Mar 012019
 


Salvador Dali Eggs on the plate (without the plate) 1932

 

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)
The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)
China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)
China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)
Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)
CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)
Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)
Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)
The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)
Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)
Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)
The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

 

 

Well, they delivered something. But that’s a much bigger topic than just tax cuts, that’s Fed policy.

Lance is trying to utterly confuse us with an absolute overkill of graphs all in one place. But the gist is clear.

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)

I received a lot of push back on my views when the “mainstream” analysis was the tax cuts would jump start economic growth. Of course, with 2017’s Q1 economic growth coming in at a meager 0.7% annualized, it would certainly seem to be needed. But as I questioned then: “Do tax reductions lead to higher economic growth, employment and incomes over the long-term as promised?” Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, VP Mike Pence argued at the time he was confident that eventually, the deficit would decline as it would be overcome by surging economic “growth” thanks to the tax cuts it will fund. [..] As shown in the chart below, changes to tax rates have a very limited impact on economic growth over the longer term.

Reagan’s tax cuts were effective because they were “timely” due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today. “Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras. My colleague, Michael Lebowitz, recently penned the following on this exact issue.

‘Many investors are suddenly comparing Trump’s economic policy proposals to those of Ronald Reagan. For those that deem that bullish, we remind you that the economic environment and potential growth of 1982 was vastly different than it is today.” [..] The differences with today’s economic and market environment could not be starker. The tailwinds provided by initial deregulation, consumer leveraging, declining interest rates, and inflation provided huge tailwinds for corporate profitability growth. The chart below shows the ramp up in government debt since Reagan versus subsequent economic growth and tax rates.

While wages did rise marginally over the last, due more to tightness in the labor market rather than tax cuts, corporations failed to share the wealth. In fact, the ratio of profits to workers wages have materially worsened since the enactment of tax cuts.

Read more …

Going to the mattresses. To be honest, it’s always been clear that trying turn the US into a cashless society is the stuff for revolution.

The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)

The stock market is coming off its best January in years, the economy appears to be holding up well, interest rates are still low, cryptos and mobile payments continue to gain traction — it’s not exactly a cash-friendly climate at the moment. Then what’s going on with the $100 bill? A decade ago, $20 and $1 bills were both far more prevalent than the Benjamins. As you can see by this chart from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, the currency hierarchy has shifted dramatically since then.

In 2017, the $100 bill took the crown as the most popular U.S. bill, doubling since 2007, which has helped drive the sharp rise in currency and other liquid assets as a share of GDP:

But why? Deutsche Bank’s Slok mulled a few possibilities. “It could be driven by a global fear of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan,” he said. “Or it could be a savings vehicle for U.S. households worried about another financial crisis, or it could be driven by more demand from the global underground economy.” Of course, we know it’s not because more people are using the $100 bill as pocket money. Smaller bills are still far more popular in that regard. Just look at the average lifespan of each bill:

So what’s that telling us? Mattresses everywhere are getting increasingly stuffed with $100 bills instead of being put to work in the stock market or elsewhere. That speaks to the frame of mind of the Average Joe as much as anything else.

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“Lighthizer said after the testimony [..] that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods.”

China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday that trade talks between the U.S. and China are going great, noting the two countries are making “fantastic” progress in meetings last week. “Last week was fantastic,” Kudlow told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “We’re making great headway on nontariff barriers and tariffs regarding various commodities such as soybeans and energy and beef. We have mechanisms with regard to enforcement, which is -I think- unparalleled.” “The progress has been terrific,” Kudlow added. But “we have to hear from the Chinese side. We have to hear from President Xi Jinping, of course. I think we’re headed for a remarkable, historic deal.” U.S. equities briefly pared some of their losses following Kudlow’s remarks.

Kudlow also said China has expressed willingness to make key structural changes to prevent intellectual property theft, a highly contested issue in these negotiations. Kudlow’s comments follow testimony from Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that China needed to do more than just buy more U.S. goods for the two countries to strike a permanent trade deal. But Lighthizer said after the testimony, according to The Wall Street Journal, that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods. This is a clear signal that a trade deal could come in the near future. “Lighthizer has worked miracles on this Chinese deal,” Kudlow said. “We’ve never come this far on China trade.”

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News item by news item my long held ideas of the importance of the shadow banks for China’s official growth numbers are being confirmed.

China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)

[..] a team of S&P credit analysts warned in an October report that China’s debt burden might be much larger than previously believed. Against a backdrop of soaring corporate defaults, the team from S&P warned that investors could safely tack on another ~40% of debt/GDP to China’s total (with even more likely hidden from view) after a careful analysis of a new source of shadow debt being tapped by local governments to further their development plans. These Local Government Financing Vehicles, or LGFVs, represented “an iceberg with titanic credit risks” as local officials had increasingly turned to these sources of shadow financing to finance development projects while bureaucrats in Beijing struggled to turn off the credit taps.

Now that Beijing has reckoned with the idea that now is not the time to try and contain the country’s massive debt load, even as the percentage of bad debt balloons, it increasingly appears that these measures might be too little, too late for investors who financed these LGFVs, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in a report about how a local government in China’s impoverished South had caused a stir by stiffing its creditors after racking up a debt pile – largely through these LGFVs – equivalent to roughly three times the government’s annual revenue.

While putting a number on the amount of shadow debt in the system is difficult due to the opacity of the Chinese financial system, one economist at a domestic think tank estimated that off-balance-sheet borrowings by local governments could be as much as 23.6 trillion yuan, as of the end of 2017, meaning that total is likely higher today, as governments have been forced to tap these vehicles during Beijing’s deleveraging campaign. The proliferation of private funds and other money-raising channels for local governments makes it difficult for economists and for Beijing to track the total amount of borrowings. Official figures pegged the sum of local and central government debt at 29.95 trillion yuan ($4.457 trillion) in 2017, roughly 36% of the economy.

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South Korea “exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.”

Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)

Weak demand in China and growing global fallout from the Sino-U.S. trade war took a heavier toll on factories across much of Asia in February, business surveys showed on Friday. Activity in China’s vast manufacturing sector contracted for the third straight month, pointing to more strains on its major trading partners and raising questions over whether Beijing needs to do more to stabilize the slowing economy. In many cases, business conditions were the worst Asian companies have faced since 2016, with demand weakening not only in China but globally. Japan’s factory gauge fell at the sharpest pace in 2-1/2 years as slumping orders prompted plants to cut production, while separate data from South Korea showed its exports plummeted.

“The weakening trend in Chinese import demand weighed heavily on exports across the rest of the region,” said Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics. [..] China watchers are looking to Premier Li Keqiang’s work report to the annual meeting of parliament next week for clues on further stimulus plans. Li will set out the government’s economic targets for the year on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters Beijing will set a 2019 growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent, down from around 6.5 percent in 2018. China reported economic growth cooled to 6.6 percent last year, its weakest pace since 1990, but some analysts believe actual activity is much weaker.

[..] In Japan, the Markit/Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell into contraction territory as both domestic and foreign orders slumped. “We need to be mindful that uncertainty over the global economic outlook is heightening,” Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said on Thursday, after data showed the biggest drop in industrial output in a year in January. Readings from South Korea — the first economy in Asia to report trade data each month – were equally grim. Its exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.

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“Once deeply resistant to Trump, CPAC is now like a religious gathering full of Trump idolatry. “Make America Great Again” (Maga) hats and sweaters are much in evidence..”

CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)

“The favourite in the Democratic race is Bernie Sanders because the way he makes socialism sound,” said Brandon Morris, 32, wearing a Maga cap. “Most citizens don’t know how the system works; once I tell them, they see it will fall apart.” Morris, a nurse from Gainesville, Florida, who is African American, added: “I’m against socialism because I see it as a form of slavery. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris talk about Medicare for All and that will kill doctors’ incentives to work hard. Look at Cuba.” Like Trump, Sanders ran in 2016 warning of a rigged system and the downsides of global trade and, like Trump, he thrived in midwestern states against Hillary Clinton. Less than a week after declaring his 2020 candidacy, Sanders had already raised $10m, well ahead of any of his rivals.

Wearing a Maga cap and stars and stripes jacket, Sam Lee, the communications director of conservative group Grand Opportunity USA, said: “I think Sanders has the ability to generate a base. He’s genuine. It’s the same thing as Trump: they’re very upfront about who they are. But Trump will win, 100%.” Lee rejected candidates such as Harris and Elizabeth Warren as “background noise”, adding: “Every election has people who aren’t going to make it and I don’t think they could.” Fran Wendelboe, the treasurer of the conservative organisation the 603 Alliance in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, said: “Among the young voters, Bernie Sanders still seems popular. I think he still has great traction. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem to be getting much – she should get out of the race. But they’re all trampling themselves to get as far to the left as they can. Nobody’s going to beat Trump.”

Mike Wertz, a self-employed property appraiser, said: “It’s hard to run against Santa Claus: Bernie Sanders is Santa Claus because he says he would give everything away free. But Trump is still popular.” Wertz, 52, from Stevensville, Maryland, dismissed the prospects of Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is yet to declare whether he will mount a third bid for the White House. “Biden would get exposed. He stumbles around and says silly things. Trump would bring that out of him; he wouldn’t let Biden get away with it. If Biden said something stupid, Trump would tweet it in about 30 seconds.”

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Just to show you my views are not alone. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté.

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.

Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)

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Cohen and the Democrats lost it all when he said at the start he never wanted a White House job.

Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)

Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that Michael Cohen lied about almost everything during his explosive congressional testimony the day before – but told the truth by saying he had no evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Speaking in Vietnam after meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, Trump said Cohen, his former legal fixer, lied “95% instead of 100%” of the time during a hearing of the House oversight committee on Wednesday. “I was impressed,” said Trump. Trump falsely claimed several times that Cohen had testified that there had been “no collusion”. In fact, Cohen said he did not know any “direct evidence” of collusion. “But I have my suspicions,” he told members of Congress.

Trump said of Cohen: “He lied a lot, but it was very interesting, because he didn’t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t just lie about that too, like he lied about everything else.’” Cohen delivered a scathing account of his 10 years as Trump’s enforcer, calling the president a racist conman, implicating him in a series of felonies and estimating that Cohen had threatened 500 people on Trump’s behalf. He said Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to a pornographic actor, Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with the elder Trump. Federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate.

Cohen confirmed that Trump was under federal investigation for undisclosed crimes and warned that Trump may try to cling to power even if his re-election campaign fails next year. He also alleged that Trump knew in advance of plans by WikiLeaks to publish Democratic party emails, which US authorities say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives, and that Donald Jr was to meet with Russians at Trump Tower. But, Cohen said, he knew of no direct evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election campaign. US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian operation was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances.

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Trudeau’s riding has lots of SNC-Lavalin jobs. But he may have gone too far.

The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)

What is going on in Canada? Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing the biggest political scandal of his administration. The affair centres around allegations that his former attorney general, Jody-Wilson Raybould, was improperly pressured by some of his closest advisers to prevent the prosecution of a large Canadian engineering firm over accusations of fraud and bribery. Thus far, the scandal has been politically costly; Gerald Butts, a longtime friend of Trudeau’s, and his closest adviser, resigned two weeks ago. Wilson-Raybould has resigned, too. A handful of polls are showing the scandal is politically unpopular for the governing Liberals – which is worrying for them, given there is a federal election in October.

What is the company accused of? SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal, is accused of paying C$48m worth of bribes in Libya to Muammar Gaddafi’s family, in order to secure lucrative contracts. The bribery is alleged to have occurred between 2001 and 2011. If found guilty, the company would be barred from bidding on federal projects for a decade. SNC-Lavalin employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Quebec. Company executives have been lobbying fora “deferred prosecution agreement”, which in effect allows them to pay a fine in lieu of a criminal prosecution, with no ban on bidding for contracts. But federal prosectors have decided to pursue a trial.

This is where the scandal is centred: the prime minister and his aides, along with the finance minister, have been accused of pressing Wilson-Raybould to intervene and asking prosecutors to accept a deferred prosecution agreement. Wilson-Raybould declined to override the judgment of her top legal team.

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Nobody is willing to say yes to intervention.

Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)

Venezuela’s opposition has formally urged the international community to keep all options on the table, after deadly clashes broke out in border towns over the weekend. On Saturday, at least three people were killed and hundreds more were left injured, Reuters reported, as opposition activists tried to defy a government ban to bring food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements into the country. It comes at a time when the South American nation is in the midst of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. President Donald Trump has consistently refused to rule out the prospect of military intervention in Venezuela and the country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, has called on the international community to “keep all options open.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted over the weekend that Washington would “take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” To be sure, the prospect of U.S.-led military intervention is clearly being signaled as a form of “action.” “I think large-scale U.S. military intervention remains unlikely, though the chances are increasing — that’s worrying,” Tom Long, assistant professor in the department of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick, told CNBC via email. “More than the deadly clashes, what I worry could push towards military action is the lack of options remaining for the opposition and its international allies to increase pressure,” he added.

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We can only guess as to why Chelsea picks the NYT to divulge details about this. We don’t have to guess as to why the NYT picks it up; it wants to repeat this one again:

” In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.”

And Chelsea now helps them do it.

Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted in 2013 of leaking archives of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, revealed in an interview on Thursday that she had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury — and vowed to fight it. The subpoena does not say what prosecutors intend to ask her about. But it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia and comes after prosecutors inadvertently disclosed in November that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged under seal in that district. Ms. Manning, who provided a copy of the subpoena to The New York Times, said that her legal team would file a motion on Friday morning to quash it, arguing that it would violate her constitutional rights to force her to appear.

She declined to say whether she would cooperate if that failed. “Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.” [..] Ms. Manning said that her lawyers have been talking about the subpoena with an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District, Gordon D. Kromberg. After an inadvertent court filing revealed that Mr. Assange has been charged under seal, it was Mr. Kromberg who successfully argued before a judge that any such charges remain a secret and should not be unsealed. Moreover, she said, Mr. Kromberg told her lawyers in vague terms that prosecutors wanted to talk to her about her past statements.

During her court-martial, Ms. Manning delivered a lengthy statement about how she came to copy archives of secret documents and send them to WikiLeaks, including her online interactions with someone who was likely Mr. Assange. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that the government is continuing to pursue criminal charges against Julian Assange, apparently for his role in uncovering and providing the public truthful information about matters of great public interest,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. [..] In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.

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“Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century.”

The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

In the suburbs south of Beijing, what could one day be the world’s busiest airport is rapidly taking shape. Nicknamed “the starfish” due to the striking design by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Beijing Daxing international airport is set to open in October, and could eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year. While the 52,000-tonne steel exoskeleton covering the airport’s six concourses immediately catches the eye, what lies beneath is familiar to many Chinese mega-projects: concrete – 1.6m cubic metres of it. Located 67km south of the capital, the airport sprawls across 780,000 sq metres – about a third of the size of Edinburgh. It aims to process 72 million passengers a year, and will have four runways by 2025, but there is a longer-term vision for additional runways and talk of 200 million passengers. Beijing’s existing international airport in the north-east, which will stay open, already handles around 96 million passengers a year.


Photograph: Sipa Asia/Rex/Shutterstock

The new airport is just the latest chapter in the story of how China became the concrete superpower of the 21st century. Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century. Even after a dip in recent years, China uses almost half the world’s concrete. The construction sector – roads, bridges, railways, urban development and other concrete-and-steel projects – accounted for one-third of the expansion of the Chinese economy in 2017. China is already home to the largest concrete structure in the world – the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River. Sometimes touted as China’s “new Great Wall”, the dam includes 27.2m cubic metres of concrete and its hydroelectric power station is the world’s largest power station in terms of capacity.

Like all of China’s concrete achievements, the Three Gorges Dam has been mired in controversy. Around 1.4 million people were displaced by the project, and there were complaints that the rehousing settlements were inadequate or that compensation money disappeared into local government coffers. More than 100 workers died in the construction process, and archaeological and cultural sites were flooded. None of this prevented Li Yongan, general manager of the Three Gorges Corporation, from declaring in 2006 that the dam was “the grandest project the Chinese people have undertaken in thousands of years”.

Li only had to wait seven more years to be outdone by yet another Chinese feat of concrete. In 2013, the eastern route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project opened, connecting the Grand Canal in China’s east with the capital in the north. The project is a multi-decade plan to divert the water from China’s lush south to its arid north, where water scarcity is an acute problem. The waterway has already cost around $80bn (£61bn), making it the most expensive infrastructure project in the world. In the first phase alone, it has used more than double the amount of concrete in the Three Gorges Dam: 65m cubic metres. The project ultimately aims to transport fresh water a distance of more than 4,300km.

Read more …

Feb 242019
 



René Magritte The victory 1939

 

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)
China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)
Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)
Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)
“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)
France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)
Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)
The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)
Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)
‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)
UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

 

 

The Venezuela coverage is too obvious and predictable, I’ll leave it alone today.

Who can we blame? Certainly not ourselves.

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)

Prices for some prestigious properties have fallen by more than 40 per cent as vendors rein in their expectations in response to falling demand, tighter credit and lower prices. Buyers’ agents, who represent property buyers, are blaming the reductions on the “irresponsible” and unrealistically high prices set by realtors desperate to win business from sellers. “These price cuts are a result of bad agency practice,” said David Morrell, director of buyers’ agency Morrell Koren. “Professionals should set realistic values that reflect where the market sits.” Mr Morrell said such over-valuations were widespread and were partly driven by real estate agents trying to generate more revenue through advertising campaigns paid for by the vendor, which then generate commissions and other incentives from advertising companies.

The higher the forecast price of a property the more is likely to be spent on advertising. He said elite-end sales in the $10 million to $20 million range remain robust with the biggest issue being lack of new stock. “A lot of agents are losing money. The kickbacks help keep their businesses running,” he said. Properties in top-end suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne have been heavily discounted during sale negotiations or had their advertised prices cut as clearance rates and market pessimism grows. A property in East Melbourne, about 3 kilometres from the central business district, is selling for more than 40 per cent less that what it was listed in the middle of last year. The price for the single-storey Victorian house with two bedrooms and four living spaces is around $3.65 million to about $3.9 million, compared with between $5.75 and $6 million six months ago.

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I must have said it 1000 times: China has relied on shadow banks so much for its ‘growth’, that now it has no more control over them.

China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)

Last week many traders were dumbfounded when, just as speculation was building that China was preparing to unleash a massive credit expansion a la Shanghai Accord, Beijing confirmed that it had indeed decided to massively reflate its (and the global) economy, in what may soon be dubbed the Shanghai Accord 2.0, when the PBOC announced it had flooded the economy with a gargantuan 4.64 trillion yuan in various new forms of debt which comprise China’s Total Social Financing in January, including notably, the “shadow” credit which Beijing had been aggressively cracking down on: an aggressive credit expansion which many took as a tacit confirmation that China was losing the fight with deleveraging.

As the following chart from BofA’s Michael Hartnett shows, which puts China’s latest credit expansion in historical context, January’s debt tsunami was vastly greater than China’s credit expansion during both the global financial crisis and the Shanghai Accord.

And while analysts, economists and markets cheered this unprecedented credit generosity by Beijing, [..] it appears that January’s gargantuan credit boost may end up being a one off event, because while China’s credit injection amounting to over 5% of GDP was welcome by global market, it also resulted in a rare public spat between Chinese premier Li Keqiang and the central bank, after he expressed concern about record credit expansion in January, a result of monetary stimulus intended to support flagging economic growth.

[..] the Prime Minister warned of risks from January’s credit deluge: “The increase in total social financing appears rather large on the surface, but if one analyses in detail, a large part of this rise was bill financing and short-term lending. Not only does this potentially create ‘arbitrage’ and ‘empty cycling’ of funds, but it may also bring new potential risks.” He is referring to what we said last Friday, when we noted that a big part of the TSF surge was the result of a fresh shadow banking expansion. The chart below indicates that Beijing may have thrown in the towel on its crackdown in Shadow Banking, which after contracting for almost all of 2018, not only rose for the first time in 11 months, but soared the most in nearly two years as Chinese regulators now appear focused on providing credit using the very same channels they spent the past two years desperately trying to block.

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As all the smart money will condemn AOC, she makes a smart move.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)

Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run. For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month. “It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”

[..] House lawmakers agreed to minor increases for fiscal years 2017 and 2019 in the amount of money appropriated to members’ offices for staffer pay and other expenses, called Members’ Representational Allowances, or MRAs. The total budget of $574 million in fiscal 2019 is still below a high of $660 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. [..] Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices… “We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.

[..] because all congressional offices get the same budgets to use for staff pay and other expenses, there is only so much that individual lawmakers can do. Ocasio-Cortez’s solution requires sacrifices for staffers at the top of the pay scale, potentially opening her to criticism from the right that her office policies, like her political identity as a Democratic socialist, call for a form of class warfare. It could also pose challenges to attracting and retaining older employees who have obligations such as mortgages and child care — which in D.C. can cost $23,000 a year for a single child. Salaries in Ocasio-Cortez’s office top out at $80,000, Trent said. That’s well below the median pay for Hill chiefs of staff at $154,634, according to the Legistorm analysis. And it’s a fraction of what experienced staffers could make in other jobs in Washington.

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So, think Charles is an AOC fan?

Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)

It’s been a long, strange economic boom since the nadir of the Global Financial Meltdown in 2009. A 10-year long boom that saw the S&P 500 rise from 666 in early 2009 to 2,780 and GDP rise by 43% has been slightly more uneven for most participants. First and most importantly, household income hasn’t risen by the same percentages as assets, GDP or costs of big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition. The broadest measure of income, median household income, has registered a 23% increase in the past decade, roughly half of GDP gains and a mere fraction of stock market and housing gains.

[..] The bottom quintile (20%) registered income gains of 20% from 2009 to 2017, while the middle quintile (roughly speaking, the middle class) gained 25.5% and the top 5% enjoyed a 31.6% gain. The raw numbers tell the story in a slightly more visceral fashion: Upper limit of bottom quintile: $24,638 up 20% since 2009 Upper limit of middle quintile: $77,552 up 25.5% since 2009 Lower limit of top 5%: $237,034 up 31.6% since 2009 (the median household income is much higher–around $350,000 according to Household Income Quintiles the Tax Policy Center.)

So the top 5% earn at a minimum 10 times the lowest quintile income and around 4 or 5 times the middle quintile income. Here in Northern California, this has manifested in rapidly expanding homeless encampments a stone’s throw away from new luxury rental apartments charging $3,000 and up for one-bedroom flats and $4,000 and up for two-bedroom flats. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with potholes and cracks. Maintaining streets–presumably one of the core missions of local government–is simply not being done in a timely manner. Major streets are in such disrepair that local businesses have taken to raising banners demanding “pave our street now.”

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Cut it out already! How are we going to survive the next 5 weeks?

Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)

Theresa May has vowed to Tory grassroots activists that she will not allow the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU to be frustrated. The prime minister is flying to Egypt for an EU-League of Arab States summit where she is expected to hold talks with key EU figures as she battles to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks. Downing Street has played down hopes of a breakthrough during the course of the two-day gathering in the Red Sea resort, despite the presence of major players including the European Council president, Donald Tusk. The prime minister is pressing for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop which she hopes will finally convince MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement following last month’s crushing Commons defeat.

Ahead of her departure, No 10 released details of her speech to a closed meeting of the National Conservative Convention (NCC) in Oxford on Saturday, when she told supporters the government’s focus on delivering Brexit must be “absolute”. Her comments came after three pro-EU cabinet ministers signalled they could back moves in parliament to delay Britain’s withdrawal to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal break. The intervention by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke led to calls for their resignations by furious Tory Brexiters – comments said to have been echoed in private by some cabinet ministers. Northern minister John Penrose warned taking no-deal off the table could undermine May’s efforts to secure concessions on the backstop.

“It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave,” he said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “We’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out.”

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“Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge.”

“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)

“Don’t underestimate the impact of the Italian recession.” This was the stark warning from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Marie in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We talk a lot about Brexit, but we don’t talk much about an Italian recession that will have a significant impact on growth in Europe and can impact France because it’s one of our most important trading partners.” Italy’s economy as measured in real GDP shrank for two quarters in a row, which puts it into a “technical recession”. It’s the second time in four months that France’s Economy Minister has expressed deep concern about the Italian economy in public.

At the end of October he urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after the EU’s executive had rejected the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded at the time that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.” The French government is now openly worried that such a crisis could begin in Italy. The economies of both Italy and France are tightly interwoven, with annual trade flows of around €90 billion. More important still, French banks are, by a long shot, the biggest owners of Italian public and private debt, with total holdings of €311 billion as of the 3rd quarter of 2018, according to the BIS — up €34 billion from the 1st quarter of 2018.

Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge. That knowledge is fueling the coalition government’s bravado, with some lawmakers now even talking about nationalizing Italy’s central bank, the Bank of Italy, for a total sum of €155,000 and taking control of its assets, including Italy’s large pile of gold.

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In France the arms industry has much more power than in Germany. WWII is a factor in that.

France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday that Germany should ease its strict arms export rules for countries outside the European Union to strengthen the defense industry. France has complained that joint arms manufacturing projects are being stalled by Berlin’s refusal to authorize future arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, a major buyer. Germany said in November it would reject future arms export licenses to Riyadh over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now.

“It is useless to produce weapons through improved cooperation between France and Germany if we are unable to export them,” Le Maire told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “If you want to be competitive and efficient, we need to be able to export to countries outside Europe,” Le Maire said. The minister said France also had relatively strict rules for arms exports. “Our hope is that we will come to an agreement with Germany in this crucial point,” Le Maire said. Germany and France are working on a joint proposal for arms export guidelines to non-European countries. Angela Merkel said in January the EU must deepen cooperation in defense and in particular weapons systems development, warning Germans that they may need to make compromises on strict export controls.

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As usual, hard to get decent coverage of Acte XV.

But Reuters does feel compelled to report increasing numbers of protesters.

While Macron is taking selfies with farm animals.

Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)

Tens of thousands of people marched on Saturday in Paris and other cities and dozens were arrested as France’s “yellow vest” movement staged its 15th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the government. Some 46,600 people joined the protests nationwide, including 5,800 in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. That was up from 41,500 last week, with 5,000 in Paris. Demonstrations have generally gotten smaller since a peak in December when the French capital saw some of the worst rioting, vandalism and looting in decades. Police said 28 people were arrested in Paris, but protesters marched mostly peacefully through the capital’s wealthier neighborhoods surrounded by a heavy police presence.

As the march wound down, scuffles broke out and police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the Place du Trocadero overlooking the Seine river and across from the Eiffel Tower. Some 18 people were also arrested in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and potentially dangerous objects were seized ahead of a march in which police said 2,500 participated. Another 18 people were arrested in the western city of Rennes where six police officers were slightly injured and six protesters were hurt by large riot control pellets fired by police. The movement has posed the biggest challenge to Macron’s authority since he came to office in May 2017, although it faces increased infighting as some members have sought to run in upcoming European Parliament elections.

Macron’s popularity has recovered from lows reached in the wake of violent clashes during protests in December, after he launched a series of debates across the country aimed at reconnecting with voters particularly in rural areas. He received a mostly warm welcome on Saturday at an annual farm show in Paris, taking selfies with the public and chatting with farmers as he strolled for hours among the crowd and animals.

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Impossible not to think of the last days of Rome.

The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)

When I first set out to map all the places in the world where the United States is still fighting terrorism so many years later, I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. This was before the 2017 incident in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed on a counterterror mission and Americans were given an inkling of how far-reaching the war on terrorism might really be. I imagined a map that would highlight Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria – the places many Americans automatically think of in association with the war on terror – as well as perhaps a dozen less-noticed countries like the Philippines and Somalia. I had no idea that I was embarking on a research odyssey that would, in its second annual update, map U.S. counterterror missions in 80 countries in 2017 and 2018, or 40% of the nations on this planet (a map first featured in Smithsonian magazine).

As co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, I’m all too aware of the costs that accompany such a sprawling overseas presence. Our project’s research shows that, since 2001, the U.S. war on terror has resulted in the loss — conservatively estimated — of almost half a million lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. By the end of 2019, we also estimate that Washington’s global war will cost American taxpayers no less than $5.9 trillion already spent and in commitments to caring for veterans of the war throughout their lifetimes.

In general, the American public has largely ignored these post-9/11 wars and their costs. But the vastness of Washington’s counterterror activities suggests, now more than ever, that it’s time to pay attention. [..] That our counterterror missions are so extensive and their costs so staggeringly high should prompt Americans to demand answers to a few obvious and urgent questions: Is this global war truly making Americans safer? Is it reducing violence against civilians in the U.S. and other places?

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Origianl AFP title: “Syria force to pluck more civilians from last IS pocket”. But are the Kuds a ‘Syria force’?

Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)

US-backed fighters said Saturday they are keeping a corridor open to rescue remaining civilians from the Islamic State group’s last speck of territory in Syria, as the UN appealed for urgent assistance. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the jihadist holdout since Wednesday, bringing the SDF closer to retaking the less than half a square kilometre still under IS control. “On our side, the corridor is open and we hope a larger number of civilians will arrive but that depends on IS fighters and whether they will give civilians a chance to exit,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP at their Al-Omar base. He said the SDF had evacuated “more than 2,000 people, including women, children and men” on Friday, mostly wives and children of IS fighters.

Nearly 2,500 people arrived the same day at a Kurdish-run camp for the displaced further north, compounding dire conditions inside the already crammed settlement, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said. It warned of the “huge challenges” posed by the influx. More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate”, they have lost all but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. Some 2,000 people are believed to remain inside Baghouz, according to the SDF. The force says it is trying to evacuate remaining civilians through a corridor before pressing on with a battle to crush the jihadists unless holdout fighters surrender.

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Life just continues on its way toward extinction. But we live in cities, so how would we know?

‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)

The team that cracked the case of the “amphibian plague” devastating frog and toad populations around the world are worried that worse is still to come. A killer fungus known as Bd has triggered a mass amphibian extinction that has spread across every continent and been described as among the worst infectious diseases ever recorded. Scientists have described rainforests struck silent as the plague wiped out entire populations of local frogs in mere months, stifling their night-time chorus of croaks. At least 200 frog species are thought to have been driven to extinction since the 1970s, with particularly heavy losses in Bd-infested parts of Latin America.

Intense research efforts have identified the disease and traced it to its source in east Asia, and local conservation groups have worked tirelessly to quarantine the fragmented populations that remain. However, with the international trade in amphibians continuing unabated, the team credited with discovering the disease are concerned about what the future may bring. In particular, the melding of different Bd strains from around the world has the potential to create hybrids that are even deadlier than current incarnations. [..] “If we keep hauling amphibians back and forth, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you might get something that’s more pathogenic [capable of causing disease],” said Dr Joyce Longcore, the scientist who first identified the unusual aquatic fungus known as Bd.


Photograph: Jamie Voyles

Unless you stop international travel and international trade, things like this are going to continue, and you can make your rules stronger for trade but if you have any volume at all something is going to get through.” For decades amphibians have been traded for food, as pets, or even – in the case of the African clawed frog – for use in crude pregnancy tests. This transport of living amphibians has already been identified as the trigger for the original Bd outbreak, and recent lab tests revealed hybrid forms emerging in Brazil and South Africa that appear to be deadlier than the original.

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Presented as ‘incredible revival’, but that’s just nonsense.

Just stop polluting your land to grow food. That’s all it is.

UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

They must survive government culls, gamekeepers, poisoning, persecution and increasingly busy roads but, in modern times at least, Britain’s carnivores have never had it so good: badger, otter, pine marten, polecat, stoat and weasel populations have “markedly improved” since the 1960s, according to a new study. The otter, polecat and pine marten have bounced back from the brink of extinction, and the country’s only carnivorous mammal now in danger of being wiped out is the wildcat, with the dwindling Scottish populations hit by hybridisation with domestic and feral cats.

Britain’s carnivores have largely “done it for themselves” and recovered often unexpectedly quickly after a reduction in harmful human activities – hunting, trapping and the use of toxic chemicals – according to scientists from Exeter University, Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But the scientists warn that, while carnivore populations have recovered over the course of a human lifetime, most are still at long-term historical lows, with much more scope for recovery in distribution and density. “Carnivores have recovered in a way that would have seemed incredibly unlikely in the 1970s, when extinction of some species looked like a real possibility,” said lead author Katie Sainsbury from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at Exeter University.

“Most of these species have essentially recovered by themselves, once pressures from predator controls and pollutants were reduced, and it’s taken them a while. Yes, there are more of them now than in most people’s lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for populations to grow and spread further.” The reasons for each carnivore’s recovery are different. Otters were harmed by organochlorine pesticides washed into rivers but have returned to every English county since the pesticides were banned and hunting was outlawed in 1978. There are now an estimated 11,000.

Polecat numbers have risen to 83,000 in the decades since a 1958 ban on gin traps, which were once used to control rabbits and also widely caught polecats. Polecat populations moved eastwards at about three miles a year between 1975 and 2015, finally returning to the south-east, Midlands and East Anglia. Badger populations are estimated to have doubled since the 1980s, assisted by a decline in persecution since their legal protection in 1973 and protection of setts in 1992. Researchers also believe that milder winters caused by climate change are helping badgers survive the season in better shape and raise more cubs.


Pine marten. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

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Feb 222019
 


Salvador Dali The ghost of Vermeer of Delft which can be used as a table 1934

 

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)
Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)
Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)
EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)
Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)
Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)
Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)
Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)
Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)
FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)
Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)
Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)
Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)
US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)
World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

 

 

Meanwhile in the real world that central bankers don’t want you to see:

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)

[..] with consensus expecting a tiny rebounding in January following December’s sharp drop, the deterioration in the US home market continued, and January existing home unexpectedly dropped 1.2% (exp. +0.2%), to 4.94 million, missing expectations of a rebound to 5.00 million. After December’s revision higher to 5.00 million, the January SAAR of 4.94 million was the first sub-5MM print since 2015, while the parallel pending home sales series confirms even more weakness is in store. Needless to say, it is very troubling that Americans are unable to afford home purchases with the 30% mortgage at just 4.5%, and suggests that even if inflation picks up, the Fed may have no choice but to keep rates flat to avoid a housing market crash.

As usual, NAR chief economist Larry Yun was optimistic, saying that he does not expect the numbers to decline further going forward. “Existing home sales in January were weak compared to historical norms; however, they are likely to have reached a cyclical low. Moderating home prices combined with gains in household income will boost housing affordability, bringing more buyers to the market in the coming months.” One wonders what “gains in household income” he is talking about. Meanwhile, properties are failing to sell as the slowdown spreads: Properties remained on the market for an average of 49 days in January, up from 46 days in December and 42 days a year ago. Thirty-eight percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.

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“Vancouver [..] saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.”

Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)

Canadians are accelerating the rate at which they borrow cash against their homes, despite the fact that the real estate market is slumping in the country. This exposes the country’s financial system to obvious vulnerabilities, according to rating company DBRS and Bloomberg. Home equity lines of credit in Canada reached a record $184.5 billion (USD) as of October 31, which equates to 11.3% of total household credit. This is the highest share since mid 2015, according to a report released last Thursday. Canadians are drawing on their home’s equity to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases. And they’re doing it so quickly that borrowing has grown faster than mortgages since 2017.

Analyst Robert Colangelo, who published the report on Thursday, commented: “The flexibility of Helocs could increase financial system vulnerabilities. In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity.” Obviously, home equity lines of credit can decrease visibility for lenders to identify credit problems as consumers use the equity in their homes to consolidate high interest loans and unsecured debt into one lump sum at a lower rate. Out of all of the Canadian banks, Toronto Dominion bank has the largest exposure to Helocs at about 39%, followed by Royal Bank of Canada which has 18% exposure. Other large banks are averaging 11% exposure, according to the report.

And the timing for Helocs to grow couldn’t be worse. Toronto’s real estate market continues to feel pain. Sales of new homes in the city fell to the lowest in almost 2 decades in 2018 and a glut of unsold condominiums continue to pile up, according to a Building Industry and Land Development Association report released February 1. Vancouver, still feeling the deflationary effects of a foreign real estate bubble popping, saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.

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People aged 65-74: A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. People aged 25-34: A$38,000.

That could topple a lot more than only a government.

Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)

In one of the world’s most developed economies, soaring costs for housing and education are rapidly widening the wealth-distribution gap between the younger and older generations amid the backdrop of one of the longest economic expansions in the country’s history. As younger workers grapple with the notion that they may never be able to afford a home, a backlash is stirring in the political arena, as younger voters embrace progressive (some would say “socialist”) politicians. No, we’re not talking about the US. We’re talking about Australia. After six years of tumultuous Liberal rule, the Labour Party is hoping to wrest back control of the government during elections later this year.

And it sees tackling this intergenerational divide as the best way to do it. And combating the country’s increasingly unaffordable housing bubble is a key plank of its proposals. The party has pledged to curb tax breaks for property investors that helped drive up home prices (alongside an influx of foreign capital). Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to scrap tax refunds worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year for share investors. The benefits are already being seen in the polls, where Labour is seeing a slight advantage. After 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australians are struggling with the fact that the wealthy have enjoyed the bulk of the economic benefits.

While Australia has avoided recession for 27 years, the spoils have not been shared evenly as older people capture a greater share of the nation’s wealth. According to the Grattan Institute, households headed by people aged 65-74 were on average A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. That far outstrips growth in other bands and compares with just A$38,000 for the 25-34 age group. [..] While Sydney’s median house price is still more than A$900,000 [..] prices have already fallen 12% since their mid-2017 peak.

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Doesn’t she want to run down the clock?

EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)

The European Union expects U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to be forced to request a three-month delay to Brexit, two EU officials said. Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn’t signed off until an EU summit on March 21-22. That is emerging as the EU’s current plan. The EU sees this as a “technical extension” to give British Parliament time to pass necessary legislation related to its departure from the bloc. Anything longer than three months would put the U.K. under pressure to take part in European elections on May 23-26, something that both sides are keen to avoid.

May is racing against the clock to change a controversial part of her deal, known as the “backstop,” in a way that would be acceptable to both the U.K. Parliament and the EU. However, with just five weeks to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the EU and talks at an impasse, ministers and lawmakers in her own party are threatening to vote against her next week to give Parliament control of the process. The prime minister has repeatedly spoken out against a delay, saying she wants to take the U.K. out of the EU as scheduled at the end of March. She’s never completely ruled it out, however. Any postponement would have to be requested by the U.K. and accepted by all the remaining 27 EU governments.

EU officials say the three-month extension would happen under their most optimistic scenario. The risk remains that the U.K. could leave the bloc March 29 without a deal. Alternatively, May could be forced to contemplate a longer delay if she can’t get backing for the agreement, according to one official.

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Chances that Parliament will vote her deal through are slim.

Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)

Dozens of normally loyal Conservative MPs could rebel against the government in a bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, Downing Street has been warned. Leaders of the Brexit Delivery Group of both Leavers and Remainers say MPs may back alternatives if Mrs May’s reworked deal cannot command a Commons majority. Co-chairman Andrew Percy told the BBC more than 30 may try to block no deal. The government says “productive” talks in Brussels aimed at addressing MPs’ concerns continue “urgently”. The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March. But the government has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving without a formal deal, in the event that Mrs May cannot get MPs to approve the deal she negotiated with Brussels in time.

Many MPs fear that scenario would be damaging to business and cause chaos at ports. However, Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs insist the “no-deal” option must be preserved as negotiating leverage in Brussels. Mr Percy told the BBC members of his group were becoming “tired” of the ERG’s refusal to back the prime minister. In a letter to government whips, he and co-chairman Simon Hart write: “Not only does this risk damaging the national interest, but also… we are putting in jeopardy the very thing many colleagues have spent decades campaigning for; our exit from the European Union.”

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The wonders of strip-mining social programs.

Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)

Britain has recorded the biggest-ever monthly surplus in public finances since the early 1990s, putting the government on a strong footing in the run-up to Brexit, now less than 40 days away. In a rare piece of positive economic news for Philip Hammond as he prepares for his spring statement next month, income from taxes outstripped public spending by £14.9bn, the biggest January surplus since records began in 1993. Although January is typically a surplus month for the exchequer because of seasonal trends in the payment of taxes, the Office for National Statistics said last month’s surplus was £5.5bn larger than a year ago. Income and capital gains tax receipts increased by 14%, twice the average growth rate earlier in the year.

Combined, the income from self-assessed income taxes and capital gains tax receipts was £21.4bn, the highest in January since comparable records began in 2000. The data comes after several disappointing months for the chancellor, as borrowing came in worse than forecast. Government borrowing for the first 10 months of the financial year has, however, fallen almost by half, as tax receipts have been much stronger than expected. The exchequer has borrowed about £21.2bn this year so far, £18.5bn lower than at the same point a year ago, and the lowest since the 10 months to January 2001. The latest update means the government could be on track to reduce the deficit – the gap between spending and tax income – close to its target of £25.5bn set by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is 39% less than in 2017-18.

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Who in the party will defend Corbyn?

Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour. On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow. With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit. The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, though, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit. Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”. She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”.

[..] The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”. And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all. That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party. Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

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Macron gambles that he can silence the Yellow Vests with antisemitism smear.

Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has declared anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism as he ramps up France’s crackdown on racism against Jewish people. Speaking at the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, Mr Macron said a surge in antisemitic attacks in his country had not been seen since World War Two. He promised a new law to tackle hate speech on the internet and said France would adopt the definition of antisemitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition does not use the phrase “anti-Zionism” but does say denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is antisemitic.

Some critics of Israel, its occupation of territory internationally recognised as Palestinian, and its isolation of the Gaza Strip, say they risk being unfairly branded antisemitic, although the IHRA definition says: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country” is not. Mr Macron’s words were well received from the World Jewish Congress which said: “This is just the beginning of a long road ahead. Adopting this definition of anti-Semitism must be followed by concrete steps to encode into law and ensure that this is enforced.”

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Stop suing the banks. Sue their execs instead.

Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)

The city of Philadelphia is suing Bank of America and six other major banks for conspiring to manipulate the rates of municipal bonds, illegally making millions of dollars while depriving the city of funds for public services. Pennsylvania’s largest city, with over 1.5 million residents, filed the complaint late on Wednesday in the federal court in Manhattan. The city accuses Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo of colluding to manipulate rates of variable-rate demand obligations (VRDO), of which Philadelphia has issued over $1.6 billion-worth. The fees the banks collected, in violation of federal antitrust laws, have deprived Philadelphia and other jurisdictions of critical funding for public services, the lawsuit claims.

According to the court documents, the banks are already being criminally investigated by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, while the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has contacted four of the defendants with questions about their conduct. The lawsuit claims that phone and email records will show that the banks agreed not to compete with each other for VRDO remarketing services between February 2008 and June 2016, resulting in artificially high rates and banks collecting fees “for doing, essentially, nothing.”

Similar lawsuits are already being litigated in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and New York, accusing major banks of conspiring to “robo-reset” the rates of state VRDOs without any considerations for the local markets or investor demand, violating the requirement to market and price the bonds at the lowest possible interest rates. Plaintiffs in those four lawsuits are seeking to recover over $1 billion in fees, ranging from $100 million in Massachusetts and $349 million in Illinois to $719 million in California, while the New York numbers have not been made available yet.

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Some things are impossible to properly summarize in a few lines. Read the whole thing at Epoch Times.

And again: the US needs a Special Counsel for this. The FBI cannot be a state within the state.

FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)

A key player in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign was Trisha Anderson, who, at the time, was the No. 2 lawyer at the agency’s Office of General Counsel. Despite having no specific experience in counterintelligence before coming to the FBI, Anderson was, in some manner, involved in virtually all of the significant events of the investigation. Anderson told members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in August last year during closed-door testimony that she was one of only about 10 people who had known about the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening.

A transcript of Anderson’s testimony, which was reviewed for this article, reveals that she had read all of the FBI’s FD302 forms detailing information that the author of the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, had provided to high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Anderson also told lawmakers that she personally signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without having read it. The FBI relied heavily on the unverified information in the Steele dossier—which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to obtain the FISA warrant.

Anderson also was part of a small group of FBI personnel who got to read then-FBI Director James Comey’s memos about conversations he had with President Donald Trump. Besides the investigation into Trump, Anderson also was involved in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for sending classified information using a private server. Anderson’s testimony reveals that she received the original referral from the inspectors general for both the State Department and Intelligence Community on Clinton after hundreds of classified emails had been found on her server. Her testimony also raises questions as to whether then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest.

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Get the impressions Stone’s getting bored sitting at home.

Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)

A judge imposed a sweeping gag order on Roger Stone, the former political adviser to President Donald Trump, after he created an Instagram post of the judge presiding over his criminal case next to an image that appeared to show the crosshairs of a gun. Stone told the judge at a hearing Thursday he made an “egregious error.” The new gag order prevents Stone from making any public comments on the case or investigation other than to solicit funds for his legal defense. If Stone violates the new gag order, his bond will be revoked and he’ll be detained. “There will not be a third chance,” District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

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I had no idea.

Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)

Hungary has accepted around 300 refugees from crisis-hit Venezuela, according to media reports from the country – surprising observers of its usually anti-immigration government. The refugees, who are thought to have Hungarian ancestry, are understood to have been welcomed into the country with the tacit support of the Orban administration and the help of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. The news has come as a surprise in the conservative central European state, given the anti-immigration stances and refugee crackdowns of premier Viktor Orban.

“We are speaking about Hungarians and we do not consider Hungarians migrants,” Mr Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a press conference in response to the report. Confirming that the programme began in April 2018, he added: “They, like any other Hungarian, have a right to return home.” A controversial law passed by the Orban government last year restricted the activities of NGOs and charities that provide assistance to migrants. The law was de facto targeted at those groups helping people arriving by land from the Middle East and Africa. The Hungarian opposition seized on the latest developments, claiming the government was acting hypocritically.

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He got it back in October apparently, so no big immediate change.

And Center Alliance Senator Patrick having asked for the passport only so Julian can give himself up to the UK police doesn’t help either.

Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that Mr Assange’s 2018 application for a new passport had been accepted. Consular and Crisis Management Division first assistant secretary Andrew Todd said, “Mr Assange does have an Australian passport”. [..] The department is understood to have issued Mr Assange with his new passport in October. A DFAT official at an estimate’s hearing in October said Mr Assange’s passport application had “not been rejected”. But absolute confirmation that he has actually received a new passport did not come until Thursday’s heading. DFAT officials told the estimates hearing they had no knowledge of legal proceedings against Mr Assange in the United States.

Documents show Mr Assange’s UK-based lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, applied for a new passport on his behalf in mid-2018. DFAT replied that it was of the belief that Mr Assange’s entitlement to a passport may be affected by ongoing legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. “Specifically, we understand you may be the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with a ‘serious foreign offence’ within the meaning of section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005,” DFAT replied. “In order to progress your application, we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who has pursued Mr Assange’s right to a passport in recent estimates hearings, said that, given Mr Assange’s failing health, the best thing would be for him to leave the Ecuador embassy and face the British justice system over breaching his bail conditions. After that, he should return to Australia, Senator Patrick said.

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“Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher..”

US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins. But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government. It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse. The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says. [..] Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics. The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the EPA, with about a third of this recycled and composted.

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Monoculture ‘R’ Us. You add it all up, the soil is poisoned, the food is poisoned, vertebrates are disappearing, insects are going gone, and how much longer for the human species?

World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates. The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals. Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, said the report, launched on Friday. It noted a “debilitating” loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. In the oceans, a third of fishing areas are being overharvested.

Many species that are indirectly involved in food production, such as birds that eat crop pests and mangrove trees that help to purify water, are less abundant than in the past, noted the study, which collated global data, academic papers and reports by the governments of 91 countries. It found 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi were in decline. Pollinators, which provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops, are under threat. As well as the well-documented decline of bees and other insects, the report noted that 17% of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats and birds, were threatened with extinction. Once lost, the species that are critical to our food systems cannot be recovered, it said. “This places the future of our food and the environment under severe threat.”

“The foundations of our food systems are being undermined,” wrote Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in an introduction to the study. “Parts of the global report make sombre reading. It is deeply concerning that in so many production systems in so many countries, biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it provides are reported to be in decline.” Agriculture was often to blame, he said, due to land-use changes and unsustainable management practices, such as over-exploitation of the soil and a reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other agro-chemicals. Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

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Feb 202019
 


Henri Rousseau Tour Eiffel 1898

 

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)
Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)
Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)
UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)
Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)
Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections
Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)
Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)
Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)
Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)
Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)
European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

 

 

In reality, it’s only central banks that matter.

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)

World stocks hit a four-month high on Wednesday on hopes of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, with a dovish backdrop at major central banks also helping push markets back into the black. U.S. President Donald Trump said negotiations with China were going well and suggested he was open to extending the deadline to complete them beyond March 1. Up to now, it was assumed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal was reached by then. Asian shares soared on Trump’s comment, and European stock indices also strengthened, pushing the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, to a four-month high.

Deutsche Bank’s chief strategist Jim Reid said the newsflow was encouraging, despite signs that more progress was needed. “The overall feeling is that it is one step forward, three-quarters of a step back at the moment. So positive momentum but still fragile,” he said in a note. While hopes for a trade deal between the world’s two largest economy are seen as the primary driver for world stocks, dovish central bank messages are also playing a part. New York Fed President John Williams on Tuesday said he was comfortable with the level U.S. interest rates were at and that he saw no need to raise them again unless economic growth or inflation shifted to an unexpectedly higher gear.

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This too is possible only because the Fed keeps interest rates low. US oil is drowning in debt.

Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)

Oil prices slipped away from 2019 highs on Wednesday, with surging U.S. supply and slowing economic growth tempering upward pressure from supply cuts led by producer club OPEC and from Washington’s sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures hit 2019 highs of $56.39 per barrel on Wednesday but had slipped back to $56.16 per barrel by 0746 GMT, which was slightly above their last settlement. International Brent crude futures were at $66.41 per barrel, down 4 cents from their last close, though still not far off their 2019 high of $66.83 per barrel, hit on Monday. Oil prices have been supported by supply cuts led by OPEC.

OPEC-member and top crude exporter Saudi Arabia is expected to reduce shipments of light crude oil to Asia in March as part of the effort to tighten markets. OPEC as well as some non-affiliated producers such as Russia agreed late last year to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to prevent a large supply overhang from swelling. “We have lowered Saudi crude oil output in line with announcements…(and) are now assuming that Saudi Arabia will produce in the first three quarters of 2019 less than the 10.31 million bpd target it agreed to at the Dec. 7 OPEC, non-OPEC meeting,” French bank BNP Paribas said in a note.

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Useless and she knows it. 37 days to go. What May is doing is running down the clock, so MPs will feel forced to accept her deal they voted down in a historical defeat just weeks ago.

Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)

Theresa May will present the EU with new legal proposals to solve the Irish backstop issue on Wednesday, which Downing Street hopes will be enough to convince Eurosceptics to back her Brexit deal. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, confirmed late on Tuesday that the government no longer intended to pursue alternative arrangements for the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, which had been championed by cross-factional MPs including Eurosceptic Steve Baker and soft Brexiter Nicky Morgan. Instead, the prime minister is travelling to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, with a plan to secure legal assurances that the backstop would not permanently bind the UK into a customs union.

She was forced to admit to Conservative MPs who met her on Tuesday night that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the “Malthouse compromise” – proposals for a free trade agreement with as-yet-unknown technology to avoid customs checks on the Irish border. However, she stressed that this solution would still be examined in future to help solve the issue of customs arrangements at the Irish border. Hammond confirmed that the Malthouse compromise was no longer a viable option in a speech to the Make UK dinner held by the manufacturers’ association EEF on Tuesday night. He called the plan a “valuable effort” that should be looked at again during the transition period, but said it could not provide a solution now.

“It is clear that the EU will not consider replacing the backstop with such an alternative arrangement now, in order to address our immediate challenge,” he said, adding that the alternative arrangement would “require significant changes to EU legislation and customs practices that would need to be negotiated with the EU member states and others”.

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Whatever the outcome, May will blame anyone but herself.

UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Britain faces the “catastrophic prospect” of a no-deal Brexit next month due to the selfishness of some politicians and chaotic parliamentary proceedings, the head of the country’s main manufacturing association said on Tuesday. The strong warning from Make UK, previously known as the EEF, comes as Japanese carmaker Honda is expected to say it is preparing to shut its main UK plant with a loss of 3,500 jobs. Nissan earlier this month canceled plans to build its X-Trail sport utility vehicle in Britain, mostly blaming “business reasons” but also citing Brexit uncertainty. “Let me be clear … for those hard Brexiteers who accuse us of scaremongering. This is very real and very serious,”

Make UK’s chair, Judith Hackitt, said in remarks ahead of the group’s annual conference. Finance minister Philip Hammond and business minister Greg Clark – who are on the pro-European wing of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party – as well as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are due to address the conference. Corbyn intends to call again for May to back his proposal for a permanent customs union with the European Union and full guarantees for existing worker and consumer rights. He plans to meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier this week. [..] Some 49 percent of 429 manufacturers surveyed for Make UK said a no-deal Brexit would make Britain unattractive, compared with 28 percent who said Britain would still be an attractive location, with bigger companies more likely to express concerns.

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It’s remarkable how arms manufacturers never have to face any ethics claims, anywhere in the world. No government that says: are you crazy? And sure they make a few billion here and there, but their influence far outweighs their economic value.

Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)

A Khaleeji bagpipe band, a colourful aircraft display, a performance by the Armenian Military Orchestra and a big show of support from the Emirate royal families. These were some of the touches at Sunday’s opening ceremony for the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex 2019) in Abu Dhabi, the Middle East’s biggest arms fair. It’s a decadent and distasteful celebration of militarism and weaponry. Missiles, rifles, tanks, helicopters and warships are on display for anyone that can afford them. More than 100,000 people will attend this week, including representatives from all of the world’s biggest arms companies and military delegates from 57 nations.

Among those looking to do business is the UK government, which has sent a team of civil servants to support UK arms company reps in doing as much business as possible. Particularly with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, they will pull out all stops to cement sales. There is no way of knowing what kind of deals will be discussed, or the kind of weaponry that might be sold as a result. We don’t know how these weapons will be used, or who they will be used against. But the results could be devastating. There is no shortage of UK arms in the Middle East. With rising military budgets, it is an important region for the arms trade. In 2017 it accounted for more than two-thirds of all UK arms sales.

It’s been eight years since the Arab spring uprisings. UK-made weapons were implicated in the violence, particularly in Libya where UK contractors were upgrading Gaddafi’s tanks on the eve of the uprising, and Egypt where UK-made teargas was turned on protesters. No lessons were learned, and there has been a significant increase in arms sales to many of the regimes. Since the uprisings began, and, despite the atrocities that have taken place, the UK has licensed a further £200m worth of arms to Egypt, and £100m worth to Bahrain. The sales include rifles, ammunition, armoured vehicles and a host of other deadly weaponry.

The impact of UK arms sales is most strongly felt in Yemen, where UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the ongoing war. For almost four years now the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has used them to inflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 60,000 people have been killed, and yet the arms sales continue unabated. Last week a House of Lords committee chaired by a former Conservative cabinet member told the government that these arms sales are illegal.

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“According to the Daily Wire, Sandmann’s lawyers sent “letters for potential lawsuits to over 50 entities ranging from Democratic politicians to celebrities to media figures.” Nice list at the source.

Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)

After an investigation conducted by the Covington Diocese turned up no evidence that 16-year-old high school student Nicholas Sandmann confronted Native American activist Nathan Phillips during a March for Life rally at the Lincoln Memorial last month, seemingly confirming that the mainstream press was incorrect to pillory the white, MAGA-hat wearing teen for a confrontation that never actually happened, lawyers for Sandmann filed the first of what are expected to be many defamation lawsuits demanding compensatory and punitive damages for leading an Internet mob that villified Sandmann and his peers. According to Reuters, lawyers Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry are seeking $250 million in damages from the Washington Post on behalf of Sandmann, a sum equal to the amount that billionaire Jeff Bezos paid to buy the paper in 2013.

The suit claims that the paper – which helped publicize a now infamous photo that helped trigger an Internet mob that swiftly outed the teen and demanded he be punished – led the hate campaign against Sandmann – and failed to practice proper journalistic due diligence – “because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C. when he was unexpectedly and suddenly confronted by Nathan Phillips (‘Phillips’), a known Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face (‘the January 18 incident’).” Not only did the diocese’s investigation corroborate the students’ version of events, but it also found no evidence to support Phillips’ claims that Sandmann and his fellow students had been chanting “build the wall” at the time of the confrontation.

What really happened – as is now widely known – is that the students, who were marching with the pro-life rally, were verbally accosted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who hurled homophobic slurs at the students and accosted them. “In targeting and bullying Nicholas by falsely accusing him of instigating the January 18 incident, the Post conveyed that Nicholas engaged in acts of racism by “swarming” Phillips, “blocking” his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct,” the suit read. “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.” The Washington Post’s Vice President for Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly told Reuters “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”

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I bet the shift will be much more dramatic.

Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s efforts to undermine the EU status quo by rallying a broad coalition of eurosceptic groups during spring elections for the European Parliament are set to pay off big time, according to the first forecast of the expected results released by the chamber on Tuesday. According to the polling, which was cited by the FT, Salvini’s League Party is expected to make some of the most striking gains in the May vote, possibly becoming the second-largest party in the assembly after Germany’s center right Christian Democratic Union.

Mr Salvini’s League is on course to dominate in Italy by winning 32 per cent of the vote and 27 seats, according to the poll. If so, it would be the second-biggest party in the chamber after Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, which is forecast to hold 29 seats, down from 34 in the last election in 2014. The CDU is a mainstay of the European People’s party, the parliament’s main centre-right group. The EPP is predicted to slip from 217 seats to 183 seats, while the centre-left Social Democrat grouping is projected to lose almost one-third of its seats — from 186 to 135.

In total, Eurosceptic parties are expected to win 153 seats in the chamber. Though they control the same number now, their share of the votes will climb as the total number of seats in the chamber falls to 705 from 751 to account for the UK’s departure. In addition to Salvini’s League, the Eurosceptic faction in the EUP includes Poland’s Law and Justice party, Italy’s Five Star Movement and France’s Rassemblement National. Law and Justice and France’s RN have pledged to join forces in the coming parliament. Other Eurosceptic parties including Spain’s far-right Vox and the Dutch Forum for Democracy are expected to win seats in the chamber for the first time.

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My money is on Macron having staged the entire thing. Just so he can say: “It’s a real question of authority…” The man’s under severe pressure. And anitisemitism sells.

Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)

Thousands of people rallied across France after a surge of anti-Semitic attacks in recent weeks that culminated on Tuesday with vandals daubing swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans on dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery. Political leaders from all parties, including former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, gathered in Paris filling the Place de la Republique, a symbol of the nation, to decry anti-Semitic acts with one common slogan: “Enough!” People also lined the streets of cities from Lille in the north to Toulouse and Marseille in the south. President Emmanuel Macron paid respects at one of the 96 desecrated graves in the village of Quatzenheim, near the eastern city of Strasbourg.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished… We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them,” he said, walking through a gate scarred with a swastika as he entered the graveyard. Macron later visited the national Holocaust memorial in Paris with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly. France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common. Government statistics released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in the country last year, a 74 percent increase from 2017. “Some people are provoking the authority of the state. It needs to be dealt with now and extremely firmly,” Sarkozy told reporters. “It’s a real question of authority. Violence is spreading and it needs to stop now.”

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Might as well drag Cuba into it as well while you’re at it.

Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)

Cuba denied on Tuesday it has security forces in Venezuela and charged the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign of lies paving the way for military intervention in the South American country. U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the administration have charged that Cuba’s security forces and military control Venezuela’s and that troops are also on the ground there. “Our government categorically and energetically rejects this slander,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said at a Havana press conference, adding all of the some 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were civilians, most health professionals. Rodriguez called on the U.S. administration to produce proof.

“There is a big political and communications campaign underway which are usually the prelude to larger actions by this government,” Rodriguez said. Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998. The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly. [..] Rodriguez termed the political crisis in Venezuela “a failed imperialist coup … fabricated in Washington,” and warned plans to deliver humanitarian aid were a recipe for violence and intervention.

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The western press of course can’t report on Putin without trying to make him look weakened. This time there’s a survey that has his approval rating at 64%, “his lowest in 5 years”. From the same “independent” pollsters comes an October poll that says only 40% would have voted for Putin. While he was re-elected 6 months earlier with 76%.

Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he delivered his annual state of the nation address Wednesday under pressure from falling approval ratings. Putin, who was elected to a fourth term last year with more than 76 percent of the vote, laid out a series of new measures in his speech to Russia’s two houses of parliament. His promises seemed aimed at addressing growing discontent over the dismal living conditions, especially outside Moscow, that many Russians still face nearly 20 years after Putin came to power. “We cannot wait, the situation must change for the better now,” Putin told assembled lawmakers from the lower house State Duma and upper house Federation Council.

“Within this year (Russians) should feel changes,” he said, promising a wide range of steps including new child benefits and lower taxes for larger families. “We did and will do everything for the strengthening of family values,” he said. “The incomes of Russian families should of course rise”. Putin, 66, appeared calm and confident as usual during the speech, but the Kremlin is reportedly deeply concerned by the fall in his personal approval ratings in recent months. A survey by Russia’s independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 percent — a figure many Western leaders could only dream of, but Putin’s lowest in five years.

Russians appear increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of economic growth and the concentration of the country’s wealth in a few hands in Moscow. Moves by the government to implement economic reforms, including an increase in the retirement age and a rise in the value-added tax from January 1, have prompted widespread opposition including rare street protests. Another Levada poll in October found only 40 percent of Russians would vote for Putin if an election were held.

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All true, and Elizabeth Lea Vos means well. But the moment she uses terms like “neo-McCarthyist insanity”, she writes herself straight into an echo-chamber. Don’t.

Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed two pillars of the Russiagate narrative continue to disintegrate and erode. First, we heard that a bipartisan inquiry by the Senate Intelligence Committee admitted that they have yet to find evidence indicating that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential election. Secondly, new light was shed on the process by which the DNC Emails published by WikiLeaks may have been sourced, thanks to two reports: one authored by former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney and former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, with the other work penned by Disobedient Media’s Adam Carter. Of course, this does not entail that the establishment-backed media will stop promoting the neo-McCarthyist insanity that has held legacy press audiences captive for the last two and a half years.

A recent report from NBC related an admission from both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicating that they have discovered no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion to date. NBC’s report reads in part: “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.” Let’s review that again: the only thing the Democrats and Republicans disagree on is the significance of an alleged “Pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.”

[..] Last month, The Nation’s Aaron Mate wrote: “Not a single Trump official has been accused of colluding with the Russian government or even of committing any crimes during the 2016 campaign. As The New York Times recently noted, “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

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We’re awash in made-up narratives.

Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)

On February 13, BBC Syria’s producer Riam Dalati came out with a statement that “After almost 6 months of investigations” he “can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged” and “no fatalities had occurred in the hospital.” Dalati added that he believes that “the attack did happen” but no Sarin was used and “everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.” [..] Dalati’s statement widely circulated independent media organizations and was even commented by the Russian defense and foreign ministries. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the revelation as a “theater of absurd.”

“Over the past years, and not only in Syria, we have seen just a tragic farce performed by the Western community and mass media, which on the one hand, speak about the high democratic goals and how they care about the civilians of a sovereign state, and on the other hand, they just do not give a damn about all laws, the international law, freedoms and rights of a nation and certain people,” Zakharova stressed. She compared this case with the situation developing around Iraq prior to the start of the US intervention and recalled how then US ambassador to the UN Colin Powell was convincing the international community that there is a need to rescue “Iraq, Iraqi nation and democracy”.

The Russian Defense Ministry also commented on the issue by saying that Russia is not surprised by the appearance of new discrediting details. “Many of today’s top-ranking politicians in the United States and Europe, then tearing their throats in ‘defending the peaceful Syrians from the terrible chemical attacks of the regime” and sanctioning missile and air strikes on Syria, will try to forget the topic in order to avoid moral, political and criminal liability,” defense ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

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There is no doubt about this. But it will require dumping the agri-industrial approach to providing our food.

European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a scientific paper. A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population. Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole.

The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach. Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry. “Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association.

“The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.” [..] The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

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Feb 182019
 
 February 18, 2019  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Face female study 1925

 

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)
Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)
Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)
Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)
Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)
UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)
Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)
Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)
Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)
Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)
UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)
Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

 

 

How state propaganda works (and is disseminated by sympathetic media).

“The scene was a vicious verbal interlude..” “The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. “The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks.”

In reality, the French see young people with their eyes missing due to Macron-ordered rubber bullets. The only support that’s eroding is that for Macron.

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)

Paris judicial authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted philosopher during a yellow vest protest, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.” A band of men taunted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a protest through the French capital Paris on Saturday. “Go back to Tel Aviv,” ”Zionist,” and “France is our land” were among the insults captured on video. Finkielkraut, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, told French television station LCI on Sunday he doesn’t intend to file a complaint.

The scene was a vicious verbal interlude as thousands of protesters made their way through the Left Bank for the 14th Saturday in a row of demonstrations by the yellow vest movement. Several thousand protesters gathered again in Paris on Sunday to mark the three-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement’s protests, which started Nov. 17 with nationwide protests of fuel tax increases. [..] The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks. One yellow vest protester who has tried to put together a candidates list for the European Parliament election was heckled Sunday by detractors.

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Government officials vs a newly elected president. Must be a first. Patriots vs voters.

Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)

Two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” a DOJ scheme to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump, according to Bloomberg and Fox News, citing closed-door testimony from the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker – who said that the claim came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.” -Fox News

While Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials, he says that McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page approached him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including their discussions of the 25th Amendment scheme. “I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he – this was what was related to me – that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the Congressional committees. The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a sitting president from office through various mechanisms – including the majority of a president’s Cabinet agreeing that the commander-in-chief is incapable of performing his duties.

Rosenstein – who is slated to leave the Justice Department in the near future, has denied the claims. Baker said McCabe was cool, calm and collected throughout the discussions, telling lawmakers: “At this point in time, Andy was unbelievably focused and unbelievably confident and squared away. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was extremely proud to be around him at that point in time because I thought he was doing an excellent job at maintaining focus and dealing with a very uncertain and difficult situation. So I think he was in a good state of mind at this point in time.” McCabe, meanwhile told “60 Minutes” in an interview set to air Sunday night that Rosenstein was concerned about Trump’s “capacity.”

According to McCabe, Rosenstein “raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort,” adding that Rosenstein was “definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.” “Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president?” asks CBS News anchor Scott Pelly, to which McCabe replied: “That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.”

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Inevitable, so let’s have it.

“..there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.”

Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)

President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.” The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges.

After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action. Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

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“The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.”

Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

Senior Tories were accused of “sniping” at the huge numbers of campaigners set to take part in a march for a fresh Brexit referendum, a day after it was announced. A Brexit minister, Martin Callanan, came under fire after he branded next month’s Put It To The People march – part of The Independent’s Final Say campaign – “desperate stuff”. James Cleverly, a Conservative vice-chairman, tweeted sarcastically: “The only thing that might make me change my mind is a bloke in a blue hat with yellow stars shouting ‘Stop Brexit’. Yep, that might do it.” The reaction came despite last October’s demonstration attracting up to 700,000 people in London alone – and fuelling support for a new referendum at Westminster.

Anna Turley, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the two men were “sniping at the huge numbers of people in this country who want to make their voice heard”. “Ministers should listen to the calls of those who feel betrayed by broken Brexit promises, worried about the damage caused by either this deal or no deal, as well as those who just want clarity and closure about our country’s direction – rather than years more of argument and division,” she said. The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.

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Meaningless without including other taxes, income, wealth, tec.

New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)

New Zealand said on Monday that it plans to update its laws so it can tax revenue earned by multinational digital firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, extending a global effort to bring global tech giants into the tax net. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed to issue a discussion document about how to update the country’s tax framework to ensure multinational companies pay their fair share. “Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” Ardern told reporters at her weekly post-cabinet news conference.

Highly digitalized companies, such as those offering social media networks, trading platforms, and online advertising, currently earn a significant income from New Zealand consumers without being liable for income tax, the government said in a statement released after the announcement. The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around NZ$2.7 billion ($1.86 billion). The revenue estimate for a digital services tax is between NZ$30 million and NZ$80 million, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in the statement. Digital services taxes (DST) are generally charged at a flat rate of two to three percent on the gross revenue earned by a multinational company in that country. A number of countries including the U.K, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and India have enacted or announced plans for a DST. The EU and Australia are also consulting on a DST.

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Anything here that money won’t buy?

Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)

Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, according to a devastating parliamentary report denouncing the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”. The final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections. “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

The report:
• Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
• Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
• Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes. The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights. “Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states, accusing the company of covering up leaks of user data. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

Zuckerberg is also personally criticised by the committee in scathing terms, with his claim that Facebook has never sold user data dismissed by the report as “simply untrue”. “Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added in a statement. Watson agreed. “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has,” he said. “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”

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I know you thought this was about the CIA. But no, it’s Russia again.

UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Theresa May must launch an independent investigation into “foreign influence and voter manipulation” in the Brexit vote, a committee of MPs says today, amid growing evidence of lawbreaking by Leave campaigners. A highly critical report – which warns “democracy is at risk” from rogue practices on social media – turns its fire on the prime minister for the failure to probe their effect on the referendum result. No wide-ranging investigation has taken place, despite the main Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, being found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law. The National Crime Agency, meanwhile, has launched a separate investigation into evidence of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Arron Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

But Downing Street has fought off calls for a “Mueller-style” inquiry, on the scale of the US probe into alleged collusion with Russia by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has insisted an inquiry must be carried out, also looking into the 2017 general election and the 2014 Scottish referendum. It would establish “what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons can be learnt for future elections and referenda”. Damian Collins, the committee’s Conservative chair, urged the prime minister to come clean about whether “Russian interference in UK politics” was being probed.

“We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK referendum in 2016, and are calling on the government to launch an independent investigation,” he said. [..] The crisis emerged after the Brexit referendum, leading to the finding against Vote Leave which has been referred to the police for busting spending limits Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and – a whistleblower and an Oxford professor argue – potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result. Mr Banks, Nigel Farage’s ally, could receive a two-year prison sentence if he is found to have “knowingly concealed” that an Isle of Man company handed up to £8m to Leave.EU – which would have been outlawed as a foreign donation.

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Saw that headline and though: elections must be coming up. And yes.

Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)

A cyber attack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, but did not name any suspects. As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network. The hackers breached the networks of major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators. “Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.

“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.” Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference. Investors are still securing local networks, said Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the government department responsible for online security. “Our political institutions represent high-value targets,” MacGibbon told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

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Problem is he doesn’t stand a chance of winning anything.

Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)

The enfant terrible of euro-economics and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis reloaded his gun and shot: Profits from the European Central Bank should be used for a European Poverty Fund. Speaking at an event of his party DiEM25 in Thessaloniki, he said about the “New Deal in Europe and the World”, that Europe is currently facing four crises: public-private debt, very low investment, banking system and rising poverty. Especially about poverty, Varoufakis, revealed that last year the European Central Bank had profits of €91 billion, which are distributed to the finance ministries of countries with surplus. “A Fund to Combat Poverty could be founded tomorrow morning, in order to support the poor European family and this would be an integrative move and the fight against intolerance and anti-Europeanism and fascism.”

Addressing his Greek audience, he said “in DieM25/MeRA25 we are deeply European, we are criticizing the euro, we want to upgrade it, we are the only ones that have proposals to change the architecture of the euro. We want to restructure the euro. We do not propose exit from the euro, we are not threatening to exit the euro. This is a fact. He criticized the economic policies of his former SYRIZA comrades saying ‘“It is impossible at this time to have any recovery in Greece when small and medium-size businesses pay 75% of their profits to the state. You can not have a 100% pre-payment of the tax. You do that in a country when it is to destroy it.” [..] “Every eurozone country should have a parallel payment system,” he underlined.

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Well, they did vote to recognize Guiado as head of state.

Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)

Venezuela denied a group of European Parliament deputies entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had “conspiratorial motives” for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis. The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognizing Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham. The four deputies from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were traveling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

“They have retained our passports, they haven’t communicated the reason for our expulsion,” Esteban González Pons said. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago they would not be allowed entry into the South American country. Venezuela would “not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions,” he wrote.

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Wonder how much money Monsanto has paid into the report.

..new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious.

..opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity ..

Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)

It is 2040 and Britain’s green and pleasant countryside is populated by robots. We have vertical farms of leafy salads, fruit and vegetables, and livestock is protected by virtual fencing. Changing diets have seen a decline in meat consumption while new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious. This is the picture painted in a report from the National Farmers Union which attempts to sketch out what British food and farming will look like in 20 years’ time. “The Future of Food 2040 report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can plan ahead,” said Andrea Graham, NFU’s head of policy services and author of the report, who interviewed 50 experts across Britain’s food chain to gauge their views.

“It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to make domestic food production a strategic priority in all policy making.” While some of the predictions may seem a long way off, others are already in their infancy. “Even now, there are technologies being developed that can care for crops on a plant-by-plant basis or control the grazing of cattle without physical fences, and by 2040 this technology will be commonplace in farming,” Graham said. The British farming sector will need to be more efficient if it is to meet a key NFU goal of producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. “Over the next 20 years we will face potentially seismic changes in all aspects of society,” Graham added. “An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment.”

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Food must come from sterile enviroments. No life allowed.

Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)

More than a century ago, wolves were hunted to extinction in Germany. These days, they’re back – and their presence is a source of political strife. Wolf attacks on livestock increased drastically in 2017, according to government statistics released at the weekend: they carried out 472 attacks, an increase of 66% over the previous year. The number of killed, injured or missing livestock – mostly sheep and goats – rose 55%, to 1,667. The issue of how to deal with wolves is pitting farmers who want to protect their livestock against environmentalists who prioritise the protection of vulnerable species. Julia Klöckner, the agriculture minister, said the latest figures proved the government needed to act.

Germany should shift its regulations to make it legal to remove individual wolves from a pack, she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. For more than a century, wolves were extinct in Germany. In recent years, however, especially since the country’s reunification in 1990, the animals have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback. They are especially prevalent in the former East German states, since many have crossed the border with Poland. Though environmentalists have lauded the return of the wolf, not everyone is happy that they are back – or that they have been awarded protected status. EU regulations outlaw the killing of wolves, allowing exceptions only when there is “no satisfactory alternative” or if people are in danger.

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Instead of simply saying don’t make the stuff anymore. London must think Brits are incredibly stupid people.

UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)

Britain is to set out plans to overhaul its recycling system on Monday, including making plastic packaging producers pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and introducing a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles. The plans, which also aim to make household rubbish collections more consistent around the country, will be introduced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and go out for consultation for three months. “We will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling,” Gove said in a statement. The tax will be payable by producers who fail to use enough recycled material.

At present, producers pay only around 10 percent of the cost of dealing with plastic packaging waste, the environment ministry said. Under an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, the industry will pay higher fees if its packaging is harder to reuse or recycle. EPR for packaging will raise between 800 million and one billion pounds a year for recycling and disposal, the ministry said. Government will seek views on two options for how a deposit return scheme might work for cans and glass or plastic bottles, it added. The first would target a large amount of drinks on the market, irrespective of container size. The second, known as the “on-the-go” model, would concern smaller container sizes – those most often sold for consumption outside the home.

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These birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet. Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects. These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food. The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive. “These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher. If fulmar colonies were tested in the North Sea, where levels of plastic consumption are far higher, she said the results could be far more dramatic. “Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals,” she said. In another study, Dr Provencher and her colleagues examined the eggs of both fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes, and found traces of more chemicals known as UV stabilisers and antioxidants. “We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg,” she said. “It’s really tragic.”


Scientists studied the eggs of northern fulmars from an Arctic island in Canada’s Lancaster Sound (Getty/iStock)

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Feb 152019
 
 February 15, 2019  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Three women at the edge of the beach 1924

 

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)
Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)
Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)
Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)
Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)
German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)
BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)
As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)
White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)
How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)
School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)
100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

 

 

They’re inventing a narrative as we speak that Mueller may have proof of collusion, but not enough for a criminal case, and therefore that proof may remain hidden. Which would give NBC plenty material for more empty allegations right up until the 2020 elections. In the media, it’s no longer about what you can prove, it’s about what wiggle room you have to smear and accuse. They’ll never give up: the Senate committee comes up nothing, and they prepare their audience for the Mueller probe doing the same, but somehow that means nothing. No matter what happens, the verdict is already there.

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)

“Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed” by the Mueller report – or lack thereof, according to NBC News. Yes, after nearly three years of DOJ investigation, FBI spying, and what appears to have been a setup involving a mysterious Maltese professor who bragged about his ties to the Clinton Foundation – it looks like that “the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found.” The NBC report comes days after a bipartisan Senate investigation found no collusion between Trumpworld and Russia, and the same day as former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe admitted that he rushed to open the Russia probe out of fear of being fired.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn’t amount to a provable crime . The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public. -NBC News And while the Attorney General will be required to notify Congress of Mueller’s findings, those reports must amount to “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” “Expectations that we will see a comprehensive report from the special counsel are high. But the written regulations that govern the special counsel’s reporting requirements should arguably dampen those expectations,” said former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg.

[..] When asked about making the Mueller report public, newly minted Attorney General, William Barr, has said “My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” adding “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in January that her vote on Barr’s nomination is contingent upon whether he will release the report publicly. “My vote really depends on whether I believe that that report will come out as written,” said Feinstein. “I served for a long time on the Intelligence Committee, and I know redaction can be excessive.”

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TEXT

Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)

President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to keep the government open and at the same time declare a national emergency at the border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. McConnell spoke from the Senate floor after Trump said on Twitter he was reviewing the bill with his team at the White House. Trump has discussed using an emergency declaration to build a proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a move that’s certain to provoke a brawl with Congress and perhaps in the courts.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump would sign the bill and “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.” “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” Sanders said. The measure passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon by an 83-16 vote, and the House approved it Thursday night with a 300-128 tally. Republicans including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida voted against it.

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As RT states: “Even the most cursory observer will notice the bill treats alleged Russian meddling abroad and “illicit and corrupt activities” of the Russian president as established, proven facts (they are not).”

Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)

Moscow has reacted to a proposed new package of United States sanctions with of mix of anger and resignation. As an influential former minister urged Russians to prepare for the worst, the Kremlin accused the US of “racketeering”. “We see clear symptoms of emotional Russophobia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists. “But behind the emotions … is an entirely pragmatic, assertive trade calculation, and … nothing less than an attempt to engage in dishonest competition.” The new round of sanctions, proposed in the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act on Wednesday evening, would target Russia’s security service, sovereign debt, and its financial and energy sectors.

The sanctions package is awaiting congressional approval. m According to the bill’s authors, the measures have been proposed in response to two developments: Russian “interference in democratic processes abroad” and its “aggression against Ukraine”, including the seizing of Ukrainian warships in the Kerch strait in November. On Thursday, the proposed sanctions were met with a predictably angry response by Russian state television and more media-hungry parliamentarians. Perhaps the most memorable response was filed by Frants Klintsevich, the prominent, if excitable, member of the Defence and Security Committee of Russia’s upper house. He described the new sanctions as a “dangerous habit” akin to “smoking a pipe before breakfast, poisoning all those around”.

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In the future, this headline will sow much confusion about the date it applies to. May suffers embarrassing defeats almost every day.

Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been dealt a body blow following a “fiasco” in the House of Commons, which saw dozens of Tories inflict an embarrassing defeat on their leader. Eurosceptic Conservatives refused to back a motion reiterating support for the prime minister’s negotiating strategy, deeply suspicious that she might try and use it to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The loss brutally exposes how trust between Ms May and her backbenchers has hit rock bottom, with many still furious over comments made by her chief negotiator in a Brussels bar this week which also appeared to exclude a no-deal scenario. But the defeat has also laid bare the extreme fragility of parliamentary support for her approach, with her ministers having claimed only last week that she had secured a “strong mandate” from the Commons.

On another dramatic night in parliament, Ms May was nowhere to be seen as the result was read out to cheers from the Labour benches. The government motion was defeated by 258 votes to 303. One leading Tory described the night as a “fiasco”, Jeremy Corbyn said the country was heading for a “catastrophe”, and a senior source in Brussels said: “There goes the strong mandate.” The Brexit fault line also cut through Mr Corbyn’s party on Thursday, with a significant number of Labour MPs apparently defying their leader’s will in a separate vote amid suspicions that some are close to breaking away. But the spotlight was firmly on the prime minister’s ailing administration as it contorted in an attempt to avoid defeat on what did not have to be a difficult night for Ms May.

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Rutte is an all-out neo-liberal globalist. The kind that control Brussels today. But will that still be the case after the May EU elections?

Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)

Britain is a “waning country” and too small to stand alone on the world stage, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has claimed in a withering assessment of the UK’s exit from the EU. Rutte, who has emerged as a key player in the talks over the past two years, also warned in an interview that the UK looked to be sliding off the “precipice” towards a “devastating” no-deal Brexit. “Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom,” he said. “It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago. It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean. It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

Rutte, who also claimed the Dutch would replace the UK in the bloc as the pre-eminent voice for free trade, has been regularly consulted by Theresa May on progress in the Brexit negotiations. The Netherlands is one of the EU member states that will be most affected by the barriers to trade that will emerge after the UK leaves the bloc, although it has been the beneficiary of some relocations by big businesses. Figures released last week by the Dutch investment agency revealed 42 companies had relocated to the Netherlands in 2018, citing Brexit as a reason, resulting in the movement of 1,923 jobs. Asked whether a Brexit deal was likely, Rutte said in an interview with European media outlets, including the Spanish newspaper El País: “My impression is that the ball is heading towards the precipice and everyone screams to stop, but nobody does anything to stop it, at least, from the British side.”

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When is Berlin going to start pumping money in?

German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)

Germany narrowly avoided falling into recession in the second half of last year as weaker exports dragged Europe’s largest economy to stalling point during the final three months of 2018. The German economy recorded zero growth in the fourth quarter, managing to just avoid a technical recession after reporting a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter amid a slump in industrial output. Several economists had previously warned that Germany was on the brink of recession because of consecutive monthly declines in factory output, with the country suffering from weaker levels of global demand and disruption at factories.

Tensions between the US and China have acted as a handbrake on global goods trade, while growth is slowing in the Chinese economy after years of rapid expansion. Sales of cars in China dropped last year for the first time in almost 30 years, affecting manufacturers across Europe. New vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW emissions scandal have also caused disruption to factories across Europe, including in Britain. Manufacturing accounts for about a fifth of the Germany economy, about double the size of Britain’s industrial base. Overall growth for 2018 in Germany was 1.5%, marginally above the 1.4% expansion recorded in Britain.

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How things we’ve all know for years can still be bombshells.

BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)

Now approaching nearly a year after the April 7, 2018 alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria — which the White House used as a pretext to bomb Syrian government facilities and bases throughout Damascus — a BBC reporter who investigated the incident on the ground has issued public statements saying the “Assad sarin attack” on Douma was indeed “staged”. Riam Dalati is a well-known BBC Syria producer who has long reported from the region. He shocked his nearly 20,000 twitter followers on Wednesday, which includes other mainstream journalists from major outlets, by stating that after a “six month investigation” he has concluded, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

The “hospital scene” is a reference to part of the horrid footage played over and over again on international networks showing children in a Douma hospital being hosed off and treated by doctors and White Helmets personnel as victims of the alleged chemical attack. The BBC’s Dalati stated on Wednesday: “After almost 6 months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.” He noted he had interviewed a number of White Helmets and opposition activists while reaching that conclusion.

He continued in a follow-up tweet: “Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.” Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies.

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Yes, Amazon is the company that paid $0 in income taxes. And then people say progressives stand in the way of progress. Some progress.

As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon’s decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3 billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive politicians. The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc development. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw as the latest evidence of the progressive movement’s surging influence ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in the world,” Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York and an expert on city politics and public opinion. “They killed Amazon, the biggest beast around.”

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“Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether..”

White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)

Four centuries of white supremacy in Venezuela by those who identify their ancestors as European came to an end with the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who won with the overwhelming support of the Mestizo majority. This turn away from white supremacy continues under Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor. In my interviews with Chavez for BBC beginning in 2002, he talked with humor about the fury of a white ruling class finding itself displaced by a man who embraced his own Indigenous and African heritage. In Venezuela, as in the USA, poverty and race are locked together. Why did so many Mestizo, poor Venezuelans love Chavez? As even the CIA’s surprisingly honest Fact Book states:

“Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.” But, just as Maduro took office, the price of oil began its collapse, and the vast social programs that oil had paid for were now supported by borrowing money and printing it, causing wild inflation. The economic slide is now made impossibly worse by what the UN rapporteur for Venezuela compared to “medieval sieges.” The Trump administration cut off Venezuela from the oil sale proceeds from its biggest customer, the US.

Everyone has been hurt economically, but the privileged class’s bank accounts have become nearly worthless. So, knowing that the Mestizo majority would not elect their Great White Hope Guaidó, they simply took to the streets — often armed. (And yes, both sides are armed.) I’ve seen this movie before. When I look at today’s news reports of massive demonstrations against the so-called “dictatorship” of Venezuela’s left government, it looks awfully like 2002, when I was first in Caracas reporting for BBC Television. [..] In 2002, George W. Bush’s State Department cheer-led the coup. The plotters kidnapped Chavez and held him hostage. The coup was led by an oil industry leader and head of the Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, who had seized the nation’s White House, and, like Guaidó today, declared himself president.

Carmona told me proudly about the fancy inaugural ball held by the nation’s elite and attended by Bush’s ambassador. But the Bush/Carmona coup collapsed when a million mostly Mestizo, Indigenous and Black Venezuelans flooded the capital and forced the plotters to return their hero, the supposedly unpopular Chavez, to Miraflores, the presidential palace. “Presidente” Carmona fled. Today, Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether, simply replacing running for office with the “recognition” from Trump and allies which Guaidó can’t get from Venezuelans.

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Wonderful summary of upcoming book.

How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies. But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power. Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”. That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out.

At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines. Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.


The Greater United States as it was in 1941

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Get them when they’re young. They dragged this girl over to Davos, letting her think that means something. Well, it did, it meant she became a puppet. Davos, Brussels; kids, you’re being used. You’re now part of a propaganda campaign that says ‘leaders’ actually give a damn. But they just want your future vote.

School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)

Greta Thunberg is hopeful the student climate strike on Friday can bring about positive change, as young people in more and more countries join the protest movement she started last summer as a lone campaigner outside the Swedish parliament. The 16-year-old welcomed the huge mobilisation planned in the UK, which follows demonstrations by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries. “I think it’s great that England is joining the school strike in a major way this week. There has been a number of real heroes on school strike, for instance in Scotland and Ireland, for some time now. Such as Holly Gillibrand and the ones in Cork with the epic sign saying ‘the emperor is naked’,” she told the Guardian.

With an even bigger global mobilisation planned for 15 March, she feels the momentum is now building. “I think enough people have realised just how absurd the situation is. We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it. I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful,” she wrote. Thunberg has risen rapidly in prominence and influence. In December, she spoke at the United Nations climate conference, berating world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. Last month, she had similarly harsh words for the global business elite at Davos. She said: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

The movement she started has morphed and grown around the world , and, at times, linked up with older groups, including Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and Greenpeace. Next week she will take the train – having decided not to fly due to the high carbon emissions of aviation – to speak at an event alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, in Brussels, and then on to Paris to join the school strikes now expanding in France. Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. “The movement that Greta launched is one of the most hopeful things in my 30 years of working on the climate question. It throws the generational challenge of global warming into its sharpest relief, and challenges adults to prove they are, actually, adults. So many thanks to all the young people who are stepping up,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org.

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Eh, school strikers?

100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

Hundreds of animal species are at risk of extinction because wildlife trade restrictions are taking too long to come into effect, a major new study warns. Over a quarter of animals on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list – the world’s most critically endangered – are not protected by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Cites is regarded as the primary international framework for preventing species extinction due to international wildlife trade. It came into force in 1975 in order to coordinate and regulate trade in wildlife products, and can put into effect bans on sales of certain species or their body parts.

The research also revealed the long wait species have to gain recognition by Cites. Even among IUCN’s red-list species, 62 per cent of those protected by Cites had waited as long as 19 years for recognition or are still waiting to be listed up to 24 years after being first considered. “It’s absolutely critical that policymakers allow science to inform a speedy protection process,” said Eyal Frank, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. He said: “New trends in wildlife trade can develop quickly, with some species going from common to near extinction in just a few years.

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Feb 102019
 
 February 10, 2019  Posted by at 11:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the outskirts of Paris near Montmartre 1887

 

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)
‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)
Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)
Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)
UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)
250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)
Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)
MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)
IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)
Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)
Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)
Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

 

 

Another Sunday of looking in vain for Yellow Vests articles in the western media.

Best detail: the house of Macron’s leader of the National Assembly was attacked. Nobody knows who, nobody knows why. Yellow Vests? Who knows.

Well, Little Napoleon knows, apparently: “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic..”

On the other hand, intimidations and violence towards his own people is fine. Gory photos galore of another guy who lost most of one of his hands to a police grenade.

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)

Thousands of French gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators marched on Saturdayin what was their 13th weekend of action. There were scuffles in Paris and a demonstrator’s hand was mangled by a small explosive. There was also an overnight arson attack on the Brittany residence of the National Assembly head, Richard Ferrand, though no immediate link was made to the actions against President Emmanuel Macron. The demonstrations, named for high-visibility jackets worn by the protesters, began in mid-November over fuel taxes. They have since broadened into a more general revolt against a political class they view as out of touch with common people. In Paris, several thousand people marched on Saturday beside symbols of power such as the National Assembly and Senate.

The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but some protesters threw objects at security forces, a scooter and a police van were set on fire and some shop windows were smashed. One participant’s hand was severely injured when he tried to pick up a so-called “sting-ball grenade” used by police to disperse crowds with teargas, a police source told Reuters. [..] Politicians from across the spectrum condemned the arson attack on the home of Ferrand, a close ally of Macron and president of parliament’s lower house. He published pictures on Twitter of a scorched living room, saying police found materials soaked in fuel. Ferrand said criminal intent was the likely cause, although the perpetrators’ identity was unclear. “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic,” Macron tweeted in relation to the incident.

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Strong against the weak, and weak against the strong. Does Macron want to fight Onfray?

“Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)

One of France’s foremost public intellectuals has posted a 4,000-word screed exposing collusion between “the brute” Emmanuel Macron and the mainstream media to put down the Gilets Jaunes, all while blaming them for the violence. “Emmanuel Macron has chosen not to maintain order, but to suppress public protest,” writes Michel Onfray in his blog, in an attempt at a definitive account of the protests that have gripped France since November. “Intentionally, the president did not restrain the violence of protesters, and unleashed it on the part of the authorities. As the head of state, he carries responsibility for choosing repressive measures, so every single injury sustained is on him.” A household name in France, Onfray is the author of over 100 books on subjects ranging from philosophy to religion to politics, many of them non-fiction bestsellers.

He is also the founder of a tuition-free private university in Caen, which is part-funded by his publications. He is one of the most respected figures to try to give an overview of the crisis that goes beyond headlines and political allegiances. Onfray writes that the protest did not begin as a “peasants’ revolt of disgruntled right-wingers” refusing to pay an environmental fuel tax – as it is being portrayed by newspapers – but was simply a result of ordinary Frenchmen saying, “We cannot pay!” Instead of listening, however, Macron decided to escalate the conflict “using it for his own benefits, and the interests of the Maastricht camp [the pro-EU establishment].” The philosopher, who has previously aligned with leftist movements, details six “symbolic slaps” the president dealt out to the protesters, in addition to the physical violence they suffered in their weekly clashes during the demonstrations.

Onfray sees the roots of the problem in the “liberal Maastricht state” created in 1992 with the establishment of the European Union, “to promoting which Macron has dedicated his entire short adult life.” “This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong, as is evident from the abolition of the wealth tax and the failure to root out tax havens,” writes the 60-year-old Onfray. “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.” The Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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The EU cares a whole lot more about Macron than about its dignity. Perhaps it should rethink that before it’s too late.

Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)

The row between France and Italy is but the latest in a long-running spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and the newly elected coalition government in Rome. The Italian government is an unlikely coalition between the left-leaning Five Star Movement (5SM) and a rightwing party, La Lega (The League). Both parties are highly critical of the EU establishment and neoliberal capitalist polices which France’s former Rothschild banker-turned-president Macron embodies. Rome has also slammed France for its responsibility in fomenting massive immigration problems for Europe and Italy in particular through Paris’ criminal military interventions, along with the US and other NATO powers, in the Middle East and North Africa.

Things came to a head this week when it emerged that Italian deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio (and 5SM leader) had met with members of the Yellow Vest protest movement in France. The Yellow Vest movement has been holding nationwide demonstrations for the past 12 weeks protesting against Macron’s economic policies and what they call his elitist style of government. Di Maio and the other Italian deputy premier Matteo Salvini (leader of The League) have been openly supporting the French protesters, whom they identify with as part of a popular revolt across Europe against neoliberal austerity.

Reacting to reports of Italian government contact with the French protesters, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “outrageous interference” in his country’s internal affairs. The row has further escalated after France recalled its ambassador from Rome. The last time that happened was in 1940 during the Second World War. This is a major breakdown in relations between two of the EU’s founding members. Here is where the irony descends into farce. France is blustering with rage at Italy’s alleged meddling in its sovereign affairs while at the very same time the French government is party to an international effort led by the US to bring about regime change in Venezuela. The hypocritical arrogance is priceless.

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The revolutionary new plan among MPs from both sides: Vote for May’s deal, and then let the people vote it down. That way, whatever happens is not your fault.

Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)

Theresa May could win parliament’s approval for her controversial Brexit deal in return for guaranteeing another referendum, under a new plan being drawn up by a cross-party group of MPs. The new vote would give the British people a simple choice: to confirm the decision or stay in the EU. The initiative, aimed at breaking the political impasse, is being advanced by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and has won the support of prominent Remainers in the Tory party including Sarah Wollaston, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry. Kyle says the idea, which is likely to be put forward as an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, is also being taken seriously by “people at a high level in government” as a potential way to resolve the Brexit crisis.

The amendment would offer all MPs the chance to support, or abstain on, the withdrawal bill and would specify that, if passed, the decision would be implemented on the condition it was put to the public for approval in a second referendum. If the amendment passed through parliament but the deal was rejected in the subsequent referendum, the UK would stay in the EU under current arrangements. If, however, the British people confirmed the decision of MPs to leave the EU under the terms of May’s deal, Brexit on these terms would immediately come into effect without any need for it to return to parliament.

“The beauty of this plan is that it holds attractions for both Leavers and Remainers. For Leavers, if the deal is confirmed by the British people, it offers a definitive end to the withdrawal process with Brexit sealed once and for all. For Remainers, on the other hand, it offers the chance to make the case to stay in the EU to the public, based on facts not promises as before,” said Kyle.“Remainers could vote for May’s deal, or abstain, even though they might not like it, in the knowledge that they could campaign against it later in the referendum. “The key is that Labour and Tory MPs could choose their own way of allowing the bill to pass, yet both will still be able to campaign in the referendum for their real objectives and their principles will remain intact,” he added.

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These clowns are paid generous salaries to make these decisions. May that’s a good place to start.

UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)

A controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contract awarded to a firm with no ships has been cancelled by the UK’s department for transport. Transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million (€15.7 million) had attracted widespread criticism. The department said it had decided to terminate the contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal. A department of transport spokeswoman said: “Following the decision of Seaborne Freight’s backer, Arklow Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government. We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.

“The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity — including through the port of Ramsgate — in the event of a no-deal Brexit.” Mr Grayling last month defended the Seaborne Freight contract, insisting it was “not a risk”. It was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108 million (€123 million) in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU, despite having never run a Channel service. The department said it had been Arklow Shipping’s backing that gave it confidence in the viability of the deal, and that it stands by the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight.

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How close Brexit is getting. 47 days. A Bloomberg headline this morning says it all:

“Cargo ships are about to set sail from Britain for Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but their goods will arrive in an uncertain post-Brexit world.”

250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)

The Dutch government has said it is in talks with more than 250 companies about moving their operations from the UK to the Netherlands before Brexit. The economic affairs ministry said it had lured 42 companies or branch offices and 1,923 jobs from the UK last year, as it increases its efforts to gain Brexit business. Among those who have chosen to invest in the Netherlands are the Discovery Channel, Sony and Bloomberg. Sony announced last month it was moving its European headquarters to Amsterdam, as companies in the UK continue to progress with contingency plans. Its rival Panasonic has already moved to the Dutch capital.

The government report said another Japanese company, the investment bank Norinchukin, was also moving to Amsterdam, along with the global content company TVT Media, the financial services providers MarketAxess and Azimo, and the maritime insurer UK P&I Club. While Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, recently said he did not see Brexit as a business opportunity, countries including Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg have been actively looking for opportunities to capitalise on Brexit ever since the EU referendum. Banks and other financial services are obliged to have operations in a member state if they want to serve a pan-EU market, while broadcasters who transmit across the EU need to have a licence in one member state to meet regulations.

The BBC is considering setting up an international base in Belgium. The Dutch economic affairs ministry said: “In 2019, several companies including Discovery and Bloomberg have already announced their intention to invest in the Netherlands because of Brexit. “Additionally, the Netherlands foreign investment agency is talking with more than 250 foreign companies considering setting up operations in the Netherlands following Brexit.” Most of the 250 companies were British, but some were American or Asian firms reconsidering their European branch structures, the report said.

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Oh Christ, Britons who think this is a British issue. Lord have patience.

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)

If they did not exist, would we invent them? Given the chance to start from scratch, would Britain regard the Conservative and Labour parties, the two old and ugly sisters of our politics, as the best we can do? Are they fit for the purpose of representing and reconciling the diversity of opinions in a modern and complex country? And for offering it a choice of decent governments? A growing number of us have been saying not and for a long time. Even before Brexit split both parties and scrambled voter allegiances, much of the electorate was expressing its dissatisfaction with the big two. The Tories have not won a solid parliamentary majority since 1987.

The last Labour leader who was not called Tony Blair to secure a healthy Commons majority was Harold Wilson in 1966. The number of voters who enthusiastically identify as red or blue has been in long-term decline. Party membership has also been shrivelling. The Tories, who once boasted that they were a million strong, bump along at around 100,000. Labour enjoyed a trend-defying surge in its membership during the Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn phase of his leadership, but that is going downhill as the magical uncle turns out not to be so wondrous after all. It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election.

But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible. It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither. More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties.

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No, you got that really really wrong, they didn’t fall for anything, they are an integral part of the process.

MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)

The Trump administration’s now completely overt effort to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had a very successful public relations effort this week, as major Western media outlets uniformly echoed its simplistic, pre-packaged claim that the Venezuelan government was heartlessly withholding foreign aid. All of the articles—and scores more like it—repeated the same script: Maduro was blocking aid from the US “out of refusal to relinquish power,” preferring to starve “his own people” rather than feed them. It’s a simple case of good and evil—of a tyrannical, paranoid dictator not letting in aid to feed a starving population.

Except three pieces of key context are missing. Context that, when presented to a neutral observer, would severely undermine the cartoonish narrative being advanced by US media. 1) Both the Red Cross and UN warned the US not to engage in this aid PR stunt. 2) The bridge in question is a visual metaphor contrived by the Trump administration of little practical relevance. 3) The person in charge of US operations in Venezuela has a history of using aid as a cover to deliver weapons to right-wing mercenaries. (1) Not only has the international aid community not asked for the “aid,” earlier this week, both the International Red Cross and United Nations warned the US to explicitly not engage in these types of PR stunts. As Washington Post contributor Vincent Bevins pointed out, the transparent cynicism of these efforts was preemptively warned about by the groups actually charged with keeping starving people fed.

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“..oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades..”

IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)

Public debt has rapidly increased in many Arab countries since the 2008 global financial crisis, due to persistently high budget deficits, the International Monetary Fund warned Saturday. “Unfortunately, the region has yet to fully recover from the global financial crisis and other big economic dislocations over the past decade,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. “Among oil importers, (economic) growth has picked up, but it is still below pre-crisis levels,” she told the Arab Fiscal Forum in Dubai. Lagarde said public debt among Arab oil importing nations had increased from 64 percent to 85 percent of GDP in the decade since 2008.

Nearly half of these countries now have public debt of over 90 percent of GDP, she said. Public debt among oil exporters — including the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – rose from 13 percent of GDP to 33 percent of GDP, accelerated by the crash in oil prices around five years ago, Lagarde said. “The oil exporters have not fully recovered from the dramatic oil price shock of 2014,” she said. “Modest growth continues, but the outlook is highly uncertain.” Lagarde said oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which stipulates a reduction in greenhouse emissions.

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Ironically, the World Bank is a facade for US rule.

Pelosi manages to utter that “Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” An institution whose funds “internal audits and outside reports have tied to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose..” Thanks, Nancy.

Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)

President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the World Bank is a firebrand critic of the world’s largest anti-poverty lender – an institution he has called wasteful, corrupt and overly generous to China. Those complaints are similar to those voiced by others in the development community. But that does not mean they have found a new ally in David Malpass, the senior US Treasury official who has pledged to reform the bank. Nancy Pelosi, the newly reinstalled Democratic speaker of the US House of Representatives, says Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” And Liberia’s former minister of public works W. Gyude Moore tweeted that “an incorrigible arsonist will now be our fire chief.”

Malpass’ many criticisms of the Washington-based lender certainly echo familiar refrains. Many activists have long called for reforms at the World Bank, citing a litany of alleged human rights failures and scandals, and saying projects all too often left the world’s poorest even worse off, harmed the environment or entrenched the power of oligarchies and despots. Those critics might well have nodded their heads in accord in 2017 when Malpass said international financial institutions such as the World Bank “spend a lot of money” but are “not very efficient.” “They are often corrupt in their lending practices and they don’t get the benefit to the actual people in the countries,” he said in congressional testimony.

Internal audits and outside reports have tied World Bank funds to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose, to name just a few examples.

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Spain went from right-wing to socialist government, and nothing changed. A familiar global pattern.

Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)

The trial on Tuesday of 12 Catalan leaders over their role in Catalonia’s failed independence bid will be fought between Madrid and the separatists in the international media as much as in the courtroom. “We have to use this trial as a tool of denunciation, use it in our goal to make Catalonia independent,” the head of influential grassroots separatist group ANC, Elisenda Paluzie, said before the start of the trial at Spain’s Supreme Court on February 12. The separatists who govern the wealthy northeastern region have for years tried to convince the world of the legitimacy of their cause and make the case that Spain lacks political freedoms. But with over 600 journalists from 150 media outlets from around the world accredited to cover the trial, Spain’s central government does not want to remain on the sidelines.

The arrival in power in June of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez marked a change in Madrid’s strategy. The previous conservative government of Mariano Rajoy was largely passive in the face of the separatists’ international campaign. But Sanchez’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell – a Catalan who fiercely opposes independence – and his team spare no efforts to refute their arguments. “We are starting a completely different chapter,” the Global Spain spokesman said, adding the posture of the Rajoy government had “a very high cost in terms of misinformation”.

Officials from Spain’s justice ministry and the Supreme Court also met with foreign correspondents based in Madrid before the trial. And on Thursday Sanchez defended Spain’s judiciary during a visit to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in France. Many separatists are convinced that their leaders were jailed for political reasons and will not have a fair trial. And they see the central government’s public relations push as proof of this. “If the Spanish government is forced to carry out a campaign of marketing and misinformation, that means they feel insecure,” Alfred Bosch, in charge of foreign affairs in Catalonia’s regional government, said during a recent visit to London.

The Catalan government will respond to Madrid’s campaign by explaining “the truth….about a trial which is a political trial” and ease the work for foreign journalists and observers so they “reach their own conclusions”, he added. Catalonia’s public television will offer coverage of the trial in English to give it an “international dimension”. Grassroots separatist organisations ANC and Omnium Cultural are preparing their own information campaigns targeting an international audience which include videos made in several languages and meetings in cities across Europe. The lawyers of several of the defendants, who face long prison sentences if convicted, have demanded the presence of international observers at the trial. But the request was turned down by the Supreme Court..

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What did Elon say, there’s lots of interest but people can’t afford Tesla’s?!

Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

Details trickling out over the 3,200-plus layoffs Tesla announced on January 18 are starting to paint a picture of what is happening on the demand side for the Model 3 in the US. According to two laid-off employees cited by Reuters, the company has gutted its delivery team of 230 people at its Las Vegas facility that delivered tens of thousands of Model 3s to buyers mostly in the US but also in Canada. About 150 of the 230 employees on the team have been let go, the two sources said who were among those let go, as the company struggles with deliveries that have plunged from the pace in the fourth quarter last year.

The federal tax credit of $7,500 was cut in half to $3,750 at the beginning of the year after Tesla’s EV sales rose past the 200,000-threshold in 2018. Yet the $35,000 Model 3 that CEO Elon Musk promised in 2016 remains a distant promise. The company already slashed its Model 3 price twice this year to stimulate demand, yet the least expensive Model 3 still has a price tag of $42,900. “There are not enough deliveries,” one of the laid-off employees told Reuters. “You don’t need a team because there are not that many cars coming through.”

The two laid-off employees said that in the first quarter, delivery targets for North America – mostly buyers in the US but also in Canada – are down 55% to 60% from what they were in Q4 2018. After a herculean effort late last year, Tesla delivered 145,610 Model 3s in 2018, all of them high-priced luxury versions. During this effort to deliver as many Model 3s as possible while the full federal tax credit of $7,500 was still in effect, the reservation list was “plucked clean” of American buyers “willing to pay current prices,” as Reuters put it, citing those two laid-off employees on the delivery team.

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Feb 092019
 
 February 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Le pigeon aux petits pois (Pigeon with Peas) – stolen May 20 2010 1911

 

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)
UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)
Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)
US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)
Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)
Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)
US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)
Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)
Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)
Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

 

 

Almost off the news radar, Germany’s problems get serious, and drag Europe down with it.

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)

“Unexpectedly,” German industrial production fell 3.9% in December 2018 compared to December 2017, after having fallen by a revised 4.0% in November, according to German statistics agency Destatis Thursday morning. These two drops were steepest year-over-year drops since 2009. Even during the European Debt Crisis in 2011 and 2012 – it hit Germany’s industry hard as many European countries weaved in and out of a recession, with some countries sinking into a depression — German industrial production never fell as fast on a year-over-year basis as in November and December:

The declines on a year-over-year basis were broad: Without construction, industrial production fell 3.9% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.5% in November. And just manufacturing production, which includes mining and quarrying, fell 4.0% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.6% in November. On a longer-term scale, the industrial production index peaked in May 2018 and has since fallen 4.6%. It is now back where it had first been in February 2017:

And industrial production is not getting a whole lot better any time soon as new orders for the manufacturing sector have plunged – according to data released by Destatis on Wednesday. New orders dropped 7.0% year-over-year in December (adjusted for calendar differences), after having fallen 3.4% in November and 3.0% in October. In fact, orders have fallen seven months in a row on a year-over year basis in ever larger drops. The chart below shows the decline in each month compared to the same month a year earlier — with a sharp deterioration at the end of the year:

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As I’ve said before, tweaking rates is sort of an instant measure, but re-purchasing $434 billion in assets takes much longer. If only because the Fed will cause a panic if they try.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)

The Fed shed $32 billion in assets in January, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended February 6, released this afternoon. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,026 billion, the lowest since January 2014. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $434 billion.

[..] the questions going forward are these: One, will the Fed continue to trim its balance sheet on “autopilot,” or will it deviate from plan and slow or stop the balance sheet reductions; Or two, will the Fed reverse course and restart QE all over again at any moment now, as the biggest Wall Street hype-mongers have prophesied; Or three, will the Fed tweak the roll-off – as a slew of Fed governors have suggested – to where it would get rid of its MBS more quickly by outright selling them; and by replacing some of them with short-term Treasury bills to lower the balance sheet’s average maturity, which currently is over eight years.

Over the next few months, the Fed will likely announce some tantalizing tidbits about how it might tweak the balance-sheet reduction. One of those tidbits will likely relate to how it will shed MBS faster and replace those additional reductions of MBS with short-term Treasury bills. The effects of this may not be what the markets had hoped for in their wildest dreams. And the Fed will likely dole out more clues about how much further it wants to cut its balance sheet. But all this will take months, and until those tweaks are nailed down and announced, the balance sheet normalization will proceed on autopilot at its by now customary glacial pace.

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)

Some of the world’s poorest countries are being forced to agree potentially damaging trade deals with the UK by government “threats” in the rush to Brexit, campaigners say. Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is accused of piling pressure on developing nations to “sign up blind” – without knowing the value of the deals – with a warning they will otherwise be lost. Just three of the 40 agreements the UK enjoys through EU membership, covering 71 countries, have been successfully “rolled over” – as the government promised – with Brexit day just seven weeks away. Now the Department for International Trade is under fire for telling the countries concerned they risk punishing tariffs on crucial exports to the UK, unless they re-sign the deals in time.

Among them are Ghana, which relies on banana sales, Mauritius (tuna), Kenya (flowers), Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa), Namibia (grapes and beef), Swaziland (sugar), and scores of other developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. And, says the fair trade charity Traidcraft Exchange, they risk a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under an extraordinary plan to treat EU parts as originating from the UK. “The continuity agreements are being rushed because of the threat of no deal. Countries are being asked to sign up blind,” said Liz May, the charity’s head of policy.

“Without the full picture of how the EU and UK will trade in the future, it is impossible for countries to judge what these deals are really worth, how they will work in practice or even how some elements will be enforced. “Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, the government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports. “This type of bad-faith negotiating – using implicit threats to get countries ‘over the line’ – is not a great way to start the UK’s independent trade policy.”

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“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show..”

The Senate will vote on Barr next week anyway, so why the showboating carnival?

Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist, and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Democrats confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings, and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said congressman Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: “Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.” Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller invesetigation as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management”.

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.” Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s inquiry into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said the Republican congressman Doug Collins ,of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination”.

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The US food crisis is exclusively caused by Big Ag and Monsanto. Farmers depending on China is not in their interest.

US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)

American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food. Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers. They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.” Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.

“A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico. With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis. Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage.

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“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy.”

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy. And consumers are doing it, but in a somewhat lackadaisical manner when it comes to spending money they don’t have. Consumer debt – more enticingly, “consumer credit” similar to “extra credit” – rose 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the fourth quarter last year. In the year 2018, Americans added $179 billion to their balances on their credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Every dime was spent and added to GDP. It amounted to nearly 1% of GDP. If GDP grew 3.1% in 2018, just under one third of the growth was generated by that additional consumer debt.

Without this additional consumer borrowing, if consumers had just maintained their debt levels, GDP growth might only have been 2.2% in 2018, instead of 3.1%. So, a huge round of applause is due our debt slaves that now owe over $4 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Federal Reserve Thursday afternoon. Consumer debt includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. The $4.01 trillion in consumer debt is up 52% from the peak early in the Financial Crisis in Q3 2008. This is not adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index rose 16% and nominal GDP rose 39%. Thus, Americans are sticking to their time-honored plan of out-borrowing both inflation (by a big margin) and economic growth.

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Summary: Trump accused of using the same FBI that spies on him, to spy on Bezos, who’s in bed with the FBI.

I may have temporarily lost the thread, and the logic.

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct. [..] Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic. That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.” “Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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The core of the Venezuela crisis: “Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South..”

Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)

In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, IMF, and the OECD — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and the OECD, as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

[..] Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government. This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine. As the Grayzone Project recently noted: Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)

In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.

William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.

[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.

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“..a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks..”

US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)

The US is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking. Members of the South American country’s security forces fear they or their families could be targeted by Maduro if they defect, so the U.S. would need to offer them something that could outweigh those concerns, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington. “It depends on what they’re offering,” Farnsworth said. “Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?”

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A horse felled Troy.

Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)

Venezuela’s government on Friday said the United States should distribute humanitarian aid in Colombia where it is being stockpiled, while the opposition warned that blocking much-needed food and medicine could constitute crimes against humanity. A day after the aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, President Nicolas Maduro ridiculed the United States for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue. Rival Juan Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, warned military officers against blocking the arrival of aid amid spiraling disease and malnutrition brought on by a hyperinflationary collapse.

“Take all that humanitarian aid and give it to the people of Cucuta, where there is a lot of need,” Maduro said in a news conference. “This is a macabre game, you see? They squeeze us by the neck and then make us beg for crumbs.” “They offer us toilet paper, like (U.S. President) Donald Trump threw at the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at the conference, which experienced technical difficulties including a blackout and a microphone failure. He was referring to Trump’s improvised 2018 aid distribution in the U.S. territory following a hurricane, during which he threw rolls of paper towels.

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“Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes.”

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

We need to protect, and love, life in all its glory and beauty, because we are life. But we don’t see what connects us to all that we kill, we think we’re some separate entity.

There is no more flagrant failure in our education systems than this: they don’t teach us who we are.

Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense. Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.” The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue. [..] shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound. Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing.

[..] Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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Feb 062019
 
 February 6, 2019  Posted by at 10:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Portrait de femme au col d’hermine (Olga) 1923

 

Trump Calls For End To ‘Politics Of Revenge,’ Touts ‘Hottest Economy’ (AP)
Trump, Kim To Hold Second Summit In Vietnam At End Of February (AP)
Too Fast, Too Furious (Roberts)
Elizabeth Warren Apologizes For Identifying As Native American (MW)
May Rules Out Brexit Delay And Hard Border With Ireland (G.)
Ireland And EU Discuss Emergency Funding For No-Deal Brexit (G.)
China: Expansion, Stagnation and Decline (CHSmith)
French Lawmakers Approve Controversial ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill (F24)
Judge Pauses Lawsuits Against Cryptocurrency Company Quadriga (R.)
5G Wireless: A “Massive Health Experiment” (SHTF)
18% Of Young People In UK Do Not Think Life Is Worth Living (G.)
50,000 Elderly In UK -77 Per Day- Die Waiting For Social Care (G.)

 

 

At least they all agree on Venezuela.

Trump Calls For End To ‘Politics Of Revenge,’ Touts ‘Hottest Economy’ (AP)

Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.” He warned emboldened Democrats that “ridiculous partisan investigations” into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy. Trump’s appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital — as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.

Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.

[..] One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months. He said the U.S. has “the hottest economy anywhere in the world.” He said, “The only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations. The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump’s speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are “more women in the workforce than ever before.”

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Haven’t heard Moon for a while. There’s talk of a NoKor industrial area reopening.

Trump, Kim To Hold Second Summit In Vietnam At End Of February (AP)

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he will hold a two-day summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam to continue his efforts to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. Trump has said his outreach to Kim and their first meeting last June in Singapore opened a path to peace. But there is not yet a concrete plan for how denuclearization could be implemented. Denuclearizing North Korea is something that has eluded the U.S. for more than two decades, since it was first learned that North Korea was close to acquiring the means for nuclear weapons. “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Trump said in his State of the Union address.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress last week that U.S. intelligence officials do not believe Kim will eliminate his nuclear weapons or the capacity to build more because he believes they are key to the survival of the regime. [..] At the second Trump-Kim summit, some experts say North Korea is likely to seek to trade the destruction of its main Yongbyon nuclear complex for a U.S. promise to formally declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, open a liaison office in Pyongyang and allow the North to resume some lucrative economic projects with South Korea. “Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months,” Trump said. “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.

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Interesting, good graph. It’s just that referring to ‘markets’ means you’re guaranteed to get so many things wrong. There are no markets when the Fed decides prices insead of allowing markets to do so.

Too Fast, Too Furious (Roberts)

As noted by Deutsche Bank’s Parag Thatte noted recently: “While the S&P 500 rallied +15% since late December, equity funds have continued to see large outflows. As Thatte elaborates, “US equity funds in particular have continued to see large outflows (-$40bn) since then, following massive outflows (-$77bn) through the sell-off from October to December.” This confirms our concern the recent rally has primarily been a function of short-covering and repositioning in the markets rather than an “all-out” buying spree based on a “conviction” the “bull market” remains intact.

David Rosenberg recently confirmed the same: “Let’s go back to December for a minute. This was the worst December since 1931, mind you, followed by the best January since 1987. This is nothing more than market that has gone completely manic. To suggest that there is anything fundamental about this dead-cat bounce in equities is laughable. This is an economy, and a market, that couldn’t even sustain a 3% yield on the 10-year T-note. It sputtered at the thought of the Fed taking the funds rate marginally above zero on a ‘real’ basis, even as it feasted on unprecedented stimulus for a such a late-cycle economy. Yes, Powell et al. helped trigger this latest up-leg, not just at last week’s meeting, but in the lead-up to the confab as well. The Fed has been crying uncle for weeks now.”

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Too many attempts at covering lies with other ones. What was she thinking?

Elizabeth Warren Apologizes For Identifying As Native American (MW)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren apologized Tuesday for previously identifying herself as a Native American. In an interview with the Washington Post, the Massachusetts Democrat expanded on an apology issued last week to the Cherokee Nation. “I can’t go back,” she told the Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.” As a presidential candidate, Warren has been trying to fight accusations that she identified as Native American to advance her career as a professor at Harvard and Penn law schools. In the same report, the Post published Warren’s previously undisclosed 1986 registration card to the State Bar of Texas, in which she handwrote her ethnicity as “American Indian.”

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Thought she might flee into an Article 50 extension. But it wouldn’t bring anything. She’s close to checkmate.

May Rules Out Brexit Delay And Hard Border With Ireland (G.)

Theresa May fired a warning shot at Brexit supporters on Tuesday, insisting there was “no suggestion” Britain would leave the EU without an insurance provision to protect against a hard border in Northern Ireland. At a speech in Belfast, May would only accept that technology could “play a part” in any alternative arrangements and that she would not countenance anything that would disrupt the lives of border communities. Brexit supporters immediately expressed their alarm at some of May’s language, which they fear could be read as a step back from previous assurances. “She knows what she promised us,” one ERG source said. “Even if she didn’t mean what she said, we do.”

The comments came as May prepared to meet EU leaders in Brussels for the first time since the historic defeat of her Brexit deal, where she is expected to formally request the reopening of the withdrawal agreement in order to address concerns about the backstop. The prime minister will travel to the Belgian capital on Thursday, meeting the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU parliament president Antonio Tajani, and the European council president. Donald Tusk. Both Tusk and Juncker have been adamant that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.

Number 10 sources suggested they did not expect a warm reception, but that it would signal the start of a new diplomatic process, involving proposals on the backstop worked on by MPs and ministers. Earlier on Tuesday, May told her cabinet she would not countenance any delay to the UK’s exit on 29 March, a message to ministers such as Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid who have suggested at least some delay might now be inevitable. Ministers who are more pessimistic about the prospects of the UK leaving on time with a deal held their tongues in the meeting after May’s warning. “She was pretty clear she had no time for anyone calling for it to be extended,” one cabinet source said.

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“He has previously said Ireland would seek “mega-money” from the EU.”

Ireland And EU Discuss Emergency Funding For No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Ireland is in talks with the EU over a substantial Brexit emergency fund to offset the damage caused to the country’s €4.5bn (£3.96bn) food exports to Britain if the UK crashes out of the bloc with no deal next month. As Theresa May prepares for a crunch meeting in Brussels on Thursday, officials at the European commission are already looking at continuous compensatory measures for Ireland as part of an ongoing arrangement that could last years. Contingency funds to compensate farmers have already been discussed at the highest levels and are expected to arise in talks with the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, during a round of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday.

Sources say Ireland will be looking for a “long-term fix” in EU budget talks in April rather than a lump sum Brexit bailout. Politicians have cited the ongoing assistance given to the Baltic states after Russia banned certain food exports from the EU as an example of financial solidarity it hopes to win in a no-deal Brexit. Ireland exports €4.5bn worth of food and drink a year to the UK, ranging from beef to cheddar cheese. Calculations by the Department of Agriculture put the cost of tariffs under World Trade Organization rules at €1.7bn. Michael Creed, Ireland’s minister for agriculture, food and the marine, has said this would be an “existential challenge” for the food and drink sector. He has previously said Ireland would seek “mega-money” from the EU.

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“China entered 2008 with $8 billion in officially counted debt; 10 years later that debt is $40 trillion..”

China: Expansion, Stagnation and Decline (CHSmith)

China entered 2008 with $8 billion in officially counted debt; 10 years later that debt is $40 trillion, plus unknown trillions more in the shadow banking system which expanded the options for risky speculation and massive expansions of credit. Like all the other stagnating economies, China’s “solution” to stagnation was to expand debt-funded speculation and “investments” with little to no actual return. The high water mark of China’s financialization orgy was 2018. From now on, adding debt simply adds more drag on the underlying economy, as income is diverted to service speculative debt and defaults start hollowing out both the official banking system and the shadow banking system.

All the policies that worked in the Boost Phase no longer work. the policy tool chest is empty, and so China’s leadership is doing more of what’s failed: burying bad debt off the visible balance sheets, re-issuing new loans to pay off defaulted debt, and all the usual tricks of a failed banking/credit system. Japan has papered over its systemic rot and decline for 30 years by using a financial Perpetual Motion Machine: the state borrows and spends trillions by selling bonds to the central bank, which in effect prints “free money” for the state to burn propping up a sclerotic, corrupt, failed status quo.

If that’s policy makers’ idea of success, they are delusional. Credit/asset bubbles all deflate, and central bank buying of assets only gives the lie to the illusion of stability and market liquidity. Simply put, there is no indication China’s leadership has any plan to manage the inevitable stagnation and decline of China’s economy that is now painfully obvious to anyone with the slightest willingness to look beneath the flimsy propaganda of official statistics. They are not alone, of course; every other major economy is equally bereft of policies and equally dependent on bogus statistics and debt to paper over the decline.

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Macron support slips further. “50 MPs from Macron’s own party abstained from voting”.. but “The main thing is that there were no votes against..”, says the party.

French Lawmakers Approve Controversial ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill (F24)

French MPs on Tuesday approved an anti-rioting bill giving security forces the power to ban suspected hooligans from demonstrating, in a controversial bid to crack down on violence that has marred Yellow Vest protests over the last three months. Opponents say the bill, approved by the lower house of parliament by 387 votes to 92, contravenes the constitutional right to demonstrate. Under its most contentious provision, government officials would be able to ban people suspected of being hooligans from taking part in demonstrations – without oversight from a judge. Inspired by legislation used to crack down on football hooligans, the new law calls for a six-month prison sentence and a €7,500 ($8,500) fine for violators.

The legislation, if passed by the upper house and approved by the constitutional council, would also allow fines of €15,000 ($17,000) and a one-year prison term for demonstrators covering or masking their faces to escape identification. It would also hand French police greater powers to search would-be demonstrators for weapons. [..] Unusually, some 50 MPs from Macron’s own party, the Republic on the Move (LREM), abstained from voting in favour of the legislation on Tuesday in a sign of divisions within the group. [..] “The main thing is that there were no votes against,” Gilles Le Gendre, who heads LREM’s parliamentary group, told reporters after the vote on Tuesday.

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A very curious case. We’ll hear much more of it.

Judge Pauses Lawsuits Against Cryptocurrency Company Quadriga (R.)

A cryptocurrency platform that lost access to millions of dollars when its founder died with sole knowledge of company passwords has been granted a temporary reprieve from creditor lawsuits. Halifax judge Michael Wood on Tuesday ordered a 30-day stay that precludes filing of claims against Quadriga, a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange that has left thousands of investors without their money after the death of founder Gerald Cotten. Customers have threatened lawsuits. Ernst & Young has been appointed the company’s third-party monitor, to help manage Quadriga’s finances during the process.

Cotten, who died in December of complications from Crohn’s disease while in India, was the only person who had passwords to digital wallets containing C$180 million ($137.13 million) in cryptocurrencies, according to court filings. He was 30 years old. “Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find (the passwords) written down anywhere,” his widow Jennifer Robertson said in an affidavit. A court file indicates Quadriga owes 115,000 users the equivalent of C$250 million ($190.46 million). The document showed Quadriga has $30 million in bank drafts, many of which it has had trouble depositing. Lawyer Maurice Chiasson told the court the company wants time to find the C$250 million it owes users. According to court filings the company is considering selling its platforms to cover its debts.

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The riches of smartphones.

5G Wireless: A “Massive Health Experiment” (SHTF)

Experts are warning that superfast broadband known as 5G could cause cancer in humans, and the usage of 5G is nothing more than a “massive health experiment.” 5G could very well be a global catastrophe that kills wildlife, gives people terminal diseases, and causes the Earth’s magnetic field to change, according to shocking claims by a technology expert. Arthur Robert Firstenberg is an American author and an activist for electromagnetic radiation and health. In his 1997 book Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution, he claimed: “The telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about its technology since at least 1927.”

Firstenberg has also founded the independent campaign group the Celluar Phone Task Force and since 1996 he has argued in numerous publications that wireless technology is dangerous. According to a report by the Daily Star, Firstenberg has also recently started an online petition calling on world organizations, such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation (WHO), and European Union to “urgently halt the development of 5G,” which is due to be rolled out this year. In fact, Verizon has activated the world’s first 5G networks in four cities in the United States: Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. According to the Firstenberg, wireless networks are “harmful for humans” and the development of the next generation is “defined as a crime” under international law, as he states it in the online petition.

When speaking to The Daily Star Online, Firstenberg said this 5G rollout is deadly. “There is about to be as many as 20,000 satellites in the atmosphere. The FCC approved Elon Musk’s project for 12,000 satellites on November 15th and he’s going to launch his in mid-2019. I’m getting reports from various parts of the world that 5G antennas are being erected all over and people are already getting sick from what’s there now and the insect population is getting affected,” Firstenberg stated.

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More riches of smartphones. Someone soon will propose a better term than ‘smart’-phones.

18% Of Young People In UK Do Not Think Life Is Worth Living (G.)

The number of young people in the UK who say they do not believe that life is worth living has doubled in the last decade, amid a sense of overwhelming pressure from social media which is driving feelings of inadequacy, new research suggests. In 2009, only 9% of 16-25-year-olds disagreed with the statement that “life is really worth living”, but that has now risen to 18%. More than a quarter also disagree that that their life has a sense of purpose, according to a YouGov survey of 2,162 people for the Prince’s Trust, a charity that helps 11 to 30-year-olds into education, training and work. Youth happiness levels have fallen most sharply over the last decade in respect of relationships with friends and emotional health, the survey found, while satisfaction with issues like money and accommodation have remained steady.

The Prince’s Trust has been gauging youth opinion for 10 years and found that just under half of young people who use social media now feel more anxious about their future when they compare themselves to others on sites and apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. A similar amount agree that social media makes them feel “inadequate”. More than half (57%) think social media creates “overwhelming pressure” to succeed. The gloomy view on life being taken by a growing minority of young people comes amid reports of an increased rate of teenage suicide. It was reported on Sunday that official statistics due later this year will show that suicides now occur at more than five in 100,000 teenagers in England. That contrasts with a figure of just over three in 100,000 in 2010.

“Social media has become omnipresent in the lives of young people and this research suggests it is exacerbating what is already an uncertain and emotionally turbulent time,” said Nick Stace, UK chief executive of The Prince’s Trust. “Young people are critical to the future success of this country, but they’ll only realise their full potential if they believe in themselves and define success in their own terms. It is therefore a moral and economic imperative that employers, government, charities and wider communities put the needs of young people centre stage.”

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Britain gets rid of its old and its young. And presumably other ‘weaker’ groups.

50,000 Elderly In UK -77 Per Day- Die Waiting For Social Care (G.)

More than 50,000 people have died waiting for care while ministers dither over long-awaited plans to overhaul the funding of social care, a charity has claimed. Age UK estimated that 54,000 people – or 77 a day – have died while waiting for a care package in the 700 days since the government first said in March 2017 it would publish its social care green paper, which has since been delayed several times. The claim came as a cross-party group of MPs warned that the government was “in denial” about the perilous state of English local authority finances – a crisis driven by a growing demand for the care of vulnerable adults and children.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said that after eight years in which central government funding had halved, councils were under “enormous pressure” just to maintain essential services. MPs accused ministers of having no meaningful plan to ensure local authority finances were sustainable in the future. Overall spending by local authorities on services fell by 19.2% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, according to the report. Meg Hillier, the committee chair said: “Government needs to get real, listen fully to the concerns of local government and take a hard look at the real impact funding reductions have on local services.”

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a funding boost for councils at last autumn’s budget, amounting to £1.4 bn in 2018-19 and 2019-20. But the PAC said such short-term fixes failed to deal with the underlying challenges facing councils. It urged the government to focus on assuring the long-term sustainability of local authority finances, and be more ambitious than simply allowing them to “cope”.

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Feb 052019
 
 February 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Meditation 1936

 

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)
Bill Gross Retires (R.)
SOTU (Jim Kunstler)
EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)
Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)
Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)
An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)
Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)
Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)
The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)
Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)
Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

 

 

As Trump has dinner with Powell, some San Francisco Fed theorist waxes enthusiastically about what more the Fed could have done. Not pre-2008, when the crisis caused by Fed policies erupted, but post-2008, when it tried to repair the damage it had done -and ‘failed’. Get these guys out of your economy or you’re going to see a real crisis. The Fed serves rich people only. All these people claim to defend a free market, but the Fed is the biggest enemy of a free market.

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)

The Federal Reserve responded aggressively to the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 by cutting the target for its benchmark short-term interest rate, known as the federal funds rate, to a range just above zero in December 2008, where it stayed until the end of 2015. Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Other central banks—in Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, and the euro area—took unconventional policy one step further and challenged the traditional view on the lower bound by setting their target rates below zero. In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

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Alternative headline: Fed policies killed Bill Gross. Can’t support stocks without killing bonds. It’s about pensions, don’t you know.

Bill Gross Retires (R.)

Bill Gross, once the bond market’s most influential investor, will retire from Janus in coming weeks, ending attempts to reclaim the stature he enjoyed leading the world’s largest fixed-income investing firm. Gross, who turned to investing after serving as U.S. naval officer, co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co in 1971, attaining rock-star status in investing circles as he attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Under his watch, Pimco blossomed into a $2 trillion asset-management powerhouse, one so influential that the U.S. Federal Reserve tapped it to help implement its program of emergency bond purchases in the financial crisis in 2008. At Janus, however, Gross was unable to repeat his earlier success, with the performance of the fund he managed ranking near the bottom. Gross told Reuters on Friday that low rates are distorting returns.

His tenure at Pimco ended abruptly and acrimoniously in September 2014, when he was ousted. His flagship Total Return Fund – which hit a peak of $292.9 billion in assets in April 2013 – was hemorrhaging assets. At the end of April 2015, the Pimco Total Return Fund had lost its title as the world’s biggest bond mutual fund to the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, which had $117.3 billion of assets. “You have to give Bill a lot of credit because he was the prime mover, popularizing active management,” Dan Fuss, vice chairman at Loomis, Sayles & Co LP, and one of Gross’ biggest competitors, said in a telephone interview. “I had hoped he’d be out and about and stay in the business because I know he would have wound up doing a good job.”

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Here’s hoping he rips them all another one. That the SOTU may be as exciting as the Super Bowl was dull.

SOTU (Jim Kunstler)

It’s conceivable, in a nation that absolutely can’t make sense of itself, that Mr. Trump’s annual report to congress will be as incomprehensible as this year’s Superbowl halftime show. Even the weather in Atlanta was a complete mystery with Maroon 5’s front man, Adam Levine, capering half-naked in tattoo drag amid artificial fires-of-hell, and then local hero rapper Big Boi’s triumphal entry in a limo, nearly lost inside what looked like the pelt of a giant ground sloth — an eight-year-old’s idea of what it means to be important. Or maybe it was just all code for two sides of the climate change debate. You can be sure the atmosphere will be frosty to the max when the Golden Golem of Greatness lumbers down the aisle of congress’s house on Tuesday night.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic majority turns its backs on him during the always excruciating preliminaries and then just walks out of the chamber. Don’t expect the usual excessive rounds of applause from the president’s own party this time, either, in the big, half-empty room. They don’t know what to do about him at this point… or what to do with themselves, for that matter. The running theme for State of the Union (SOTU) messages going back to Ronald Reagan is American Wonderfulness, so expect at least forty minutes of national self-esteem therapy, which nobody will believe. Throw in another ten minutes of elevating sob stories about “special guests” up in the galleries. But leave a little time for Mr. Trump to roll a few cherry bombs down the aisles. He must be good and goddam sick of all the guff shoveled at him for two years.

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Smugglers rejoice!

EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)

GOODS shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues.

Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals. Hauliers have been furious at the lack of guidance from HMRC and the Government over how the customs system would work in the event of a No Deal. Today’s “updated guidance” warns that anyone importing into Brexit Britain will have to fill out a customs form before checking goods onto a ferry or train on the EU side. But it adds: “For a temporary period, HMRC will allow most goods moving from the listed roll on roll off locations to leave the UK port or train station before you’ve told us that the goods have arrived.”

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What other secret plans are there?

Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)

The business secretary has been forced to admit the existence of a previously secret package of state aid to Nissan that could have been worth up to £80m had the carmaker gone ahead with plans to manufacture a new model X-Trail in Sunderland after Brexit. Greg Clark released a letter dated October 2016 in which he pledged tens of millions of taxpayer support and promised the Japanese company it would not be “adversely affected” after the UK left the EU. Yet, at the time the commitments were first made, Downing Street had said “there was no special deal for Nissan” and Clark refused six times to answer a question about what was on offer when interviewed on the BBC. He even appeared to suggest no money was involved. Asked on BBC One’s Question Time about the deal, he said: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.”

Clark and the government had repeatedly refused to release the 2016 letter until the promises turned out to be worthless, because Nissan had abandoned its future investment plan, partly because of uncertainty over Brexit. The four-page document, sent by Clark to Nissan’s then chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, committed the government to “a package of support in areas such as skills, R&D and innovation” which “could amount to additional support of up to £80m”. The state aid package ultimately turned out to be worth £61m when it was formally awarded to Nissan in June 2018, a fact only acknowledged by Clark in a second letter sent on Monday to the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business select committee.

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Merkel seems to open a door just to slam it shut again the next instant.

“..she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.”

Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)

There is still time to find a solution to Britain’s exit from the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday, voicing optimism on a political deal over the tricky “backstop” that has stymied progress. Speaking to Japanese and German business leaders in Tokyo, Merkel stressed that “on the one hand, time is pressing” and businesses using “just-in-time” delivery processes could not afford lengthy customs procedures. However, she added: “From a political point of view, there is still time. Two months is not a long time but there is still time, and this should be used by all sides.” Britain is poised to leave the EU at the end of March following a 2016 referendum. Merkel acknowledged the issue of the unpopular Northern Ireland backstop provision was “complicating” Brexit talks.

The backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules. She said the issue with the backstop was a “problem that is precisely defined and therefore one should be able to find a precisely defined solution”. “But this solution depends on the question of what the future relationship between Britain and the EU will be like and what type of trade deal we sign with each other,” added the chancellor. Throwing the ball into London’s court, she stressed: “It will be very important for us to know what exactly the British side sees as its future relationship with the EU.” [..] she urged “creativity” and “goodwill” to find a solution. However, she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.

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French banks. And Wall Street.

An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)

Plagued by another run of bank bailouts and simmering tensions between the partners in its ruling coalition, Italy’s brief reprieve following the detente between its populist rulers and angry bureaucrats in Brussels is already beginning to fade. As Bloomberg reminded us on Monday, Italy’s $1.7 trillion pile of public debt – the third largest sovereign debt pool in Europe – is threatening to set off a chain reaction that could hammer banks from Rome, to Madrid, to Frankfurt – and beyond. Just the mention of the precarity of Italian debt markets “can induce a shudder of financial fear like no other” in bureaucrats and businessmen alike – particularly after Italy’s economy slid into a recession during Q4. While much of Italy’s debt burden is held by its banks and private citizens, lenders outside of Italy are holding some €425 billion ($486 billion) in public and private debt.

The Bloomberg analysis of Italy’s financial foibles follows more reports that Italy’s ruling coalition between the anti-immigrant, pro-business League and the vaguely left-wing populist Five-Star Movement has become increasingly strained. Per BBG, the two parties are fighting a battle on two fronts over the construction of a high speed Alpine rail and a legal case involving League leader Matteo Salvini over his refusal to let the Dicotti migrant ship to dock in an Italian port last summer. After M5S intimated that it could support the investigation, the League warned that such a move would be tantamount to “blackmail” against Salvini, whose lieutenants have been pushing for him to take advantage of the party’s rising poll numbers and push for early elections later this year. However, Salvini has rebuffed these demands, warning that there’s nothing stopping Italian President Sergio Mattarella from calling for a new coalition instead of new elections.

[..] To keep operating without massive budget cuts (something neither party in the ruling coalition has shown any sign of supporting) Italy must sell 400 billion euros ($457 billion) of debt per year. But since Italy’s banks hold so much of the country’s debt, declines in the price of Italian bonds inevitably hurts the shares of Italian banks, and also forces them to hold more capital on their books to ensure liquidity from the ECB. This creates the potential for a negative feedback loop known as the “doom loop”. Put another way, “a government crisis could drag down the banking system or a banking crisis could suck in the government.”

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And the Chinese withdraw.

Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)

Australia’s central bank warned of risks to growth on Tuesday but wrongfooted rate bears by steering clear from an explicit easing signal, even as data showed shoppers slashed spending during Christmas in another sign of cooling economic momentum. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left rates at a record low 1.50 percent for a 30th straight month, saying accommodative policy was supporting the economy and that further progress was expected in reducing unemployment and lifting inflation over time. The local dollar jumped as the statement sounded less dovish than the markets had wagered on.

“The main message from the RBA today was that they are still positive on the growth outlook, and particularly on the labor market, and they see the economy as still on track towards lifting inflation back to their target,” said HSBC Australia’s chief economist Paul Bloxham. Yet, interest rates futures continued to price in a 50-50 chance of a rate cut by the end of the year, reflecting the deteriorating growth momentum in the face of rising global and domestic risks. Lowe expects Australia’s A$1.8 trillion economy ($1.3 trillion) to expand at an above-trend rate of around 3 percent this year. That is a slightly more cautious view compared to “a little above 3 percent” in its previous statement.

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Temir Porras Ponceleon was chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013. He is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po, Paris.

Stangely missing from this piece: the CIA.

Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)

Falsely presented as a “fresh face”, Guaidó first came to prominence in 2007, as a member of a generation of students who led protests against Chávez’s socialism, despite his landslide presidential victory in 2006. Guaidó is part of an opposition that never stopped challenging Chávez’s popular legitimacy even in his heyday, and who naturally doubled down as soon as the less assertive Maduro took office. The challenges to Maduro’s legitimacy began the moment he was elected. His presidential opponent, Henrique Capriles, labelled the 2013 election a fraud (without providing any supporting evidence). Capriles called on his followers to ventilate their “anger” in the streets, a move resulting in the killing of a number of Chavistas.

In January 2014 Guaidó’s political party, Voluntad Popular, launched a nationwide insurrectionary movement aimed at forcing Maduro out of office. This was only nine months into Maduro’s term, and long before the country faced any serious economic or social problems. In fact, in early 2014 oil prices were at record highs, and Venezuelans were still enjoying their highest levels of income ever, in terms of GDP per capita. [..] And then oil prices collapsed in June 2014, leaving an ill-prepared country frozen in inaction. Living standards started to deteriorate, and while a Maduro-led Chavismo remained a large and organised political force, it lost its dominance. Maduro suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 2015 legislative elections, which allowed an opposition coalition to seize a potentially devastating two-thirds supermajority in the national assembly.

[..] Unless the international community is willing to risk a needless war on the American continent, it must urgently create conditions for a national dialogue aimed at reaching a political agreement. [..] The idea that Maduro has managed to remain in office during the past six years solely through corruption and the use of force is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores that, beyond the president, the Chavismo social movement counts millions of supporters, primarily from lower-income communities, and is strongly embedded within the Venezuelan military.

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“The protests seen in France and the interference in the domestic politics of Venezuela highlight Western double standards, which stand in contrast to the respect for international law maintained by China, India and Russia.”

The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)

In France on November 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of citizens, angered by the diminishing quality of their lives, the social iniquity in the country, and the widening gap between rich and poor, took to the streets in protest. The protests can easily be encapsulated in the following slogan: “We the people against you the elite.” This slogan has been a recurring theme throughout the West over the last three years, shaking up the British establishment with the pro-Brexit vote, discombobulating the United States with Trump’s victory, overturning Italy with the Lega/Five-Star government, and bringing Merkel’s star crashing down in Germany.

Now it is the turn of Macron and France, one of the least popular leaders in the world, leading his country into chaos, with peaceful protests drawing a bloody response from the authorities following ten weeks of unceasing demonstrations. In Venezuela, Western elites would like us to believe that the situation is worse than in France in terms of public order, but that is simply a lie. It is a media creation based on misinformation and censorship. In Europe, the mainstream media has stopped showing images of the protests in France, as if to smother information about it, preferring to portray an image of France that belies the chaos in which it has been immersed for every weekend over the last few months.

In Caracas, the right-wing, pro-American and anti-Communist opposition continues the same campaign based on lies and violence as it has customarily conducted following its electoral defeats at the hands of the Bolivarian revolution. The Western mainstream media beams images and videos of massive pro-government Bolivarian rallies and falsely portrays them as anti-Maduro protests. We are dealing here with acts of journalistic terrorism, and the journalists who push this narrative, instigating clashes, should be prosecuted by a criminal court of the Bolivarian people in Caracas.

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Good on them. All these EU countries don’t deem it needed to explain why they do it, other than: Maduro is a dictator. Well, his approval rating is higher than any of theirs.

Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)

Rome has effectively derailed an EU statement meant to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader if President Nicolas Maduro fails to set up snap elections, a Five Star Movement source confirmed to RT. Italy announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on January 31 in Romania, the source said. The statement, which was supposed to be delivered by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini recognized Guaido as interim president if snap elections were not held. The European Parliament is the first European body to recognize Guaido “as the only legitimate interim president of the country until new free, transparent and credible presidential elections can be called in order to restore democracy.”

The parliament urged the EU to follow suit but the effort stalled due to internal discord. A range of European nations have separately recognized the opposition chief as Venezuela’s acting president, including the UK, France, Sweden, Spain, and Austria. The coordinated move came after an eight-day deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections expired on Monday. The US announced that it is backing the new interim leader and pledged their full support immediately after what has been labeled “a coup” by officials in Caracas. However Russia, China, Turkey and Iran said they see Maduro as the only legitimate leader, warning against meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

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Orwell.

Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

Nearly 2,000 pro-Venezuelan Twitter accounts have been removed for “engaging in a state-backed influence campaign,” the social media company said in a blog post on Thursday. A total of 1,196 social media accounts based in Venezuela suspected of attempting to “influence domestic audiences” were purged last week. Another 764 accounts were deleted, although the San Francisco-based company told users, “We are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country.” Allegations of censorship soon filled the site’s timeline.

Television host for the investigatory series, Empire Files, Abby Martin tweeted, “While pro-coup Venezuelans & right-wing exiles dominate the media sphere, tech companies are actively censoring pro-government accounts they say are working to “influence” people.” Another journalist, Ben Norton, accused the company of catering to “U.S. government interests:” Twitter is now removing thousands of accounts supposedly linked to Venezuela’s sovereign government. This comes after Twitter suspended Venezuelan government accounts 1.5 years ago. Social media corporations act as an extension of US government interests.” In another blog post, Twitter announced the release of five new datasets which were allegedly created in relation to suspected foreign interference efforts it had encountered.

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