Aug 082019
 


Piet Mondriaan New York City I 1942

 

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)
The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)
Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)
New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)
MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)
New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)
Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)
The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)
Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)
An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)
Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)
Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

 

 

“And That’s A Good Thing..”

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)

The significance of the trade war between China and the US goes well beyond the impact of tit-for-tat tariffs, or which of two self-styled strongmen wins the bragging rights. As was the case in the 1930s, the seemingly inexorable drift towards protectionism is part of a deeper crisis of the international status quo. When Beijing this week accused the US of “deliberately destroying the international order”, it was really saying that US hegemony will no longer go unchallenged. Globalisation as we have known it is coming to an end and that’s by no means unwelcome.

Hailed as the ultimate in human progress, a model based on loosening the controls on capital and the construction of global supply chains has spawned recurrent financial crises, fostered corrosive inequality and worsened the climate emergency. True, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 25 years, but most of them live in a country – China – that has kept the market at arm’s-length. The world’s stock markets see things differently. They tremble every time Donald Trump tweets a paean to protectionism. Likewise, multinational corporations fret about the possible damage that trade barriers might cause to global supply chains. It is clear that those who have done best out of globalisation tend to be the rich and powerful, and they are not going to give up their privileges without a fight. Nothing in this is new.

Throughout history there have been successive waves of globalisation followed by a backlash when the model over-reached itself. This is one of those occasions and all the ingredients are in place for a struggle between the defenders of the status quo and those who say that recent trends in politics, technology and the climate point to the need for a new world order focused more on local solutions, stronger nation states and a reformed international system. It’s quite a stretch to imagine that Trump has this in mind when he is bashing China, but the economic crisis of the 1930s – of which protectionism was one part – led eventually, albeit after the war, to reforms that made the world a sounder and safer place.


Illustration: Thomas Pullin

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“..once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.”

The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)

As the famous movie quote goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker” (From John Dahl’s 1988 film Rounders). Another famous quote, all the way back from the French Revolution, is “The revolution, like Saturn, devours its own children” (said by Danton at his trial). If you can’t spot the resource for your next technological revolution, then you are the resource. Look at all the previous technological revolutions. In each case, a new technology opened up for exploitation a new, superabundant resource: agriculture—arable land; mechanical spinning and weaving—water power; steam engine and steelmaking—coal; internal combustion engine—oil; artificial intelligence-based robonanobiotronics—still oil?

Sorry, that’s no longer overabundant by any stretch of the imagination. (If you said “renewable energy” then think again: wind turbines, solar panels and battery banks can’t be made or maintained without oil and natural gas.) Technology without a superabundant resource it can tap into is as useful as a spoon if your bowl is empty. The logic is simple: spot the resource; if you can’t, it’s probably you. Let’s focus on what’s supposed to be the main pillar of the next technological revolution: information technology. Most of us have smartphones, laptops, store our data in the cloud and make use of abundant and free information resources—all the free apps you want, free blogging, free Youtube videos, etc. But what new resource has all this technology opened up for you, the user?

The hardware costs you money (the average iPhone now costs around 800 USD) and the time you spend fiddling around with it is subtracted from all the other, potentially useful and gainful activities. You could try arguing that having an iPhone makes you more efficient because you have all the information and communications technology you could possibly need right at your fingertips. That point is hard to deny. I recently recorded a radio interview for a radio station in upstate New York while strolling about among the potato blossoms on my field in the Novgorod region of Russia via the internet and a 4G connection via a tower in the neighboring village. That’s nothing short of miraculous, and it’s certainly efficient (my smartphone is 7 years old, fully amortized a long time ago and still as good as new now that I’ve replaced every single mechanical component, sometimes twice). But is it effective?

The smartphones are generally effective in making their users spend money that they may or may not have on things they may or may not need. All of the free access to information is paid for by collecting data on users (spying, basically) and using it to create targeted ads that turn users into online shoppers. Everything is highly customized: women look at pictures of shoes; men look at pictures of power tools. Both the shoes and the power tools, if purchased, will be used a few times a year at most, but the money will be gone forever. The limiting factor here, of course, is the resource, which is you: once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.

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Depends on who you ask.

Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)

President Donald Trump’s administration has been mired in controversy after controversy, from his racist remarks to the Mueller report–which stopped short of clearing him of obstruction of justice. His policies, such as child separation at the border and his trade wars with China, are divisive. Yet, new numbers seem to show that he’s actually more popular today than he was in 2016, according to polling expert Nate Cohn. “The share of Americans who say they have a favorable view of him has increased significantly since the 2016 election,” Cohn writes. “And over the last few months, some of the highest-quality public opinion polls, though not all, showed the president’s job approval rating — a different measure from personal favorability — had inched up to essentially match the highest level of his term.”

This doesn’t guarantee Trump re-election. “The increase in his support since 2016, and the possibility that it continues to move higher, does not necessarily make him a favorite to win re-election. His job approval ratings remain well beneath 50 percent, and have never eclipsed it.” It should be noted that Cohn is relying on two polls, Gallup and YouGov, which show that he is more popular today than in 2016. And according to the website fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates polling data, only 42.2 percent of Americans polled approve of Donald Trump, while 53.1 disapprove.

But, Trump’s surge in popularity since 2016 is clearly something his democratic challengers need to keep in mind. Of course, Democrats might benefit from a more popular candidate than they had in 2016,” Cohn writes. “Hillary Clinton was an unusually unpopular candidate, surpassed only by Mr. Trump in this regard in the modern era of polling. But an analysis that freezes the president’s standing in 2016 but assumes an improvement for the Democratic nominee would be misleading.”

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Cui bono. Inventing Russiagate out of thin air has paid off handsomely.

New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore concludes his “Apocalypse Now” soliloquy about the smell of napalm in the morning wistfully: “Someday this war’s gonna end.” The remark suggests the officer played by Robert Duvall is enjoying the conflict in Vietnam. Despite some recent friendly fire, New York Times commander-in-chief Mark Thompson could be forgiven for feeling similarly about his newspaper’s combat with U.S. President Donald Trump. Few companies have so directly benefitted from Trump’s tumultuous first term in office as the Times. Thanks to a boom in digital-subscription sales linked to the paper’s aggressive coverage of the administration’s many foibles, its shares have outperformed those of nearly every company investors pegged as those likely to suffer or benefit from a Trump presidency.

From around $11 at the time of his election, Times stock has soared to more than $35. That trumped the runup in Wall Street firms, such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, whose bottom lines were fattened by tax cuts. Times shares even dusted those of Facebook, the bête noire of all traditional publishers. As of Tuesday, the Manhattan-based company’s $5 billion market value was greater than the combined worth of America’s two biggest for-profit prison operators, whose fortunes were meant to soar under a law-and-order presidency. This background helps in interpreting a set of lousy second-quarter results, and a kerfuffle this week over a poorly conceived front-page headline. The Times added 197,000 net new digital-only subscriptions – bringing total subscribers to 4.7 million, nearly halfway to its 2025 goal of 10 million.

A shortfall in revenue, though, and a warning of greater challenges ahead, took nearly 20% off the Times share price on Wednesday. That came days after amending a headline related to the president’s response to two mass shootings over the weekend failed to stop a barrage of criticism, much of it from Trump’s Democratic opponents, and calls on social media to cancel subscriptions. The top-line miss had nothing to do with the headline skirmish, whose impact would appear in this quarter. But they are not unrelated. The risk for the Times is that any whiff of normalizing its coverage of the president might damage the brand that has fueled its subscription drive since 2016. One dopey headline is survivable, so long as the war shows no sign of ending.

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MMT is not going to go away.

MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)

From her home overlooking Setauket Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore, a motorboat bobbing at the dock, Stephanie Kelton hopes to revolutionize how the U.S. government manages the economy. It isn’t always a pleasant task. A key figure in the “Modern Monetary Theory” economic camp, her assertions that the federal government could spend freely for things like a jobs guarantee or Green New Deal without risking runaway inflation, a debt default or a clubbing by global creditors have been Twitter-bombed by mainstream economists as left-wing free lunchism. Proponents of MMT have been called fanciful for the notion that the U.S. Congress, which typically struggles to pass an annual budget, could with smart budgeting and regulation take over the Federal Reserve’s job of controlling inflation.


And even Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University in New York and an adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is a bit thrown by the fact that the person who appears closest to accepting her argument is President Donald Trump, whose Republican Party has traditionally touted an adherence to fiscal discipline. Trump and Republicans in Congress, she said, “did not allow perceived budget constraints to stand in their way” of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package which was passed in late 2017 and pushed the federal debt beyond $22 trillion. Democrats now seem ready to get in the game. Lawmakers from both parties recently reached a federal spending deal that is expected to raise the federal deficit by $2 trillion over the next two years, and Democrats lining up to run against Trump in 2020 have largely avoided talk of fiscal restraint so far in the campaign.

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Told ya: “One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government..”

New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)

Rebel MPs are working on a plan to thwart Boris Johnson pursuing a no-deal Brexit on 31 October that involves forcing parliament to sit through the autumn recess, amid growing outrage about the power and influence of his controversial aide, Dominic Cummings. The cross-party group of MPs is looking at legislative options with mounting urgency because of the hardline tactics of Cummings, who one Conservative insider described as running a “reign of terror” in No 10 aimed at achieving Brexit on 31 October at any cost. Three MPs have told the Guardian that one method under discussion is for members to amend the motion needed for parliament to break for party conferences in mid-September.

This could give MPs another three weeks of sitting time to stop a no-deal and potentially open the door for days to be set aside for rebels to control parliamentary business. The ultimate aim would be to pass a bill forcing the government to request an extension to article 50 from Brussels. Since joining Johnson’s administration, Cummings has told government advisers that No 10 stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring about Brexit on 31 October – deal or no deal. This could include proroguing parliament, or ignoring the result of any no-confidence vote in Johnson and calling a “people v politicians” general election – to be held after the UK had left the EU.

However, it is understood that alarm is mounting within No 10, among some special advisers and Tory MPs about the scale of Cummings’ influence and willingness to defy parliament. One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government and proceeded to sideline more moderate advisers, such as ex-City Hall stalwart Sir Eddie Lister, while installing a team of “true believers” in hard Brexit largely from the former Vote Leave campaign.

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Are you sure?

Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)

Yet it would be as much of a mistake to dismiss Cummings as to exaggerate his mastery. He has certainly brought two weeks of focus to the Johnson government by making the Halloween deadline a non-negotiable centrepiece. He has changed the political conversation from Brexit or people’s vote to deal or no deal. Depending on events in the early autumn, he is clearly gearing up for a possible general election shortly afterwards. But Cummings does not control events. He is not Prospero, able to conjure up a tempest that delivers his enemies into his hands. He is having a good run, but he is helped by the most irresponsible parliamentary summer recess of modern times.

Even now MPs should be aiming to get back to Westminster and hold the government to account before the planned return on 3 September. They should scrap this year’s party conferences too. Cummings is also only one player. The idea that he pulls all the strings is lazy and wrong. The Brexit outcome depends on a tangled web of interests and influences beyond his control. These include everything from the role of the Queen to the hoarding of toilet rolls. In particular, it depends on events in the real economy, in parliament, in the courts, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Irish Republic, in the EU and in Johnson’s own head.

Those who take a Cummings-fixated view of the options find it is easier to forget this. They say the government’s aim is to crash out with no deal on 31 October and nothing will stand in the way. But that is not quite what Johnson and some of his ministers say. They say, still, that a deal is one possibility, perhaps a remote one, and that the UK government is even now looking for a deal with the EU in the next 12 weeks.

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“..people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.”

The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)

Think of a football stadium. Not one of the vast caverns like Old Trafford or Wembley, but somewhere rather smaller and more bijou. Somewhere like Fulham’s Craven Cottage, which, once its new stand is completed, will pack in only about 30,000 fans. Now imagine this stadium of 30,000 souls rising up into the air and hovering unnoticed over central London. Thirty thousand men in late middle-age living the high life with the capital at their feet – and there, stuck way below on terra firma are their 66 million fellow Britons, tearing lumps out of each other. Congratulations: you’ve just pictured the central problem stalking the UK today. Not Brexit. Not the breakdown in civil debate. Not the dark money contaminating Westminster.

These are urgent and vitally important, but there is one big factor that forms a large part of the backdrop to all of them. It can be summed up by that gulf between a mid-sized football stadium of super-rich men in their 50s, and the rest of us spread out across our suburbs, our towns, our unpretty stretches of urban sprawl. That football stadium represents the top 0.1% of earners in the UK. To join their ranks, numbering just 31,000, you’d need a taxable income of at least £650,000 a year – £12,500 per week. In less than a fortnight, you would easily pull in more than the average Briton makes as taxable income over a whole year. But then, those drudges are the earthbound while you, as the old song out of Mary Poppins puts it, live in an entirely different realm: “Up to the highest height! … Up through the atmosphere! / Up where the air is clear!”

The stratospherically rich are among the subjects of a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. An analysis of the tax returns of the highest earning Britons, it shows in uncompromising detail just how our money has ended up in fewer and fewer hands based in less and less of the country. Almost half the super-rich live in London and nearly 90% of them are men. What’s more, they often end up paying a lower tax rate than the pay-as-you-earn mugs like you and me. The generous breaks given by politicians to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and risk-taking are instead exploited by partners in City law firms and big accountancies and at hedge funds – people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.

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It’s not just the 737 MAX. It’s Boeing itself.

Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)

Airlines flying Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner have complained to the plane maker about “unacceptable” production mistakes and inconsistent quality. The problems center around Dreamliners built at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, factory, according to a report from The Post and Courier. Issues at the North Charleston plant were reported in April in a comprehensive New York Times investigation, which found evidence of shoddy production, poor oversight, and a culture that “made speed a priority over safety.” The report came a month after Boeing’s 737 Max jet was grounded worldwide after the second fatal crash in five months. The Department of Justice expanded an inquiry into the 737 Max to include issues at the North Charleston factory in June.


The new report surfaced complaints from a global cadre of airlines that fly the jet and have received orders from the South Carolina plant, one of two locations where the Dreamliner is assembled — other orders are built at Boeing’s Everett, Washington, factory. While the issues are not limited to either the South Carolina plant or the 787 — similar problems have been raised in Everett with both 787s and military tankers — the complaints surfaced by The Post and Courier focus on recent deliveries of Boeing’s newest and largest variant of the Dreamliner, the 787-10. It was not immediately clear whether the airlines made similar complaints about other variants of the plane, including the 787-8 and 787-9.

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Paul Craig Roberts on an FBI document that talks about “official” and “prevailing” explanations of events.

“What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations.”

An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)

The FBI document says that conspiracy theories “are usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events.” Note the use of “official” and “prevailing.” Official explanations are explanations provided by governments. Prevailing explanations are the explanations that the media repeats. Examples of official and prevailing explanations are: Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Iranian nukes, Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the official explanation by the US government for the destruction of Libya. If a person doubts official explanations such as these, that person is a “conspiracy theorist.”

Official and prevailing explanations do not have to be consistent with facts. It is enough that they are official and prevailing. Whether or not they are true is irrelevant. Therefore, a person who stands up for the truth can be labeled a conspiracy theorist, monitored, and perhaps pre-emptively arrested. [..] Consider Russiagate. Here we have an alleged conspiracy between Trump and Russia that was the official prevailing explanation. Yet, to believe in the Russiagate conspiracy did not make one a conspiracy theorist as this conspiracy was the official prevailing explanation. But to doubt the Russiagate conspiracy did make one a conspiracy theorist.

What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations. In other words, it is a way of preventing any accountability of government. Whatever the government says, no matter how obvious a lie, will have to be accepted as fact or we will be put on a list to be monitored for preemptive arrest. In effect, the FBI’s document reduces the First Amendment, that is, free speech, to the right to repeat official and prevailing explanations. Any other speech is a conspiratorial belief that can lead to the commission of a crime.

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The judge says she can pay the fines, but he’s the only one who thinks that.

Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)

Refusal to testify against WikiLeaks is costing whistleblower Chelsea Manning over $400,000 in fines and another year in jail, after a federal judge ruled that she must pay for what he called contempt of court. Manning was jailed for refusing the subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury seeking additional charges against WikiLeaks and its co-founder Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in the UK. To compel testimony, the government also fined the whistleblower $500 a day, going up to $1000 after 60 days. Judge Anthony Trenga of the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia shot down Manning’s motion to reconsider sanctions on Monday, the final chance to contest the steep fines.

After a review of “a substantial number of financial records documenting her assets, liabilities, and current and future earnings,” the court found “that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions,” Trenga wrote in his ruling. Though Manning is now deeply in debt and unable to work while in jail, the judge nonetheless concluded the fines were payable and therefore amounted to “coercive” sanctions allowed to compel cooperation or testimony, rather than being a purely punitive measure. “I am disappointed but not at all surprised. The government and the judge must know by now that this doesn’t change my position one bit,” Manning said in response.

She insisted that the fines were in fact punitive, because her inability and unwillingness to pay rendered any “coercive” aspect moot. She has already spent 147 days behind bars and owes $38,000 in fines as of August 7. If she remains jailed for another year, Manning could end up owing $441,000 to the government.

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Not everything scales up.

Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)

For Tesla and its chief competitors in the race for global domination of electric vehicle sales, it ain’t all about lithium ion. There are other valuable metals needed to make the battery packs do what’s asked of them, with nickel being essential. Tesla and its battery producer partners, and other automakers and their suppliers, are worried about the longer-term supply of nickel according to a new study by BloombergNEF. The study predicts that EV makers will be driving demand for nickel about 16 times to 1.8 million tons in the next years. Class-one nickel, a high-purity material used in batteries, is expected to see demand greatly outstrip supply in the next few years. That will be fueled by meeting the large Chinese EV market, and other global markets where demand is expected to grow.


That need for class-one nickel will outstrip supply within five years, according to the study. One problem has been a lack of real investment in new mines for materials including nickel, Tesla’s global supply manager of battery metals, Sarah Maryssael, said at a Washington meeting in May. That could drive up prices as battery demand increases greatly. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is concerned about having enough economically viable — and available — metal to continue meeting its growing electric car demand. That will take off even more as the company taps into China’s booming markets. “They are getting ready to have the new factory in China, and are at full capacity in North America,’’ Peter Bradford, chief executive officer of nickel producer Independence Group NL, said. “They recognize the biggest risk from a strategic supply point of view is nickel.’’

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Kind of mad that this didn’t stop America from sending its young people to be killed and maimed in more jungles and deserts.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)

‘Someday this war’s gonna end,” is the sage comment from surf-crazed Wagner enthusiast Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, brusquely played by Robert Duvall. In fact, when Francis Ford Coppola’s grandiose epic masterpiece Apocalypse Now was first unveiled in 1979, the Vietnam war had only ended four years previously, and the succeeding Cambodian-Vietnamese war (where the film’s climax is set) was in full swing. Coppola’s bad trip into south-east Asia was co-written by John Milius with narration written by Michael Herr. It was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Herr’s own Vietnam reportage-memoir Dispatches and maybe at one further remove by Rudyard Kipling’s lines about the US taking up the white man’s imperial burden.


It was famously an ordeal for all concerned. The production involved a filming expedition in the Philippines that felt hardly less colossal and traumatic to the participants than the actual war, though it became commonplace in Hollywood’s Vietnam for the anguish of American soldiers, not that of the Vietnamese people themselves, to be seen as important. (The nearest that Vietnamese people get to actual importance in Apocalypse Now is the four South Vietnamese intelligence officers, executed by ColKurtz as Communist spies, whose ID cards we briefly see.) Like Lawrence of Arabia, moreover, this is a film without women – or mostly.


Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists

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“The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids..”

Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States—often called an “insect apocalypse” by scientists—has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One. The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids, which were banned by the European Union last year due to the threat they pose to bees and other pollinators. Kendra Klein, Ph.D., study co-author and senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, said the United States must follow Europe’s lead and ban the toxic pesticides before it is too late.


“It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades,” Klein said in a statement. “We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us.” “Congress must pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act to ban neonicotinoids,” Klein added. “In addition, we need to rapidly shift our food system away from dependence on harmful pesticides and toward organic farming methods that work with nature rather than against it.” According to National Geographic, neonics “are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They attack the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis, and death.” With insect populations declining due to neonic use, “the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades,” National Geographic reported. “There’s also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species.”

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Amazon: ~2,700,000 sq mi (7,000,000 km2)

Contiguous US: ~3,100,000 sq mi (8,000,000 km2)

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 262019
 
 July 26, 2019  Posted by at 8:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Dora Maar with green nails 1936

 

What Mueller Was Trying to Hide (Strassel)
Barr And State AGs Discuss Big Tech Monopolies (ZH)
Tulsi Gabbard Sues Google For Campaign “Interference” (ZH)
Brussels Repels Boris Johnson’s Quest For New Brexit Deal (G.)
Don’t Call It A Coup, You’ll Spoil Boris Johnson’s Big Day Out (G.)
World Trade in Face of Tariffmageddon, Trade Wars & Manufacturing Slowdown (WS)
After Century of Chaos and War, Versailles Treaty Still Haunts the World (Sp.)
The Tyranny of the Police State Disguised as Law-and-Order (Whitehead)
In Roundup Case, US Judge Cuts $2 Billion Verdict To $86 Million (R.)
Florida Senator Says Under Siege For Seeking Epstein Probe (Julie K. Brown)
Boeing Targets October, FAA Official Says No Timeline For 737 MAX (R.)
Jacinda Ardern Accused By Maori Of ‘Lacking Leadership’ In Land Dispute (G.)
The Cheapest Way to Save the Planet Grows Like a Weed (Brown)
Earth, But Not As We Knew It – James Lovelock Turns 100 (G.)

 

 

Horowitz and/or Durham will have to look at Weissmann and the rest of Mueller’s lawyers. As well as the FBI.

What Mueller Was Trying to Hide (Strassel)

Special counsel Robert Mueller testified before two House committees Wednesday, and his performance requires us to look at his investigation and report in a new light. We’ve been told it was solely about Russian electoral interference and obstruction of justice. It’s now clear it was equally about protecting the actual miscreants behind the Russia-collusion hoax. The most notable aspect of the Mueller report was always what it omitted: the origins of this mess. Christopher Steele’s dossier was central to the FBI probe, the basis of many of the claims of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Yet the Mueller authors studiously wrote around the dossier, mentioning it only in perfunctory terms. The report ignored Mr. Steele’s paymaster, Fusion GPS, and its own ties to Russians. It also ignored Fusion’s paymaster, the Clinton campaign, and the ugly politics behind the dossier hit job.


Mr. Mueller’s testimony this week put to rest any doubt that this sheltering was deliberate. In his opening statement he declared that he would not “address questions about the opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called Steele Dossier.” The purpose of those omissions was obvious, as those two areas go to the heart of why the nation has been forced to endure years of collusion fantasy. Mr. Mueller claimed he couldn’t answer questions about the dossier because it “predated” his tenure and is the subject of a Justice Department investigation. These excuses are disingenuous. Nearly everything Mr. Mueller investigated predated his tenure, and there’s no reason the Justice Department probe bars Mr. Mueller from providing a straightforward, factual account of his team’s handling of the dossier.

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The pushback intensifies. They’re going to have to find a way out. Even if the CIA likes things just the way they are.

Barr And State AGs Discuss Big Tech Monopolies (ZH)

A bipartisan group of eight state attorneys general met with US Attorney General William Barr on Thursday to discuss “the real concerns consumers across the country have with big tech companies stifling competition,” according to Politico. “Our bipartisan coalition of eight state attorneys general was pleased with the opportunity to meet with U.S. Attorney General Barr to talk about the real concerns consumers across the country have with big tech companies stifling competition on the internet,” reads a joint statement from the state AGs, which include Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“The potential state action adds yet another layer to the growing scrutiny of the power of online platforms. In announcing its antitrust review this week, the DOJ said it will consider “widespread concerns” expressed about search, social media and online retail services.” -Politico. Meanwhile, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is has been meeting with regulators to make the case for breaking up the social media giant, according to the New York Times. In recent weeks, Mr. Hughes has joined two leading antitrust academics, Scott Hemphill of New York University and Tim Wu of Columbia University, in meetings with the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department and state attorneys general. In those meetings, the three have laid out a potential antitrust case against Facebook, Mr. Wu and Mr. Hemphill said.

“For nearly a decade, they argue, Facebook has made “serial defensive acquisitions” to protect its dominant position in the market for social networks, according to slides they have shown government officials. By scooping up nascent rivals, they assert, Facebook has thwarted potential competitors, making it easier for the social network to charge advertisers higher prices and to offer a worse experience for users.” -New York Times

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Barr can start right here.

Tulsi Gabbard Sues Google For Campaign “Interference” (ZH)

Progressive Democrat presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who has long been under fire from mainstream media and establishment voices in her own party for her vehemently anti-war and anti-interventionist stance, is suing Google, The New York Times reports, in what is said to be the first time in history a presidential candidate has sued a major technology firm. It must be remembered that though considered a “long shot” by party insiders based on her outlier stances (for which she’s been called a popular Ron Paul type unorthodox figure among the Dems), from criticizing the Democrats’ ‘Russiagate’ fixation to calling for an end to “regime change wars” abroad to being willing to meet with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Google searches for her named surged across the US during last month’s first round of presidential nominee debates.

And now, as the Times reports, she says Google infringed on her free speech by suspending her campaign’s ability to get its message out: “Tulsi Now Inc., the campaign committee for Ms. Gabbard, said Google suspended the campaign’s advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, obstructing its ability to raise money and spread her message to potential voters.” Google and other major US tech companies like Facebook have faced an avalanche of scrutiny and criticism of late for censoring and/or manipulating the visibility of those with unorthodox political views. The new lawsuit claims Google took steps to “interfere” with Gabbard’s chances in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

“Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse, in a way that interferes with the upcoming 2020 presidential election,” the lawsuit stated. Specifically the lawsuit suggests Google diverted Gabbard campaign emails to be sent to spam folders on Gmail at “a disproportionately high rate” compared to her Democratic rival candidates.

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No-deal Brexit was voted down in London multiple times. What are the odds it won’t be if Boris tries again?

Brussels Repels Boris Johnson’s Quest For New Brexit Deal (G.)

Brussels has roundly rebuffed Boris Johnson after he laid down tough conditions for the new Brexit deal he hopes to strike over the summer. Speaking to the House of Commons for the first time as prime minister on Thursday, Johnson reiterated his campaign pledge of ditching the Irish backstop and promised to ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit immediately. “I would prefer us to leave the EU with a deal,” he said. “I would much prefer it. I believe that it is possible even at this late stage, and I will work flat-out to make it happen. “But certain things need to be clear: the withdrawal agreement negotiated by my predecessor has been three times rejected by this house; its terms are unacceptable to this parliament and to this country.”


In a phone call later in the day, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, signalled the EU27’s determination to stick with the deal negotiated with Theresa May’s government – which includes the backstop. “President Juncker listened to what Prime Minister Johnson had to say, reiterating the EU’s position that the withdrawal agreement is the best and only agreement possible – in line with the European council guidelines,” a commission spokesperson said. Juncker told Johnson the EU was willing to “add language” to the political declaration – the non-binding document that covers the future relationship – but would only consider any other proposals “providing they are compatible with the withdrawal agreement”.

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“When you haven’t got a principle left to betray, such displays of craven loyalty come as second nature.”

Don’t Call It A Coup, You’ll Spoil Boris Johnson’s Big Day Out (G.)

If a developing country had just changed its entire government without an election, we’d be calling it a coup. And if that coup had been led by a man clearly unfit for office, whom even his own family can’t trust to tell the truth, we’d be calling that country a failed state. But as this is the UK and the leader in question is Boris Johnson, we plead the exceptionalism of a first-world democracy. No matter that no one voted for a de facto Vote Leave government of shits and charlatans, that is what we now have. Taking Back Control is far too precious a virtue to be entrusted to the people. For now at least. When he had made his first speech as prime minister outside Downing Street, Johnson had briefly tried to present himself as a serious figure.

Even if the content of what he was saying was still basically the same divisive doggybollocks. It hadn’t gone down that well. Because if there was one thing more terrifying than Boris acting the fool, it was Boris pretending to be serious. A carapace of sincerity that dissolves on contact with reality. Everyone knows Boris is serious about only one thing: the fulfilment of his own delusions. Other people only exist as satellites to his own ego. Useful idiots in the service of World King Idiot. A man who can go toe to toe with Donald Trump in any dysfunctionality contest. Someone who believes he is an innocent victim, misunderstood by the entire world, but who is actually a sociopath only misunderstood by himself. Someone deserving of the undying gratitude of a nation for taking a pay cut to enter Downing Street.

For his first outing in the Commons, Johnson had gone back to his more familiar default setting. The Fool. The court jester from whom no one expects the truth, so long as they are entertained. “Pifflepafflewifflewaffle,” he began. The script remains the same, even if the persona changes. Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel and the dozen or so other members of the recently appointed cabinet on the frontbench roared their approval. When you haven’t got a principle left to betray, such displays of craven loyalty come as second nature.

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No collapse yet, but a plateau.

World Trade in Face of Tariffmageddon, Trade Wars & Manufacturing Slowdown (WS)

World trade volume – imports and exports of merchandise across the globe – increased 0.3% in May from April, after falling 0.6% in the prior month, according to the Merchandise World Trade Monitor, released today by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. On a year-over-year basis, the index fell 0.4%. And it is down 2.1% from the peak in October 2018. This isn’t exactly stellar, compared to 2017 and 2018, when the world trade index increased between 2% and 6% year-over-year.

But it isn’t a “collapse” either. A collapse of world trade occurred during the Global Financial Crisis when companies shut down their ordering process – not knowing if the banking system would still be there the next morning – and when consumers closed their wallets, particularly American consumers who provide much of the oomph behind world trade, given their penchant for imports, but they were losing their jobs by the millions. From September 2008 through the trough in May 2009, the World Trade Monitor plunged 17.5%.


In the Eurozone, there has been some decline in both imports and exports in recent months. While Germany is heavily exposed to the automotive sector and is getting hit harder, other countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, and France, are not. Especially in Southern Europe, food exports – such as olive oil, wine, salami, cheese, and other specialty foods – play a larger role among their exports, and there is no slowdown in food products. Also note the impact of the euro debt crisis on imports (red line):

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“A new world seemed to have been created.”

After Century of Chaos and War, Versailles Treaty Still Haunts the World (Sp.)

A century ago, in July 1919, Germany began its journey to the lowest reaches of Hades. Another 26 years would pass before a previously civilized, enlightened people finally emerged, their nation in ruins, its cities bombed and its countryside occupied. Another four decades would pass before their country was reunited, and even then some of Berlin’s neighbors, convinced that Germans possessed a double dose of original sin, preferred a divided Germany. In 1919, World War I formally came to an end. The victorious allies dictated a peace that humbled Germany, formalized the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, created a gaggle of weak ethnically based states, and shared the geopolitical spoils among the victors. A new world seemed to have been created.

The treaty signed on June 28 in the famous Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles palace, however, proved to be but a brief interlude of peace. Germany remained recalcitrant. The myth had emerged that the German military had been defeated by the Dolchstoss, or “stab-in-the-back,” at home. But the reality was unpleasant enough: the peace settlement made no pretense of applying Woodrow Wilson’s famed Fourteen Points to Germany as the surrendering Germans had expected. The first democratically elected German government resigned rather than signing what became known as the Versailles Treaty. After being threatened with invasion, the successor leadership submitted. Not until two weeks later, in July, did the reluctant Reichstag ratify the pact.

The Deutsche Zeitung inveighed against the “disgraceful treaty” and promised, “We will never stop until we win back what we deserve.” Versailles almost immediately began radicalizing politics in the Weimar republic, encouraging violence, assassinations of left-wing politicians, and extremist bids for power, including by an army veteran and surprisingly effective rabble-rouser named Adolf Hitler. The sense of crisis gradually receded, however, only to have the Great Depression destroy much of the middle class, the mainstay of any democratic order. Hitler gained power, and a little more than two decades after losing one war Germany plunged into another one…

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“America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)..”

The Tyranny of the Police State Disguised as Law-and-Order (Whitehead)

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. The U.S. military empire’s determination to police the rest of the world has resulted in more than 1.3 million U.S. troops being stationed at roughly 1000 military bases in over 150 countries around the world. That doesn’t include the number of private contractors pulling in hefty salaries at taxpayer expense. In Afghanistan, for example, private contractors outnumber U.S. troops three to one. No matter how we might differ about the role of the U.S. military in foreign affairs, surely we can agree that America’s war spending and commitment to policing the rest of the world are bankrupting the nation and spreading our troops dangerously thin.

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which they might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to operate a shadow government, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—were inherited by Donald Trump.

These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution. Yet no matter how we might differ about how success or failure of past or present presidential administrations, surely we can agree that the president should not be empowered to act as an imperial dictator with permanent powers.

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Trying not to say Monsanto. And why have a jury system when judges keep overruling them? Doesn’t that make it all a mockery?

In Roundup Case, US Judge Cuts $2 Billion Verdict To $86 Million (R.)

A California judge on Thursday reduced a $2 billion jury verdict, slashing the award for a couple who blamed Bayer’s glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup for their cancer to $86.7 million. Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith of the California Superior Court in Oakland said the jury’s billion-dollar punitive damages awards were excessive and unconstitutional, but rejected Bayer’s request to strike the punitive award outright. Under Smith’s final order, California couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod would receive roughly $17 million in compensatory and $69 million in punitive damages, down from $55 million and $2 billion, respectively. The plaintiffs still have to formally accept the reduced award. Bayer in a statement on Thursday said Smith’s decision to slash the award was a step in the right direction, but added it would file an appeal.


“We continue to believe that the verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial and conflict with the extensive body of reliable science and conclusions of leading health regulators worldwide that confirms glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” the company said. [..] The company had asked Smith to strike the punitive damages award in the Pilliods’ case, arguing that hundreds of studies and assessments by regulators worldwide concluded the herbicide to be safe for human use. But the judge in her Thursday order rejected those arguments.“In this case there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science,” Smith said.

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Typical: sheriff is very powerful. Not so typical: Senator Lauren Book’s dad is a very powerful lobbyist.

Florida Senator Says Under Siege For Seeking Epstein Probe (Julie K. Brown)

Florida Sen. Lauren Book has reached out to Capitol police after receiving an anonymous warning connected to her demand for a state inquiry into Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s handling of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s lenient work release program, the Miami Herald has learned. Book, a vocal advocate for child sexual assault survivors, said she also received more than a dozen calls from Bradshaw’s political supporters asking her to back off on her call for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into Bradshaw. On Monday, Book, a Democrat, wrote a letter to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to authorize a probe into how Epstein, accused of molesting dozens of underage girls and a registered sex offender, was permitted to leave the Palm Beach County Jail and spend much of his 2008-2009 incarceration in an office in West Palm Beach.

DeSantis said Thursday after a Cabinet meeting that he would “certainly consider” an investigation but that he has yet to decide how the state should respond. [..] the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office issued a new statement that its previously announced internal affairs investigation of the deputies who guarded and supervised Epstein during his work release had become a criminal investigation as well. No further elaboration was provided. Meanwhile, Book, in an interview with the Herald, said she had asked the Capitol police, who handle security for state lawmakers, to look into claims made on a Russian website alleging that Bradshaw was behind an effort to access her phone and emails by using the pretext of “imminent danger’’ to obtain her personal information.

“I’ve received countless phone calls saying ‘Little girl you don’t know what you’re getting into,’ and telling me that I should just stop,’’ said Book, a child sexual abuse survivor herself who has worked to pass strict sex offender laws in Florida. In a statement, PBSO said it had no knowledge of anyone trying to threaten or pressure Book.

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Southwest has already cancelled flights till 2020, and they far more 737 MAXs than anyone else. Even closed down Newark operations because of it.

Boeing Targets October, FAA Official Says No Timeline For 737 MAX (R.)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration distanced itself on Thursday from suggestions by Boeing that its grounded 737 MAX could resume flying passengers in October, saying regulators do not have a timeline for vetting safety upgrades. Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg told analysts on Wednesday he was confident the MAX would be back in service as early as October after a certification flight with regulators in September. But the FAA’s top official declined to be pinned down on Boeing’s target of October or any other timeline for clearing the plane, which was grounded in March after two fatal crashes.


“We don’t have a timeline. Don’t have October. Don’t have August. Don’t have 2021,” Acting Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters at the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “We have one criteria. When the 737 MAX has been – when the complications to it have been satisfactorily assessed, and the MAX is safe to return to service, that’s the only criteria,” Elwell said. [..] U.S. airlines are cancelling thousands of monthly flights due to the grounding and have warned of an increasing financial toll in the second half of the year. Southwest Airlines, a top customer, said on Thursday it was scheduling without the MAX until early January and ending operations at Newark Liberty International airport due to a scarcity of planes.

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Not looking good, Jacinda.

Jacinda Ardern Accused By Maori Of ‘Lacking Leadership’ In Land Dispute (G.)

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is being accused of a “lack of leadership” over an escalating land dispute between Maori and a construction company which plans to build 500 homes on sacred land in south Auckland. Opposition to the project boiled over this week over when a group that had been illegally occupying the land was served an eviction notice. The protest group has grown into about 300 people with police also increasing their presence. Seven protesters were arrested on Thursday night after they linked arms and chained themselves to a van to block part of the motorway near the city’s airport. The site, called Ihumatao, is home to New Zealand’s earliest market gardens as well as being a significant archaeological site on land considered sacred by local Maori.


Fletcher Building is looking to develop around 500 homes on the land, which local Maori say was stolen from them after land wars with the British dating back to the 1860s. The protest group want the land given back to local Maori. Protesters have implored Ardern to step in, including sending a letter directly to her. However, she has so far said the government will not get involved. “This is something obviously everyone wants to see resolution around, no one wants to see the kinds of disruption and outpouring of emotion [we have seen],” Ardern said. “Everyone wants a resolution but ultimately it will have to come from mana whenua (Maori). Protest leader Pania Newton told media that Ardern’s words showed “a lack of leadership” and showed “ignorance” about its treaty obligations. “This is the revolution of our generation,” Newton said.

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How much industrial hemp can we plant? Pretty sure if we do it, it’ll be for money.

The Cheapest Way to Save the Planet Grows Like a Weed (Brown)

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to tackle the climate crisis. So states a Guardian article, citing a new analysis published in the journal Science. The author explains: As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”. [..] The July analytical review in Science calculated how many additional trees could be planted globally without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

It found that there are 1.7 billion hectares (4.2 billion acres) of treeless land on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow. Using the most efficient methods, 1 trillion trees could be restored for as little as $300 billion—less than 2% of the lower range of estimates for the Green New Deal introduced by progressive Democrats in February. The Guardian quoted Professor Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who said, “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.” He said it was also by far the cheapest solution that has ever been proposed. The chief drawback of reforestation as a solution to the climate crisis, as The Guardian piece points out, is that trees grow slowly.

The projected restoration could take 50 to 100 years to reach its full carbon sequestering potential. Fortunately, as of December 2018, there is now a cheaper, faster and more efficient alternative—one that was suppressed for nearly a century but was legalized on a national scale when President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This is the widespread cultivation of industrial hemp, the nonintoxicating form of cannabis grown for fiber, cloth, oil, food and other purposes. Hemp grows to 13 feet in 100 days, making it one of the fastest carbon dioxide-to-biomass conversion tools available. Industrial hemp has been proved to absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest or commercial crop, making it the ideal carbon sink. It can be grown on a wide scale on nutrient-poor soils with very small amounts of water and no fertilizers.

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A formidable mind. And one not shy about contradicting himself.

Earth, But Not As We Knew It – James Lovelock Turns 100 (G.)

James Lovelock, the scientist and writer, is 100 years old on Friday and remains a combination of environmental Cassandra and Old Testament prophet. Unlike them, though, he changes his mind about what the future holds. Foolish consistency, Emerson wrote, is the hobgoblin of little minds, and Mr Lovelock’s mind is not little. More than 10 years before the record high July temperatures, Mr Lovelock flatly told the Guardian that 80% of human life on Earth would perish by 2100 because of the climate emergency. He imagined a dystopian end of humanity where “the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable” by the end of the 21st century.

As a scientist (his first letter to Nature was published in 1945, on the subject of writing on petri dishes), Mr Lovelock’s life has been studded with insight. He invented an electron capture detector that could pick up minute traces of pollutants – such as the pesticides that spurred Rachel Carson to write the 1962 book Silent Spring. At home he built instruments that ended up on Mars, helping Nasa to establish that the red planet was lifeless.

Mr Lovelock’s imagination has not narrowed, but his vision has become bleaker with time. His new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence proposes that the 300,000-year Anthropocene era of Earth’s human domination is ending. Novacene is a new age where our species is doomed to a worse fate than clinging on for dear life at the north pole as previously imagined. Instead we will become lackeys of cyborgs able to think 10,000 times faster than humans. We will be kept on to ensure there are habitable temperatures for these superior intelligences.

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How the Mueller people -and the Senate, let’s not forget them- kept Russiagate alive all that time:

 

 

 

 

Mar 052018
 
 March 5, 2018  Posted by at 11:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Astor Theater, Times Square NYC 1945

 

Monetary Policy In The Grip Of A Pincer Movement (BIS)
The Arithmetic of Risk (John Hussman)
BOJ’s Kuroda Joins Queue of Central Banks Looking Toward Exit (BBG)
Trump’s Trade War Is For The Forgotten People (Eric Peters)
Italy Faces Political Gridlock After 5-Star Surges (R.)
China Sets 2018 GDP Target at About 6.5%, Turns Fiscal Screws (BBG)
Tax the Wealth of Older Britons to Help the Young, Report Argues (BBG)
Eliminate The Deficit? Eliminate Economic Hope, More Like (McDuff)
15,000 New Manchester Homes And Not A Single One ‘Affordable’ (G.)
The Tyranny of Algorithms (G.)
US Embassy In Turkey Closed Due To Security Threat (R.)
Erdogan Advisor Says Ankara Ready To ‘Strike’ In Eastern Med (K.)
Australia: Global Deforestation Hotspot (G.)
Europe Tree Loss Pushes Beetles To The Brink (BBC)

 

 

Financial cycles appear to have grown in amplitude and length. Next move could be really wild.

Monetary Policy In The Grip Of A Pincer Movement (BIS)

The emergence of disruptive financial cycles and the limited sensitivity of inflation to domestic slack may at first sight seem to be unrelated. In fact, there may be a common thread: the behaviour of monetary policy. Consider each in turn. The first major development is that, since around the early 1980s, financial cycles appear to have grown in amplitude and length. There is no unique definition of the financial cycle. A useful one refers to the self-reinforcing processes between funding conditions, asset prices and risk-taking that generate expansions followed by contractions. These processes operate at different frequencies. But if one is especially interested in those that cause major macroeconomic costs and banking crises, probably the most parsimonious description is in terms of credit and property prices.

Graph 1 illustrates the phenomenon for the United States using some simple statistical filters, although the picture would not be that different for many other countries or using other techniques (eg peak-trough analysis). The graph shows that the amplitude and length of the fluctuations has been increasing, that the length of the financial cycle is considerably longer than that of the traditional business cycle (blue versus red line) and that banking crises, or serious banking strains, tend to occur close to the peak of financial cycle. Another key feature of financial cycles is that the bust phase tends to generate deeper recessions. Indeed, if the bust coincides with a banking crisis, it causes very long-lasting damage to the economy.

There is evidence of permanent output losses, so that output may regain its pre-crisis long-term growth trend while evolving along a lower path. There is also evidence that recoveries are slower and more protracted. And in some cases, growth itself may also be seriously damaged for a long time. Some recent work with colleagues sheds further light on some of the possible mechanisms at work. Drawing on a sample of over 40 countries spanning over 40 years, we find that credit booms misallocate resources towards lower-productivity growth sectors, notably construction, and that the impact of the misallocations that occur during the boom is twice as large in the wake of a subsequent banking crisis.

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“.. I continue to expect the S&P 500 to lose about two-thirds of its value over the completion of the current market cycle…”

The Arithmetic of Risk (John Hussman)

At present, I view the market as a “broken parabola” – much the same as we observed for the Nikkei in 1990, the Nasdaq in 2000, or for those wishing a more recent example, Bitcoin since January. Two features of the initial break from speculative bubbles are worth noting. First, the collapse of major bubbles is often preceded by the collapse of smaller bubbles representing “fringe” speculations. Those early wipeouts are canaries in the coalmine. In July 2007, two Bear Stearns hedge funds heavily invested in sub-prime loans suddenly became nearly worthless. Yet that was nearly three months before the S&P 500 peaked in October, followed by a collapse that would take it down by more than 55%.

Observing the sudden collapses of fringe bubbles today, including inverse volatility funds and Bitcoin, my impression is that we’re actually seeing the early signs of risk-aversion and selectivity among investors. The speculation in Bitcoin, despite issues of scalability and breathtaking inefficiency, was striking enough. But the willingness of investors to short market volatility even at 9% was mathematically disturbing. See, volatility is measured by the “standard deviation” of returns, which describes the spread of a bell curve, and can never become negative. Moreover, standard deviation is annualized by multiplying by the square root of time. An annual volatility of 9% implies a daily volatilty of about 0.6%, which is like saying that a 2% market decline should occur in fewer than 1 in 2000 trading sessions, when in fact they’ve historically occurred about 1 in 50.

The spectacle of investors eagerly shorting a volatility index (VIX) of 9, in expectation that it would go lower, wasn’t just a sideshow in some esoteric security. It was the sign of a market that had come to believe that stock prices could do nothing but advance, and could be expected to do so in an uncorrected diagonal line. I continue to expect the S&P 500 to lose about two-thirds of its value over the completion of the current market cycle. With market internals now unfavorable, following the most offensive “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” combination of market conditions on record, our market outlook has shifted to hard-negative. Rather than forecasting how long present conditions may persist, I believe it’s enough to align ourselves with prevailing market conditions, and shift our outlook as those conditions shift.


Annotation in blue by Mish

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Perhaps this is truly a coordinated effort. The BIS could be doing the coordination.

BOJ’s Kuroda Joins Queue of Central Banks Looking Toward Exit (BBG)

The end of the easy money era which spanned the global economy for the last decade came into even sharper focus as the Bank of Japan gave fresh insight into when it might slow its stimulus program. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s remarks on Friday that the central bank will start thinking about how to complete its unprecedented easing around the fiscal year starting April 2019 was the clearest signal yet that a conclusion might be in sight to emergency support for the Japanese economy. While Kuroda’s statement in response to questions from lawmakers was in some ways stating the obvious – the BOJ forecasts inflation to reach its 2% target in fiscal 2019 – the significance is that he’s put down a marker in public that he can be held to.

“It’s notable how over the past few weeks Kuroda has been forced into talking more specifically about the exit,” said Izumi Devalier, head of Japan economics at BofAML. “A year and a half ago he would have shut down the discussion altogether with the blanket ‘it’s too early to talk about it’ statement.” That means the last of the big central banks is finally thinking out loud about policy normalization or how to begin the process of unwinding years of asset purchases and ultra-low interest rates that were used to stoke growth after the 2008 financial crisis sparked the worst global recession in decades. The Fed, Bank of Canada and Bank of England have already raised interest rates and may do so again soon, while the ECB is debating how soon to end its own bond-buying. China’s central bank is sticking to what it describes as neutral policy settings and is ratcheting up money market rates to cool the pace of borrowing.

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Peters is never boring.

Trump’s Trade War Is For The Forgotten People (Eric Peters)

“The import restrictions announced by the US President are likely to cause damage not only outside the US, but also to the US economy itself, including to its manufacturing and construction sectors, which are major users of aluminum and steel,” warned the IMF, their army of nerds in full sweat. Panic. Just 200k Americans work in steel, aluminum and iron. 5.5mm of our 154mm workers are employed by businesses that use steel. “How could the Americans make such an idiotic mistake?” howled the nerds. But of course, they entirely miss the point. “If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on US companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the US. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” tweeted Trump.

The US currently imposes a 2.5% tariff on EU auto imports. The EU imposes a 10% tariff on US auto imports. Germany exports $25bln of autos to America annually. “US auto prices will rise,” warned the Washington Post. But of course, they entirely miss the point. “Trade wars are good, easy to win,” tweeted Trump, knowing the statement would trigger every nerd with a college degree. Some worried about their jobs. But not terribly. Because their unemployment rate is just 2%, their labor force participation is 74%. They’re as well off as they’ve ever been. Particularly when set against those who never went to college, 5% of whom are unemployed, and 50% don’t even participate in the labor force. They’ve given up. These trade policies are for these forgotten people. To hell with the consequences. That’s the point.

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More for forgotten people. Beppe got them where he wanted; largest party by a huge margin. Merkel and Macron’s “More Europe” plans can be shelved. But first, expect more tricks to keep the old guard in power.

Italy Faces Political Gridlock After 5-Star Surges (R.)

Italy faces a prolonged period of political instability after voters delivered a hung parliament on Sunday, spurning traditional parties and flocking to anti-establishment and far-right groups in record numbers. With votes counted from more than 75% of polling stations, it looked almost certain that none of the three main factions would be able to govern alone and there was little prospect of a return to mainstream government, creating a dilemma for the EU. A rightist alliance including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) held the biggest bloc of votes. In a bitter personal defeat that appeared unlikely last week, the billionaire media magnate’s party looked almost certain to be overtaken by its ally, the far-right League, which campaigned on a fiercely anti-migrant ticket.

But the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement saw its support soar to become Italy’s largest single party by far, and one of its senior officials said on Monday that forming a coalition without it would be impossible. The League’s economics chief on Monday raised the possibility of an alliance with 5-Star. Any government based on that combination would be euro-skeptic, likely to challenge EU budget restrictions and be little interested in further European integration. The full result is not due until later on Monday and, with the centre-right coalition on course for 37% of the vote and 5-Star for 31%, swift new elections to try to break the deadlock are another plausible scenario.

Despite overseeing a modest economic recovery, the ruling centre-left coalition trailed a distant third on 22%, hit by widespread anger over persistent poverty, high unemployment and an influx of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years.

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Plus huge cuts to steel production. China is hurting.

China Sets 2018 GDP Target at About 6.5%, Turns Fiscal Screws (BBG)

China stepped up its push to curb financial risk, cutting its budget deficit target for the first time since 2012 and setting a growth goal of around 6.5% that omitted last year’s aim for a faster pace if possible. The deficit target – released Monday as Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual report to the National People’s Congress in Beijing – was lowered to 2.6% of GDP from 3% in the past two years. The 6.5% goal is consistent with President Xi Jinping’s promise to deliver a “moderately prosperous” society by 2020. Policy makers dropped a target for M2 money supply growth, saying it’s expected to expand at similar pace to last year. Authorities reiterated prior language saying prudent monetary policy will remain neutral this year and that they’ll ensure liquidity at a reasonable and stable level.

Xi has ratcheted up his drive to curb debt risk, pollution and poverty at a time when the world’s second-largest economy is on a long-term growth slowdown. His efforts to rein in spending contrast with an historic expansion of U.S. borrowing under Donald Trump during a period of economic expansion. The 2018 targets “suggest slower growth and a fiscal drag,” said Callum Henderson, a managing director for Asia-Pacific at Eurasia Group in Singapore. “This makes sense for China in the context of the new focus on financial de-risking, poverty alleviation and environmental clean-up, but is less good news at the margin for those economies that have high export exposure to China.”

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Is it too late to close the gap in a peaceful manner?

Tax the Wealth of Older Britons to Help the Young, Report Argues (BBG)

Britain should impose higher wealth taxes on the older generation to ease the growing burden on young people, according to the Resolution Foundation. In a speech Monday, Executive Chair David Willetts will warn that welfare spending is set to rise by the equivalent today of 60 billion pounds ($83 billion) by 2040 as aging “baby boomers” drive up the cost of health care. “The time has come when we Boomers are going to have reach into our own pockets,” he will say. “The alternative could be an extra 15 pence on the basic rate of tax, paid largely by our kids. Is that kind of tax really the legacy we – a generation who own half the nation’s wealth – want to bequeath our children and grandchildren?”

Willetts, a former minister in the ruling Conservative Party, will make the case for reform of council tax – a property-based levy that helps fund local services – and of inheritance tax. Failure to act could fuel a sense of grievance among young people who are already struggling to match to the living standards enjoyed by older generations, he will say.

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“..deficits aren’t only not bad, they’re necessary…”

Eliminate The Deficit? Eliminate Economic Hope, More Like (McDuff)

Congratulations, everyone! We did it! The deficit has been eliminated! George Osborne, the architect of austerity, emerged from one of his non-jobs as the editor of the London Evening Standard to tell us all it was a “remarkable national effort” on Twitter, as if he’d ever broken a sweat over it. David Cameron, who will go down as arguably the worst prime minister in history thanks to the gigantic power move of doing a Brexit and running away, simply added: “It was the right thing to do” – safe in the knowledge that he was now out of the line of fire from tough questions.

That will all be cold comfort to the thousands of homeless people struggling to cope with sub-zero temperatures, or those having to choose between keeping the heating on, or risk going into rent arrears and losing their home entirely; to public sector workers in the NHS or local government, trying to keep the wheels from falling off as they deliver vital services in the face of budget cuts; and to disabled and unemployed people, bearing the brunt of the government’s spending cuts and facing harassment from the authorities. Forget all that. We’ve eliminated the deficit, and all we had to do was attack the poor and vulnerable with a relentless fury, create a new generation of young people for whom the concept of pensions or even steady wages is a fantasy, and undermine public services to such a grotesque extent that it will take years to rebuild what we’ve lost. Hooray!

[..] As Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK points out: “A growing economy requires general price increases, or inflation. Except under unusual circumstances, a general increase in prices requires an increasing money supply. A fiscal deficit is the only way in which money can be injected into an economy continuously. It follows that governments must run a near perpetual deficit or face the risk of creating a liquidity crisis due to a shortage in the money supply, which would then create a risk of deflation.” In other words, deficits aren’t only not bad, they’re necessary. Without them we get deflation, an over-indebted household sector, and an explosion in inequality.

The government is not like your household. It does not “run out of money,” because its job is to match the quantity of money to the desired economic activity. Its “debts” are not like your debts – they’re your savings and your pension funds. Osborne’s “remarkable national effort” was always and only to ensure that the government sector took more money out of the economy than it put into it. His great legacy is that we’re now at the stage where for every pound the government spends in day-to-day services, it taxes, and therefore destroys, more than a pound somewhere else. And we put people on the streets to freeze to achieve it. Go us.

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Thatcher-inflicted pain continues.

15,000 New Manchester Homes And Not A Single One ‘Affordable’ (G.)

Some of the UK’s biggest cities are allowing developers to plan huge new residential developments containing little or no affordable housing. In Manchester, none of the 14,667 homes in big developments granted planning permission in the last two years are set to be “affordable”, planning documents show – in direct contravention of its own rules, and leading to worries that London’s affordable housing crisis is spreading. In Sheffield – where house prices grew faster last year than in any other UK city, according to property portal Zoopla – just 97 homes out of 6,943 (1.4%) approved by planners in 2016 and 2017 met the government’s affordable definition. That says homes must either be offered for social rent (often known as council housing), or rented at no more than 80% of the local market rate.

In Nottingham, where the council aims for 20% of new housing to be affordable, just 3.8% of units given the green light by council planners meet the definition, Guardian research found. In Manchester, named by Deloitte earlier this month as one of Europe’s fastest growing cities and where property now sells three times as quickly as in London, planners have routinely waved through huge new developments – some containing swimming pools, tennis courts and more than 1,000 flats. Not one of the swanky apartments meets the national definition of “affordable” – leading critics to accuse the council of social cleansing. Others worry the city could become like London, where people on average salaries can no longer afford to live anywhere central.

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Aka the terror of social media.

The Tyranny of Algorithms (G.)

For the past couple of years a big story about the future of China has been the focus of both fascination and horror. It is all about what the authorities in Beijing call “social credit”, and the kind of surveillance that is now within governments’ grasp. The official rhetoric is poetic. According to the documents, what is being developed will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. As China moves into the newly solidified President Xi Jinping era, the basic plan is intended to be in place by 2020. Some of it will apply to businesses and officials, so as to address corruption and tackle such high-profile issues as poor food hygiene.

But other elements will be focused on ordinary individuals, so that transgressions such as dodging transport fares and not caring sufficiently for your parents will mean penalties, while living the life of a good citizen will bring benefits and opportunities. Online behaviour will inevitably be a big part of what is monitored, and algorithms will be key to everything, though there remain doubts about whether something so ambitious will ever come to full fruition. One of the scheme’s basic aims is to use a vast amount of data to create individual ratings, which will decide people’s access – or lack of it – to everything from travel to jobs. The Chinese notion of credit – or xinyong – has a cultural meaning that relates to moral ideas of honesty and trust.

There are up to 30 local social credit pilots run by local authorities, in huge cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou and much smaller towns. Meanwhile, eight ostensibly private companies have been trialling a different set of rating systems, which seem to chime with the government’s controlling objectives. The most high-profile system is Sesame Credit – created by Ant Financial, an offshoot of the Chinese online retail giant Alibaba. Superficially, it reflects the western definition of credit, and looks like a version of the credit scores used all over the world, invented to belatedly allow Chinese consumers the pleasures of buying things on tick, and manage the transition to an economy in which huge numbers of people pay via smartphones. But its reach runs wider.

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What does Washington have to say?

US Embassy In Turkey Closed Due To Security Threat (R.)

The U.S. embassy in Turkey’s capital Ankara will be closed to the public on Monday due to a security threat and only emergency services will be provided, it said in a statement on Sunday. The embassy advised U.S. citizens in Turkey to avoid large crowds and the embassy building and to be aware of their own security when visiting popular tourist sites and crowded places. It did not specify what the security threat was that prompted the closure. Additional security measures were taken after intelligence from U.S. sources suggested there might be an attack targeting the U.S. embassy or places U.S. citizens were staying, the Ankara governor’s office said in a statement. Visa interviews and other routine services would be canceled on Monday, the embassy said, adding that it would make an announcement when it was ready to reopen.

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Same guy said if Greeks set foot on -their own- Imia islets, it will basically mean war.

Erdogan Advisor Says Ankara Ready To ‘Strike’ In Eastern Med (K.)

A close advisor of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a “strike” in the eastern Mediterranean if any attempt to explore or drill for hydrocarbons goes ahead without Ankara’s approval. Yigit Bulut, who is known for his incendiary remarks, was quoted by the Cyprus News Agency as telling Turkish state broadcaster TRT that Erdogan is prepared to call a “strike” at any “attempt at provocation.” “Have no doubt about it,” he said. Ankara has vowed to prevent any exploration for oil or gas around Cyprus and last month was accused to threatening to use force against a drillship chartered by Italy’s Eni to explore Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

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3 million hectares to be lost over 15 years.

Australia: Global Deforestation Hotspot (G.)

Australia is in the midst of a full-blown land-clearing crisis. Projections suggest that in the two decades to 2030, 3m hectares of untouched forest will have been bulldozed in eastern Australia. The crisis is driven primarily by a booming livestock industry but is ushered in by governments that fail to introduce restrictions and refuse to apply existing restrictions. And more than just trees are at stake. Australia has a rich biodiversity, with nearly 8% of all Earth’s plant and animal species finding a home on the continent. About 85% of the country’s plants, 84% of its mammals and 45% of its birds are found nowhere else. But land clearing is putting that at risk. About three-quarters of Australia’s 1,640 plants and animals listed by the government as threatened have habitat loss listed as one of their main threats.

Much of the land clearing in Queensland – which accounts for the majority in Australia – drives pollution into rivers that drain on to the Great Barrier Reef, adding to the pressures on it. And of course land clearing is exacerbating climate change. In 1990, before short-lived land-clearing controls came into place, a quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions were caused by deforestation. Emissions from land clearing dropped after 2010 but are rising sharply again. “It has gotten so bad that WWF International put it on the list of global deforestation fronts, the only one in the developed world on that list,” says Martin Taylor, the protected areas and conservation science manager at WWF Australia. In Queensland, where there is both the most clearing and the best data on clearing, trees are being bulldozed at a phenomenal rate.

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And more deforestation. Sometimes you wonder what will be left of Europe in 100 years. Or 50.

Europe Tree Loss Pushes Beetles To The Brink (BBC)

The loss of trees across Europe is pushing beetles to the brink of extinction, according to a new report. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed the status of 700 European beetles that live in old and hollowed wood. Almost a fifth (18%) are at risk of extinction due to the decline of ancient trees, the European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles report found. This puts them among the most threatened insect groups in Europe. Saproxylic beetles play a role in natural processes, such as decomposition and the recycling of nutrients. They also provide an important food source for birds and mammals and some are involved in pollination.

“Some beetle species require old trees that need hundreds of years to grow, so conservation efforts need to focus on long-term strategies to protect old trees across different landscapes in Europe, to ensure that the vital ecosystem services provided by these beetles continue,” said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. Logging, tree loss and wood harvesting all contribute to the loss of habitat for the beetles, said the IUCN. Other major threats include urbanisation and tourism development, and an increase in wildfires in the Mediterranean region. Conservation efforts need to focus on long-term strategies to protect old trees and deadwood across forests, pastureland, orchards and urban areas, the report recommended.

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