Salvador Dali Hallucination. Six Images of Lenin on a Grand Piano 1931
47 years ago in American Pie, Don McLean talked about The Day The Music Died. Or of course the music didn’t really die, but at the same time it did. “The three mean I admired most, the father, son and the holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died.”
Back then you could still have claimed the country merely lost its innocence. And you could have said the same in 1861 or 1914 or 1941. Today, not to take anything away from music, or the song, something much bigger died. America itself died, not just its music or innocence. America didn’t just lose its innocence, it pled guilty.
No doubt most of you would proclaim that’s a gross exaggeration, and an insane hyperbole, but you would all be wrong, sorry. There’s no way back this time.
America, the United States, with all its initial prejudice and lethal screw-ups, was founded as a place where people could direct their own lives without having to fear any other party, let alone a government, that would stand in their way while they did it. And a big part of not having to fear one’s government is not having to fear that government purposely lying to its citizens. The Founding Fathers, for all their faults, got that right. And today erases all of that in one fell swoop.
That is what died today. Or, you know, it may have died much earlier, and a thousand times before as well, but with the arrest in London of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen wanted by the US Deep State, a myriad of strands connecting, and connected to a bloated dying corpse came together. And now we know there is no salvation possible. Today made it all terminal. America is no more. Or it is no longer what they tell you it stands for, whichever comes first.
And it’s not just America, mind you. ‘The UK is a serious country’, PM Theresa May said today when addressing Brexit. No it’s not, Theresa, it’s a banana republic hopelessly stuck in a spaghetti western and it no longer knows the rule of law. It sells people to the highest bidder in a meat market, be they Windrush, refugees from her Majesty’s wars in Libya, or just white and poor English, or Julian Assange.
The UK is a parody on a country, it’s a sordid piece of third rate slapstick. It kills people while trying to maintain the image of being a serious country. You know, whatever that is?! The British judge Assange faced today was bleeding mocking him, the arguably greatest journalist of this century and millennium. A serious country?
Julian Assange has been branded a “narcissist” by a judge as he faces both a UK prison sentence and being extradited to the US. The Metropolitan Police said the Australian hacker was initially detained at the Ecuadorian embassy for failing to surrender to court. He had been summoned in 2012 over an alleged rape in Sweden, where authorities are now considering reopening their investigation into those allegations.After arriving at a London police station on Thursday morning, the 47-year-old was additionally arrested on behalf of the US under an extradition warrant.
Mr Assange was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and found guilty of breaching bail hours later. He faces a jail sentence of up to a year. He denied the offence, with lawyers arguing that he had a “reasonable excuse” could not expect a fair trial in the UK as its purpose was to “secure his delivery” to the US. District Judge Michael Snow described the defence as “laughable”, adding: “Mr Assange’s behaviour is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests. He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse’.” He remanded Mr Assange in custody ahead of a future sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court.
And where was opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when this all went on? Haven’t seen him, other then in the afternoon when he was ‘discussing’ Brexit details with May in Parliament on day 1021 since the Brexit referendum, while he should have been out in the street denouncing May and protecting Assange at the loudest voice there is.
Screw you, Jeremy, you’re a pathetic loser. No matter what else you do, there are times when you have to stand up and be counted. You were nowhere to be seen, you coward. Screw you again. And all of your family. A curse on y’all. You had a chance to be counted, and you whimped out so enormously only an elephant could whimp out more. Today was your day, and you were a no-show, again.
But don‘t you mind me, I’m not British and I’m not one of those ass-hat followers of you. I’m just someone calling you a coward. So, you know, your campaign team can keep polling and intervene as soon as they see too many ass-hats become concerned about Assange. Until then, who cares, it’s all in the numbers. It’s not as if you have any principles anyway. If you can screw up Brexit there’s no reason why you couldn’t screw up Assange’s situation as well.
As for the Donald, man, it’s just 6 days ago that I issued a well-meant warning to you, to tell you that those who are after Assange are the same people who are after you.
And now you’ve given those very people a huge stage to execute their anti-Assange and thereby their anti-Trump messages from. Mr. Trump, you’re helping Brennan and Clapper and Comey and their ilk persecute the only person who could ever stand up to them. And who did that better than you ever did. Because he’s so much smarter.
And where are all the media? Where are all the other governments? Where is the European Union? Where is Australia? Yes, Ecuador took away Assange’s citizenship too today, like that’s a piece of candy or something. Asylum, citizenship, they can be bought and sold whenever a bell tolls.
Why do we have international law anyway if nobody abides by any of it? You can’t just grant someone asylum, and then a citizenship, and then rescind it when you like on a rainy morning when your medication runs out or they’re on to you for blatant fraud, Lenin Moreno. Do that and all international law becomes null and void. Hereby.
Pardon me, I’ve just been, like hopefully many people are, so sad and angry and despondent today, all day. The entire world watched the music die today, and never realized it, and a man much smarter and braver and real than any of us is out there paying for our sins, and we have no media left to tell us an honest story about it, and George Orwell is laughing somewhere out there.
And I am still stupid enough to think that we can do better.
Marcel Duchamp Sad young man on a train – Nude study 1911-12
Longtime Automatic Earth friend Alexander Aston talks about finding himself at Oxford at a point in time when the British themselves appear overcome by a combo of utter confusion and deadly lethargy, and one can only imagine what it must be like for ‘foreigners’ residing in Albion, who face large potential changes to their lives and know there’s not a thing they can do about it, not even vote.
I like the observation that the entire British political system, the place where decisions are made, is the size of a small village. That’s a visual we can all relate to. It’s a physical limit as well as a mental one. I’m all for sovereignty and self-determination, but how’s that going to work if you can’t even see the boundaries of your own territory?
Guys, it’s 4 weeks to D-Day today. How about we call off the landing, get a few pints instead, and talk? First round’s on me.
Alexander Aston: I arrived in the UK in 2015 to undertake interdisciplinary research at the University of Oxford. I am a child of the Empire, a cultural product of Britannia’s oldest colonies in the British Isles, her most important colony now turned empire as well as one of her youngest, Zimbabwe. The UK is both an intimately familiar society and yet one that is also strangely alien for me, like a wealthy, often charming and deeply abusive parent that sparks both self-recognition and rejection.
The ‘leave’ referendum occurred close to a year after I arrived in the UK and is one of the few political events over the past few years that surprised me. I suppose that I assumed, given the power and wealth afforded to UK elites by the EU, that those who benefited so greatly from the status quo would do anything to manipulate or fudge the results. Nonetheless, history decided to swerve, and over the past four years, I have watched the inhabitants of this island stumble into an profound identity crisis. Having spent a good portion of my life in Greece, I do not have particularly warm and cuddly feelings toward the European Union and was never a natural ‘remainer’.
The single markets and the long peace are significant achievements, and the ability for Europeans to move freely and form new discourses, relationships and endeavours has value that is impossible to quantify. The EU is technocratic, unaccountable and enthralled to a neoliberal ideology that knows only how to extract wealth from the most vulnerable and concentrate it in the hands of the most powerful. I have lived in Athens, I have family in Greece, I have seen well enough the true costs of EU membership.
What strikes me most in my experiences of the United Kingdom are the incredible levels of cognitive dissonance demanded by its media, politics and economics in order for the society to function. I live in one of the most expensive and unequal cities in the entire country. I am surrounded by the grandeur of powerful and wealthy institutions that are older than the Aztec empire and filled with some of the most powerful and elite humans on the planet and their heirs in waiting. Every time that I enter a building, go to a lecture, meet with a colleague, or sit for some grand meal in one of the colleges I must walk past dozens of human beings that are cold, hungry and occasionally dying on the streets.
This is in a country that provides social housing and millions in basic income to a single family, where it is accepted that the most vulnerable people are relentlessly bullied into poverty through cuts, inspections and ever increasing demands of performance. In a country where the Beatles and J.K. Rowling all started their careers on the dole. I don’t know the answers to our predicaments, but the conversation is extremely lopsided and blind to the real misery it is creating. Every time I walk through Oxford, I am filled with a profound sense of guilt and remorse, I marvel and benefit from the treasures surrounding me and I wonder… is this the best we can do? Are these the limits of our social imagination and creativity?
Shortly after I arrived, Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the labour party. It was an early prefiguration of the political disruptions that were about to sweep the world. The neoliberal managerialism of New Labour had lost control, and its partisans wage an increasingly desperate guerrilla war with no small amount of aid from the establishment media.
Long before Brexit was a reality I became aware of the repetitious delirium of innuendo, slander and fear-mongering through which the media managed the perspective and narrative in the country, much like the American system but with its own uniquely British aesthetics and sense of authority. This somnambulant fever has only grown as the country has tripped and stumbled through the unexpected circumstances and self-engineered traps of austerity, political deadlock, and delusions of grandeur.
Day in and day out we are subjected to a litany of failure by one of the most incompetent governments in history while the media clucks, puffs and turns a path of ruin into mere spectacle. Yet, day after day we find ourselves in a state of inertia, nothing seems to change as the country hurtles towards historical rupture. The dissonance created between a seizing political system, PR firms masquerading as journalists and a dysfunctional economy requires that the people of the United Kingdom smooth over, ignore or forget the increasing contradictions of their lived experience.
Anthropologically speaking, the nuance of British culture that has perhaps had the most profound impact upon me is the detail to which the English are able to infer region, class and schooling through the voices of their fellow citizens. The subtle encoding of social hierarchies into the dialects and accents of the United Kingdom to degrees that I have never experienced in the rest of the Anglophone world. Despite my ignorance about many intricacies of British linguistics, one thing I do feel relatively confident about is that even though the English have the vast majority of the wealth and power in the United Kingdom, the Celts have received the warmer sense of humour.
For me, one of the few truly positive possible outcomes of Brexit is the potential for Irish reunification and even the chance of an emerging “Celtic sphere” to provide a new counterbalance in the British Isles. The partition of Ireland stems from one of the deepest and oldest wounds inflicted by the British Empire. It is an ironic twist of fate that the Tories now find themselves dependent upon the Unionist partisans and descendants that they so eagerly fostered to maintain dominance over Ireland. The United Kingdom’s mythology of itself has run headlong into the contradictions at the heart of its empire. The country that is partitioning itself from Europe finds its politics paralysed by an older act of partition.
The contradictions of Brexit have riven the political parties and the governing process has ground to a halt. It is an intractable predicament, the interests of the Unionists, Capitalist Utopianists, Neoliberal reactionaries, Political Elites, Nationalists, Independents and Socialists are all pulling in different directions. Consensus is only achieved in moments of near universal rejection, yet with no ability to pass any meaningful legislation the Tories only coalesce in obstinate refusal to change the situation.
Meanwhile the ship of state drifts towards a political, economic and moral abyss. What I can say from my time at Oxford is that the political masters of this country are indoctrinated with an imperial hubris in a political system that operates like a small village. The institutions of power here produce all too many children with no experience of the daily struggles of common people, that are all together convinced as to their entitlement to rule over millions with a PPE degree in hand.
The country is in an intractable prisoners dilemma, the logic of which makes a no-deal outcome highly possible. My fear with a no deal is that this would result in a bond shock, and with economic disruptions in Ireland, the Benelux, a France mired in a political crisis and the financial precarity of Italy all create excellent conditions for an absolutely roaring debt calamity. Yet, the UK blithely dithers on as Theresa May puts on her best performance of Neville Chamberlain and tries, tries again. The fact is that the government has lost all political legitimacy and Parliament is an omnishambles.
Those that lead us are so committed to their own narratives, so convinced of their acumen and power, so insulated by their privilege that they will sacrifice the health and prosperity of this nation in the absolute conviction that they are right and that all their problems are the fault of stupid people that don’t listen and do what they are told. The folks in the ERG think they only need sit on their hands and they can, they will, find themselves in a libertarian Aristocracy sea steading off the shores of Europe.
The London centric remainers think that they can paper over the past four years with a second referendum and that all can go back to normal and Brexit can be safely tucked away as a terrifying aberration. I am reminded of the H.L. Mencken quote that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
The only pathway I can see to restoring political legitimacy at this point is a general election. Only after an extension of article 50 and a new government has negotiated an alternative deal is it really feasible to begin speaking about holding further referendums that won’t cause great harm to democratic society. Citizen assemblies would need to be formed and plans for three referenda drawn up, a choice between Mays and the Alternative deal followed by a decision between the winning deal and a no-deal option which would culminate in a final choice between a popularly demanded type of Brexit and remaining within the European Union.
I, as the rest of us, have no idea where our current moment in history will lead. However, there are a few things that I feel confident are occurring. The long twentieth century that began in 1914 is at the end of its cycle. Whatever comes next will be something new, a difficult and demanding opportunity for profound creativity and the chance to step out of the long shadow of our past. In all ecosystems, diversity generates resilience. It is the reason and the strength of building consensus. Yet we cannot build consensus if we refuse, alienate and straw man the voices of others and refuse to examine and discuss the contradictory predicaments in which we find ourselves.
Those that lead us are blind, they are blind because they are true believers and they lack either the wit or compassion to imagine something different beyond more wealth extraction and violence. We have seen Neoliberalism’s Capitalist Utopia and it has failed. Only open and honest discourse coupled with pragmatic action will allow us to navigate to a new shore. I feel strongly about these things, that and that no matter what ones political persuasion, voting for the Tories should be beneath anyone’s dignity at this point.
To be awake from this collective dissonance we must approach our predicament with humility and honesty. Without a democratic commitment to an open and honest discussion, pragmatic decision making processes and a functioning political system capable of mitigating the worst damage, this country will become a mere serfdom ruled by Lilliputian lords.
“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.
Charles Burchfield Bluebird and Cottonwoods (The Birches) 1917
My Australian friend Wayne Hall, who‘s lived in Athens for many many years, is doing a video project on fellow Aussie Julian Assange. This is an interview with me, recorded 3 weeks or so ago, that’s part of the project. I would have done 1000 things differently, but it’s not my baby, it’s Wayne’s world. At least some snippets of information come through.
Note: it was 100º, and it shows. Very sweaty, very uncomfortable. Still, while I’m not wild about doing videos -we had Nicole for that, right?!- maybe I should be doing more of this. Not that I watched this one, mind you. But you can.
Wayne Hall: Good afternoon Raúl Ilargi Meijer. You have a blog called “Automatic Earth” and you are very active with it. Can you say something about “Automatic Earth”? When was it founded? What is its aim?
Ilargi: It was founded almost eleven years ago. Nicole Foss and I founded it because we wanted to write about finance whereas the people we were writing for before that, “The Oil Drum”, didn’t want us to do that and we thought it was too important not to.
WH: And what are you doing here in Athens?
Ilargi: I’m supporting a group of people who feed the homeless and refugees. I’ve written a bunch of articles at “Automatic Earth” about that.
WH: Now even though you have written articles that show clearly how important you think it is to try to defend Julian Assange (I read one that you published today [17/8/2018] that was very much on that subject and it was a powerful article), you really don’t agree with Julian Assange on the importance of defending the European integration project or citizens’ Europe.
Ilargi: I have no idea what either of these things are.
(Note Ilargi: here Wayne leaves several lines untranslated. I said again that I don’t know what the European integration project or citizens’ Europe are. And of course I can’t disagree with Assange, or anyone else, on things I don’t even know exist.)
WH: Well, let’s move on. In an article entitled “I am Julian Assange” on 16th May 2018, you wrote: “Julian Assange appears to be painfully close to being unceremoniously thrown out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. If that happens, the consequences for journalism, for freedom of speech and for press freedom, will resound around the world for a very long time”. Would you like to say more about that?
Ilargi: I think there are not nearly enough people who realize what the consequences are going to be of Assange being thrown to the wolves.
WH: What will they be?
Ilargi: He stands for every journalist but he also stands for every citizen. He is the man who offered his freedom to give everybody else freedom..
WH: You say that he has the credibility he has because he has never published anything that is not 100% verifiable and true.
Ilargi: That is the basis of Wikileaks: it’s truth, honesty. Nobody would ever give him another document if they were in doubt that he would preserve secrecy, he would protect their identity or he would treat the documents in the best way possible.
WH: You also wrote: “People like Chelsea Manning, Kim Dotcom, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are among the smartest people our world has to offer. We should be cherishing the combination of intelligence, courage and integrity they display at their own risk and peril, but instead we allow them to be harassed by our governments because they unveil inconvenient truths about them. And pretty soon there will be nobody left to tell these truths, or any truth at all.” That’s a very pessimistic assessment. Would you like to believe that it is too pessimistic?
Ilargi: Isn’t it more like realistic? How many people like Assange and Snowden or Chelsea Manning are there? We don’t have a never-ending supply of them.
WH: In your article “Julian Assange and the Dying of the Light” you wrote: “The ideal situation would be if Australia would offer Julian Assange safe passage back home. Assange has never been charged with anything, other than the UK’s bail-skipping change.” He has been charged with other things, but the charges have been withdrawn.
Ilargi: He has been charged with what?
WH: Wasn’t he charged with rape or something, in Sweden?
Ilargi: No, no..
WH: What was it? What happened there then if it was not a charge?
Ilargi: They said they wanted to talk to him. That was very strange. From what I know of the story the prosecutor let him go. Told him he was free to go to Britain and then – I don’t know if it was the same prosecutor, Marianne Ny, but anyway the Swedish justice system did a 180 and as soon as he got to London they said that he had to go back because they wanted to talk to him again.
Ilargi: But neither of the two women involved ever filed any charges against him, or any complaint. They even went out of their way, albeit far too late, to say “He didn’t rape me. It never happened.” It seems .. That was a smear thing. And it’s been very successful..
WH: It seems so. Talking about Australia again, and safe passage back home, it’s true that years ago the Australian government acknowledged that it had responsibilities to help and protect Australian citizen Julian Assange. For example in 2001 Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said:
“We are supporting Julian Assange the same way that we would support any Australian citizen who got into a legal difficulty overseas.”
But for years after that, these responsibilities seem to have been forgotten. Even supporters of Julian Assange seem to assume that it is OK for the Australian government to allow Ecuador, a weaker, poorer and more vulnerable country than Australia to take responsibilities that the Australian government had said that it was taking but it seems simply was not. .
Ilargi: Who wrote that?
WH: Do you mean this comment about Australia and Ecuador? I wrote it.
Ilargi: OK. OK.
WH: Don’t you agree with it?
Ilargi: The Australian government has a very strange role in this. There is an older speech by the later PM Malcolm Turnbull that is being tossed around on Twitter in which he is very supportive of Assange.
WH: Is this a recent speech?
Ilargi: I think that was also from 2011 too. Apparently he no longer is.
WH: Next subject. Would you like to comment on the controversy Seth Rich versus the hacker Guccifer 2.0.
There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and disagreement about this. I think a lot of people wouldn’t even know who Seth Rich was. Would you like to enlighten the people who don’t know?
Ilargi: From what I know Seth Rich worked for the Democratic National Committee. He was found murdered in Washington, not far from the White House. He is rumoured to be the guy who gave the DNC e-mails to Assange, to Wikileaks.
WH: This is something that Kim Dotcom apparently also says.
Ilargi: Yes. I don’t know enough about that but it seems obvious that the whole Guccifer 2.0 story is a fabrication. The US really really wants to make a link between Assange and Russia because it smears both. If they can make a connection between the two they will both look a lot worse.
WH: They’re trying hard.
Ilargi: And since neither can really defend themselves this narrative can be built and built. .
WH: Yes, that’s right. If you are dead or you re prevented from speaking, you can’t defend yourself.
WH: At the moment I and a few other people are discussing two ideas in relation to Julian Assange. One of them is purely symbolic and it’s aimed at counteracting the media bias against Assange. That is the declaration of a Julian Assange Day. The day we propose is 26th January. We heard a few words from the mayor about the significance of January 26th in Greece in the context of Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
But January 26th is also an important day in Australia. It is the national day. But many people are saying today that Australia s national day should be moved to another date, more inclusive of the many Australians who don’t feel that 26th January is suitable for the country’s national day. Let’s see what Amanda Stone has to say. In 2017 she was the mayor of the City of Yarra in Melbourne.
Amanda Stone: We ve been talking to the aboriginal community in Yarra for some time about the meaning of January 26th for them and we’ve heard from them that it is not a day of celebration. It is a day of sadness and loss for them. We ve been considering how we might address that to reflect those views. In February this year (2017) the Council resolved to ask the officers to consult with the aboriginal community about the future of January 26th, and that was also in the context of a growing momentum more broadly around the Change the Date campaign.
So we felt that it was an action whose time has come, that there would be broader support for it. And when the officers presented the results of the consultation with aboriginal people on Tuesday, that’s how we voted. But we’re not telling anyone what to do. We’re not changing the date of Australia Day as it is at the moment. We are not instructing people on how to spend January 26th. It will continue to be a public holiday, 26th January. People will still enjoy their barbecues and picnics and get-togethers in parks and gardens.
Lamourette Folly: Why is it important from your perspective as a mayor to change the date?
Amanda Stone: For me as mayor of the City of Yarra it is important that we are inclusive in what we do as a council. By holding celebratory events on January 26th we are actively excluding an important part of our community, the aboriginal community, who do not find it an occasion for celebration, who have told us so for many years, and are thoroughly supportive of the action we have taken. We want to be inclusive. We don’t want to exclude anybody.We want everyone to be able to celebrate our national identity and we need to find a date that we can do that on.
Lamourette Folly: That’s great. Do you have any date in mind?
Amanda Stone: No. I think it is something that needs to come out of a conversation. And I think lots of people have lots of ideas. And if we are going to be really inclusive we need to discuss it with everybody, not impose another date that might be contentious for another part of the people.
WH: If Julian Assange is freed it could very well be changed subsequently to Media Integrity Day, or something along those lines.
The second proposal is more concrete. It was initiated by the following posting by someone who calls himself “Realist” in the discussion that was started by Ray McGovern. What he said was this:
“If the American government thinks better of it and decides not to prosecute Mr. Assange (or perhaps offers him a plea bargain counting his time cloistered in the embassy against a short sentence), I wonder where he will choose and/or be allowed to live. Australia has abandoned him, and now Ecuador has betrayed him. He can’t trust any American vassal state in the EU, NATO or the “Five Eyes” (basically the Anglosphere). Would Putin allow him to run Wikileaks out of Russia? I suspect not. No free press throughout the Middle East, most of Africa and the “–stans” of Central Asia.
China is not looking to harbor a gadfly of the West. Latin America is spotty, though Glenn Greenwald makes his home base in Brazil despite the de facto coup against the Left there. How well are human rights protected in places like India or Malaysia? Singapore, Burma and Thailand are too authoritarian. Arthur C. Clarke decamped in Sri Lanka. Are there any truly sovereign nations in the Indian or Pacific oceans? Too bad New Gingrich didn’t get to establish his proposed Moon base. Julian might have managed Wikileaks from there, beyond the jurisdiction of any nation state on Earth.”
I said in response: “Realist’s” comments on Julian finding asylum on the Moon is frivolous, and if frivolous comments are permitted, why not outrageous comments? Are there Jewish people who would be outrageous enough to begin to lobby for Julian Assange to be given political asylum in Israel? Would he accept such an idea? Just the discussion of such an idea might be helpful in clearing some mental blocks.” ”
“Realist” replied: “Assange finding asylum on the Moon might be a frivolous comment but it underscores the paucity of venues that could pay the price to shield him against American wrath. In response to your invitation to discuss Israel as a plausible safe harbor for Assange, I should think his morals would preclude that possibility, even as a last resort. It would be repudiating everything he has stood for. As they say “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Ilargi: That’s a very long way of saying “there are no options”. You don’t have to go through all the options to arrive at the conclusion that there are no options.
WH: So in other words…
Ilargi: A new country that is brought to the front in the past few days is Mexico. .
Ilargi: Yes. People think that Lopez Obrador might be the guy to turn to. I suggested Iceland.
WH: I remember that. . .
Ilargi: They are independent enough to pull off something like that. Though I have no idea what the Icelandic government feels or thinks about Assange. But they’re independent. They’re the only country that locked up a bunch of bankers and told the creditors to go take a hike.
WH: I think what “Realist” would say is that these countries are not strong enough to protect Assange and that the CIA, or whoever is after him, would get at him.
Ilargi: Iceland has got a big moat. That is natural protection. .
WH: A big moat!
Ilargi: Yes. Of course there is no country that could give 100% protection to someone like Assange.
WH: There was a similar discussion in response to an article by Caitlin Johnstone.” “As long as Assange is silenced, claims against him are illegitimate”.
In any case, a campaign is under way. The ideas we are discussing here are not part of the campaign and I don’t want to impose them. The campaign is following its own logic.
Ilargi: There are no ideas. There is just a long list of “no options”.
WH: Yes, as you said. Right. This is continuing the discussion we had with the mayor.
Ilargi: I would like to add what we were saying before we started. The news about Assange’s health is not good. He has severe toothaches. His legs are swelling and his bone density is falling fast because of the lack of exposure to sunlight. So in the end, what it comes down to: Ecuador doesn’t even have to kick him out. They’re counting on the fact that he’ll have to walk out. .
WH: Yes, if he can. .
Ilargi: Or be carried out, on a stretcher. Or in a coffin. .
Julian Assange: (Trafalgar Square, London – 8th October 2011)
When we understand that wars come about as a result of lies peddled to the British public and the American public and the publics all over Europe and other countries, then who are the war criminals? It is not just leaders. It is not just soldiers. It is journalists. Journalists are war criminals. … If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.
I’ve had a few comments lately wondering why I’m against Brexit, while before the referendum I was not. Someone even remembered I had been talking about Beautiful Brexit back in 2016. It’s real simple. Brexit could be, or could have been, a good idea. There’s a lot wrong with the way the European Union is set up. There’s nothing democratic about Germany always having the last say when it comes to important decisions. Slaughtering the entire nation of Greece on the altar of saving Deutsche and Commerzbank says it all.
But Brexit today is not the same -anymore- as it was before or during the June 23 2016 vote. What happened is that nothing happened. The Brits wasted two whole years and change, and the complexity of the process never allowed for that kind of delay. There are many thousands of pages of EU rules and regulations that not only has the UK been bound by over the past 45 years, but that have shaped its own society.
It’s not just that these ties have to be untangled, they have to be replaced by other rules and regulations. And no, the UK can’t just go back to what they had before 1973; too much water under the bridge, both domestically and internationally. Politically, the EU may be a disaster, but the single market is quite the achievement. And they’re not going to risk it by letting London cherry-pick the rules it likes while leaving others behind. It’s a package deal.
But that is what the Brits, or at least the Tories, appear to have counted on: cherry-picking. They still do. It’s going to be a cold shower. And obviously, they’re going to blame it all on the EU, but that’s neither true nor credible. Still, expect a huge blame campaign. They’re practicing on Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who the entire UK press including the BBC and Guardian, who are supposed to balance out the slew of Murdoch rags that shape opinion, started accusing of anti-semitism a few weeks ago.
It’s as concerted an effort as the D-Notice gag orders issued earlier this year in the novichok cases. And now that the few media outlets who once had some degree of independence start saying the same things as their smut peers, Brits can safely assume they have no press left that attempts to inform them. It’s now all a propaganda machine.
As for Jeremy Corbyn, one can feel sorry for him, but he doesn’t even try to defend himself. Needs to take some cues from Trump? Still, if Corbyn’s a jew hater, I’m Napoleon. There’s nothing in the man’s life that points to that. Just saying that Palestinians are not treated fairly doesn’t mean you hate Jews. That this has become the thread of the ‘discussion’ is an ominous sign.
How are Brits supposed to find out what’s happening in their own country, let alone the rest of the world? There’s no-one left to tell them who doesn’t subscribe to pre-gurgitated ideas and politics. So Theresa May can claim today they know who poisoned the Skripals, and threaten further sanctions against Russia, without sharing any proof with anyone. She can do that because there are no media left in Britain that will ask questions.
If no. 10 says the Russians did it, everyone reports that. If the Blair section of the Labour party says their own leader is an anti-Semite, everyone reports that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Huxley and Orwell were Brits. There is no proof needed anymore: the media will parrot anything the ‘authorities’ say.
Well, kiddo’s, enjoy it while you can, because Brexit is going to shatter that little controlled world of yours into very little pieces. Pretend won’t do it anymore after that. You will need proof for that one, in the form of actual food, and actual trade and jobs. And you won’t have those to offer.
Today, Bloomberg reports that both Germany and the UK are willing to accept less stringent conditions for Brexit, but after Brexit day, March 29 2019, goods can no longer move across borders the way they used to. Yes, there is a 21-month transition period, but British products will have to comply with ALL EU rules and laws to be sold to Europe, including Ireland. The same goes for products and services and people that move the opposite way. And in the meantime, the UK cannot close any trade deals with 3rd part countries that don’t comply with EU rules.
Taking control of the narrative(s), as has been the UK’s model, only gets you so far. Britain can trade with the EU, but it cannot simultaneously trade with the US under entirely different conditions. Likewise, London can let Polish people pick British fruits, but not without letting other Europeans work in Britain as well. These rules are broad, and there can be no exceptions, since 27 other countries will want them too.
Now, if only Britain had a press that would tell people what’s going on. It doesn’t. The press only parrots. And if only Jeremy Corbyn told his anti-Semitism accusers to shut up or be sued for libel, and unveil an actual alternative plan for how to do Brexit -or not-. Nobody’s seen any such plan, and Corbyn doesn’t say a thing.
The whole place is just swirling down the drain, watching silly weddings and cooking shows, sipping gin and dreaming of a lost empire nobody can actually remember anymore. And the pace of the swirling can be adapted a little, but no-one is trying to stop it from happening. Oh well, tragedy can be beautiful too.
Julian Assange has received an letter from the US Senate asking him to testify in front of them. What to make of that is not entirely clear. Far as I know, Assange offered such testimony multiple times, under the ‘right standards’. The Senate ostensibly wants this to take place behind closed doors, and it’s hard to see how that would fit Assange’s standards. But who knows?
What struck me was that the letter was signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA). and especially the latter runs like a red thread through everything that has to do with Assange and the US. It reminded me of what John Solomon said in his June 25 piece ‘How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal’ about Assange lawyer Adam Waldman, who according to Solomon has a ‘Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue’.
Mark Warner has that, too. What made me return to this is that in his piece yesterday on the Senate request, Tyler Durden, referring to Solomon’s article, wrote: After Assange’s request was run up the flag pole, Senator Warner was issued a “stand-down” order by Comey.. And I thought: I’m not sure that’s entirely correct, and not only because Comey cannot ‘order’ a US Senator to do anything.
The stand down order was not for Warner, he just passed it on to Waldman and his counterpart acting for the DOJ, David Laufman, head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section. NOTE: we don’t even know if the stand down didn’t really come from Warner, or Comey AND Warner, or someone else altogether.
What we do know is that it was a very peculiar order at a very peculiar moment in time, because the intelligence community could have gotten something tangible and valuable out of the negotiations. Solomon: “..officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.”
They were well on their way to -at least potentially- save the lives of CIA operatives and assets. Negotiations had been going on for at least 2 months, and probably more like three. But then Assange offered to provide evidence that he didn’t get the DNC files from Russia. And that seems to have changed the atmosphere. Tyler has some more about this, outside of the Solomon piece:
‘Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory.’ After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.”
NOTE: that meeting took place 4-5 months AFTER the Comey (et al?) stand down order. So Assange was still reaching out and offering to spare individual CIA assets. He has released a lot of the CIA Vault 7 files, but not all. To my knowledge he has held back on that to this day.
I don’t know how much you still follow from the pro-Russiagate press, which is about the entire US MSM, but Rohrabacher is habitually called a traitor, a Putin puppet and worse for talking to Russians, just like he is for going to see Assange. Once you start trying to find a way out of the ever tighter woven Russia Russia web, you’re fair game. Even if that’s simply your job as a Congressman, or at least your interpretation of what the job entails.
Back to Solomon for a bit. What he describes is not some amnesty deal, but a “Queen for a Day” proffer. Which in this case was essentially a safe passage guarantee for Assange to leave the Ecuador embassy only to go talk to US government people. We don’t know all the prospective topics of the talks, and they don’t seem to have agreed on a location (London, Washington?!) before the Comey order. Solomon:
Not included in the written proffer was an additional offer from Assange: He was willing to discuss technical evidence ruling out certain parties in the controversial leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. The U.S. government believes those emails were hacked by Russia; Assange insists they did not come from Moscow.
“Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases,” Waldman told me. “Finally, he offered his technical expertise to the U.S. government to help address what he perceived as clear flaws in security systems that led to the loss of the U.S. cyber weapons program.”
That is just funny: Assange offered to help the CIA on its security systems. That must have pissed them off mightily, because it can only mean they really needed to strengthen security (or he wouldn’t have brought it up). But then Waldman reaches out to Warner, in what may well have been a fatal mistake. The talks with the DOJ were going well, and might have been enough. Getting politics involved in it was one took over the line:
[..] Just a few days after the negotiations opened in mid-February, Waldman reached out to Sen. Warner; the lawyer wanted to see if Senate Intelligence Committee staff wanted any contact with Assange, to ask about Russia or other issues. Warner engaged with Waldman over encrypted text messages, then reached out to Comey. A few days later, Warner contacted Waldman with an unexpected plea.
“He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Waldman told me. Waldman offered contemporaneous documents to show he memorialized Warner’s exact words.
Waldman couldn’t believe a U.S. senator and the FBI chief were sending a different signal, so he went back to Laufman, who assured him the negotiations were still on. “What Laufman said to me after he heard I was told to ‘stand down’ by Warner and Comey was, ‘That’s bullshit. You are not standing down and neither am I,’” Waldman recalled.
A source familiar with Warner’s interactions says the senator’s contact on the Assange matter was limited and was shared with Senate Intelligence chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But the source acknowledges that Warner consulted Comey and passed along the “stand down” instructions to Waldman: “That did happen.”
Okay, so we have Warner very much in the thick of the DOJ negotiations with Assange. Fast forward to late June 2018, when his name pops up again in a list of 10 Democratic Senators who asked Vice President Mike Pence to, on a visit to Ecuador, ask new president Lenin Moreno, to revoke Assange’s asylum on the London embassy.
Warner is there, along with such fine human beings as Dianne Feinstein, and the two Dicks Durbin and Blumenthal. Wikileaks, which posted the list, suggested: “Remember them”. Looks like an idea. Why would the Democratic party want Assange delivered to the lions? Oh, right, Russia Russia, the entirely unproven allegations which they are so desperate to tie Assange into.
They can’t prove any of the many allegations of Russian meddling, let alone their role in Hillary’s election loss, and they can’t prove any allegation against Julian Assange, at least none that he could be charged for/with, but tie Russia and WikiLeaks together and they feel they no longer have to prove anything at all, that mere allegations are strong enough.
If there is no crime Assange can be accused of, you just label him a terrorist, and all your legal problems disappear. Because terrorism can be anything, and because of national security reasons, any evidence, whether it exists or not, must be treated in secret. What reason, what grounds, do these Senators have to ask Ecuador to revoke Assange’s asylum? What legal grounds could possibly exist? We have no way of knowing, and because they label Julian a terrorist, we have no right to, either. Or so they claim.
This is called abomination of justice. In the same way that America and Britain’s treatment of him is called torture. And no, that is not too strong a term. A man who has never been charged with a crime by anyone, in any country, is being tortured. Julian has severe, painful, dental problems, he has developed a condition that makes his legs swell, and his bone density is dropping fast due to extended lack of sunlight.
These people have simply decided to wait it out, so they don’t have to go through elaborate legal procedures that they may well lose, to wait until Assange has no choice but to walk out of the embassy, or be carried out on a stretcher or in a coffin. It’s not even possible to list all the British, American, Ecuadorian and international laws his treatment violates.
Someone should give it a try, though. Just like someone should investigate Mark Warner’s role in all of this. Warner was pivotal in killing off the Assange legal teams’ talks with the DOJ, he asked Ecuador to stop Assange’s asylum (which is so illegal you don’t even want to go there), and now he requests for Assange to appear before the US Senate.
Someone investigate that guy. If I can say one last thing, it would be that Warner exemplifies all that is wrong with the US Democratic Party. He’s the Forrest Gump of all their future election losses. The Democrats should be standing up to protect people like Assange, but instead they follow the example of Hillary, who said about Assange “can’t we drone this guy?”.
Yeah, the very guy who’s never been charged with a single crime. She undoubtedly said it in the same tone of voice as her insane cackle of “We came, we saw, he died” about Gaddafi. Looked at Libya lately?
The essence of this is that we will be better people, and better societies, with Julian Assange around to help us be better. Without him, things look a whole lot darker. We need to be able to hold politicians, corporations and secret services to account. And the more they resist this, often in illegal ways, the more we must insist.
The idea was never that we must answer to them. They must answer to us, and we must be able to throw them out when they cross legal and moral lines. It’s beyond the pale that that has to be explained once again. And trying to explain that, with examples, is all that Julian Assange has ever done.
British media report today that Donald Trump may visit the country in late summer. (Renewed) calls for mass protests are everywhere, of course. The Metro news outlet features a picture of a pamphlet that reads No To Racism. No To Trump, that dates from an earlier occasion (Trump was supposed to come several times, but never did).
Now, good luck with those protests, it’s still a free country, in name at least. But boy oh boy, would you guys miss the point. Because as we now all know – or could-, your country is being governed by a group of people who are so racist they make even Trump’s fake tan pale in comparison. If Theresa May is still in office by the time Trump visits, you’re all a bunch of racists.
Both May and her Home Secretary Amber Rudd – and you all know they’re far from alone- look so completely deranged in reports about the Windrush scandal that you will have to get rid of them first, or else shut up about Trump because you will have no moral ground whatsoever left on which to protest his visit.
For those of you who don’t know what Windrush is about, and if you’re British you have no excuse not to know, it’s the name given to a group of people who arrived, on invitation, in Britain between the late 1940s and early 1970s, often as children, and whose legal status in the country is now put in so much doubt that some have already been deported, some are denied health care, and all live in fear. Despite having lived and worked and paid taxes all their lives.
There are many instances of people who have never left Britain for a family visit, some who can’t see their own children because they did go for that visit and weren’t allowed back in, the entire story is so appalling and disastrous it’s hard to read the various reports on it. The common denominator of all of these people? They are black.
In the aftermath of World War II, the British government invited thousands of people from Caribbean countries in the British Commonwealth to immigrate to the United Kingdom and help address the war-torn country’s labor shortages. Now, nearly 70 years later, many of those same people, now elderly, are having their legal status in the country questioned and are facing deportation. Though the deportation threats date as far back as October, the crisis burst into wider view this week after Caribbean diplomats representing a dozen Commonwealth nations chastised the U.K. government publicly. “This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner from Barbados to the U.K., said at a gathering of the diplomats.
As for the Guardian, which claims it broke the story, here’s a question: where were you all those years? As for Theresa May, who when she occupied the Home Office from 2010-2016 and devised all manner of tough-on-immigrants measures that have now spread to people the UK itself invited into its nation: you have to go. You cannot continue to be the face of Britain, because you blemish any and all of your fellow country men and women.
As for Donald Trump, as much as we would like to engage in constructive criticism of the man and his government, we find we no longer can. The anti-Trump echo-chamber has turned so deafening that any intelligent debate about his policies is being drowned out amid the never ending flow of fake news and half truths and innuendo and empty smears that US media continue to spout. With a brief lull when the bombs fell on Syria.
Thank you, New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC. Thank you for killing the entire discussion, thank you for killing off journalism. There is a lot to say about Trump, much of it critical, but we can no longer open our mouths. Because we don’t want to be in the same camp as you. Life in the echo chamber has given us vertigo. We had to get out.
And now, what are you going to do? The DNC lawsuit-for-campaign-cash which was launched yesterday against everything Trump, plus Wikileaks, plus everything Russia, may appear to you to be a nice and juicy next episode in your ‘impeach the comb-over’ narrative, but if I were you, I’d be careful. Because the suit creates the ideal ground upon which the empire can strike back.
And the counter suits look a lot stronger. The DNC has nothing on Russia, Wikileaks and most Trump affiliated people and organizations, as the Mueller investigation has shown by now. But Loretta Lynch, the “Pakistani mystery man”, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Comey, McCabe, and many more around Hillary Clinton, that’s a whole different story.
First of all, they haven’t been investigated for well over a year. But can you see Rosenstein now still refusing to appoint a second special counsel and going after anything Democrat? It would cost him his job, and for good reason. And then what will the place of the echo chamber be? What have been your sources on Trump et al over the past, let’s say, 18 months? How are you going to report on your own role? Someone’s going to ask these questions.
And, you know, you do know that at least someone will name Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize if he pulls off ‘pacifying’ North Korea. How will you address that? See, you can’t praise the Donald anymore even if he does achieve things -other than missiles-, and we can’t criticize him anymore for what does indeed go wrong because you monopolized that criticism with your opinionated 24/7 non-news. While claiming to be the serious press.
Trump must be very grateful to you for what you’ve done. Come to think of it, perhaps that second special counsel should look into any payments you have received from Russia. Because nobody has helped Trump more than you have. Except perhaps for the Britons who plan to protest his visit with their racist prime minister.
Why do I feel like most of the world has lost its compass? Like we’re all just aimlessly bobbing around on a sea of meaningless words? You know, Trump territory.
Hong Kong, Sweden, China and Australia could all find themselves in hot water over private-sector debt if borrowing costs rise, according to research by Oxford Economics. That’s because those countries all have a particularly high share of floating-rate debt in relation to economic output. If interest rates increase, households and companies are likely to feel the pinch, the study of 16 economies found. With global economic momentum picking up, several major central banks are weighing steps to tighten policy, though the pace of movement varies significantly. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again next week and economists also predict that Sweden’s Riksbank will tighten policy later this year.
Oxford Economics estimated that an interest rate rise of 100 basis points would raise Hong Kong’s debt service ratio by around 2.5% of GDP after a year, while Sweden, China and Australia would experience increases of between 1.5% and 1.7% of GDP. By contrast, Germany, where debt levels are moderate, as well as France and the U.S. are less likely to suffer. For the latter two, that’s because mortgages are typically of fixed rate.
Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% experienced in the 50 years prior to 2008. As a result of the combination of slow economic growth and deficit spending, most people are also aware that the debt/GDP ratio has been rising. However, what most people don’t know is that, over the past ten years, the dollar amount of cumulative government deficit spending exceeded the dollar amount of GDP growth. Put another way, in the absence of deficit spending, GDP growth would have been less than zero for the past decade. Could that be true?
Let’s begin with a shocking chart that confirms the statements above, and begins to answer the question. The black line shows the difference between quarterly GDP growth and the quarterly increase in Treasury debt outstanding (TDO). When the black line is above zero (red dotted line), the dollar amount is GDP is growing faster than the increase in TDO. From 1971 to 2008, the amount of GDP typically grew at a faster rate than the increase in TDO, which is why the black line is generally above the red dotted line.
Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% During the 1971-2008 period, inflation, budget deficits, and trade deficits varied widely, meaning that the relationship between GDP growth and TDO was stable even in the face of changes in other economic variables. Regardless of those changing economic variables, the US economy tended to grow at a pace faster than TDO for four decades. The only interruptions to the pattern occurred during recessions of the early 1980s, early 1990s, and early 2000s when GDP fell while budget deficits did not.
[..] From 2008-2017, GDP grew by $5.051 trillion, from $14.55 trillion to $19.74 trillion. During that same period, the increase in TDO totaled $11.26 trillion. In other words, for each dollar of deficit spending, the economy grew by less than 50 cents. Or, put another way, had the federal government not borrowed and spent the $11.263 trillion, GDP today would be significantly smaller than it is. It is possible to transform Chart 1, which shows annual changes in TDO and GDP from 1970-2017, into Chart 3 below, which shows the cumulative difference between the growth of TDO and GDP over the entire period from 1970-2017. The graph below clearly shows the abrupt regime change that occurred in the aftermath of the GFC. A period in which growth in GDP growth exceeded increases in TDO has been replaced by a period in which increases in TDO exceeded GDP growth.
The US gross national debt jumped by $72.8 billion in one day, on Thursday, the Treasury Department reported Friday afternoon. This March 16 is a historic date of gloomy proportions, because on this date, the US gross national debt punched through the $21 trillion mark and reached $21.03 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, a little over six months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.84 trillion. In those six-plus months – 132 reporting days, to be precise – the gross national debt spiked by $1.186 trillion. I tell you, these dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see. And we wonder: What was that? Where did it go?
Whatever it was and wherever it went, it added 6% to the gross national debt in just 6 months. And with 2017 GDP at $19.74 trillion in current dollars, the gross national debt now amounts to 106.4% of GDP. In the chart below, the flat spots are the various debt-ceiling periods. This is a uniquely American phenomenon when Congress forbids the Administration to borrow the money that it needs to borrow in order to spend it on the things that Congress told the Administration to spend it on via the appropriation bills. So that’s where we are, on this glorious day of March 16, 2018:
Russia has announced it will expel 23 British diplomats in response to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain. The move marks the latest development in the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday morning that the 23 diplomatic representatives of the British Embassy in Moscow should leave Russia within a week. The ministry also said all activities by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations, would cease in Russia and that the planned reopening of the British consulate in St Petersburg would no longer go ahead. The ministry warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.
Shortly before the announcement, British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the foreign ministry for talks, where he learned of the retaliation measures. As he left the ministry, Mr Bristow said: “This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the UK, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Russia is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Act.” The retaliation from Russia comes four days after Theresa May announced that 23 Russian diplomats would be expelled from Britain after Russia missed a deadline to provide an explanation for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both remain critically ill in hospital.
Russia has continued to dismiss accusations of Russian culpability for the attack and to deny possessing Novichok, the nerve agent used in the incident. On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, saying it was “overwhelmingly likely” Mr Putin personally ordered the assassination attempt. Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, responded to the verbal escalation with a further denial of the state’s involvement. “Any reference or mention of our President in this connection is nothing but a shocking and unforgivable violation of the diplomatic rules of propriety,” Mr Peskov said.
Large companies with significant digital revenues in the European Union such as Google and Facebook could face a 3% tax on their turnover under a draft proposal by the European Commission seen by Reuters. The proposal, expected to be adopted next week and still subject to changes, updates an earlier draft which envisaged a tax rate of between 1 and 5%. The tax, if backed by EU states and lawmakers, would only apply to large firms with annual worldwide revenues above 750 million euros (£662.2 million) and annual “taxable” revenues above 50 million euros in the EU. The threshold for EU revenues has been raised from 10 million euros initially foreseen to exempt smaller companies and emerging start-ups from the tax.
Large U.S. firms such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon could also be hit by the new levy, which would apply across the 28 EU countries. Big tech firms have been accused by large EU states of paying too little tax in the bloc by re-routing some of their profits to low-tax member states like Ireland and Luxembourg. Services that will be taxed are digital advertising, which would capture both providers of users’ data like Google, and companies offering ad space on their websites, like popular social media such as Facebook. The tax would be also be levied on online platforms offering “intermediation services,” a concept under which the Commission includes gig economy firms such as Airbnb and Uber. Digital market places, including Amazon, would also be within the scope of the levy.
Goldilocks is a conceit of monetary central planning and its erroneous predicate that falsifying financial asset prices is the route to prosperity. In fact, it only leads to immense and unstable financial bubbles which eventually crash – monkey-hammering the purported Goldilocks Economy as they do. It also leads to a complete corruption of the economic and financial narrative on both ends of the Acela Corridor. To wit, the Fed’s serial financial bubbles on Wall Street are falsely celebrated as arising from a booming main street economy. In fact, they are an economic dagger that bleeds it of investment and cash and exposes it to “restructuring” mayhem from the C-suites when the egregious inflation of share prices and stock option values finally gets crushed by another financial meltdown.
In this context, the Washington Post (WaPo) is out this morning with brutal takedown of our friend Larry Kudlow for his ebullient whistling past the graveyard on the eve of the financial crisis and Great Recession. It would be an understatement to say he didn’t see it coming, but it’s also completely unfair not to acknowledge that 95% of Wall Street and 100% of the FOMC were equally bubble-blind. In fact, when Larry Kudlow waxed eloquently in a piece in the National Review about the awesome economy the George Bush Administration had produced in December 2007, he was just delivering the Wall Street consensus forecast for the coming year:
“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told…….In fact, we are about to enter the seventh consecutive year of the Bush boom.”
Well, not exactly. The worst recession since the 1930s actually incepted that very month and 10 months latter came Washington’s hair-on-fire moment when the monetary and fiscal spigots were opened far wider than ever before – bailing out everything that was collapsing, tottering, moving or even standing still.
Sunday night was Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s turn through the CBS 60-Minutes wringer of censure with a visibly frustrated inquisitor Lesley Stahl trying to hector her into self-incrimination. The sad truth about American schools is that they’re a mirror for the painful collapse of the society they supposedly serve — a process ongoing for decades before Ms. DeVos came on the scene. The expectation that some uber-regent can or ought to fix public education is bound to disappoint a news media searching for saviors. The further we leave the 20th century behind, the more anomalous its organizing principles look, especially the idea of preparing masses of young people for mass, regimented work at the giant corporate scale.
There’s a big divergence underway between the promises of schooling and the kind of future that the 21st century is actually presenting — of no plausible careers or vocations besides providing “therapy” and policing for the discontented masses stewing in anomie and compensatory pleasure-seeking, with all its nasty side effects. In the meantime, we’re stuck with wildly expensive, out-of-scale, giant centralized schools where the worst tendencies of human status competition are amplified by smart phones and social media to all but eclipse classroom learning.
Education in the years to come is destined to become more of a privilege than a right, and it will probably depend more on how much an individual young person really desires an education than just compelling masses of uninterested or indisposed kids to show up everyday for an elaborate and rather poorly supervised form of day-care. But it’s difficult to let go of old habits and obsolete arrangements, especially when we’ve spent countless billions of dollars on them. I call the future a World Made By Hand because it is going to be entirely unlike the sci-fi robotic fantasy that currently preoccupies the thought-leaders in this culture. A lot of what will be required in this time-to-come will be physical labor and small-scale skilled work in traditional crafts. There never were that many job openings for astronauts, not even in the 1960s, but in the decades ahead there will be none — notwithstanding Elon Musk’s wish to colonize Mars.
In Los Angeles, the more the politicians push to solve the city’s festering homelessness crisis, the worse it seems to get. The city leadership has taken one bold step after another: restructuring the budget to free more than $100m a year in homelessness funding, sponsoring one voter-approved initiative to raise more than $1bn for housing and backing another regional proposal to raise the sales tax and generate an estimated $3.5bn for support services over the next decade. And yet the tent cities continue to proliferate, in rich neighborhoods and poor, by the beach, the airport, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and within view of City Hall itself. It’s the sorriest urban scene anywhere in America, and the same voters who not so long ago opened their hearts and their wallets to put an end to it are growing increasingly impatient.
As the numbers of homeless people continue to rise – the latest figures put the countywide number at 58,000, up more than 20% in a single year – and new encampments spring up on sidewalks, under freeways, and along stretches of river and rail lines, the politicians who not so long ago were earning praise for their courage are facing the beginnings of an angry backlash. “How many people have we housed?” the Los Angeles Times asked impatiently in a blistering series of editorials late last month. “How many are we on track toward housing? Is Los Angeles setting the national standard for rapid and effective response to a vexing problem? Or are its leaders merely mastering the art of appearances while passing the buck and hoping things turn around? … Who’s in charge here?”
John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear. The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation.
[..] “Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump. We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.
What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them? Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously. The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.
Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing. But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.
China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2.
It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1. The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.
We’re going to figure this one out way too late. The time to stop this is now, not at some future point down the line. But we’re not doing anything at all. We blindly parrot claims about clean energy and electric cars that will allegedly ‘save’ us, because we want to do the saving without paying a price for it that makes our lives one iota less comfy.
Earth is enduring a mass species extinction, scientists say – the first since the demise of the dinosaurs and only the sixth in half-a-billion years. The reason? Humanity’s voracious consumption, and wanton destruction, of the very gifts of nature that keep us alive. Starting Saturday, a comprehensive, global appraisal of the damage, and what can be done to reverse it, will be conducted in Colombia. “The science is clear: biodiversity is in crisis globally,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP ahead of a crucial meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “We depend on biodiversity for the food we eat, the water we drink, the clean air we breathe, the stability of weather patterns, and yet our actions are pushing nature’s ability to sustain us to the brink.”
Scientists and government envoys will gather as the 128-member IPBES to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on five monumental assessment reports designed to inform global policymaking into the future. Compiled over the last three years, the reports will provide the most up-to-date picture of the health of the world’s plants, animals and soil. [..] Meeting host Colombia claims to boast the world’s largest variety of birds and orchids and is second only to Brazil in terms of overall species diversity. Paradoxically, decades of conflict have preserved fragile habitats in no-go zones in the country, whose mountainous topography supports 311 different ecosystems.
Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.
Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.
[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.
Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:
“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:
“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”
[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’
It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.
The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.
[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”
It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.
And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.
The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!
There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.
So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.
I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).
Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.
Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.
He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.
The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.
“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.
More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.
The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.
[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”
An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.
She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.
[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..
The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”
A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.
Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…
Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.
The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.
Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.
My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.
Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.
This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”
According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”
The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.
Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.
Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.
Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.
Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”
Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.
Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.
Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.
The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.
UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”
But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.
Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.
The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.
Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.
Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.
This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.
A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.
Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.
In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.
The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.
Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.
Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)
The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.
As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.
Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.
Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.
The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.
Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.
Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.
Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.
Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.
They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.
A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”
The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.
The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.
The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.
The best prior estimates of overall default rates come from Looney and Yannelis (2015), who examine defaults up to five years after entering repayment, and Miller (2017), who uses the new BPS-04 data to examine default rates within 12 years of college entry. These two sources provide similar estimates: about 28 to 29% of all borrowers ultimately default. But even 12 years may not be long enough to get a complete picture of defaults. The new data also allow loan outcomes to be tracked for a full 20 years after initial college entry, though only for the 1996 entry cohort. Still, examining patterns of default over a longer period for the 1996 cohort can help us estimate what to expect in the coming years for the more recent cohort.
If we assume that the cumulative defaults grow at the same rate (in percentage terms) for the 2004 cohort as for the earlier cohort, we can project how defaults are likely to increase beyond year 12 for the 2004 cohort. To compute these projections, I first use the 1996 cohort to calculate the cumulative default rates in years 13-20 as a percentage of year 12 cumulative default rates. I then take this percentage for years 13-20 and apply it to the 12-year rate observed for the 2004 cohort. So, for example, since the 20-year rate was 41% higher than the 12-year rate for the 1996 cohort, I project the Year 20 cumulative default rate for the 2004 cohort is projected to be 41% higher than its 12-year rate.
Figure 1 plots the resulting cumulative rates of default relative to initial entry for borrowers in both cohorts, with the data points after year 12 for the 2003-04 cohort representing projections. Defaults increase by about 40% for the 1995-96 cohort between years 12 and 20 (rising from 18 to 26% of all borrowers). Even by year 20, the curve does not appear to have leveled off; it seems likely that if we could track outcomes even longer, the default rate would continue to rise. For the more recent cohort, default rates had already reached 27% of all borrowers by year 12. But based on the patterns observed for the earlier cohort, a simple projection indicates that about 38% of all borrowers from the 2003-04 cohort will have experienced a default by 2023.
Three years after the Swiss National Bank shocked currency markets by scrapping the franc’s peg to the euro, it faces the toughest task of any major central bank in normalising ultra-loose monetary policy. If it raises rates, the Swiss franc strengthens. If it sells off its massive balance sheet, the Swiss franc strengthens. If a global crisis hits, the Swiss franc strengthens. And the abrupt decision to scrap the currency peg on Jan. 15, 2015, means it still has credibility issues with financial markets. “The SNB will most probably be one of the last central banks to change course, and it will take years or even decades for monetary policy to return to ‘normal’,” said Daniel Rempfler, head of fixed income Switzerland at Swiss Life Asset Managers.
The Bank of Japan illustrated the problem of reducing expansive policy when a small cut to its regular bond purchases sent the yen and bond yields higher. The scrapping of the cap – which sought to keep the franc at 1.20 to the euro to protect exporters and ward off deflationary pressure – sent it soaring. On the day of the announcement it went to 0.86 francs buying a euro before easing in later days. Although it weakened last year, SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan said in December it was too early to talk about normalising policy. The SNB has to wait for the European Central Bank to start raising interest rates before it can start hiking its own policy rate from minus 0.75%.
If the SNB acted first, the spread between Swiss and European market rates would narrow, making Swiss investments more attractive and boosting the franc. The ECB has already scaled back its asset purchasing programme, which is expected to end this year, but more action may be someway off. Meanwhile, any attempt by the SNB to cut its balance sheet – which has ballooned to 837 billion francs ($861 billion) – will be hard because 94% of its investments are in foreign currencies, held via bonds and shares in companies such as Apple and Starbucks.
China’s banking regulator pledged to continue its crackdown on malpractice in the $38 trillion industry in 2018, vowing to tackle everything from poor corporate governance and violation of lending policies to cross-holdings of risky financial products. The China Banking Regulatory Commission unveiled its regulatory priorities for the year in a statement on Saturday. They include: • Inspecting the funding source of banks’ shareholders and ensuring they have obtained their stakes in a regular manner • Examining banks’ compliance with rules restricting loans to real estate developers, local governments, industries burdened by overcapacity, and some home buyers • Looking into banks’ interbank activities and wealth management businesses.
The statement comes after China’s financial regulators started 2018 with a flurry of rules to plug loopholes uncovered in last year’s deleveraging campaign, showcasing their determination to limit broader risks to the financial system. Still, analysts have warned that the moves will make it more difficult for companies to obtain financing from loans, equities and bonds and could undermine economic growth. The “CBRC’s regulatory storm continues” with the weekend announcement covering almost all aspects of banks’ daily operations, Bocom International analysts Jaclyn Wang and Hannah Han wrote in a note. “We believe challenges for smaller banks in the current regulatory environment remain high,” they wrote, noting that curbs on off-balance-sheet lending and interbank activities may drag on profitability.
Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it’s not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting. Dozens of crypto units see the light of day every week, as baffled financial experts look on, and while none can match Bitcoin’s €200 billion ($242 bilion) market capitalisation, several have left the media darling’s profitability in the dust. In fact, bitcoin is not even in the top 10 of the crypto world’s best performers. Top of the heap is Ripple which posted a jaw-dropping 36,000% rise in 2017 and early this year broke through the €100 billion capitalisation mark, matching the value of blue-chip companies such as, say, global cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
“Its value shot up when a newspaper said that around 100 financial institutions were going to adopt their system,” said Alexandre Stachtchenko, co-founder of specialist consulting group Blockchain Partners. Using Ripple’s technology framework, however, is not the same as adopting the currency itself, and so the Ripple’s rise should be considered as “purely speculative”, according to Alexandre David, founder of sector specialist Eureka Certification. Others point out that Ripple’s market penetration is paper-thin as only 15 people hold between 60 and 80% of existing Ripples, among them co-founder Chris Larsen. But it still got him a moment of fame when, according to Forbes magazine, Larsen briefly stole Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s spot as the fifth-wealthiest person in the US at the start of the year.
Ether is another rising star, based on the Ethereum protocol created in 2009 by a 19-year old programmer and seen by some specialists as a promising approach. Around 40 virtual currencies have now gone past the billion-euro mark in terms of capitalisation, up from seven just six months ago. The Cardano cryptocurrency’s combined value even hit €15 billion only three months after its creation. In efforts to stand out from the crowd, virtual currency founders often concentrate on the security of their systems, such as Cardano, which has made a major selling point of its system’s safety features.
Carillion, a U.K. government contractor involved in everything from hospitals to the HS2 high-speed rail project, has filed for compulsory liquidation after a last-ditch effort to shore up finances and get a government bailout failed. The company, which employs 43,000 people worldwide – 20,000 of them in the U.K. – had held talks with the government Sunday to ask for the 300 million pounds ($412 million) it needed by the end of the month to stay afloat, the Mail on Sunday reported. On Monday morning, the board of Carillion said in a statement it had “concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect,” adding that it has obtained court approval for the move.
The challenge for liquidators and the government is now to ensure that the company’s break-up is orderly, with contracts and staff moved to rivals. For Prime Minister Theresa May, the collapse comes as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn questions the longstanding British policy of getting private sector contractors to deliver public sector projects. “This is very worrying for a lot of groups,” Labour’s business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey told the BBC. “We expect the government to step up now and take these contracts back into government control. Where it’s possible to take those back in-house it should do.” She also questioned why the company had been awarded further government contracts despite issuing profit warnings.
[..] Carillion’s struggles posed a conundrum for May over the political cost of using public money to assist a private company, or allowing it to fail, putting public services and infrastructure projects nationwide in danger. The company has contracts with many wings of government, including building roads, managing housing for the armed services, and running facilities for schools and hospitals.
The new year brought little cheer for London’s housing market with asking prices dropping to the lowest since August 2015. New sellers cut prices 1.4% in January to an average of 600,926 pounds ($821,500), according to a report by Rightmove on Monday. In a further concerning sign for the market, the average number of days required to sell a house jumped to the longest since January 2012, reaching 78 from 71 a month earlier. The report suggests 2018 won’t be any brighter for the capital’s housing market, which was the worst performing in the U.K. in 2017. Asking prices are down 3.5% from a year ago, according to the report, with the slowdown due to factors including an inflation squeeze, Brexit uncertainty and tax changes affecting landlords and owners of second homes.
[..] all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.
In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers. Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy – government by the people, for the people and of the people.
They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry. Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer. In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism – which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.
Typical? Sign of the times? Laurie Kellman and Jonathan Drew for AP prove their own point by pretending to write about Americans from all stripes losing faith in news media, but then turn it into a one-sided Trump hit piece anyway.
When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says. “Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident. Answering that question accurately is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson. But a year into Donald Trump’s fact-bending, media-bashing presidency, Americans are increasingly confused about who can be trusted to tell them reliably what their government and their commander in chief are doing. Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.
Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source. “It has made me take every story with a large grain, a block of salt,” said Lori Viars, a Christian conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who gets her news from Fox and CNN. “Not just from liberal sources. I’ve seen conservative ‘fake news.'” Democrat Kathy Tibbits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reads lots of news sources as she tries to assess the accuracy of what Trump is reported to have said. “I kind of think the whole frontier has changed,” said the 60-year-old lawyer and artist. “My degree is in political science, and they never gave us a class on such fiasco politics.”
Though Trump’s habit of warping facts has had an impact, it’s not just him. Widely shared falsehoods have snagged the attention of world leaders such as Pope Francis and former President Barack Obama. Last year, false conspiracy theories led a North Carolina man to bring a gun into a pizza parlor in the nation’s capital, convinced that the restaurant was concealing a child prostitution ring. Just last week, after the publication of an unflattering book about Trump’s presidency, a tweet claiming that he is addicted to a TV show about gorillas went viral and prompted its apparent author to clarify that it was a joke. Trump has done his part to blur the lines between real and not. During the campaign, he made a practice of singling out for ridicule reporters covering his raucous rallies.
As president, he regularly complains about his news coverage and has attacked news outlets and journalists as “failing” and “fake news.” He’s repeatedly called reporters “the enemy of the people” and recently renewed calls to make it easier to sue for defamation. About 2 in 3 American adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current affairs, according to a Pew Research Center report last month. The survey found that Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that “fake news” leaves Americans deeply confused about current events. Despite the concern, more than 8 in 10 feel very or somewhat confident that they can recognize news that is fabricated, the survey found.
Greece could receive debt relief but with terms attached when its bailout program is concluded in August, according to the outgoing chief of the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG), Thomas Wieser. In an interview in Sunday’s Greek edition of Kathimerini, Wieser said that despite there being no discussion about post-bailout arrangements, he expects that debt relief would be granted conditionally. “If there should be further debt relief after the end of the program then it’s only logical there will be some kind of additional agreements.” His comments imply there will be no clean exit from the bailout program as envisioned in the government’s narrative. Greece’s post-bailout status was raised at last week’s EWG meeting in Brussels where, according to sources, the taboo issue of Greece debt relief was raised.
It was noted in the meeting that if there is to be debt relief, then questions regarding Greece’s post-bailout framework have to be addressed. According to EU regulations, bailout countries including Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus – as well as Greece in the near future – will be monitored until 75% of their loans have been repaid. This means in Greece’s case that it will be monitored until 2060. Wieser added that one of Greece’s biggest problems, which remains unresolved despite eight years of fiscal adjustment programs, is that it doesn’t lure foreign investments like other countries. “I still have the feeling that foreign direct investment is not welcomed in Greece as it is in many other countries,” Wieser said.
While adding that he has the feeling that many domestic rules and regulations over the last eight years have indeed changed, he bemoaned the fact that investments have not picked up. “I think it’s only very recently that international and national investors trust that Greece is finally approaching the time where it can stand on its own feet again financially and that it is not a huge risk to invest in its economy,” he said, adding that one of the main reasons that investors have been reluctant to do business in Greece is its justice system.
The European Parliament is planning to amend the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to register in the first European Union member state they set foot on. That state would also be responsible for processing these requests. The proposed amendment, however, could possible shift that responsibility to wherever any asylum seeker claims to have family in the EU. Under such a change, “Germany would have to accommodate significantly more asylum seekers,” said an Interior Ministry memo, quoted by Der Spiegel. Furthermore, any and all caps on refugees and immigrant intakes would be nullified. This would effectively render Germany’s decision to cap immigrations influxes at around 180,000 to 220,000 as agreed upon by the working groups aiming to form a new German government.
Germany has been struggling to form a new government since the Sept. 24th elections; however, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their sister party the CSU and Social Democrat Party leader Martin Schultz have agreed to go into official coalition talks, now made harder by the proposed EU bill. The proposed reform of the Dublin Agreement was put forth last November and now has to be approved by the European Council, which is composed of every single member states’ government leaders. Despite Germany’s worries, given the circumstances, the proposal is not expected to have much support. Between the nations of Eastern Europe, who never wanted any immigration at all, and the ever-more skeptical western nations, as well as the ones in Southern Europe, such as Greece, Italy and Spain that became the frontlines of the crisis, the proposed reform is not guaranteed to pass.
While the exact number of people that have entered Europe since 2015 is unknown, it is estimated that it is about 2 to 3 million, with the United Nations Human Rights Commission reporting that tens of millions more are on the move, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. While Germany was probably Europe’s biggest supporter of asylum seekers and chain-migration, it now worries that it in particular will be negatively affected by what it sees as immigration on “an entirely different scale.” The German Interior Ministry noted that it was particularly worried by a section of the proposal that stated: “The mere assertion of a family connection was enough.” “As a result, a member state hosting many so-called ‘anchor persons’ will take over responsibility for far-reaching family associations.”
“If every one of the more than 1.4 million people who have applied for asylum in Germany since 2015 becomes an anchor for newcomers arriving in the EU, then we’re dealing with [numbers] on an entirely different scale compared to family reunifications,” said Ole Schröder, a parliamentary state secretary in Germany’s Interior Ministry.
This past November, three bodies were found washed ashore the Greek island of Lesbos. They were later identified as a Turkish husband and wife, Huseyin and Nur Maden, and one of their three children. The Madens were teachers in Turkey, but they were among the 150,000 civil servants dismissed from their jobs after the failed coup in July 2016. Some of those dismissed tried to flee to Greece to avoid arrest or find work. More than 12,000 Turks applied for asylum in Europe for the first time in 2017, according to Eurostat. This figure is triple what it was the year preceding the failed coup and is the highest it has been in the past decade. Since July 2016, Turkish authorities have arrested over 50,000 people, including journalists and intellectuals.
Around 150,000 Turks have both had their passports revoked and lost their jobs as police officers, soldiers, teachers and public servants. For some, the solution was to leave Turkey and find work in another country, where they could have a better life and avoid prosecution. With their passports revoked by the Turkish government, Turks prefer to go to Greece as opposed to other European countries since they can arrange transport by boat via smugglers. The journey from the Turkish coast to certain Greek islands can be short, distance-wise. “Turkish refugees [in Athens] are the most educated and intellectual segment of Turkish society,” said Murat, who fled Turkey for Greece after July 2016. “We can learn a new language or adapt to the culture in Europe really fast.”
Murat has been a member of the Gulen movement since 1994. He worked alongside his wife as a teacher in the Gulen schools in southeastern Turkey, but they were both dismissed from their jobs after the 2016 coup attempt, which the government claims was planned by the Gulen movement. Their children’s school was shut down after the coup attempt, and they were denied registration at a new school in their hometown due to their parent’s affiliation with the Gulen movement. “We tried to start over, but we were already marginalized in the community as ‘putschists,’” said Murat. “Our children were not accepted to schools, and finally, when 50 police arrived at our parent’s village to detain my wife, by chance we were not there. I sold my car within a week and with that money, we came to Greece.”
The Gulenists are not the only ones who have had to leave Turkey following the coup attempt. There are others, like Merve, 21, and her uncle Hasan. Merve was only 19 when she was arrested after the coup attempt and put in jail for a year. “I was studying philosophy in Tunceli and was part of a left-wing student organization at my university,” she said. “Now there are only two possibilities left for us Kurds in Turkey. If you don’t want to be jailed, you should either join the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] fighters or flee into exile.”
T.V. naturalist Sir David Attenborough made his viewers weep last month with an exposé on how plastics are polluting the oceans, harming marine animals and fish. Last week, British prime minister Theresa May announced a slew of new measures to discourage plastics use, including plastic-free supermarket aisles and an expanded levy on plastic bags. A ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force this year. Not to be outdone, the EU is mulling plastics taxes to cut pollution and packaging waste. Is this industry the new tobacco?It’s no wonder politicians feel compelled to act. About 60% of all the plastics produced either went to landfill or have been dumped in the natural environment. At current rates there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 by weight, much of it in the form of small particles, ingestible by wildlife and very difficult to remove.
Public awareness has increased in recent years, yet that hasn’t led to falling consumption. More than half of the total plastics production has occurred since the turn of the millennium. Producers such as DowDuPont, Exxon Mobil, LyondellBasell and Ineos, as well as packaging manufacturers like Amcor, Berry Global and RPC have been happy to meet that demand. They don’t plan on it ending suddenly. Plastic packaging is an almost $290 billion-a-year business and sales are forecast to expand by almost 4 percent a year until 2022, according to research firm Smithers Pira. Demand for polyethylene, the most used plastic, is set to rise at a similar rate, meaning total consumption will rise to 118 million metric tons in 2022, according to IHS Markit. In the U.S., the shale gas boom has encouraged the construction of new ethylene plants. Oil companies are counting too on rising plastics consumption to offset the spread of electric vehicles, as my colleague Julian Lee has explained.
The reasons for the bullishness are obvious. Growing populations, rising living standards and the march of e-commerce mean more demand. In developed countries, per capita polyethylene use is as much as 40 kg per person, whereas in poorer countries like India the figure is just one tenth of that, according to IHS Markit. Plastics are displacing materials like glass and paper because they tend to be cheap, lightweight and sturdy. That plastics don’t easily decompose is an asset – it prevents food going bad – as well as a liability for the natural environment. Cutting consumption will be difficult. While bioplastics are an alternative, they make up only about 1 percent of global plastics demand. Quality and cost issues have prevented wider adoption. “A lot of these materials aren’t really competitive in a world of low to mid oil prices,” says Sebastian Bray, analyst at Berenberg.