About Trump-Putin Collusion (RT)
Trump Taunts Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Warren Amid New Russia Revelations (MW)
Trump Threatens To ‘Devastate Turkey Economically’ If It Attacks Kurds (RT)
Integrity Initiative: By All Means Smear & Attack, But Be Honest About It (RT)

 

 

It’s undeniably Brexit week starting today. And none of the chaos has abated. No matter what happens, one group or another will fight it.

EU Preparing To Delay Brexit Until At Least July (G.)

The EU is preparing to delay Brexit until at least July after concluding that Theresa May is doomed to fail in getting her deal through parliament. The country’s 29 March deadline for exiting the EU is now regarded by Brussels as highly unlikely to be met given the domestic opposition facing the prime minister and it is expecting a request from London to extend article 50 in the coming weeks. A special leaders’ summit to push back Brexit day is expected to be convened by the European council president, Donald Tusk, once a UK request is received. EU officials said the length of the prolongation of the negotiating period allowed under article 50 would be determined based on the reason put forward by May for the delay.

A “technical” extension until July is a probable first step to give May extra time to revise and ratify the current deal once Downing Street has a clear idea as to what will command a majority in the Commons. An EU official said: “Should the prime minister survive and inform us that she needs more time to win round parliament to a deal, a technical extension up to July will be offered.” Senior EU sources said that a further, lengthier extension could be offered at a later date should a general election or second referendum be called although the upcoming May elections for the European parliament would create complications. One EU diplomat said: “The first session of the parliament is in July. You would need UK MEPs there if the country is still a member state. But things are not black and white in the European Union.”

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And that’s her own doing.

Theresa May Says No Brexit More Likely Than No Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May will travel to the Leave stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent on the eve of the crucial vote to warn MPs that blocking her deal risks stopping Brexit altogether. The prime minister is expected to say that public faith in the democratic process and in politicians would suffer “catastrophic harm” if the referendum result is overruled. Addressing workers at a factory in Stoke, which voted 69.4 per cent in favour of Brexit, Ms May will argue on Monday that parliament has a duty to honour the decision of the British people. She is expected to say: “In June 2016, the British people were asked by MPs to take a decision: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or should it leave?

“In that campaign, both sides disagreed on many things, but on one thing they were united: what the British people decided, the politicians would implement. “In the run-up to the vote, the government sent a leaflet to every household making the case for remain. It stated very clearly: ‘This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.’ “Those were the terms on which people cast their votes. If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state. “No doubt the disagreements would have continued too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the EU in spite of a vote to remain or that we should return to the question in another referendum.

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I can do a shorter version of this headline: “May Catastrophic For British Democracy”.

May: Failing To Deliver Brexit “Catastrophic” For British Democracy (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May was on Monday to ramp up warnings to MPs poised to reject her EU divorce deal that failing to deliver Brexit would be “catastrophic” for British democracy. On the eve of Tuesday’s monumental vote in parliament on her withdrawal agreement – forged from 18 months of gruelling negotiations with European leaders – May is set to address factory workers in Stoke, a Brexit-backing city in central England. The embattled leader, who is widely expected to lose the House of Commons vote by a wide margin, will make a final bid for support by warning Brexit-supporting MPs that they risk sabotaging the whole process, and reminding EU supporters of their democratic responsibilities.

“We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum,” she was to say, according to extracts released early. “I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy,” May is expected to say, asking what the response would have been if parliament tried to take Britain out of the EU had Remain had won the 2016 vote. She is also set to later make a statement to parliament, setting out reassurances from Brussels over contentious aspects of the deal, although there appears little prospect of her unveiling anything with legal force. Leave-supporting MPs fear one provision in the deal for a “backstop”, designed to prevent a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, would keep Britain indefinitely tied into a form of EU customs union.

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Over 90% of China’s surplus now is with the US.

China Says Its 2018 Trade Surplus With US Was $323 Billion, Highest Ever (CNBC)

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump launching a high-stakes trade war against Beijing last year, China on Monday announced that its 2018 trade surplus with Washington was its largest in more than a decade. China’s surplus with the U.S. grew 17 percent from a year ago to hit $323.32 billion in 2018, according to government data. It was the highest on record dating back to 2006, according to Reuters. Exports to the U.S. rose 11.3 percent on-year in 2018, while imports from the U.S. to China rose a meager 0.7 percent over the same period. China’s overall trade surplus for 2018 was $351.76 billion, the government said. Exports in the whole of 2018 rose 9.9 percent from 2017 while imports grew 15.8 percent over the same period, official dollar-denominated data showed.

While the surplus with the U.S. may have risen, last year’s overall Chinese trade surplus was the lowest since 2013, even though export growth was the highest since 2011, according to Reuters’ records. China’s General Administration of Customs said on Monday that the biggest worry in trade this year is external uncertainty and protectionism, forecasting the country’s trade growth may slow in 2019. China’s overall December exports unexpectedly fell 4.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years, the customs data showed on Monday. Imports also unexpectedly contracted in December — falling 7.6 percent, marking the biggest decline since July 2016.

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“Investment into the United States fell by 83 percent but, by contrast, grew by 80 percent into Canada. In Europe, despite an overall decline, Chinese FDI into countries like Germany, France and Spain also actually grew.”

China Investment Into North America And Europe Falls 73% In 2018 (R.)

Chinese foreign direct investment into North America and Europe fell by 73 percent to a six-year low last year as the United States tightened scrutiny of deals and Chinese restrictions on outbound investment bit, law firm Baker & McKenzie said. The figures reflected the impact of escalating trade and political friction between Washington and Beijing. After taking divestitures into account, net Chinese FDI flows into the United States actually turned negative. Investment into the United States fell by 83 percent but, by contrast, grew by 80 percent into Canada. In Europe, despite an overall decline, Chinese FDI into countries like Germany, France and Spain also actually grew.

Completed Chinese FDI deals in the two Western regions fell to $30 billion in 2018 from $111 billion the year before, Baker & McKenzie said in a report prepared with research firm Rhodium Group. Even after stripping out the effect of the $43 billion takeover of Syngenta by ChemChina in 2017, the underlying drop in deal volumes was 40 percent. Tougher regulatory scrutiny also led to the cancellation of 14 Chinese investment deals in North America, with a combined value of $4 billion, and seven in Europe worth $1.5 billion.

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They shouldn’t have done that.

French Police Deploy Semi-Automatic Weapons, Live Ammunition vs Yellow Vests (DM)

French riot police have deployed semi-automatic weapons with live ammunition against Yellow Vest protestors for the first time. Officers were filmed brandishing Heckler & Koch G36 weapons by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Saturday afternoon. The presence of semi-automatic rifles at a demonstration by unarmed French citizens shows how President Emmanuel Macron’s law and order crisis spirals. It comes after former conservative minister Luc Ferry called for live fire to be used against the ‘thugs’ from the Yellow Vest movement who he says ‘beat up police’. Riot police were on crowd control duty today facing off a mob of Gilet Jaunes or Yellow Vests – named after the bright high-visibility clothing.

Live ammunition 30 cartridge magazines could be seen as officers marched the streets, although none were used as 5000 police were deployed on the streets of the French capital. Yellow Vest protestor Gilles Caron said: ‘The CRS with the guns were wearing riot control helmets and body armour – they were not a specialised firearms unit. ‘Their job was simply to threaten us with lethal weapons in a manner which is very troubling. We deserve some explanations.’

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Everytime you think Macron made his worst error, he proves you wrong.

Macron Blasted For Saying Many French Want ‘Something For Nothing’ (RT)

President Emmanuel Macron criticized the citizens of France for not making enough effort, as the Yellow Vest protests against his economic policies entered their ninth week. The statement was met with fury. “Many of our citizens think that it’s possible to obtain something without proper effort,” he said on Friday. “Sometimes people forget that alongside rights there are also duties,” Macron declared. He also repeated this idea in reference to “French youth.” The president’s comments did not go over well with some politicians from both the left and right, who reacted with sarcasm and indignation. “At first I thought it was fake as the president should not pour fuel to the fire but it is so in fact,” Olivier Faure, one of the parliamentary leaders of the Socialist Party, tweeted.

Faure’s right-wing counterpart from the Gaullist Republican party, Laurent Wauquiez, also accused Macron of stoking tensions at such an inappropriate time. The chairman of the right-wing ‘Patriots’, Florian Philippot, came out with a no less fiery rejoinder. “No sense of effort from the nurses who toil, from the unemployed who slave away, from single mothers?” Philippot asked angrily. The nationalist politician also used Macron’s clumsy words as an opportunity to rally the troops for ‘Act 9’ of the Yellow Vest protests. [..] The Yellow Vests forced the government to suspend fuel tax hikes. However, the Macron administration has no intention of changing its overall policies.

Earlier in January, the president’s spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, claimed that the protests are full of agitators who have the aim of “overthrowing the government.” French PM Edouard Philippe said this week that the Yellow Vest demonstrations are caused by people’s anger in “response to the global financial crisis” and the authorities failing to hear their concerns. On January 15, Macron will launch a three-month national debate to address the country’s burning issues. According to the French study center ELABE, around 41 percent of the people plan to participate in the debate. Meanwhile, ‘Angry France’, a group associated with the Yellow Vests, turned down Macron’s invitation to take part in the national debate, branding it a “political trap.”

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Macron’s police deploy semi-automatic weapons with live ammunition, he accuses the French people of being a bunch of lazy crybabies, and then he wants to force them into a ‘debate’ while saying he doesn’t intend to change his policies.

Macron Seeks To Turn ‘Anger Into Solutions’ In Open Letter To France (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has launched a two-month “great national debate” in France with a 2,330-word open letter to the country. The French president hopes the nationwide public consultation will take the sting out of the widespread public anger behind the rise of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement and the civil unrest across France. In the letter, Macron said he was open to ideas and suggestions but insisted the government would not go back on previous reforms or key measures in his 2017 election campaign. “No questions are banned,” Macron writes. “We won’t agree on everything, that’s normal, that’s democracy. But at least we’ll show that we are a people who are not afraid to speak, to exchange views and debate. And perhaps we’ll discover that we might even agree, despite our different persuasions, more often than we think.”

Macron has been rocked by the ferocity of almost two months of angry protests by gilets jaunes. On Saturday a ninth weekend of demonstrations took place across France. The letter, to be published in French newspapers on Monday, marks the start of a nationwide consultation in which citizens are invited to give their views on four central themes: taxation; the organisation of the state and its public administration; ecological transition; and citizenship and democracy. Macron’s missive asks a number of questions, including: what taxes should be reduced?; what spending cuts might be a priority?; is there too much administration?; how can the people be given a greater say in running the country? Macron said the proposals collected during the debate would build a new “contract for the nation”, influence political policymaking and establish France’s stance on national, European and international issues.

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We’re bumbling into full-in madness: “On Saturday night, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russia. “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he said. He did not give a yes or no answer.”

Not answering a question like that is now held against Trump.

Trump: Report FBI Investigated Him As Possible Russian Agent Is Insulting (G.)

On Saturday night, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russia. “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he said. He did not give a yes or no answer. As for his conversations with Putin, he said: “I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less.” On Sunday, Democrats said the latest revelations raise serious questions about Trump’s relationship with Putin and Russia. “Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin – this man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damndest to undermine our elections?” Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on ABC’s This Week. “Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”

Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said it was suspicious that Trump has “parroted” the policies of Putin. “I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you have Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “You had Trump say only nice things about Putin – he never spoke ill about Russia. The Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine.” Warner said the US government still does not know what took place in Trump’s meetings with Putin, including another in Helsinki last summer where Trump appeared to embrace Putin’s claim, rejected by US intelligence, that his country had nothing to do with an interference effort in the 2016 election.

[..] Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican senator and chair of the homeland security committee, said he had only heard “innuendo” about Trump’s interactions with Russia, not any evidence of improprieties. He said there were legitimate reasons to want to guard the president’s conversations with Putin. “This is not a traditional president,” he told CNN. “He has unorthodox means, but he is president of the United States. It is pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders. He was burned by leaks in other areas and he was pretty frustrated.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of the president, was more forceful, telling Fox News Sunday: “I am going to ask the FBI director: ‘Was there a counterintelligence investigation opened up regarding the president as being a potential agent of the Russians?’ I find it astonishing. “If this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it. How could the FBI do that? What kinds of checks and balances are there?”

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“The super-secret meeting with Putin in Hamburg was also attended by then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Does this mean that Tillerson is also a deep-cover KGB agent? Tillerson even released a readout after the meeting – following completely standard, but apparently unsatisfactory protocol..”

The self-contradictory report goes on to explain how, as part of Trump’s obsession with ultra-secret Putin pow-wows, the president “generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations” with the Russian leader.

WaPo Recycles Russiagate Memes In Latest Gossip About Trump-Putin Collusion (RT)

Donald Trump’s reluctance to provide unfettered access to his conversations with Vladimir Putin has upset nameless American officials, the Washington Post has revealed. The US president dismissed the story as absurd and offensive. According to the revered paper, Trump has “gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details” of his face-to-face conversations with Putin. During a meeting with the Russian leader in Hamburg in 2017, Trump even purportedly confiscated the notes of his own interpreter, who was then instructed not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.

Various (and of course nameless) US officials have now apparently complained to the Washington Post about how they’ve been left in the dark about five conversations that Trump had with the Russian leader, colorfully described by the newspaper as “one of the United States’ main adversaries.” The story’s thinly veiled assumption is of course that Donald Trump has used his handful of private meetings with Putin to receive secret instructions from Moscow – impose new sanctions on Russia, bomb Syria, send lethal weapons to Ukraine, shred the Iran deal and missile treaties, and so forth. The creatively framed story suffers from a few other inconvenient plot holes. The super-secret meeting with Putin in Hamburg was also attended by then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Does this mean that Tillerson is also a deep-cover KGB agent? Tillerson even released a readout after the meeting – following completely standard, but apparently unsatisfactory protocol. The self-contradictory report goes on to explain how, as part of Trump’s obsession with ultra-secret Putin pow-wows, the president “generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations” with the Russian leader. Trump “allies” interviewed by the Post said that the president’s caution when it comes to meeting with Putin may be “driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.” This theory is of course way less fun than the airtight idea that Trump is actually a Russian agent – that’s why WaPo only gave it one sentence.

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“Leading, your honor”. He didn’t ‘dodge’ answering the question, he simply didn’t answer it.

Trump Taunts Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Warren Amid New Russia Revelations (MW)

As questions about his relationship with Russia continue to swirl, President Donald Trump spent his Sunday night lashing out at perceived enemies, taunting Washington Post owner -and Amazon CEO- Jeff Bezos over his divorce and mocking Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post,” Trump tweeted. A little background: On Saturday, the Post reported that Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal notes and transcripts of his one-on-one meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Post noted that withholding details of those potentially important meetings was prevented “even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.” (Separately, the New York Times reported Friday that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump was working for Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017. In an telephone interview with Fox News on Saturday, Trump was asked if he has ever worked for Russia, but dodged answering the question.)

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What if the Americans who want to stay in Syria provoke Turkish attacks on Kurds?

Trump Threatens To ‘Devastate Turkey Economically’ If It Attacks Kurds (RT)

Donald Trump has warned its NATO ally to beware of the devastative wrath of US economic pressure if Turkey dares to attack the Kurdish allies America is leaving behind in its “long overdue” pull-out of troops from Syria. The US military, Trump promised, will still use an “existing nearby base,” apparently in Iraq, to attack the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants if the terrorist organization re-emerges in Syria. Using his typical mode of communication to reaffirm the withdrawal of American troops from the ground, the US president warned Ankara against seeing this as an opportunity to stage any military campaign against Syrian Kurds. “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Trump tweeted, urging Ankara to create a “20-mile safe zone.”

At the same time, Trump urged the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US trained and armed for years, not to “provoke” Turkey. In an apparent gesture to save face, following a questionable outcome of four years of uninvited American presence in Syria and an abrupt withdrawal, Trump has once-again credited the US military for destroying IS, disregarding the fact that most of the country was liberated from terrorists by the Syrian army, with the help of the Russian military. “Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term US policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!” Trump tweeted.

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The way Brexit is manhandled is not even the UK’s deepest low.

“..pushing conspiracies about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Kremlin. That’s not a good look for an organization which receives cash from the Foreign Office.”

Integrity Initiative: By All Means Smear & Attack, But Be Honest About It (RT)

We’ve all met those people who describe themselves as laid back, when in reality they’re just one loud noise from a mouth frothing breakdown. So when something describes itself as having integrity, be wary. Enter the Integrity Initiative (II), Britain’s very own government funded influence network which is currently in the process of having its underpants revealed to the world. There’s no doubting it’s an initiative, the jury’s out on the other bit. Some of the people behind it are alleged former spies (can you be a former spy?), a calling not often linked to integrity. There’s a good chance you may not know much about the Integrity Initiative, the mainstream media is not exactly straining to tell you about it.

Labour MP Chris Williamson suggests that’s because a number of mainstream journalists have signed up to work with it. The only time II briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream world was when it became clear it had been pushing conspiracies about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Kremlin. That’s not a good look for an organization which receives cash from the Foreign Office. It describes itself as non-partisan, but then as we’ve discussed, it also has “Integrity” in the title. Maybe it can get away with it, always worth a try I suppose. It also claims to be “combating propaganda and disinformation,” but as you’ll see for yourself on its Twitter account, it’s simply a stream of invective and criticism about Russia. If you want to spend cash smearing an entire nation, fine, fill your boots, but don’t then act all moral about it.

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Jan 132019
 


Vincent van Gogh Field with Flowers near Arles 1888

 

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)
Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)
House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)
Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)
The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)
What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)
Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)
May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)
Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)
Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)
The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

 

 

All politics today, with one finance story (and one on recycling). Expect venture capital to plunge in 2019.

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)

Though most people look at record VC spending as a sign of a strong, healthy economy, my research has found that the current VC boom is the result of another tech bubble that inflated due to the Federal Reserves ultra-stimulative monetary policies of the past decade. Unfortunately, this tech bubble is going to end just like the late-1990s dotcom bubble did – in another disastrous bust. The chart below shows the monthly count of global VC deals that raised $100 million or more since 2007. According to this chart, a new “unicorn” startup was born every four days in 2018.

The chart below shows the Nasdaq Composite Index and the two bubbles that formed in it in the past two decades. Lofty tech stock prices and valuations encourage the tech startup bubble because publicly traded tech companies have more buying power with which to acquire tech startups and because they allow startups to IPO at very high valuations.

In the chart below, I compared the monthly global VC deals chart to the Nasdaq Composite Index and they line up perfectly. Surges in the Nasdaq lead to surges in VC deals, while lulls or declines in the Nasdaq lead to lulls or declines in VC deals.

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The FBI has to be investigated over this (why was the probe launched?). But no-one has the power to do so.

Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)

Donald Trump has strongly denied the stunning claim that he was secretly working on behalf of Russia and again threatened to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. In 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he described as an “insult” the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was “the most insulting article ever written”. “If you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing,” he said during the Fox News interview. “I think [the story] was a great insult and the New York Times is a disaster of a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said.”

Citing anonymous sources, the Times said the investigation was part counterintelligence, to determine whether Trump was knowingly or unknowingly working for Moscow and posed a threat to national security. It was also part criminal, to ascertain whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. The FBI effort was soon absorbed into the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the Times reported, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect is still being pursued. The president again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the entire Russia investigation was a “terrible hoax”. “Everybody knows it. It’s really a shame because it takes time; it takes effort. Everybody knows there’s no collusion,” he said.

[..] Trump’s warm relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ringing. The day after firing Comey, he hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office – and disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation. At a summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the question of election interference. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care … I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

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Sometimes you think they actually believe their Putin as bogeymen tales. But that can’t be true. They know as well as we do that there’s never been any proof, and you can’t base policy on innuendo alone. That would be dangerous.

House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)

A U.S. House of Representatives committee will look into a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against U.S. interests, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Saturday. The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump’s actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Trump rejected the Times piece in a late Saturday night interview on Fox News as “the most insulting article I’ve ever had written” and lashed out at Comey and the FBI in half a dozen tweets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior” in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers would seek to protect investigators from the president’s “increasingly unhinged attacks.” “There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president’s behavior was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president,” Nadler said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump’s contacts with Russia. “Counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning,” said Schiff, a California Democrat. Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as “the web of lies about those interactions, and the president’s own statements and actions,” have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.

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Schumer here moves on the basis of a collusion-themed link between Manafort and Deripaska.

But the article after this one says: “The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.”

Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska. On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms. Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”

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It’s a shame I don’t have more speace for Aaron Maté’s piece. Click the link and read.

@yashalevine on Twitter about Kilimnik: “Yep, the supposed Russian intelligence asset linking Trump through Manafort to the Kremlin spent a decade on the payroll of a CIA cutout meddling in Russian politics. “

The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)

Partisans of the theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election believe that they have found their smoking gun. On Tuesday, defense attorneys inadvertently revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has claimed that former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Now we’re being told that the revelation “is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” (former FBI agent Clint Watts), “makes the no-collusion scenario even more remote,” (New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait), and, “effectively end[s] the debate about whether there was ‘collusion.’” (Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall). But like prior developments in the Mueller probe that sparked similar declarations, the latest information about Manafort is hardly proof of collusion.

According to an accidentally unredacted passage, Mueller believes that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data…related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked as Manafort’s fixer and translator in Ukraine. Manafort’s employment of Kilimnik has fueled speculation because Mueller has stated that Kilimnik has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”Yet Mueller’s only references that Kilmnik has Kremlin “ties” came in two court filings in 2017 and 2018, and it’s not clear what Mueller meant in either case. In April 2018, Manafort’s attorneys told a Virginia judge that they have made “multiple discovery requests” seeking any contacts between Manafort and “Russian intelligence officials,” but that the special counsel informed them that “there are no materials responsive to [those] requests.”

Kilimnik insists that he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.” According to a lengthy profile in The Atlantic, “insinuations” that Kilimnik has worked for Russian intelligence during his years in Ukraine “were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence.” All of this has been lost on US media outlets, who routinely portray Kilimnik as a “Russian operative” or an “alleged Russian spy.” [..] Rather than imagining it as part of some grand Trump-Russia conspiracy, there’s a more plausible explanation for why Manafort wanted public polling data to be forwarded to Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort was heavily in debt when he joined Trump’s team. Being able to show former Ukrainian clients “that he was managing a winning candidate,” the Times noted, “would help [Manafort] collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.”

All of this highlights another inconvenient fact about Mueller’s case against Manafort: It is not about Russia, but about tax, bank, and lobbying violations stemming from his time in Ukraine. The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.

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And what goes for Aaron Maté’s piece is also valid for Stephen Cohen. Worth reading the whole thing.

What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)

First, no foreign-policy initiative undertaken by President Trump, however wise it may be in regard to US national interests, will be accepted by that establishment. Any prominent political figure who does so will promptly and falsely be branded, in the malign spirit of Russiagate, as “pro-Putin,” or, as was Senator Rand Paul, arguably the only foreign-policy statesman in the senate today, “an isolationist.” This is unprecedented in modern American history. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to such establishment constraints on his ability to conduct national-security policy during the Watergate scandals.

Second, not surprisingly, the condemnations of Trump’s decision are infused with escalating, but still unproven, Russiagate allegations of the president’s “collusion” with the Kremlin. Thus, equally predictably, the Times finds a Moscow source to say, of the withdrawals, “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving” to Putin. (In fact, it is not clear that the Kremlin is eager to see the United States withdraw from either Syria or Afghanistan, as this would leave Russia alone with what it regards as common terrorist enemies.)

Closer to home, there is the newly reelected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked about Trump’s policies and Russian President Putin, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “I think that the president’s relationship with thugs all over the world is appalling. Vladimir Putin, really? Really? I think it’s dangerous.” By this “leadership” reasoning, Trump should be the first US president since FDR to have no “relationship” whatsoever with a Kremlin leader. And to the extent that Pelosi speaks for the Democratic Party, it can no longer be considered a party of American national security.

But, third, something larger than even anti-Trumpism plays a major role in condemnations of the president’s withdrawal decisions: imperial thinking about America’s rightful role in the world. Euphemisms abound, but, if not an entreaty to American empire, what else could the New York Times’ David Sanger mean when he writes of a “world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II,” and complains that Trump is reducing “the global footprint needed to keep that order together”? Or when President Obama’s national-security adviser Susan Rice bemoans Trump’s failures in “preserving American global leadership,” which a Times lead editorial insists is an “imperative”?

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The news about fake news has itself become fake news.

Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)

Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the phrase “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles online and perhaps more famously by President Donald Trump, who uses it as a cudgel against mainstream media outlets. Facebook, meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem. Trump’s relationship with the media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president.

Since then he has not only labeled as “fake” news outlets that have reported critically on his administration but described CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people.” The good news: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday, but the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.

[..] To shed light on the issue in the latest study of which users were more likely to share misleading facts on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.

The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

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Catastrophe is inevitable for May.

May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose. Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels. May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.” On Friday, her foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Brexit might not happen at all if May’s deal was defeated. Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is scheduled to quit the European Union on March 29. The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit, citing a senior government source.

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Way too late.

Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)

Labour MPs have been told to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to table a dramatic and immediate vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government as early as Tuesday evening in an attempt to force a general election if – as expected – she suffers a heavy defeat this week on her Brexit deal. Messages have been sent to Labour MPs, even those who are unwell, to ensure their presence both for the “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint on Tuesday and the following day. Labour whips have told MPs the no-confidence vote is likely to be tabled within hours of a government loss, with the actual vote taking place on Wednesday.

The news comes before what promises to be one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in recent parliamentary history in which, barring another delay, May will put her Brexit deal to parliament despite deep and widespread opposition across the Commons, including from many MPs inside her own party. A senior shadow cabinet member said: “There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.” Senior Tories said on Saturday that they could not see how the prime minister could win the meaningful vote “in any circumstances” and that a defeat by less than 100 would now be regarded as the best she could hope for.

But even if she suffered a loss of closer to 200, which many Tories fear could be the case, Conservative MPs and ministers still expect her to stagger on and seek to bring an improved offer back to the Commons for a further vote within weeks.

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The number of protesters is increasing rapidly again.

Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)

Gilets jaunes protesters engaged in a ninth weekend of protests all over France on Saturday as the president, Emmanuel Macron, prepared to stake his political future on an open letter to the French people and a national debate. Officials said that at least 84,000 demonstrators turned out across France, thousands more than last weekend, with about 8,000 of those in Paris where protests passed “without serious incident”. Gilets jaunes – named after the hi-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure. After the violence of previous weeks, the government put on a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide and about 7,000 in Paris.

[..] Macron has attempted to take the sting out of the protests by announcing a “great national debate” to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship, but just days before the consultation is due to begin on Tuesday, there is still confusion over how it will be carried out. The president will publish an open letter to the French people on Monday to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”. “It’s a great opportunity and everyone must take it … I want a real debate,” he said.

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When are we going to stop producing the stuff that needs recycling?

The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer. Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular.

But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country. But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

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Jan 082019
 


Pablo Picasso Bather on the beach 1920

 

German Industrial Production Unexpectedly Slumps (WSJ)
China’s Current GDP Growth Likely Less Than 6% (CNBC)
Samsung Warns Of 29% Profit Drop (BBC)
UK Not Looking To Extend Article 50, Brexit Minister Says (R.)
UK MPs Raise Safety Fears With Police (G.)
Yanis Varoufakis Says France’s Macron Is a ‘Spent Force’ (BBG)
A Farewell to “Bargain Shopping” (Kunstler)
Rival Fiefdoms Emerge In Scramble Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal (AlM)
Turkey To Ask US To Hand Over Military Bases In Syria (R.)
China Approves Five GMO Crops For Import (R.)
India’s Top Court Backs Monsanto On GMO Cotton Patents (R.)
Ecuador To Audit Julian Assange’s Asylum & Citizenship (PBR)
WikiLeaks Tells Reporters 140 Things Not To Say About Julian Assange (R.)
140 “False And Defamatory” Statements About Julian Assange (ZH)
Warming Of Oceans Equivalent To An Atomic Bomb Per Second For 150 Years (G.)

 

 

Just what Europe needs: a recession in Germany.

German Industrial Production Unexpectedly Slumps (WSJ)

German industrial production unexpectedly slumped in November, adding to recent evidence that a nine-year recovery in Europe’s largest economy is foundering. The data underscore how trade tensions and weaknesses in emerging markets are putting a brake on Germany’s longrunning economic upswing, and could delay any move by the ECB to lift short-term interest rates. Production in Germany’s key industrial sector, adjusted for inflation and seasonal swings, fell 1.9% in November from the previous month, the country’s statistics agency said Tuesday. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.3% gain. It was the second consecutive monthly fall in German industrial output and comes after data Monday showed an ongoing decline in new manufacturing orders.

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Has been for years.

China’s Current GDP Growth Likely Less Than 6% (CNBC)

China’s current economic growth is likely below the 6 percent level amid faltering domestic demand, an economist said Tuesday. Recent signals about the world’s second-largest economy point to weaker growth, including tech giant Apple recently lowering revenue guidance for the first quarter as it blamed a variety of factors including Chinese demand. And, on Monday, Hong Kong-listed automaker Geely said it missed its sales target in 2018 and was forecasting flat sales in 2019. “It’s intriguing that the domestic demand part is the weak part — the external demand is not that bad,” said Taimur Baig, chief economist at DBS Group Research.

“Particularly weak” domestic demand was possibly signaling structural changes in the Chinese economy, Baig told CNBC’s “Capital Connection.” For its part, DBS forecasts China’s GDP growth to be “sub-6 percent” currently, Baig said. Last year, China reported economic growth of 6.5 percent in the third quarter — marking its weakest pace since the global financial crisis. Still, the country’s official growth target for 2018 was around 6.5 percent.

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Everyone has a phone who wants one.

Samsung Warns Of 29% Profit Drop (BBC)

Samsung Electronics expects to post a 29% drop in quarterly operating profit as demand for smartphones and memory chips slows. The firm forecasts operating earnings of 10.8 trillion Korean won ($9.7bn; £7.6bn) for the last three months of 2018. It marks the first quarterly profit drop in two years as strong demand for chips had boosted earnings at the firm. Samsung also faces fierce competition from Apple and Chinese rivals. In a statement on Tuesday, the firm cited lacklustre demand and rising competition for its darkening outlook. “We expect earnings to remain subdued in the first quarter of 2019 due to difficult conditions for the memory business,” the South Korean tech giant said in a statement. It forecasts revenue will decline 11% to 59 trillion won.

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But I betcha they’re talking about it.

UK Not Looking To Extend Article 50, Brexit Minister Says (R.)

The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on March 29 and is not looking to extend the Article 50 exit process, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said on Tuesday. The Daily Telegraph reported that British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending Britain’s formal notice to withdraw from the EU amid fears a Brexit deal will not be approved by March 29. “The government’s policy is clear on this, the prime minister has said it on many an occasion: We are leaving the European Union on the 29th of March. We are not looking to extend,” Barclay told Sky News. When asked if any lawmakers in the Conservative Party had changed their minds on opposing May’s deal, Barclay said: “Some have said they are much more open to but it is obviously challenging.”

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The lunatics have long ruled the asylum.

UK MPs Raise Safety Fears With Police (G.)

Dozens of MPs have written to the UK’s most senior police officer to raise concerns about safety outside parliament after the Conservative MP Anna Soubry faced chants from protesters on Monday calling her a “Nazi”. At least 55 parliamentarians signed the letter to the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, after the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, urged officers to do more to protect MPs and Soubry criticised the lack of police response to the abuse. Scotland Yard later confirmed it had opened an investigation into whether any offences had been committed when chants of “Soubry is a Nazi” could clearly be heard while the pro-remain MP was being interviewed by BBC News on Abingdon Green, a grassed area outside parliament used by broadcasters.

It is the second time in recent weeks that Soubry has been targeted by a small group of pro-Brexit protesters wearing yellow vests, some of whom have links to the far right. On the earlier occasion, she was surrounded by shouting men calling her a traitor. The MPs’ letter to Dick reads: “After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, an ugly element of individuals with strong far-right and extreme-right connections, which your officers are well aware of, have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts targeting members of parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.

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No doubt there.

Yanis Varoufakis Says France’s Macron Is a ‘Spent Force’ (BBG)

Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek Finance Minister and founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, discusses political risks in Europe and his view that French President Emmanuel Macron is a “spent force.” He speaks on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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Remember when stores employed half the town? You see much progress since then? First boxstores, then Amazon. Have they made people happier?

A Farewell to “Bargain Shopping” (Kunstler)

What’s up is the international implosion of the bad debt, and the fading illusion that it doesn’t matter. It has any number of ways to express itself, from store closings, to dissolving pensions, to stock market instability, to divorce, homelessness, and war. It’s what you get from a hyper-financialized economy that doesn’t really produce wealth but only steals it from somewhere else. It’s not the fault of “capitalism,” which, in theory just stands for the management of a society’s savings. America doesn’t save, it borrows. Zero interest rates made savings a mug’s game, and zero interest rates were necessary to extend the borrowing far beyond the credible boundaries of repayment.

Debt isn’t capital, it just pretends to be for a period of time. Wall Street made its trillions off the time-value of that pretense and now time is up. Even in the hardship economy we’re sailing into, people will need to buy and sell things and it is very hard to see how that fundamental process of exchange might be reorganized going forward. Back in the 1990s I attended many a town meeting (in many towns) where chain stores applied for permits to set-up operations. It was often contentious. There was always a contingent of locals — organized by the chains themselves — waving placards that said “We Want Bargain Shopping.” And there were the short-sighted town officials drooling over the real estate tax “ratables” that chain stores represented.

Their adversaries feared that their locally-owned Main Street businesses would be killed, and that was exactly what happened, in very short order. You could see it coming from a thousand miles away. Now the Big Boxes are going down. Boo Hoo…. What will emerge out of the current disorder? Perhaps Generations X-Y-and-Z will recognize an opportunity to go into business — as an alternative to purchasing a degree in gender studies for $200,000 (at 6 percent interest). There will be lots of opportunities, even in a world with generally less shopping. But it may require a deeper collapse to sweep away the impediments, both practical and mental, before that awareness turns to action.

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Trying to frustrate the withdrawal.

Rival Fiefdoms Emerge In Scramble Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal (AlM)

Even after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned over the decision, two of President Donald Trump’s top advisers have offered different messages about his intentions for a Syria withdrawal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted, in both internal briefings and public interviews, that Trump’s instructions are clear and the troops are coming out, while saying the administration’s overall goals for the region have not changed. Meanwhile, national security adviser John Bolton, currently traveling in Israel and Turkey with a press pool in tow, has said any US withdrawal from Syria will be conditions-based, and won’t occur until the so-called Islamic State in Syria (IS or ISIS) is fully defeated and unless Turkey guarantees protection for Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers terrorists.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told journalists traveling with him in Israel on Sunday. “The timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. And once that’s done, then you talk about a timetable.” Pompeo offered a different emphasis in an internal briefing to State Department Syria watchers last week, sources said: We are leaving. Pompeo, in a Jan. 3 briefing to State Department personnel who work on Syria, “made clear we are leaving. Period,” a former US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor. “He did not mention Iran. Or [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad. He said we are leaving. That was it. Then he left.”

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Trump better watch out that there isn’t an all-out bloody war between Turkey and the Kurds coming.

Turkey To Ask US To Hand Over Military Bases In Syria (R.)

Turkey will ask U.S. officials in talks on Tuesday to hand over its military bases in Syria to Ankara or destroy them, the Hurriyet newspaper reported, a request that could further complicate discussions over the U.S. withdrawal from Syria. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was meeting with his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin on Tuesday, days after Bolton added a condition to the U.S. withdrawal, saying Turkey must agree to protect the United States’ Kurdish ally, the YPG militia, which Ankara views as a terrorist group. President Donald Trump said last month he was bringing home the some U.S. 2,000 troops in Syria, saying they had succeeded in their mission to defeat Islamic State.

His abrupt move sparked concern among officials in Washington and allies abroad and prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign. The YPG has been the key U.S. ally in its fight against Islamic State, support that has long caused tension between Washington and Ankara. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south east. “Give them or destroy them,” a Hurriyet newspaper headline said, referring to what it said were 22 U.S. military bases in Syria. It cited unspecified sources as saying Turkey would not accept Washington handing them over to the YPG.

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Monsanto profits from the trade talks.

China Approves Five GMO Crops For Import (R.)

China approved five genetically modified (GM) crops for import on Tuesday, the first in about 18 months in a move that could boost its overseas grains purchases and ease pressure from the United States to open its markets to more farm goods. The United States is the world’s biggest producer of GM crops, while China is the top importer of GM soybeans and canola. U.S. farmers and global seed companies have long complained about Beijing’s slow and unpredictable process for approving GM crops for import, stoking trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. The approvals, announced on the agriculture ministry’s website, were granted while a U.S. trade delegation is meeting with its counterparts in the Chinese capital this week.

“It’s a goodwill gesture towards the resolution of the trade issue,” said a China representative of a U.S. agricultural industry association. “It’s been in the system for a long time but they chose today to release this good news,” he added, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. Two of the newly approved products – BASF’s RF3 canola and Bayer-owned Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant MON 88302 canola – had been waiting six years for permission. The other approved products were DowDuPont’s DP4114 corn and DAS-44406-6 soybean, as well as the SYHT0H2 soybean developed by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta but now held by BASF.

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Devastating.

India’s Top Court Backs Monsanto On GMO Cotton Patents (R.)

India’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that U.S. seed maker Monsanto can claim patents on its genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds in the world’s biggest producer of the fibre. The decision on appeal overturns an earlier ruling by the Delhi High Court that Monsanto – which has been bought by German drug and crop chemical maker Bayer AG – was unable to claim patents on GM cotton seeds. The outcome is positive for foreign agricultural companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont Pioneer and Syngenta which have been concerned that they could lose patents on GM crops in India.

“This is a very good move as most international companies have stopped releasing new technology in the Indian market due to the uncertainty over patent rule,” said Ajit Narde, a leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ body, which has been demanding access to new technologies. Access to advanced technology was important to help Indian farmers to compete with rivals overseas, Narde said.

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Trying to find a way out, so the IMF loan can come in.

Ecuador To Audit Julian Assange’s Asylum & Citizenship (PBR)

Ecuador has begun a “Special Examination” of Julian Assange’s asylum and citizenship as it looks to the IMF for a bailout, the whistleblowing site reports, with conditions including handing over the WikiLeaks founder. Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted an image of the letter he received from the State Comptroller General on December 19, which outlines the upcoming examination by the Direction National de Auditoria. The audit will “determine whether the procedures for granting asylum and naturalization to Julian Assange were carried out in accordance with national and international law,” and will cover the period between January 1, 2012 and September 20, 2018. Assange has been in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since he sought asylum there in 2012.

He was granted Ecuadorian citizenship last December in a bid to protect him from being extradited to the US where he fears he faces secret charges for publishing US government cables and documents. “Because of their hatred and persecution, we are the laughing stock of the world,” Correa said of the audit. WikiLeaks tweeted the news on Wednesday, joining the dots between the audit and Ecuador’s consideration of an International Monetary Fund bailout. The country owes China more than $6.5 billion in debt and falling oil prices have affected its repayment abilities. According to WikiLeaks, Ecuador is considering a $10 billion bailout which would allegedly come with conditions such as “the US government demanded handing over Assange and dropping environmental claims against Chevron,” for its role in polluting the Amazon rainforest.

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Not sure such an extensive format is the way to go. The Guardian gets away with stonewalling its fake Assange news.

WikiLeaks Tells Reporters 140 Things Not To Say About Julian Assange (R.)

WikiLeaks on Sunday advised journalists not to report 140 different “false and defamatory” statements about its founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since June 2012. It was not immediately clear what prompted the advice to media organizations, but WikiLeaks singled out Britain’s Guardian newspaper for publishing what it said was a false report about Assange. The Guardian did not immediately respond late on Sunday to a Reuters request for comment. The Australian set up WikiLeaks as a channel for publishing confidential information from anonymous sources. He is a hero to some for exposing what supporters cast as government abuse of power and for championing free speech, but to others he is a rebel who has undermined the security of the United States.

WikiLeaks angered Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family. “There is a pervasive climate of inaccurate claims about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, including purposeful fabrications planted in large and otherwise ‘reputable’ media outlets,” Wikileaks said an email sent to media organizations and marked “Confidential legal communication. Not for publication.” “Consequently journalists and publishers have a clear responsibility to carefully fact-check from primary sources and to consult the following list to ensure they are not spreading, and have not spread, defamatory falsehoods about WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.”

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Tyler has the entire list.

140 “False And Defamatory” Statements About Julian Assange (ZH)

WikiLeaks is sick and tired of mainstream media outlets publishing inaccurate and at times defamatory claims about its founder, Julian Assange. So in a recent email to journalists who regularly cover the organization, Wikileaks described 140 “false and defamatory” claims about its founder, who has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. According to Reuters, WikiLeaks accused the Guardian of publishing a false report about Assange, though it was not immediately clear what specific report prompted the warning. The Guardian has refused to comment on the allegations.

The 5,000 word email claimed it was defamatory to suggest that Assange had ever been an “agent or officer of any intelligence service,” or that he had ever been employed by the Russian government, or that he is – or has been – closely connected with the Russian state. Some of the claims were more bizarre, like claiming that Assange was a pedophile, rapist, murder or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Others pertained to personal hygiene, like that Assange bleaches his hair, or has poor grooming habits. They also said it was defamatory to claim that Assange is a hacker or that he is not an Australian citizen.

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How many people can understand this?

Warming Of Oceans Equivalent To An Atomic Bomb Per Second For 150 Years (G.)

Global warming has heated the oceans by the equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion per second for the past 150 years, according to analysis of new research. More than 90% of the heat trapped by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the seas, with just a few per cent heating the air, land and ice caps respectively. The vast amount of energy being added to the oceans drives sea-level rise and enables hurricanes and typhoons to become more intense. Much of the heat has been stored in the ocean depths but measurements here only began in recent decades and existing estimates of the total heat the oceans have absorbed stretch back only to about 1950. The new work extends that back to 1871. Scientists have said that understanding past changes in ocean heat was critical for predicting the future impact of climate change.

A Guardian calculation found the average heating across that 150-year period was equivalent to about 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. But the heating has accelerated over that time as carbon emissions have risen, and was now the equivalent of between three and six atomic bombs per second. “I try not to make this type of calculation, simply because I find it worrisome,” said Prof Laure Zanna, at the University of Oxford, who led the new research. “We usually try to compare the heating to [human] energy use, to make it less scary.” She added: “But obviously, we are putting a lot of excess energy into the climate system and a lot of that ends up in the ocean,. There is no doubt.” The total heat taken up by the oceans over the past 150 years was about 1,000 times the annual energy use of the entire global population.

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Dec 262018
 
 December 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Caravaggio Burial of St. Lucy 1608

 

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)
Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)
Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)
BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)
Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)
Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)
Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)
‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)
How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)
Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)
Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)
More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

 

 

Can’t make it up (fast enough): I used 6 anti-Trump Guardian articles from December 23 in my article yesterday, Dumping on the Donald. But guess what: I still missed one from that day. The contents are completely empty, but they really wanted to get the headline in.

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)

The accomplishments of a US president’s first year in office can be credited to his predecessor, at least where the economy is concerned. And Donald Trump was handed the best performing economy on the planet. All the tough decisions – to refinance the banks, rescue the car companies and deflate the real-estate bubble – had been made. The stock market was tearing along, setting records almost every week. Trump gave this rising balloon extra air with $1tn of tax cuts. It was borrowed money, but no matter. The economy sailed along for another year and the stock market carried on rising. His plan was to win the midterm congressional elections and then persuade the Republican party to give him another $1tn, or as near to it as possible.

In other words, he would use another pile of borrowed cash to pump up the economy again, hoping against hope that it would not blow up before his re-election. Without control of the House of Representatives, his plans are in ruins. And that was obvious to stock and bond traders, who followed the vote in November by putting a sell sign over their maps of America. December has proved to be the worst month for shares in many decades. Oil prices have slumped and the market is expecting worse to come in the new year. The reasons for pessimism are piling up. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, US home sales are struggling, with agents reporting that there are not enough buyers and asking prices are not being met.

[..] And in recent days Trump has given markets something else to worry about – building the wall. His threat to shut down the government if Congress refuses to provide him with the money for a pan-American border fence with Mexico has spooked traders. This reckless threat was preceded by the surprise decision to pull US troops out of Syria. If Trump could make such a move without consulting important allies, then perhaps he was capable of the “long shutdown” he has promised in his tweets. With ever fewer calming voices in the White House to rein in the president’s wilder excesses, it’s understandable that the finance industry is jittery about the prospects for 2019.

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Trump likes Mnuchin. Who’s been around from the get-go. And of course both know there are hard times ahead.

Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)

“We have companies, the greatest in the world, and they’re doing really well,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Christmas Day. “They have record kinds of numbers. So I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to buy. Really a great opportunity to buy.” Trump’s invocation to BTFD came one day after the most violent Christmas Eve selloff on record, and the day when the S&P fell not only to its lowest level in 20 months, but also slumped into a bear market. For Trump, the stock market has served as a barometer on his administration, and while he was pointing out virtually every major uptick for the past two years, the recent plunge has infuriated him, leaving him mute on any market-related topic.

But a more important catalyst for a potential Wednesday rally came when Trump appeared to back off on his demands that the Fed stop hiking, which culminated with Trump reportedly seeking to fire Fed Chair Powell and speculation that if the market does not stop falling, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin may also be on the chopping block. Alongside urging Americans to BTFD, Trump expressed confidence in the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve, in an attempt to calm financial markets further roiled after a recent Bloomberg report that the president had discussed firing the central bank’s chairman over raising interest rates.

Asked about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, Trump said the central bank is “raising interest rates too fast” but he has “confidence” that the Fed will “get it pretty soon.” Trump was also asked if he has confidence in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who sparked a market panic on Monday with his late Sunday statement in which he said he had called the CEOs of the top 6 banks to make sure bank liquidity levels are fine (prompting a frenzy of question what he knows that the rest of the market does not) and followed it up with a call with the Plunge Protection Team on Monday, which however failed to prevent one of the worst one-day routs in history . Trump’s response: “yes I do, very talented guy, very smart person.”

While answering questions from reporters at the White House after addressing U.S. armed forces members on a Christmas Day video conference call, Trump also said the Fed is hiking borrowing costs because the “economy is doing so well” – which is accurate, however it is the market that is spooked by the aggressive tightening – adding that U.S. companies are having “record kinds of numbers” and it’s a “tremendous opportunity to buy.” The remarks represented Trump’s first expression of public support for Mnuchin and Powell since Bloomberg reported last week that the president has discussed dismissing Powell who was recommended by Mnuchin. Overnight, Bloomberg also reported that the president also weighed dismissing Mnuchin, while another said that Mnuchin’s tenure may depend in part on how much markets continue to drop.

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But CNN has found an anonymous source who claims Mnuchin is on his way out. Bloomberg claimed something similar.

Is it getting through to people that nothing CNN has to say about Trump has any news value?

Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)

President Donald Trump’s frustration with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is ratcheting up further after markets suffered their worst Christmas Eve drop ever despite Mnuchin’s attempts to calm Wall Street, according to a source close to the White House. The source told CNN that Mnuchin could be in “serious jeopardy” with Trump, who regularly rages at Cabinet members he feels have made mistakes, before he cools off. Trump nevertheless vouched for Mnuchin publicly, shifting blame for the market volatility to the Federal Reserve instead. “Yes, I do,” Trump said Tuesday when asked whether he had confidence in Mnuchin. “Very talented, very smart person.”

But the source painted a different picture of Mnuchin’s standing behind the scenes. “Mnuchin is under the gun,” the source said. The Treasury secretary left Washington for a Christmas holiday in Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas as the federal government shut down over the weekend, while Trump canceled his own planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and remained cooped up in the White House over the holiday, absorbing a flood of negative news about the markets. Mnuchin aides have been scrambling to find economic data to help their boss calm Trump down, but Trump was said to be unhappy with what Mnuchin was telling him, this source said. An administration source dismissed the latest round of rumors that the secretary’s continued tenure was on the line. “This is nonsense,” they said.

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Abenomics bleeds to death very slowly and even more expensively.

BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)

Conceding it was taking longer than expected to achieve 2 percent inflation, Kuroda said global risks have “come to warrant further attention” as China’s growth slows and trade frictions hurt business sentiment. He also said the BOJ must be mindful of the rising costs of prolonged monetary easing, such as the chance years of near-zero rates could hurt financial institutions’ profits and discourage them from boosting lending. “The BOJ will proceed step by step toward achieving its price target, while taking into account in a balance manner not only the benefits of monetary easing but also its costs,” Kuroda told an annual meeting of business lobby Keidanren on Wednesday. Up till now, Kuroda has repeatedly said the BOJ will seek to achieve 2 percent inflation “at the earliest date possible.”

[..] The BOJ is caught in a bind. With inflation distant from its target, it is forced to maintain a massive stimulus despite the negative spillovers. Its dwindling policy ammunition limits the ability to ramp up stimulus to prevent another recession. The dilemma has created a rift within the BOJ with its board members disagreeing on ways to address the dangers of prolonged easing, minutes of the October rate review showed. Kuroda said the situation has changed from when the BOJ deployed a massive asset-buying program in 2013, when such a drastic action was critical to pull Japan out of stagnation. Now, the economy is in good shape but inflation remains weak and closer attention is needed to overseas risks, he said. “In complex times like now, what’s required is to persistently continue with the current powerful easing while weighing the benefits and costs of our policy in a balanced manner,” Kuroda said.

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Nobody wants whale hunts. They’re arcane and stupid. So stop buying Japanese cars and electronics. Get organized. Either boycott them completely or hold your tongue.

Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)

Japan said Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, sparking criticism from activists and anti-whaling countries including Australia. The announcement comes after Japan failed earlier this year to convince the IWC to allow it to resume commercial whaling. Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the commercial hunts would be limited to Japan’s territorial waters. “We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere,” he added. Tokyo has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the IWC, and has been regularly criticised for catching hundreds of whales a year for “scientific research” despite being a signatory to a moratorium on hunting the animals.

Suga said Japan would officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by June 30. Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales currently protected by the IWC. But Japan will not be able to continue the so-called scientific research hunts in the Antarctic and elsewhere that it has been exceptionally allowed as an IWC member. Japan joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC’s ban on commercial whale hunting, and its decision sparked international criticism.

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I think they slip because their economies are in trouble.

Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)

Asian markets were mostly lower on Wednesday after President Donald Trump said that there was “nothing new” in efforts to end the partial government shutdown over a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Traders had no fresh leads from Wall Street, which was closed on Christmas. U.S. stocks are headed for their worst December since the Great Depression in 1931. South Korea’s Kospi, 1.3% to 2,028.01 and the Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3% to 2,498.29. Japan’s Nikkei, which plunged 5% on Tuesday, picked up 0.9 percent to 19,327.06. Shares fell Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. Markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government that started Saturday shows no signs of abating. “Nothing new. Nothing new on the shutdown. Nothing new. Except we need border security,” Trump told reporters. The White House said Trump will reject any deal that does not include any funding for a wall or a fence. The Democrats have opposed this and are offering $1.3 billion for security. The routines of 800,000 federal employees are expected to be disrupted by the shutdown, but essential services will keep running. Trump’s criticism of the U.S. central bank triggered a drop in Asian equities on Tuesday. “The only problem our economy has is the Fed,” the president said on Twitter.

“They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.” Trump has since said since that interest rate hikes were a “form of safety” for an economy that was doing well, while stressing that the Fed was raising rates too quickly. “The outsized moves are not reflective of the current U.S. economic landscape, but that seems to matter little so far as fear mongering continues to permeate every pocket of global capital markets,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a market commentary.

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Trump brings down Asian stocks. Didn’t win your Christmas lottery? You know who to blame.

Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)

Asian stock markets retreated again on Wednesday, extending a rout that began last week as U.S. political uncertainty exacerbated worries over slowing global economic growth. Investors were unnerved by the U.S. federal government partial shutdown and President Donald Trump’s hostile stance toward the Federal Reserve chairman. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had also raised market concerns by convening a crisis group amid the pullback in stocks. S&P 500 emini futures were last down 0.6 percent, pointing toward a lower start for Wall Street when the U.S. market reopens after Christmas Day, when many of the world’s financial markets were shut.

Markets in Britain, Germany and France will remain closed on Wednesday. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.5 percent, brushing a two-month low. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 percent while South Korea’s KOSPI shed 1.6 percent. Japan’s Nikkei, which slumped 5 percent the previous day, had a volatile session. It swerved in and out of the red, falling more than 1 percent to a 20-month-low at one stage, before ending the day with a gain of 0.9 percent. “In addition to concerns toward the U.S. economy, the markets are now having to grapple with growing turmoil in the White House which has raised political risk ahead of the year-end,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

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The CIA and MI6 are watching.

‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)

David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, said this week may finally have dealt Facebook its “knockout” blow. As an outspoken critic of the way Facebook uses people’s data, Prof Carroll is currently suing Cambridge Analytica under the Data Protection Act following the UK firm’s role in mining data from 87 million Facebook users for the purpose of political profiling during the 2016 US presidential elections. But the latest revelations that other tech firms were given access to people’s private messages was beyond even what he thought Facebook was capable of. “Even as someone who is deeply sceptical of Facebook, I was surprised by the latest revelations,” he told The Independent.

“I didn’t know it could be that bad in terms of scope and scale. But it all seems to fit with Zuckerberg’s master plan for global domination.” The first lawsuit against Facebook regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which affected more than 87 million users, comes courtesy of the attorney general of the District of Columbia. It is unlikely to be the last, given Facebook is also currently facing probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice – and that’s just in the US. A relatively insignificant fine of £500,000 that was handed to Facebook in the UK may be dwarfed following investigations by the Irish data protection regulator, which are being seen as the first serious test of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation.

But with more than 2 billion users worldwide and an annual revenue of more than $40 billion in 2017, it will take more than a fine to have any significant impact on Facebook. Prof Carroll has called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives to be subpoenaed and thinks it might not be long before that becomes a reality. “We need to get them under oath and ask them questions they cannot dodge. It will depend on the Mueller investigation. It’s imaginable additional facts come to our knowledge to justify Zuckerberg’s subpoena and we find out how much he knew and when. We need more to justify it but we’re not that far from getting there.”

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Elect your decision makers at random. That way they can’t be bought by special interests. And that’s just one of many advantages.

James Bridle is the author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.

How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)

In the central marketplace of ancient Athens, around 350BC, there stood a machine called the kleroterion. This was a six-foot-high slab of stone that had a series of slots on the front, and a long tube bored down from the top to the base. Those up for selection for the various offices of state would insert metal ID tags, called pinakia, into the slots, and a functionary would pour a bucket of coloured balls, suitably shaken, into the top of the tube. The order in which the balls emerged would determine who took which role, some for the day, some for a year.

Today the kleroterion survives, in fragments, in Athens’ Museum of the Ancient Agora, alongside other pieces of democratic technology such as the clepsydra, a water clock used to time orators’ speeches and the fragments of pottery, called ostraka, on which they scratched the names of the too-powerful politicans they wished to see banished from the city, and from which we derive the modern word “ostracism”. The method of governance embodied in the kleroterion, which dates back to the very establishment of democracy, is called sortition, meaning selection by lot, as opposed to election by vote. The Athenians believed that the principle of sortition was critical to democracy. Aristotle declared that: “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”

But along the way, sortition – and the even more exciting possibility of actual banishment – has fallen out of most democracies’ toolkits. Sortition in ancient Athens had a number of important qualities. First, those eligible for selection included the entire suffrage (which, it must be noted, was at the time limited to adult male citizens). Second, it applied to much more than jury selection, which is the only form in which sortition survives in most places today, and included magistrates, legislators and the main governing councils of the city – all the important posts, in fact, bar the military. And third, and perhaps most significantly, it both embodied and enabled transparent and participatory governance: that is, anybody could come down to the agora and not merely see but understand how the machine worked – and anyone could be selected by it.

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No, your reputation’s pretty much shot.

Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)

Britain is now the butt of global mirth and cringe-making sympathy. I spent most of this autumn on trips trying to link our creative industries with those of other countries. From Mexico City to Montreal, Amsterdam to Tallinn, the welcome starts with the avuncular hand on the shoulder, a sigh and a reference to “our British friends”, followed by “I hope you’re all right”. Consternation over the original referendum decision long ago gave way to bafflement over the chaos. “What on earth is Mrs May doing playing pantomime host in the House of Commons at a time like this?” someone asked me last week. “We used to think that you were serious, reliable people.” Americans and Europeans used to tune in to our parliamentary antics to wonder at the jousting.

Now they are baffled that we continue to play games at a time like this. I am constantly asked why we hark on about the second world war, as if we are stuck in time and are not proud of our achievements since. The gulf between those trying to sell the UK’s skills and modernity and the poor calibre of our political culture is hitting hard. Business groups, which had been surprisingly cowed, are now waking up to the dangers of the brain drain. It is not just young, ambitious Europeans who are moving home, apparently to our prime minister’s delight. The movement of talented Britons to other countries is steady and will grow, as the reality of Brexit sinks in. Why work in a country that regards economic self-harm as just one of those things you have to get through? Why work in a country that permits people to come rather than welcomes them?

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Putin moves silently.

Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)

Gulf nations are moving to readmit Syria into the Arab League, eight years after Damascus was expelled from the regional bloc over its brutal repression of peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad. At some point in the next year it is likely Assad will be welcomed on to a stage to once again take his place among the Arab world’s leaders, sources say. Shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Egypt’s latest autocrat, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the moment will mark the definitive death of the Arab spring, the hopes of the region’s popular revolutions crushed by the newest generation of Middle Eastern strongmen.

Syria was thrown out of the Arab League in 2011 over its violent response to opposition dissent, a move that failed to stem the bloodshed that spiralled into civil war. Now though, a regional thaw is already under way. This week, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria in eight years, a visit widely interpreted as a gesture of friendship on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has shored up ties with Khartoum in recent years. Pro-government media outlets posted pictures of the two leaders shaking hands and grasping each other’s arms on a red carpet leading from the Russian jet that ferried Bashir to Damascus along with the hashtag “More are yet to come”.

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50 plant species? Who’s that going to impress?

More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

More than 50 Australian plant species are under threat of extinction within the next decade, according to a major study of the country’s threatened flora. Just 12 of the most at-risk species were found to be listed as critically endangered under national environment laws – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – and 13 had no national threatened listing at all. The scientists behind the research, published in the Australian Journal of Botany this month, say the results point to a need for re-evaluation of Australia’s national lists for threatened plants. It is the first major assessment of the status of Australia’s threatened flora in more than two decades. Plants account for about 70% of Australia’s national threatened species list, with 1,318 varieties listed as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

The research team assessed species that met criteria for either a critical or endangered listing at national or state levels to track their rate of decline. They did this by reviewing all available literature on the plants – including recovery plans, conservation advice and peer-reviewed research – and conducting interviews with 125 botanists, ecologists and land managers with expertise on particular geographic regions or species. The study examined 1,135 species, including 81 that were unearthed through the interview process as being eligible for a critically endangered or endangered listing but did not have one. It found 418 plants had continued declines in their population and a further 265 species had insufficient monitoring information available to determine their status.

The scientists concluded that 55 species were at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years, with fewer than 250 individual plants or only a single population remaining. They found just 12 of the most imperilled species were listed under the EPBC Act as critically endangered and 13 had no listing at all. They said there were also 56 species of plants currently on the critically endangered list that they assessed as having no documented declines or that were stable or even increasing.

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Dec 252018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn The Adoration of the Magi 16xx

 

I still had some things I didn’t talk about in Sunday’s Trump Derangement International, about how the European press have found out that they, like the US MSM, can get lots of viewers and readers simply by publishing negative stories about Donald Trump. The US president is an attention magnet, as long as you only write things about him designed to make him look bad.

The Guardian is only too happy to comply. They ran a whole series of articles on Sunday to do juts that: try to make Trump look bad. Note that the Guardian editorial team that okayed the articles is the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, so their credibility is already shot to pieces. It’s the magic triangle of today’s media profits: spout non-stop allegations against Russia, Trump and Julian Assange, and link them when and where you can. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not.

 

Anyway, all the following is from the Guardian, all on December 23. First off, Adam Gabbatt in New York, who has painstakingly researched how Trump’s businesses, like Trump Tower and the Trump store, don’t appear to have sufficiently (as per him) switched from Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas. Sherlock Holmes would have been proud. A smash hit there Adam, bring out the handcuffs.

 

Trump’s ‘Merry Christmas’ Pledge Fails To Manifest

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign he talked often about his determination to win one particular war. A war that had been raging for years, he said. Specifically: the war on Christmas. But despite Trump’s repeated claims that “people are saying Merry Christmas again” instead of the more inclusive “happy holidays”, there are several places where the Christmas greeting is absent: Trump’s own businesses.

The Trump Store, for example. Instead of a Christmas gift guide – which surely would be more in keeping with the president’s stated desire for the phrase to be used – the store offers a holiday gift guide. “Shop our Holiday Gift Guide and find the perfect present for the enthusiast on your list,” the online store urges. “Carefully curated to celebrate the most wonderful time of year with truly unique gifts found only at Trump Store. Add a bow on top with our custom gift wrapping. Happy Holiday’s!”

The use of the phrase “Happy Holiday’s” [sic] in Trump marketing would seem particularly egregious. The long-standing “War-on-Christmas” complaint from the political right is that stores use the phrase “Happy Holidays”, rather than specifically mentioning the Christian celebration. It is offered as both an example of political correctness gone mad, and as an effort to erase Christianity from the US.

It’s just, I think that if Trump had personally interfered to make sure there were Merry Christmas messages all around, you would have remarked that as president, he’s not allowed to be personally involved in his businesses. But yeah, you know, just to keep the negativity going, it works, no matter how fluffy and hollow.

 

Second, still on December 23, is Tom McCarthy for the Guardian in New York. Who talks about Robert Mueller’s phenomenal successes. Mueller charged 34 people so far. In a case that involves “this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components”. It really says that.

And yes, that’s how many people view this. What do they care that Mueller’s original mandate was to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, and that he has not proven any collusion at all so far, not even with 34 people charged? What do they care? It looks like Trump is guilty of something, anything, after all, and that’s all the circus wants.

 

Robert Mueller Has Enjoyed A Year Of Successes … 2019 Could Be Even Stronger

One measure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial success in 2018 is the list of former top Donald Trump aides brought to justice: Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, a jury convicted Paul Manafort, a judge berated Michael Flynn. Another measure is the tally of new defendants that Mueller’s team charged (34), the number of new guilty pleas he netted (five) and the amount of money he clawed back through tax fraud cases ($48m).

Yet another measure might judge Mueller’s pace compared with previous independent prosecutors. “I would refer to it as a lightning pace,” said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former US attorney. “In a case of this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components – to indict that many people that quickly is really impressive work.”

But there’s perhaps a more powerful way to measure Mueller’s progress in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and links between Moscow and the Trump campaign; that’s by noticing how the targets of his investigation have changed their postures over the course of 2018, from defiance to docility – or in the case of Trump himself, from defiance to extreme, hyperventilating defiance.

In reality, you would be at least as correct if you would claim that Robert Mueller’s investigation has been an abject failure. Not one iota of collusion has been proven after 20 months and $20 million in funds have been used. And any serious investigation of Washington’s culture of fixers and lobbyists would land at least 34 people who have committed acts that border on or over illegality. And in a matter of weeks, for a few hundred bucks.

 

Third, still on December 23, is Julian Borger in Washington, who’s been elected to convey the image of chaos. Trump Unleashed, says our modern day Shakespeare. With Jim Mad Dog Mattis characterized as “.. the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration”... Again, it really says that.

Because woe the man who tries to bring US troops home, or even promises to do so a few days before Christmas. For pulling out America’s finest, Donald Trump is being portrayed as something eerily close to the antichrist. That truly is the world on its head. Bringing troops home to their families equals chaos.

Look, guys, if Trump has been guilty of criminal behavior, the US justice system should be able to find that out and convict him for it. But that’s not what this is about anymore. A million articles have been written, like these ones in the Guardian, with the sole intention, evidence being scarce to non-existent, of smearing him to the extent that people see every subsequent article in the light of a man having previously been smeared.

 

Chaos At Home, Fear Abroad: Trump Unleashed Puts Western World On Edge

The US stumbled into the holiday season with a sense of unravelling, as a large chunk of the federal government ground to a halt, the stock market crashed and the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration announced he could no longer work with the president. The defense secretary, James Mattis, handed in his resignation on Thursday, over Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

On Saturday another senior official joined the White House exodus. Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis and the US official closest to America’s Kurdish allies in the region, was reported to have handed in his resignation on Friday. That night, senators flew back to Washington from as far away as Hawaii for emergency talks aimed at finding a compromise on Trump’s demand for nearly $6bn for a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise which has become an obsession.

Now look at the next headline, December 23, Graeme Wearden, Guardian, and ask yourself if it’s really Trump saying he doesn’t agree with the rate hikes that fuels the fears, or whether it’s the hikes themselves. And also ask yourself: when Trump and Mnuchin both deny reports of Trump firing Powell, why do journalists keep saying the opposite? Because they want to fuel some fears?

From where I’m sitting, it looks perfectly logical that Trump says he doesn’t think Powell’s decisions are good for the US economy. And it doesn’t matter which one of the two turns out to be right: Trump isn’t the only person who disagrees with the Fed hikes.

The main suspect for 2019 market turmoil is the inevitable fallout from the Fed’s QE under Bernanke and Yellen. And there is something to be said for Powell trying to normalize rates, but there’s no doubt that may hasten, if not cause, turmoil. Blaming it on Trump not agreeing with Jay Powell is pretty much as left field as it gets.

 

White House Attacks On Fed Chair Fuel Fears Of Market Turmoil In 2019

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of firing the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets, which have already had their worst year since the 2008 crisis. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this. However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

And now, in the only article in the Guardian series that’s December 24, not 23, by Victoria Bekiempis and agencies, the plunging numbers in the stock markets are Trump’s fault, too.

 

Trump ‘Plunging Us Into Chaos’, Democrats Say, As Markets Tank And Shutdown Persists

Top Democrats have accused Donald Trump of “plunging the country into chaos” as top officials met to discuss a growing rout in stock markets caused in part by the president’s persistent attacks on the Federal Reserve and a government shutdown. “It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the two top Democrats in Congress, House speaker nominee Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, wrote in a joint statement on Monday. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve – after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve on Monday, describing it as the “only problem” for the US economy, even as top officials convened the “plunge protection team” forged after the 1987 crash to discuss the growing rout in stock markets. The crisis call on Monday between US financial regulators and the US treasury department failed to assure markets, and stocks fell again amid concern about slowing economic growth, the continuing government shutdown, and reports that Trump had discussed firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

The last one is from one Jonathan Jones, again December 23, again for the Guardian. And it takes the top award in the narrative building contest.

Again, the Guardian editorial team that okayed this article is still the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, an editorial team that sees no problem in making things up in order to smear people. To portray Trump, Assange and anyone who’s had the misfortune of being born in Russia as suspicious if not outright criminal.

But look at what Jones has to say, and what Guardian editor-in-chief Kathy Viner and her ilk allowed and pressured him to say. He wants to have a say in how Trump should dress (seasonal knitwear), he evokes the image of Nazi architect Albert Speer for no reason at all, and then it’s a matter of mere inches until you arrive at Trump as a king, an emperor, an inner tyrant.

“He’s in a tuxedo!”, Like that’s a bad thing for Christmas. “She’s in white!”. Oh dear, call the pope. If both Trumps would have put on Christmas sweaters in front of a fire, the writer would have found something negative in that.

 

Trump Portrait: You Couldn’t Create A Creepier Yuletide Scene If You Tried

The absence of intimacy in the Trumps’ official Christmas portrait freezes the heart. Can it be that hard to create a cosy image of the presidential couple, perhaps in front of a roaring hearth, maybe in seasonal knitwear? Or is this quasi-dictatorial image exactly what the president wants to project? Look on my Christmas trees, ye mighty, and despair! If so, it fuels suspicions that it is only the checks and balances of a 230-year-old constitution that are keeping America from the darkest of political fates. You couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried. Multiple Christmas trees are currently a status symbol for the wealthy, but this picture shows the risks.

Instead of a homely symbol of midwinter cheer, these disciplined arboreal ranks with their uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer. The setting is the Cross Hall in the White House and, while the incumbent president cannot be held responsible for its architecture, why heighten its severity with such rigid, heartless seasonal trappings? Everything here communicates cold, empty magnificence. Tree lights that are as frigid as icicles are mirrored in a cold polished floor. Equally frosty illuminations are projected on the ceiling. Instead of twinkling fairy magic, this lifeless lighting creates a sterile, inhuman atmosphere.

You can’t imagine kids playing among these trees or any conceivable fun being had by anyone. It suggests the micromanaged, corporate Christmas of a Citizen Kane who has long since lost touch with the ordinary, warm pleasures of real life. In the centre of this disturbing piece of conceptual art stand Donald and Melania Trump. He’s in a tuxedo, she’s wearing white – and not a woolly hat in sight. Their formal smartness adds to the emotional numbness of the scene. Trump’s shark-like grin has nothing generous or friendly about it. He seems to want to show off his beautiful wife and his fantastic home rather than any of the cuddly holiday spirit a conventional politician might strive to share at this time.

It begs a question: how can a man who so glaringly lacks anything like a common touch be such a successful “populist”? What can a midwestern voter find in this image to connect with? Perhaps that’s the point. After more than two centuries of democracy, Trump is offering the US people a king, or emperor. In this picture, he gives full vent to his inner tyrant. If this portrait contains any truth about the state of America and the world, may Santa help us all.

I realize that you may be tired of the whole story. I realize you may have been caught in the anti-Trump narrative. And I am by no means a Trump fan. But I will keep on dragging you back to this. Because the discussion should not be based on a handful of media moguls not liking Trump. It should not be based on innuendo and smear. If Trump is to be convicted, it must be on evidence.

And there is no such evidence. Robert Mueller has charged 34 people, but none with what his mandate was based on, none with Russia collusion. This means that the American political system, and democracy itself, is under severe threat by the very media that are supposed to be its gate keepers.

 

None of this is about Trump, or about whether you like him or not, or even if he’s a shady character or not. Instead, it’s about the influence the media have on how our opinions and ideas about people and events are being shaped on a daily basis.

And once you acknowledge that your opinions of Trump, Putin et al, even without any proof of a connection between them, are actively being molded by the press you expect to inform you about the truth behind what goes on, you will have to acknowledge, too, that you are a captive of forces that use your gullibility to make a profit off you.

If our media need to make up things all the time about who’s guilty of what, because our justice systems are incapable of that, then we have a problem so enormous we may not be able to overcome it in our present settings.

Alternatively, if we trust our justice systems to deliver true justice, we don’t need a hundred articles a day to tell us how Trump or Putin are such terrible threats to our world. Our judges will tell us, not our journalists or media who are only in it for a profit.

I can say: “let’s start off 2019 trying to leave prejudice behind”, and as much as that is needed and you may agree with me, it’s no use if you don’t realize to what extent your views of the world have been shaped by prejudice.

I see people reacting to the star writer at Der Spiegel who wrote a lot about Trump, being exposed as a fraud. I also see people trying to defend Julian Assange from the Guardian article about his alleged meetings with Paul Manafort, that was an obvious big fat lie (the truth is Manafort talked to Ecuador to help them ‘sell’ Assange to the US).

But reacting to the very obvious stuff is not enough. The echo chamber distorts the truth about Trump every single day, and at least six times on Sunday, as this essay of mine shows. It’s just that after two years of this going on 24/7, it is perceived as the normal.

Everyone makes money dumping on the Donald, it’s a proven success formula, so why would the Guardian and Der Spiegel stay behind? They’d only hurt their own bottom line.

It has nothing to do with journalism, though, or news. It’s smear and dirt, the business model of the National Enquirer. That’s how far our once truthful media have fallen.