Feb 172020
 


Jack Delano Discarded oil cans at truck service station on U.S. 1, New York Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

 

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)
Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)
Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)
Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)
Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)
Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)
Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)
‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)
Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)
Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)
1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)
German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)
Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)
Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)
US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

 

 

Well, we do have some numbers:

 

• Cases 71,330, up 2,076 from yesterday

• Deaths 1,775, up 106 from yesterday

• 760 million Chinese under quarantine

 

We also have plenty confusion. For instance, Reuters has two headlines that say Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China and China Says New Cases Slow. That clears things up.

But the most dramatic event over the weekend must be the repatration of various nationalities to their homelands. About 400 Americans were evacuated from the Diamond Princess, with Australian Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers set to follow soon. 44 of these Americans are infected with the virus, and they won’t be going home. The rest will, though.

This is happening while “Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond”, says the Guardian. So the Americans that are flown home go into quarantine, right? Well… Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive.”

Remember, as of the start of the evacuation, there were 3,711 people on board. 1,219 had been tested of which 355 have been confirmed positive for the virus (among them the 44 Americans). Ergo, 2,492 people were not tested, among them the remaining 356 Americans. Who will only go into isolation if they shared a cabin with a positive case. The rest can do what they want.

We see the issue here, don’t we? How many of those 356 Americans may be infected? How many of the other nationalities which will fly home? There have been suggestions that the onboard air circulation system on the ship may have played a role in spreading the virus. If so, it could be everywhere. And yes, there could be “hundreds of additional cases”.

Then there’s the Werkendam cruise ship, from which hundreds were allowed to spread all over the world, taking off from Cambodia and/or Malaysia, before a positive case was found. Now it’s a “Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers”. Sort of like a modern version of the biblical “Go Forth and Multiply”. Where were these decisions made? Anyone ask the WHO, or China?

 

Meanwhile, China keeps trying. In Hubei province, Xiaogan city – with a population of nearly 5 million people, 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the second highest number in China, and 70 deaths, “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Try that in NYC, LA, Paris, Moscow, name a major city.

And the economic effects get increased attention as well. “Barclays analysts estimate that real [Japan] GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus…] Take it from there. At this point hearing from economists, bankers, investors is pretty useless, because they have little idea what goes on, and, like politicians, they won’t consider really bad scenarios until it’s too late.

But it’ll come trickling through. Served in a sauce of “we’ll be fine”.

UPDATE: 99 additional people tested positive aboard the Diamond Princess. 14 American evacuees who tested positive made the flight anyway, in a separate compartment

 

 

 

 

“Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.”

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)

Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond, as experts warned the country was still in the “early stages” of the outbreak. The passengers evacuated from the ship face further uncertainty too, with the US and Australian citizens set for a further two weeks of quarantine after arriving homeHundreds of American passengers have flown back to the US and Australia said it would follow suit on Wednesday. Onboard the Diamond Princess, 355 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 out of an original total of about 3,600 passengers and crew, and after testing 1,219. Forty American passengers who were diagnosed with the virus have been transferred to hospitals in Japan.

Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive. The total number of people infected around the world climbed to more than 71,000 on Monday, including a further 2,048 confirmed cases in China, where the total number of deaths stands at 1,770. Five people have died outside China. Of the 105 deaths reported in China on Monday, 100 were in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. Cities in Hubei have stepped up measures to stop the virus’s spread.


Xiaogan city – which has a population of nearly 5 million people and the second highest number of confirmed cases in China – ordered residents to stay in their homes or face detention of up to 10 days. State media reported that “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.

Read more …

Fifth location outside China.

Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)

A taxi driver has died from the coronavirus in Taiwan, marking the first such death on the island and the fifth fatality outside mainland China from an epidemic that has curbed travel and disrupted global supply chains. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said during a news conference on Sunday that the deceased person was a 61-year-old man who had diabetes and hepatitis B. Taiwan has to date accumulated 20 confirmed cases. The deceased person had not traveled abroad recently and was a taxi driver whose clients were mainly from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, the minister said. One of his family members was also confirmed to have the virus.

The pair constituted Taiwan’s first local transmission cases, the minister said, adding that authorities were trying to find out as soon as possible the source of contraction. “So far, we are not able to gather his contact history, so we are actively making investigations, hoping to find out the source of the contraction,” Chen said. The island will on Monday start testing all patients who show symptoms associated with coronavirus and had traveled abroad recently, the health ministry said.


The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the central Chinese province of Hubei, has killed 1,665 people in China with latest figures showing 68,500 cases of the illness. Taiwan has banned entry to Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent history of travel to China and suspended most flights to its giant neighbor. Many schools have also extended their Lunar New Year holiday to late February to curb the spread of the virus. In a response to panic buying of masks on the island, the government scrambled to build several mask production lines and Premier Su Tseng-chang has vowed to more than double its daily mask production to 10 million by early March.

Read more …

Economic consequences. Japan was doing awful under Abenomics already.

Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)

Beijing and Shanghai have under 1,000 reported cases and only four deaths, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Their data is sourced from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the European Center for Disease Control and two China health agencies. China is the main source of the numbers. There are many people outside of China who doubt Beijing and Shanghai’s low case load. Watch for those numbers to rise in the weeks ahead. [..]

Covid-19 remains a mystery pathogen. It can be deadly. It’s like a bad pneumonia. Scientists believe it came from a species of bat. There is also concern that it escaped a virology research lab in Wuhan. There is no vaccine for Covid-19 yet, so those who have it are being treated with a variety of anti-viral medications and have to wait for the virus to work its way out of the body. Markets are repricing everything China related. Barclays Capital analysts released a 20-page report on the coronavirus on Friday where they said they were pushing out the recovery period, and think Japan heads into a technical recession because of it. Japan will release its fourth quarter GDP numbers on Monday.

Barclays analysts led by Tetsufumi Yamakawa in Tokyo estimate that real GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus and mostly due to domestic tax matters. Yamakawa does see an increasing risk in first quarter weakness due to the Covid-19 impacts, and if that leads to negative growth, and it could, Japan hits a technical recession with back to back contraction. Weaker China tourism and a decrease in trade with China is a huge headwind for Japan. For Barclays, the probability of a recession there has surged to 69%.


Barclays’ China view is basically Wall Street consensus: so long as the virus stays concentrated in Hubei, they are going to trust China keeps it that way. [..] Xi Jinping last week called for even tighter restrictions on Hubei, and put two new Party bosses in charge to make sure the clampdown is enforced. “We think these efforts showed the urgency and determination of the government to stabilize the epicenter as soon as possible,” says Eric Zhu, an economist with Barclays in Hong Kong. “We expect incremental improvements,” he says.

Read more …

How is Abe still the PM there?

Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)

Japan’s economy shrank at the fastest rate in five years at the end of 2019 as it was hit by a sales tax rise, a major typhoon and weak global demand. Annualised GDP fell by a much steeper than expected 6.3% in October-December. There are also concerns the coronavirus outbreak will mean the slump continues this quarter. That has raised fears that the world’s third-biggest economy may fall into recession. During the period Japanese consumer spending fell 2.9% after the country’s sales tax was raised in October to 10% from 8%. In the same month Typhoon Hagibis hit large parts of the country.


Last quarter, capital spending dropped by 3.7% and exports slipped 0.1% amid the ongoing US-China trade war. Investors are now watching to see whether the economy will rebound after the coronavirus forced China to shut down factories and led to a big drop in Chinese tourists visiting Japan. In response to today’s data economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the Japanese government was ready to take all necessary steps to deal with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy and tourism.

Read more …

Recession looms everywhere by now. We just don’t want to know it.

Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)

Japan and Singapore appeared to be on the brink of recession on Monday as the coronavirus epidemic disrupted tourism and supply chains around the world, and as China imposed tougher restrictions to try and stop the virus spreading further. The number of reported new cases of coronavirus in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, rose on Monday by more than 1,933, after two days of falls, and there were 100 deaths reported since Sunday. Across mainland China, officials said the total number of cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548, with 1,770 deaths. Nearly 90% of new cases were in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the virus is believed to have originated at a market illegally trading wildlife late last year.

The virus, which is believed to have a 14-day incubation period, has forced thousands of people to be quarantined around the world. In Cambodia, authorities were scrambling to track down hundreds of passengers who disembarked from the Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam after an American woman left the ship and was tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. More than 100 have already left the country, while some 300 are reportedly still in Cambodia. “I believe there’s 300 Americans here at this hotel plus a few hundred from other countries. We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” said passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida.


“We have no idea when we get to get home…” American passengers were taken off another cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan. Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board the Carnival Corp. Diamond Princess in Yokohama. The 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3. Some 355 people on board have tested positive for the disease, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.

Read more …

It’s just a matter of waiting for new clusters to pop up now.

Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)

American passengers were taken off a cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan, while China said the rate of new coronavirus cases had slowed, calling that proof its steps to fight the outbreak were working. An announcement aboard the Diamond Princess, where 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3, told Americans to get ready to disembark on Sunday evening for charter flights home. Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship. Of the roughly 400 Americans on the cruise, more than 40 are infected with the virus and will stay in Japan for treatment, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci told the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. Others are going to be evacuated starting imminently to air force bases in the United States.” Kyodo News Agency said the flights carrying U.S. passengers left Haneda Airport at around 1700 ET (2200 GMT). Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers. “Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” U.S. passenger Gay Courter told Reuters.


Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board, bringing the total on the ship to 355, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Fauci told the Washington Post there were 44 infected Americans. Within China, authorities reported 2,009 new cases on Sunday, noting that this was down from more than 2,600 the previous day. They said this showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit.

Read more …

Is anyone criminally responsible?

Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)

Holland America Line said it is working with governments and health experts to track passengers who disembarked from its Westerdam cruise ship docked in Cambodia after an American woman tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. The cruise line, which is owned by cruise giant Carnival Corp, said none of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew have reported any symptoms. “Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company said. Passengers had been cleared to travel by Cambodian authorities after health checks when the cruise ship docked on Thursday. It had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.


But on Saturday, Malaysia said an American woman who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday on a chartered flight had tested positive for the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,700 people, the vast majority in China. The woman’s husband tested negative for the coronavirus. About 137 of the 145 passengers on the chartered flight had already left for other countries as of Sunday after showing no signs of illness, Malaysian authorities said. Dozens more of the Westerdam passengers had flown through Thailand and onward to other countries, Thai officials said. At least 236 passengers and 747 crew remain aboard the vessel off the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, Holland America said. Others were in hotels in Phnom Penh, the capital.

Read more …

Did you know the Chinese see the world the same way Christian religions do? G-d appointed man the master of the world! Must be the dumbest facet of religion: man declares himself G-d.

‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)

For the past two weeks China’s police have been raiding houses, restaurants and makeshift markets across the country, arresting nearly 700 people for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals. The scale of the crackdown, which has netted almost 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels and boars, suggests that China’s taste for eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes is not likely to disappear overnight, despite potential links to the new coronavirus. Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen. “I’d like to sell once the ban is lifted,” said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region.

“People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face.” Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing. Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine. [..] “In many people’s eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man,” said Wang Song, a retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


[..] Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption. However, activists pushing for a ban describe the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking, where animals are specifically bred to be consumed as food or medicine rather than released into the wild.

Read more …

Brace for much more of this.

Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)

Armed robbers in Hong Kong made off with hundreds of toilet rolls worth more than HKD1,000 ($130). Toilet rolls are currently in short supply in Hong Kong due to shortages caused by panic-buying during the coronavirus outbreak. Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said. Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said. The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.


According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket. An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218), had been stolen. Stores across the city have seen supplies massively depleted with long queues when new stock arrives. Despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak, residents have been stocking up on toilet paper. Other household products have also seen panic-buying including rice, pasta and cleaning items.

Read more …

“What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco…”

Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., fired back at Democrats who criticized Attorney General William Barr for his role in former Trump associate Roger Stone’s sentencing and defended the president’s use of Twitter after he used the platform to comment about the ongoing criminal case. “What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco,” Nunes told “Fox & Friends Weekend,” saying taxpayers paid tens of millions of dollars to fund then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team “that went chasing and trying to put us into a status of a permanent coup against the president of the United States.”

Nunes’ comments came days after Barr himself publicly swiped at Trump, declaring Thursday that the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and open cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.” [..] “I think what the attorney general said was very clear, that the president should be careful making comments about criminal investigations. One should not see that as anything other than but what it is,” Nunez said, adding that Barr “didn’t say to stop tweeting, because the fact of the matter is, with 90 percent of the media being hard left and really just working for the Democratic Party, the president has to be able to tweet.”


Earlier in the week, Trump applauded Barr on Twitter for the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation, writing: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.” “He’s built a powerful tool reaching millions of Americans, millions of people around the globe,” Nunes added, “so the president has to tweet. At the same time, the attorney general has to be able to do his job.” He also said, “It’s understandable that the president can be frustrated,” and called Stone’s dramatic early-morning arrest by federal agents in January 2019 “ridiculous.”

Read more …

It’s ilke the interagency debate in the House testimonies. The civil servants think they have the right to set policy. And don’t you dare question that. But wasn’t it perhaps high time someone did?

1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)

More than 1,100 former Department of Justice officials are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign after his department lowered the prison sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, in a move that’s led to accusations of political interference. In a letter released Sunday, the former DOJ officials, who have worked across Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote that Barr’s intervention in the Stone case has tarnished the department’s reputation. “Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice,” the former officials wrote.

“In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.” On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Stone’s 2019 conviction on charges including making false statements to Congress and witness tampering. On Twitter, Trump said the sentencing recommendation amounted to “a horrible and very unfair situation.” But then on Tuesday, the Justice Department intervened, ordering a new sentencing memo and calling for lighter punishment. A senior DOJ official told NPR that officials were “shocked” at the original recommendation.


[..] To Julie Zebrak, who’s among the former DOJ officials who signed the letter, Barr’s behavior shatters a cardinal norm that has been in place for decades: that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions should not be influenced by the White House. Zebrak told NPR that Barr’s move “sent shockwaves through the former DOJ alumni.” She added: “We are all watching in a really rapid and terrifying way the undermining of the department and the diminishment of the rule of law. We have to sort of speak up and speak out when we can.”

Read more …

“Clean cars” require cutting forests. This is where the environmental movement meets its Armageddon; there’s just not enough knowledge, they’ll believe anything that sounds good.

German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)

Tesla has been ordered to temporarily halt preparations for a car factory in Germany after environmentalists won a court injunction on Sunday. The electric carmaker had been clearing forest land near the capital, Berlin, ahead of building its first European car and battery plant. The court emphasised the injunction was temporary and subject to further hearings, probably this week. Protesters say the factory is a threat to local wildlife and water supplies. To much fanfare, Tesla’s boss Elon Musk announced plans last November to build a European facility known as a “gigafactory” in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.


But the factory has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and Germany’s pro-business Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties, who fear the issue could damage the country’s image as a place to do business. The dispute highlights the risks for the US carmaker, which has not been officially granted permission to build the factory. Tesla was, however, granted permission by Germany’s environment ministry to begin site preparations “at its own risk”. This has involved clearing about 91 hectares (225 acres) of forest and the felling of thousands of trees – something that outraged an alliance of environmentalists called the Green League. In a statement on Sunday, the court representing the Berlin and Brandenburg region cautioned: “It should not be assumed that the motion seeking legal protection brought by the Green League lacks any chance of succeeding.”

Read more …

If the goverment can let its journalists rot in Belmarsh, this shouldn’t be a surprise. How loud has ABC been in its defense of Assannge?

Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)

Australia’s national broadcaster has lost its legal challenge to controversial police raids on its Sydney newsroom last year. In June, police searched the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a newspaper journalist over articles which relied on leaks from government whistleblowers. The raids sparked public outrage and protests across the nation’s media. However, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the searches were legal. ABC’s managing director David Anderson said the decision was “disappointing”. He said the raids had been a high-profile “attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their job”. Australian Federal Police alleged the stories and reporters at the centre of its searches had breached national security laws.


In the raid last year, they seized thousands of documents over a 2017 ABC investigation which alleged Australian armed forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Police also raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst. In 2018, she had reported an alleged attempt by a government agency to spy on Australian citizens. Australia’s conservative government tightened its security laws in 2018 to make it a criminal offence for journalists to receive classified information from military or intelligence sources. Canberra has previously said it backs press freedom but that “no one was above the law”.

Read more …

Never voluntarily.

Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)

When mainstream approaches to sustainability fail to challenge economic growth they provide limited, sometimes even false solutions to today’s crises. Technological and political interventions that reduce environmental impacts and enhance overall efficiency – though contributing to sustainability in a narrow sense – end up adding to global inequality and ecological overshoot, insofar as they accelerate growth. Growth is one of the chief drivers of social inequality and environmental degradation; it is also what sustains the global capitalist economy. Sustainability solutions that promote growth under the banner of “green growth” are the easiest to accept and implement, but they are the least able to address the roots of today’s crises.

Proponents of green growth believe that growth can be decoupled from environmental impacts, yet there is no empirical evidence that this is possible. Meanwhile, acting on such an unproven assumption obscures the real harm being done by sustaining extractive and exploitative capitalism. We have already surpassed the known limits to growth, so degrowth is our only option. Sustainability is an outcome of healthy metabolic relationships between an organism and its environment. When consumption depletes resources faster than their rate of regeneration – which is what we are currently doing – it is by definition unsustainable.

Although essential, today’s most progressive reforms, including the Green New Deal and the circular economy, will only be effective when combined with a more equitable distribution of resources and decreasing per capita consumption in advanced economies. For sustainability efforts to be effective, they must be part of a comprehensive degrowth agenda focused on systems change. Contrary to common misunderstandings, degrowth does not mean negative growth or imply sacrifices to one’s quality of life. Rather, it is focused on reducing a society’s material and energy throughput while actually enhancing quality of life. [..]


The next 30 years constitute what systems theorists call a ‘decision window.’ How societies decide to respond to mounting social and ecological pressures will determine whether the system evolves or collapses. Once the decision window ends and the global system passes the chaos point, the system irreversibly changes, and there are only two futures left – breakthrough or breakdown. There is no chance that a wildly optimistic techno-future can sustain growth beyond social and planetary boundaries. Civilization will either collapse or it will follow a path of managed descent and sustainable reorganization. The only breakthroughs remaining follow paths of degrowth.

Read more …

They’ll appeal. Check back in a decade.

US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

A Missouri jury’s $265 million award to peach grower Bill Bader in his lawsuit against herbicide providers Bayer and BASF has raised the stakes for the two companies as at least 140 similar cases head to U.S. courts later this year. A jury in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, handed Bader, the state’s largest peach farmer, $15 million in actual and $250 million in punitive damages. He sued the companies saying his 1,000-acre orchard was irreparably harmed by herbicide that they produce, which drifted onto its trees from nearby farms. The three-week trial was the first case in the United States to rule on the use of dicamba-based herbicides alleged to have damaged tens of thousands of acres of U.S. cropland.

The herbicide can become a vapor and drift for miles when used in certain weather, farmers have claimed. Bayer said it was “disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” and plans to appeal. BASF also said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision and plans to appeal. Both companies said their dicamba-based herbicides are safe when used as directed. Bayer faces separate multi-billion-dollar litigation over the Roundup weedkiller made by Monsanto, the U.S. firm it took over for $63 billion in 2018. Monsanto made Roundup and dicamba, and Bayer is being sued over both products.


[..] Bayer and BASF face other dicamba lawsuits that could begin late his year before the same judge in Missouri, said attorney Billy Randles, whose firm represented Bader and also represents dozens of others with similar claims. “These are all the same” allegations, said Randles. “They claim negligent design, failure to warn and all allege a joint venture” between Bayer and BASF. The jury found the two equally liable for the damages.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Feb 102020
 


Arnold Genthe 17th century Iglesia el Carmen, Antigua, Guatemala 1915

 

Japan: 60 More Coronavirus Infections On Diamond Princess Cruise Ship (SCMP)
iPhones Will Display China’s Back-to-Work Power (R.)
Beijing Officially Declares Lockdown (GNews)
Taiwan’s Foxconn Gets OK To Restart Plant In Zhengzhou, China (R.)
Nikkei Denies Reuters Story That Foxconn Will Restart Production (ZH)
Shenzhen Denies Blocking Apple Supplier Foxconn From Resuming Production (R.)
Amazon Latest To Pull Out Of Major Barcelona Tech Show (BBC)
Millions Left Wuhan Before Quarantine. Where Did They Go? (AP)
The Mysterious Origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus (ET)
Rick Gates Told Mueller The Black Ledger Was Fabricated (Solomon)

 

 

Lots of ‘China back to work’ articles today, because I was curious how that would go. Well, it’s not clear -what a surprise. Beijing put itself on lockdown today, maybe that’s a clear sign. They, too, must have seen that the cruise ship floating off Yokohama found an additional 60 infections. And factories, like trains etc., can be almost as bad as cruise ships in spreading viruses.

The best line on the topic is perhaps that Citi estimates that by Tuesday, only 30% of China’s total workforce will be able to return to work. Much less today. Reuters claims that Foxconn can open its Zhengzhou factories, only to have Nikkei deny it. Nikkei in turn says Shenzhen ordered Foxconn’s plants there shut, but Shenzhen denies that.

That Amazon, LG, Ericsson and NVIDIA have all withdrawn from a conference as far away as Barcelona should also tell you something about the overall mood. People say: how iPhones fare will tell you a lot. I say: look at the less iconic stuff.

 

• Deaths 910, up 97 from yesterday’s 813 – people say: Daily Record! I say: every day has been a record so far, or the same as the day before.

• New cases 2,973 from 2,652 yesterday – no more levelling off

• Global confirmed cases 40,614

Hubei

• 29,631 confirmed cases
• 871 deaths
• 1,795 discharged from hospitals
• 73,127 under medical observation

 

Note: the SCMP app where the numbers below come from appears to have some troubles. The detailed numbers are not there. At first, no numbers at all. Then they re-appeared, and then started counting backward. But they’re about right as official numbers go.

 

 

 

 

Petri dish. Newer studies suggest the virus can survive 9 days on surfaces. Good luck.

Japan: 60 More Coronavirus Infections On Diamond Princess Cruise Ship (SCMP)

Testing aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has found 60 more confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, national broadcaster NHK said on Monday. That brings total cases on the ship docked in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, to 130. Japanese authorities have so far tested about 280 people on board the Diamond Princess, which was placed on a two-week quarantine after a former passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong last month, was diagnosed with the coronavirus. About 3,700 people are on board the vessel, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670.


The Princess Cruise website describes the ship as “your home away from home” and it will remain so for most passengers at least until February 19. The quarantine period could be extended if necessary, a Japanese government official said. One of those found infected is in serious condition. Many on board are elderly and at greater risk of developing complications from the virus. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s top emergency expert, said new cases would push back the quarantine. “We need to find a way to break that vicious cycle and find a way of organising the patients on board in a way that we can get people off the ship in due course, Ryan said.

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Sure sounds strict.

Beijing Officially Declares Lockdown (GNews)

As the novel coronavirus spreads from Wuhan, China has been implementing “closed management” by putting 80 cities under lockdown. Today, Beijing authorities also issued a “Strict Closed Management of Residential Communities” in an epidemic prevention and control announcement. It is an official declaration that Beijing, the country’s capital city of China, is now under lockdown. According to the notice, Beijing will further enforce “community closed management” in a strict manner. Outside vehicles and personnel are not allowed to enter the city. People arriving in Beijing must also report their health status and complete the registration of personal information. Those who have left the epidemic area or have physical contact with persons in the epidemic area within 14 days of their arrival at Beijing, shall be inspected or quarantined at home in accordance with the regulations.


They should take the initiative to report their health conditions, and cooperate with relevant management services. They shall not go out. Anyone who refuses to accept epidemic prevention measures such as medical observation and home quarantine constitutes a violation of public security management and shall be severely punished by the public security bureau according to the law. In addition, all public places in the Beijing community that are not essential for people’s living are closed. All agencies and enterprises must strictly strengthen body temperature monitoring. Housing agencies and landlords in Beijing must provide local government with information on rental houses and tenants. This is a measure for epidemic prevention.

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I’m still not convinced. But I realize that Xi really really wants it.

China Slowly Gets Back To Work (R.)

Authorities told businesses to add up to 10 extra days onto Lunar New Year holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January. Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces remained closed and many people worked from home. Few commuters seen during the morning rush-hour on one of Beijing’s busiest subway lines. All were wearing masks. Jin Yang, who works in a department of China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange, rode a bicycle to work instead of public transport. Staff were told to wear masks, avoid face-to-face meetings and the canteen was closed. Another employee surnamed Chen said the insurance company he worked for had barred people from taking public transport. “I usually take subways but this morning it cost me 200 yuan one way by cab,” he said.

Hubei, the province of 60 million people that is the hardest hit by the outbreak, remains in virtual lockdown, with its train stations and airports shut and its roads sealed off. The extended closure of factories in the world’s second-largest economy has raised concerns about disruptions cascading through global supply chains. China’s central bank has taken a raft of steps to support the economy, including reducing interest rates and flushing the market with liquidity. From Monday, it will provide special funds for banks to re-lend to businesses combating the virus. Taiwan’s Foxconn has received Chinese government approval to resume production at a key plant in the north China city of Zhengzhou, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters on Monday.

But the southern city of Shenzhen rejected a company request to resume work at a plant there. Tesla, Daimler and Ford Motor are among carmakers that have said that they will restart production at their factories on Monday. Gaming giant Tencent Holdings said it had asked staff to continue working from home until Feb. 21. Samsung Electronics resumed production at its home appliance factory in China on Monday, while it continues to run its chip factory there, a spokeswoman said. It extended the suspension of work at a television factory to Feb. 17. Hyundai said its suppliers in China resumed production but volume was negligible. Kia Motors is suspending production at all three Korean plants due to a shortage of parts, although one of them will resume production on Tuesday.

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Beijinng can make iPhones a priority, knowing the west will watch them more than other products. So, bad barometer.

iPhones Will Display China’s Back-to-Work Power (R.)

The next iPhones will test China’s ability to restart its economy. Apple supplier Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, is re-opening a key Chinese plant as authorities ease curbs. But the handset-maker and other companies face labour shortages as workers struggle to travel with ongoing contagion fears around a coronavirus outbreak. It’s a reminder of the complexity of restarting supply chains. Foxconn has won permission to resume operations at its mega Zhengzhou facility in northern China. Production at the plant, which some analysts reckon account for the bulk of the iPhone’s assemblies, has been halted for over two weeks.

The company is still in talks with officials to restart two other major plants, according to Reuters. One, in the southern city of Shenzhen, is focused on new iPhone models slated for this year, local media reports. There are practical limitations, though. Barely 16,000 workers, less than 10% of the workforce, returned to the Zhengzhou factory, Reuters reported on Monday [..] Many employees of Chinese companies crisscrossed the country to go back to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday, that was then extended. Citywide lockdowns make it hard for people to move around. Analysts at Citi estimate that by Tuesday, only 30% of China’s total workforce will be able to return to work.

And that doesn’t factor in the immense challenge of preventing fresh cases of infection on factory floors. Most companies may have to enforce additional quarantines for people returning from virus-hit areas, as well as implement daily temperature checks. Foxconn has even resorted to manufacturing its own surgical face masks – up to two million a day – for its hundreds of thousands of employees. Following China-U.S. trade tension, the current disruption will fuel debate about the merits of companies allowing supply chains to consolidate too much in a single country. China’s looming labour shortage, though, is even more pronounced because the virus outbreak coincided with the holidays.

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Or do they?

Taiwan’s Foxconn Gets OK To Restart Plant In Zhengzhou, China (R.)

Taiwan’s Foxconn has received approval to resume production at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhengzhou that had been shuttered due to a coronavirus outbreak, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Monday. About 16,000 people, or under 10% of Foxconn’s workforce in Zhengzhou, have returned to the plant, the person said, adding that company executives were “trying very hard” to negotiate with authorities to resume production in other parts of China. The development comes as the coronavirus outbreak – declared a global health emergency by the WHO – threatens to disrupt Chinese manufacturing and force policymakers to ready measures to stabilize the economy.


At Foxconn, the delayed resumption of operations could impact the global technology supply chain and shipments to customers including Apple Inc, a source with direct knowledge of the matter previously told Reuters. The contract manufacturer is in talks to resume production at key plants including in Shenzhen and Kunshan, said the person on Monday [..] Tens of thousands of Foxconn employees have returned to work following an extended Lunar New Year holiday. They have been told to wear masks, undergo temperature checks and adhere to a specified dining system, showed internal memos reviewed by Reuters. Most senior Taiwanese officials have been told to refrain from returning to China and those who needed to do so required approval from Chairman Liu Young-Way, the person said.

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Are these contradictory stories spread on purpose?

Nikkei Denies Reuters Story That Foxconn Will Restart Production (ZH)

[..] after futures sprinted into the green following a Reuters report that Foxconn had received Chinese government approval to resume production at a key plant in the northern China city of Zhengzhou, Nikkei now denies this, reporting that “Foxconn’s plan to resume production on Monday has been called off by the Chinese authorities due to worries surrounding the coronavirus outbreak” The Japanese publication adds that “the action further worsens the supply chain disruption for global electronics companies, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Huawei. Foxconn is the world’s biggest iPhone assembler, and it makes Huawei smartphones and Amazon Kindle tablets as well as echo speakers, while it also supplies HP, Dell and most the major electronics brands.”


Public health experts in Shenzhen informed Foxconn, which trades as Hon Hai Precision Industry, that its factories there face “high risks of coronavirus infection” after conducting on-site inspections and therefore are not suitable to restart work, four people familiar with the matter told Nikkei. “Violation of epidemic prevention and control could potentially face the death penalty,” the internal meeting memo seen by the Nikkei Asian Review said. More importantly, Foxconn’s Zhengzhou complex, which according to Reuters would reopen on Monday, also canceled plans to resume work on Monday, they said.

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Where politics meets business. Local officials feel the heat from all sides.

Shenzhen Denies Blocking Apple Supplier Foxconn From Resuming Production (R.)

Local Chinese authorities have not blocked Apple supplier Foxconn from resuming production amid a coronavirus outbreak, they said in a statement on Sunday, denying an earlier report in the Nikkei Business Daily. The Nikkei, citing four people familiar with the matter, said on Saturday that public health experts had carried out inspections at Foxconn’s factories and told the company that there was a “high risk of coronavirus infection” at the facilities, making them unsuitable for a production restart. Shenzhen’s Longhua district, where Foxconn’s largest factory is located, said in a statement on its official WeChat account on Sunday that those reports were untrue and that it was still conducting checks, adding that the company would restart production once inspections were completed.


It said it had received proposals from three Foxconn subsidiaries on Feb. 6 detailing how the Taipei-headquartered firm, which makes smartphones for Apple and other brands, planned to put in place epidemic prevention and control measures. The thousands of workers that work in Foxconn’s factories will need to wear masks, undergo temperature checks, and adhere to a dining system considered safe, it said in the statement.

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How far is that from Wuhan?

Amazon Latest To Pull Out Of Major Barcelona Tech Show (BBC)

Amazon is the latest major company to pull out of one of the world’s largest tech shows because of risks posed by coronavirus. Amazon said “due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus” it would no longer take part in Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The organiser said the event, which attracts 100,000 people, will go ahead. But it admitted other companies are considering whether to attend. South Korea’s LG Electronics, Ericsson, the Swedish telecoms equipment-maker, and US chip company NVIDIA have already withdrawn from the conference which runs between 24-27 February.


The GSMA, which organises the show in the Spanish city, said that while it could “confirm some large exhibitors have decided not to come to the show this year with others still contemplating next steps, we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong”. However, it revealed that it had put in place additional measures to “reassure attendees and exhibitors that their health and safety are our paramount concern”. These include a ban on all travellers from China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, while people who have been in China must provide proof they have been outside the country for 14 days.

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Most stayed in China. That’s at least something.

Millions Left Wuhan Before Quarantine. Where Did They Go? (AP)

For weeks after the first reports of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, millions of people poured out of the central Chinese city, cramming onto buses, trains and planes as the first wave of China’s great Lunar New Year migration broke across the nation. Some carried with them the new virus that has since claimed over 8 00 lives and sickened more than 37,000 people. Officials finally began to seal the borders on Jan. 23. But it was too late. Speaking to reporters a few days after the the city was put under quarantine, the mayor estimated that 5 million people had already left. Where did they go?

An Associated Press analysis of domestic travel patterns using map location data from Chinese tech giant Baidu shows that in the two weeks before Wuhan’s lockdown, nearly 70% of trips out of the central Chinese city were within Hubei province. Baidu has a map app that is similar to Google Maps, which is blocked in China. Another 14% of the trips went to the neighboring provinces of Henan, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi. Nearly 2% slipped down to Guangdong province, the coastal manufacturing powerhouse across from Hong Kong, and the rest fanned out across China. The cities outside Hubei province that were top destinations for trips from Wuhan between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24 were Chongqing, a municipality next to Hubei province, Beijing and Shanghai.

The travel patterns broadly track with the early spread of the virus. The majority of confirmed cases and deaths have occurred in China, within Hubei province, followed by high numbers of cases in central China, with pockets of infections in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing as well. “It’s definitely too late,” said Jin Dong-Yan, a molecular virologist at Hong Kong University’s School of Biomedical Sciences. “Five million out. That’s a big challenge. Many of them may not come back to Wuhan but hang around somewhere else. To control this outbreak, we have to deal with this. On one hand, we need to identify them. On the other hand, we need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination.”

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Too many theories to keep up.

The Mysterious Origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus (ET)

Scientific studies based on phylogenetic analysis have researched the sequence of the novel coronavirus, compared it to other coronavirus sequences, and found it likely originated in bats. Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology found the genome in the virus found in patients was 96 percent identical to that of an existing bat coronavirus, according to a study published in the journal Nature. But there have been other theories as well. One Chinese study suggested, for example, that snakes were the source of transmission to humans. However, many scientists believe that reptiles are a less likely source and that mammals like rats and pigs, and some birds, have been the primary reservoir for coronaviruses.

With this in mind, phylogenetic studies of viral genome sequences need to be supported by animal studies to confirm the origin of the infection, as well as to determine whether there is an intermediate host. It is not an easy task for a virus to establish zoonotic transmission, and coronaviruses rarely leap from animal to human infection with high transmissibility. There is even less chance to see a coronavirus leap directly from bats to humans. To infect new hosts, mutations need to occur with the viral surface proteins and/or envelope and structural genes, so that the mutated viruses can bind and enter the cells of new species, and efficiently complete the replication cycles in the new hosts. Some scientists have argued that coronaviruses can jump directly to humans, without mutating or passing through an intermediate species.

However, an intermediate host was clearly needed to establish zoonotic transmission to humans in the previous outbreaks of coronaviruses. Many studies suggested that the bat coronavirus jumped from its natural host bats to civets and then to humans during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and it jumped from bats to camels and then to humans for the MERS outbreak. So, civets and camels would serve as intermediate hosts for zoonotic transmission. Because bats were not sold at the Huanan market in Wuhan—the epicenter of the infection—at the time of the outbreak, this suggests the existence of another intermediate animal host that may have transferred the virus to humans. What is the most puzzling is that there have been no reports on the testing of animal samples collected in any epicenters in Wuhan, especially at the Huanan seafood market, to identify what animals might be the host or intermediate hosts of this novel Wuhan coronavirus.

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Both the Steele dossier and the black ledger are fabricated files.

Rick Gates Told Mueller The Black Ledger Was Fabricated (Solomon)

One of Robert Mueller’s pivotal trial witnesses told the special prosecutor’s team in spring 2018 that a key piece of Russia collusion evidence found in Ukraine known as the “black ledger” was fabricated, according to interviews and testimony. The ledger document, which suddenly appeared in Kiev during the 2016 U.S. election, showed alleged cash payments from Russian-backed politicians in Ukraine to ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “The ledger was completely made up,” cooperating witness and Manafort business partner Rick Gates told prosecutors and FBI agents, according to a written summary of an April 2018 special counsel’s interview. In a brief interview with Just the News, Gates confirmed the information in the summary. “The black ledger was a fabrication,” Gates said.

“It was never real, and this fact has since been proven true.” Gates’ account is backed by several Ukrainian officials who stated in interviews dating to 2018 that the ledger was of suspicious origins and could not be corroborated. If true, Gates’ account means the two key pieces of documentary evidence used by the media and FBI to drive the now-debunked Russia collusion narrative — the Steele dossier and the black ledger — were at best uncorroborated and at worst disinformation. His account also raises the possibility that someone fabricated the document in Ukraine in an effort to restart investigative efforts on Manafort’s consulting work or to meddle in the U.S. presidential election.

Much mystery has surrounded the black ledger, which was publicized by the New York Times and other U.S. news outlets in the summer of 2016 and forced Manafort out as one of Trump’s top campaign officials. After gaining wide attention as purported evidence of Russian ties to the Trump campaign, the ledger was never introduced as evidence at Manafort’s 2018 trial or significantly analyzed in Mueller’s final 2019 report, which concluded that Trump did not collude with Russia to influence the 2016 election. No FBI 302 interview reports have been released either showing what the FBI concluded about the ledger. Gates’ interview with the Mueller team now provides a potential clue as to why.

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The Automatic Earth will not survive without your support. Please help.

 

Jan 012020
 


Vincent van Gogh Weeping woman 1883

 

‘I’m Slowly Dying Here’: Julian Assange in Christmas Eve Call (RT)
US Chief Justice Warns Of Internet Disinformation (R.)
Taiwan Anti-Infiltration Bill Passed As Opposition Lawmakers Protest (SCMP)
Taiwan Leader Rejects China’s Offer To Unify Under Hong Kong Model (R.)
Sydney House Prices Set To Top $1 Million Again (SMH)
Negative Rates, The Destruction Of Money (Lacalle)
Google Veterans: The Company Has Become ‘Unrecognizable’ (CNBC)
Should Racists Get Health Care? (Ron Paul)
Coyotes Take Up Residence At Trump’s New York City Golf Course (G.)
Earthshot: William And Kate Launch Prize To ‘Repair The Earth’ (BBC)

 

 

Happy New Year Julian! May your nightmare come to an end in 2020.

‘I’m Slowly Dying Here’: Julian Assange in Christmas Eve Call (RT)

Julian Assange sounded like a shell of the man he once was during a Christmas Eve phone call, British journalist Vaughan Smith told RT, noting the WikiLeaks founder had trouble speaking and appeared to be drugged. Assange was allowed to make just a single call from the maximum security Belmarsh prison in southeast London for the Christmas holiday, hoping for a reminder of the world beyond his drab confines of steel and concrete. “I think he simply wanted a few minutes of escape” and to revive “happy memories,” Smith told RT, adding that Assange had spent the holiday at his home in 2010. The brief conversation was far from cheerful, however, with Assange’s deteriorating condition increasingly apparent throughout the call.

He said to me that: ‘I’m slowly dying here.’ “His speech was slurred. He was speaking slowly,” the journalist continued. “Now, Julian is highly articulate, a very clear person when he speaks. And he sounded awful… it was very upsetting to hear him” Though Assange didn’t say it out loud during the call, Smith said he believes the anti-secrecy activist is being sedated, noting that “It seemed pretty obvious that he was,” and said others who visited Assange were of the same opinion. Smith isn’t the first to raise this issue, but British authorities have so far refused to divulge whether Assange has been given psychotropic drugs in prison, insisting only that they aren’t “mistreating” him. But given that he is “being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day,” with requests by numerous doctors to examine his physical condition denied, Smith said he has a hard time taking the officials at their word.


“Julian was extremely good company over Christmas in 2010,” the journalist said, but the man he talked to on the phone last week sounded like a different person. “I just don’t understand… why he’s in Belmarsh Prison in the first place. He’s a remand prisoner. He’s not a danger to the public.” [..] Going forward, Smith said it will be important to continue pressuring the British government to answer a litany of questions about Assange, his treatment in prison and his health, as well as to push for an “independent assessment” of the situation. Confined in one form or another since taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 and now denied the ability to defend himself in court, Assange should finally receive a fair hearing.

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Shouldn’t he be warning about the NYT, WaPo instead? Just because he reads them every day doesn’t make them any less dangerous. The opposite, really.

US Chief Justice Warns Of Internet Disinformation (R.)

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern on Tuesday about disinformation amplified by the internet and social media as he focused his year-end report on the weakening state of civics education in the United States. “In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital,” Roberts said in his annual report on behalf of the federal judiciary. The chief justice warned that Americans “have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside.” Roberts’ comments come as U.S. legislators and officials have raised concerns about the persistence of foreign propaganda and false news aimed at sowing discord in the U.S. political system in the lead-up to the 2020 election.


U.S. intelligence agencies and an inquiry by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that Russia engaged in a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sway the 2016 presidential race toward Republican President Donald Trump. Mueller did not establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election. Roberts said in his report that an independent judiciary was a “key source of national unity and stability” and called on his judicial colleagues to promote public confidence and trust by reflecting on their duty to judge without fear or favor. He has previously lamented the perception in an increasingly polarized society that lower courts and the Supreme Court are becoming politicized, and that judges are guided primarily by their partisan affiliations.

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Quite a few Taiwanese support the mainland.

Taiwan Anti-Infiltration Bill Passed As Opposition Lawmakers Protest (SCMP)

Taiwan’s independence-leaning lawmakers have pushed through a controversial bill in the final legislative session of the year that critics say could have a chilling effect on the self-ruled island and worsen ties with Beijing. The anti-infiltration bill, which criminalises political activities backed or funded by “hostile external forces” – referring to mainland China – was passed by the Democratic Progressive Party-controlled legislature after it was put to a vote on Tuesday. “The voting result shows 67 of those present in favour of passing the bill against zero opposing it,” legislative speaker Su Jia-chyuan said in an announcement afterwards.

Opposition politicians, including those from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), had strongly criticised the bill, saying it was a move by President Tsai Ing-wen and her government to silence dissent ahead of elections on January 11. The ruling DPP said the legislation aimed to combat efforts by Beijing to influence politics and the democratic process on the island, including through illicit funding of politicians, and the media. After the vote, Tsai said in a Facebook post that “preventing Chinese infiltration is what every diplomatic country is doing”. “Chinese infiltration of Taiwan is of great concern to the society here, and the law is against infiltration but not against exchanges,” she said.


[..] Analysts said the legislation could have a chilling effect on Taiwan. “Many Taiwanese people – including academics, politicians and businesspeople – receive gifts or are entertained by mainland authorities during their visits,” said Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei. “This may create a chilling effect and it will only further hamper cross-strait exchanges.” Chu Chao-hsiang, a political science professor at National Taiwan Normal University, said a chilling effect caused by the legislation would potentially mean lost opportunities for the island as businesses turned away from the mainland. “Many overseas subsidiaries of mainland companies have investments in Taiwan. If they send funds to their Taiwanese executives in Taiwan to carry out certain investment projects, would this be seen as receiving funds and instructions from the mainland?” he said.

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Wonder what Hong Kong model they have in mind.

Taiwan Leader Rejects China’s Offer To Unify Under Hong Kong Model (R.)

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday the island would not accept a “one country, two systems” political formula Beijing has suggested could be used to unify the democratic island, saying such an arrangement had failed in Hong Kong. China claims Taiwan as its territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name. Tsai, who’s seeking re-election in a Jan. 11 vote, also vowed in a New Year’s speech to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, saying her government would build a mechanism to safeguard freedom and democracy as Beijing ramps up pressure on the island.


Fear of China has become a major element in the campaign, boosted by months of anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong. “Hong Kong people have showed us that ‘one country, two systems’ is definitely not feasible,” Tsai said, referring to the political arrangement that guaranteed certain freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong after it was returned to China in 1997. “Under ‘one country, two systems’, the situation continues to deteriorate in Hong Kong. The credibility of ‘one country, two systems’ has been sullied by the government’s abuse of power,” Tsai said.

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A very fitting topic as 500,000 wildlife have burned to death.

Sydney House Prices Set To Top $1 Million Again (SMH)

Sydney house owners are set to become millionaires again in February, mortgages allowing. The typical Sydney free-standing home was worth $974,000 as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, according to an exclusive preview of key home price data due to be released by CoreLogic on Thursday. The median Sydney unit was worth $746,000. The value of a typical Sydney free-standing house tumbled from peak of $1,060,000 in July 2017 to $865,000 in June 2019. But a combination of interest rate cuts and an easing of loan serviceability tests reignited Sydney’s property market in the second half of 2019.


One day before the end of 2019, preliminary figures provided to The Sydney Morning Herald by CoreLogic’s head of research, Tim Lawless, show Sydney dwelling prices rose 5.3 per cent in 2019, after an 8.9 per cent fall in 2018. “It’s been quite a turnaround,” Mr Lawless said. “Prices have rebounded much faster than anyone would have expected.” In December alone, prices gained a little over 1.5 per cent. This was a slight slowing in the pace of price growth from November’s 2.7 per cent monthly gain, which was the fastest rate of growth since records began in the 1980s. “It’s still a very strong rate of growth, but a step down from November,” Mr Lawless said. “What was probably slowing that rate of growth down a little bit was we did start seeing a bit more stock, giving buyers a bit more choice.”

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A few days old, I think, but there’s a direct link to those Sydney home prices.

Negative Rates, The Destruction Of Money (Lacalle)

Negative rates are the destruction of money, an economic aberration based on the mistakes of many central banks and some of their economists who start from a wrong diagnosis: the idea that economic agents do not take more credit or invest more because they choose to save too much and therefore saving must be penalized to stimulate the economy. Excuse the bluntness, but it is a ludicrous idea. Inflation and growth are not low due to excess savings, but because of excess debt, perpetuating overcapacity with low rates and high liquidity and zombifying the economy by subsidizing the low productivity and highly indebted sectors and penalizing high productivity with rising and confiscatory taxation.

Historical evidence of negative rates shows that they do not help reduce debt, they incentivize it, they do not strengthen the credit capacity of families, because the prices of non-replicable assets (real estate, etc.) skyrocket because of monetary excess, and the lower cost of debt does not compensate for the greater risk. Investment and credit growth are not subdued because economic agents are ignorant or saving too much, but because they don’t have amnesia. Families and businesses are more cautious in their investment and spending decisions because they perceive, correctly, that the reality of the economy they see each day does not correspond to the cost and the quantity of money. It is completely incorrect to think that families and businesses are not investing or spending.


They are only spending less than what central planners would want. However, that is not a mistake from the private sector side, but a typical case of central planners’ misguided estimates, that come from using 2001-2007 as “base case” of investment and credit demand instead of what those years really were: a bubble. The argument of the central planners is based on an inconsistency: That rates are negative because markets demand them, not because they are imposed by the central bank. If that were the case, why don’t they let rates float freely if the result was going to be the same? Because it is false. [..] Negative rates are a huge transfer of wealth from savers and real wages to the government and the indebted. A tax on caution. The destruction of the perception of risk that always benefits the most reckless. The bailout of the inefficient.

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It’s part of the CIA now.

Google Veterans: The Company Has Become ‘Unrecognizable’ (CNBC)

When Google co-founders Larry Page and President Sergey Brin stepped down from their roles as CEO and president of Google holding company Alphabet earlier this month, it marked the end of an era. While it’s unclear what prompted the two to leave their formal management positions, longtime employees, many of whom also left the company this year, described to CNBC a massive cultural shift that percolated throughout 2019. They cited changes to Google’s all-hands meetings, human resources processes and transparency from management. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai in October admitted the company’s challenge in scaling the trust of its own workforce which numbers more than 100,000 people.

More recently, Lazlo Bock, former director of human resources for Google, told Bloomberg that he thinks Alphabet is “a different company than it used to be” but that “not everyone’s gotten the memo.” The change has been noticed by some on the outside, too. “What the hell is going on over there?” tweeted Andreessen Horowitz partner Martin Casado over the summer. “The brain drain at Google right now is astonishing.” Workers told CNBC that 2018 was a pivotal point in the company’s shift away from upfront communication. That was when news of Project Dragonfly, a secret Google plan to develop a censored search engine for possible rollout in China, first broke in The Intercept. Internally, the existence of the project had been kept on a need-to-know basis.


The company later canceled Project Dragonfly after employees expressed concern over the secrecy of the project. Some workers left the company altogether. “There’s no way a few years before, they would have had a secret project with these kinds of ethical concerns,” said Raph Levien, a former level 6 engineer who left Google after 11 years. “It crossed the line and felt misleading. It definitely felt like this was Google changing.”

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Must a society’s health care be measured by perceptions of big bad goverment? Do we remember how societies used to build bridges and roads et al? If your govenment doesn’t serve your society, replace it, don’t sell off all your community assets.

Should Racists Get Health Care? (Ron Paul)

Political correctness recently took a dangerous turn in the United Kingdom when the North Bristol National Health Service Trust announced that hospital patients who use offensive, racist, or sexist language will cease receiving medical care as soon as it is safe to end their treatment. The condition that treatment will not be withdrawn until doing so is safe seems to imply that no one will actually suffer from this policy. However, health-care providers have great discretion to determine when it is “safe” to withhold treatment. So, patients could be left with chronic pain or be denied certain procedures that could improve their health but are not necessary to make them “safe.” Patients accused of racism or sexism could also find themselves at the bottom of the NHS’s infamous “waiting lists,” unable to receive treatment until it truly is a matter of life and death.

Since many people define racism and sexism as “anything I disagree with,” the new policy will no doubt lead to people being denied medical care for statements that most reasonable people would consider unobjectionable. This is not the first time NHS has withheld treatment because of an individual’s behavior. A couple years ago, another local health committee announced it would withhold routine or nonemergency surgeries from smokers and the obese. Since reducing smoking and obesity benefits both individual patients and the health care system as a whole, this policy may appear defensible. But denying or delaying care violates medical ethics and sets a dangerous precedent. If treatment could be denied to smokers and the obese, then it could also be denied to those who engage in promiscuous sex, drive over the speed limit, don’t get the “proper” number of vaccinations for themselves and their children, or have “dangerous” political views.


Government bureaucrats denying care to individuals for arbitrary reasons is the inevitable result of government interference in the health-care market. Government intervention is supposed to ensure quality and affordable (or free) care for all. But, government intervention artificially lowers the costs of health care to patients while increasing costs to providers. As demand rises and supply falls, government imposes rationing to address the shortages and other problems caused by prior government interference. Rationing has been part of American health care at least since the passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. Every plan to expand government’s role in health care contains some form of rationing.

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Take any story at all and see if you can inject Trump. Because that sells. Journalism today.

Nor is this a new thing. 10 years ago off of the farm near Ottawa, there were always coyotes howling in the woods.

Coyotes Take Up Residence At Trump’s New York City Golf Course (G.)

Donald Trump has a $269m golf course in New York City that is regularly prowled by feared, largely nocturnal individuals that instinctively prey upon those they deem smaller and weaker. We are, of course, talking about coyotes. The shrewd canines have spread so far from their ranges in the western US that they are now making unlikely homes in cities on the east coast, including beside the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, a landscaped sward frequented by visor- and chino-wearing golfers in the faintly incongruous setting of the Bronx. “The staff at the golf course think the coyotes are cool,” said Chris Nagy, a wildlife biologist and co-founder of Gotham Coyote, a collaboration of researchers who study coyotes in New York. “But there’s a point where if the coyotes are getting annoying and worrying the golfers, then they’ll change their minds.”

As humanity chews through landscapes for housing, farming, roads and mining, ecologists have warned of the Earth’s sixth great extinction, with about a million species now endangered. But some creatures have proved flexible in the face of this onslaught, even blossoming in the new circumstances. Coyotes, unfussy eaters that can cover large distances in search of a suitable home, are one of the winners in this denuded age. Cities like New York and Detroit, where redevelopment or economic blight has left urban sites bereft of humans, are increasingly being colonized by coyotes, as well as other opportunists such as raccoons, opossums and even bobcats. Researchers have found a riot of non-human carnivores dwelling in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Washington DC.


[..] “We’re finding coyotes like almost everything or at least can survive on almost everything,” Nagy said as he trudged through the scrub and reeds in search of the Ferry Point camera trap. “A pack of wolves would need, like, the whole county. But not coyotes. They’ve lived kind of underfoot of both wolves and people for thousands of years. And so they’ve evolved to survive metaphorically running among the feet of the giants. “They’re my favorite animal. And I liked them before I started studying them. They’re clever. We’ve tried our best to eradicate them and they’ve thwarted us at every turn. I really admire that, I guess.”

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Between these hollow drips, Greta in Davos and Carney as the UN climate go-to finance guy, 2020 could well be the year when the entire movement dies of good but misguided intentions. If you turn to the billionaires to solve the issue, they will instead end up purchasing it and selling it off for profit.

Earthshot: William And Kate Launch Prize To ‘Repair The Earth’ (BBC)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have announced a global prize to tackle climate issues, pledging “a decade of action to repair the Earth”. Five winners will receive the Earthshot Prize every year between 2021 and 2030. The cash prize will be for individuals or organisations who come up with solutions to environmental problems. Prince William said the world faces a “stark choice” to continue “irreparably” damaging the planet or “lead, innovate and problem-solve”. The announcement was made in a video narrated by Sir David Attenborough posted on social media. The veteran broadcaster and naturalist said the prize would go to “visionaries rewarded over the next decade for responding to the great challenges of our time”.


The prize is set to launch officially later in 2020 – a year that will also see the Convention on Biodiversity in China in February and the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. A series of challenges will be announced, aimed at finding least 50 solutions to the “world’s greatest problems” including climate change and air pollution. More than 60 organisations and experts were consulted in the development the prize. It will initially be run by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but could become an independent organisation. Kensington Palace said it would be supported by philanthropists and organisations.

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Dec 032016
 
 December 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC “Car ferry Michigan Central turning in ice, Detroit River” 1900

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)
Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)
Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)
China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)
China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)
China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)
Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)
Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)
Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)
UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)
The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)
California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)
Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)
Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)
US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

 

 

By Monday morning, Europe could be shaking on its brittle foundations.

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)

Big international investors are holding huge short positions on Italian assets, the CEO of the Italian exchange said on Tuesday, days before the country holds a referendum on constitutional reform that could unseat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “There are colossal short positions on Italy from the U.S. and other countries where big investors are based,” said Raffaele Jerusalmi during a conference in Milan. Opinion polls conducted until a blackout period began last week showed the “no” vote comfortably in the lead, raising concerns of a political crisis and fueling market volatility. Renzi has said he would resign if Italians reject the reform.

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Spread with Bunds.

Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)

The Italian referendum is the current hot concern for investors, who are worrying and waiting to see if voters will reject government attempts to reform the country’s political system. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his reputation and job on the outcome, arguing a change in the legislature will usher in a nimbler, more productive Italy. However some see the predicted rejection of Renzi’s wishes as a potential opportunity for anti-European populist to gain momentum. Jan Randolph, Director of Sovereign Risk at IHS Markit said in an email Friday that worries over a potential European break-up can be measured by Europe’s “fear gauge”: The difference in yield between Italian and German debt.

“The markets are certainly focusing on this ‘spread’ – what we used to call in the old British banking days the ‘country risk spread’ as viewed by the financial markets,” Randolph said. In recent weeks, the yield spread between Italian and German 10-year government bonds has risen by more than 60 points in 60 days. Last week the spread hit a two-and-a-half year high of 188 basis points, however Reuters reported Friday that investors may be short covering as the gap between Italian and German bond yields has narrowed to 167 basis points. Jan Randolph said any blow-out of Italian yields may well be prevented by the poker hand being played by ECB President Mario Draghi’s massive bond-buying program, which many analysts expect to be extended next year.

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Entertaining ideas.

Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)

Is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? Ever since the $USD began its bull market run in mid-2014, the Fed, lead by Janet Yellen, has intervened whenever the $USD cleared 98. The reason for this was the following… Over 47% of US corporate sales come from abroad. With the $USD spiking, pushing all other major currencies generally lower, US corporate profits began to implode. As we write this today, profits have fallen to 2012 levels. Note when this whole profit massacre began. Because of this, the Fed has “talked down” the $USD anytime it began to push higher. Until today…

Since it was announced that Trump won the Presidency, the Fed has allowed the $USD to ramp straight up. It is currently over 101…and the Fed hasn’t said a word. So we ask again… is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? We all know the Yellen Fed is one of the most political in history with Fed officials openly donating money to the Clinton campaign. Now Trump has won… the $USD soars to 101… and suddenly the Fed is silent? Not one Fed official has appeared to talk about putting off a rate hike or some other statement that might push the $USD lower…

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Entire books have been written about this in the past 12 hours or so. That, too, is fake news.

China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, the first such contact between the two sides in nearly four decades, but China dismissed the call as a “petty action” by the self-ruled island it claims as its own. The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”. Hours after Friday’s call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwan for the exchange, avoiding what could have been a major rift with Washington just before Trump assumes the presidency. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, state media reported.

“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding ‘one China’ policy of the United States government.” In comments at the same forum, Wang noted how quickly President Xi Jinping and Trump had spoken by telephone after Trump’s victory, and that Trump had praised China as a great country. Wang said the exchange “sends a very positive signal about the future development of Sino-U.S. relations”, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website. Taiwan was not mentioned in that call, according to an official Chinese transcript. Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call he had with the Taiwan president. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said. Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

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“When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede.”

China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)

When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede. Chinese bond investors are getting a taste of just how that feels as they scramble to offload their holdings in what could turn out to be a nasty correction. Some investors have already been dumping their government bonds as yields started to rebound from record lows, while others, who only got in recently when yields were around 2.8-2.9%, been holding on in the hope that bond yields will fall back soon. In the secondary market, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Chinese Government Bond (CGB) broke above 3% on Thursday for the first time since early June and was at 2.995% in Friday morning trade, up nearly 15 basis points for the week, the biggest weekly rise since May 2015.

For November as a whole, the yield jumped 8.88%, the biggest monthly gain since October 2010. Treasury futures also plunged this week with March contracts for 10-year CGB and five-year CGB both having their biggest weekly loss since the contracts started trading in June. A Shanghai-based trader with a joint stock bank said he believes the yield on the 10-year CGB could rise as high as 3.2% before falling back. The brutal sell-off has been triggered by a triple whammy – expectations of tighter liquidity conditions and higher inflation on the domestic front, and externally, rising bond yields in the U.S.

A surge in redemptions from worried investors has hit the market hard. One major state-owned bank is said to have redeemed around CNY200 billion from money market funds while the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s largest commercial bank, is also said to have told fund managers managing some of its money to cut bonds holdings and stockpile cash in line with ICBC’s own liquidity management. Domestic investors have swarmed over China’s bond market like bees around a honey pot over the last couple of years amid a dearth of more attractive investment opportunities as economic growth slowed. The stock market rout in the summer of 2015 only encouraged investors to move more funds to fixed income products.

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Sounds about right.

China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)

China, euro zone sovereign debt and the potential fallout from Brexit top the escalating list of concerns for the Bank of England (BOE), according to a report published on Wednesday which warns that risks to global stability have spiked in the past six months. The U.K.’s central bank’s semi-annual Financial Stability Report states, “Vulnerabilities stemming from the global environment and financial markets, which were already elevated, have increased further since July.” China’s burgeoning debt levels and rapid rate of credit expansion are singled out as significant red flags, with the report noting a 100 percentage point spike in the country’s non-financial sector debt relative to GDP since the 2008 financial crisis. The ratio currently stands at around 260% of GDP.

“This is extraordinary leverage for an advanced, let alone, an emerging economy,” the BOE Governor Mark Carney said at a press conference to launch the report. The “near-record” pace of net capital outflows from China during the third quarter and a 3% depreciation in the Chinese renminbi against the U.S. dollar since the publication of the BOE’s July report were also highlighted as reasons for concern. Turning to nearer neighbors, the governor broke down the key risks emanating from some euro area economies into, firstly, existing sovereign debt dynamics and, secondly, threats to the resilience of parts of the trading bloc’s banking system.

Carney noted the vulnerability of elevated sovereign debt levels to a leap in borrowing costs or diminished growth prospects on the back of either trade or political headwinds. Moving even closer to home, the governor raised the looming specter of the U.K.’s impending departure from the EU, noting banks located domestically currently supply over half of the debt and equity issuance from continental firms and account for over 75% of foreign exchange and derivatives activity in the U.K.

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“We” can’t make up our minds about this one. Because our minds are stuck in a bubble.

Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)

Just as market forces were about to push the price of housing down in Australia, the Treasurer stepped in with some new regulation. Phew. Some first home buyer’s nearly snatched a good deal, but luckily the Treasurer was there to protect the property developers from the oversupply their building bonanza created. No issue creates a bigger flood of nonsensical econobabble in Australia than “housing affordability”. It’s a meaningless term engineered for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to pretend they are simultaneously on the side of home buyers and home sellers. What’s remarkable is the willingness of the media and others to play along. Most politicians are adamant that they want petrol, fresh food and health insurance to be less expensive.

We talk about the price of petrol and the price of milk. We don’t talk about “petrol affordability” or “bread affordability” let alone create an index of the price of bread divided by median household income. Talking endlessly about “housing affordability” allows politicians to duck the simple question of whether house prices are “too high”, “too low” or “just right”. The absurdity of this situation was revealed during the federal election campaign when the Coalition attacked the ALP’s plans to reform negative gearing on the basis that such changes would, wait for it, put downward pressure on house prices. Oh, the humanity! The Coalition’s rhetorical solution to the imaginary issue of housing affordability is to reject changes to the tax treatment of investment houses and instead blame environmentalists and state governments for “restricting the supply of housing”.

Of course this week’s redefinition of “second-hand property” by Treasurer Morrison makes a mockery of such a position. Having spent years pretending that increasing the housing supply would make housing “more affordable” the Treasurer has now acted to prevent an increase in apartment supply from pushing apartment prices down. The Coalition playbook makes clear that when it’s not the environmentalists’ fault, it must be the unions’ fault. On cue Malcolm Turnbull recently empathised with the terrible plight of “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery”. A quick look at the data suggests no such link, but if Donald Trump taught conservatives anything it’s that data is for losers.

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And it should be.

Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)

While cash is facing several challenges in the euro area with an increasing number of people moving towards cashless payments and digital banking, the reports of the demise of cash are greatly exaggerated, Deutsche Bank has said in its latest research note. “Cash is facing many challenges in the euro area. The ECB has decided to cease production of the €500 ($532) note due to concerns over its facilitation of illicit activities,” the bank said while adding that the cash in circulation is three times more than what it was in 2003.

While many would attribute this to the never-ending stream of money that the central banks have been pumping into the economy through QE and ultra-low interest rates, Deutsche Bank’s Heike Mai believes that most of the increase in cash since 2008 comes from abroad and hoarders. Cash held outside the euro area was worth €80 billion and cash hoarded domestically by the real economy is estimated to be valued at €120 billion. “There are good reasons to believe that cash won’t disappear anytime soon from the euro area. First, it is debatable that a cashless society would mean less crime,” Mai said, adding, that the ratio of damage caused by card fraud to the value of counterfeit notes in circulation is more than 10 to 1.

“Second, the political value of cash should not be underestimated. Some economies like using cash, for example, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria. The most robust data protection is provided by cash,” Mai, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said in the note. The research note that focuses on Europe argued that by the end of third-quarter of 2016, euro currency in circulation amounted to €1.1 trillion, three times as much as in the first quarter of 2003. While small-value notes such as €5, €10 and €20 are used to a great extent for day-to-day payments, bigger-value notes such as €50 and €100 are used for both payments and cash hoarding.

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Beware of frozen quicksand. Everyone wants the Pirates to fail.

Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)

Iceland’s anti-establishment Pirate Party has been asked by the president to try to form a new government, following October’s snap elections. President Gudni Johannesson made the announcement after talks with Pirates head Birgitta Jonsdottir. The Pirates, who vowed radical reforms, came third in the elections in which no party won an outright majority. Two earlier rounds of coalition talks involving first the Independence Party and then the Left-Greens failed. “Earlier today, I met the leaders of all parties and asked their opinion on who should lead those talks. After that I summoned Birgitta Jonsdottir and handed her the mandate,” President Johannesson said on Friday.

Ms Jonsdottir said afterwards she was “optimistic that we will find a way to work together”. In the elections, the Pirate Party – which was founded in 2012 – more than tripled its seats to 10 in the 63-member parliament. The election was called after Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson quit in April in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers, which revealed the offshore assets of high-profile figures. The Pirates want more political transparency and accountability, free health care, closing tax loopholes and more protection of citizens’ data.

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Color me stunned.

UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)

Politicians have exempted themselves from Britain’s new wide-ranging spying laws. The Investigatory Powers Act, which has just passed into law, brings some of the most extreme and invasive surveillance powers ever given to spies in a democratic state. But protections against those spying powers have been given to MPs. Most of the strongest powers in the new law require that those using them must be given a warrant. That applies to people wanting to see someone’s full internet browsing history, for instance, which is one of the things that will be collected under the new law. For most people, that warrant can be issued by a secretary of state. Applications are sent to senior ministers who can then approve either a targeted interception warrant or a targeted examination warrant, depending on what information the agency applying for the warrant – which could be anyone from a huge range of organisations – wants to see.

But for members of parliament and other politicians, extra rules have been introduced. Those warrants must also be approved by the prime minister. That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but alos politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament. The protections afforded to politicians are actually less than they had hoped to be given. Earlier in the process, the only amendment that MPs had submitted was one that would allow extra safeguards for politicians – forcing any request to monitor MP’s communications to go through the speaker of the House of Commons as well as the prime minister.

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Eric Peters sells cars. And he’s right that cheap credit drives car sales and gadgetry. But not about the need for cars in the first place.

The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)

We live in a society driven by debt. Cars, for example, have become hugely expensive (even on the low end) relative to what people can afford – because of the easy availability of credit. Which is the nice word used to speak about debt, intended to encourage us to get into it. It takes at least $15,000 or so to drive home in a “cheap” new car, once all is said and done. And the “cheap” car will have to be registered, plated and insured. It runs into money. And most new cars cost a lot more money. Which most people haven’t got. So they get debt. A loan. Which, when it becomes commonly resorted to as a way to live beyond one’s means as a lifestyle, drives up the cost of life for everyone. Including those who try to live within their means – or better yet, below them.

When most people (when enough people) are willing – are eager – to go into hock for the next six years in order to have a car with an LCD touchscreen, leather (and heated) seats, six air bags, a six-speaker stereo, electronic climate control AC and power everything – which pretty much every new car now comes standard with – the car companies build cars to satisfy that artificial demand. Artificial because based on economic unreality. That is a good way to think about debt. It is nonexistent wealth. You are promising to pay with money you haven’t earned yet. And maybe won’t. The car market has become like the housing market – which has also been distorted by debt to a cartoonish degree. The typical new construction home is a mansion by 1960s standards.

Not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mansion. Or driving a car with heated leather seats and climate control AC and a six-speaker surround-sound stereo and six air bags and all the rest of it. Provided you can afford it. Most people can’t. Normally, that fact would keep things in check. There would be mansions, of course – and high-end cars, too. But only for those with the high-end incomes necessary to afford them. Everyone else would live within their means. We wouldn’t be living in this economic Potemkin village that appears prosperous but is in fact an economic Jenga Castle that could collapse at any moment. There would be a lot less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”… as they head toward bankruptcy and foreclosure.

As society heads that way. Like the housing industry, the car industry has ceased building basic and much less expensive cars because of easy and grotesque debt-financing. Which is tragic. There ought to be (and would be) a huge selection of brand-new cars priced under $10,000 were it not for the ready availability of nonexistent wealth (.e., debt and credit). Cars many people could pay cash for.

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Still waiting for a politican or government to come clean about the Pension Ponzi.

California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)

Earlier today the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy highlighted an updated pension study, released by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which revealed some fairly startling realities about California’s public pension underfunding levels. After averaging $77,700 per household in 2014, the amount of public pension underfunding for the state of California jumped to a staggering $92,748 per household in 2015. But don’t worry, we’re sure pension managers can grow their way out of the problem…hedge fund returns have been stellar recently, right?

Stanford University’s pension tracker database pegs the market value of California’s total pension debt at $1 trillion or $93,000 per California household in 2015. In 2014, California’s total pension debt was calculated at $77,700 per household, but has increased dramatically in response to abysmal investment returns at California’s public pension funds that hover at or below 0% annual returns.

Looking back to 2008, the underfunding levels of California’s public pension have skyrocketed 157% on abysmal asset returns and growing liabilities resulting from lower discount rates. Perhaps this helps shed some light on why CalPERS is having such a difficult time with what should have been an easy decision to lower their long-term return expectations to 6% from 7.5% (see “CalPERS Weighs Pros/Cons Of Setting Reasonable Return Targets Vs. Maintaining Ponzi Scheme”)…$93k per household just seems so much more “manageable” than $150k.

Oddly enough, California isn’t even the worst off when it comes to pension debt as Alaska leads the pack with just over $110,000 per household. Of course, at this point the question isn’t “if” these ponzi schemes will blow up but rather which one will go first? We have our money on Dallas Police and Fire…

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Oh, there are thousands of reasons.

Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb headlined on November 22nd a devastating takedown of U.S. ‘news’ media and academia, «Syria and the Statistics of War», and he began there by exposing the highly honored Harvard fraud, Dr. Steven Pinker, but then went pretty much through the entire U.S. ‘intellectual’ Establishment, including all of its major ‘news’ media, as being untrustworthy on the part of any intelligent person. (Regarding Professor Pinker specifically, Taleb linked to a scientific paper that Taleb had co-authored, which shredded one of Pinker’s highly honored and biggest-selling books. Taleb and his colleague mentioned there an article that had appeared in Britain’s Guardian raising serious questions about Pinker’s work, and they were here offering statistical proof of the fraudulence of that work.)

The scenario of exposing intellectual fraud is so common: the only reason why it’s not better known among the public is that usually the disproofs of highly honored work have no impact, and fail to dislodge the prejudices that the given established fraud has ‘confirmed’. Another good example of that occurred when the University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon issued his proof of the fraudulence of the extremely influential economics paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmine Rinehart, «Growth in a Time of Debt», which had been widely cited by congressional Republicans and other conservatives as a main ‘justification’ for imposing draconian economic austerity on the U.S. and other nations during the recovery from the 2008 economic crash.

Years later, that graduate student is still a graduate student (i.e., unemployed), while Kenneth Rogoff remains, as he was prior to his having been exposed: one of Harvard’s most prominent professors of economics, and a member of the Group of 30 — the world’s 30 most influential and powerful economists. Carmen Rinehart likewise retains her position also as a Harvard Professor. Previously, the Harvard Economics Department had guided communist Russia into a crony-capitalist (or fascist) ‘democracy’, but then Vladimir Putin took over Russia and got rid of the worst excesses of Harvard’s «capitalism» and so became hated by the U.S. aristocracy and its ‘news’ media — hated for having tried to establish Russia’s national independence, Russia’s independence from the U.S. aristocracy (which expected, and still craves, to control Russia).

And now after Donald Trump’s victory against the super-neoconservative hater of Russia, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Establishment, through its voices such as the Washington Post, is trying to smear — like Joseph R. McCarthy smeared America’s non-fascists back in the 1950s — the tiny independent newsmedia that had been reporting truthfully about U.S.-Russian relations and America’s coups and invasions trying to weaken and ultimately to conquer Russia even if that means nuclear war.

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Fake news as far as the eye can see. Next up: Putin eats babies.

Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month. Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different. In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage. One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance. Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

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Could get tricky for Trump. Luckily for him, there’s still 7 weeks to go until January 20.

US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation. Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said. The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.

Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group’s Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested. Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said. The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.

[..] The protesters’ voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline. Wells Fargo said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 “to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” in the project. There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather. The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order. “There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. “It’s time for them to go home.”

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