René Magritte The victory 1939
The Venezuela coverage is too obvious and predictable, I’ll leave it alone today.
Who can we blame? Certainly not ourselves.
Prices for some prestigious properties have fallen by more than 40 per cent as vendors rein in their expectations in response to falling demand, tighter credit and lower prices. Buyers’ agents, who represent property buyers, are blaming the reductions on the “irresponsible” and unrealistically high prices set by realtors desperate to win business from sellers. “These price cuts are a result of bad agency practice,” said David Morrell, director of buyers’ agency Morrell Koren. “Professionals should set realistic values that reflect where the market sits.” Mr Morrell said such over-valuations were widespread and were partly driven by real estate agents trying to generate more revenue through advertising campaigns paid for by the vendor, which then generate commissions and other incentives from advertising companies.
The higher the forecast price of a property the more is likely to be spent on advertising. He said elite-end sales in the $10 million to $20 million range remain robust with the biggest issue being lack of new stock. “A lot of agents are losing money. The kickbacks help keep their businesses running,” he said. Properties in top-end suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne have been heavily discounted during sale negotiations or had their advertised prices cut as clearance rates and market pessimism grows. A property in East Melbourne, about 3 kilometres from the central business district, is selling for more than 40 per cent less that what it was listed in the middle of last year. The price for the single-storey Victorian house with two bedrooms and four living spaces is around $3.65 million to about $3.9 million, compared with between $5.75 and $6 million six months ago.
I must have said it 1000 times: China has relied on shadow banks so much for its ‘growth’, that now it has no more control over them.
Last week many traders were dumbfounded when, just as speculation was building that China was preparing to unleash a massive credit expansion a la Shanghai Accord, Beijing confirmed that it had indeed decided to massively reflate its (and the global) economy, in what may soon be dubbed the Shanghai Accord 2.0, when the PBOC announced it had flooded the economy with a gargantuan 4.64 trillion yuan in various new forms of debt which comprise China’s Total Social Financing in January, including notably, the “shadow” credit which Beijing had been aggressively cracking down on: an aggressive credit expansion which many took as a tacit confirmation that China was losing the fight with deleveraging.
As the following chart from BofA’s Michael Hartnett shows, which puts China’s latest credit expansion in historical context, January’s debt tsunami was vastly greater than China’s credit expansion during both the global financial crisis and the Shanghai Accord.
And while analysts, economists and markets cheered this unprecedented credit generosity by Beijing, [..] it appears that January’s gargantuan credit boost may end up being a one off event, because while China’s credit injection amounting to over 5% of GDP was welcome by global market, it also resulted in a rare public spat between Chinese premier Li Keqiang and the central bank, after he expressed concern about record credit expansion in January, a result of monetary stimulus intended to support flagging economic growth.
[..] the Prime Minister warned of risks from January’s credit deluge: “The increase in total social financing appears rather large on the surface, but if one analyses in detail, a large part of this rise was bill financing and short-term lending. Not only does this potentially create ‘arbitrage’ and ‘empty cycling’ of funds, but it may also bring new potential risks.” He is referring to what we said last Friday, when we noted that a big part of the TSF surge was the result of a fresh shadow banking expansion. The chart below indicates that Beijing may have thrown in the towel on its crackdown in Shadow Banking, which after contracting for almost all of 2018, not only rose for the first time in 11 months, but soared the most in nearly two years as Chinese regulators now appear focused on providing credit using the very same channels they spent the past two years desperately trying to block.
As all the smart money will condemn AOC, she makes a smart move.
Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run. For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month. “It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”
[..] House lawmakers agreed to minor increases for fiscal years 2017 and 2019 in the amount of money appropriated to members’ offices for staffer pay and other expenses, called Members’ Representational Allowances, or MRAs. The total budget of $574 million in fiscal 2019 is still below a high of $660 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. [..] Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices… “We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.
[..] because all congressional offices get the same budgets to use for staff pay and other expenses, there is only so much that individual lawmakers can do. Ocasio-Cortez’s solution requires sacrifices for staffers at the top of the pay scale, potentially opening her to criticism from the right that her office policies, like her political identity as a Democratic socialist, call for a form of class warfare. It could also pose challenges to attracting and retaining older employees who have obligations such as mortgages and child care — which in D.C. can cost $23,000 a year for a single child. Salaries in Ocasio-Cortez’s office top out at $80,000, Trent said. That’s well below the median pay for Hill chiefs of staff at $154,634, according to the Legistorm analysis. And it’s a fraction of what experienced staffers could make in other jobs in Washington.
So, think Charles is an AOC fan?
It’s been a long, strange economic boom since the nadir of the Global Financial Meltdown in 2009. A 10-year long boom that saw the S&P 500 rise from 666 in early 2009 to 2,780 and GDP rise by 43% has been slightly more uneven for most participants. First and most importantly, household income hasn’t risen by the same percentages as assets, GDP or costs of big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition. The broadest measure of income, median household income, has registered a 23% increase in the past decade, roughly half of GDP gains and a mere fraction of stock market and housing gains.
[..] The bottom quintile (20%) registered income gains of 20% from 2009 to 2017, while the middle quintile (roughly speaking, the middle class) gained 25.5% and the top 5% enjoyed a 31.6% gain. The raw numbers tell the story in a slightly more visceral fashion: Upper limit of bottom quintile: $24,638 up 20% since 2009 Upper limit of middle quintile: $77,552 up 25.5% since 2009 Lower limit of top 5%: $237,034 up 31.6% since 2009 (the median household income is much higher–around $350,000 according to Household Income Quintiles the Tax Policy Center.)
So the top 5% earn at a minimum 10 times the lowest quintile income and around 4 or 5 times the middle quintile income. Here in Northern California, this has manifested in rapidly expanding homeless encampments a stone’s throw away from new luxury rental apartments charging $3,000 and up for one-bedroom flats and $4,000 and up for two-bedroom flats. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with potholes and cracks. Maintaining streets–presumably one of the core missions of local government–is simply not being done in a timely manner. Major streets are in such disrepair that local businesses have taken to raising banners demanding “pave our street now.”
Cut it out already! How are we going to survive the next 5 weeks?
Theresa May has vowed to Tory grassroots activists that she will not allow the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU to be frustrated. The prime minister is flying to Egypt for an EU-League of Arab States summit where she is expected to hold talks with key EU figures as she battles to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks. Downing Street has played down hopes of a breakthrough during the course of the two-day gathering in the Red Sea resort, despite the presence of major players including the European Council president, Donald Tusk. The prime minister is pressing for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop which she hopes will finally convince MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement following last month’s crushing Commons defeat.
Ahead of her departure, No 10 released details of her speech to a closed meeting of the National Conservative Convention (NCC) in Oxford on Saturday, when she told supporters the government’s focus on delivering Brexit must be “absolute”. Her comments came after three pro-EU cabinet ministers signalled they could back moves in parliament to delay Britain’s withdrawal to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal break. The intervention by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke led to calls for their resignations by furious Tory Brexiters – comments said to have been echoed in private by some cabinet ministers. Northern minister John Penrose warned taking no-deal off the table could undermine May’s efforts to secure concessions on the backstop.
“It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave,” he said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “We’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out.”
“Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge.”
“Don’t underestimate the impact of the Italian recession.” This was the stark warning from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Marie in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We talk a lot about Brexit, but we don’t talk much about an Italian recession that will have a significant impact on growth in Europe and can impact France because it’s one of our most important trading partners.” Italy’s economy as measured in real GDP shrank for two quarters in a row, which puts it into a “technical recession”. It’s the second time in four months that France’s Economy Minister has expressed deep concern about the Italian economy in public.
At the end of October he urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after the EU’s executive had rejected the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded at the time that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.” The French government is now openly worried that such a crisis could begin in Italy. The economies of both Italy and France are tightly interwoven, with annual trade flows of around €90 billion. More important still, French banks are, by a long shot, the biggest owners of Italian public and private debt, with total holdings of €311 billion as of the 3rd quarter of 2018, according to the BIS — up €34 billion from the 1st quarter of 2018.
Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge. That knowledge is fueling the coalition government’s bravado, with some lawmakers now even talking about nationalizing Italy’s central bank, the Bank of Italy, for a total sum of €155,000 and taking control of its assets, including Italy’s large pile of gold.
In France the arms industry has much more power than in Germany. WWII is a factor in that.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday that Germany should ease its strict arms export rules for countries outside the European Union to strengthen the defense industry. France has complained that joint arms manufacturing projects are being stalled by Berlin’s refusal to authorize future arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, a major buyer. Germany said in November it would reject future arms export licenses to Riyadh over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now.
“It is useless to produce weapons through improved cooperation between France and Germany if we are unable to export them,” Le Maire told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “If you want to be competitive and efficient, we need to be able to export to countries outside Europe,” Le Maire said. The minister said France also had relatively strict rules for arms exports. “Our hope is that we will come to an agreement with Germany in this crucial point,” Le Maire said. Germany and France are working on a joint proposal for arms export guidelines to non-European countries. Angela Merkel said in January the EU must deepen cooperation in defense and in particular weapons systems development, warning Germans that they may need to make compromises on strict export controls.
As usual, hard to get decent coverage of Acte XV.
But Reuters does feel compelled to report increasing numbers of protesters.
While Macron is taking selfies with farm animals.
Tens of thousands of people marched on Saturday in Paris and other cities and dozens were arrested as France’s “yellow vest” movement staged its 15th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the government. Some 46,600 people joined the protests nationwide, including 5,800 in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. That was up from 41,500 last week, with 5,000 in Paris. Demonstrations have generally gotten smaller since a peak in December when the French capital saw some of the worst rioting, vandalism and looting in decades. Police said 28 people were arrested in Paris, but protesters marched mostly peacefully through the capital’s wealthier neighborhoods surrounded by a heavy police presence.
As the march wound down, scuffles broke out and police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the Place du Trocadero overlooking the Seine river and across from the Eiffel Tower. Some 18 people were also arrested in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and potentially dangerous objects were seized ahead of a march in which police said 2,500 participated. Another 18 people were arrested in the western city of Rennes where six police officers were slightly injured and six protesters were hurt by large riot control pellets fired by police. The movement has posed the biggest challenge to Macron’s authority since he came to office in May 2017, although it faces increased infighting as some members have sought to run in upcoming European Parliament elections.
Macron’s popularity has recovered from lows reached in the wake of violent clashes during protests in December, after he launched a series of debates across the country aimed at reconnecting with voters particularly in rural areas. He received a mostly warm welcome on Saturday at an annual farm show in Paris, taking selfies with the public and chatting with farmers as he strolled for hours among the crowd and animals.
Impossible not to think of the last days of Rome.
When I first set out to map all the places in the world where the United States is still fighting terrorism so many years later, I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. This was before the 2017 incident in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed on a counterterror mission and Americans were given an inkling of how far-reaching the war on terrorism might really be. I imagined a map that would highlight Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria – the places many Americans automatically think of in association with the war on terror – as well as perhaps a dozen less-noticed countries like the Philippines and Somalia. I had no idea that I was embarking on a research odyssey that would, in its second annual update, map U.S. counterterror missions in 80 countries in 2017 and 2018, or 40% of the nations on this planet (a map first featured in Smithsonian magazine).
As co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, I’m all too aware of the costs that accompany such a sprawling overseas presence. Our project’s research shows that, since 2001, the U.S. war on terror has resulted in the loss — conservatively estimated — of almost half a million lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. By the end of 2019, we also estimate that Washington’s global war will cost American taxpayers no less than $5.9 trillion already spent and in commitments to caring for veterans of the war throughout their lifetimes.
In general, the American public has largely ignored these post-9/11 wars and their costs. But the vastness of Washington’s counterterror activities suggests, now more than ever, that it’s time to pay attention. [..] That our counterterror missions are so extensive and their costs so staggeringly high should prompt Americans to demand answers to a few obvious and urgent questions: Is this global war truly making Americans safer? Is it reducing violence against civilians in the U.S. and other places?
Origianl AFP title: “Syria force to pluck more civilians from last IS pocket”. But are the Kuds a ‘Syria force’?
US-backed fighters said Saturday they are keeping a corridor open to rescue remaining civilians from the Islamic State group’s last speck of territory in Syria, as the UN appealed for urgent assistance. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the jihadist holdout since Wednesday, bringing the SDF closer to retaking the less than half a square kilometre still under IS control. “On our side, the corridor is open and we hope a larger number of civilians will arrive but that depends on IS fighters and whether they will give civilians a chance to exit,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP at their Al-Omar base. He said the SDF had evacuated “more than 2,000 people, including women, children and men” on Friday, mostly wives and children of IS fighters.
Nearly 2,500 people arrived the same day at a Kurdish-run camp for the displaced further north, compounding dire conditions inside the already crammed settlement, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said. It warned of the “huge challenges” posed by the influx. More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate”, they have lost all but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. Some 2,000 people are believed to remain inside Baghouz, according to the SDF. The force says it is trying to evacuate remaining civilians through a corridor before pressing on with a battle to crush the jihadists unless holdout fighters surrender.
Life just continues on its way toward extinction. But we live in cities, so how would we know?
The team that cracked the case of the “amphibian plague” devastating frog and toad populations around the world are worried that worse is still to come. A killer fungus known as Bd has triggered a mass amphibian extinction that has spread across every continent and been described as among the worst infectious diseases ever recorded. Scientists have described rainforests struck silent as the plague wiped out entire populations of local frogs in mere months, stifling their night-time chorus of croaks. At least 200 frog species are thought to have been driven to extinction since the 1970s, with particularly heavy losses in Bd-infested parts of Latin America.
Intense research efforts have identified the disease and traced it to its source in east Asia, and local conservation groups have worked tirelessly to quarantine the fragmented populations that remain. However, with the international trade in amphibians continuing unabated, the team credited with discovering the disease are concerned about what the future may bring. In particular, the melding of different Bd strains from around the world has the potential to create hybrids that are even deadlier than current incarnations. [..] “If we keep hauling amphibians back and forth, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you might get something that’s more pathogenic [capable of causing disease],” said Dr Joyce Longcore, the scientist who first identified the unusual aquatic fungus known as Bd.
Photograph: Jamie Voyles
Unless you stop international travel and international trade, things like this are going to continue, and you can make your rules stronger for trade but if you have any volume at all something is going to get through.” For decades amphibians have been traded for food, as pets, or even – in the case of the African clawed frog – for use in crude pregnancy tests. This transport of living amphibians has already been identified as the trigger for the original Bd outbreak, and recent lab tests revealed hybrid forms emerging in Brazil and South Africa that appear to be deadlier than the original.
Presented as ‘incredible revival’, but that’s just nonsense.
Just stop polluting your land to grow food. That’s all it is.
They must survive government culls, gamekeepers, poisoning, persecution and increasingly busy roads but, in modern times at least, Britain’s carnivores have never had it so good: badger, otter, pine marten, polecat, stoat and weasel populations have “markedly improved” since the 1960s, according to a new study. The otter, polecat and pine marten have bounced back from the brink of extinction, and the country’s only carnivorous mammal now in danger of being wiped out is the wildcat, with the dwindling Scottish populations hit by hybridisation with domestic and feral cats.
Britain’s carnivores have largely “done it for themselves” and recovered often unexpectedly quickly after a reduction in harmful human activities – hunting, trapping and the use of toxic chemicals – according to scientists from Exeter University, Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But the scientists warn that, while carnivore populations have recovered over the course of a human lifetime, most are still at long-term historical lows, with much more scope for recovery in distribution and density. “Carnivores have recovered in a way that would have seemed incredibly unlikely in the 1970s, when extinction of some species looked like a real possibility,” said lead author Katie Sainsbury from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at Exeter University.
“Most of these species have essentially recovered by themselves, once pressures from predator controls and pollutants were reduced, and it’s taken them a while. Yes, there are more of them now than in most people’s lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for populations to grow and spread further.” The reasons for each carnivore’s recovery are different. Otters were harmed by organochlorine pesticides washed into rivers but have returned to every English county since the pesticides were banned and hunting was outlawed in 1978. There are now an estimated 11,000.
Polecat numbers have risen to 83,000 in the decades since a 1958 ban on gin traps, which were once used to control rabbits and also widely caught polecats. Polecat populations moved eastwards at about three miles a year between 1975 and 2015, finally returning to the south-east, Midlands and East Anglia. Badger populations are estimated to have doubled since the 1980s, assisted by a decline in persecution since their legal protection in 1973 and protection of setts in 1992. Researchers also believe that milder winters caused by climate change are helping badgers survive the season in better shape and raise more cubs.
Pine marten. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy