Jun 132018
 
 June 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan South Beach Bathers 1908

 

Capital Flight to Germany in Full Swing (Mish)
The Big Italy Short Was Hiding In Plain Sight (R.)
G7 Summit Highlights Western Leaders Hypocrisy (Lacalle)
Donald Trump Was Right. The Rest Of The G7 Were Wrong (Monbiot)
Centrists Very Concerned That Donald Fucking Trump Isn’t Hawkish Enough (CJ)
May Heads Off Major Defeat After Last-Minute Climbdown To Rebels (Ind.)
Tesla To Cut 9% Of Staff In Profitability Drive (G.)
Americans Just Paid Off A Ton Of Credit-Card Debt—But Here’s The Bad News (MW)
India Farmers Sow Unapproved Monsanto Cotton Seeds, Risking Arrest (R.)
One in Three British Mammal Species Could Be Gone Within A Decade (Ind.)

 

 

“The only door left open is door number 3.”

Capital Flight to Germany in Full Swing (Mish)

I have commented on Target2 liabilities before. Perhaps a Mish-modified translation from the Welt article Imbalance in the Euro System Reaches a New Record will ring a bell. The central banks of Germany’s euro partners Italy, Spain and France owe the Bundesbank almost a trillion euros . This is a new high. – more than ever before. Tendency continues to rise. There is no security for this money. Read that last line again and again until it sinks in. Italy is €464.7 billion in the hole. Spain is €376.6 billion in the hole. Creditors owe Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland over €1.157 trillion. In May, Italian liabilities increased by almost 40 billion euros.

“Capital flight to Germany is in full swing,” says Hans-Werner Sinn, longtime head of the Ifo Institute and one of the most prominent economists in the Federal Republic. Originally, Target2 was designed to facilitate cross-border transactions within the eurozone. The system achieved this goal. From the point of view of critics, this means that the Deutsche Bundesbank provides long-term unsecured and non-interest-bearing loans to the central banks of other eurozone countries , especially the central banks of southern countries Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Target2 is a fundamental problem of the Eurozone. • The ECB guarantees these loans. • As long as they are guaranteed, then hells bells, why not make more loans? Germany will pay one way or another. Here are the possibilities. 1) Germany and the creditor nations forgive enough debt for Europe to grow. This is the transfer union solution. 2) Permanently high unemployment and slow growth in Spain, Greece, Italy, with stagnation elsewhere in Europe 3) Breakup of the eurozone. Those are the alternatives. Germany will not allow number 1. It is unreasonable to expect number 2 to last forever. The only door left open is door number 3.

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Nothing about this needs to be invented.

The Big Italy Short Was Hiding In Plain Sight (R.)

The marriage of politics and finance in Italy regularly produces strange offspring. But a suggestion, floated over the weekend in the country’s most-respected newspaper, of a James Bond-style plot by some big investors to sink Italian financial markets added a new twist. More curious was the theory’s abrupt disappearance by Monday. The episode highlights the degree to which Europe’s most chaos-resilient economy has entered a risky new paradigm with the arrival of the most populist government since the Italian Republic’s founding in 1946. On Saturday, Corriere della Sera, the Milanese voice of the establishment, published an article which speculated that some investors betting against Italian assets might have helped engineer a market crisis.

The trigger for the Italian panic was the May 15 publication by Huffington Post’s Italian website of a draft version of the new government’s “contract”, which included language pertaining to a possible exit from the single European currency. That document, HuffPo has said, arrived in an unmarked envelope. Markets went haywire over the prospect that the government cobbled together by the two parties who gained the most seats in the March election – the right-wing League and hard-to-label 5-Star Movement – would adopt an explicitly anti-euro platform. The difference between the yields on 10-year German and Italian government bonds surged to almost 320 basis points from just around 130 basis points before the draft appeared. Any bets against Italian sovereign credit would have produced a tidy profit.

Corriere has substantially revised the story. It no longer includes language that one hedge fund, Brevan Howard, considered defamatory. That firm’s AH Master Fund, run by Alan Howard, gained 37 percent in May, thanks in part to bets on the direction of Italian assets. On Tuesday, the newspaper appended an author’s note to the piece in which it said: “We never intended to accuse or suggest that there were any kind of offenses or improper conduct by Howard in trading or in his involvement in the case of documents filtered to the Huffington Post.” In a statement to Reuters Breakingviews, the author, Federico Fubini, defended the piece. “We have run a fact-based article whose substance remains.” The paper decided “to amend the text to avert a potentially time-consuming case in foreign courts.”

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EU, China protectionism.

G7 Summit Highlights Western Leaders Hypocrisy (Lacalle)

The G7 failure to come to terms on trade highlights the problem of governments trying to macromanage trade. And no, the failure to even agree to disagree cannot be blamed on President Trump and his new-found economic nationalism. The list of countries with the largest trade surplus with the United States is led by China, which exports $375 billion more than it imports. It is followed, very far away, by Mexico ($71 billion), Japan (69 billion), Germany (65 billion), Vietnam (38 billion), Ireland (38 billion) and Italy ($31 billion). Not surprisingly, the markets with most protectionist measures against the United States are China, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and India.

These facts explain much more about the failure of the G7 summit than any Manichean analysis on Trump, Trudeau, Macron, or any of the leaders gathered there. During the last twenty years, the world has carried out a widespread practice in governments’ disastrous idea of “sustaining” GDP with demand-side policies. Build excess capacity, subsidize it, and hope to export that excess to the United States. Especially China, Germany, and Japan have economies with high state interventionism and therefore very high excess capacity, in part due to a high personal savings rate. Steel and aluminum, like the automobile industry, are examples of building unnecessary capacity and subsidizing it, country by country, hoping it will be somebody else who closes its inefficient factories to be able to export more to that country.

In Germany, the influence of the automobile industry over the government is legendary. What isn’t are the relatively high tariffs American manufacturers face when exporting to Europe and the low tariffs America itself imposes on automobile imports. What is also ironic is that modern-day protectionism didn’t start with Trump. Barriers against global trade increased between 2009 and 2016. The World Trade Organization warned, year after year, since 2010, about the increase in protectionism. The Obama administration, faced with the exponential increase in its trade deficit, was the one that introduced the highest number of protectionist measures between 2009 and 2016. The only difference between Trump and Obama was that Obama didn’t publicize this much and the mainstream media didn’t complain.

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True, these deals need a sunset clause.

Donald Trump Was Right. The Rest Of The G7 Were Wrong (Monbiot)

He gets almost everything wrong. But last weekend Donald Trump got something right. To the horror of the other leaders of the rich world, he defended democracy against its detractors. Perhaps predictably, he has been universally condemned for it. His crime was to insist that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) should have a sunset clause. In other words, it should not remain valid indefinitely, but expire after five years, allowing its members either to renegotiate it or to walk away. To howls of execration from the world’s media, his insistence has torpedoed efforts to update the treaty.

In Rights of Man, published in 1791, Thomas Paine argued that: “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.” This is widely accepted – in theory if not in practice – as a basic democratic principle. Even if the people of the US, Canada and Mexico had explicitly consented to Nafta in 1994, the idea that a decision made then should bind everyone in North America for all time is repulsive. So is the notion, championed by the Canadian and Mexican governments, that any slightly modified version of the deal agreed now should bind all future governments.

But the people of North America did not explicitly consent to Nafta. They were never asked to vote on the deal, and its bipartisan support ensured that there was little scope for dissent. The huge grassroots resistance in all three nations was ignored or maligned. The deal was fixed between political and commercial elites, and granted immortality. In seeking to update the treaty, governments in the three countries have candidly sought to thwart the will of the people. Their stated intention was to finish the job before Mexico’s presidential election in July. The leading candidate, Andrés Lopez Obrador, has expressed hostility to Nafta, so it had to be done before the people cast their vote. They might wonder why so many have lost faith in democracy.

[..] Trump was right to spike the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is right to demand a sunset clause for Nafta. When this devious, hollow, self-interested man offers a better approximation of the people’s champion than any other leader, you know democracy is in trouble.

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Caitlin again.

Centrists Very Concerned That Donald Fucking Trump Isn’t Hawkish Enough (CJ)

[..] by far the most common concerns being expressed about the Singapore summit are based not on a fear of this administration making insufficiently aggressive demands of Pyongyang, but on pure ridiculous nonsense. “President Trump seems to have given away two or three of the major things that Kim Jong-Un wanted,” Schumer complained at the aforementioned press conference. “A meeting. The flags next to each other. Now a delay of exercises with South Korea, without getting anything in return.” Huh? A meeting? Flags next to each other? I can kinda-sorta-almost see into Schumer’s twisted reality tunnel when it comes to temporarily suspending military drills along the DPRK’s border as an act of good faith, but on what planet is having a meeting or putting two flags next to each other a win of any kind?

Well, going by the outcry I’m seeing from Twitter pundits, the concern appears to be that it “legitimizes” Kim Jong-Un. What exactly that means is hard to fathom in terms of actual, tangible reality, but for years that term has been passed around like it has as much relevance as war or starvation sanctions. This imaginary product of “legitimacy” is, according to influential mainstream political commentators, meant to be withheld from Kim until he gives up everything he has and grovels on his belly begging for it. This just shows you the power of narrative, where repeating some meaningless placeholder syllables over and over again can create the illusion that a purely mental construct is as relevant in peace negotiations as nuclear warheads.

It isn’t hard to see through for anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in subscribing to that narrative, though, and Pyongyang certainly has no such interest. [..] There are many, many perfectly valid things to criticize the Trump administration for. Opening up peace talks with North Korea is not one of them, and anyone who says it is is not a friend of humanity. The fact that nobody on either side of the aisle seems to have their foot anywhere near the brake pedal when it comes to war should concern us all, and we need to do something about it.

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Might as well stop the whole process right now.

May Heads Off Major Defeat After Last-Minute Climbdown To Rebels (Ind.)

Rebel Conservatives have forced Theresa May into a climbdown, handing parliament greater control of Brexit if she fails to seal a deal. After the prime minister was threatened with what could have been a damaging commons defeat, she promised key concessions in dramatic last minute talks with pro-EU rebels. It is likely to mean her accepting a deadline by which she must secure a deal with Brussels, if she wants to stay in the driving seat for negotiations. Her ministers must now spell out the detail of her compromises within days, with Tory rebels warning a failure to do so would reignite the prospect of a major commons loss destabilising her leadership.

It followed a day which started with the resignation of a minister and passed into febrile commons debate that saw ministers bargaining openly with rebels in the chamber. Rebel MP Nicky Morgan told The Independent: “The whole point of what has come about is that we are going to have a process to this, something which does not simply allow us to drift into a hard Brexit.” The row was precipitated by the Lords last month passing a plan that would have given parliament the power to direct Ms May’s actions if she failed to seal a Brexit deal later this year. Ministers were demanding Tory MPs vote it out of existence in the Commons on Tuesday, but had also refused to consider a more palatable compromise proposed by the former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve.

It would have instead seen Ms May being tied into a strict timetable of having to set out her own proposals if she failed to seal a deal by November, and then gain parliamentary approval for them – the stronger powers for MPs to direct her action would only come into play if a deal had still not been reached by February.

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What, no new loans?

Tesla To Cut 9% Of Staff In Profitability Drive (G.)

Tesla is slashing thousands of jobs, its chief executive, Elon Musk, announced Tuesday, as the electronic car company attempts to hit production targets and reach profitability. Musk called the job cuts, which will affect about 9% of the company’s more than 40,000 employees, “difficult, but necessary” in a tweet that contained the email he had sent to employees announcing the layoffs. “What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable,” the billionaire entrepreneur wrote in the email.

The job cuts will be centered on salaried employees, not factory workers, Musk said, writing, “This will not affect our ability to reach Model 3 production targets in the coming months.” Tesla has been under intense pressure to prove that it can achieve mass production of the Model 3, its first mass market vehicle. The company has yet to reach Musk’s goal of producing 5,000 cars a week – originally promised for the end of 2017. At Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on 5 June, Musk said he believed the company would hit the 5,000 cars-a-week goal by the end of June, and that he thought the company could be profitable later this year.

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They paid off so much because they owe so much.

Americans Just Paid Off A Ton Of Credit-Card Debt—But Here’s The Bad News (MW)

A lot of Americans paid big credit-card bills in the first quarter of 2018. And they still have a long way to go. Americans repaid $40.3 billion in credit card debt during the first quarter of 2018, according to a new analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve and credit agency TransUnion by the personal-finance website WalletHub. That’s the second-highest amount paid off in one quarter since the first quarter of 2009, when consumers paid off more than $44 billion. Now, the bad news: That doesn’t mean their debts are getting that much smaller. Americans ended 2017 with $91.6 billion in new credit-card debt, the largest annual amount since 2007 and 104% above the post-recession average.

Outstanding credit card debt is at the second-highest point since the end of 2008, the report said. In 2017, Americans hit a record high of $1.021 trillion in outstanding revolving debt (often categorized as credit-card debt). In April 2018, they still had more $1.030 trillion to pay off, according to the Federal Reserve. Consumers’ recent debt payoff “is not as dramatic as the dollar amount makes it seem,” said Nick Clements, the co-founder of personal finance company MagnifyMoney, who previously worked in the credit industry. The reason: The total amount of credit-card debt Americans have has also been growing.

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How Monsanto sneaks in illegal seeds.

India Farmers Sow Unapproved Monsanto Cotton Seeds, Risking Arrest (R.)

Many Indian farmers are openly sowing an unapproved variety of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds developed by Monsanto, as the government sits on the sidelines for fear of antagonizing a big voting bloc ahead of an election next year. India approved the first GM cotton seed trait in 2002 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber. But newer traits are not available after Monsanto in 2016 withdrew an application seeking approval for the latest variety due to a royalty dispute with the government. The herbicide-tolerant variety, lab-altered to help farmers save costs on weed management, has, however, seeped into the country’s farms since then. Authorities say they are still investigating how that happened.

“I will only use these seeds or nothing at all,” said Rambhau Shinde, a farmer who has been cultivating cotton for nearly four decades in the western state of Maharashtra. The federal environment ministry said last year planting the seeds violated the Environment Protection Act, and farmers who did so were risking potential jail terms. But many farmers are desperate to boost their incomes after poor yields over the past few years and are willing to ignore the warnings. A government official in New Delhi, who deals with matters related to GM crops, said it was difficult to keep farmers away from something that they saw benefit in. “If you don’t allow them to plant legally, illegal planting will happen,” the official said, requesting anonymity, adding that Monsanto had yet to reapply for an approval to sell its latest variety of GM cotton in India.

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Bats and cats and rats.

One in Three British Mammal Species Could Be Gone Within A Decade (Ind.)

Populations of much-loved British mammals including hedgehogs and water voles have dropped by up to two-thirds over the past 20 years, and many more are threatened with imminent extinction. Even some apparently common creatures such as rabbits have been driven into decline by human pressures such as harmful farming activities and climate change. These findings come from a review carried out by the Mammal Society and Natural England, the first of its kind to be conducted in more than two decades. The country has undergone significant changes since the last analysis in 1995, and some of the species at risk then – including badgers and otters – have since made considerable recoveries.

However, pesticide use, invasive species and road deaths have all taken their toll, and the scientists behind the study have warned Britain is on “a precipice” and must take urgent action to save its mammals. “This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever,” said Professor Fiona Mathews, chair of the Mammal Society. The review, which made use of data collected by members of the public as well as scientists over the course of decades, covered all 58 of the country’s land mammal species.

The scientists constructed the first ever “red list” for British mammals, and found 12 are threatened with extinction. This means animals like the wildcat, greater mouse-eared bat and even the black rat are likely to be gone forever from Britain’s shores within the next 10 years. However, they noted this is likely to be an underestimate, and the real number could be as high as one in three.

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May 262018
 
 May 26, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Louise Dahl-Wolfe Looking at Matisse, Museum of Modern Art 1939

 

S&P 500 Companies Return $1 Trillion To Shareholders In Tax-Cut Surge (R.)
The 2020s Might Be The Worst Decade In US History (Mauldin)
Moody’s Warns Of ‘Particularly Large’ Wave Of Junk Bond Defaults Ahead (CNBC)
Moody’s Puts Italy On Downgrade Review, Junk Rating Possible (ZH)
UK Economy Posts Worst Quarterly GDP Figures For Five Years (G.)
Prospects of US-North Korea Summit Brighten (R.)
The Real ‘Constitutional Crisis’ (Strassel)
A Mendacious Exercise In Manufacturing Paranoia (Jim Kunstler)
Tesla Seeks To Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit (R.)
Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level (CityLab)

 

 

Oh, that’s what the tax cuts are for?!

S&P 500 Companies Return $1 Trillion To Shareholders In Tax-Cut Surge (R.)

S&P 500 companies have returned a record $1 trillion to shareholders over the past year, helped by a recent surge in dividends and stock buybacks following sweeping corporate tax cuts introduced by Republicans, a report on Friday showed. In the 12 months through March, S&P 500 companies paid out $428 billion in dividends and bought up $573 billion of their own shares, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices analyst Howard Silverblatt. That compares to combined dividends and buybacks worth $939 billion during the year through March 2017, Silverblatt said in a research note. Earnings per share of S&P 500 companies surged 26 percent in the March quarter, boosted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Republican lawmakers in December.

Companies have been returning much of that profit windfall to shareholders via share buybacks and increased dividends at never before seen amounts, highlighted by Apple’s record $23.5 billion worth of shares repurchased in the first quarter. S&P 500 companies have also plowed some of the windfall from lower taxes into investments toward growth or becoming more efficient. First-quarter capital expenditures totaled at least $159 billion, up more than 21 percent from the year before, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. The biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in over 30 years, the new law slashes the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, and charges multinationals a one-time tax on profits held overseas.

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Mauldin turns dark side.

The 2020s Might Be The Worst Decade In US History (Mauldin)

I recently wrote about a looming credit crisis that’s stemming from high-yield junk bonds. The crisis itself will have massive consequences for investors. But that’s not the worst part. The crisis will create a domino effect and trigger global financial contagion, which I usually refer to as “The Great Reset.” The collapse of high-yield bonds will hit stocks and bonds. Rising defaults will force banks to reduce their lending exposure, drying up capital for previously creditworthy businesses. This will put pressure on earnings and reduce economic activity. A recession will follow. This will not be just a U.S. headache, either. It will surely spill over into Europe (and may even start there) and then into the rest of the world.

The U.S. and/or European recession will become a global recession, as happened in 2008. Europe has its own set of economic woes and multiple potential triggers. It is quite possible Europe will be in recession before the ECB finishes this tightening cycle. As always, a U.S. recession will spark higher federal spending and reduce tax revenue. So I expect the on-budget deficit to quickly reach $2 trillion or more. Within four years of the recession’s onset, total government debt will be at least $30 trillion. This will further constrain the private capital markets and likely raise tax burdens for everyone—not just the rich.

Meanwhile, job automation will intensify, with businesses desperate to cut costs. The effect we already see on labor markets will double or triple. Worse, it will start reaching deep into the service sector. The technology is improving fast. The working-class population will not like this and it has the power to vote. “Safety net” programs and unemployment benefit expenditures will skyrocket. Studies show that the ratio of workers covered by unemployment insurance is at its lowest level in 45 years. What happens when millions of freelancers lose their incomes?

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We’re talking trillions. Poof!

Moody’s Warns Of ‘Particularly Large’ Wave Of Junk Bond Defaults Ahead (CNBC)

With corporate debt hitting its highest levels since before the financial crisis, Moody’s is warning that substantial trouble is ahead for junk bonds when the next downturn hits. The ratings agency said low interest rates and investor appetite for yield has pushed companies into issuing mounds of debt that offer comparatively low levels of protection for investors. While the near-term outlook for credit is “benign,” that won’t be the case when economic conditions worsen. The “prolonged environment of low growth and low interest rates has been a catalyst for striking changes in nonfinancial corporate credit quality,” Mariarosa Verde, Moody’s senior credit officer, said in a report.

“The record number of highly leveraged companies has set the stage for a particularly large wave of defaults when the next period of broad economic stress eventually arrives.” Though the current default rate is just 3 percent for speculative-grade credit, that has been predicated on favorable conditions that may not last. Since 2009, the level of global nonfinancial companies rated as speculative, or junk, has surged by 58 percent, to the highest ever, with 40 percent rated B1 or lower, the point that Moody’s considers “highly speculative,” as opposed to “non-investment grade speculative.” In dollar terms, that translates to $3.7 trillion in total junk debt outstanding, $2 trillion of which is in the B1 or lower category.

“Strong investor demand for higher yields continues to allow all but the weakest issuers to avoid default by refinancing maturing debt,” Verde wrote. “A number of very weak issuers are living on borrowed time while benign conditions last.” The level of speculative-grade issuance peaked in the U.S. in 2013, at $334.5 billion, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. American companies have $8.8 trillion in total outstanding debt, a 49 percent increase since the Great Recession ended in 2009.

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President Mattarella has refused to accept the nominee for finance minister, Savona. He’s a euroskeptic.

Meanwhile, if Italian bonds are downgraded further, Europe has a massive problem.

Moody’s Puts Italy On Downgrade Review, Junk Rating Possible (ZH)

In a quite direct ‘threat’ to the newly formed Italian coalition, Moody’s warned that Italy will face a downgrade from its current Baa2 rating (potentially more than one notch to junk status) due to the lack of fiscal restraint in the new “contract” and the potential for delays to Italy’s structural reforms. While Italy’s current rating is Baa2, and a downgrade would leave it at Baa3 (still investment grade), one look at Italian debt markets this week and one can be forgiven for thinking it is pricing in a multiple-notch downgrade to junk… and thus potentially making things awkward for its ECB bond-buying-benefactor and its banking system’s massive holdings of sovereign bonds.

Full Moody’s Report: Moody’s Investors Service has today placed the Government of Italy’s ratings on review for possible downgrade. Ratings placed under review are the Baa2 long-term issuer and senior unsecured bond ratings as well as the (P) Baa2 medium-term MTN programme, the (P)Baa2 senior unsecured shelf, the Commercial Paper and other short-term ratings of Prime-2/(P) Prime-2 respectively. The key drivers for today’s initiation of the review for downgrade are as follows: 1. The significant risk of a material weakening in Italy’s fiscal strength, given the fiscal plans of the new coalition government; and 2. The risk that the structural reform effort stalls, and that past reforms such as the pension reforms implemented in 2011 are reversed.

Moody’s will use the review period to assess the impact of the fiscal and economic policy platform of the new government on Italy’s credit profile, with a particular focus on the effect on the deficit and debt trajectories in the coming years. The review will also allow Moody’s to assess further whether the new government intends to continue to pursue growth-enhancing structural reforms, or conversely to reverse earlier reforms, such as the 2011 pension reform, as well as other economic policy initiatives in the coming months that may have an incidence on the country’s growth potential over the coming years.

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What do you mean we can’t blame the weather?

UK Economy Posts Worst Quarterly GDP Figures For Five Years (G.)

The weakest household spending for three years and falling levels of business investment dragged the economy to the worst quarter for five years, official statisticians have said. The Office for National Statistics confirmed its previous estimate that GDP growth slumped to 0.1% in the first quarter, while sticking to its view that the “beast from the east” had little impact. The latest figures will further stoke concerns over the strength of the UK economy, amid increasing signals for deteriorating growth as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year. Some economists, including officials at the Bank of England, thought the growth rate would be revised higher as more data became available.

Threadneedle Street delayed raising interest rates earlier this month after the weak first GDP estimate, despite arguing that the negative hit to the economy from heavy snowfall in late February and early March had probably been overblown. Instead the ONS said it had seen a longer-term pattern of slowing growth in the first three months of the year. Rob Kent-Smith of the ONS said: “Overall, the economy performed poorly in the first quarter, with manufacturing growth slowing and weak consumer-facing services.” While admitting bad weather will have had some impact, particularly for firms in the construction industry and some areas of the retail business, statisticians said the overall effect was limited, with increased online sales and heightened energy production during the cold snap.

The figures show the services industries contributed the most to GDP growth, with an increase of 0.3% in the first quarter, while household spending grew at a meagre 0.2%. The construction industry declined by 2.7% and business investment fell by 0.2%.

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“..an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials was preparing to leave for Singapore later this weekend..”

Prospects of US-North Korea Summit Brighten (R.)

Prospects that the United States and North Korea would hold a summit brightened after U.S. President Donald Trump said late on Friday Washington was having “productive talks” with Pyongyang about reinstating the June 12 meeting in Singapore. Politico magazine reported that an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials was preparing to leave for Singapore later this weekend. Reuters reported earlier this week the team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials. The delegation was to include White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump said in a Twitter post late on Friday: “We are having very productive talks about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.” Trump had earlier indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks. “It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’ll see what happens – it could even be the 12th.” “We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” he said.

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Through Kimberley Strassel, the Wall Street Journal distances itself ever more from the MSM.

The Real ‘Constitutional Crisis’ (Strassel)

Democrats and their media allies are again shouting “constitutional crisis,” this time claiming President Trump has waded too far into the Russia investigation. The howls are a diversion from the actual crisis: the Justice Department’s unprecedented contempt for duly elected representatives, and the lasting harm it is doing to law enforcement and to the department’s relationship with Congress. The conceit of those claiming Mr. Trump has crossed some line in ordering the Justice Department to comply with oversight is that “investigators” are beyond question. We are meant to take them at their word that they did everything appropriately. Never mind that the revelations of warrants and spies and dirty dossiers and biased text messages already show otherwise.

We are told that Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to have any say over the Justice Department’s actions, since this might make him privy to sensitive details about an investigation into himself. We are also told that Congress – a separate branch of government, a primary duty of which is oversight – cannot be allowed to access Justice Department material. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes can’t be trusted to view classified information – something every intelligence chairman has done – since he might blow a source or method, or tip off the president. That’s a political judgment, but it holds no authority. The Constitution set up Congress to act as a check on the executive branch—and it’s got more than enough cause to do some checking here.

Yet the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have spent a year disrespecting Congress—flouting subpoenas, ignoring requests, hiding witnesses, blacking out information, and leaking accusations. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has not been allowed to question a single current or former Justice or FBI official involved in this affair. Not one. He’s also more than a year into his demand for the transcript of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s infamous call with the Russian ambassador, as well as reports from the FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn. And still nothing.

[..] Mr. Trump has an even quicker way to bring the hostility to an end. He can – and should – declassify everything possible, letting Congress and the public see the truth. That would put an end to the daily spin and conspiracy theories. It would puncture Democratic arguments that the administration is seeking to gain this information only for itself, to “undermine” an investigation. And it would end the Justice Department’s campaign of secrecy, which has done such harm to its reputation with the public and with Congress.

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“..a malevolent secret police operation..”

A Mendacious Exercise In Manufacturing Paranoia (Jim Kunstler)

After many months, the gaslight is losing its mojo and a clearer picture has emerged of just what happened during and after the 2016 election: the FBI, CIA, and the Obama White House colluded and meddled to tilt the outcome and, having failed spectacularly, then labored frantically to cover up their misdeeds with further misdeeds. The real election year crimes for which there is actual evidence point to American officials not Russian gremlins. Having attempted to incriminate Trump at all costs, these tragic figures now scramble to keep their asses out of jail.

I say “tragic” because they — McCabe, Comey, Rosenstein, Strzok, Page, Ohr, et al — probably think they were acting heroically and patriotically to save the country from a monster, and I predict that is exactly how they will throw themselves to the mercy of the jury when they are called to answer for these activities in a court of law. Of course, they have stained the institutional honor of the FBI and its parent Department of Justice, but it is probably a healthier thing for the US public to maintain an extremely skeptical attitude about what has evolved into a malevolent secret police operation.

The more pressing question is how all this huggermugger gets adjudicated in a timely manner. Congress has the right to impeach agency executives like Rod Rosenstein and remove them from office. That would take a lot of time and ceremony. They can also charge them with contempt-of-congress and jail them until they comply with committee requests for documents. Mr. Trump is entitled to fire the whole lot of the ones who remain. But, finally, all this has to be sorted out in federal court, with referrals made to the very Department of Justice that has been a main actor in this tale.

The most mysterious figure in the cast is the MIA Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who has become the amazing invisible man. It’s hard to see how his recusal in the Russia matter prevents him from acting in any way whatsoever to clean the DOJ house and restore something like operational norms — e.g. complying with congressional oversight — especially as the Russia matter itself resolves as a completely fabricated dodge. The story is moving very fast now. The Pequod is whirling around in the maelstrom, awaiting the final blow from the white whale’s mighty flukes.

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Gullible?

Tesla Seeks To Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit (R.)

Tesla Inc on Friday asked a court to dismiss a securities fraud lawsuit by shareholders who said the electric vehicle maker gave false public statements about the progress of producing its new Model 3 sedan. In a filing in federal court in San Francisco, Tesla said that its statements about the challenges the company faced with Model 3 were “frank and in plain language,” including repeated disclosures by Chief Executive Elon Musk of “production hell.” Tesla did not seek to hide the truth, its motion to dismiss said. The company says its Model 3 has experienced numerous “bottlenecks” from problems with Tesla’s battery module process at its Nevada Gigafactory to general assembly at its Fremont plant.

Tesla is under pressure to deliver the Model 3 to reap revenue and stem massive spending that has put Tesla’s finances in the red. The ramp of the Model 3, Tesla said in the court filing, was “the first of its kind,” with difficulties likely to crop up after it got underway. The lawsuit filed last October seeks class action status for shareholders who bought Tesla stock between May 4, 2016 through October 6, 2017, inclusive. It said shareholders bought “artificially inflated” shares because Musk and other executives misled them with their statements. Tesla made such statements during the lead-up to, and early production of, its Model 3 sedan and failed to disclose that the company was “woefully unprepared” for the vehicle’s production, the lawsuit said.

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Good on ’em! Cars don’t belong in cities.

Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level (CityLab)

The days when cars could drive unhindered through central Madrid are coming to a close. Following an announcement this week, the Spanish capital confirmed that, starting in November, all non-resident vehicles will be barred from a zone that covers the entirety of Madrid’s center. The only vehicles that will be allowed in this zone are cars that belong to residents who live there, zero-emissions delivery vehicles, taxis, and public transit. Even on a continent where many cities are scaling back car access, the plan is drastic. While much of central Madrid consists of narrow streets that were never suitable to motor vehicles in the first place, this central zone also includes broad avenues such as Gran Via, and wide squares that have been islands in a sea of surging traffic for decades.

The plan is thus not just about making busy central streets more pleasant, but about creating a situation where people simply no longer think of bringing their cars downtown. This might come as a shock to some drivers, but the wind has been blowing this way for more than a decade. Madrid set up the first of what it calls Residential Priority Zones in 2005, in the historic, densely packed Las Letras neighborhood. Since then, a modest checkerboard of three other similar zones have been installed across central Madrid. The new area will be a sort of all-encompassing zone that abolishes once and for all the role of downtown streets as through-routes across the city.

To get people used to the idea, implementation of the non-local car ban will be staggered. In November, manual controls by police around the zone’s edge will begin. Cars that are breaching the new rules will be warned of the fine they face in the future—€90 per occurrence—without actually being charged then. In January, a fully automated system with cameras will be put in place, and from February, the €90 will be actively enforced against any cars found breaking the rules.

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May 042018
 
 May 4, 2018  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herri met de Bles c1510-after 1555 Saint Jerome medidating

 

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply (WS)
The Root of It All (Batnick)
Tesla Is A Zombie Company (F.)
With No Letup In Home Prices, The California Exodus Surges (MW)
Demand For US Soybeans Remains Strong Despite China (CNBC)
US Charges VW Ex-CEO With Conspiracy And Fraud (G.)
Mueller’s Questions for Trump Show Folly of Special-Counsel Appointments (NR)
Why We Need To Be Propagandized For Our Own Good (CJ)
Neocons Form Brand New Russia-Bashing ‘Think’ Tank (RI)
UK Pushes To Strengthen Anti-Russia Alliance (G.)
Nobel Prize For Literature Postponed Amid Swedish Academy Turmoil (BBC)
Jacinda Ardern Pledges Shelter For All Homeless People Within Four Weeks (G.)

 

 

As most voices seem convinced QT would be madness.

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply (WS)

The QE Unwind is ramping up toward cruising speed. The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending May 2, released this afternoon, shows a total drop of $104 billion since the beginning of the QE Unwind in October – to the lowest level since June 11, 2014. During the years and iterations of QE, the Fed acquired $3.4 trillion in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgages underlying those MBS are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. The “balance sheet normalization,” as the Fed calls it, was nudged into motion last October. But the pace accelerates every quarter until it reaches up to $50 billion a month in Q4 this year.

This would trim the balance sheet by up to $420 billion this year, and by up to $600 billion in 2019 and every year going forward, until the Fed considers the balance sheet to be adequately “normalized” — or until something big breaks, whichever comes first. [..] The balance of Treasury securities fell by $17.6 billion in April. This is up 60% from March, when $11 billion “rolled off.” Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, $70 billion in Treasuries “rolled off.” Now at $2,395 billion, the balance of Treasuries has hit the lowest level since June 18, 2014.

[..] Residential MBS are different from regular bonds. Holders receive principal payments on a regular basis as the underlying mortgages are paid down or are paid off. At maturity, the remaining principal is paid off. Over the years, to keep the MBS balance from declining, the New York Fed’s Open Market Operations (OMO) has been continually buying MBS. But settlement of those trades occurs two to three months later. The Fed books the trades on an as-settled basis. The time lag between the trade and settlement causes the large weekly fluctuations on the Fed’s balance sheet. And it also delays when MBS that “rolled off” actually disappear from the balance sheet.

[..] Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet dropped by $30 billion in April, and by $104 billion since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, to $4,356 billion. This is the lowest since June 11, 2014. Note that total assets are now down by $160 billion from the peak in January 2015:

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“The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”

The Root of It All (Batnick)

Steven Pinker wrote, “In almost every year from 1992 through 2015, an era in which the rate of violent crime plummeted, a majority of Americans told pollsters that crime was rising. In late 2015, large majorities in eleven developed countries said that “the world is getting worse.” But crime isn’t rising, and the world is objectively getting better. And while life is improving at the macro level, at the micro level, people aren’t feeling so great. So what gives? We tend to expect the worst as a way to insulate ourselves from disappointment. Life is not about good or bad, it’s about better or worse, so if things don’t turn out as bad as we imagine, we’re pleasantly surprised. If you were asked to think about how your life could improve, a few things might come to mind.

But imagine how your life could get worse, and a barrage of negative possibilities fills your brain. The risk and reward of every day life is asymmetrical. This is why being a pessimist feels safe and being an optimist feels reckless. [..] While the news certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors, there are legitimate reasons why people don’t feel like things are getting better. For too many, they aren’t. The chart below shows the change in real income since 1980. This chart is the root of all the negative things facing our society. People in the top 20% saw their income increase by 60%. People in the bottom 20% saw their income rise by just 5% over the same time. As Leonard Cohen said, “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”

Real income increased 38% from 1980-2016, or just 0.87% per year, and 70% of that increase went to people in the top 20%. Things are better, especially around the world, but in our country, way too many people are getting left behind. Extreme poverty is collapsing, but relative poverty is exploding, and everything in life is relative. If things don’t feel better than they were two hundred years ago, it’s because people compare themselves to their neighbors, not to their ancestors.

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As simple as that.

Tesla Is A Zombie Company (F.)

Tesla’s quarter was terrible from a financial perspective, as I had expected. The controlling figure I use, operating cash flow (operating loss plus depreciation minus capital expenditures,) was reported as -$836 million in the quarter, which very nearly approximates one quarter of 2017’s full year cash outflow of $3.4 billion. Things are not improving at Tesla from a financial perspective, and the second quarter is likely to be just as bad as the first. For the third consecutive quarter, Tesla posted negative EBITDA (-$180 million) and if this were any other company, there would be an active death watch on the Street. Tesla’s bonds have dropped sharply in today’s trading, now quoted at 87 cents on the dollar.

This is not surprising given that Tesla is not even remotely close to earning enough profit to cover its interest expense, which management estimated would be $160 million in the second quarter. Tesla added $346 million to its now $10 billion debt pile in the quarter, and the management’s weasel-worded projection of “positive net income excluding non-cash stock based compensation in Q3 and Q4” would still leave Tesla short of covering its debt service costs, by my calculations. So, from a financial perspective, Tesla is a zombie company. There is simply no justification for Tesla’s current market capitalization of $47.2 billion, and the market eventually figures these things out. It’s actually been a slow burn for Tesla shares, not a plummet, but that can be just as painful.

On September 12, 2014, Teslashares closed at $279.20 and the Nasdaq Composite closed at 4567.60. As of this writing, Tesla is trading at $279.04 and the Nasdaq is trading at 7011.00. So that’s where the value destruction Musk has wrought is evident. His shares are down slightly in a period in which his peer companies have collectively risen 53.5%.

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Housing bubbles break communities.

With No Letup In Home Prices, The California Exodus Surges (MW)

Over a million more people moved out of California from 2006 to 2016 than moved in, according to a new report, due mainly to the high cost of housing that hits lower-income people the hardest. “A strong economy can also be dysfunctional,” noted the report, a project of Next 10 and Beacon Economics. Housing costs are much higher in California than in other states, yet wages for workers in the lower income brackets aren’t. And the state attracts more highly-educated high-earners who can afford pricey homes. There are many reasons for the housing crunch, but the lack of new construction may be the most significant.

According to the report, from 2008 to 2017, an average of 24.7 new housing permits were filed for every 100 new residents in California. That’s well below the national average of 43.1 permits per 100 people. If this trend persists, the researchers argued, analysts forecast the state will be about 3 million homes short by 2025. California homeowners spend an average of 21.9% of their income on housing costs, the 49th worst in the nation, while renters spend 32.8%, the 48th worst. The median rent statewide in 2016 was $1,375, which is 40.2% higher than the national average. And the median home price was — wait for it — more than double that of the national average.

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Globally, supple has a hard time keeping up with demand. Everybody involved knows this.

Demand For US Soybeans Remains Strong Despite China (CNBC)

Demand for U.S. soybeans remains strong, regardless of worries China could target the crop in retaliation over Trump administration tariffs. China has canceled several shipments of U.S. soybeans in the last month, raising questions over whether the country is taking preemptive action against the U.S. by reducing purchases. But analysts say the reduction is a minor amount and is not that surprising from a seasonal perspective. The “U.S. accounts for 37 percent of total soybean exports throughout the world. Beyond Brazil, there’s really nobody else,” said Rich Nelson, director of research at Allendale, an agricultural market research and trading firm. “Despite the trade concerns, there’s really nobody else. You’re just simply not going to have a massive decline in U.S. soybean exports,” he said.

Chinese cancellations of U.S. soybean orders for the week ended April 26 resulted in a decline of 133,700 metric tons in net sales to China, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service data showed Thursday. But 66,000 metric tons of those soybeans were sent to Vietnam instead, the data showed. Meanwhile, the U.S. sold 82,700 metric tons of soybeans in new sales to Mexico, 68,800 to Taiwan, 60,000 to Argentina and 52,600 to the Netherlands. Although Argentina is the third-largest exporter of soybeans, a severe drought has reduced production by 7 million tons to 40 million, according to USDA estimates. “That just goes to show we’re not dependent on China for soybean exports,” said Michael Stumo, head of Coalition for a Prosperous America, a nonprofit representing the interests of those in manufacturing, agriculture and labor unions.

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Germany doesn’t extradite its citizens.

US Charges VW Ex-CEO With Conspiracy And Fraud (G.)

US authorities have charged Volkswagen’s former chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud in relation to the car company’s efforts to cheat on US diesel emissions tests. Winterkorn, who resigned in 2015 as the scandal was revealed, conspired to defraud the US and violate the Clean Air Act, federal laws designed to control air pollution, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday in a Michigan federal court. Five other VW executives were also charged in the indictment. He becomes the highest-ranking executive to be charged over “dieselgate” – a scheme where VW used software to trick government emissions testers.

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company,” said US attorney general Jeff Sessions. “These are serious allegations and we’ll prosecute this case to the full extent of the law.” When news of the scheme broke Winterkorn said he was “stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group”. He denied any knowledge of the scandal – which was used to evade pollution limits on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles. Last December, Oliver Schmidt, a senior Volkswagen executive, was jailed for seven years and fined $400,000 for his part in the scheme. Schmidt, who had returned to Germany, was arrested while on holiday in Florida. VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March, agreeing to pay a record $4.3bn in fines.

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“If Bob Mueller wants that kind of control over the executive branch, he should run for president. Otherwise, he is an inferior executive official who has been given a limited license — ultimately, by the chief executive — to investigate crime. If he doesn’t have an obvious crime, he has no business inventing one, much less probing his superior’s judgment. He should stand down.”

Mueller’s Questions for Trump Show Folly of Special-Counsel Appointments (NR)

I am assuming the authenticity of the questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask President Trump. The questions indicate that, after a year of his own investigation and two years of FBI investigation, the prosecutor lacks evidence of a crime. Yet he seeks to probe the chief executive’s motives and thought processes regarding exercises of presidential power that were lawful, regardless of one’s view of their wisdom. If Bob Mueller wants that kind of control over the executive branch, he should run for president. Otherwise, he is an inferior executive official who has been given a limited license — ultimately, by the chief executive — to investigate crime. If he doesn’t have an obvious crime, he has no business inventing one, much less probing his superior’s judgment. He should stand down.

The questions, reported by the New York Times, underscore that the special counsel is a pernicious institution. Trump should decline the interview. More to the point, the Justice Department should not permit Mueller to seek to interrogate the president on so paltry and presumptuous a showing.

When should a president be subject to criminal investigation? It is a bedrock principle that no one is above the law. The Framers made clear that this includes the president. But, like everything else, bedrock principles do not exist in a vacuum. They vie with other principles. Two competing considerations are especially significant here. First, our law-enforcement system is based on prosecutorial discretion. Under this principle, the desirability of prosecuting even a palpable violation of law must be balanced against other societal needs and desires. We trust prosecutors to perform this cost-benefit analysis with modesty about their mission and sensitivity to the disruption their investigations cause.

Second, the president is the most essential official in the world’s most consequential government. That government’s effectiveness is necessarily compromised if the president is under the cloud of an investigation. Not only are the president’s personal credibility and capability diminished; such an investigation discourages talented people from serving in an administration, further undermining good governance. The country is inexorably harmed because a suspect administration’s capacity to execute the laws and pursue the interests of the United States is undermined.

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Caitlin Johnstone on the Atlantic Council.

Why We Need To Be Propagandized For Our Own Good (CJ)

I sometimes try to get establishment loyalists to explain to me exactly why we’re all meant to be terrified of this “Russian propaganda” thing they keep carrying on about. What is the threat, specifically? That it makes the public less willing to go to war with Russia and its allies? That it makes us less trusting of lying, torturing, coup-staging intelligence agencies? Does accidentally catching a glimpse of that green RT logo turn you to stone like Medusa, or melt your face like in Raiders of the Lost Ark? “Well, it makes us lose trust in our institutions,” is the most common reply. Okay. So? Where’s the threat there? We know for a fact that we’ve been lied to by those institutions. Iraq isn’t just something we imagined. We should be skeptical of claims made by western governments, intelligence agencies and mass media. How specifically is that skepticism dangerous?

Trying to get answers to such questions from rank-and-file empire loyalists is like pulling teeth, and they are equally lacking in the mass media who are constantly sounding the alarm about Russian propaganda. All I see are stories about Russia funding environmentalists (the horror!), giving a voice to civil rights activists (oh noes!), and retweeting articles supportive of Jeremy Corbyn (think of the children!). At its very most dramatic, this horrifying, dangerous epidemic of Russian propaganda is telling westerners to be skeptical of what they’re being told about the Skripal poisoning and the alleged Douma gas attack, both of which do happen to have some very significant causes for skepticism.

When you try to get down to the brass tacks of the actual argument being made and demand specific details about the specific threats we’re meant to be worried about, there aren’t any to be found. Nobody’s been able to tell me what specifically is so dangerous about westerners being exposed to the Russian side of international debates, or of Russians giving a platform to one or both sides of an American domestic debate. Even if every single one of the allegations about Russian bots and disinformation are true (and they aren’t), where is the actual clear and present danger? No one can say. No one, that is, except the Atlantic Council.

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The entire MSM can’t get the job done?!

Neocons Form Brand New Russia-Bashing ‘Think’ Tank (RI)

A group of neocon heartthrobs have banded together with an eclectic array of Russiagaters to form a visionary organization committed to protecting Western democracy. You can also pre-order their book, according to their website. Chaired by pompous chess wizard turned Kremlinologist Garry Kasparov, the brand-new Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI) is the latest three-letter-initialism non-profit devoted to “the defense of democratic freedom and prosperity.” The trailblazing think tank has already sent shockwaves through Washington, DC and every European capital. Celebrated war cheerleader Max Boot, who serves on RDI’s board of directors, announced the creation of this highly original organization in a Washington Post op-ed.

Interestingly, the unveiling started with a laundry list of 10 other groups that are already “protesting Trump and championing democracy.” So why does the world need RDI, then? Because RDI is different – some might even say “special.” Unlike the dozens of other well-financed bastions of status-quo thinking, RDI aims to “unite both the center-left and center-right” by promoting “liberty, democracy and sanity in an age of discord.” And where will this much-needed sanity come from? From RDI’s all-star team of important intellectuals and free thinkers, of course – some of whom just happen to be really tight with the other 10 groups mentioned in Boot’s WaPo piece. Dear Mr. Boot: does fighting Putin with the Committee to Investigate Russia allow enough spare time to fight Putin with the Renew Democracy Initiative? Curious minds want to know.

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It’s contagious.

UK Pushes To Strengthen Anti-Russia Alliance (G.)

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria. British diplomats plan to use four major summits this year – the G7, the G20, Nato and the European Union – to try to deepen the alliance against Russia hastily built by the Foreign Office after the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March. “The foreign secretary regards Russia’s response to Douma and Salisbury as a turning point and thinks there is international support to do more,” a Whitehall official said.

“The areas the UK are most likely to pursue are countering Russian disinformation and finding a mechanism to enforce accountability for the use of chemical weapons.” Former Foreign Office officials admit that an institutional reluctance to call out Russia once permeated British diplomatic thinking, but say that after the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, that attitude is evaporating. A cross-party alliance in parliament has developed which sees the question of Russian corruption no longer through the prism of finance, but instead as a security and foreign policy threat, requiring fresh sanctions even if this causes short-term economic damage to the UK.

[..] For some old hands in the Foreign Office with deep experience of Russia, however, demonising Russia is a disastrous strategy. Sir Anthony Brenton, the British ambassador to Russia between 2004 and 2008, insists a fruitful common agenda with Moscow on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Islamist terrorism and cyberwarfare is still possible. “What on earth was her majesty’s foreign secretary doing comparing the Russian World Cup with Hitler’s 1936 Olympics?” he asked. “If you are looking for a single statement really calculated to infuriate the Russians there it is, or indeed the defence secretary telling Russia to shut up. Elementary diplomacy goes a long way with the Russians and we need to get back to that.

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Still feels like a weird story.

Nobel Prize For Literature Postponed Amid Swedish Academy Turmoil (BBC)

The organisation that decides the Nobel Prize for Literature has said it will not announce an award this year, after it was engulfed in a scandal over sexual assault allegations. The Swedish Academy has been in crisis over its handling of allegations against the husband of a member. She has since quit, as have the academy’s head and four other members. The academy says it will now announce the 2018 winner along with the 2019 winner next year.

The scandal is the biggest to hit the prize since it was first awarded in 1901. The academy said the decision had been made due to a lack of public confidence. Some academy members had argued that the prize should proceed to protect the tradition, but others said the institution was in no state to present the award. Apart from six years during the world wars, there has been only one year when the prize was not awarded. No worthy winner was found in 1935.

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You go girl. The only right thing to do.

Jacinda Ardern Pledges Shelter For All Homeless People Within Four Weeks (G.)

The New Zealand government has promised to get the country’s homeless population off the streets and into shelter in time for winter. In a joint announcement on Friday, housing minister Phil Twyford and prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a NZ$100m emergency housing package to tackle the ballooning problem. An estimated 40,000 people live in cars, tents and garages amid a chronic housing shortage in the nation of 4.7 million people. “We’re pulling out all the stops to support people in need and urgently increase housing supply this winter,” said housing minister Phil Twyford. “Our government will make sure everyone is helped to find warm, dry housing this winter.”

With winter starting on 1 June in the southern hemisphere, less than four weeks away, the government has put out an urgent call for anyone with additional accommodation that may be suitable to house homeless people. Seasonal worker accommodation such as shearers quarters, private rental properties, motor camps and maraes (Maori meeting houses) would all be considered. New Zealand has the highest rates of homelessness in the OECD, with more than 40,000 people living on the streets, in emergency housing or in substandard conditions. Per capita New Zealand’s homeless population is almost twice as bad as Australia, which is placed third on the list. More than half of New Zealand’s homeless population live in Auckland but it is also growing in smaller cities such as Rotorua, Tauranga, Queenstown and Wellington.

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May 032018
 
 May 3, 2018  Posted by at 8:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Daniel Garber Buds and Blossoms 1916

 

Stock Market Unimpressed By Best First-Quarter Results In 24 Years (MW)
Whole Thing Will Come Tumbling Down – Charles Nenner (USAW)
EU to Fight Back Against China’s Growing Trade Dominance (BBG)
China Shuns US Soybeans (BBG)
Elon Musk Acted Like A Jerk, And Tesla Stock Paid The Price (MW)
UK’s May Faces Local Election Losses As Key Brexit Tests Near (R.)
May in Crisis With Cabinet ‘Brexiteers’ Outgunning Her on Customs Plan (BBG)
UK MPs Vote Against Windrush Disclosures (BBC)
No Suspects Yet In Skripal Nerve Agent Attack, MPs Told (G.)
EU: Data-Harvesting Tech Firms Are ‘Sweatshops Of Connected World’ (G.)
North Korea Releases 3 US Detainees From Labor Camps (IBT)
Flooding the Voter Rolls in US and Greece (GI)
Frontex Signals Significant Increase In Arrivals To Greece From Turkey (K.)
Greece Vows To Reduce Number of Refugees On Islands (AP)
South American Armyworm Has Colonised Three-Quarters Of Africa (AFP)

 

 

Confidence.

Stock Market Unimpressed By Best First-Quarter Results In 24 Years (MW)

By at least one measure, corporate earnings are the best in nearly a quarter-century. However, the stock market is not enthused! Rather than rally on the back of upbeat results, the main equity benchmarks have sulked lower. According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, of the 343 companies, or about 70%, of S&P 500 members that have reported earnings to date, 79.9% have reported earnings per share that were above analysts’ expectations, putting the season on track for the highest earnings beat rate on record, going back to 1994. So far, the first-quarter growth rate for EPS is 22%, compared with consensus earnings growth of 16.3% as of April 12, according to Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA.

Bell said recent quarterly results have seen outperformance of about 3 to 4 percentage points better than analysts’ consensus estimates on average, compared with the 5.7 percentage points earnings are currently running ahead. [..] Bell said what’s really impressive is that expectations were already lofty and this quarter represented the first in which the bar was raised to factor in fiscal stimulus measures such as corporate tax cuts, which took effect in late 2017. “It’s significant because we haven’t seen a change like this from the very beginning to (the) start of reporting season,” Bell said. She said the numbers have been cut for each quarter going back to the second quarter of 2006.

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“The mainstream media talking heads are telling you to buy, but never tell you to sell.”

Whole Thing Will Come Tumbling Down – Charles Nenner (USAW)

Renowned geopolitical and financial cycle expert Charles Nenner says, “The mainstream media talking heads are telling you to buy, but never tell you to sell.” Nenner says the time to sell stocks is getting close and explains, “It’s just a hopeless situation. I feel sorry for people who invest their money. We have had a nice ride, but soon the whole thing will come tumbling down. They listen to all these things and have no clue on how to invest . . . . I think soon . . . this will become the longest expansion in financial history. . . . So, this could be the longest expansion ever, what are you playing with? You are gambling with nonsense. So, it’s over.

Nenner goes on to say, “Then, you have the inflation story. The inflation story is brought about by people who don’t do their historical homework. They remember for the last 30 years, there was always inflation. So, they continue to talk about inflation. I proved that in most of the financial history that deflation is the norm. . . . They have talked about inflation for two years, and there is still no inflation. . . . Copper is going down. Crude is going down, and we have a deflation problem, not an inflation problem.”

Nenner is predicting interest rates “are going down” and not up in the foreseeable future. Nenner is also calling for the stock market to go on a “downward slide through the year 2020.” Nenner says, “I can’t explain it, but the cycle topped, and the cycle is down until 2021.” How bad will it be? Nenner says, “Very bad. I called for Dow Jones 5,000, and I still call for Dow Jones 5,000. . . . It’s going to be a blood bath, but as I said the last time, in the 1990’s when the Dow was 5,000, the world still looked okay.”

Is there a big debt reset coming? Nenner says, “The last time we were in this situation was when Roosevelt was President. It was very interesting because they paid off only 25% on the dollar because the inflation that came. Now, the problem is if you don’t have inflation, you still owe the whole amount of money. This is why they urgently need this inflation. So, the value of the money goes down, and you have to pay off less. There is no inflation. So, it is a big problem, but they can keep this going forever. I don’t think it’s a problem because countries can keep printing money as long as they want.” Then Nenner said, “I see the dollar becoming strong again.” Nenner is “dollar positive.” The other big cycle Nenner has been seeing is the so-called “war cycle.” Nenner says, “The next four or five years in this war cycle is very dangerous.” On gold and silver, Nenner is bullish, but “not until after this summer.”

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More protectionism.

EU to Fight Back Against China’s Growing Trade Dominance (BBG)

Europe is set to tighten controls over foreign investment, a sign of growing wariness of China’s efforts to use its $11 trillion economy to become a dominant global power. A Bloomberg survey of the European Union’s 28 member states found that at least 15 governments actively or tacitly support draft legislation that would screen investments from outside the bloc. With a majority prepared to wave it through, the proposal is on course for passage by the European Parliament, the bill’s next step to becoming law. The results show that Europe is waking up to the risks and not just the benefits of inward investment, predominantly from China.

A Bloomberg audit found that China has invested at least $318 billion in Europe over the past decade, from critical infrastructure to high-tech companies — more than in the U.S. over the same period. Europe’s pushback reflects a dilemma shared by governments worldwide as they grapple with China’s growing global clout. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading a delegation to Beijing this week amid disputes over trade, reciprocal market access and China’s state-driven economic model. As the U.S., Japan and Australia adopt rigorous screening programs, Europe risks becoming “the shop of last resort” for those seeking advanced technologies, the European Council on Foreign Relations warned in a December report.

Italy is among those pushing for tighter screening “because we believe that trade must be fair and investment must be productive,” Sandro Gozi, Italy’s junior minister for European affairs, said in an interview. “We have to assess whether investment by non-EU countries aims to do business, to promote growth, to create jobs in Europe, or whether it’s just aimed to acquire and then take the know-how of our businesses away from Europe.”

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They still have to get them somewhere, one would assume.

China Shuns US Soybeans (BBG)

The world’s biggest oilseed processor just confirmed one of the soybean market’s biggest fears: China has essentially stopped buying U.S. supplies amid the brewing trade war. “Whatever they’re buying is non-U.S.,” Bunge Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Soren Schroder said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They’re buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the U.S.” In a move that caught many in U.S. agriculture by surprise, China last month announced planned tariffs on American shipments of soybeans. As the market waited for the measure to take effect, there was some hope among traders and shippers alike that relations between the nations could ease in the meantime and the trade flow would continue.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for now, according to Bunge. It’s “very clear” that the trade tensions have already stopped China from buying U.S. supplies, Schroder said. “How long that will last, who knows? But so long as there is this big cloud of uncertainty, that’s likely to continue.” Price volatility in farm goods has picked up in recent weeks as the saber-rattling between the U.S. and China intensifies. Other agricultural products caught up in the dispute include corn, pork and sorghum. Soybeans are the second-largest American crop and prices are heavily dependent on trade with the Asian nation, the world’s top importer. In the two weeks ended April 19, China canceled a net 62,690 metric tons of U.S. soybean purchases for the marketing year that ends Aug. 31, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

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Elon Musk Acted Like A Jerk, And Tesla Stock Paid The Price (MW)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a long, odd earnings conference call Wednesday in which he insulted analysts, the media, federal regulators and people who died behind the wheel of his cars, and then told anyone concerned about volatility not to invest in his company. Unsurprisingly, volatility ensued, as Tesla shares dropped quickly during an increasingly bizarre call with the very analysts and media whom Musk attacked. Tesla on Wednesday disclosed the largest quarterly loss in the history of a company known far and wide for losing vast sums of money, with a net loss of almost $785 million. The numbers still managed to beat expectations that have been repeatedly lowered for more than a year, which led Musk to take a victory lap on Twitter after losing more than three quarters of a billion dollars in three months.

It only got weirder from there. In his conference-call introduction, Musk confused per-week and per-day production figures, described a “super complicated” robot Tesla designed and built before realizing it could not perform its unnecessary function, then mentioned offhandedly that he planned to restructure the company this month — a disclosure he never revisited to provide more information. When the question-and-answer session started, Musk turned vitriolic, and not even his fellow executives were safe. After Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja referred to Tesla as “best in class” for batteries while responding to an analyst query, he was interrupted by Musk. “The best. It is not a class,” Musk interjected. “Yes, we’re the best. Sorry,” Ahuja replied.

“The best in a class of one,” Musk made sure to point out. Soon, Musk turned his ire toward the financial analysts who were asking the questions. When Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi attempted to ask about capital-expenditure spending and the money needed, Musk cut him off by yelling “Next!” When RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak then asked how many people with Model 3 reservations were actually taking delivery of their cars, Musk declined to answer any more “boring,” “dry” questions. “You’re killing me,” he said.

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Vote her into oblivion.

UK’s May Faces Local Election Losses As Key Brexit Tests Near (R.)

Voters will pass judgment on Prime Minister Theresa May’s party on Thursday in local government elections expected to show rising support for her opponents in London that will add to pressure on her position over Brexit. The elections will be viewed as a gauge of support for May at a time when she is facing a possible revolt over her Brexit strategy and a scandal over immigration policies that has already forced the resignation of one of her closest allies. A poor set of results is unlikely to spark internal calls for her resignation, but could weaken her authority over a party deeply divided about the right approach to Brexit ahead of several key parliamentary tests of unity on future customs arrangements with the EU.

“Winning elections keeps people together, losing causes dissent. Conservatives will need to avoid the ill-discipline of fighting like ferrets in a sack,” said Rob Wilson, a former Conservative lawmaker, writing for the party’s grassroots website ConservativeHome. Thursday’s vote will decide more than 4,400 council seats, determining the makeup of 150 local government authorities who are responsible for the day-to-day provision of public services. Just over 40 percent of the seats are in London. The headline-grabbing results in the capital are forecast to see a swing toward the opposition Labour Party, reinvigorated under socialist Jeremy Corbyn and fighting a campaign focused on the effects of eight years of Conservative-led spending cuts.

A Survation poll on Wednesday in London showed Labour 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives. May’s party could lose control of some of the eight London boroughs it currently runs out of 32 in total. This would reflect both weariness over cutbacks that affect citizens’ daily lives and broader issues like Brexit and the treatment of migrants.

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There doesn’t appear to be a compromise without heads having to roll.

May in Crisis With Cabinet ‘Brexiteers’ Outgunning Her on Customs Plan (BBG)

Theresa May is facing a crisis after pro-Brexit ministers paired up with Conservative hardliners to demand a clean break from the European Union’s customs system, rejecting her plea for a compromise solution. The U.K. prime minister was outnumbered at a meeting of her inner Cabinet on Wednesday, with ministers unable to agree on either of the middle-of-the-road customs options that May had proposed. Speaking afterward, one senior British official said that with both proposals apparently dead, she could have as little as a week to get a compromise or face the stark choice between staying in Europe’s customs union or leaving without a deal. Either could see rebels in her party destroy her government.

A day that started with a pro-Brexit group of Conservative lawmakers threatening to withdraw support from the prime minister if she insisted on her proposed customs relationship with the European Union ended with her newest appointee, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, weighing in against her plan, joining other senior ministers in defying her. It was a reflection of May’s impossible position: Before she can even start trying to sell a deal to the EU, she has to find a proposal that both her Cabinet and Parliament will support. Both are fundamentally split, with each side strong enough to block a plan, but not to push one through. May has so far survived by avoiding a final confrontation with either side. So it was no surprise that the so-called “War Cabinet” put off its decision once again on Wednesday afternoon.

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Who do you trust?

UK MPs Vote Against Windrush Disclosures (BBC)

MPs have voted against an opposition motion calling on the government to disclose papers on Windrush migrants. Labour had hoped to force the government to release documents about its immigration policy relating to people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries. They arrived between the late 1940s and 1970s but some have been threatened with deportation in recent years. The government won the vote by 316 votes to 221. Of Labour’s 258 MPs, 180 voted in favour, while 306 Conservative MPs opposed the motion. Labour wanted the government to be made to hand over evidence, including emails and text messages, for scrutiny by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described the vote as “an opportunity for the Tories to start to right the wrongs they have done to the Windrush generation”. She accused Theresa May of ordering her MPs to “vote to cover up the truth of her involvement”. Ms Abbot said many people felt “all roads lead back to the prime minister”, with Mrs May having previously been home secretary at the time the government brought in changes to immigration rules in 2014.

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Still looking for a patsy. First Skripal ‘news’ in weeks.

No Suspects Yet In Skripal Nerve Agent Attack, MPs Told (G.)

Police and intelligence agencies have failed so far to identify the individual or individuals who carried out the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the UK’s national security adviser has disclosed. The comments by Sir Mark Sedwill punctured hopes that the police and other security agencies had pinpointed suspects but were withholding the name or names from the public. Asked by an MP at a Commons defence committee hearing if he knew the individuals responsible, he replied curtly: “Not yet.” Sedwill, who coordinates the work of the MI6, MI5, the surveillance agency GCHQ and others, did not elaborate but among problems that have hampered the agencies is a lack of CCTV coverage in Salisbury compared with London. Known Russian spies based in Britain have also been investigated and ruled out.

[..] Sedwill made the rare move in April of releasing classified intelligence on the case. It allegedly showed Russia had tested whether nerve agents could be delivered through door handles and had targeted the email accounts of both the Skripals since at least 2013. He told the committee on Tuesday the decision to go public had been taken to help counter Russian disinformation. The attack raised questions about whether the police and MI6, which has a duty to protect agents, should have done more to protect the Skripals. Sedwill said the attack had changed the security services’ appreciation of which dissidents and defectors could be at risk from revenge attacks.

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“..these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

EU: Data-Harvesting Tech Firms Are ‘Sweatshops Of Connected World’ (G.)

The European data protection supervisor has hit out at social media and tech firms over the recent constant stream of privacy policy emails in the run up to GDPR, calling them the “sweatshops of the connected world”. With the tough new General Data Protection Regulations coming into force on 25 May, companies around the world are being forced to notify their users to accept new privacy policies and data processing terms to continue to use the services. But Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS), lambasted the often-hostile approach of the recent deluge of notifications.

“If this encounter seems a take-it-or-leave it proposition – with perhaps a hint of menace – then it is a travesty of at least the spirit of the new regulation, which aims to restore a sense of trust and control over what happens to our online lives,” said Buttarelli. “Consent cannot be freely given if the provision of a service is made conditional on processing personal data not necessary for the performance of a contract.” “The most recent [Facebook] scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues.

“The digital information ecosystem farms people for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services. Unlike their analogue equivalents, these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

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Winning.

North Korea Releases 3 US Detainees From Labor Camps (IBT)

Ahead of the planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and an unprecedented thaw in the relationship between North and South Koreas, Pyongyang decided to release the three Korean-Americans detained in the country’s labor camps Tuesday. Choi Sung-ryong, a representative of the families of the prisoners, told South Korean news outlet Naver: “We talked with a source in North Korea today. North Korean authorities released Kim Dong-cheol, Kim Sang-deok and Kim Hak-seong, who were in jail at the labor correction center in early April, and they are currently in a ‘course’ where they are treated and educated at a hotel outside Pyongyang.”

Choi added that the source revealed North Korea was negotiating with the United States about the best way to get the detainees back home. One of the ways involved was releasing them back on the day of the Trump-Kim summit, although no specific date has been finalized yet for the meeting. Newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News on Sunday: “If North Korea releases the detained Americans before the North-US summit, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate their authenticity.” Dong-chul is a South Korea-born American pastor who was arrested and detained by North Korea in 2015 on the charge of spying. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labor in 2016. Hak-song and Sang-duk were both working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when they were detained last year on suspicion of “hostile acts.”

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“As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.”

Flooding the Voter Rolls in US and Greece (GI)

As Greece struggles with accelerating economic decline and an increasing lack of public faith in the political leadership, the ruling Syriza coalition appears to be adopting a strategy of garnering votes from immigrants by expediting their naturalization process. According to a recent report in the Greek daily Parapolitika, Interior Minister Panos Skourletis is laying the groundwork to enable hundreds of thousands of immigrants to become citizens and vote in the next elections. Although the mandate of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ends in September 2019, some analysts have been predicting a call for elections by the end of 2018. Until now, candidates for Greek citizenship had to be vetted by a committee.

Under the new system, applicants will be granted citizenship automatically if they correctly answer 20 out of 30 questions online. In addition, the government is planning to allow immigrants over the age of 65 to obtain Greek IDs, without testing their knowledge of the Greek language. In other words, it will be easier to obtain Greek citizenship than a Greek fishing license. As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.

In principle, the idea is no different from George Soros’s 220-page guide, released by DC Leaks, seemingly to create a permanent voting majority for the Democratic Party by “enlarge[ing] the U.S. electorate by 10 million voters by 2018.” Easing citizenship requirements may be a calculated electoral ploy, but it is also in keeping with an overall European multiculturalism. The current leadership is not interested in the origins of the country’s illegal immigrants, many of whom hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa and do not respect the Judeo-Christian roots and culture of modern Greek civilization. Nor does the government appear to concern itself with the danger involved in allowing huge numbers of migrants from terrorist-ridden Muslim-majority countries to become citizens, without vetting them.

Meanwhile, as its immigrant population increases, Greece is simultaneously undergoing a brain-drain. Over the past 8 years, for example, 500,000 skilled and educated young people left the country and have chosen to remain abroad rather than return home and contribute to the economy, the culture and society in general.

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Time for another deal with Erdogan?

Frontex Signals Significant Increase In Arrivals To Greece From Turkey (K.)

The influx of refugees from Turkey to Greece has increased significantly, the executive director of Frontex, the European Union’s border monitoring agency has told Germany’s Bild. In comments to Bild that were published on Wednesday, Fabrice Leggeri said arrivals of migrants from Turkey to Greece’s Aegean islands have increased by 17% in the past four to five weeks alone. According to Leggeri, the key reason for the increase is the spike in refugees leaving Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Frontex chief proposed the further bolstering of the border force as well as an increase in deportations. On a pan-European level, only 40% of repatriation decisions are carried out, he said. Despite the increase in migration flows, Leggeri said Frontext has the EU’s external borders “under control.”

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If only Merkel would let them.

Greece Vows To Reduce Number of Refugees On Islands (AP)

Greek officials on Wednesday vowed to reduce severe overcrowding at migrant camps on Greeces islands, amid mounting protests that the immigration crisis has hurt the vital local tourism industry for a fourth successive summer. Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, who was visiting the island of Lesbos, said the government aimed to cut the number of migrants on five large Greek islands from the current level of 15,500 to 6,500 — equivalent to the capacity of refugee shelter facilities — by the end of September. The promised changes came despite a recent spike in daily arrivals at the islands and at Greeces land border with Turkey.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Lesbos on Thursday, and islanders are planning street protests and a strike by businesses in the main port. As scores of police officers took up positions in the port Wednesday, protest organizers uses a van fitted with loudspeakers to urge local residents to join the strike. The overcrowding has triggered frequent flare-ups of violence at the sprawling Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where many still live in squalid conditions. More than a dozen were injured when migrants were attacked with flares and burning trash bins during an anti-migrant protest organized in part by far-right groups on the island 10 days ago.

On Wednesday, Vitsas held a town hall meeting and spent several hours talking with Lesbos residents. Many angrily voiced their complaints and accused the government of abandoning the island. “I cannot say when everything will happen but we will move forward,” he said. “We are dragging out feet forward but hopefully that will improve.” He promised that several hundred additional staff would be hired over the summer to help clear a huge backlog of asylum claims.

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Rapidly developes resistance against anything thrown at them: pesticides, GMOs.

South American Armyworm Has Colonised Three-Quarters Of Africa (AFP)

On farms across Africa, a seemingly innocuous brown and beige caterpillar is waging a silent war, devastating rural incomes and posing a major threat to the continent’s food supply. In just two years, the so-called fall armyworm has colonised three-quarters of Africa, according to the British-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI). Its favourite food is maize, also known as corn, the staple on which over 200 million smallholder farming families depend for their livelihoods. The fall armyworm is believed to have made its bridgehead in West Africa after being accidentally brought in from South America, its native home, by sea or air cargo. It was first detected in Africa in 2016.

“Since then, it has very rapidly spread across the entire continent. It’s reportedly now causing damage in more than 40 countries,” said Boddupalli Prasanna, an expert at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. The larval, or caterpillar, armyworm is perfectly adapted for destruction. Growing up to about 50 millimetres (two inches), it nestles in the leaves around the head of maize. The critter then attacks methodically, leaving behind shredded leaves and chewed or hollowed ears of corn. In one Kenyan county visited by experts last year, 30% of the crop was lost. The impact on farmers and on households can be huge.

Wycliffe Ngoda, a 64-year-old farmer from near Kisumu, in western Kenya, said he lost nearly a quarter of his income last year in an armyworm outbreak, and the price of a two-kilo (4.4-pound) bag of maize doubled in his area. “The attack was very fast and furious. In a short while, huge swathes of (crops) had been eaten,” he said. “I lost 50% of my crop, others up to 70%,” he said. “This is how we were introduced to armyworm: very rudely.”

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Apr 302018
 
 April 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Chicago, Illinois 1942

 

Ministers Rally Round Theresa May After Amber Rudd Resigns (G.)
UK Home Office Charter Secret Removal Flight To Jamaica With Grandmothers (TLE)
Amber Rudd: Felled By Claims, Counterclaims, Leaks And Denials (G.)
Theresa May Has Lost Her Human Shield (G.)
Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit (Jacobin)
Tesla Doesn’t Burn Fuel, It Burns Cash (BBG)
JPMorgan, National Bank Of Canada, Others Test Debt Issuance On Blockchain (R.)
A T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Could Be ‘Devastating’ For Consumers (MW)
Marathon To Purchase Rival Refiner Andeavor For More Than $20 Billion (WSJ)
Facebook’s Censorship in Germany (Frank)
Greece Reinforces Land Border With Turkey To Stem Flow Of Migrants (G.)
Australia’s Ancient Language Shaped By Sharks (BBC)

 

 

What does it say about our times, our Zeitgeist even, when a new record for global revenue is set by a movie named Infinity War?

Doublespeak in action. Rudd left because she lied, but is now lauded for being honorable, acting on principle.

Ministers Rally Round Theresa May After Amber Rudd Resigns (G.)

Ministers have moved swiftly to try to protect Theresa May after the resignation of Amber Rudd, insisting the home secretary only stood down because she inadvertently misled MPs, not because of the wider Windrush migration scandal. With the prime minister set to announce a replacement for Rudd later on Monday, amid another forced cabinet reshuffle, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, rejected the idea that May was facing pressure over her own position. “This is about sorting out a problem,” he told Sky News. “The prime minister has apologised to these people, and we’re going to get on with the job of fixing it.”

[..] Rudd was facing a bruising appearance in the House of Commons on Monday, having to explain again why she told the home affairs select committee last week that she did not know of any deportation targets. Grayling said Rudd had spoken “in good faith” and had stepped down because “she had inadvertently misled parliament, that she should have known a bit more about the issue of targets”. He added: “It doesn’t often happen in politics, and people criticise when it doesn’t happen. What we’ve got here is a former home secretary who acted on principle.”

Grayling insisted her departure had nothing to do with the wider issue of members of the Windrush generation of arrivals from the Caribbean being wrongly targeted by immigration authorities, or with the hostile environment immigration policy initiated by May when she was home secretary. “The Windrush issue is something we all regret,” he said. “It’s a mistake, the government’s apologised, the prime minister has apologised, the former home secretary apologised for it. That isn’t the issue that led to her resignation. The issue is about her inadvertently misleading the house in good faith.”

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, disputed this, and said May also should come to the Commons to explain herself to MPs. “Fundamentally, the reason she had to resign was because of the Windrush fiasco,” Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Somebody had to take responsibility. It happened on her watch, therefore I think it’s right she has resigned.” On May addressing MPs, Abbott said: “In the first instance we’d like to know if she herself knew about the targets and would therefore be in a position to say whether Amber Rudd misled the house. “More fundamentally, we want to talk to her about the aspects of the so-called hostile environment, which she was responsible for, and led to the Windrush fiasco.”

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This is what this is about: indefinite detention for elderly ladies, taken from their families while awaiting deportation, in really bad conditions. It’s criminal.

UK Home Office Charter Secret Removal Flight To Jamaica With Grandmothers (TLE)

After a week of repeated apologies to the victims of the Windrush scandal and assurances by Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd that they would not be facing any more deportations, we have discovered evidence of a special chartered removal flight to Jamaica next week. We know of at least three grandmothers with British families who were due to be removed on the secretive flight. One, Yvonne Williams, a 59-year old grandmother of seven, whose mother arrived from Jamaica in 1962, had been detained in the scandal-ridden Yarl’s Wood detention centre for OVER EIGHT MONTHS since last August. She had been given removal directions by the Home Office for next week’s flight despite all her family being based in Britain and having none in Jamaica.

Thankfully, on Friday, the Home Office told Yvonne after she had been incarcerated for months away from her elderly mother, 82, and from the grandchildren that she had been caring for, that she would not be removed on the flight and that she could finally be released from detention. [..] Another grandmother incarcerated at Yarl’s Wood detention centre has not been as fortunate. Yvonne Smith, 63, remembers waving to the Queen when she visited Jamaica. She was born a citizen of the UK and Colonies eight years before Jamaican independence. Yvonne’s father and mother came to the UK in the 1950’s. Yvonne stayed behind with her grandmother joining her British siblings and father in Birmingham after her mother and grandmother passed away.

Her brother, sisters, nephews, nieces, children, grandchildren are all British and she has no family left in Jamaica. Yvonne has been making attempts to regularise her stay since 2010 as the main carer for her 92 year old father. The Home Office insists that she has not got enough significant family ties and has incarcerated Yvonne since last August. She says it breaks her heart talking to her father on the phone: “He starts crying, he doesn’t want the NHS to look after him, he wants me, it’s too hard to hear him cry.” Being detained for over eight months has also taken its toll on Yvonne’s health. She has been diagnosed with Diabetes since being locked up, complains of pain and her eyes fading.

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No, by lies. Her own.

Amber Rudd: Felled By Claims, Counterclaims, Leaks And Denials (G.)

When Amber Rudd agreed to appear in front of political journalists at a Westminster lunch last week, it was an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership credentials. But by the time the event actually came around the fallout from the Guardian’s reporting on the Windrush scandal was in full flow and she was, as she put it, “just thinking about staying in the game”. She had already had a hellish week involving several appearances at the dispatch box, a brutal session at the hands of the home affairs select committee and what felt like countless apologies.

But while much of the anger directed at the home secretary over the preceding days had been a result of the mishandling of the Windrush generation of migrants, it was her confusion over the rather more arcane matter of targets for deporting illegal immigrants that eventually brought her down. The key moment in Rudd’s dramatic fall from grace was when she was summoned to explain herself – and her department – in front of the committee last Wednesday. Almost as an afterthought, committee chair Yvette Cooper asked about earlier evidence from the immigration officers’ union about targets for the number of people who should be deported from the UK. “We don’t have targets for removals,” Rudd replied, kicking off the series of claims and counterclaims, leaks and denials, that eventually led to her departure.

The next day it emerged that immigration officials in her own department had been given targets after all. She was summoned to the Commons to clarify. “I was not aware of them,” she insisted. By Friday, her claims were unravelling after a secret internal Home Office document boasting of the targets in 2017 was leaked to the Guardian. Damningly, Rudd had been copied in. More than eight hours after the Guardian approached the Home Office with details of the memo – as speculation swirled around Westminster about her future – she finally responded in a series of defiant late-night tweets. The home secretary insisted she had not seen the leaked memo, even though it had been sent to her office and that she wasn’t aware of the specific removal targets. “But I accept that I should have been and I’m sorry that I wasn’t.”

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The longer May stays on, the more of a joke she becomes. And her office too, which is much worse.

Theresa May Has Lost Her Human Shield (G.)

Beleaguered, embattled, hapless – as the Windrush scandal worsened over recent days, these doom-laden adjectives had begun attaching themselves irresistibly to Amber Rudd’s name. To the last, she and her allies continued to insist that she didn’t know about deportation targets – they maintain the government’s “ambition” for boosting the number of people sent home is not a “target”. But crucially in her resignation letter, Rudd admitted “information provided to my office”did “make mention of numerical targets”. She didn’t see that information, shesaid – but admitted she should have done.

[..] The second reason Rudd remained in post was that with fresh Windrush injustices still emerging almost daily, she was a lightning rod for public anger, more of which may now be directed at the prime minister. Rudd loyally made repeated public apologies without allowing the blame to fall on the prime minister and the tone and policies that May set in her six years at the Home Office. Rudd had been deemed a potential leadership rival. Allowing her to continue to take incoming fire, particularly as it undermined her reputation for brisk, well-briefed competence, must have been highly tempting. On Sunday night, May was left to turn her thoughts to who should replace her.

She may feel obliged to appoint another remainer, to avoid upsetting the delicate balance at the top table. But in the key arguments inside Cabinet, a newbie may lack the power base to be influential for some time – and Britain’s Brexit negotiating position is being fought over right now.

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Thomas Fazi and Bill Mitchell.

Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit (Jacobin)

Nothing better reflects the muddled thinking of the mainstream European left than its stance on Brexit. Each week seems to produce a new chapter for the Brexit scare story: withdrawing from the EU will be an economic disaster for the UK; tens of thousands of jobs will be lost; human rights will be eviscerated; the principles of fair trials, free speech, and decent labor standards will all be compromised. In short, Brexit will transform Britain into a dystopia, a failed state — or worse, an international pariah — cut off from the civilized world. Against this backdrop it’s easy to see why Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is often criticized for his unwillingness to adopt a pro-Remain agenda.

[..] In the months leading up to the referendum, the world was flooded with warnings — from the IMF, the OECD, and other bastions of contemporary economics — claiming that a Leave vote in the referendum would have immediate apocalyptic consequences for the UK, causing a financial meltdown and plunging the country into a deep recession. The most embarrassing forecast on “the immediate economic impact of a vote to leave the EU on the UK” was published by the Tory government. The aim of the “study” in question, released in May 2016 by the UK Treasury, was to quantify “the impact … over the immediate period of two years following a vote to leave.”

Within two years of a Leave vote, the Treasury predicted that GDP would be between 3.6 and 6 percent lower and the number of people unemployed would rise by as much as 820,000. The predictions in the May 2016 “study” sounded dire, and were clearly aimed at having the maximum impact on the vote, which would be held a month later. Just weeks before the referendum, the then-chancellor George Osborne cited the report to warn that “a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy” and that “the shock would push our economy into recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000.”

Nonetheless, the majority of voters opted for Brexit. In doing so, they proved economists wrong once again, since none of the catastrophic scenarios predicted in the run-up to the referendum have occurred. As Larry Elliott, Guardian economics editor, wrote: “Brexit Armageddon was a terrifying vision — but it simply hasn’t happened.” With almost two years having passed since the referendum, the economic data coming out of the UK makes a mockery of those doom-laden warnings — and of the aforementioned government report in particular. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that by the end of 2017, British GDP was already higher by 3.2 percent relative to its level at the time of the Brexit vote — a far cry from the deep recession we were told to expect.

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How much longer?

Tesla Doesn’t Burn Fuel, It Burns Cash (BBG)

The company that Elon Musk built to usher in the electric-car future might not have enough cash to make it through the calendar year. The anxieties that lurk beneath the tremendous ambition of Tesla Inc. moved into the forefront in recent weeks. The company again fell far short of its own production targets for the mass-market Model 3 sedan, another person died in a crash involving its assisted-driving feature and Musk entered into a public dispute with federal safety regulators. Tesla’s once high-flying stock, buffeted by a downgrade from credit analysts, has dropped 24 percent from its peak in September.

There’s a good reason to worry: No one has raised or spent money the way Elon Musk has. Nor has any other chief executive officer of a public company made a bankruptcy joke on Twitter at a time when so much seemed to be unraveling. Tesla is going through money so fast that, without additional financing, there is now a genuine risk that the 15-year-old company could run out of cash in 2018. The company burns through more than $6,500 every minute, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Free cash flow—the amount of cash a company generates after accounting for capital expenditures—has been negative for five consecutive quarters. That will be a key figure to watch when Tesla reports earnings May 2.

Tesla makes three cars—the Model S and Model 3 sedans and the Model X SUV—at its only auto assembly plant, located in Fremont, California. There are aggressive plans to add an electric semi truck, a new roadster sports car and crossover to the production lineup in the next few years. While Musk’s vision for the future once called for extreme automation, the present day is all about manpower. Back in 2010, Tesla had just 899 employees. Today, the company has nearly 40,000 workers. The ongoing hiring binge is probably contributing to Tesla’s financial straits. Tesla has added employees faster than it has boosted revenue in three of the last four years. This includes more than doubling the workforce in 2017, when the company was scaling up for Model 3 production and took on employees from SolarCity.

[..] Tesla ended 2017 with $3.4 billion in cash on hand and $9.4 billion in outstanding debt, a testament to Musk’s borrowing prowess. Many analysts believe that Tesla will need to raise money again—and soon. Bruce Clark of Moody’s Investors Service recently warned that Tesla will need an additional $2 billion this year, and he noted that $1.2 billion of existing debt will come due by 2019. Short sellers remain convinced that Tesla is on the verge of an epic meltdown. Famed investor Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates has predicted the company is headed for a “brick wall.”

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They want a piece of the action.

JPMorgan, National Bank Of Canada, Others Test Debt Issuance On Blockchain (R.)

JPMorgan Chase has tested a new blockchain platform for issuing financial instruments with the National Bank of Canada and other large firms, they said on Friday, seeking to streamline origination, settlement, interest rate payments and other processes. The test on Wednesday mirrored the Canadian bank’s $150 million offering on the same day of a one-year floating-rate Yankee certificate of deposit, they said in a statement. The platform was built over more than a year using Quorum, a type of open-source blockchain that JPMorgan has developed inhouse and is in discussions to spin off. Participants in the experiment included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, the fund management arm of Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and Legg Mason’s Western Asset and other investors in the certificate of deposit.

Banks have poured millions of dollars to develop blockchain, the software first created to run cryptocurrency bitcoin, to streamline processes ranging from cross-border payments to securities settlement. “Blockchain-related technologies have the potential to bring about major change in the financial services industry,” David Furlong, senior vice president of artificial intelligence, venture capital and blockchain at National Bank of Canada, said in a statement.

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A $26 billion deal, but it results in “a telecom giant with a $146 billion enterprise value which will serve some 127 million customers.”

A T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Could Be ‘Devastating’ For Consumers (MW)

A merger between Sprint and T-Mobile US has been officially announced—and for consumers that is certainly something to phone home about. The two companies agreed to an all-stock merger on Sunday that, if allowed by antitrust enforcers, would leave the U.S. wireless market dominated by three national players, and comes after the telecommunication companies renewed M&A discussions earlier in April after thrice failing to complete a tie-up. Speculation had previously mounted about a potential merger in September, months after Bloomberg originally reported “informal contact” between the two companies last May. But Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank, which owns more than 80% of Sprint’s shares, announced back in October that it would cease its efforts to merge the wireless carrier with T-Mobile.

Before all that, discussions were on hold due to the government’s spectrum auction (where the government sells the rights for companies to transmit signals over certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum). The combined company, if the proposed $26 billion dollar deal is consummated, would have more than 127 million customers. Consequently, a combined T-Mobile-Sprint likely could usher in industrywide changes that would affect consumers of various carriers across the country, telecom analysts said. “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.

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It’s big merger time. While debt is still cheap.

Marathon To Purchase Rival Refiner Andeavor For More Than $20 Billion (WSJ)

Marathon Petroleum plans to buy logistics and refining company Andeavor for more than $20 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The cash-and stock deal, which values Andeavor at about $150 a share, is expected to be announced Monday. That would be a roughly 23% premium over Andeavor’s closing price Friday after the stock surged about 50% in the past year. Marathon, based in Findlay, Ohio, is the second-largest refiner in the U.S., according to its website. Marathon-branded gasoline is sold in 20 states, and its Speedway unit owns the nation’s second-largest convenience-store chain.

It also owns a midstream master limited partnership with about 11,000 miles of crude oil and light-product pipelines. Andeavor, based in San Antonio, operates 10 refineries in the western U.S. with total capacity of more than 1.2 million barrels a day. Part of the rationale of the deal centers on the companies’ complementary footprints; with Marathon in the East and Andeavor in the West, regulatory approval could be easier to win.

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That should indeed be the question: who are these companies to censor us? Under what law is that possible?

Facebook’s Censorship in Germany (Frank)

A court in Berlin has issued a temporary restraining order against Facebook. Under the threat of a fine of 250,000 euros (roughly $300,000 USD) or a jail term, Facebook was obliged to restore a user’s comment that it had deleted. Moreover, the ruling prohibited the company from banning the user because of this comment. This is the first time a German court has dealt with the consequences of Germany’s internet censorship law, which came into effect on October 1, 2017. The law stipulates that social media companies have to delete or block “apparent” criminal offenses, such as libel, slander, defamation or incitement, within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint.

As many critics pointed out, this state censorship makes freedom of speech subject to the arbitrary decisions of corporate entities that are likely to censor more than absolutely necessary, rather than risk a crushing fine of up to 50 million euros ($65 million USD). According to a newspaper report, Facebook’s censors have just ten seconds to decide whether to delete a comment or not. The case with which the court in Berlin had to deal was that on January 8, 2018, the Swiss daily Basler Zeitung posted an article with the title “Viktor Orban speaks of Muslim ‘invasion'” on its Facebook site. The blurb read: “Viktor Orban wonders how in a country like Germany… chaos, anarchy and illegal crossing of borders can be celebrated as something good.”

Facebook user Gabor B. posted a comment: “Germans are becoming increasingly stupid. No wonder, since the left-wing media litters them every day with fake news about ‘skilled workers,’ declining unemployment figures or Trump.” This comment quickly received the most “likes”, until Facebook deleted it, due to an alleged infringement of Facebook’s “community standards.” In addition, Gabor B. was banned from Facebook for 30 days. “One may share the commenter’s opinion or may deem it polemic or unobjective”, Gabor B.’s attorney Joachim Nikolaus Steinhöfel told Gatestone. “The important thing is: The comment is covered by the right to freedom of speech.”

He added that before going to court, his law office had sent a written warning to Facebook. “Facebook partly gave in and lifted the ban but did not restore the comment. Facebook’s lawyers notified us that ‘a thorough reexamination came to the result that the community standards had been applied correctly and that therefore the content could not be restored’ – an assessment we cannot share.”

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The land border does not fall under the EU/Turkey agreement.

Greece Reinforces Land Border With Turkey To Stem Flow Of Migrants (G.)

Greece has rushed to reinforce its land border with Turkey as fears mount over a sharp rise in the number of refugees and migrants crossing the frontier. Police patrols were augmented as local authorities said the increase in arrivals had become reminiscent of the influx of migrants on the Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast. About 2,900 people crossed the land border in April, by far surpassing the number who arrived by sea, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. The figure represents half of the total number of crossings during the whole of 2017. Speaking from the frontier town of Orestiada, the local mayor, Dimitris Mavrides, told the Guardian: “Our reception facilities are overwhelmed and things are on the verge of spinning out of control. Far more are coming than are actually being registered.

“The government has just sent 120 extra police, but they are temporary and simply not enough. Frontex also has to intervene,” he added, referring to Europe’s border and coastguard agency. The area’s sole reception centre has capacity to process 240 people. In the absence of accommodation, authorities are placing newcomers, including children, in inappropriate police detention facilities where access to interpreters and other services are severely restricted. “Some of those in police detention have been held for more than three months,” UNHCR said in a statement. “Conditions are dismal … the hundreds of people kept include pregnant women, very young children and people in need of medical and psychosocial care.”

[..] The abrupt rise reflects a switch in tactics by people smugglers circumventing the controversial agreement the EU struck with Turkey in a bid to stem migration flows at the height of the crisis when more than a million people entered the bloc through Greece. [..] The land border does not fall under the agreement and is said to be easier to traverse. “In a boat it can take as little as three minutes to cross and is far cheaper,” said Mavrides. “They are coming precisely because it is not part of the deal and because word has got out the situation on the islands is dramatic. If they get here and are processed, they are free to go anywhere on the mainland. We have four buses a day to Athens and Thessaloniki and they are full.”

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What a delight to read.

“It’s especially unusual because men and women speak different dialects..”

“Although the shark may not be seen much in these waters anymore, it is still spoken of with respect, as the giver of life and creator of this land.”

Australia’s Ancient Language Shaped By Sharks (BBC)

The tiger shark was having a really bad day. Other sharks and fish were picking on him and he was fed up. After fighting them, he met up with the hammerhead shark and some stingrays at Vanderlin Rocks in the waters of Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria to speak of their woes before they set out to find their own places to call home. This forms one of the oldest stories in the world, the tiger shark dreaming. The ‘dreaming’ is what Aboriginal people call their more than 40,000-year-old history and mythology; in this case, the dreaming describes how the Gulf of Carpentaria and rivers were created by the tiger shark. The story has been passed down by word of mouth through generations of the Aboriginal Yanyuwa people, who call themselves ‘li-antha wirriyara’ or ‘people of the salt water’.

As we sailed past the rocks and sandstone cliffs of Vanderlin Island, heading towards the mouth of the Wearyan River, dugongs and fish swam by. We were searching beneath the waves for a glimpse of shark fins, following in the path of the tiger shark in this creation story. The tiger shark’s journey was challenging as he forged his way through the Gulf, creating the water holes and rivers in the landscape. He was turned away by many other angry animals who did not want him to live with them. A wallaby even hurled rocks at him when he asked if he could stay with her. But as he swam, the dreaming story explains, the shark helped create the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria that we see today.

“Tiger sharks are very important in our dreaming,” said Aboriginal elder Graham Friday, who is a sea ranger here and one of the few remaining speakers of Yanyuwa language. Some people here still believe the tiger shark is their ancestor, and the Yanyuwa are known for their ‘tiger shark language’, as they have so many words for the sea and shark. [..] today conservationists are concerned about tiger shark numbers, with them currently listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Not many sharks any more. But this dreaming story shows there were once,” Friday said. [..] Although the shark may not be seen much in these waters anymore, it is still spoken of with respect, as the giver of life and creator of this land.

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


Daniel Garber The quarry 1917

 

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

 

 

Australians think they won.

The World’s First Total Bubble (MB)

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

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

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Brainard. Warning about what the Fed itself has built.

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

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

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

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

Recession Risks Are Increasing – Axel Weber (CNBC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Das Kapital.

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, sure.

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

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

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

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

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Facebook is peanuts.

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

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

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

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

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“Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now,..”

Palantir Knows Everything About You (BW)

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

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

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

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It took less than an hour.

Comey Memos Already Leaked To AP (ZH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apr 172018
 
 April 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Times Square, New York Times building under construction 1903

 

How Libor’s Surge Will Help Pop The Global Bubble (Colombo)
America First – R.I.P. (David Stockman)
Optimism of US Manufacturers “Plunged” the Most Ever (WS)
US Planning To Open “Third Front” In China Trade Spat (ZH)
US Cuts Off China’s ZTE From American Tech for Seven Years (BBG)
China Industrial Output, Investment Growth Miss Expectations (R.)
Is Tesla The Next Enron? (MW)
Tesla Puts the Brakes on Model 3 Production Line (BBG)
Facebook’s Next Big Headache: Europe (Axios)
Facebook Hit With Class Action Suit Over Facial Recognition Tool (AFP)
US Freight Expenditures Surge 15.6% from Year Ago (WS)
US and UK Blame Russia For ‘Malicious’ Cyber-Offensive (G.)
One In Three UK Millennials Will Never Own A Home (G.)
Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (G.)
More Than 95% Of World’s Population Breathe Dangerous Air (G.)

 

 

Debt has grown everywhere. Ever less is needed to make it pop.

How Libor’s Surge Will Help Pop The Global Bubble (Colombo)

As the world’s most important benchmark interest rate, approximately $10 trillion worth of loans and $350 trillion worth of derivatives use the Libor as a reference rate. Libor-based corporate loans are very prevalent in emerging economies, which is helping to inflate the emerging markets bubble that I am warning about. In Asia, for example, Libor is used as the reference rate for nearly two-thirds of all large-scale corporate borrowings. Considering this fact, it is no surprise that credit and asset bubbles are ballooning throughout Asia, as my report on Southeast Asia’s bubble has shown.

Like other benchmark interest rates, when the Libor is low, it means that loans are inexpensive, and vice versa. As with the U.S. Fed Funds Rate, Libor rates were cut to record low levels during the 2008-2009 financial crisis in order to encourage more borrowing and concomitant economic growth. Unfortunately, economic booms that are created via central bank manipulation of borrowing costs are typically temporary bubble booms rather than sustainable, organic economic booms. When central banks raise borrowing costs as an economic cycle matures, the growth-driving bubbles pop, leading to a bear market, financial crisis, and recession.

Similar to the U.S. Fed Funds Rate, the Libor has been rising for the last several years as central banks raise interest rates. While rising interest rates haven’t popped the major global bubbles just yet, it’s just a matter of time before they start to bite.

While most economists and financial journalists view the rising Libor as part of a normal business cycle, I’m quite alarmed due to my awareness of just how much our global economic recovery and boom is predicated on ultra-low interest rates. With global debt up 42% or over $70 trillion since the Global Financial Crisis, interest rates do not need to rise nearly as high as they were in 2007 and 2008 to cause a massive crisis.

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What could have been. Excellent piece.

America First – R.I.P. (David Stockman)

When the Cold War officially ended in 1991, Washington could have pivoted back to the pre-1914 status quo ante. That is, to a national security policy of America First because there was literally no significant military threat left on the planet. Post-Soviet Russia was an economic basket case that couldn’t even meet its military payroll and was melting down and selling the Red Army’s tanks and artillery for scrap. China was just emerging from the Great Helmsman’s economic, political and cultural depredations and had embraced Deng Xiaoping proclamation that “to get rich is glorious”. The implications of the Red Army’s fiscal demise and China’s electing the path of export mercantilism and Red Capitalism were profound.

Russia couldn’t invade the American homeland in a million years and China chose the route of flooding America with shoes, sheets, shirts, toys and electronics. So doing, it made the rule of the communist elites in Beijing dependent upon keeping the custom of 4,000 Wal-Marts in America, not bombing them out of existence. In a word, god’s original gift to America—the great moats of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans—had again become the essence of its national security. After 1991, therefore, there was no nation on the planet that had the remotest capability to mount a conventional military assault on the U.S. homeland; or that would not have bankrupted itself attempting to create the requisite air and sea-based power projection capabilities—a resource drain that would be vastly larger than even the $700 billion the US currently spends on its global armada.

Indeed, in the post-cold war world the only thing the US needed was a modest conventional capacity to defend the shorelines and airspace against any possible rogue assault and a reliable nuclear deterrent against any state foolish enough to attempt nuclear blackmail. Needless to say, those capacities had already been bought and paid for during the cold war. The triad of minutemen ICBMs, Trident SLBMs (submarines launched nuclear missiles) and long-range stealth bombers cost only a few ten billions annually for operations and maintenance and were more than adequate for the task of deterrence.

Likewise, conventional defense of the U.S. shoreline and airspace against rogues would not require a fraction of today’s 1.3 million active uniformed force—to say nothing of the 800,000 additional reserves and national guard forces and the 765,000 DOD civilians on top of that. Rather than funding 2.9 million personnel, the whole job of national security under a homeland-based America First concept could be done with less than 500,000 military and civilian payrollers. In fact, much of the 475,000 US army could be eliminated and most of the Navy’s carrier strike groups and power projection capabilities could be mothballed. So, too, the air force’s homeland defense missions could be accomplished for well less than $50 billion per annum compared to the current $145 billion.

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New York Fed report.

Optimism of US Manufacturers “Plunged” the Most Ever (WS)

Something strange happened in the Empire State Manufacturing Survey released by the New York Fed this morning. The survey has two headline components: The index for current conditions and the index for future conditions six months down the road. The first index behaved reasonably well; the second index plunged the most ever. Executives are notoriously optimistic. In the survey, which goes back to 2001, expectations for future conditions are always higher than current conditions, and often by a big margin, even early on in the Financial Crisis before all heck was breaking loose. The index of future conditions reacts to events. For example, it spiked after Trump’s election. So today’s biggest plunge in survey history is a reaction to an event.

“Optimism tumbles,” the New York Fed’s report called it. And more emphatically: “Optimism about the six-month outlook plunged among manufacturing firms.” The headline index is based on a question about “general business conditions.” The sub-indices are based on questions about specific aspects of the manufacturing business, such as new orders, shipments, unfilled orders, employment, etc. [..] This chart shows the General Business Condition indices for current conditions (black line) and forward-looking conditions (blue line) with the plunge circled. The thin vertical red line indicates the last survey period before the November 2016 election:

The 25.8-point April plunge took the index from 44.1 points in March to 18.3 points in April, the largest monthly plunge ever. The second largest plunge (25.1 points) occurred in January 2016 as credit in the energy sector was freezing up and as the S&P 500 index was on its way to drop 19%. The third steepest plunge (24.3 points) occurred in January 2009, during the Financial Crisis. The chart below shows the month-to-month changes in the forward-looking general business conditions index:

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China doesn’t need US in cloud computing.

US Planning To Open “Third Front” In China Trade Spat (ZH)

In news that broke (conveniently, we should add) shortly after the market closed on Monday, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House is gearing up for what would be the third front in its nascent trade spat with China. As the paper points out, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is preparing a fresh trade complaint – again under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 – the same section of the trade act under which the US filed its complaint about China’s intellectual property abuses, aka the first salvo in the US’s trade war. This time, Lighthizer is aiming at China’s unfair restrictions on US companies trying to establish a foothold in China in high-tech industries like cloud computing.

As a general rule, China requires foreign firms to partner with a domestic firm in a “revenue-sharing agreement” before they can gain entry to the Chinese market. By comparison, the US allows Chinese firms like Alibaba to function almost totally unfettered. To be sure, Lighthizer has yet to decide whether to go ahead with the complaint, leaving the tariffs on steel and aluminum and the investigation into IP abuses as the only concrete actions that the White House has taken to hold China accountable for what Trump has described as decades of abuses on trade (threatening to impose tariffs on $150 billion in goods doesn’t count).

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“All hell breaks loose..”

US Cuts Off China’s ZTE From American Tech for Seven Years (BBG)

The U.S. government said Chinese telecommunications-gear maker ZTE Corp. violated the terms of a sanctions settlement and imposed a seven-year ban on purchases of crucial American technology needed to keep it competitive. The Commerce Department determined ZTE, which was previously fined for shipping telecommunication equipment to Iran and North Korea, subsequently paid full bonuses to employees who engaged in the illegal conduct, failed to issue letters of reprimand and lied about the practices to U.S. authorities, the department said. “Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the statement.

“This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.” The ZTE rebuke adds to U.S.-China tensions over trade between the world’s two biggest economies. President Donald Trump threatened tariffs on $150 billion in Chinese imports for alleged violations of intellectual property rights, while Beijing vowed to retaliate on everything from American soybeans to planes. Trump on Monday accused China along with Russia of devaluing their currencies, opening a new front in his argument that foreign governments are exploiting the U.S. China’s Ministry of Commerce rapidly responded to the ZTE ban, saying it would take necessary measures to protect the interests of Chinese businesses.

It said the Shenzhen-based company has cooperated with hundreds of U.S. companies and contributed to the country’s job creation. For ZTE itself, the latest U.S. action means one of the world’s top makers of smartphones and communications gear will no longer be able to buy technology from American suppliers, including components central to its products. ZTE has purchased chips from Qualcomm and Intel, and optical components from Acacia Communications and Lumentum. A seven-year ban would effectively cover a critical period during which the world’s telecoms carriers and suppliers are developing and rolling out fifth-generation wireless technology. “All hell breaks loose,” wrote Edison Lee and Timothy Chau, analysts at Jefferies, after the export ban was announced.

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But what to believe of the numbers?

China Industrial Output, Investment Growth Miss Expectations (R.)

China’s industrial output grew 6.0% in March from a year earlier, missing expectations, while fixed-asset investment growth slowed to 7.5% in the first quarter, also below forecasts, data showed on Tuesday. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted industrial output growth would cool to 6.2% from 7.2% in the first two months of the year. Investment growth had also been expected to ease, to 7.6% in the first three months of the year, from 7.9% in January-February. Private-sector fixed-asset investment rose 8.9% in January-March, compared with an increase of 8.1% in the first two months, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday.

Private investment accounts for about 60% of overall investment in China. Retail sales rose 10.1% in March from a year earlier, beating expectations of an increase of 9.9%, compared with a rise of 9.7% in the first two months. The government has set an economic growth target of around 6.5% this year, the same goal as in 2017. Actual growth last year came in much stronger at 6.9%, due largely to an infrastructure-led construction boom, resurgent exports and record bank lending.

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Causation, correlation.

Is Tesla The Next Enron? (MW)

There’s more than enough to get distracted by — and be nervous about — over the next few days, but judging from the upbeat premarket action on Monday, investors aren’t exactly scrambling around to load up on risk-off assets. Geopolitics aside, hope abounds that the next leg up could be fueled by what corporate leaders have to say this week regarding their quarterly results. “It is still early in the earnings season, and as we hear from the CEOs we will find out if the market will refocus on fundamentals and away from the macro news,” says Jill Carey Hall, equity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Tesla however, doesn’t report its results for a while. Until then, you can expect the FUD to keep flying as the haters tangle with the Musk faithful — and Musk himself — over where the company is ultimately headed. Count Harris Kupperman of Praetorian Capital among those outspoken bears, and, just like renowned short-seller Jim Chanos did late last year, he recently compared Tesla to one of the biggest fails Wall Street’s ever seen — Enron. He used this overlay, our chart of the day, to illustrate his prediction:

Elon Musk relishes the opportunity to return fire at his critics, like when he recently threw shade at the Economist for questioning Tesla’s stability. That hardly convinced Kupperman. “He hasn’t hit on any target or deliverable with any sort of reliability for years now. Why should I believe him now?” he writes. “Remember in 2016 when he said they’d be profitable and didn’t need any more money? Or when they said that in 2017? He’ll probably be saying the same thing at the bankruptcy hearing.”

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“Traditional automakers adjust bottlenecks on the fly during a launch..” “This is totally out of the ordinary.”

Tesla Puts the Brakes on Model 3 Production Line (BBG)

Tesla is temporarily suspending production of the Model 3 sedan for at least the second time in roughly two months, just after Elon Musk admitted to mistakes that hindered his most important car. The company informed employees that the pause will last four to five days, Buzzfeed reported Monday. A Tesla spokesman referred back to a statement provided last month, when Bloomberg News first reported that Model 3 production was idled from Feb. 20 to 24. The carmaker said then that it planned periods of downtime at both its vehicle and battery factories to improve automation and address bottlenecks. The hiatus is another setback for the first model Musk has tried to mass-manufacture.

In addition to trying to bring electric vehicles to the mainstream, the chief executive officer had sought to build a competitive advantage over established automakers by installing more robots to quickly produce vehicles. Last week, he acknowledged “excessive” automation at Tesla was a mistake. “Traditional automakers adjust bottlenecks on the fly during a launch,” Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacfic Inc., said in an email. “This is totally out of the ordinary.” Tesla employees are expected to use vacation days or stay home without pay during the Model 3 downtime, though a small number may be offered paid work elsewhere at the factory in Fremont, California, Buzzfeed reported.

The shutdown is taking place a week after Musk gave CBS This Morning a tour of Tesla’s assembly plant and said the company should be able to sustain producing 2,000 Model 3 sedans a week. He said manufacturing issues that had been crimping output were being resolved and that Tesla probably will make three or four times as many of the cars in the second quarter. Tesla built 9,766 Model 3 sedans in the first quarter. The company said in an April 3 statement that the process of boosting production and addressing bottlenecks during the first three months of the year included “several short factory shutdowns to upgrade equipment.”

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Will Zuck ‘honor’ the invitation. Looks like he may have to.

Facebook’s Next Big Headache: Europe (Axios)

The risk to Facebook’s business coming out of last week’s Mark Zuckerberg hearings is minimal. The threat to its business in the EU, where aggressive regulation has already passed, is massive. The latest: The European Parliament has issued a second invitation to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear at a joint committee heating. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova had a phone exchange with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urging Zuckerberg to pay the Parliament a visit, according to the Associated Press. “I expect that Mr Zuckerberg will take this invitation because I believe that face-to-face communication and being available for such communication will be a good sign that Mr. Zuckerberg understands the European market,” Jourova told CNBC Friday.

“Facebook has more active users in Europe than in the US,” tweeted parliament member Guy Verhofstadt. “We expect Mark Zuckerberg to come to the European Parliament and explain how he will make sure Facebook respects [the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation].” Facebook spent more than $2.5 million on its in-house lobbying in Europe last year, according to disclosure records. The company says that a total of 15 staff are involved in its EU lobbying efforts. European regulation was a prime topic of discussion even during Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings last week. Sandberg visited Brussels in January to discuss Facebook’s commitment to privacy and compliance with Europe’s new sweeping privacy rules.

Facebook faces several very real threats to its business model in Europe this spring.

• GDPR: The sweeping General Data Protection Regulation will go into effect in late May, putting in place strict new privacy rules. U.S. tech firms face punitive fines if they do not comply.
• ePrivacy: An updated version of the EU’s ePrivacy directive, which is set to go in effect in conjunction with GDPR in May 2018, will add greater regulation of data tracking through cookies and users’ ability to opt-out of data collection.
• Antitrust: Facebook was fined by EU antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager last May for allegedly misleading officials when it acquired WhatsApp. She signaled to reporters in Washington last week that she’s still keeping an eye on the social giant, but noted that the European government has no official stance on whether the company is a monopoly. She said a German probe and new data rules could mitigate some concerns about Facebook’s power.

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When your defense is that others did it too, you’re not winning.

Facebook Hit With Class Action Suit Over Facial Recognition Tool (AFP)

A US federal judge in California ruled Monday that Facebook will have to face a class action suit over allegations it violated users’ privacy by using a facial recognition tool on their photos without their explicit consent. The ruling comes as the social network is snared in a scandal over the mishandling of 87 million users’ data ahead of the 2016 US presidential election. The facial recognition tool, launched in 2010, suggests names for people it identifies in photos uploaded by users – a function which the plaintiffs claim runs afoul of Illinois state law on protecting biometric privacy. Judge James Donato ruled the claims by Illinois residents Nimesh Patel, Adam Pezen, and Carlo Licata were “sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis.

“Consequently, the case will proceed with a class consisting of Facebook users located in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011,” he said, according to the ruling seen by AFP. A Facebook spokeswoman told AFP the company was reviewing the decision, adding: “We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously.” Facebook also contends it has been very open about the tool since its inception and allows users to turn it off and prevent themselves from being suggested in photo tags. The technology was suspended for users in Europe in 2012 over privacy fears.

Also on Monday, Facebook confirmed that it collected information from people beyond their social network use. “When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account,” product management director David Baser said in a post on the social network’s blog. Baser said “many” websites and apps use Facebook services to target content and ads, including via the social network’s Like and Share buttons, when people use their Facebook account to log into another website or app and Facebook ads and measurement tools. But he stressed the practice was widespread, with companies such as Google and Twitter also doing the same.

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We’re booming.

US Freight Expenditures Surge 15.6% from Year Ago (WS)

Shipment volumes in the US by truck, rail, air freight, and barge combined surged 11.9% year-over-year in March, according to the Cass Freight Index. This pushed the index, which is not seasonally adjusted, to its highest level for any month since 2007 and for any March since 2006:

After the US transportation recession in 2015 and 2016, the industry was recovering at an every faster pace. In the chart above, note how the red line (2017) outpaced the black line (2016). And 2018 has turned into a transportation boom. March is normally still in the slow part of the year, but this March blew past even June 2014, the banner month since the Financial Crisis! “Volume has continued to grow at such a pace that capacity in most modes has become extraordinarily tight,” Cass explained. “In turn, pricing power has erupted in those modes.” The chart below shows the year-over-year percentage changes in the index for shipment volumes. Note the double-digits spikes over the past three months:

The index, which is based on $25 billion in annual freight transactions, according to Cass Information Systems, covers all modes of transportation — rail, truck, barge, and air — for consumer packaged goods, food, automotive, chemical, OEM, and heavy equipment but not bulk commodities, such as oil, coal, or grains. This kind of surge in volume has consequences in this cyclical business. During the “transportation recession,” orders for heavy Class 8 trucks collapsed, triggering lay-offs and throughout the truck and engine manufacturing industry. The opposite is now the case: Orders for heavy trucks are hitting records.

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Yeah, it’s a vulnerable system we’ve built. And that goes for all sides.

US and UK Blame Russia For ‘Malicious’ Cyber-Offensive (G.)

The cyberwar between the west and Russia has escalated after the UK and the US issued a joint alert accusing Moscow of mounting a “malicious” internet offensive that appeared to be aimed at espionage, stealing intellectual property and laying the foundation for an attack on infrastructure. Senior security officials in the US and UK held a rare joint conference call to directly blame the Kremlin for targeting government institutions, private sector organisations and infrastructure, and internet providers supporting these sectors. Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, set out a range of actions the US could take such as fresh sanctions and indictments as well as retaliating with its own cyber-offensive capabilities. “We are pushing back and we are pushing back hard,” he said.

Joyce stressed the offensive could not be linked to Friday’s raid on Syria. It was not retaliation for the US, UK and French attack as the US and UK had been investigating the cyber-offensive for months. Nor, he said, should the decision to make public the cyber-attack be seen as a response to events in Syria. Joyce was joined in the call by representatives from the FBI, the US Department of Homeland Security and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of the surveillance agency GCHQ.

The US and UK, in a joint statement, said the cyber-attack was aimed not just at the UK and US but globally. “Specifically, these cyber-exploits were directed at network infrastructure devices worldwide such as routers, switches, firewalls, network intrusion detection system,” it said. “Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations. “The current state of US and UK network devices, coupled with a Russian government campaign to exploit these devices, threatens our respective safety, security, and economic wellbeing.”

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That’s a lot of potential clients you’re missing out on. And potential loans to issue.

One In Three UK Millennials Will Never Own A Home (G.)

One in three of will never own their own home, with many forced to live and raise families in insecure privately rented accommodation throughout their lives, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation. In a gloomy assessment of the housing outlook for approximately 14 million 20- to 35-year-olds, the thinktank’s intergenerational commission said half would be renting in their 40s and that a third could still be doing so by the time they claimed their pensions. It predicted an explosion in the housing benefits bill once the millennial generation reaches retirement.

“This rising share of retiree renters, coupled with an ageing population, could more than double the housing benefit bill for pensioners from £6.3bn today to £16bn by 2060 – highlighting how everyone ultimately pays for failing to tackle Britain’s housing crisis,” the report read. It calls for a radical overhaul of the private rented sector, proposing a three-year cap on rent increases, which would not be allowed to rise by more than the consumer price index, currently 2.5%. The report adds to a growing chorus of demands for rent stabilisation. Jeremy Corbyn called for rent control during his speech at the Labour party conferencelast year.

The Resolution Foundation wants “indeterminate” tenancies as the sole form of contract in England and Wales. These would replaced the standard six-month or 12-month contracts demanded by most landlords. The thinktank said this would follow , where open-ended tenancies began in December 2017, and is the standard practice in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Greater security of tenancy is vital as more families are raised in the private rented sector, the report said. The number of privately renting households with children has tripled from 600,000 in 2003 to 1.8m in 2016.

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How bad is it? “About 1 million plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe..”

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (G.)

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug. The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles.

“What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.” The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process. “What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest parts, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood. “It is incredibly resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific,” said McGeehan. “It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well.” However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be turned into opaque fibres for clothing or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a way to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

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Most intelligent species ever.

More Than 95% Of World’s Population Breathe Dangerous Air (G.)

More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly, a comprehensive study of global air pollution has found. Cities are home to an increasing majority of the world’s people, exposing billions to unsafe air, particularly in developing countries, but in rural areas the risk of indoor air pollution is often caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide faces the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out.

The report by the Health Effects Institute used new findings such as satellite data and better monitoring to estimate the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This exposure has made air pollution the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking, and the greatest environmental health risk. Experts estimate that exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6m deaths worldwide last year, playing a role in increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. China and India accounted for more than half of the death toll.

Burning solid fuel such as coal or biomass in their homes for cooking or heating exposed 2.6 billion people to indoor air pollution in 2016, the report found. Indoor air pollution can also affect air quality in the surrounding area, with this effect contributing to one in four pollution deaths in India and nearly one in five in China. Bob O’Keefe, vice-president of the institute, said the gap between the most polluted air on the planet and the least polluted was striking. While developed countries have made moves to clean up, many developing countries have fallen further behind while seeking economic growth.

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Apr 152018
 
 April 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


 

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)
To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)
Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)
New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)
Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)
247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)
Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)
World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)
‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)
Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

 

 

Curiouser. You’d think Russia doesn’t just make up an entire Swiss lab.

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)

Moscow on Saturday accused the chemical weapons watchdog of manipulating the results of its investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy, saying his samples had traces of a nerve agent used by the west. Britain says former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were last month targeted with a nerve agent of the novichok family, which was developed in the Soviet Union. The attack shredded ties between Russia and Britain and led to a crisis in relations between Moscow and the west including a huge wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said it confirmed “the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical” without naming the substance involved.

On Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed the UN-linked Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had sent the Skripals’ biomedical samples to Swiss experts who found they contained traces of the nerve agent BZ, used by the west. “According to the results of the examination, the samples had traces of toxic chemical BZ and its precursors,” Lavrov said, citing what he said was “confidential information”. “Russia and the USSR never developed such chemical substances,” he said. “In this regard we are asking the OPCW why the information which reflected the conclusions of specialists from the Spiez laboratory was completely omitted from the final document.”

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Not a discussion we should leave up to Facebook. Or Congress.

To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of person has never been on Facebook? I’d like to tell you it was all about privacy, but the truth is, I just had a bad feeling about it. You see, I went to Cambridge, so I was one of the first to get the chance to join what you insist on calling your “community.” And almost instantly, it was clear that it turned people into wankers. (Bigger wankers. This was Cambridge, after all.) If I remember correctly, in the early days everyone was desperate to have a higher friend count. Then it was obsessive tagging in photos. Yes, even in its earliest days, your system brought out the worst in people.

It’s not easy, not being on Facebook. At first, it was the parties. At a certain point, people stopped sending email invites. They just assumed you were on Facebook – and, if you weren’t, you didn’t find out. I’m 35 now, so I don’t get invited to parties, unless they’re for small children. Instead, I miss out on work, because I can’t contact people or share my articles. When you finally make journalism pivot to Facebook Groups, I’ll be completely screwed. I considered joining many times. But every time I aired the thought, I got the same reaction: “Don’t! It’s the worst!” I wasn’t sure if I remembered this correctly, so I called a few people to check. All agreed: they hate your service, but they have to use it, because everyone else does. (One person objected. She works in your London office.)

Every other social network, even Twitter, has a core of fans that genuinely wish it well. You’re the sole exception. Then I got into tech, and privacy, and data protection, and I learned that you were throttling internet freedoms in developing countries, and letting random strangers see your users’ most intimate details, so I started becoming one of those paranoid people who uses a VPN all the time, and puts a scrap of torn-off Post-It note on their laptop camera. Just like you! But you probably knew all this about me anyway. Which brings me back to my question. In your testimony to Congress, you said: “Anyone can turn off or opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.”

But, as you should know, while that’s possible for someone on Facebook, for me, a non-Facebook user, it’s not. Your illegal trackers follow me across 30 per cent of the internet, building a “shadow profile” you store in a nonanonymised format in your “Hive” analysis database. You claim to do it “for security purposes” (let me tell you, if Facebook’s security requires you to surveil the world’s population, then you have made a desert and called it peace). But reporters – and people who used to work in your advertising team – say the information is collected to improve the friend suggestions you’ll give me in case I do ever sign up. It’s one more growth hack on a whole site of them.

What can I do to stop you? I’ve installed tracker blockers on my browser, but, since you killed the media business, a lot of my favourite sites make me disable them. And your trackers work in the apps on my phone. Unless I go full tin-foil hat (and it’s tempting), you’ve basically left me with one option. To opt out of Facebook’s tracking, I’m going to have to join Facebook. So yeah: fuck you. Because, of course, this is exactly your plan. Forcing people onto Facebook is what you’re all about.

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“..that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.”

Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)

I visited my first auto plant in 1992, and have been fortunate enough to visit plants in most countries where cars are made. I have seen workers sleeping under half-finished bodies in Brazil, seen employees trying to make doors fit by using rubber hammers at a now-closed Ford facility in New Jersey and, noted, that, yes, they do have beer in the vending machines at many German auto factories. To see a rack of die castings sitting outside exposed to the weather at a facility that is, according to Google Maps, 10.7 miles away from the actual Tesla assembly facility in Fremont is just mind-boggling. Tesla is the worst car manufacturer in the developed world. Bar none. Note that I didn’t write “designer” or “marketer,” but manufacturer.

Musk had zero auto industry experience when founding Tesla and CTO J.T. Straubel—who according to Tesla’s 10-K filing personally holds Tesla’s important patents—developed a love for electric vehicles by rebuilding golf carts. It’s just astounding to me that the markets are affording a $50 billion valuation to a company that can’t perform the most basic task for which it was incorporated. Famed VW purchasing chief José Ignacio López de Arriortúa famously walked into a plant and repeatedly pointed at boxes of yet-to-be-used parts and yelled the word “capital.” When capital is tied up in byzantine manufacturing processes that stunts the development of cash flow. It’s all connected. This is why Tesla has such dire cash flow problems.

This is why I believe—sorry, Elon—Tesla is going to have to issue equity this year. My favorite automotive mantra is “quality is designed in.” That’s the most damning piece of information in the CNBC article, actually, more damning than the pictures of parts racks. Here is the quote: “Current and former employees from the company’s Fremont, Calif. and Sparks, Nevada factories blame Tesla for spending less time to vet suppliers than is typical in auto manufacturing. These people said the company failed to comprehensively test “variance specs” with some vendors before embarking on Model 3 production.”

Tesla has cut corners in building up to current production, and published reports this week indicated Tesla was alerting suppliers of an incredibly fast 19-month design-to-job one timetable on the upcoming Model Y crossover. So, it would seem corner-cutting is continuing, and that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.

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He better hope he wins this one.

New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)

A new securities class action lawsuit filed in late March 2018, which names Elon Musk as a defendant, alleges that the Tesla CEO knew that the Model 3 was not going to be able to be produced as the rates he claimed – and that the company was not going to be able to meet production goals due to – get this – the production lines not even being assembled. The lawsuit alleges that this didn’t prevent Elon Musk from going out and telling the investing public otherwise, hence the allegation of securities fraud. First, the allegation that Musk was told by his own employees that the Model 3 couldn’t be mass produced by the end of 2017, which was the company’s stated goal.

Then, after claiming in May 2017 that the company was “on track” to meet its mass production goal, it’s alleged the company hadn’t even finished building its production lines, clearly meaning it wasn’t “on track”. The lawsuit alleges that Musk knew the line was “way behind”. The suit alleges that the company was building Model 3’s by hand at a “pilot shop” at the same time Tesla claimed to be on track for “mass production”; it also claims that it was “evident to anyone who visited the facility” – including Elon Musk – that the line wasn’t built and that “construction workers were spending most of their shifts sitting around with nothing to do”. We also read in the lawsuit that Tesla’s Gigafactory, at the time in question, was allegedly capable of producing only one battery pack per day – and that the production of one battery pack took “two shifts” to complete.

The suit alleges that the company’s former CFO, Jason Wheeler – who is one of more than 50 key executives and VPs to have left the company over the last half decade or so – told Elon Musk personally that they wouldn’t be able to mass produce by the end of 2017. The entire lawsuit is available at this link and some of the most interesting content was first shared by critics of the company on Twitter. The drumbeat of accountability for Elon Musk continues to pound louder and louder as each day progresses, with some analysts calling for the SEC to investigate him if the company doesn’t meet its stated cash flow positive and “no capital raise” guidance for the back end of 2018.

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Got to find the last sucker.

Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)

They were blamed for the biggest financial disaster in a century. Subprime mortgages – home loans to borrowers with sketchy credit who put little to no skin in the game. Following the epic housing crash, they disappeared, due to strong, new regulation, and zero demand from investors who were badly burned. Barely a decade later, they’re coming back with a new name — nonprime — and, so far, some new standards. California-based Carrington Mortgage Services, a midsized lender, just announced an expansion into the space, offering loans to borrowers, “with less-than-perfect credit.” Carrington will originate and service the loans, but it will also securitize them for sale to investors.

“We believe there is actually a market today in the secondary market for people who want to buy nonprime loans that have been properly underwritten,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of ninja lending, when people with no jobs, no income, and no assets were getting loans.” Sharga said Carrington will manually underwrite each loan, assessing the individual risks. But it will allow its borrowers to have FICO credit scores as low as 500. The current average for agency-backed mortgages is in the mid-700s. Borrowers can take out loans of up to $1.5 million on single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums.

They can also do cash-out refinances, where borrowers tap extra equity in their homes, up to $500,000. Recent credit events, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of late payments are acceptable. All loans, however, will not be the same for all borrowers. If a borrower is higher risk, a higher down payment will be required, and the interest rate will likely be higher. “What we’re talking about is underwriting that goes back to common sense sort of practices. If you have risk, you offset risk somewhere else,” added Sharga, while touting, “We probably are going to have the widest range of products for people with challenging credit in the marketplace.”

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It’s not about people, it’s about money. Fundamental flaw.

247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)

There’s a hidden city in the five boroughs. Though its permanent population is zero, it is growing faster than any other neighborhood. Early numbers from the Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy Survey show the unoccupied city has ballooned by 65,406 apartments since 2014, an astonishing 35% jump in size in the three years since the last survey. Today, 247,977 units — equivalent to more than 11% of all rental apartments in New York City — sit either empty or scarcely occupied, even as many New Yorkers struggle to find an apartment they can afford. The Vacant City — let’s call it that, with a tip of the hat to the 1948 movie and old TV series “Naked City” — has tripled in 30 years.

A generation ago, there were just 72,051 apartments in the Vacant City. Back in 1987, when rents were cheap by today’s standards at a median $395 a month, the Vacant City made up less than 4% of rental apartments. Today, the median rent is $1,450, having risen twice as fast as inflation, even while the Vacant City tripled in size. The numbers just don’t add up the way conventional wisdom said they should. For years, development officials, the real estate industry and think tanks have told us that artificially low rents are holding the city back. Higher rents, the argument went, would free landlords to make a reasonable amount of money and serve as an incentive to increase the housing supply.

The new Census gleanings finally put the lie to that reasoning. We have higher prices for sure — but the only part of the city’s residential real estate that has grown is the Vacant City. More apartments are being held off the market than ever. Some remain vacant for legitimate reasons. Almost 28,000 of those unused units have been rented or sold but not yet occupied, or are awaiting a sale. Almost 80,000 are getting renovated, 9,600 tied up in court, and 12,700 vacant because the owner is ill or elderly or simply can’t be bothered. But that still leaves more than 100,000 units — 74,945 occupied temporarily or seasonally, and 27,009 held off the market for unexplained reasons.

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Shell, Exxon, they’ve all known all along. But they have lots of power.

Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)

A Massachusetts judge has ruled that ExxonMobil cannot stop a probe into whether the oil giant misled shareholders for decades about the dangers of climate change and its impact on their business. The judge, in a Friday ruling, found that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has grounds to pursue its civil investigation into the matter even though Exxon is not technically an in-resident corporation. The judgement follows after a federal judge in New York dismissed a similar lawsuit aimed at ending the climate change probe late last month. In that lawsuit, Exxon argued that Ms Healey and her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, were pursuing their climate probes in bad faith. The judge dismissed the argument as “implausible”.

“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts. In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has authority to investigate,” Ms Healey said in a statement following the decision. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts — and people everywhere — deserve answers.” New York and Massachusetts first began their climate change probes after news reports in 2015 found that Exxon had known for years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to combat climate change impacts, but did not reveal those concerns to shareholders or the public.

Exxon has denied that their public policies were in any way inconsistent with what their scientists’ findings that climate change poses a serious risk to its business and to the environment.

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It’s used to be 2100. Now it’s 2030.

World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal. In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate. The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today. An average global temperature increase of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) will bring catastrophic changes — even as compared against a change of 1.5° C (2.7° F). “Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater,” with just that half-degree difference, NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a 2016 post about climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was leaked this January, concludes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that the world will keep to a 1.5° change, estimating that the world will cross that threshold in roughly 20 years, somewhat slower than Ingraffea’s presentation concludes.

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Hawking’s successor.

‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”. Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

Rovelli’s field of loop theory, or loop quantum gravity, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops. String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravity work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the point; being part of the conversation is the point. And anyway, “If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who made most mistakes, it’s still Einstein.”

How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”. For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception.

We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics. Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things.

Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

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Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time.

Why do things fall? Because “..the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly..”

Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

Reality is often very different from what it seems. The Earth appears to be flat but is in fact spherical. The sun seems to revolve in the sky when it is really we who are spinning. Neither is time what it seems to be. Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces that can be bought today for a few thousand pounds. This slowing down can be detected between levels just a few centimetres apart: a clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table. It is not just the clocks that slow down: lower down, all processes are slower. Two friends separate, with one of them living in the plains and the other going to live in the mountains.

They meet up again years later: the one who has stayed down has lived less, aged less, the mechanism of his cuckoo clock has oscillated fewer times. He has had less time to do things, his plants have grown less, his thoughts have had less time to unfold … Lower down, there is simply less time than at altitude. Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them, just as a body immersed in water displaces the water around it. This modification of the structure of time influences in turn the movement of bodies, causing them to “fall” towards each other.

What does it mean, this “modification of the structure of time”? It means precisely the slowing down of time described above: a mass slows down time around itself. The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. It does so more in the plains and less in the mountains, because the plains are closer to it. This is why the friend who stays at sea level ages more slowly. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float. Here on the surface of our planet, on the other hand, the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly, as when we run down the beach into the sea and the resistance of the water on our legs makes us fall headfirst into the waves. Things fall downwards because, down there, time is slowed by the Earth.

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Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

 

 

Mar 312018
 
 March 31, 2018  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giotto Lamentation 1306

 

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)
How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)
Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)
Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)
ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)
UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)
Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)
China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)
China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)
Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

 

 

Again: look at dollar-denominated debt in the world. And then check interest rates. The dollar will be in great demand.

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)

What will finally pull the rug out from under the dollar’s hegemony? The euro? The Chinese yuan? Cryptocurrencies? The Greek drachma? Whatever it will be, and however fervently the death-of-the-dollar folks might wish for it, it’s not happening at the moment, according to the most recent data. The IMF just released its report, Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) for the fourth quarter 2017. It should be said that the IMF is very economical with what it discloses. The COFER data for the individual countries – the total level of their reserve currencies and what currencies they hold – is “strictly confidential.” But we get to look at the global allocation by currency.

In Q4 2017, total global foreign exchange reserves, including all currencies, rose 6.6% year-over-year, or by $709 billion, to $11.42 trillion, right in the range of the past three years (from $10.7 trillion in Q4 2016 to $11.8 trillion in Q3, 2014). For reporting purposes, the IMF converts all currency balances into dollars. Dollar-denominated assets among foreign exchange reserves rose 14% year-over-year in Q4 to $6.28 trillion, and are up 42% from Q4 2014. There is no indication that global central banks have lost interest in the dollar; on the contrary:

Over the decades, there have been some efforts to topple the dollar’s hegemony as a global reserve currency, which it has maintained since World War II. The creation of the euro was the most successful such effort. Back in the day, the euro was supposed to reach “parity” with the dollar on the hegemony scale. And it edged up for a while until the euro debt crisis derailed those dreams. And now there’s the ballyhooed Chinese yuan. Effective October 1, 2016, the IMF added it to its currency basket, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR). This anointed the yuan as a global reserve currency. But not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their foreign exchange reserves are allocated. In Q4, the allocation of 12.3% of the reserves hadn’t been disclosed.

These “unallocated reserves” have been plunging. Back in Q4 2014, they still accounted for 41% of total reserves. They’re plunging because more central banks report to the IMF their allocation of foreign exchange reserves, and the COFER data is getting more detailed. So among the 87.7% of the “allocated” reserve currencies in Q4 2017, the pie was split up this way, with changes since 2014: Disappointingly for many folks, the Chinese yuan – the thin red sliver in the pie chart above — didn’t exactly soar since its inclusion in the SDR basket. Its share ticked up by a minuscule amount to a minuscule share of 1.2% of allocated foreign exchange reserves in Q4. In other words, central banks seem to lack a certain eagerness, if you will, to hold yuan-denominated assets.

Read more …

Nobody has a clue why LIBOR rises, including whoever wrote this. A wild guess: $200 trillion?! It’s that dollar-denominated debt problem again.

How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)

[..] we have commented extensively on what may (or may not) be behind the Libor blow out: if as many claim, the move is a benign technicality and a temporary imbalance in money market supply and demand, largely a function of tax reform (including the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax) or alternatively of the $300BN surge in T-Bill supply in the past month, the Libor move should start fading. If it doesn’t, it will be time to get nervous. But no matter what the reason is behind the Libor move, the reality is that financial conditions are far tighter as a result of the sharp move higher in short-term rates in general, and Libor in particular, which for at least a few more years, remains the benchmark rate referenced by trillions in fixed income instruments.

Which brings us to a logical follow up question: ignoring the reasons behind the move, how does a higher Libor rate spread throughout the financial system, and related to that, how much notional debt is at risk of paying far higher interest expense, if only temporarily, resulting in even tighter financial conditions. For the answer, we look at the various ways that Libor, and short-term rates in general “channel” into the economy. Here, as JPMorgan explains, the key driver is and always has been monetary policy, which controls short-term rates, which affect the economy via various channels and pathways.

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45% feels like a lot.

Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)

Bitcoin is having a terrible first quarter, in fact the worst its ever seen. The price of the cryptocurrency has fallen from $13,412.44 on January 1 to $7,266.07 on March 30, marking a more than 45% decline, according to data from CoinDesk, a site which tracks the price of different digital coins. The quarter ends on Saturday. So far this quarter, $114.9 billion of market capitalization or value has been wiped off of bitcoin. The price decline this quarter is the biggest first quarter decline in bitcoin’s history. The previous biggest decline was a near 38% fall in the price in the first quarter of 2014, according to data from CoinDesk. It tracks the price of bitcoin back to the middle of 2010.

CNBC looked at bitcoin’s price performance in the first quarters of each year beginning in 2011. Bitcoin has recorded a decline in 5 of the 8 first quarters tracked, which includes the current 2018 Q1. The biggest price rise was a 599% surge in the price of bitcoin in the first quarter of 2013. Bitcoin saw a huge run up in price in 2017 and hit a record high above $19,000 towards the end of last year. But it has faced tougher regulatory scrutiny in 2018 and some of the air has come out of the market. At a G-20 meeting this month, Argentina’s central bank governor outlined a summer deadline for members to have “specific recommendations on what to do” and said task forces are working to submit proposals by July. Italy’s central bank leader told reporters after the meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that cryptocurrencies pose risks but should not be banned, according to Reuters.

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What’s the recall of 123,000 cars going to cost?

Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)

Tesla’s big stock drop this month will have negative implications for its ability to raise critically-needed funds, according to Wall Street analysts. The company’s shares declined 22% in March on concerns over a fatal car crash in California last week and worries over its Model 3 production rate. Tesla’s 5.3% bond, issued last August and maturing in 2025, also fell 4% to 87.25 cents Wednesday with a yield of 7.6%, according to FactSet. The bond’s price declined 8% this month. Morgan Stanley on Wednesday warned Tesla shareholders the stock’s fall could be a “self-fulfilling” prophecy for further declines.

“A lower share price begets a lower share price … For a company widely expected to continue to fund its strategy through external capital raises, a fall in the share price can take on a self-fulfilling nature that further exacerbates the volatility of the share price,” analyst Adam Jonas wrote. Jonas said the company needs to accelerate its rate of Model 3 production if it wants to raise funds at an attractive price for the company. “The precise timing of when Tesla can achieve a 2,500/week and then a 5,000/week production run-rate for its mass market sedan can make the difference between whether Tesla is potentially raising capital from a position of weakness at a price near our $175 bear case or whether it can access capital from a position of strength with a stock price near our $561 bull case,” he wrote.

Another financial firm is already pessimistic over Telsa’s Model 3 manufacturing capability. Moody’s downgraded Tesla’s credit ratings after the close Tuesday and changed the outlook to negative from stable, citing the “significant shortfall” in the Model 3 production rate and its tight financial situation. Tesla had $3.4 billion in cash or cash equivalents at year end 2017. The company lost nearly $2 billion last year and burned about $3.4 billion in cash after capital investments. Given the company’s cash burn rate and how it has $230 million of debt due in Nov. 2018 and another $920 million in Mar. 2019, Moody’s believes the company has to raise new capital soon.

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This is a week old, but we can’t repeat often enough how insane this is. Germany’s economy is supposedly soaring, but Draghi keeps saving its banks. “To boost inflation..” Bigger nonsense was never heard. Those banks are simply not doing well. But even then, let Germany solve the mess.

ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)

The European Central Bank will start buying bonds from a further seven state-owned German banks under its stimulus program, it said on Thursday, in a bid to avoid running out of debt to buy after three years of massive purchases. The seven regional banks, which include the Investitionsbank Berlin and Bavaria’s LFA Förderbank Bayern, join a small group of German development lenders whose debt the ECB has already been buying as part of its efforts to boost inflation. The move slightly enlarges the pool of German debt which the ECB can tap as part of its 2.55 trillion euro ($3.14 trillion) quantitative easing scheme, thereby pushing back a looming cap on owning more than a third of any one country’s public debt.

With euro zone inflation now comfortably above 1%, the ECB is widely expected to wind down its bond purchases this year and even start raising interest rates towards the middle of 2019. With Germany running a fiscal surplus, however, finding enough German bonds to buy has already become harder for the ECB, which has reduced its purchases of debt from Europe’s largest economy more than for other large countries in recent months. The ECB has set out to buy government bonds in proportion to the amount of capital that each country has paid into the central bank, which in turn depends on the size of its economy. Deviations from this so called “capital key”, however, have been substantial, with France, Italy and Spain enjoying oversized purchases while smaller countries such as Estonia and Portugal have fallen behind.

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And the whole time I’m thinking: why do they have so many people out there? What do they do all day long?

UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)

Russia has told Britain it must send home “just over 50” more of its diplomats in a worsening standoff with the West over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain and ejected 23 British diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. London says Moscow stood behind the attack, something Russia denies. British Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned again on Friday and told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters that meant Britain would have to cut “a little over 50” of its diplomats in Russia. “We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians,” said Zakharova. When asked if that meant London would have to bring home exactly 50 diplomats, she said: “A little over 50.”

Read more …

It doesn’t feel as if demanding internet access for Julian quite cuts it. He could be in much bigger trouble.

Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)

Electronic jammers have been placed inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to prevent WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange having access to the internet or social media, sources say. The Ecuadorian government took the measure on Tuesday evening, stopping Assange from tweeting, using the internet or phone. He has also been refused any visitors to the embassy, where he has been living since June 2012, believing he will be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. The measures follow the publication of an article in the Ecuadorian press concerning Assange’s tweets about the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany earlier this week.

In a phone call to Assange’s lawyer on Tuesday, an adviser to Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said the WikiLeaks founder must stop tweeting about the Catalan issue. He was also asked to erase a tweet which said: “In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.” Assange did not erase the tweet. His lawyer was told that a decision had been taken to isolate Assange by preventing him from communicating with the outside world and that this was “by order of the president”, say sources.

The serving Ecuadorian ambassador to Washington DC Francisco Carrion tweeted on Thursday: “The decision of the government of Ecuador to prevent Assange from tweeting is correct.” The Ecuador government said in a statement: “The government of Ecuador has suspended the systems that allow Julian Assange to communicate to the outside of the Ecuador embassy in London. “The measure was adopted due to Assange not complying with a written promise which he made with the government in late 2017, by which he was obliged not to send messages which entailed interference in relation to other states.” WikiLeaks sources said there was no such agreement.

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Who needs Orwell? Or Facebook, for that matter?! Only difference is China does it openly.

China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission. The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

Liu Hu, a 43-year-old journalist who lives in China’s Chongqing municipality, told the ABC he was “dumbstruck” to find himself caught up in the system and banned by airlines when he tried to book a flight last year. Mr Liu is on a “dishonest personnel” list — a pilot scheme of the SCS — because he lost a defamation lawsuit in 2015 and was asked by the court to pay a fine that is still outstanding according to the court record. “No one ever notified me,” Mr Liu, who claims he paid the fine, said. Like the other 7 million citizens deemed to be “dishonest” and mired in the blacklist, Mr Liu has also been banned from staying in a star-rated hotel, buying a house, taking a holiday, and even sending his nine-year-old daughter to a private school. And just last Monday, Chinese authorities announced they would also seek to freeze the assets of those deemed “dishonest people”.

As the national system is still being fully realised, dozens of pilot social credit systems have already been tested by local governments at provincial and city levels. For example, Suzhou, a city in eastern China, uses a point system where every resident is rated on a scale between 0 and 200 points — every resident starts from the baseline of 100 points. One can earn bonus points for benevolent acts and lose points for disobeying laws, regulations, and social norms. According to a 2016 report by local police, the top-rated Suzhou citizen had 134 points for donating more than one litre of blood and doing more than 500 hours of volunteer work. The city said the next step was to use the credit system to punish people for transgressions such as dodging transport fares, cheating in video games, and restaurant no-shows.

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Tried to make sense of this, several times. Still sounds entirely hollow.

China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)

China’s environment ministry has said the number of sources of pollution in the country has increased by more than half in less than a decade. Releasing preliminary results of an ongoing “environmental census”, China’s ministry of ecology and environment said the number of sources of pollution in the country stands at about 9m, compared to 5.9m in its first census, in 2010. “The objectives and scope of the second census is different from those of the first one,” said Hong Yaxiong, head of the pollution survey at the ministry, Thursday. “But overall, there are more pollution sources.” The census did not say whether pollution had increased but declines in airborne pollution in major cities have been recorded in other studies.

Hong said factories flouting emissions standards were the main problem. The ministry found 7.4m sources of industrial pollution, compared to a million in rural areas and 500,000 in urban locations. Five years ago, China declared a “war against pollution.” Since then, new coal plants have been barred from opening and existing ones have been ordered to cut emissions. Major cities restrict the number of cars allowed on the roads. This past winter, residents in Beijing were left without heat after their coal boilers were removed. As part of the campaign, officials this month expanded the powers of the country’s 10-year-old ministry of environmental protection to include water management, emissions reductions, agricultural pollution, and other duties previously managed by half a dozen other ministries.

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No, it’s not just the birds and the bees. Fish are gone too.

Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

Dolphins short on prey are resorting to underhand tactics to find a meal – tearing into nets to access the fish inside. Researchers studying interactions between dolphins and fishermen in northern Cyprus found nets were six times more prone to damage when dolphins were in the vicinity. They concluded that the marauding marine mammals were therefore the most likely culprits. “It seems that some dolphins may be actively seeking nets as a way to get food,” said Dr Robin Snape, an ecologist at the University of Exeter, who led the study. Net damage is irritating for the fishermen themselves, and can cost individuals thousands of euros every year. This is particularly problematic as most operations in the region are small scale.

However, the scientists suggested the fishermen must take some share of the blame, as overfishing in the region is a likely driver for the dolphins’ unusual behaviour. Dr Snape highlighted a “vicious cycle” that is “probably driven by falling fish stocks, which also result in low catches – meaning more nets are needed and higher costs for fishers”. “Effective management of fish stocks is urgently needed to address the overexploitation that is causing this vicious cycle,” he said.

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