Of course the notion of addressing Hong Kong has been in my mind for a while, but it’s a bit of a moving target: things change all the time, and seemingly on the fly. However, with today’s fresh developments, it seems silly to wait any longer. Hong Kong Civic party lawmaker Dennis Kwok yesterday expressed the reason way better than I could:
As I said time and again, the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong, and I would warn against any such move on the part of the central people’s government.”
He said that before today’s arrests -and subsequent release on bail- of a handful of alleged protest leaders Joshua Wong, Andy Chan, and Agnes Chow. Who, if you read between the lines, didn’t lead much of anything; they may be figure-heads, but that’s not the same thing. The protests are either lacking leaders or everyone’s a leader, depending on who you ask. So why arrest them to begin with? You tell me.
What I did find enlightening was Reuters’ report yesterday on Beijing having rejected Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (how is CEO a political function?) proposal to communicate with the protesters and perhaps allow some concessions to their demands. I know it’s only one source, but it appears quite feasible.
Carrie Lam is between a rock and a hard place, and she admits it -at least according to the Reuters piece-, though not to the protesters. Beijing is in exactly such a spot, but won’t admit it, ever. And that right there is Hong Kong’s main issue.
Earlier this summer, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory.
The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest. The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.”
Why the extradition bill, which would have allowed for people to be extradited from Hong Kong to the mainland was ever proposed, g-d only knows. Remember, the transfer of control over the city to China is still 28 years away. Why do it now? It was obvious all along it would meet with fierce resistance.
Blindness or blinders in the Politburo? Quite possible, it’s not as if those guys typically get out much. It’s just that they’re taking a giant risk, because as Dennis Kwok says, “the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong”. What he means, and Beijing surely understands, is the end of Hong Kong’s status as a trade and finance center.
Not a trifle matter for sure. Hong Kong has built that status over a long period -that happens in fields where trust is so crucial-, much like the City of London and Wall Street. You can break that down in no time, but you can’t rebuild the trust elsewhere in anywhere near that timeframe, it takes many years.
China has major plans to ‘move’ and/or ‘share’ Hong Kong’s financial and trade ‘qualities’ to/with neighboring Macau and Shenzhen, but it’s nowhere near ready to make that transition. Remember, Hong Kong has its own dollar, the HKD. That’s not going to move to the mainland, not even in 2047. China only have the yuan, which is quite useless for international trade and FX.
Alors, what are we going to do about it, guys? On the one side, you have Beijing, which tried to push through the extradition bill and got it thrown back in its face with interest. But Beijing is allergic to losing face. On the other side you have the protesters, who realize this is now or never, that if they give in now, their freedom(s) will never come back.
Two immovable entities, but Beijing seems to think they can move this, that they have the upper hand. Do they, though? 7.5 million people live in Hong Kong, a fair amount of whom are below the age of 10 or above the age of 75. So the 1.5 million that were already out on the streets in some of this year’s protests added up to a quarter of the population. That’s a lot of people.
Sending in troops would hurt China’s economy something real bad, because it would mean the end of the Hong Kong trade hub (corporations, banks, rich people would leave). And most of the population understand the now-or-never notion. I read somewhere that though 92% of the people are ‘Chinese’, only 11% call themselves that.
The vast majority ‘identifies’ as Hong Kongers. And (perceived) freedom is a big part of that. Many of those Hong Kongers are young and highly educated, salaries are high (finance sector), they can travel freely, study abroad. Those who are older are often the parents of these young people, who’ve worked very hard to give their kids these options.
There have been -and will be again- protests from groups of doctors, lawyers, finance professionals, you name it. They don’t want to run the risk of being picked off the streets by mainland Chinese soldiers OR by Hong Kong police forces instructed by Beijing.
When/If things get down to the wire, Hong Kongers will prove very much to be an immovable force. They have too much to lose not to be. They have, in their own view, everything to lose (which some people would translate as nothing to lose, but meaning the same). And they’re up against a Politburo that reacts to them like it’s never left the early 1900s.
This does not bode well for anyone, and if g-d forbid it comes down to serious fighting in the streets, it will bode ill for the entire world. Not only China depends on Hong Kong for much of its trade, the US and EU do, too, for their trade with China, from which they procure much of what is sold in their stores.
High time for everyone to sit down and talk. If there’s still time. The mass protest scheduled for tomorrow, August 31, may have been ‘officially’ called off, but there’s no proof Hong Kongers will stay home because of that. There IS proof of more military movements just across the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen, however.
Pre-emptively arresting and releasing a pair of 22-year-old kids may not do the job anymore for Beijing. But the Communist Party CCP thinks they cannot possibly lose. They may be wrong. 1.3 billion people is a mighty potential force, but it’s not always only about numbers. Sometimes it’s about now or never.
To me, personally, it feels like what is needed is for the CCP to modernize. But its very structure is set against that. It appears to be this inertia-laden colossus attempting to rule the 21st century with 100-year-old ideas. And yes, they’re talking about shutting down the internet in Hong Kong.
But that would mean shutting down the banks and trading houses too. As would sending in the tanks. According to the 1990s transition treaty signed with the UK, Beijing has until 2047 to fully incorporate Hong Kong. It may not go down smoothly then either, granted, but why push it today?
The West, the EU, UK, US -Putin even?!- can easily come up with a proposal for meetings on Hong Kong to be held over the next 28 years until 2047 that would allow Beijing to save face today. Let’s get it done, soon, win everyone involved some time, they all need it. We need it. And 28 years is plenty time. Before we inadvertently land in another Boxer War or Opium War or WWIII.
I’ve had a few comments lately wondering why I’m against Brexit, while before the referendum I was not. Someone even remembered I had been talking about Beautiful Brexit back in 2016. It’s real simple. Brexit could be, or could have been, a good idea. There’s a lot wrong with the way the European Union is set up. There’s nothing democratic about Germany always having the last say when it comes to important decisions. Slaughtering the entire nation of Greece on the altar of saving Deutsche and Commerzbank says it all.
But Brexit today is not the same -anymore- as it was before or during the June 23 2016 vote. What happened is that nothing happened. The Brits wasted two whole years and change, and the complexity of the process never allowed for that kind of delay. There are many thousands of pages of EU rules and regulations that not only has the UK been bound by over the past 45 years, but that have shaped its own society.
It’s not just that these ties have to be untangled, they have to be replaced by other rules and regulations. And no, the UK can’t just go back to what they had before 1973; too much water under the bridge, both domestically and internationally. Politically, the EU may be a disaster, but the single market is quite the achievement. And they’re not going to risk it by letting London cherry-pick the rules it likes while leaving others behind. It’s a package deal.
But that is what the Brits, or at least the Tories, appear to have counted on: cherry-picking. They still do. It’s going to be a cold shower. And obviously, they’re going to blame it all on the EU, but that’s neither true nor credible. Still, expect a huge blame campaign. They’re practicing on Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who the entire UK press including the BBC and Guardian, who are supposed to balance out the slew of Murdoch rags that shape opinion, started accusing of anti-semitism a few weeks ago.
It’s as concerted an effort as the D-Notice gag orders issued earlier this year in the novichok cases. And now that the few media outlets who once had some degree of independence start saying the same things as their smut peers, Brits can safely assume they have no press left that attempts to inform them. It’s now all a propaganda machine.
As for Jeremy Corbyn, one can feel sorry for him, but he doesn’t even try to defend himself. Needs to take some cues from Trump? Still, if Corbyn’s a jew hater, I’m Napoleon. There’s nothing in the man’s life that points to that. Just saying that Palestinians are not treated fairly doesn’t mean you hate Jews. That this has become the thread of the ‘discussion’ is an ominous sign.
How are Brits supposed to find out what’s happening in their own country, let alone the rest of the world? There’s no-one left to tell them who doesn’t subscribe to pre-gurgitated ideas and politics. So Theresa May can claim today they know who poisoned the Skripals, and threaten further sanctions against Russia, without sharing any proof with anyone. She can do that because there are no media left in Britain that will ask questions.
If no. 10 says the Russians did it, everyone reports that. If the Blair section of the Labour party says their own leader is an anti-Semite, everyone reports that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Huxley and Orwell were Brits. There is no proof needed anymore: the media will parrot anything the ‘authorities’ say.
Well, kiddo’s, enjoy it while you can, because Brexit is going to shatter that little controlled world of yours into very little pieces. Pretend won’t do it anymore after that. You will need proof for that one, in the form of actual food, and actual trade and jobs. And you won’t have those to offer.
Today, Bloomberg reports that both Germany and the UK are willing to accept less stringent conditions for Brexit, but after Brexit day, March 29 2019, goods can no longer move across borders the way they used to. Yes, there is a 21-month transition period, but British products will have to comply with ALL EU rules and laws to be sold to Europe, including Ireland. The same goes for products and services and people that move the opposite way. And in the meantime, the UK cannot close any trade deals with 3rd part countries that don’t comply with EU rules.
Taking control of the narrative(s), as has been the UK’s model, only gets you so far. Britain can trade with the EU, but it cannot simultaneously trade with the US under entirely different conditions. Likewise, London can let Polish people pick British fruits, but not without letting other Europeans work in Britain as well. These rules are broad, and there can be no exceptions, since 27 other countries will want them too.
Now, if only Britain had a press that would tell people what’s going on. It doesn’t. The press only parrots. And if only Jeremy Corbyn told his anti-Semitism accusers to shut up or be sued for libel, and unveil an actual alternative plan for how to do Brexit -or not-. Nobody’s seen any such plan, and Corbyn doesn’t say a thing.
The whole place is just swirling down the drain, watching silly weddings and cooking shows, sipping gin and dreaming of a lost empire nobody can actually remember anymore. And the pace of the swirling can be adapted a little, but no-one is trying to stop it from happening. Oh well, tragedy can be beautiful too.
Ilargi: Someone linked to this almost 8 year old article from Nicole (July 19 2010), on Twitter. And yes, it’s even more relevant now than it was when she wrote it. So here’s a re-run:
… the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 in the US, which drastically raised tariffs on imports, lead to retaliation by trading partners, and the resulting trade war dropped global trade by 66% between 1929 and 1934.
One more comment from me: Trump may be on to something with some of his tariff actions, but he risks having the US run headfirst into the brittleness of just-in-time supply lines.
Nicole Foss: As the world has become a smaller and smaller place over the last few decades, we think less about the differences between locations. Global trade has allowed us to circumvent many local constraints, evening out surpluses and shortages in a more homogenized world.
We have a just-in-time world built on comparative advantage, in the name of economic efficiency. Under this economic principle, every location should specialize in whatever activity it executes most efficiently and the resulting products from all areas would then be traded. The idea is that all will then be better off than they would have been had they attempted to cover all bases themselves for reasons of self-sufficiency.
Where countries had been inclined towards more expensive self-sufficiency, market forces have often made this approach untenable, as large cost differences can make countries or industries uncompetitive. Local production has been progressively out-sourced as a result.
By ‘better off’, economists mean that goods will be cheaper for all, thanks to global wage arbitrage and economies of scale. Globalization has indeed delivered falling prices for many consumer goods, particularly electronics. In an era of massive credit expansion (effectively inflation), such as we have lived through for decades, one would normally have expected prices to rise, as a lagging indicator of money supply expansion, but prices do not always follow money supply changes where other major complicating factors exist.
In recent years, the major complicating factors have been the ability to produce goods in places where wages are exceptionally low, the ability to transport those goods to consumer markets extremely cheaply and ready access to letters of credit.
For nominal prices (unadjusted for changes in the money supply) to fall during an inflationary period, real (inflation adjusted) prices must be going through the floor. This has been the effect of trade as we have known it, and it is all many of us have known. What we are not generally aware of is the vulnerability of the global trade system, due to the fragility of the critical factors underpinning it.
By producing goods, particularly essential goods, in distant locations, we create long and potentially precarious supply lines. While relative stability reigns, this vulnerability does not cause trouble and we enjoy cheap and plentiful goods. However, if these supply lines are disrupted, critical shortages could result. In a very complex just-in-time system, this may not take very long at all. Such as system is very brittle, as it has almost no redundancy, and therefore almost no resilience. When Jim Kunstler refers to efficiency as “the straightest path to hell”, it is this brittleness he is referring to.
The most ephemeral critical factor for trade is the availability of letters of credit. These became scarce during the first phase of the credit crunch in 2008, and the result was goods stuck in port even though there was robust demand for them elsewhere. Goods simply do not move without letters of credit, and these can dry up extremely quickly as a systemic loss of confidence results in a systemic loss of liquidity. In a very real way, confidence IS liquidity.
The Baltic Dry shipping index fell 96% in 2008 as a result, meaning that shipping companies were suffering. Although the index has recovered slightly during the recent long rally, it is still very depressed in comparison with its previous heights. Now that the rally appears to be over, on the balance of probabilities, letters of credit for shipping will come under renewed pressure, and goods will once again have difficulty moving. As demand also starts to fall, due to the loss of purchasing power in the depressionary era we are moving into, this will get far worse.
In a depression, trade is very adversely affected. One reason for this a highly protectionist beggar-thy-neighbour economic policies. For instance, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 in the US, which drastically raised tariffs on imports, lead to retaliation by trading partners, and the resulting trade war dropped global trade by 66% between 1929 and 1934.
Thanks to globalization, we are much more dependent on trade than people were in the 1930s. The combination of credit drying up on the one hand and global trade wars on the other is an extreme threat to our vulnerable supply lines. Add to that the general upheaval created by severe economic disruption, which can easily lead to increased physical risks to transporting goods, and the longer term potential for much higher energy prices, and we could see an outright collapse of global trade in the approaching years.
The benefits of self-sufficiency will be seen in places where it still exists. So long as the whole supply chain is local, localized production means being able to maintain access to essential goods at a time when obtaining them from overseas may be difficult or impossible. It is currently more expensive, but the relative security it can provide can be priceless in a dangerous world. The ability to produce locally does not arise overnight however, especially where there are no stockpiles of components. In places where it has been lost, it will take time to regain. There is no time to lose.
We will be returning to a world of much greater diversity as we lose the homogenizing effect of trade. That means the existing disparities between areas will matter far more in the future than they have in the recent past. We will need to think again about the pros and cons of our local regions – what they can provide and what they cannot, and for how many people. Some areas will be in a great deal of trouble when they lose the ability to compensate for deficiencies through trade. As the global village ceases to exist, the world will once again be a very large and variable place.
The Spanish government is about to fall after the Ciudadanos party decided to join PSOE (socialist) and Podemos in a non-confidence vote against PM Rajoy. Hmm, what would that mean for the Catalan politicians Rajoy is persecuting? The Spanish political crisis is inextricably linked to the Italian one, not even because they are so much alike, but because both combine to create huge financial uncertainty in the eurozone.
Sometimes it takes a little uproar to reveal the reality behind the curtain. Both countries, Italy perhaps some more than Spain, would long since have seen collapse if not for the ECB. In essence, Mario Draghi is buying up trillions in sovereign bonds to disguise the fact that the present construction of the euro makes it inevitable that the poorer south of Europe will lose against the north.
Club Med needs a mechanism to devalue their currencies from time to time to keep up. Signing up for the euro meant they lost that mechanism, and the currency itself doesn’t provide an alternative. The euro has become a cage, a prison for the poorer brethren, but if you look a bit further, it’s also a prison for Germany, which will be forced to either bail out Italy or crush it the way Greece was crushed.
Italy and Spain are much larger economies than Greece is, and therefore much larger problems. Problems that are about to become infinitely more painful then they would have been had the countries been able to devalue their currencies. If you want to define the main fault of the euro, it is that: it creates problems that would not have existed if the common currency itself didn’t. This was inevitable from the get-go. The fatal flaw was baked into the cake.
And if you think about it, today the need for a common currency has largely vanished anyway already. Anno 2018, people wouldn’t have to go to banks to exchange their deutschmarks or guilders or francs, they would either pay in plastic or get some local currency out of an ATM. All this could be done at automatically adjusting exchange rates without the use of all sorts of middlemen that existed when the euro was introduced.
Americans and British visiting Europe already use this exact same system. Governments can make strong deals that make it impossible for banks and credit card companies to charge more than, say, 1% or 0.5%, on exchange rate transactions. This would be good for all cross-border trade as well, it could be seamless.
Technology has eradicated the reason why the euro was introduced in the first place, and made it completely unnecessary. But the euro is here, and it is going to cause a lot more pain and mayhem. Any country that even thinks about leaving the system will be punished hard, even if that’s the by far more logical thing to do.
Europe is not ready to call for the end of the experiment. Because so much reputation and ego has been invested in it, and because the richer nations and their banks still benefit -hugely- from the problems the poorer face. The one country that got it right was Britain, when it decided to stay out of the eurozone.
But then they screwed up the next decision. And found themselves with the most incompetent ever group of ‘chosen few’ to handle the outcome. Still, anyone want to take out a bet on who’s going to be worse off when the euro whip comes down, Britain or for instance Italy or France? Not me. Close call is the best I can come up with.
The euro was devised and introduced, ostensibly, to solve problems. Problems with cross border trade between European nations, with exchange rates. But instead it has created a whole new set of problems that turn out to be much worse than the ones it was supposed to solve. That’s how and why M5S and the League got to form Italy’s government.
In Spain, if an election is called, and it looks that way, you will either get a left wing coalition or more of the Rajoy-style same. Left wing means problems with the EU, more of the same means domestic problems; the non-confidence vote comes on the heels of yet another corruption scandal for Rajoy’s party.
And let’s not forget that all economic numbers are being greatly embellished all over the continent. If you can claim with a straight face that the Greek economy is growing, anything goes. Same with Italy. It’s only been getting worse. And yeah, there’s a lot of corruption left in these countries, and yeah, Europe could have helped them solve that. Only, it hasn’t, that is not what Brussels focuses on.
Italy for now is the big Kahuna. The EU can’t save it if the new coalition is serious about its government program. But it also can’t NOT save it, because that would mean Italy leaving the euro. And perhaps the EU.
If Italian bonds are sufficiently downgraded by the markets, Mario Draghi’s ECB will no longer be permitted to purchase them. And access to other support programs would depend on doing the very opposite of what the M5S/League program spells out, which is to stimulate the domestic economy. Is that a bad idea? Hell no, it’s just that the eurozone rules forbid it.
The euro has entirely outlived its purpose, and then some. But it exists, and it will be incredibly painful to unravel. The new game for the north will be to unload as much of that pain as possible on the south.
Europe would have been much better off of it had never had the euro. But it does. The politicians and bankers will make sure they’re fine. But the people won’t be.
The euro will disappear because the reasons for it not to exist are much more pressing than for it to do. At least that bit is simple. The unwind will not be.
The United States is willing to negotiate with China on trade, but only if talks are serious, as previous attempts produced little progress, a senior U.S. official told Reuters late on Thursday as trade tensions between the two nations escalated. No formal negotiating sessions have been set, the official said. “There is ongoing communications with the Chinese on trade,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the Trump administration’s trade strategy. The official said Republican President Donald Trump, who has already sought $50 billion in new tariffs on China, will insist on “verifiable, enforceable and measurable deliverables” from China in any trade negotiations.
The comments came as Trump said late on Thursday he had instructed U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs on China “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier U.S. trade actions. In a statement, Trump said the U.S. Trade Representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property.” The senior official said: “We’ve had a type of negotiation in different forums where China has made lots of different commitments that they haven’t followed through on. “We don’t want to go down that path. But the president has been clear, the administration has been clear, we’re not trying to start a trade war. We’re simply trying to get fair and reciprocal treatments so we’re open to those conversations.”
The official said China had committed seven times to stopping forced technology transfers, a practice in which China allegedly seeks to obtain U.S. intellectual property (IP) through joint venture requirements, something that China denies. “This president is not going to tolerate hollow commitments or refusal to change bad practices. And if the way that we effectuate that is through negotiations, that’s great,” the official said.
Donald Trump has instructed the US trade representative to consider slapping $100bn in additional tariffs on Chinese goods in an escalating standoff over trade. Trump said in a statement on Thursday that the further tariffs were being considered “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier US trade actions. He added that the US trade representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property”. The White House said Trump had instructed the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for developing and recommending trade policy, to consider whether the additional tariffs would be appropriate under section 301 and, if so, to identify which products they should apply to.
He’s also instructed his secretary of agriculture “to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests”. “Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers”, Trump said. Trump argues China’s trade practices have led to the closure of American factories and the loss of millions of American jobs. On Friday China’s commerce ministry said Beijing would fight the US ‘at any cost’. China’s state-run tabloid Global Times called Trump’s latest threat “ridiculous” in an editorial on Thursday, noting that it “reflects the deep arrogance of some American elites in their attitude towards China.”
Trump’s move comes one day after China issued a $50bn list of US goods including soybeans and small aircraft for possible tariff hikes. That itself was 11 hours after the White House announced a list of 1,333 Chinese imports, also worth about $50bn, for punitive tariffs of 25%.
President Trump may now use IEEPA to block a variety of Chinese deals in the U.S. in retaliation for Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property. With the U.S. using its nuclear option in financial warfare, investors should hope that the Chinese don’t respond in kind. President Trump may not appreciate the extent to which China will go to protect its interests. Trade negotiations are not the art of the deal, as far as China is concerned. Their goal is national survival. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services that people want and need. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.
[..] given China’s current economic problem, Beijing’s challenge is becoming more difficult every day. Consider what’s happening in China right now… Growth in GDP is conventionally defined as the sum of consumer spending, investment, government spending (excluding transfer payments) and net exports. Most large economies other than oil-producing nations get most of their growth from consumption, followed by investment, with relatively small contributions from government spending and net exports. A typical composition would show a 65% contribution from consumption plus a 15% contribution from investment. China is nearly the opposite, with about 35% from consumption and 45% from investment.
That might be fine in a fast-growing emerging-market economy like China if the investment component were carefully designed to produce growth in the future as well as short-term jobs and inputs. But that’s not the case. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused.
What’s worse is that these white elephants are being financed with debt that can never be repaid. And no allowance has been made for the maintenance that will be needed to keep these white elephants in usable form if demand does rise in the future, which is doubtful. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste. The Chinese landscape is littered with “ghost cities” that have resulted from China’s wasted investment and flawed development model. This wasted infrastructure spending is the beginning of the debt disaster that is coming soon. China is on the horns of a dilemma with no good way out.
Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment. The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users. “This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.
But as recently as last month, the company was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement. While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.
Ride-hailing service Uber said on Thursday it would suspend its licensed service in Greece after the approval of local legislation which imposes stricter regulation on the sector. Uber, which operates a licensed service in the Greek capital, has faced opposition from local taxi drivers who accuse it of taking their business. “New local regulations were voted on recently with provisions that impact ride-sharing services,” Uber said in a blog post. “We have to assess if and how we can operate within this new framework and so will be suspending uberX in Athens from next Tuesday until we can find an appropriate solution.” Uber operates two services in Athens: UberX, which uses professional licensed drivers, and UberTAXI, which uses taxi drivers.
The new regulations require each trip to start and end in the fleet partner’s designated headquarters or parking area, something Uber does not do. A digital registry of all ride-sharing platforms and their passengers will also be created. The company launched in Europe in 2011, angering some local authorities and taxi drivers who said it did not abide by the same rules on insurance, licensing and safety. Following widespread protests, court battles and bans, Uber has taken a more emollient stance under its new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, suspending operations in various cities in order to comply with local regulations. UberX launched in Athens in 2015 and more than 450,000 people have used its smartphone app to book a ride.
News of the new regulation last year angered some Athenians and tens of thousands signed a petition launched by Beat – a local ride-sharing service – in favor of ride-hailing services. UberX drivers have to be employed by fleet partners such as car rental companies or tourist agencies and their cars could not be more than seven years old. The data registry and return-to-garage requirement will only apply to ride-hailing services like Uber and Beat, while taxi drivers will be able to use cars that are up to 22 years old.
An HSBC whistleblower who leaked data that led to a tax evasion scandal has been released by a Spanish judge after being arrested on an extradition request from Switzerland. Hervé Falciani, a former IT worker at HSBC’s secretive Swiss bank, faces a five-year prison sentence in Switzerland after being convicted in absentia for industrial sabotage in 2015. Police arrested Mr Falciani in Madrid on Wednesday on his way to speak at a conference on whistleblowing. Swiss authorities had requested that he be remanded in custody but he was released without bail on Thursday and ordered to surrender his passport while Spanish authorities consider whether to extradite him.
In 2008, Mr Falciani fled Switzerland, having stolen data on 130,000 HSBC clients, many of whom he suspected of tax evasion. The information uncovered large-scale wrongdoing at the bank that led to investigations in several countries, including the UK. HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver later apologised to MPs for “unacceptable” practices at the bank’s Swiss subsidiary which he said had caused “damage to trust and confidence” in the company. Sven Giegold, an MEP and spokesperson for the German Greens on transparency and integrity said on Thursday that Mr Falciani should be awarded a medal for his actions. “Falciani deserves a European Order instead of imprisonment in Switzerland,” Mr Geigold said.
“He was one of the first whistleblowers to pioneer the fight against global tax fraud, followed by many disclosures in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and other tax havens,” “We should be grateful to him. Europe’s governments should call on the Spanish government not to extradite Falciani. His extradition would be shamefully ungrateful after having profited from his data financially and politically.”
A court in northern Germany has ruled that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail while extradition proceedings continue. The district court in Schleswig set bail for the 55-year-old at €75,000 (£66,000). Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum. The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.
Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said. “There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.” Puigdemont has written an open letter from prison, urging Catalonia’s parliament to make another attempt to elect jailed separatist activist Jordi Sànchez as the region’s president. Puigdemont had proposed Sànchez as his number two in the Together for Catalonia party last month, but Spain’s supreme court refused to free him to attend a parliamentary session. Sànchez said in a letter from a Madrid jail published on Thursday that he was ready to try again to be elected.
Young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower, research by the Prince’s Trust has found. The charity, set up by the Prince of Wales, said the results of its annual UK Youth Index, which gauges young people’s happiness and confidence across a range of areas, from working life to mental and physical health, should “ring alarm bells”. The national survey shows young people’s wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned in 2009. The research, based on a survey of 2,194 respondents aged 16 to 25, revealed that three out of five young people regularly feel stressed amid concerns over jobs and money, while one in four felt “hopeless”, and half had experienced a mental health problem.
Almost half said they did not feel they could cope well with setbacks in life, but despite this more than one quarter said they would not ask for help if they were feeling overwhelmed. The index shows that young people are particularly disillusioned with the job market and are concerned about money and future prospects. One in ten said they had lost a job through redundancy or having a contract terminated or not renewed, or being fired, while 54% said they were worried about their finances. The report highlights significant differences between the views held by young men and women, particularly when it comes to how they feel about their future prospects. Young women are more likely to think a lack of self-confidence holds them back and 57% of young women worry about “not being good enough in general”, compared to 41% of men.
Elderly people grow as many new brain cells as teenagers, according to a new study which counters previous theories that neurons stop developing after adolescence. Healthy men and women continue to produce new neurons throughout life, suggesting older people remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than previously believed, researchers found. For decades it was thought that adult brains were hard-wired and unable to form new cells. But a Columbia University study found older people continued to produce neurons in the hippocampus – a part of the brain important for memory, emotion and cognition – at a similar rate to young people. Researchers examined the brains of 28 previously healthy people who died suddenly between the age of 14 and 79.
“We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology. “We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus across ages.” The ability to generate new hippocampal cells, a process known as neurogenesis, declines with age in rodents and primates. Declining production of neurons and shrinkage of parts of the brain which help form of new episodic memories were believed to occur in ageing humans as well, explaining why younger people find it easier to learn skills and languages. But the Columbia University study found similar numbers of newly formed cells in old and young brains.
However, the researchers also noted fewer blood vessels and connections between cells in the older brains, which Ms Boldrini said “may be linked to compromised cognitive-emotional resilience” in the elderly. The findings, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, are likely to be hotly debated. They come just a month after a University of California study suggested adults do not develop new neurons.
The US surgeon general issued an advisory Thursday recommending that more Americans carry the opioid overdose-reversing drug, naloxone. The drug, sold under the brand name Narcan (among others), can very quickly restore normal breathing in someone suspected of overdosing on opioids, including heroin and prescription pain medications. Dr. Jerome Adams emphasized that “knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life.” To make his point, Adams relied on a rarely used tool: the surgeon general’s advisory. The last such advisory was issued more than a decade ago and focused on drinking during pregnancy.
Adams noted that the number of overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids doubled in recent years: from 21,089 deaths across the nation in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. America’s top doctor attributed this “steep increase” to several contributing factors, including “the rapid proliferation of illicitly made fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids” and “an increasing number of individuals receiving higher doses of prescription opioids for long-term management of chronic pain.”
[..] many of us who lived through the shift from Internet 1.0 to the new age of social media can’t help but feel a nagging worry. In addition to concerns about privacy, electoral influence and online abuse, social media seems like it has many of the qualities of an addictive drug. Research isn’t conclusive on whether social-media addiction is real. But it certainly has some negative side effects that loosely resemble the downsides of recreational drugs. In 2011, psychologists Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths wrote a paper that found: “Negative correlates of [social media] usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”
Meanwhile, a number of more recent studies find similarities between social-media use and addictive behavior. And experiments found that smartphone deprivation induced anxiety among young people, a phenomenon that certainly has parallels to drug withdrawal. That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who uses social media is a junkie. Evidence shows that moderate usage is not harmful. That fits with my own experience – I find that I derive great enjoyment from Facebook, which I use in moderation, but am often made anxious and irritable by Twitter, which I use much more. It’s the heaviest users who may be in the most danger — a recent survey found that a quarter of Americans are online “almost constantly.” And social-media use is going up relentlessly worldwide:
Environmentalists in Brazil have urged the government not to proceed with a change in the law described as the “last straw” for the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian senate is set to vote on a bill that could see the eight-year-old ban on farming sugarcane for biofuel production in the Amazon lifted. In an open letter, 60 NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF have warned of the implications this decision would have, both for the rainforest itself and the reputation of the biofuels industry. They have been joined in their condemnation of the bill by several former Brazilian environment ministers.
The letter states: “If passed, the bill will be a tragedy for forests and for the biofuel industry in Brazil – the image of which will be damaged to the brink of no return, at a time critical to its success”. There is also concern that Brazil’s Paris climate agreement targets will be compromised if its ethanol production is not sustainable. Supporters of the new bill say it will benefit the economy and help contribute to the national supply of biofuels. However, environmentalists, scientists and even representatives from the biofuels industry say there is no need for more land to grow sugarcane, and the expansion of the industry will further drive deforestation of the rainforest.
Bolivia’s once-thriving jaguar population is loping into the cross-hairs of a growing threat from poachers responding to growing Chinese demand for the animal’s teeth and skull. Researchers believe there are around 7,000 of the speckled big cats in Bolivia, out of a global population of some 64,000, stretching from North America to Argentina. But such is the appetite in China’s huge underground market that “if controls are not put in place, it can lead to a serious problem” for their survival, warned Fabiola Suarez of the Environment Ministry. Considered vulnerable by conservationists, the jaguar’s future in the South American country is in the hands of anti-trafficking police only now coming to grips with the potential scale of the problem.
Local authorities began getting reports in 2014 of trade in the animal in the northeastern area of Beni, according to Rodrigo Herrera, an advisor to Bolivia’s directorate of Biodiversity at the Environment Ministry. He says the increased presence of Chinese nationals in the South American country has stimulated demand. President Evo Morales’ leftist government has awarded seven billion dollars’ worth of public works contracts to Chinese groups, sparking an influx of workers from the Asian giant. Herrera said each of the cat’s teeth, which measure between eight and 10 centimeters, can fetch up to $100 for poachers, but that figure can reach $5,000 on the Chinese market. The feline’s skull is also prized by traffickers, at rates of up to $1,000. Traffickers also sell the skin, and even the testicles, which along with the ground-down teeth, are prized by some Chinese as an aphrodisiac.
“Trump said this week he’ll slap 25% tariffs on $50 billion to $60 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S., including aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery. The move is aimed at countering Chinese cyber and intellectual property theft of U.S. technology . It also tries to push back against China’s demands for technology transfers from U.S. companies in return for access to China’s market.
The Chinese government, in turn, said it would hit U.S. shipments to China with $3 billion in tariffs, affecting goods such as pork, aluminum pipes, steel and wine.
“A family of four will end up paying about $500 more to buy (clothing, shoes, fashion accessories and travel goods) every year” if those products are subject to 25% tariffs, the American Apparel and Footwear Association says…
Retaliatory tariffs from China, meanwhile, could especially hurt American farmers. China is the world’s top soybean importer, with the U.S. providing close to 60% of the commodity. And the country is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. pork. Growing talk about a trade war has worried Iowa farmers. The state is the nation’s largest corn and pork producer and second-largest soybean grower.”
Historical background, when Clinton added China to the WTO, it opened the borders and U.S. markets to Chinese goods, but likewise, China promised to treat the exports of the U.S. fairly, which are driven by movies, patents, and intellectual property rights. In theory, that’s how the deal would be equitable. However for 20 years they have not been paying billions in patents or media royalties back to the U.S.. Stealing everything, patents, intellectual rights, ignoring international law, building a mile high tariff wall, and polluting their whole nation to boot, just like we did back in the 19th century when we were a wee country.
Guess what that shows? Tariffs work. It worked for us then and it works for China now. Go to a store and look for any item that isn’t made in China. That has devastated industry, and is arguably dumping, i.e. selling at a loss to ruin your competition. How? China isn’t a “capitalist” country, really. It’s an amalgam of communism and protectionism meant to rapidly modernize China in the footsteps of Stalin or Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and it works. As such, factories are built of debt money printed by the Central State then protected from bankruptcy with more printing and bailing out hand-picked winners by the state — just like we do.
Just like Abe buying up the entire Nikkei or the Swiss Bank buying a trillion in foreign stocks. So in a roundabout way, China is creating all these products at a loss, but doesn’t care about profit because people are employed and their industry rockets into the 21st century. Since profit is not a motive and bankruptcy is not a possibility, the strategy to modernize and compete with the U.S. is enhanced not only by moving China forward, but also by moving the U.S. backward into the last century. So the very concept of WTO, “Free Trade”, “Fair Trade” does not and cannot exist with a centrally-planned, centrally-protected, non-free market economy – theirs and ours. Only national strategy remains.
When that’s the case, you see Trump merely advocating for consequences to China breaking the original treaty, the original parity of hard goods for intellectual property. And why shouldn’t breaking a treaty have consequences? The problem of course is what those consequences mean.
Since from the Chinese perspective, they have reduced U.S. wealth, production, capacity for production, and even the U.S. military to 3rd world levels, and the U.S. no longer has the bargaining power to reverse what was supposed to be a free-market trade, but was executed by China as a mercantile/protectionist trade. And good on them, well played!
Here in the States, we hear people say –still!—“well if they give us cheap goods at a loss, who are we not to take them?” Regardless of the jobs lost since that giant sucking sound started. Or worse, “Since rebuilding industry will cost money, any move to help ourselves should be avoided because it will raise prices.” Yes people, we already missed the 21st century, let’s move back from the 20th century into an 19th century African colony because fighting it would cost something and be inconvenient. Worked for Argentina, right?
“I don’t blame China – after all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens… I give China great credit,” said Mr. Trump while addressing a room of business leaders. Instead, the US leader said previous US administrations were responsible for what he called “a very unfair and one-sided” trade relationship with China.”
China seemed to understand this and take it pretty well: in the last 30 years 500 million were lifted out of poverty, they got everything they wanted, and are arguably already the largest, most modern economy, but the ride is over. Asia loves gold-plated show-boaters like Trump and their equanimity was unreported by the press.
It’s no surprise; I’m sure they knew it would end someday. Probably never dreamed it would go on this long. However, the way the game is played, China will still negotiate all they can as the inevitable ends. And with retaliatory tariffs, they negotiate their best deal, and as quoted, Trump understands that too. Nothing personal.
Daily news covered, let’s go Macro.
In the bigger sense, a lot of this is window dressing. We hear a lot about how “the world can’t feed itself if such and such,” but it’s feeding itself now: clearly it’s perfectly possible: if anything we may have too much! Same with trade and tariffs. So China refuses to buy American soybeans, but buys Brazilian, great: stick it to those farmers (mega corps actually) in the voting states! Show ‘em!
But here’s the thing: there are X hectares of soybeans grown on planet earth, and Y people who eat them. If China buys “The Beans of Brazil”™, then whoever bought Brazil last year won’t get theirs and will buy American. Same with steel, same with oil. If China now buys Saudi oil or Russian oil, then that oil is simply removed from Europe, and Europe must buy Norwegian or Venezuelan oil. But it’s the same oil, from the same wells, going to the same people: that is, FROM planet earth, TO planet earth, BY the people of planet earth.
There are strategies and prices, advantages and minutia down there, but in the big picture, the effect becomes more subdued than may appear. So China places tariffs, even boycotts Iowa corn, then that corn is sold to Europe instead. What kind of political pressure are they really bringing, aside from making headlines?
The same is with Trump attempting to change the composition of U.S. industry. It’s a lot harder and takes a lot longer to rotate out of services and back into hard goods than it seems. What’s more, to start making your own chips or medical equipment requires a constellation of support industries: power lines, rails, screw machines, sheet metal stamping, servo motors, and behind them the dirty, heavy industries we erased: mining, steel and aluminum smelting, and so on. Yet this has to be done. We can’t run a country by asking China, “pretty please sell us some steel so we can make battleships to bomb you with.”
But like the soybeans, this shift of capacity doesn’t work in the macro view: if we’re not buying Chinese goods because we’re making our own, what is China going to do with all their factories? That capacity exists. It’s going somewhere or it will collapse, we BOTH have a lot to lose. A cutoff of most retail goods, their factories idled and people in the streets, Mutual Assured Destruction.
This goes back to 2005 and something Ben Bernanke said about the “Global Savings Glut.” That is, the problem wasn’t that the U.S. spent too much, but the real problem was the darn Chinese were too productive, too responsible, and spent too little. You might recognize this same argument from Germany and Greece. As much as this deserves raucous laughter, the larger macroeconomic imbalance is only this: the U.S. imports instead of producing, and China exports instead of consuming.
That’s how we come to a $700B yearly trade deficit, a deficit that is not ours alone, but China’s too. This goes back to righting the trade imbalance, the tariffs, in fact the overall inequality of the present (former) globalism: the U.S. prints fake digits and the Chinese send us real goods. If the imbalances are righted, there is only one path: China must spend more and the U.S. must spend less.
What will China do with their own factories if the U.S. reindustrializes and makes their own goods? They’ll buy those Chinese products themselves.
This is a long time coming, too. For decades, China has worked hard and developed their country, so why should they make cheap products and get nothing for their work? They deserve the products of their labor — arguably more than the Americans do. They need to spend more, and as we see with input costs rising back home, we need to spend less. So let them buy their “Make-happy ginsu mango-mango slicer.” No one deserves it more.
What do you think Chairman-for-life Xi thinks of this? Trump is going to make China stop saving and force their middle class to start spending, to start behaving like the modern nation they are. Xi and his predecessors have been unable to convince China to spend. But now Trump can blame his problems on China and Xi can blame his problems on Trump. So do you think Xi is angry? Or happy?
This had to happen. A nation cannot live at the expense of everyone else forever, amen. The only question is when and how it ends. So if China makes and buys Chinese products, and the U.S. makes and buys U.S. products, and we trade equally, where’s the harm?
It’s no fun to re-industrialize, to fall back to the level of real production your country is capable of minus extractive, extortive credit, but there are only two choices: the Neocon’s one world unipolar empire of murder and force, or nation states with borders and the independence and the internal capacity to produce for and defend themselves on all fronts, agricultural, manufacturing, intellectual, and military.
That’s what the “America First” plan was and in the Asian tour, China showed they understand this. So since nation states are going to persist for now, the best we can do is rebuild, re-normalize, and re-localize independently as best we can.
As the imbalances are reversed, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if we can do it, it will be worthwhile. At the very least, better than the alternative (They tried). We can – it is possible – recover our nation again, and with it, what it means to be “America”, and that may be worth the work.
They want you arguing over who should and shouldn’t be called a terrorist based on what ideology you subscribe to and what color the latest killer’s skin was. They do not want you talking about the way the label “terrorist” itself is being used to justify unconstitutional detentions, torture, mass surveillance, and wars. They want you arguing over whether to support the Democrats because the Republicans will take civil rights away from disempowered groups or Republicans because the Democrats will take away your guns and force you to bake gay wedding cakes. They don’t want you talking about the fact that both parties advance Orwellian surveillance, neoliberal exploitation and neoconservative bloodshed in a good cop/bad cop extortion scheme to keep Americans cheerleading for their own enslavement.
They want you arguing about whether Trump did or did not collude with Russia. They do not want you looking at what preexisting agendas the CNN/CIA Russia narratives are advancing and who stands to benefit from them. They want everyone fighting over table scraps while they pour unfathomable riches into expanding and bolstering their empire. They psychologically brutalize you with propaganda day in and day out, and then expect you to look to them for protection from the phantoms they invented. They don’t want you paying attention to the growing number of signs that the current administration is gearing up for a major military bloodbath which may lead our species into a third and final world war. They want you talking about Stormy Daniels instead.
[..] Please stop this shit, America. If the US war machine goes after Iran or Russia it will likely mean a world war against multiple nuclear-armed countries, which could very easily send our species the way of the dinosaurs should a nuke get deployed in the fog of war. We don’t have time to focus on Stormy fucking Daniels.
Global markets were shaken when U.S. President Donald Trump moved to slap tariffs on Chinese goods, on top of import duties on steel and aluminum, prompting a defiant response from Beijing. But E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 brushed off the gloom on Monday to leap 0.6% on reports the United States and China have quietly started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets. The United States also agreed to exempt South Korea from steel tariffs, imposing instead a quota on steel imports as the two countries renegotiate their trade deal. “If we do start to hear more favorable news from the U.S. administration and indeed from the Chinese side over the next few trading sessions, then we may see a sharp reversal of the recent moves in the market,” said Nick Twidale at Rakuten Securities Australia.
Washington’s trade imbalance with Beijing – the stated motivation behind President Donald Trump’s punitive tariffs — will continue expanding in the years ahead, according to Yale University’s Stephen Roach. America’s trade deficits with China and other countries fundamentally reflect “the fact that we don’t save enough,” said Roach, a former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman. “When you don’t save and you want to spend and grow, you import surplus savings from abroad and you run these massive balance of payments and trade deficits to attract the foreign capital,” he told CNBC Monday at the annual China Development Forum. “That’s the way it’s always worked.”
The Trump administration budget deficits are “going to push our savings rate lower and if anything, our trade deficits are going to get bigger in the years ahead, including the one probably with China.” Reducing the U.S. trade deficit is one of Trump’s top policy goals – he’s argued that it hurts American job creation and weighs on overall growth. But many economists, including Roach, say trade imbalances are not a good metric for economic health since they are influenced by a variety of macroeconomic factors. “The bilateral trade deficit in the U.S. is really pretty meaningless,” Roach said.
And Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which was signed into law in December, is unlikely to change the status-quo. The fiscal stimulus package “is going to take debt-to-GDP ratios up by 1 to 2 %age points a year, relative to what they otherwise would have been,” Roach said. “For an economy like the United States, where the savings rate is already low, that’s going to push our savings rate even lower. So, we’re going to have to keep importing the surplus savings and running these balance of payments deficits to square the circle.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s optimistic the U.S. can reach an agreement with China that will avert the need for President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on at least $50 billion of goods from the country. “We’re having very productive conversations with them,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” when discussing talks with China. “I’m cautiously hopeful we reach an agreement.” Trump on Thursday also directed Mnuchin to propose new investment restrictions on Chinese companies within 60 days to safeguard technologies the U.S. views as strategic. He has said he also wants a $100 billion decrease in the U.S. trade deficit with China.
A day after Trump’s announcement, which led to a selloff in global markets, China unveiled tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum duties ordered by Trump earlier this month. The White House then declared a temporary exemption for the European Union and other nations on those levies, making the focus on China clear. Though Beijing’s actions so far are seen by analysts as measured, there may be more to come.
China is conducting research on further lists of U.S. imports subject to tariffs, which are likely to cover airplanes, computer chips and the tourism industry, China Daily reported on Saturday, citing Wei Jianguo, a former vice commerce minister. Mnuchin said the two countries agree on reducing the deficit to some degree and are trying to “to see if we can reach an agreement as to what fair trade is for them to open up their markets, reduce their tariffs, stop forced technology transfer.” The U.S. will proceed with tariffs “unless we have an acceptable agreement that the president signs off on,” Mnuchin said Sunday. “We’re not afraid of a trade war, but that’s not our objective,” he said. “In a negotiation you have to be prepared to take action.”
The U.S. and South Korea reached an agreement on revising their six-year-old bilateral trade deal, and the U.S. said it wouldn’t impose President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel imports from its ally in Asia. The two countries reached agreement “in principle” on the trade deal known as Korus, South Korea’s trade ministry said in a statement on Monday. While Korea avoids the steel tariff, shipments of the metal to the U.S. will be limited to a quota of about 2.7 million tons a year, according to the statement. Trump repeatedly criticized the trade deal with South Korea, calling it a “job-killer” that had increased the bilateral trade deficit. While he had pushed for it to be revised and threatened tariffs, there were also concerns that trade tensions would create a wedge between the allies just as the presidents of both nations look to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The announcement came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reached “a very productive understanding.” “We expect to sign that agreement soon,” Mnuchin said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, calling it “an absolute win-win.” The quota is unlikely to hurt South Korea’s steel exports as sales to the U.S. account for 11% of total steel shipments overseas, the South Korean ministry said. The quota is set at 70% of the average of steel sales to the U.S. during 2015-2017.
The European Commission on Sunday insisted the controversial promotion of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s top aide and enforcer was “in full compliance” with rules despite a growing cronyism row. The commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm, said there was nothing untoward about the elevation of Juncker’s former chief of staff Martin Selmayr to the post of secretary general, at the head of the EU’s 30,000-strong civil service. The scandal has gained momentum in recent weeks with the European Parliament launching an investigation and warning the affair risks fuelling eurosceptics around the continent. But the commission insisted Selmayr’s appointment was above board and made with the full backing of all EU commissioners.
“The decision was taken by the college of commissioners unanimously, in full compliance with the staff regulations and the rules of procedure of the commission,” the commission said in a written response to a list of 134 questions posed by MEPs. The row centres on what critics say was effectively an instantaneous double promotion for the 47-year-old Selmayr, Juncker’s former chief of staff, on February 21. During a single meeting of commissioners, Selmayr was made first deputy secretary general and then just minutes later secretary general when the incumbent, Alexander Italianer, suddenly announced his retirement. The commission confirmed that Juncker had known of Italianer’s plan to retire as early as 2015 and had told Selmayr about it.
But it rejected claims that Juncker and Selmayr had cooked up a plan in November last year to bounce the German into the secretary general role. It said that technically Selmayr had not been promoted, as he remains on the same civil service grade as before, and that he had taken a pay cut in switching jobs. As well as the parliamentary probe, the EU ombudsman, which investigates allegations of malpractice in European institutions, has also confirmed it has received two complaints about the matter and is analysing them. Sophie in ‘t Veld, a leading liberal member of the European Parliament, said earlier this month the affair “destroys all the credibility of the EU as a champion of integrity and transparency”.
The European Union holds “grave suspicions” about the dominance of internet giant Google and has not ruled out breaking it up, according to a warning by the EU’s antitrust chief, Britain’s Telegraph reported on Sunday. European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager reckons the threat to split Google into smaller companies must be kept open, the newspaper said. Google currently faces new EU rules on its commercial practices with smaller businesses that use its services.
Late last year, Vestager said more cases against Google were likely in the future, after the European Commission slapped a record €2.4 billion ($2.97 billion) fine on the world’s most popular internet search engine and told the firm to stop favoring its shopping service. The European Commission is in the process of drafting a new regulation aimed at regulating e-commerce sites, app stores and search engines to be more transparent in how they rank search results and why they delist some services.
The European Union holds an uneasy summit with Turkey on Monday, when it is likely to provide Ankara with fresh cash to extend a deal on Syrian refugees but deflect Turkish demands for deeper trade ties and visa-free travel to Europe. With the bloc critical of what it considers to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism at home and his intervention in Syria’s war, Brussels had hesitated to agree to the summit. But host Bulgaria viewed the meeting at the Black Sea port of Varna as a rare chance for dialogue with the country that remains a candidate for EU membership despite years of stalled talks.
EU leaders also cited Turkey’s importance as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank and in curbing immigration to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. “I am looking with mixed feelings towards the Varna summit because the differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will represent the bloc along with European Council President Donald Tusk. “It will be a frank and open debate, where we will not hide our differences but will seek to improve our cooperation,” Juncker told reporters on Friday after a two-day EU summit that discussed Turkey.
At that meeting in Brussels, leaders condemned what they said were Turkey’s illegal actions in a standoff over eastern Mediterranean gas reserves with bloc members Greece and Cyprus. But in a familiar pattern of public recrimination, Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, said Ankara viewed the summit as “an important opportunity to move our relations forward” and that he expected “the same positive and constructive approach from the EU.” Erdogan will seek more money for Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union and progress in talks on letting Turks visit Europe without visas, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said.
The U.K. Labour Party said it is seeking an amendment to key Brexit legislation to prevent Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, as former premier Tony Blair renewed his own call for a second referendum. “If Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s deal, that cannot give licence to her, or the extreme Brexiteers in her party, to allow the U.K. to crash out without an agreement,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, will say in a speech on Monday, according to extracts emailed by his party. “That would be the worst of all possible worlds.”
As Starmer plots to bind Theresa May’s Conservative government to negotiating a smooth exit from the European Union, former Labour leader Blair will say that Parliament should get to vote on the planned future relationship with the EU and then the electorate should “make the final judgment” ahead Britain’s scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29 next year. Starmer’s bid to rewrite the EU Withdrawal Bill throws up a new hurdle to the premier’s plans. While she’s repeatedly said she wants to reach an agreement with the bloc, May maintains that exiting without one is better than accepting a bad deal. A majority of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament oppose a hard Brexit.
In the wake of a massive data harvesting scandal, it has emerged that Facebook approached at least two major Australian political parties during the final weeks of their 2016 election in order to help them “microtarget” voters using a powerful data matching tool, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Facebook offered “advanced matching” as part of their so-called Custom Audience feature to both the conservative (if not confusingly named) Liberal Party, as well as the “democratic socialist” Labor Party. The tool promised to allow the parties to compare data they had collected about voters – such as names, birth dates, phone numbers, postcodes and email addresses – and match that information to Facebook profiles.
The combination of data sets would then allow political parties to target Australian swing voters with custom tailored ads over Facebook, which advertised a 17% increase in matching rates using a beta version of the service provided to the Liberal Party. Fairfax Media reports that while the conservative Liberal Party turned Facebook down over concerns that sending voter data overseas to Facebook servers would violate the Privacy Act and the Electoral Act, the Labor Party took Facebook up on their offer.
Asked specifically whether Labor used the tool, a Labor spokesman said in a statement: “A range of different campaign techniques and tools are used for campaigning, from doorknocking to phone banking to online. Labor works with different groups to get our message out, including social media platforms like Facebook.” “All of our work is in complete compliance with relevant laws, including the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which makes it a criminal offence to misuse information on the electoral roll.”
“Today’s internet companies suck in free customer data through the front door, and sell it out the back door. The greater the flow, the higher the profits. They’re dominant. They’ll soon be regulated.”
“May Day 1975 marked the start of Wall Street deregulation,” said the historian. “Banks and brokerages flourished thereafter, expanding their power and political influence.” 1998 marked peak deregulation with Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall. “Pump and dump schemes of all sorts propagated; Wolf of Wall Street excesses. Then came the dot com IPO madness which led to Sarbanes Oxley.” The final debauchery was exposed in 2008, and led to sweeping Dodd-Frank financial regulation. “Wall Street’s been in lock-down ever since.” “The 1996 Telecom Act protected America’s nascent internet companies,” continued the historian. AOL started in 1985. Netscape launched in 1993, went public in 1995. Amazon launched in 1994. Yahoo 1995. Facebook 2004. YouTube 2005.
“The Act protected them from liability for anything republished on their sites.” They were too weak to withstand such liability and needed nurturing to foster innovation. “But Facebook has a $460bln market cap. It’s not responsible for what it publishes but the NY Times is. That’s now preposterous.” “When Wall Street lacked regulation, any product, no matter how absurd, was welcomed through the front door and pumped out to clients through the back door,” explained the historian. “The greater the flow, the higher the profits. Those were the glory days.” Then regulations raised costs, stymied product development, crushed the profit model. “Today’s internet companies suck in free customer data through the front door, and sell it out the back door. The greater the flow, the higher the profits. They’re dominant. They’ll soon be regulated.”
Nearly half of Japanese voters believe Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should quit to take responsibility over a cronyism scandal and cover-up that have sent his support sliding, according to an opinion poll released on Monday. Suspicions have arisen about a sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a nationalist school operator with ties to Abe’s wife, Akie, setting off the biggest political crisis Abe has faced since returning to power in 2012 and prompting protestors to call almost nightly for him to quit.
Abe has denied that either he or his wife intervened in the sale or were involved in altering documents related to the deal, in which mention of his and Akie’s names were removed. According to a public opinion survey covered by the liberal Asahi newspaper at the weekend, 48% of those polled said Abe and his government should quit, compared to 39% who said that wasn’t necessary.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government tabled a bill in parliament on Monday outlawing “fake news”, with hefty fines and up to 10 years in jail, raising more concerns about media freedom in the wake of a multi-billion dollar graft scandal. The bill was tabled ahead of a national election that is expected to be called within weeks and as Najib faces widespread criticism over the scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, anyone who published so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both.
“The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” it said. It defines fake news as “news, information, data or reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and includes features, visuals and audio recordings. The law, which covers digital publications and social media, also applies to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, as long as Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.
China’s media regulator is cracking down on video spoofs, the official Xinhua new agency reported, amid an intensified crackdown on any content that is deemed to be in violation of socialist core values under President Xi Jinping. The decision comes after Xi cemented his power at a recent meeting of parliament by having presidential term limits scrapped, and the ruling Communist Party tightened its grip on the media by handing control over film, news and publishing to its powerful publicity department. Xinhua said video sites must ban videos that “distort, mock or defame classical literary and art works”, citing a directive from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on Thursday.
Reuters separately reviewed a copy of the directive, which was unusually labeled “extra urgent”. Industry insiders say the sweeping crackdown on media content, which has been gaining force since last year, is having a chilling effect on content makers and distributors. “It means a lot of content makers will have to transition and make their content more serious. For ‘extra urgent’ notice like this, you have to act immediately,” said Wu Jian, a Beijing-based analyst. “Those who don’t comply in time will immediately be closed down,” Wu said.
The Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that the Attorney-General broke the law by withholding information from Kim Dotcom, which he says means his extradition case is “over”. In July 2015, Mr Dotcom sent an urgent information privacy request to all 28 Ministers of the Crown as well as almost all Government departments, asking for personal information they had on him, including under his previous names. Nearly all the requests were transferred to the Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who declined the Megaupload founder’s requests on the grounds that they were “vexatious” and trivial. The Solicitor-General also said Mr Dotcom had not provided sufficient reasons for urgency.
On Monday, the Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Attorney-General unlawfully withheld information from Mr Dotcom, meaning he perverted the course of justice. The Government and Ministers have been ordered to comply with the original requests and supply all relevant documents to Mr Dotcom. Mr Dotcom was awarded damages for loss of benefit and loss of dignity. In a series of celebratory tweets, Mr Dotcom claimed this decision meant his extradition case is “over”. He has threatened former Prime Minister Sir John Key with legal action, and said he will see everyone involved in the so-called “Mega Conspiracy” in court. He has also called for the immediate resignation of the Privacy Commissioner.
About half of all plants and animals in 35 of the world’s most biodiverse places are at risk of extinction due to climate change, a new report claims. “Hotter days, longer periods of drought, and more intense storms are becoming the new normal, and species around the world are already feeling the effects,” said Nikhil Advani, lead specialist for climate, communities and wildlife at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The report, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and the WWF, found that nearly 80,000 plants and animals in 35 diverse and wildlife-rich areas – including the Amazon rainforest, the Galapagos islands, southwest Australia and Madagascar – could become extinct if global temperatures rise. The 35 places were chosen based on their “uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there,” the WWF said.
“The collected results reveal some striking trends. They add powerful evidence that we urgently need global action to mitigate climate change,” the report said. A corresponding study was also published by the scientific journal Climate Change. If temperatures were to rise by 4.5 degrees Celsius, animals like African elephants would likely lack sufficient water supplies and 96% of all breeding ground for tigers in India’s Sundarbans region could be submerged in water. However, if temperature rise was kept to below 2 degrees Celsius – the global target set by the landmark Paris Climate Accord in 2015 – the number of species lost could be limited to 25%. “This is not simply about the disappearance of certain species from particular places, but about profound changes to ecosystems that provide vital services to hundreds of millions of people,” the WWF said in its report.
What does it say about us if our best and brightest feel compelled to sacrifice themselves? Where is this going to leave us? Where would we be without Assange, Snowden and Manning? Certainly not in a better place.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will agree to be extradited to the United States if President Barack Obama grants clemency to the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking documents, the company said on Thursday. “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ (US Department of Justice) case,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter. Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. The Australian former computer hacker said he fears Stockholm will in turn extradite him to the US, where he angered Washington over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents leaked by former US soldier Manning.
Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing over the 700,000 sensitive documents from the US State Department. Supporters of the transgender soldier are putting their hopes in a pardon by Obama before he leaves office later this month, although the White House has said the president will not be granting her clemency. Manning has already made two suicide attempts and currently has an appeal pending before a military court. Washington has maintained the threat of prosecuting Assange over the 2010 leak, though no charges have been filed. WikiLeaks’ post on Twitter was accompanied by a letter addressed to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in which Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack argues there is no legitimate basis for continuing the investigation into the WikiLeaks founder.
China’s massive export engine sputtered for the second year in a row in 2016, with shipments falling in the face of persistently weak global demand and officials voicing fears of a trade war with the United States that is clouding the outlook for 2017. In one week, China’s leaders will see if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and starts to follow up on a threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if the Trump administration takes no concrete action immediately, analysts say the specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade and political ties is likely to weigh on the confidence of exporters and investors worldwide.
The world’s largest trading nation posted gloomy data on Friday, with 2016 exports falling 7.7% and imports down 5.5%. The export drop was the second annual decline in a row and the worst since the depths of the global crisis in 2009. It will be tough for foreign trade to improve this year, especially if the inauguration of Trump and other major political changes limit the growth of China’s exports due to greater protectionist measures, the country’s customs agency said on Friday. “The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend,” customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters. “We will pay close attention to foreign trade policy after Trump is inaugurated president,” Huang said.
China’s trade surplus with the United States was $366 billion in 2015, according to U.S. customs data, which Trump could seize on in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table to press for concessions, economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note. A sustained trade surplus of more than $20 billion against the United States is one of three criteria used by the U.S. Treasury to designate another country as a currency manipulator. China is likely to point out that its own data showed the surplus fell to $250.79 billion in 2016 from $260.91 billion in 2015, but that may get short shrift in Washington. “Our worry is that Trump’s stance towards China’s trade could bring about long-term structural weakness in China’s exports,” economists at ANZ said in a note.
Shares of Fiat Chrysler fell Thursday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused the automaker of using software that allowed excess diesel emissions in about 104,000 vehicles. The U.S.-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler plunged as much as 19% Thursday after Reuters first reported the news. The automaker’s stock was briefly halted after the EPA made the announcement. The stock later recovered some of those losses and ended the day about 10% lower. The agency alleged Fiat Chrysler violated the Clean Air Act by installing and failing to disclose “engine management software in light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the United States.”
The undisclosed software results increased nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles, the EPA said. The Justice Department is reportedly working with the EPA on this issue. The company could be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged violations, the EPA said. It said it is also investigating whether the auxiliary emission control devices constitute “defeat devices,” which are illegal. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement he was deeply troubled by the evidence the EPA presented. “My office was proud to take a leading role in the multi-state investigation of Volkswagen that uncovered flagrant abuses of New York’s environmental laws and, in the case of VW, a culture of corruption that enabled blatantly illegal conduct to persist over many years,” he said.
Pay for the poorest fifth of men has been flat for twenty years, according to a new report for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. At the same time the proportion of this low-paid group working part time, rather than full time, has shot up from 10% to 25% over the same period. The research helps explain what has become something of an inequality puzzle in the UK, in which official headline gauges have shown flat-lining income inequality since the early 1990s and yet there is simultaneously a widespread impression that inequality has been rising strongly.
The IFS research shows that average inflation-adjusted annualised weekly pay growth for the lowest fifth of the male income distribution was zero or less between 1994-95 and 2014-15, while for men further up the income distribution real weekly pay has grown. And while part-time work among the lowest paid men has ballooned, rates have not changed for better paid men. This all means that among working men wage inequality has increased over the past two decades. “The rise in household earnings inequality has been the product of a complex set of interactions between trends in hours and wages for men and women, but it is largely due to a rise in male earnings inequality,” said the IFS report.
Have the [BOE]-enabled grotesque bubbles in the bond, stock and property markets or the eight years of “temporary emergency measures” and zero-interest-rate policies created infrastructure investment? Job creation? Savings? No, no and no. It has killed savers, students and seniors while generating record bonuses for chief executives. While earnings may have peaked almost 18 months ago, stock prices keep bubbling and wealth inequality continues to surge to record highs — along with homelessness and underemployment. Will Carney blame Brexit, Putin or Trump for the upcoming problems? Why not? Certainly, extreme valuations enabled by the Bank recklessly allowing debt, credit and leverage to skyrocket out of this universe had nothing to do with the coming collapse — nothing to see here, look away.
It is not only the UK but also global central bank policies that have broken our financial system beyond repair. The world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472, is now an insolvent zombie bank thanks to the handiwork of JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Nomura. They sold Monte billions of dollars of derivative trades it did not understand. These predictably exploded, leaving the bank bust. JPMorgan, Deutsche and Nomura made a fortune — and Monte’s shareholders and depositors, and EU taxpayers, will get slammed with the massive bailout tab. The new normal is apparently a world of financial fraud where the only rules which apply are too big to fail, bail or jail and too connected to prosecute —steal all you can, while you can, with impunity.
After the financial crisis, I wrote extensively exposing the toxic “culture of fraud” at Deutsche, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, RBS, Lloyds and Barclays. So what was done? Can you guess the number of staff at these banks jailed for the numerous frauds committed during the Great Financial Crises? Zero. That’s not capitalism! Capitalism doesn’t have zero accountability or zero transparency. This is ethically, financially and socially wrong. Much of it is also, in my opinion, illegal and should be punished by long jail terms. No need for new regulation — we need to enforce existing rules rather than repeatedly turning a blind eye.
Market manipulation by central banks has destroyed price discovery in every asset class and market. This has crushed the basic concept of capitalism. Central banks now pick winners and losers rather than letting free markets decide. The Swiss National Bank holds $140 billion in stocks, including shares in Apple, Google and Amazon. Valuations, growth projections and normal business cycles are all unnecessary. The central banking bubble factory forces investors to chase yields resulting in zombie corporations and zombie banks that inhibit growth, infrastructure spending and the creation of productive assets.
The WHO today warned of a virulent new virus affecting vulnerable groups in the Mid-West and Eastern USA. The outbreak, which began in the Mid-West’s extensive Great Lakes ‘Freshwater’ river system, has recently jumped the ‘Saltwater’ barrier, meaning that the entire population of its target species – ‘Mainstream’ economists – is now at risk. Speaking on behalf of the WHO, Dr Cahuc explained that the virus works by turning off the one genetic marker that distinguishes this species from the rest of its genus, the Human Race. This is the so-called ‘Milton’ gene (Friedman 1953), which goes dormant in other Humans as they pass through puberty. Its inactivity reduces their imaginative capacity, making it impossible for them to continue believing in such endearing infantile fantasies as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. While regrettable, this drop in imagination is necessary to prepare Humans for the adult phase of their existence.
‘Professor Milton Friedman found a way to re-activate this gene during PhD training, using his “as if” gene splicing technique’, Dr Zylberberg elaborated. ‘This enabled a wonderful outpouring of imaginative beliefs by Mainstream Economists, which gave birth to concepts like NAIRU, Money Neutrality, Rational Expectations, and eventually even DSGE models. This wealth of imagination was regarded by Mainstream Economists as a more than sufficient compensation for returning to the child-like phase of the Human species.’ The Milton gene conferred other advantages on Mainstream Economists, which have been highly important to their success in competition against their rival species, the Heterodox Economists. ‘Being endowed with a child-like nature, the arguments of Mainstream Economists were treated with the low level of critical evaluation that adult humans normally reserve for conversations with their infant stage’, said Dr Cahuc.
‘This made their policy recommendations much more likely to be adopted, instead of the more complicated proposals put forward by their niche rivals’, he said. The new virus – named ‘Reality’ – de-activates the Milton gene once more. ‘Consequently’, Dr Cahuc warned, ‘the very beliefs that define this unique species are at risk. Unless we are very careful, it may become extinct!’. Unfortunately, there is as yet no known cure to this virus. ‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’, Dr Cahuc concluded. However, this strategy is made extremely difficult by one cunning characteristic of the Reality virus: after an initial phase of disorientation and distress, its sufferers begin to experience pleasure, and actually want to pass the virus on to others. ‘Its transmission mechanism is a particularly insidious aspect of this disease’, Dr Cahuc lamented.
It seems so strange, twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to be living through a new Cold War with (as it happens, capitalist) Russia. The Russian president is attacked by the U.S. political class and media as they never attacked Soviet leaders; he is personally vilified as a corrupt, venal dictator, who arrests or assassinates political opponents and dissident journalists, and is hell-bent on the restoration of the USSR. (The latter claim rests largely on Vladimir Putin’s comment that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a “catastrophe” and “tragedy” – which in many respects it was. The press chooses to ignore his comment that “Anyone who does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, while anyone who wants to restore it has no brain.” It conflicts with the simple talking-point that Putin misses the imperial Russia of the tsars if not the commissars and, burning with resentment over the west’s triumph in the Cold War, plans to exact revenge through wars of aggression and territorial expansion.)
The U.S. media following its State Department script depicts Russia as an expansionist power. That it can do so, so successfully, such that even rather progressive people—such as those appalled by Trump’s victory who feel inclined to blame it on an external force—believe it, is testimony to the lingering power and utility of the Cold War mindset. The military brass keep reminding us: We are up against an existential threat! One wants to say that this — obviously — makes no sense! Russia is twice the size of the U.S. with half its population. Its foreign bases can be counted on two hands. The U.S. has 800 or so bases abroad. Russia’s military budget is 14% of the U.S. figure. It does not claim to be the exceptional nation appointed by God to preserve “security” on its terms anywhere on the globe.
Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. has waged war (sometimes creating new client-states) in Bosnia (1994-5), Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001- ), Iraq (2003- ), Libya (2011), and Syria (2014- ), while raining down drone strikes from Pakistan to Yemen to North Africa. These wars-based-on-lies have produced hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and general ongoing catastrophe throughout the “Greater Middle East.” There is no understating their evil. The U.S. heads an expanding military alliance formed in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union and global communism in general. Its raison d’être has been dead for many years. Yet it has expanded from 16 to 28 members since 1999, and new members Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia. (Imagine the Warsaw Pact expanding to include Mexico. But no, the Warsaw Pact of the USSR and six European allies was dissolved 26 years ago in the idealistic expectation that NATO would follow in a new era of cooperation and peace.)
And this NATO alliance, in theory designed to defend the North Atlantic, was only first deployed after the long (and peaceful) first Cold War, in what had been neutral Yugoslavia (never a member of either the Warsaw Pact nor NATO), Afghanistan (over 3000 miles from the North Atlantic), and the North African country of Libya. Last summer NATO held its most massive military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving 31,000 troops in Poland, rehearsing war with Russia. (The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually criticized this exercise as “warmongering.”)
Eight straight years of warmongering come to an end as US President Barack Obama bows out with his «farewell to the nation» speech this week, as fawning American media dubbed his valediction. In reality, Obama’s outgoing address should have been billed as a «farewell to arms» made by arguably one of the most belligerent presidents to ever have occupied the White House. Only in exceptionally delusional America could such a pernicious paradox be presented as something honorable and sentimental. Obama, the 44th US president, may have been the first black president and winner of a Nobel peace prize during his first year in office in 2009. But apart from those dubious accolades – championed by supposedly liberal Hollywood celebrities and media pundits – his actual record in office is one of blood-soaked disgrace.
Instead of ending American overseas wars as he had promised back in 2008, Obama expanded on his predecessor George W Bush’s criminal foreign interventions. At least seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia – have been routinely bombed under Obama’s watch as the US Commander-in-Chief. That’s one repugnant record. Last year alone, the US military reportedly dropped over 26,000 bombs around the world killing countless thousands of people, the exact number buried under official secrecy and American mainstream media indifference. At that rate, American anti-war campaigner Medea Benjamin estimates that US forces deployed three bombs every hour of every day for the whole of 2016. This death from the skies included Obama’s personal ordering of drone assassinations during his weekly Terror Tuesday briefings from Pentagon chiefs, the use of which increased 10-fold under his command, killing thousands of innocent civilians as «collateral damage».
The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. “Security is my greatest concern,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, recently said. “No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world.” He suggested the city could have as many as 750,000 demonstrators alone.
More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Essentially everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls. The Joint Task Force – National Capital Region – 58th Presidential Inauguration has held several “table top” sessions in which agencies plot strategy over a large-scale, three-dimensional map.
“It’s a rehearsal, but in the military we call it a drill,” Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, the group’s spokesman, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing for this since the last inauguration. We’re focused to protecting and honoring a new commander in chief.” The task force and its Capitol Hill counterpart are holding a “dress rehearsal” this weekend for the swearings-in, the Presidential Review of troops and the parade along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. Several protest groups planning large-scale demonstrations have permits in place and have already held organizational meetings, among them the collaborative DisruptJ20. “We’re planning a series of massive, direct actions that will shut down the inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations,” the group says. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city.”
The ECB should start unwinding its ultra-loose monetary policy this year, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview to be published on Friday, adding that it would not be easy. “The ECB will have the tough task of getting out of the ultra-expansionary monetary policy,” Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It would presumably be right if the ECB dared to exit this year”. Schaeuble added it was “possible and necessary” for the next government to lower taxes after Germany’s general election in September. He said forecasts that inflation could reach 3% in Germany this year would exacerbate concerns about current low interest rates. While admitting he was no fan of the ECB’s monetary policy, he added, “The ECB has a mandate for the eurozone, and it carries it out well.”
Schaeuble said the core issue was that a number of eurozone countries had not been able to boost competitiveness as required. “The problem is the weakness of the other countries, not Germany’s strength,” he said. The conservative minister said it would take a great effort to convince German citizens that the common currency provided more employment, social and business benefits than risks and negative consequences. To help Germany make the argument, he said it was essential that Italy and other countries stuck to the agreed rules. Schaeuble’s deputy Jens Spahn told Reuters last week that a “prudent start to the exit” of the ECB’s expansive monetary policy was desirable. The ECB aims for inflation of just under 2%, but it has undershot its target for years. To fight off deflation, the central bank has cut interest rates to zero and launched a massive but controversial bond-buying programme. Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties if it does not change course soon.
Germany will begin returning asylum seekers to Greece from mid-March, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP on Thursday, essentially lifting a five-year suspension on such transfers because of poor conditions there. Under the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member-state of the bloc they enter, often the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Italy. If asylum seekers have travelled on to other EU nations, they are to be returned to their first port of call. But that requirement had been halted for Greece, which together with Italy has been the main point of entry for the more than one million immigrants who have entered the bloc since 2015 fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
A German interior ministry spokesman told AFP that Germany would reinstate the Dublin rule in two months’ time and return newly arrived asylum seekers to their first EU port of call. “In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15th,” said the spokesman, Tobias Plate. The EU recommended on December 8th that member states resume sending asylum seekers back to Greece from March next year, after such transfers were halted since 2011. Athens has criticized the EU’s assessment, with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas saying the current legal framework was “unable to respond to the historic migration flows and leaves the burden to the member states that migrants first arrive in”.
German refugee relief group Pro Asyl has also raised concerns, warning that the measure would put the asylum system in Greece, a country still recovering from a deep debt and economic crisis, under further pressure. Photos of refugees living in tents amid heavy snowfall in Greece caused outrage recently, and the European Commission on Monday called such conditions “untenable”.
In 2014, the Greek health department cut off its cancer screening prevention program, despite a number of warnings issued by professionals both within the country and abroad that such an action would lead to an explosion in otherwise preventable cases turning serious. According to a statement by Evgenia Thanou, general manager for Doctors of the World, “There are people with tumors who can’t afford the cost of chemotherapy, which costs €2,500 for a single dose. As a result there are people who have died because they have not been able to get the correct treatment from the point of diagnosis.” The rationale was that the budget cutbacks, in the range of 55%, would only take place on a short term basis, just long enough to allow for the country to recuperate from recently imposed austerity measures.
Charges for outpatient visits were also increased by 50% per visit, and almost 200 medicines were de-stocked by pharmacies. A further consequence was the artificial drug shortage, caused by companies like Novo Nordisk, which halted insulin shipments to Greece unless the retail prices were raised in a supposed effort to curb hoarding and black market export by professionals. Almost three years later, this policy is still in effect. The result was the gradual closure of 850 medical clinics, both in the capital Athens as well as in the countryside. Ten thousand beds have been shut down across the country, and 30,000 healthcare professionals removed from frontline positions. Those who remained saw their wages cut by at least 50%.
Among 11 hospitals that have shut down, three are psychiatric while the rest include rural clinics in remote parts of the country, leaving locals without access to a professional in the event of an emergency. The crisis led to the creation of numerous volunteer healthcare organizations in 2015, but their contributions couldn’t put a dent in the number of patients unable to afford any healthcare options. That same year saw the mass migration of thousands of recently graduated or established Greek healthcare professionals across Europe, with almost 4,000 headed for Germany and the Nordic countries seeking steadier employment in a more welcoming professional environment. The results of the brain drain haven’t yet been entirely felt, but experts agree the long-term effects could cripple the country’s prospects for decades to come.
Raul Ilargi Meijer von The Automatic Earth ist wieder in Athen und versucht, die schwierigen Bedingungen zu erleichtern, die in Griechenland bestehen. Die Aufmerksamkeit der Medien und der Welt ist abgelenkt, obwohl sich selbst diese Bedingungen zunehmend verschlechtern. Akute Probleme ziehen kollektive Aufmerksamkeit an, chronische aber leider nicht. Griechenland steckt tief in volkswirtschaftlicher Depression mit ausgewachsenem Liquiditätsengpass, Kapitalkontrollen, Massenarbeitslosigkeit, fehlender medizinischer Versorgung, Hungerepidemien und vielen anderen Schwierigkeiten.
Die von außen bereitgestellten Resourcen fließen zum größten Teil durch offizielle Kanäle, aber die Körperschaften, die mit der Auslieferung der Hilfen beauftragt sind, sind oft zu groß um zu erkennen, wo die wahren Bedürfnisse liegen, um dann rechtzeitig darauf zu reagieren, oder um die Mittel effektiv und effizient einzusetzen. Einfach gesagt neigen große Organisationen dazu, bürokratisch zu sein, und einen großen administrativen Wasserkopf zu haben, der viele Resourcen intern verschlingt. Als Außenseiter fehlen ihnen auch oft die kulturellen Verbindungen, welche notwendig sind um informelle Brücken zu bauen und Hilfmittelverteilung zu lenken. Die Regeln, welche die intitutionalisierte Hilfsindustrie befolgen muß, zum Beispiel die Bedingung für Hungernde, sich auszuweisen, bevor man berechtig ist, Lebensmittel zu erhalten, kann zu großen Hindernissen führen.
“Policies that could prevent the crisis [..] include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing.”
James Rickards sees threats in many places. In his latest book, “The Road to Ruin: The Global Elites’ Secret Plan for the Next Financial Crisis,” he paints a picture of how that crisis will unfold. He argues that rather than pumping the financial system with liquidity, as happened in 2008, “elites” will freeze the financial plumbing until the crisis has passed. That means banks will close, as will exchanges. Money-market funds will be inaccessible. Forget trying to get your hands on money. Rickards, who was the principal negotiator of the 1998 bailout of Long-Term Capital Management as the hedge fund’s general counsel, calls this new world “ice-nine,” after a fictitious substance in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle.” Freezing customer funds in bank accounts is what happened in Cyprus is 2012 and Greece in 2015, he says. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule in 2014 that lets money-market funds suspend redemptions.
MarketWatch: Why do you believe a financial crisis is coming in 2018, and what do you see as the likely triggers? James Rickards: A financial crisis is certainly coming. In “The Road to Ruin,” I use 2018 as a target date and device because the two prior systemic crises, 1998 and 2008, were 10 years apart. I extended the timeline 10 years into the future from the 2008 crisis to maintain the 10-year tempo, and this is how I arrived at 2018. Yet I make the point in the book that the exact date is unimportant. What is most important is that the crisis is coming and the time to prepare is now. It could happen in 2018, 2019, or it could happen tomorrow. The conditions for collapse are all in place. It’s simply a matter of the right catalyst and array of factors in the critical state. Likely triggers could include a major bank failure, a failure to deliver physical gold, a war, a natural disaster, a cyber–financial attack and many other events. The trigger does not matter. The exact timing does not matter. What matters is that the crisis is inevitable and coming soon. Investors need to prepare.
MW : Is this likely to be on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis? Or what is a better comparison? J.R.: The new crisis will be of unprecedented scale. This is because the system itself is of unprecedented scale and interconnectedness. In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale. This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10. Since we have vastly increased the scale of the financial system since 2008, with larger banks, greater concentration of banking assets in fewer institutions, larger derivatives positions, and $70 trillion of new debt, we should expect the next crisis to be much worse than the last. There is no comparison short of wartime exigencies such as 1914. The next crisis will be of unprecedented scale and damage.
MW : On the flip side, what could prevent this crisis? And how do you respond to those who say this is just fear-mongering and a conspiracy theory? What are they missing? J.R.: Policies that could prevent the crisis are spelled out clearly in the book. These include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing. The book also explains clearly why the dysfunctions in the system are not a “conspiracy” but the workings of like-minded individuals operating in a closed loop lacking cognitive diversity. I am not a fear-monger; people are already afraid, [and] I’m just trying to shed some light on the situation, which is why readers have responded so positively to the book. The critics do not have a firm grasp of the statistical properties of risk. They are clinging to obsolete equilibrium models instead of embracing more accurate models based on complexity theory and behavioral psychology.
By the 2000s, Neocons had taken over the Republican Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK and could count on allies in Italy (Berlusconi) and Spain (Aznar). In the following decade, Neocon ideology spread virulently, substituting for the failed experiment of military intervention to overthrow non-cooperating governments with covert operations funding and/or arming local groups in Libya, Syria,Tunisia Egypt, Georgia, and Ukraine. Neocon adherents took over the US state department, and their grip on it was strengthened by the appointment of Barack Obama as assistant to Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for European affairs, wife of Robert Kagan, who is in turn a top Neocon ideologist alongside Paul Wolfowitz. They also created the narrative spread and reinforced by the mainstream media, which expose the alleged crimes of non-cooperating regimes in Syria, Russia and Libya, while ignoring the anti “democratic” behavior by friendly dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia’s kings.
The mission however never changed. What changed is the mood of Western citizens about the government changes and state-building projects of the Western leadership; as the economic and human cost grew endlessly, the Western public opinion has become fed up with interventionism around the world. The British Labour party was the first to face the malcontents: Blairites are being ousted in favour of anti-NATO, sworn pacifist Jeremy Corbyn. Then Donald Trump won the US election with his “America First” i.e. a policy of “non-interventionism and protectionism”, defeating Hillary’s hawkish one, publicly endorsed by Kagan and Wolfowitz; Sarkozy and Juppè were defeated in the primaries in France by Fillon, who is advocating the end of the trade war against big bad Neocon target Russia. The Neocon-backing Western establishment is facing political upheaval all over Europe and the US.
These revolutions are not mere popular movements. Trump’s election is the handing over of power from one influential group to another because a part of the establishment has become fully aware of the problems Europe and the US are facing. After a fourteen-year war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq the bloodshed spilled over into the streets of Paris and Berlin. The killing of civilians in the streets in Europe was not supposed to happen after the eradication of Al Qaeda and the alleged elimination of its leader Osama Bin Laden. Or should we rather say European insanity is spilling over, as the European establishment is simultaneously bombing a country and importing the country’s inhabitants? What do the Western leadership expect to have on their hands? Meanwhile Russia is reemerging as a more successful international actor.
A new study by economists from Harvard and Princeton indicates that 94% of the 10 million new jobs created during the Obama era were temporary positions. The study shows that the jobs were temporary, contract positions, or part-time “gig” jobs in a variety of fields. Female workers suffered most heavily in this economy, as work in traditionally feminine fields, like education and medicine, declined during the era. The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%.
Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” said Krueger. Under Obama, 1 million fewer workers, overall, are working than before the beginning of the Great Recession. The outgoing president believes his administration was a net positive for workers, however. “Since I signed Obamacare into law (in 2010), our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs,” said Obama, during his farewell press conference last Friday.
“If you get into a trade war with China, sooner or later we’ll have to come to grips with that,” Carl Icahn, now special advisor to President-Elect Trump, told CNBC on Thursday. “I remember the day something like that would really knock the hell out of the market.” A trade war with China surely would be another wall of worry for stocks to climb. Trump’s rhetoric against China, each morsel packaged into 140 characters or less, has already recreated much-needed turbulence [read… Trump Tweets about China, US Businesses Freak out]. “But maybe if you’re going to do it,” Icahn said about the looming trade war with China, “you should get it over with, right?”
This comes after rumors emerged that Trump’s transition team is chewing over the idea to impose import tariffs of up to 10%, “according to multiple sources,” including a “senior Trump transition official,” CNN reported. The idea is to boost US manufacturing. The new tariffs could be imposed by executive order or by Congress as part of broader tax reform legislation. The 10% would be an uptick from the 5% tariff that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had put on the table last week, in “meetings with key Washington players,” two sources “who represent business interests in Washington” told CNN. These tariffs would be in line with Trump’s campaign motto of “America First.” Other countries would, as they always do, retaliate. Hence the term “trade war.”
Countries will be careful not to escalate, but these things can escalate nevertheless, because no one wants to seem weak and back off. Either way, it would pull the rug out from under world trade. But world trade, a reflection of the health of the global goods-producing economy, is already in bad shape. For the past two years, it has been languishing in a condition we now call the Great Stagnation. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released the preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for October. World trade isn’t falling off a cliff, as it had done during the Great Recession, when global supply chains froze up overnight. But since November 2014, it has gone absolutely nowhere:
The top 50 central banks around the world have seen a total of 690 interest rate cuts since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, according to data from JP Morgan. While this number means one rate cut every three trading days, analysts have warned that central banks may start to run out of ammunition soon. “Essentially these rate cuts came into effect to try and stimulate economic growth and to prop up economies post the financial crisis,” Alex Dryden, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC via email. However, he warned that central banks are running out of room to maneuver.
“The Bank of Japan, for example, own over 45% of the government bond market, over 65% of the domestic ETF market and are a top 10 shareholder in 90% of listed firms. They have also cut rates into negative territory. There isn’t much more they can do.” Markets, however, continue to ride the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world’s central banks will either continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy through bond-buying programs known as QE or conventional ways such as lowering interest rates to stimulate borrowing. But as we delve deeper into this world of ultra-low interest rate and easy monetary policy, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect.
This raises a very big question – will the global economy ever exit this low interest rate environment? “No easy way out. The world has changed and the level of neutral interest rates has fallen for most countries,” Jan von Gerich, chief economist at Nordea, told CNBC via email. Gerich further explained that the way inflation is responding to growth seems to have changed, which makes monetary policy considerations harder for central bankers. “The situation varies a lot, though. The Fed is gradually finding at least a partial way out while it is hard to see the ECB raising rates before the next recession arrives.”
The Italian government approved a decree on Friday to bail out Monte dei Paschi di Siena after the world’s oldest bank failed to win investor backing for a desperately needed capital increase. Looking to end a protracted banking crisis that has gummed up the economy, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his Cabinet had authorized a €20 billion fund to help lenders in distress – first and foremost Monte dei Paschi. Within minutes of the late-night Cabinet meeting ending, the country’s third largest lender issued a statement saying it would formally request state aid, opening the way for possibly the biggest Italian bank nationalization in decades. The government has said its long-awaited salvage operation will work within EU rules, meaning some Monte dei Paschi bondholders will be forced to accept losses to ensure the taxpayer does not pick up all of the bill.
However, the government and Monte dei Paschi promised protection for around 40,000 retail savers who had bought the bank’s junior debt. Many of the high street investors say they were unaware of the risks when they purchased the paper. “Today marks an important day for Monte dei Paschi, a day that sees it turn a corner and be able to reassure its depositors,” said Gentiloni, who only took office last week and has made the bank rescue his first priority. [..] The collapse of Monte dei Paschi would have threatened the savings of thousands of Italians and could have had devastated the wider banking sector, which is saddled with €356 billion of bad loans – a third of the euro zone’s total. [..] The government said full details of the rescue plan have yet to be worked out, but it outlined the contours in a statement.
It said the bank’s Tier 1 bonds, which are mostly held by professional investors, would be converted into shares at 75% of their nominal value. Tier 2 bonds, which are mostly in the hands of retail investors, will be converted instead at 100% of their face value. To further insulate small savers from losses, Monte dei Paschi will offer to swap the shares they end up with as a result of the forced conversion with regular bonds and sell the same shares to the state instead. “The rescue will require a (new) business plan that European authorities will need to approve and that will allow Italy’s third-largest bank to finally return to operate at full throttle to support the economy and with the full confidence of its depositors,” said Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.
Deutsche Bank will be hoping for a fresh start in 2017 after reaching a $7.2 billion deal with U.S. authorities to settle allegations of the mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Germany’s largest lender said on Friday morning it had agreed ‘in principle’ to pay a $3.1 billion civil fine to be supplemented with the payment of $4.1 billion in consumer relief overtime. The announcement of the fine comes amid a raft of banking stories related to the mis-selling of MBS which hit the wires before Friday’s European market open. This included news that U.S. federal prosecutors would sue Britain’s Barclays bank and that Credit Suisse had reached a provisional $5.3 billion deal, meaning the Swiss bank will take a pre-tax charge of about $2 billion.
Of the total amount demanded of Credit Suisse, $2.48 billion would be an immediate fine to settle the claims and an additional $2.8 billion would be paid over five years for consumer relief. Deutsche Bank’s agreement follows months of negotiations with the U.S.’s Department of Justice (DoJ) and ranks as the third-highest penalty imposed to date on a bank to settle claims of mis-sold mortgage-backed instruments. Although the $7.2 billion payment is far from negligible, investors may take some cold comfort from the fact it is less than $16.7 billion that Bank of America was required to stump up in August 2014 and the $9.0 billion charged to JPMorgan Chase in November 2013. Furthermore, of the full amount, only the $3.1 billion civil fine component is required to be imminently delivered in cash.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued Barclays for fraud in the sale of mortgage securities in the run-up to the financial crisis. The British bank deceived investors about the quality of loans underlying tens of billions of dollars of mortgage securities between 2005 and 2007, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court in Brooklyn, New York. Loans had been made to borrowers with no ability to repay and were based on inflated home appraisals, the complaint said. Barclays said in a statement that the claims in the lawsuit are “disconnected from the facts” and that it has an obligation to defend against “unreasonable allegations and demands.”
In terms of demands, Barclays was apparently referring to negotiations with the Justice Department to settle the claims without a case being filed. “Barclays will vigorously defend the complaint and seek its dismissal at the earliest opportunity,” the statement said. The bank’s U.S.-traded shares were down 1.7 percent at $11.08 shortly before the close of the market. Barclays is among a number of European banks that have been under investigation for misconduct in the sale of mortgage securities, which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.
Interest in U.S. commercial real estate is perking up, particularly from China, as expectations of pro-growth policies from President-elect Donald Trump spark demand for dollar-denominated assets. “(Investors) are seeing the U.S.commercial real estate marketplace as really standing out on a global basis,” said Hessam Nadji, president and chief executive at commercial real estate firm Marcus and Millichap. “It’s not being overbuilt; it’s been very well balanced in this particular cycle in terms of loans that are not going up, the leverage that was very well balanced. They’re at much lower risk at this stage of recovery than we’ve seen in the past,” he told CNBC’s The Rundown. Concerns over the dollar’s appreciation are also prompting some motivation for capital allocation into the U.S. “particularly because the Chinese economy is slowing” and as the yield profile of commercial real estate is competitive, Nadji added.
The EU is trying to “revitalise” a market for controversial financial products, but one of the goals appears to already have been achieved without the EU’s help. Securitisation is the packaging of loans, mortgages, or other contractual debts into securities that can then be sold on the market, together with the risk attached to those debts. It had an instrumental role in the financial crisis of 2008, but the European Commission says giving the securitisation market a boost can help the real economy. The commission has not given a target figure of when “revitalisation” will have been achieved, but spoke in a press release of going back to the “pre-crisis average”.
The commission did not want to comment on the record, but one commission official said that if the market would return to average pre-crisis issuance levels, this would generate €100-€150 billion in additional funding for the economy. “This would already be a major achievement for the securitisation markets,” the commission official said. EUobserver looked at how average issuance levels have done so far, and found that more securities have been created through securitisation since the crisis than before the crisis. This website collected data from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), a lobby group for the financial service sector, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, its US-based counterpart.
Taking a very narrow view, the “pre-crisis” years are 1996-2006. The average issuance of securities in Europe was €168 billion. When including 2007, the average was €203 billion. When including 2008 – when the financial crisis was in full swing – the average was €251 billion. Last week, AFME released data for the third quarter of 2016. The first three quarters of 2016 were the best three quarters since 2012. Taking the most recent data into account, the average annual issuance of securitisation since 2009, is €270 billion. Last year the figure was €216 billion. Even when correcting for inflation, the post-crisis period is already better than the pre-crisis period. Converting the averages to today’s prices, the average since 2009 is €282 billion, compared to a 1996-2007 average of €244 billion.
When asked whether all the “Russian hacking” allegations were just a simple “political stunt” or whether a serious investigation needed to be conducted, Ron Paul offered up a startling bit of reality pointing out that America has a long history of interfering with elections and even invading countries “to have our guy in.” We suspect the following response was a bit more truth than Fox Business News expected.
“I think it is politics more than anything else. It’s really is nothing new. It’s like, guess what – somebody might have done A, B, C.” “The very rarely, if ever, compare what we do with election around the world. We are interfering all the time.” “I’m sure the Russians are interfering. But when you lose, you can jump on that and make a big point of it. But I don’t think it made any difference. I think it’s insignificant.” “If you review the history of how many elections we’ve been involved with, how many countries we’ve invaded and how many people we’ve killed to have our guy in, I’ll tell you what – we don’t have very much room for condemning anybody else.” “I think the spying and interference is sort of the nature of our governments. That’s why I’d like to see government much smaller.”
Sometimes a case looks weak because there is no “smoking gun”—no obvious, direct evidence of conspiracy, malfeasance or evil intent—but once you tally up all the evidence it forms a coherent and damning picture. And so it is with the Obama administration vis à vis Russia: by feigning hostile intent it did everything possible to further Russia’s agenda. And although it is always possible to claim that all of Obama’s failures stem from mere incompetence, at some point this claim begins to ring hollow; how can he possibly be so utterly competent… at being incompetent? Perhaps he just used incompetence as a veil to cover his true intent, which was always to bolster Russia while rendering the US maximally irrelevant in world affairs. Let’s examine Obama’s major foreign policy initiatives from this angle.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of his eight years has been the destruction of Libya. Under the false pretense of a humanitarian intervention what was once the most prosperous and stable country in the entire North Africa has been reduced to a rubble-strewn haven for Islamic terrorists and a transit point for economic migrants streaming into the European Union. This had the effect of pushing Russia and China together, prompting them to start voting against the US together as a block in the UN Security Council. In a single blow, Obama assured an important element of his legacy as a Russian agent: no longer will the US be able to further its agenda through this very important international body.
Next, Obama presided over the violent overthrow of the constitutional government in the Ukraine and the installation of an American puppet regime there. When Crimea then voted to rejoin Russia, Obama imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation. These moves may seem like they were designed to hurt Russia, but let’s look at the results instead of the intentions. First, Russia regained control of an important, strategic region. Second, the sanctions and the countersanctions allowed Russia to concentrate on import replacement, building up the domestic economy. This was especially impressive in agriculture, and Russia now earns more export revenue from foodstuffs than from weapons. Third, the severing of economic ties with the Ukraine allowed Russia to eliminate a major economic competitor.
Fourth, over a million Ukrainians decided to move to Russia, either temporarily or permanently, giving Russia a major demographic boost and giving it access to a pool of Russian-speaking skilled labor. Most Ukrainians are barely distinguishable from the general Russian population.) Fifth, whereas before the Ukraine was in a position to extort concessions from Russia by playing games with the natural gas pipelines that lead from Russia to the European Union, now Russia’s hands have been untied, resulting in new pipeline deals with Turkey and Germany. In effect, Russia reaped all the benefits from the Ukrainian stalemate, while the US gained an unsavory, embarrassing dependent.
Smog is related to nearly one-third of deaths in China, putting it on a par with smoking as a threat to health, according to an academic paper based on the study of air pollution and mortality data in 74 cities and published in an international journal. The findings by Nanjing University’s School of the Environment, which were published in the November edition of the journal the Science of the Total Environment, provides the latest scientific estimates of the health cost of China’s notorious smog. The latest bout of smog began last Friday, affecting about half a billion people on the mainland, with the severest impact in the last three days. Previous research work have found equally alarming results about the country’s toxic air.
The International Energy Agency published its first study on air pollution in June and estimated that severe air pollution has shortened life expectancy in China by an average 25 months. An academic paper co-authored by researchers from MIT in the US, Tsinghua University and Peking University in China, plus the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013 concluded that bad air has cut life expectancy by an average of 5.5 years in the north of the country. There are so far no concrete or widely agreed estimates on the impact of air pollution on health in China partly because it is scientifically complicated to measure and also because there is little historical precedent for prolonged exposure to such high levels of air pollution.
The six researchers from Nanjing University said they conducted the study because air pollution was the “most severe and worrisome environmental problem in China”, but knowledge of its health effects was insufficient. When they looked into 3.03 million deaths in 2013 in 74 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, they found 31.8 per cent could be linked to PM 2.5 pollution – the tiny smog particles most hazardous to health.
Yeah, it’s bitter. Still, as I said yesterday on FB: “Right up the alley of my -repeat- article and appeal yesterday. Only, the Guardian itself runs a fund now. So it has reason to publish this. The problem: the paper supports 3 NGOs, all British. As if they know better than Greeks what to do in Greece. It’s a broken record problem. Too much money gets wasted on hubris and 1001 -repeat- preventable fuck-ups.”
The UN refugee agency and the EU’s aid department have been accused by other aid groups of mismanaging a multimillion-pound fund earmarked for the most vulnerable refugees in Europe, leaving thousands sleeping in freezing conditions in Greece. The Greek government, which has ultimate jurisdiction over camp activities, has also been criticised for failing to use nearly €90m (£75m) of separate EU funding to adequately improve conditions at the camps before the onset of winter. No single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, allowing most parties to distance themselves from blame.
The EU aid department, known as Echo, has given UNHCR more than €14m since April to help prepare roughly 50 refugee camps for the winter in Greece, where an estimated 50,000 mainly Syrian refugees have been stranded since the adoption of new European migration policies in March. A further €24m has been given to UNHCR for other projects. Both organisations stand accused by other aid groups of squandering this money, after failing to properly “winterise” or evacuate dozens of camps before snow fell in Greece earlier in December. In addition to providing warmer bedding and clothes, UNHCR was expected to use this money to move people from tents to heated containers or formal housing; heat warehouses where other refugees are living; provide a consistent supply of hot water; and install insulated flooring for anyone still left in tents.
Months after the funds were dispersed, roughly half of those living in camps had yet to be transferred to formal housing by the onset of winter. Of the 45 camps that were still active at the start of the month, the Guardian visited or was made aware of at least 15 camps that had yet to be properly adapted by the time snow fell in northern Greece at the start of December. UNHCR admitted it was itself aware of only eight camps where all the residents have been moved out of tents and into prefabricated containers.
Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me. And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…
A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.
If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.
Who could have imagined in 2006 that such an outlandish billionaire like Donald Trump could become president of the United States? Who would have believed that the British would leave the European Union? Who would have thought it possible that a right-wing populist party in Germany would win over 10% support in several state elections? Nobody. Ten years ago, the world was a vastly different place. In 2006, Germany lived through its “Summer Fairytale” of hosting the football World Cup – still untainted by accusations of corruption – and presented itself as a cosmopolitan host. Russia was still part of the G-8 and welcomed world leaders to the summit in St. Petersburg. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey and prayed in the Blue Mosque. In Berlin, the first Islam conference took place, promoting better integration for the religion.
A Romano Prodi-led alliance defeated the populist Silvio Berlusconi in Italian parliamentary elections. And international trade grew by 9% while the Chinese economy spiked by almost 13%. Between then and now lie years of crisis. Banks and entire countries had to be bailed out, debt grew and faith in the economy and politics evaporated. Central banks chopped their interest rates again and again to stimulate the economy – with modest success and significant side-effects: Debt continued climbing around the world while in industrialized countries, savers suffered and middle-class retirement funds in particular took a hit. Now, in 2016, many people in Western, industrialized countries are worried about losing their jobs, their prosperity and that of their children. They see themselves as the losers of a development that has only helped the elite.
[..] It is a fact that globalization and free trade have increased global prosperity, but they have also increased inequality in the world’s wealthiest nations. They have made the biggest companies more powerful, because business operates globally while politics tends to be a local or regional affair, and made the world more vulnerable to crises, because everything is networked and the debts of American homeowners could lead the entire world to the brink of collapse. In short, globalization is responsible for a host of problems that would otherwise not exist. And it is therefore in the process of gambling away the trust of people around the world. Already today, global trade growth has slowed and state interference is on the rise. The world finds itself at a turning point. It must try to eliminate the drawbacks of globalization without destroying its advantages. If, on the other hand, protectionism and populism gain the upper hand, there is a danger that global prosperity could shrink. The age of globalization would be at an end.
Until he takes office in January, Donald Trump won’t be able to follow through on his pledges to scrap TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, or penalize Chinese imports. Even without him, protectionism is rising, and world trade is slowing. Responding to an outcry from local steelmakers, the EU this year has punished Chinese competitors for allegedly selling steel below cost. The EU has announced antidumping duties as high as 81.1% on Chinese steel. “Free trade must be fair, and only fair trade can be free,” EC VP Jyrki Katainen said in a statement on Nov. 9, adding that some 30 million European jobs depend on free trade. Around the world, many companies that binged on easy credit after the global financial crisis have excess capacity and are struggling to find buyers, since economic growth in the U.S., Europe, and Japan is relatively weak, and China’s economy is cooling.
“The pie is growing more slowly, and that makes domestic producers more defensive about their share of it and more willing to fight when threatened,” says Tim Condon, chief Asia economist in Singapore with ING. Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik points out that over the past two decades, consumers and businesses have spent heavily on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but despite efforts by Apple and others to popularize smart watches, there’s no new must-have device to boost global trade. Stagnant income growth in the West also forces politicians to show they understand voters’ worries. “The pressure grows for governments to appease those voices by giving them the things they want,” says Orlik, “and the things they want are trade restrictions.”
[..] In the five months leading up to mid-October, members of the world’s 20 major economies, the Group of 20, implemented an average of 17 trade constraints a month, the World Trade Organization reported on Nov. 10. “The continued introduction of trade-restrictive measures is a real and persistent concern,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a statement. The curbs come while global commerce is sputtering. World trade volume has grown a little more than 3% a year since 2012, the IMF reported last month, less than half the average expansion rate over the prior three decades. Said the IMF, “Between 1985 and 2007, real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global GDP, whereas over the past four years, it has barely kept pace. Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”
Societe Generale’s resident uber-bear, Albert Edwards, says the very long economic recovery underway in the U.S. is gearing up to suffer a “very traditional death” as consumption will likely crumble under rapidly stepped-up inflation and tighter monetary conditions next year. In Edwards’ own words, “Even if the Fed refuses to tighten, monetary conditions will tighten dramatically anyway as bond yields and the dollar surge, exacerbating the profits recession.” “The surge in headline inflation from zero to 2.5%-3% in Q1 next year is likely to crush consumption,” he continued, adding, “The expected expansion of the fiscal deficit under Trump will not prevent this happening in 2017 as it will come too late – in 2018/19.”
Edwards breaks down the recent spike in nominal bond yields by pointing out it has been driven by spiraling inflation expectations with real yields staying relatively steady. An anomaly in the current situation, he says, is that this has occurred without an accompanying surge in oil prices. However, what has risen more quickly than acknowledged by the U.S. Federal Reserve or the broader market, in his view, is real wage inflation, partially disguised by the weakness of nominal wage inflation given subdued consumer price index (CPI) inflation. But as we move into an era of higher CPI inflation, Edwards warns that it is such real wage inflation that will slip to zero before long. According to Edwards, “We might quibble about how much nominal wage inflation might accelerate in a weak economic and corporate profits environment, but accelerate it will.”
Why this is so important, he notes, is that it is likely to propel the Fed into action. Speaking about the U.S. central bank, he says “to those who retort that the increasingly weak economy in H1 2017 means they should not tighten, I would probably agree. But that doesn’t mean the Fed won’t be forced into it by surging wage inflation.” The knock-on effect for bonds will come through in the form of a continued rise in yields over the next six months with the trend upwards now having become a momentum trade with investors “looking for a narrative to support the direction of travel”.
There was an awful lot of cheering about the recent retail sales report which showed an uptick of 0.8% which beat the analyst’s estimates of 0.6%. Despite the fact the improvement was driven by a surge in gasoline prices (which is important as consumers did not consume MORE of the product, but just paid more for it) important discretionary areas like restaurants and furniture declined. However, if we dig deeper behind the headlines more troubling trends emerge for the consumer which begins to erode the narrative of the “economy is doing great” and “there is no recession” in sight. [..] Despite ongoing prognostications of a “recession nowhere in sight,” it should be remembered that consumption drives roughly 2/3rds of the economy. Of that, retail sales comprise about 40%. Therefore, the ongoing deterioration in retail sales should not be readily dismissed. More troubling is the rise in consumer credit relative to the decline in retail sales as shown below.
What this suggests is that consumers are struggling just to maintain their current living standard and have resorted to credit to make ends meet. Since the amount of credit extended to any one individual is finite, it should not surprise anyone that such a surge in credit as retail sales decline has been a precursor to previous recessions. Further, the weakness of consumption can be seen in the levels of retailers inventory relative to their actual sales. We can also view this problem with retail sales by looking at the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Survey. The survey asks respondents about last quarter’s actual sales versus next quarter’s expectations.
[..] it really isn’t just the Millennial age group that are struggling to save money but the entirety of the population in the bottom 80% of income earners. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, 81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005: “Based on market income from wages and capital, the study shows 81% of US citizens are worse off now than a decade ago. In France the figure is 63%, Italy 97%, and Sweden 20%.”
Republicans have long argued that economic growth from tax cuts should be fed back into the model, year by year. They call this approach “dynamic scoring” or “macroeconomic analysis.” For the first time, macroeconomic analysis will likely prevail in next year’s official scores for major revenue bills from the JCT. Some Democrats, who’ve been suspicious of an approach that makes tax cuts look cheaper, are slowly warming to the same idea for appropriations bills. It could make infrastructure spending look cheaper, too. Into this fussing over details strides Donald Trump. During the campaign, he proposed a tax cut that would cost, according to his own preferred estimate, $4.4 trillion. And to pay for it, his campaign proposed a new kind of analysis, an economic model radically more complex than what either academics or policymakers have tried in the past.
All aspects of Trump’s plan, including trade and regulatory rollbacks, would be part of the analysis. Together, the campaign argued, they would create enough growth, and therefore enough tax revenue, to offset all but about $200 billion of those tax cuts. The real challenge of budgeting is to offer something, but at a discount. In 2017 dynamic scoring will let the Republican majority offer tax cuts without having to offset them entirely with spending cuts. It may even offer infrastructure spending—without having to renege on the promise of tax cuts. If the models are right, they’re right. If they’re wrong, the tax cuts will be a debt-driven Keynesian stimulus. Dynamic scoring arrived on the Republican wave of 1994. In January 1995, as one of its first acts, the new GOP majority in Congress invited Alan Greenspan, among others, to a rare joint hearing of the budget committees.
The representatives wanted to talk about macroeconomic models of budget changes. Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve and thus in charge of the world’s best-known macroeconomic modeler, was skeptical. Then as now, the CBO every year produces a 10-year projection of economic growth. This is the “baseline,” the fixed point from which everything else is calculated. Under “static analysis,” modelers in Washington make assumptions about human behavior. But as they project out into the future, they can’t change the CBO’s baseline gross domestic product. Under “dynamic analysis,” they can. Next year’s projected growth changes the baseline for the year after, and so on. If static analysis is arithmetic, dynamic analysis is calculus.
Donald Trump plans massive fiscal stimulus to combat lackluster growth just as the budget deficit begins rising again, making this a good time to look at how federal revenues have been used to steer the economy in the past. After the six recessions prior to the 2007-2009 downturn, lawmakers let the deficit’s share of GDP rise for an average of 15 months to make sure the economy was back on track. Following the last downturn, the most severe since World War II, Barack Obama’s stimulus gave way to Republican-backed spending cuts to shrink the deficit within just eight months – and the weakest recovery in decades.
Forget all that talk about Janet Yellen stepping down if Donald Trump becomes president: The Fed chair told Congress on Thursday she’s not leaving. Trump has been critical of the central bank leader and has suggested that he would replace her at some point. He once told CNBC that Yellen should be “ashamed” of her actions, saying her policies were political positions to help President Barack Obama. Amid expectations that the president-elect would step up political pressure on the Fed after he takes office in January, there was chatter that Yellen might just step aside. “No I cannot,” she said when asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney if there were circumstances under which she might leave before her term expires. “I was confirmed by the Senate to a four-year term, which ends at the end of January of 2018, and it is fully my intention to serve out that term.” If Trump removes her from the chair, she could still stay on as a governor until her 14-year term expires in 2024.
The EU is in danger of breaking apart unless France and Germany, in particular, work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens’ concerns, French PM Manuel Valls said in the German capital on Thursday. Valls said the two countries, for decades the axis around which the EU revolved, had to help refocus the bloc to tackle an immigration crisis, a lack of solidarity between member states, Britain’s looming exit, and terrorism. “Europe is in danger of falling apart,” Valls said at an event organized by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “So Germany and France have a huge responsibility.” He said France must continue to open up its economy, not least by cutting corporate taxation, while Germany and the EU as a whole must increase investment that would stimulate growth and job creation, as well as boosting defense.
As Britain seeks to negotiate its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, hoping to restrict immigration from the EU while maintaining as much access as possible to the EU single market, Valls said it must be prevented from cherry-picking. “If they are able to have all the advantages of Europe without the inconveniences, then we are opening a window for others to leave the EU,” Valls said. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britons’ vote to leave the EU, and Valls said the bloc, which more than a million migrants entered last year, had to regain control of its borders. He said the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory showed how important it was to listen to angry citizens, and that politicians scared of making decisions were opening the door to populists and demagogues.
In France, opinion polls suggest that the far-right, anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen will win the first round of the presidential election next April, before losing the runoff.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday that he would have no interest in a government role if he loses Italy’s upcoming constitutional referendum. In an interview on Italian radio, the premier said: “I’m here to change things. If that doesn’t happen, there is no role for me to play.” If the ‘No’ vote wins on December 4th and Renzi’s proposed changes to the constitution are rejected, it is likely that a temporary or technical government will be formed to change the electoral law before general elections can be held. The PM said he would not be willing to seek a deal with other parties to form a coalition if this happens, adding that he didn’t want to take part in “old-style political games”. Renzi vowed to “fight like a lion” to win the vote and said he believed the “silent majority” of voters would back him in the referendum.
He is currently touring the south of the country, where the ‘No’ camp’s lead is strongest. However, he also emphasized that he didn’t envisage a ‘No’ victory causing immediate problems in the country. “The 5th of December won’t be Armageddon,” said Renzi. “If ‘No’ wins, everything will stay as it is. Italians shouldn’t be fooled by politicians who are fighting to keep the privileges they have always had.” The reforms would see the number of senators and their legislative power drastically reduced, which Renzi claims will cut down on bureaucracy, making government more stable and efficient. But his opponents argue that there are inconsistencies in his proposed changes, and that they would put too much power in the hands of the prime minister.
The Bangladeshi selfie-stick hawkers are doing a brisk trade outside the Colosseum. Local chain-smoking lads dressed as gladiators prey on vulnerable tourists, while portly priests on their annual visit to Catholicism’s corporate HQ take time out from soul-searching. Even the heavily armed soldiers, there to protect against a potential Italian Bataclan, are smiling in the Mediterranean sunshine. And as it is midday in Italy, everyone is checking out everyone else. All looks quite normal, chilled out and as it should be. But it is not. Italy is a country going through what could be described as a nervous breakdown. After a decade of almost no economic growth, in two weeks Italians will vote in a referendum which will determine what direction this huge country of nearly 60 million people will take. The result will profoundly affect the EU.
Although the referendum is technically about the way Italy is governed, the country is split down the middle in a plebiscite that has come to symbolise something much bigger. Once again, like the Brexit vote and the Trump election, this referendum is about insiders against outsiders. It is about those who are the victims of inequality and globalisation and those who uphold the status quo. On one side, you have the Italian political elite — the insiders embodied by Matteo Renzi, the youthful prime minister. He represents the people and institutions that have ruled Italy for decades. On the other side, you have an unusual anti-EU coalition, the Left and the Right — the ‘Outsiders’ — who are united by a common belief that, after 10 years of economic stagnation, there must be another way.
We have the same picture we saw in the UK in June and in the US last week, where an elite is desperately trying to connect with the people and large swathes of the population are saying they have had enough. In terms of the big picture, the Italian election can be seen as yet another domino in a year of falling dominos. First we had Brexit, then Trump, and the next big one for Europe after Italy is the potential rise of Le Pen in France. Italy is the triplet in a quartet that will culminate in France, and, in my opinion, if the Italian elite loses on December 4th, Marine Le Pen will win in France.
EU member states and European Parliament have reached an agreement on a budget for next year that focuses on tackling the migration crisis and creating jobs. After 20 hours of discussions, a deal was reached early on Thursday (17 November) to set the total commitments for 2017 at €157.88 billion and payments at €134.49 billion. “The 2017 EU budget will thus help buffer against shocks, providing a boost to our economy and helping to deal with issues like the refugee crisis,” budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said. The budget commits €5.91 billion to tackling the migration crisis and reinforcing security, an 11.3% increase on 2016’s figure, according to a statement from the EU Council, which represents member states.
The money will help EU countries resettle refugees, create reception centres, and return those who have no right to stay. Extra spending will also go to help enhance border protection, crime prevention, counter terrorism activities and protect critical infrastructure. A total of €21.3 billion was put aside to boost economic growth and create new jobs, which is an increase of around 12% compared with this year, the council said. The Erasmus+ scheme, a cross-border student programme, will see an increase of its budget of 19%. The 2017 budget also includes €500 million for youth unemployment, and a €42.6 billion support for farmers.
In a Nov. 14 phone call with President-elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations between their two countries. But U.S. tech companies shouldn’t expect warmer ties to ease a Kremlin effort to freeze out their products. Seeking to cut dependence on companies such as Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, Putin in recent years has urged the creation of domestic versions of everything from operating systems and e-mail to microchips and payment processing. Putin’s government says Russia needs protection from U.S. sanctions, bugs, and any backdoors built into hardware or software. “It’s a matter of national security,” says Andrey Chernogorov, executive secretary of the State Duma’s commission on strategic information systems. “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”
Since last year, Russia has required foreign internet companies to store Russian clients’ data on servers in the country. In January the Kremlin ordered government agencies to use programs for office applications, database management, and cloud storage from an approved list of Russian suppliers or explain why they can’t—a blow to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Google last year was ordered to allow Android phone makers to offer a Russian search engine. And a state-backed group called the Institute of Internet Development is holding a public contest for a messenger service to compete with text and voice apps like WhatsApp and Viber. Russia’s Security Council has criticized the use of those services by state employees over concerns that U.S. spies could monitor the encrypted communications while Russian agencies can’t. Trump’s election hasn’t changed those policies, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This doesn’t depend on external factors,” he says. “It’s a consistent strategy.”
My organization, WikiLeaks, took a lot of heat during the run-up to the recent presidential election. We have been accused of abetting the candidacy of Donald J. Trump by publishing cryptographically authenticated information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its influence over the Democratic National Committee, the implication being that a news organization should have withheld accurate, newsworthy information from the public. The Obama Justice Department continues to pursue its six-year criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, the largest known of its kind, into the publishing of classified documents and articles about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Mrs. Clinton’s first year as secretary of state. According to the trial testimony of one F.B.I. agent, the investigation includes several of WikiLeaks founders, owners and managers.
And last month our editor, Julian Assange, who has asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, had his internet connection severed. I can understand the frustration, however misplaced, from Clinton supporters. But the WikiLeaks staff is committed to the mandate set by Mr. Assange, and we are not going to go away, no matter how much he is abused. That’s something that Democrats, along with everyone who believes in the accountability of governments, should be happy about. Despite the mounting legal and political pressure coming from Washington, we continue to publish valuable material, and submissions keep pouring in. There is a desperate need for our work: The world is connected by largely unaccountable networks of power that span industries and countries, political parties, corporations and institutions; WikiLeaks shines a light on these by revealing not just individual incidents, but information about entire structures of power.
While a single document might give a picture of a particular event, the best way to shed light on a whole system is to fully uncover the mechanisms around it – the hierarchy, ideology, habits and economic forces that sustain it. It is the trends and details visible in the large archives we are committed to publishing that reveal the details that tell us about the nature of these structures. It is the constellations, not stars alone, that allow us to read the night sky. [..] WikiLeaks will continue publishing, enforcing transparency where secrecy is the norm. While threats against our editor are mounting, Mr. Assange is not alone, and his ideas continue to inspire us and people around the world.
The toll of missing and dead rose Thursday in a grim week of Mediterranean crossings as African survivors described being robbed of life jackets and boat engines and abandoned to a watery grave. A group of 27 survivors, all men, were plucked to safety on Wednesday, but roughly 100 other passengers who set off with them from Libya were missing and feared drowned, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said. Along with two other shipwrecks this week, the latest incident pushed the toll to 18 confirmed dead and 340 missing, in what was already the most lethal year ever recorded for migrant deaths at sea. The survivors rescued Wednesday by a British Navy ship, described being stripped of their sole means of survival by the men they had paid for safe passage.
They had set off before dawn on Monday from a beach close to Tripoli. After several hours the traffickers, travelling aboard a separate boat, ordered them at gunpoint to hand over life jackets they had paid for, as well as the boat engine, and left them without a satellite phone to call for help. “At that point I thought we were going to die”, said Abdoullae Diallo, 18, according to MSF. “Without a motor, we couldn’t go far. A trafficker told us we would be rescued but I felt like we were going to die.” The overcrowded dinghy began rapidly taking on water and deflated. Tossed for two days and nights on rough seas, some passengers fell overboard, while others succumbed to exhaustion. By the time the British Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise – engaged in the anti-trafficking Sofia operation – found them, just 27 people were left alive, clinging to what was left of the dinghy.
[..] The first group of survivors were brought to Catania, in Sicily, while the second group were expected to arrive on Italy’s mainland in the port of Reggio Calabria Some were children. “One young boy has been weeping, asking for his mother,” Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee told AFP. “Another has written a list of names of the people travelling with him and re-reads it over and over. He wants to know if his friends are on the boat or in the sea,” she said.
Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic. It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken. But in the fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia. At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.