Typhoon Mangkhut killed at least 30 people in the Philippines as it obliterated homes and crops and caused massive flooding, and is now on course to plough into China’s southern coast. Presidential adviser Francis Tolentino said the heaviest casualty was recorded in the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Luzon, where heavy rains caused landslides that left 24 people dead and 13 more missing. Four others – including two children – were buried in a landslide in Nueva Ecija, another in Kalinga, and one person was killed by a falling tree in Ilocos Sur, Tolentino said.
The storm, which was the strongest the region has seen this year, was not as ferocious as feared, though due to the remote areas where the typhoon hit, the full death toll and extent of the destruction is still unknown. By Sunday morning, it was hurtling towards China’s heavily populated southern coast with winds of 177km/h (110mph). In Hong Kong, where the huge storm is expected to skirt just 100km (62 miles) south of the city, officials raised the storm alert to a T10, its highest level. Businesses have been boarded up and most flights cancelled.
US east coast communities face “epic amounts of rainfall” from tropical storm Florence, which has been linked to at least 12 deaths. It has caused catastrophic flooding since arriving as a category one hurricane on Friday. Some towns have already seen 2ft (60cm) of rain in two days, with totals forecast to top 3.5ft (1m) in places. It is feared that more communities could become deluged as the storm crawls west at only 2mph (3km/h). “This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall, in some places measured in feet and not inches,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Saturday. He urged against residents attempting to return home, warning that “all roads in the state are at risk of floods”.
There’s no snooze button on the national debt clock, though you wouldn’t know it by the way public alarm has quieted as the situation grows worse. October begins a new fiscal year for the U.S. government—and a faster ballooning of how much it owes. Barring a behavioral miracle in Congress, trillion dollar yearly budget shortfalls will return, perhaps as soon as the coming year. And unlike the ones brought by the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007-09, these will start during a period of relative plenty, and won’t end. Debt held by the public, a conservative tally of what America owes, will swell from $15.7 trillion at the end of September, or 78% of GDP to $28.7 trillion in a decade, or 96% of GDP.
Those estimates, provided by the Congressional Budget Office, are based on reasonable assumptions about economic growth, inflation, employment, and interest rates, but they leave out some important things. They assume that the nation’s need for increased infrastructure investment, estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers at $1.4 trillion through 2025, goes unmet. They don’t account for the possibility of another financial crisis, or war, or a rise in the frequency or severity of natural disasters, and they assume that some Trump tax cuts will expire in 2025.
There is no clear milestone that marks the moment a country loses control of its finances, but consider how the bar has already been lowered for what seems possible in Congress. Even debt scolds no longer talk seriously about America paying down what it owes, or holding the dollar amount steady. The new path of fiscal prudence involves containing debt at some manageable percentage of GDP, and the opportunity for that is slipping.
Sept. 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which had unprecedented ramifications worldwide. Painful lessons have been learned, but the debate continues among economists about whether the crisis could have been handled better. Lehman was the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank before it filed for bankruptcy. With $639 billion in assets, it was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. It was also the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that swept through global financial markets. And its collapse intensified the market shock, which wiped out nearly $10 trillion from global equity markets in October 2008, the largest monthly decline on record. The policymakers who handled Lehman’s bankruptcy in 2008 argue they did all they could.
However, economist Steve Keen, author of “Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?”, believes policymakers had a great deal of responsibility for causing the crisis. Keen is a harsh critic of mainstream economists who ignored mounting private debt in their forecasts and policy recommendations. “They could have prevented the bubble burst in the first place,” he said. He thinks the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was one of those who failed to recognize the risk created by the private debt explosion. “All these regulators were collecting data on global private debt and not worrying about it because economic theory said it did not matter,” he said. “If I have to blame anybody, I will blame Bernanke,” he said, adding that Bernanke “was the main academic economist saying ‘Don’t worry about the level of private debt.’”
The mayor of London has issued a dramatic call for another referendum on EU membership, insisting that the people must be given the chance to reject a Brexit deal that will be bad for the economy, jobs and the NHS. Writing in the Observer, Sadiq Khan says that, with so little time left to negotiate, there are now only two possible outcomes: a bad deal for the UK or “no deal” at all, which will be even worse. “They are both incredibly risky and I don’t believe Theresa May has the mandate to gamble so flagrantly with the British economy and people’s livelihoods,” he writes. Khan says that backing a second referendum was never something he expected to have to do.
But so abject has been the government’s performance, and so great is the threat to living standards and jobs, he says, that he sees no alternative than to give people a chance to stay in the EU. “This means a public vote on any Brexit deal obtained by the government, or a vote on a ‘no-deal’ Brexit if one is not secured, alongside the option of staying in the EU,” he writes. “People didn’t vote to leave the EU to make themselves poorer, to watch their businesses suffer, to have NHS wards understaffed, to see the police preparing for civil unrest or for our national security to be put at risk if our cooperation with the EU in the fight against terrorism is weakened.” The intervention from one of Labour’s most powerful politicians will put yet more pressure on the party leader Jeremy Corbyn to throw his support behind another referendum at Labour’s annual conference, which opens in Liverpool next weekend.
In Rome, the responsibility for the influx of migrants is laid on France, which persuaded NATO countries to get rid of Gaddafi. As a result, Libya is now torn apart by rival factions and an ongoing conflict between its two governments. “It is clearly now undeniable that this country (Libya) finds itself in this situation because someone, in 2011, put their own interests ahead of those of the Libyan people and of Europe itself,” Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta wrote on Facebook. “France, from this point of view, is partly to blame,” she added. Italian parliamentary speaker Roberto Fico was even more explicit, pointing to “a serious problem that has come from France.”
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also chimed in, blaming former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for unleashing the war in Libya and the present government for adding fuel to the flames of the Libyan conflict. Italians are filled with nostalgia each time they recall the time when Rome and Tripoli signed an agreement to allow Italian companies to extract oil in Libya. The Gaddafi government was holding back the flow of migrants to Europe and the country’s GDP was the second biggest in Africa and the first among the Arabic-speaking states of the Maghreb. In Rome, the emphasis is that the decision to overthrow Gaddafi was made without taking into account the views of Italy.
Seven years on, the French look equally unenthusiastic about the so-called “Libyan Revolution,” with President Emmanuel Macron admitting that the intervention was a mistake. “I remember how some people decided to get rid of the Libyan leader without having any action plan for the future. We plunged Libya into a situation of lawlessness without having a chance to rectify the situation,” Macron said when speaking in the Tunisian parliament earlier this year.
U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to announce new tariffs on about $200 billion on Chinese imports as early as Monday, a senior administration official told Reuters on Saturday. The tariff level will probably be about 10 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting people familiar with the matter. This is below the 25 percent the administration said it was considering for this possible round of tariffs. The upcoming tariffs will be on a list of items that included $200 billion worth of internet technology products and other electronics, printed circuit boards and consumer goods including Chinese seafood, furniture and lighting products, tires, chemicals, plastics, bicycles and car seats for babies.
It was unclear if the administration will exempt any of the products that were on the list, which was announced in July. On Friday, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump “has been clear that he and his administration will continue to take action to address China’s unfair trade practices. We encourage China to address the long-standing concerns raised by the Unites States.” Trump had already directed aides to proceed with tariffs, despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to restart trade talks with China.
Europe’s animal farming sector has exceeded safe bounds for greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient flows and biodiversity loss, and urgently needs to be scaled back, according to a major report. Pressure on livestock farmers is set to intensify this century as global population and income growth raises demand for meat-based products beyond the planet’s capacity to supply it. The paper’s co-author, Professor Allan Buckwell, endorses a Greenpeace call for halving meat and dairy production by 2050, and his report’s broadside is squarely aimed at the heart of the EU’s policy establishment.
Launching the report, the EU’s former environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said: “Unless policymakers face up to this now, livestock farmers will pay the price of their inactivity. ‘Protecting the status quo’ is providing a disservice to the sector.” The study calls for the European commission to urgently set up a formal inquiry mandated to propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – that “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”. Livestock has the world’s largest land footprint and is growing fast, with close to 80% of the planet’s agricultural land now used for grazing and animal feed production, even though meat delivers just 18% of our calories.
Emerging markets were rattled again, with the Argentine peso, Turkish lira and Indonesian rupiah tumbling overnight. The negative sentiment is set to weigh on other Asian currencies, although they will remain fairly resilient to the impact, analysts say. The peso crashed nearly 12 percent, following a domestic crisis which saw its central bank hike rates to 60 percent in an attempt to shore up its currency. Extending its steep losses this year, the lira fell 2.94 percent to a fourth straight day of declines. In Asia, India’s rupee fell to a new record low against the dollar on Friday — a more than 11 percent fall since the start of the year, and the Indonesian rupiah hit a near three-year low.
“Emerging markets will remain pressured by the Argentine peso and Turkish lira crises,” DBS analysts said in a note Friday morning. The peso is down more than 45% against the greenback this year. “Argentina has hiked rates to a record 60% to address double-digit inflation, but this would exacerbate the recession, and coupled with budget/current account deficits of around 5% of GDP, have increased the risk of for the government to default on its debt,” they added.
The U.S. and China may be at odds on trade, but both are lining up to crack down on big tech, according to an analyst. “I think this is actually wrapped up in the trade issue, which is around national security and tech companies,” Michael Hessel, political economy analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday. “There’s a growing push both within China and the U.S. to regulate some of these companies increasingly like national security companies, which could have huge implications for their business model.” President Donald Trump on Tuesday made Google his latest target in a tirade against big tech, saying the firm’s search service is “rigged” against conservatives in favor of left-leaning media.
The president subsequently took another shot at the tech giant on Wednesday, claiming it snubbed twice his State of the Union speeches, while promoting Barack Obama’s during each year of the latter’s presidency. Google later responded to this claim, saying it did promote Trump’s State of the Union address this year, but not in 2017. [..] Absolute Strategy Research’s Hessel did not expand on how he expected either country to clamp down on their respective tech industries. He said that a lack of regulation in the U.S. on tech — while the media industry is more heavily regulated — meant it could be a long-term concern for lawmakers in Washington. “I think the regulation of the tech industry is going to be a huge issue on a three-to-five year view,” Hessel said.
President Trump’s lawyers are preparing a rebuttal to any negative report issued by special counsel Robert Mueller following the DOJ’s probe into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, reports the Daily Beast following an interview with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Part of the rebuttal, says Giuliani, would focus on whether the “initiation of the investigation was…legitimate or not.” “According to Giuliani, the bulk of the report will be divided into two sections. One section will seek to question the legitimacy of the Mueller probe generally by alleging “possible conflicts” of interest by federal law enforcement authorities. The other section will respond to more substantive allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russian government agents to sway the 2016 election, and obstruction of justice allegations stemming from, among other things, the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.” -Daily Beast
The latter section of the rebuttal will focus on Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein’s mandate when he ordered the Mueller’s investigation – though Giuliani admits he has no idea what the final report will consist of. “Since we have to guess what it is, [our report so far] is quite voluminous,” Giuliani said, claiming that he would spend much of this weekend “paring it down” and that he was editing the document created by the “whole team.” “The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn’t done yet…It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred” -Daily Beast In other words, Mueller has fair warning that the Trump administration intends to fight this tooth and nail.
The Weekly Standard’s Eric Felton offered this last month: “Appellate and constitutional lawyers David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Elizabeth Price Foley recently made a compelling case that the political bias among the FBI agents working on “Crossfire Hurricane” renders illegitimate everything flowing from that investigation. If “Crossfire was politically motivated then its culmination, the appointment of a special counsel, inherited the taint,” Rivkin and Foley wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “All special-counsel activities—investigations, plea deals, subpoenas, reports, indictments and convictions—are fruit of a poisonous tree, byproducts of a violation of due process.” Rivkin and Foley add: “That Mr. Mueller and his staff had nothing to do with Crossfire’s origin offers no cure.” -Weekly Standard
on August 25, the ever-eager New York Times published yet another front-page Russiagate story—one that if true would be sensational, though hardly anyone seemed to notice. According to the Times’ regular Intel leakers, US intelligence agencies, presumably the CIA, has had multiple “informants close to…Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details” about Russiagate for two years. Now, however, “the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent.” The Times laces the story with misdeeds questionably attributed to Putin and equally untrustworthy commentators, as well as a mistranslated Putin statement that incorrectly has him saying all “traitors” should be killed. Standard US media fare these days when fact-checkers seem not to be required for Russia coverage. But the sensation of the article is that the US had moles in Putin’s office.
The real novelty of Russiagate is the allegation that a Kremlin leader, Putin, personally gave orders to affect the outcome of an American presidential election. In this regard, Russiagaters have produced even less evidence, only suppositions without facts or much logic. With the Russiagate narrative being frayed by time and fruitless investigations, the “mole in the Kremlin” may have seemed a ploy needed to keep the conspiracy theory moving forward, presumably toward Trump’s removal from office by whatever means. And hence the temptation to play the mole card again, now, as yet more investigations generate smoke but no smoking gun.
The pretext of the Times story is that Putin is preparing an attack on the upcoming November elections, but the once-“vital,” now-silent moles are not providing the “crucial details.” Even if the story is entirely bogus, consider the damage it is doing. Russiagate allegations have already delegitimized a presidential election, and a presidency, in the minds of many Americans. The Times’ updated, expanded version may do the same to congressional elections and the next Congress. If so, there is an “attack on American democracy”—not by Putin or Trump but by whoever godfathered and repeatedly inflated Russiagate.
Suppose a federal criminal defendant contacts a prospective witness in a case and offers him $50,000 in return for his “cooperation” in his upcoming trial. The money will be paid as soon as the trial is over. The defendant makes it clear that he wants the witness to “tell the truth” but that his “cooperation” when he testifies at trial would be greatly appreciated. What would happen if federal officials learned about that communication and offer? They would go ballistic. They would immediately secure an indictment for bribery and witness tampering. What if the defendant says, “Oh, no, I wasn’t tampering with the witness. I specifically told him that I wanted him to tell the truth when he took the witness stand. I was just seeking his friendly ‘cooperation’ with my $50,000 offer to him.”?
It wouldn’t make a difference. Federal prosecutors would go after him with a vengeance on bribery and witness-tampering charges. And it is a virtual certainty that they would get a conviction. There is good reason for that. The law recognizes that the money could serve as an inducement for the witness to lie. Even though the defendant tells him to “tell the truth,” the witness knows that the fifty grand is being paid to him to help the defendant get acquitted, especially since it is payable after the trial is over. The temptation to lie, in return for the money, becomes strong, which is why the law prohibits criminal defendants from engaging in this type of practice.
Suppose a federal prosecutor says to a witness, “You are facing life in prison on the charges we have brought against you. But if you ‘cooperate’ with us to get John Doe, we will adjust the charges so that the most the judge can do is send you to jail for only 5 years at most. If you are really ‘cooperative,’ we will recommend that the judge give you the lowest possible sentence, perhaps even probation. Oh, one more thing, we want to make it clear that we do want you to tell the truth.” Do you see the problem? The temptation to please the prosecutor with “cooperation” becomes tremendous. If the witness can help secure a conviction of Doe, he stands to get a much lighter sentence for his successful “cooperation.” The inducement to commit perjury oftentimes takes over, notwithstanding the prosecutor’s admonition to the witness to “tell the truth.”
The European Union needs a strategic relationship with Turkey, including in defense matters, and should modernize its post-Cold War relations with Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday. Macron is a strong advocate for a Europe that is able to defend its strategic interests and financial independence and respond to new global economic and defense situation brought on by Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States. He has sought to improve relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, although his efforts have been complicated by allegations of Russian meddling in elections from the United States to France and a nerve agent attack in Britain.
“It is in our interest for the EU to have a strategic relationship with Turkey as well as with Russia that brings stability, that will in the long term and bring more strength and coherency,” Macron said in a news conference in Helsinki alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. He said the EU’s relations with Russia needed to be “brought up to date”, using the Italian word “aggiornamento”. “I think that on matters like cybersecurity, defense, strategic relationships, we could envisage the outlines of a new relationship between Russia and the EU which is coherent with the direction Europe is headed in,” Macron said.
Brussels is willing to scrap tariffs on all industrial products, including cars, in its trade talks with the United States, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström said Thursday. “We said that we are ready from the EU side to go to zero tariffs on all industrial goods, of course if the U.S. does the same, so it would be on a reciprocal basis,” Malmström told the European Parliament’s trade committee. “We are willing to bring down even our car tariffs down to zero … if the U.S. does the same,” she said, adding that “it would be good for us economically, and for them.”
Malmström’s comment went beyond what was agreed in July in the joint statement between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, which only mentioned eliminating tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies for “non-auto industrial goods.” [..] The EU’s car tariff of 10 percent is higher than the general U.S. auto tariff of 2.5 percent, but America imposes a 25 percent duty on light trucks and pick-ups. Malmström insisted that the discussions were not about “restarting TTIP” but aiming for “a more limited trade agreement.” “Agriculture would not be in the agreement, nor public procurement as it looks to today,” she said.
African leaders will gather in Beijing Monday for a summit focused on economic ties, granting China a feel-good photo opportunity as it comes under increasing fire for its debt-laden approach to aid in the developing world. President Xi Jinping will host leaders from across the continent for the two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which will include talks on his cherished “Belt and Road” infrastructure programme. The massive scheme, aimed at improving Chinese access to foreign markets and resources, and boosting its influence abroad, has already seen Beijing loan billions of dollars to countries in Asia and Africa for roads, railways, ports and other major building projects.
“The initiative will probably be expanded to include the whole of Africa,” said Cobus van Staden, senior researcher on Africa-China relations at the South African Institute of International Affairs. While some critics have branded the strategy a debt-trap, African leaders have long embraced Chinese investment, helping make Beijing the continent’s largest trading partner for the past decade. At the last three-yearly gathering in Johannesburg in 2015, Xi announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa. This year, China will want to add more African countries to “its ever-expanding list of ‘friendly’ nations”, especially from the north and francophone west, said Adebusuyi Isaac Adeniran, an expert on the relationship at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University.
With Tesla’s shares briefly dipping below the $300 level on Thursday, the electric carmaker ceded its seat as the most shorted U.S. stock to Amazon.com, according to data from financial technology and analytics firm S3 Partners. Tesla short interest in dollars, calculated using the number of shares sold short and the share price, stood at $9.93 billion, on Thursday, just shy of $9.95 billion for Amazon, S3 Partners data showed. Analysts said investors were still shorting Tesla shares, or taking positions that amounted to bets the stock would keep declining. Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price.
“While there was some short covering the week after the tweet, there has still not been any significant net Tesla short covering on the Street,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York. “Any traders who have closed down their positions to realize some profits have been replaced by new ones looking for continued price weakness,” he said. Tesla shares whipsawed this month after Chief Executive Elon Musk on Aug. 7 tweeted he planned to take the company private, only to abandon the idea by Aug. 24.
The government’s aim to suspend pension cuts due to come into effect in January is likely to fuel friction in the coming weeks, Kathimerini understands, as the IMF is adamant that the reductions should be made even if they are not required for Greece to meet budget targets. The IMF’s stance is at odds with that of European officials who are more flexible on the issue, as European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has suggested in a series of recent comments. Indeed, according to sources, the EC’s envoy to Greece, Declan Costello, is working on a compromise that would be acceptable to the government.
The IMF has not publicly declared its position on the Greek pensions issue yet but sources say the Fund has not shifted from its stance in favor of pension cuts despite the more favorable than expected fiscal forecasts, due to fears about the Greek pension system, which remains unsustainable partially due to the country’s aging population. The IMF’s unofficial position, it seems, is that fiscal savings worth 1 percent of GDP – the value of the planned pension cuts – are not required for Greece to achieve a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP but it is preferable that they be carried out and offset by countermeasures than not carried out.
The first, and best known, “austerian” tribe is motivated by the tendency to view the state as no different from a business or a household that must tighten its belt during bad times. Overlooking the crucial interdependence between a government’s expenditure and (tax) income (from which businesses and households are blissfully free), they make the erroneous intellectual leap from private parsimony to public austerity. Of course, this is no arbitrary error; it is powerfully motivated by an ideological commitment to small government, which in turn veils a more sinister class interest in redistributing risks and losses to the poor.
A second, less recognized, austerian tribe can be found within European social democracy. To take one towering example, when the 2008 crisis erupted, Germany’s finance ministry was in the hands of Peer Steinbrück, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party. Almost immediately, Steinbrück prescribed a dose of austerity as Germany’s optimal response to the Great Recession. Moreover, Steinbrück championed a constitutional amendment that would ban all future German governments from deviating from austerity, no matter how deep the economic downturn. [..] Against a background of failing banks and a mighty recession, he opined that fiscal deficits deny elected politicians “room for maneuver” and rob the electorate of meaningful choices.
The third austerian tribe is American and perhaps the most fascinating of the three. Whereas British Thatcherites and German social democrats practiced austerity in an ill-conceived attempt to eliminate the government’s budget deficit, US Republicans neither genuinely care to limit the federal government’s budget deficit nor believe that they will succeed in doing so. After winning office on a platform proclaiming their loathing of large government and pledging to “cut it down to size,” they proceed to boost the federal budget deficit by enacting large tax cuts for their rich donors. Even though they seem entirely free of the other two tribes’ deficit phobia, their aim – to “starve the beast” (the US social welfare system) – is quintessentially austerian.
The secretive trade of coastal sand to wealthy countries such as China is seriously damaging the wildlife of poorer nations whose resources are being plundered, according to a new study. Sand and gravel are the most extracted groups of materials worldwide after water, with sand used in the concrete and asphalt of global cities. China consumed more sand between 2011 and 2013 than the US did during the entire 20th century. India has more than tripled its annual use of construction sand since 2000. But coastal sand is also being used to make wealthy countries larger via land reclamation projects, and the cost to poorer nations is revealed in a presentation to the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference.
Research by Melissa Marschke and Laura Schoenberger of the University of Ottawa highlights that the dredging of coastal sand from Cambodia is causing the loss of mangrove swamps, coastal erosion, and damaging local fishing. They also allege that the sheer scale of the multimillion dollar trade of sand must be illegal, given that the volumes permitted for import are being exceeded. Singapore is built on sand: its land area has grown by more than a fifth since its independence in 1965 from 581 sq km to 719 sq km in 2015, according to the researchers. Between 2007 and 2017, Singapore imported more sand from Cambodia than any other country. Sand worth US$752m was imported by Singapore from Cambodia between 2007 and 2016, according to UN data.
Cambodia is not the only place experiencing vast sand extraction. A study recently estimated that 236m cubic metres of sand were extracted from Poyang Lake in China, causing its water levels to drop dramatically. Sand miners have destroyed at least two dozen islands in Indonesia since 2005. The UK obtains about one fifth of its sand from the seabed.
A ban on five neonicotinoid pesticides enters into force in France on Saturday, placing the country at the forefront of a campaign against chemicals blamed for decimating critical populations of crop-pollinating bees. The move has been hailed by beekeepers and environmental activists, but lamented by cereal and sugar beet farmers who claim there are no effective alternatives for protecting their valuable crops against insects. With its ban, France has gone further than the European Union, which voted to outlaw the use of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in crop fields. Heavily agriculture-reliant France banned these three neonicotinoids plus thiacloprid and acetamiprid, not only outdoors but in greenhouses too.
These are the only five neonicotinoid pesticides hitherto authorised for use in Europe. Introduced in the mid-1990s, lab-synthesised neonicotinoids are based on the chemical structure of nicotine, and attack the central nervous system of insects. They were meant to be a less harmful substitute to older pesticides, and are now the most widely-used to treat flowering crops, including fruit trees, beets, wheat, canola, and vineyards. In recent years, bees started dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides along with mites, viruses, and fungi, or some combination of these. Scientific studies have since shown that neonicotinoids harm bee reproduction and foraging by diminishing sperm quality and scrambling the insects’ memory and navigation functions.
A massive cleanup of plastic in the seas will begin in the Pacific Ocean, by way of Alameda, California. The Ocean Cleanup, an effort that’s been five years in the making, plans to launch its beta cleanup system, a 600-meter (almost 2,000-foot) long floater that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month. It’s a start. The launch date is September 8, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being targeted is more than 1,000 nautical miles from the launch point and on the move. The Ocean Cleanup plans to monitor the performance of the beta, called System 001, and have an improved fleet of 60 more units skimming the ocean for plastics in about a year a half. The ultimate goal of the project, founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, is to clean up 50% of the patch in five years, with a 90% reduction by 2040.
The organization will take time to learn lessons from System 001, but “we are in a big hurry,” said Lonneke Holierhoek, chief operating officer at The Ocean Cleanup. “We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there’s so much harm that could happen with this plastic that’s floating out there.” The total cost of System 001 is about 21 million euros ($24.6 million U.S.), according to a rep for startup. That includes design, development, production, assembly and monitoring during the first year of operation. The company will welcome corporations and philanthropists to sponsor their own cleanup system in coming years, the rep says. These systems will sport a sponsor logo and related app that follows the unit’s course through the gyre and shows how much plastic has been collected.
China, Turkey, and Iran are all classified as emerging markets. While the classification is broad and includes a diverse group of countries, these countries have many things in common. One is that their currencies, for the most part, are not liquid or highly valued. Thus, they heavily rely on the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar, to conduct international trade. As an example, when Pakistan buys oil from Qatar, they transact in U.S. dollars, not rupees or riyals. To facilitate trade efficiently, these countries must hold excess dollars in reserve. In almost all cases, emerging market nations rely on U.S. dollar-denominated debt for their transactional needs.
Dollar-denominated debt is currently the cause of much economic pain for Turkey. To understand why, we present a simplified example. Suppose on January 1, 2018, a Turkish corporation borrowed $100 million U.S. dollars with an agreement to pay it back with interest of 5% on August 15th, 2018. The company, as is typical, converts the loaned dollars to Turkish Lira. On August 15, 2018, the company will convert the Lira back to dollars in order to pay the principal and interest due on the loan. The following graph charts the Turkish Lira versus the Dollar over the life of the loan.
On January 1, 2018, one U.S. Dollar was worth 3.79 Lira. Over the next eight months, the U.S dollar appreciated significantly versus the Lira such that one U.S. dollar was worth approximately 5.81 Lira. As such, the company will now need 5.81 Lira to purchase each dollar it needs to repay the loan. Due to the strengthening of the U.S. dollar versus the Lira over the time period of the outstanding loan, the company would need 584,282,000 Lira to pay back what was originally a 378,750,000 Lira loan. In other words, the true all-in cost of borrowing was not 5% but 54%.
From a distance, Esenyurt, a newly built up neighbourhood on the edges of Istanbul, looks a bit like Hong Kong or Dubai, with a bustling downtown of shiny skyscrapers. Upon closer examination, however, you notice that tower after tower stands incomplete, lacking windows or furnishings; others are only half-occupied, their windows dark after nightfall. “In the residential areas, 100% of the construction has stopped,” says Mohamed Karman, a local estate agent, from his small office in the central square of Esenyurt. “Do you know why? The materials. Everything is in dollars, you pay in dollars.” The crash of the Turkish lira last week after two years of steady decline spooked global markets – but anyone looking at Istanbul’s skyline would have been far from surprised.
Everywhere you look in the city, evidence of a debt-fuelled construction boom abounds: new skyscrapers frame the horizon, huge shopping malls dot the streets and among several megaprojects is a new airport, set to be the world’s largest. Funding for this construction frenzy has been at the heart of Turkey’s economy, accounting for up to 20% of the country’s GDP growth in recent years, and employing around two million people. In a parallel to the 2008 financial crash, the boom was funded by low-interest loans and ballooning debt. Property developers funded their buildings with cheap loans in foreign currencies – and will be struck particularly hard by the lira’s collapse, as those loans grow harder to repay every day. According to government statistics, at the end of 2016 nearly 90% of the credit in Turkish real estate companies came from loans in foreign currencies.
[..] The Istanbul Sapphire – one of the tallest buildings in Europe when completed in 2011 – was financed through loans worth 164m lira in 2013, 154m of which was in US dollars. That loan would now cost around 539m lira.
The United States and China escalated their acrimonious trade war on Thursday, implementing punitive 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods, even as mid-level officials from both sides resumed talks in Washington. The world’s two largest economies have now slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on a combined $100 billion of products since early July, with more in the pipeline, adding to risks to global economic growth. China’s Commerce Ministry said Washington was “remaining obstinate” by implementing the latest tariffs, which kicked-in on both sides as scheduled at 12:01 p.m. in Beijing (0401 GMT). “China resolutely opposes this, and will continue to take necessary countermeasures,” it said in a brief statement.
“At the same time, to safeguard free trade and multilateral systems, and defend its own lawful interests, China will file suit regarding these tariff measures under the WTO dispute resolution mechanism,” it said. President Donald Trump has threatened to put duties on almost all of the more than $500 billion of Chinese goods exported to the United States annually unless Beijing agrees to sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, industrial subsidy programs and tariff structures, and buys more U.S. goods. That figure would be far more than China imports from the United States, raising concerns that Beijing could consider other forms of retaliation, such as making life more difficult for American firms in China or allowing its yuan currency to weaken further to support its exporters.
The mainstream media narrative about the U.S.-China trade war implies that Trump is on a highly damaging ego trip and China holds all the cards. The exact opposite is true. Trump has ample financial warfare weapons including tariffs, penalties, bans on direct investment, improved cybersecurity, forced divestiture and freezing of assets. Meanwhile, China has almost run out of room to impose tariffs. Further, they will invite retribution if they try to devalue their currency further. China’s vulnerabilities run deeper than that. The U.S.-China trade war comes in the aftermath of a Chinese Communist Party conference that made Xi Jinping dictator for life and enshrined his doctrines on the same level as Mao Zedong.
Once Xi got these powers, he proceeded on a disastrous policy course that has resulted in a slowdown of the Chinese economy, higher debt defaults, lost investment opportunities in the U.S. and declining hard currency reserves. The knives are now out in Beijing. Reports are circulating that Xi’s opponents are questioning his judgment and the wisdom of expanding his powers at such a critical time. Many are starting to blame Xi for the trade war almost as much as they blame Trump. Xi still has torture, firing squads and concentration camps at his disposal, but the notion of a unified, coherent leadership structure in Beijing is now seen to be a myth. Trump will keep up the pressure; he never backs off and always doubles down.
It will be up to Xi to blink and acquiesce in many U.S. demands. The U.S. will win this trade war because Xi does not want to lose his throne. Yet there will still be material damage to the global economy and lasting animosity between Xi and Trump.
Wall Street graduated to the longest-ever “bull market” Wednesday, a run that began amid extraordinary crisis-era monetary policy and which experts think could persist at least a while longer. US President Donald Trump cheered the news after the S&P 500 closed for the 3,453rd straight time without a drop of 20 percent over the more than nine-year stretch. “Longest bull run in the history of the stock market. congratulations America!” Trump said on Twitter shortly after the closing bell. The marathon run comes amid signs the US economy has accelerated this year after a long period of slow but steady growth. Experts say trade wars and higher interest rates are among potential threats to the persistence of the bull run.
Market watchers liken the landmark to other stock market records, such as when the Dow hit 25,000 points for the first time. Investing in stocks remains concentrated among the wealthiest, with many Americans still hesitant to buy stocks following the 2008 financial crisis. While financial experts are well aware of the durability of the current stock market cycle, the record is “news more to Main Street than to Wall Street,” according to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR. The S&P 500 finished the day down less than 0.1 percent at 2,861.82. When stocks fall at least 20 percent below their previous record, they enter a “bear market.”
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister denied a Reuters report that state oil giant Aramco’s initial public offering will be called off, in a statement issued early on Thursday. “The government remains committed to the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, in accordance with the appropriate circumstances and appropriate time chosen by the Government,” Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement released on Saudi Press Agency. Reuters reported on Wednesday that four senior industry sources said Saudi Arabia has called off both the domestic and international stock listing of Aramco.
Australia is on the brink of having its sixth prime minister in a decade after a chaotic, internecine coup attempted, but failed, to topple the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday. In a media conference during which he refused to resign, Turnbull called on his challengers to prove he had lost the confidence of his own party, and made a thinly veiled swipe at influences “outside the parliament”. The reference was widely interpreted as an attack on the power of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation newspapers and TV channels, which have consistently campaigned against him. “The reality is that a minority in the party room supported by others outside the parliament have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they’re seeking,” Turnbull said.
The leadership brawl stalled political business on Thursday morning when the government voted to shut down the House of Representatives until 10 September, unsure it would be able to command a majority on the floor of the House, and unwilling to face questions from the opposition after at least 13 ministers tendered their resignations. Since 2007, no Australian prime minister has served a full term in office, with four cut down by their own parties while in office, earning Canberra the title of “coup capital of the Pacific”. Turnbull survived Thursday, but appears almost certain to lose the prime ministership to a party room vote, likely as soon as Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would consider pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of bank and tax fraud, according to a Fox News reporter who interviewed Trump. Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt said Trump told her in an interview on Wednesday that “he would consider” pardoning Manafort.“I think he feels bad for Manafort. They were friends,” Earhardt said in an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” program on Wednesday night.
Fox News has been airing excerpts of the interview with Trump, which is scheduled to be shown in its entirety on Thursday morning. The excerpts have not included a clip of Trump saying he would consider pardoning Manafort. Manafort was convicted on Tuesday of two counts of bank fraud, five counts of tax fraud and one charge of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. In a tweet on Wednesday about the verdict, Trump called Manafort a “brave man” and said, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family.”
It starts with us exposing fake news. Like this: If the current account balance of Europe and the US includes more than just trade in goods, then it is not the US that has a deficit, it’s Europe. One reason is the billions in profits that European subsidiaries of Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google transfer to the US every year. So when we talk about fair rules, we must also talk about the fair taxation of profits like that. It is also important to correct fake news because it can quickly result in the wrong policies. As Europeans, we have made it clear to the Americans that we consider the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran to be a mistake. Meanwhile, the first US sanctions have come back into force.
In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we make it clear to Washington that we want to work together. But also: That we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent SWIFT [payments] system. The devil is in thousands of details. But every day that the Iran agreement lasts, is better than the potentially explosive crisis that threatens the Middle East otherwise.
Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the illegal detention of 177 migrants onboard a coastguard vessel that the minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, refuses to allow to land. The Ubaldo Diciotti has been docked for 48 hours at the port of Catania, Sicily, but the migrants have not been allowed to disembark without having certainties from Brussels on their distribution to other countries. The investigation, conducted by the prosecutor of the city of Agrigento, was launched against “unknowns” but it is clear that if the magistrates were to go ahead with a judicial proceeding, Salvini would end up under investigation, being the only one responsible for the landing ban.
“I heard that the prosecutor’s office in Agrigento has opened an investigation,” said Salvini in a recent video on Facebook Live. “I also heard that the suspects are ‘unknown’ at the moment. But I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini, I’m the minister of the interior. Come on, try me too, I’m here.” The Ubaldo Diciotti docked on Monday night in the port of Catania but the migrants, including 29 unaccompanied minors, were refused authorisation to disembark. The ship picked up 190 people on 15 August from an overcrowded boat about 17 nautical miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment.
Turkey’s beleagured currency has bounced back from record lows after Qatar pledged to shore up the banking sector’s shaky finances with loans worth $15bn. A week after a diplomatic spat with the US sent the lira into a tailspin, the agreement with Qatar was calculated to help Turkey avoid having to ask the IMF for emergency funding. Officials in Ankara said the Qatari money would be “channeled into Turkey’s financial markets and banks”, with the implication that the investment would be enough to head off a banking collapse. However, while the investment gave the Turkish lira much-needed respite, the US president Donald Trump’s announcement of further trade sanctions against Ankara, along with concerns about the rising value of the dollar and weak profits in Chinese tech firms, sent global financial markets into reverse.
[..] Mohamed A El-Erian, the chief economic adviser at the German insurer Allianz, tweeted that Erdogan’s policies, including the Qatari investment, would act like sticking plaster, leaving the possibility open for an IMF rescue. He said: “This is part of the Turkish government’s strategy to avoid the IMF by finding alternative external support. To be a sustainable stabilizer, funding needs to be larger and reach the central bank.” However, the lira rallied by 6% after the Qatari pledge and a separate move by Turkey’s central bank to boost the finances of the country’s banks. In an effort to defend the lira, Turkey’s central bank tightened its rules on currency swaps and other foreign exchange transactions, limiting the ability of banks to supply lira to foreign financial companies.
Action by Turkey’s banking regulator has stymied investor ability to buy and short the lira, helping the currency to gain value in overnight trade. The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) has reduced the amount of swap market contracts that offshore banks can undertake, reducing their access to the beleaguered currency. A swap is where on flow of cash income, usually a fixed or steady rate, is swapped for a typically riskier flow of income. The derivative contract is set for a fixed period. The BRSA has stipulated that banks now cannot run swap contracts for no more than 25% of the equity that they hold. The figure was previously 50%.
BlueBay Asset Management strategist Timothy Ash said in a note Wednesday that Turkey’s central bankers had finally taken action to restrict international access to lira. “They are killing offshore TRY (lira) liquidity to stop foreigners shorting the lira,” he said before adding “why did they not do all this much earlier?” [..] This year the dollar has gained more than 60% in value versus the lira, and the Turkish currency has become the world’s worst performer this year.
Last month, when we reported that Russia had liquidated the bulk of its US Treasury holdings in just two months, we said that “we can’t help but wonder – as the Yuan-denominated oil futures were launched, trade wars were threatened, and as more sanctions were unleashed on Russia – if this wasn’t a dress-rehearsal, carefully coordinated with Beijing to field test what would happen if/when China also starts to liquidate its own Treasury holdings.” As it turns out, Russia did lead the way, but not for China. Instead, another recent US foreign nemesis, Turkey, was set to follow in Putin’s footsteps of “diversifying away from the dollar”, and in the June Treasury International Capital, Turkey completely dropped off the list of major holders of US Treasurys, which has a $30 billion floor to be classified as a “major holder.”
According to the US Treasury, Turkey’s holdings of bonds, bills and notes tumbled by 52% since the end of 2017, dropping to $28.8 billion in June from $32.6 billion in May and $61.2 billion at the recent high of November of 2016. [..] The selloffs took place well before a diplomatic fallout between the US and both Turkey and Russia resulted in new sets of sanctions and tariffs imposed on both nations. The Trump administration last week imposed new sanctions against Russia in response to the nerve agent poisoning in the U.K. of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Meanwhile, the Turkish selloff certainly continued into July and August as U.S. relations with Turkey deteriorated this week
Although Turkey publicly appears to sustain its anti-Bashar al-Assad stance on Syria, it is actually getting ready for a new Syria that will allow Assad to stay on as the country’s president. While a termination of the de facto Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria seems to be the first precondition for a possible normalization between Ankara and Damascus, there is another unspoken condition as well: the allotment of a share in Syria’s reconstruction. Naturally, the Assad administration does not have the intention to allot any share to Turkey, which is accused of supporting anti-regime military groups that have destroyed the country and looted Aleppo’s industrial zones. However, Turkey’s control of a sizable territory in northern Syria and its cooperation with Russia make it difficult for Damascus to exclude Turkey from these calculations.
Turkey’s influence over opposition groups that could have a bearing on the Geneva process can not be dismissed. Turkey has been able to preserve its most important trading partner position with Syria despite the seven-year-old conflict. Its geographical proximity to Syria, logistical superiority and advanced capacity of its construction sector encourages Turkey to obtain a substantial part in the reconstruction process. Moreover, Turkey is currently organizing local entities in al-Bab, Jarablus, Azaz, Cobanbey and Afrin that are de facto under its control. It is also setting up systems for security, education, religion and even issuing ID cards to residents. In addition it has started building a road network.
The European Central Bank (ECB) was reported Friday to be concerned that the ongoing currency crisis in Turkey could result in problems for the continent’s banks. However, the real problem for Europe’s banking industry is Italy and what happens in that country in the coming months, an analyst said Tuesday. “The issues in Italy… in the next three months are going to dictate the whole European banking narrative for the next three to five years,” Tom Kinmonth, fixed income strategist at ABN Amro, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.” Italy’s economy is the third largest in the European Union and the country’s new coalition government is currently working on next year’s budget.
Its financial plan will be closely scrutinized by European authorities and, more importantly, by market players, following promises to increase public spending. Investors are wary of rises in pensions and state benefits, given that Italy already has a significantly high public debt pile — the second largest in the euro zone, at about 130% of GDP. If market players do not approve of the next budget, due around October, then borrowing costs for Italy are likely to go up, which in turn could affect neighboring European countries. It could also create problems for certain European banks that hold Italian debt.
RBS bankers joked about destroying the US housing market after making millions by trading loans that staff described as “total fucking garbage”, according to transcripts released as part of a $4.9bn (£3.8bn) settlement with US prosecutors. Details of internal conversations at the bank emerged just weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, which saw RBS rescued with a £45bn bailout from the UK government. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) criticised RBS over its trade in residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) – financial instruments underwritten by risky home loans that are cited as pivotal in the global banking crash. It said the bank made “false and misleading representations” to investors in order to sell more of the RMBS, which are forecast to result in losses of $55bn to investors.
Transcripts published alongside the settlement reveal the attitude among senior bankers at RBS towards some of the products they sold. The bank’s chief credit officer in the US referred to selling investors products backed by “total fucking garbage” loans with “fraud [that] was so rampant … [and] all random”. He added that “the loans are all disguised to, you know, look okay kind of … in a data file.” The DoJ said senior RBS executives “showed little regard for their misconduct and, internally, made light of it”. In one exchange, as the extent of the contagion in the banking industry was becoming clear, RBS’ head trader received a call from a friend who said: “[I’m] sure your parents never imagine[d] they’d raise a son who [would] destroy the housing market in the richest nation on the planet.” He responded: “I take exception to the word ‘destroy.’ I am more comfortable with ‘severely damage.’”
Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator tipped as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, has unveiled new plans for legislation aimed at reining in big corporations, redistributing wealth, and giving workers and local communities a bigger say. Warren will introduce the bill dubbed the Accountable Capitalism Act on Wednesday. The proposal aims to alter a model she says has caused corporations to chase profits for shareholders to the detriment of workers. Under the legislation, corporations with more than $1bn in annual revenue would be required to obtain a corporate charter from the federal government – and the document would mandate that companies not just consider the financial interests of shareholders.
Instead, businesses would have to consider all major corporate stakeholders – which could include workers, customers, and the cities and towns where those corporations operate. Anyone who owns shares in the company could sue if they believed corporate directors were not meeting their obligations. Employees at large corporations would be able to elect at least 40% of the board of directors. An estimated 3,500 public US companies and hundreds of other private companies would be covered by the mandates. [..] Large companies dedicated 93% of their earnings to shareholders between 2007 and 2016 – a shift from the early 1980s, when they sent less than half their revenue to shareholders and spent the rest on employees and other priorities, Warren said.
So here’s the story explaining why “free” trade and globalization create so much wonderful prosperity for all of us: I find a nation with cheap labor and no environmental laws anxious to give me cheap land and tax credits, so I move my factory from my high-cost, highly regulated nation to the low-cost nation, and keep all the profits I reap from the move for myself. Yea for free trade, I’m now far wealthier than I was before. That’s the story. Feel better about “free” trade and globalization now? Oh wait a minute, there’s something missing–the part about “prosperity for all of us.” Here’s labor’s share of U.S. GDP, which includes imports and exports, i.e. trade:
Notice how labor’s share of the economy tanked once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear? Now let’s see what happened to corporate profits at that same point in time:
Imagine that–corporate profits skyrocketed once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear. Explain that part about “makes us all prosperous” again, because there’s no data to support that narrative. What’s interesting about all this is the way that politicians are openly threatening voters with recession if they vote against globalization. In other words, whatever “prosperity” is still being distributed to the bottom 80% is now dependent on a predatory version of globalization.
European officials have poured cold water on hopes that Theresa May could negotiate Brexit with other EU leaders in September to break the deadlock over Britain’s departure. Diplomatic sources have rejected suggestions that May could hold direct talks on Brexit with the 27 other EU heads of state and government at a summit in Salzburg next month. “That is completely ridiculous, that is complete overspin of Salzburg,” one senior source told the Guardian. “It would mean that we would ditch our negotiating approach of the last two years and discuss at 28 instead of 27 to one, and I don’t see why this would happen.” Brexit talks are due to resume in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the start of a new intense phase of negotiations, with the aim of reaching a deal in the autumn.
Since the referendum, the EU has insisted that all formal talks are led by the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. May is allowed to update EU leaders on her plans at quarterly EU summits but is not in the room for discussions. Officials expect this approach to be continued at Salzburg, an informal summit on 20 September officially dedicated to migration. The meeting has been organised by Austria, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, but it will be for the European council president, Donald Tusk, to decide whether to add Brexit to the agenda. The Salzburg gathering comes four weeks before an EU summit in Brussels, pencilled in by Barnier as the moment to strike a deal. Many in Brussels expect the deadline to slip to November or even December, squeezing the time available to ratify the text ahead of the UK’s departure on 29 March 2019.
There’s more than meets the eye to President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearances that ex-CIA Director John Brennan enjoyed as a courtesy customarily afforded former directors. The President’s move is the second major sign that Brennan is about to be hoist on his own petard. It is one embroidered with rhetoric charging Trump with treason and, far more important, with documents now in the hands of congressional investigators showing Brennan’s ringleader role in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to derail Trump both before and after the 2016 election.
Brennan will fight hard to avoid being put on trial but will need united support from from his Deep State co-conspirators — a dubious proposition. One of Brennan’s major concerns at this point has to be whether the “honor-among-thieves” ethos will prevail, or whether some or all of his former partners in crime will latch onto the opportunity to “confess” to investigators: “Brennan made me do it.” Well before Monday night, when Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani let a small bomb drop on Brennan, there was strong evidence that Brennan had been quarterbacking illegal operations against Trump. Giuliani added fuel to the fire when he told Sean Hannity of Fox news:
“I’m going to tell you who orchestrated, who was the quarterback for all this … The guy running it is Brennan, and he should be in front of a grand jury. Brennan took … a dossier that, unless he’s the biggest idiot intelligence agent that ever lived … it’s false; you can look at it and laugh at it. And he peddled it to [then Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, and that led to the request for the investigation. So you take a false dossier, get Senators involved, and you get a couple of Republican Senators, and they demand an investigation — a totally phony investigation.”
President Trump defended his use of tariffs to force other countries to renegotiate “unfair” trade deals by claiming that “our country was built on tariffs.” He’s right. America was a staunchly protectionist country for most of its history before World War II. One of the very first bills new President George Washington signed, for instance, was the Tariff Act of 1789. He inked the bill on July 4 of that year. The tariff of 1789 was designed to raise money for the new federal government, slash Revolutionary War debt and protect early-stage American industries from foreign competition. Then, as now, some industries sought protection in Congress from a flood of imports. Most goods entering the U.S. were subjected to a 5% tariff, though in a few cases the rates ranged as high as 50%.
It was the first of many tariffs that Congress passed over a century and a half. They generated the vast majority of the federal government’s revenue until the U.S. adopted an income tax in 1913. Tariffs have always been a source of controversy, however, starting with that very first one. Early on, the North preferred higher tariffs to protect infant American industries such as textiles from established English manufacturers. Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Treasury secretary, feared the U.S. would remain a weakling unless it built its own industries and became economically independent of the mother country. Over time the arguments on behalf of protectionism became closely tied to the emerging Republican party.
“Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth,” a young politician named Abraham Lincoln said in 1847. Later, as the country’s 16th president, Lincoln rejected free trade and jacked up tariffs during the Civil War to pay for the North’s military campaigns.
Senator Rand Paul believes that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be given immunity in exchange for him testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaking to the Gateway Pundit, Senator Paul asserted that Assange likely has important information about the hack and that it’s unlikely he would agree to testify without immunity. “I think that he should be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to the United States and testifying,” Senator Paul told the Gateway Pundit. “I think he’s been someone who has released a lot of information, and you can debate whether or not any of that has caused harm, but I think really he has information that is probably pertinent to the hacking of the Democratic emails that would be nice to hear.” “It’s probably unlikely to happen unless he is given some type of immunity from prosecution,” Senator Paul added.
[..] Christine Assange, Julian’s mother, has a list of things that she would like to see happen before her son agrees to testify. She told the Gateway Pundit that her wishes include an end to the WikiLeaks grand jury, a dismissal of charges against all WikiLeaks staff, safe passage for him to a nation where he can receive medical care and an agreement that there will be no future US extradition requests. She would also like to see the testimony conducted publicly through Skype.
The Australian household debt to income ratio has ballooned to shocking levels over the past three decades as Sydney is ranked as one of the most overvalued cities in the world. According to the Daily Mail Australia, credit card bills, home mortgages, and personal loans now account for 189% of an average Australian household income, compared with just 60% in 1988, as Callus Thomas, Head of Research of Topdown Charts, demonstrates that record high household debt is a ticking time bomb. The average Australian credit card bill is roughly $3,272.70 as average income earners spend at least $2,000 a month on mortgage repayments, which has contributed to the affordability crisis, said the Daily Mail Australia.
The average Australian holds about a $400,000 mortgage after they put down 20% deposit for a $500,000 property. The paper notes that the loan would barely buy a one-bedroom unit in most outer suburbs, as full-time workers take in about $82,000 salary per annum and spend an alarming 40% on mortgage repayments. With household debt at crisis levels, CoreLogic said Australian home prices experienced their sharpest monthly drops in July since late 2011 as declines gathered momentum in Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney and Melbourne cover about 60% of Australia’s housing market by value and 40% by number). Nationally, the index of home prices dropped .60% in July from June, leading to an annual fall of 1.6%.
The Securities and Exchange Commisison has served Tesla with a subpoena after CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was considering taking the company private and that he had the necessary funding lined up, according to reports from The New York Times and other outlets published Wednesday. Earlier reports said the SEC had intensified scrutiny of the automaker after the controversial tweet. A subpoena would be one of the first steps in a formal inquiry. Shares of Tesla were down 3% in afternoon trading, though they moved only a fraction of 1% following the Times article.
Musk publicly floated the possibility of taking the company private in a tweet that sent shares seesawing and company leadership scrambling. His statement that he had the “funding secured” came under particular scrutiny, as it may have violated an SEC rule that essentially stipulates public statements made by company executives must be true. Musk explained earlier this week that the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund had expressed interest in taking Tesla private.
Significant levels of the weedkilling chemical glyphosate have been found in an array of popular breakfast cereals, oats and snack bars marketed to US children, a new study has found. Tests revealed glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller brand Roundup, present in all but two of the 45 oat-derived products that were sampled by the Environmental Working Group, a public health organization. Nearly three in four of the products exceeded what the EWG classes safe for children to consume. Products with some of the highest levels of glyphosate include granola, oats and snack bars made by leading industry names Quaker, Kellogg’s and General Mills, which makes Cheerios.
One sample of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats measured at more than 1,000 parts per billion of glyphosate. The Environmental Protection Agency has a range of safe levels for glyphosate on crops such as corn, soybeans, grains and some fruits, spanning 0.1 to 310 parts per million. “I grew up eating Cheerios and Quaker Oats long before they were tainted with glyphosate,” said EWG’s president, Ken Cook. “No one wants to eat a weedkiller for breakfast, and no one should have to do so.” Cook said EWG will urge the EPA to limit the use of glyphosate on food crops but said companies should “step up” because of the “lawless” nature of the regulator under the Trump administration.
Here’s what interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year for accidentally stepping across the border, were released by a provincial court, and get back home on a Greek national holiday (August 15). On that same day, another court decides that an appeal for pastor Brunson is denied. Ergo, Erdogan can claim the latter’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides. That victory over Trump is worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have aylum in Greece.
Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet early Wednesday after their unexpected release by a provincial court. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece. “This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940,” Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”
The soldiers – 2nd Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis – were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters. The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.
[..] The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey. Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.
Turkey’s currency crisis was easy to predict. What is more surprising is how weak the global response has been. The old world financial order is badly missed. A big mess was almost certain to arrive in a country that continually relied on short-term loans to finance a large current account deficit. That was not the only invitation to disaster. Heavy domestic borrowing denominated in foreign currencies and high inflation added to the strains. So did a government that spurned the counsel of the foreign financiers who help keep the economy afloat. President Tayyip Erdogan was lucky to avoid serious trouble so far. Now, though, he faces a disaster. The Turkish lira has fallen 42% against the dollar since the beginning of May. It will take a miracle or an international rescue to avoid a domestic banking crisis.
Much has changed since 2009 when the government, then led by Prime Minister Erdogan, announced that it no longer needed advice from the IMF. The country would “move forward without a walking stick”. Turkey had leaned heavily on the IMF crutch over preceding decades. The country had a standby arrangement with the global lender for more than half the period between 1970 and 2009. The IMF promised support if the government kept working on economic reforms. This time, however, the IMF is still waiting for a phone call from Ankara. The Washington-based institution has the expertise and probably the money needed to stabilise the lira, but Erdogan has cast it in the role of enemy of the Turkish people.
The antipathy fits with the president’s nationalist and authoritarian agenda, but it is also part of a distressing pattern. The traditional authority figures in global financial matters are crippled. The IMF’s reputation has been damaged by what was widely perceived as its blind allegiance to the doctrines of free trade, free capital movements and free markets. Though the multilateral institution’s approach has softened under Christine Lagarde, managing director since 2011, Turkey’s intransigence suggests the IMF lacks its former moral authority.
Turkey is hiking tariffs on imports of certain US products in response to American sanctions on Ankara that caused the value of the lira to plunge, a decree published Wednesday said. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that the rises were ordered “within the framework of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious attacks on our economy by the US administration”. The hikes were published in Turkey’s Official Gazette in a decree signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move comes after US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was doubling steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey, as the two NATO allies row over the detention by Turkish authorities of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
The tensions and the tariff hike by the United States have caused the Turkish lira to bleed value, fanning fears the country is on the verge of an economic crisis that could spillover into Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly described the crisis as an “economic war” that Turkey will win. The tariff increases amount to a doubling of the existing rate, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, in an apparent parallel response to Trump’s move. The decree said the move brought tariffs to 50% on imports of US rice to 140% on hard alcoholic drinks like spirits, 60% in leaf tobacco and 60% on cosmetics. The tariffs on auto imports are now up to 120% depending on the type of vehicle.
Americans’ borrowing reached $13.29 trillion in the second quarter, up $454 billion from a year ago, marking a 16th consecutive quarter of increases, a New York Federal Reserve report released on Tuesday showed. The level of U.S. consumer debt was $618 billion higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. It was 19.2% above a post global credit crisis low set in the second quarter of 2013, the New York Fed said. The ongoing growth in home, auto, student and credit loans has been linked with a solid labor market. The rise in indebtedness did not make it more difficult for borrowers to meet their monthly payments last quarter.
The rate on seriously delinquent loans, or those that are 90 days or more past due, was 2.3% in the second quarter, unchanged from the prior quarter. Notably, the pace of student loans turning seriously delinquent slowed to 8.6% from 8.9%, the N.Y. Fed survey showed. “While overall delinquency rates have remained stable at relatively low levels, transition rates into delinquency have fallen noticeably for student loan over the past year, reflecting an improved labor market and increased participation in various income-driven repayment plans,” Wilbert van der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed, said in a statement.
There’s a new scandal quietly unfolding in Washington. It’s far bigger than Housing Secretary Ben Carson buying a $31,000 dinette set for his office, or former EPA chief Scott Pruitt deploying an aide to hunt for a deal on a used mattress. It involves the world’s richest man, President Trump’s favorite general, and a $10 billion defense contract. And it may be a sign of how tech giants and Silicon Valley tycoons will dominate Washington for generations to come. The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible.
That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors. But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.
What’s more, the process of crafting JEDI bears all the hallmarks of the swamp that Trump has vowed to drain. Though there has long been talk about the Defense Department joining the cloud, the current call for bids was put together only after Defense Secretary James Mattis hired a D.C. lobbyist who had previously consulted for Amazon. The lobbyist, Sally Donnelly, served as a top advisor to Mattis while the details of JEDI were being hammered out. During her tenure, Mattis flew to Seattle to tour Amazon’s headquarters and meet with Jeff Bezos. Then, as the cloud-computing contract was being finalized, Donnelly’s former lobbying firm, SBD Advisors, was bought by an investment fund with ties to Amazon’s cloud-computing unit.
At a bill signing ceremony in New York on Monday, President Donald Trump took credit for a $716 billion defense policy bill that he said would strengthen America’s military. “I am very proud to be a big, big part of it,” he said. “It was not very hard.” In a written statement hours later, Trump raised objections to 52 provisions of the law – including four of the eight provisions dealing specifically with Russia. The signing statement suggests he may not enforce provisions that he said raise constitutional concerns. As passed by Congress, the defense bill attempts to tie the president’s hands on Russia in a number of ways. It forbids him from using federal funds to recognize Russian control over Crimea and bans military cooperation with Russia until Russia pulls out of Ukraine.
It requires him to report back to Congress on steps he has taken to address Russian violations of the Open Skies Treaty, which allows reconnaissance flights over Russian territory, and the New START Treaty on nuclear weapons. Trump said those provisions undermine the president’s role “as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.” Trump objected to a section requiring him to send to Congress a strategy to combat “malign foreign influence operations and campaigns.” That strategy, he said, is covered by executive privilege. Though presidential objections in signing statements are not uncommon, Trump’s pushback on Russia-related provisions is notable given his attempts to forge closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin [..]
Tonga Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva has called for China to write-off debts owed by Pacific island countries, warning that repayments impose a huge burden on the impoverished nations. Chinese aid in the Pacific has ballooned in recent years with much of the funds coming in the form of loans from Beijing’s state-run Exim Bank. Tonga has run-up enormous debts to China, estimated at more than US$100 million by Australia’s Lowy Institute think tank, and Pohiva said his country would struggle to repay them. He said the situation was common in the Oceania region and needed to be addressed at next month’s Pacific Island Forum summit in Nauru. “We need to discuss the issue,” he told the Samoa Observer in an interview published on Tuesday.
“All the Pacific Island countries should sign this submission asking the Chinese government to forgive their debts. “To me, that is the only way we can all move forward, if we just can’t pay off our debts.” Tonga took out the Chinese loans to rebuild in the wake of deadly 2006 riots that razed the centre of the capital Nuku’alofa. Beijing has previously refused to write-off the loans by turning them into aid grants but did give Tonga an amnesty on repayments. Pohiva said China now wanted the debts repaid. “By September 2018, we anticipate to pay $14 million, which cuts away a huge part of our budget,” he said. Tonga’s ability to pay has been further dented this year by another massive rebuilding effort in Nuku’alofa, this time after a category five cyclone slammed into the capital in February.
“If we fail to pay, the Chinese may come and take our assets, which are our buildings.” “That is why the only option is to sign a submission asking the Chinese government to forgive our debts.” His comments come as Australia and New Zealand ramp up aid efforts in the Pacific to counter China’s growing presence in the region. Australia has raised fears in recent months Pacific nations’ debts to China leaves them susceptible to Beijing’s influence.
[..] embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system. Asked what could be done to prevent a hothouse earth scenario, co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” Instead, he suggests something “more like wartime footing” to roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”
That “wartime footing” Steffen describes is a novel concept in 2018, but hasn’t been throughout American history when the nation has faced other existential threats. In the lead-up to World War II, the government played a heavy hand in industry, essentially shifting the U.S. to a centrally planned economy, rather than leaving things like prices and procurement of key resources up to market forces. By the end of World War II, about a quarter of all manufacturing in the United States had been nationalized. And while governments around the world continue to intervene heavily in the private sector — including in the U.S. — those interventions tend now to be on behalf of corporations, be it through subsidies to fossil fuel companies or zoning laws that favor luxury real estate developers.
The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.
As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue. The shift has not happened by accident. As Jacques Peretti argued in his film The Men Who Made Us Fat, food companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.
They hire biddable scientists and thinktanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.
The real problem is that single-use plastic—the very idea of producing plastic items like grocery bags, which we use for an average of 12 minutes but can persist in the environment for half a millennium—is an incredibly reckless abuse of technology. Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place. Beginning in the 1950s, big beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, along with Phillip Morris and others, formed a non-profit called Keep America Beautiful. Its mission is/was to educate and encourage environmental stewardship in the public. Joining forces with the Ad Council (the public service announcement geniuses behind Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog), one of their first and most lasting impacts was bringing “litterbug” into the American lexicon through their marketing campaigns against thoughtless individuals.
Two decades later, their “Crying Indian” PSA, would become hugely influential for the U.S. environmental movement. In the ad, a Native American man canoes up to a highway, where a motorist tosses a bag of trash. The camera pans up to show a tear rolling down the man’s cheek. By tapping into a shared national guilt for the history of mistreatment of Native Americans and the sins of a throwaway society, the PSA became a powerful symbol to motivate behavioral change. More recently, the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful teams produced the “I Want to Be Recycled” campaign, which urges consumers to imagine the reincarnation of shampoo bottles and boxes, following the collection and processing of materials to the remolding of the next generation of products.
At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behavior and actively thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management.
Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkiller will be used in Europe for years to come, legal experts and campaigners say, despite a U.S. court ruling the company should pay $289 million in damages for causing cancer. The EU last year renewed use of the controversial weedkiller for another five years after a yearslong political debate over its safety and impact on the environment. That means Europe will have to wait until the end of 2022 at the earliest before making any attempt to ban the substance outright. Campaigners also say the mounting legal pressure Monsanto faces in the U.S. from thousands of other plaintiffs filing suits against the company is unlikely to be replicated in Europe, namely because Europe doesn’t have the same legal mechanism of a class action lawsuit as the U.S.
“I’m not very confident that the decision in the U.S. will expedite a ban in Europe as it’s a complicated legal process that takes time,” said Arnaud Apoteker, managing director of the NGO Justice Pesticides. “Countries could go back to the Commission to say that the proposal [to renew glyphosate] could be re-tabled, but this is a very lengthy process.” Apoteker has compiled all lawsuits involving pesticides into a single database and has so far only discovered two made against Monsanto in the EU. One dates back to 2007 and was filed by a farmer named Paul François, who alleged Monsanto’s Lasso herbicide caused his chronic illness and that the product was inadequately labeled. The other was filed at a court in Lyon last year by Sabine Grataloup, who accuses Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller of causing severe malformations in her 11-year-old son Théo.
A woman has activated the ancient Norman rite of Clameur de Haro to protest against the narrowing of a road which she claims would endanger pedestrians and motorists. Rosie Henderson, from Guernsey, raised the clameur by kneeling and calling for help and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Norman French. Fully enforceable in Guernsey and Jersey law, it means the construction work in St Peter Port must stop until a court decides the case. Henderson, a parish councillor, raised the clameur on Tuesday by the roads of Les Échelons and South Esplanade, near the construction site. The clameur states: “Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon prince, on me fait tort”, translated as “Come to my aid, my prince, for someone does me wrong”.
Whoever calls the clameur has 24 hours to register it in court, but whoever it is called against must stop all work immediately. Legend says the raising of a clameur stretches back to the early Norman period in the Channel Islands and is thought to have been a plea to Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. The feudal law dates back to the 10th century as a form of self-policing when there was no law enforcement. In 2016, plans to overhaul St Peter Port’s sunken gardens, by levelling the site with the street and moving the war memorial, were withdrawn after protesters pledged to use the Clameur de Haro to block the proposals.
Swipe. Click. Binge. Repeat. Americans spend more time than ever watching videos, browsing social media and swiping their lives away on their tablets and smartphones. American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago. In the first quarter of the year, U.S. adults spent three hours and 48 minutes a day on computers, tablets and smartphones. This is a 13-minute increase from the previous quarter, and 62% of that time is attributed to app/web browsing on smartphones. Television still accounts for most media usage, with four hours and 46 minutes spent watching TV every day in the first quarter of this year.
[..] Media use is reaching new levels of intensity. Parents with children aged eight to 18 years of age spend over nine hours with screen media each day, according to a 2016 survey of 1,700 such parents by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based organization that examines the impact of technology and media on families. That compares to the more than 4.5 hours tweens spend on screen media on average every day and 6.5 hours spent by teenagers every day, according to a separate 2015 survey of more than 2,650 children by the same organization. Based on Nielsen’s latest report, however, the time people spend online has increased significantly, even over the last four years.
I see so many people doing so many weird things with their phones. Walking the street, getting out of transport, cycling, all glued to these things. And it’s all just to check Facebook etc. At some point, this will turn into a full-blown crisis.
The average Briton now checks a mobile phone every 12 minutes and is online for 24 hours a week, finds an Ofcom study revealing the extent to which people now rely on the internet. Ofcom also found that, for the first time, the time spent making phone calls from mobile phones fell, as users instead used messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The media regulator’s annual Communications Market Report found that a fifth of British adults felt stressed if they could not access the internet, while for the first time ever women were spending more time online than men. The report also showed the rapid growth of addiction to technology. According to Ofcom, just 12% of British adults said they never used the internet.
The total amount of time spent online by Britons has also doubled over the last 10 years, with a quarter of adults saying they spent more than 40 hours a week on the internet – a move driven by the uptake of smartphones. The internet has seeped into many aspects of our lives; two in five British adults – rising to 65% of those aged under 35 – said they looked at their phone within five minutes of waking up35. A third of adults checked their phones up until the moment they went to sleep, a figure which rose to 60% for the under-35s. The prevalence of mobile phones has also meant that attitudes to their use in public had changed. While 83% of Britons aged over 55 said they thought it unacceptable to check a phone during a meal, this figure almost halved among people aged 18-34 who were more comfortable with looking at notifications while eating with other people.
Last month, Bloomberg reported that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has accumulated a fortune worth $150 billion. That is the biggest nominal amount in modern history, and extraordinary any way you slice it. Bezos is the world’s lone hectobillionaire. He is worth what the average American family is, nearly two million times over. He has about 50 percent more money than Bill Gates, twice as much as Mark Zuckerberg, 50 times as much as Oprah, and perhaps 100 times as much as President Trump. (Who knows!) He has gotten $50 billion richer in less than a year. He needs to spend roughly $28 million a day just to keep from accumulating more wealth. This is a credit to Bezos’s ingenuity and his business acumen.
Amazon is a marvel that has changed everything from how we read, to how we shop, to how we structure our neighborhoods, to how our postal system works. But his fortune is also a policy failure, an indictment of a tax and transfer system and a business and regulatory environment designed to supercharging the earnings of and encouraging wealth accumulation among the few. Bezos did not just make his $150 billion. In some ways, we gave it to him, perhaps to the detriment of all of us. Bezos and Amazon are in many ways ideal exemplars of the triumph of capital over labor, like the Waltons and Walmart and Rockefeller and Standard Oil before them. That the gap between executives at top companies and employees around the country is so large is in and of itself shocking.
Bezos has argued that there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on. (The Amazon founder, unlike Gates or Zuckerberg, has given away only a tiny fraction of his fortune.) “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” he said this spring. “I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that.” In contrast, half of Amazon’s domestic employees make less than $28,446 a year, per the company’s legal filings. Some workers have complained of getting timed six-minute bathroom breaks. Warehouse workers need to pick goods and pack boxes at closely monitored speeds, handling up to 1,000 items and walking as many as 15 miles per shift.
Contractors have repeatedly complained of wage-and-hour violations and argued that the company retaliates against whistleblowers. An Amazon temp died on the floor just a few years ago. The impoverishment of the latter and the wealth of the former are linked by policy. Take taxes. The idea of America’s progressive income-tax system is that rich workers should pay higher tax rates than poor workers, with the top rate of 37% hitting earnings over $500,000. (The top marginal tax rate was 92% as recently as 1953.) But Bezos takes a paltry salary, in relative terms, given the number of shares he owns. That means his gains are subject to capital-gains taxes, which top out at just 20%; like Warren Buffett, it is possible he pays effective tax rates lower than his secretary does.
Julian Assange, who has spent more than 2,230 days in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is expected to leave the building soon with his health deteriorating, sources say. This latest information about the WikiLeaks founder, who was already expected to leave the embassy “in the coming weeks,” was broken Wednesday by Bloomberg which cited “two people with knowledge of the matter.” The news agency reported that the whistleblower’s health “has declined recently.” The news comes days after Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno announced that Assange must “eventually” leave the embassy. “Yes, indeed yes, but his departure should come about through dialogue,” the Ecuadorian president said in answer to a reporter’s question on whether he will eventually have to leave.
“For a person to stay confined like that for so long is tantamount to a human rights violation,” Moreno said, stressing that Ecuador wants to make sure that nothing “poses a danger” to the whistleblower’s life. The whistleblower’s health is deteriorating, according to the Courage Foundation, a group that fundraises for the legal defense of whistleblowers. Assange is in “a small space” and has “no access to sunlight,” the group says, adding that this has a serious impact “on his physical and mental health.” [..] Washington simply “wants revenge” for the “embarrassment” WikiLeaks caused it, and wants it to serve “as a deterrent to others,” human rights activist Peter Tatchell told RT earlier in July. “Someone who’s published that information in the same way that the New York Times or the Guardian publish information, I don’t think they should face risk 30 or 40 years in jail in the United States,” Tatchell added.
The United States may jack up the tariff rate on the next $200 billion in Chinese imports it plans to target as it pressures Beijing to reform its trade practices, US officials said Wednesday. President Donald Trump asked the US Trade Representative to consider increasing the proposed tariffs to 25 percent from the planned 10 percent, USTR Robert Lighthizer said. “We have been very clear about the specific changes China should undertake. Regrettably, instead of changing its harmful behavior, China has illegally retaliated against US workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” Lighthizer said in a statement.
Officials however downplayed suggestions the move was intended to compensate for the recent decline in the value of the Chinese currency, which has threatened to take much of the sting out of Trump’s tariffs by making imports cheaper. The US dollar has been strengthening since April as the central bank has been raising lending rates, which draws investors looking for higher returns. “It’s important that countries refrain from devaluing currencies for competitive purposes,” a senior administration official told reporters. “But I wouldn’t draw the conclusion that the announcement we’re making today is directly linked to any one practice.”
Reports that Germany is willing to offer Theresa May a vague Brexit deal so as to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal have set alarm bells ringing in the Remain campaign in the UK and prompted denials from German sources. The Remain campaign, now called People’s Vote, is focused on calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU. It warned against what it described as a “blind Brexit”, and in a rare criticism of the European commission said the EU should not offer May a face-saving deal in which many of the major issues were deferred for negotiation during the transition after the UK has legally left the bloc.
There are concerns amongst some Remain backers that the chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is prepared to make the offer if it has the endorsement of Germany and France, on the basis that the majority of EU leaders fear the possibility of no-deal scenario. There is also a concern that details of the future relationship cannot be negotiated in the short time available. Until now it had been assumed that France and Germany would insist that any political declaration on future relations would include details of the planned future trading relationship after Brexit. A relatively brief declaration on future ties will not be a formal treaty, unlike the withdrawal agreement, which will give details of future UK payments, the Irish border and citizens’ rights. A vague deal on future relations is more likely to be acceptable to May’s MPs, and harder for the Labour party to oppose.
The German Parliament’s budget committee rubber-stamped on Wednesday the disbursement of the last loan installment of Greece’s adjustment program, totalling 15 billion euros. Germany had blocked the release of the last tranche in July, after the Greek government announced it would postpone the increase of value-added tax on five islands of the Aegean hit by the influx of migrants, a measure that had been agreed on with the country’s creditors. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) had approved the disbursement in principle, while it awaited German lawmakers to sign-off the deal. The revenue losses from the lower VAT amount to 28 million euros, which the Greek government will compensate by savings in the defense budget, the German Parliament’s press release said. After Wednesday’s vote, Germany can consent to the payment of the last instalment by the ESM.
The European Commission on Wednesday defended the Greek debt relief measures that the Eurogroup decided in June, in a manner of response to the IMF, which had deemed the debt easing inadequate to render the debt sustainable in the long term. In a regular press update, Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stressed that the IMF forecasts on Greece are permanently pessimistic and that the Fund has in the past been forced to revise them. “The European Commission, the European Stability Mechanism and the ECB have made their own assessment and we, as Europeans, are funding the program and our conclusion is that the debt relief is sufficient,” the Bulgarian official stated.
She went on to highlight the eurozone’s commitment to re-examine the Greek debt in the future should further easing measures be required: “We have also said we will examine the issue again in 2032,” Andreeva said. The IMF said in its Debt Sustainability Analysis on Tuesday that the eurozone’s optimistic scenarios on the Greek growth and primary surpluses make the debt’s long-term sustainability uncertain, particularly after 2038.
It’s a momentous week for the Bank of England. On Thursday, August 2, 2018, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) could decide to raise interest rates by a quarter percent. This would mark the end of the post-Lehman crisis era in the UK and the start of the return to “normal.” But ten years on from Lehman, what is “normal”? The British central bank, like the Fed, is not at all sure what a “normal” level of interest rates would look like, nor how big a “normal” balance sheet should be. The consensus appears to be that the long-term neutral rate of interest is lower than pre-crisis estimates, perhaps somewhere between 2-3%, and that the Bank’s balance sheet will need to remain permanently larger than it was before the crisis.
Given that, one has to ask what the imperative is to start raising rates right now, when the U.K. is careering headlong towards a potentially disastrous no-deal Brexit. The rational reason why the MPC might start raising rates now starts with inflation. Currently, CPI inflation is running at 2.3%, slightly above the Bank’s target of 2%. It has been above 2% for over a year now – indeed in the fall of 2017 it was approaching 3%. In November, the Bank raised interest rates by 0.25%, which removed the additional rate cut imposed after the Brexit vote in 2016. But apart from that, it has so far preferred not to act to dampen inflation. Will it do so this time?
Three of the last four books that I’ve written, including this new one “Collusion,” all examine the juxtaposing of power and money. In all of them, I explore how elected leaders or those in positions of great unelected economic or political influence, use both of them to create or enforce policy. There is a time component as well, “It Takes a Pillage” examined the financial crisis and causes within the framework of a relatively tight temporal lens and I had a very short time to write it as well. “All the Presidents’ Bankers” was a much more expansive book from a historical sense, going back over a century to examine the relationships of key bankers and presidents, and the institutions with which they collaborated to fashion domestic and foreign policy.
“Collusion” is really a book about the future, though it spans the decade since the financial crisis from multiple geographical locations (traveling to which I amassed lots of air miles, and exploring which, I worked with a crack team of internal researchers). It delves into the global connectivity of a body of central banks that provide varying amounts of money to their respective local systems and by extension to the world, and examines how not all central banks are created equal.
In “Collusion,” neither the Fed, nor the U.S. has its own chapter like the other countries or regions. This is by design. The Fed acts as the global influencer, directly and indirectly, as does the U.S. through all of what I call the “pivot regions” in the book that unfold in each chapter. I wanted to show how deeply co-dependent the entire world is on the US monetary policy decisions made since the financial crisis, in various ways, that we are still finding out about. All of my books though, are ultimately, about the people behind their roles of power, and the decisions they make out of ideology, necessity, ego or fear.
If one word defines the preoccupying affairs of the USA these days it’s tiresome. The entire population seems to be enacting the old myth of Sisyphus, every, man, woman, child, swamp-creature, and non-binary child-of-God in the land, legal and undocumented, pushing that boulder uphill to the tippy top, only to have it roll back down to the bottom… repeat ad infinitum. Take Mr. Robert Mueller, for example, the sphinx-like figure looming over the political landscape with his lawyer’s attaché case full of radioactive secrets. He has already done yeoman’s service in his mission by indicting two dozen Russian Facebook trolls and Internet hackers — who will never be extradited or set foot in a US courtroom, sparing taxpayers the expense of trying them (and testing the theory of “collusion” with the current POTUS).
It’s a little hard to picture old horse-face popping a third beer at the clambake, let alone the stories he might tell around the fire (with necessary redactions). When he awakes hung over in the sand the next morning to the shrieking gulls, next to someone not-his-wife, will he be overwhelmed with regret for a year spent chasing gremlins from the Kremlin? The public appears to be good and goddamn sick of him. Even The New York Times has stopped squealing about Russia. Standing by for September histrionics….
Google is working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and allow it to reenter China after exiting eight years ago due to censorship and hacking, according to US media reports. The California-based internet company has engineers designing search software that would leave out content blacklisted by the Chinese government, according to a New York Times report citing two unnamed people familiar with the effort. News website The Intercept first reported the story, saying the Chinese search app was being tailored for Google-backed Android operating system for mobile devices. The service was said to have been shown to Chinese officials. [..] The state-owned China Securities Daily, citing information from “relevant departments”, denied the report.
There was no guarantee the project would result in Google search returning to China. However, the Chinese human rights community said Google acquiescing to China’s censorship would be a “dark day for internet freedom”. “It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘Do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course,” said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International. “For the world’s biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom. In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.”
The European Commission said Wednesday that an additional 37.5 million euros in emergency assistance would be disbursed to improve reception conditions for migrants in Greece as arrivals from Turkey continue by both sea and land. In a statement, the EU’s executive branch said Greek authorities will receive 31.1 million euros to support the “provisional services” offered to migrants, including healthcare, interpretation and food, as well as to improve the infrastructure of the Fylakio reception center in Evros, northern Greece, which has seen an increase in arrivals from Turkey in recent months.
The extra funding will also go toward the creation of additional accommodation within facilities on the Greek mainland, the Commission said. It said a further 6.4 million euros has been awarded to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to improve conditions at reception conditions on the Aegean islands and mainland. Commenting on the decision, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the Commission was “doing everything in its power to support all member-states facing migratory pressures.” “Migration is a European challenge and we need a European solution, where no member-state is left alone,” he said.
“Greece has been on the frontline since 2015 and while the situation has greatly improved since the EU-Turkey statement, we continue to assist the country with the challenges it is still facing,” he added, noting that the EC’s “political, operational and financial support for Greece remains tangible and uninterrupted.”
Ninety-five percent of the world’s lemur population is “on the brink of extinction,” making them the most endangered primates on Earth, a leading conservation group said Wednesday. The arboreal primates with pointed snouts and typically long tails are found only in Madagascar, where rainforest destruction, unregulated agriculture, logging and mining have been ruinous for lemurs, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said. “This is, without a doubt, the highest percentage of threat for any large group of mammals and for any large group of vertebrates,” Russ Mittermeier of IUCN’s species survival commission said in a statement.
Out of a total of 111 lemur species and subspecies, 105 are under threat, IUCN said, as it released its first update on the lemur population since 2012. Among the most concerning trends is an “increase in the level of hunting of lemurs taking place, including larger-scale commercial hunting,” Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at the Bristol Zoological Society, said in the statement. He described the hunting as “unlike anything we have seen before in Madagascar.” One of the species identified as “critically endangered” is the northern sportive lemur, of which there are thought to be only 50 individuals left, IUCN said. “Lemurs are to Madagascar what giant pandas are to China — they are the goose that laid the golden egg, attracting tourists and nature lovers,” said Jonah Ratsimbazafy of the domestic primate research group GERP.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States and the European Union were kicking off talks aimed at lowering trade barriers as officials looked to head off a brewing trade war. “This was a very big day for free and fair trade, a very big day indeed,” Trump told reporters at the White House after meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “We are starting the negotiation right now but we know very much where it’s going,” Trump said. Speaking with Juncker at his side, Trump said they had agreed in talks to “work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”
“We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans; soybeans is a big deal,” he said, adding that Europe would also step up purchases of liquefied natural gas from the United States. “They are going to be a massive buyer of LNG,” Trump said. Trump said the talks would “resolve” both the hefty tariffs the United States had placed on imports of steel and aluminum from the EU and the tariffs Europe had slapped on U.S. goods in response. It was not clear whether the two sides made any progress on the contentious issue of possible U.S. tariffs on imports of automobiles from Europe. But Juncker said they had agreed not to impose any new tariffs while talks were taking place.
House GOP members led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (NC) have filed formal articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a late Wednesday announcement by Meadows over Twitter. News of the resolution comes after weeks of frustration by Congressional investigators, who have repeatedly accused Rosenstein and the DOJ of “slow walking” documents related to their investigations. Lawmakers say they’ve been given the runaround – while Rosenstein and the rest of the DOJ have maintained that handing over vital documents would compromise ongoing investigations. Not even last week’s heavily redacted release of the FBI’s FISA surveillance application on former Trump campaign Carter Page was enough to dissuade the GOP lawmakers from their efforts to impeach Rosenstein.
In fact, its release may have sealed Rosenstein’s fate after it was revealed that the FISA application and subsequent renewals – at least one of which Rosenstein signed off on, relied heavily on the salacious and largely unproven Steele dossier. In late June, Rosenstein along with FBI Director Christopher Wray clashed with House Republicans during a fiery hearing over an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation by special agents who harbored extreme animus towards Donald Trump while expressing support for Clinton. Republicans on the panel grilled a defiant Rosenstein on the Trump-Russia investigation which has yet to prove any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. “This country is being hurt by it. We are being divided,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said of Mueller’s investigation. “Whatever you got,” Gowdy added, “Finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart.”
Well, lordy be. A lawyer for The New York Times has figured out that prosecuting WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange might gore the ox of The Gray Lady herself. The Times’s deputy general counsel, David McCraw, told a group of judges on the West Coast on Tuesday that such prosecution would be a gut punch to free speech, according to Maria Dinzeo, writing for the Courthouse News Service. Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself. In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.
Stating the obvious, McCraw noted that the “prosecution of him [Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers … he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” That’s because, for one thing, the Times itself published many stories based on classified information revealed by WikiLeaks and other sources. The paper decisively turned against Assange once WikiLeaks published the DNC and Podesta emails. More broadly, no journalist in America since John Peter Zenger in Colonial days has been indicted or imprisoned for their work.
Unless American prosecutors could prove that Assange personally took part in the theft of classified material or someone’s emails, rather than just receiving and publishing them, prosecuting him merely for his publications would be a first since the British Governor General of New York, William Cosby, imprisoned Zenger in 1734 for ten months for printing articles critical of Cosby. Zenger was acquitted by a jury because what he had printed was proven to be factual—a claim WikiLeaks can also make. McCraw went on to emphasize that, “Assange should be afforded the same protections as a traditional journalist.”
Facebook Inc. is evidently not bulletproof. The social-media behemoth’s stock lost roughly one-fifth of its value in the extended session Wednesday after its earnings report missed expectations on revenue and showed slowing user growth. Weak guidance also rattled investors. Facebook stock dropped about 7% immediately after the earnings report was released, then plummeted to a loss of more than 20% as a conference call with analysts progressed. Close to 34 million shares changed hands in the extended session, well above the average volume of 17 million shares for a regular trading session over the past month. Should the losses hold into Thursday’s regular session, Facebook would lose more than $100 billion in market capitalization and lose the stock’s gains for the year thus far.
China has withdrawn its approval for Facebook Inc’s plan to open a new venture in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. A Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary, but the registration has since disappeared, according to checks made by Reuters. The move is a setback for Facebook, which has been struggling to gain a foothold in China, the most populous country in the world, where its website and messaging app Whatsapp remain blocked.
The incident also illustrates how difficult it can be for a U.S. company to navigate the government bureaucracy in a country where so many technology firms have tried and failed. “Terms like ‘The Great Firewall’” often gives outsiders the impression that the Chinese government is totally united on technology policy,” said Matt Sheehan, an expert on China-California relations and fellow at The Paulson Institute think tank. “In reality, within that Firewall are lots of competing fiefdoms and ongoing turf wars.” China’s decision comes amid escalating tensions with the United States after the world’s two largest economies imposed tariffs on each other’s imports.
Don’t be fooled. This market is weaker than it seems, according to David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. The S&P 500 is up more than 5% in 2018, recovering from a correction earlier in the year. The broad index was also just 1.9% removed from an all-time high reached in late January as of Tuesday’s close. However, Rosenberg notes that while momentum stocks are lifting the market, “many subsectors are well off their highs: Homebuilders. Autos. Banks. Insurance. Consumer products. Telecom. Media. Transports. Utilities. Pharma. And many more.” The S&P automobiles and components industry group is nearly 20% below its 52-week high, while insurance stocks are down 10.8% from their one-year high. The Dow transports index, meanwhile, is 6.5% below its one-year high.
“What has kept the market near record terrain are a mere six stocks — Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook,” Rosenberg said in a note to clients Wednesday. “Strip out these six flashy stocks, and the overall market has done practically nothing year-to-date.” Through mid-July, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook had contributed nearly 80% to the S&P 500’s gains. These six names have been on fire this year. Netflix and Amazon are up 86% and 57% in 2018, respectively. Microsoft and Facebook have both risen more than 20% while Alphabet and Apple have jumped 19.8% and 14%, respectively. Rosenberg said such concentration in the stock market has not been seen since the late 1990s, just before the dot-com bubble burst. “We know from history how these cycles typically end.”
While above-average corporate profitability may sound like a good thing when taken at face value, I view it as another worrisome sign because it’s further evidence of an economy and financial markets that are being juiced by cheap credit and financial engineering. Ultra-low interest rates help to boost corporate profitability by reducing borrowing costs. Cheap credit also gives consumer spending a strong boost, which has a significant effect on our economy that is heavily driven by consumer spending. Low interest rate environments allow the government (federal, state, and local) to borrow more cheaply in the bond market and use it to boost spending, which gives the overall economy a shot in the arm. In addition, artificially-inflated financial markets boost the profitability of the financial sector.
A major risk for the stock market is the mean reversion of corporate profitability, which is a nightmarish prospect when considering how overpriced stocks currently are relative to earnings. This mean reversion is likely to occur as the result of the ending of ultra-cheap credit conditions (when corporate bonds fall back to earth) and through increased competition, which is what Milton Friedman warned about. (Note: critics may try to rebut my assertions by claiming that U.S. corporate profitability is unusually high due to corporations earning a higher percentage of earnings overseas. I’ve accounted for this by using gross national product as the denominator instead of the more commonly used GDP.)
What is particularly alarming about the current U.S. stock market bubble is the fact that it’s driven by a very narrow group of stocks, which means that there isn’t a healthy breadth, or broad strength, behind the bull market. In general, tech stocks have been leading the way – in particular, a group of stocks known as FAANG, which is an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. The chart below compares the performance of the FAANG stocks to the S&P 500 during the bull market that began in March 2009. While the S&P 500 is up approximately 300%, the FAANGs are up significantly more, with Apple rising by over 1,000%, Amazon rising more than 2,000%, and Netflix surging by over 6,000%.
If Trump imposes 25% tariffs on Chinese goods, China could simply devalue their currency by 25%. That would make Chinese goods cheaper for U.S. buyers by the same amount as the tariff. The net effect on price would be unchanged and Americans could keep buying Chinese goods at the same price in dollars. The impact of such a massive devaluation would not be limited to the trade war. A cheaper yuan exports deflation from China to the U.S. and makes it harder for the Fed to meet its inflation target. Also, the last two times China tried to devalue its currency, August 2015 and December 2015, U.S. stock markets crashed by over 11% in a matter of a few weeks.
So, if the trade war escalates as I expect, don’t worry about China dumping Treasuries or imposing tariffs. Watch the currency. That’s where China will strike back. When they do, U.S. stock markets will be the first victims. Maybe you think that’s unlikely because it would be such an extreme reaction by China. But you have to put yourself in the shoes of China’s leadership. These aren’t academic issues to China’s leaders. They go to the heart of the government’s very legitimacy. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.
If China encounters a financial crisis, Xi could quickly lose what the Chinese call, “The Mandate of Heaven.” That’s a term that describes the intangible goodwill and popular support needed by emperors to rule China for the past 3,000 years. If The Mandate of Heaven is lost, a ruler can fall quickly. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste.
The US dollar has become the safest asset in the face of mounting evidence that the “beggar thy neighbor” policy and drowning structural problems in liquidity is coming to a close. The reality is that the US dollar is strengthening because of the evidence of a deeper slowdown in China and the massive imbalances built by some emerging economies in the past -large fiscal and trade deficits financed with the cheap inflow of dollars-. As the US economy improves and others face the saturation of past stimuli, it is only logical that the United States sees a high inflow of funds from abroad. And that is good. Keeps US treasury yields low, a high demand for bonds and equities, and a steady increase in capital investment into the US economy.
There are many who think that the US economy will not accept a strong dollar. Allow me to doubt it. The US only exports around 10% of GDP and less than 30% of the profits of the S & P 500 come from exports. In the past nine years, devaluing and lowering rates has hurt the middle class, savers, workers, and high productivity companies. Those that voted for the current administration to make a drastic change on the past mistakes. A devaluation policy hurts more Americans than it helps. Devaluation is simply stealing from your citizens’ savings and disposable income. A strong US dollar reduces inflationary pressures and keeps interest rates low. Both effects are positive for savers, workers, and families as the economy strengthens and wages improve.
Theresa May has urged voters not to worry about Brexit, despite her government setting out plans to stockpile food, blood and medicine in case it goes badly. She said people should take “reassurance and comfort” from news of the plans, to be implemented if the UK crashes out of the EU without an agreement in March next year. The scenario is looking increasingly likely given deep divisions in the Conservatives over Ms May’s approach, her wafer thin commons majority and the EU’s on-going resistance to what the prime minister is proposing. It comes as The Independent launched a campaign to give the British people a Final Say in a referendum on whatever is proposed at the end of Brexit negotiations, with thousands flocking to sign a petition supporting the cause.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister accused the PM of “bravado” in talking up the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, while Tory insiders claim the PM is doing so to warn her rebellious MPs of the consequence of failing to back her unpopular Brexit plans. Ms May confirmed in a TV interview that plans for stocking up on essential goods are underway, in case imports from the EU are cut off by clogged ports or regulatory disputes. But, asked if it was “alarming” for people, the prime minister told Channel 5: “Far from being worried about preparations that we are making, I would say that people should take reassurance and comfort from the fact that the government is saying we are in a negotiation, we are working for a good deal. “I believe we can get a good deal, but, it’s right that we say – because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be – let’s prepare for every eventuality.”
Imagine you’re back at school and you can’t be bothered to do any work for the most important exams of your entire academic career. Alarmed by your indifference, your parents ask what you propose to do. Imagine how they would react if you told them you were thinking of having an extended summer holiday, to put off the moment of reckoning for as long as possible. Quite frankly, this is where our government now is in the Brexit negotiations. A longer than usual summer recess seems to be the best these great minds can come up with. The problem is we are not in school, Brexit is not homework and the bullies will do more than give us a bloody nose.
The EU is like the strict exam board of governors and appears to have no time for excuses or interest in making Theresa May’s sloppy government look good. It is a measure of May’s desperation that she said in Belfast last week that the EU was trying to achieve an “economic and constitutional dislocation” of our country. That kind of talk may play well with the hard-right Brexiteers who are too painfully holding her and her government hostage, but it doesn’t impress Brussels. May needs to realise that we can all see she is now merely playing for time and there are only a finite number of options open to her: a general election, a leadership challenge or a people’s vote.
[..] The plain truth is that there is no majority in parliament for any deal. The EU thinks the prime minister’s Chequers plan is too favourable to the UK, and the Brexiteers think it’s too favourable to Brussels. A Norway deal would mean accepting free movement and paying large amounts to Brussels; a Canada-style deal means the prospect of a hard border returning to the line on the map that separates Eire and Northern Ireland. Viewed through the lens of May’s parliamentary party, there is no consensus, no coming together on any of these options. Brexit is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.
A US state lawmaker is resigning after a humiliating appearance on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s television show during which he exposed himself and shouted racial slurs. Jason Spencer, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, had been under pressure from his own party to step down following the embarrassing appearance on Cohen’s series “Who Is America?” Spencer, 43, finally announced on Wednesday that he planned to resign on July 31. He had already lost a primary in May but he could have remained in office until November. Spencer was one of several Republican figures pranked by Cohen on the Showtime series.
Others included former vice president Dick Cheney, who signed a “waterboarding kit” and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In the episode of “Who Is America” with Spencer, Cohen pretends to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, offering self-defense training. At one point, Spencer is persuaded to expose his buttocks and chase Cohen while yelling “USA” and racial slurs. Spencer, in a statement this week to The Washington Post, said Cohen “took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked.” Spencer told the Post he had received death threats after introducing a bill that would ban Muslim women from publicly wearing burqas. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, denounced the show as “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.'”
Plants and animals created by innovative gene-editing technology have been genetically modified and should be regulated as such, the EU’s top court has ruled. The landmark decision ends 10 years of debate in Europe about what is – and is not – a GM food, with a victory for environmentalists, and a bitter blow to Europe’s biotech industry. It also marks a setback for UK scientists who took advantage of a legal grey area to of gene edited camelina crops, augmented with Omega-3 fish oils. Greenpeace said that the ruling meant the British government – along with Belgium, Sweden and Finland – was now obliged to “revoke” the green light for the trials until appropriate precautions had been taken.
In their ruling, the EU judges said: “Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] … It follows that those organisms come, in principle, within the scope of the GMO directive and are subject to the obligations laid down [therein].” The court sided with the French agricultural trades union, Confédération Paysanne, which brought the case, arguing that new and unconventional in vitro mutagenesis techniques were likely to be used to produce herbicide-resistant plants, with potential health risks. A study published in the journal Nature last week found that the gene-editing technology Crispr-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic distortions than expected, with potential “pathogenic consequences”. Gene editing alters the genomes of a living species by slicing genome strands in a bid to remove undesirable traits, without inserting foreign DNA.
There’s not a shade of a doubt that I’m not an expert on tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies, and I’d be the last to suggest any such thing. But I can read. Still, do correct me if I’m wrong anywhere. The whole field is so complicated -no doubt often on purpose- that there’s always the possibility that there are side issues involved for which one would need to actually be an expert.
But still. Now that EU chief Jean-Claude -‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie’- Juncker is due to arrive at the White House soon, I looked at some of the items involved. Last night Trump said that all tariffs, barriers and subsidies should be dropped between the EU and US. Why the TTiP doesn’t come anywhere close to that is anyone’s guess. Too complicated for the boys and girls?
In at least some major fields, Trump does seem to have a point or two. The US has a 2.5% tariff on European cars, while the EU slaps a 10% tariff on American cars. That’s 4x as much, or a 300% difference. Whoever said yes to that? Sure, the US has a 25% tariff on EU pickups, but nobody in Europe drives pickups, hence they don’t produce them, so that’s not consequential.
So what had Trump done? He’s threatened a 20% tariff on Beemers and Mercs, and added -for entertainment value only- that he doesn’t want to see any of them in on Fifth Avenue anymore. Cue EU carmakers warning about the cost to American customers.
That’s all fine and well, but those tariffs on personal cars are still 300% higher. So push your European government to make them equal. Easy as -American- pie. How about zero? I can see where Trump’s coming from. Issuing warnings to the American public about BMW’s getting more expensive doesn’t look entirely on the up and up.
Also, I was looking at agriculture. Now, I grew up in Europe, and I do have an idea about EU farm subsidies (they’re notorious even inside the EU, going all the way back to the 1950s-60s). There was a point where they were over 70% of the total EU budget. They’re 30% or even somewhat below that now, but that’s not because subsidies have gone down, it’s because the EU budget has grown exponentially.
US farm subsidies were some $23 billion last year, and a year ago the Trump administration proposed a $4.8 billion cut to that. Now that Trump has initiated a one-time $12 billion for farmers to make up for the effects of his tariff proposals, one half of America -Conservatives- cry foul because: “that’s Soviet-style politics”, and no doubt the EU will cry right with them.
But look: under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), EU farm subsidies for the 2021-2027 period will fall a whole 5% to ‘only’ $420 billion. And that’s just a proposal, and already France, the main beneficiary of the subsidies, has declared that such a cut is unacceptable. Soviet style?
The meeting of tee-totaller Trump and wine-totaller Juncker is interesting enough in and of itself, and you bet the Donald knows what and who Juncker is, but unless Jean-Claude comes with something very substantial, the numbers I cited above would seem to be very clear. And that’s without steel, aluminum etc etc.
If your side gives its farmers almost 20 times as much as the other side, what are you going to say? You may ask for some time to adapt, but that would seem to be it. However, Juncker could never sell egalization of subsidies ‘at home’. France and others would shave his head and ass and apply tar and feathers. And Macron would fear the same fate if he gives in. As Merkel would on the car issue.
Juncker has no room to wiggle on the whole shebang. All he can do is damage control and a good glass of wine (wonder if Trump instructed his staff not to give him any, or merely cut him off after the first bottle). It’s just that Trump has noticed the policy damage, and doesn‘t like it. And you have to wonder, who ever accepted those terms, and signed treaties like that TTiP that they are engraved in?
If you ask me, communities and countries should always make sure they remain in control of all their basic necessities. And food is certainly one of them. Also. if any politician near you ever proposes selling the rights to your drinking water to some foreign party, tar and feathers is your reply. Let Americans make their own cars, And German and French theirs. It’s not of the same importance as food, water, shelter and clothing, but you get the drift.
Schlepping food halfway across the planet is a dangerous thing once you become dependent on it to feed your children and your community (schlepping it halfway through Europe is as well). Selling your local water rights is even worse. That’s downright insane.
But if you’re going to trade, and once you’ve excluded basic necessities, zero tariffs or at least equal tariffs seems the way to go. Just wait till Trump starts that discussion with China for real. That conversation is largely about barriers, it’s different from Europe, though -hidden- subsidies feature ‘bigly’ as well.
Still, summarized, though I’m far from a Trumponado, I can see his point(s). I find it much harder to see what earlier US administrations were thinking when they agreed to all this stuff. And sure, his approach is brusque and perhaps brutal, but the country he’s, for better or for worse, president of, does seem to have gotten the short end of an very extensive array of sticks.
But by all means, don’t listen to me, listen to the experts. Then again, also look at the numbers.
This is physically sickening. Checked front web pages of BBC, Guardian and Independent today: not a word. Hence: another gag order. Yes, there are journalists who don’t like Assange, but it’s not about liking him. It’s about your own freedom to speak. Guess that’s already gone then. I feel sick to my stomach.
Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been using a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the President’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities. Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonia independence.
Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.
The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.
The Department of Justice late Friday released via the FBI’s FOIA Vault a redacted copy of the Carter Page FISA warrant application and several renewals, which accuse Page of being a Russian spy, as summarized by the New York Times – which obtained a copy of the materials through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Of note, in the nearly two years since the application was filed, Page hasn’t been charged with any of the allegations contained within it. The previously top-secret document is the first such release by the DOJ in the 40 years since the surveillance law was enacted. In April, the DOJ said they were “processing for potential redaction and release certain [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] materials related to Carter Page,” after watchdog group Judicial Watch and several other organizations filed similar lawsuits.
The application reads in part: “Identity of the target The target of this application is Carter W. Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power, described in detail below.” “The F.B.I. believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” the warrant application continues. A line was then redacted, and then it picked up with “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. Mr. Page is a former foreign policy adviser to a candidate for U.S. president.” -NYT. The document then concludes that Page was allegedly “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” which they viewed as probably cause to spy on him – and again, which Page has never been charged with.
Page – who has repeatedly denied being a Russian spy, said in April that the FISA application was “beyond words,” and a “Joke,” while claiming that he has never served as an agent for a foreign government. We would also note that he hasn’t been charged as one. Page was targeted months earlier by FBI informant Stefan Halper, who formed a relationship with Page and several other Trump aides as part of the Obama administration’s active counterintelligence operation on the Trump campaign. While President Trump has characterized the entire counterintelligence operation as a “witch hunt,” an increasing chorus of frustrated GOP lawmakers have begun to echo his sentiment, as we are now in month 18 of post-inaugural investigation by the Department of Justice.
Mr. Comey stands accused of flouting the rules, breaking the chain of command, abusing investigatory powers. Yet it seems far likelier that the FBI’s Trump investigation was a function of arrogance and overconfidence than some partisan plot. No such case can be made for Mr. Brennan. Before his nomination as CIA director, he served as a close Obama adviser. And the record shows he went on to use his position—as head of the most powerful spy agency in the world—to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and keep his job).
Mr. Brennan has taken credit for launching the Trump investigation. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in May 2017, he explained that he became “aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” The CIA can’t investigate U.S. citizens, but he made sure that “every information and bit of intelligence” was “shared with the bureau,” meaning the FBI. This information, he said, “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.” My sources suggest Mr. Brennan was overstating his initial role, but either way, by his own testimony, he was an Obama-Clinton partisan was pushing information to the FBI and pressuring it to act.
More notable, Mr. Brennan then took the lead on shaping the narrative that Russia was interfering in the election specifically to help Mr. Trump – which quickly evolved into the Trump-collusion narrative. Team Clinton was eager to make the claim, especially in light of the Democratic National Committee server hack. Numerous reports show Mr. Brennan aggressively pushing the same line internally. Their problem was that as of July 2016 even then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t buy it. He publicly refused to say who was responsible for the hack, or ascribe motivation. Mr. Brennan also couldn’t get the FBI to sign on to the view; the bureau continued to believe Russian cyberattacks were aimed at disrupting the U.S. political system generally, not aiding Mr. Trump.
Britain will only pay its EU divorce bill if the bloc agrees the framework for a future trade deal, the new Brexit Secretary warned in an interview published Sunday. Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis after he quit the role earlier this month in protest over the government’s Brexit strategy, said “some conditionality between the two” was needed. He added that the Article 50 mechanism used to trigger Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union provided for new deal details. “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked,” Raab told the Sunday Telegraph.
“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side. “So I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.” The British government has sent mixed signals so far on the divorce bill. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in December to a financial settlement totalling £35 to £39 billion ($46-51 billion, 39-44 billion euros) that ministers said depended on agreeing future trade ties. But cabinet members have since cast doubt on the position. Finance minister Philip Hammond said shortly afterwards he found it “inconceivable” Britain would not pay its bill, which he described as “not a credible scenario”.
The country is set to leave the bloc on March 30, but the two sides want to strike a divorce agreement by late October in order to give parliament enough time to endorse a deal. Raab met the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time on Friday, where he heard doubts over May’s new Brexit blueprint for the future relationship. But Barnier noted the priority in talks should be on finalising the initial divorce deal. A hardline stance by the British government on the financial settlement could complicate progress, with Raab insisting on the link with the bill and a future agreement. “Certainly it needs to go into the arrangements we have at international level with our EU partners,” he told the Telegraph. “We need to make it clear that the two are linked.”
Australia’s version of the sub-prime crisis that ushered in the global financial crisis could be looming, with a significant number of the 1.5 million households with interest-only loans likely to struggle with higher repayments, experts warn. Martin North, the principal at consultancy Digital Finance Analytics, said interest-only loans account for about $700 billion of the $1.7 trillion in Australian mortgage lending and it was “our version of the GFC”. “My view is we’re in somewhat similar territory to where the US was in 2006 before the GFC,” Mr North said.
Craig Morgan, managing director of Independent Mortgage Planners, said one in five people who took a loan two or three years ago would not qualify for the same loan now, because of the crackdown on lending by the regulator and ongoing fallout from the Royal Commission into financial services. “In the last six months lenders have had this lightbulb moment of what ‘responsible lending’ means,” Mr Morgan said. One of the triggers for the GFC was rising defaults from over-leveraged borrowers who were unable to refinance when their honeymoon rates ended. However, the sub-prime lending in the United States before the GFC included large mortgages being given to people without jobs or on minimum wage.
“This is absolutely not ‘sub-prime’ in the US definition but there were people [in Australia] who were being encouraged to get very big loans on the fact that principal & interest was impossible to service but they could service interest-only,” Mr North said. “We also know that some interest-only loans were not investors but they are actually first-home buyers encouraged to go in at the top of the market.” The Reserve Bank has previously warned $500 billion in interest-only loans are set to expire in the next four years, causing a significant jump in repayments of 30-40 per cent when borrowers are forced to start paying back the principal.
German industry groups warned on Sunday, ahead of a meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, that tariffs the United States has recently imposed or threatened risk harming the U.S. itself. The U.S. imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum on June 1 and Trump is threatening to extend them to EU cars and car parts. Juncker will discuss trade with Trump at a meeting on Wednesday. Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s BDI industry association, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper it was wise for the European Union and United States to continue their discussions.
“The tariffs under the guise of national security should be abolished,” Kempf said, adding that Juncker needed to make clear to Trump that the United States would harm itself with tariffs on cars and car parts. He added that the German auto industry employed more than 118,000 people in the United States and 60 percent of what they produced was exported to other countries from the U.S. “Europe should not let itself be blackmailed and should put in a confident appearance in the United States,” he added. EU officials have sought to lower expectations about what Juncker can achieve, and downplayed suggestions that he will arrive in Washington with a novel plan to restore good relations.
Eric Schweitzer, president of the DIHK Chambers of Commerce, told Welt am Sonntag he welcomed Juncker’s attempt to persuade the U.S. government not to impose tariffs on cars. “All arguments in favor of such tariffs are … ultimately far-fetched,” he said.
In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby in the United States created a superhero with a novel twist. He was called Giant-Man, and the bigger he got, the weaker he became. Today that character is a prophetic parable about the future of the post- Cold War “super-NATO” that has expanded to include 29 nations compromising more than 880 million people. First it absorbed all the former Warsaw Pact member states in Central Europe. Then it absorbed the three tiny and virulently anti-Russian Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia. Now NATO is looking to embrace former Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.
As if all this was not enough, some genius at NATO Supreme Headquarters in Brussels came up with the idea of calling the alliance’s June 2016 military exercises in Eastern Europe ANACONDA. An anaconda is a gigantic carnivorous snake in the Amazon rain forest that first encircles its victims, crushes them to death and then devours them. What message was Russia meant to take from such tasteless nomenclature? However, it will not happen. Far from burying Russia, the US-led NATO alliance has been burying itself instead through its reckless, unending and remorseless growth. The curse of Giant Man is upon it. When the comic book hero Giant Man grew to 50 or 60 feet tall, he collapsed under his own weight. Such a fate is already happening to NATO.
The fundamental problem of the NATO alliance is that it is simultaneously too big and too diverse. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets. This is because, with every state that joins the Alliance, the only militarily significant power within it, the United States, takes on an additional commitment to defend it. What does the United States get in return for its reckless bestowal of such earth shaking commitments? It gets nothing at all. When a tiny nation like Lithuania or Estonia boasts about meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement of NATO this is ludicrous. The armed forces and GDP’s of such countries are so small as to be nonexistent. The much larger nations in the Alliance in Western Europe make no pretense of coming remotely close to their two percent defense spending pledge.
About 800 members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defense group and their families were evacuated via Israel to Jordan on Sunday from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way, media said. In a statement, the Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families … due to an immediate threat to their lives”. It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries.
Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization. Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria. Jordan’s official Petra news agency said on its website the kingdom “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan for resettlement in Western countries”. The agency identified the Syrians as civil defense workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army. Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.
It’s bizarre: in what seems like a display of obtuseness on a nationwide scale, it is still not generally realised or admitted that across huge swathes of the land, the biodiversity that at the end of the second world war was giving animation and vibrant life to the countryside as it had always done has simply vanished. By the government’s own admission, farmland birds have declined by 56% just since 1970; and the wild flowers have gone, and the butterflies have disappeared in their turn. Farewell to the spotted flycatcher, adios to the corncockle, goodbye to the high brown fritillary: what remains may be green, at least in spring, but that is mainly the pesticide-saturated crops; in wildlife terms, the landscape is now grossly impoverished, beyond any other one in Europe.
In his important new book, Cocker, one of our leading Nature writers, tackles head-on this remarkable twin phenomenon of destruction and ignorance, and he does so on an ambitious scale, seeking to explain and understand it by looking back in detail over a century of growing conservation efforts by individuals, charities, quangos and governments. How have they failed? In particular he is preoccupied with a paradox: how can our Nature have been so devastated, when there are more people who are members of green organisations in Britain than anywhere else? How can it have happened at the very moment in history that saw the rise of a new popular philosophy, environmentalism?
The simple answer is that this moment in history also saw the rise of intensive farming, a juggernaut beyond the power of green groups to control – and indeed beyond the power of individual governments once the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union was fixed in place. It is modern industrial agriculture, above all by its immense reliance on poisons to boost crop yields, that has wiped out the wildlife of our countryside on a scarcely believable scale.
New UK Foreign minister says Assange faces ‘serious charges’. But “Under UK law any theoretical future bail charge would be a textbook minor charge (under three months). UK law defines “serious charge” one carrying over three years of imprisonment.”
Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno arrives in London today, with his administration seeking to force WikiLeaks editor and Australian citizen Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy there, where he sought and was granted political asylum in 2012. If Assange leaves the embassy he will be imprisoned by Britain for breaching bail and almost certainly face an application to extradite him to the United States to stand trial on manufactured charges of espionage. On the Moreno government’s orders, the Ecuadorian embassy in London has deprived Assange of all external communication, and all visitors apart from his lawyers, since March 28.
After six years of confinement due to the British threat of immediate arrest if he sets foot outside the small building, Assange’s health has been seriously compromised. The deprivation of communication is a vindictive attempt to add immense psychological pressure on him to leave the embassy, as well as to silence him while lurid accusations permeate the American and international media that WikiLeaks was part of a nefarious Russian conspiracy to “interfere” in the 2016 US presidential election. Ahead of Moreno’s visit to London, his national secretary of political management, Paul Granda, asserted on July 19 that “there is no specific meeting planned on Assange.” The same day, acting Ecuadorian foreign minister, Andres Teran, claimed that Moreno’s government is “not in talks with the United States” over the WikiLeaks editor.
“The above report that UK and Ecuador are preparing to turn Assange over to UK appears to be true,” commented journalist Glenn Greenwald on Simonyan’s statement. “Big question is whether the US will indict him and seek his extradition, the way Sessions and Pompeo vowed they would. Can’t wait to see how many fake press freedom defenders support that.” How many indeed? For all the viral, click-friendly wailing and rending of garments about Donald Trump’s “war on the press” because he says “fake news” and picks on Jim Acosta, does anyone expect the so-called free press to rush to the defense of a journalist who is being actively and aggressively persecuted with the full might of the western empire for publishing authentic documents about that very same empire?
We are about to find out if this is the part of the movie where the empire rips off the mask of freedom and democracy and reveals its true tyranny. Assange is a soft target, a controversial figure who has been on the receiving end of wildly successful smear campaigns marketed to every major political faction across the western world. He is the logical place to begin a crackdown on press freedoms and make a public example of what happens to those who shine the light of truth upon Big Brother. If we allow them to imprison Julian Assange for practicing journalism, that’s it. It’s over. We might as well all stop caring what happens to the world and sit on our hands while the oligarchs drive us to ecological disaster, nuclear annihilation or Orwellian dystopia.
If we, the many, don’t have the spine to stand up against the few and say “No, we get to find out facts about you bastards and use it to inform our worldview, you don’t get to criminalize that,” then we certainly don’t have the spine it will take to wrest control of this world away from the hands of sociopathic plutocrats and take our fate into our own hands. The arrest of Julian Assange would be the fork in the road. It would be where we collectively decide as a species whether we want to survive into the future, and if we deserve to.
“A few minutes later Strzok texted his own handicap of the Russia evidence: “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”
Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the reported FBI lovebirds, are the poster children for the next “Don’t Text and Investigate” public service ads airing soon at an FBI office near you. Their extraordinary texting affair on their government phones has given the FBI a black eye, laying bare a raw political bias brought into the workplace that agents are supposed to check at the door when they strap on their guns and badges. It is no longer in dispute that they held animus for Donald Trump, who was a subject of their Russia probe, or that they openly discussed using the powers of their office to “stop” Trump from becoming president. The only question is whether any official acts they took in the Russia collusion probe were driven by those sentiments.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is endeavoring to answer that question. For any American who wants an answer sooner, there are just five words, among the thousands of suggestive texts Page and Strzok exchanged, that you should read. That passage was transmitted on May 19, 2017. “There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted. The date of the text long has intrigued investigators: It is two days after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump and the Russia campaign. Since the text was turned over to Congress, investigators wondered whether it referred to the evidence against the Trump campaign.
This month, they finally got the chance to ask. Strzok declined to say — but Page, during a closed-door interview with lawmakers, confirmed in the most pained and contorted way that the message in fact referred to the quality of the Russia case, according to multiple eyewitnesses. The admission is deeply consequential. It means Rosenstein unleashed the most awesome powers of a special counsel to investigate an allegation that the key FBI officials, driving the investigation for 10 months beforehand, did not think was “there.”
“For more than a decade, Russia has meddled in elections around the world, supported brutal dictators and invaded sovereign nations — all to the detriment of United States interests.” — The New York Times
The Resistance sure got a case of the vapors this week over Mr. Trump’s failure to throttle America’s arch-enemy, the murderous thug V. Putin of Russia, onstage in Helsinki, as any genuine Marvel Comix hero is expected to do when facing consummate evil. Instead, the Golden Golem of Greatness voiced some doubts about the veracity of our “intelligence community” — as the shape-shifting Moloch of black ops likes to call itself, as if it were a kindly service organization in Mr. Rogers neighborhood, collecting dimes for victims of childhood cancer. If I may be frank, the US Intel community looks like a much bigger threat to American life and values than anything Mr. Putin is doing, for instance his alleged “meddling” in US elections.
This word, meddling, absolutely pervades the captive Resistance news outlets these days. It has a thrilling vagueness about it, intimating all kinds of dark deeds without specifying anything, as consorting with Satan once did in our history. The reason: the only specific acts associated with this meddling include the disclosure of incriminating emails among the Democratic National Committee leadership, and a tiny gang of Facebook trolls making sport of profoundly idiotic and dysfunctional American electoral politics. The brief against Russia also contains vague accusations of “aggression.” It is hard to discern what is meant by that — though it apparently warms the heart of American war hawks and their paymasters in the warfare industries.
They allege that Russia “stole” Crimea from Ukraine. Consider: Crimea had been a province of Russia since the 1700s. Ukraine itself was a province of the USSR when Nikita Khrushchev put Crimea under Ukraine’s administrative control in 1956, a relationship which became obviously problematic after the breakup of the soviet mega-state in 1990 — and became even more of a problem when the US State Department and our CIA stage-managed a coup against the Russia-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Crimea is the site of Russia’s only warm water naval bases. Do you suppose that even an experience American CIA analyst might understand that Russia would under no circumstances give up those assets? Please, grow up.
President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise. “I’m ready to go to 500,” the president told CNBC’s Joe Kernen in a “Squawk Box” interview aired Friday. The reference is to the dollar amount of Chinese imports the U.S. accepted in 2017 — $505.5 billion to be exact, compared with the $129.9 billion the U.S. exported to China, according to Census Bureau data. Thus far in the burgeoning trade war, the U.S. has slapped tariffs on just $34 billion of Chinese products, which China met with retaliatory duties. By sheer dollar volume, the Chinese won’t be able to come close to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat battle.
Trump’s comments point to a willingness to push the envelope as far as the U.S. needs to get Chinese tariff concessions, along with a pledge to stop allegedly stealing American technology. “I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country,” Trump said. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.” Trump said the U.S. is “being taken advantage of” on a number of fronts, including trade and monetary policy. Yet he said he has not pushed the tariffs out of any ill will toward China. “I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to do well,” he said. “I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair.”
Prospects for a Brexit deal have been dealt a severe blow after the European Union’s chief negotiator took apart Theresa May’s latest proposals – just hours after she ruled out further compromise on her side. Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with EU national ministers, Michel Barnier raised a wide variety of serious concerns about the Chequers white paper plan for customs control and single market regulation for goods. Mr Barnier said Ms May’s complicated proposal for customs would likely create huge amounts of new paperwork, warning: “Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy.” The chief negotiator, who said he had told member states to prepare for a no-deal scenario, also raised concerns about the PM’s plan to keep the UK following a “common rulebook” of single market regulations for goods.
The intervention emphasises the deadlock between the two sides, with Tory eurosceptics not allowing the embattled prime minister much room for manoeuvre in Westminster in order to meet Mr Barnier’s concerns. The PM had hoped her white paper proposals would allow frictionless trade with the EU, but Mr Barnier said a plan to exclude UK services from following EU rules could give a “significant competitive advantage” to Britain and that agreeing to such a policy might not be in the EU’s own best interests. Mr Barnier also suggested it would be unreasonable to exempt some goods such as animal feed from having to follow the rules, as proposed by Ms May, stating: “We have a duty of care to protect consumers in the single market, and on which basis could we accept the free circulation of goods?”
The Brexit “negotiations” have always been best understood as the kind of negotiations that occur between a particularly irritating toddler and its wearied parent. So it came as a surprise to no one when on Friday morning Britain, having stood around doing not very much for two years, the car now almost fully loaded, finally decided that actually it did want to go to the toilet after all, it was met with a firm “no”. You will know, traditionally, what happens next in such matters. The Brexit journey will not smell nice for anyone, but it will be Britain that suffers the most.
That, via a speech in Belfast, just over two years on from the referendum and with six meaningful weeks of negotiating time left, Theresa May finally put some concrete proposals to the EU and Michel Barnier immediately came out of his office in Brussels to reject them is, of course, laughable. Not least as the proposals that have taken two years for her government to “agree” on have only been “agreed” in the sense that her brexit secretary and foreign secretary didn’t agree with them, and so left the government – from which point on the “agreement” has disintegrated in plain sight.
House prices in Australian capital cities have been booming for the better half of the last two decades. With our capital cities expanding at lightning rates thanks to international and state migration, it seemed like the boom would never end. The extent of our booming economy has been so incredible, it has become the norm for us in Australia. Australians aren’t really conditioned to expect stock market or real estate falls or depressions. But like all things, what goes up must come down. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week: ‘Only half the properties that went to auction in Sydney and Melbourne on the weekend found buyers. ‘Australian property owners are waking up to the mother of all housing debt hangovers. That’s what happens, you see, when you go on an unprecedented credit binge, fuelled by cheap credit and loose lending standards.’
The Australian Financial Review also confirmed that our debt-fuelled housing boom was coming to an end: ‘Generally the wider market [in Sydney] has cooled with transaction numbers falling, selling periods extending and prices declining.’ ‘Melbourne has eclipsed Sydney as the nation’s worst-performing capital with prices falling by about 5 per cent in recent months, according to recent analysis by investment bank Morgan Stanley.’ For years your Money Morning editors have been warning that Australia’s real estate has been looking more and more like a bubble. Only recently have mainstream economists and newspapers started to agree.
[..] This is a controversial view as it has the potential to undermine the stability of our whole nation’s economy. Our banking sector is built on a foundation of housing mortgages, and the banks make up a massive proportion of our stock market (around 30% of the ASX). However, with Australian property prices having boomed for so many years, it’s no surprise a correction is on the horizon. Now, if the housing boom is actually over, that doesn’t mean your house is suddenly worthless. If you own your home, you can still live in it just as happily as before. But investors with too much debt, overly dependent on rising prices, may be in trouble. The trouble is, with so much debt in the system, it could be difficult to correct or even slow down the housing bubble without triggering a full-on crash. One that could have disastrous effects for the wider economy.
A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Trump administration’s renewed bid to dismiss a lawsuit by young activists who say the U.S. government is ignoring the perils of climate change. By a 3-0 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government fell short of the “high bar” needed to dismiss the Oregon case, originally brought in 2015 against the administration of President Barack Obama. Twenty-one children and young adults, ages 11 to 22, accused federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.
The government contended that letting the case proceed would be too burdensome, unconstitutionally pit the courts against the executive branch, and require improper “agency decision-making” by forcing officials to answer questions about climate change. But the appeals court said the issues raised “are better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.” A trial is scheduled for Oct. 29 in the federal court in Eugene, Oregon. President Donald Trump’s administration also has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit or put it on hold, and is awaiting a ruling. Its earlier bid to end the lawsuit failed in March.
A federal judge said on Friday the U.S. government had made “very promising” progress toward reuniting some 2,500 immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The government has six days left to comply with the reunification order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who summoned government attorneys to appear in his San Diego courtroom to update him on efforts made in bringing families back together. “I’m very impressed with the effort being made,” said Sabraw at the end of the brief hearing. Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported in a court filing late Thursday that 364 children aged 5 and older had been reunited since Sabraw’s order was issued more than three weeks ago.
The number was updated to 450 today, an ACLU spokesperson said. Younger children were reunited last week. In Thursday’s status report, filed as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging parent-child separations at the border, the government did not say how many reunifications were likely before the July 26 deadline. Nearly 850 parents had been interviewed and cleared for reunification as of Thursday and another 229 parents had been deemed ineligible because of criminal records, or because they “waived” reunification or for other reasons, the report said. The rest are pending review.
More than 850 parents are facing final deportation orders, government lawyers told the court on Friday. The ACLU has asked Sabraw to give those parents at least a week after being reunited with their children before deportation so they have adequate time to obtain legal counsel and consider options. Sabraw has temporarily barred deportations of reunified families pending a final decision.