Feb 112019
 


Johannes Vermeer Woman holding a balance 1662-63

 

 

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise.
-Hazel Henderson

It’s often hard to understand how people can be aware of something but then fail to link it to a perfectly logical next step, or even multiple steps, and see where it fits in a larger scheme. There really are people out there, believe it or not, who look at economic and political developments over the past decade in any particular western country and believe they are unique to that country.

In reality, while things may play out slightly differently from one place to the other, the core causes of what’s been unfolding are the exact same ones in every single location. The reactions of incumbent politicians and economics has been the same as well: massage the numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you and yours are on the ‘right side’ of the line.

In France, the main complaint that the Yellow Vests movement has now taken into its 13th consecutive weekend is crystal clear: people can’t pay their bills anymore. In the UK, austerity has demolished wages, social care, the NHS and much else. In the US, many millions of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency payment, have ever scarcer access to healthcare and live from paycheck to paycheck.

Rinse and repeat for every western nation. The storylines vary somewhat, but they all tell the same tale, they could be, they are, chapters in the same book. And it makes one think if people are not connecting them.

Renowned French philosopher Michel Onfray summarizes Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) problem in these words: “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

That is true in France, and it is also true in the UK, US and many other countries. People may not see liberalism as their problem, or even know, let alone understand the term, but what they do understand is they can’t pay their bills anymore. And Macron’s response, just like that of Washington and London, is more neoliberalism, or, again in Onfray’s words:

“This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong”. [..] “The [liberal] Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”

The sign in the picture below says: “We live in a world where those who make 100,000 a month convince those who make 1,800 that everything is going wrong because of those who live on 535 euro. And it works… (thanks to the media)” That’s what the Yellow Vests are about.

 


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

 

Again, it’s not about the term (neo-)liberalism, and it’s not some ideological question or fight, it’s about people not being able to pay their bills, and about politicians leaving them hanging all alone in a freezing wind. Nor is it a left against right issue. Western countries only have formerly left parties left; people who can’t pay their bills have been left to fend for themselves, no matter what they vote, and they finally understand that.

In Italy, traditional parties were all but wiped out to be replaced with the Lega and M5S. In France, ditto, but there Macron was the ‘new’ guy. In Germany, Merkel still holds the CDU/CSU ship somewhat steady, but she’s a goner and the right rises.

In Britain, there’s still only the two main parties, but they’re already history. It makes no difference what Jeremy Corbyn does or doesn’t do, he’ll be crushed by the betrayal Tony Blair inflicted on the nation in name of the same Labour Party now ‘led’ by Corbyn. While the Tories, like the Democrats in the US, rely on having taken over the media.

But it’s still a bit bewildering to see Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer’s “award-winning chief political commentator”, no less, write an entire article about what’s ailing British politics without linking this to the rest of the world, where the exact same issues play out. Of course it’s obvious that Brexit has become a divisive issue, not only in UK politics but also there, and not just between parties but also within them.

But if anything, Brexit is not a cause but a mere symptom of the British variety of the Great Discontent. The cause is that in Britain, too, people can’t pay their bills anymore. One country gets Trump, the next one Yellow Vests, and the third gets Brexit.

 

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits

It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election. But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible.

It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither.

More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties. Many politicians can’t stand the parties they represent. Some actively and publicly rage about what has become of them. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when so many MPs have expressed so much disgust and despair with the state of their own parties.

Mr. Rawnsley manages to avoid any mention of anything at all existing outside of the British borders in the entire article, other than chiding Corbyn for failing to condemn Maduro. And you’re right, if that is the extent of your media, or even that of the formerly left-leaning bit, you may need an extra decade or so to figure out what the rest of the world already knows.

 

In the US, Trump replaced and/or took over the Republican Party, while Ocasio-Sanchez -AOC- is the only strong voice for the Democrats. Sure, she’s 29 and can’t run for the White House, but given that the alternative is Pelosi/Schumer and much more of that exact same cabal, anyone with presidential dreams had better get her blessings.

And sure, her Green New Deal/Dream can easily be dismissed as crazy, but pray tell what the difference is between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve has financed its QE schemes. Perhaps the big difference is who profits; in one instance, the banks, in the other, society at large.

Or from a different perspective, there, too, AOC is like Trump: first, you start big and after, you see what can be done. Her version of the art of the deal. Besides, she has a plan, and nobody else has one. Except perhaps for Bernie, but his credibility was fatally wounded by letting the DNC waltz all over him in 2016.

And his age is not going to help: if you’re really fed up with what’s there because it’s disappointed you three ways to Sunday and now you can’t pay your bills, you’re not going to vote for grandpa, you’re going to go for someone young. Still, if Bernie hooks up with Ocasio, he may have a shot.

For all the others in the already crowded field, it’s what have you done for me lately, and they all either haven’t done dick all or they can’t string two words together without looking like someone wrote it all down for them. Look for a whole bunch from the Clinton/Wasserman mold (i.e. every candidate so far) to support the Green New Deal, but only to sabotage it, and Ocasio, at the first available opportunity.

 

If people already find the very large and very obvious political changes too much to comprehend, here’s some awkward news for you, and it’s not just that the media vs social media fight must inevitably lead to an ever stronger tsunami of ‘news’ overkill. Though that’s a big one: the media once upon a time reported the news, an outdated business model; today they don’t report the news, they manufacture it.

It’s more profitable because people are more gullible and/or they’re drowning in the giant overkill waves. I like that tsunami metaphor for news dissemination: people think social media will work to their advantage, like when the waters recede after a quake, that they have more control over their news. But then it all comes back in one big go and they’re completely lost.

The main upcoming event in media and politics won’t be the Great Political Discontent, it will be the economic one. Those who can’t pay their bills today will be the first victims of the massaged economic numbers finding themselves subject to gravity once again. Central banks won’t be able to prop up the zombies anymore, or the facade. The media will turn against the prevailing order when they deem it profitable. Or, rather, in a desperate attempt at survival.

What once was the middle class will join the various Yellow Vest groups around the world. So will whatever it is you call what took the place of the middle class. Certainly after their housing bubble mortgages become eligible for margin calls. Then all that’s left will be the very rich and the very poor. It’ll be back to the Middle Ages. Just with 20 times as many people. And with over half the wildlife gone, and the arable land, and 80% of insects gone since 1980 alone.

But yeah, we can also pretend that any problem we encounter can only possibly be a temporary blip, and there’s sunshine on the way around the corner, not pitchforks. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s precisely because we do nothing but pretend, that we gather all the problems in the first place that make one think of pitchforks, if even so briefly.

And I’m also pretty sure that we’re a lot less smart than we tell ourselves we are considering we kill off that without which we have zero chance of survival, and considering we let people starve in the richest human society the world has ever seen (make that: will ever see), but we still have trouble seeing our own noses, let alone following them.

We’re such blind masters of pretence that we hardly ever noticed the Great Discontent entering our nations, our communities and our homes. What then are the odds we will perceive the arrival of the Great Unraveling?

 

 

Dec 232018
 
 December 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Adoration of the Shepherds 1609

 

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)
David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”
Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)
UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)
If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)
Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)
Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)
We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)
Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)
Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

 

 

Krakatau in 1883 is the stuff of legend. It affected climate all over the world.

“When the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1883, the resulting debris caused vibrant red sunsets around the world for up to three years afterward.”

It also killed 30,000+. But it was still much weaker than Tambora in 1811, also Indonesia, which killed over 70,000.

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)

A tsunami killed at least 168 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday. Hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” when the tsunami struck along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground. There was no estimate on the number of missing. TV images showed the seconds when the tsunami hit the beach and residential areas in Pandeglang on Java island, dragging with it victims, debris, and large chunks of wood and metal.

The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 killed more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area once occupied by Krakatau, which was destroyed in 1883. It first appeared in 1927 and has been growing ever since. Saturday’s tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year. Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island. Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.

Authorities warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches and a high-tide warning remained in place through till Dec. 25. “Those who have evacuated, please do not return yet,” said Rahmat Triyono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, said on Twitter that he had “ordered all relevant government agencies to immediately take emergency response steps, find victims and care for the injured”.

Read more …

Dave Collum still produces his endless end of the year reviews, and he’s still a good friend and avid reader of the Automatic Earth. Even though Twitter sort of shadow banned him from my feed.

David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”

Sources I sit in front of a computer 16 hours a day gerrymandering my brain, at least three of which are dedicated to non-chemistry pursuits. I’m a huge fan of Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson (Peak Prosperity), Tony Greer (TG Macro), Doug Noland (Credit Bubble Bulletin), The Automatic Earth, Grant Williams (Real Vision and Things That Make You Go Hmmm), Raoul Pal (Real Vision), Bill Fleckenstein (Fleckenstein Capital), Mike Krieger (Liberty Blitzkrieg), Demetri Kofinas (Hidden Forces), James Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), Campus Reform, and any nonsense spewed by Twitter legend @RudyHavenstein.

There are so many others, many of whom I consider friends that I am simply waiting to meet. ZeroHedge is by far my preferred consolidator of news; it’s an acquired taste and requires a filter, but I think those rogues are great. Twitter is a window to the world if managed correctly—especially for a chemist attempting to connect with the finance world. Warning: the Holy Grail of maximizing follower counts is an illusion; it produces a counterproductive hyperconnectivity that makes extracting signal from noise difficult. So much flow, so little time.

Read more …

The half of British who don’t want Brexit have no-one to speak for them. That is a volatile situation. And potentially explosive.

Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a storm of criticism from Labour activists and MPs after suggesting he would press ahead with Brexit if the party won a snap general election. In a sign that he is losing backing among overwhelmingly pro-Remain Labour supporters, Corbyn was also accused of betraying the party membership by appearing reluctant to back the idea of supporting Remain in a second referendum. The first signs of a serious internal revolt from party members on the left, who helped propel him to the leadership, came after Corbyn gave an interview to the Guardian in which he suggested he thought Brexit should go ahead and said EU state-aid rules would prevent a Labour government intervening to support UK industries.

His anti-EU tone drew immediate criticism from party supporters and members who had successfully persuaded the leadership to back the possibility of a second referendum at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September. Richard Brooks, a Labour member, activist and co-founder of For our Future’s Sake (FFS), a pro-Remain youth and student-led organisation, said Corbyn risked losing the backing of young people as well as the mass Labour membership he had promised to empower. “Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of betraying and losing the support of millions of young people and students who very nearly propelled him to Downing Street last year, and whose support he needs if he is to ever to become prime minister.

“Students and young people will not forget or forgive politicians who sell them down the river by backing a Brexit that limits our life opportunities and makes us poorer,” he said.

Read more …

Because there’s nothing that cannot be bought.

UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)

A coffee caravan in rural Suffolk, furniture restoration projects for men and organised rambles for the recently bereaved are among more than a hundred initiatives being backed with a £11.5m fund to tackle Britain’s epidemic of loneliness. One hundred and twenty-six projects have been chosen to receive up to £100,000 each in the first ever government-backed fund to tackle a problem that the prime minister, Theresa May, described as “incredibly damaging to our humanity” when she launched a national loneliness strategy in October. The projects will target a wide range of groups from isolated Pakistani women in Bradford to young LGBTQ+ in Bristol and lonely elderly men in Cornwall.

The government believes the health impact of loneliness is on a par with obesity and smoking. It says loneliness is associated with a greater risk of smoking, coronary heart disease and stroke as well as an increased risk of depression, low self-esteem, sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Mims Davies, the minister for loneliness, said: “I am committed to encouraging open conversations around this sensitive topic to reduce the stigma and create an environment where everyone is better connected.”

Rural Coffee Caravan in Suffolk will buy a new camper van that will travel to quiet villages in the East Anglian countryside and set up temporary cafes. It is also using the money to extend an initiative that involves pubs giving out free coffee on Monday mornings. “Loneliness is just so damaging,” said Ann Osborn, its director. “Lonely people are more likely to have problems with obesity, have heart disease and suffer from depression. But also they cut themselves off and so the community suffers.

Read more …

Well, truth is gone from the media already…

If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)

Throughout the long Cold War Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University was a voice of reason. He refused to allow his patriotism to blind him to Washington’s contribution to the confict and to criticize only the Soviet contribution. Cohen’s interest was not to blame the enemy but to work toward a mutual understanding that would remove the threat of nuclear war. Although a Democrat and left-leaning, Cohen would have been at home in the Reagan administration, as Reagan’s first priority was to end the Cold War. I know this because I was part of the effort. Pat Buchanan will tell you the same thing.

[..] Today Cohen is stressed that it is the United States that thinks it can win a nuclear war. Washington speaks openly of using “low yield” nuclear weapons, and intentionally forecloses any peace negotiations with Russia with a propaganda campaign against Russia of demonization, villification, and transparant lies, while installing missile bases on Russia’s borders and while talking of incorporating former parts of Russia into NATO. In his just published book, War With Russia?, which I highly recommend, Cohen makes a convincing case that Washington is asking for war.

I agree with Cohen that if Russia is a threat it is only because the US is threatening Russia. The stupidity of the policy toward Russia is creating a Russian threat. Putin keeps emphasizing this. To paraphrase Putin: “You are making Russia a threat by declaring us to be one, by discarding facts and substituting orchestrated opinions that your propagandistic media establish as fact via endless repetition.” Cohen is correct that during the Cold War every US president worked to defuse tensions, especially Republican ones. Since the Clinton regime every US president has worked to create tensions. What explains this dangerous change in approach?

Read more …

One little rumor can last an entire Christmas season.

Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)

President Donald Trump, reportedly angry over the U.S. central bank’s decision to raise interest rates last week, has talked about ousting Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, according to Bloomberg News. The report, based on “four people familiar with the matter,” said they were not convinced Trump would move against Powell, but that the president’s ire remained elevated over rising interest rates. Rates are climbing at the same time that the stock market has wiped out 2018 gains. In a Saturday evening tweet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has spoken with the president and Trump said, “I totally disagree with Fed policy. I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing, but I never suggested firing Chairman Jay Powell, nor do I believe I have the right to do so.”

On Friday, Trump’s economic team split publicly over the Fed. Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro told a Japanese newspaper that “we” — presumably meaning the White House — didn’t want to see any more interest-rate hikes from the central bank. The Fed has penciled in two rate hikes for 2019. Navarro said that would be “two too many.” “We don’t understand why the Fed is acting so contractionary at a time when there’s no inflation to worry about,” he said. White House chief economist Kevin Hassett said he disagreed with Navarro. “That’s Peter speaking for himself,” Hassett insisted. “I think the appropriate position for an economist in the White House is to respect the independence of the Fed and not comment on their policies,” Hassett said.

Read more …

Is Trump finally getting the chutzpah to implement his promises?

Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)

After two years of getting rolled by the Washington establishment, it seems that President Donald Trump woke up and suddenly realized, “Hey – I’m the president! I have the legal authority to do stuff!” • He has announced his order to withdraw US troops from Syria. • His Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. There are rumors National Security Adviser John Bolton may go too. (Please take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with you!) • He announced a start to withdrawing from Afghanistan. • He now says he will veto a government funding bill unless he gets $5 billion for his Wall, and as of 12:01 AM Washington time December 22 the federal government is officially under partial shutdown.

All of this should be taken with a big grain of salt. While this week’s assertiveness perhaps provides further proof that Trump’s impulses are right, it doesn’t mean he can implement them. The Syria withdrawal will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump talking heads on Fox News, are dead set against him – except for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Senator Lindsey Graham is demanding hearings on how to block the Syria pullout. Congress hardly ever quibbles with a president’s putting troops into a country, where the Legislative Branch has legitimate Constitutional power. But if a president under his absolute command authority wants to pull them out – even someplace where they’re deployed illegally, as in Syria – well hold on just a minute!

We are being told our getting out of Syria and Afghanistan will be a huge “gift” to Russia and Iran. Worse, it is being compared to Barack Obama’s “premature” withdrawal from Iraq (falsely pointed to as the cause of the rise of ISIS) and will set the stage for “chaos.” By that standard, we can never leave anywhere. This will be a critical time for the Trump presidency. (And if God is really on his side, he soon might get another Supreme Court pick.) If he can get the machinery of the Executive Branch to implement his decision to withdraw from Syria, and if he can pick a replacement to General Mattis who actually agrees with Trump’s views, we might start getting the America First policy Trump ran on in 2016.

Read more …

Wait, we do? Matt sounds a bit confused here.

We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)

So we’re withdrawing troops from the Middle East. GOOD! What’s the War on Terror death count by now, a half-million? How much have we spent, $5 trillion? Five-and-a-half? For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point of abject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention. It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.

Unless Donald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads. “Today’s decision would cheer Moscow, ISIS, and Iran!” yelped Nicole Wallace, former George W. Bush communications director. “Maybe Trump will bring Republicans and Democrats together,” said Bill Kristol, on MSNBC, that “liberal” channel that somehow seems to be populated round the clock by ex-neocons and Pentagon dropouts. Kristol, who has rarely ever been in the ballpark of right about anything — he once told us Iraq was going to be a “two month war” — might actually be correct.

Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan will lay bare the real distinctions in American politics. Political power in this country is not divided between right and left, and not even between rich and poor. The real line is between a war party, and everyone else. This is why Kristol is probably right. The Democrats’ plan until now was probably to impeach Trump in the House using at minimum some material from the Michael Cohen case involving campaign-finance violations.

Read more …

“Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation..”

Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)

Outgoing Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis was famous for quipping, “It’s fun to shoot some people.” It remains a supreme irony that Mattis was widely considered the only “adult in the room” in the Trump administration. Compared to whom? John Bolton, the rabid neocon serving as national security adviser? That would be the epitome of “condemning with faint praise.” [..] Mattis was simply incapable of acknowledging the self-destructive, mindless nature of U.S. “endless war” in the Middle East, which candidate-Trump had correctly called “stupid.” In his resignation letter, Mattis also peddled the usual cant about the indispensable nation’s aggression being good for the world.

Mattis was an obstacle to Trump’s desire to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan (and remains in position to spike Trump’s orders). Granted, the abrupt way Trump announced his apparently one-man decision was equally stupid. But withdrawal of ground troops is supremely sane, and Mattis was and is a large problem. And, for good or ill, Trump — not Mattis — was elected president. Historically, Marines are the last place to turn for sound advice. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler (1881-1940), twice winner of the Medal of Honor, was brutally candid about this, after he paused long enough to realize, and write, “War is a Racket”: “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher- ups. …”

Read more …

Next up are ports in Chesapeake Bay?

Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

China is constructing seaports at two sites where the US 6th Fleet deploys, in Haifa next to Israel’s main naval base and Ashdod near Tel Aviv, prompting concerns about China’s military potential in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. “The civilian [Chinese] port in Haifa abuts the exit route from the adjacent [Israeli] navy base, where the Israeli submarine fleet is stationed and which, according to foreign media reports, maintains a second-strike capability to launch nuclear missiles,” Israel’s Haaretz media reported. “No one in Israel thought about the strategic ramifications,” Haaretz said in September. The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke visited Haifa on October 25 in support of the 6th Fleet which is headquartered in Naples, Italy.

Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed the Haifa contract in 2015, began construction in June, and is to operate the Bayport Terminal for 25 years starting from 2021. SIPG signed memorandums of understanding with U.S. ports in Seattle, Washington in 2006 and Georgia Ports Authority in 2004, plus Barcelona, Spain, in 2006. SIPG also works with European ports in Rotterdam, Hamburg and London, and two ports in Japan, its website said. China Harbor Engineering, one of China’s biggest government-owned enterprises, is meanwhile constructing a port at Ashdod, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv.

“At $3 billion, this is one of the biggest overseas investment projects in Israel, ever, and also one of the biggest for the Chinese company, China Harbor Engineering,” wrote Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank in November. “Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast is the destination of fully 90 percent of Israel’s international maritime traffic,” Herman said.

Read more …

Jul 102017
 
 July 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Lyon Anne Lyon getting into her Riley on Nob Hill, San Francisco 1950s

 

Propaganda-ville (Robert Parry)
Trump Cannot Improve Relations With Russia (PCR)
Comey’s Leaked Trump Memos Contained Classified Information (ZH)
Tales from the FOMC Underground (PT)
Stock Market Tsunami Siren Goes Off (WS)
America Is Struggling With Economic Rot (BBG)
May Appeals To Corbyn For Help In Coming Up With New Ideas (Ind.)
US-Russian Ceasefire Deal Holding In Southwest Syria (R.)
The Lynx Could Return To UK Within Months After 1,300-Year Absence (Ind.)

 

 

When slow news becomes no news. I must have seen 100 different versions of the non-story of one of Trump’s not-so-bright sons meeting with a Russian lady, a story that’s supposed to prove what nothing else has yet proven, not even Bob Mueller, Russian meddling. Yeah, Russia spies, and it hacks, and so does everyone else. But that’s clearly not news, and you can’t make it so be endlessly repeating it. That Comey leaked classified information is apparently much less newsworthy. Only, it is not. It just serves the machine to a lesser degree. Be careful, America, or you’ll have no news sources left soon. Not a great prospect.

Propaganda-ville (Robert Parry)

As much as the U.S. mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tension escalate with nuclear-armed Russia. This media problem has grown over recent decades as lucrative careerism has replaced responsible professionalism. Pack journalism has always been a threat to quality reporting but now it has evolved into a self-sustaining media lifestyle in which the old motto, “there’s safety in numbers,” is borne out by the fact that being horrendously wrong, such as on Iraq’s WMD, leads to almost no accountability because so many important colleagues were wrong as well.

Similarly, there has been no accountability after many mainstream journalists and commentators falsely stated as flat-fact that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” concurred that Russia did “meddle” in last November’s U.S. election. For months, this claim has been the go-to put-down whenever anyone questions the groupthink of Russian venality perverting American democracy. Even the esteemed “Politifact” deemed the assertion “true.” But it was never true. It was at best a needled distortion of a claim by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he issued a statement last Oct. 7 alleging Russian meddling. Because Clapper was the chief of the U.S. Intelligence Community, his opinion morphed into a claim that it represented the consensus of all 17 intelligence agencies, a dishonest twist that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began touting.

However, for people who understand how the U.S. Intelligence Community works, the claim of a 17-agencies consensus has a specific meaning, some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE) that seeks out judgments and dissents from the various agencies. But there was no NIE regarding alleged Russian meddling and there apparently wasn’t even a formal assessment from a subset of the agencies at the time of Clapper’s statement. President Obama did not order a publishable assessment until December – after the election – and it was not completed until Jan. 6, when a report from Clapper’s office presented the opinions of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – three agencies (or four if you count the DNI’s office), not 17.

The report also contained no hard evidence of a Russian “hack” and amounted to a one-sided circumstantial case at best. However, by then, the U.S. mainstream media had embraced the “all-17-intelligence-agencies” refrain and anyone who disagreed, including President Trump, was treated as delusional. The argument went: “How can anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies have confirmed as true?” It wasn’t until May 8 when then-former DNI Clapper belatedly set the record straight in sworn congressional testimony in which he explained that there were only three “contributing agencies” from which analysts were “hand-picked.”

Read more …

Paul Craig Roberts lays it on. A bit much if you ask me, but then so is everything else.

Trump Cannot Improve Relations With Russia (PCR)

On the same day that President Donald Trump said “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia,” and the day after he said “I had a tremendous meeting yesterday with President Putin,” the ignorant, stupid, Nikki Haley, who Trump appointed as US UN Ambassador, publicly contracted her president, forcefully stating: “we can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.” The ignorant stupid Haley is still in office, a perfect demonstration of Trump’s powerlessness. The ignorant stupid Haley has gone far beyond Obama’s crazed UN Ambassador, neocon Smantha Power in doing everything in her power to ruin the prospect of normal relations between the two major nuclear powers. Why does Nikki Haley work in favor of a confrontation between nuclear powers that would destroy all life on earth?

What is wrong with Nikki Haley? Is she demented? Has she lost her mind, assuming she ever had one? How can President Trump normalize relations with Russia when every one of his appointees wants to worsen the relations to the point of nuclear war? How is President Trump going to improve relations with Russia when President Trump stands powerless in face of his dressing down by his UN Ambassador? Clearly, Trump is powerless, a mere cipher. Joining Nikki Haley was Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson, allegedly a friend of Russia, is also working overtime to worsen relations between the two nuclear powers by publicly contradicting the President of the United States, thereby making it clear that Trump is barely even a cipher.

Tillerson, a disgrace, said that Putin’s refusal to admit that Putin elected Trump by interferring in the US election “stands as an obstacle to our ability to improve the relationship between the US and Russia and it needs to be addressed in terms of how we assure the American people that interference into our eletions will not occur by Russia or anyone else.” Trump’s incompetence is illustrated by his appointments. There is no one in “his” government that supports him. Everyone of them works to undermine him. And he sits there and Twitters. So, what is President Putin’s belief that an understanding can now be worked out with Washington worth? Not a plugged nickel. Trump has zero authority over “his” government. He can be contradicted at will by his own appointees. The President of the United States is a joke.

You can find him on Twitter, but nowhere else, not in the Oval Office making foreign or military policy. The president Twitters and thinks that that is policy. The Trump administration was destroyed when the weak Donald Trump allowed the neoconservatives to remove his National Security Advisor, General Flynn. Trump has never recovered. “His” administration is staffed with violent Russophobes. Wars can be the only outcome. We know two things about the alleged Russian inteferrance in the Trump/Hillary presidential election. One is that John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, and Comey, Obama’s FBI director, implied repeatedly that Trump was elected by Russian interference in the election, but neither the CIA nor the FBI have provided any evidence whatsoever that any such interference occurred. Indeed, months into the case, the special prosecutor, the former FBI director, can produce no evidence.

The whole thing is a sham, but it is ongoing. There will be no end to it as it is designed to undermind President Trump with the people who elected him. The message is: “Trump is not for America. Trump is for Russia.”

Read more …

Is Muelller going to investigate Comey soon?

Comey’s Leaked Trump Memos Contained Classified Information (ZH)

Comey’s troubles started when he testified under oath last month that he considered the memos he prepared to be personal documents and that he shared at least one of them with a Columbia University lawyer friend. As Comey later disclosed, he asked that lawyer to leak information from one memo to the news media in hopes of increasing pressure to get a special prosecutor named in the Russia case after Comey was fired as FBI director. The Hill recounts that particular exchange with Senator Roy Blunt: “So you didn’t consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document?,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked Comey on June 8. “You considered it to be, somehow, your own personal document that you could share to the media as you wanted through a friend?”

“Correct,” Comey answered. “I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.” Comey insisted in his testimony he believed his personal memos were unclassified, though he hinted one or two documents he created might have been contained classified information. “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership,” he testified about the one memo he later leaked about former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Additionally, he added, “My view was that the content of those unclassified, memorialization of those conversations was my recollection recorded.”

That’s when the problems escalated, because according to The Hill – which for the first time disclosed that the total number of memos linked to Comey’s nine conversations with Trump – when the seven memos Comey wrote regarding his nine conversations with Trump about Russia earlier this year were shown to Congress in recent days, the FBI claimed all were, in fact, deemed to be government documents. Oops. As The Hill reveals, four, or more than half, of the seven memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the “secret” or “confidential” level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter. This is a major problem for Comey because FBI policy forbids any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property.

“Unauthorized disclosure, misuse, or negligent handling of information contained in the files, electronic or paper, of the FBI or which I may acquire as an employee of the FBI could impair national security, place human life in jeopardy, result in the denial of due process, prevent the FBI from effectively discharging its responsibilities, or violate federal law,” states the agreement all FBI agents sign. FBI policy further adds that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America” and that an agent “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”

Read more …

“..Not since Herbert C. Hoover has there been a more perfect scapegoat for an economic depression of the Fed’s making.”

Tales from the FOMC Underground (PT)

“What should we do?” began Yellen. “A decade of easy monetary policies has turned financial markets into a Las Vegas casino while the economy’s lazed around like my smelly house cats. What the heck was Bernanke thinking?” “Hell, Janet,” remarked New York Fed President William Dudley. “He wasn’t thinking. He soiled his pantaloons and then he soiled them again.” “So now we must clean up his stinky pile while he promotes his revisionist courage to act shtick. The reality is we must orchestrate a take-down of financial markets, and we must do it by year’s end.” “Well, gawd damn Bill!” barked St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. “With the exception of Neel, the $700 billion dollar bailout boy, don’t you think we all know that?”

“Hey, now!” interjected Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. “Don’t blame me. I was just carrying out Hank Paulson’s will, right Bill? Saving our boys’ bacon back at Goldman so they could continue doing god’s work.” “Besides Fish, it was you all who lined up behind Bernanke and tickled the poodle with his crazy QE experiment while I was busy chopping wood at Donner Pass and getting my fanny spanked in the California Governor’s race by retread Jerry Moonbeam Brown, of all people.” “Fair enough,” continued Bullard. “The point is, taking down the stock market will cause an extreme upset to the economy’s applecart. The mobs will come after us with torches and pitchforks.” “You see, the real trick is to do the dirty deed then disappear behind a fog of confusion. That’s what Greenspan would do. How can we pull that off?”

After a moment of silent contemplation, and a licked finger held up to the cool political winds drafting across the country… “Eureka! We can pin it on President Donald J. Trump!” exclaimed Chicago Fed President Charles Evans. “Could our good fortune be any better? Not since Herbert C. Hoover has there been a more perfect scapegoat for an economic depression of the Fed’s making.” “Hear, hear!” approved Yellen. “Damn the economy,” they bellowed in harmony… minus Kashkari. “This one’s on Trump!” “Bill, one last thing,” closed Yellen. “After the meeting, remember to give the public that shake n’ bake you dreamed up about crashing unemployment. We have to give off an air of being data dependent.” “That misdirection should twist them up until NFL football starts. Shortly after that, our work will be done…” “…and by the New Year, Congress and Joe public will be begging us to rescue the economy from the Fed’s… I mean… Trump’s disastrous economic program.”

Read more …

Earnings vs S&P. Something will give.

Stock Market Tsunami Siren Goes Off (WS)

Everyone who’s watching the stock market has their own reasons for their endless optimism, their doom-and-gloom visions, their bouts of anxiety that come with trying to sit on the fence until the very last moment, or their blasé attitude that nothing can go wrong because the Fed has their back. But there are some factors that are like a tsunami siren that should send inhabitants scrambling to higher ground. Since July 2012 – so over the past five years – the trailing 12-month earnings per share of all the companies in the S&P 500 index rose just 12% in total. Or just over 2% per year on average. Or barely at the rate of inflation – nothing more. These are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) but “adjusted earnings” as reported by companies to make their earnings look better.

Not all companies report “adjusted earnings.” Some just stick to GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But many others also report “adjusted earnings,” and that’s what Wall Street propagates. “Adjusted earnings” are earnings with the bad stuff adjusted out of them, at the will of management. They generally display earnings in the most favorable light – hence significantly higher earnings than under GAAP. This is the most optimistic earnings number. It’s the number that data provider FactSet uses for its analyses, and these adjusted earnings seen in the most favorable light grew only a little over 2% per year on average for the S&P 500 companies over the past five years, or 12% in total. Yet, over the same period, the S&P 500 Index itself soared 80%.

And these adjusted earnings are now back where they’d been on March 2014, with no growth whatsoever. Total stagnation, even for adjusted earnings. And yet, over the same three-plus years, the S&P 500 index has soared 33%. This chart shows those adjusted earnings per share for all S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked July 2012 and March 2014:

Given that there has been zero earnings growth over the past three years, even under the most optimistic “adjusted earnings” scenario, and only about 2% per year on average over the past five years, the S&P 500 companies are not high-growth companies. On average, they’re stagnating companies with stagnating earnings. And the price-earnings ratio for stagnating companies should be low. In 2012 it was around 15.5. Now, as of July 7, it is nearly 26. In other words, earnings didn’t expand. The only thing that expanded was the multiple of those earnings to the share prices – the P/E ratio. Such periods of multiple expansion are common. They’re part of the stock market’s boom and bust cycle. And they’re invariably followed by periods of multiple contraction. How long can this period of multiple expansion go on? That’s what everyone wants to know. Projections include “forever.” But “forever” doesn’t exist in the stock market. The next segment of the cycle is a multiple contraction.

Read more …

The incessant call far a return to normal. There’s no such thing. The economy never recovered.

America Is Struggling With Economic Rot (BBG)

The Great Recession, and the financial crisis that preceded it, were such enormous and terrible events that they occupied most of our economic thinking for a decade. But now that the smoke has cleared and the economy has returned to a semblance of normality, we’re starting to think more about long-term trends. And evidence is mounting that the Great Recession may have drawn attention away from a slow rot that has been eating the U.S. economy since the turn of the century. Some of the top macroeconomists in the business have a new paper that reaches this conclusion. In “The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009,” John G. Fernald, Robert E. Hall, James H. Stock and Mark W. Watson break down the declines in growth and employment into a structural, long-term component and a short-term part related to the crash.

That’s an inherently hard thing to do, since there’s no universally accepted theory of how recessions work. But Fernald et al. use two accounting methods, and find basically the same thing – although the recession hurt the economy a lot, it happened to coincide with two trends that were slowly eroding the U.S.’s fundamentals. Those two trends are slowing productivity and reduced labor-force participation. Slow productivity growth is hardly news – Bloomberg View recently ran a whole series of articles about the phenomenon. This unhappy trend appears to have begun three years before the financial crisis:

As for labor-force participation, this has been falling since the turn of the century, though the last two years have seen a small uptick:

Both of these trends might have been exacerbated by the Great Recession. That economic disaster caused businesses to stop investing, which may have deprived them of the technology needed to increase productivity. Workers thrown out of employment by the recession might have seen their skills, connections and work ethic degrade, preventing them from going back to work even after the economy recovered.

Read more …

His advise: call a snap election.

May Appeals To Corbyn For Help In Coming Up With New Ideas (Ind.)

Theresa May is to insist she has the right vision for Britain and an “unshakeable sense of purpose” to build a fairer nation as she launches a fightback after her General Election gamble backfired. The Prime Minister will acknowledge that the loss of her Commons majority means she will have to adopt a different approach to government, signalling she is prepared to “debate and discuss” ideas with her opponents. But amid rumours of unrest within Tory ranks about her position, Ms May will insist her commitment is “undimmed” almost 12 months after entering Number 10 as Prime Minister. Her comments in a speech on Tuesday will be viewed as an attempt to relaunch her premiership after the humiliation of the election result and the need to strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her administration in the Commons.

Ms May will return to her core message from when she succeeded David Cameron: a “commitment to greater fairness” and tackling “injustice and vested interests” in recognition that the EU referendum result was a “profound call for change across our country”. She will say: “Though the result of last month’s General Election was not what I wanted, those defining beliefs remain, my commitment to change in Britain is undimmed; my belief in the potential of the British people and what we can achieve together as a nation remains steadfast; and the determination I have to get to grips with the challenges posed by a changing world never more sure. “I am convinced that the path that I set out in that first speech outside Number 10 and upon which we have set ourselves as a Government remains the right one.

“It will lead to the stronger, fairer Britain that we need.” The fragile nature of Ms May’s position in the Commons will not stop her being “bold”, she will insist. “I think this country needs a Government that is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for Britain and we are determined to be that Government. “In everything we do, we will act with an unshakeable sense of purpose to build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see.”

Read more …

Hard to believe.

US-Russian Ceasefire Deal Holding In Southwest Syria (R.)

A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria held through the day, a monitor and rebels said on Sunday, in the first peacemaking effort of the war by the U.S. government under President Donald Trump. The United States, Russia and Jordan reached the “de-escalation agreement,” which appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany this week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said “calm prevailed” in the southwest since the truce began at noon (0900 GMT) on Sunday despite minor violations. Combatants briefly exchanged fire in Deraa province and in Quneitra around midnight, but this “did not threaten the ceasefire,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman.

Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman of the Southern Front coalition of Western-backed rebel groups, said “a cautious calm” continued into the evening. “The situation is relatively calm,” Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan faction in Quneitra, said earlier. Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks. “Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding … Good!” Trump tweeted on Sunday. A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a “sign of satisfaction.” “We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions,” the government official told Reuters.

Read more …

Majestic animal. But 1,300 years is a big gap.

The Lynx Could Return To UK Within Months After 1,300-Year Absence (Ind.)

The Eurasian lynx could be stalking through British woodlands within months after plans were submitted to reintroduce the species, absent from Britain for about 1,300 years. Campaigners have applied for a licence to import six of the wildcats, which were hunted to extinction in the UK, and release them in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest. The Lynx Trust said the animals, which can grow to 1.3m in length, “belong” in Britain and there was a “moral obligation” to bring them back. The cats’ return would also generate millions of pounds for rural communities by attracting tourists, according to the group. But the proposal has met with opposition from sheep farmers, who claim their livestock would be put at risk.

The scheme would initially involve six lynx, four females and two males, being imported from Sweden and fitted with GPS tracking collars for a five-year trial. The trust applied to Natural England for permission to release the cats after it carried out an 11-month consultation. No date has been set for the proposed reintroduction but they cats could return to the UK by the end of 2017 if the plans are approved. The trust said in a statement: “In many other countries Eurasian lynx reintroduction has proven exceptionally low-conflict and wonderfully beneficial for the local communities that live alongside them, and we do sincerely hope that these cats, which thrived here for millions of years, do have the opportunity to prove they can still fit into both our ecology, and alongside local communities like those across the Kielder region.”

Read more …