Feb 022019
 
 February 2, 2019  Posted by at 10:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The bathers 1918

 

Russia Suspends INF Treaty In ‘Mirror Response’ To US – Putin (RT)
US Payrolls Surge By 304,000, Smashing Estimates Despite Shutdown (CNBC)
Big Trouble in Little China (Schmid)
How Fast Housing Markets in Sydney & Melbourne Are Coming Unglued (WS)
Venezuela To Sell Gold Reserves To UAE Without Russia’s Help (RT)
Italy Rejects Guaido, Says Venezuela is a Sovereign State (Telesur)
Whitehall Begins ‘Serious Work’ On Customs Union With EU (Ind.)
Judge Considers Gag Order On Roger Stone And Prosecution (BBC)
America’s Kurdish Allies Risk Being Wiped Out – By NATO (Graeber)
Rigging the Science of GMO Ecotoxicity (Latham)

 

 

US arms producers eye their ultimate bid for trillions in development fees. But Russia is not fazed at all.

“Let’s wait until our partners mature sufficiently to hold a level, meaningful conversation on this topic..”

Russia Suspends INF Treaty In ‘Mirror Response’ To US – Putin (RT)

President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is halting its participation in the Cold War-era INF nuclear agreement after Washington’s decision to suspend it. Russia will develop missiles previously forbidden under its terms. “Ours will be a mirror response. Our US partners say that they are ceasing their participation in the treaty, and we are doing the same,” the Russian president said in Moscow on Saturday in reference to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). “They say that they are doing research and testing [on new weapons] and we will do the same thing,” Putin said during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

The Russian leader emphasized that while Moscow’s offers on modernizing the 1987 treaty and making it more transparent “are still on the table,” no more talks should be initiated with the Americans to try and save it. “Let’s wait until our partners mature sufficiently to hold a level, meaningful conversation on this topic, which is extremely important for us, them, and the entire world,” Putin said. In December, the Trump administration threatened to quit the agreement, which limits nuclear and conventional land-launched missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500km within 60 days, unless Russia stopped allegedly violating it with its 9M729 missile, which Washington claims exceeds the permitted range.

Moscow denied that it had broken the treaty, and offered additional mutual inspections during failed talks in Geneva last month. On February 1, Washington officially confirmed that the bilateral agreement signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan will be suspended for 180 days. Washington also signaled intentions to entirely withdraw from it afterwards. During the meeting in front on the cameras on Saturday, Lavrov insisted that Moscow “attempted to do everything we could to rescue the treaty.” This included “unprecedented steps going far beyond our obligations,” he said, accusing Washington of systematically undermining the INF Treaty at least since the late 1990s.

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“December’s big initially reported gain of 312,000 was knocked all the way down to 222,000..”

US Payrolls Surge By 304,000, Smashing Estimates Despite Shutdown (CNBC)

Job growth in January shattered expectations, with nonfarm payrolls surging by 304,000 despite a partial government shutdown that was the longest in history, the Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate ticked higher to 4 percent, a level where it had last been in June, a likely effect of the shutdown, according to the department. However, officials said federal workers generally were counted as employed during the period because they received pay during the survey week of Jan. 12. On balance, federal government employment actually rose by 1,000. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected payrolls to rise by 170,000 and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.9 percent.

In all, it was a powerful performance at a time when economists increasingly have said they expect growth to slow in 2019. January marked 100 months in a row of positive job creation, by far the longest streak on record. Stock futures and Treasury yields jumped in response to the better-than-expected report. The news was not all good, though, as data revisions pushed previous numbers lower. December’s big initially reported gain of 312,000 was knocked all the way down to 222,000, while November’s rose from 176,000 to 196,000. On net, that took the two months down by 70,000, bringing the three-month average to 241,000. That’s still well above the trend that would be common this far into an economic expansion dating back 9 1/2 years.

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“Real GDP fell by 1.7 percent and 0.6 percent in Q3 and Q4 respectively compared with the official figures showing growth of 6.4 percent and 6 percent..”

Big Trouble in Little China (Schmid)

There are those who think “China will take over the world” with its technocratic central planning. Then there are those who say its debt bubble is so gigantic, the economy will crash and burn. The truth, probably, lies somewhere in the middle. And it looks like we are getting closer to know the truth. Official GDP growth, is of course on track at 6.6 percent for the year 2018, stellar among industrial and even emerging economies. But nobody believes these figures, even though they are the worst since 1990. “Real GDP fell by 1.7 percent and 0.6 percent in Q3 and Q4 respectively compared with the official figures showing growth of 6.4 percent and 6 percent,” Enodo Economics chief economist Diana Choyleva wrote in a note to clients about the annualized growth during the past two quarters of 2018. According to Choyleva, China is experiencing an unofficial recession.

While this doesn’t mean the crash and burn scenario is unavoidable, the flurry of official and unofficial economic indicators flashing red make the “take over the world” scenario quite unbelievable for the intermediate future. No matter which official indicator you look at, the Chinese economy is in decline. Retail sales growth is barely above 5 percent, the lowest level since 2003 with automobile sales crashing 13 percent. Total imports in U.S. dollar terms are down 7.6 percent in December of 2018 as compared to the year before.

The main problem of the Chinese economy is debt and overcapacity. Debt has blown up to 300 percent of GDP through the state-controlled banking system. The financing went into building trains, roads, airports, apartments, shipyards, anything that can be built. And while some of the stuff is undoubtedly useful, a lot of it is not. If it’s not useful or sustainable, it won’t generate the returns necessary to service said debt. This problem could have been nipped in the bud, but Chinese central planners wanted ever more steel mills and high speed trains and push back the day of reckoning when most of the unprofitable companies would go bankrupt. So in order to keep the gravy train running, more debt had to be issued to build more stuff.

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TEXT

How Fast Housing Markets in Sydney & Melbourne Are Coming Unglued (WS)

“Can we still describe this as an orderly slowdown in housing conditions?” mused CoreLogic Asia Pacific’s head of research Tim Lawless about the Australian housing market today. Over the last three months, the index for Sydney dropped 4.5%, and the index for Melbourne 4.0%, the “largest rolling quarterly fall since at least the 80’s.” Across the metro area of Sydney, prices of all types of homes combined, according to CoreLogic’s Daily Home Value Index, fell 1.35% in January from December, the third month in a row with a monthly decline of over 1%. The 4.5% decline over the past three months pencils out to an annual rate of decline of 17%. The index is now down about 12% from its peak in July 2017. Note the accelerating decline over the past three months:

The 12% drop from the peak in July 2017 pushed the index back where it been in July 2016 – which shows how crazy and unsustainable the price boom had been on the way up. Now it is getting unwound at a slightly slower pace on the way down. Over the 12-month period through January, the index fell 9.7%, with house prices down 10.9% and condo prices down 6.9%. At the same time, the number of homes of all types listed for sale in the Sydney metro jumped by 24%. [..] In the Melbourne metro, the second largest market in Australia, the housing bust is also taking on momentum, instead of slowing down, but started about four months behind Sydney’s. According to the CoreLogic Daily Home Value Index, since the peak in November 2017, prices of all types of homes fell about 9%, which pushed prices back to January 2017 levels. Note the acceleration over the past three months:

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US sanctions deprive Maduro of food and medicine. Seen as a way to create a revolt.

Venezuela To Sell Gold Reserves To UAE Without Russia’s Help (RT)

Caracas plans to sell 29 tons of gold to the United Arab Emirates in return for euro in cash, Reuters cites a senior government official as saying. The money is needed to provide liquidity for imports of basic goods.
According to the official, the sale of the nation’s gold began with the shipment of 3 tons on January 26, following the export last year of $900 million in unrefined gold to Turkey. The source denied Moscow’s involvement in the operation after rumors circulated this week that mysterious Russian-operated airplanes arrived in the country and planned to leave with Venezuelan gold on board. That is incorrect, according to the official. Caracas reportedly needs cash for imports of basic products that it sells to the population at subsidized prices.

A possible explanation for the payment for the gold in euros is US sanctions, which restrict Venezuela’s use of the dollar. Venezuela’s central bank reportedly began to sell gold reserves to allied countries after supplies of unrefined gold from small mines began to run low. The bank held 150 tons of gold in January 2018. By the end of November holdings had fallen to 132 tons between the central bank’s vaults and the Bank of England, according to central bank data. The Bank of England has refused to return an estimated 31 tons of Venezuelan gold worth $1.2 billion. Bankers in Britain are allegedly concerned that Venezuelan officials would sell state-owned gold “for personal gain.”

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“..this same mistake was made in Libya, and everyone today recognizes it. We must prevent the same thing happening in Venezuela.”

Italy Rejects Guaido, Says Venezuela is a Sovereign State (Telesur)

On Thursday the Italian Government withdrew from the position assumed by the European Parliament and informed that it does not recognize Juan Guaido as “president in charge” of Venezuela. “Italy does not recognize the self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido,” Italy’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Manlio Di Stefano, said. The senior official explained that Italy is “totally against” that a country or a group of countries “can determine the internal policies” of a sovereign State. “This is called the principle of non-intervention and is enshrined by the United Nations,” Di Stefano said. He also expressed the Italian Government’s concern to prevent a warlike confrontation in the South American nation and stressed that “this same mistake was made in Libya, and everyone today recognizes it. We must prevent the same thing happening in Venezuela.”

Last Wednesday the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, warned the international community that it is not “prudent” to support one of the opposing parties in Venezuela, since “an invasive attitude would generate more division in the world.” “We do not consider it opportune to rush to recognize investitures that have not gone through an electoral process,” said Conte. Nevertheless, violating international law, and adding to the U.S.-driven coup d’état, the European Parliament approved a resolution Thursday that recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president.”

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With just 56 days left, great moment to start.

Whitehall Begins ‘Serious Work’ On Customs Union With EU (Ind.)

Whitehall officials have begun “serious work” on the UK staying in a permanent EU customs union as a route to rescuing the Brexit deal, despite Theresa May ruling out the move, The Independent can reveal. Preparations are underway at a high level, amid a belief the beleaguered prime minister will be forced to offer the potentially crucial compromise to Labour. Ms May has repeatedly rejected a customs union – fearing a further revolt by anti-EU Tories – but some cabinet ministers are pushing her to accept that the red line will have to be dropped if her deal is to be rescued. They believe it could tempt scores of Labour MPs to back the deal when it returns to the Commons, even if Jeremy Corbyn himself still refuses to drop his opposition.

Now a well-placed Whitehall source has told The Independent: “There is serious work going on about a customs union. We need to be prepared, so we are ready if the politics moves in that direction.” Although the prime minister has not yet been won over, she will come under fierce pressure if, as expected, the EU rejects her plea to replace the backstop – before fresh Commons votes in just 12 days’ time. The concession of a customs union is unlikely to be enough to persuade Mr Corbyn to throw his weight what he is determined to brand “a Tory Brexit”, but many Labour MPs are expected to switch sides. Furthermore, despite inevitable Tory outrage, some Conservative MPs could be persuaded that a customs union would make it less likely the Irish backstop they oppose – designed to guarantee an open border – will ever be needed.

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“To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down (Osama) bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorise my wife and my dogs, is unconscionable..”

Judge Considers Gag Order On Roger Stone And Prosecution (BBC)

The judge overseeing the criminal case against ex-Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone says she is considering a gagging order on both him and the prosecution. Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the case was “a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign”. Mr Stone has been charged on seven counts by special counsel Robert Mueller, including witness tampering and lying to Congress. He denies any wrongdoing and has made frequent jibes against Mr Mueller. Mr Stone, 66, a longstanding ally of the president, has previously vowed to resist any gagging order, saying on Tuesday: “I will fight and the deep state is in panic mode.”

Mr Mueller is overseeing an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow. President Trump denies collusion, calling the investigation “a witch hunt”, and the Kremlin denies any meddling. At a court hearing in Washington on Friday, Judge Jackson cited a number of “extrajudicial statements by the defendant”. She said that if a gagging order was imposed, Mr Stone would still be able to talk to the media about issues not connected to the case. She asked both sides to respond to the possible order by 8 February. The charges against Mr Stone are linked to an alleged Russian-led hack into the emails of Democratic Party officials. The information contained in the emails was released by Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.

Since his arrest, Mr Stone has given a string of media interviews. He has been highly critical of his arrest, describing it as political theatrics. “To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down (Osama) bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorise my wife and my dogs, is unconscionable,” he told reporters. He has accused Mr Mueller of running a politically motivated “inquisition”. In an interview with Reuters, Mr Stone dismissed the charges as “process crimes” with no intentional lies. He said any failure to disclose emails or texts had been an “honest mistake”. In a phone interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his radio programme Infowars, Mr Stone said he intended to “fight for my life”.

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“This not only means they are supplied with state-of-the-art weaponry; it also means those weapons are being maintained by other Nato members. ”

America’s Kurdish Allies Risk Being Wiped Out – By NATO (Graeber)

Remember those plucky Kurdish forces who so heroically defended the Syrian city of Kobane from Isis? They risk being wiped out by Nato. The autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava in Northeast Syria, which includes Kobane, faces invasion. A Nato army is amassing on the border, marshaling all the overwhelming firepower and high-tech equipment that only the most advanced military forces can deploy. The commander in chief of those forces says he wants to return Rojava to its “rightful owners” who, he believes, are Arabs, not Kurds. Last spring, this leader made similar declarations about the westernmost Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin. Following that, the very same Nato army, using German tanks and British helicopter gunships, and backed by thousands of hardcore Islamist auxiliaries, overran the district.

According to Kurdish news agencies, the invasion led to over a 100,000 Kurdish civilians being driven out of Afrin entirely. They reportedly employed rape, torture and murder as systematic means of terror. That reign of terror continues to this day. And the commander and chief of this Nato army has suggested that he intends to do to the rest of North Syria what he did to Afrin. I am speaking, of course, of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is, increasingly, Turkey’s effective dictator. But it’s crucial to emphasize that these are Nato forces. This not only means they are supplied with state-of-the-art weaponry; it also means those weapons are being maintained by other Nato members. Fighter jets, helicopter gunships, even Turkey’s German-supplied Panzer forces – they all degrade extremely quickly under combat conditions.

The people who continually inspect, maintain, repair, replace, and provide them with spare parts tend to be contractors working for American, British, German or Italian firms. Their presence is critical because the Turkish military advantage over Northern Syria’s “People’s Defense Forces” (YPG) and “Women’s Defense Forces” (YPJ), those defenders of Kobane that Turkey has pledged to destroy, is entirely dependent on them. That’s because, aside from its technological advantage, the Turkish army is a mess. Most of its best officers and even pilots have been in prison since the failed coup attempt in 2016, and it’s now being run by commanders chosen by political loyalty instead of competence. Rojava’s defenders, in contrast, are seasoned veterans. In a fair fight, they would have no more problem fending off a Turkish incursion than they had driving back Turkish-backed Jihadis in the past.

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Precautionary principle. The only response.

Rigging the Science of GMO Ecotoxicity (Latham)

Researchers who work on GMO crops are developing special “artificial diet systems”. The stated purpose of these new diets is to standardise the testing of the Cry toxins, often used in GMO crops, for their effects on non-target species. But a paper published last month in the journal Toxins implies a very different interpretation of their purpose. The new diets contain hidden ingredients that can mask Cry toxicity and allow them to pass undetected through toxicity tests on beneficial species like lacewings (Hilbeck et al., 2018). Thus the new diets will benefit GMO crop developers by letting new ones come to market quicker and more reliably. Tests conducted with the new diets are even being used to cast doubt on previous findings of ecotoxicological harm.

The resulting crops are usually called Bt crops. Cry toxins kill insects that eat the GMO crop because the toxin punches a hole in the membranes of the insect gut when it is ingested, causing the insect to immediately stop feeding and eventually die of septicaemia. Cry toxins are controversial. Although the biotech industry claims they have narrow specificity, and are therefore safe for all organisms except so-called ‘target’ organisms, plenty of researchers disagree. They suspect that Cry toxins may affect many non-target species, even including mammals and humans (e.g. Dolezel et al., 2011; Latham et al., 2017; Zdziarski, et al., 2018).

The Cry toxin mode of action, we and others have noted, does not necessarily discriminate between species. Any organism with a membrane-lined gut is, in principle, vulnerable if it consumes the GMO Bt crop. In these Bt crops the leaves, straw, roots, nectar, and pollen, all typically contain Cry toxins. Therefore, most organisms in agricultural landscapes will at some point in their life-cycle be exposed to GMO plant material. As pollinator declines and a more generalised insect apocalypse have revealed, the question of the effects of such crops on biodiversity is far from trivial.

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GMO Cry toxins
Cry toxins are a family of highly active protein toxins originally isolated from the gut pathogenic bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Latham et al., 2017). They confer insect-resistance and up to six distinct ones are added to GMO corn, cotton, and other crops (Hilbeck and Otto, 2015).

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Feb 012019
 


Vincent van Gogh Outskirts of Paris: Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade 1887

 

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)
Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)
Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)
Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)
Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)
What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)
UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)
US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)
US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)
Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)
With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)
Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)
Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)
25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

 

 

The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. 95% of them, 56 million, had died by 1600. But who knows this? The history we’ve been told about is white man’s history, almost exclusively. In his lovely books 1491 and 1493, Charles Mann describes this from a different view. First, he says as many people lived in North America as in Europe when Columbus came 500 years ago. Second, the image of roaming herds of buffalo was not accurate then: there was no place for them, the land was farmed. Only after the people had died did the buffalo take over and multiply.

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)

European colonization of the Americas contributed to the advent of the 17th century ‘Little Ice Age,’ a new study says. As some 55 million indigenous people were wiped out, their farmland turned into forest and sucked out CO2. Much of the continental US may feel like it is living through a ‘mini ice age’ due to the polar vortex weather pattern. But while this will come and go, there was a proper global drop in temperatures about four centuries ago, which is commonly called the ‘Little Ice Age.’ A team of scientists from University College London says that humans were partially to blame for it – particularly Europeans traveling to the New World for treasure and new life. While there were some natural reasons behind the oddball phenomenon, much of it remains veiled in mystery.

The British researchers argue that they have found a missing link – the “Great Dying” of indigenous people as result of the European conquest. The scientists found that some 56 million hectares of land were abandoned by the native population of the Americas as they fled or died due to epidemics, war, slavery and subsequent famine. Those lands were reclaimed by forests that, in turn, absorbed so much carbon dioxide that the process cooled Earth. “The resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” according to the study, published in the Quaternary Science Reviews.

Using a combination of counting methods, the researchers found that prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1492, the Americans were inhabited by some 60.5 million people. About 95 percent of them, or 56 million, had died by 1600. Some 55.8 million hectares (138.3 million acres) of what was previously farmland was reclaimed by the forests and led to a 7.4 pentagram carbon uptake, according to the paper. One pentagram (Pg) of carbon is equivalent to a billion metric tons. “These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2,” the paper notes.

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Treasuries stay at home. Foreigners no longer want them. Japan, China, Russia are all selling.

Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)

Under the impact of a stupendous spending binge peppered with juicy tax cuts, the Treasury Department has had to issue a flood of Treasury securities to fund the cash outflow. So, over the past 12 months, the US gross national debt has ballooned by $1.5 trillion to $22 trillion as of January 30, according to Treasury Department data. And these are the good times when the economy is hopping. At the next recession, this is going to get cute. But who the heck is buying all this debt? That question will grow increasingly important and worrisome as we move forward with this gigantic ballooning debt, fueled by deficits that Fed chairman Jerome Powell calls “unsustainable” at every chance he gets:

So, who bought all this debt? US government debt, as expensive as it is in terms of interest payments for US taxpayers, is a mildly income-producing asset for the creditors of the US. Somebody has to buy it, every last dollar of it. The US relies on it. So, who bought this pile of debt that got issued in 12 months? China, Japan, other foreign investors? Nope. They’re gradually unloading this debt. All foreign investors combined slashed their holdings of marketable Treasury securities in November by $105 billion from November a year earlier, to $6.2 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s TIC data released today.

The Treasury Department divides these foreign investors into two categories: “Foreign official” holders (foreign central banks and government entities) cut their holdings by $144 billion over the 12 months, to $3.9 trillion at the end of November. But private-sector investors (foreign hedge funds, banks, individuals, etc.) increased their holdings by $52 billion, to $2.3 trillion. The two largest foreign creditors of the US — China and Japan — have both been unloading their Treasury securities: • China’s holdings fell by $55 billion from a year earlier to $1.12 trillion. • Japan’s holdings fell by $47 billion from a year earlier to $1.04 trillion, having now reduced its stash by 16% since the peak at the end of 2014 ($1.24 trillion).

[..] American banks (very large holders), hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, and other institutions along with individual investors in their brokerage accounts or at their accounts with the US Treasury were huge net buyers, while nearly everyone else was selling, increasing their holdings by $1.36 trillion over the 12-month period. These American entities combined owned the remainder of the US gross national debt, $7.5 trillion, or 34.4% of the total!

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It’s mostly Russia really: The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)

The amount of gold bought by central banks in 2018 reached the second highest annual total on record, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). Central banks bought the most gold by volume since 1967, according to the industry research firm, which also highlighted it was the largest amount since former U.S. President Nixon Richard’s decision to end the dollar’s peg to bullion in 1971. Central bank net purchases reached 651.5 metric tons in 2018, 74 percent higher than in the previous year when 375 tons were bought. The WGC has estimated that central banks now hold nearly 34,000 tons of gold. The Federal Reserve is reported to hold the most, amounting for almost three quarters of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserve pot.

Taking the current spot price of $1,321.15 per troy ounce, gold purchases by central banks in 2018 amounted to a $27.7 billion spending splurge on the precious metal. “Heightened geopolitical and economic uncertainty throughout the year increasingly drove central banks to diversify their reserves and re-focus their attention on the principal objective of investing in safe and liquid assets,” said the report released on Thursday. The WGC said the bulk of the buying was carried out by a handful of central banks with Russia leading the way as it looks to swap out dollars from its portfolio. The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

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Every country should hold its own gold. What’s the problem with that?

Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)

The freezing of Venezuelan gold by the Bank of England is a signal to all countries out of step with US interests to withdraw their money, according to economist and co-founder of Democracy at Work, Professor Richard Wolff.
He told RT America that Britain and its central bank have shown themselves to be “under the thumb of the United States.” “That is a signal to every country that has or may have difficulties with the US, [that they had] better get their money out of England and out of London because it’s not the safe place as it once was,” he said. The Bank of England is currently withholding $1.2 billion in gold from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, but is being urged by Washington to release it to the chairman of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido.

Last week, the US backed Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after he declared himself interim president. According to Professor Wolff, control of Venezuela’s oil has always been an urgent issue for Washington. He also said that the collapse of Britain as a global power, which was accelerated by Brexit, is now about to take another step. “One of the few things left for Britain is to be the financial center that London has been for so long. And one of the ways you stay a financial center is if you don’t play games with other people’s money,” he said.

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Pretty much a given now.

Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)

Jeremy Hunt has said Brexit could be delayed as the government may need “extra time” to pass key legislation if Theresa May can agree a deal at the eleventh hour. The foreign secretary admitted that a technical delay to the Article 50 process could be necessary to prepare for Britain’s exit from the EU, which is legally due to take place on 29 March. MPs ordered the prime minister to go back to Brussels to renegotiate a key part of her Brexit deal after her plan was resoundingly defeated in the Commons earlier this month. But despite the Tory truce, Ms May faces an uphill battle to convince the EU to reopen talks on the withdrawal agreement, with European leaders lining up to rebuff her efforts.

Asked about Britain’s exit date, Mr Hunt told the Today programme: “I think that depends on how long this process takes. “I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation. But if we are able to make progress sooner, then that might not be necessary. “We can’t know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen.” There is growing concern among ministers that there is not enough time to pass the necessary legislation before exit day, amid reports that the February recess could be cancelled to give Ms May more time to win over the EU.

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Ironically, Varoufakis points out exactly why Corbyn is too late (all he’s done is wait):

“Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)

Britain’s prime minister has been remarkable in resolutely following a ruinous path that she keeps insisting remains the least perilous road to Brexit. Theresa May’s first crime against logic was to trigger Article 50 without a plan of what to do on 29 March 2019 if no deal had been struck with Brussels. Her second was to forfeit any bargaining power she had by accepting Michel Barnier’s two-phase negotiation (first London delivers all that Brussels demands, then Brussels considers what London wants). May’s two colossal errors combined to allow a gloating European Commission to dictate to her a withdrawal agreement that, independently of whether one is pro-Leave or pro-Remain, resembles the kind of treaty imposed upon a nation defeated at war.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit has turned into a process tearing Britain apart while revealing its constitutional inadequacies. The next few weeks are depressingly predictable. The prime minister will continue to run down the clock putting all the pressure on Remainers, both Tory and Labour, to avert a no-deal Brexit by accepting hers. That was the point of backing the Brady amendment on Tuesday: to take Brexit revocation off the table, gain two weeks during which to pretend to negotiate with a European Commission that does not have the mandate to negotiate and then take a version of the same withdrawal agreement, possibly with some pointless addenda, to parliament. If her blackmail fails again, she will apply for an extension of Article 50 until 1 July to start the same war of attrition anew.

It is imperative that May is prevented from following this path. Those who can stop her and fail to do so will not be forgiven by at least one generation of Britons. Which brings me to my friend and comrade Jeremy Corbyn and his team. Labour’s leadership understands that, with weeks to go before the cliff’s edge, Niccolò Machiavelli’s counsel applies just as much to them too. “Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Until now it was right and proper for Labour to avoid distracting a Tory government while it was making a mess of things. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics were wrong to chastise him for delaying to call a vote of no confidence or for not backing a second referendum. Labour just did not have the numbers to win such votes. However, the time has come for Jeremy Corbyn to give a speech of hope for Britain, one that contains a clear vision of a country that heals itself after two years of wanton destruction by a short-sighted, clueless prime minister thinking solely of the unity of her divided government and party.

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Why Brexit?!

UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)

Housing charities have criticised government claims of falling numbers of rough sleepers as homeless shelters across Britain report unprecedented demand. Communities secretary James Brokenshire said his department’s strategy was “starting to have an effect” as official figures showed that, on a “snapshot night in autumn”, the number of people sleeping on the street had dropped to 4,677 from 4,751 the year before. But Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of charity Crisis, said the count was widely believed to be an “unreliable” source which “significantly underestimated” the number of people experiencing the devastation of sleeping rough.

Shelters in England, Wales and Scotland contacted by The Independent all reported record levels of demand as temperatures in parts of the country dropped as low as -14C. On the snapshot count, Mr Sparkes said: “The problem is, these counts and estimates inevitably miss a significant number of people, including those not rough sleeping on that particular night, those hidden from view and who aren’t bedded down for the night.” Figures published by his organisation in December revealed levels of rough sleeping in the UK – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in five years, rising by 20 per cent to 24,000 in just 12 months.

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Lawrence Yun still has a job. Amazing.

US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)

What will home sales look like in January and February? Very, very lousy, according to pending home sales, a measure that counts how many contracts were signed. Contract signings run roughly one or two months ahead of when the sales close and are reported as sales. The measure of pending home sales for December projects actual home sales in January and February. To that tune, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that its Pending Home Sales Index for December fell to the lowest level since April 2014. “It’s been dripping down, down, down,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in the interview.

“Frustrating that the housing market is not recovering.” Compared to December a year earlier, contract signings dropped 9.8%, the 12th month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the worst year-over-year decline since the days of housing and mortgage crisis. To show the acceleration of the declines of contract signings toward the end of the year, I marked October, November, and December in red. The NAR’s report blamed the stock market swoon that had sapped consumer confidence, unaffordable home prices – that, after years of price gains had far outgrown wage gains – and mortgage rates. The latter is an interesting theory because mortgage rates, after a peak in early November, were falling starting in mid-November and fell throughout December.

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Let’s see the Fed tackle this one.

US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)

The Commerce Department has reopened for business, and the good folks there are now in hyperdrive to put together and release the data that was blocked during the partial government shutdown that had also shut down the Commerce Department. This morning, it released the sales data for new homes whose sales closed in November. This report had originally been scheduled for the end of December. In the near future, the Commerce Department will further catch up and release the new-home sales data for December, which had been scheduled for last week. So, time to catch up, and here we go. The median prices of new single-family houses that sold across the US in November 2018 fell 11.9% from November 2017 to $302,400, the lowest median price since October 2016, and in the same range as the median price in November and December 2014:

This new-home sales data – produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development – is very volatile, and subject to revisions in the following months. But after a while, and despite the jumpiness of the data, as the above chart shows, the trend becomes clear. The year-over-year decline of 11.9% was the third months in a row of year-over-year declines, and the largest year-over-year decline since Housing Bust 1. Note the many double-digit year-over-year price increases in prior years, which attest to the boom in prices that has now outrun what the market can bear:

Just how far prices have ballooned before they began to deflate becomes apparent in this long-term chart of the median price of new houses. At the price peak in December 2017 ($343,300), the median price was 31% above the crazy bubble peak in March 2007, before it all blew apart:

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Pelosi will have to come with something. Does she understand this?

Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)

Negotiations with Congress are a waste of time if Democrats won’t discuss border-wall funding, President Donald Trump said Thursday, vowing to build a wall with or without congressional approval. In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview published Thursday night by the New York Times, Trump also said he’s done playing nice with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed optimism over reaching a trade deal with China and issued numerous denials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Pelosi has adamantly opposed any funding to build a wall along America’s southern border, and the specter of another government shutdown looms in two weeks, when a temporary funding deal expires.

“If she doesn’t approve the wall, the rest of it’s just a waste of money and time and energy.” A 17-member panel of lawmakers has been tasked with reaching a border-funding compromise. Trump suggested in the interview that an emergency order could be issued if Congress won’t allocate the $5.7 billion that he’s demanded for the wall. “I’ll continue to build the wall, and we’ll get the wall finished,” he told the Times. “Now whether or not I declare a national emergency — that you’ll see.” About Pelosi, Trump said: “I’ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don’t think I will any more. . . . I think she’s doing a tremendous disservice to the country.”

When asked about a number of other subjects, Trump said he ”never did” speak to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks during his campaign; denied he was tampering with witnesses through his tweets; and said testimony by his intelligence chiefs earlier this week was mischaracterized by the media, despite the fact that video of the hearing was shown, along with a 42-page written transcript. He also called being president a “loser” job, financially. “I lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” he said. “This is not the money. This is one of the great losers of all time. You know, fortunately, I don’t need money.”

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Varoufakis and David Adler. Personally, when someone says we need $8 trillion a year for a Green New Deal, I think: forget it. People think in terms of keeping present energy use levels alive, just switching to different sources. But the No. 1 issue should be to use less energy.

With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)

“Prosperity, like peace, is indivisible,” said the US treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, in his inaugural speech to the Bretton Woods conference, which gave birth to the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and to the IMF. “We cannot afford to have it scattered here or there among the fortunate or enjoy it at the expense of others.” The original Bretton Woods plan was for exchange rates to be fixed, with the IMF helping heavily indebted countries restructure their debt and a stabilization fund curbing capital flight. Meanwhile, the World Bank would offer development finance and an international commodity stabilization corporation would “bring about the orderly marketing of staple commodities at prices fair to the producer and consumer alike”.

Finally, the whole system would be dollar-denominated, with the greenback being the only currency exchangeable for gold at a fixed rate. John Maynard Keynes, the chief British negotiator at Bretton Woods, was worried that the new system could only rely on the dollar as long as America had a trade surplus. The moment the United States became a deficit country, the system would collapse. So, Keynes suggested that instead of building the new world order on the dollar, all major economies would subscribe to a multilateral International Clearing Union (ICU). While keeping their own currencies, and central banks, countries would agree to denominate all international payments in a common accounting unit, which Keynes named the bancor, and to clear all international payments through the ICU.

Once set up, the ICU would tax persistent surpluses and deficits symmetrically so as to balance out capital flows, volatility, global aggregate demand and productivity. Had it been instituted, the ICU would have worked alongside the World Bank to keep the global economy in balance and build shared prosperity worldwide. But Keynes’s ICU was rejected. The United States was unwilling to replace the dollar as the anchor of the new monetary system. And so the IMF was downgraded to a bailout fund, the World Bank was limited to lending from its own reserves (contributed by stressed member states) and, crucially, any possibility of the IMF leveraging the World Bank’s investments (like a central bank might have done) was jettisoned.

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They got young people ‘volunteering’ to be spied upon to an even higher degree than they already were.

Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)

Apple revoked Google’s ability to offer its employees internal-only iPhone apps, likely causing significant disruption to the search giant. Apple was punishing its rival for breaking its developers’ policy, a day after it took the same action against Facebook. The move came after both firms used special access for market research. Apple restored Google’s access to the software by the end of the working day on Thursday. After more than 24 hours of disruption, Facebook had its access restored earlier on Thursday. “We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running” a spokeswoman told the BBC. “To be clear, this didn’t have an impact on our consumer-facing services.”

Apple allows companies the ability to exert special control over employee devices in order to add additional security and control. Many firms use this to distribute apps that might contain private information to employees but not the wider public. Some firms also distribute test or beta versions of apps the firm is working on such as, in Google’s case, Maps, Hangouts and Gmail. Both firms use internal iOS apps to help employees access services such as travel. However, Apple explicitly prohibits firms from using this access on regular consumers. On Monday it was revealed that Facebook had used its enterprise access to distribute a market research app to the public, including teenagers. On Tuesday it became known that Google was doing something similar with its own app, Screenwise.

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The Troika is not happy.

Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)

An 11 percent increase in Greece’s minimum wage and the abolition of the so-called subminimum wage paid to young employees which were announced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a cabinet meeting early this week came into effect on Friday. “Today, a new era begins for the country’s young employees. An era with more rights, more dignity,” Labor Minister Effie Achtsioglou told state-run news agency ANA-MPA. “With the increase in the minimum wage and the abolition of the sub-minimum wage, we restore part of what austerity policies deprived employees of. And this is an act of justice.” The hike, the first such wage change in the country in almost a decade, raises the minimum wage from €586 to €650. The measure, however, has generated concern on the part of Greece’s creditors during their recent visit to the country to assess its post-bailout compliance.

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Why those minimum wage were raised. Imagine if Greece were further north.

25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

Almost one in four Greeks cannot afford to heat their home sufficiently, according to Eurostat data collected as part of the annual EU survey on income and living conditions in the bloc. Based on the report, 25.7 percent of Greeks said they were not able to keep their home adequately warm due to their economic condition. Greeks buy heating oil at an average price of 1,025 euros per liter when the average price for the whole of the European Union is 0.794 euros per litre and 0.781 euros in the eurozone. The largest share of people who shared the same view was recorded in Bulgaria (37 pct), followed by Lithuania (29 pct), Greece, Cyprus (23 pct) and Portugal (20 pct).

In contrast, the lowest shares – close to 2 percent – were recorded in Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. In 2017, eight percent of the EU population said in an EU-wide survey that they could not afford to heat their home sufficiently. This share peaked in 2012 with 11 percent, and has fallen continuously in subsequent years.

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Jan 312019
 


René Magritte The key to the fields 1936

 

Dovish Fed Sparks Stock-Market Rally And Tanks The US Dollar (MW)
Will The EU To Cave On May’s Brexit At The Very Last Minute? (ZH)
China Manufacturing Contracted For The Second-Straight Month In January (CNBC)
Macron Has Declared War On The French People – Yellow Vest Activist (RT)
UK Consumer Borrowing Slowed Sharply In December, Says Bank of England (Ind.)
British Car Production Slumps To Five-Year Low (G.)
US Refiner CITGO Caught In Venezuela Political Upheaval (R.)
Russia Vows To Defend Its Venezuelan Oil Assets (RT)
US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader
Facebook Reports Record Profit, Stock Surges 12% After Earnings (MW)
Mueller: Evidence Against Russian Firm Used In Disinformation Campaign (CNBC)
Mueller Claims Evidence Shared Leaked To ‘Discredit Investigation’ (RT)
Mueller Says Russians Are Altering Evidence From Investigation (Ind.)
Acropolis Museum Director: British Museum Not Owner Of Parthenon Marbles (K.)

 

 

Powel’s Fed started off promising, but now concedes that it doesn’t want functioning markets. Too risky for the rich.

Dovish Fed Sparks Stock-Market Rally And Tanks The US Dollar (MW)

The Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, changed their tune Wednesday, striking a surprisingly dovish tone that sparked a stock-market rally, tanked the U.S. dollar and roiled other financial markets. The Fed hinted that it may be at the end of its rate-hike cycle and further surprised investors by issuing a separate statement regarding its balance sheet, indicating that its efforts to reduce the $4 trillion asset portfolio could end sooner than expected. The tone was seen as an about-face from the Fed’s hawkishly received December meeting when it delivered its fourth rate increase of 2018. “This is one of the most dovish turnarounds by a Fed chair that I have ever seen in my 30-year career,” said Tom di Galoma, managing director at Seaport Global Holdings.

And the initial reaction across markets appeared in keeping with the perceived shift. The message delivered by the Fed “just couldn’t be much better for both bonds and equities and for the credit markets that track Treasurys,” said Mark Grant, chief global strategist at B. Riley FBR, in a note. [..] Not everyone was popping the champagne. Some economists feared the Fed had eroded its credibility, caving in to market pressure. “Talk about a Fed put,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note, referring to the idea that central bank policy makers have grown increasingly sensitive over the years to stock-market declines and stand ready to intervene in an effort to provide calm.

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Someone in Britain appears to be spreading rumors about Brussels willing to give in. Is that just so May will still be PM at the end of March? Are the Brits going to risk that based on rumors alone?

Will The EU To Cave On May’s Brexit At The Very Last Minute? (ZH)

After a series of embarrassing Parliamentary defeats (and still more embarrassing triumphs over a series of no-confidence votes), Theresa May is we imagine reveling in what was a rare win for on Tuesday: MPs backed an amendment that calls for removing the backstop from her Withdrawal agreement and replacing it with a commitment to find something better after the prime minister vowed to ask the EU to reopen negotiations (something she has reportedly been trying to persuade the block to do behind the scenes for weeks now with little apparent success).

Now that she’s won what her cabinet believes is enough support for a modified version of the deal, having finally corralled a majority for something resembling her current deal, the hard work truly begins: Convincing the EU to reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, something officials have publicly insisted will not happen (though there have been whispers that they have been slowly coming around to the idea). In a speech on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker blasted the vote as irresponsible and once again insisted that removing the backstop from the agreement is out of the question. “This is not a game,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

If there’s anything new to take away from the developments of the past two days, it can be found in a Bloomberg report published Wednesday afternoon that effectively confirmed what many have long suspected: That there won’t be any movement on the deal – either from the EU or, likely, the UK, until the last possible minute. According to BBG, EU diplomats have pointed to a last-minute summit set for March 21 and March 22 – just a week before Brexit Day – as the likely time when a deal may finally be struck.

“The European Union is prepared to take Brexit down to a last-minute, high-stakes summit rather than cave into U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s demands over the next few weeks, diplomats said. Although May is getting ready to head back to Brussels to reopen the Brexit deal that she negotiated over the past 18 months, the EU isn’t planning to give her any concessions before she returns for a vote in the British Parliament on Feb. 14, according to the diplomats. Behind closed doors, European officials are sticking to their well-coordinated public line that they won’t rework the deal.”

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And that’s official numbers.

China Manufacturing Contracted For The Second-Straight Month In January (CNBC)

China said on Thursday its manufacturing activity contracted for the second-straight month in January — another sign that the world’s second-largest economy is slowing down amid domestic headwinds and the ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for January was 49.5, according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. That’s higher than the 49.3 expected by analysts in a Reuters poll, and the 49.4 reported in the previous month when China’s manufacturing PMI fell into contraction territory for the first time since July 2016. The PMI — a widely-watched indicator — is a survey of businesses in a specific industry about the operating environment.

A reading above 50 signals expansion in the sector from the previous month, while one below 50 represents contraction. Meanwhile, China’s services PMI for January came in at 54.7 — better than the 53.8 reported in the previous month, according to official data. The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and has helped cushion the impact of a slowing manufacturing industry. Despite the better-than-expected PMI numbers, some economists said the statistics — particularly the manufacturing data — still point to a weakening Chinese economy.

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See my article last night: Flash-Balls, Pitchforks And A Backstop

Macron Has Declared War On The French People – Yellow Vest Activist (RT)

The French government won’t stop the Yellow Vests by force, but only by doing what the people demand, according to prominent protester Jerome Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye after being injured by the police. “The president [Emmanuel Macron] declared war on us and our injuries are battle wounds. The traumatic weapons are equipped with collimators [optical sights] – such equipment is used on the battlefield, at war,” Rodrigues told RT. “I never thought that such a thing could happen in France,” he added, describing what the country has been going through in recent months as “dark times.” The activist, who calls himself “a hyper pacifist,” was broadcasting live on Facebook from a rally in Paris last weekend when a police officer fired at him from an LBD 40 non-lethal gun.

A projectile hit him in the eye, leading to hospitalization and a medically induced coma. The man said “there are no guarantees that the injured eye will be able to see again.” Now we understand that by going to a rally we put ourselves at risk of becoming victims of the government. It happened to me, but could’ve well happened to anyone,” Rodrigues said. The French authorities are employing violence to scare the people off the streets, but “we won’t retreat,” he said. Rodrigues promised to resume protesting after he gets better, saying that his family fully supported him in this decision.

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The hurt is only starting.

UK Consumer Borrowing Slowed Sharply In December, Says Bank of England (Ind.)

UK consumer borrowing slowed sharply in December, adding to the impression of weakening confidence among households ahead of Brexit. The Bank of England reported that the annual growth of unsecured lending in the month fell to 6.6 per cent, down from 7.2 per cent in November. This was the weakest figure since December 2014. Credit card lending growth slowed to 7.1 per cent, down from 7.9 per cent the previous month. Surveys have shown consumer confidence to be at a 5 year low due, in part, to concerns over Brexit.

The Bank of England’s credit conditions survey showed last week showed that demand over the next three months for such unsecured lending is expected by lenders to be the weakest since the survey began in 2007. Household spending accounts for around 60 per cent of the UK economy, and any weakening of the appetite for consumers to spend will be negative for overall GDP growth. The UK economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 but GDP growth is likely to have fallen sharply in the final three months of the year as business investment and household spending fell.

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Good! Fewer cars!

British Car Production Slumps To Five-Year Low (G.)

British car production dropped to a five-year low in 2018, as manufacturers warned that fears of a no-deal Brexit have prompted a slump in new investment. UK car factories produced 1.52m vehicles last year, 9.1% fewer than 2017, according to figures published on Thursday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK auto industry lobby group. Production for the British market fell by 16.3%. Investment into British car manufacturing almost halved during the year to £588.6m, a fall which the SMMT blamed on Brexit uncertainty.

Publicly announced investments were lower than in any year since 2012, the first year comparable data was collected. “Investment is effectively stalled,” said Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive. “Industry is waiting to see what happens. Business is sitting on its hands in terms of investment.” The global automotive industry is already struggling with multiple challenges. Car sales in China fell in 2018 for the first time since the 1990s, while demand for diesel vehicles in Europe has been rocked by the regulatory backlash to Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal.

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CITGO is a Venezuelan refiner.

US Refiner CITGO Caught In Venezuela Political Upheaval (R.)

Citgo Petroleum Corp, the eighth largest U.S. refiner and Venezuela’s top foreign asset, is in the middle of a tug-of-war as the Trump administration tries to use the company as leverage to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Following the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry this week, both sides have engaged in aggressive moves for control of Citgo, which has roots in the United States dating back 100 years, but has been owned by Venezuela’s state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, or PVDSA, for three decades.

[..] As Guaido this week worked with Washington to wrest control of the company, Venezuela responded by ordering dozens of Citgo’s expatriate staff in the United States to return to Caracas by the end of February, people familiar with the matter said. Earlier in the week, Citgo sent a team of executives to Washington amid efforts by Guaido and the U.S. government to appoint a new board of directors for Citgo, the people said. PDVSA also has said it would pursue legal efforts to block a Citgo takeover. White House national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday tweeted photos confirming the meeting with Citgo executives. “The United States is continuing to work to make sure that the economic benefits of Venezuela’s resources are not pilfered by Maduro and his cronies,” he wrote.

[..] The Houston-based company has accumulated cash and credit lines in recent months as dividends payments to Caracas have been blocked by U.S. sanctions imposed in 2017. [..] Citgo has been struggling to refinance a revolving line of credit, a task that must be completed by July

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Putin: So far, so soft.

Russia Vows To Defend Its Venezuelan Oil Assets (RT)

Russia will defend its interests in Venezuela within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, told Russian media on Tuesday. Russia has kept close ties with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has extended loans to Venezuela, including oil firm Rosneft lending money to Venezuela’s state-held firm PDVSA. Rosneft has extended $6 billion of loans to PDVSA, which needs to be fully redeemed in crude oil supplies by the end of this year. According to S&P Global Platts, as of November 2018, Venezuela had $3.1 billion outstanding loan to repay to Rosneft. The Russian company also has five joint upstream projects with PDVSA in Venezuela.

However, the US Treasury slapped another round of sweeping sanctions against PDVSA on Monday, in order to “help prevent further diverting of Venezuela’s assets by Maduro and preserve these assets for the people of Venezuela.” The US backed last week Juan Guaido, the chairman of the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after Guaido declared himself interim president. “The path to sanctions relief for PdVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the Interim President or a subsequent, democratically elected government,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin said. The Kremlin considers the sanctions against PDVSA as “illegal”, a sign of “unfair competition” and an attempt to interfere with Venezuela’s internal affairs, Peskov said on Tuesday. Russia is assessing the potential consequences of the sanctions on PDVSA for Moscow, Peskov added.

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Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal paint the picture.

US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader

Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution. But after a single phone call from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom-dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.

Echoing the Washington consensus, the New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a “credible rival” to Maduro with a “refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.” The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him “a new democratic leader.” Meanwhile, Canada, numerous European nations, Israel, and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories.

Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.

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Amid reports that at least 50% of its accounts are fake.

Facebook Reports Record Profit, Stock Surges 12% After Earnings (MW)

After weeks of controversy, Facebook Inc. reported record profits — about $1 billion more than any previous quarter — as the company beat Wall Street expectations for fourth-quarter earnings and revenue late Wednesday, sending shares soaring. Record profits, a growing user base and healthy top line suggest that Facebook’s base of advertisers is continuing to pour dollars into the social networking giant’s swath of apps and services that now attract 2.7 billion people a month around the world. The strong results cap weeks of negative news cycles that has evidently left Facebook relatively unscathed.“Facebook has had so much bad news — even this week,” Forrester analyst Brigitte Majewski said over the phone, referring to another scandal that surfaced this week.

“But you can’t deny the numbers. They’ve had an increase in daily active users, and growth in all regions.” The company reported $6.88 billion in net income for the fourth quarter, which amounts to $2.38 a share, up from $1.44 a share in the year-ago period. Analysts’ average estimates for fourth-quarter profits called for $2.18 a share, according to FactSet. Overall, Facebook logged sales of $16.91 billion, up from $12.97 billion in the year-ago period, beating Wall Street expectations for sales of $16.39 billion, according to FactSet. Facebook’s main source of revenue is ads, which brought in 93% of revenue, up from 89% in the year-earlier period.

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A few versions of the same thing, first CNBC and RT, different for obvious reasons, then Independent, who report what most others completely missed (NY Post is an exception), which is that Mueller claims the evidence was altered.

Mueller: Evidence Against Russian Firm Used In Disinformation Campaign (CNBC)

Special counsel Robert Mueller claimed Wednesday that evidence in one of his criminal cases related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was recently used in an online disinformation campaign, apparently to discredit Mueller’s investigations. Mueller made that allegation in a court filing in his criminal case pending against Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the oligarch who is known as “Putin’s chef.” The special counsel charged Concord Management last year with funding a multimillion-dollar social media disinformation campaign to bolster the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Mueller’s filing Wednesday objects to Concord’s request that the special counsel be compelled to disclose documents he has deemed “sensitive” to the defendant and its employees as it prepares for trial.Concord wants to be able to send that information to Russia for review by company officers and employees. But Mueller said in his filing that doing so “unreasonably risks the national security interests of the United States.” The special counsel said that Concord should not be given such sensitive material because of alleged misuse in October by an unknown party of “non-sensitive” materials already in Concord’s possession as a result of the normal discovery process that litigants use to share information during a court case.

Mueller said that “sensitive” materials identifies individuals and entities that have not been criminally charged, but whom “the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.” [..] The special counsel said that, “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!'”

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What Mueller really wants is to stop Concord from fighting his probe. He never expected them to come to court. He thought they were just more anonymous Russians he could accuse of anything he wanted without being called on it.

Mueller Claims Evidence Shared Leaked To ‘Discredit Investigation’ (RT)

In an apparent bid to shield his case against alleged Russian trolls from legal challenge, special counsel Robert Mueller claimed some evidence previously provided was hacked and published to discredit his probe. On Wednesday, Mueller filed a motion to oppose discovery in case against Concord Management and Consulting LLC, which he indicted last February on charges of running the Internet Research Agency, also known as the “St. Petersburg troll factory.” “Sensitive” evidence in the case cannot be turned over to Concord’s lawyers, because that would make it accessible to their clients in Russia – and back in October, Mueller claimed, someone claimed to have hacked Concord’s computers and posted evidence previously handed over online “as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the US political system.”

It was that claim that got the attention of the media and the ‘Russiagate’ crowd. What Mueller actually alleges is less headline-worthy and far more tenuous. Namely, on October 22 last year, a Twitter account @HackingRedstone claimed to have gained “access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller,” offering “all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion.” According to a footnote in the filing, Mueller’s team was informed of this by an unnamed reporter. However, the Twitter account referenced comes up as suspended, and aside from that notice there are no entries for it in the Internet Archive, making Mueller’s claim impossible to independently verify.

The webpage allegedly linked in the tweet is said to have contained “file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials… produced by the government in discovery.” Of the 300,000 files on the site, “over 1,000” matched the hashtag values of documents provided by Mueller to Concord, the filing said. Mueller argued these must have been obtained from Concord, because the FBI “found no evidence” that US government servers fell victim to any hack involving the files. Somewhat confusingly, the filing argued that many other file names used a reference to the Relativity database, which the US government “has not used” to store materials related to this case. Concord’s lawyers have informed the court that the company’s computers have not been hacked, but Mueller’s filing accused them of lying, saying that the webpage contained “actual discovery materials from this case.”

[..] To wit, Mueller is making an assertion based on a tweet and a webpage – that currently do not exist – to argue that it should not disclose further “sensitive” evidence to defendants in a Russiagate case.

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How did the majority of news outlets miss that Mueller claims the info was altered? They didn’t read it?

Mueller Says Russians Are Altering Evidence From Investigation (Ind.)

Russians have obtained evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Moscow’s interference in US politics and altered it in a bid to discredit the probe, federal prosecutors have claimed. The files were shared with attorneys working for Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company that allegedly funded hacking operations by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), they said in a court filing. The sharing evidence and documents between prosecutors and defence lawyer as part of routine discovery is common legal practice. But the files shared by Mr Mueller’s investigation were later uploaded and disseminated on Twitter in October.

However, the files shared online, “appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the US political system,” the court filing states. A team had reviewed files to determine that roughly 1,000 files linked to by that account out of 300,000 available matched non-public evidence provided. “The fact that the file folder names and folder structure on the webpage significantly match the non-public names and file structure of the materials produced in discovery, and the fact that over 1,000 files on the webpage match those produced in discovery, establish that the person(s) who created the webpage had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government in this case,“ the filing states.

Concord Management was among 13 Russian entities or people to be charged in connection with Mr Mueller’s investigation last February. Mr Mueller’s team has charged dozens of Russian individuals or entities for attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election, primarily through hacking Democratic Party email systems. The most recent filing argued that attorneys for Concord should not be given access to “sensitive” evidence gathered for the case. It said: “The person who created the webpage used their knowledge of the non-sensitive discovery to make it appear as though the irrelevant files contained on the webpage were the sum total evidence of ‘IRA and Russian collusion’ gathered by law enforcement in this matter in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation.”

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Amal Clooney told Greece in 2015 to take Britain to an international court. They didn’t.

The marbles stem from 2,500 years ago. Their splendor is unmatched, at least until the Romans, and the Middle Ages. They were stolen by Britain when the Ottomans had invaded Greece.

Acropolis Museum Director: British Museum Not Owner Of Parthenon Marbles (K.)

The British Museum is not the legal owner of the Parthenon Marbles and therefore the long-running dispute with Greece over their fate could only be resolved with their unconditional repatriation and not with a lending plan, the director of the Acropolis Museum, Dimitrios Pandermalis, reportedly told German public radio on Wednesday. “The full return of the Parthenon Marbles is the only solution. Everything that is inextricably linked to the monument must be reunited,” he was quoted as telling Deutschlandfunk, adding that the sculptures exhibited in London form an integral part of the monument. He also said his museum would gladly offer something to the British Museum in exchange for the marbles’ return, without going into details.

Pantermalis was responding to Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, who dismissed the possibility of returning them to Greece, arguing that their exhibition in London is in “a context of world cultures.” “The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection,” he was quoted as telling Greek daily Ta Nea in an interview published on January 26. Asked if that is the reason why the Museum will not permanently return the Sculptures, he replied: “Yes”. In another part of the same interview he said they are “in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.”

Fischer also said that the removal of the marbles from Greece in the 19th century could be seen as “a creative act.” The sculptures are the work of great Athenian sculptor Phidias who added them to the Parthenon in the fifth century BC. In the early 19th century, men working for the 7th Earl of Elgin dismantled a large part of the frieze and shipped the sculptures back to London.

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Jan 302019
 
 January 30, 2019  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Bathers and dog 1922

 

French Police Weapons Under Scrutiny After Gilets Jaunes Injuries (G.)
May Regains Control Of Brexit, But Has No Idea What To Do With It (Ind.)
UK MPs Vote To Renegotiate Irish Backstop (G.)
There Will Be No Renegotiation Of Irish Backstop, Says EU (G.)
British Parliament Rules Out Hard Brexit (MW)
UK Demands Brexit Deal Change, EU Says: ‘Non’ (R.)
Theresa May’s Victory: A Pyrrhic Success Built On Fantasy (G.)
Venezuela Supreme Court Freezes Guaidó’s Bank Accounts, Imposes Travel Ban (G.)
Apple Reports First Decline In Revenues And Profits In Over A Decade (G.)
How Hard China’s Slowdown Could Hit Global Economic Growth (MW)
China Fast Tracks New Foreign Investment Law As US Talks Loom (R.)
US, China Face Deep Trade, IP Differences In High-Level Talks (R.)
Scientists Demand Military Sonar Ban To End Mass Whale Strandings (Ind.)

 

 

This may seem an odd choice to open a Debt Rattle with, but it’s really not. The Guardian reporting that French police weapons are under scrutiny is a perfect example of how western media refuse to report on what is happening in France. This is not about a choice of weapons, but about instructing police to inflict brutality on their own people. A high-profile Yellow Vest ‘member’ lost an eye, and that’s bad, but he’s number 17 to which this happens that we know of, an equal amount of people have died, scores have lost limbs, and there’s a whole range of other serious injuries.

Where are the detailed reports on all that? There are plenty videos out there of crazy police brutality, but the MSM leaves them alone. And here I’m wondering what happened to the police we saw just weeks ago coming together with protesters. What are the instructions that brought on this move into unparalleled violence, and who issued them? What we do see about Macron is his demands for Maduro to step down. Somone needs to demand he does just that himself.

Like Britain with its fantasy Brexit soap opera, France finds itself in a very deep democracy crisis. The media ignoring that doesn’t make a difference anymore. You can bet the French see it all on social media.

French Police Weapons Under Scrutiny After Gilets Jaunes Injuries (G.)

The French government is under growing pressure to review police use of explosive weapons against civilians after serious injuries were reported during gilets jaunes street demonstrations, including people alleged to have lost eyes and to have had their hands and feet mutilated. France’s legal advisory body, the council of state, will on Wednesday examine an urgent request by the French Human Rights League and the CGT trade union to ban police from using a form of rubber-bullet launcher in which ball-shaped projectiles are shot out of specialised handheld launchers. France’s rights ombudsman has long warned they are dangerous and carry “disproportionate risk”.

Lawyers have also petitioned the government to ban so-called “sting-ball” grenades, which contain 25g of TNT high-explosive. France is the only European country where crowd-control police use such powerful grenades, which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls that creates a stinging effect as well as launching an additional load of teargas. The grenades create a deafening effect that has been likened to the sound of an aircraft taking off. France’s centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing renewed calls to ban such weapons after Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators was hit in the eye on Saturday in Paris. He is said by his lawyer to have been disabled for life.

Rights groups say Rodrigues’s case is the tip of the iceberg. Lawyers estimate that as many as 17 people have lost an eye because of the police’s use of such weapons since the start of the street demonstrations, while at least three have lost their hands and others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated. Injuries have happened at demonstrations in Paris and other cities, including Bordeaux and Nantes.

Read more …

May ‘wins’ permission to change her own Brexit deal. Which she repeatedly said cannot be changed.

Apologies if some of the following articles appear to repeat, I wanted a few different points of view. Not that any of them put their fingers where it hurts: a deep deep crisis.

May Regains Control Of Brexit, But Has No Idea What To Do With It (Ind.)

What to say, at the end of another “historic” day in the Greatest S***show on Earth? We reach again into the “it’s like…” cupboard but this time it’s completely bare. There are no more bald men and no combs to come to our service. There are no boulders and no hills. There are no deckchairs, no Titanic, no piss ups and no breweries. There are no turds and no polish. Even the glitter has all run out. There is now only the thing itself, reaching beyond all similitude. Brexit: The Eternal Crapness. The Unsurpassable Embarrassment. There is no spice worth adding to the events themselves. No salt can augment the terrifying umami of such base inadequacy.

So here’s what happened. The House of Commons voted to rule out “no deal.” But it also voted against both the practical solutions put on the table to make it happen. It voted to send Theresa May back to Brussels to re-open negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement. At the precise moment it did so, the European Commission released a statement saying it cannot be re-opened. Theresa May was victorious, in her own way. But she was victorious in the defeat of her own deal. A small bit of background might be useful. In November, after two years of boldly claiming “no deal is better than a bad deal”, Theresa May finally achieved a deal, which everyone instantly agreed was bad.

Theresa May, on several occasions, has agreed it is bad. At that point, she stood outside 10 Downing Street and said that, actually, it turns out, a bad deal was better than no deal. And, more to the point, that this was “the only deal.” Over the last two months, she has stood at the despatch box of the House of Commons and declared that her deal is “the only deal”, that it “cannot be renegotiated” upwards of a hundred times, spread over more than twenty hours. She has said it is “the only deal”, and that it “cannot be renegotiated”, because the European Union have said the same themselves, with the same regularity, and the same consistency. Now, she has decided it can be renegotiated after all, which it can’t.

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It’s no longer Theresa May’s delusion, all MPs are now accomplices. And that certainly includes Jeremy Corbyn. How can you vote for something you know doesn’t exist? Or just sit there while others do it?

UK MPs Vote To Renegotiate Irish Backstop (G.)

Theresa May was handed a two-week deadline to resuscitate her Brexit deal last night after she caved to Tory Eurosceptics and pledged to go back to Brussels to demand changes to the Irish backstop. With just 59 days to go until exit day, MPs narrowly passed a government-backed amendment, tabled by the senior Tory Graham Brady, promising to replace the Irish backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”. But within minutes of the Commons result the European council president, Donald Tusk, announced that the EU was not prepared to reopen the deal. “The withdrawal agreement is, and remains, the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” a spokesman for Tusk said.

“The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.” Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, said the EU needed to “hold our nerve”. On a dramatic day in Westminster the House of Commons also served notice that it would not support the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit, undermining what May regards as one of her key bargaining chips in the days ahead. However, May said: “It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU, with a deal.” She repeatedly stressed protections for workers’ rights, as well as mooting changes to the backstop in the hope of winning over Labour MPs, and promised to keep “battling for Britain”

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This has been obvious for a long time.

There Will Be No Renegotiation Of Irish Backstop, Says EU (G.)

Theresa May immediately hit a brick wall in Brussels after being backed by MPs to reopen the withdrawal agreement, as Donald Tusk, with the backing of Emmanuel Macron, said the EU would not renegotiate. Within minutes of the Commons backing the prime minister’s plan to replace the Irish backstop, a spokesman for the European council’s president insisted Tusk would not permit any changes to the deal already agreed with Downing Street. Tusk, the EU’s most senior official, instead urged the prime minister to explain her next steps, claiming the agreement negotiated over the last 20 months “remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”.

The spokesman added: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.” In an apparent sign that the EU now fears that the impasse in the Brexit talks is unlikely to be broken within the coming weeks, Tusk’s spokesman said Brussels was open to a delay to Brexit beyond 29 March. An amendment backed by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper ordering the government to ask for an extension was defeated on Tuesday evening but the Commons is set to vote again in mid-February. “Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 would stand ready to consider it and decide by unanimity”, the spokesman said. “The EU27 will adopt this decision, taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension, as well as the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions.”

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Ironically, they may not have the power to rule it out. If May doesn’t ask for an Article 50 extension soon enough, a Hard Brexit will just happen.

British Parliament Rules Out Hard Brexit (MW)

The British Parliament on Tuesday passed an amendment to rule out a no-deal or hard Brexit, as well as an amendment to replace the Irish backstop proposal with an ‘alternative arrangement’. The outcome of the parliamentary vote is not legally binding for the government. The no-deal amendment passing indicates that a no-deal Brexit scenario continues to be the least likely, supporting market expectations. Prime Minister Theresa May said she would take this mandate to obtain legally binding changes in the EU withdrawal agreement. Parliament voted on a total of seven amendments on Tuesday, which included a proposal extend the Brexit timeline and to postpone the Brexit date if no deal was found until late February. The British pound plummeted against both the U.S. dollar and the euro after the latter amendment got rejected.

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Blatant nonsense and a lie: “There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy,” said May..

UK Demands Brexit Deal Change, EU Says: ‘Non’ (R.)

Less than two months before the United Kingdom is due by law to leave the EU, investors and allies are trying to gauge where the Brexit crisis will ultimately end up with a disorderly Brexit, a delay to Brexit, or no Brexit at all. Two weeks after voting down May’s Brexit deal by the biggest margin in modern British history, parliament demanded she return to Brussels to replace the so-called Irish backstop, an insurance policy that aims to prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. “There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy,” May told lawmakers who voted 317 votes to 301 to support the plan, which had the backing of influential Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady.

“I agree that we should not leave without a deal. However, simply opposing no deal is not enough to stop it,” said May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the chaos following the 2016 referendum. May said she would seek “legally binding changes” to the divorce deal which she clinched in November with the EU after two years of tortuous negotiations. In essence, May will try to clinch a last-minute deal by using the implicit threat of a no-deal Brexit from the other 27 members of the EU whose economy is, combined, about six times the size of the United Kingdom’s. The response from European capitals was blunt.

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Nobody has the guts to tell the empress about her wardrobe.

Theresa May’s Victory: A Pyrrhic Success Built On Fantasy (G.)

Theresa May won a rare triumph on Tuesday night in the Commons. She came back from the greatest parliamentary loss by a government to secure, miraculously, a majority to refresh her wilted withdrawal agreement. Mrs May has had to vote against her own defeated deal to do so. She has had to offer MPs another chance to judge her government in a fortnight’s time. She has had to offer assurances that workers’ rights would be respected and that going forward she would take MPs of all opinions into her confidence. These are undoubtedly moves in the right direction.

However, it is difficult to see how the prime minister will deliver on her parliamentary success. Much more likely, her victory will turn out to be a pyrrhic one. Mrs May put party before country to be on the winning side of the parliamentary vote. She did so by hitching a lift on a Brexiter flight of fantasy, telling MPs she can achieve a “significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement” which would provide “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop. The danger is that Mrs May has raised expectations that cannot be met. The backstop is an insurance mechanism in the exit treaty – designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland – which angered Brexiters who say it potentially traps the UK in a customs union with the EU.

Earlier this month Mrs May told MPs: “The simple truth is that the EU was not prepared to agree to [changes in the withdrawal agreement] and rejecting the backstop … means no deal.” What was impossible before is now apparently just difficult. The prime minister effectively told MPs she could renegotiate the backstop element of her Brexit deal and replace it with a free-trade agreement with as-yet-unknown technology to avoid customs checks on the Irish border. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, was quick to say the withdrawal agreement would not be reopened, a put down that will be hard to live down.

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Now it’s the CIA vs the Supreme Court. We’re waiting for Putin.

Venezuela Supreme Court Freezes Guaidó’s Bank Accounts, Imposes Travel Ban (G.)

Venezuela’s supreme court has imposed a travel ban and financial restrictions on self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó, including freezing his bank accounts. On Tuesday, the political crisis deepened as the country’s attorney general ordered an investigation into the opposition leader, who last week declared himself interim president in a rare challenge to the incumbent, Nicolás Maduro. Tarek Saab, a Maduro loyalist, announced that Juan Guaidó – who has received the backing of the US and other regional powers including Brazil and Colombia – would be investigated over his supposed role in “serious crimes that threaten the constitutional order”.

Hours earlier the US tightened the screws on Maduro by announcing sweeping sanctions against the country’s state-owned oil company PDVSA in what experts said was an attempt to economically asphyxiate his regime. A series of anti-Maduro demonstrations are due to take place on Wednesday in Caracas, the capital, and across the country. Speaking to Russian news agency RIA on Wednesday morning, Maduro said he was ready for talks with the opposition, with the participation of international mediators. “I am ready to sit at the negotiation table with the opposition for us to talk for the benefit of Venezuela, for the sake of peace and its future,” he said. Maduro said the US sanctions were one of US national security adviser John Bolton’s “craziest” ideas and that he would emerge the victor in the standoff.

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So stocks soar 6%. Obviously.

Apple Reports First Decline In Revenues And Profits In Over A Decade (G.)

Apple reported its first decline in revenues and profits in over a decade on Tuesday. Weak iPhone sales and a downturn in China reduced the tech company’s revenue by 4.5% to $84.3bn in the three months ending 29 December compared with the same period last year. Profits fell slightly to $19.97bn. Revenues from China were $13.17bn during the quarter, a drop of nearly $5bn from a year ago. The results came three weeks after Apple shocked investors with its first profits warning since 2002. It has been a trying month for Apple. On 3 January Apple cut its sales forecasts for the key end of year period citing the “magnitude” of the economic slowdown in China.

It was the first profits warning Apple has made since it launched the iPhone, a product that propelled the company into the top tier of tech companies and briefly made it the most valuable company in history. That warning wiped $55bn (£44bn) off the company’s value, led to its shares being briefly suspended and rattled investors worldwide as analysts began to worry about how other companies might be hit by China’s slowing growth. Apple’s share price has since recovered but remains $266bn less than the record-breaking $1tn the company was valued at in August, the first company ever to be valued that high. [..] Apple’s share price rose over 6% in after hours trading following the release of its latest financials. The numbers were broadly in line with analysts’ expectations and iPhone revenues were higher than expected.

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So when are governments and markets demand China come clean on its actual numbers?

How Hard China’s Slowdown Could Hit Global Economic Growth (MW)

The slowdown in global growth bears strong resemblance to a 2015-16 episode that was driven in large part by softness in China. This time around, China’s problems could prove even more damaging, warned economists at Oxford Economics. “The Chinese slowdown could have serious negative consequences for world growth if it intensifies. Our model simulations suggest that world growth could slow to a decade low of 2.3% in 2019 if Chinese growth slows sharply and could drop below 2% in the event of a combined slowdown in China and the U.S.,” wrote Adam Slater and John Payne in a Tuesday note (see chart).

The warning comes as investors attempt to parse the drag China’s woes could have on earnings for U.S. corporations as earnings season moves into full swing. Shares of Caterpillar slumped Monday after it blamed weak demand from China in part for sales that badly missed Wall Street expectations. Caterpillar was the latest of a growing number of industrial companies who have said sales are softening in China. [..] the economists noted three ways China’s problems can weigh on global growth:

• Weaker domestic demand growth in China cuts imports of final goods (consumer and investment goods) from the rest of the world (ROW).
• Weaker Chinese export growth reduces demand for imports of intermediates and raw materials from ROW, a significant channel given the relatively high import content of Chinese exports.
• Weaker Chinese demand pushes down prices of key global commodities like iron ore and copper, inflicting terms of trade losses on exporters of these products (mostly emerging markets).

“All these channels seem to be operating,” the economists wrote, noting that China’s import volumes fell sharply in late 2018, with some of the biggest falls suffered by the country’s key Asian partners and component suppliers such as Singapore, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan. China-sensitive commodities are also beginning to feel pressure, they noted, with an index they use to track prices off 11% year-over-year in January after being up 16% year-over-year as recently as May. And the effects of the U.S.-China trade dispute are becoming visible, with China’s goods imports from the U.S. down 30% year-over-year in December; Chinese exports to the U.S., which had been holding up, are also starting to slip, they said.

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Sounds almost hopeful…

China Fast Tracks New Foreign Investment Law As US Talks Loom (R.)

China’s parliament will vote in March on a new foreign investment law that will ban forced technology transfer and illegal government “interference” in foreign business practices, the official Xinhua News agency reported in Wednesday. The time-table suggests the law will probably be formally approved then by the largely rubber-stamp legislature, accelerating a process that usually would take a year or more as Beijing rushes to meet Washington’s demands in order to de-escalate their trade war. The full annual session of parliament, which opens on March 5, only tends to pass select landmark legislation, with other laws being passed by its standing committee.

Parliament is unlikely to reject the law as its delegates are chosen for their loyalty to the ruling Communist Party and its agenda. The Trump administration has accused Beijing of intellectual property (IP) theft and forced IP transfers, demanding change and threatening further tariffs since trade tension flared between two countries last year. China has repeatedly rebutted such accusations. The two sides will hold two days of talks in Washington starting on Wednesday in the highest-level discussions since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed a 90-day truce in their trade war in December.

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… but reality is different. The tariffs deadline is March 2.

US, China Face Deep Trade, IP Differences In High-Level Talks (R.)

The United States and China launch a critical round of trade talks on Wednesday amid deep differences over Washington’s demands for structural economic reforms from Beijing that will make it difficult to reach a deal before a March 2 U.S. tariff hike. The two sides will meet next door to the White House in the highest-level talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed a 90-day truce in their trade war in December. People familiar with the talks and trade experts watching them say that, so far, there has been little indication that Chinese officials are willing to address core U.S. demands to protect American intellectual property rights and end policies that Washington says force U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms.

The U.S. complaints, along with accusations of Chinese cyber theft of U.S. trade secrets and a systematic campaign to acquire U.S. technology firms, were used by the Trump administration to justify punitive U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on $200 billion of goods to 25 percent from 10 percent on March 2 if an agreement cannot be reached. He has also threatened new tariffs on the remainder of Chinese goods shipped to the United States. “Clearly on the structural concerns, on forced technology transfer, there remains a significant gap if not a wide chasm between the two sides,” a person familiar with the talks told Reuters.

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This should be an easy choice. Instead, it’s simply not going to happen.

Scientists Demand Military Sonar Ban To End Mass Whale Strandings (Ind.)

Scientists have called for a wide-scale ban on the use of sonar to protect whale populations after a study highlighted a link between the military sound pulses and mass strandings in which dozens of the mammals have died. Marine biologists have long warned that the creatures’ senses could be damaged by sonar, with the unfamiliar noises coming from vessels confusing the animals. Experts said the mammals often attempt to swim away from the sound source, leading them to become disorientated. For deep-diving marine life such as the beaked whale, which was the focus of the study, sonar can lead the animals to ascend too rapidly, causing decompression sickness. This in turn has contributed to an increase in the number of whales dying in mass stranding events.

Researchers at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria focused exclusively on beaked whales in the seas surrounding the Canary Islands. They found that a sonar ban introduced there in 2004 had been effective in reducing whale strandings and called for more sites to be established to prevent further deaths, including in the Mediterranean, where beaked whales are listed as vulnerable. “Animals may respond to stressful situations by exhibiting the ‘flight or fight response’ with increased heart and metabolic rates, often accompanied by fast movement away from the perceived stressor,” wrote the authors of the report, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society journal. “We recommend a moratorium on mid-frequency active sonar in those regions where atypical mass stranding events continue.”

Read more …

Jan 292019
 


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Earth 1566

 

 

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties (Ind.)
Risk Of Accidental No-Deal Brexit ‘Very High’ – Key EU Negotiator (G.)
Will UK MPs Take Control Of Brexit? (RT)
Theresa May In Fresh Crisis After Anti-EU Tories Reject ‘Plan B’ (Ind.)
Bank Of England Urged To Give Juan Guaidó Venezuela’s Gold (G.)
US Announces Sanctions Against Venezuela State Oil Company (G.)
Why Did John Bolton’s Notepad Say “5,000 Troops To Colombia”? (ZH)
Stone Cold (Kunstler)
Mueller Investigation Close To Being Completed – Acting AG Whitaker (CNBC)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders To Media: You’re No Better Than WikiLeaks (VF)
Facebook To Create ‘War Room’ To Fight Fake News (G.)
Supermassive Black Holes Reveal Universe Expands Faster Than Thought (Ind.)
British Museum Chief: Taking The Parthenon Marbles Was ‘Creative’ (G.)

 

 

This is true all over the western world. But finding alternatives is daunting. And that’s how you get to pitchforks.

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties (Ind.)

More than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by the main political parties, according to a new report on the divisions caused by Brexit. Research by campaign group Hope Not Hate found that the disconnect had increased from 60% to 67% over the last six months as Theresa May negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement. The poll of nearly 33,000 people and results from focus groups also revealed that many felt they were being left in the dark or were “overwhelmingly bored” by the process. It has also seen an increase in the proportion of the public feeling pessimistic about the future – with very few believing that Brexit will address the frustrations and inequalities that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

More people also believe that Brexit is feeding prejudice and division and taking the UK “backwards”, up from 57% in July 2018 to 62% last month. Just 20% of people said they could trust the government to deliver a “good Brexit”. Almost as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (75%) said they do not trust the government to deliver a Brexit that works for them. None of the options being considered by parliament have consensus support across the UK, according to the report, and 42% of people think that it would be sensible to delay leaving the EU by a few months so we can agree a better deal with the EU or hold a Final Say vote.

Hope Not Hate suggested the deadlock could be broken by holding “citizens’ assemblies”, which have been used successfully in Ireland and Iceland. They are made up of a randomly chosen representative group of up to 1,500 people and hear evidence and argument on a subject before making recommendations to their political representatives. Citizens’ assemblies are “a less polarising choice” the report states, with 39% of people, including both Leave and Remain supporters, saying they would back this process given the political deadlock.

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“..we need to have a stable majority to ensure the ratification. That’s quite a big challenge. There’s no negotiation between the UK and EU – that’s finished.”

Risk Of Accidental No-Deal Brexit ‘Very High’ – Key EU Negotiator (G.)

The risk of accidentally crashing out of the EU without a deal has been described as “very high” by a key EU architect of the Brexit deal, with parliamentary backing for changes to the backstop likely to be met with a brick wall in Brussels. Senior Conservative MPs are seeking to form a majority in a Commons vote on Tuesday calling for Theresa May to demand an alternative plan to the Irish backstop for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. But on Monday, EU officials and diplomats said the amendment tabled by the Tory MP Graham Brady, and backed by Downing Street, failed to offer any clue as to what alternative arrangement parliament could support.

With the votes on Tuesday unlikely to offer any clarity on what MPs can unite behind, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a sober analysis of the chances of a deal being ratified in Westminster. She said: “We need to have a majority that doesn’t just get agreement over hurdle of a meaningful vote by a narrow majority but we need to have a stable majority to ensure the ratification. That’s quite a big challenge. There’s no negotiation between the UK and EU – that’s finished.

“There’s no point beating about the bush – the agreement was defeated with a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. That’s a crushing defeat by any standards. It’s quite a challenge to see how you can construct out of the diversity of opposition a positive majority for a deal.” Weyand said of the two years of talks due to end on 29 March: “There’s a very high risk of a crash out not by design, but by accident. Perhaps by the design of article 50, but not by policymakers.” “We think we can handle it,” Weyand said. “I’m less sure about UK side. For us it’s about EU-UK trade relationship and disruption to supply chains. For the UK a no deal would mean that a part of the regulatory and supervisory structure of economy breaks away – a much bigger challenge.”

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British people must be so sick of this. More ‘key’ votes today, and no end in sight.

Will UK MPs Take Control Of Brexit? (RT)

Later on Tuesday, backbench MPs will try to seize control of Brexit as they vote on a set of amendments to alter – or even stop – the UK’s exit from the bloc after PM Theresa May failed to get her deal through parliament.
Speaker John Bercow reportedly received 14 amendments to May’s Brexit deal, with half a dozen of them expected to be put to a vote in order to achieve Brexit Plan B. Voting is scheduled to start at 7pm and may go on until around 8.30pm. By that time, it’ll likely become clear whether Brexit will be paused, possibly indefinitely, or whether the embattled prime minister will be sent back to Brussels for more talks with the EU.

Proposals to prevent a NO-DEAL Brexit One of the most important amendments comes from Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which requires May to delay Brexit and extend Article 50 if she’s unable get parliamentary support for her deal by February 26. Another notable one is much softer and non-binding in nature. Tory MP Caroline Spelman and her Labour counterpart, Jack Dromey, are pushing for the “no-deal” concept to be rejected in principle.

Anti-backstop amendments The two key proposals here are from Tory backbenchers, Andrew Murrison and Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee, responsible for hiring and firing Conservative leaders. They call for the contentious Irish backstop to expire by December 2021 or be removed from the Brexit deal altogether. The backstop is a safety net to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if there’s no Brexit trade deal.

Indicative vote amendments These are focused on ensuring that MPs get more parliamentary time to discuss the kind of Brexit they want to see agreed. Labour MP Hilary Benn has one amendment explicitly demanding indicative votes on Brexit options, including Norway Plus, a Second referendum, a “managed” no-deal, or a Labour Brexit. Prominent Tory Remainer, Dominic Grieve, is also calling for six days in February and March to be set aside for debates on motions not selected by the government. May’s spokesman said on Monday that talks on changing the deal to make it satisfactory for the MPs were ongoing. The PM was also willing to give the parliament another opportunity to vote for the Brexit deal as soon as possible. He didn’t name the exact date, buy the Sky News sources claim it may happen on February 13.

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The people’s interest?!

Theresa May In Fresh Crisis After Anti-EU Tories Reject ‘Plan B’ (Ind.)

Theresa May has been plunged into a fresh Brexit crisis after anti-EU Tories rejected her ‘plan B’ attempt to rescue her deal and threatened to inflict another Commons defeat on Tuesday. The prime minister took the extraordinary step of urging her MPs to back an amendment that “requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced” – even though it effectively rips up her own agreement with the EU. However, just 30 minutes earlier – in a dramatic underlining of her weakness – the hardline 60-strong European Research Group (ERG) rejected the wording as too vague. Without ERG support, the amendment, tabled by Tory backbenchers’ leader Graham Brady, appeared doomed to fail – wrecking No 10 hopes that it would persuade the EU to give way.

Even before the setback, Brussels made clear it would, in any case, never accept a UK demand to replace the backstop, insisting the EU was “not going to reopen the agreement”. Heidi Allen, a leading pro-EU Tory, said the prime minister was “dreaming” if she believed her strategy could succeed, telling The Independent: “She is doing nothing other than pandering to the ERG again.” Despite the continuing stalemate, Ms May told the emergency meeting of Tory MPs that she wanted to stage a second “meaningful vote” on her deal by 13 February. No 10 saw it as a mechanism of sending a clear message about the concessions the EU needed to make if the thumping 230-vote defeat on the divorce deal, a fortnight ago, is to be overturned.

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The UK government, who obviously have nothing better to do, wants to confiscate Venezuela’s gold. Time for every country to repatriate their gold. Or it can and will be used against you.

Bank Of England Urged To Give Juan Guaidó Venezuela’s Gold (G.)

A UK foreign office minister has suggested that the Bank of England grant access to £1.2bn in Venezuelan gold reserves to the self-proclaimed interim leader Juan Guaidó rather than Nicolás Maduro. In a statement to British MPs, Sir Alan Duncan said the decision was a matter for the Bank and its governor, Mark Carney, and not the government. But he added: “It is they who have to make a decision on this, but no doubt when they do so they will take into account there are now a large number of countries across the world questioning the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro and recognising that of Juan Guaidó.” Guaidó has already written to Theresa May asking for the funds to be sent to him.

The former chair of the foreign affairs select committee Crispin Blunt said the current Venezuelan central bank president was not legitimate, since he had not been appointed by the country’s national assembly. Blunt has sent letters to the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, urging a decision. Duncan said Hunt would be discussing the next steps in the European Union’s efforts to support Guaidó in Bucharest on Thursday. Key EU states including France, Germany, Spain and the UK on Saturday urged Maduro to call free and fair elections within eight days or else see Guaidó recognised as interim president by the international community. The EU stance was backed by the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in the Commons.

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Bolton: “Now is the time to stand for democracy and prosperity in Venezuela..” Straight faced.

US Announces Sanctions Against Venezuela State Oil Company (G.)

The Trump administration has tightened the screws on Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, announcing sanctions against the country’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA in what the US national security adviser admitted was partly an attempt to counter strategic threats from Cuba and Iran. At a briefing in the White House, the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, told reporters the sanctions would help punish “those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline” and boost Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who last week declared himself Venezuela’s rightful interim president and was recognized by the United States. “It is a complete tragedy to have a humanitarian crisis in a country that has very rich resources,” Mnuchin said.

The sanctions – which represent the US’s toughest economic move against Maduro to date – come five days after Guaidó’s dramatic declaration sparked Venezuela’s latest political crisis. The national security adviser, John Bolton, said $7bn of PDVSA assets would be immediately blocked as a result of the sanctions while the company would also lose an estimated $11bn in export proceeds over the coming year. Bolton said the sanctions were an attempt to alleviate “the poverty and the starvation and the humanitarian crisis” currently gripping the South American nation and stop “Maduro and his cronies” looting the assets of the Venezuelan people. “Now is the time to stand for democracy and prosperity in Venezuela,” he said, calling on “all responsible nations” to back Guaidó.

However, he also conceded US strategic interests were in play, including concerns about the presence and activities of US foes in the region. “We think stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the direct national interests of the United States right now,” Bolton told reporters. “The authoritarian regime of Chávez and Maduro has allowed the penetration by adversaries of the United States, not least of which is Cuba.” He added: “Some call the country ‘Cubazuela’, reflecting the grip that Cuba’s military and security forces have on the Maduro regime. We think that is a strategic significant threat to the United States and there are others as well, including Iran’s interest in Venezuela’s uranium deposits.”

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Wonder what Putin and Xi are thinking. And doing.

Why Did John Bolton’s Notepad Say “5,000 Troops To Colombia”? (ZH)

During a Monday White House press briefing national security adviser John Bolton was photographed carrying a notepad — presumably as he was fresh out of a national security meeting — and one of the things which appears to be handwritten on the pad is “5,000 troops to Colombia”. The contents of the notepad were spotted almost immediately by multiple journalists online after an NBC news release featuring the AP photo was published. More precisely the full contents appear to read: “Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia.” And a closer look, per one of the first journalists to examine the photograph and writing, who noted that “if confirmed this would be a pretty terrible OPSEC [operations security] breach”.

Bolton during the White House presser revealed that President Trump is “leaving open the possibility of a U.S. military intervention to protect opposition leader Juan Guaidó, members of the nation’s assembly and American diplomatic personnel,” according to NBC. “The president has made it clear that all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters while holding the yellow notepad. “We also today call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power,” Bolton said. But could, as the notepad suggests, this involve plans to send 5,000 American troops to neighboring Colombia, a close US ally in Latin America?

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“.. in reopening it for three weeks, does this allow for the confirmation of William Barr as Attorney General?”

Stone Cold (Kunstler)

As I often point out here, history is a trickster, too. Things fly out of left field from it all the time. Pink elephants, black swans, honeybadgers, World Wars, flash crashes, and Roger Stone. I have a theory that Mr. Stone, in his twisted way, will turn out to be a sort of unlikely hero in this subplot of the Mueller inquisition. How might that work? Despite the attempt to squeeze him on charges that will bankrupt him and send him off to die in the federal cooler, Mr. Stone will do what he said on the courthouse steps: he won’t bear false witness against Mr. Trump. What that really means is something else: he is willing to step into a court-of-law and face down Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors.

Mr. Mueller does not want this case to be tried in court, I assure you. In the event, an awful lot of dark evidence will emerge from the defense side of the room about the criminal malfeasance among the Mueller Team, and their reliance on the Clinton network of fixers, grifters, and rogues who cooked up the years-long Russian Meddling-and-Collusion flimflam in the FBI going way back to the spring of 2016. Mr. Stone’s case is not unlike the case against General Mike Flynn, who was sent to the doghouse for three months in December by Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan to reconsider his guilty plea. Judge Sullivan may know that the charges against Gen. Flynn amount to prosecutorial misconduct by Mueller, and Sullivan is interested in trying the case to see what might come out. It will be March before anyone knows whether Gen Flynn got his mind right in the matter.

[..]I’m wondering about something else. Of course, Mr. Trump eventually caught hell on the government shutdown. But in reopening it for three weeks, does this allow for the confirmation of William Barr as Attorney General? And when that happens, might it change the flow of events in the RussiaGate show?

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If Stone’s indictment is any clue, there will be zero collusion reported. Well, at least not with any sort of proof.

Mueller Investigation Close To Being Completed – Acting AG Whitaker (CNBC)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “close to being completed,” acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday. “I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible,” Whitaker said during a Department of Justice news conference announcing indictments against Huawei officials. While there were reports that the special counsel probe was wrapping up, Whitaker’s remark is the first indication from a Justice Department official suggesting that Mueller could deliver his report soon. Mueller’s team of investigators is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election. The special counsel is also probing for possible collusion by Donald Trump’s campaign and whether or not the president obstructed justice.

The acting attorney general’s comment comes after Roger Stone, a longtime political advisor to President Donald Trump, was arrested in Florida on Friday. Stone faces seven counts, including allegations of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress. Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general sparked concern that he might try to stifle Mueller’s investigation. Before joining the Justice Department, Whitaker was critical of the special counsel probe. In a 2017 op-ed, Whitaker argued that if Mueller examined the Trump family finances “without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”

Whitaker addressed his critics during the Monday news conference, saying he has now been “fully briefed” on the investigation and is looking forward to Mueller’s report. “I really am not going to talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise, but you know, sort of the statements that I made were as a private citizen only with publicly available information,” Whitaker said.

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“When asked whether working with WikiLeaks should be considered a crime..”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders To Media: You’re No Better Than WikiLeaks (VF)

Last week, Roger Stone, one of Donald Trump’s longest and most loyal advisers, was indicted on several counts of lying to investigators regarding his interactions with WikiLeaks, the quasi-journalistic organization accused by U.S. intelligence of being in cahoots with the Russian government. Perhaps most dangerous for the president, the indictment against Stone alleged that a senior campaign official “was directed” by an unknown someone to ask Stone about “additional releases” from WikiLeaks, which had already dumped stolen D.N.C. e-mails all over the Internet. After Stone was arrested by the F.B.I., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick out of the gate with the standard statement: “This has nothing to do with the president, and certainly nothing to do with the White House,” she said.

“This is something that has to do solely with that individual, not something that affects us in this building.” But on Monday, as she presided over the first official White House press briefing in 41 days, she was pressed to provide a more detailed response. She denied that the White House and Trump had any contact with WikiLeaks, and brushed off the possibility that Trump would issue Stone a pardon. When asked whether working with WikiLeaks should be considered a crime, however, she went a step further. “I think every single outlet that you all represent looked for and searched for information that WikiLeaks was providing,” she said. “Most of you reported on that information. I think you’re just as accountable as anybody else in that process.” In other words, if seeking information from WikiLeaks is a crime, the media is full of criminals.

In fact, by the end of 2016, certain media outlets engaged in some earnest hand-wringing over whether the extent of their reporting on the leaked WikiLeaks documents, including the e-mails of Democratic officials like John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had thrown the election in Trump’s (and Russia’s) favor. Stone’s connections to the Julian Assange-run organization, however, are of a different nature entirely. Stone, a one-man political goon squad, had long publicly flaunted his connections with WikiLeaks, selling himself to the Trump campaign as someone with inside knowledge of the organization.

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This is your future. A bunch of call-center type ops in cheap labor nations will decide, using handbooks, what you are allowed to see.

Facebook To Create ‘War Room’ To Fight Fake News (G.)

Facebook will tackle political misinformation in the run-up to the EU elections this May with a new “war room” based in Dublin, the company’s incoming communications chief, Nick Clegg, has announced. In his first speech as Facebook’s top public face, Clegg said the company would be setting up an “operations centre focused on elections integrity, based in Dublin, this spring”. The centre will build on the company’s previous experience running an “elections war room” in its US office, where it coordinated efforts to police the platform during the US midterm and Brazilian presidential elections. “This approach will help boost our rapid response efforts to fight misinformation, bringing together dozens of experts from across the company – including from our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations and legal teams,” Clegg said.

“They will work closely with the lawmakers, election commissions, other tech companies, academics and civil society groups to continue the fight against fake news, prevent the spread of voter suppression efforts and further integrate the large number of teams working on these important issues across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.” In his speech, made to an audience of European policymakers in Brussels and livestreamed on Facebook, Clegg accepted that the company had erred in the past, but said it was on a path of improvement. “What I have seen in my short time at Facebook is a young company – only 15 years old next month – which has grown at a startling pace, has undoubtedly made mistakes and is now entering a new phase of reform, responsibility and change.”

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Why? “Dark energy is evolving – with a density that increases as time passes.”

Supermassive Black Holes Reveal Universe Expands Faster Than Thought (Ind.)

Supermassive black holes in the depths of space have been used for the first time to measure the universe growing, yielding intriguing results. Astronomers found the universe appears to be expanding faster than previously thought, a discovery that suggests a whole new set of rules is required to understand the cosmos. The rate of universe expansion is known as the Hubble constant, named after the American astronomer who also gave his name to the famous space telescope. It has proved a tricky value to pin down, because while the cosmos has been getting bigger since the Big Bang, the rate seems to vary depending on where astronomers look and how they measure it.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists used black holes sitting at the core of distant galaxies as reference points by which to measure the speed of growth. These bodies constantly spew out radiation, placing them among the brightest points in the universe. “Black holes are the most luminous persistent sources of the universe and allow us to measure its expansion rate at very early times,” explained Dr Elisabeta Lusso from Durham University. Using data collected from 1,600 supermassive black holes as the universe expands and they move away from each other, the scientists were able to record the rate of this expansion.

Previous efforts had used the light produced by exploding supernovae to measure the growth of the universe, but such measurements could only go back so far in time. The luminous black holes allowed Dr Lusso and her colleague Dr Guido Risaliti to peer back further, providing a clearer picture of early universe expansion. The discrepancy they recorded matched the contradictory results previously obtained by the European Space Agency and Nasa. These results suggest the early expansion of the universe is different from that predicted by the standard model of cosmology, which describes the age, history and contents of the universe. [..] Dr Risaliti, of the Università degli Studi di Firenze, said if this dark energy is evolving – with a density that increases as time passes – this could provide an explanation for their results.

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A land of ordinary thieves.

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d
By British hands
– Lord Byron

British Museum Chief: Taking The Parthenon Marbles Was ‘Creative’ (G.)

The director of the British Museum has provoked anger by suggesting the removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece in the 19th century could be seen as “a creative act”. Hartwig Fischer gave an interview to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea in which he ruled out returning the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which many people in Greece and elsewhere regard as stolen. Greece desperately wants the sculptures, popularly known as the Elgin marbles, back but has been rebuffed repeatedly by the British Museum. Asked about the argument that it should be seen more as a rejoining of the sculptures than a return, Fischer said the British Museum offered a different way of interacting with the marbles, “posing different questions because the objects are placed in a new context”.

He added: “We should appreciate this opportunity. You could, of course, be saddened by the fact that the original environment has disappeared. When you move a cultural heritage to a museum, you move it outside. However, this shifting is also a creative act.” The same could be said for the Acropolis Museum created in Athens, said Fischer. “Nothing that we admire at the Acropolis Museum was created for the Acropolis Museum. They are close to the original environment, but they have again moved away from it and have been transformed through this act.”

There are many who will not see the early 19th-century removal from Greece of the marbles by agents of the 7th Earl of Elgin as “creative”. Lord Byron likened it to vandalism, lamenting in verse in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see / Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d / By British hands.” George Vardas, the secretary of the International Association for Reunification of Parthenon Sculptures, tweeted: “Seriously. What was so creative in the destruction of the temple and looting and pillage of a nation’s keys to its ancient history?” He called it “astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance”, and added: “The imperial condescension of the British Museum knows no bounds.”


Photograph: Matthew Fearn/PA

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Jan 282019
 
 January 28, 2019  Posted by at 11:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Bust of woman with arms raised 1922

 

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)
PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)
China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)
Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)
UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson (R.)
Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)
UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)
Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)
In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

 

 

Picked up these numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a smal part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.

@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
2012: 5.6%
2013: 1.3%
2014: -3.9%
2015: -6.2%
2016: -17%
2017: -15%
2018: -16%

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.

Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.

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Xi remains nervous.

PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)

PBOC fixed the yuan dramatically stronger against the dollar overnight, sending offshore yuan surging to its strongest against the dollar in six months. While the Chinese currency is reportedly strengthening on the heels of trade talks optimism (which is entirely the opposite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington), we note that this was the biggest positive shift in the yuan fix in 19 months…

Notably, the yuan is strengthening considerably more against the dollar than it is against the broad basket of trade partner currencies…Shanghai Accord 2.0? And coincidentally, the surge in yuan comes the day after gold prices broke out higher… Perhaps the PBOC’s aggressive action was prompted to manage the Yuan peg against gold back into balance?

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If you look closer, nothing seems very dramatic. But real estate has become such a huge part of the economy that Beijing must weigh curbing risks vs continued growth.

It’s also the speed with which this has happened. 10 years ago Chinese didn’t borrow for homes. It’s literally been used to mitigate the financial crisis.

China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)

Loans to China’s property sector grew at a slower pace in 2018 as Beijing tightened home-purchase rules to curb bubble risk, but lending to property developers expanded slightly faster than the year before, central bank data showed on Friday. Outstanding yuan property loans grew 20% from a year earlier to 38.7 trillion yuan ($5.72 trillion) by end-December, compared with 20.9% growth in 2017, the PBOC said in a quarterly financial report. Outstanding mortgage lending climbed 17.8% year-on-year to 25.75 trillion yuan by the end of 2018, below a 22.2% rise in 2017, central bank data showed.

Policymakers have vowed to ensure “stable and healthy” development of the property market, repeatedly emphasizing that homes are for living in, not speculative investment. The government’s sustained drive to reduce debt risks in the economy has cooled the property market but a continued downturn in credit growth in the sector could add to growing pressures on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key driver of economic growth, so any further weakness could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus steps expected from Beijing this year.

Property investment is also looking wobbly, with analysts waiting to see if the government will risk loosening restrictions on home buyers that have kept speculation in check. Real estate investment in December rose 8.2% from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7% recorded for October. Developers raised their borrowings last year though, with loans extended for property development up 22.6% in 2018 versus growth of 21.7% in 2017, the report showed. The central bank also said outstanding household loans jumped 18.2% to 47.9 trillion yuan by end-2018.

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How much can Brexit hurt the British? A lot, we must assume. Then again, if you fall for this stuff at this moment in time, maybe you deserve what’s coming. How about a crisis worse than the 1930s?

Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)

Britain’s biggest lender is to offer 100% mortgages to first-time buyers in a return to lending last seen before the financial crash – but only if the buyer has family that can stand behind the loan. Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit. The Lloyds move marks a major expansion into the first-time buyer market, as most other mainstream lenders demand a minimum deposit worth 5% of the property purchase price, although Barclays has offered a similar “family springboard” deal. Lloyds has priced the mortgages to undercut the Barclays offer.

The deal – part of what Lloyds said is a £30bn commitment to help first-time buyers – will reopen concern about a two-tier market where buyers with well-off families can elbow aside those without. Saving for a deposit is usually cited by first-time buyers as the biggest hurdle to home ownership. Lloyds said the average deposit put down by first-time buyers has climbed to £33,211, and a staggering £110,182 in London. The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

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“The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.”

UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The UK will be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to two leading European Union law specialists. The ensuing chaos could double food prices and plunge Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, claim the lawyers who acted for Gina Miller in the historic case that forced the government to seek parliament’s approval to leave the EU. It has been claimed that the UK could simply move to WTO terms if there is no deal with the EU. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, believes this isn’t true. “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.

It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.” The government’s own statistics have estimated that under the worst case no-deal scenario, GDP would be 10.7% lower than if the UK stays in the EU, in 15 years. There are two apparently insurmountable hurdles to the UK trading on current WTO tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out in March, said Howard. Firstly, the UK must produce its own schedule covering both services and each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered in the WTO agreement and get it agreed by all the 163 WTO states in the 32 remaining parliamentary sitting days until 29 March 2019. A number of states have already raised objections to the UK’s draft schedule: 20 over goods and three over services.

To make it more complicated, there are no “default terms” Britain can crash out on, Howard said, while at the same time, the UK has been blocked by WTO members from simply relying on the EU’s “schedule” – its existing tariffs and tariff-free trade quotas. The second hurdle is the sheer volume of domestic legislation that would need to be passed before being able to trade under WTO rules: there are nine statutes and 600 statutory instruments that would need to be adopted. The government cannot simply cut and paste the 120,000 EU statutes into UK law and then make changes to them gradually, Howard said. “The UK will need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators to create our own domestic regimes,” she said.

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Fast and loose with Good Friday.

May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May will seek legally binding changes to the Irish backstop from the European Union in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, lawmaker Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday, citing senior government sources. The PM is looking to change the text of the agreement to insert either a sunset clause or a mechanism for the UK to escape without reference to the EU, Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph. The contentious backstop arrangement is designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep some EU rules if it was unable to agree a trade deal with the bloc. Ireland said earlier on Sunday it would not accept any changes to the backstop agreement.

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The backstop will be May’s major point of contention this week. Stop her! There’s already talk of reinserting issues in the deal that have already been thrown out.

Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)

Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”. In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.

On Tuesday Tory Brexiters may get the chance to vote for amendments that would signal their willingness to back May’s Brexit deal subject to the backstop’s either being removed or time-limited. Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels. In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”.

Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said. “And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.

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Many Brits are so poor they can’t even think of stockpiling.

UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)

Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News has learnt. Extra supplies are also being built up at bases in the UK to reduce the risk of the armed forces running short and being unable to operate if it suddenly becomes much harder to import and export day-to-day goods after 29 March. Military chiefs have spent at least £23m on what is being described as “forward-purchased” goods, Sky News understands. The move is part of contingency planning by the government – codenamed Operation Yellowhammer – to reduce disruption if Britain departs from the European Union without an agreement, according to three defence sources.

“An army marches on its stomach. If supply lines breakdown they struggle,” one source said. Any blockage in the flow of food and other vital items to Britain’s military bases overseas could impact on operations and affect thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is a concern that supplies delivered to British troops in the rest of Europe – the UK has a permanent presence in Cyprus and a base on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which shares a border with Spain – could be impacted, according to the sources.

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We haven’t seen any of it yet.

Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)

Britons have become angrier since the referendum to leave the EU, according to a survey which suggests there is widespread unhappiness about the direction in which the country is heading. 69 per cent of respondents said they felt their fellow citizens had become “angrier about politics and society” since the Brexit vote in 2016, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a long-established, annual survey of trust carried out across the globe. 40 per cent of people think others are now more likely to take part in violent protests, the UK results from the survey show, even though violent political protest in Britain is rare.

One person in six said they had fallen out with friends or relatives over the vote to leave the bloc, the survey found. Edelman, which said the findings exposed a “disUnited Kingdom”, found widespread concern about where the government was heading, particularly among those who voted remain, and those who backed Labour. Overall, about 65% of Britons think the country is “on the wrong track”, the survey suggests. Amongst remain voters the figure is 82%, but even among leave voters the figure is 43%. Some 60% of people who identify with the Conservatives think the country is heading in the right direction, but among Labour identifiers, the figure is just 20%.

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The coal phase-out is part of a 500 billion-euro switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewables..

Compensating coal-mining regions & consumers for higher electricity prices expected to cost German taxpayer up to €78bn.

But across the border lies Italy, and next to it Greece. How are they going to pay for such a switch? And if they don’t, what’s the use of Germany doing it?

In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

A proposal to stop Germany from using coal for power generation within two decades may leave an unexpected beneficiary: The company that burns the most of the fuel. While RWE AG was quick to say it’s “too soon” to shed all fossil fuel plants by 2038, the recommendations outlined this weekend by a panel advising Chancellor Angela Merkel called for compensation for the utilities and 40 billion euros ($45.6 billion) for regions coping with the transition. Together, the measures would significantly soften the blow on industry from Merkel’s vow to scale back greenhouse gases. They show how far the government has moved away from a quick clampdown on the most polluting fossil fuel and give more certainty for the future of some of RWE’s most valuable assets.

And while the proposals could yet be watered down by politicians, they signal a longer life for many of the utility’s plants than environmentalists had hoped for. “We believe that clarity, compensation payments, and a relatively long phase-out period should trigger a re-rating for the company’s conventional power generation,” said Guido Hoymann, an analyst at the private bank B. Metzler Seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA who added RWE to a list of top 10 German stocks.

Germany’s 120 or so remaining coal and lignite plants have a combined capacity of about 45 gigawatts. That’s enough to feed 40 percent of the nation’s power demand or about 32 million homes. Germany is already falling short on its targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sees closing coal plants as one of the most important ways to make the reductions needed. The coal commission includes members from the main political parties, environmental groups and industry charged with developing a consensus that Germany can live with for years to come.

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Jan 272019
 


René Magritte L’éternité 1935

 

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)
Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)
Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)
Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)
Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)
Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)
UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)
Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)
British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)
Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

 

 

“.. if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant.”

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)

This is not the big game that Robert Mueller was hunting when he began his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Despite the breathless news coverage, the indictment is underwhelming and far from what many predicted. As for the media, it seems to be only counting heads of Trump associates indicted, as opposed to what they were actually charged with. The media has long described Stone as the possible Trump campaign conduit to WikiLeaks and the Russians, citing his presumed communications with Julian Assange and his advance knowledge of the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign email hacks.

Yet, none of that was confirmed or even suggested in the indictment. There was no charge of collusion. No hint of meetings or arrangements with Assange. Not even a charge as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russians. Just collateral crimes with nary a mention of collusion and a defendant who alternatively presents himself as the tragically comic and the comically tragic figure mired in the special counsel investigation.

Indeed, if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant. Mueller has relentlessly pursued him for almost two years, and Stone has equally relentlessly taunted him and his team. Various grand jury witnesses recounted being questioned about Stone and theories of collusion for months. Mueller worked every evident angle before bringing down this indictment in what could be the final charging stage of his investigation. It was only last month that Mueller asked for the transcript of the testimony of Stone before Congress. Largely based on alleged false statements, the entirety of the indictment comes out of that transcript.

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The Democrats have dozens if not hundreds of people they must urgently get rid of, or they’ll never win another election. Wasserman-Schultz was thrown out for treachery vs Bernie. And now she’s back?

Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)

Regime change and foreign interventions are things that the two US ruling parties agree on regardless of how much they exchange blows at home. Venezuela is the latest place where Republicans and Democrats have found common ground. If you watch the US media, you know what is happening in Venezuela: Dictator Nicolas Maduro is brutally suppressing the people he has been robbing for years, and now they have revolted and elected a true representative of their interest, the one true legitimate acting president Juan Guaido. And now it’s up to America to ‘fix’ democracy by whatever means necessary.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has even offered a simple explanation on how a ‘dream team’ of Democrats have prepared a package of laws, which will ensure Venezuela’s transition into a better future. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will be bringing humanitarian aid, Donna Shalala will stop the arming of Maduro’s thugs with batons and tear gas, while Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets arguably the hardest task of them all – taking on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. You know, the one who – according to the current dogma of the American left establishment – already denied the Democrats the presidency in 2016 and whose puppet Donald Trump is currently trying to topple the Venezuelan government for some reason that only a 5-dimensional-chess master can understand.

Wasserman Schultz may hold a personal grudge against Putin. She had to resign as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee after leaked documents revealed how it was playing on the side of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders in 2016. The leak is widely attributed to Russia by American politicians and media. The irony of Wasserman Schultz now being on the frontline of bringing democracy to Venezuela didn’t go unnoticed by Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party. But who cares? Americans were told already that Stein is just a Putin tool stealing votes from Clinton and working for RT. Those were smears, but ‘alternative facts’ are not an invention of the Trump administration. Opposing Washington’s regime change is a dangerous cause. Say a word of doubt, and you’ll find yourself in a virtual concentration camp for Putin puppets, Assad apologists and Maduro mouthpieces.

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Coverage of the Gilets Jaunes’ Acte XI is sparse. Given the extreme level of police violence, that is a bit weird. There are tons of videos, like of people losing eyes to police rubber bullets. Macron is damning his own presidency.

Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)

Emmanuel Macron has praised the “courage” of Venezuelan protesters but fell short of recognizing self-declared “acting president” Juan Guaido. His desire to exert influence on Latin America could back him into a corner in Paris. “After the illegal election of Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Europe supports the restoration of democracy. I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marching for their freedom,” Emmanuel Macron tweeted in French on his official account. The French leader went beyond the official statement from the EU, which has called for “an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the constitutional order” although President Maduro’s second term officially runs to 2024.

Macron might be backing himself into a corner with his desire to exert influence on the situation in Venezuela and elevate his status on the international arena against a backdrop of a quite precarious situation at home, Chris Reynolds, an Associate Professor in Contemporary French and European Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, believes. “We can see a direct contradiction here between the domestic situation and Macron’s [statement] on this emerging situation in Venezuela,” Reynolds told RT, adding that the president’s response to the domestic Yellow Vests protests was “quite strong.” France has been gripped by massive weekly protests since November. United under the umbrella movement known as the Yellow Vests, the demonstrators, who first turned to the streets to protest fuel price hikes, are now expressing their discontent over Macron’s broader reform agenda.

Protests have often been marred by violence and were met with heavy police response as well as condemned by the president. With his sudden support for the Venezuelan street protests, Macron “opens himself up to criticism,” the professor said. “Those people, who would seek to criticize Macron will see a contradiction between his ambiguous support for the Venezuelan street protests [and his reaction to domestic protests] and therefore will have material to criticize him.” The fact that Macron stopped short of backing Guiado directly, and opted for a more vague statement instead, shows that he is well aware of this contradiction. “Macron finds himself in a situation, in which he cannot overtly express support to the Venezuelan opposition political leader, who has been brought to the fore on the back of the street protests,” Reynolds said.

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But you’re our colony!

Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)

Ireland has dismissed the suggestion that the best solution to the Brexit impasse might be for the country to quit the EU and join the UK. Questioned about the possibility by the BBC Today presenter John Humphrys, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, said it was not contemplating quitting the EU, that polls showed 92% of the population wanted to remain in the bloc, and “Irexit” was not plausible. She told the Radio 4 programme on Saturday that, in the event of no deal, Ireland was “not planning for the reintroduction of a border”, and urged the UK to honour its commitment to ensure the border remained invisible, as it had since the Good Friday peace deal was signed nearly 21 years ago.

Humphrys said: “There has to be an argument, doesn’t there, that says instead of Dublin telling this country that we have to stay in the single market etc within the customs union, why doesn’t Dublin, why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland, leave the EU and throw in their lot with this country?” McEntee replied: “To suggest that we should leave? Ninety-two per cent of Irish people last year said they wanted Ireland to remain part of the European Union and in fact since Brexit that figure has gotten only bigger.” The interview came hours before hundreds of people gathered on the border to protest against Brexit.

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Big one coming up on Tuesday. Could take May’s powers away. But you’re right: they have far too many votes.

Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)

Tuesday will be a big day in the Brexit story. We have had historic votes and critical moments before, but this is up another notch. The vote on the amendment jointly proposed by Yvette Cooper, Labour MP, and Nick Boles, Conservative MP, will be both historic and critical. It will be historic because it is the first time since the 17th century that the House of Commons has tried to take control of the nation’s affairs from the government. And it will be critical because no one knows which way the vote will go. The Cooper-Boles plan is to take no-deal Brexit “off the table” by requiring Theresa May to seek to postpone our departure from the EU if a deal has not been approved in time. The vote will be no mere expression of opinion.

If the amendment is passed, it will change the rules of the Commons to allow a bill drafted by Cooper and Boles to be rushed into law on 5 February. There is some talk of this bill being blocked by Eurosceptic peers in the House of Lords, which would have to whizz it through on the same day. Unlike the Commons, the Lords doesn’t have rules for timetabling debates, which means a small group of peers could keep talking to prevent votes. But Labour and Liberal Democrat peers insist that the huge majority opposed to a no-deal Brexit in the House of Lords would invent new rules, if needed, to get the bill through.

[..] Most attention is focused on an amendment which supports the withdrawal agreement, but only if the Ireland backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. This wouldn’t be binding, and won’t pass unless the government or the official opposition support it, but its significance will be as a show of strength on the Tory back benches. Clever people think that if this amendment attracts a lot of votes it will strengthen the prime minister’s hand in going back to Brussels to ask for changes. Olly Robbins, May’s chief negotiator, is said to have drafted nine options for trying to make the backstop more palatable to Tory MPs who find it so objectionable they would rather leave without a deal.

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Trying to be funny?!

“Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop [..] could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union.”

And then Juncker says renegotiating the backstop does just that. That logic says whatever you do, you’re stuck with the customs union.

Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has told Theresa May in a private phone call that shifting her red lines in favour of a permanent customs union is the price she will need to pay for the EU revising the Irish backstop. Without a major shift in the prime minister’s position, the European commission president told May that the current terms of the withdrawal agreement were non-negotiable. Details of the call, contained in a leaked diplomatic note, emerged as Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, said there had been no weakening of the resolve in Brussels in support of Ireland, and accused the Tory Brexiters of a “cavalier” approach to peace. “Let me be extremely clear: there is no way I could live in a situation where we throw Ireland under the bus,” Timmermans said.

“As far as the European commission is concerned, the backstop is an essential element for showing to Ireland and to the rest of Europe that we are in this together.” On Tuesday, the Commons will vote on a series of amendments that might variously force the prime minister to delay Brexit or go back to Brussels to demand the ditching of the Irish backstop or a time limit on its enforcement. Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop, an “all-weather” solution for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union, limiting the country’s ability to pursue an independent trade policy. May’s deal was rejected this month by a historic 230 votes.

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It’s a surprise any would want to stay.

UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)

Thousands of British companies have already triggered emergency plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit, with many gearing up to move operations abroad if the UK crashes out of the EU, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Before a crucial week in parliament, in which MPs will try to wrest control from Theresa May’s government in order to delay Brexit and avoid a no-deal outcome, the BCC said it believed companies that had already gone ahead with their plans represented the “tip of the iceberg” and that many of its 75,000 members were already spending vital funds to prepare for a disorderly exit. It said that in recent days alone, it had been told that 35 firms had activated plans to move operations out of the UK, or were stockpiling goods to combat the worst effects of Brexit.

Matt Griffith, director of policy at the BCC’s west of England branch, said that many more companies had acted to protect themselves since May’s Brexit deal was decisively rejected by MPs in the Commons earlier this month. He said: “Since the defeat for the prime minister’s deal, we have seen a sharp increase in companies taking actions to try and protect themselves from the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit. No deal has gone from being one of several possible scenarios to a firm date in the diary.” Labour MP Yvette Cooper has revealed to the Observer that two major employers in her West Yorkshire constituency – luxury goods manufacturer Burberry and confectioner Haribo – had both written to her, warning of the damaging effects of no deal on their UK operations.

[..] Last week some of the UK’s largest employers – including Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace manufacturer, which employs 14,000 people in the UK and supports another 110,000 through supply chains – warned of potentially disastrous effects of no deal on its UK activities. Tom Enders, the boss of Airbus, said: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiters’ madness, which asserts that because we have huge plants here we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong.”

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Houses are places where people live. Any other use is detrimental.

Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)

A recent report by a Toronto public interest group, Fairbnb, has added a local voice to the growing international chorus of concern about the impact of Airbnb on housing. It is now clear that a single American company has upended local markets, pushed rental prices skyward and could be contributing to poverty, especially in cities popular with tourists. Toronto City Council was slow to recognize the dangers posed by Airbnb, not only to unionized hotel workers but also to the million-plus tenants who need stable and affordable accommodation. Late in 2017, regulations were put in place making it difficult for deep-pocketed investors to buy multiple condos for the purpose of listing them on Airbnb.

But Airbnb hosts appealed against the legislation to Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Six commercial operators added their voice. The hearings on the new bylaw are set for August 2019. In the meantime, there are no rules. Limiting Airbnb to some version of its initial ideal of “home sharing” is crucial. In 2018, 16 per cent of Toronto Airbnb hosts controlled 38 per cent of the listings, and the problem is worsening, with some downtown condos having hundreds of units listed on Airbnb, according to the Fairbnb report. The study concludes that Airbnb is responsible for countless illegal “ghost hotels”. What’s more, the report notes that if Toronto’s new rules were to come into force, more than 8,200 listings would have to be removed, and up to 6,500 whole homes would be available to boost the supply of long-term family rental housing.

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Imperial powers still rule. So stand up to them. Tell the Brits they’re not welcome until they give back what they stole. Not a single one of them. Let them fix their issues at home first.

British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)

The director of the British Museum has appeared to rule out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece after its government demanded Britain open negotiations over their return last year. The 2,500-year-old marble sculptures were removed from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Athens by the Ottoman ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 1800s. Lord Elgin sold the marbles to the British government, who passed them on to the British Museum in 1817 where they remain one of its most prized exhibits. Debate over where the sculptures should be located has raged for more than 200 years, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledging to return them to Greece if he becomes prime minister.

In August, Greek culture minister Lydia Koniordou invited UK officials to meetings in Greece to discuss the statues’ return in the midst of Brexit talks as Britain sought allies around Europe. In an interview with Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: “The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection.” Asked if he thinks the Greek people are right to want the Parthenon sculptures back, he told the newspaper: “I can certainly understand that the Greeks have a special and passionate relationship with this part of their cultural heritage. “Yes, I understand that there is a desire to see all of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.”

The other half of the Parthenon Sculptures are currently in the Acropolis Museum in Greece. For several decades, Greece has called for the reunification of the statues and has sent several formal requests, threatened legal action and proposed solutions such as mediation by Unesco. Supporters of the Greek position say although Lord Elgin said he had the permission of officials of the ruling Ottoman Empire to take the sculptures, the empire was a foreign force and had no right to let the artefacts go. When Mr Fischer was asked about Mr Corbyn’s pledge to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece if he became prime minister, he said: “I think that this is Mr Corbyn’s personal view on the question, that you take note of. “Obviously, that is not the stance and the view of the Trustees of the Museum.”

Asked by Ta Nea if he would accept that Greece is the legal owner of the Parthenon Sculptures, he replied: “No, I would not. The objects that are part of the collection of the British Museum are in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.”

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I’m guessing this divides America in two along a very sharp dividing line. What I see of it (not much) is Trevor Noah being an embarrassment to Jon Stewart, and Colbert having completely lost his mojo after he shed his right-wing persona. They do what the media do: play safe, keep feeding your followers what you know they want. Anti-Trumpism.

But if there’s one thing humor needs to thrive, it’s surprise. And none of this pretend humor has any of that. It’s all just devolved into a painfully predictabe word-play game. Letterman wouldn’t have gone there, Jon Stewart wouldn’t. Humor can’t just confirm people’s fixed opinions, there’s nothing funny about that.

Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

Diners and town halls. Iowa and New Hampshire. The Rachel Maddow Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. While some campaign stops for Democrats running for president are very familiar, others reflect how the rise of liberal media hosts, late night comedians and “going viral” online could make all the difference in a tight race. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has appeared twice in three months on Colbert’s programme on the CBS TV network, first to promote her book, then for the big reveal about 2020. Colbert asked: “Do you have anything you would like to announce?” She replied: “I’m filing an exploratory committee for president of the United States, tonight!”

Other guests on The Late Show, filmed before an audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York and broadcast at 11.35pm, have included Eric Holder, Cory Booker, John Kerry, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro (who appeared with twin brother Joaquin) and Kamala Harris, all of whom have declared their candidacy or are said to be considering it. A recent CNN article was headlined: “Welcome to the Stephen Colbert primary.” Colbert, 54, who cut his teeth in improvisational comedy, has earned it. Future historians could do worse than watch the bitingly satirical take-downs of Donald Trump in his opening monologues. His edgy political wit has catapulted him past Jimmy Fallon in the late night ratings and drawn interviewees including Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.

“Any Democratic candidate who thinks they can ignore Stephen Colbert might as well not run for president,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “Colbert once joked that the road to the White House runs through his show but it’s no joke; it is exactly so.”

[..] Maddow scooped the first interview with Warren after the Massachusetts senator announced she was formally exploring a run for the White House. She asked Gillibrand pointed questions about her shifting policy positions. Last week she questioned Harris and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, another possible candidate. All seemingly regard Maddow’s show as a hotline to the anti-Trump resistance. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who was an adviser to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, said: “I think she’s terrific. She’s incisive, she’s smart, she has her own views on things and, by the way, she doesn’t disguise them: they’re right out in the open.”

Robert Lichter, professor of communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said: “With the Democratic party moving to the left, she’s positioned to become a kingmaker. She’s a highly respected liberal and can make or break a candidacy early on by exposing someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Candidates will try to aim through Colbert’s jokes and Maddow’s seriousness.”

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Jan 262019
 
 January 26, 2019  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Water 1566

 

Roger Stone’s Indictment Proves No Contacts With Assange – WikiLeaks (RT)
Roger Stone Indictment Packed With Details That May Make Trump Sweat (G.)
Congress Clears Stopgap Bill To End Shutdown, Trump Sends Warning (ZH)
Elliott Abrams, Prominent DC Neocon, Named Special Envoy For Venezuela (Pol.)
In the Deep Mid-Winter (Kunstler)
EU Elections In May Could Oust Those ‘Who Really Believe In Europe’ (CNBC)
Protests in France and Venezuela – Spot the Difference (Clark)
China Can No Longer Rely On Real Estate For Growth, Infrastructure Next (CNBC)
China’s Slowing Economy Makes It Harder For Companies To Pay Debts (CNBC)
UK Justice System In ‘Crisis’ As Only 8% Of Crimes Prosecuted (Ind.)

 

 

Glenn Greenwald says the FBI didn’t tell CNN about the raid, they figured it out due to intense grand jury activity. Be that as it may, Stone was never a flight risk that warranted a very early morning raid by dozens of heavily armed agents. Certainly not if he was going to walk free within hours regardless.

What strikes me is that it’s all still based on Mueller’s indictment of anonymous Russians, and of Assange, none of whom can defend themselves; he can say what he wants and will never be taken to task. Key person in this is Guccifer 2, portrayed as a Russian asset, something that’s been discredited as much as the Russians and Assange indictment was by Aaron Maté and Adam Carter.

And there is zero proof of Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks, that is all just wishful thinking. Also on his part, true, but how many times does WikiLeaks have to deny unproven accusations?

Roger Stone’s Indictment Proves No Contacts With Assange – WikiLeaks (RT)

The indictment of Roger Stone, former adviser to Donald Trump, who was arrested by the FBI, has revealed more evidence that Trump’s campaign had no “back channel” with WikiLeaks, the whistleblower organization said. Stone was arrested early on Friday at his home during a massive FBI raid in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. While the arrest came as a part of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between Donald Trump and Russia, Stone stands accused of a bunch of process crimes. He faces one count of obstruction of proceedings, one count of witness tampering, and five counts of false statements. Stone has pleaded not guilty and was released on $250,000 bail later on Friday.

The indictment has shed more light on the lack of any link between WikiLeaks and Trump’s associates, the whistleblower website said in a tweet, dismissing the earlier claims as “braggadocio.” WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange himself, have repeatedly denied having any connection to Stone. During Trump’s elections campaign, Stone repeatedly boasted about having links to WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, yet later backtracked on such statements. He claimed instead that it was actually a sort of “back channel,” facilitated by New York radio host and comedian Randy Credico (named “Person 2” in the indictment). Credico has firmly denied the claim.

The indictment shows a text message from Credico, dating back to December 2017, where he urges Stone to be “honest” with the FBI, stating that “there was no back channel.” Stone, in his turn, replied “I’m not talking to the FBI and if your smart you won’t either.” Stone apparently lived by his own advice and refused to testify about WikiLeaks and the whole ‘Russiagate’ affair, invoking the Fifth Amendment constitutional protection against self-incrimination last December.

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A view from the other side.

Roger Stone Indictment Packed With Details That May Make Trump Sweat (G.)

The criminal indictment of Roger Stone is packed with the kind of colourful details one might expect from the flamboyant rogue, who has been dealing in dirty tricks for more than 40 years. Between threatening an associate’s therapy dog and quoting his political hero Richard Nixon, the indictment also described Stone urging a witness to “do a Frank Pentangeli” – the mobster who lied to Congress in The Godfather Part II. But it is the dry prose of Robert Mueller’s 12th paragraph that is most likely to have Donald Trump sweating on Friday, after his government’s FBI agents arrested his longtime friend and adviser in a dramatic pre-dawn raid in Florida with guns drawn.

It states that after WikiLeaks had begun releasing hacked Democratic emails, “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign”. This direction was given to the senior Trump campaign official after 22 July 2016 – more than a month after it was reported that it was Russian government hackers who had broken into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems. Several questions naturally follow: who was the senior campaign official? Who gave the order? And could it have been candidate Trump himself?

Mueller’s primary task as special counsel was to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” on the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election campaign. Since then, Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion”. His loyalists have worked to raise the bar in the public’s mind, so that anything short of Mueller finding a secret deal with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will clear Trump of wrongdoing. But running through Mueller’s indictment of Stone and his charges against Russian hackers last July is the makings of a case that there was, in fact, coordination.

In short, Mueller said on Friday, Trump, or his most senior aides, ordered a trusted associate to bring them into the loop on the fruits of what they knew to be a Russian government hack of American victims – and on the schedule for its publication. Trump’s team could then shape their campaign tactics around this calendar. And last July, Mueller hinted at evidence of coordination in the other direction. His indictment of the Russian hackers said they attempted “for the first time” to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office “after hours” on 27 July 2016. That day, at an event in Florida, Trump urged Russia to search for the approximately 30,000 emails that Clinton was found to have deleted from her private server on the grounds that they were not related to government work.

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Everyone on CNN drools.

Congress Clears Stopgap Bill To End Shutdown, Trump Sends Warning (ZH)

Update 7 (1942ET): As expected Congress easily advanced the three-week funding bill, and is is now headed to Trump’s desk where he is expected to sign it later Friday. However, President Trump had the last word before he signs the bill, lashing out at those who claim he folded:

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Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Iran-Contra, 2002 Venezuela coup, hands dripping with blood, this guys is worse than Bolton. Founding member of the Project for a New American Century.

Elliott Abrams, Prominent DC Neocon, Named Special Envoy For Venezuela (Pol.)

Elliott Abrams, a controversial neoconservative figure who was entangled in the Iran-Contra affair, has been named as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela, which has been rocked by a leadership crisis. Abrams’ appointment, announced Friday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is something of a surprise — President Donald Trump nixed his 2017 bid to be deputy secretary of State after learning that Abrams had criticized him. [..] Abrams, who served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, is a well-known and somewhat controversial figure in U.S. foreign policy circles.

He has often expressed hawkish views and is fiercely pro-Israel, but he also has written and spoken eloquently about the need to support human rights around the world. Abrams was deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and was instrumental in Middle East policy at the time, including supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There were also allegations that he supported a military coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002, damaging the U.S. relationship with the government there after the plot ultimately failed. Abrams held multiple positions at the State Department under President Ronald Reagan, including assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

He was one of the Reagan administration’s fiercest advocates of armed support for Nicaraguan rebels and thus becae caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal. In 1991, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about secret efforts to aid the rebels. President George H.W. Bush pardoned him the next year. Abrams is one of very few people who were critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign and yet have been allowed to join the Republican administration. Another, James Jeffrey, is a special envoy dealing with Syria policy. Pompeo on Friday spoke warmly of Abrams, saying he “will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

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“The fight over the new order struggling to be born will be even harsher and deadlier. But we may not be as confused about what’s at stake.”

In the Deep Mid-Winter (Kunstler)

The Democratic Party should have been tossed into the rubber room two years ago, but it’s still out there shrieking in its straight-jacket of bad faith. Kamala, Liz, and Kirsten will mud-wrestle for dominance, but so far, the only cards they can show are the race-and-gender jokers in the deck. Meanwhile, the government shutdown standoff may not be the “winner” move that Nancy Pelosi thought it would be. Why do you suppose she thought that the voters would only blame the Golden Golem of Greatness? She could be gone as Speaker when we’re back in shirtsleeve weather.

Also in the background: the likely shocking reversal of the long, dreary, RussiaGate affair as about twenty-odd former officials of the FBI, Department of Justice, CIA, State Department, and other dark corners of the Deep State answer charges of sedition in federal court. Many of them are connected, one way or another, to Hillary Clinton, who may be targeted herself. Robert Mueller is also liable to be smacked with a malicious prosecution charge in the matter of General Michael Flynn when he withdraws his guilty plea in March. A significant moment will be when Dean Baquet is fired as editor of The New York Times, after years of running the “newspaper of record” as an exercise in nonstop PMS.

Financial crack-up and RussiaGate reversal will leave both major parties gasping in the mud as the tide goes out. And just in time for the Yellow Vest movement to cross the ocean and bring out the street mobs to slug it out on the National Mall in lovely weather. Finally, a protest you can believe in! By June, it will be clear that the old order is being swept away. The fight over the new order struggling to be born will be even harsher and deadlier. But we may not be as confused about what’s at stake.

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As I said two weeks ago in Europe is Burning.

EU Elections In May Could Oust Those ‘Who Really Believe In Europe’ (CNBC)

There are concerns at the heart of Brussels that upcoming elections could radically change the make-up of the EU. Amid a wave of anti-EU sentiment across many of the 28 member states, it’s expected that the upcoming elections in May — which elects representatives to the European Parliament — will see support for parties that have railed against the institution. “We might be the last (European) Commission that really is made up of people, who really believe in Europe,” Cecilia Malmstrom, the European commissioner for trade, said at a panel at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Thursday. “Yes, I am very worried,” Malmstrom added. The European Parliament, once formed, has a say on who will be the next president of the Commission and what their team will look like. Thus, the next Commission will be a reflection of what happens in the election.

[..] Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also the leader of the anti-immigration party Lega, has been looking for support to form a Euroskeptic alliance. Salvini traveled to Poland earlier this month to speak with the Polish prime minister about joining forces ahead of the vote. In October, Salvini met French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, saying the EU elections would signal “a common sense of revolution” across the member states. “For the very first time we are going to see real political elections … For the first time it is not just a repeat of the political balances in Europe,” Enzo Milanesi, Italy’s foreign affairs minister, said at the same panel in Davos. Milanesi, who declares himself as an independent, added that the election “could change the face of things.”

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As Varoufakis said, Macron is a spent force.

Protests in France and Venezuela – Spot the Difference (Clark)

The ‘Yellow Vest’ anti-government protests in France have received limited coverage in Western media and what coverage there has been has been quite hostile to the protestors. In Venezuela though it’s a very different story. Here the street demonstrations are a major news event, despite the country being thousands of miles away. Furthermore, the coverage is very sympathetic to the protestors and extremely hostile to the government. Why are angry street protestors in France bad, but in Venezuela very good? The answer has to do with the stances and international alliances of the respective governments. It’s inaccurate to call President Emmanuel Macron of France the President of the rich. He is, as his predecessor Francois Hollande admitted on French television, the President of the very rich.

Macron is an unashamed globalist, committed to carrying out neoliberal reforms at home, and following a ‘liberal interventionist’ ie imperalist foreign policy abroad, which means keeping French forces —illegally- in Syria. No wonder the elites are mad about the boy. The toppling of Macron, in a French Revolution 2.0, would be a huge blow to the most powerful people in the world. It cannot be allowed to happen. The French authorities have responded to the street protests with force; one activist was even sentenced to prison for six months — but this has largely been ignored by Western ‘liberals’ who would be so quick to denounce similar actions in other countries, whose government they don’t approve of. Instead, the message is ‘law and order must be maintained’.

[..] It’s a crowded field, but the prize for the biggest hypocrite of all goes to Emmanuel Macron. The man who has been clamping down on legitimate street protests at home, and whose approval rating slumped to just 21% earlier this month, published a tweet in which he praised ‘ the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are marching for their liberty”. For the Yellow Vests protestors, and indeed for anyone else who genuinely supports liberty, that really is one sick joke.

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Does Beijing have the space for a new Deal?

China Can No Longer Rely On Real Estate For Growth, Infrastructure Next (CNBC)

Chinese authorities face an ever-growing list of challenges — be it an ongoing trade fight with the U.S. or headwinds in domestic demand — and it appears they don’t have many tools left to spur the economy amid a slowdown. The real estate market in China has traditionally played a major role in it’s economic development, household wealth and public sentiment and was used by Beijing to stimulate growth during previous downturns, including one just three years ago. But along with a Chinese penchant for investing in houses, persistent expectations of government support sent prices and the household debt burden soaring. That’s created a delicate situation, one which analysts expect Beijing will not touch this time around, except to keep prices steady.


Moody’s

Junheng Li, founder of China-focused equity research firm JL Warren Capital, estimates 61 percent of Chinese urban households live in homes less than 10 years old. She also notes there are many older units that are still in good condition. “(Some) simple math shows that continuously building new homes to stimulate investments and meanwhile create the false impression of wealth effect coming with home price appreciation is about to hit the wall,” she said in a January report. “Chinese policy makers are fully aware and highly alert not to send the wrong signal to the home buyers that home prices will continue to hike.” As Beijing tries to shift its economy to one that’s driven by consumption, the worry is that consumers will not have the means, or the enthusiasm, to spend. Already, retail sales growth has slowed significantly amid uncertainty about U.S.-China trade tensions and the impact on economic growth.

Economists at Moody’s Analytics pointed out in December that Chinese disposable income has grown at an average annual rate of 10 percent for the last six years, while household debt — of which the majority is tied to housing — has grown at an average rate of 20 percent a year. In the past year, the average rate of household debt growth climbed to 26 percent, the report said.

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Don’t forget local governments and their debts to shadow banks.

China’s Slowing Economy Makes It Harder For Companies To Pay Debts (CNBC)

Even as Beijing pushes out new measures to stimulate its economy, China’s growth slowdown will make it harder for the country’s companies to pay their debts this year, ratings agencies say. The Chinese government on Monday announced official GDP figures for last year that showed the world’s second-largest economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades. And while an annual growth rate of 6.6 percent is a figure most countries could only dream of, it marked a continued slide for Asia’s largest economy. Slower growth can mean weaker profitability for indebted companies and increased risk for those holding their bonds.

“The economic chill in China is spreading, threatening to weaken profitability across nearly all sectors in corporate China,” S&P Global Ratings said in a report Monday. S&P added that it “believes debt-servicing capabilities will decline as demand cools and profit margins contract,” while Beijing’s ongoing efforts to reduce debt levels in the country may pause — or even reverse. “While policymakers have intentionally steered the country toward a lower and more sustainable growth path, the broadness of the decline in recent months is raising concerns,” the report said, adding that S&P expects corporate default rates to “rise modestly” this year.

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Austerity Theresa May style. Who do you think rules that country if crime is not prosecuted?

UK Justice System In ‘Crisis’ As Only 8% Of Crimes Prosecuted (Ind.)

Tens of thousands more crimes are not being prosecuted amid warnings of a worsening “crisis” in Britain’s criminal justice system. Almost 92 per cent of offences do not result in perpetrators being charged or summonsed in England and Wales, with the number of offences taken to court dropping by almost 30,000 in a year. Lawyers, police officers and victim support workers interviewed by The Independent blamed a perfect storm of police cuts, rising crime, rows over disclosure, falling confidence and the backlash to a series of collapsed rape cases. Figures published by the Home Office show in the year ending September 2018 only 8.2 per cent of 5 million recorded crimes were prosecuted, down from 9.5 per cent the previous year.

The proportion of offences charged fell across all categories – from violence to drugs, robbery, weapons possession and theft. The lowest figures were for sexual offences (4 per cent), with only 1.9 per cent of recorded rapes prosecuted – down from 2.4 per cent the previous year. Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow solicitor general, said the statistics made “very worrying reading”. “This is, sadly, no surprise given the swingeing government cuts to both police and Crown Prosecution Service budgets,” he added. “The government has to step up to the plate and provide the resources needed to properly support victims and ensure that no stone is left unturned in bringing people to justice.”

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Jan 252019
 
 January 25, 2019  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Fire 1566

 

Trump, Pence, Pompeo Star In The Pirates Of The Caribbean (Galloway)
US Pulls Out Venezuela Staff, Urges Americans to Leave (G.)
Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó Offers Nicolás Maduro Amnesty If He Goes Quietly (G.)
US Seeks To Divert Crucial Oil Revenue From Maduro (Ind.)
Don’t Criticize Trump — We Need Him, Dutch Prime Minister Says (CNBC)
UK Firms Ramp Up Stockpiling Due To Brexit Disruption Fears (Ind.)
UK MPs Drop Plan To Table Cross-Party ‘People’s Vote’ Amendment (G.)
The Financial Secret Behind Germany’s Green Energy Revolution (Ellen Brown)
Davos Elites Fear They’re On A Toboggan Ride To Hell (Pol.eu)
CO2 Levels Expected To Rise Rapidly In 2019 (Ind.)

 

 

Yes, Jimmy Carter once called Venezuela’s election process “the best in the world” when he was there as an observer. But in March 2018, the opposition called on the UN not to send any observers as that would only legitimize the process. So now the US picks an unelected puppet.

Trump, Pence, Pompeo Star In The Pirates Of The Caribbean (Galloway)

Even though Chavez was one of the most electorally successful politicians on the planet in a democratic process described by former US president Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world,” US presidents Bush, Obama and Trump routinely called him a dictator. Before they drop the bombs, they drop the narrative, of course. And the disinformation bombardment in Venezuela has been one of the longest bombing runs in history. Massive sums of US money have been spent on media distortion, subversion, sabotage, military coups, and threats of invasion throughout the Chavez-Maduro era. The gold-toothed Venezuelan emigres who fled to Miami with their ill-gotten gains have long been effectively a coup in the making.

The recruitment of neighboring Colombia into “associate membership” of NATO, the propeling of Brazil’s Bolsonaro (another NATO applicant) to power, and plans for US military bases there have all been in preparation for this day. Although many such crimes have been committed across all continents for centuries by the US, none have constituted such comic-opera gangsterism as this latest – more ‘Bugsy Malone’ than ‘The Godfather.’ An almost random figure whose name was largely unknown until this week has disdained to put himself up for election as president of the republic, instead pronouncing himself to actually be the president, and has even sworn himself in! All the “experts” on Syria, Ukraine and Russia are scrambling to studios, practicing in the taxi how to say his name.

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Most Americans would be working in the oil industry. Sure, let them leave. And then watch prices at the pump.

US Pulls Out Venezuela Staff, Urges Americans to Leave (G.)

The US state department has urged its citizens to “strongly consider” leaving Venezuela and ordered out non-emergency government staff as the head of the country’s armed forces warned of a civil war sparked by a US-backed “criminal plan” to unseat Nicolás Maduro. In a live address to the nation on Thursday, the defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, accused the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó, the United States and regional allies such as Brazil of launching an attempted coup against Maduro that risked bringing “chaos and anarchy” to the country. “We are here to avoid, at all costs … a conflict between Venezuelans. It is not civil war, a war between brothers that will solve the problems of Venezuela. It is dialogue,” said Padrino.

In a significant blow to Venezuela’s newly energized opposition, the defence minister declared unwavering support for “our commander-in-chief, the citizen Nicolás Maduro”. “We members of the armed forces know well the consequences [of war], just from looking at the history of humanity, of the last century, when millions and millions of human beings lost their lives,” Padrino added, flanked by the top brass of Venezuela’s armed forces. Further bolstering Maduro’s position, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, spoke to the Venezuelan leader by telephone and issued his first comments on the crisis, which he insisted was “provoked from abroad”, according to a Kremlin statement.

On Thursday night, Guaidó used his first TV interview since the crisis to offer Maduro and his inner circle amnesty if they agreed to a peaceful transition. The 35-year-old said he was determined to bring Maduro’s “dictatorship” to an end, stabilise his economically devastated nation and organise free elections “as soon as possible”.

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He went into hiding before making his offer. C’mon, let’s get serious. A mini-coup failed miserably, the army stands pat, time for a fresh story to fill the papers.

Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó Offers Nicolás Maduro Amnesty If He Goes Quietly (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, and his inner circle could be granted an amnesty if he agrees to relinquish power and submit to a peaceful political transition, his opposition challenger Juan Guaidó has said. In a high-stakes political gamble, Guaidó on Wednesday declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate interim president and was quickly recognised as such by powers including the United States, Brazil, Canada and Colombia. On Thursday British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said his government believed Guaidó was “the right person to take Venezuela forward” but China, Russia and Turkey all backed Maduro, who claims he is the victim of a coup attempt masterminded by the US. The US state department has now urged US citizens to “strongly consider” leaving Venezuela and ordered out non-emergency government staff.

[Guaidó] indicated Maduro – who was sworn in for his second six-year term on 10 January despite a storm of international condemnation – could himself be offered an amnesty if he agreed to step aside. “This amnesty, these guarantees are on the table for everyone who is prepared to put themselves on the side of the constitution in order to recover the democratic order,” he said. “In periods of transition similar things have happened [before],” Guaidó told the broadcaster Univisión, pointing to previous pardons in Chile and Venezuela in the 1970s and 1950s. “We cannot discount any element,” he added, insisting that such a move would not represent either impunity or forgetting.

Maduro – who has vowed to resist what he calls a “gringo” plot to unseat him – has given little public hint he will accept such an offer although addressing the supreme court in Caracas on Thursday he insisted: “I’m ready for dialogue, for understanding, for negotation, for agreement.” However, in the same speech Maduro also attacked Guaidó, accusing him of being a pawn in a US-backed plot to destroy the leftist Bolivarian revolution he inherited after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013. “Will we legitimise a puppet government imposed from abroad? We will allow our constitution to be violated … ? No!” said Maduro, blaming what he branded an attempted coup on Donald Trump’s “madness”.

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See what I said on CITGO yesterday.

US Seeks To Divert Crucial Oil Revenue From Maduro (Ind.)

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, the hawkish John Bolton, revealed the US was seeking to ensure Venezuelan oil revenue goes to Mr Guaido, and not Mr Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term just two weeks ago following an election most of the opposition boycotted. If the US were able to enact such a move it would add further pressure to the embattled Venezuelan leader, whose country’s already ailing economy heavily depends on its oil revenues. “What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the sources of his revenues,” Mr Bolton told reporters at the White House, according to Reuters. “We think [it is] consistent with our recognition of Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela that those revenues should go to the legitimate government.”

Of potentially vital importance, earlier on Thursday, the nation’s military leadership declared its support for Mr Maduro and told the US not to interfere. In a televised speech on Thursday, defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Mr Maduro was the country’s “legitimate president” and that the opposition was seeking to carry out a “coup”. “I warn the people that there is a coup underway against our democracy and our president Nicolas Maduro,” Mr Padrino said, according to Telesur. “As soldiers, we work for peace and not for war.” He added: “Those of us who lived through the coup of 2002 have it etched into our minds, we never thought we’d see that again, but we saw it yesterday.

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Rutte’s been in office for so long he gets to have an own view.

Don’t Criticize Trump — We Need Him, Dutch Prime Minister Says (CNBC)

President Donald Trump has found support from an unlikely source in Europe — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — who told CNBC that the president could be a catalyst for much-needed reforms. “The U.S. has voted and Trump is the president and maybe he will be re-elected … So we have to work with him, and I think he is an opportunity,” Rutte told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “He is an opportunity to make changes to some of those multilateral institutions that we hold dearly, like the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is not functioning very well. Or take the United Nations or European Union — there are many issues to solve,” he added.

“So my point would be instead of thinking ‘oh we would have liked Hillary Clinton to win,’ or ‘I wish (former President Barack) Obama was still there,’ but guys Trump is president, make use of his presidency and his critique of those international institutions is sometimes very valid.” Trump has made himself unpopular in most European circles for his criticism of hallowed, well-established institutions such as the NATO and the WTO (Trump threatened to pull the U.S. out of both) and the European Union (which Trump said was formed in order to take advantage of the U.S. in terms of trade). He has also threatened to impose tariffs on European goods and cars; hardly the policies that would make most liberal politicians, like Mark Rutte, warm to Trump. “In this world, international structures are absolutely necessary, but sometimes it vexes me when I hear the white wine-sipping elite in Amsterdam saying ‘Trump is very wrong,'” Rutte said

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Sounds very late. 9 weeks left?!

UK Firms Ramp Up Stockpiling Due To Brexit Disruption Fears (Ind.)

UK companies have ramped up stockpiling ahead of Brexit as export opportunities for manufacturers weakens, according to new research from Lloyds Bank. The lender’s international trade index shows that export growth fell to its weakest level in almost three years in the fourth quarter of 2018. Exports of consumer goods held up well, Lloyds said, but the transport sector was hit by changing emissions regulations and new rules about diesel vehicles. Exports in the service sector fell in the last three months of 2018, bringing to an end three four years of growth.

Political uncertainty at home and abroad, along with weakening economic growth in key markets, were cited as the drivers for the export downturn. Meanwhile, the data showed that UK manufacturers had increased stockpiling efforts over recent months due to the threat of shortages and disruption posed by Brexit. The UK Manufacturing PMI Index for purchases of stocks jumped up to 53.7 for the month of December, from 51.1 in the previous month. Gwynne Master, managing director and global head of trade for Lloyds Bank Global Transaction Banking, said: “We should be mindful of the impact of fluctuating trading conditions and global and domestic political uncertainty on the UK’s exporters.

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The only thing that really made sense. Because it breaks party lines. Gone.

UK MPs Drop Plan To Table Cross-Party ‘People’s Vote’ Amendment (G.)

A cross-party amendment to push for a second EU referendum will not be tabled in the Commons as it would have little chance of being passed without formal support from Labour, the MPs organising it have announced. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP who has led efforts on a so-called “people’s vote” amendment, said that without the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, “at the moment we would not have the numbers”. However, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a similar amendment and have called for Labour to back the idea. Speaking outside parliament alongside the Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, Wollaston urged Corbyn to think again. “We would like to appeal again to him to give his unequivocal backing to a people’s vote, in which case we could make progress,” she said.

Labour has not ruled out supporting a second referendum and the party is keeping its options open. There is disquiet among some of its MPs and shadow ministers that backing such an option could anger leave-backing Labour voters. Wollaston argued that a second referendum was still the best option to end the Brexit deadlock. “People have a right to change their minds, and the mandate from the first referendum – over two years ago and based on entirely unrealistic promises and outright lies – has expired.” But without Labour backing, she said, “that amendment could not pass, and so with great regret we will not be laying that amendment”.

Berger said that with 30 scheduled Commons sittings left before the current Brexit date, there was “an urgent need for leadership”. “Regrettably, the Labour leadership won’t commit to an achievable policy,” she said. “And yet we know that the majority of Labour voters, supporters and members want a final say on any Brexit deal. At a time when Labour should be championing a people’s vote, the leadership avoids answering that call.”

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That revolution is overhyped, but the US and German public bank story is good.

The Financial Secret Behind Germany’s Green Energy Revolution (Ellen Brown)

KfW’s role in implementing government policy parallels that of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in funding the New Deal in the 1930s. At that time, U.S. banks were bankrupt and incapable of financing the country’s recovery. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to set up a system of 12 public “industrial banks” through the Federal Reserve, but the measure failed. Roosevelt then made an end run around his opponents by using the RFC that had been set up earlier by President Herbert Hoover, expanding it to address the nation’s financing needs.

The RFC Act of 1932 provided the RFC with capital stock of $500 million and the authority to extend credit up to $1.5 billion (subsequently increased several times). With those resources, from 1932 to 1957 the RFC loaned or invested more than $40 billion. As with KfW’s loans, its funding source was the sale of bonds, mostly to the Treasury itself. Proceeds from the loans repaid the bonds, leaving the RFC with a net profit. The RFC financed roads, bridges, dams, post offices, universities, electrical power, mortgages, farms and much more; it funded all of this while generating income for the government.

The RFC was so successful that it became America’s largest corporation and the world’s largest banking organization. Its success, however, may have been its nemesis. Without the emergencies of depression and war, it was a too-powerful competitor of the private banking establishment; and in 1957, it was disbanded under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. That’s how the United States was left without a development bank at the same time Germany and other countries were hitting the ground running with theirs.

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Just ignore these people. They have nothing. They’re the past.

Davos Elites Fear They’re On A Toboggan Ride To Hell (Pol.eu)

Populists movements around the world, left and right, disagree in detail but are united around one big idea: The political and economic elites running modern societies are very powerful people who know what they are doing. What they are doing is often bad — greedy, exploitative, short-sighted — but they are doing it with purpose and confident control. A different possibility, however, hung in the alpine air this week at the annual convening of elites here at the World Economic Forum: These alleged masters of the universe came off nearly as perplexed and anxious about the future as the populist forces inveighing against them.

They have money. They have entourages. They have commanding views, both literal (from mountain chalets here) and metaphorical (from government offices and CEO suites back home). That doesn’t mean they have a clue. Foreboding about the future was a prevailing theme at this year’s Davos, sometimes even with dash of dystopian prophecy. This brooding was accompanied often, in speeches and interviews, by a rueful acknowledgment that government leaders are desperately improvising — often with bleak results — to meet the political crises of the moment, much less the long-term technological and climatological challenges of the age. In key Western capitals, governance is failing. China is exploiting. Global temperatures are rising.

Tech titans are groveling. Prospects for economic downturn are rumbling. Little wonder that, instead of triumphant optimism about the forces of globalization sometimes associated with Davos, some voices here made it sound like modern life is on a toboggan ride to hell. “Everybody agrees that there are dark clouds on the horizon, and there are risks,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in an address here Thursday.

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Due to the 1,500 private jets in Davos.

CO2 Levels Expected To Rise Rapidly In 2019 (Ind.)

This year will see one of the biggest CO2 surges in more than six decades of measurements, according to the Met Office. Rising emissions due to the world’s continued appetite for fossil fuels will combine with reduced absorption of greenhouse gas by withering grasslands and forests. Describing the prediction as “worrying and compelling”, scientists said it was an urgent reminder that the time to cut out carbon is now. CO2 levels will be at a record high once again after emissions reached unprecedented levels last year, dashing hopes the world had finally hit “peak carbon”. Besides fossil fuels pumping out the harmful gas, natural weather fluctuations will exacerbate the problem as they hamper the ability of carbon sinks to store it. In 2019 an upward swing in tropical Pacific Ocean temperature will make many regions warmer and drier.

As drought sets in and plants dry out, they will be less capable of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere, and massive deforestation in places like the Amazon is making this problem even worse. The new predictions were based on monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, which has registered a 30 per cent increase in the concentration of CO2 since 1958. “Carbon sinks have saved us from what has already happened – the future rise would have been about double if it wasn’t for the sinks. So we are lucky they exist, to be honest,” Professor Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre told The Independent. “But the sinks themselves are affected by the climate, and that’s an important thing because it shows that as climate change continues in the future it may affect their strength.”


Forecast CO2 concentrations at the Mauna Loa station for 2019 (orange), along with previous forecast concentrations and the real observed data (Met Office)

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Jan 242019
 
 January 24, 2019  Posted by at 9:08 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The black flag 1937

 

One thing I am not is an expert on Venezuela. What I know is the country has the world’s largest oil reserves, mainly in the Orinoco Belt, but they come in a form of tar sands that while they are not as hard to exploit as Canada’s (viscosity), they’re far from easy, and buried deep. And I know Venezuela had Hugo Chávez as its president, who, for a socialist, was quite successful at what he did (depending who you ask).

And I know of course that the US yesterday recognized an opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the ‘real’ president of Venezuela, instead of the elected Nicolas Maduro, whom Chávez picked as his successor. Soon as I read that, I thought: CIA. If Chávez, and Maduro, are hated in one place in the world, look no further than Langley, Virginia.

So I looked up a few articles I though would be interesting to read. The first comes from a site called Venezuela Analysis, an entity recommended for Venezuela news. They had the article below, but also this enlightening picture:

Note: in 2002, coincident with the attempted coup against Chávez, half the employees at state oil company PDVSA went on strike. They must have felt like clowns, too, 48 hours later.

The article explains what happened in terms you can find everywhere (but are perhaps good to note), except for the last bit:

 

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido Declares Himself President, Recognized by US and Allies

Opposition leader Juan Guaido swore himself in as “interim president” of Venezuela on Wednesday, a move which was immediately recognized by the United States and regional allies. “As president of the National Assembly, before God and Venezuela, I swear to formally assume the competencies of the national executive as interim president of Venezuela,” he declared before an opposition rally in eastern Caracas.

Guaido had already proclaimed on several occasions that he was “ready” to assume the responsibilities of the executive branch, as the US was reportedly considering recognizing him as “interim president.” US authorities reacted swiftly, with President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio immediately voicing their recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” Trump said in a statement. Washington’s regional allies, including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other members of the so-called Lima Group, were quick to follow suit, giving their backing to the 35-year-old opposition politician.

The Lima Group had set the tone in early January with a statement refusing to recognize Maduro’s second term. Meanwhile, Cuba and Bolivia expressed their support for Maduro, while Uruguay and the new Lopez Obrador government in Mexico refused to recognize Guaido as president and called for dialogue to “avoid an escalation of violence.” Russia and Turkey likewise indicated that their relations with Maduro administration were unchanged.

This last paragraph may be the most important and revealing bit of news we see today:

[..] Torino Capital Chief Economist Francisco Rodriguez, who advised defeated opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon last year, wrote on Twitter that the recognition from the Trump administration makes it possible for Guaido, or a presumed transition government, to take charge of Venezuelan assets on US soil, such as state oil company PDVSA’s largest subsidiary, CITGO. It could also prevent the Venezuelan government from invoicing payments for oil shipments.

Without CITGO life becomes hard for Maduro, very hard. The company has extensive refining and chemicals capacity in the Houston area, but the US hasn’t been able to touch it until now. If they get enough allies to recognize their CIA puppet as president, they can close it down, sell it off to Exxon, anything they want. But we’re not there yet.

Russia has been very outspoken in its opinions about what’s going on. Its Rosneft oil company has large assets in Venezuela. Just like China has huge loans outstanding in the country. And though it’s hard to gauge how strong the people’s support is for Maduro (don’t believe everything you read), there’s no doubt where the army stands. The whole top brass was on TV today pledging loyalty to the government.

Turkey also came out strong in favor of Maduro. A Turkish site named Yeni Safak talks about social media as an intelligence tool:

 

CIA Launches Media Campaign To Ignite Protests Against Venezuela’s Maduro

The CIA is backing Washington’s decision to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as president by manipulating the public opinion against democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro and the legitimate government over social media platforms. [..] Millions of posts designed to instigate Venezuelans against the country’s legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro, were shared in a very short time to kindle a social unrest against Maduro.

Assoc. Prof. Dr Levent Eraslan unveiled the striking details of the U.S’s perception and deception strategies [..] Stressing the U.S. national intelligence’s strategy report in 2019 that consists Pentagon’s intervention in Venezuelan politics, Eraslan said, “The role of ‘machine learning’ and providing data to decision makers by determining political instabilities through social media were emphasized in the report.”

Noting that thousands of tweets that have been shared from different accounts in the last two days, “People are being called to take streets to overthrow the elected president. The efforts to trigger rebellion and push this process into a bloody situation through social media networks such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook can be observed,” he concluded.

This is from Volkan at DutchTurks; nothing is new (except Facebook as a regime change instrument):

 

 

Hugo Chávez was president of Venezuela from 1999 to his death of cancer in 2013. Whatever you may think of the man, and you don’t have to think hard to know what the CIA thought of him, have you ever wondered why the rampant runaway inflation the country has suffered lately, and which has been blamed by many on ‘socialism’, was not happening while socialist Chávez was alive? This from a site named War Is Boring provides at least some ideas as to why.

 

To Understand Venezuela’s Crisis, Look to the Past … and the CIA

Chavez died of cancer in 2013, and now five years later it seems that his socialist dream, like Allende’s, has failed. Under his successor Pres. Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has descended into economic and political chaos. Hyperinflation has beset the country, with prices rising at an annualized rate of 1,000,000 percent.

Shortages of basic necessities such as toilet paper and bread have caused mass unrest, culminating in violent protests. Now there is open talk about the need to overthrow Maduro or remove him from power, perhaps through U.S. military intervention.

[..] In Venezuela the figure of Chavez precluded an overthrow of the government there. We know this for a fact because a coup against him in 2002 lasted a matter of hours before mass uprisings and a lack of support from the military forced the plotters to surrender. Chavez was a controversial figure, hated by significant elements of Venezuelan society, but beloved by a majority of the largely poor country and respected by the military.

Chavez announced the return of his cancer in the fall of 2012 and died in March 2013. The current economic crisis kicked into high gear in the late summer of 2012, with inflation — typically high, but manageable — suddenly growing at an exponential rate. The cause typically cited by Western media — a precipitous fall in oil prices — occurred a full two years after the crisis began.

 

[..] Since 2012 Venezuela has faced a twin plague of shortages and rampant inflation. Venezuelan economist Pasqualina Curcio makes the case in her 2016 book The Visible Hand of the Market: Economic Warfare in Venezuela that both phenomena cannot be explained through normal economics, but rather by political causes.

Shortages have been a feature of Venezuelan life since Chavez came to power in 1999, with their magnitude growing over time. Yet over the course of years when Venezuela saw steadily and then sharply increasing shortages both imports and domestic production were also rising. If more products are being brought into the country, and more are being produced, but consumers are experiencing shortages, it begs the question of where the stuff went.

[..] As for inflation, the factors typically involved with currency devaluation–a shortage of foreign reserves or increased liquidity–have not coincided with inflation spikes. Nor has the state hoarded foreign currency as many claim. Curcio shows that 94 percent of foreign reserves were distributed to the private sector, and these distributions have grown over time.

It appears that manipulation of currency black markets — a phenomenon that happened in Chile under Allende as well — and then adoption of this inflated exchange rate by importers to spike the costs of necessary goods, services, and industrial inputs neatly produces the sort of induced inflation plaguing Venezuela today.

Russian foreign minister Lavrov put it nice and succinctly:

The US, which is paranoid about somebody interfering in their elections, even though they have no proof of that, themselves are trying to rule the fates of other peoples. What they actually do is interfere in their internal affairs. There is no need for [US special counsel Robert] Mueller to determine that.

American regime change in other countries is something that perhaps the rest of the world is getting tired of. America instigating chaos in its own southern backyard, like it has for years in the Middle East and North Africa, is getting old in the eyes of many. And the CIA can get Trump to support their puppet, but Trump knows nothing about Venezuela, other than that there’s lots of oil there, and that makes him a CIA puppet too.

Not a good idea.

A lot of what has led up to the present coup has been the US flexing its financial muscle. But the American economy isn’t doing all that great, so it’s not just flexing that muscle, it’s also stretching it. And yeah, there’s an old set of Venezuelan domestic interests that has been faithful, just like there was one in Cuba, but that’s all in the past. That was way back when the US could get away with bullying the whole neighborhood.

And it shouldn’t want to do that anymore. Neither the bullying nor the living in the past.

Not good ideas either.