Nov 202019
 November 20, 2019  Posted by at 10:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Miserable poverty. Elm Grove, Oklahoma County, OK 1936


Australia’s Westpac Bank Slapped With 23 Million Money Laundering Breaches (R.)
UN Demands ‘Full Investigation’ After Sweden Drops Assange Rape Probe (RT)
Swedish Decision To Drop Rape Probe Comes Too Late To Help Assange (Szamuely)
Statement For Aaron Swartz Day 2019 (Chelsea Manning )
Massive ‘Dark-Money’ Group Boosted Democrats In 2018 (Pol.)
Another Congresswoman Lashes Out At The Hill (Pol.)
FBI CItes Strzok For Misconduct, ‘Exceptionally Poor Judgment’ (Solomon)
Beijing’s Angry Reaction To High Court Mask Ruling Sparks Concern (SCMP)
China Vows To Retaliate If Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Act Into Law (SCMP)
Reclaiming Your Inner Fascist (C.J. Hopkins)
Fossil Fuel Production On Track For Double The Safe Climate Limit (G.)



“The regulator is pursuing fines of up to A$21 million ($14 million) for every transaction Westpac failed to monitor adequately or report on time.”

How much is 23 million times $14 million?

Australia’s Westpac Bank Slapped With 23 Million Money Laundering Breaches (R.)

Regulators accused Australia’s Westpac of 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering laws, saying the banking giant ignored red flags and for years enabled payments from convicted child sex offenders and “high risk” countries. The oversight failure at Australia’s second-largest bank led to deep systemic non-compliance with anti-money laundering laws, financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC said in a civil court filing on Wednesday. The regulator is pursuing fines of up to A$21 million ($14 million) for every transaction Westpac failed to monitor adequately or report on time.

The lawsuit dwarfs a case AUSTRAC brought against larger Commonwealth Bank of Australia which agreed last year here to pay a record A$700 million penalty after admitting to allowing 53,750 payments that violated similar protocols. It also brings fresh scrutiny to an industry still trying to rebuild community trust after a bruising Royal Commission public inquiry. “These contraventions are the result of systemic failures in its control environment, indifference by senior management and inadequate oversight by the Board,” AUSTRAC said in the court filing.

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In case you forgot Melzer represents the UN. When he speaks, the UN speaks. When he is ignored, the UN is ignored.

UN Demands ‘Full Investigation’ After Sweden Drops Assange Rape Probe (RT)

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture has called for a “full investigation” into the role Sweden played in driving WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into asylum and eventual custody, after the rape case against him was dropped. Swedish prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they would drop a dubious rape inquiry against Assange, as oral testimony against the publisher had “weakened,” and corroborating evidence was not strong enough to pursue a case. A Swedish arrest warrant was issued against assange in 2010, and a British court upheld a decision to extradite him in 2012. Threatened with what many saw as a politically motivated extradition, Assange sought refuge in London’s Ecuadorian embassy.

“Today’s collapse of Sweden’s #Assange investigation was inevitable,” rapporteur Nils Melzer tweeted on Tuesday. “Given its gross arbitrariness, there must now be a full investigation, and accountability & compensation for the harm inflicted on #JulianAssange.” Melzer had previously claimed that Assange was subjected to “psychological torture” and had his due process rights “systematically violated” by the governments of Britain and Sweden. The WikiLeaks founder is still languishing in a maximum security unit at Belmarsh prison, awaiting a hearing on extradition to the US, where he potentially faces 175 years behind bars for publishing leaked military documents. In a document tweeted by Melzer, the envoy accuses Sweden of “actively and knowingly” contributing to Assange’s torture, and accuses prosecutors there of working in tandem with Britain’s Crown Prosecutorial Service to keep the case against Assange alive in the face of exculpatory evidence.

With the rape case against him dropped, some commentators have warned that the path to extradition to the US may now be clearer. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told supporters that their focus should now shift to the most important “threat” that Assange was “warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”

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Not the strongest piece by George Szamuely. I like this tweet of his better:

“The Ukrainian people are fighting Russia over there, so we don’t have to fight Russia over here”–thus Tim Morrison. There’s definitely a lunatic asylum in which these sick individuals dwell. I guess it’s the US national security establishment.”

Swedish Decision To Drop Rape Probe Comes Too Late To Help Assange (Szamuely)

The Swedish prosecutors’ decision to end the investigation of Julian Assange—for the third time—confirms that the sexual-misconduct accusations were always a cynical ploy to trap the publisher in a Kafkaesque legal proceeding. Swedish prosecutors today announced they were closing their nearly 10-year-old sexual-misconduct investigation of Julian Assange. The reason? The “evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question.” However, the prosecutor tendentiously added, “the complaint was credible” but that corroborating evidence was not strong enough to pursue the case.

Let’s focus on the verbiage. Note first the use of the word “investigation.” This is very important, because contrary to what innumerable media outlets have reported during the past decade, the Swedes never charged Assange with anything, least of all “rape.” Following Assange’s arrest on April 11 of this year, there was a plethora of media stories informing us that there are outstanding rape charges pending against Assange in Sweden. Human Rights Watch chimed in, saying that Assange was facing a “rape charge” in Sweden. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party feminists urged the UK government to extradite Assange to Sweden to face “rape charges.”

The Swedish case was a fraud. The prosecutors’ goal all along was to use their powerful coercive tools in order to trap Assange within a slow-moving legal proceeding from which he would be unable to escape, while the US prepared its criminal charges against him. Sadly, despite today’s announcement, the Swedes’ mission has been accomplished.

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Chelsea rocks.

Statement For Aaron Swartz Day 2019 (Chelsea Manning )

Good Evening Folks, I wish I could be there in person, but I appreciate this opportunity to summarize for you my letter to the court that ordered me to be confined, explaining why grand juries are so dangerous. I am not alone in objecting to the grand jury as a dangerous relic that has evolved in ways that increase its power without increasing its protections. I refuse to participate in a process that has clearly transformed into something that violates the spirit, if not the letter of the law. I am certainly not alone in thinking that the grand jury process, which at one time acted as an independent body of citizens along the lines of a civilian police review board, has slowly transitioned into an unbridled arm of the police and prosecution in ways that run contrary to its originally intended purpose.

Early grand juries acted independently, as investigations by citizens, ostensibly to protect citizens, not only from unjust indictments, but from unjust laws. In 2019, the federal grand jury exists as a mockery of the institution that once stood against the whims of monarchs. It guts the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of due process. Today’s grand juries do not safeguard such fundamental rights and are easily subject to abuse. The tradition of using grand juries to jail political dissidents and activists is long. The ability of grand juries to be abused or used for political ends is entrenched and perpetuated by the fact that jeopardy doesn’t attach with a grand jury, so prosecutors can repeatedly bring the same charges.

Despite laws that require prosecutors to show new evidence or that it is in the public interest to extend or reconvene a grand jury, this is hardly an obstacle. For instance, Thomas Jefferson had to convene three separate grand juries in order to indict Aaron Burr for sedition – but he was able to continue to convene those grand juries until he obtained his desired indictment. During the McCarthy era, when people were publicly interrogated about their beliefs and associations, the public was eventually outraged, and the McCarthy hearings are widely seen as a disgraceful episode of modern history. However, these kinds of interrogations have now returned, and happen routinely, under the modern grand jury system.

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Business as usual.

Massive ‘Dark-Money’ Group Boosted Democrats In 2018 (Pol.)

The “green wave” of campaign cash that boosted Democrats and liberal causes in 2018 included an unprecedented gusher of secret money, new documents obtained by POLITICO show. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a little-known nonprofit headquartered in Washington, spent $141 million on more than 100 left-leaning causes during the midterm election year, according to a new tax filing from the group. The money contributed to efforts ranging from fighting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees to boosting ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states. The spending was fueled by massive anonymous donations, including one gift totaling $51.7 million.

That single donation was more than the group had ever raised before in an entire year before President Donald Trump was elected. Most of the group’s funders are likely to remain a mystery because federal law does not require “social welfare”-focused nonprofits to reveal their donors. The group’s 2018 fundraising surpassed any amount ever raised by a left-leaning political nonprofit, according to experts, who pointed to the Koch network and the Crossroads network as rare right-leaning groups that posted bigger yearly fundraising totals at the height of their powers. The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s rise last year is a sign that Democrats and allies have embraced the methods of groups they decried as “dark money” earlier this decade, when they were under attack from the money machines built by conservatives including the Kochs.

“In terms of the size of dark money networks, there are only a few that have gone into the $100 million-plus range,” said Robert Maguire, the research director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and an expert in political nonprofits. “These kinds of totals aren’t unheard of,” Maguire added. “I do think they’re unheard of on the liberal side. I think that’s what’s so striking about this.”

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@RepMikeTurner : Did he ever say to you that he was not going to allow aid with the US to go to Ukraine unless there were investigations into Burisma, the Bidens or the 2016 election?

VOLKER: No he did not.

It’s open season on John Solomon. By the way, Marie Yovanovitch has denied the existence of a Don’t Prosecute list, and all kinds of people say Lutsenko denied it too. Solomon says he did not.

Another Congresswoman Lashes Out At The Hill (Pol.)

Florida Congresswoman Val Demings questioned Tuesday whether the The Hill is “fair and unbiased” during an exchange with a reporter from the publication, the second of such incidents in recent days. California Rep. Jackie Speier, who is also a Democrat, told a Hill reporter on Friday that it was “reprehensible” that the paper published columns by John Solomon, a conservative journalist who helped ignite the Ukraine scandal and whose work has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his allies. Demings said Tuesday she had “not heard good things recently” about The Hill in response to tech policy reporter Emily Birnbaum identifying herself before asking a question about a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, according to audio of the exchange reviewed by POLITICO.

“Recently, I have not heard good things about The Hill being fair and impartial and unbiased… and that concerns me because any story we’re telling needs to be fair and unbiased and impartial,” Demings told Birnbaum during the exchange in the speaker’s lobby, which was witnessed by other reporters. Demings answered Birnbaum’s question and agreed it was fair. Though Demings did not mention Solomon specifically, the former employee’s work has come under increasing scrutiny and has put The Hill under the media spotlight. ProPublica recently explored Solomon’s relationship with associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and CNN looked Monday night at the connection between The Hill’s owner, Jimmy Finkelstein, and Trump, Giuliani and Solomon.

Solomon’s work has come up several times during impeachment testimony. Former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on Friday denied an allegation from Ukraine’s former top prosecutor that she gave Ukraine’s then-top prosecutor a list of who not to prosecute. “Yovanovitch says John Solomon’s columns were used to push false allegations,” read a headline in The Hill. Solomon, who left The Hill in September and his now a contributor for Fox News, where he was a frequent guest this past year, has repeatedly defended his reporting. “I stand by each and every one of the columns that I wrote and that The Hill (both editors and lawyers) carefully vetted,” Solomon told POLITICO on Friday. “All facts in those stories are substantiated to original source documents and statements.”

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So the best thing Solomon can do is do his job: report.

FBI Cites Strzok Cited For Misconduct, ‘Exceptionally Poor Judgment’ (Solomon)

This summer, ex-FBI agent Peter Strzok filed a lawsuit suggesting his firing was political retribution for having run the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation into the now debunked allegations that Donald Trump and Russia colluded to hijack the 2016 election. The Justice Department has responded to the lawsuit in a big way, releasing to the court presiding over the civil case Strzok’s official misconduct file that concluded the former FBI supervisor exhibited “a gross lack of professionalism and exceptionally poor judgment.” It shows the FBI substantiated that Strzok had engaged in dereliction of duty, had committed misconduct through the expression of anti-Trump bias on his official FBI phone and committed security violations by performing official government work on personal email.

The records show one official recommended termination, and another recommended suspension for 60 days without pay. The bureau leadership chose the more severe of the two penalties, terminating Strzok last year. The dereliction of duty citation involved Strzok’s failure, according to the FBI, to quickly follow up in fall 2016 after the belated discovery of a trove of Hillary Clinton emails on a laptop belonging to former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Strzok was supervising the investigation of whether Clinton’s use of personal email for classified State Department matters created a security risk, and his failure caused an unnecessary delay to evaluate the new evidence just weeks before Election Day, the FBI concluded.

The disciplinary file included testimony from one of Strzok’s colleagues, a fellow agent, about the failure to respond to the discovery of emails. “The crickets I was hearing was making me uncomfortable because something was going to come crashing down,” the agent testified. “….I still to this day don’t understand what the hell went wrong.” The agent testified he feared “somebody was not acting appropriately, somebody was trying to bury this” discovery of new Clinton email evidence, the files show. Strzok offered a bevy of excuses for his inaction, including he was busy working the Trump-Russia case at the time. All were rejected. “The investigation reveals that there is no reasonable excuse for the FBI’s delay in following up on this matter,” the disciplinary file concluded.

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Why does Hong Kong still have courts?

Beijing’s Angry Reaction To High Court Mask Ruling Sparks Concern (SCMP)

There was a swift response from Beijing when the High Court ruled on Monday that the Hong Kong government’s anti-mask law was unconstitutional. Central government officials criticised the court for failing to support the government in its efforts to end more than five months of increasingly violent social unrest. For the first time, they suggested that the city’s courts do not have the power to declare a local law invalid by checking it against the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. China’s top legislative affairs body argued that only the national legislature had the right to decide on issues of constitutionality.

Beijing’s reaction left its critics in Hong Kong fearing for the erosion of the city’s independent judiciary. They also feared that Beijing would decide to hand down its own interpretation of the Basic Law and overturn the court ruling. But members of the pro-establishment camp dismissed those concerns, saying Beijing was only reiterating its position. What are the key issues in the controversy over the court ruling?

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Remember: Hong Kong won’t become Chinese until 2037.

China Vows To Retaliate If Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Act Into Law (SCMP)

China summoned a senior United States diplomat on Wednesday as it warned it would retaliate if US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law, after the act was passed by the US Senate. In a statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said Foreign Vice-Minister Ma Zhaoxu had summoned William Klein, the US embassy’s Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs. “China will take strong opposing measures, and the US has to bear all the consequences,” the statement said, after Congress’ upper chamber passed the act – which could pave the way for diplomatic action and economic sanctions against Hong Kong’s government.

It was the second time China had summoned a US diplomat since anti-government protests in Hong Kong began five months ago, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China’s opaque legal system. In June, Robert Forden, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Beijing, was summoned by Foreign Vice-Minister Le Yucheng. Klein was summoned after foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that any attempt by the US to interfere in China’s internal affairs would be in vain. “We call on the US side to take a clear look at the situation and take steps to stop the act from becoming a law, and stop meddling in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong, to avoid setting a fire that would only burn itself,” Geng said in a statement. “If the US sticks to its course, China will surely take forceful measures to resolutely oppose it to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interest.”

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If the treatment of Assange shows you anything, it’s that you live in a fascist world.

Reclaiming Your Inner Fascist (C.J. Hopkins)

OK, we need to talk about fascism. Not just any kind of fascism. A particularly insidious kind of fascism. No, not the fascism of the early 20th Century. Not Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. Not Hitler’s NSDAP. Not Francoist fascism or any other kind of organized fascist movement or party. Not even the dreaded Tiki-torch Nazis. It’s the other kind of fascism we need to talk about. The kind that doesn’t come goose-stepping up the street waving big neo-Nazi flags. The kind we don’t recognize when we’re looking right at it. It’s like that joke about the fish and the water … we don’t recognize it because we’re swimming in it. We’re surrounded by it. We are inseparable from it. From the moment we are born, we breathe it in.

We are taught it by our parents, who were taught it by their parents. We are taught it again by our teachers in school. It is reinforced on a daily basis at work, in conversations with friends, in our families and our romantic relationships. We imbibe it in books, movies, TV shows, advertisements, pop songs, the nightly news, in our cars, at the mall, the stadium, the opera … everywhere, because it is literally everywhere. It doesn’t look like fascism to us. Fascism only looks like fascism when you’re standing outside of it, or looking back at it. When you are in it, fascism just looks like “normality,” like “reality,” like “just the way it is.”

We (i.e., Americans, Brits, Europeans, and other citizens of the global capitalist empire) get up in the morning, go to work, shop, pay the interest on our debts, and otherwise obey the laws and conform to the mores of a system of power that has murdered countless millions of people in pursuit of global-hegemonic dominance. It has perpetrated numerous wars of aggression. Its military occupies most of the planet. Its Intelligence agencies (i.e., secret police) operate a worldwide surveillance apparatus that can identify, target, and eliminate anyone, anywhere, often by remote control. Its propaganda network never sleeps, nor is there any real way to escape its constant emotional and ideological conditioning.

The fact that the global capitalist empire does not call itself an empire, and instead calls itself “democracy,” doesn’t make it any less of an empire. The fact that it uses terms like “regime change” instead of “invasion” or “annexation” makes very little difference to its victims. Terms like “security,” “stability,” “intervention,” “regime change,” and so on are not meant for its victims. They are meant for us … to anesthetize us. The empire is “regime-changing” Bolivia currently. It has “regime-changed” most of Latin America at one time or another since the Second World War. It “regime-changed” Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia, Indonesia … the list goes on. It very much wants to “regime-change” Iran, which it “regime-changed” back in the 1950s, before the Iranians “regime-changed” it back. It would love to “regime-change” Russia and China, but their ICBMs make that somewhat impractical.

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Lip service.

Fossil Fuel Production On Track For Double The Safe Climate Limit (G.)

The world’s nations are on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas as can be burned in 2030 while restricting rise in the global temperature to 1.5C, analysis shows. The report is the first to compare countries’ stated plans for fossil fuel extraction with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which is to keep global heating well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5C. It exposes a huge gap, with fossil fuel production in 2030 heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C. Scientists have warned that even the difference between 1.5C and 2C of heating will expose hundreds of millions of people to significantly higher risks of extreme heatwaves, drought, floods and poverty.

The report was produced by the UN Environment Programme and a coalition of research organisations. It complements an earlier UN analysis showing the current Paris agreement pledges to cut emissions would still lead to a catastrophic 3-4C rise. “We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging,” said Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which was part of the analysis. “Despite more than two decades of climate policymaking, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever.” Most action to tackle the climate crisis involves reducing emissions, but Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, said a focus on fossil fuel production was long overdue.

Most of the action pledges made by countries under the Paris deal do not even mention changes to production. The UK is a “striking” example of this mismatch, said Cleo Verkuijl, at the SEI’s centre in Oxford, UK. It was the first major economy to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, she said, but also subsidises fossil fuel production at home and abroad and intends to extract “every drop of oil and gas” from its North Sea fields.

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Jun 012019


Relentless and Unrestrained Public Mobbing, Intimidation and Defamation (CN)
UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Julian Assange to Be Freed (DN)
Assange ‘Psychologically Tortured To Breaking Point By Democratic States’ (RT)
Are US/UK Trying To Kill Assange? – Ron Paul (DM)
Assange May Have To Die Before Journalists Realize Implications – Galloway (RT)
36 Countries The US Has Bullied This Week (RT)
Prelude to a Fiasco (Jim Kunstler)
US Stock Market Forgoes $5 Trillion In Returns Due To Trade War – Deutsche (MW)
Dow 25,000! Oops…(WS)
Mexico Tariffs May Hurt $600 Billion In Cross-Border Trade, US Economy (MW)
Brazil Snubs Venezuelan Opposition Envoy As Doubts Rise On Guaido (R.)



NOTE: quite a few video’s today, which don’t always show if you receive this by mail. In that case, please refer to the Automatic Earth site.



“I’ve seen atrocities in war areas that were physically more horrible but I’ve never seen a single person pursued so relentlessly and with so little foundation.”

Relentless and Unrestrained Public Mobbing, Intimidation and Defamation (CN)

“It was obvious that Mr. Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years. Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.” “My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.

He said he was “particularly alarmed” by the Espionage Act charges. “This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges were to be added in the future,” said Melzer. “[Assange] is really something I’ve never seen in 20 years,” Melzer said. “I’ve seen atrocities in war areas that were physically more horrible but I’ve never seen a single person pursued so relentlessly and with so little foundation. “[When I saw him] I immediately compared him to some of the graver cases in interrogation prisons in terms of his psychological reaction patterns. That’s what alarmed me so much.” He said Assange’s treatment was “very close to the intentional, purposeful infliction of coercive measures to try to break him”.

He appeared “extremely agitated and preoccupied,” Melzer said. “He asked a lot of questions and he would jump around, he was so preoccupied with everything he can’t even compute my answers any more. “There were episodes of this, then he was part of the conversation as normal, then again he would enter into this agitated state. I have seen with other victims of psychological torture that would happen.” Melzer also blasted the government of Assange’s native Australia. He told the newspaper, “Australia is a glaring absence in this case. They’re just not around, as if Assange was not an Australian citizen. That is not the correct way of dealing with that.”


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Interesting man for sure. This part of his report stands out:

“I believe we have to take a step back and look at all these proceedings, how they have been conducted, and come to our own conclusions whether these are fair. We also have to take a step back and look at this whole narrative of suspected rapist; narcissist; selfish, ungrateful person; hacker, and scratch the surface a little bit and see what’s below there.

When I was first approached by his defense team seeking protection from my mandate in December last year, I was reluctant to do so, because, me, too, I had been affected by this prejudice that I had absorbed through all these public, you know, narratives spread in the media over the years. And only when I scratched the surface a little bit, I saw how little foundation there was to back this up and how much fabrication and manipulation there is in this case. So I encourage everybody to really look below the surface in this case.”

UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Julian Assange to Be Freed (DN)

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture is warning that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is suffering from the effects of “psychological torture” due to his ongoing detention and threats of possible extradition to the United States. The U.N. expert, Nils Melzer, also warned that Assange would likely face a “politicized show trial” if he were to be extradited to the United States. Melzer writes, “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time.” Julian Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail in 2012 at London’s Belmarsh Prison, after he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy by British police last month.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was charging Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in publishing U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange, who had already been charged on one count of hacking a government computer, now faces up to 170 additional years in prison under the new charges—10 years for each count of violating the Espionage Act. Assange was due to appear by video link before a magistrates’ court on Thursday but failed to appear, reportedly due to health problems. We speak with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer.

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Nils Melzer did a whole range of interviews in one day.

Assange ‘Psychologically Tortured To Breaking Point By Democratic States’ (RT)

Jailed WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange shows clear signs of degrading and inhumane treatment which only adds to his deteriorating health, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer told RT. Assange has “all the symptoms typical for a person who has been exposed to prolonged psychological torture,” Melzer told RT’s Afshin Rattansi. This adds to the toll of his deteriorating physical state caused by a lack of adequate medical care for several years, he said. Melzer said he was judging from two decades of experience in working with POWs and political prisoners, and only after applying “scientific” UN methods to assess Assange’s condition. But the journalist’s case still “shocked” him.

An individual has been isolated and singled out by several democratic states, and persecuted systematically… to the point of breaking him. Earlier this month, a UK court sentenced the WikiLeaks co-founder to nearly a year in jail for skipping bail in 2012. The courts are now deciding whether to extradite Assange to the US where he is wanted for 17 charges under the Espionage Act. He can end up serving up to 175 years in prison if proven guilty.

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Me too, I thought of Warmbier: “ would we look a lot different to the North Koreans on the surface?’

Are US/UK Trying To Kill Assange? – Ron Paul (DM)

Former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul says Julian Assange could die in prison and blames the apparent deterioration in the WikiLeaks founder’s heath on how he is being treated by the US and UK governments. Speaking on ‘Ron Paul Liberty Report, the 83-year-old accuses the US government of pursuing Assange and says they would like to either challenge him with a death penalty or a life time in prison ‘for being a journalist.’ The Libertarian calls Assange’s a ‘tragic story’ and describes his health as ‘very very bad,’ commenting that friends of the whistleblower are worried that his health may not hold up. [..] Paul also compares Assange’s plight to the case of Otto Frederick Warmbier, an American college student imprisoned in North Korea in 2016.

In June 2017, Warmbier was released by North Korea in a vegetative state and died soon afterward. Paul goes on to ask what the ramifications would be if Assange is much sicker than is being revealed and dies in prison as the result of how his case has been handled by Washington and London. ‘If he had a terminal disease or something happens to him, good, bad, or whatever and he dies in the prison, how would we look a lot different to the North Koreans on the surface?’ Paul questions. Paul goes on to slam the American media and journalists for their lack of reporting on Assange’s health problems, adding that news of his ill health came out via a Swedish newspaper. Paul adds there is ‘not much good journalism around any more’ and that by not doing more reporting on Assange, journalists ‘don’t want to protect their right to be a journalist.’

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They still wouldn’t realize a thing.

Assange May Have To Die Before Journalists Realize Implications – Galloway (RT)

“Julian Assange may have to die in the hospital wing of Belmarsh prison in order to bring it about” George Galloway believes it’s not long until ‘we could be in George Orwell’s 1984’ as he talks to In Question’s Manila Chan about the Wikileaks founder being too ill to appear at extradition hearing.

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The US will end up all alone.

36 Countries The US Has Bullied This Week (RT)

© Global Look Press / Uwe Skrzypczak

It’s been a busy few days for American diplomacy, with three dozen nations ending up at the receiving end of threats, ultimatums and sanctions this week alone. And it’s only Friday. Mexico is the latest target, slapped with 5 percent tariffs on each and every export, gradually increasing to 25 percent until it stops the flow of Latin American migrants into the US, thus fulfilling one of President Donald Trump’s election promises. Most of those migrants aren’t even from Mexico. On the other side of the world, India is reportedly about to be forced to face a choice: ditch the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems or face sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA, Washington’s go-to cooperation enforcement instrument).

Turkey is facing a similar ultimatum: abandon S-400s (something Ankara has repeatedly refused to do) or lose access to the F-35 fighter jet program. This threat was repeated on Thursday by Kathryn Wheelbarger, US acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Ankara has already invested some $1.25 billion into the super-expensive American fighter, but with a lot of its parts being made in Turkey, it’s still an open question who would be the bigger loser. The entire European Union could be facing punishment if it tries to trade with Iran using its non-dollar humanitarian mechanism to bypass the American embargo. Having worked hard on the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which has repeatedly been confirmed to be working, EU member states are not ready to ditch trade at Trump’s whim – and US Special Representative to Iran Brian Hook on Thursday reaffirmed the threat of CAATSA sanctions.

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”The object is solely to divert the nation’s attention with an impeachment circus, allowing Mr. Mueller to slip away harmlessly into history..”

Prelude to a Fiasco (Jim Kunstler)

You’d think that Robert Mueller might know what any licensed attorney-at-law in the land tells a client in a tight spot with a lame alibi: better keep you mouth shut. Instead, Mr. Mueller crept Sphinx-like out of the Deep State woodwork on little cat’s paws and in a brief nine minutes blabbed out a set of whopperish riddles much more likely to get himself in trouble than the target of his hinky inquisition. The key whopper was that he could not make “a determination” on an obstruction-of-justice charge against Mr. Trump because guidance policy from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel had said some years ago that a sitting president can’t be indicted. That is not what he told his boss, Mr. Barr, the Attorney General (and a roomful of the AG’s staffers who heard it), in person when he delivered his final report a few weeks ago.

Upon receipt of that report, Mr. Barr asked the Special Counsel three times whether his inability to conclude anything on an obstruction charge was due to the OLC guidance, and three times Mr. Mueller answered “no.” Mr. Barr relayed this on-the-record in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and, as averred above, he has plenty of witnesses. It should not be hard to reach a determination on who is telling truth here. In fact, Mr. Mueller could have declared that he found chargeable obstruction crimes were committed based on the evidence, and also demurred to press them at this time — leaving them available to federal prosecutors until after the president was out of office, one way or another.

The reason he didn’t is that Mr. Mueller does not want the case to come to trial, ever, because he would lose badly and his reputation would be destroyed. Consider that in any trial, the defendant gets to call witnesses and make his own case. The evidence for gross prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Mr. Mueller and his associates is mountainous compared to the molehill of Mr. Trump’s temper tantrums over the seditious hoax he was subject to. And that matter is now moving in the direction of adjudication. So instead, Mr. Mueller has set in motion a potential political crisis as momentous as the Civil War, but completely unlike it.

Knowing that congress can impeach the president on just about anything — especially this president, publicly reviled like no other before him — he served congress the platter of material to use in the form of his final report, and pretty much dared them to not go forward with it. Get this: it is a ruse. The object is solely to divert the nation’s attention with an impeachment circus, allowing Mr. Mueller to slip away harmlessly into history without sacrificing his own reputation in a courtroom.

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We like big numbers.

US Stock Market Forgoes $5 Trillion In Returns Due To Trade War – Deutsche (MW)

The U.S. stock market has left $5 trillion on the table as trade tensions over the past 17 months contributed to an effectively sideways trade, Deutsche Bank estimated on Friday. “While other factors also arguably played a role, the trade war has been key in preventing a recovery in global growth and keeping U.S. equities range bound. Foregone U.S. equity returns from price appreciation for 17 months are worth $5 trillion,” wrote Binky Chadha, the bank’s chief strategist, in a Friday note, based on an price appreciation at an annual rate 12.5% (see chart below).

Chadha’s calculation is based on the capitalization of the Russell 3000, a broad measure of equity markets, which had a capitalization of $28.7 trillion at the start of 2018. Foregone returns for the index over 17 months comes out to $5 trillion. The S&P 500 in the first four months of 2019 bounced back sharply from a steep fourth-quarter selloff nudging to an all-time closing high in April. But the index has retreated more than 6% in May, posting its first monthly decline since December and its worst May performance since 2010. The Dow Jones Industrial Average which failed to return to record territory before the May swoon, also fell more than 6% for the month.

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What $20 trillion in stimulus bought you.

Dow 25,000! Oops…(WS)

Stocks were already gunning for the worst May since 2010 when, on the evening before the last trading day, Trump tweeted that he would impose tariffs on imports from Mexico, if Mexico doesn’t crack down on migration flows coming through its southern border. Those tariffs would hit the automakers particularly hard because they imported 2.6 million vehicles from Mexico in 2018, up 10% from the prior year. Not even counting the component makers. But the Presidential tweet was just the icing on the cake. May had been crappy for stocks before the tweet went out.

The S&P 500 index, which earlier this week had fallen through 2,800, dropped another 1.3% today to 2,752, down 6.8% from its peak in early May that had exceeded by a hair the prior peak of September 2018. The index is now back where it had first been on January 9, 2018, having spent nearly 17 months going nowhere, despite intoxicating surges and nerve-wracking drops. And the chart is morphing from “not pretty” to something a little uglier (data via S&P Dow Jones Indices):

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.1% today, unceremoniously plopping through the 25,000 level and closed at 24,815. It’s now 7.9% below its October 2018 peak and right back where it had first been in December 2017, having spent 17 months gyrating to nowhere, including a 19% peak-to-trough plunge in four months followed by a blistering 22% rally in four months. The Nasdaq composite dropped 1.5% today, to 7,453, the level it first reached in January 2018, also going nowhere in nearly 17 months despite a huge bout of volatility. It fell 8.7% in May. The Russell 2000 index, which covers stocks with smaller market capitalization, fell 1.3% today, to 1,478. It’s down 9.2% in May alone, down 15.7% from its October 2018 peak, and right back where it had first been on September 26, 2017, a very volatile 20 months of going nowhere. Chart looking ugly (data via

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This just might go horribly wrong.

Mexico Tariffs May Hurt $600 Billion In Cross-Border Trade, US Economy (MW)

The U.S. economy could suffer a wrenching blow, business leaders and economists say, if President Trump follows through on his threat to slap tariffs on all imports from Mexico in a dispute over immigration controls. The president on Thursday said he would apply a 5% tariff on $350 billion in imports from Mexico unless the country reduces the flow of immigrants seeking to enter the United States. The surprise move slammed the stock market and prompted an immediate backlash from business. “These proposed tariffs would have devastating consequences,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. “Workers should not be forced to suffer because of the failure to fix our immigration system.”

Households could face higher prices for groceries and other key consumer staples, economists say. And businesses would have to pay more for key parts and materials, especially in the auto industry. “The duties represent a significant risk to business activity both north and south of the border,” said chief economist Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics. He said Mexico could be thrown into recession while U.S. growth could fall to 1% or less by 2020. The economies of the U.S. and Mexico have become inextricably intertwined in the quarter of a century since the North American Free Trade Agreement deal was signed in 1994. The two countries exchanged a whopping $612 billion in goods last year, making Mexico the third largest trading partner after Canada and China. More than $1.5 billion in products cross the border between the two countries every day.

Although Mexico is popularly known as the main U.S. source for avocados and tequila, the huge amount of products it sends to its northern neighbor each year touch almost every major segment of America’s economy. The U.S. imports enormous quantities of autos and parts, computer equipment, oil and gas, appliances and plastic and rubber products — not to mention fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, berries and melons. Mexican imports in 2018 hit a record $347 billion.

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Geez, is that still on?

Brazil Snubs Venezuelan Opposition Envoy As Doubts Rise On Guaido (R.)

Brazil withdrew an invitation to the envoy for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to present her diplomatic credentials, she said on Friday, and the government in Brasilia said it would decide later whether to accept them. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro still recognises Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, his spokesman said. Guaido’s envoy, Maria Teresa Belandria, played down the idea that the snub reflected scepticism from Bolsonaro’s government. Diplomatic analysts said mounting evidence that a change of government in Venezuela is not imminent may have Bolsonaro and his aides wondering if they overplayed their support for Guaido.

Former military officers making up about a third of Brazil’s cabinet have been wary of provoking Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, warning against moves that could tip an economic and political crisis into violence across Brazil’s northern border. Belandria had been invited to present her credentials at the presidential palace along with ambassadors from other countries next Tuesday, but the government changed its mind. “I was uninvited,” she told Reuters, but went on to dismiss any suggestion the snub reflected diminished support for Guaido. “There will be another opportunity,” she said. “Brazil’s support continues to be strong, solid and decisive. It’s merely a protocol matter.”

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Julian on Google





Dec 282018
 December 28, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »

Berthe Morisot After luncheon1881


Investors Fear Historic Market Rebound Was Just A ‘Wicked Bear Trap’ (MW)
US Stocks Follow Record-Breaking Rise With Day Of Wild Swings (G.)
VIX Is About To Do Something It Hasn’t Done Since 2011 (MW)
Watch Out When Men Of War Come To The Rescue (Fisk)
Giuliani: Mueller Must Be Investigated For Destruction Of FBI Evidence (Hill)
Donald Trump ‘Worst Perpetrator’ Of Fake News: UN Special Rapporteur (
Macron ‘Lost Authority’ After Caving To Yellow Jackets, Says Oettinger (
Corbyn Wants May To Recall MPs Early Over Critical Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Brexit’s Aura Of Inevitability Is Vanishing (Kaletsky)
Turning Brexit Into a Celebration of Democracy (Varoufakis)
Crime and Punishment in an Age of the Jungle (Vallianatos)



Catchy, but A Christmas Carol might be a better example. ‘Investors’ believe the ghosts are real, just like they believe markets are real. Read yesterday’s 2019: Zombie Markets Before The Fall to understand why that is nonsense.

Investors Are Speechless: “It’s Like Watching Pulp Fiction” (ZH)

With market action becoming increasingly surreal and the panicked, vertigo-inducing bear market rallies (spawned by a record $64 billion pension fund reallocation into stocks in a historically illiquid market) reminiscent of the chaos observed at the depths of the financial crisis, it is only appropriate that some of the quotes Bloomberg picked for its daily wrap piece which commemorated the biggest intraday reversal since 2010, be just as surreal. “Investors are becoming desensitized,” Bryce Doty, SVP at Sit Investment Associates, told Bloomberg, then continued the verbal poetry: “It’s like watching ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Halfway through, the violence doesn’t even bother you anymore.”

He’s right, although whereas the market “violence” in past weeks was one directional, this week it has developed a twist to trap both the bulls and bears, and while the latest Dow swing (of nearly 1000 points) was only slightly bigger than the average up-and-down move last week, back then equities were merely tumbling, now it tends to drop early in the day then soar in afternoon trading. So fast forwarding to the post-Christmas chaos – which this website explicitly warned about when last Friday we said to “Brace For Seismic Volatility” – strategists are starting to ask: if days like these are now normal, is there a context in which the whole three-month rout starts to feel routine?

There are the optimists like Jim Kelleher, director of research at Argus Research, who said market turmoil that happens when the economy is holding up reminds him of past stock declines that ended gently. Unless evidence emerges of deep global growth erosion, what’s going on now “will prove to be shorter and more shallow than the declines experienced in ‘classic’ bear markets.” Others are not so sure: “Investors are wondering if this will be a crash,” said Dave Campbell, a principal at San Francisco’s BOS, who nonetheless still managed to put a favorable spin on events.

“The risks are there, but they’re always there. They’re more heightened but it’s not the most likely outcome. The economy continues to grow – maybe a little more slowly – but next year markets will have hit their lows and we’ll be on the rebound.” Then there are those who echo what we asked yesterday, namely if this is only a bear market rally, although granted a very furious one: as Bloomberg writes in its second end of day wrap, “on the surface, the rally is good news for investors searching for a bottom after a three-month sell-off sent the S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market. But days like this are rarely good omens.”

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What’s happening is much more profound than bear markets.

Investors Fear Historic Market Rebound Was Just A ‘Wicked Bear Trap’ (MW)

It’s been a rough three months, and a particularly difficult December, for stocks, however. The Nasdaq is in a bear market while the Dow and S&P 500 are solidly in correction territory and nursing hefty December losses and year-to-date declines. Some market watchers find big bounces in such an environment less than convincing. Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, offered up the table below in a Thursday note. It takes a look back at the 20 biggest one-day percentage gains for the S&P 500 going back to 1970, a stretch that includes nearly 12,800 trading days.

[..] Bulls can take encouragement from the fact that three of the 17 other days that saw an advance of 5% or more came immediately in the aftermath of the October 1987 crash, “when buying did prove a good plan,” while two more came in March 2009, when the S&P 500 hit bottom and began its current bull run. But here’s the rub: Eight of those gains of 5% or more came during the 2007-09 bear market and three more occurred during the downturn of 2000-03, “to suggest there is still a risk that this year’s Boxing Day bonanza could be no more than a wicked bear trap set to lure investors into more trouble,” Mould wrote ahead of Thursday’s open, saying that traders and investors “will be looking out for a couple of further definitive signals before they decide it really is time to buy on the dips following this year’s Christmas selloff.”

Indeed, market veterans warn that massive, one-day rallies are often more characteristic of downturns, occurring as selloffs lead to significantly oversold technical conditions that leave markets ripe for short covering only to give way to renewed selling once the frenzy of forced buying is exhausted. Investors who short a stock are essentially betting that its price will fall by first borrowing the shares, but those traders can be forced to buy shares back if prices suddenly swing higher, which, in turn, can amplify price swings.

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When is all this cheap money going to bail out?

US Stocks Follow Record-Breaking Rise With Day Of Wild Swings (G.)

US stock markets seesawed again on Thursday as a record-breaking day of gains gave way to selling once again before rising again in late trading. By lunchtime all the major US markets were in the red, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.4%, the S&P 500 losing 1.5% and the Nasdaq off 1.9%. But most US markets ended the day in the black with the Dow up 1.13%, the S&P adding 0.85% and the Nasdaq 0.38%. After a series of often wild swings the US stock markets are still on course to end the year in bear market territory – triggered when markets fall 20% from their most recent high. A bear market would be the first in close to a decade.

Michael Antonelli, managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W Baird in Milwaukee, said he expected more dramatic days aheads. “There’s only two more sessions left before the end of the year. I would expect volatility to reign. It’s dug in like a tick,” he said. Stocks had fallen for four consecutive days through Monday. Wednesday’s rally – with the Dow adding close to 5% and a record 1,080 points – could have signaled a turning point. Markets closed up in Japan and Australia but European markets sank again on Thursday, with the FTSE closing down 1.5% in London, sinking to it’s lowest level since July 2016 (a month after the Brexit vote). Germany’s DAX closed down 2.3% and France’s CAC fell 0.6%

Stock markets have become increasingly volatile in recent months and recorded both record losses and record gains this week. The Dow Jones plummeted 653 points on Monday, capping its worst week in a decade and marking its “worst day of Christmas Eve trading ever”.

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The low VIX shows you how out of touch the financial world is. There can be only one reason for it: the Fed.

VIX Is About To Do Something It Hasn’t Done Since 2011 (MW)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention that stock-market volatility is on the rise. But here’s a statistic that underlines the phenomenon. The Cboe Volatility Index, commonly known as the VIX and often, if not sometimes derisively, referred to as Wall Street’s fear gauge, was on track Thursday to close above 30 for the fourth day in a row. The index, an options-based measure of expected volatility over the coming 30-day period, traded at 32.92 in recent action, up 2.51 points. According to data compiled by Dow Jones Market Data, that would be the longest streak since a 14-day run that ended in November 2011, surpassing a three-day period seen in August 2015. The index has a long-term average near 20.

It’s certainly been a week of whipsaw trading for investors. The S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite all falling more than 2% in Monday’s holiday-abbreviated session to post the worst Christmas Eve performance in Wall Street history, only to roar back on Wednesday to more than reverse those declines as the S&P and Dow jumped 5% each and the Nasdaq gained 5.8%. On Thursday, stocks were back under pressure, with the Dow giving up more than half of the previous day’s 1,086-point gain.

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Robert Fisk is done. Comparing Putin to Hitler on the brink of 2019 is all we need to know. BTW, Mattis DID consider running.

Watch Out When Men Of War Come To The Rescue (Fisk)

When a general popularly known as James “Mad Dog” Mattis abandons a really mad American president, you know something has fallen off the edge in Washington. Since the Roman empire, formerly loyal military chiefs have fled crackpot leaders, and Mattis’s retreat from the White House might have the smell of de Gaulle and Petain about it. De Gaulle was confronted by an immensely powerful hero of the people – the Lion of Verdun – who was, in his dotage, about to shrug off the sacred alliance with Britain for Nazi collaboration (for which, I suppose, read Putin’s Russia). The decision was made to have nothing to do with Petain, or what Mattis now refers to as “malign actors”. De Gaulle would lead Free France instead.

Mattis has no such ambitions – not yet, at any rate – although there are plenty of Lavals and Weygands waiting to see if Trump chooses one of them for his next secretary of defence. Besides, history should not grant Trump and Mattis such an epic panorama. After all, no Trump tweet could compare with Petain’s 1916 “We’ll get them!” (“on les aura”) slogan, and the dignified, cold and fastidious de Gaulle would never have lent himself to the rant Mattis embarked upon in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

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If investigations like this are not held, the US risks becoming a very volatile place.

Giuliani: Mueller Must Be Investigated For Destruction Of FBI Evidence (Hill)

Rudy Giuliani has an unmistakable New Year’s message for special counsel Robert Mueller: It is time for the chief investigator in the Russia case to be investigated in 2019. In wide-ranging interviews with Hill.TV’s Buck Sexton and me on Wednesday and Thursday, President Trump’s defense lawyer pointedly accused Mueller’s office of destroying evidence by allowing text messages from now-fired FBI official Peter Strzok and his FBI lover, Lisa Page, to be erased in the Russia probe. “Mueller should be investigated for destruction of evidence for allowing those text messages from Strzok to be erased, messages that would show the state of mind and tactics of his lead anti-Trump FBI agent at the start of his probe,” Giuliani said.

The Justice Department inspector general (IG) reported this month that it found large gaps in the preservation of official government text messages between Strzok and Page, the two top FBI agents who helped to start the Russia probe in 2016, who were having an affair at the time, and who expressed disdain for Trump. The report said a technical glitch was to blame for the FBI’s failure to save those text messages, but the IG was able to recover more than 19,000 from the early part of the Russia probe before Mueller was named special prosecutor. However, the IG said it was unable to recover messages from the time Strzok and Page worked for Mueller’s office in spring and summer 2017 because the memories of both FBI officials’ government phones were wiped clean by technicians.

That erasure occurred after Strzok and Page left Mueller’s team over revelations they exchanged anti-Trump text messages, including one string in which they talked about stopping Trump from becoming president. “That should be investigated, damn it, that should be investigated fully. You want a special counsel, get one for that,” Giuliani said.

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Really? The UN is going to pick sides? Against Trump and pro Big Tech?

Donald Trump ‘Worst Perpetrator’ Of Fake News: UN Special Rapporteur (

The President of the United States is the “worst” perpetrator of misinformation on the internet, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion David Kaye said in an interview published today. “Governments are real offenders when it comes to disinformation,” said Kaye. “In my own country, the United States, the worst perpetrator of false information is the President of the United States.” The problem of fake news emanating from governments should be covered by journalists, the rapporteur said. Platforms such as Google, Facebook or Twitter can help the broader fight against disinformation — bots, foreign interference… — but should not remove content, Kaye said.

“The platforms, I think, can do things that are more technical as long as they are not evaluating content. There are things they can do. They can’t just zap it and say, “This is fake news, it’s off the platform.” According to Kaye, platforms should focus on reducing spam and bot accounts rather than on policing content. And even bots are “tricky, because there are good bots and bad bots.” Google, Facebook and Twitter are under intense pressure from the European Commission to tackle fake news ahead of the European election in May 2019.

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When did the Yellow Vests become an insect species?

Macron Lost Authority After Caving To Yellow Jackets – EU’s Oettinger (

The EU will accept a French budget deficit above the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2018 “as a one-time exception,” Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in an interview published Thursday. Oettinger told the Funke media group of German newspapers that French President Emmanuel Macron had “lost authority with his budget for 2019” by upping his spending in response to the Yellow Jackets protests, “but he remains a strong supporter of the European Union.” Brussels reviewed the French budget several weeks ago and won’t be revisiting it, Oettinger added. “It crucial now that Macron continues his reform agenda, especially in the labor market, and that France remains on its growth track.”

“Under this condition, we will tolerate a national debt higher than 3 percent as a one-time exception. However, it must not continue beyond 2019.” Oettinger also told the Funke media group that there’s still a chance Britain’s parliament will vote in favor of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in January and that “there is certainly no majority for a disorderly Brexit or for a new referendum.” If the U.K. leaves the bloc without a Brexit deal, it will become “a third country like Morocco or Azerbaijan,” Oettinger said. He added that if Britain withholds its divorce payment in 2019, Germany would be left footing the bill “in the mid-three-digit range” of hundreds of millions of euros.

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The sudden urgency is too late.

Corbyn Wants May To Recall MPs Early Over Critical Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has challenged Theresa May to cut short the Christmas recess and recall parliament early in the new year in order to bring forward a critical vote on the Brexit deal. In an interview with The Independent, the Labour leader said he believed the prime minister and her allies were engaged in a “cynical manoeuvre” to run down the clock and offer MPs the “choice of the devil or the deep blue sea”. His remarks come as the Commons prepares to vote on the UK-EU deal in the week beginning 14 January – in what is being billed as the most significant moment in parliament for a generation.

With just 91 days remaining until Britain formally leaves the European Union, Mr Corbyn also reiterated it is a matter of “when, not if” Labour attempts to force a general election by tabling a motion of no confidence in the government, which he signalled will come in the aftermath of Ms May’s deal failing to receive MPs’ backing. But he refused to be drawn on whether a Labour government would seek to extend Article 50, given that just weeks would remain for any renegotiation of Britain’s exit from the bloc, and claimed: “Lots of things are possible, the EU has longform on reopening and extending negotiations, but let’s not jump too many hoops when we haven’t arrived at them.”

Speaking in his constituency office in Islington, north London, ahead of Christmas Day, he poured scorn on the prime minister’s decision earlier this month to pull a vote on the deal in the face of near-certain defeat and instead begin a last-ditch attempt to seek assurances from the EU to assuage Brexiteers’ concerns over the contentious issue of the Irish backstop. Pressed on whether he believed Ms May should now recall parliament a week early, on 2 January, the Labour leader replied: “Well it is in her hands to recall parliament. I want us to have a vote as soon as possible, that’s what I’ve been saying for the past two weeks, and if that means recalling parliament to have the vote let’s have it.

“But it looks to me the government has once again reneged on that and tried to put it back another week. We need to have that vote so a decision of parliament can be made. What I suspect is that it’s a completely cynical manoeuvre to run down the clock and offer MPs the choice of the devil or the deep blue sea.”

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For some, perhaps.

Brexit’s Aura Of Inevitability Is Vanishing (Kaletsky)

In times of political turmoil, events can move from impossible to inevitable without even passing through improbable. In early 2016, the idea of Britain leaving the European Union seemed almost as absurd as the next American president being the six-time bankrupt and serial sex pest Donald Trump. A few months later, Brexit and the Trump presidency were universally acknowledged as the inevitable consequence of an anti-elitist, anti-globalization backlash that was predictable decades ago. This sense of inevitability, far more than genuine anti-European conviction, is what has discouraged Britain from changing its mind about a pointless and self-destructive policy that few voters cared about until 2016.

The message from post-Brexit polling and focus groups has been: “We all know that Brexit has to happen, so why don’t the politicians just get on with it?” But with the Brexit process now moving toward its climax, another outcome is moving from impossible to inevitable: Britain could soon change its mind and decide to stay in the EU. This reversal of fortune could begin next month, when Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to lose the decisive parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal. If and when this defeat happens, May will face two unpalatable options. She could preside over a “No Deal” rupture with Europe — tantamount to a declaration of economic war against the EU — and risk a 2008-level economic crisis accompanied by a border upheaval in Ireland that could reignite the “Troubles.”

Or she could break her extravagant promises to honor the “people’s instruction” from the 2016 referendum and allow a new popular vote that might cancel Brexit. To avoid this invidious choice, May could try one last time to push her proposals through Parliament after losing the vote scheduled for the week of January 14. But if this last-ditch effort fails, her choices will be reduced to a No Deal rupture with Europe and a new referendum.

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Varoufakis is basically right, but I can’t see a three-year People’s Debate tackling 6 issues. Brits will think: we can’t even deal with one issue. And an extension of a transition period until 2022 is hard to see, too.

Turning Brexit Into a Celebration of Democracy (Varoufakis)

With weeks left before the UK leaves the EU by default, none of the three main options on offer – a no-deal Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, and rescinding Article 50 in order to remain in the EU – commands a majority in Parliament or among the population. Each generates maximum discontent: The no-deal scenario strikes most as a dangerous plunge into the unknown. May’s deal appalls Remainers and is seen by most Leavers as the kind of document only a country defeated at war would sign. Lastly, a Brexit reversal would confirm Leavers’ belief that democracy is allowed only when it yields results favored by the London establishment.

The conventional wisdom in Britain is that this impasse is lamentable, and that it proves the failure of British democracy. I disagree on both counts. If any of the three immediately available options were endorsed, say, in a second referendum, discontent would increase and the larger questions plaguing the UK would remain unanswered. Britons’ reluctance to endorse any Brexit option at present is, from this perspective, a sign of collective wisdom and a rare opportunity to come to terms with the country’s great challenges while re-thinking the UK’s relationship with the EU. But to seize it, the UK must invest in a “People’s Debate,” leading, in time, to a “People’s Decision.”

The People’s Debate must address six issues: the British constitution, including the creation of an English parliament or multiple regional English assemblies; the electoral system and the role of referenda; the Irish question, including the possibility of joint UK-Irish sovereignty over Northern Ireland; migration and freedom of movement; Britain’s economic model, particularly the outsize role of finance and the need to boost green investment across the country; and of course the UK-EU relationship.

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Proudly poisoning your food for 100 years.

Crime and Punishment in an Age of the Jungle (Vallianatos)

[..] studies funded by EPA and others have been connecting farmers’ sprays to ecocide, disease and death. I traced the catastrophic decline of honeybees to the neurotoxic pesticides of the farmers. This brought me in touch with a caring beekeeper from Colorado named Tom Theobald. He was telling me his days as a beekeeper were coming to an end. In December 2018, he summarized 44 years of living with honeybees and the poisoners of honeybees. “Almost every problem we face,” he said, “can be traced to a Criminal Corporatism and an out of control Capitalism. If there is a profit to be made, there is little regard paid to the consequences. If challenged, we get denial, diversion, excuses and junk science. It simply doesn’t matter how many people are sickened or die, how many species are pushed to extinction or how seriously the planet is compromised.”

[..] We are fortunate we have a reliable history of that irresponsible age by Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. A prolific and outstanding writer, Blum is telling a story that illuminates both early twentieth century, but, perversely, our own times. Her timely book, The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Penguin Press, 2018) paints an unforgettable picture of an American table full of “adulterated” food. Milk and meat were routinely treated with formaldehyde, a carcinogen used for embalming of corpses. Wine drinkers drank a liquid that had nothing to do with grapes. Wine was made from “tannin and coal tar.”

The poisonous copper sulphate dressed canned vegetables. The cleaning chemical borax coated butter. Honey had nothing to do with real honey. It was rather a version of “thickened, colored corn syrup.” Coffee was usually “sawdust, or wheat, beans, peas and dandelion seeds, scorched black and ground to resemble the genuine article.” Bread was baked with alum or chalk, or “sawdust chopped up very fine or gypsum in powder… Terra alba just out of the mine.” There was no law against the poisonous adulteration of food and drink. However, the adulteration of food, Blum says, gave sickness and death, potentially to huge number of Americans. Tainted milk alone killed thousands of children in New York City every year.

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Feb 212018
 February 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:06 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

J.J. Grandville ‘A Comet’s Journey’, Illustration from ‘Un Autre Monde’ 1844


Oxfam. I’m wondering if I should warn this is not for the faint of heart, or say don’t read on an empty stomach. If so, hereby. I know I found it hard.

The first and foremost thing the BBC last week felt its audience should know about the sleaziest scandal to come out of Britain in quite some time -and that’s saying something- is that an actress had turned her back on the aid organization. Your news in bite-size pre-chewed headlines.

While a guy who ‘served’ Oxfam in Bosnia claims it’s nobody’s business if he visited the local hookers in his spare time. The head office even specifically refuses to ban staff from doing that. Not violating a staff member’s civil liberties trumps a question like what drives desperate women -girls- into prostitution that same staff member pays for with money donated to aid desperate people.

Someone at the Dutch Oxfam/Novib office complained that his British colleagues should have provided more information, sooner, because now his branch suffers from the scandal (fewer donations). A branch that knew about it at least as far back as 2012, and passed on the info to the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Accounting Office. Who looked at potential -financial- damage in their country, found none, and located a carpet to sweep it under.

The only right choice for us, and our governments, would seem to be to cancel all donations to Oxfam, because apparently nobody connected to the organization is able to figure out who the actual victims are here. They instead portray themselves as the victims.

Of all people, its own chief executive feels a need, when responding to accusations of child sex abuse concerning his organization, to paint himself -and Oxfam- as victims. ‘Anything we say is being manipulated. We’ve been savaged’ . How does that guy hold on to that job?

Charities like Oxfam receive donations to help those people who have fallen victim to the conditions that exist where they live, be they manmade or due to natural disaster. Obviously, if Oxfam cannot (will not) even correctly identify these victims, it has no reason to exist.

Of course Oxfam announces more internal investigations when these accusations come out, but it’s too late. They’ve hush-hushed all previous such investigations, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again. Oxfam has covered up the issues for a long time, likely decades, and if they can no longer cover things up -like now-, they try and make things look like incidents, stand-alone occurrences. This is a pattern.


Of course there are many people involved in international aid who are pure -enough- souls with the best intentions, but that’s simply not enough: sexual predation has infiltrated its ranks to such a degree, and management has refused to take the only appropriate steps against its perpetrators for so long, that sex abuse has become Oxfam’s middle name. And that very much includes child sex abuse.

I’ve been reading a lot about the story over the past 10 days, and one of the things that stand out is that the typical first reaction is to cover up whatever nastiness it is that surfaces, out of fear that donations would suffer. Instead of thinking about the people Oxfam is supposed to help, for which it receives those donations, and put their interests first. That is a death sentence for any aid organization. And rightly so.

It’s quite simple when you think about it: if we allow Oxfam to continue to exist, we accept that the aid we pay for through donations is sold to victims for sex. If you say, as many people do, that shutting down Oxfam will ‘only’ be bad for those in need who rely on it for aid, then that’s what you promote: aid for sex.

Through the many articles I’ve read I’ve seen people finger Oxfam for sex abuse in Haiti, Chad, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ten to one that is but a partial list. Other aid organizations cover even more territory. There are specific accusations, just through these articles, from 1999, 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017. That too is but a partial list.


Let’s see if I can make a coherent story of all this without turning it into an entire book (would not be a problem). Here’s from The Independent, with a headline that takes us right where we need to be:


Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded.

“Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.” It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.”

A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

Ironically, that report is from Save the Children. Ironic because just today the Telegraph had this:

The former chief executive of Save the Children resigned after he admitted making “unsuitable and thoughtless” comments to three young female members of staff, it emerged on Tuesday. Justin Forsyth, who is now deputy executive director at Unicef, “apologised unreservedly” to the women after sending them text messages commenting on how they looked and what they were wearing. Mr Forsyth’s resignation from Save the Children came just four months after Brendan Cox, a friend of Mr Forsyth and former chief strategist at the charity, quit following separate allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr Forsyth and Mr Cox worked together at Oxfam and later again as advisors to Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Mr Cox, the widower of the late Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016, admitted at the weekend that he had caused the women “hurt and offence”. Neither Mr Forsyth nor Mr Cox were subject to a formal disciplinary hearing. Save the Children said on Tuesday night that trustees had carried out two internal investigations into the complaints against Mr Forsyth in 2011 and 2015.

Save the Children admitted on Tuesday that it dealt with 193 child protection and 35 sexual harassment cases last year, which led to 30 dismissals.

It’s by no means just Oxfam. But they’re a major player. In more ways than one, unfortunately. Oxfam has some 2,500 staff and 31,000 volunteers through the world. Its annual budget is about half a billion dollars.

Another ‘interesting’ pattern to emerge is that the perpetrators, even if they are penalized, seemingly seamlessly float between aid organizations: get kicked out in one place, start afresh a few months later at the next. This article from IRIN is about the Belgian guy with whom the latest scandal surfaced.

He lived in a splendid $2000 a month Oxfam-sponsored villa in Haiti right after the 2010 earthquake, when most locals didn’t even have a roof over their heads, and threw sex-parties there. None of that hurt him much; he lost his Oxfam job, though only after many years of complaints, but just kept going (and denies just about all):

The man at the centre of a sexual exploitation scandal at aid agency Oxfam was dismissed by another British NGO seven years earlier for similar misconduct, IRIN has found. A former colleague reveals that Roland van Hauwermeiren was sent home from his job in Liberia in 2004 after her complaints prompted an investigation into sex parties there with young local women. Despite this, van Hauwermeiren was recruited by Oxfam in Chad less than two years later and went on to work for them in Haiti, and then in Bangladesh for Action contre la Faim.

The Swedish government’s aid department, alerted in 2008, also missed an opportunity to bring his behaviour to light and even went ahead that year to fund Oxfam’s Chad project, under his management, to the tune of almost $750,000. [..] Seeing the Times article about van Hauwermeiren, Swedish civil servant and former aid worker Amira Malik Miller was shaken to read about the Haiti case, which pertained to alleged parties and orgies in 2011, seven years after her own experiences of him in Liberia. She couldn’t believe he was still active in the aid world, especially after she had blown the whistle on him and his colleagues, not once but twice.

“Oh my God, he’s been doing this for 14 years,” she remembers thinking. “He just goes around the system… from Liberia to Chad, to Haiti, to Bangladesh. Someone should have checked properly,” she told IRIN. On two previous occasions, she thought she had done enough to stop his predatory behaviour. Malik Miller told IRIN how her initial complaints way back in 2004 led to van Hauwermeiren being pushed out of his job as Liberia country director of UK charity Merlin, a medical group now merged with Save the Children. An internal investigation into sexual exploitation and misconduct led to his departure, several Merlin staff members confirmed.

And that was just for warming up. An interesting voice in the whole narrative is that of Australian professor Andrew MacLeod, who worked with the Red Cross in Bosnia and the UN Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Pakistan. From the Times:


UN Staff Responsible For 60,000 Rapes In A Decade

Andrew MacLeod, who was chief of operations at the UN’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre, said that “predatory” abusers used development jobs to get to vulnerable women and children. He estimated that 60,000 rapes had been carried out by UN staff in the past decade, with 3,300 paedophiles working in the organisation and its agencies. “There are tens of thousands of aid workers around the world with paedophile tendencies, but if you wear a Unicef T-shirt nobody will ask what you’re up to,” he told The Sun. “You have the impunity to do whatever you want. It is endemic across the aid industry across the world.”

More Andrew McLeod, via the Daily Mail:

I was first alerted to it in 1996 while working in former Yugoslavia with the International Committee of the Red Cross. People would talk about a nightclub called Florida 2000, in the Bosnian city of Zenica, where girls of 14 and 15 were working as prostitutes. These children were being trafficked into Bosnia from neighbouring Moldova by individuals working for the UN and Bosnian police. They were used exclusively for the sexual gratification of UN staff. Such lurid rumours seemed difficult to credit at first, but when a UN peacekeeper called Kathryn Bolkovac tried to investigate, she was swiftly demoted and then fired. Her story was turned into a film, Whistleblower, in 2010, starring Rachel Weisz.

There is so much opportunity for abuse and so little to stop it that jobs in international aid actively attract sexual predators who benefit from the artificial power the aid industry confers upon them. [..] Senior figures in the UN and some of our best known charities have known for decades that this problem was rampant. They should have put in place systems for training, prevention, protection and prosecution. By failing to do so they were committing an offence. They were party to child sex crime. They did nothing, and they should face charges. If they’re not worried – they should be.

From the same article:

A middle-aged man who persistently hangs around the gates of a British primary school as children are leaving will attract the wary attention of teachers, parents and, pretty soon, the police. But the same man lurking outside a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, will be quite safe. Especially if he is wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of Unicef, Save the Children, Oxfam or any other internationally-renowed aid organisations. Almost 20 years ago, the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service, warned that due to better policing and safe-guarding strategies and an international crackdown on child sex tourism, predatory paedophiles were turning their attention to the developing world.

And the best way of gaining access to children? Work for a children’s charity in some place where paedophilia is ignored or difficult to police. Everyone working in the international aid industry needs to be aware of the scale of sexual abuse – happening on their watch and often involving their personnel – of vulnerable people, especially children. Those who deny it are either lying through their teeth, or have their heads buried so far in the sand that their ignorance is deliberate.

And if you think government investigations would solve anything, here’s how Britain’s Charity Commission deals with things:

The Charity Commission has been forced to defend its own investigations after Oxfam’s former head of safeguarding claimed she told the watchdog women were being coerced into sex for aid. Helen Evans said she was “extremely concerned” by the response to concerns she raised while heading the charity’s global efforts to protect staff and beneficiaries from 2012 to 2015.

While appealing for more resources from management to deal with a rising number of allegations, Ms Evans told how in a single day she was told of a woman being coerced into sex in exchange for aid, another aid worker having sex with a beneficiary and a member of staff being struck off for abuse. “There has been a lot of coverage about Oxfam and how shocking and surprising this is – it isn’t,” she told Channel 4 News.

“I went in 2015 to the Charity Commission, I went back again in 2017. Everything I’m saying today, the Charity Commission knew, so why is the Government saying this is a surprise?” Ms Evans had emailed Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, warning that data being gathered from staff “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam officers” but a face-to-face meeting was cancelled in 2014.

So far we’ve encountered Oxfam, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the UN (including its children’s fund Unicef). But that’s by no means the whole story. Try this on for size from Agence France Presse:

Oxfam is not the first non-governmental organisation to be accused of abuse. Previous revelations spurred the United Nations in 2002 to issue special measures for all its staff and others, including aid workers under UN contract, based on a policy of zero tolerance. The issue came to public attention in 2002 after allegations of widespread abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.

In refugee camps in Guinea, Liberia, and to a lesser extent Sierra Leone, dozens of male aid workers, often locals, were suspected of having exchanged money or gifts for sex with young refugee girls aged between 13 and 18. “It’s difficult to escape the trap of those (NGO) people, they use the food as bait to get you to have sex with them,” an adolescent in Liberia was quoted as saying in a report from the UN refugee agency. More than 40 agencies and organisations and nearly 70 individuals were mentioned in the testimonies taken from 1,500 children and adults for the UN report [..]

It’s everywhere, the pedophile rot. And the cover-ups, the industry approach, the aid as big business. And that can only lead to ever more misery. Because aid should never become an industry.

I touched on that about a year ago in one of many articles on our efforts for refugees and homeless in Greece. When it comes to scrutiny of aid organizations, you shouldn’t expect much if anything from governments. They’re part of the same industry.

Politicians find it much easier to fork over their constituents’ cash to ‘recognized’ aid organizations than to investigate them. They have a vested interest in letting the system roll on without disturbing it.


The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

[..] NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it. Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted.

But the Oxfam scandal, spreading as it is across the entire aid’ industry’, is many times worse than letting refugees freeze on islands. Or is it? Isn’t it perhaps the exact same thing, that changes appearance between places but remains always the same in essence?

Oxfam must go. It’s been found painfully wanting for too long and on too many occasions. It’ll be a useful deterrent for all other groups. The managers of which, who often make hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, must also go. They’ve all either known or should have known for many years. The buck stops with them.

The aid itself may stop too in some places, at some times, but when you can only hand out aid when you’re ready to accept that it will be traded for sex with often underaged children, you’re losing big time, and you’re never going to turn that around. Institutionalization can only be halted when walls are broken down, up to and including their foundations.


The aid organizations that cause all these problems have one thing in common: they’re large, large enough to become like, look like, industries. The ones that have expensive offices in A locations because that’s where their major donors are, and executives who make salaries like the executives at those donors.

That’s simply the wrong scale. In all the countries where these organizations operate, and where they bring their depraved sex-crazed staff, there are other, smaller, local organizations too. Who most often don’t have anything like those issues, who often exhibit the exact opposite behavior: people helping people without looking for anything in return. I know this from my experiences in Greece since 2015.

It’s when you scale up the humanity that exists in many, if not most, people, that things go awry and the vermin creeps in. When things become so large that managers are hired, you can be sure that most of the money donated for aid will be burned in a bonfire of politicians, businessmen and, as we now know, pedophiles.

Oxfam gets $500 million a year or so. The EU has pumped over €1 billion into Greece, and probably as much into Italy as well, to ‘solve’ the refugee situation. That Brussels doesn’t want to solve, and neither do Athens or Rome, for fear that it will encourage more refugees to come.

So they make the people they purport to help, miserable, and they put a huge price sticker on that misery posing as help, for the taxpayer to pay. Like this, for instance -from my same article above:


[..] every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

It won’t be easy to stop this insanity, but it can be done. Refuse to dole out money to organizations that have been accused of abuse. Refuse to give any organization more than $1 million. Support many small organizations insteads. Humanitarian aid does not scale up well. To say the least.

It’ll be cost-effective as well. It’ll take more effort to locate the right people, but given that $70 out of every $100 in donations is wasted by large aid organizations today, there’s a huge win lurking right there. You just need to find people who are better at all this than the ones who made that disaster possible.

Then, fire any manager who has not acted in the past on complaints. Establish a system that promises to put anyone in jail against whom credible complaints have been filed.

There are thousands of those walking around right now working for organizations funded by you and me directly, and by our taxes too, free to abuse another girl or little boy, and then another one tomorrow, or a mother who needs to feed her child(ren) because her home has been swept away by floods or bombs.

And make this the number one issue for the UN (yeah, I know, that same UN), to discuss and control as per tomorrow morning. Get multiple countries’ military to deliver what Oxfam did before, and make sure all soldiers understand what’ll happen to them at the first sign of abuse, of money, of people, anything at all.

There are many things out there that we can’t control, but this one we can. Because, as I said, in all locations where aid is needed, there are local people available to deliver it without trying to abuse, centralize, institutionalize it, profit from it, or turn it into a business. Just keep aid donations so small it’s not interesting to do any of those things.

At the UN level, I’m thinking Jimmy Carter. He’s the only man I can conjure up who has the integrity to clean up this mess. I know, one is a very small number. But Carter will know others. Big job, but doable. After all, we can’t very well have the worst of our own societies run rampant in places where people are defenseless against them.

Oh wait, that right there is another reason why our governments like the way things are going, just fine, isn’t it? Oxfam allows them (us) to export their perverts.

Well, screw that. We’re better than our governments.

To summarize: right now, your donation to Oxfam literally pays for pedophiles to go rape children across the world. Not every penny or dollar (they need their shiny offices too), but that’s not the point: your dollars keep the aid industry, the system, and therefore the opportunity for the abuse going. Is that what you want?



Sep 242017
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »

Robert Frank London 1952-53


‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops.

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed.

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that.

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton.

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks.

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’.

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.


(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy.

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with.

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).


The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless.

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.


Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right.

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’.

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip?



Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya.

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically.

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors.


Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.



Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be:

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook:



As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed?

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?


There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships.

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are.

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power.

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today.


As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us.

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction.

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.



Jan 262017
 January 26, 2017  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »

Arthur Siegel Zoot suit, business district, Detroit, Michigan 1942

Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)
US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)
Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)
Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)
Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)
China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)
China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)
Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)
Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)
Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)
Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)
Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)
The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)
Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)
Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)
“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)



Catch 20-something.

Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)

President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed king of debt, may end up with a revolt on his hands.He wants to spend billions of dollars to rebuild American highways and bridges to double economic growth to about 4% a year. He wants to preserve medical benefits for the poor and elderly. And he’s selected someone to oversee the national budget who’s fundamentally opposed to huge piles of debt and pledges to reduce the nation’s deficit.This recipe doesn’t add up, either in theory or practice. Even if Trump finances his promised infrastructure plans entirely by cutting other government services, the nation’s debt load is forecast to surge by trillions of dollars over the next decade.

Trump faces two big problems when grappling with the U.S. debt load: an aging population that’s becoming sicker and inauspicious bond math. If Trump succeeds in fostering substantially higher growth rates, as he’s promised, then interest rates will most likely rise much more than forecast. That’ll make it materially more expensive for the nation to service its debt.Even without much more growth, the U.S. deficit will likely increase as interest rates rise. That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group that analyzes the U.S. economy, which just released its forecast for the nation’s deficit and debt load over the next decade.

Its baseline scenario calls for gradually rising benchmark borrowing costs, with 10-year Treasury yields leveling out at about 3.6% by 2022 from about 2.5% today. Even with that relatively modest projection, CBO analysts wrote that “the government’s interest payments on that debt rise sharply over the next 10 years — nearly tripling in nominal terms and almost doubling relative to GDP.”Interest expense will rise to $768 billion in 2027 from $270 billion in 2017 under the CBO’s base-case scenario.But let’s say Trump succeeds in his attempt to foster more economic growth. That’ll mean that inflation will rise, prompting investors to demand higher U.S. Treasury yields to offset steadily rising consumer prices. Jeffrey Gundlach, the bond guru who runs DoubleLine Capital, said after the election that U.S. 10-year government bond yields could reach 6% in five years. In that case, the interest expense would balloon much more than expected, substantially eating into the nation’s budget.

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“We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.”

US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)

The push by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for a shift to border-adjusted corporate tax (BTA) could push U.S. crude prices higher than the global benchmark Brent, triggering large-scale domestic production, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs on Tuesday. The measure, known as border adjustment, intends to boost U.S. manufacturing by taxing imports while exempting U.S. business export revenues from corporate taxation. Goldman said it anticipates a 25% jump in the prices of U.S. crude futures, also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), and refined products in comparison to the global prices if the switch is implemented.

The investment bank, however, said that uncertainty on whether such a policy will go ahead is high due to concerns about WTO-non compliance and transition issues and oil futures currently only imply a 9% probability for such a shift. “If implemented, the impacts on the oil market would be significant,” Goldman said. “We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.” Brent crude futures were trading on Tuesday at a $2.40 per barrel premium to WTI. The appreciation in prices could be an incentive for producers to sharply increase activity, the bank said warning, that the ramp up in U.S. production in a market only starting to rebalance would create a renewed large oil surplus in 2018, which could lead to an immediate sharp decline in global oil prices.

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The UN is dysfunctional, but this risks cutting the few parts that do actually work.

Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would clear the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and potentially abrogate certain forms of multilateral treaties. The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria. Those criteria include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea.

The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights. The order calls for then enacting “at least a 40% overall decrease” in remaining United States funding toward international organizations. The order establishes a committee to recommend where those funding cuts should be made. It asks the committee to look specifically at United States funding for peacekeeping operations; the International Criminal Court; development aid to countries that “oppose important United States policies”; and the United Nations Population Fund, which oversees maternal and reproductive health programs.

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Interesting power fight. But there are laws.

Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)

Mr Trump’s border wall announcement will make most of the headlines today, given that it was a central focus of his presidential campaign and has increased diplomatic tension with the Mexican government. His plan to target US “sanctuary cities”, however, likely sets the stage for a much tougher, uglier domestic political fight. More than 400 jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle – major cities in left-leaning states that did not vote for Mr Trump – have enacted policies protecting undocumented immigrants within their boundaries. Officials in these designated areas, including local law enforcement, are not allowed to enquire as to an individual’s immigration status in the course of their duties.

Candidate Trump pledged to end this practice, and on Wednesday he put some teeth into his promise – authorising the federal government to withhold funds from cities that do not co-operate with immigration officials or comply with federal law. His executive order frames the issue as one of national security. “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States wilfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” it reads. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

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Speeding up decline. Or exposing it, rather.

Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass likened President Donald Trump’s trade and tax policies to gasoline — hastening an economic restructuring in China while stimulating capital investment and growth in the U.S. China has “recklessly built a system that’s going to need to restructure and that just so happens to be metastasizing right when Trump becomes elected,” Bass told Bloomberg TV. “This is a fire that’s been smoldering and it’s now starting to burn, and Trump is just more gasoline.” Imposing tariffs on Chinese imports could have “profound consequences” for the nation’s economy, where credit over the last 18 months has grown by $6.5 trillion while deposits expanded just $3 trillion, said Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management.

Early last year, Bass called for a 30% devaluation in the yuan against the dollar, and he’s since opened two Asia-focused funds to wager on the imbalances in the region, which he said could extend to Hong Kong and Taiwan. “The idea that China is now the driving economic power in the world, I think, is illusory or somewhat of a fallacy,” he said. “It’s safe to say that the Asian theater is where we’ve been focused.” In the U.S., Bass said, border tax adjustments will help finance a lower corporate tax rate that Trump has proposed, which in combination with the repatriation of capital offshore will be “extremely stimulative.” He said Trump’s accelerated policies would lead to real capital investment, competitiveness and an improvement in productivity.

The impact will be “positive for the United States and slightly negative for the rest of the world,” he said. “But it’s not the globalist nightmare, in my opinion.” Inflation, set to increase in the U.S., will also spike in Germany, which will prompt a tapering of the ECB’s bond-buying program and possibly an increase in interest rates, he said. The move to do so will be sped up by Trump, he said.

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“Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities..”

China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)

China’s policymakers plan to keep their budget deficit target for 2017 at the same level as last year to underscore a focus on debt reduction and reform, though they have wiggle room to increase fiscal stimulus if the economy needs support again. A budget deficit target of 3% of GDP, unchanged from 2016, was endorsed by top leaders at the Central Economic Work Conference in December, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. After government investment propped up activity for much of 2016, policymakers are looking for a recovery in private investment through public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure projects to drive growth this year. “Fiscal policy is clear. It’s necessary to maintain last year’s 3% deficit ratio, although there is room to increase it slightly,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Preliminary finance ministry data this week implied an actual deficit of 3.8% of GDP in 2016. However, China’s budget accounting allows it to use unspent money from previous years and funds from a Central Budget Stabilization Fund so it can report a final deficit in line with the target. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.7% last year, supported by higher government spending and record bank lending, though it was still the slowest growth in 26 years. Reuters reported last week that sources said the 2017 economic growth target would be around 6.5%, down from last year’s 6.5-7%. “If this year’s growth goal is not that high, there will be less pressure on the strength of policy support,” said a second policy source. [..] Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities, as private investment grew just 3.2%, the weakest on record.

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A risk to the west, that is.

China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)

A major risk to U.S. markets is looming, and it’s bigger than headlines and President Donald Trump’s tweets, Goldman Sachs’ Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani told CNBC on Wednesday. The threat is the Chinese economy, the Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management chief investment officer told “Squawk on the Street.” “We use the term that China could ‘submerge’ under the burden of its own debt,” Mossavar-Rahmani said. “If you look at any of the debt measures in China, they’re tremendously high.” Mossavar-Rahmani focused on the credit-to-GDP number from the BIS as a key measure of China’s accumulating debt. As of the second quarter of 2016, China’s ratio was 28.8%.

“China is about 30, the U.S. was at 12.4% just before the crisis. And if the U.S. didn’t avoid a financial crisis with all its strength, how can we assume that China will?” the wealth manager asked. China is still awaiting its 19th gathering of the National Congress of the Communist Party in the fall, which Mossavar-Rahmani said would weigh on the country’s economic position in 2018. The meeting will determine 370 of China’s Central Committee members for the next five years. “Then we have to see, in 2018, will they put structural reforms on the front burner or does it stay on the back burner?” Mossavar-Rahmani asked.

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The US has a large block of religious zealots. The rest of the west, not so much.

Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)

Up to 20 countries have indicated support for the Netherlands’ plan to set up an international safe abortion fund to plug a $600m funding gap caused by Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule”, the Dutch international development minister, Lilianne Ploumen, said on Wednesday. Ploumen took soundings from a number of her colleagues around the world on Tuesday evening after the Netherlands said it would act to mitigate the impact on hundreds of charities around the world. The “global gag rule”, also known as the Mexico City policy, was reimposed by Trump on Monday, and bans US federal funding for NGOs in foreign countries that provide abortion services or abortion advocacy. ‘We’re in talks with 15 to 20 countries and we’ve also spoken to foundations,” Ploumen told the Guardian.

“As well as contacting a number of European countries that we work with on these issues, we’re also in touch with countries in South America and Africa, as well as the foundations. It’s important to have the broadest possible support for the fund.” Ploumen did not identify which countries had been approached or how much money the Dutch government might commit to the scheme. She said the aim would be to continue support for existing programmes being run by organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), the International Planned Parenting Federation and Marie Stopes International. “These are successful and effective programmes: direct support, distributing condoms, making sure women are accompanied at the birth, and making sure abortion is safe if they have no other choice,” she said.

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Damning. DO read.

Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)

This article explains three critical reasons why the Democratic Party’s leaders are far more insane than all but a few Democrats understand. It focuses on the leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the New Democrats. The DNC leadership is composed of New Democrats. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign in disgrace when the leaks proved that she was putting the DNC’s thumbs on the scale to favor Hillary Clinton (a New Democrat) in the presidential nomination contest against Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz also took large contributions from big finance and, until she faced the prospect of a serious primary challenger, she supported efforts by predatory lenders to use Congress to bar the regulators from stopping their abuses.

Donna Brazile, a New Democrat, now runs the DNC. In this article, I show that Brazile denounced Democrats who refused to cheer President Bush’s invasion of Iraq (and his “Mission Accomplished” declaration) as so disloyal that when their country needed them they went “AWOL.” Not satisfied with that libel, she added the homophobic smear that voters would view Democrats who failed to cheer Bush’s lies and invasion as “effete.” Best of all, she said that Democrats should take as their role models Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Frank Gaffney – Bush’s “chicken hawks” that devised the campaign of lies that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Gaffney is now spreading hate of Muslims – and advising President Trump.

The DNC is also in the news because it has just accepted a $20 million “donation” funded by Third Way, a Wall Street front group, to study why the white working class “abandoned” Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a leader of the New Democrats. Wall Street has long been the largest single funder of the New Democrats various institutions. The New Democrats, at the behest of Wall Street, have waged the “long war” against the working class since their formation in 1984. The New Democrats did not simply abandon the working class – they targeted it for scorn and assaulted it with policies that harmed many Americans, but caused the greatest harm to the working class.

Particularly in light of the Trump’s election, the logical reaction of the DNC would have been to refuse to take the Wall Street buyout and announce that the New Democrats would never again do Wall Street’s bidding. They would return to the Democratic Party’s historic role as the party that championed the rights of workers. Brazile, of course, ensured that the DNC eagerly took the $20 million Wall Street buyout. The New Democrats not only continue to be for sale (or rent) by Wall Street – they continue to show that they continue to for sale for chump change. The DNC does not need $20 million to figure out why the white working class “abandoned” the New Democrats. They can check out from their local library Tom Frank’s books warning that this would happen and explaining in detail why the New Democrats’ long war against the working class was making it happen.

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When growth could not be delivered. “There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65.”

Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)

Question: The inability of continental Europe to grow has been a clear part of the concern in Britain about Europe. What role has this played?

Malmgren: The British received more Foreign Direct Investment than any other locartion in the EU before Brexit. It was assumed this flow would fall after Brexit. But, I hear from my clients that they are even more interested in the UK now. That’s because money is like water. It flows to wherever it faces the least resistance – the lowest tax rates and least regulatory burden. I would challenge the British to end up with more regulation and higher taxes that the EU after Brexit. Frankly, that would take a huge effort! But the problems on the Continent are deeper than this; The real issue is that the social contract between citizens and governments in the West are being broken. There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65. Now everybody has to work longer.

They can’t deliver the healthcare that had been expected. Frankly they can’t deliver police, fire departments or roads without potholes. The social contract in the EU is under even greater stress because growth has been so very poor. The night of the victory of Brexit, the markets attacked Italian banks, not British banks. What did the state in Italy do? They said they’d find 5b Euros to bail out the oldest bank which had lost 98% of its shareholder value. Meanwhile, they can’t find 5 cents for the young who are experiencing over 30% unemployment rates. This breaks the social contract and helps explain the new anti-EU sentiment. The Europeans are also increasingly uneasy about immigration issues. It was not part of the original deal in the European contract to have completely open borders. In my view, the British are not xenophobic, but want more process around immigration. They want a more secure movement of people within Europe.

The media talks all the time about the proposed Wall by Trump in the US with Mexico, but the reality is there a wall-building spree going on in Europe. Look at the new walls being constructed between Hungry and Serbia, between Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as new walls in Estonia, Poland and Lithuania are constructing one around Kaliningrad with watchtowers, etc. Frankly new walls will increasingly be digital. Processing of people will begin well before you get anywhere near what you think the border is. We will pass through borders without realizing we’ve already been assessed. We are in a period of history where the Europeans are fundamentally rethinking what they want Europe to stand for, the European Union to do, and how to generate economic growth again. As everywhere else, the public are questioning the establishment because they have failed to deliver on their promises.

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“I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

The ‘media’ have lost so much credibility, and permamently. That is dangerous.

Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts. Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public. “The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated.

“They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.” Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

The declassified version of the report, which was released January 7 and dominated the news for days, charged that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” and “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” According to the report, the NSA was said to have had a lower confidence level than James Clapper and the CIA about the conclusion that Russia intended to influence the election. Hersh characterized the report as full of assertions and thin on evidence.

“It’s high camp stuff,” Hersh told The Intercept. “What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force — they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they’d give it to you. An assessment is just that. It’s a belief. And they’ve done it many times.”

[..] While expressing fears about Trump’s agenda, Hersh also called Trump a potential “circuit breaker” of the two-party political system in the U.S. “The idea of somebody breaking things away, and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democratic Party, is not a bad idea,” Hersh said. “That’s something we could build on in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years.” He added: “I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

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But it will just continue. Wanna bet?

Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)

A powerful new report finally kills off any remaining intellectual veil for a broken economics that is breaking society. Sometimes an ideology is so brilliantly propagated that observers might not even notice it’s an ideology. In the corridors of power and in mainstream discussion, it ceases to be questioned. Then it goes catastrophically wrong. And it begins to seen again for the ideology it is. It becomes questioned again. And, if they are smart, leaders hear this and start to self-correct. This is where we’ve got to with neoliberalism, austerity, and rising inequality. Except for the self-correct part. Right now, instead of self-correction, we’re seeing many mainstream politicians unable to shift away from dead economics, and what seems in too many countries like the start of social breakdown.

Change is well overdue. Who can prompt leaders to drop the old economic nostrums are causing so much harm? Enter the IMF with a sledgehammer. Progressives duck in case in the sledgehammer is meant for them. But then the IMF demolishes the case for neoliberalism and austerity. It sounds extraordinary, and it is. Today the IMF will launch a new report, “Macro-Structural Policies and Income Inequality in Low-Income Developing Countries”, the latest in series that mark the intellectual journey the IMF research department has been travelling in recent years. Packed with detailed quantitative analysis it demonstrates that much of what elites have been advancing as unquestioned economics is demonstrably harmful both to economic growth and to public wellbeing.

Of course what makes this surprising, and what may make some progressives unenthusiastic about welcoming this, is also what makes it so powerful: an institution that has been, for far too long, a defender of the free market story and the Washington Consensus – the idea that liberalizing trade, privatizing everything possible and cutting down public spending was a one-size-fits-all solution to any government in trouble – has now refuted it. This paper is not the first by the IMF to take a stand on inequality, but it is notable because it claims in no uncertain terms that public spending – i.e. the opposite of the budget cuts that it once advocated for – decreases income inequality. They even have a formula – a 1% increase in public spending, they report, leads to a 2.3% decrease in inequality after 5 years. The paper also takes a strong stand against prioritizing indirect taxes, such as VAT, showing that they increase inequality.

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Bit sensationalist, perhaps?

The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)

The Dow has hit 20,000 for the first time ever, but rather than celebrating, some of the richest of the rich are building bunkers to prepare for a potential apocalypse. These “preppers” are making other investments too. They’re buying houses in New Zealand, which has become a popular spot in case of calamity. Billionaire Peter Thiel just secured property and citizenship there. And they’re getting elective surgery. Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of the online community Reddit, got Lasik so that he’d be able to be more independent in case of emergency. “If the world ends — and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble — getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” the San Francisco resident tells Evan Osnos as part of The New Yorker’s chronicle of the elite’s end-of-the-world preparations. “Without them, I’m f—ed.”

In addition to the eye surgery, Huffman has accumulated guns, ammunition and motorcycles so that he won’t get caught in traffic jams during an evacuation. The notion of “doomsday prepping” was popularized in the mainstream by the National Geographic channel’s show by the same name. The show’s website offers a quiz titled “How prepped are you?” so you can test your own likelihood of surviving an apocalypse. Former Facebook product manager Antonio García Martínez bought wooded land in the Pacific Northwest that he has stocked with generators, solar panels and ammo, The New Yorker reports. “You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse,” García Martínez says. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In particular, the political climate has made many coastal elites anxious about the future. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power — that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work,” says Huffman. “While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”

Read more …

The war on Grillo will intensify.

Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said she has received a summons from city prosecutors over a staff appointment. Raggi, a lawyer who was elected mayor last year, wrote in a post on Facebook that the summons concerns her nomination of Renato Marra as head of the tourism department, which she has revoked. She said she had informed Five Star co-founder Beppe Grillo and the city council of the summons. “I am very serene; I have full confidence in the judiciary, as ever,” Raggi wrote. “We are ready to give every clarification.” Raggi’s city hall administration has been plagued by resignations. Five Star, which wants a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro area, has remained neck and neck with the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his predecessor Matteo Renzi in national opinion polls.

Five Star has made denunciations of political corruption one of its main themes, often calling for elected officials to resign if they are placed under investigation, long before a case comes to court. But under new rules posted on Grillo’s blog earlier this month, Five Star officials do not have to resign automatically if they are investigated. Italian newswire Ansa said Raggi was under investigation for alleged abuse of office in the personnel matter. [..] Alessandro Di Battista, a senior Five Star lawmaker, told La 7 television that Raggi had a duty to explain why she had made the appointment. “This isn’t about public money, or decisions which affect a right of citizens,” Di Battista said. “This would involve mistaken signatures, a mistaken nomination which was immediately revoked.”

Read more …

If not in February, forget 2017.

Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)

Euro zone creditors could approve the completion of the second set of Greek bailout reforms at the next meeting of finance ministers in February, an euro zone official said on Wednesday. The approval of the outstanding reforms, mainly concerning Greek fiscal targets, the labor market and liberalization of the energy sector, would pave the way for further euro zone loans to Athens, which faces large repayments in the third quarter. Finance ministers of the 19 countries of the euro zone will meet on Thursday in Brussels but there hasn’t been sufficient progress in Greek reforms yet for them to sign off on a deal now, the senior official said, confirming what the EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Tuesday.

Still, the ministers are likely to produce an agreement to continue talks with a view to concluding them at the next Eurogroup meeting on Feb. 20, according to the official. “There is a good chance” that an agreement will be reached on Thursday to send euro zone negotiators back to Athens so that a deal can be reached in February, the official said. “February is the last month in which there is no politically significant election in relevant member states,” the official said, and this meant “February is not formally but realistically the time when we need to reach a political agreement”. The Netherlands go to the polls in March, and the French will vote in presidential elections in April and likely also in May. Germany, the biggest economy in the euro zone, will hold a general election in September. A comprehensive deal for Greece will also have to involve the IMF, the official said.

Read more …

Pretty brilliant.

“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)

Read more …

Dec 272016
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 10:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »

Joan Miró Caballo, Pipa y Flor Roja (Horse Pipe and Red Flower) 1920


I was surprised to see how surprised I was, like I’m sure millions of people were, to see the term ‘fake news’ pop up in what are still called ‘respectable’ (which is by now really just another word for ‘old’) news outlets.

Because a huge part of what they have been feeding their readers and viewers for years is that very thing: fake news. Who needs a bunch of bored highschool kids in small town Montenegro when you have the offices of America’s ‘official’ news sources at your disposal?

That there are still people trying to make a serious point by quoting anything at all published in the Washington Post -and to an only slightly lesser extent the New York Times- is beyond me. And not a little bit beyond. Well, that people still read these sheets is just as incredible, I grant you that.

I haven’t kept count of the number of ‘articles’ the WaPo has published over the past year or so -the election campaign- that referred to unsubstantiated reports emanating from anonymous US intelligence sources about Russian involvement in everything bad under the sun, but I’m dead certain that put together they would add up to a Christmas bestseller of respectable size. A chance missed there, gents. You could have had your own garbage lead your own bestseller lists. Snake, tail.

And it’s not as if it was a new thing for them either, what’s new is the sheer volume and the concerted campaign we’re talking about. We of course had a similar thing in 2003 with the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘fantasy’. Now that I mention it, how is it possible that Colin Powell is still walking around free, and Cheney and W.?

When did it become de rigueur to lie to the people, let alone Congress and the UN? What have we become? When did that happen? Remember Ukraine, and the stories you were told about that, less than 3 years ago? Crimea? G-d I hope Trump will get rid of Victoria Nuland.

Trump called the UN a sad club for people to “get together, talk and have a good time”. Is he wrong? Really? If so, do tell, how wrong is he? Perhaps wrong in the same way that the IMF is wrong for letting Christine Lagarde keep her plush tax-free seat after being convicted for handing €400 million in French taxpayer money to a crony? That kind of wrong?

I’m thinking there are still awfully few people who understand what’s happening in the world. What’s changing. And I don’t hold out much hope that they will until it hits them smack upside the backs of their heads.

Why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why many more changes are in the offing. Well, it’s precisely because the UN and EU and IMF and Capitol Hill are self-serving ‘clubs’ filled with unaccountable and overpaid people who have turned the world into a godawful mess.

Not for themselves, they’re fine, thank you very much, they all have pensions from here to Rome and back again for the rest of their lives, but for everyone else. G-d I hope Trump will come through on his pre-election promise to limit the terms of American Congressmen and Senators. And that this is subsequently applied to all these ‘clubs’. Because if anything, it’s them who are the bane of this world. Public service…

There may be fine individuals among them, that’s not even -the worst of- the point, it’s the dilapidated, decayed, rotten to the core institutions that they ‘serve’ which are the problem. They serve themselves and they serve the institutions, the one thing they sure don’t serve is the people. You know who’s given (‘voted’) them those lavish pensions and benefits? They themselves did, and their predecessors.

The UN is supposed to keep the peace in the world. Well, works like a charm, doesn’t it? The IMF is tasked with keeping 200 or so nations in reasonably balanced economic conditions. Got it down. The US Congress was set up as a pillar of democracy, but it’s occupied by guys and gals who spend so much more time raising funds for their next campaign than representing those who voted them in, that they need lobbyists to tell them which way to vote.

As for the EU, is it even possible they’re the worst of the bunch? Europe is falling apart before all of our eyes, and they’re all in full tard denial about it. They are turning Greece into a third world country, they’re alienating Britain to the point where the English will, once they wake up to what’s going on, want to set Brussels on fire. And why? There’s no point left to any of it at all.

Italy’s a goner, once enough Italians realize what the ECB wants to do to their banks. France is such a key member nobody wants to even imagine it falling, so its broke banks are ignored. Holland will come very close to voting in Wilders, which means Nexit. Germany is destabilizing rapidly. Spain has been a hornets’ nest for years. Etc.

And again: why? Well, because the Obama/Merkel model has so dramatically failed. All these places where left and right work together to produce a shapeless blob somewhere in the center that has no identity and doesn’t speak out for anyone.

You just wouldn’t know it from reading the Washington Post. Or any comparable old and respected medium in any of these European countries. It’s not just the politics that have failed, it’s its propaganda machine too.

This is something that manifests itself differently in different places, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see the ties that bind it all together. For one thing, because, not even touched on so far, the amount of fake financial news that has been forced down our throats for decades, and increasingly so: the worse things get, the bigger the lie…

There is no economic recovery. Never was. Not in the US, not in Europe anywhere. It’s a fairy tale. There are plates shifting, sure. You can cherry pick a region stateside that does well if only you select the ‘right’ stats. Like you can say employment is on a roll, if you’re willing to discard the number of ‘newly created’ jobs that are part time.

And yes, if you just completely ignore that 94 million Americans are not counted at all in unemployment numbers, Obama has been a big success. It’s just that those 94 million have a vote, too. We will see that exact same dynamic, and we have already started, play out all across Europe.

It’ll be much messier, for instance because in Holland last time I looked 81 different political parties were vying to take part in the upcoming elections, but the end result will be the same. That is, the existing order will be voted out. Not everywhere, and it won’t be replaced by radically different parties and people in all places, but do please understand that it doesn’t have to.

In Europe, it’s not and/and, it’s if/or. As in, if either Italy or France or Holland vote in a party that wants to leave the EU or the Euro, it’s game over. The endgame will be almighty messed up because of all the laws and regulations the EU has invented, but eventually the walls of Brussels will crumble. Good riddance too.

I’ve said it a hundred times before, all the institutions mentioned before, EU, IMF, UN and yes, even Congress, exist by the grace of growth. People accept them only as long as they can show reasonable proof that they bring economic benefits. As soon as that’s gone (or I should say as soon as people figure it out), so are they.

People are going to vote for someone close to their own lives, their own world, to lead them in times of contraction. That is inevitable. It’s why Trump won, and it’s also why he’s set to fail. Isn’t that a lovely paradox? We’re going to split up into smaller entities, economic contraction guarantees it.

And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways. All these supranational institutions have merely become straight jackets that serve only the people who work inside them and those outside who benefit from keeping up appearances and clinging to power.

That of course gets us back to the Washington Post and its comatose brethren. The US press has been a full accomplice with Washington in reporting fake news about the recovery, and it’s not there. Never has been. The Dow Jones says one thing, the votes for Trump say another. In the end, democracy is that simple. Same goes for Britain, same goes for continental Europe.

And there’s no doubt that Trump is an iceberg-sized gamble, but a change had to come. A change from the monsoon of fake news we have all been fed, but also initially a change that won’t be able to help itself from being replete with more fake news, from all sides.

Put it this way: in 2016, the engine of change got cranked up. In the new year, it will accelerate. That is 2017. That is what the new year will bring.

Nov 092015
 November 9, 2015  Posted by at 1:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »

Giles Duley Afghan boy lands on Lesvos Nov 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs to do something, urgently, that should have been done months- if not more- ago. There has to be a UN emergency summit on the European refugee crisis, it has to involve leaders at the very highest levels, and it has to take place within weeks at the latest. Or else.

Of course any leader could call for the summit, and if Merkel waits too long -as she is wont to do- someone else should. But she is the best person for the job. No-one else who leads an entire continent looks ready to take this on, and moreover it’s her own country that quite possibly faces the gravest consequences of the crisis.

That is to say, for now Germany still comes in way after Greece in that regard, but if Alexis Tsipras would attempt to call such a summit, his appeal would fall on deaf ears, and at best lead to lots of international Merkel-style diddling (or ‘Merkeln’, as the Germans put it). And there’s already been far too much of that.

The renewed urgency comes from a number of directions. First, the continuing drownings of refugees in the Aegean sea. The lack of urgency with which those drownings have been met has become a huge and immediate threat to Merkel, if only because the entire European project has already died with the babies washing up on the shores of Greece.

Even if it will take a long time for people to recognize that, given the ideological ‘union’ blindness that pervades Brussels and European capitals. Angela’s legacy risks being not only her responsibility for thousands of deaths, but also the very demise of the EU. And that’s just for starters.

Secondly, It was Merkel herself last week who warned of renewed military conflicts in the Balkans if the approach to the refugee crisis wouldn’t change, and rapidly.

According to Merkel, if Balkan countries -continue to- build fences and razor wire barriers at their borders, one after the other, some countries risk ‘getting stuck’ with huge numbers of refugees on their territories that they are not in the least prepared for. Which makes Friday’s German announcement, mere days after Merkel’s warning, all the more ominous:

Germany Imposes Surprise Curbs On Syrian Refugees

Angela Merkel has performed an abrupt U-turn on her open-door policy towards people fleeing Syria’s civil war, with Berlin announcing that the hundreds of thousands of Syrians entering Germany would not be granted asylum or refugee status. Syrians would still be allowed to enter Germany, but only for one year and with “subsidiary protection” which limits their rights as refugees. Family members would be barred from joining them.

[..] the interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, announced that Berlin was starting to fall into line with governments elsewhere in the EU, who were either erecting barriers to the newcomers or acting as transit countries and limiting their own intake of refugees.

[..] the suddenness of the move by the country that has been pivotal in the EU’s biggest ever immigration crisis will ripple across the region with unknown consequences, particularly in the transit countries of the Balkans and central Europe through which hundreds of thousands have been trekking towards Germany.

The German curbs will encourage these countries to establish barriers of their own to the refugee wave. Merkel is also pressing countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia to establish “reception centres” or camps where refugees can be processed and screened before they reach Germany. The countries are resisting because no one knows what to do with those who are screened and do not pass muster for passage to Germany.

Around the same time that Germany pressures Balkan countries to establish ‘reception centers’, it votes down plans for ‘transit zones’ on its own territory. Some are more equal than others? Berlin had better beware.

The third ‘urgency’, curiously downplayed by media and politics, comes in the shape of a warning by the EU itself, albeit “buried in a 204-page report on the future of the European economy”.

European Union Predicts 3 Million More Refugees By End Of Next Year

The European Union predicted Thursday that up to 3 million additional asylum seekers could enter the 28-member bloc by the end of next year, suggesting the staggering pace of new arrivals in recent months shows no sign of abating. The forecast, buried in a 204-page report on the future of the European economy..

The EU expects 3 million refugees in 2016. This year, there will be ‘only’ 1 million. Of which resettlement deals have been made for 160,000, and at last count 116 have actually been resettled. Somebody better start taking this serious, or it will get very terribly out of hand. And that’s not to say it hasn’t already, with well over 3000 refugees having drowned in the Mediterranean, hundreds of them children.

This is a humanitarian disaster that nobody’s willing to recognize as one, and that is exactly what has to stop. The reason why this prediction is hushed up across the board is of course obvious: the 1 million refugees in 2015 have already strained resources, international relationships and indeed entire governments to such an extent, wars could start just because of that.

Add another 3 million, and the chances of a peaceful 2016 in Europe grow terribly slim. But not talking about it will of course slim down those chances further. And even if the total of 4 million refugees expected by the end of next year will be less than 1% of the EU’s 500 million population, someone better do something fast, or else.

The fact that Europe risks being strained to the point of military conflict, and there’s precious little reason to doubt Angela Merkel’s assessment of the situation, means that what needs to be done is to make the entire world aware that this is a global issue, not a regional one. And that’s where the UN emergency summit comes in.

Obviously, Germany is overwhelmed right now. But doing a U-turn on the open-door policy is not going to solve that problem. It will merely shift it, either within Germany itself, or towards the Balkan countries the refugees travel through to come to the Bundesrepublik.

Decision making by the EU Brussels has failed shamefully. And not only on the refugee crisis. But since Merkel is the no. 1 voice of power in Europe, that puts the shame on her as well. As we’ve said before, the only way to handle an issue such as this, is to put the people first.

You can’t let the people, the children, drown at random and expect to come away with your positions intact. And just because international politics these days focuses a lot on trying to deflect responsibilities by pointing to others, and to international bodies, blood on one’s hands doesn’t wash off easily, and in the end not at all.

Blaming the refugees themselves, as the head of EU border agency Frontex attempted once again by labeling them , is as useless as it is disgraceful. People fleeing war zones to save their lives are not ‘illegals’.

Blaming the ‘smugglers’, an even more popular EU pastime, makes no sense either. If the smugglers were Europe’s biggest concern, it would grant safe passage to refugees. That would stop ‘smuggling’ in one fell swoop. But it would demand a level of political courage that nobody, not Merkel either, possesses.

What drives policies across the board still comes down to the prevailing wish, fed to European populations by media and politics, to keep things as they are. To maybe invite the token refugee, but to prevent sudden or large changes in the society people happen to live in.

And while that may be understandable, it doesn’t mean it’s always realistic. Sometimes change is inevitable. We may find it easier to accept that when it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes than in the case of mass migrations, but all of these are regular occurrences throughout history. In the end, all we can do is make the best of it, in the most humane way we know of, or descend into mayhem.

One more thing that needs repeating time and again though politicians won’t like it: Europe’s leadership knew the refugee problem was coming. Angela Merkel was warned by her Bundespolizei at least eight months ago, but there were warnings even way before that. Everyone just chose to ignore them.

Refugee Crisis Was Not Unexpected, Top UN Official Says

Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva, Denmark’s Michael Moller: [..] “The crisis we have today, we knew it was going to happen. The leaders of Europe were told it was going to happen at least two years ago.”

[..] there will be even greater problems, unless we sit down globally and figure out structures and ways to deal with this in the future. Not to reinvent the wheel every time that happens, but to rethink completely and strengthen the humanitarian system, because I guarantee you that it will happen again.

Moller say the same thing I do: “we need to sit down globally”. He doesn’t provide a timeframe, but between the lines it’s clear he doesn’t think either that there’s time to waste. A UN emergency summit may be all that stands between us and ‘anarchy’, in one way and shape or the other.

This summit must include the presidents and prime ministers of all major nations (and please leave out the EU). Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping and Merkel, but also the leaders of Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon (where the majority of Syrian refugees are) and all Balkan countries. Countries like Canada, Brazil and Australia can and must be called upon to grant asylum to many more refugees than they do now.

In this week’s issue of the New Yorker, George Packer describes how America took in more than a million refugees from South East Asia in one year 35 years ago, and how it can and should make such an effort once more:

America’s Apathy About The Syrian Refugees

[..].. the U.S. has accepted fewer than two thousand Syrians. In September, President Obama announced an increase in the quota for the coming year to ten thousand. That figure represents just half the monthly total of Indochinese refugees brought here in 1980. One refugee advocate called it “an embarrassingly low number.” And yet even this humble goal is unlikely to be reached.

The world has a narrow window left to prevent an already grave humanitarian disaster into something much worse, to prevent antagonism and military action that will set loose the evil genies of the Pandora’s box that is Europe’s past, once again, and genies of surrounding regions too. There is no need for that. Not yet.

The world, united in such a summit, must also look beyond the refugee crisis, and, as the UN’s Moller says, “rethink completely and strengthen the humanitarian system”. Because there are other dangers on the horizon, potentially much worse. Climate refugees are an obvious one, but even more, there’s the economic downturn nobody seems to be willing to acknowledge (at their own peril).

As I wrote a week ago, in an article quoted by Zero Hedge on Wednesday in their piece on German opposition parties warning of a domestic civil war:

Europe Will Never Be The Same; Neither Will The World

Ignorance and denial threatens to lead to a needless increase in nationalism, fascism, violence, misery, death and warfare. If we were to acknowledge that the change is inevitable, and prepare ourselves accordingly, much of this could be avoided.

There are two main engines of change that have started to transform the Europe we think we know. First, a mass migration spearheaded by the flight of refugees from regions in the world which Europeans have actively helped descend into lethal chaos. Second, an economic downturn the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 80 years or so (think Kondratieff cycle).

Negative ideas about refugees are already shaping everyday opinion and politics in many places, and this will be greatly exacerbated by the enormous economic depression that for now remains largely hidden behind desperate sleight-of-hands enacted by central bankers, politicians and media.

There are fine theories around coming from fine people, on how refugees can benefit a host country’s economic systems. But they are the kind of people who are perpetually looking at economic growth. And no such growth is guaranteed – to put it awfully mildly.

Therefore, it doesn’t really matter to the issue if refugees do or do not contribute ‘positively’ to a country’s economics, because all countries are facing a giant slowdown and depression caused by an inevitable debt deflation. And that makes it all the more urgent for people, and societies, to be prepared for all possible outcomes, including worst case scenarios.

The depression is guaranteed, and so are millions more people fleeing the ruins that were ones their homes, and their hopes for a decent future for their children.

Every day that Merkel loses in calling this highest-level, highest-urgency, UN summit, is a day that more people will drown. And that means one more day that we all will lose more of our own humanity, and of our claims for others to show us theirs.

In our own way, we’re all already drowning and washing up devoid of life, and of human values, somewhere on a cold and lonely distant beach.

Sep 292015
 September 29, 2015  Posted by at 8:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »

Gottscho-Schleisner L Motors at 175th Street and Broadway, NYC 1948


Commodity Rout Beginning to Look Like a Full-Blown Crisis (Bloomberg)
Glencore Shares Obliterated After Analysts Warn They Could Be Worthless (Tel.)
Is Glencore Worth $26 Billion Or $98 Billion? Analysts Can’t Decide (Bloomberg)
Global Stocks Set to Fall As $800 Billion Wipeout Boosts Yen, Bonds (Bloomberg)
Three Major Trends that Shaped Global Economy for Decades Set to Change (BBG)
Big Oil Faces Shrinking Prospects (FT)
Why Shell Quit Drilling In Arctic After Spending $7 Billion On Single Well (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Withdraws Billions From Markets to Plug Budget Deficit (BBG)
The Collapse Of Saudi Arabia Is Inevitable (Nafeez Ahmed)
Deutsche Bank Predicted To Cut 10,000 Jobs (Telegraph)
UK Steel Industry Buckles Under The Weight Of Cheap Chinese Product (Guardian)
VW Stock to Be Removed From Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (Bloomberg)
Tick Tick Tick (Jim Kunstler)
Putin: West’s Rampant ‘Egotism’ To Blame For Syria, Ukraine, Isis (Guardian)
Obama Deifies American Hegemony (Paul Craig Roberts)
Barclays, HSBC Named In Swiss Precious Metals Price Fixing Investigation (TiM)
It’s Time To Unpick Corporate Welfare (Kevin Farnsworth)
Jamaica Seeks Billions Of Pounds In British Reparations For Slavery (Guardian)
New Zealand’s New Ocean Sanctuary One Of World’s Largest Protected Areas (Gua.)
More Than 1,100 Migrants Rescued Off Libyan Coast On Monday (DW)

Not beginning, continuing.

Commodity Rout Beginning to Look Like a Full-Blown Crisis (Bloomberg)

The 15-month commodities free-fall is starting to resemble a full-blown crisis. Investors are reacting to diminished demand from China and an end to the cheap-money era provided by the Federal Reserve. A Bloomberg index of commodity futures has fallen 50% since a 2011 high, and eight of the 10 worst performers in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index this year are commodities-related businesses. Now it all seems to be coming apart at once. Alcoa, the biggest U.S. aluminum producer, said it would break itself into two companies amid a glut stemming from booming production. Shell announced it would abandon its drilling campaign in U.S. Arctic waters after spending $7 billion.

And the carnage culminated Monday with Glencore, the commodities powerhouse that came to symbolize the era with its initial public offering in 2011 and bold acquisition of a rival in 2013, falling by as much as 31% in London trading. “With China slowing down and a lot of uncertainty, fears in the market have intensified, and the reduction in the pace of demand growth for all commodities has seemed to send everybody off the cliff,” said Ed Hirs, managing director of a small oil producer who teaches energy economics at the University of Houston. Peak prices in gold and silver are four years old, oil’s plummet since June 2014 has been pushed along by OPEC’s November decision to keep pumping despite excess supply and U.S. natural gas prices have fallen to less than a fourth of their 2008 value.

It’s about to get worse, according to analysts John LaForge and Warren Pies of Venice, Florida-based Ned Davis Research Group. Commodities may be in the fourth year of a 20-year “bear super-cycle,” according to an Aug. 14 research note. The analysts looked at commodity busts dating to the 18th century and found them driven by factors such as market momentum rather than fundamentals, LaForge said Monday in an interview.

Read more …

“More than 85% has been wiped off the stock so far this year..”

Glencore Shares Obliterated After Analysts Warn They Could Be Worthless (Tel.)

Glencore shares plunged 30pc in afternoon trading to a new record low after analysts warned the stock could be worthless if commodity prices remain at current levels. The shares went into freefall after analysts at Investec issued a note warning that heavily indebted companies such as the Swiss-based mining and trading giant could see almost all their equity value eliminated under current commodity prices, leaving nothing for shareholders. Almost £2bn was wiped off the value of Glencore as investors panicked and dumped the stock. It puts further pressure on Glencore, which has already been hit hard by the slump in commodity prices. Earlier this month the miner was forced to raise $2.5bn through a share placement, selling 1.3 billion new shares at 125p apiece.

It has also has announced plans in recent weeks to suspend its dividend and sell off assets as part of debt reduction measures to bolster its balance sheet. Hunter Hillcoat, an analyst at Investec, said: “Mining companies gorged themselves on cheap debt in a race to grow production following the Chinese stimulus that occurred in the wake of the great financial crisis. “The consequences are only now coming home to roost, as mines take a long time to build. We expect commodity markets to remain subdued for several years to come given that excess supply has coincided with a slowdown in demand.”

Even a move by chief executive Ivan Glasenberg to instil confidence in investors by buying 110 million shares has had little effect on sentiment. More than 85pc has been wiped off the stock so far this year and it is trading far below its listing price in May 2011 of 530p. The analysis from Investec looked at the entire debt pile of Glencore, while the company itself has always argued its stockpiles of metals can quickly be sold to rapidly reduce the debt levels. However, the broker warned that: “If major commodity prices remain at current levels, our analysis implies that, in the absence of substantial restructuring, nearly all the equity value of both Glencore and Anglo American could evaporate.”

Read more …

How about nothing?

Is Glencore Worth $26 Billion Or $98 Billion? Analysts Can’t Decide (Bloomberg)

Glencore, the commodity trader that lost about a third of its value Monday, is worth either $98 billion or $26 billion, depending on which analyst you ask. At Sanford C. Bernstein, price targets published by Paul Gait suggest the Baar, Switzerland-based resource company can rally sevenfold to 450 pence, the top end of predictions tracked by Bloomberg. At the bottom, Nomura Holdings’s 120-pence forecast implies a market value that is $72 billion lower. The dispersion shows the difficulty in valuing a company caught between China’s slowing economy and mounting concerns about its debt load.

In addition to diverging views on copper prices, questions about how to evaluate Glencore’s trading business, unique among big mining companies, are muddling the equation, according to Clarksons Platou Securities’ Jeremy Sussman. “Glencore does have a unique trading business that is different from their competitors, and it’s a much more difficult business to model than a straight ‘you mine it, you sell it, and take whatever margin’ one,” said Sussman, an analyst for Clarksons Platou in New York. He recommends holding the stock, which he estimates will rise to 190 pence. Analysts “with targets in the higher end are probably in the camp that think trading will return to levels where it had been in the past couple of years.”

Read more …

There goes your recovery. Not going to happen.

Global Stocks Set to Fall As $800 Billion Wipeout Boosts Yen, Bonds (Bloomberg)

Global equities looked set to extend Monday’s $800 billion rout as U.S. and European index futures followed Asian stocks south amid a selloff in commodity-trading firms that’s sent investors toward the safety of the yen and sovereign bonds, while sending the cost of insuring debt skyward. Glencore dropped by a record in Hong Kong, tracking losses in London and dragging shares of Noble Group, Mitsui and BHP Billiton lower. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index is heading for its biggest quarterly loss since the global financial crisis, with every major benchmark in the region retreating on Tuesday. The yen was stronger against all 16 major peers, while the cost of insuring Asian debt jumped to the highest since October 2013. Australian and German bonds tracked Treasury gains.

A 15-month rout in raw materials and energy prices is colliding with surging corporate borrowing costs to challenge the business models of previously high-flying commodity firms such as Glencore, whose London shares have dropped 73% since June. The yield on U.S. non-investment grade corporate notes has risen for 11 straight days amid slowing Chinese growth and doubts about whether the U.S. economy is strong enough to handle higher Federal Reserve interest rates. “Glencore’s problems have heightened already deep concerns about the financial health of commodity companies,” said Win Udomrachtavanich at One Asset Management. “The outlook of commodity prices will continue to be very weak because of the prolonged global economic slowdown. Investors just face an even tougher environment with this as sentiment was already weakened by the U.S. interest-rate outlook.”

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Demographics. Cute, but very one-sided.

Three Major Trends that Shaped Global Economy for Decades Set to Change (BBG)

Demographics can explain two-thirds of everything, University of Toronto professor David K. Foot famously quipped. And according to Charles Goodhart, professor at the London School of Economics and senior economic consultant to Morgan Stanley, demographics explain the vast majority of three major trends that have shaped the socioeconomic and political environments across advanced economies over the past few decades. Those three would be declining real interest rates, shrinking real wages, and increasing inequality. Goodhart & Co.’s contentions aren’t necessarily novel, with versions of these conclusions having been articulated by Toby Nangle, head of multi-asset management at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, and given a U.S. focus by Matt Busigin and Guillermo Roditi Dominguez, portfolio managers at New River Investments.

But Goodhart’s work is a particularly thorough and forceful manifesto. The conditions that fostered these three intertwined major developments are nearly obsolete, writes the former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and other analysts from Morgan Stanley, and this has profound implications for the framework of the global economy in the decades to come. Goodhart argues that since roughly 1970, the world has been in a demographic sweet spot characterized by a falling dependency ratio, or in plainer terms, a high share of working age people relative to the total population. At the same time, globalization provided multinational companies the ability to tap into this new pool of labor. This positive supply shock was a negative for established workers, forcing down the price of labor as capital flowed to these areas.

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“More worrying, from Shell’s point of view, is the prospect of a declining reserves base. In common with several of the other oil majors, it is pumping oil faster than it can book new reserves of bankable assets.”

Big Oil Faces Shrinking Prospects (FT)

One hundred and fifty miles from the Alaskan coast lies what must be the most expensive oil well ever drilled. Shell’s decision to abandon the Burger J prospect, along with its entire Arctic exploration campaign, marks an outcome that many at the oil major must have dreaded since it bought the leases in 2008. That is not because of the cost — enormous though it is — of setting up remote platforms and drilling into rock that lies beneath 140ft of water. Shell is reckoned to have spent about $7bn on the exploration effort; some estimates put the figure even higher. But its balance sheet is strong enough to absorb the loss. Nor will the public ill-will generated by years of exploration in pristine Arctic waters last for ever.

Indeed, for some senior executives at Shell, the prospect of success in the Arctic was more worrying than the possibility of failure. Building the permanent facilities needed for actual production would have been far more contentious than the limited (if sometimes hapless) exploration work. Among the people on record as opposing Arctic drilling is Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president. That is a battle that Shell will no longer have to fight. More worrying, from Shell’s point of view, is the prospect of a declining reserves base. In common with several of the other oil majors, it is pumping oil faster than it can book new reserves of bankable assets. This was the reason for pushing on in the Arctic against public criticism and deteriorating economic prospects for so long.

If, as some of the company’s executives believed, the Chukchi Sea blocks held about 35bn barrels of oil, Shell’s reserve base would have been secured and much effort would have been devoted to winning hearts and minds and pushing down costs. As it stands, the reserve base will continue to decline. Shell’s $70bn purchase of BG Group, if completed, will bring access to some identified resources — for instance off the coast of Brazil — but the cost of development is high and success is very uncertain. In the long run, this is little short of an existential challenge. Can the existing reserves base be replaced with resources that can be developed commercially? Or is a period of corporate decline inevitable? For the past three years Shell has failed to find sufficient resources to replace production despite heavy exploration expenditure. In 2014 it replaced only 26% of its oil and gas production. Over the past three years the figure is just 67%.

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How to spell desperation.

Why Shell Quit Drilling In Arctic After Spending $7 Billion On Single Well (BBG)

Royal Dutch Shell’s abrupt announcement today that it would cease all offshore drilling in the Arctic is surprising for several reasons. One is the unusual degree of confidence the company expressed as recently as mid-August that it had identified 15 billion barrels of oil beneath the well known as Burger J it’s now abandoning. What on earth happened? After spending $7 billion over several years to explore a single well this summer, Shell said in a statement that it “found indications of oil and gas … but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration.” This contrasts sharply with Shell officials’ statements as recently as July and August that based on 3D and 4D seismic analysis of core samples, its petroleum geologists were “very confident” drillers would find plentiful oil.

The geologists’ expectations were the main reason Shell spent all that money on a project that entailed much-higher-than-average operational risks and international environmental condemnation. Giving up has got to hurt at a company that prides itself on scientific and technical prowess. Shell said it would take an unspecified financial charge related to the folding of its Arctic operation, which carries a value of $3 billion on the company’s balance sheet. In late July, when Ann Pickard, Shell’s top executive for the Arctic, explained the economics of drilling in the Chukchi Sea, she readily acknowledged that if oil prices remained below $50 a barrel, the off-shore adventure would be for naught. At $70, Chukchi oil would be “competitive,” she told Bloomberg Businessweek, and at $110—a reasonable projection, according to the company’s economists—it would be a huge winner.

She was talking about prospective prices 15 years from now. Well, in recent weeks, Shell appears to have lost some of its bravado about where prices will be in 2030—according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have given up altogether on the Chukchi, where it continues to hold 275 Outer Continental lease blocks. Indeed, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said in the written statement that the company “continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.”

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Indeed: “None of this should come as much surprise..”

Saudi Arabia Withdraws Billions From Markets to Plug Budget Deficit (BBG)

Saudi Arabia has withdrawn as much as $70 billion from global asset managers as OPEC’s largest oil producer seeks to plug its budget deficit, according to financial services market intelligence company Insight Discovery. “Fund managers we’ve spoken to estimate SAMA has pulled out between $50 billion to $70 billion from global asset managers over the past six months,” Nigel Sillitoe, chief executive officer of the Dubai-based firm, said by telephone Monday. “Saudi Arabia is withdrawing funds because it’s trying to cut its widening deficit and it’s financing the war in Yemen,” he said, declining to name the fund managers. Saudi Arabia is seeking to halt the erosion of its finances after oil prices halved in the past year.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s reserves held in foreign securities have fallen about 10% from a peak of $737 billion in August 2014, to $661 billion in July, according to central bank data. The government is accelerating bond sales to help sustain spending.
“Foreign-exchange reserve depletion, rather than accumulation, is the new reality for Saudi Arabia,” Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, said in an e-mailed note Monday. “None of this should come as much surprise,” given the current-account deficit and risk of capital flight, he said. Saudi Arabia’s attempts to bolster its fiscal position contrast with smaller and less-populated nations in the Arabian peninsular such as Qatar.

The world’s richest nation on a per capita basis plans to channel about $35 billion of investment into the U.S. over the next five years as it seeks to move away from European deals. That’s on top of plans to set up a $10 billion investment venture with China’s Citic Group. With income from oil accounting for about 80% of revenue, Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit may widen to 20% of gross domestic product this year, according to the IMF. SAMA plans to raise between 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) and 100 billion riyals in bonds before the end of the year as it seeks to diversify its $752 billion economy, people familiar with the matter said in August.

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Theer are rumblings inside the House of Saud as we speak.

The Collapse Of Saudi Arabia Is Inevitable (Nafeez Ahmed)

On Tuesday 22 September, Middle East Eye broke the story of a senior member of the Saudi royal family calling for a “change” in leadership to fend off the kingdom’s collapse. In a letter circulated among Saudi princes, its author, a grandson of the late King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, blamed incumbent King Salman for creating unprecedented problems that endangered the monarchy’s continued survival. “We will not be able to stop the draining of money, the political adolescence, and the military risks unless we change the methods of decision making, even if that implied changing the king himself,” warned the letter. Whether or not an internal royal coup is round the corner – and informed observers think such a prospect “fanciful” – the letter’s analysis of Saudi Arabia’s dire predicament is startlingly accurate.

Like many countries in the region before it, Saudi Arabia is on the brink of a perfect storm of interconnected challenges that, if history is anything to judge by, will be the monarchy’s undoing well within the next decade. The biggest elephant in the room is oil. Saudi Arabia’s primary source of revenues, of course, is oil exports. For the last few years, the kingdom has pumped at record levels to sustain production, keeping oil prices low, undermining competing oil producers around the world who cannot afford to stay in business at such tiny profit margins, and paving the way for Saudi petro-dominance. But Saudi Arabia’s spare capacity to pump like crazy can only last so long. A new peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering anticipates that Saudi Arabia will experience a peak in its oil production, followed by inexorable decline, in 2028 – that’s just 13 years away.

This could well underestimate the extent of the problem. According to the Export Land Model (ELM) created by Texas petroleum geologist Jeffrey J Brown and Dr Sam Foucher, the key issue is not oil production alone, but the capacity to translate production into exports against rising rates of domestic consumption. Brown and Foucher showed that the inflection point to watch out for is when an oil producer can no longer increase the quantity of oil sales abroad because of the need to meet rising domestic energy demand. In 2008, they found that Saudi net oil exports had already begun declining as of 2006. They forecast that this trend would continue. They were right. From 2005 to 2015, Saudi net exports have experienced an annual decline rate of 1.4%, within the range predicted by Brown and Foucher.

A report by Citigroup recently predicted that net exports would plummet to zero in the next 15 years. This means that Saudi state revenues, 80% of which come from oil sales, are heading downwards, terminally. Saudi Arabia is the region’s biggest energy consumer, domestic demand having increased by 7.5% over the last five years – driven largely by population growth. The total Saudi population is estimated to grow from 29 million people today to 37 million by 2030. As demographic expansion absorbs Saudi Arabia’s energy production, the next decade is therefore likely to see the country’s oil exporting capacity ever more constrained.

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Add Deutsche to Merkel’s bailout list. VW, refugees etc etc

Deutsche Bank Predicted To Cut 10,000 Jobs (Telegraph)

Deutsche Bank’s new chief executive has to focus on rapid cost cuts if he wants to turn the struggling German giant around and win over investors, according to a top banking analyst’s assessment of the lender. JP Morgan’s Kian Abouhossein expects Deutsche’s John Cryan to announce plans to cut expenses at the bank by at least €2.5bn (£1.8bn) by 2018, chop 10,000 staff and cut back on 10,000 of the external consultants paid for by the group. Mr Cryan was given the top job in June following the departure of former co-chief executives Anshu Jain and Jurgen Fitschen, who quit after a three-year reign at the bank that was marred by the biggest ever Libor fine and a failure to impress shareholders. The bank’s stock shot up 8pc on the day it was announced that the co-chiefs were leaving, although the shares have since slide to 23.7 cents, which is 14pc below the price when Mr Cryan took over.

Mr Abouhossein believes the new boss has a difficult task ahead to prove his worth to shareholders, as the investor base has been let down repeatedly in the past by executives who have failed to turn the bank around. “In our view, DB [Deutsche Bank] management should focus on creating shareholder value by growing retained earnings and the key is to cut costs – a task which DB has failed to achieve in the past, and hence, on which we believe has little ‘goodwill’ with investors,” said the analyst in a research note to investors. He argued that “Deutsche Bank’s cost management has been poor historically”, resulting in a workforce of 84,000 full time staff plus an army of 30,000 external consultants, after excluding the group’s retail arm, Postbank.

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Globalization frees up everyone!

UK Steel Industry Buckles Under The Weight Of Cheap Chinese Product (Guardian)

Britain’s steel industry has been in meltdown for years: slowing demand and a flood of cheap Chinese steel into the market has hammered high-cost western producers. About half of the 1.6bn tonnes of steel made globally each year now comes from China. But an already perilous situation for British steelmakers has exacerbated in the past year as the Chinese economy slowed sharply, forcing Beijing to aggressively chase foreign cash for its wares. Tom Blenkinsop, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on steel and MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, summed up the dilemma: “China is pouring steel into the European and world market for any currency it can get.” Flooding the market with cheap Chinese product has forced the price of slab steel down by 45% in just 12 months, from $500 (£330) a tonne to about $280.

As a result, China’s steel exports have grown 53% in the last year. In Britain, imports of Chinese steel have ballooned from 2% of UK demand in 2011 to 8% this year. This influx of cheap steel is a threat to all but the fittest western players – bad news for SSI UK, which is one of the weakest. Britain’s second biggest steelmaker has confirmed plans to axe 1,700 jobs and mothball its Redcar plant. It threatens to bring the curtain down on 160 years of steelmaking in the Teesside region of north-east England. It is the latest grisly chapter for Britain’s once mighty steel industry. Steel produced on Teesside was used to build well-known UK structures including Birmingham’s Bullring and Canary Wharf in east London. However, the industry now employs about 20,000 workers, a 10th of the number employed in the sector during the 1970s.

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As if anyone cares apart from those who seek to turn green into green.

VW Stock to Be Removed From Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen AG’s stock will be removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability indexes after the automaker cheated on emissions tests. The Sept. 18 admission by VW that it systematically manipulated U.S. emissions tests prompted a review of its status, S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and RobecoSAM said in a statement Tuesday. The stock will be pulled after the close of trading Oct. 5 from the DJSI World, DJSI Europe and all other related indexes, according to the statement. S&P Dow Jones Indices and RobecoSAM manage the Dow Jones sustainability indexes, which track the performance of companies that rank the best in their industries in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria.

The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, introduced in 1999, was the first global such benchmark, according to the companies. Volkswagen’s stock has plunged 39% since Sept. 18, cutting the company’s market value by €27 billion, and prosecutors in Germany said Monday that they’ve started a criminal probe of the company that includes an investigation of former Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn.

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Jim’s dead on on Putin.

Tick Tick Tick (Jim Kunstler)

Did Charlie Rose look like a fucking idiot last night on 60-Minutes, or what, asking Vladimir Putin how he could know for sure that the US was behind the 2014 Ukraine coup against President Viktor Yanukovych? Maybe the idiots are the 60-Minutes producers and fluffers who are supposed to prep Charlie’s questions. Putin seemed startled and amused by this one on Ukraine: how could he know for sure? Well, gosh, because Ukraine was virtually a province of Russia in one form or another for hundreds of years, and Russia has a potent intelligence service (formerly called the KGB) that had assets and connections threaded through Ukrainian society like the rhizomorphs of the fungus Armillaria solidipes through a conifer forest. Gosh, Charlie, it’s like asking Obama whether the NSA might know what’s going on in Texas.

And so there is Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, having to spell it out for the American clodhopper super-journalist. “We have thousands of contacts with them. We know who and where, and when they met with someone, and who worked with those who ousted Yanukovych, how they were supported, how much they were paid, how they were trained, where, in which country, and who those instructors were. We know everything.” The only thing Vlad left out of course was the now-world-famous panicked yelp by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland crying, “Fuck the EU,” when events in Kiev started getting out of hand for US stage-managers. But he probably heard about that, too. Charlie then voice-overed the following statement: “For the record, the US has denied any involvement in the removal of the Ukrainian leader.”

Right. And your call is important to us. And your check is in the mail. And they hate us for our freedom. This bit on Ukraine was only a little more appalling than Charlie’s earlier segment on Syria. Was Putin trying to rescue the Assad government? Charlie asked, in the context of President Obama’s statement years ago that “Assad has to go.” Putin answered as if he were explaining something that should have been self-evident to a not-very-bright high school freshman: “To remove the legitimate government would create a situation which you can witness in other countries of the region, for instance Libya, where all the state institutions have disintegrated. We see a similar situation in Iraq. There’s no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the government structure.”

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And Putin’s dead on when it comes to distorted western power games.

Putin: West’s Rampant ‘Egotism’ To Blame For Syria, Ukraine, Isis (Guardian)

“Egotism” was a word Vladimir Putin used more than once as he gave a thinly veiled dressing down to the United States on Monday. His speech covered little new ground but sharpened his critique of the current world order and called on the world to come together to fight terrorism in the Middle East. Putin bemoaned “a world in which egotism reigns supreme” and railed against the arrogant hubris of the west. Putin has been giving much the same speech since he first laid out his grievances in February 2007: the “unipolar” world in which Washington dominates, he says, has led to a more dangerous world than that of the cold war, when an imperfect but useful balance stopped any one country from dominating.

This speech, his first to the United Nations general assembly since 2005, comes as Putin visits the US for the first time since the Ukraine crisis prompted acrimony, mistrust and sanctions. It was notable for its intonation. Putin adopted the tone of a wise elder, alternately angered by the bellicosity and saddened by the naivety of the west. “You want to ask the people who created this situation: ‘Do you at least understand what you’ve done?’ But I fear that the question would just hang in the air, because after all, they have not turned their back on policies based on self-certainty, a sense of superiority and impunity.” The chaos in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State? That was the fault of the west, who armed those it naively thought to be secular freedom fighters.

The military conflict in Ukraine (or, as Putin put it, the “armed coup organised from abroad followed by civil war”)? Also down to the meddling of the west. Washington, said Putin, was repeating the mistakes of the Soviet Union by trying to export its own model of development to other countries. It has forced post-Soviet countries to make a “false choice between east and west”, sowing chaos and prompting unrest, he said. It was a description of events that would not have gone down well with the Ukrainian delegation – though they were not there to hear it, having walked out before Putin took to the podium.

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Obama’s speech at the UN yesterday was an exercise in severe embarrassment to himself and the US.

Obama Deifies American Hegemony (Paul Craig Roberts)

On this 70th anniversary of the UN, I have spent much of the day listening to the various speeches. The most truthful ones were delivered by the presidents of Russia and Iran. The presidents of Russia and Iran refused to accept the Washington-serving reality or Matrix that Obama sought to impose on the world with his speech. Both presidents forcefully challenged the false reality that the propagandistic Western media and its government masters seek to create in order to continue to exercise their hegemony over everyone else. What about China? China’s president left the fireworks to Putin, but set the stage for Putin by rejecting US claims of hegemony: “The future of the world must be shaped by all countries.” China’s president spoke in veiled terms against Western neoliberal economics and declared that “China’s vote in the UN will always belong to the developing countries.”

In the masterly way of Chinese diplomacy, the President of China spoke in a non-threatening, non-provocative way. His criticisms of the West were indirect. He gave a short speech and was much applauded. Obama followed second to the President of Brazil, who used her opportunity for PR for Brazil, at least for the most part. Obama gave us the traditional Washington spiel: “The US has worked to prevent a third world war, to promote democracy by overthrowing governments with violence, to respect the dignity and equal worth of all peoples except for the Russians in Ukraine and Muslims in Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.” Obama declared Washington’s purpose to “prevent bigger countries from imposing their will on smaller ones.”

Imposing its will is what Washington has been doing throughout its history and especially under Obama’s regime. All those refugees overrunning Europe? Washington has nothing to do with it. The refugees are the fault of Assad who drops bombs on people. When Assad drops bombs it oppresses people, but when Washington drops bombs it liberates them. Obama justified Washington’s violence as liberation from “dictators,” such as Assad in Syria, who garnered 80% of the vote in the last election, a vote of confidence that Obama never received and never will. Obama said that it wasn’t Washington that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty with a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. It was Russia, whose president invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimera and is trying to annex the other breakaway republics, Russian populations who object to the Russophobia of Washington’s puppet government in Ukraine.

[..] Did the UN General Assembly buy it? Probably the only one present sufficiently stupid to buy it was the UK’s Cameron. The rest of Washington’s vassals went through the motion of supporting Obama’s propaganda, but there was no conviction in their voices. Vladimir Putin would have none of it. He said that the UN works, if it works, by compromise and not by the imposition of one country’s will, but after the end of the Cold War “a single center of domination arose in the world”—the “exceptional” country. This country, Putin said, seeks its own course which is not one of compromise or attention to the interests of others. In response to Obama’s speech that Russia and its ally Syria wear the black hats, Putin said in reference to Obama’s speech that “one should not manipulate words.” Putin said that Washington repeats its mistakes by relying on violence which results in poverty and social destruction. He asked Obama: “Do you realize what you have done?”

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UBS to get lenient treatment, squeal on all others in a LIBOR repeat.

Barclays, HSBC Named In Swiss Precious Metals Price Fixing Investigation (TiM)

UK banks Barclays and HSBC are among seven financial institutions being investigated by Swiss officials amid allegations of price fixing in the precious metals market. According to the Bern-based Weko commission, the probe will look at possible collusion of bid/ask spreads in the metals market for gold, silver, platinum and palladium. Also under investigation are two Swiss banks, UBS and Julius Baer, as well as three foreign banks – Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and Mitsui. Weko said in a statement: ‘We have indications that possible prohibited competitive agreements in the trading of precious metals were agreed among the banks mentioned.’ Weko said it was looking at what effects any possible collusion would have had on the Swiss market.

Findings are expected to be published by 2017 and banks found to have flouted Switzerland’s competition laws could be fined as much as 10% of revenue. Weko’s inquiry follows similar investigations by the European Commission and the US Department of Justice and is the latest in a long line of probes into manipulation of the precious metals and foreign exchange markets. Last year, Switzerland’s financial regulator FINMA said it had found a ‘clear attempt’ to manipulate precious metals price benchmarks during a cross-market investigation into trading at UBS. HSBC said this year that the US Department of Justice requested documents from the bank in November in relation to a criminal antitrust investigation in to precious metals.

In January, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission also issued a subpoena to the bank, seeking documents relating to its precious metals trading operations. And in April, the European Commission issued a request for information related to HSBC’s precious metals operations and the bank is currently co-operating with authorities. The UK’s FCA has already taken action and last year fined Barclays £26million after an options trader was found to have manipulated the London gold fix.

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“I write “debated”, but this is too generous to some of those who have passed judgment on the work.”

It’s Time To Unpick Corporate Welfare (Kevin Farnsworth)

I am the person behind the second most-debated figure of the Labour leadership race – the £93bn corporate welfare bill. I write “debated”, but this is too generous to some of those who have passed judgment on the work. Once Jeremy Corbyn had begun campaigning on the basis that some of the £93bn could be saved, proper analysis and discussion gave way to myth making and conjecture, and I didn’t recognise many of the arguments that were attributed to me. Despite being mentioned at some point by just about all of the media outlets, the only journalist who contacted me before writing about my research was Aditya Chakrabortty, who wrote the original front-page splash for the Guardian based on my report.

I’m hardly surprised then, if disappointed, that publications as venerable as the Economist have got basic things confused in their rush to write off Corbyn and my research. The report was published in July by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute and builds on years of researching and writing about public and social policies. Each category of corporate welfare I identify – made up of the various forms of state provision that service the needs of businesses – builds on the work of British and international academics, journalists, governmental organisations, politicians, policymakers and think tanks. Businesses could not do business without huge amounts of government support.

They require legal protections, a state-backed currency, the right frameworks to hire and fire and essential infrastructure. They depend on financial backing to exploit innovations and invest. And public policies operate to socialise various corporate risks. Employers need educated and healthy workers. Unemployment benefits and pensions increase labour market flexibility, making it easier to hire, fire and retire employees. The annual Global Competitiveness Report clearly illustrates the importance of comprehensive state provision to economic growth, productivity, profitability and national competitiveness. And it is published by the World Economic Forum – the organisation that runs the Davos gathering, so hardly a mouthpiece of the left.

The £93bn estimate, in fact, excludes most of the above. It is made up only of more direct benefits and services. It doesn’t include the indirect benefits that accrue to businesses from the social welfare system and the legacy costs linked to the bank bailouts. It doesn’t even include the cost of in-work tax credits, which have been labelled corporate welfare by others, including Conservative MPs. The more direct categories of corporate welfare identified in my report include official estimates of the cost of subsidies and grants to companies, worth about £15bn a year. Beyond this, the report identifies tax benefits as a major component of corporate welfare, at £44bn. Not surprisingly, this has proved to be the most controversial category of all.

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“You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors … You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather..”

Jamaica Seeks Billions Of Pounds In British Reparations For Slavery (Guardian)

David Cameron is facing calls for Britain to pay billions of pounds in reparations for slavery ahead of his first official visit to Jamaica on Tuesday. Downing Street said the prime minister does not believe reparations or apologies for slavery are the right approach, but the issue is set to overshadow his trade trip to the island, where he will address the Jamaican parliament. Ahead of his trip, Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission, has led calls for Cameron to start talks on making amends for slavery and referenced the prime minister’s ancestral links to the trade in the 1700s through his cousin six times removed, General Sir James Duff.

In an open letter in the Jamaica Observer, the academic wrote: “You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors … You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and the bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather. “We ask not for handouts or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal. The continuing suffering of our people, Sir, is as much your nation’s duty to alleviate as it is ours to resolve in steadfast acts of self-responsibility.”

Professor Verene Shepherd, chair of the National Commission on Reparation, told the Jamaica Gleaner that nothing short of an unambiguous apology from Cameron would do, while a Jamaican MP, Mike Henry, called on fellow parliamentarians to turn their back on Cameron if reparations are not on the agenda, noting that the Jamaican parliament has approved a motion for the country to seek reparation from Britain. “If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in parliament,” he told the newspaper.

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New Zealand’s New Ocean Sanctuary One Of World’s Largest Protected Areas (Gua.)

New Zealand will create one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, spanning an area of 620,000 sq km. The Kermadec ocean sanctuary will be one of the world’s most significant fully protected ecosystems, the prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, told the UN general assembly in New York. The sanctuary is in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand, and expands a marine reserve that surrounds a clutch of small islands. The area is considered crucial in terms of biodiversity, featuring nearly 35 species of whales and dolphins, 150 types of fish and three of the world’s seven sea turtle species. It is also geologically significant, encompassing the world’s longest chain of submerged volcanoes and the second deepest ocean trench, plunging to 10km underwater – deeper than Mount Everest is tall.

The scale of the sanctuary will dwarf any previous New Zealand protected area, spanning twice the size of the country’s landmass. It will cover 15% of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone. Commercial and recreational fishing will be completely banned, as will oil, gas and mineral prospecting, exploration and mining. Key’s government aims to pass legislation establishing the sanctuary next year. “The Kermadecs is a world-class, unspoiled marine environment and New Zealand is proud to protect it for future generations,” Key said.

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Every single day our shame grows bigger.

More Than 1,100 Migrants Rescued Off Libyan Coast On Monday (DW)

The Italian coast guard coordinated the rescue of 1,151 migrants in nearly a dozen separate operations on Monday off the coast of Libya, it said. In one instance, a coast guard ship picked up more than 440 people from four inflatable boats. Separately, the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said one of its boats had rescued 373 people, tweeting a picture of a distressed 6-year-old child. Libya is one of the major crossing points for African migrants trying to get to Europe. The European Union is trying to combat people smuggling and will go after suspected traffickers in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea as of next week. Beginning October 7, the next phase of what’s known as Operation Sophia will allow naval forces belonging to EU member states to board, search and seize suspicious vessels. The operation has so far centered on saving those drifting on the high seas, but will now include directly targeting trafficking operations.

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 September 23, 2015  Posted by at 2:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma 1936

At the moment I start writing this, leaders of European nations are in a meeting in which they talk about refugees that, though it was announced over a week ago, was nevertheless labeled an ’emergency’ meeting. The only thing that truly tells you is that Europe still refuses to see the refugee situation as an emergency. And that’s not just semantics.

Of course there’ll be all sorts of bickering about the difference between migrants and refugees, and tons of words about how “we” should separate the two, and send people back, and strengthen European borders, and fight the human smugglers. None of which addresses reality, or at least at best a tiny sliver of it.

“Smugglers” are not the problem, it’s the people they “smuggle” that are. Or perhaps we should turn that around and admit that in fact it’s the European leaders who are the problem. It’s they who lack any courage or vision, or even a basic understanding of what is going on.

Angela Merkel has gotten a lot of accolades when she opened Germany’s borders to Syrians, even though that only lasted a few days. But people seem to forget that she is Europe’s most powerful politician, and that makes her responsible for a lot of the drowned children who lose their lives on a daily basis in a small stretch of the Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.

Merkel should have acted much faster. She’s just as culpable as all the other jokers in Brussels and various EU capitals. They all were, and still are, hoping this issue would go away by itself. Instead, the issue has only just started, and the whole continent is woefully unprepared to this day.

German paper Die Welt ran a story this weekend (in German) that detailed how Merkel and her government were warned in Q1 by the German federal police (Bundespolizei) that a million refugees would be coming to Germany in 2015. And did nothing. The paper didn’t provide a precise date, but Q1 ended close to 6 months ago, so we know Merkel et al could have acted on this information -and prepared- at least half a year ago.

Have they? Given the chaos that developed within a few days of allowing refugees to enter the country, our money’s on a resounding NO. So those portraits we’ve seen with Angela dressed up as Mother Teresa can now be filed away as ludicrous.

The outcome of today’s meeting is very easy to predict. There will be promises of millions of dollars, and of saddling Greece and Italy with huge camps to house refugees in, far away from whoever is either too comfortable or too right-wing to deal with Europe’s new reality.

There will be nothing in writing that comes even close to what is needed, neither financially nor in practical terms. All politicians will feel free to pander to, and hide behind, their bigoted populations.

These talks should have taken place at least half a year ago. That might have saved children’s – and adults’- lives both in the meantime and in the future. That nothing of true value happened between the moment Merkel got her warning and last week’s announcement of this week’s “emergency” meeting not only tells you all you need to know about Merkel and her peers, it also is certain to both have made matters worse and to continue doing so going forward.

There is precious little to be expected from Europe’s leadership, because there is so little of it. They all like the power but skirt the responsibility. The EU apparently seeks to charge 14 nations with 19 cases of violating EU asylum treaties, but countries like Croatia and Hungary were so unprepared for what happened to them, this could only have led to panic and fences and police dogs. It’s a miracle nobody shot a whole bunch of refugees. Yet.

It could all have been prevented if Merkel had decided not to shelve that warning from her federal police force, and instead had called a high level summit then and there. But she was too busy whipping Greece into submission, and hoping, as all other did, that one morning it would all prove to have been a bad dream.

One would suspect that French secret services also had information on what was to come, but François Hollande is a dunce who spends his time counting votes and reading polls. David Cameron would probably prefer to drown and/or shoot that ‘swarm’, and the other heads of state either don’t count for much in terms of population numbers or elect to keep their mouths shut lest they risk the next election.

If Europe’s leaders don’t tackle the issue now, and in an effective way, we risk, with a likelihood bordering on certainty, much worse than we have seen so far. The refugees will not stop coming to Europe. But with autumn now on the doorstep, their journeys will become much more perilous, and deadly.

Europe is set to change, and in very sweeping ways. That cannot be altered. What can be done is to treat refugees like they are human beings, whose lives matter the way German and French lives matter.

Moreover, if Merkel had called that EU meeting in early spring, she would rapidly have concluded that it was not enough. That this is not a European problem. Very few of the refugees, after all, are European. It is, therefore, a global problem. And there is a political body to deal with those, the UN. Merkel would have called a UN meeting long ago if only she had called that EU meeting first.

Why the UN itself hasn’t even opened its mouth, other than to chide Europe, is a mystery. It’s on a fast track to becoming redundant.

The US has announced it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees – who may take two years to be processed. For perspective: in the space of just three hours this morning, 2,500 arrived on the island of Lesbos alone. The US cannot deny its share of the blame for causing the crisis. It can still, however, start acting in a humane fashion.

Not like Hollande and Cameron whose main target today is increased bombing of the very places the refugees are fleeing from, not providing them with asylum away from those places.

The refugee question should be the top priority in the talks Obama has with the Pope in America in the next few days. As it should be in the meeting(s) with Chinese president Xi Jinping, who’s also in the country. But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen. It’ll be a sidenote at best.

Merkel has a narrow window to right her wrongs, and it’s closing fast. If she doesn’t act now, we’ll see Europe’s lack of humanity and abundance of disgrace bared even more, and increasingly so.

There will be blood.