Feb 162019
 


Marcel Duchamp The king and queen surrounded by swift nudes 1912

 

Over 60% Of All New Debt Created Globally In Past Decade Was In China (NYFed)
Worms Turning (Jim Kunstler)
FBI Created, Covered Up “Chart” Of Potential Hillary Clinton Crimes (ZH)
Mueller Discloses Evidence Roger Stone Communicated With Wikileaks (G.)
Are Russian Trolls Saving Measles From Extinction? (RFE)
Democrats’ Coveted 2020 Prize? An Endorsement From Ocasio-Cortez (G.)
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State (CP)
Corbyn To Hold Brexit Talks With EU’s Barnier And Verhofstadt (G.)
When The Swabian Hausfrau Saves (Steve Keen)
9/11 Fund Running Out Of Money For Those With Illnesses (AP)
Subsidies to Amazon Are Uneconomical, Un-American, and Unconstitutional (PM)

 

 

As Trump flunks his emergency, Xi flunks his economy. I’ll wait for the shouting match over the first to settle over the weekend.

This is from the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics. The second graph is not from their piece, but very much to the point. After all that new debt, China’s transition to a consumer economy is faltering. So people are clamoring for rate cuts and more stimulus. But do they realize how much stimulus China has already neede to get where it is today?

Over 60% Of All New Debt Created Globally In Past Decade Was In China (NYFed)

Although there has been a notable deceleration in the pace of credit growth recently, the run-up in debt in China has been eye-popping, accounting for more than 60 percent of all new credit created globally over the past ten years. Rising nonfinancial sector debt was driven initially by an increase in corporate borrowing, which surged in 2009 in response to the global financial crisis. The most recent leg of China’s credit boom has been due to an important shift toward household lending. To better understand the rise in household debt in China and its implications for financial stability and China’s economic performance, it is important to examine the expansion in household credit, how the rise in debt compares to international experience, and the associated risks.

The growth of China’s household debt reflects a natural evolution in financial sector deepening and has grown in two waves. The first occurred during the late-1990s following major financial reforms and the privatization of China’s housing stock. The second wave began in the wake of the global financial crisis and has witnessed much more rapid growth, with debt increasing by nearly $5.7 trillion, or nearly 30 percent of China’s GDP. In fact, household lending overtook corporate borrowing in early 2018 to become the largest driver of aggregate loan growth in China. New household lending now accounts for roughly half of new loans.

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Glad someone’s keeping count.

Worms Turning (Jim Kunstler)

[..] late this week, William Barr was confirmed as a new Attorney General, meaning the extreme case of bureaucratic constipation in that department may be resolving in a shitstorm of counter-revelations and prosecutions in what amounted to an attempted coup d’etat. A lot of the evidence for that is already public and overwhelming. It includes:

• Using FBI counter-intelligence assets improperly and illegally.
• Using fabricated “opposition research” provided by Mrs. Clinton to obtain warrants to spy on her election opponent, and failing to verify it as evidence (according to strict “Woods” procedures) submitted to FISA court judges.
• Recruiting Britain’s MI6 to spy on US citizens as a work-around from US laws prohibiting US Intel from spying on Americans.
• Setting up the notorious Trump Tower meeting to entrap Donald Trump Jr., using a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in the employ of Fusion GPS, Mrs. Clintons oppo research contractor.
• Orchestrating leaks of secret FBI proceedings to the news media to feed a Russia collusion hysteria.
• Malicious prosecutions by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and egregious political conflicts-of-interest among Mr. Mueller’s team of prosecutors.
• Coverup of the Uranium One scheme facilitated by Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
• A scheme to surreptitiously and illegally record conversations with Mr. Trump once he became president.
• Conspiring to bury multiple inquires into illegal conduct of Mrs. Clinton, her employees and associates by failing to obtain evidence and allowing it to be destroyed.
• Misconduct in office by former CIA chief John Brennan, former National Security Director James Clapper, former AG Loretta Lynch, and members of President Obama’s White House inner circle.

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Tie in this one with Jim Kunstler’s list above.

FBI Created, Covered Up “Chart” Of Potential Hillary Clinton Crimes (ZH)

The top brass of the Obama FBI went to great lengths to justify their decision not to recommend charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information, according to Judicial Watch, which obtained evidence that the agency created a ‘chart’ of Clinton’s offenses. The newly obtained emails came in response to a court ordered Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the DOJ had previously ignored. Via Judicial Watch: “Three days after then-FBI Director James Comey’s press conference announcing that he would not recommend a prosecution of Mrs. Clinton, a July 8, 2016 email chain shows that, the Special Counsel to the FBI’s executive assistant director in charge of the National Security Branch, whose name is redacted, wrote to Strzok and others that he was producing a “chart of the statutory violations considered during the investigation [of Clinton’s server], and the reasons for the recommendation not to prosecute…”

[..] On May 15, 2016, James Rybicki, former chief of staff to Comey, sends FBI General Counsel James Baker; Bill Priestap, former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division; McCabe; Page; and others an email with the subject line “Request from the Director.” Rybicki writes: By NLT [no later than] next Monday, the Director would like to see a list of all cases charged in the last 20 years where the gravamen of the charge was mishandling classified information. It should be in chart form with: (1) case name, (2) a short summary for content (3) charges brought, and (4) charge of conviction. If need be, we can get it from NSD [National Security Division] and let them know that the Director asked for this personally. Please let me know who can take the lead on this. Thanks! Jim

Page forwards to Strzok: FYSA [For your situational awareness] Strzok replies to Page: I’ll take the lead, of course – sounds like an espionage section question… Or do you think OGC [Office of the General Counsel] should? And the more reason for us to get feedback to Rybicki, as we all identified this as an issue/question over a week ago. Page replies: I was going to reply to Jim [Rybicki] and tell him I can talked [sic] to you about this already. Do you want me to?

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Mueller gets nuttier, and the Guardian gladly collaborates. On nothing new. We already knew WikiLeaks told Stone to take a hike. Most importantly, Mueller continues his cowardice vs Assange, because without his empty accusations of Assange, he really has nothing left on collusion. And if Assange could talk, he’d have even less left. And people tell me he’s not a coward.

Under US law, people have the right to defend themselves. Under Robert Mueller’s law, Julian Assange does not. Is that stating it clear enough?

As for Stone, Aaron Maté tweeted about this article: “LOL. The “communications of Roger Stone with Wikileaks” were revealed a year ago. They show WL urging Stone to stop making “false claims of association” between them.”

Mueller Discloses Evidence Roger Stone Communicated With Wikileaks (G.)

The US Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, disclosed for the first time on Friday that his office has evidence of communications between Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, and WikiLeaks related to the release of hacked Democratic party emails. In a court filing on Friday, Mueller’s office said it had gathered that evidence in a separate probe into Russian intelligence officers who were charged by Mueller with hacking the emails during the 2016 US presidential campaign and staging their release. In an email criticising media coverage of Mueller’s filing on Friday, Stone said the evidence was “innocuous Twitter direct messages” that have already been disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee and “prove absolutely nothing”.

Also on Friday, a federal judge placed some limits on what Stone and his lawyers can say publicly about his criminal case brought by the special counsel in the Russia investigation. But the US district judge, Amy Berman Jackson, stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments by the outspoken political operative, issuing a limited gag order she said was necessary to ensure Stone’s right to a fair trial and “to maintain the dignity and seriousness of the courthouse and these proceedings”. Stone was indicted last month for lying to Congress about his communications with others about the hacked emails. Mueller did not say at the time that he had evidence of communications with WikiLeaks. Stone, an ally of Trump for 40 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Stone has previously acknowledged brief exchanges with both WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 but maintains he never had advance knowledge about the release of hacked emails. But Friday marked the first time Mueller indicated he had obtained related evidence, although it remained unclear if the evidence is more substantial than what is publicly known. “The government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release, as well as to discuss the timing and promotion of their release,” Mueller’s team wrote in a filing to the US district court in Washington DC. “Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1.”

[..] WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 each published emails and other documents from the Democratic party in 2016 in an operation that Mueller alleges was part of a Kremlin-backed effort to tip the election in favour of then Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

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Radio Free Europe presents Russiaphobia on steroids.

Let’s ask Mueller what he thinks.

Are Russian Trolls Saving Measles From Extinction? (RFE)

Scientific researchers say Russian social-media trolls who spread discord before the 2016 U.S. presidential election may also have played an unintended role in a developing global health crisis. They say the trolls may have contributed to the 2018 outbreak of measles in Europe that killed 72 people and infected more than 82,000 — mostly in Eastern and Southeastern European countries known to have been targeted by Russia-based disinformation campaigns. Experts in the United States and Europe are now working on ways to gauge the impact that Russian troll and bot campaigns have had on the spread of the disease by distributing medical misinformation and raising public doubts about vaccinations.

Studies have already documented how cybercampaigns by the Internet Research Agency – a St. Petersburg “troll farm” that has been accused of meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election – artificially bolstered debate on social media about vaccines since 2014 in a way that eroded public trust in vaccinations. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that “vaccination hesitancy” has become one of the top threats to global health. It notes a 30 percent rise in measles globally and a resurgence of measles in countries that had once been close to eradicating the disease.

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You heard it here first in The Great Discontent.

A communications director says: “She’s built a profile with a savvy way beyond her years..”, but it’s the other way around. Anyone older can not build a profile the way she has because she’s 29 and grew up with social media; it’s not an acquired taste for her.

Democrats’ Coveted 2020 Prize? An Endorsement From Ocasio-Cortez (G.)

Welcome to the AOC primary. At 29 years old, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – already known as “AOC” for short – is too young to be eligible to run for US president. But her phenomenal impact on American politics means that she could play an outsized role in deciding who does. As her fellow Democrats jostle for position ahead of the 2020 primary elections, an endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be a widely coveted prize, a guaranteed shot of adrenaline sure to energise her army of millennial voters. But it could also come with perils in the later presidential contest, especially for so-called “centrist” candidates hoping to draw independents and moderate Republicans away from Donald Trump.

In little more than a month, Ocasio-Cortez, whose New York district includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, has taken Washington by storm, overshadowing career politicians who have spent years labouring in the 435-member House of Representatives. Her proposals – among them a Green New Deal to combat climate change and a 70% tax rate on earnings over $10m to tackle economic inequality – have reset terms of debate in the early stages of the Democratic contest. “This is a race to the left,” said Dave Handy, a New York-based political consultant and organiser. “Even if people don’t like her or her policies, they will be racing to get her endorsement because it’s a progressive check mark. She embodies the general direction the party is going in.”

[..] Ocasio-Cortez is also a social media sensation. She has in excess of 3 million followers on Twitter with more engagement than Donald Trump, Barack Obama or Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Last week a video clip in which she quizzed ethics experts about government corruption became the most watched political video ever posted on Twitter with 37.5m views. It was another demonstration of astonishing clout. Neil Sroka, communications director of the progressive group Democracy for America, said: “She’s built a profile with a savvy way beyond her years, but she also has an agenda that feels right for the moment. AOC does not exist without the bold, inclusive, populist agenda she’s pushing. The vitriol she has inspired speaks to how afraid everyone is; Republicans see her as representing a country they don’t even know how to speak to.”

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“The American plan is to burn the oil. All of it.”

The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State (CP)

Unbeknownst to most Americans, the nation’s forests were clear-cut from coast to coast in the mid-late nineteenth century. Photographs from the era show denuded landscapes— no trees, no animals, and streams still poisoned from the runoff in the present, for as far as the eye can see. The scars from nineteenth and twentieth century strip mining in Pennsylvania draw direct geographical and historical lines to the mountaintop removal that is taking place in West Virginia today. These natural resources produced the bounty of American capitalism every bit as much as the manufacturing prowess of the Second Industrial Revolution. In turn, this combination of low-cost resources, manufacturing prowess and natural borders (the oceans) produced the military might that defines America in the present.

The logic of weapons and weaponry pervades American capitalism. Death and destruction, domination and control, are what America does. The thought that these resources were ever ‘free’ illustrates the power of ideology. With a body count of at least one-hundred million human beings— including genocide against the indigenous population, murdered slaves, coal miners in Appalachia who died from black lung disease, mill workers in Massachusetts and North and South Carolina who died from inhaling cotton fibers, and those killed in American wars for resources, the human toll of American capitalism is staggering.

[..] In the present, the introduction of a Green New Deal as a nonbinding resolution, rather than the creation of a select congressional committee, clarifies the political form of official resistance to environmental resolution. The public pronouncement itself is a call to arms, implying both that the need for environmental resolution is urgent and that it won’t be led from above. Its authors were right to take their case to the people, from whom something akin to a revolutionary movement is required. Complaints over its limited scope miss that until there is such a movement, little progress toward environmental resolution will be made. Current bipartisan American machinations toward Venezuela illustrate the conundrum. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The U.S. is using state power to ‘liberate’ this oil for the benefit of nominally private multinational oil corporations. The American plan is to burn the oil. All of it.

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And why not? It must get messier still.

Corbyn To Hold Brexit Talks With EU’s Barnier And Verhofstadt (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will hold talks in Brussels next week with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, as he seeks to break the Brexit impasse and persuade Theresa May to sign up to a customs union. The visit is likely to be highly unwelcome in Downing Street, and risks accusations that Labour is pursuing its own shadow negotiations, undermining the prime minister’s hopes of fresh EU concessions. May will be in Brussels in the same week to meet the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. The UK attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, is expected to travel with her. During a whistle-stop tour of the central figures in the Brexit talks on Thursday, Corbyn is also due to meet the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt.

He will also hold talks with senior figures in the socialist group in the European parliament, including Labour MEPs. EU sources said Corbyn was expected to provide further details on his recent conditional offer of support for the prime minister’s deal along with an update on the cross-party talks. Earlier this month, the Labour leader said his party would back the withdrawal agreement, containing the Irish backstop, if May renegotiated the accompanying political declaration on the future relationship. Labour is seeking a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, a close alignment with the single market and protection for standards and workers’ rights.

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Steve wants to abolish the word ‘savings’ with regards to a government. It makes no sense at all.

When The Swabian Hausfrau Saves (Steve Keen)

Savings is promoted as a private virtue that should be practiced at a national and international level as well. What happens to the economy when it is implemented? Keen explains one of the great economic fallacies: that a government needs to manage its finances like a household, and if the government consistently spends more than it receives in income, the nation’s debt will ultimately become unsustainable, and the nation will go broke. Furthermore he will address why the predominant Neoclassical economic model of banking is dangerously misleading as a guide to how a capitalist economy actually works and was thus incapable of predicting the Great Financial Crisis of 2007.

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Hoe much more American does it get?

9/11 Fund Running Out Of Money For Those With Illnesses (AP)

The compensation fund for victims of 9/11 is running out of money and will cut future payments by 50 to 70 percent, officials announced Friday. September 11th Victim Compensation Fund special master Rupa Bhattacharyya said she was “painfully aware of the inequity of the situation” but stressed that awarding some funds for every valid claim would be preferable to sending some legitimate claimants away empty-handed. “I could not abide a plan that would at the end of the day leave some claimants uncompensated,” Bhattacharyya said.

Nearly 40,000 people have applied to the federal fund for people with illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the 2001 terror attacks there, and about 19,000 of those claims are pending. Nearly $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.3 billion fund. Bhattacharyya said fund officials estimate it would take another $5 billion to pay pending claims and the claims that officials anticipate will be submitted before the fund’s December 2020 deadline. Absent that funding, officials determined that pending claims submitted by Feb. 1 would be paid at 50 percent of their prior value. Valid claims received after that date will be paid at just 30 percent.

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Idea is good, argumentation less so. You can’t expect to be taken too seriously when you write lines like this one: A recent paper shows that companies are more likely to receive subsidies when they make financial contributions to political candidates in the state.

Subsidies to Amazon Are Uneconomical, Un-American, and Unconstitutional (PM)

Corporate subsidies are a negative-sum game. They foster crony capitalism, hurt productivity growth and inflict great harm on product market competition.

As soon as Amazon announced the location of its new headquarters, an intense media battle started on the rationality of the fiscal subsidies offered by the two chosen states to attract the new headquarters. Was it a good idea for New York and Virginia to offer $1.5 billion and $573 million respectively to stir Amazon’s decision? In each of the two chosen locations Amazon was to invest billions in infrastructure, employ as many as 25,000 people directly (and many more indirectly), and bring billions in new tax revenues. Even the generous fiscal benefits offered by the two locations seem small vis-à-vis the additional fiscal revenues the winning states will enjoy. After all, had Amazon chosen New Jersey over New York, the Empire State would have lost up to $14 billion in new tax revenues over the next 25 years.

Why shouldn’t a state pay a fraction of these enormous benefits to secure Amazon’s headquarters? While appealing, this argument is flawed and—as it turns out—self-defeating. When companies compete for customers, they have to offer better products or lower prices. They are forced to innovate and improve efficiency in production. In economist lingo, product market competition is not a zero-sum game (my gains are equal to your losses), but a positive-sum game (my gains exceed your losses). By contrast, corporate competition for state subsidies is a zero-sum game. Amazon is not going to be more productive in New York than in New Jersey –it will only pay fewer taxes. If companies are successful in pitting one state against another, they will end up paying no state taxes.

As a result, the economy will not be one iota more efficient, and the rest of us will end up paying more taxes to make up for the revenue shortfall. Competition for subsidies also fosters crony capitalism and hurts productivity growth. It fosters crony capitalism because it favors companies that are well-connected, rather than companies that are more efficient.

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Feb 152019
 


Pablo Picasso Three women at the edge of the beach 1924

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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TEXT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When is Berlin going to start pumping money in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonderful summary of upcoming book.

How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)

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

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

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

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


The Greater United States as it was in 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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Eh, school strikers?

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

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

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

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Feb 122019
 
 February 12, 2019  Posted by at 11:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh On the outskirts of Paris 1887

 

Global Insect Decline May See ‘Plague Of Pests’ (BBC)
Complex, Dynamic Environmental Destabilisation (BBC)
Politicians Are Complicit In The Killing Of Our Insects (G.)
Should We Really Not Worry About The Fed’s Balance Sheet? (Roberts)
Party Leaders Reach Deal To Avoid Fresh US Government Shutdown (AP)
Warren’s Foreign Policy Shows She’s Missing Why Trump Was Elected (G.)
Mistaken Futures (Kunstler)
May To Ask MPs For Further Fortnight’s Grace In Brexit Talks (G.)
Europeans Must Get Rid Of The Failing EU One Way Or Another (MW)
“Insane” Deutsche Bank Drowning Under Soaring Funding Costs (ZH)
Nearly A Fifth Of The EU’s Budget Goes On Livestock Farming (G.)
China Has No Use For Democracy. It Needs A Strong Leader Like Xi (SCMP)
History’s 10 Most Culturally Significant Dick Pic Scandals (Taibbi)

 

 

Roaches in a nuclear winter.

Global Insect Decline May See ‘Plague Of Pests’ (BBC)

A scientific review of insect numbers suggests that 40% of species are undergoing “dramatic rates of decline” around the world. The study says that bees, ants and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles. But researchers say that some species, such as houseflies and cockroaches, are likely to boom. The general insect decline is being caused by intensive agriculture, pesticides and climate change. Insects make up the majority of creatures that live on land, and provide key benefits to many other species, including humans. They provide food for birds, bats and small mammals; they pollinate around 75% of the crops in the world; they replenish soils and keep pest numbers in check.

Many other studies in recent years have shown that individual species of insects, such as bees, have suffered huge declines, particularly in developed economies. But this new paper takes a broader look. Published in the journal Biological Conservation, it reviews 73 existing studies from around the world published over the past 13 years. The researchers found that declines in almost all regions may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades. One-third of insect species are classed as Endangered. “The main factor is the loss of habitat, due to agricultural practices, urbanisation and deforestation,” lead author Dr Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, from the University of Sydney, told BBC News.

“Second is the increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture worldwide and contamination with chemical pollutants of all kinds. Thirdly, we have biological factors, such as invasive species and pathogens; and fourthly, we have climate change, particularly in tropical areas where it is known to have a big impact.” [..] “Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly, will disappear,” said Prof Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex who was not involved in the review. “It’s quite plausible that we might end up with plagues of small numbers of pest insects, but we will lose all the wonderful ones that we want, like bees and hoverflies and butterflies and dung beetles that do a great job of disposing of animal waste.” Prof Goulson said that some tough, adaptable, generalist species – like houseflies and cockroaches – seem to be able to live comfortably in a human-made environment and have evolved resistance to pesticides.

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Nobody listened so far; why would they now?

Complex, Dynamic Environmental Destabilisation (BBC)

• Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes • Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion • 95% of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050 • Since 2005, the number of floods has increased by a factor of 15, extreme temperature events by a factor of 20, and wildfires sevenfold • Vertebrate populations have fallen by an average of 60% since the 1970s, and insect numbers – vital for pollination – have declined even faster in some countries.

Scientists warn of a potentially deadly combination of factors. These include climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans. The report from the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research says these factors are “driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. “This destabilisation is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years.” The UK is described as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Some 2.2 million tonnes of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17% of arable land shows signs of erosion. Nearly 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years. The IIPR says many scientists believe we have entered a new era of rapid environmental change.

The report warns: “We define this as the ‘age of environmental breakdown’ to better highlight the severity of the scale, pace and implications of environmental destabilisation resulting from aggregate human activity.” Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, told BBC News: “IPPR are right to say that environmental change is happening ever-faster and threatens to destabilise society. “Future problems with food supplies could cause price spikes that drive civil unrest, while increases in levels of migration can strain societies. “Both together could overload political institutions and global networks of trade. “This century will be marked by rapid social and environmental change – that is certain. What is less clear is if societies can make wise political choices to avoid disaster in the future.”

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Written of course by a politician. Who thinks politicians can turn this around. Because they can do anything.

Politicians Are Complicit In The Killing Of Our Insects (G.)

Most of us spend more time swatting away or avoiding wasps and moths than we do contemplating their importance to the web of life. But it is no exaggeration to say that the horrifying decline in the number of these creatures – the most widespread on Earth – is a barometer for the whole planet. The new global scientific review into the perilous condition of our insects reports that more than 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction while the mass of insects is declining by 2.5% a year. This catastrophic decline is a direct cause of the existential threat to other animals, insects being at the bottom of the chain and the primary food source. Since 1970, 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been wiped out.

The review identifies a key driver towards this mass extinction: habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture with its associated use of pesticides. Given this is a manmade disaster, surely we are capable of tackling and reversing it? As a member of the European parliament’s agriculture committee, I regularly debate the use of pesticides in farming with my colleagues. I have lost count of the number of times I have begun meetings with what feels like a sermon on the Armageddon taking place in our countryside. I am always greeted with patient, patronising smiles from many of my fellow MEPs, before they go on to ignore the warnings and refuse to limit the use of pesticides in our fields.

Some of the members of this committee are themselves farmers who have grown increasingly dependent on powerful and toxic pesticides. But others have taken the agribusiness shilling and believe that their role in policymaking is simply to support the corporations that sell these poisons. And this is the nub of the issue. What might accurately be dubbed insectageddon is being driven by the agrichemicals industry. This situation is compounded by compliant politicians and policymakers who fall prey to lobbying pressure and then refuse to implement science-driven policy to protect wildlife.

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What we should do is end the Fed. And replace it with markets.

Should We Really Not Worry About The Fed’s Balance Sheet? (Roberts)

Bill Dudley, who is now a senior research scholar at Princeton University’s Center for Economic Policy Studies and previously served as president of the New York Fed and was vice-chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, recently penned an interesting piece from Bloomberg stating: “Financial types have long had a preoccupation: What will the Federal Reserve do with all the fixed income securities it purchased to help the U.S. economy recover from the last recession? The Fed’s efforts to shrink its holdings have been blamed for various ills, including December’s stock-market swoon. And any new nuance of policy — such as last week’s statement on “balance sheet normalization” — is seen as a really big deal. I’m amazed and baffled by this. It gets much more attention than it deserves.”

[..] In his opening paragraph, Bill attempts to dismiss the linkage between the balance sheet and the financial markets. “Yes, it’s true that stock prices declined at a time when the Fed was allowing its holdings of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to run off at a rate of up to $50 billion a month. But the balance sheet contraction had been underway for more than a year, without any modifications or mid-course corrections. Thus, this should have been fully discounted.” While this is a true statement, what Bill forgot to mention was that Global Central banks had stepped in to flood the system with liquidity. As you can see in the chart below, while the Fed had stopped expanding their balance sheet, everyone else went into over-drive.

The chart below shows the ECB’s balance sheet and trajectory. Yes, they are slowing “QE” but it is still growing currently.

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Far from over.

Party Leaders Reach Deal To Avoid Fresh US Government Shutdown (AP)

Democratic and Republican leaders announced late Monday that they had reached a deal to avoid a government shutdown when funding under a stopgap agreement expires at midnight on Friday. The proposal would require the signature of Donald Trump to avert a new shutdown. The agreement would allocate far less money for Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7bn wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4bn, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends 30 September. The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

At a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday Trump said he had been informed about the committee’s progress. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway”, he added. Negotiators have been trying to reach a deal to fund nine government departments that partially closed for 35 days in December and January. Trump and congressional Democrats agreed on 25 January to temporarily fund the departments and negotiate a funding solution by 8 February. Talks most recently broke down on Sunday, reportedly over a disagreement about the maximum number of undocumented immigrants who might be detained at any one time.

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Warren is irrelevant.

Warren’s Foreign Policy Shows She’s Missing Why Trump Was Elected (G.)

The United States, Warren says, has embarked on “a series of seemingly endless wars, engaging in conflicts with mistaken or uncertain objectives and no obvious path to completion”. It’s fine rhetoric but the obvious path to completion is merely to end the wars. And yet the Bush White House couldn’t or didn’t want to. And Obama vacillated and expanded to the point where bombing and killing was being pursued in almost a dozen countries when he left office. And as for Trump? He’s done little and he’s been publicly admonished by his own secretary of defense when he decided he wanted to end just one of those conflicts.

But “the United States”? Really? Other than Afghanistan after 9/11 – and that’s all – “the United States” didn’t embark on these wars. The national security community did. The government. Overtly, covertly, with high hopes or unwarranted self-confidence, they got their way. Who is the real culprit then? It isn’t Warren’s “elites”, the corporation, or Trump. It is Washington and its ability, indeed even its self-appointed duty, to stand in the way of anything that it sees as not in its interest.

She may not think it, but Warren is merely genuflecting before this deep state, declaring her allegiance to a “muscular military” and calling for “strong yet pragmatic security policies”. She of course offers a laundry list of things that must be preserved or strengthened that’s non-military – from technological superiority to diplomacy to strong alliances. And she decries the military and civilian policymakers who “seem [in]capable of defining success”. But in her innocence as to why we are stuck in seemingly endless wars she also seems oblivious to the fact that she is already capitulating to the very forces that ensure that we can’t change anything.

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Will the Green New Deal Make America Great Again?

Mistaken Futures (Kunstler)

The self-proclaimed socialists are actually seeing the world through a rear-view mirror. What they are really talking about is divvying up the previously-accumulated wealth, soon to be bygone. Entropy is having its wicked way with that wealth, first by transmogrifying it into ever more abstract forms, and then by dissipating it as waste all over the planet. In short, the next time socialism is enlisted as a tool for redistributing wealth, we will make the unhappy discovery that most of that wealth is gone. The process will be uncomfortably sharp and disorientating. The West especially will not know what hit it as it emergently self-reorganizes back into something that resembles the old-time feudalism.

We have a new kind of mass squalor in America: a great many people who have nothing to do, no means of support, and the flimsiest notions of purpose in life. The socialists have no answers for them. They will not be “retrained” in some imagined federal crusade to turn meth freaks into code-writers for Google. Something the analysts are calling “recession” is ploughing across the landscape like one of those darkly majestic dust-storms of the 1930s, only this time we won’t be able to re-fight anything like World War Two to get all the machines running again in the aftermath. Nor, of course, will the Make America Great Again fantasy work out for those waiting in the squalid ruins of the post-industrial rust-belt or the strip-mall wastelands of the Sunbelt.

Most of the beliefs and attitudes of the present day will be overturned with the demise of the industrial orgy, like the idea that humanity follows an unerring arc of progress, that men and women are interchangeable and can do exactly the same work, that society should not be hierarchical, that technology will rescue us, and that we can organize some political work-arounds to avoid the pain of universal contraction. There are no coherent ideas in the political arena just now. Our prospects are really too alarming. So, jump on-board the socialism ship and see if it makes you feel better to sail to the end of the earth. But mind the gap at the very edge. It’s a doozie.

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And 2 more weeks after that etc. till the clock runs out.

May To Ask MPs For Further Fortnight’s Grace In Brexit Talks (G.)

Theresa May hopes to convince the House of Commons on Tuesday to give her another fortnight’s grace to keep pushing for changes to the Irish backstop – despite the insistence of Michel Barnier that it is Britain that must compromise. With 45 days to go until Britain is due by law to leave the EU, with or without a deal, the prime minister will address MPs about progress in the Brexit talks, No 10 announced on Monday. She is unlikely to signal any shift towards a closer future relationship with the EU, after writing to Jeremy Corbyn to underline her continued objections to a customs union, and instead she will focus on the backstop.

“We are absolutely clear on this: we’re not considering Jeremy Corbyn’s customs proposals, we’re not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. We must have our own, independent trade policy,” May’s spokesman said on Monday. May will stress her continued focus on the backstop, but the EU’s chief negotiator insisted on Monday there was no question of Brussels giving in to Downing Street’s demands. “We’re waiting for clarity and movement from the United Kingdom,” Barnier told reporters after talks in Luxembourg with the country’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel.

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The EU has the exact same flaws as its member states, but in the latter the losers can get voted out.

Europeans Must Get Rid Of The Failing EU One Way Or Another (MW)

Populism is sweeping Europe, because the European Union and its constituent governments have become as unresponsive as the 18th century aristocracies those replaced.The EU antecedent, the European Economic Community (1957) was created to prevent another World War by integrating the continent’s iron and steel industries and then its broader continental markets for goods, services, capital and labor. The process created a politically unaccountable bureaucracy, whose broad policy directions are set by consensus among the national heads of government and cabinet ministers. However, Brussels enjoys wide administrative discretion in supervising the customs union, agricultural and fisheries management, and national subsidies, anticompetitive practices, and other behavior that could undermine the “single market.”

Through a succession of treaties and agreements, national leaders “pooled sovereignty” to empower the European Commission to issue edicts that member states must directly obey or conform national laws and regulations in areas such as social policy and human rights, consumer protection and product standards, transportation, and immigration. European Court rulings have direct application in national courts, and 19 of the 28 states have ceded monetary policy to the European Central Bank by adopting the euro. To win votes, mainstream national politicians have endemically statist impulses, and hue to globalist views regarding the virtues of freer trade and more open immigration, regulatory responses to environmental challenges like climate change rather than mitigation, and impelling cultural diversity as opposed to preserving local cultures.

In Europe, national leaders have empowered the commission to impose the pain and constraints on private freedoms that such globalist policies require. Then they can point to Brussels to alibi they are just advancing a stronger European Union.

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Deutsche is a wager gone horribly wrong.

“Insane” Deutsche Bank Drowning Under Soaring Funding Costs (ZH)

Following years of dismal performance, uncovered attempts at market manipulation and fraudulent activities, and painful corporate reorganizations which its latest earnings report showed have “cut deeply into the muscle”, Deutsche Bank is a shadow of its former self, with its stock price trading just shy of all time lows. But an even bigger problem for Germany’s biggest lender is that it is now forced to pay the highest financing rates on the euro debt market for a leading international bank this year according to the FT, and also the highest rates among large banks to raise debt this year according to Bloomberg, in a further sign of the German lender’s uphill struggle to turn its operations around and reduce its funding costs.

As the FT first reported, followed promptly by Bloomberg, the bank raised eyebrows last week when it sold a total of €3.6BN in euro-denominated debt, paying 180 bps over the benchmarks for a two-year bond, a steep rate for short-term funding. Deutsche Bank also paid 230 bps over benchmarks for a senior seven-year bond that can absorb losses in a crisis. By comparison, French banking giant BNP Paribas SA last month offered 50 bps less for equally-ranked notes that mature one year later. More embarrassing, Deutsche Bank paid a higher rate than Spanish lender CaixaBank, which recently raised five-year bonds at 225bp.

In a latest note to clients, Corinna Dröse, a Frankfurt-based bond analyst at DZ Bank, said: “The high spreads reflect [Deutsche’s] high idiosyncratic risk, which is rooted in the lender’s chronic weakness in earnings.” “Deutsche has to pay significantly higher risk premiums than almost all other large European banks . . . [the] high spreads express severe doubts, mainly triggered by its poor revenue,” said Michael Hünseler, head of credit portfolio management at Assenagon. Intimately linked with the bank’s deteriorating fortunes – and stock price – investors are increasingly demanding that Deutsche Bank pay higher rates of return than even some of Europe’s “most troubled banks” as the firm grapples with a prolonged decline in revenue.

Finance chief James von Moltke said last year that the bank was caught in a “vicious circle” of declining revenue, sticky expenses, a lowered credit rating and rising funding costs. While the firm cut expenses, revenue and the price of funding remain a concern. “A key priority for us now is lowering our funding costs and improving our credit ratings,” von Moltke said during a call with fixed-income investors last week. “We must not compromise on the strength of our capital, funding, or liquidity, but we have to prove that we can generate long-term, sustainable profitability.”

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It’s not about eating meat, it’s about industrial farming. All these scientists telling people what to eat are useless.

Nearly A Fifth Of The EU’s Budget Goes On Livestock Farming (G.)

Nearly a fifth of the EU’s total budget – more than £24bn of taxpayer money – goes to support livestock farming across Europe, according to new research by Greenpeace. At a time when scientists are calling for significant reductions in meat consumption, the report’s authors say taxpayers’ money should be redirected away from grain-fed, industrial animal farming. Last month, the Eat-Lancet Commission of scientists called for a new plant-focused diet to help avoid dangerous levels of climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Such a diet would require cutting red meat consumption in Europe by 77%.

Public Health England’s dietary guidelines recommend that meat and dairy, including non-animal-based protein alternatives such as beans and pulses, should make up no more than our 20% of dietary intake. Yet, Europeans eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities recommend, as well as twice the global average. “Adopting diets lower in meat and dairy would not only tackle health problems but would also reduce the pressure on land, freeing up more space for nature,” said the Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero. [..] Researchers calculated that 125 million hectares (308 million acres) of land in Europe is used to graze livestock or produce feed – this includes more than 60% of arable land that could otherwise be used to grow food directly for human consumption.

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China has no idea what democracy is. But it has a ruling class just like our countries.

China Has No Use For Democracy. It Needs A Strong Leader Like Xi (SCMP)

Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to meet nearly every Chinese leader since the 1930s (with the exception of Mao Zedong), including Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei and more contemporary figures such as Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Xi. As individuals, they frequently came off as kind, caring and intelligent. From afar, as I watched them govern, I would view them in a different light, as dictators. This is the reality of leadership in China. Previously, emperors in China were said to rule because of their “Mandate of Heaven”. When Mao seized power, it was clear that he had won his position through revolution. Yet the selection of Xi, like the selection of his predecessors since Mao’s death in 1976, is cloaked in secrecy.

Even those in the US who question whether, and to what degree, Russian interference influenced the 2016 election will concede that, based on US law, Trump is a legally elected president. These results are publicly available, and have been analysed repeatedly by the media, politicians and the American public. But China lacks such luxuries. Its citizens have no official records to turn to for an explanation of why and how Xi was chosen. [..] Under Xi’s leadership, China has adopted a more aggressive stance internationally, imprisoned thousands of party members on corruption charges and removed constitutional limitations on presidential term limits. Amid these developments, the question of how Xi was chosen again comes to mind. The short answer is, we can only guess.

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Why, why and why?

History’s 10 Most Culturally Significant Dick Pic Scandals (Taibbi)

The AMI-Jeff Bezos scandal is set up to dominate headlines for a while. Who knows where it will lead? In the third world, an oligarch-president proxy war playing out in public like this usually presages a coup. If this were Thailand or Uruguay, bookies would already have odds on a Bezos-Mark-Zuckerberg-Sundar-Pichai junta being in power by May. This scandal will at least drag us through unprecedented legal and ethical conundrums. Can the president use the surveillance powers of the state to go after political enemies? Can a billionaire intelligence contractor and administrator of one of earth’s largest private data collections — including the so-called “Secret Region” cloud — fight back using his own surveillance trove through a newspaper he owns?

This story could blur the lines between public and private power to the point of meaninglessness. America could very well find its fate decided by a series of pre-dawn phone calls, after which we’d wake up to find Trump flying to Switzerland, Amazon lieutenants in the Joint Chiefs office and the presidency replaced by an executive board. At the center of all of this: a dick pic. Nothing could be more American than the fate of our democracy now hanging (!) on what Enquirer editor Dylan Howard euphemistically describes as a “below-the-belt selfie.”

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Jan 202019
 


Pablo Picasso Woman in an armchair (Olga) 1922

 

Pelosi Rejects Trump Shutdown Deal Before President Announces It (O.)
Battle Royale (Jim Kunstler)
No President Since Lincoln Treated Worse Than Me – Trump (RT)
Theresa May Wants Irish Treaty To Break Brexit Impasse (R.)
One Thing To Be Grateful To Brexit For: Britons Are Buying Less On Credit (G.)
‘The Gilets Jaunes Are Unstoppable’ (Guilluy)
Yellow Vests Defy Macron ‘National Debate’ In 10th Saturday Of Protests (F24)
Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Regulator Has Plan To End Conservatorship (MW)
‘The Goal Is To Automate Us’: The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism (O.)

 

 

Pelosi and her ilk act as if they won the elections. They must be smart enough to know Trump does what he says he will?!

Pelosi Rejects Trump Shutdown Deal Before President Announces It (O.)

Donald Trump forged ahead on Saturday and proposed a deal to end the US government shutdown, despite Democrats having rejected it before he began to speak. If its timing was striking, the rejection was no surprise. In exchange for temporary concessions on the status of threatened migrant groups, the president doubled down on his demand for a border wall. A senior House Democratic aide told the Guardian the party, which has vowed not to give Trump funding for any wall, was not consulted. Speaking from the White House, the president outlined a plan that would extend protections for young undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers, and individuals from some Central American and African nations, in exchange for $5.7bn for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

“A wall is not immoral,” he said, adding: “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let that happen.” “As a candidate for president,” he said, “I promised I would fix this crisis, and I intend to keep that promise one way or the other.” Trump spoke as the partial shutdown of the federal government, the longest in US history, rolled through its 29th day. Prompted on 22 December over Trump’s demand for a wall, the partial closure of departments and services has left around 800,000 federal workers without pay. Hundreds of thousands of contractors are also going without a check.

Before the president took the podium, House speaker Nancy Pelosi panned his proposal. “Democrats were hopeful that the president was finally willing to re-open government and proceed with a much-need discussion to protect the border,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately … his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives. It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter.”

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“..a little dust-up in the meadows and cornfields known as the Civil War..”

Battle Royale (Jim Kunstler)

The effrontery of Ms. Pelosi, Speaker of the House, in cancelling Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address in the chamber she controls is perhaps the worst insult to institutional protocol since the spring day in 1856 when Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC) skulked into the senate chamber and smashed Senator Charles Sumner (R-Mass) about the head within an inch of his life with a gold-headed walking stick. Brooks’s attack was launched after Sen. Sumner gave his “Bleeding Kansas” speech, arguing that the territory be let into the union as a “free” state, and denouncing “the harlot slavery,” whom he imputed was Rep. Brooks’s dearest consort.

Many of us — except perhaps students immersed in intersectional gender studies — know how that worked out: a little dust-up in the meadows and cornfields known as the Civil War. We’re about at that level of animosity today in the two federal houses of legislature, though it is very hard to imagine how Civil War Two might play out on the ground. Perhaps opposing mobs (not even armies) meet in the Walmart parking lots of Pennsylvania and go at it demolition derby style, with monster trucks bashing their enemies’ Teslas and Beemers. Throw in clown suits instead of blue and gray uniforms and we’ll really capture the spirit of the age.

Not to be outdone, days after the SOTU cancellation, the Golden Golem of Greatness cancelled a Democratic Party grandstanding junket to the Middle East, led by Ms. Pelosi. A US Air Force bus has just departed for Andrews Air Force Base, where an Air Force jet waited for the junketeers. But then, with impeccable timing, Mr. Trump cancelled the junket — denying the use of military aircraft as Commander-in-Chief — and forcing the bus back to town with its load of elected dignitaries and their luggage — making the reasonable suggestion that they fly a commercial airline instead.

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Trump trolling America.

No President Since Lincoln Treated Worse Than Me – Trump (RT)

Not since Abraham Lincoln has a US president been treated so badly by the media, Donald Trump lamented in a series of Twitter rants before going to Delaware to honor the four Americans killed in Syria. “Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of four very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. Two US troops, a civilian and a contractor were killed in a suicide bombing in the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday. But the president had no intention to focus on his surprise visit to Dower Airforce Base in Delaware for too long.

His next Twitter post was dedicated to a completely different subject, as Trump cited former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, who – according to him – said: “There has been no president since Abraham Lincoln who has been treated worse or more unfairly by the media than your favorite President, me!” At the same time, he insisted that “there has been no president who has accomplished more in his first two years in office!” Trump’s invocation of Lincoln prompted reactions from his supporters and opponents.

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May cannot have a bilateral treaty with Irleand that would essentially be designed to bypass the EU, as long as Ireland is part of the EU.

Theresa May Wants Irish Treaty To Break Brexit Impasse (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to seek a bilateral treaty with the Irish government as a way to remove the contentious backstop arrangement from Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union, a newspaper reported. The Sunday Times said aides to May thought a deal with Ireland would remove the opposition to her Brexit plan from the Democratic Unionist Party that supports May’s minority government and from pro-Brexit rebels in her Conservative Party. However the Irish edition of the same newspaper quoted a senior Irish government source as saying the bilateral treaty proposal was “not something we would entertain” and a second senior political source as saying it would not work with the European Commission.

May suffered a heavy defeat in parliament on Tuesday when Conservative lawmakers and members of other parties rejected her Brexit plan by an overwhelming majority. That left Britain facing the prospect of no deal to smooth its exit from the EU in little more than two months’ time. May is due to announce on Monday how she plans to proceed. Many Conservatives and the DUP oppose the backstop that the EU insists on as a guarantee to avoid a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Earlier on Saturday, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said Dublin’s commitment to the Brexit divorce deal struck with the British government was “absolute,” including the border backstop arrangement. The Sunday Times also said a group of lawmakers in Britain’s parliament would meet on Sunday to consider ways they could suspend the Brexit process, wresting control away from May’s government.

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There’s that question again: a sign of confidence or despair?

One Thing To Be Grateful To Brexit For: Britons Are Buying Less On Credit (G.)

A sharp decline in household spending on the never-never, and especially spending on credit cards, is a trend that must surely be welcomed. The Bank of England said last week in its quarterly credit health check that high street banks were about to witness the biggest decline in such borrowing since records began 12 years ago. Threadneedle Street said its index of demand for credit card lending over the three months to the end of March had dropped to -20.7 from -7.2. That is a far cry from the summer of 2017, when consumer borrowing soared above £200bn and MPs across the political spectrum became alarmed at the return of binge buying on plastic.

At that time, with wages flat or at least not rising by more than inflation, policymakers feared that households were supplementing their incomes with borrowing to the degree that they had in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash. Regulators reacted to the rise by telling banks to tighten up their lending criteria. Most institutions obeyed, as anyone tracking the trend for borrowing across 2018 can see. So far, so good. That, after all, was supposed to be how the regulators looked after the interests of the country and its economy, and kept individual households from borrowing more than they could afford to repay.

However, it also seems clear that another force was at play – the Brexit effect, which began to have an impact once it became clear that Theresa May’s government was struggling to find a formula that could win over a majority in the House of Commons. The fall in sentiment since last summer has proved to be dramatic – far sharper than the banks would ever have expected from a few little tweaks to their lending rules. And the lack of consumer borrowing has been felt in few places more than it has in the car industry. Since 2010, cars have increasingly been sold through complex lease deals that fall under the credit figures. By 2017, nine out of 10 cars were being sold this way. Then came the diesel emissions scandal and a confused government reaction, which discouraged sales.

Brexit made the situation worse. Consumers were already reluctant to make major purchases such as a new home, or big-ticket household items like furniture. Next on the list of things not to buy was a car. Figures from the industry show that car sales in the UK declined by almost 7% in 2018. With a major slice of credit no longer in demand, the borrowing figures were bound to tumble. The shocking element of the story is how much harm a fall in personal lending can cause to the British economy, which has already suffered a lopsided expansion since the financial crash.

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Excellent essay on what the Yellow Vests actually are.

‘The Gilets Jaunes Are Unstoppable’ (Guilluy)

‘Paris creates enough wealth for the whole of France, and London does the same in Britain. But you cannot build a society around this. The gilets jaunes is a revolt of the working classes who live in these places. ‘They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else. ‘Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. …

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later. ‘The Brexit vote had a lot to do with culture, too, I think. It was more than just the question of leaving the EU. Many voters wanted to remind the political class that they exist. That’s what French people are using the gilets jaunes for – to say we exist. We are seeing the same phenomenon in populist revolts across the world. [ … ]

‘The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people. [ … ] Think of the ‘deplorables’ evoked by Hillary Clinton. There is a similar view of the working class in France and Britain. They are looked upon as if they are some kind of Amazonian tribe. The problem for the elites is that it is a very big tribe.

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Really, you think Macron can have his national debate? “..98 cases of serious injuries, including 15 cases of people losing an eye..”

Yellow Vests Defy Macron ‘National Debate’ In 10th Saturday Of Protests (F24)

Around 84,000 “Yellow Vest” demonstrators marched all around France on Saturday, marking a 10th straight weekend of anti-government protests, defying attempts by President Emmanuel Macron to channel their anger into a series of town hall debates. In Paris, Protesters assembled by the Invalides plaza near the National Assembly and marched through the city’s Left Bank in freezing temperatures. These demonstrations were largely peaceful but, according to reporters, clashes broke out late in the afternoon between police and demonstrators, some wearing masks, in Paris’ central Invalides district. Protesters threw firecrackers, bottles and stones at the police who responded with water cannon and tear gas to push them back.

Authorities said there were around 7,000 protesters in Paris, some of whom gathered near the world-famous Champs Elysees, while there were similar demonstrations in major cities across France. Rallies took place in Toulouse, Lyon, Rouen and other cities. According to the French Interior Ministry, some 84,000 people marched across France on Saturday, as many as last week. In the French capital though, there were fewer protestors on this 10th consecutive weekend than on the previous Saturday, when there were 8,000.

[..] the protesters behind the biggest crisis in Macron’s presidency remain fully mobilised. The centrist leader is hoping that the launch this week of a “grand national debate” on policy will mark a turning point. [..] many yellow vests have announced plans to boycott the discussions scheduled in dozens of towns and villages, seeing them as an attempt to drain support from a movement that erupted in mid-November over fuel taxes and quickly broadened into a campaign of weekly protests that have regularly ended in clashes with police and destruction of property. The growing number of demonstrators to suffer serious injuries at the hands of the police has compounded their anger towards the state. The “Disarm” collective, a local group that campaigns against police violence, has counted 98 cases of serious injuries, including 15 cases of people losing an eye, mostly after being hit by rubber bullets.

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Probably means they see a huge plunge come in housing.

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Regulator Has Plan To End Conservatorship (MW)

The acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency has told the agency’s employees that the regulator will announce a plan within weeks to take the government-sponsored enterprises out of conservatorship. Joseph Otting, who is leading the FHFA as Mark Calabria awaits Senate confirmation, said at an all-hands meeting on Thursday that a plan to lift Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of the conservatorship that has permeated the institutions since the financial crisis will soon be announced, according to an attendee of that gathering. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed there was discussion about ending Fannie and Freddie conservatorship but denied there was any talk of timing or details.

“Acting Director Otting held the internal meeting to meet FHFA staff and establish open lines of communication,” the FHFA said. “He mentioned, as he previously has, that Treasury and the White House are expected to release a plan for housing that will include details about reform and will likely include a recommendation for ending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conservatorships. [Treasury] Secretary Mnuchin has said that the goal of the [Trump] administration is to take the GSEs out of conservatorship. Acting Director Otting said that he and FHFA will work to advance that plan.” Fannie and Freddie were rushed into government control at the height of the financial crisis. Then, in 2012, the terms of the 2008 bailout were amended to steer the quarterly profits of both enterprises to Treasury. That wiped out holders of the companies’ stock, and they’ve fought the federal government in court ever since.

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Shoshana Zuboff’s new book The Age of Surveillance Capital sounds like a treat.

‘The Goal Is To Automate Us’: The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism (O.)

Surveillance capitalism is a human creation. It lives in history, not in technological inevitability. It was pioneered and elaborated through trial and error at Google in much the same way that the Ford Motor Company discovered the new economics of mass production or General Motors discovered the logic of managerial capitalism. Surveillance capitalism was invented around 2001 as the solution to financial emergency in the teeth of the dotcom bust when the fledgling company faced the loss of investor confidence. As investor pressure mounted, Google’s leaders abandoned their declared antipathy toward advertising. Instead they decided to boost ad revenue by using their exclusive access to user data logs (once known as “data exhaust”) in combination with their already substantial analytical capabilities and computational power, to generate predictions of user click-through rates, taken as a signal of an ad’s relevance.

Operationally this meant that Google would both repurpose its growing cache of behavioural data, now put to work as a behavioural data surplus, and develop methods to aggressively seek new sources of this surplus. The company developed new methods of secret surplus capture that could uncover data that users intentionally opted to keep private, as well as to infer extensive personal information that users did not or would not provide. And this surplus would then be analysed for hidden meanings that could predict click-through behaviour. The surplus data became the basis for new predictions markets called targeted advertising.

Here was the origin of surveillance capitalism in an unprecedented and lucrative brew: behavioural surplus, data science, material infrastructure, computational power, algorithmic systems, and automated platforms. As click-through rates skyrocketed, advertising quickly became as important as search. Eventually it became the cornerstone of a new kind of commerce that depended upon online surveillance at scale. The success of these new mechanisms only became visible when Google went public in 2004. That’s when it finally revealed that between 2001 and its 2004 IPO, revenues increased by 3,590%.

[..] Google began by unilaterally declaring that the world wide web was its to take for its search engine. Surveillance capitalism originated in a second declaration that claimed our private experience for its revenues that flow from telling and selling our fortunes to other businesses. In both cases, it took without asking. Page [Larry, Google co-founder] foresaw that surplus operations would move beyond the online milieu to the real world, where data on human experience would be free for the taking. As it turns out his vision perfectly reflected the history of capitalism, marked by taking things that live outside the market sphere and declaring their new life as market commodities.

We were caught off guard by surveillance capitalism because there was no way that we could have imagined its action, any more than the early peoples of the Caribbean could have foreseen the rivers of blood that would flow from their hospitality toward the sailors who appeared out of thin air waving the banner of the Spanish monarchs. Like the Caribbean people, we faced something truly unprecedented. Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.

Bowie in 1999. He was a long way ahead.

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Jan 152019
 
 January 15, 2019  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight c1850

 

May Faces Crushing Brexit Defeat Despite Last-Minute Plea To MPs (G.)
100 Of May’s Own MPs Set To Vote Against Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit Means ‘Social And Economic Catastrophe’ -Banks (Ind.)
Brexit Preppers: ‘I Don’t Trust The Government To Look After Me Or My Dog’ (G.)
Global Economy Fears Grow As China And Eurozone Slump (G.)
Hunting for Golem (Jim Kunstler)
FBI Investigation Of Trump As National Security Threat Is A Serious Danger (GG)
Trump Reportedly Said He Wanted To Pull The US From NATO (CNBC)
WikiLeaks Starts Suing Guardian Over Assange-Manafort Fake News Story (RT)
Antarctic Losing 500% More Ice A Year Than In 80s – NASA (Ind.)
Wildlife: The Real Crisis At The US-Mexico Border (PI)
98% Of Ground Insects Vanish From Puerto Rican Rainforest In 35 Years (G.)

 

 

““We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that..”

May Faces Crushing Brexit Defeat Despite Last-Minute Plea To MPs (G.)

Theresa May appears to be on course for a crushing defeat in the House of Commons as Britain’s bitterly divided MPs prepare to give their verdict on her Brexit deal in the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday. With Downing Street all but resigned to losing by a significant margin, Guardian analysis pointed to a majority of more than 200 MPs against the prime minister. Labour sources said that unless May made major unexpected concessions, any substantial margin against her would lead Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence in the government – perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. But since Conservative MPs are unlikely to offer Corbyn the backing he would need to win a no-confidence vote, he would then come under intense pressure to swing Labour’s weight behind a second referendum.

Cabinet ministers have not yet been told how May plans to keep the Brexit process on track if her deal is defeated – and they remain split on how she should proceed. Leavers are convinced that the prime minister should return to Brussels and press for fresh concessions, while remainers hope she will seek a compromise with Labour. On Monday, May issued one final call to parliament to back her, urging MPs to “take a second look” at her deal and stressing that it was the only option on the table that could deliver an “orderly” exit from the EU. But there was little evidence of movement after her speech.

[..] There is growing speculation at Westminster that whichever course May pursues, she will be forced to announce that she will ask the EU27 to extend article 50. The prime minister refused to rule out doing so categorically on Monday, saying only that she didn’t believe it should be necessary. “We’re leaving on 29 March. I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum,” May said. “We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that, but I want to do it in a way that is smooth and orderly and protects jobs and security.”

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Her own party turns against her, but May’s plans when she loses: fly to Brussels. She should leave and never come back.

100 Of May’s Own MPs Set To Vote Against Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has made a desperate last-ditch plea begging her own MPs to back her Brexit plans in the face of an expected historic defeat. The prime minister beseeched Conservative MPs at a closed meeting to think of the future of their party and compromise, with around 100 of them considering voting against her. But Brexiteers still left the meeting determined to reject her plans, while Ms May also now faces up to 12 separate attempts from rebel and opposition MPs to re-shape her strategy before the final vote on Tuesday. She gave no indication as to her course of action if she loses, but Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn spoke to his own MPs in a room nearby restating his determination to call a motion of no confidence and trigger an election.

After 19 months of negotiation, a dozen EU summits and countless hours taking questions at the despatch box, Ms May will finally put her Brexit deal to a vote of the Commons on Tuesday. With her final chance to address all MPs coming shortly before the vote due after 7pm, she held a private gathering of Tories on Monday night to try to win over rebels. [..] Much of the opposition to her deal to focuses on the hated “Irish backstop”, which would come into play if no future trading arrangement is in place by December 2020, and could keep the UK in a customs union indefinitely. [..] On Monday night, Ms May’s deal suffered its first official parliamentary defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted by 321 votes to 152 to reject it.

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Every possible outcome will mean chaos.

No-Deal Brexit Means ‘Social And Economic Catastrophe’ -Banks (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit would be an economic and social “catastrophe”, a senior banking industry leader has warned. Stephen Jones said leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement could lead to a 1930s-style economic depression, with widespread job losses, homeowners unable to afford their mortgages, and mass defaults on loans. “A no-deal Brexit on 29 March, where we crash out of European Union, is a catastrophe,” the head of the UK Finance trade body told Channel 4 News. “It’s a social catastrophe, it’s an economic catastrophe.” The devastation caused by a disorderly exit would not just hurt the banks’ bottom lines, but hit ordinary people, he warned. “I don’t wish to be labelled a doom mongerer… but if our economy contracts by 10 per cent that’s 1930s-style contraction,” he said.

“That is a massive increase in credit card losses, mortgage losses, vehicle loan losses. “This is about jobs, this is about people not being able to pay their mortgages, not being able to pay back their loans, and that’s really bad news and it’s an outcome we can avoid.” Mr Jones, who leads the British banking sector’s lobby group, added: “I think there is a real risk of No Deal happening by accident… if the prime minister’s deal is voted down, we are in totally uncharted territory.” Asked if he backed Mrs May’s deal to prevent a no-deal scenario, Mr Jones would only say he backed a “solution that avoids a no-deal Brexit”. He added: “It’s not a great deal, there’s an awful lot of money being paid for a political declaration, which quite frankly is not worth the paper it is written on.”

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People unsure whether epilepsy drugs for their children will be available.

Brexit Preppers: ‘I Don’t Trust The Government To Look After Me Or My Dog’ (G.)

[..] it’s not just about food for Elgarf and her family. One of her four-year-old twins, Nora, who has been sitting happily on her mum’s lap as we talk, has a rare brain condition called polymicrogyria. She has lots of prescriptions, but without two of them – Epilim and Keppra – for her epilepsy, she would have multiple seizures a day. “She can’t do without them,” says Elgarf. Both Epilim and Keppra are imported. If she could stockpile these medicines, she would. But they are controlled, and she can only get a month’s supply at a time. “It should be all right,” she has been told by doctors and the pharmacists. But when it’s your daughter’s life that’s at stake, “it should be all right” isn’t good enough.

Many of the people who join the Facebook group have concerns about medicines, Elgarf says. There are a lot of diabetics and coeliacs among them. What they need is some reassurance. “We need to know for certain they have got a proper plan in place for anybody who depends on meds.” She has heard rumours that the most critical medicines may have to be collected from central hubs, which would be stocked on the basis of lists provided by GPs. [..] Helena, who has a politics degree and works for a charity, doesn’t come across as crazy. None of the people I speak to do. Informed: tick. Cautious: tick. Organised: tick. Very organised, in Helena’s case: she has – and shares with me – a spreadsheet, colour-coded according to what is fully purchased (eg tinned tomatoes and loo paper, alongside a note that the average person uses 110 rolls a year), part-purchased (eg cereal), waiting delivery (powdered coconut), or pending testing (dried falafel mix).

Falafel! I’m going straight round to Helena’s. She also has booze and biscuits. Brexit party in Cardiff on Friday 29 March, everyone. And she’s got makeup! We’re going to be looking good as the good ship Britannia goes down. Helena is not just prepping for herself. She is doing it for her dog, Charlie, too. And while she has about three months’ worth of supplies for herself, she is looking at more like a year for the dog, as she doesn’t see that pet food will be a priority. “I don’t really trust the government to look after me; I certainly don’t trust them to look after my dog,” she says. As well as dog food, there are treats and toys on the spreadsheet. Charlie is going to enjoy a hard Brexit.


Helena’s dog, Charlie, with his Brexit stockpile. Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

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Brexit will shake the markets.

Global Economy Fears Grow As China And Eurozone Slump (G.)

Fears are growing over the state of the global economy after China recorded a shock fall in exports, while European factory output declined by the biggest margin in almost three years. In a sign that the worldwide slowdown is gathering pace, official figures showed Chinese exports were down 4.4% in December – the largest fall since 2016 – on the back of faltering demand in most of its key markets. Imports fell 7.6% to reflect waning domestic demand. The unexpected downturn for the biggest global exporter of manufactured products came as eurozone industrial output shrank in November.

The EU statistics office, Eurostat, estimated industrial production slipped 1.7% in November compared with the previous month, and 3.3% on the year, reflecting the struggles facing several European economies in recent months. The latest snapshot confirmed disappointing readings of industrial output in several major eurozone nations, raising the prospect of some of the EU’s biggest economies, including Germany and Italy, slipping into recession in the second half of 2018. Several major European economies, including the UK, have struggled with faltering levels of car production in recent months as factories adjust to handling new vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW scandal.

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Link to transcript of Lisa Page’s testimonies is here.

Hunting for Golem (Jim Kunstler)

As another president once remarked in a different context — LBJ speaking to a hanger full of grunts in Vietnam — “go on out there, boys, and nail that coonskin to the wall!” That was around the time the war was looking like a lost cause, with 1000 soldiers a month coming home in a box and even the Rotarians of Keokuk, Iowa, starting to doubt the official story of what exactly we thought we were doing over there. It was also, arguably, around the time America stopped being, ahem, “great” and commenced the long, nauseating slide into idiocracy and collapse. The news media has taken LBJ’s place in today’s Wile E. Coyote phase of our history, cheerleading the congressional hunt for the glittering golden scalp of You-Know-Who in the White House.

[..] The CBS 60 Minutes Show took its turn last night with a puff piece on Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), incoming chairman of the House oversight Committee, which, CBS interlocutor Steve Kroft delighted in pointing out, “can investigate any [old] thing.” And so, Rep. Cummings will be the ringmaster of this new “Greatest Show on Earth,” aimed at climaxing in an orgasmic impeachment operation. Mr. Kroft could hardly contain his glee onscreen. The facts say something a bit different about the actual reality-based Russia Collusion case, namely, that it’s been a two-year smokescreen to cover the collective ass of a rogue leadership in the Department of Justice and its step-child, the FBI, who deliberately and repeatedly broke the law in dishonestly pursuing a way to annul the 2016 election result.

It also reflects darkly on the Obama White House and its participation in all this huggermugger. Wads of information around this matter also came out in the past week — which you can be sure the news media would not touch — including congressional testimony from last July with former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, revealing that the traffic controller for the so-called Steele Dossier was one John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General at the time, and formerly then-FBI Director Robert Mueller’s chief-of-staff. Ms. Page herself characterized Mr. Carlin as “a political appointee.” Was he Mr. Mueller’s clean-up man?

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Glenn Greenwald makes a valid point comparing the Trump probe with those of Henry Wallace and George McGovern by Hoover. What he misses out on, though, is how they differ: unlike in the cases of Wallace and McGovern, the FBI is now used not just to smear a politician, but to try and oust a president.

FBI Investigation Of Trump As National Security Threat Is A Serious Danger (GG)

It is not difficult to understand what is so ominous and even tyrannical about the FBI investigating domestic political figures whose loyalties they regard as “suspicious,” and whose political career they regard as a “national security threat,” simply because those politicians express policy positions about U.S. adversaries that the FBI dislikes or regards as insufficiently belligerent. It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins. If a politician adopts policy views that are “threatening” to U.S. national security or which is unduly accommodating to America’s adversaries or “enemies,” that’s not a crime and the FBI thus has no business using its vast investigative powers against a politician who does that.

That’s why it’s so easy to see that Hoover’s investigative scrutiny of Henry Wallace, and George McGovern, and an endless array of domestic dissenters, was so anti-democratic and dangerous. If a politician adopts “threatening” policy views or is too subservient toward or accommodating of a foreign adversary, it’s the job of the American voting public or Congress in its political oversight and lawmaking role to take action, not the FBI’s job to criminalize policy differences through investigations. It should not be difficult for a rational brain free of partisan muck to see this same principle at play when it comes to the FBI’s investigation of Trump on the ground that he may be, in the eyes of FBI officials, a “national security threat.”

Even if you’re someone who hates Trump’s overtures toward Russia or even believes that they are the by-product of excessive subservience to the Kremlin, the dangers of having the FBI take on the role of investigating that rather than the political wings of the U.S. political system should be obvious – as obvious as they are in the case of Henry Wallace and George McGovern. [..] The person elected by the U.S. electorate to make foreign policy for the United States and to determine “America’s interests” was Donald Trump, not the FBI. It’s the role of elected officials in the White House and Congress, not the unelected police agents who report to them, to decide what is and is not in “America’s interests.” If Trump’s foreign policy is misguided or “threatening,” that’s a matter for the Congress and/or the American public, not the FBI.

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More so-called revelations. It’s never been a secret what Trump thinks of NATO in its present form: he thinks the US pays too much. But now the NYT presents this as some dark conspiracy story.

Like the Guardian, the New York Times has moved beyond caring about its credibility: both think there are enough people swallowing everything they get served up.

Trump Reportedly Said He Wanted To Pull The US From NATO (CNBC)

U.S. President Donald Trump privately said several times last year that he wanted to withdraw his country from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, The New York Times reported on Monday. The newspaper’s findings, which cited unnamed senior administration officials, are likely to resurface worries of a breakdown in the military alliance that was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and some European nations. Those concerns were first sparked last year when the U.S. leader hinted that he could leave the 29-member defense bloc without Congressional approval. At the time, Trump was pushing member countries to increase spending. Since then, however, the Republican has backtracked on that threat.

After a chaotic NATO meeting in July 2018, Trump claimed that allies had committed to his request and said that U.S. withdrawal from the organization would be “unnecessary.” Responding to the New York Times’ report, a White House official repeated some of Trump’s remarks from July when the president said Washington’s commitment to NATO is “very strong” and the alliance is “very important.” As the Times notes, a weakened NATO is thought to be a major geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s dislike for participation in international organizations is well known to global leaders by now. Early in his White House tenure, the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and a massive Pacific trade pact.

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If the Guardian, or another British paper, runs an entirely false story like this about you or me, we would need to raise a similar amount just to defend ourselves from such smear.

WikiLeaks Starts Suing Guardian Over Assange-Manafort Fake News Story (RT)

WikiLeaks says it has collected enough funds to file a lawsuit against the Guardian for publishing an uncorroborated story about alleged meetings between former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Julian Assange. The whistleblowing website has thanked all its supporters who contributed to its GoFundMe campaign, launched on November 27 following the publication of an article by the Guardian, which claimed that US President Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where the Australian has been holed up since 2012.

The donations have recently hit the $50,000 threshold, enabling the whistleblowing site to formally launch proceedings against the renowned British newspaper, WikiLeaks said, calling on its supporters to keep the money flowing. “Legal action will now commence (but more is required to complete),” it tweeted on Monday. When it launched the campaign, WikiLeaks set up the ambitious target of $300,000. It has so far raised $51,749. WikiLeaks seeks to challenge the Guardian in court over its source-based ‘bombshell,’ co-authored by its former Moscow correspondent Luke Harding, alleging that Manafort had traveled to London three times over four years prior to the publication of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email leaks.

The report relies on Ecuadorean intelligence sources and documents provided to the Guardian by the country’s intelligence agency. In its GoFundMe appeal, WikiLeaks suggested that the intelligence agency might have deliberately fed the British publication false information, which it was happy to take at a face value. WikiLeaks also noted that it was not the first time the Guardian put out a false story about Assange.

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Just the tip of the iceberg. Happy driving.

Antarctic Losing 500% More Ice A Year Than In 80s – NASA (Ind.)

The Antarctic ice sheet is losing six times as much ice each year as it was in the 1980s and the pace is accelerating, one of the most comprehensive studies of climate change effects on the continent has shown. More than half an inch has been added to global sea levels since 1979, but if current trends continue it will be responsible for metres more in future, the Nasa-funded study found. The international effort used aerial photos, satellite data and climate models dating back to the 1970s across18 Antarctic regions to get the most complete picture to date on the impacts of the changing climate. It found that between 1979 and 1990 Antarctica lost an average of 40 gigatonnes (40 billion tonnes) of its mass each year.

Between 2009 and 2017 it lost an average 252 gigatonnes a year. This has added 3.6mm per decade to sea levels, or around 14mm since 1979, the study shows. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” Professor Eric Rignot from University of California, Irvine and lead author of the study published in Nature Geoscience. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”

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“..the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species”..”

Wildlife: The Real Crisis At The US-Mexico Border (PI)

While debate swirls around the border wall — whether it’s immoral, whether it even works — one huge impact, while understood, is just not being discussed: The wall is already an ecological catastrophe, devastating rare and endangered species, carving up critical habitats, exacerbating flooding, even worsening climate change. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species” in America. This is tragic, as the 2,000-mile border, stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico along the Rio Grande, passes through three mountain chains, North America’s two largest deserts, and the Tijuana Estuary, a salt marsh that offers habitat for 400 species of birds.

An astonishing 25 million acres of protected public lands lies near the border on the American side, including wildlife refuges, national parks, and wilderness areas with large refuges on the Mexican side as well, all created by the long, hard work of many organizations and agencies aiming to protect land that is biologically unique and fragile. It’s a diverse area, too: A 2011 study documented 134 mammal, 178 reptile, and 57 amphibian species living in the wall region; 56 of these species that already been hurt by the wall, including five that are at risk for extinction, one the jaguarundi, a small cat.

The jaguar, that cat’s bigger cousin, is the poster child for the wall’s ecological impact. Once hunted to extinction in the U.S., jaguars in northern Mexico have been spotted moving back into Arizona. Protected both here and in Mexico, its U.S. recovery plan — written by the federal government (!) — calls for free movement of these 300-pound predators across the border. The few cats that have reclaimed their American habitat will not recover if they cannot return to Mexico to find mates.


Fernando Llano / AP

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And there’s no panic. There’s hardly any concern. The web of life is disappearing and we watch TV.

98% Of Ground Insects Vanish From Puerto Rican Rainforest In 35 Years (G.)

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished “We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.” His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.” “It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.” Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.

The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s. “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

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Jan 112019
 
 January 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Hieronymous Bosch The Haywain Triptych c.1516 (click to enlarge)

 

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)
78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)
Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)
Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)
Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)
China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)
Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)
Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)
May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)
May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)
Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)
Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)
Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

 

 

And there’s still people who claim the stock market reflects the economy.

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)

Things are coming up roses in the stock market, lately. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq Composite Index are off to their best starts to a year since 2006 after a powerful series of gains. The Dow closed up 0.5% on Thursday, pushing its year-to-date gain to 2.89%, which would mark the best first seven days to a year since 2006, when stocks burst 3.04% higher over the same period. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% on the day and has returned 3.58% thus far this year, its best start since a 3.68% gain 13 years ago, while the Nasdaq Composite booked a 0.4% gain, enough for a 5.3% year-to-date advance, representing its best seven-session to kick off a year since its 5.72% rise also in 2006.

A late-session rally helped to solidify Thursday’s gains, coming after investors digested comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who pronounced at the Economic Club in Washington on Thursday afternoon that the economy is in good health, while adding that the central bank would be cognizant of stresses to financial markets amid rate hikes. The comments were a reiteration of Powell’s remarks last week during a broad panel discussion of current and former Fed bosses that helped to placate anxious investors and reverse what was shaping up to be another dismal year.

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Why is everybody quoting a 2017 report?

78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)

The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has now stretched well into the new year. President Donald Trump said Friday that it would continue for “months or even years” until he receives the requested $5 billion in funding for a border wall. The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet.

Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80% of American workers (78%) say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81% of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75% of men. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBC that the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. “They’re scared,” he says. “They don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table.” Various #ShutdownStories making that point have gone viral on Twitter.

It’s not merely those earning low wages who are struggling. CareerBuilder reports that nearly 10% of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more live paycheck to paycheck as well. That means that many workers aren’t able to put anything significant into savings. More than 50% of respondents say that they save less than $100 per month. And a comparable 2017 survey from GOBankingRates found that 61% of Americans don’t have enough money in an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. [..] more than 70% of all respondents say that they’re in debt, and a quarter of workers say they weren’t able to make ends meet at the end of every month of the past year.

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Which his own Fed has encouraged like nobody else could.

Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is concerned about the ballooning amount of United States debt. “I’m very worried about it,” Powell said at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “From the Fed’s standpoint, we’re really looking at a business cycle length: that’s our frame of reference. The long-run fiscal, nonsustainability of the U.S. federal government isn’t really something that plays into the medium term that is relevant for our policy decisions.” However, “it’s a long-run issue that we definitely need to face, and ultimately, will have no choice but to face,” he added. The Fed chief’s comments came as the annual U.S. deficit reaches new sustained highs above $1 trillion, a fact many economists worry could spell trouble for future generations.

Annual deficits have topped $1 trillion before, but never during a time of sustained economic growth like now, raising concern about what would happen if a recession hits. Total U.S. debt is about $21.9 trillion, of which $16 trillion is owed by the public. In part because of continued rate increases under Powell, the interest cost on that debt could start to become a bigger and bigger burden. Wall Street’s “bond king” and respected financial prognosticator Jeffrey Gundlach said in December that the Fed seems to be on a “suicide mission,” raising rates while the government deficit increases as a share of GDP. Normally when the deficit is expanding, the Fed would be lowering interest rates.

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View from the MSM: Trump digs in, not the Dems.

Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has threatened again to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall without Congress’s approval. “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” he told reporters. The White House has denied reports it is looking at diverting funds set aside for reconstruction projects. A political row over funding the wall has left the US government partially shutdown for 20 days, leaving about 800,000 federal employees without pay. President Trump has refused to sign legislation to fund and reopen the government if it does not include $5.7bn for a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border.

But budget talks have come to a standstill as Democrats – who control the House of Representatives – refuse to give him the money. Republican leaders insist the party stands behind the president, although some Republican lawmakers have spoken out in favour of ending the shutdown. On Thursday, Mr Trump visited a border patrol station in McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He said that if Congress did not approve funding for the wall, he would “probably… I would almost say definitely” declare a national emergency to bypass lawmakers. But such a move is likely to face legal challenges. The money would also have to come from funds allocated by Congress for other purposes – which some Republicans would also oppose.

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Planning a huge media spectacle. Imagine all the readers and viewers… Trump keeps on giving. Bread and circuses it is.

Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)

Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and aide Michael Cohen says he has accepted an invitation from a top House Democrat to testify publicly before Congress next month. His testimony before the House oversight and reform committee on 7 February will be the first major public oversight hearing for Democrats, who have promised greater scrutiny of Trump after winning control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Cohen said in a statement: “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

The New Yorker, who is to begin a three-year prison sentence in March, is a pivotal figure in investigations by the special counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments to two women who say they had sex with Trump. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s chair, said the panel would avoid interfering with Mueller’s investigation. “We have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office,” Cummings said in a statement.

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But not to the 1.67% predicted by professor Xiang Songzuo, I’m sure.

China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)

China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6% to 6.5% in 2019 compared with last year’s target of “around” 6.5%, policy sources told Reuters, as Beijing gears up to cope with higher U.S. tariffs and weakening domestic demand. The proposed target, to be unveiled at the annual parliamentary session in March, was endorsed by top leaders at the annual closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to four sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. Data later this month is expected to show the Chinese economy grew around 6.6% in 2018 — the weakest since 1990. Analysts are forecasting a further loss of momentum this year before policy support steps begin to kick in.

“It’s very difficult for growth to exceed 6.5% (this year), and there could be trouble if growth dips below 6%,” said one source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. As the world’s second-largest economy loses steam, China’s top leaders are closely watching employment levels as factories could be forced to shed workers amid a trade war with the United States, despite a more resilient services sector, policy insiders said. Growth of about 6.2% is needed in the next two years to meet the ruling Communist Party’s longstanding goal of doubling gross domestic product and incomes in the decade to 2020, and to turn China into a “modestly prosperous” nation. [..] Local governments could be allowed to issue up to 2 trillion yuan worth of special bonds in 2019, up from 1.35 trillion yuan last year, they said.

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Goldman Sachs to the -image- rescue.

Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)

Last week, Apple published a letter to shareholders revising down its expected revenues for the first quarter of 2019, citing an economic slowdown in China, which has become an increasingly important market for iPhone, Mac, and iPad sales. Though tech industry analysts are debating whether internal dynamics at Apple might also explain the change, the company’s new guidance nonetheless adds to the evidence that Chinese consumption is slowing. A sustained decline in Chinese consumption would be even more worrying than the current US-China trade dispute.

Given that US trade policies and other external influences should not have much effect on domestic Chinese spending, the problem may be more deeply rooted in China’s economic model. To understand what is at stake, consider all that has changed just within the past decade. At the end of 2010, domestic consumption accounted for around 35.6% of Chinese GDP, according to official Chinese data. That was remarkably low compared to most other economies, not least the US, where consumption accounted for almost 70% of GDP. In nominal dollar terms, China’s domestic consumption thus was around $2.2tn, or almost five times lower than that of the US ($10.5tn).

Yet China’s high overall growth rate meant that Chinese consumers could potentially play a much larger role, with far-reaching benefits for global brands such as Apple, BMW, Burberry, Ford, and many others. As of 2017, Chinese consumption as a share of GDP had risen to 39.1%, representing just over $5tn in nominal dollar terms. That is an increase of almost $3tn in just seven years. And though Chinese consumer spending still lagged far behind that of the US ($13.5tn in 2017), the gap has narrowed. If China were to continue on the same trajectory in terms of nominal GDP growth and domestic consumption, its consumer spending could increase by another $2tn by 2020, putting it at around half that of the US. Chinese consumers would be more relevant to the global economy than anyone except Americans.

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From time to time you wonder what’s more hysterical, the Brexit mayhem or the UK’s fabricated Russophobia. This is pretty unbelievable, but it’s become normal.

Layla Moran is a Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)

For all the farcical invoking of Blitz spirit, Brexit isn’t merely an absurdist experiment in English nationalist nostalgia – it is the most audacious example yet of a futuristic Russian nationalism that seeks to divide and rule Europe. If we can be judged by our friends then Brexit has no stauncher ally than Vladimir Putin. After all, Donald Trump has proved unreliable. But Putin? It is hard to think of anyone who has done more for the cause (and that is not to take anything away from the years of Brexit monologues by Tory MP Bill Cash). Russian bot farms have been exposed as having supported the Leave campaign. This comes on top of allegations of iffy Russian money funding Brexit campaigns, and Arron Banks’ almost comical inability to explain his donations to Leave.

Comical, that is, if his scarcely thought through Brexit wasn’t driving Britain to what Hilary Clinton has called the single biggest act of deliberate self-harm a nation has ever committed. As if Russian interference in the original referendum was not shocking enough, it is still going on. The Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War might have relegated Russian involvement to the briefest postscript, but in reality Putin is still in the trenches fighting for a hard Brexit. At a recent press conference Putin attacked the idea of a referendum on the deal, claiming the original result should be respected. Oh, the irony! Putin, the arch kleptocrat, giving advice on democracy. “Don’t steal Brexit,” he seemed to demand, while probably stealing (sorry, being gifted) another superyacht.

It should have been sufficiently chilling to make even Boris Johnson pause for thought. And all while using the Brexiteer message script of delivering the will of the people. As any student of Russian history could tell you, “the people” are often invoked by the Kremlin, including when justifying the mass murder of innocent people. But rarely does the Kremlin actually ask “the people” for anything so radical as an opinion. For Putin, “the people” are to be manipulated and even killed for his own ends. And Putin’s ends are clear. He wants a weak and divided EU. Ultimately, he seeks to break it up, with the Eastern bloc – brought into the European fold by Margaret Thatcher’s single market – dragged back into the lair of the Russian bear.

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And why not? If all else fails, scare them.

May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)

The former head of MI6 has warned Theresa May’s Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country”, in a call for Tory MPs to reject it. The agreement would “place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands”, claims Sir Richard Dearlove, in an extraordinary letter to Conservative associations. It has also been signed by Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, in a bid to stiffen grassroots resistance, ahead of next Tuesday’s vote.= Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie, who are both prominent Leave supporters, write: “Please ensure that your MP votes against this bad agreement.” The prime minister, a former home secretary, has insisted her agreement would protect national security by retaining existing cooperation arrangements during the 21-month transition.

However, she was forced to acknowledge the UK was likely to lose direct access to vital EU security databases after 2012, under the proposed long-term arrangements. In their letter, the ex-security chiefs argue the deal is dangerous because it would weaken membership of Nato and existing “close” defence and intelligence ties with the US. “This withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways,” it says. Downing Street hit back immediately, insisting the letter was “completely wrong” and that the Brexit deal offered the broadest security agreement the EU has with any of its partners. But both sides of the Brexit divide seized on the intervention, arch-Brexiteer Owen Paterson calling it a “devastating warning”.

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After Tuesday all bets are off.

May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has called the leaders of Britain’s biggest unions for the first time since becoming prime minister in a desperate bid to find backing for her Brexit deal. The calls to Unite leader Len McCluskey and the GMB’s Tim Roache – whose unions are Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest financial backers – mark just how far she is being forced to go in the hope of finding support for the deal expected to be rejected by MPs next week. She was scorned by second referendum-backing Mr Roache, who joked after his call that he was “glad the prime minister finally picked up the phone”. The unprecedented move came as she also sought to convince Labour MPs to back her by promising new commitments to maintain workers’ rights in line with EU standards after Brexit.

But expectations that she is heading for a heavy defeat on Tuesday simply grew further, with some estimates suggesting that opposition has actually grown since she delayed the vote on her deal in December. Capitalising on the deep Tory divisions, Mr Corbyn instead invited Conservative MPs to back a motion of no confidence in the government which he is promising to table if Ms May’s plans are defeated. Downing Street confirmed the calls to Mr Roache, whose union has 620,000 members, and Mr McCluskey, representing more than 1.4 million, and admitted it was the first time she had spoken to either of them since her arrival at No 10. The Independent understands the prime minister also attempted to call Dave Prentis, leader of Unison which also has some 1.4 million members, but could not get through because Mr Prentis was travelling.

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Click here for the original Hill article.

US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)

A retired general and chief of staff has warned that the US’ missile defense systems are “simply incapable” of stopping the latest generation of Russian hypersonic missiles – some of which fly at 27 times the speed of sound. Now retired, Maj. Gen. Howard ‘Dallas’ Thompson was once Chief of Staff at US Northern Command in Ohio. In a column published by The Hill on Thursday, Thompson argues that military leaders have neglected to develop proper defenses against the hypersonic threat. There have been some calls for the US to pursue hypersonic weapons in defense policy circles, but America has lagged behind China – which conducted more tests in the last year than the US has is a decade – and Russia, which successfully tested such a missile in December. The ‘Avangard’ missile flew at Mach 27, and will be deployed in 2019.

At present, the US Missile Defense Agency’s sensors and radars are designed for one purpose: to counter an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fired by an adversary like Iran or North Korea. ICBMs have a predictable flight path, and the US’ Patriot and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries stand a reasonable chance of intercepting and destroying any incoming missiles. Not so with hypersonics. Missiles like ‘Avangard’ fly low and fast, evading radar detection. They can also engage in evasive maneuvers to dodge surface-to-air rockets or missiles, further lowering the chances of a successful interception.

“The stark reality is that our current missile defense systems, as well as our operational mindset, are simply incapable versus this threat,” Thompson wrote. The retired General’s words are backed up by a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which concluded that there are “no existing countermeasures” against the threat. Thompson claims that a massive collaborative program between the Department of Defense and arms companies is needed to counter Russian and Chinese advances. “Countering this threat will require U.S. investment in an extensive defensive architecture,” he wrote. “…a highly robust ‘family of systems’ that nonetheless must be envisioned, designed, developed and deployed in a completely holistic manner.”

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800 bases, of which 300 are unreported?!

Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)

Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases. Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries.

A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.

[..] According to David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine

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The reporting on the issue seems broken.

Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)

The oceans are warming faster than previously estimated, setting a new temperature record in 2018 in a trend that is damaging marine life, scientists said on Thursday. New measurements, aided by an international network of 3,900 floats deployed in the oceans since 2000, showed more warming since 1971 than calculated by the latest U.N. assessment of climate change in 2013, they said. And “observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating,” the authors in China and the United States wrote in the journal Science of ocean waters down to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Man-made greenhouse gas emissions are warming the atmosphere, according to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and a large part of the heat gets absorbed by the oceans.

That in turn is forcing fish to flee to cooler waters. “Global warming is here, and has major consequences already. There is no doubt, none!” the authors wrote in a statement. Almost 200 nations plan to phase out fossil fuels this century under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit warming. [..] Data due for publication next week will show “2018 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean, surpassing 2017,” said lead author Lijing Cheng, of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He told Reuters that records for ocean warming had been broken almost yearly since 2000. Overall, temperatures in the ocean down to 2,000 metres rose about 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18F) from 1971-2010, he said.

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Another issue on which reporting seems broken. We’re not getting anywhere.

Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

I last visited Assange in March, days before the Ecuadorians placed the award-winning journalist in isolation for allegedly violating a draconian ban on all public political comments. [..] In order to visit the publisher last year, I simply organized it with him and his lawyer and went. This time I was required to provide details about my social media, my employer, and my reason for visiting in advance of my arrival and hope to be approved. If I wanted to bring my cell phone, I would have had to provide the brand, model, serial number, IMEI number and telephone number. Providing these details to a foreign nation with extreme surveillance seemed unwise, so I left it behind.

[..] Currently, Assange cannot even have a simple visit with a friend without it being monitored by some shadowy state actor. It’s like a scene from the Stasi spy drama The Lives of Others. While Ecuador presents this surveillance operation as a mission to “protect and support” Assange, this is contradicted by the fact that he isn’t even allowed to confidentially speak with a reporter and friend without being recorded. In May, the Guardian reported that there are “extraordinary reports” from these spies that include daily logs of Assange’s activities inside the embassy, even noting his “general mood.”

As John Pilger pointed out after his visit with Assange on New Year’s Eve, it could be any newspaper publisher or editor stuck in that embassy. For the crime of publishing journalism, Assange has not only had to give up his freedom, but also any semblance of privacy. It’s impossible to overstate how unsettling it feels to have multiple lenses pointed at you wherever you stand. Unable to speak privately, even with a noise machine attempting to muffle the microphones from picking up conversations, we resorted to passing notes. Assange is not only barred from sharing his views online under the new regulations — thanks to the constant surveillance, he can’t even do so among his friends in the embassy where he is arbitrarily detained.

If we value the principle of the freedom of speech — we must do something to stop this madness. While we do not know what Assange has been charged with by the U.S. as it remains under seal, we do know that it is related to his work as a publisher, the only publisher with a record of 100% accuracy. His dedication to truth is so profound that he has never once had to issue a correction or retraction.

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Jan 102019
 


René Magritte The menaced assassin 1927

 

‘Total Waste Of Time’: Trump Walks Out Of Shutdown Talks With Democrats (RT)
Fed May Be Open To Changes To Balance Sheet Plan (R.)
China Still Borrows Billions In Low-Cost Loans From World Bank (CNBC)
Germany Probably Just Went Into A Recession (BI)
Yellow Vests Hope To Trigger Bank Run With Financial Protest (RT)
Salvini Suggests ‘European Spring’ To Bring End To ‘German-French Axis’ (RT)
MPs Push For Final Say Referendum As May Suffers Stunning Commons Defeat (Ind.)
May Loses Grip On Brexit Deal After Fresh Commons Humiliation (G.)
Theresa May Offers Tory Rebels Fresh Compromise Likely To Anger EU (Ind.)
Hunger In UK ‘Significant And Growing’ (Ind.)
Dark Overlord Hackers Leak More 9/11 Docs (RT)
Lonely George The Tree Snail Dies, And A Species Goes Extinct (NatGeo)

 

 

The longer it takes, the deeper the heels are dug in.

‘Total Waste Of Time’: Trump Walks Out Of Shutdown Talks With Democrats (RT)

President Donald Trump walked out of the negotiations with congressional Democrats, declaring it a “total waste of time” after they repeated their refusal to fund any sort of wall on the border with Mexico. “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California). “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!” After the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi denounced Trump for refusing to reopen the government, just as they had the previous evening.

“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday. Federal workers are “as disappointed as we are that Democrats are unwilling to engage in good-faith negotiations,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters after the meeting. The US government has been partially shut down for almost 19 days, after Senate Democrats refused to back a Republican-majority House bill that would allocate $5.7 billion to building the border wall. Democrats took over the House on January 3, and have proposed bills to reopen the government, but have rejected any funding to the wall, ever, calling it “immoral.”

“This is a crisis… it is a humanitarian crisis, it is a security crisis,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “And the reality is that walls work.” Some 800,000 federal workers will soon miss their first paycheck, and each sides has accused the other of ignoring their needs and interests. Prior to the meeting, Trump said he would be willing to declare a national emergency if the talks with Democrats failed. Asked by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl if he would be willing to reopen the government for the sake of federal workers, Trump asked him if he would do so in his place. “If you would do that, you should never be in this position, because you’d never get anything done,” the president said.

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First the rates, now a full 180º?!

Fed May Be Open To Changes To Balance Sheet Plan (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers have indicated they may be open to tweaking a longstanding plan to shrink the central bank’s balance sheet, including by shedding housing-backed bonds earlier than anticipated or keeping a bigger-than-expected portfolio of assets. Those were among a range of options discussed at the Fed’s December meeting, minutes released on Wednesday showed. The discussion will continue at future meetings, the minutes said. JP Morgan chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli, writing in a note to investors, described the debate as informal “spitballing.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell himself said in December that shrinking the balance sheet was on “automatic pilot.”

But the discussion shows that the future of the plan may be in flux as policymakers become increasingly nervous about potential kinks in their control over short-term interest rates. The Fed for years bought bonds to stimulate a moribund economy, eventually accumulating a $4.5 trillion balance sheet, but began reversing course in 2013, first by slowing its bond-purchases and then, in 2017, allowing the portfolio to shrink. The Fed is now trimming its holdings by $50 billion each month, an amount intended to reduce the portfolio to a more “normal” size over a number of years without putting too much pressure on the Fed’s short-term policy rate. It has now shed more than $380 billion worth of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage bonds. But reserves are declining at a much faster rate, dropping to $1.51 trillion at the end of 2018, from a 2014 peak of more than $2.7 trillion.

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Very timely given my essay yesterday, China Won’t Be Taking Over:

“..tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.

China Still Borrows Billions In Low-Cost Loans From World Bank (CNBC)

China is borrowing billions of dollars each year from the World Bank, despite its position as the world’s second-largest economy, according to a study released Thursday. The Center for Global Development found that the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loaned China an average of $2 billion a year, totaling more than $7.8 billion, since the country surpassed the bank’s income threshold for lending in 2016. The IBRD lends to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries. It uses resources from those loans to help boost poorer countries. But tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.

The administration of U.S President Donald Trump has been critical of lending to China that squeezes out loans to other countries. But cutting off China from World Bank funding could remove a useful tool to influence policy. “If we want China to be a more responsible lender in the world, then let’s use the World Bank to help them along with that,” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and lead author of the study. The study looked at the type of loans granted to China and found that $3 billion, or about 38 percent of the total, went to things that provide benefits beyond China’s border, such as pollution controls and green infrastructure projects.

[..] Some lawmakers want China reined in. “We must end the World Bank’s lending to China, especially at a time when Beijing itself is saddling developing countries with predatory debt on unfair terms. Growing the Chinese economy is not the World Bank’s job,” said Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a member of the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

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There was a time when Business Insider wouldn’t have posted such flimsy articles.

Germany Probably Just Went Into A Recession (BI)

German industry went into a sudden and unexpected collapse in November. The data is so bad some economists think it might be wrong. Germany may be in recession, economists said, after they trawled through an unexpectedly horrible set of industrial and manufacturing data published on Wednesday’s from the world’s fourth-largest economy. • German industrial production fell by -1.9% in November. • Year over year, production hit a low of -4.6% – the biggest trough since the 2008 crisis. • Germany’s exports fell -0.4% month over month in November, the government reported today. Suddenly, Europe is faltering.

Germany is the largest European economy and its leaders have an outsized influence on the rest of the EU and the European Central Bank. A recession in Germany could easily drag down France and Italy – and the latter country is already likely in a recession of its own. Greece is still struggling to recover from its debt crisis and neighbouring Turkey also dropped into a steep recession, triggered by the devaluation of its currency.

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Let’s see Macron counter this one. Is he going to close the ATMs? The banks?

Yellow Vests Hope To Trigger Bank Run With Financial Protest (RT)

Yellow Vest protesters are hoping to trigger a bank run with a nationwide coordinated cash withdrawal. By threatening the French financial system, protesters say, they want to peacefully force the government to pass their reforms. “If the banks weaken, the state weakens immediately,” said Yellow Vest “sympathizer” Tahz San on Facebook. “It’s elected officials’ worst nightmare.” Protesters plan to empty their bank accounts on Saturday, withdrawing as much money as possible in a bid to undermine the French banks – if not the euro itself. The plan is to “scare the state legally and without violence,” forcing the government to adopt the movement’s Citizens’ Referendum Initiative, which would allow citizens to propose and vote on new laws.

“We are going to get our bread back…you’re making money with our dough, and we’re fed up,” said protester Maxime Nicolle in a video message shared on YouTube. A well-coordinated financial action has the potential to bring the French banking system – and by extension the euro – to its knees, as banks always hold only a fraction of the funds the country’s citizens have in their accounts. However, most banks limit ATM withdrawals to a relatively low amount, meaning protesters would have to line up inside the banks to withdraw the rest of their money, giving the state plenty of time to place restrictions on withdrawals – though this would, no doubt, spark further protest.

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There will be a huge shift in power after the European Elections this spring.

Salvini Suggests ‘European Spring’ To Bring End To ‘German-French Axis’ (RT)

Italy’s Euroskeptic deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he wants Italy and Poland to join together to create a “European Spring” which could end the long-standing French and German domination on the continent. Speaking during a press conference with Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski in Warsaw on Wednesday, Salvini said that Poland and Italy “will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values” which would create a “new equilibrium” where the dominance of France and Germany is diminished. The leader of the Northern League party said that upcoming European parliamentary elections, set for May, could lead away from a Europe “that is run by bureaucrats.”

Salvini, who is aiming to forge alliances with other Eurosceptic parties across Europe ahead of the elections, was in Warsaw for meetings with members of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which shares a similar anti-immigration and anti-Brussels ideology. At the meeting, Brudzinski also praised Salvini’s immigration policy and his decision to close Italian ports to migrant boats, saying that Poland was also committed to “strengthening borders.” At a press conference with France’s right-wing National Rally leader Marine Le Pen in October, Salvini promised a new era of “common sense” was coming to Europe with the rise of nationalist parties. Salvini’s Northern League formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in June last year.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio has also been seeking to make friends with other anti-establishment parties across the continent, holding meetings with a number of party leaders from Poland, Croatia and Finland who share similar values. Earlier this week, Salvini and Di Maio were embroiled in a public feud with French government officials after they threw their support behind France’s Yellow Vest anti-government protest movement. On his public blog, Di Maio urged demonstrators “not to weaken,” and said he planned to meet with some of the activists in the coming days, while Salvini accused French President Emmanuel Macron of being “against his people.” France’s Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, shot back, telling the Italian duo to “sweep their own doorstep” before commenting on French affairs.

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“…even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…”

MPs Push For Final Say Referendum As May Suffers Stunning Commons Defeat (Ind.)

MPs are weighing up how quickly to launch a bid for a fresh referendum on Brexit, after inflicting a stunning defeat on Theresa May which cleared the way for a Commons vote. Another Conservative revolt will force the prime minister to present her “plan B” within just three working days of what seems certain to be a heavy defeat of her proposed deal next Tuesday. The victory torpedoed Ms May’s apparent plan to force MPs to vote multiple times on that deal, while “running down the clock” to the threat of crashing out of the EU with no agreement, as the feared alternative. It triggered chaotic scenes in the Commons, as furious Brexiteers accused John Bercow, the Commons speaker, of blatant bias in allowing the vote, against legal advice.

The government must now table a motion, setting out what it plans to do if it loses on Tuesday, by 21 January – which, crucially, could be amended to allow parliament to “take back control”, as one senior Tory put it. Supporters of a Final Say referendum are weighing up whether to go for the kill immediately, or wait until after Jeremy Corbyn has, finally, set out Labour’s position. All eyes will be on the Labour leader, amid a growing expectation he will table a vote of no confidence in the government next week, to try to force a general election. That is likely to fail, piling enormous pressure on Mr Corbyn to then back a fresh referendum – without which a Commons majority for a public vote is unlikely.

[..] by 21 January, there may still be no Commons majority for any alternative to Ms May’s doomed plan, whether a referendum, extending Article 50, or the soft Brexit “Norway option”. Furthermore, even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…

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After next Tuesday the gloves really come off.

May Loses Grip On Brexit Deal After Fresh Commons Humiliation (G.)

Theresa May’s room for manoeuvre should her Brexit deal be rejected next week was further constrained on Wednesday night, after the government lost a second dramatic parliamentary showdown in as many days. An increasingly boxed-in prime minister must now set out her plan B within three working days of a defeat next Tuesday, after the rebel amendment passed. There were furious scenes in the House of Commons as the Speaker, John Bercow, took the controversial decision to allow a vote on the amendment, tabled by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve. A string of MPs, including the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, repeatedly intervened to question the Speaker’s approach. Some accused him of being biased against Brexit.

But parliament went on to back Grieve as the prime minister was defied by Conservative rebels determined to hand control of the Brexit process to MPs if next week’s vote is lost. The fresh defeat, which followed a separate backbench amendment to the finance bill on Tuesday, means the government will have to return to parliament swiftly with a plan. An accelerated timetable will also pile the pressure on Labour to move quickly. The motion setting out the government’s plan can be amended by MPs hoping to push their own alternative proposals, from a second referendum to a harder Brexit.

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One desperate woman. She now offers to break the deal she has with the EU. Then there’ll be nothing left.

Theresa May Offers Tory Rebels Fresh Compromise Likely To Anger EU (Ind.)

Theresa May is on a fresh collision course with Brussels after the government said it would give MPs the chance to override a key part of the exit deal agreed with the European Union. In a new bid to win over Tory rebels, ministers announced they would support moves to ensure parliament is given a vote in 2020 on whether or not to enter the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. That could see MPs vote to block the UK entering the backstop, even though it would be legally bound to do so under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The government said on Wednesday that it will accept an amendment tabled by former Tory minister Sir Hugo Swire.

The motion says that if no trade deal with the EU is in place by 2020 ministers must hold a vote in parliament on whether or not to enter the backstop, and must limit the UK’s participation in the mechanism to one year. Both appear to contradict the terms of the withdrawal agreement with Brussels, which states that the backstop is the default option if a deal on the future relationship is not in place by the end of 2020 and says that this will apply indefinitely.

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“..call for the appointment of a “Minister for Hunger”..”

Hunger In UK ‘Significant And Growing’ (Ind.)

The government has been accused of presiding over “significant and growing” hunger as a report warns that one in five children in the UK live in homes that are severely food insecure – making it the worst for child hunger in Europe. A combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and the rollout of universal credit has led to a steady rise in food insecurity – yet ministers have allowed the issue to “fall between the cracks”, according to a report by the Environmental Audit Committee. In a damning indictment of the welfare system, the MPs accuse the government of being “silent” on food insecurity in its obesity strategy, and call for the appointment of a “minister for hunger” to ensure cross-departmental action on the issue.

The report cites figures showing that 2.2 million people in Britain are severely food insecure – the highest reported level in Europe. This indicates that the UK is responsible for one in five of all severely food insecure people on the continent. Recent data published by Unicef shows one in five youngsters under 15 now live in a food insecure home – which the committee described as a “scandal that cannot be allowed to continue”. It comes after Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in the UK, and that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

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Becoming a weird story, fast.

Dark Overlord Hackers Leak More 9/11 Docs (RT)

The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for a second batch of 9/11 documents, totalling over 7,500 files. Additional document leaks containing “more secrets” and “more truth” have been promised, for a price. The first batch of the supposed 18,000 documents was made available by the hackers at the weekend, along with a decryption key for ‘layer 1’ of the dump. The documents are believed to have been stolen from insurance companies, law firms and government agencies, and the hackers originally demanded an unspecified bitcoin ransom to keep them unreleased. After apparently failing to secure the ransom, the group then took bitcoin donations from the public, releasing ‘layer 1’ after collecting $12,000 – but then also releasing ‘layer 2’ on Wednesday despite not meeting its funding target.

So far, no ‘smoking gun’ has emerged detailing conspiracy or government involvement in the terrorist attacks. Instead, the documents build up a picture of insurance litigators brainstorming to see who they could sue for damages in the wake of the attacks. In emails, the lawyers discuss targeting the airlines, airplane manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Authority, the terrorists themselves, and foreign entities. Talking strategy, the lawyers mull taking action against Boeing for not fitting the 757 and 767 aircraft used in the attacks with automatic transponders, which could have alerted authorities sooner that something was amiss, a case that the lawyers admit in the documents was flimsy. The lawyers also discuss dropping a case against the FAA, for fear of rankling the government.

[..] The hacker group has promised three more layers of documents to come, if its price is met. The latest leak was accompanied with the message: “Continue to keep the bitcoins flowing, and we’ll continue to keep the truth flowing.” The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.” [..] The group may have a hard time paying its members if the latest ransom demands are not met, however. Cyberscoop reported on Tuesday that the group was posting recruitment ads on dark web forums in November, looking to hire four skilled cybercriminals. New employees were reportedly promised 50,000 pounds ($63,500) monthly, bumped up to 70,000 pounds ($89,000) after two years’ service.

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Life cannot exist in a vacuum. We either respect it all, or none of it.

“They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’.”

Lonely George The Tree Snail Dies, And A Species Goes Extinct (NatGeo)

George, a Hawaiian tree snail—and the last known member of the species Achatinella apexfulva—died on New Year’s Day. He was 14, which is quite old for a snail of his kind. George was born in a captive breeding facility at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the early 2000s, and soon after, the rest of his kin died. That’s when he got his name—after Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise who was also the last of his kind. For over a decade, researchers searched in vain for another member of the species for George to mate with, to no avail. (Though these snails are hermaphrodites, two adults must mate to produce offspring, and researchers refer to George as a “he.”)


Photograph Courtesy Aaron K. Yoshino, Honolulu Magazine

“I’m sad, but really, I’m more angry because this was such a special species, and so few people knew about it,” says Rebecca Rundell, an evolutionary biologist with State University of New York who used to help care for George and his kin. Throughout his life, George was a public face for the struggles facing Hawaiian land snails. His death highlights both the vast diversity of indigenous snails—and their desperate plight. “I know it’s just a snail, but it represents a lot more,” says David Sischo, a wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and coordinator of the Snail Extinction Prevention Program.

[..] In some ways, these snails are more like mammals or birds than other invertebrates: They regularly live well into their teens, take five or more years to reach sexual maturity, and give birth to less than ten offspring per year. They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’. (It’s not clear why since they aren’t known to make audible noises.) [..] Land snails and slugs represent about 40 percent of the known animal extinctions since 1500, more likely disappeared before becoming known to science …


Snails in the Achatinellinae family live on multiple Pacific islands, but are most diverse in Hawaii. Like many snails they face serious threats, particularly invasive predators, and hundreds of species have already gone extinct. Photographs Courtesy David Sischo, Hawaii Department Of Land And Natural Resources

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Jan 052019
 
 January 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Alfred Sisley A Village Street in Winter 1893

 

Dow Up 700 Points As Powell Says Fed Will Be Patient With Rate Hikes (CNBC)
US Gains 312,000 Jobs, Shatters Wall Street Forecasts (MW)
Fed’s Mester: Rates Near Neutral Mean Fed Can ‘Take Our Time’ (R.)
Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion (WS)
Trump Threatens ‘National Emergency’ Over Wall (BBC)
Mueller Given More Time To Investigate Trump Collusion With Russia (Ind.)
China’s Faltering Economy Gives US Stronger Hand In Trade Talks – Trump (R.)
China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Ratios By 1% As Economy Slows (R.)
“Radical” Ocasio-Cortez Teases 70% Tax On Super Wealthy (ZH)
Lima Group Countries Say Won’t Recognize New Maduro Mandate (AFP)
US Senator: Turkey Must Choose Between US Jets and Russian Missiles (K.)
Europe’s Right Wing Takes Aim at the EU (Spiegel)

 

 

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Jesse Colombo shared this graph, saying the green bar at the far right depicts what happened yesterday.

Dow Up 700 Points As Powell Says Fed Will Be Patient With Rate Hikes (CNBC)

Stocks rallied on Friday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be patient in raising rates, quelling fears of tighter monetary policy in the near future. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 700 as Boeing, UnitedHealth and 3M outperformed. The S&P 500 rallied 3.2 percent, with the tech sector gaining more than 4 percent. The Nasdaq Composite climbed 4.1 percent. “As always, there is no preset path for policy,” Powell said.

“And particularly with muted inflation readings that we’ve seen coming in, we will be patient as we watch to see how the economy evolves.” Powell also said the central bank would not “hesitate” to change its balance-sheet reduction plan if it was causing problems. Fears that the Fed may be making a policy error by tightening too fast have contributed to the recent skittishness in financial markets, according to several market experts.

“I think he did what the market hoped he would do,” said Tom Essaye, founder of The Sevens Report. “What he did with these comments is he acknowledged that they need to be more flexible.” “This is worth a bounce, but at the same time, the major issues facing the market are not resolved. We have a potential earnings problem in this market; we have a potential economic growth problem in this market,” Essaye added. “Today’s rally is more a result of the overextended downside from yesterday.”

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Big number, but apparently not high quality.

US Gains 312,000 Jobs, Shatters Wall Street Forecasts (MW)

The U.S. gained 312,000 new jobs in December, capping off the biggest increase in hiring in three years and showing that second longest economic expansion in U.S. history still has plenty of staying power despite growing worries about a slowdown. The surge in hiring was the largest since February. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a 182,000 increase. Hiring in November and October was also stronger than originally reported, the government said Friday. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 3.9% from a 49-year low of 3.7%. The percentage of working-age Americans in the labor force climbed to a one-and-a-half-year high as more people looked for jobs. That’s usually seen as a good sign since it means people think work is easier to find.

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That whole neutral rate thing is just made up by a bunch of academics.

Fed’s Mester: Rates Near Neutral Mean Fed Can ‘Take Our Time’ (R.)

From rising wages to a slowdown in housing, economic evidence is mounting that the U.S. Federal Reserve is at or near a neutral level of interest rates where it can take stock of where the economy stands before deciding on its next moves, Cleveland Federal Reserve president Loretta Mester said on Friday. The comments from a usually hawkish reserve bank president, made in an interview on the sidelines of the American Economic Association annual meeting, add to the sense that the roughly quarterly pace of rate hikes enacted by the Fed for the past two years may take a pause this year absent a surprise jump in inflation or faster-than-expected economic growth.

“We are in a new world,” Mester said, where the obvious need to raise rates has given way to a situation where economic growth is expected to slow, wages are rising on the basis of low unemployment, interest rate sensitive sectors of the economy like housing have ebbed, and the unemployment rate has roughly “stabilized” at a low level. Taken together, Mester said, those are the sorts of developments one would expect in an economy where interest rates were near a neutral level that was neither encouraging nor holding back economic activity. “We really need to be looking at the data and having the economy tell us, do we need to move more? Do we need to move more, faster? Can we wait?” Mester said. “We should take our time and assess….We may be where we need to be.” Overall, she said she felt the Fed was in a “really good spot.”

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Powell can walk back the rates, but he can’t just re-purchase this half trillion in assets. And the ECB and BoJ are leaving the game as well.

Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion (WS)

The Fed started the QE unwind in October 2017. As I covered it on a monthly basis, my ruminations on how it would unwind part of the asset-price inflation and Bernanke’s “wealth effect” that had resulted from QE were frequently pooh-poohed. They said that the truly glacial pace of the QE unwind was too slow to make any difference; that QE had just been a “book-keeping entry,” and that therefore the QE unwind would also be just a book-keeping entry; that QE had never caused any kind of asset price inflation in the first place, and that therefore the QE unwind would not reverse that asset-price inflation, or whatever. But in October last year, when all kinds of markets started reversing this asset price inflation, suddenly, the QE unwind got blamed, and the Fed – particularly Fed Chairman Jerome Powell – has been put under intense pressure to cut it out. Yet it continues:

The Fed shed $28 billion in assets over the four weekly balance-sheet periods of December. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,058 billion, the lowest since January 08, 2014, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended January 3. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $402 billion. According to the Fed’s plan released when the QE unwind was introduced, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month – now that the QE unwind has reached cruising speed – for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month. [..] Over the four weeks from December 6 through January 3, the Fed’s holdings of Treasury securities fell by $18 billion to $2,223 billion, the lowest since January 15, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $243 billion in Treasury securities:

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Both sides think they are winning this one.

Trump Threatens ‘National Emergency’ Over Wall (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has said he could declare a national emergency to build a US-Mexico border wall without the approval of Congress. It came after he met senior Democrats, who refused his requests for funding. The stand-off has seen Mr Trump withhold support for a bill to fully fund the government until he gets money for the border wall. He said he was prepared for the partial government shutdown – now in its third week – to last years. Around 800,000 federal workers have been without pay since 22 December. Trump aides and lawmakers will meet later on Saturday in a fresh bid to resolve the impasse.

The Republican president initially gave a positive account of the 90-minute meeting at the White House, describing it as “very productive”. But when asked whether he had considered using emergency presidential powers to bypass congressional approval of funding, Mr Trump said he had. “I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. That’s another way of doing it.” “I’m very proud of doing what I’m doing,” the president added. “I don’t call it a shutdown, I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and safety of our country.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday’s meeting had been “contentious”, while Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “We told the president we needed the government open. He resisted.”

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Pretty crazy, even if not unexpected.

Trump on Twitter: “How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong (no Collusion with Russia, it was the Dems that Colluded), had the most successful first two years of any president, and is the most popular Republican in party history 93%?”

Mueller Given More Time To Investigate Trump Collusion With Russia (Ind.)

Robert Mueller has been given additional time to carry out his investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. In a development that may surprise those who have suggested the special counsel’s work was drawing to a close, a judge in Washington DC granted a six-month extension to the grand jury being used to examine evidence. The jury had been impanelled in July 2017 for a standard 18-month term and was set to expire this week. The extension granted by federal judge Beryl Howell means the investigation will continue for some time yet. AP said federal criminal procedure rules allow such extensions when a judge determines it is in the public interest. The extension can only last up to six months.

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High level trade talks next week. Time for China to show some flexibility.

China’s Faltering Economy Gives US Stronger Hand In Trade Talks – Trump (R.)

Donald Trump has said China’s weakening economic growth puts the United States in a strong position as negotiators from the world’s two largest economies prepare for trade talks on Monday. US officials are heading to Beijing this weekend for the first face-to-face talks since Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping, agreed in December to a 90-day truce in the trade war as they sought to strike a deal. “I think we will make a deal with China,” Trump told reporters at the White House after a meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers about the US government shutdown. “I really think they want to. I think they sort of have to.” Beijing on Friday cut bank reserve requirements for a fifth time this year amid slowing growth at home and the punishing US tariffs on exports.

“China’s not doing well now. And it puts us in a very strong position. We are doing very well,” Trump said. “I hope we’re going to make a deal with China. And if we don’t, they’re paying us tens of billions of dollars worth of tariffs – not the worst thing in the world.” [..] The president also downplayed the effects of the economic woes on Apple, which this week blamed slowing iPhone sales in China for a rare reduction in its quarterly sales forecast. When asked if he was concerned about Apple’s revenue cut and share price drop, Trump said: “No, I’m not. I mean look, they’ve gone up a lot.”

Shares of Apple rebounded on Friday after a 10% nosedive on Thursday on the revenue warning. The shares closed at $148.26 on Friday, down about 5.1% for the week. For the 2018 full year, Apple shares fell 7%, although they are up about 24% since Trump took office in January 2017. “They’re going to be fine. Apple is a great company,” Trump said, adding he had repeated his advice to Apple boss Tim Cook to build his company’s products in the United States. “Apple makes its product in China. China is the biggest beneficiary of Apple, more than us, because they build their product mostly in China,” Trump said. “I want Apple to make their iPhones and all of the great things that they make in the United States. And that’ll take place.”

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RRRs are still quite high, true enough. But they’re merely a reflection on the risks inherent in these banks.

China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Ratios By 1% As Economy Slows (R.)

China’s central bank said on Friday it was cutting the ratio of cash that banks must hold as reserves by 100 basis points (bps), or 1 percent, as it looks to reduce the risk of a sharper slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy. The cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) is the first in 2019 and the fifth in a year by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) as the economy faces its weakest growth since the global financial crisis and mounting pressure from U.S. tariffs. The reduction is being made in two equal stages, effective Jan. 15 and Jan. 25, the PBOC said. The reserve requirement ratios (RRRs) are currently 14.5 percent for large banks and 12.5 percent for smaller banks. Further cuts in the RRR had been widely expected this year, especially after a spate of weak data in recent months showed China’s economy was continuing to lose steam. The size of the move was on the upper end of market expectations.

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Ocasio fills a void that no other Democrat -at least not incumbent- fits in. That is very similar to what happened with Trump. Pelosi and Schumer will fight her every step of the way.

As for 70% tax rates on highest income and wealth brackets, in the 1950s and 60s those rates were as high as 90%.

“Radical” Ocasio-Cortez Teases 70% Tax On Super Wealthy (ZH)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested in a “60 Minutes” interview scheduled to air Sunday that the highest-earning Americans may need to pay an income tax rate as high as 60 to 70 percent to combat carbon emissions, reports Politico. Speaking with Anderson Cooper in a “60 Minutes” interview scheduled to air Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez said a dramatic increase in taxes could support her “Green New Deal” goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels within 12 years, a goal which even she acknowledges is ambitious. “What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. “There’s an element where yeah, people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.”

Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that in a progressive tax rate system, not all income for a high earner is taxed at such a high rate. Rather, rates increase on each additional level of income, with dramatic increases on especially high earnings, such as $10 million. -Politico [..] Ocasio-Cortez relished Anderson Cooper’s characterization of the tax plan as “radical,” before comparing herself to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Yeah, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical.”

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Why don’t they first demand the CIA gets out?

Lima Group Countries Say Won’t Recognize New Maduro Mandate (AFP)

Foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada said Friday their governments would not accept Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s president when he is sworn in for a second six-year term next week. The 14-member Lima Group – with the exception of Mexico – said it would not grant recognition to Maduro’s hardline socialist government, after meeting in the Peruvian capital to discuss ways to step up international pressure on the regime, which has presided over the oil-rich country’s economic collapse. Peru’s Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said the group had delivered “a strong political message” ahead of Maduro’s inauguration on January 10.

Maduro was re-elected on May 20 in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States which called it a “sham.” “The main message is undoubtedly the non-recognition of the Venezuelan regime’s new term,” Popolizio told reporters. “It is very important that the Lima Group has issued this statement to continue exerting pressure with a view to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” the Peruvian minister said. The Group, of which Canada is a member, said Maduro should temporarily transfer power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until free elections can be held.

[..] Venezuela hit back at the Lima Group, accusing it of fomenting a coup at the behest of the US, which has sanctioned Venezuelan officials and entities. Caracas expressed its “great bewilderment at the extravagant declaration of a group of countries of the American continent which, after receiving instructions from the United States through a videoconference, have agreed to encourage a coup d’etat,” according to a statement read by Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza. The United States, which is not a member of the group created after deadly anti-Maduro protests in 2017, participated in the meeting for the first time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented by video conference from Washington.

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Turkey allegedly already signed the Russia deal.

US Senator: Turkey Must Choose Between US Jets and Russian Missiles (K.)

Turkey needs to choose between the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets it has ordered from the United States or the acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told Kathimerini in a recent interview at Congress. Van Hollen warned that Turkey may be subject to US sanctions if it buys the Russian systems under the August 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalizes governments that buy weapons from Moscow.

“I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the sale of F-35s to Turkey. The big problem I have is that Turkey is a NATO ally and they are saying that they are planning to proceed with the purchase of the Russian S-400 system,” he told Kathimerini. “So I am very much opposed to the F-35 sale going through if the Turks follow through on their plan to purchase the Russian air defense system. The reason is that it would compromise the security of the F-35s and potentially the security of all other NATO aircraft.” “In my view Turkey has a very simple choice. They can purchase the F-35s or they can purchase the S-400. But they can’t have both,” Van Hollen said.

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Oh, those terrible right wingers. Look what they want, it’s f*cking anarchy: “The right wing hopes to transform the European elections into a kind of plebiscite: What kind of Europe do people want?” The Horror! The Horror!

Europe’s Right Wing Takes Aim at the EU (Spiegel)

Right-wing populists have become a feature in the political landscape of almost every European Union member state, while in Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark and Finland, they are either part of the government or support the government. They are no longer merely a fringe phenomenon or a passing anomaly. Rather, they are a movement that could continue to grow — and they are doing all they can to position themselves as such. Despite all of their differences, the target of their ire is the same: the cosmopolitan elite, liberal opinion leaders in the media and EU bureaucrats in Brussels. Their best enemies? German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the latter having proven to be a tireless promoter of deeper European integration.

From the perspective of the right wing, the plans pushed by Macron and his supporters can mean only one thing: Further impositions on “normal people,” upon whom much has already been imposed — things like smoking bans, gay marriages, refugees and expensive environmental protection regulations. The populists claim they are the only ones who speak for the majority of Europeans. And one of their primary goals is a Europe free of immigration. They call their concept the “Europe of Nations.” The right wing hopes to transform the European elections into a kind of plebiscite: What kind of Europe do people want? Open or closed? Traditionalist or tolerant? Should the European bloc become a political union with fewer powers reserved for the nation-states or should it merely be something like a free-trade area in which each individual country can chart its own course?

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Jan 112018
 


Gutzon Borglum Repairing the Face of Abraham Lincoln, Mount Rushmore 1962

 

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)
Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)
The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)
China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)
Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)
South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)
South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)
China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)
Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)
Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)
Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)
Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)
Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)
Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

 

 

As Abenomics goes belly-up, so will a large segment of financial markets. Japan is done.

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)

Japan is the catalyst that could bring the record-setting bull market for stocks across the globe to a screeching halt, according to Société Générale’s uberbear Albert Edwards. The prominent SocGen strategist says surprise monetary tightening in Japan could be the trigger that finally upend what has been an protracted and unrelenting global rally for assets considered risky. While most investors are busy eyeing rate increases in the U.S. and tapering by the ECB in the eurozone, Edwards says they should also watch developments in the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, where corporate profits are surging and inflation has picked up.

“We’ve been looking for surprises and one thing that can catch us out is if the Bank of Japan starts tightening. If it actually follows the Fed and the ECB and announces some sort of tapering,” he said, speaking at SocGen’s annual strategy conference in London on Tuesday. “This could be far more important than the Fed. A lot of major trends start with Japan. People don’t focus on Japan enough in my view,” he added. Investors on Tuesday got a taste of how BOJ tightening can rattle the markets. The central bank said it would buy less of its long-dated bonds, sparking speculation Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda could back away from its ultraloose monetary policy as early as this year. The surprise announcement sent global bond markets into spin on Tuesday. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes jumped above 2.5% to its highest since March and the 30-year bond yield logged its biggest one-day jump since Dec. 19.

[..] The BOJ has for years been among the most accommodative central banks in the world and as recent as December reaffirmed its commitment to aggressive qualitative and quantitative-easing program, also known as QQE. With inflation stubbornly running below the BOJ’s 2% annual target, the central bank has since early 2016 kept interest rates in negative territory and even introduced a 0%-target for its 10-year government bond yields to avoid deflation. The determined efforts by the BOJ to boost consumer prices have turned investors against the yen with data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showing an extreme bearishness toward the Japanese currency. However, downbeat investors on the yen could be caught flat-footed if inflation starts to pick up, prompting the BOJ to halt easing efforts, Edwards warned.

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A concerted effort to let markets implode. And blame Trump.

Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)

Many people do not realize that America is not only entering a new year, but within the next month we will also be entering a new economic era. In early February, Janet Yellen is set to leave the Federal Reserve and be replaced by the new Fed chair nominee, Jerome Powell. Now, to be clear, the Fed chair along with the bank governors do not set central bank policy. Policy for most central banks around the world is dictated in Switzerland by the Bank for International Settlements. Fed chairmen like Janet Yellen are mere mascots implementing policy initiatives as ordered. This is why we are now seeing supposedly separate central banking institutions around the world acting in unison, first with stimulus, then with fiscal tightening. However, it is important to note that each new Fed chair does tend to signal a new shift in action for the central bank.

For example, Alan Greenspan oversaw the low interest rate easy money phase of the Fed, which created the conditions for the derivatives and credit bubble and subsequent crash in 2008. Ben Bernanke oversaw the stimulus and bailout phase, flooding the markets with massive amounts of fiat and engineering an even larger bubble in stocks, bonds and just about every other asset except perhaps some select commodities. Janet Yellen managed the tapering phase, in which stimulus has been carefully and systematically diminished while still maintaining delusional stock market euphoria. Now comes the era of Jerome Powell, who will oversee the last stages of fiscal tightening, the reduction of the Fed balance sheet, faster rate increases and the final implosion of the ‘everything’ bubble.

As I warned before Trump won the election in 2016, a Trump presidency would inevitably be followed by economic crisis, and this would be facilitated by the Federal Reserve pulling the plug on fiat life support measures which kept the illusion of recovery going for the past several years. It is important to note that the mainstream media is consistently referring to Jerome Powell as “Trump’s candidate” for the Fed, or “Trump’s pick” (as if the president really has much of a choice in the roster of candidates for the Fed chair). The public is being subtly conditioned to view Powell as if he is an extension of the Trump administration. This could not be further from the truth. Powell and the Fed are autonomous from government.

[..] So, why is the media insisting on misrepresenting Powell as some kind of Trump agent? Because Trump, and by extension all the conservatives that support him, are meant to take the blame when the ‘everything’ bubble vaporizes our financial structure. Jerome Powell is “Trump’s guy” at the Fed; so any actions Powell takes to crush the recovery narrative will also be blamed on the Trump administration.

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Bond markets want their cake and eat it. First, low yields are a good thing; then rising yields show how good everything has become.

The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)

Government bond yields, exemplified by the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury, have enjoyed three decades of decline. Their recent jump is prompting a heated debate over whether that bull market is over. It matters because there’s more riding on the question than ever before.

The value of benchmark bonds eligible for inclusion in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index, which includes government, corporate and securitized debt from 24 local currency markets, has doubled in the past decade to almost $50 trillion.

While calling the turn in bonds, especially in Europe, has been a widow-making trade in recent years, recent moves certainly look like the trend is no longer your friend. The yield on the two-year Treasury has about doubled in the past year, and is a whisker away from 2%. Even at its current super-low level of about 0.55%, the 10-year German yield is up from its nadir of about minus 0.2% reached in July 2016.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if government bond yields are on a sustained path to higher levels, it’s arguably a positive sign for the global economy. A return to more normal borrowing costs would reinforce hopes that the world is finally free from the debilitating aftershocks from the financial crisis. Moreover, the new normal is still likely to be at lower levels than the old normal. Note that in the past 30 years, the 10-year Treasury yield peaked at about 9.4% in August 1988 and plateaued at 1.36% in July 2016. Its current poke above 2.5% still leaves it at about half of its three-decade average. For central banks seeking to normalize monetary policy, rising government bond yields will come as something for a relief. For investors who bought at the peak of the bull market, however, there could be painful times ahead.

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Only game in town.

China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)

China added to bond investors’ jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market. Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation’s foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter. The news comes as global debt markets were already selling off amid signs that central banks are starting to step back after years of bond-buying stimulus. Yields on 10-year Treasuries rose for a fifth day, touching the highest since March. China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn’t clear whether the officials’ recommendations have been adopted.

The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt, the thinking of these officials goes, according to the people [..] “With markets already dealing with supply indigestion, headlines regarding potentially lower Chinese demand for Treasuries are renewing bearish dynamics,” said Michael Leister at Commerzbank. “Today’s headlines will underscore concerns that the fading global quantitative-easing bid will trigger lasting upside pressure on developed-market yields.” The Chinese officials didn’t specify why trade tensions would spur a cutback in Treasuries purchases, though foreign holdings of U.S. securities have sometimes been a geopolitical football in the past.

[..] Any reduction in Chinese purchases would come just as the U.S. prepares to boost its supply of debt. The Treasury Department said in its most recent quarterly refunding announcement in November that borrowing needs will increase as the Federal Reserve reduces its balance sheet and as fiscal deficits look set to widen. “It’s a complicated chess game as with everything the Chinese do,” said Charles Wyplosz, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “For years they have been bothered by the fact that they are so heavily invested in one particular class of U.S. bonds, so it’s just a question of time before they would try to diversify.”

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The dollar is still king.

Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)

The Bloomberg News report that senior government officials in Beijing recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries is encountering a wall of skepticism, and rightly so. Even China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange said Thursday that the report “might have cited wrong sources or may be fake news.” There’s a third possibility: that Beijing floated a trial balloon to see how the market would react.To the extent China would have to scoop up incoming dollars to keep the value of the yuan from rising too much too soon, what else can it possibly purchase with those dollars? Treasuries maturing in five years pay 2.32%. If China tries to alter the composition of its $3.1 trillion foreign-exchange war chest by swapping dollars to buy comparable securities denominated in any of the world’s main reserve currencies, it will find German bunds and British gilts paying even less.

Japanese and Swiss bonds offer somewhat higher yields. However, if every central bank in the world had given up on the world’s most liquid security every time it got a half-percent extra yield somewhere else, the dollar’s share in the world’s known reserves wouldn’t have held above 60% for almost a quarter-century. (It’s 63.5% now.) If Beijing wants a bargaining chip in trade tensions with the U.S., it should look elsewhere.In 2009, the Chinese central bank did try to diversify away from the dollar. The euro’s share in known global reserves peaked at 28% a few months after Wen Jiabao, the then Chinese premier, said he was “worried” about the huge amount of money his country had lent to the U.S.Then he – and the world – got something rather more real to worry about as the European debt crisis became an existential threat to that region’s single currency. According to the most recent data from the IMF, the euro’s share in worldwide foreign-exchange reserves is now down to 20%.

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As 2018 progresses, we’ll see many reports, across the globe, of taxes owed on 2017 crypto gains.

South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)

South Korea’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges were raided by police and tax agencies this week for alleged tax evasion, people familiar with the investigation said on Thursday. “A few officials from the National Tax Service raided our office this week,” an official at Coinone, a major cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, told Reuters. “Local police also have been investigating our company since last year, they think what we do is gambling,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said Coinone was cooperating with the investigation. Bithumb, the second largest virtual currency operator in South Korea, was also raided by the tax authorities on Wednesday.

“We were asked by the tax officials to disclose paperwork and things yesterday,” an official at Bithumb said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. South Korean financial authorities had previously said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The crackdown on Seoul-based operators of some of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchanges comes as the government attempts to calm frenzied demand for cryptocurrency trading in Asia’s fourth largest economy. Bitcoin’s 1,500% surge last year has stoked huge demand for cryptocurency in South Korea, drawing college students to housewives and sparking concerns about a gambling addiction.

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They’re getting serious.

South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)

South Korea’s justice minister said on Thursday that a bill is being prepared to ban all cryptocurrency trading in the country. That news is a major development for the cryptocurrency space, as South Korea is one of the biggest markets for major coins like bitcoin and ethereum. According to industry website CryptoCompare, more than 10% of ethereum is traded against the South Korean won — the second largest concentration in terms of fiat currencies behind the dollar. Meanwhile, 5% of all bitcoin are traded against the won. “There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies and justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency trading through exchanges,” Park Sang-ki said at a press conference, according to the ministry’s press office.

Bitcoin tumbled more than 12% following Park’s remarks, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index that tracks prices from four exchanges. At 1:26 p.m. HK/SIN, the cryptocurrency price retraced some of its losses to trade at $13,547.7. Park added that he couldn’t disclose more specific details about proposed shutdown of cryptocurrency trading exchanges in the country, adding that various government agencies would work together to implement several measures. Reuters further reported that a press official said the proposed ban on cryptocurrency trading was announced after “enough discussion” with other government agencies including the nation’s finance ministry and financial regulators.

Cryptocurrency trading in South Korea is very speculative and similar to gambling. Major cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum are priced significantly higher in the country’s exchanges than elsewhere in the world. For example, bitcoin traded at $17,169.65 per token at local exchange Bithumb, which was a 31% premium to the CoinDesk average price. That difference in price is called a “kimchi premium” by many traders. [..] earlier this week, industry data provider CoinMarketCap tweeted that it would exclude some South Korean exchanges in price calculations due to the “extreme divergence in prices from the rest of the world” and for “limited arbitrage opportunity.”

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Beijing doesn’t see bitcoin as an asset to its power politics.

China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)

China is moving to eradicate the country’s bitcoin mining industry over concerns about excessive electricity consumption and financial risk, reflecting authorities’ judgment that cryptocurrencies are not a strategic industry. A multi-agency task force has instructed provincial governments to “actively guide” companies in their respective regions to exit the cryptocurrency mining industry, according to a document seen by the Financial Times. The move to pressure miners follows China’s shutdown of local bitcoin exchanges and its ban on initial coin offerings. Miners create new bitcoins by solving complex maths problems whose solutions are used to validate new bitcoin transactions. Though ostensibly a computational task, the reliance on raw computing power makes the process more akin to industrial manufacturing than traditional high-technology businesses.

Many bitcoin miners have established operations in remote areas without even registering a company. Some have also skirted Chinese regulations that forbid end users from purchasing electricity directly from power producers rather than grid operators. China mines about three-quarters of the world’s bitcoins, according to Liao Xiang, chief executive of Lightningasic, a Shenzhen-based mining operation. Chinese miners have taken advantage of cheap electricity in regions rich in coal or hydroelectric power, including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Yunnan. The global industry accounts for 0.17% of global electricity consumption, more than 161 individual countries, according to Digiconomist, a website that tracks the industry.

[..] Bitcoin mining “consumes a large amount of electricity and also encourages a spirit of speculation in ‘virtual currencies'”, according to the document. Mining operations contradict efforts to prevent financial risk and to discourage activities that “deviate from the needs of the real economy”, it added. The internet finance task force, which includes the People’s Bank of China, has previously led regulatory tightening efforts on peer-to-peer lending and online consumer loans. The order does not call on regional authorities to shut mining operations directly, but rather to squeeze them out by strictly enforcing policies on electricity consumption, land use, tax collection and environmental regulation

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How Democrats sell out Dreamers.

Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall. This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122. That the Democrats very likely won’t do this speaks to their irrational aversion to a Wall that they can’t view dispassionately any more than Trump can. It used to be that enhanced security on the border, and yes, a physical structure that in places is effectively a wall, had bipartisan support.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 passed the House by a vote of 283-138 and the Senate 80-19. It called for building roughly 700 miles of double-layer fencing on the border, and no one seemed to believe that the United States had irreparably sullied its reputation. This wasn’t the first time anyone had thought of a fence, of course. There had been barriers in the San Diego area for a very long time, although not particularly robust ones. Beginning in the 1980s, more serious structures were built. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are 46 miles of fencing overall and 13 miles of double fencing in the San Diego-Tijuana corridor, where there used to be a nightly influx of undocumented immigrants. In some sections, the barriers are 10-feet-tall military helicopter pads indistinguishable from a wall.

Again, no one believes San Diego has closed itself off from the world by adopting a common-sensical and — in this urban area — effective prophylactic against illegal immigration. But Democrats now find find physical barriers on the border offensive, especially if they have enough solidity to be called a Wall. One immigration advocate, in a typical sentiment, told The Huffington Post that the Wall is a “tool to instill hate and division.” This lunacy has rapidly become Democratic orthodoxy. Harry Enten of 538 notes that in 2006 almost 40% of Democrats supported building a Wall. By February of last year, Democrats were against it by 89% to 8%.

The hostility toward the Wall is part of a broader Democratic leftward lurch on immigration, but also a simple schoolyard calculus that if Trump supports something, they must oppose it. This forecloses the most basic legislative give-and-take. If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gave Trump something significant on the Wall, they would be able to find their way home — as John Jay said after concluding an unpopular treaty with the British in 1795 — by the light of their own burning effigies. Their voters would scorn them as traitors complicit in the alleged horrid bigotry of Donald J. Trump.

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Well, no. Just another instance of everything being insinuated, in the hope that a sliver is remembered. Fake news.

Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)

Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum have been detailed in a report prepared by the US Senate. The report by Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee, titled Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe: implications for US national security, pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”. This opacity, the report suggests, “may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors”.

“Investigative journalists have also raised questions about the sources of sudden and possibly illicit wealth that may have been directed to support the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign.” The UK Electoral Commission has already launched an investigation into the issue. The senators point out that Ukip and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, did not just fan anti-EU sentiment but also “criticised European sanctions on Russia, and provided flattering assessments of Russian President Putin”. The report adds that although officially the Russian government asserted its neutrality on Brexit, its English-language media outlets RT and Sputnik covered the referendum campaign extensively and offered ‘’systematically one-sided coverage’’. The senators also challenge the adequacy of the investigations by Facebook and Twitter into the allegations of widespread social media interference by the Russians during the referendum.

They reference University of Edinburgh research showing more than 400 Russian-run Twitter accounts that had been active in the US election had also been actively posting about Brexit. In addition, the senators noted that research conducted by a joint team of experts from the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University reportedly identified 150,000 Twitter accounts with various Russian ties that disseminated messages about Brexit. The report also points to the vast flow of Russian money into the UK, including the London property market. It records how the Metropolitan police noted that a total value of £180m in properties in the UK had been put under investigation as possibly purchased with corrupt proceeds by secretive offshore companies.

Overall the report breaks little new ground in terms of fresh evidence but says the picture remains incomplete. “The allegations that have emerged of Russian interference prior to the Brexit referendum are all the more stunning given the innate resilience within British society to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic agenda,” the senators wrote. The report, which chronicles Russian disinformation efforts in 19 countries, calls on Donald Trump to assert leadership on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, saying: “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a US president.”

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Don’t hold your breath. US and UK want revenge.

Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)

The Ecuadorian ID reportedly granted to Julian Assange could mark his first step to obtaining diplomatic immunity, as Ecuador wants to resolve Assange’s indefinite embassy stay, human rights activist Peter Tatchell told RT. “Granting an identity card is potentially the first step towards granting citizenship of Ecuador. And there is a possibility that he could be then granted a diplomatic status, which would give him diplomatic immunity,” Tatchell said. He added that diplomatic immunity would mean that the WikiLeaks co-founder would be “free to leave the embassy and travel to Ecuador and the British government would not be able to lay a finger on him.”

Ecuadorian media reports Assange was given an ID card issued on December 21, citing “reliable sources” and providing the civil registry number of the document. The whistleblower also uploaded a photo of himself on Twitter wearing a yellow, blue and red shirt, the colors of the Ecuadorian flag, but made not comments on the issue. nEcuador usually issues such ID cards for people claiming residency status, which are called cedulas. It is, however, unclear whether Assange was granted residency status or full citizenship.

However, Tatchell says “the Ecuadorian government has made it very clear that it wants a resolution [of this whole situation around Assange] and they are prepared to negotiate [to give] a way for Julian Assange [to leave] the embassy.” He added that “granting him [Assange] an identity card is a new development that can open the door for further things in the future.” The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations states that someone who holds a diplomatic passport is immune from prosecution, the activist explained. It is still no guarantee, however. “There is still a possibility that, even if he was granted diplomatic immunity by the Ecuadorians, the British government might still try to snatch him,” Tatchell said, although “many British officials would be glad to see Assange getting a diplomatic passport and leaving [the UK],” he added.

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Debt. Colony. Forever.

Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)

In a report about Greece’s new omnibus bill and a potential break from its bailout in August 2018, German newspaper Handelsblatt claims the country will remain under lenders’ supervision for another 40 years. The newspaper says the enormous bill, which was introduced to parliament on Tuesday and is expected to be put to vote next Monday, is highly detailed but lawmakers have not been given enough time to scrutinize it. “The plan is that the multi-bill will pass from the Greek parliament before the next Eurogroup meeting on January 22, so that Greece’s lenders can release the next €5.5 billion bailout tranche, leading the country out of its bailout obligations by August 2018,” the paper notes. It adds that the short time afforded to lawmakers to study the bill and debate it is exactly what Greek PM Alexis Tsipras needs for a smooth vote.

The German paper also notes protests and strikes against the bill scheduled for next Friday and Monday. In spite of the fact the bill will lead to further wage and pension cuts, as well as tax increases, the government majority in parliament — despite vocal unhappiness from some of Tsipras’ own SYRIZA lawmakers — is expected to vote for it, the report says. “Tsipras has pledged to his supporters that the country will break its austerity vicious circle next August and throw out its despised lenders for good,” the report adds. “But with the country committed to more austerity measures until 2022, that is self-delusion.” “A total of 80% of the Greek debt remains in the hands of the country’s lenders,” Handelsblatt concludes. “This means that until Greece pays up its debt, which, with today’s rates it will manage to do by 2059, the country will be under its lenders’ financial supervision.”

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Same findings as the German report last year. This is the food chain that feeds us.

Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)

Modest levels of pollution found in many English rivers are having a devastating impact on mayflies, new research suggests, killing about 80% of all eggs. Clouds of emerging mayflies were once a regular sight on English summer evenings and they are a key part of the food chain that supports fish, birds and mammals. The finding that even pollution well below guidelines can cause serious harm adds to concerns about plummeting insect numbers. In October, a study found that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by 75% in 25 years, prompting warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

Paul Knight, chief executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation (STC), which is conducting an in-depth three-year survey of rivers, said: “The results of this groundbreaking new study are irrefutable. We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lose your invertebrates and other species will follow.” The new research looked at the blue-winged olive, a common mayfly present across the British Isles and most of continental Europe. Its numbers have fallen significantly in recent decades and it has almost vanished from some English rivers. The prime suspects for this decline are fine sediment and phosphate pollution in rivers, which are washed off farmed fields and also result from untreated sewage. Some research has been done on how the larval and adult stages of mayflies are affected by pollution, but not on their eggs.

“The young life stages are the most vulnerable, just as with human babies,” said Nick Everall, at the Aquascience Consultancy and who led the research published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Blue-winged olive eggs are laid on river beds and then have to survive for up to eight months over winter before hatching into nymphs. However, experiments in the laboratory found that the fine sediment settles on the eggs and suffocates them, by preventing oxygen transferring into the egg. The sediment can also allow fungus to grow and kill the eggs, while phosphate is known to affect the development of eggs.

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The Cynical Society:

1) The BBC broadcasts David Attenborough’s new Blue Planet 2 series, in which one episode is all about -plastics- pollution
2) All of Britain watches, so the national conversation becomes ‘something must be done’
3) May has to do/say something, but the plastics industry are her friends, and she judges it’s all lip service anyway that will fade (and those who really care are not her voters)
4) She decides to pay only lip service too, and pushes the issue forward by 25 years, i.e. not her problem

Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

Theresa May will commit the UK to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as she launches the Government’s environmental plan for the next 25-years. Under the pledge waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. But the target was given a frosty reception from environmental groups with one leading organisation saying it “lacks urgency, detail and bite”, while another said the country “can’t afford to wait” so long. The broader 25-year plan, first promised three years ago, will also urge supermarkets to set up “plastic-free aisles” for goods with no packaging and confirm plans to extend the 5p charge for carrier bags to all English retailers.

It comes as the Government seeks to burnish its environmental credentials with recent pledges on animal protection and plastic microbeads. But with concern growing around plastic waste, Ms May will say: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do. “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. [..] Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “A 25 year plan is clearly needed – but with the nation facing an accelerating environmental crisis we can’t afford to wait a quarter of a century for urgent action to tackle the issues that already threaten our lives, health and planet.”

He went on: “If Theresa May wants to champion the environment she must spell out the bold measures her Government will take in the next few weeks and months.” WWF Chief Executive Tanya Steele welcomed “any step” to reduce plastic waste, adding that plastic-free aisles can spur change. But she said: “If we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics.” Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said the plan was now “years behind schedule” branding the plan “a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories image”. She went on: “[It] appears to contain only weak proposals with Britain’s plastic waste crisis kicked into the long grass.” Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said “The Conservatives should be eliminating all avoidable plastic waste now – a target of 2042 beggars belief.”

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Jan 312017
 


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Fall of Icarus 1558

White House Immigration Ban Promises Constitutional Showdown (BBG)
Trump Fires Acting Attorney General Over Executive Order Defiance (AP)
Philip Roth E-Mails On Trump (NewYorker)
How a Bank Conquered Washington (Nomi Prins)
Goldman CEO Takes Lead On Wall Street In Slamming Trump Travel Ban (R.)
The Pitfalls of Replacing Obamacare (Economist)
Fed: Banks Under $250 Billion Threshold Get Break on Stress Tests (WSJ)
Is Italy’s Banking Problem Becoming Too Big to Solve? (DQ)
The Left Is Self-Destructing (Paul Craig Roberts)
A Better Solution Than Trump’s Border Wall (Ron Paul)
More Refugees Could Come To Calgary In The Wake Of Trump’s Ban (CH)
Alarm Raised Over Third Refugee Death on Lesbos In Six Days (K.)

 

 

An excellent discussion to have. However, opinions and interpretations already vary enormously, and it’s Trump who will appoint the next Supreme Court judge(s) – first one today. That could well take it from a showdown to a constitutional crisis.

White House Immigration Ban Promises Constitutional Showdown (BBG)

Did President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration ban Muslims from the country on the basis of their religion? That will be a central question when federal judges dig more deeply into the constitutionality of the order, signed on Jan. 27. If the answer is yes, it appears vulnerable to a First Amendment challenge. So far, four U.S. district judges – in Brooklyn, New York; Boston; Alexandria, Virginia; and Seattle – have issued temporary rulings blocking aspects of the order. These provisional, hastily granted judicial rulings didn’t delve into deep constitutional issues. Instead, they sought to prevent deportations or other government actions that would harm individuals affected by it. Lawyers for those individuals will return to court in coming days to flesh out their arguments. The Trump administration presumably will send attorneys from the Justice Department to defend the executive order, and the respective judges will subsequently issue more-thorough rulings.

[..] Strange as it may seem, Trump’s utterances on Twitter or elsewhere could become evidence in court of what he intended to accomplish with the executive order. Some possible examples include his original call during the presidential campaign for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and his modified demand for a ban targeting immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. Even some conservative Republicans expressed unease about the constitutionality of the Trump order. Focusing on the First Amendment issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday: “It’s hopefully going to be decided in the courts as to whether or not this has gone too far.” “I think we need to be careful,” McConnell added. “We don’t have religious tests in this country.”

Roger Pilon, founding director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, predicted the debate over Trump’s immigration order would ultimately end up with the Supreme Court. “I don’t see President Trump backing down,” he said. “I do hope, however, that the stays the lower courts are issuing will allow for a measure of ‘business as usual,’ because the initial situation seems very chaotic.”

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Yates did what she had to. Question arises how much longer Mattis and Tillerson will stand for being left in the dark about measures, but subsequently having to defend them.

Trump Fires Acting Attorney General Over Executive Order Defiance (AP)

Accusing her of betrayal and insubordination, President Donald Trump on Monday fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general of the United States and a Democratic appointee, after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his controversial refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court. The dramatic public clash between the new president and the nation’s top law enforcement officer laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding Trump’s executive order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s obligation “to stand for what is right.”

[..] Yates’s abrupt decision reflected the growing conflict over the executive order, with administration officials moving Monday to distance themselves from the policy. As protests erupted at airports over the weekend and confusion disrupted travel around the globe, even some of Trump’s top advisers and fellow Republicans made clear they were not involved in crafting the policy or consulted on its implementation. At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said that despite White House assurances that congressional leaders were consulted, he learned about the order in the media. Trump’s order pauses America’s entire refugee program for four months, indefinitely bans all those from war-ravaged Syria and temporarily freezes immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Federal judges in New York and several other states issued orders that temporarily block the government from deporting people with valid visas who arrived after Trump’s travel ban took effect and found themselves in limbo. Yates, who was appointed deputy attorney general in 2015 and was the No. 2 Justice Department official under Loretta Lynch, declared Monday she was instructing department lawyers not to defend the order in court.

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote in a letter announcing her position. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.” [..] Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.

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“..wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Philip Roth E-Mails On Trump (NewYorker)

In 2004, Philip Roth published “The Plot Against America.” The four main characters of the novel, which takes place between June, 1940, and October, 1942, are a family of American Jews, the Roths, of Newark—Bess, Herman, and their two sons, Philip and Sandy. They are ardent supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but, in Roth’s reimagining, Roosevelt loses his bid for a third term to a surprise Republican candidate—the aviator Charles Lindbergh—whose victory upends not only politics in America but life itself. The historical Lindbergh was an isolationist who espoused a catchphrase that Donald Trump borrowed for his Presidential campaign, and for his Inaugural Address: “America First.” The fictional Lindbergh, like the actual Trump, expressed admiration for a murderous European dictator, and his election emboldened xenophobes.

In Roth’s novel, a foreign power—Nazi Germany—meddles in an American election, leading to a theory that the President is being blackmailed. In real life, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin and the possibility that a dossier of secret information—kompromat—gives Russia leverage with his regime. Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”

Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

American reality, the “American berserk,” Roth has noted, makes it harder to write fiction. Does Donald Trump outstrip the novelist’s imagination? Roth replied, “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States. “I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

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Excellent history lesson.

How a Bank Conquered Washington (Nomi Prins)

At the dawn of the twentieth century, when President Teddy Roosevelt governed the country on a platform of trust busting aimed at reducing corporate power, even he could not bring himself to bust up the banks. That was a mistake born of his collaboration with the financier J.P. Morgan to mitigate the effects of the Bank Panic of 1907. Roosevelt feared that if he didn’t enlist the influence of the country’s major banker, the crisis would be even longer and more disastrous. It’s an error he might not have made had he foreseen the effect that one particular investment bank would have on America’s economy and political system.

There have been hundreds of articles written about the “world’s most powerful investment bank,” or as journalist Matt Taibbi famously called it back in 2010, the “great vampire squid.” That squid is now about to wrap its tentacles around our world in a way previously not imagined by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. No less than six Trump administration appointments already hail from that single banking outfit. Of those, two will impact your life strikingly: former Goldman partner and soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and incoming top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, former president and “number two” at Goldman. (The Council he will head has been responsible for “policy-making for domestic and international economic issues.”)

Now, let’s take a step into history to get the full Monty on why this matters more than you might imagine. In New York, circa 1932, then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his bid for the presidency. At the time, our nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs had, in fact, been one of the banks at the core of the infamous crash of 1929 that crippled the financial system and nearly destroyed the economy. It was then run by a dynamic figure, Sidney Weinberg, dubbed “the Politician” by Roosevelt because of his smooth tongue and “Mr. Wall Street” by the New York Times because of his range of connections there. Weinberg quickly grasped that, to have a chance of redeeming his firm’s reputation from the ashes of public opinion, he would need to aim high indeed. So he made himself indispensable to Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, soon embedding himself on the Democratic National Campaign Executive Committee.

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Goldman view: Bad for business.

Goldman CEO Takes Lead On Wall Street In Slamming Trump Travel Ban (R.)

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein became the first major Wall Street leader to speak out against President Donald Trump’s order to halt arrivals from several Muslim-majority countries. In a voicemail to employees on Sunday, Blankfein said diversity was a hallmark of Goldman’s success, and if the temporary freeze became permanent, it could create “disruption” for the bank and its staff. “This is not a policy we support, and I would note that it has already been challenged in federal court, and some of the order has been enjoined at least temporarily,” Blankfein said, according to a transcript seen by Reuters. In Silicon Valley, the heads of companies such as Apple and Facebook swiftly denounced Trump’s immigration ban.

But the rest of corporate America has been more circumspect in speaking out, underscoring the sensitivities around opposing policies that could provoke a backlash from the White House. Tepid responses from many of Blankfein’s peers made his comments all the more potent, especially because Goldman has gotten attention for the number of its alumni who have joined Trump’s administration. Top BlackRock executives including CEO Larry Fink, sent a memo to staff on Monday saying Trump’s order presented “challenges” to its goals of diversity and inclusion. BlackRock is examining the direct impact on its employees, as well as the broader implications of the order, they said. “We, of course, all want to promote security and combat terrorism, but we believe it needs to be done with respect for due process, individual rights and the principle of inclusion,” they wrote.’

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High risk pools. Holy mother. That’s sick.

The Pitfalls of Replacing Obamacare (Economist)

As Republicans seek to carry out their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they must keep an eye on their own political health. “Obamacare” may be unpopular, but its components are not. A celebrated part of the law bans insurers from turning away customers who have pre-existing medical conditions. Before the ACA, insurers would routinely deny coverage to those with even minor or old blots on their medical histories. At a recent question-and-answer session, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was confronted by a man who, thanks to a cancer diagnosis, owed his life to this Obamacare rule. Mr Ryan promised the voter that the GOP’s desired ACA overhaul would not have left him for dead. Instead, he could have joined a “high-risk pool”. Beloved by the right, these pools feature in almost every Obamacare alternative, including the one penned by Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to be health secretary.

The idea is to hive unhealthy people off into their own dedicated market and then subsidise their coverage. It reverses the logic of the ACA, which lumped everyone together to spread costs around. The law sent premiums skyrocketing for healthy folk who buy their insurance themselves, rather than through an employer. Whittling out higher-risk people from the market would bring those premiums back down. Middle-income earners too well-off to qualify for Obamacare’s tax credits, who have suffered the most from higher costs, would surely cheer such a reform. 35 states ran high-risk pools before the ACA. The biggest and most successful was the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA, or “em-sha”). Established in 1976, MCHA covered 27,000 Minnesotans with pre-existing conditions in 2011, about 10% of the relevant market. It offered a selection of plans, from near-total coverage to catastrophe-only insurance.

All provided good, though not unlimited, care. Separating high-risk people out does not make their costs disappear. Minnesota paid for MCHA in two ways. First, premiums were up to 25% higher than elsewhere. After those were collected, a levy on other health insurance plans covered its losses. This tax inflated healthy folks’ premiums much less than Obamacare does, partly because it applied to a broad base which included employer-provided coverage. MCHA helped create a stable market, argues Peter Nelson of the Centre of the American Experiment, a conservative think-tank. The ACA, by contrast, has led to something of a mess. In 2015 insurers’ costs were 16% higher than their revenue from premiums. Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurer which covered 103,000 people, has left Minnesota’s market, blaming massive losses. The state is likely to hand out $300m to cushion the blow from huge premium increases for 2017, which by one measure reached 59%.

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Why? They don’t have enough people to do the work: “..allowing the Fed to dedicate more of its staff to focusing on the biggest firms.”

Fed: Banks Under $250 Billion Threshold Get Break on Stress Tests (WSJ)

Twenty U.S. banks with less than $250 billion in assets will be freed from the subjective portion of the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests under changes the central bank laid out Monday. Banks including Northern Trust and American Express will no longer have to comply with the “qualitative” half of the Fed’s stress tests, which takes a deep dive into a firm’s risk-management systems. Last year, 33 banks participated in the annual exercise. The central bank said it would release scenarios and instructions for the 2017 test by the end of this week. Stress tests have become a centerpiece of the Fed’s postcrisis regulatory framework.

The exercise examines two critical aspects of the largest firms: first, whether banks hold enough capital—money raised from investors or earned through profit—to withstand severe economic stress in the financial system, and second, whether banks have the appropriate internal processes to identify and measure risk when considering their own capital planning. The Fed can reject a bank’s plan to pay out shareholders on either basis. To gain an exemption, a firm must have assets between $50 billion and $250 billion and not be identified as a globally systemically important bank. One important change made by regulators in the final rule was excluding a requirement to have less than $10 billion in foreign exposure.

Those firms will still be required to show regulators they could survive a hypothetical recession with enough capital to continue lending. The change is designed to make the tests less onerous, while allowing the Fed to dedicate more of its staff to focusing on the biggest firms. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law requires banks with more than $50 billion in assets to undergo the yearly stress tests. Fed officials have been looking for ways to ease requirements for regional banks while raising capital requirements for large, globally systemically important banks by adding a capital surcharge into the stress tests.

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Yes. Actually, has been for a long time.

Is Italy’s Banking Problem Becoming Too Big to Solve? (DQ)

Ever since the European Commission and ECB jointly decided that Italy’s government could bend EU banking rules out of all recognition in order to bail out the country’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Europe’s financial stocks have been on a tear. But the good times were brought to a grinding halt Monday after Italy’s largest bank, Unicredit, which employs 55,000 people in 17 countries, announced losses for 2016 of €11.8 billion. By the bank’s logic, it would have announced profits if it hadn’t had to write off €12.2 billion, including billions of euros of non-performing loans (NPLs) festering on its balance sheets. But it got worse. In the registration document for its pending recapitalization, published on its website today, Unicredit also announced that its capital ratios at the end of 2016 might fall short of ECB requirements.

It was enough to prompt a 5.45% slide in its shares. As detected in the ECB’s latest stress test, Unicredit already had the slimmest capital buffer of all Europe’s Global Systemically Important Banks (G-SIBs). And it just got slimmer. The reality today is not comforting: a bank that is officially too big to fail, with over €1 trillion of “assets” on its books, just admitted that things are even worse than initially feared. Somehow, Unicredit will need to raise €13 billion in new capital by the end of June. If successful, it would be the biggest capital expansion of Italian stock market history. Earlier this month, the bank has pushed through a 10:1 reverse stock split, cutting its shares outstanding by a factor of 10 and multiplying the share price by 10. So its shares today plunged 5.45% to €26.20 instead of to, say, €2.62.

It makes the shares look more palatable, but it does absolutely nothing to bank’s market capitalization, which is down to just €16.2 billion. The bank is also planning to cut 14,000 jobs by 2019, close 944 of its 3,800 branches, and offload almost €18 billion of bad loans — a gargantuan ask even at the best of times. And for Unicredit and Italy as a whole, these are most certainly not the best of times. The Italian government has so far pledged €20 billion of taxpayer funds to partially bail out the bondholders of Monte dei Paschi and of a clutch of other banks that will probably include Banca Popolare di Vicenza, Veneto Banca and Genoa-based Carige. That’s already four times the initial estimated outlay of €5 billion. Expect it to keep growing.

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“Is everyone too busy hating to do anything sensible?”

The Left Is Self-Destructing (Paul Craig Roberts)

The mindlessness is unbearable. Amnesty International tells us that we must “fight the Muslim ban” because Trump’s bigotry is wrecking lives. Anthony Dimaggio at CounterPunch says Trump should be impeached because his Islamophobia is a threat to the Constitution. This is not to single out these two as the mindlessness is everywhere among those whose worldview is defined by Identity Politics. One might think that Amnesty International should be fighting against the Bush/Cheney/Obama regime wars that have produced the refugees by killing and displacing millions of Muslims. For example, the ongoing war that Obama inflicted on Yemen results in the death of one Yemeni child every 10 minutes, according to UNICEF. Where is Amnesty International?

Clearly America’s wars on Muslims wreck far more lives than Trump’s ban on immigrants. Why the focus on an immigration ban and not on wars that produce refugees? Is it because Obama is responsible for war and Trump for the ban? Is the liberal/progressive/left projecting Obama’s monstrous crimes onto Trump? Is it that we must hate Trump and not Obama? Immigration is not a right protected by the US Constitution. Where was Dimaggio when in the name of “the war on terror” the Bush/Obama regime destroyed the civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution? If Dimaggio is an American citizen, he should try immigrating to the UK, Germany, or France and see how far he gets.

The easiest and surest way for the Trump administration to stop the refugee problem, not only for the US but also for Europe and the West in general, is to stop the wars against Muslim countries that his predecessors started. The enormous sums of money squandered on gratuitous wars could instead be given to the countries that the US and NATO have destroyed. The simplest way to end the refugee problem is to stop producing refugees. This should be the focus of Trump, Amnesty, and Dimaggio. Is everyone too busy hating to do anything sensible? It is very disturbing that the liberal/progressive/left prefers to oppose Trump than to oppose war. Indeed, they want a war on Trump. How does this differ from the Bush/Obama war on Muslims?

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Stop warring.

A Better Solution Than Trump’s Border Wall (Ron Paul)

Just one week in office, President Trump is already following through on his pledge to address illegal immigration. His January 25th executive order called for the construction of a wall along the entire length of the US-Mexico border. While he is right to focus on the issue, there are several reasons why his proposed solution will unfortunately not lead us anywhere closer to solving the problem. First, the wall will not work. Texas already started building a border fence about ten years ago. It divided people from their own property across the border, it deprived people of their land through the use of eminent domain, and in the end the problem of drug and human smuggling was not solved.

Second, the wall will be expensive. The wall is estimated to cost between 12 and 15 billion dollars. You can bet it will be more than that. President Trump has claimed that if the Mexican government doesn’t pay for it, he will impose a 20% duty on products imported from Mexico. Who will pay this tax? Ultimately, the American consumer, as the additional costs will be passed on. This will of course hurt the poorest Americans the most. Third, building a wall ignores the real causes of illegal border crossings into the United States. Though President Trump is right to prioritize the problem of border security, he misses the point on how it can be done effectively and at an actual financial benefit to the country rather than a huge economic drain.

The solution to really addressing the problem of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and the threat of cross-border terrorism is clear: remove the welfare magnet that attracts so many to cross the border illegally, stop the 25 year US war in the Middle East, and end the drug war that incentivizes smugglers to cross the border. [..] the threat of terrorists crossing into the United States from Mexico must be taken seriously, however once again we must soberly consider why they may seek to do us harm. We have been dropping bombs on the Middle East since at least 1990. Last year President Obama dropped more than 26,000 bombs. Thousands of civilians have been killed in US drone attacks. The grand US plan to “remake” the Middle East has produced only misery, bloodshed, and terrorism. Ending this senseless intervention will go a long way toward removing the incentive to attack the United States.

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It’s like a different planet. Curious detail is that western Canada always felt very close to the US, something that comes up every time Québec separation is discussed. Those same people now actively sponsor refugees. Bless you.

More Refugees Could Come To Calgary In The Wake Of Trump’s Ban (CH)

After the success of last year’s resettlements in Calgary, another wave of refugees could be on its way as the federal government and immigration services monitor the impact of Donald Trump’s refugee ban. And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already suggested Canada will welcome those the U.S. won’t take, immigration advocates say funding for services will have to keep up with rising demand. “There is a lot of confusion around the ban right now, it came down very fast and furious,” said Anoush Newman, community engagement coordinator for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “But Canada is in a very respected position in the world. And people from a lot of countries will aspire to come here.”

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO with CCIS, added that while Calgary’s numbers will increase only if the federal government approves another wave of Syrian refugees similar to last year’s, the possibility is there amid the ban in the U.S. – a country that normally takes in 80,000 refugees a year. “There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps right now, dreaming of coming to Canada,” Birjandian said. “But that all depends on whether the federal government will raise its target numbers.” CCIS estimates up to 7,000 refugees arrived in Alberta over the past year, up to 3,400 of them to Calgary, after the Trudeau government announced a goal of taking at least 25,000 refugees last January.

[..] if Canadian cities will be expected to prepare for more refugees, Newman says the federal government also needs to ensure funding for new infrastructure and support services. “When they arrive here, they need schools, health services, language services. We need to make sure they get enough support,” she said. CCIS officials held a public forum Monday updating the community about its refugee resettlement program one year after the Trudeau government announced its 25,000 target. Birjandian commended local efforts, especially among private sponsors who took in up to 2,200 of Calgary’s 3,400 total refugees.

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Words fail. A fourth man dies on Samos. Where is the urgency, Europe, where is the outrage?

Alarm Raised Over Third Refugee Death on Lesbos In Six Days (K.)

The death Monday of a third migrant within a week at the Moria camp on Lesvos has increased concerns about the living conditions of thousands of people who continue to live in tents, and cast fresh doubts over a pledge by the Migration Ministry in early January to take the necessary precautions as heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures engulfed the country. However, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Monday that the number of United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) employees at the camps has dropped, making a difficult situation even tougher. He also said a plan to move people to hotels while the so-called hot spots received a makeover fell through after local authorities and hoteliers disagreed. He vowed to reporters that steps will be taken “to make the situation more manageable,” while migrants, meanwhile, say they are at breaking point.

The latest incidents occurred as the UNHCR and other organizations have called on Greece to improve living conditions. The man who died Monday in his tent was a Pakistani national, aged between 18 and 20. Authorities have ruled out foul play while doctors blamed carbon monoxide poisoning. A 30-year-old Afghan man who shared the same tent was hospitalized but his condition was reportedly not life-threatening. The Pakistani man’s death follows that of an Egyptian man, 22, last Tuesday and a 46-year-old Syrian man on Saturday. A coroner has asked for more tests to ascertain the cause of death for the latter two. Initial assessments attributed their deaths to fume inhalations from stoves they had lit to keep warm. Two camps on Lesvos serve as temporary shelter for some 4,800 refugees and migrants.

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