Below is a private email I received a few days ago from an Automatic Earth reader and that I would like to share with you.
Watching (some of) the impeachment inquiry this week and last, I again get the same feeling I’ve had for some 4 years now, which is something we all know -metaphorically- from the Godfather.
The Democrats and the Republicans are like two -of the five- families, let’s say the Barzini family and the Tattaglia family (we’ll leave the Corleones be), which are both utterly corrupted and lethal predators, and I wouldn’t want to choose between them. But that’s not made easy.
In this metaphor, the Tattaglia family appears to have both the intelligence services and 95% of the media on their side, which keep telling their readers and viewers that the Barzini family are much worse than the Tattaglia family. That’s what I see when I look at the impeachment inquiry, and the comments in the press surrounding it: they all, the Democrats, the media and the FBI/CIA et al, are trying to convince everyone that Don Barzini is the anti-christ and the Tattaglia family are fine upstanding Americans.
What I have been doing over the past years is to try and restore some balance to that picture. But I still get -perhaps not surprisingly- accused of being a right-wing Trump supporter. Because you’re either with us or with them. And 95% of the press is apparently still not enough; they want me to join in as well.
And yes, maybe I’m stupid, maybe you shouldn’t try to go against such an overwhelming majority of the press. But at the same time, the picture they paint makes no sense to me. And besides, I want the press to give me news, facts, not try to make up my mind for me. I would like to do that myself.
But that’s where the biggest change has occurred. In the past, you could read articles in the New York Times, Guardian or WaPo, and watch CNN, and come away with the impression that you had been provided with news. Today, you no longer can, because all of it is seeped in propaganda.
Still, that’s how the press make their money these days. As I wrote quite some time ago, Trump Sells Better Than Sex. Writing and saying bad things about him is their meal ticket. For four years and change they’ve been insisting that the next story would be the bombshell (talk about a deflated word) that would sink Trump, that it would be The BIG ONE, as I wrote yesterday. And sure enough, all their comments on Gordon Sondland’s testimony yesterday say it again.
This has nothing to do with my opinion of Donald Trump (and perhaps not even theirs), it’s about the process, and how it has changed, likely to a large extent because of the pressure exerted on the old media by internet and social media. Trump is the best thing that ever happened to the old guard’s finances. They willingly gave up on half the American population, because the other half can’t get enough of Orange Man Bad narratives. Looks like a risky gamble, but they were truly desperate. One should wonder if they really want Trump gone, because what then?
As I said, I thought I’d share that mail. The author said it’s okay. I deleted anything that could identify him. And of course I’m curious to know what you think about his words (and mine).
This is, once again, tiresome and ridiculous. Just as when people call you a pro-Trump, or whatever similar. Derangement syndrome, or Maoist frenzy, or headless chickens, many descriptive phrases apply to these reactions to anything with a link to common sense.
What amazes me is how unhinged the mainstream view of the world has become. And I am grateful to find a healthy measure of sanity in TAE.
Since 2014 I have been watching a major onslaught of disinformation, starting around Maidan, and later moving into overdrive with Trump. I think the man is a piece of junk, but the mainstream reaction to him has a distinct Orwellian feel (when the progressive ‘Our Values’ crowd starts singing Thank God we have NATO, the CIA, the Deep State… you know your Boeing 737 MAX is flying upside down).
The Narrative about Trump, especially here [in Canada] through our PC media class, is perfect, smooth and shiny, just like a brand new Tesla or a tale you read to your child in bed at night.
Trump may be crazy, I don’t know – but for sure our reaction to him has been erasing our sanity. This [is] both painful and entertaining to watch.
Our collective delusion about anything that matters (Trump, Russia, finance, energy, the rape of our planet, etc.) is IMO the greatest show on Earth. And it is on great display on TAE, including the remarkable Comments section. I have come to love the smell of it in the morning.
So yes Ilargi, please, keep up the good work!
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Do I really need to reiterate -as I’ve done easily a hundred times- that I don’t think Donald Trump is a great choice to be president of the United States, that when you have a pick of 320 million people there should certainly be a better option? Then again, should I also reiterate that he was elected as president 3 years ago, and that means a lot in the US political system, so much that people who don’t like the outcome of an election should always respect it, lest they do irreparable harm to the system?! Well, hereby.
What got me, with limited interest in politics, going about the elections back in 2015-16 was not Trump, it was the concerted effort by the DNC, the Democratic party in general, US intelligence and the media, to frustrate his run for president. Not because of him, but because of all of them. The media went so overboard that today you cannot read an article by NYT or WaPo, or watch a TV program on CNN or MSNBC, and believe a single word that is said. That, too, has nothing to do with Trump.
It has to do with the control over their readers’ and viewers’ views that they think they have. It has to do with CNN head Jeff Zucker insisting, as Project Veritas showed, that all of his ‘journalists’ focus on impeachment. Because that’s where the money is. CNN, NYT, WaPo have been doing great since they started attacking Trump 24/7. And even when Robert Mueller came up emptier than a black hole, they managed to hide the consequences, keep on dumping on Trump and selling ads and subscriptions up the wazoo.
But the latest trend should worry everyone even more. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, it might even be called predictable. We had the Steele dossier, but there wasn’t a secret about who was behind it for very long. There were even a lot of references to the man’s achievements and credibility. We’re still awaiting something similar on Mifsud and Downer, but so far they’re seen as having at least some credibility.
However, all of the above has changed since accusations and allegatiosn against Trump started to be made by, and based on, an anonymous whistleblower, who turned out not to be a whistleblower at all but a CIA operative closely linked to sworn Trump enemies Obama, Biden and Brennan. First time I saw that, I thought: wow, desperation sets in. The usual suspects don’t feel they’re winning. They think they need a backdoor.
And who is to blame them? The Democrats have nobody who could even possibly challenge Trump in a ‘normal’ election. Biden won’t survive Burisma, and that’s far from his only flaw, Warren and Sanders are too left for 2020 America, and they’re actively screwing with Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign, because she threatens to break their link to the military industrial complex, aka the Deep State.
So in comes Mike Bloomberg at a mere 112 years old, because rich old white men always do these things. I predicted the other day to a friend that Hillary would try to join in, but she wouldn’t have a chance in hot hell either; too tainted. She may still do it, though, in 5 years time she’ll be too old.
Apparently, though, that one backdoor, the anonymous CIA faultily labeled whistleblower, just won’t do.
Now we have a book, it’s coming out on November 19, and it’s written by, guess who … Anonymous. Who apparently claims to be a White House insider. Something we can’t check. It might as well be Hillary, or Brennan, or Clapper, or anyone in the CIA or DNC who doesn’t mind writing awful stories about Orange Man Bad, as long as they can remain anonymous.
So then you get this kind of thing, This first quote is from the Hill (which may have left their ace reporter John Solomon out to dry, I don’t know, but I only see his articles on his own website these days). And yeah, Rachel Maddow is a real credible source on all things Trump. She only spent 4 whole years shrieking about Russiagate every night until Bob Mueller grossly failed:
In a new book, the author of an anonymous New York Times op-ed has described a “steady state” that formed to “keep the wheels from coming off the White House wagon,” according to excepts from the book read by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on her show Thursday. “The early Steady State formed to keep the wheels from coming off the White House wagon,” Maddow read from the excerpts of the book “A Warning.” “When presidential appointees started conferring about their shared concerns with the nation’s chief executive … it was done informally, in weekly phone calls or on the margins of meetings,” Maddow continued, citing the book. Many of the concerns staff members had about the president stemmed from his “inattentiveness” and “impulsiveness.”
[..] “In Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable,” the person wrote last year. “This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state,” they continued at the time. The Post on Thursday also reported on an excerpt of the book in which the anonymous person, billed as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” wrote that officials wake up “in a full-blown panic” due to Trump’s tweets.
And some more from Maddow’s employer, NBC (every “left” news outlet is covering this, obviously):
President Donald Trump’s behavior can be so erratic that most top administration officials have pre-written resignation letters ready to submit, an anonymous author claiming to be a senior official in the Trump administration says in a book scheduled to be published this month. To complicate matters, the president’s decision-making abilities are getting worse with time, according to excerpts of “A Warning” that were obtained and read Thursday night on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” The author, described only as “a senior Trump administration official,” is the same person who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times last year headlined, “I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration.”
The column said “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” The information is coming from an anonymous source, and NBC News does not know who the writer is nor whether they were in a position to have witnessed what they say transpired. In the book excerpts, the author describes near-daily “five-alarm fire drill” that leads senior officials to cancel plans and race to the White House to intercept Trump before he can enact his latest “wacky or destructive idea.” “Staff throw up the Bat-Signal, calling a snap meeting or a teleconference. ‘He’s about to do something,’ one warns the group, explaining what the president is about to announce.” “‘He can’t do this. We’ll all look like idiots, and he’ll get murdered for it in the press,’ another exclaims. “‘Yeah, well, I’m telling you he’s going to do it unless someone gets to him fast,’ the first warns. ‘Can you cancel your afternoon?'”
[..] In excerpts published separately by The Washington Post, the author likens Trump to “a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport.” “I’ve sat and listened in uncomfortable silence as he talks about a woman’s appearance or performance,” according to the Post’s excerpts. “He comments on makeup. He makes jokes about weight. He critiques clothing. He questions the toughness of women in and around his orbit. He uses words like ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ to address accomplished professionals. This is precisely the way a boss shouldn’t act in the work environment.”
The image they try to present is very obvious: Trump is crazy. We got there from him not having a chance getting elected, to owing his election to Russia, and now Ukraine, from which he also demanded ‘dirt’ on his ‘main’ political rival Joe Biden, who was never that, and now we have deteriorated into He Is Crazy, and we get that from anonymous whistleblowers and ‘authors’.
Thing is, if you’re allowed to be anonymous, you can be anyone, including Trump’s direct rivals in the 2020 elections, or a CIA officer, you name it. Does this open the window for the GOP to start publishing fake news too? Because that’s what it is, right, when things are said that nobody can verify? It’s not news, it’s partisan propaganda. Why would anyone opposed to Trump want to be anonymous today? It’s not as if the CIA or FBI would come after them, they’re siding with the other party.
What is the problem with anonymous CIA ‘whistleblowers’ and authors? That we have no way of verifying what they say. Duh! And believe it or not, in days of old, other than in cases like Deep Throat, US media would never have dreamed of publishing a single word from the CIA not-whistleblower or the guy or gal or entire team (we can’t know) who wrote that book.
Journalistic standards have simply eroded and vanished to a huge extent. And people will say: yes, but Trump, but Orange Man Bad, anything is justified to get rid of him.
And that is very simply not true. The media and politicians and intelligence agencies cannot abandon their standards, developed over many decades, just to get rid of someone they don’t like. That, in the end, is up to the American people to decide, whether you like it or not, in the next election.
This whole anonymous thing feels increasingly like an election item, because the Dems know they have nothing to very little. We get that. But the sanctity of the election process, and of the Office of the President of the United States, must always prevail. Because if it doesn’t you will find yourselves in a state of anarchy. Anonymous accounts that are widely re-covered because that fits a political agenda are a solid step towards that anarchy. Beware.
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At 5.55am, Talgarth Road, one of the major arteries into west London, is just beginning to clog up with early rush-hour traffic. A man named Dave, his white van pulled over into a loading bay, is putting up a billboard poster by the side of the carriageway. The previous one was an advert for Calvin Klein featuring the model Lara Stone. Over the course of 20 minutes, Dave covers Stone up, expertly pasting rectangles of paper over her, using a ladder for the high ones, then sweeping over with his brush. The first rectangle, in the top left corner, contains a headshot of Jacob Rees-Mogg and the beginning of his Twitter handle. As Dave lines up edges, pastes and brushes, and Stone disappears, a quote emerges from Rees-Mogg.
This one wasn’t a tweet; he said it in parliament. “We could have two referendums. As it happens, it might make more sense to have a second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.” There are three other men here, dressed in hoodies, lumberjack shirts and beanies, lurking around and admiring the work. Their work – because Richard, Adam and Chris are three of the four key people behind Led By Donkeys, the remainer guerrilla activists highlighting the hypocrisy and lies of politicians by posting their damning quotes on billboards around the country. Less guerrilla now, actually: they’ve gone legit, this hoarding is paid for. Before, they just took them over.
[..] It all began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. They were talking about the infamous David Cameron tweet – “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me or chaos with Ed Miliband” – which was doing the rounds again after Theresa May cancelled the vote on her deal in December. And someone said: why don’t they slap it on a billboard, make it the tweet you can’t delete? The next day, on the WhatsApp group, one of them said they had found someone who would print it out for them. They all agreed: “Let’s just fucking do it.” It was cheaper to do five, so they cobbled together four more tweets – from Michael Gove, David Davies, John Redwood and Liam Fox – not really thinking they’d ever put them up. Initial outlay was about 200 quid, plus £90 on a ladder from B&Q.
Tusk is an idiot, but he was right when he said thet as both May and Corbyn want to Leave, there is no political leadership for Remain. But the majority of Britons by now want to Remain. Don’t underestimate the danger of this.
A war of words has further undermined Theresa May’s mission to Brussels to rescue her Brexit deal, after the EU warned of a “special place in hell” for politicians who botched the project. Downing Street and Tory politicians hit back angrily after the extraordinary attack by Donald Tusk on those who triumphed in the referendum “without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it safely”. The prime minister’s spokesman urged people to ask whether such language was “helpful” – before noting, sarcastically, that was impossible “because he didn’t take any questions”. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, condemned the comments by Mr Tusk, the European Council president, as “disgraceful” and “spiteful”, saying such behaviour “demeans him”.
Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up the Tories in power, went further – branding him a “devilish, trident-wielding, Euro maniac”. But pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry backed him and named Boris Johnson, David Davis and Nigel Farage as among his likely targets, for having “abdicated all responsibility”. The fury overshadowed the tough message for Ms May before she lands in Brussels on Thursday morning – that the EU will never agree to reopening the divorce deal, as she has vowed to do. The prime minister will again demand either an end date for the Irish backstop or an exit mechanism from it for there to be any hope of the Commons passing the deal. Ms May appeared to drop her third option – replacing the backstop with ill-defined “alternative arrangements”, based on unproven technology – to the anger of some Brexiteer Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn has written to the prime minister, offering to throw Labour’s support behind her Brexit deal if she makes five legally binding commitments – including joining a customs union. The Labour leader held private talks with Theresa May last week for the first time since her deal was rejected by a historic margin of 230 votes in January. In a follow-up letter sent on Wednesday, he laid out in the clearest terms yet what commitments he is seeking in exchange for offering Labour support. His intervention will dismay backbench Labour MPs and grassroots activists still hoping he will switch the party’s policy towards demanding a second Brexit referendum – which is not mentioned in the letter.
And it comes as No 10 prepares to publish legislation underpinning workers’ rights, perhaps as early as next week, in an attempt to win support from Labour backbenchers. In his letter, Corbyn calls for the government to rework the political declaration setting the framework for Britain’s future relationship with the EU – and then enshrine these new negotiating objectives in UK law, so that a future Tory leader could not sweep them away after Brexit. He says the changes to the political declaration must include:
• A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union”, including a say in future trade deals.
• Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions”.
• “Dynamic alignment on rights and protections”, so that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU.
• Clear commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes.
• Unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements, such as use of the European arrest warrant.
A trade union affiliated with the Labour party has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn’s party could lose an additional 45 seats in a snap election if it fails to take an anti-Brexit position, in a leaked report. The report, drawn up by the transport union TSSA and including extensive polling, was sent to the leftwing pressure group Momentum. It appears to be an attempt to pile pressure on the Labour leader over Brexit. It claims that “Brexit energises Labour remain voters” disproportionately, and warns: “There is no middle way policy which gets support from both sides of the debate.” The Guardian understands that while the report was sent to Momentum, it was not commissioned or requested by the group.
Sources inside the party stressed that there were risks from turning either way on Brexit – and other polls showed a different picture. The document – marked strictly confidential – says: “There can be no disguising the sense of disappointment and disillusionment with Labour if it fails to oppose Brexit and there is every indication that it will be far more damaging to the party’s electoral fortunes than the Iraq war. “Labour would especially lose the support of people below the age of 35, which could make this issue comparable to the impact the tuition fees and involvement in the coalition had on Lib Dem support.” The document starts by pointing out that the TSSA has “supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership from the very beginning”.
It says that the party’s supporters view Brexit as a “Tory project”. It adds that four-fifths of them believe the current deal will hurt the British economy and 91.4% of Labour voters do not trust the government to deliver a good Brexit for people such as them.
The Federal Reserve’s next move may well be an interest rate cut if weakening growth around the world starts infecting the U.S. economy, former central bank Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday. Weakening economies in China and Europe are posing danger to an otherwise strong U.S. economy, Yellen told CNBC’s Steve Liesman during a “Power Lunch” interview. “Of course it’s possible. If global growth really weakens and that spills over to the United States where financial conditions tighten more and we do see a weakening in the U.S. economy, it’s certainly possible that the next move is a cut,” she said. “But both outcomes are possible.” The former central bank head cited “slowing global growth” as the biggest threat to the economy she once watched over. “The data from China has been recently weak, the European data has also come in weaker than expected,” she said.
U.S. bank stress tests conducted during an “interim” period this year will help the Federal Reserve decide what permanent changes to make to the closely followed examinations, the Fed’s point person on financial supervision Randal Quarles said on Wednesday. On Tuesday the Fed said it would make its stress testing of large banks more transparent in 2019, providing financial firms significantly more information about how their portfolios would perform under potential economic shocks. The changes respond to long-running bank complaints that the current stress-testing process is cumbersome and opaque. Less complex banks with assets between $100 billion and $250 billion, such as SunTrust Banks and Fifth Third Bancorp, do not have to face 2019 stress tests, as the Fed is moving to a two-year cycle for testing those firms.
“Our challenge now is to preserve the strength of the test, while improving its efficiency, transparency, and integration into the post-crisis regulatory framework,” Federal Reserve Vice Chairman of Supervision Randal Quarles said in remarks prepared for delivery at a Council for Economic Education event in New York. “Our experience with this ‘interim’ year will inform the move to a permanently longer testing cycle – a change that would, of course, be subject to a full notice and comment process.” The 2019 tests also include factoring in a jump to 10 percent unemployment from the current 4 percent rate, as well as elevated stress in corporate loan and commercial real estate markets in the most severe scenario.
Media Bias: While journalists are getting pink slips across the country, the Washington Post decided to dump a boatload of cash for a Super Bowl image ad that tried to portray the news media as national heroes. Here’s a better, and much cheaper, idea to restore the industry’s shattered reputation: Be less blatantly partisan. In the 60-second ad, Tom Hanks intones about the importance of journalists against the backdrop of historic events. Thankfully, during these times, the ad says, “There’s someone to gather the facts. To bring you the story. No matter the cost. Because knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free.” The problem with journalists today, however, is that they aren’t interested in gathering facts or empowering the public with knowledge.
Instead, they are interested mainly in pushing their agenda — a basic failing of the profession brought into high relief over the past two years. The latest IBD/TIPP Poll makes this abundantly clear. The poll asked several questions to gauge the public’s perception of the mainstream news media. What did it find? First, that fully half the country says its trust in the media decreased over the past two years. A tiny 8% say it’s increased. That includes a plurality of independents (49%). Even among Republicans, who’ve long grown accustomed to media bias, 81% say their trust in the press has dropped over the past two years. Geographically, those in the Midwest and the South are mostly likely to say their trust in the press has declined (52% and 57%, respectively) since Trump took office.
Men are far more likely than women (54% vs. 47%). And those with incomes over $75,000 (51% of home distrust the media more) more than lower-income households. These findings alone should be alarming. After all, as any corporate executive knows, you can’t run a successful business when a vast and increasing share of your customer base doesn’t trust the product you are selling. It gets worse. The poll found that more than two-thirds of the public (69%) think the news media “is more concerned with advancing its points of view rather than reporting all the facts.” Only 29% of the public disagrees with that statement. In other words, nearly seven out of 10 adults in the country think the Post ad’s blather about “gathering the facts” is bull. That includes 72% of independents, 95% of Republicans, and — surprisingly enough — 43% of Democrats.
Given the right circumstances… a little programing… and enough time for it all to marinate in his soft, mammalian brain… there is almost nothing Homo Credulus will not learn to embrace. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the historical record; you’ll soon wonder how we ever got this far. Sure, you’ll discover gizmos and flying contraptions… art and agriculture… music and mathematics. You’ll witness spectacular scientific breakthroughs, the number “0” and a man’s footprint on the moon. You’ll also find automobiles with so many cup holders, you won’t know where to holster your oversized 7/11 Big Gulp. But you’ll also scratch you head. Perhaps you’ll even weep. And if you think hard enough, you’ll put a few things to serious question…
“Central banks?” “Modern democracy?” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show?” How has mankind survived such atrocities? Self inflicted, no less! And why, moreover, does he rush so earnestly to repeat and replay his worst mistakes? Don’t be too hard on yourself, Dear Reader. After all, repetition is nothing new… You’ll recall that it was the Greeks who first gave the world democracy – from the Greek, demokratia, literally “Rule by ‘People’”. (And yes, it was those very same Greeks who put their own beloved Socrates to death… by a majority vote of 140-361.) Today, democracy is a cherished tenet of “the West.” It is woven into the civic religion, sewn into the social fabric. Men march off eagerly to fight for it, to proselytize it … and to die in forgotten ditches defending it. At least, that’s what they believe they’re doing. As usual, the poor saps have been duped.
The phrase “Making the world safe for democracy” was actually a marketing slogan, coined back in the 1910s, as a way to sell “The Great War” to America. Weary from their own disastrous Civil War just a few decades earlier, in which hundreds of thousands gave up the ghost, Americans were mostly inward looking at the time. That is to say, they wanted little to do with what they largely saw as a “European affair.” Polls might have indicated no appetite for battle… but the nation’s politicians were nonetheless starved for military misadventure. They sensed big profits abroad, both in manufacturing armaments and making onerous bank loans to foreign lands. Sure, “the nation” would have to fill tank and trench with warm young bodies… but very few soldiers would carry senatorial surnames along with their rifles.
French and German farmers have been forced to dig up thousands of hectares of rapeseed fields after authorities found an illegal GMO strain mixed in with the natural seeds they’d bought from Bayer-Monsanto. Authorities discovered the illicit seeds in three separate batches of rapeseed seeds last fall, but the public has only just been notified. While Bayer issued a recall, by the time the farmers learned of it some of the seeds had already been planted, covering 8,000 ha in France and 3,000 ha in Germany. Bayer-Monsanto estimated the number of rogue seeds at just about .005 percent of the total volume of rapeseed seeds sold to both nations under the brand name Dekalb, but each country has a ban on GMO cultivation, with strict penalties for “accidental” contamination of standard crops.
The agrochemical giant refused to estimate the total cost of the GMO contamination, which knocks out not only this season’s crop but also the next season’s, as farmers will be barred from growing rapeseed next year “to avoid re-emergence of the GMO strain,” according to Bayer-Monsanto’s French COO Catherine Lamboley. They offered to compensate farmers €2,000 per hectare, which would work out to about €20 million between both countries. The cause of the contamination is unknown, Lamboley said, claiming the seeds were produced in Argentina “in a GMO-free area” and declaring that the company “has decided to immediately stop all rapeseed production in Argentina.” The rogue GMO seeds were of a variety grown in Canada that is banned in Europe, although imported food made with the modified rapeseed is permitted for human and animal consumption as long as it is adequately labeled.
The vast majority of the world’s largest species are being pushed towards extinction, with the killing of the heftiest animals for meat and body parts the leading cause of decline, according to a new study. While habitat loss, pollution and other threats pose a significant menace to large species, also known as megafauna, intentional and unintentional trapping, poaching and slaughter is the single biggest factor in their decline, researchers found. An analysis of 362 megafauna species found that 70% of them are in decline, with 59% classed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Direct killing by humans is the leading cause across all classes of animals, the study states.
A range of maladies including intensive agriculture, toxins and invasive competitors are also helping to trigger these declines. This situation adds to the “mounting evidence that humans are poised to cause a sixth mass extinction event”, according to the research, published in Conservation Letters. It adds that “minimizing the direct killing of the world’s largest vertebrates is a priority conservation strategy that might save many of these iconic species and the functions and services they provide.” Humans cause the deaths of large creatures in a variety of ways, from snares that entangle mountain gorillas and the poaching of elephants for ivory to the killing of the Chinese giant salamander, which can grow up to 6ft long and is considered a delicacy in Asia.
Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office. Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century. Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward. Man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are adding 0.2C of warming each decade but the incline of temperature charts is jagged due to natural variation: hotter El Niño years zig above the average, while cooler La Ninã years zag below.
In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark. Dr Doug Smith, Met Office research fellow, said: “A run of temperatures of 1C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5C.” Climatologists stressed this did not mean the world had broken the Paris agreement 80 years ahead of schedule because international temperature targets are based on 30-year averages.
“Exceeding 1.5C in one given year does not mean that the 1.5C goal has been breached and can be redirected towards the bin,” said Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer at the Grantham Institute. “The noise in the annual temperatures should not distract from the long-term trend.”
Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.
Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?
From 10% to 75% in 10 years
We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.
Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.
There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.
With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.
And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?
Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.
That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?
Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.
This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.
The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?
Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.
The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.
But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.
What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?
And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.
We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.
Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?
We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.
British media report today that Donald Trump may visit the country in late summer. (Renewed) calls for mass protests are everywhere, of course. The Metro news outlet features a picture of a pamphlet that reads No To Racism. No To Trump, that dates from an earlier occasion (Trump was supposed to come several times, but never did).
Now, good luck with those protests, it’s still a free country, in name at least. But boy oh boy, would you guys miss the point. Because as we now all know – or could-, your country is being governed by a group of people who are so racist they make even Trump’s fake tan pale in comparison. If Theresa May is still in office by the time Trump visits, you’re all a bunch of racists.
Both May and her Home Secretary Amber Rudd – and you all know they’re far from alone- look so completely deranged in reports about the Windrush scandal that you will have to get rid of them first, or else shut up about Trump because you will have no moral ground whatsoever left on which to protest his visit.
For those of you who don’t know what Windrush is about, and if you’re British you have no excuse not to know, it’s the name given to a group of people who arrived, on invitation, in Britain between the late 1940s and early 1970s, often as children, and whose legal status in the country is now put in so much doubt that some have already been deported, some are denied health care, and all live in fear. Despite having lived and worked and paid taxes all their lives.
There are many instances of people who have never left Britain for a family visit, some who can’t see their own children because they did go for that visit and weren’t allowed back in, the entire story is so appalling and disastrous it’s hard to read the various reports on it. The common denominator of all of these people? They are black.
In the aftermath of World War II, the British government invited thousands of people from Caribbean countries in the British Commonwealth to immigrate to the United Kingdom and help address the war-torn country’s labor shortages. Now, nearly 70 years later, many of those same people, now elderly, are having their legal status in the country questioned and are facing deportation. Though the deportation threats date as far back as October, the crisis burst into wider view this week after Caribbean diplomats representing a dozen Commonwealth nations chastised the U.K. government publicly. “This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner from Barbados to the U.K., said at a gathering of the diplomats.
As for the Guardian, which claims it broke the story, here’s a question: where were you all those years? As for Theresa May, who when she occupied the Home Office from 2010-2016 and devised all manner of tough-on-immigrants measures that have now spread to people the UK itself invited into its nation: you have to go. You cannot continue to be the face of Britain, because you blemish any and all of your fellow country men and women.
As for Donald Trump, as much as we would like to engage in constructive criticism of the man and his government, we find we no longer can. The anti-Trump echo-chamber has turned so deafening that any intelligent debate about his policies is being drowned out amid the never ending flow of fake news and half truths and innuendo and empty smears that US media continue to spout. With a brief lull when the bombs fell on Syria.
Thank you, New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC. Thank you for killing the entire discussion, thank you for killing off journalism. There is a lot to say about Trump, much of it critical, but we can no longer open our mouths. Because we don’t want to be in the same camp as you. Life in the echo chamber has given us vertigo. We had to get out.
And now, what are you going to do? The DNC lawsuit-for-campaign-cash which was launched yesterday against everything Trump, plus Wikileaks, plus everything Russia, may appear to you to be a nice and juicy next episode in your ‘impeach the comb-over’ narrative, but if I were you, I’d be careful. Because the suit creates the ideal ground upon which the empire can strike back.
And the counter suits look a lot stronger. The DNC has nothing on Russia, Wikileaks and most Trump affiliated people and organizations, as the Mueller investigation has shown by now. But Loretta Lynch, the “Pakistani mystery man”, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Comey, McCabe, and many more around Hillary Clinton, that’s a whole different story.
First of all, they haven’t been investigated for well over a year. But can you see Rosenstein now still refusing to appoint a second special counsel and going after anything Democrat? It would cost him his job, and for good reason. And then what will the place of the echo chamber be? What have been your sources on Trump et al over the past, let’s say, 18 months? How are you going to report on your own role? Someone’s going to ask these questions.
And, you know, you do know that at least someone will name Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize if he pulls off ‘pacifying’ North Korea. How will you address that? See, you can’t praise the Donald anymore even if he does achieve things -other than missiles-, and we can’t criticize him anymore for what does indeed go wrong because you monopolized that criticism with your opinionated 24/7 non-news. While claiming to be the serious press.
Trump must be very grateful to you for what you’ve done. Come to think of it, perhaps that second special counsel should look into any payments you have received from Russia. Because nobody has helped Trump more than you have. Except perhaps for the Britons who plan to protest his visit with their racist prime minister.
Why do I feel like most of the world has lost its compass? Like we’re all just aimlessly bobbing around on a sea of meaningless words? You know, Trump territory.
Tomorrow we have the State of the Union. Donald Trump will be gloating from ear to ear, but he’ll be subdued – by his standards. Expect perhaps $1 or even $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending to be announced, plus an immigration plan that gives Democrats much of what they want in exchange for some of the things Trump wants, as well as more on trade surpluses and deficits. The Democrats will attempt to turn it into a circus of sorts by bringing guests, and they will fail.
What America needs right now is dialogue, but it’s only moving further away from it. Anything that’s wrong with anything or anyone gets blamed on Trump. By half the population. That’s nice and easy and convenient, but it doesn’t lead anywhere.
This pic, even though it features a very dumb question, says a lot about where the country stands, and it’s not standing pretty. Everybody’s just busy confirming their own opinions 24/7, egged on by networks, newspapers and social media. It’s like Moses split the nation.
Watched the Trump speech in Davos last week. He made all the points you would expect him to. No scandals, nothing anyone could blame him for. In fact, it’s true that the US economy is doing well, in Trump terms. They’re not my terms, because they laud stock markets that quit being actual markets the moment the Fed and it global brethren killed off price discovery. But in Trump terms a record S&P 500 is all you need to know, alongside low unemployment numbers, even if the latter have everything to do with underpaid shit jobs robbed of all benefits American workers once fought so hard for.
In Trump’s view, that’s a good thing. In mine, it’s a recipe for mayhem. I was watching CNN in the build-up to the speech, and Trump’s denial of the NYT report that he had intended to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller was completely ignored. Like he never said it. At CNN, anonymous sources have -way- more credibility than the president. That’s a bit of a problem.
After the speech, all sorts of people were interviewed, and Joe Stiglitz of Nobel Memorial fame was one of them. He couldn’t muster anything better than that Trump is a bigot, a misogynist and a racist. That’s a terribly poor reaction to a speech like the one we saw and heard -which included not one word that would make any sane person think of these ‘topics’-, certainly from an economist.
The 1-year-old Donald Trump presidency has brought us a lot of new things, but none more significant than that Trump has been under investigation since day 1 (and even before that). This sets a dangerous precedent that will resound through US politics for a very long time to come, not least of all because today, one year into the presidency, none of the investigations has resulted in anything tangible, while they continue without a finish line in sight.
The problem with that is that if you can do it with one president, someone will do it with the next one and the next one after that as well. Which does great damage not to Trump, but to the entire US political system, and the Office of the President of the United States in particular. If the office cannot command sufficient respect on Capitol Hill to limit any such investigation to an absolute minimum, in deference to what it represents, why would anyone else, domestically or abroad, show such respect?
Obviously, some people may claim that the situation is unique, simply because it concerns Trump, but that argument doesn’t fly very far, because he was elected president, the culmination of a process that, given the powers endowed upon the office, should be close to sacred in the country. And if the very people (s)he must most closely work with, in the Senate and the House, are willing to subject a newly elected president to endless investigations without producing any results for a whole year, where and what are the limits?
It is at present of course all based on opaque accusations of the Trump campaign working with Russian intelligence to swing America’s election process in favor of the president. But to date, four different committees on Capitol Hill, plus Special Counsel Robert Mueller, have made nothing public that proves any such ‘collusion’. And Mueller’s investigation is not only unlimited in time, it’s also unlimited, in practical terms, in scope: whatever is deemed even possibly, perhaps, linked to collusion with Russia, goes.
The American empire was built, once it had acquired enough geopolitical, financial and military power, on invading countries and turning them into shithouses. It wasn’t and original idea, America wasn’t the first country to do it, but it’s certainly been no. 1 in applying the ‘tactic’ over the past 100 years and change. Which makes it curious that when its own elected president calls some countries shithouses, that is treated like the worst thing anybody could have said anytime in history. And racist too, allegedly.
The entire country was built on racism, and it’s still to his day almost exclusively run by white males. Much of the racism may be hidden by now, but it’s still very much there. Go look at Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the long list of black kids killed by white cops. It’s not much use trying to claim that America is over its past. But Trump is singled out as a racist, though it’s unclear what would make him worse than others.
And on Martin Luther King Day, all Democrats and many Republicans fell over each other once again claiming they knew exactly what Dr. King stood for in his days, and what he would have said if he were alive today (the same they thermselves say). They don’t have a clue. The only way to honor MLK is to assume he would have been lightyears ahead of you. To assume he would have condemned all US foreign as well as domestic policy, and the likes of Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, Trump, and even Obama, wouldn’t even have had a remote chance of becoming president.
Allegedly Trump never said “shithole countries”, but instead talked about “shithouse countries”. Which would explain why he could say he never used the language he was quoted as having used (“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”) That a private conversation with lawmakers held in the Oval Office was leaked again within no time will not only frustrate Trump to no end, it also paints a dangerous picture of the future of US politics.
What used to be the exclusive domain of police officers and TV series, the catchy line “anything you say can and will be used against you”, no longer applies only to suspected criminals, from here on in it should be read to American presidents too. Trump and his successors will no longer be able to discuss policy in the White House, they must assume everything they say will be in the press within hours if not minutes. That is dangerous.
But let’s dig some more. And ask ourselves what is worse, let alone more racist: turning nations into shithouses or calling them that after the fact. Half the planet was encouraged to speak out in indignation at the use of the term, but where were all those Americans when the bombs and drones were unleashed upon Syria, Libya, Iraq? Where were the media?
Trump singled out Haiti and El Salvador. Two completely different ‘cases’. But also too complete basket cases (another word for shithouse) , compared to their potential. Haiti was the first slave colony to liberate itself, under black rule. That was in 1804, and if you know what Americans’ view of slaves and black people in general was back then, you can imagine how the former no. 1 global sugar producer was treated. By France, the country that had ruled it, but also by America. And you want to claim Haiti is not a shithouse country today? Go to Port-au-Prince and ask people living in the poor part of town how they feel about that.
As for African countries, the Congo is always a good example. The richest nation on the planet when it comes to natural resources, and one of the poorest when it comes to living standards. Long governed by a regime under Belgium’s King Leopold, matched in cruelty only perhaps by Germany in WWII, the Congo is still maintained as a hellhole to this day. So American and European conglomerates can dig up the metals and minerals almost for free. Not a shithole, a hellhole.
No, Trump is not going to solve that, but he didn’t make it what it is either. Generations of Americans did that. Yeah, we understand why they don’t want it named the way Trump has.
Perhaps the best illustration of how convoluted the entire issue quickly became after Trump said shithouse, which then became shithole, is this LA Times article, which starts out with the headline that Americans with African roots ‘should’ all be insulted, but then rapidly devolves into something else altogether, that insults them a lot more: the history of American involvement in their countries. Slavery, occupation, warfare, plunder.
Kimberly Atkins, the Washington bureau chief of the Boston Herald, recently did a DNA test “that pretty much confirmed my heritage is 100% the result of the slave trade,” she wrote in a private message on Twitter. “Eighty-seven percent from western coastal African countries and 13% European, all migrated by way of the American South.”
She traced part of her heritage to an ancestor who fought in the Union during the Civil War to guarantee his freedom and the abolition of the U.S. slave trade. “My ancestors did not come from shithole countries,” she tweeted. “They were neither tired nor poor. They were forcibly brought here to live in a shithole created for them.”
Trump’s singling out of Haiti was particularly frustrating for descendants from the Caribbean nation, coming as the nation mourned the eighth anniversary of an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of residents.
“Haiti is not unacquainted with racists or white supremacists. We defeated our share of them in 1804 when we became the world’s first black republic,” Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat wrote in a post on Facebook, expressing her frustration that Haitians’ mourning was being diverted by an insult from Trump.
Danticat’s father came to Brooklyn, N.Y., to drive a taxicab “sometimes sixteen hours a day, so that my three brothers (two teachers and an IT specialist) and I could have a better life,” Danticat wrote.
Danticat added: “We are also the country that the United States has invaded several times, preventing us from consistently ruling ourselves. If we are a poor country, then our poverty comes in part from pillage and plunder.”
Clint Smith, a writer and PhD candidate at Harvard University specializing in sociology and education, said that he hoped that at least the president’s remarks would prompt a fuller conversation about past U.S. and European involvement with the countries Trump mentioned — countries still troubled by the legacy of colonial rule and military interventions.
“You can’t understand the economic conditions in which Haiti exists now without understanding the centuries and centuries of direct imperialism and violence and economic exploitation that the country experienced after the Haitian revolution of 1804,” Smith said. “We can’t have a real conversation about what is happening, why Salvadorans are coming here, without discussing how the U.S. contributed to the civil unrest in that country.”
The larger conversation, Smith said, “is not often enough taking into account the way that U.S. policy directly contributed to the condition in which so many of these so-called shitholes are currently existing.”
The woman who says “My ancestors did not come from shithole countries” says it best. Before the slave traders came to ship their ancestors to Brazil and later America, their countries were not shithouses. But they did become just that after, and many if not most still are now.
From a less echo chamber-confined point of view, this little thingy is priceless:
That points to an aspect of all this that we can not ignore: the media. There has a been a profound shirt in that field, and it happened fast, it turned on a dime. The first signs were already there before the Trump presidency, but it’s all been going going gone out of the park since. Media organizations (for lack of a better term) like the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN were anti-Trump from the get-go, but it was when they found out their attitude was commercially very interesting that they really went for it.
And in a way, that made sense; they all had big problems trying to adapt their business models to the internet age. Then they found that publishing one after another anti-Trump piece brought them tons of new subscribers and advertisement revenue. Also for their internet presence. One stone, two birds.
The problem is that all that revenue and readership comes from one half of America, and excludes the other half. You know beforehand that anything these firms publish about Trump will be biased, and not a little bit. Much of it is based on anonymous sources, not exactly a sign of solid journalism. But it sells. And they have a business to run. We get it.
For those outside of the echo chamber, however, they have become largely unreadable and unwatchable. It’s obvious by now that someone like me, who asks a few questions and doesn’t feel comfortable in an echo chamber, will almost of necessity be ‘accused’ of being a Trump supporter. Absolute nonsense, but that’s echo chambers for you. They’re deafening and they lead to brain damage in case of long term occupancy.
Perhaps even worse are social media, where untold numbers of people revel in the notion that many others think like them, and let that carry them away to ‘heights’ they would never have thought possible. In the case of Trump, many allow themselves to call him names -in writing- they never would have dared use before, but they see echoed back to them on Twitter and Facebook et al.
That their often insults of Trump in effect show their disrespect for America’s political system would never occur to them. It’s an us against them battle, and they feel greatly emboldened by the 24/7 presence of those that are like-minded. It’s entirely unclear where this is going in the future, but it should be obvious it won’t be anywhere pretty.
Neither Bob Mueller nor those 4 committees on Capitol Hill have presented anything of substance as of now, but it’s crystal clear that Donald Trump is not being considered innocent until proven guilty. Which not only goes straight against, and into the heart of, American values and principles of justice, it also doesn’t even begin to address the real problem.
The real problem, and it’s not new at all, is that both US political parties might as well be run by Tony Soprano. The presence inside party leadership of people like Steve Wynn is ridiculous, but so is that of John Podesta. That is undoubtedly blindingly obvious for a vast majority of Americans, but it’s not what they focus on. They focus on Trump instead, on the still contagious obsession with impeaching him, even though many understand that wouldn’t solve any of the underlying issues.
And then Trump gets to present great economic numbers tomorrow. The numbers are mostly fake, but they’re the same ones that the echo chamber media also use, so they’ll have to tackle him somewhere else. They’ll come up with something, don’t worry. Their audience will just wait to be fed the usual pre-chewed bite-size fare anyway.
America needs a dialogue. But all it has left is loud, echoing, deafening, monologues. And plenty shithouse counties and cities and neighborhoods within its own borders as well. For which, too, it’s useless to blame Trump. He’s just the logical conclusion of years of blindness, ignorance, greed, stupidity and neglect. All of which, as long as everyone focuses on him, are guaranteed to continue.
Trump is not what’s wrong with America. Rather, what is wrong with America is what has given it Trump. Someone asked God for a sign and He said: here you are.
The U.S. stock market has been on such a parabolic march higher that Wall Street investors may have forgotten what a typical, sharp downturn feels like. Indeed, much has been made about the lack of volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index otherwise known as the “fear gauge,” had been flirting with its lowest close on record, implying that market expectations for a sharp, sudden fall are near rock bottom, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite Index scale new heights. (The Dow notched a fresh record on Friday to end the week 1.2% higher.) The recent level of complacency permeating the market has pundits talking about the lack of 5% falls in the market—an occurrence that isn’t unusual in a normal market environment. However, a 5% tumble, while normal, isn’t that common either. It has occurred at least 75 times over the course of the blue-chip index’s, according to WSJ Market Data Group, using data going back to 1901.
The Dow, however, hasn’t experienced a 5% decline since 2011, and before that a 5% drop hadn’t happened since 2008, when there were 9 such drops: At this point, with the Dow just 200 points shy of 22,000, a 5% selloff would equate to a 1,100-point, one-day slide in the gauge. Is the market ready for that sort of sudden jolt lower, given the optics of a quadruple-digit downturn and how it might rattle investment psyche? Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, doesn’t think so. “I would say no because we’re out of practice. Your usual standard garden-variety volatility just hasn’t been around, and we haven’t seen it for 12 months,” Hogan told MarketWatch. “Quiet markets have been the norm and not the exception and I think a major pullback is going to feel a whole lot larger for lack of experience and the numbers are larger,” he said.
Even a 2.5% drop in the Dow, adding up a 550-point decline, could be unsettling, market participants said. Those sorts of tumbles are far more frequent, with 564 such moves of that magnitude occurring in the Dow since 1901. The most recent slump of at least 2.5% was on June 24, 2016, when the Dow tumbled about 610 points, or 3.4%, a day after U.K. citizens voted to end the country’s membership in the EU. There were 3 falls for the Dow of at least 2.5% in 2015. Hogan said it is even hard to imagine what the landscape of the market would like in the face of a plunge of the same magnitude of the 1987 crash, when the Dow lost 22.6% of its value, or 508 points, in a single session. “That’s why it is hard for investors to think about it intuitively. We have no muscle memory for it. It’s hard to harken back to 30 years ago. We have been lulled to sleep,” he said.
As stocks keep dancing around record highs, and the CBOE Volatility Index remains historically low, some investors are preparing for a violent end to one of the world’s most popular trades: shorting volatility. A one-day Standard & Poor’s 500 correction of 3% to 4% could force some funds that short futures on the index, such as the ProShares Short VIX Short-term Future s exchange-traded fund (ticker: SVXY) and the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (XIV), to cover their positions. That could make the VIX skyrocket. If the weighted-average of 30-day VIX futures sharply jumped—say by 80% in one day—it would, in turn, trigger an “acceleration event” that would force more funds to buy back short VIX futures contracts. Some VIX funds could face margin calls.
And a chain reaction would likely explode across the volatility spectrum and ultimately the stock market, pushing down share prices and boosting volatility further. So many institutional investors use strategies that increase portfolio leverage as equity volatility declines that Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s top quantitative strategist, fears the markets are nearing a turning point. “While these strategies include concepts like ‘risk control’, ‘crisis alpha’, etc. in various degrees they rely on selling into market weakness to cut losses. This creates a ‘stop-loss order’ that gets larger in size and closer to the current market price as volatility gets lower,” Kolanovic wrote last week. The S&P 500’s realized volatility–the level that’s materialized already—is the lowest since 1966. That influences expectations for future, or implied, volatility.
In fact, CBOE Volatility Index levels are so meager that relatively small point moves can create big percentage changes, creating a major problem for VIX funds. “The one-day percentage change is a big deal in the VIX complex because the levered and inverse VIX ETFs and ETNs rebalance daily, based on the percentage change, and some of the thresholds for forced [unwinding of positions] are based on the percentage change. This is why lower volatility creates higher risk,” Christopher Metli, a Morgan Stanley quantitative derivatives strategist, recently warned clients.
Watch out for the zombies. The plethora of companies propped up by the ECB will limit policy makers’ ability to withdraw monetary stimulus that’s been supporting the continent’s bond market since the financial crisis, according to strategists at Bank of America. About 9% of Europe’s biggest companies could be classified as the walking dead, companies that risk collapse if the support dries up, according to the analysts. After the crash of Lehman Brothers sent global markets into a tailspin, a decade of easy-money policies gave breathing room for nations to get their balance sheets in check and allowed for a spirited revival in corporate profits. But as central bankers look to pull back stimulus for fear of overheating, the potentially grim outlook for vulnerable companies may give them pause, according to Bank of America.
“Monetary support in Europe over the last five years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults,” analysts led by Barnaby Martin wrote in a note Monday. “This supports the point that our economists have been making: that the ECB will likely be very slow and patient in removing their extraordinary stimulus over the next year and a half.” The strategists classify zombies as non-financial companies in the Euro Stoxx 600 with interest-coverage ratios – earnings relative to interest expenses – at 1 or less. The thinking goes that companies in this category are particularly vulnerable to rising interest rates. About 6% of European companies had a coverage ratio of less than 1 on the eve of Lehman’s downfall, a %age that fell to as low as 5% in 2013 when the euro-area sovereign debt crisis cooled.
Zombies shot up to as high as 11% in June 2016 before easing in recent months. Energy companies, thanks to weak oil prices, and those based in southern Europe –particularly smaller firms faced with weak profit generation amid feeble growth – make up a disproportionate share of the zombie world, according to Bank of America. To be sure, different metrics tell different stories about the health of corporate leverage, with some investors citing growth projections and yardsticks like net debt to earnings as reasons bond buyers can be more sanguine. But the coverage ratio is particularly useful in projecting how companies can cover debt costs from their earnings as interest costs rise.
Stock and bond market leverage is everywhere. Some of it is transparent, such as NYSE margin debt which was $539 billion as of the June report. But the hottest form of stock and bond market leverage is opaque, offered by financial firms that usually don’t disclose the totals: securities-based loans (SBLs) — or “shadow margin” because no one knows how much of it there is. But it’s a lot. And it’s booming. These loans can be used for anything – pay for tuition, fix up that kitchen, or fund a vacation. The money is spent, the loan remains. When security prices fall, the problems begin. Finra, the regulator for brokerages, doesn’t track this shadow margin, nor does the SEC. Both, however, have been warning about the risks. No one knows the overall amount of this shadow margin, but some details have been reported:
Morgan Stanley had $36 billion of these loans on its balance sheet as of the end of 2016, up 26% from 2016, and more than twice the amount in 2013. • Bank of America Merrill Lynch had $40 billion in SBLs on the balance sheet at the end of 2016, up 140% from 2010; • UBS and Wells Fargo “also have made billions in such loans, people familiar with those banks” told the Wall Street Journal. Raymond James, Stifel Nicolaus… they’re all doing it. • Fidelity used to fund its own SBLs for its clients, but three years ago partnered with US Bancorp. • Even the little ones are trying to get their slice of the pie: In April, robo-advisory startup Wealthfront, with less than $6 billion, announced that it would offer SBLs to its clients.
And now Goldman Sachs, which has been offering SBLs to its 12,000 super-wealthy clients through its Private Banking unit — accounting “for more than half of the unit’s $29 billion in loans outstanding,” according to the Wall Street Journal — announced on Thursday that this wasn’t enough and that it is partnering with Fidelity Investments to spread these loans far and wide.
Are US Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buy-back plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand.
Pressures have been building in the background for some time. When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases.
It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances. “Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances.
While everyone is fixated on President Trump’s unbecoming and inexplicable assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the media has been trying to sneak away from the “Russian collusion” story. That’s right. For all the breathless hype, the on-air furrowed brows and the not-so-veiled hopes that this could be Watergate, Jared Kushner’s statement and testimony before Congress have made Democrats and many in the media come to the realization that the collusion they were counting on just isn’t there. As the date of the Kushner testimony approached, the media thought it was going to advance and refresh the story. But Kushner’s clear, precise and convincing account of what really occurred during the campaign and after the election has left many of President Trump’s loudest enemies trying to quietly back out of the room unnoticed.
Cable news airtime and in-print word count dedicated to the nonexistent collusion story appear to be dwindling. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it, and when they do, they say something to the effect of “but, but, but … Kushner didn’t answer every question … He wasn’t under oath … There are still more witnesses … What about this or that new gadfly?” They are stammering. And it hasn’t taken long for news producers and editors to realize that the story is fading. At last, the story that never was is not happening. There are a few showstoppers from Kushner’s testimony that make it obvious to any fair-minded, thinking person that there was no collusion with Russia. In his own words, Kushner makes it clear that his actions were innocent but, at times, misguided and ill-conceived.
He plainly states he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the campaign and found his June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the infamous Russian lawyer to be an absolute “waste of time.” Democrats and their allies in the media have exhausted themselves building a scandalous narrative surrounding the Russian lawyer meeting, but according to Kushner, the meeting was so useless that he “actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after [he] had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”’ Maybe the collusion didn’t take very long, or maybe he realized what the lawyer had to say was a useless farce and he wanted to get on with his day.
Much to the dismay of Trump’s haters, Kushner’s account of events even further proves just how far the media has stretched the collusion story. When the campaign received an official note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after the election, Kushner had to send Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest an email asking for the name of the Russian ambassador so that he could reach out and confirm the message’s authenticity. So, that’s that. If you can’t remember your handler’s name, you can’t be guilty of nefariously colluding with that person. How much collusion could Kushner have possibly done with someone whom he had so little communication with that he could not remember his name and did not know how to contact him?
Basically, I think the Democratic party is in deep trouble. The evidence of that is now plain, I think, to everyone — that they’re in a state of historic wipe-out across the country and in both of Houses of Congress, and of course, they lost the presidency, too… The leadership of the party have persuaded themselves that they don’t really have a problem, that all they have to do is wait for [Donald] Trump to screw up and they’ll waltz right back in, and so they don’t have to do anything different. I think Trump represents the culmination of a long-term shift of working people, working-class people away from the Democratic Party.
[..] The way I look at it is that this is a long-term problem. This is a culmination of a very long-term problem with the Democrats very gradually, but definitely, abandoning the interests of working-class voters, identifying themselves instead with a more affluent group, with the affluent white-collar professionals. It starts in the 1970s with the Democrats removing organized labor from its structural position in the Democratic party, and then it goes up through Bill Clinton getting NAFTA done, the free trade deals that the Democrats have … By the way, in my opinion, free trade or the trade agreements, I should say, was probably the issue that if there was one issue that really did Hillary in, I think that’s what it was: the trade deals under the Clinton administration, Obama sort of dropping the ball on labor’s various issues, doing these incredible favors for Wall Street while he blew off the concerns of union.
[..] Bailouts. The Wall Street bailout was the worst. This was, of course, George W. Bush … No, take a step back further. The deregulation under Clinton. Do you remember, bank deregulation was something that we now think of it as one of the central elements of neoliberalism, but Reagan couldn’t get it done. Reagan tried. They put some dents in Glass Steagall when Reagan was president, but it took a Democrat to really get it done, Bill Clinton, and it wasn’t just blowing up Glass-Steagall. There was this whole series of bank deregulatory measures when he was president. By the end of his term in office, basically, Wall Street was more or less openly identified with the Democratic Party. This is an enormous historical shift…
The Democratic party [used to be] this sworn enemy of Wall Street. Franklin Roosevelt broke up all of these banks, the Glass Steagall Act, put all these banks out of business, and set up the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate these guys, all of these regulatory measures. That’s the Democratic heritage. That’s the legacy of the New Deal. Up until the days of Clinton, that’s really who the Democratic Party was. They had a very populist tone, and they would never identify themselves with Wall Street. Barack Obama comes in, and I was one of these people who thought that he represented a turn back in the other direction and that he would be, very shortly would be, getting tough with Wall Street. He had all the bailouts were underway. He had total authority over these guys, and he didn’t do it. Instead, he appointed all these various Clinton people to come in and manage the bailout situation.
I know I’m not the first to point out how Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump’s brand new Communications Director, is suddenly and eerily carrying on like his namesake, the arch-rascal / buffoon of the Old World Commedia dell’Arte in lashing out at his fellow scamps and bozos in the clown school that the White House has become. Of course, these antics only reflect the astounding violent vulgarity of current US culture in general, especially as it recursively re-amplifies itself in the distorting echo chamber of TV. It’s how we roll nowadays – right up the collective butt-hole of history until some fateful event provokes a last frightful purging of our own bullshit. Still, it was rather shocking to hear Scaramucci refer to White House Chief of Staff Rance Priebus as “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and Trump ultra-insider Steve Bannon as someone who “enjoys sucking his own cock.”
It’s kind of like Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” wandered into the West Wing of “Veep.” Somebody’s gonna get whacked, and it’ll be a laugh-riot when it happens. We need a little comic relief in these midsummer horse latitudes of the mind as the ill-starred Trump Show appears to enter its ceremonial death dance. There’s also something satisfyingly Napoleonesque about Scaramucci. Here’s a guy who cuts through the odious blubber of US politics right to the bone of things with a flensing blade of profane righteousness. Personally, I’d like to see him take some whacks at a few more deserving targets, and I can even imagine a somewhat farfetched scenario where the little guy shoves Trump out during a concocted national emergency and manages to declare himself First Citizen, or some such innovative title allowing him to run things for a while – say, until the generals toss him out a window.
Or maybe he’ll last less than a week in his current position. I would not be surprised, either, if Mr. Bannon beats little Mooch to death with an Oval Office fireplace poker right in front of the Golden Golem of Greatness himself. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine – in this case, inexorably toward the restorative medicine of the 25th amendment. There is, after all, that hoary old artifact called the national interest lurking somewhere offstage aside of all this colorful mummery, especially as the Russian Meddling gambit appears to be dribbling away to nothing. It’s more than self-evident that poor Trump is in so far over his head that he’s come down with something like the bends, a debilitating systemic disorder rendering him unfit to execute the powers of office. Decades from now, they’ll say he had “the tweets.”
He does not appear on any rich list but he has built a property empire that rivals that of the Duke of Westminster. Companies controlled by James Tuttiett, aged 53, have quietly snapped up the freeholds of tens of thousands of houses and flats in almost every city in Britain, which are now at the centre of controversy over spiralling ground rents. The scale of Tuttiett’s property empire has never been previously disclosed. Documents at Companies House reveal that he is frequently the sole director of companies that own the freehold of large-scale developments in Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Coventry and London. Leaseholders are obliged to pay ground rents to his company, E&J Estates, that in some cases will soar to £10,000 a year per home.
The government this week proposed a ban on new-build leaseholds, and said ground rents on new apartments should fall towards zero. At the launch of an eight-week consultation, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It’s clear that far too many new houses are being built and sold as leaseholds, exploiting homebuyers with unfair agreements and spiralling ground rents.” “Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop,” said Javid, adding on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ground rent had been used “as an unjustifiable way to print money”. [..] Research by Guardian Money found an extraordinary web of 85 ground rent companies controlled by Tuttiett, where the freeholds include not just homes but also schools, health clubs and petrol stations.
In 2016 one of these 85 companies, SF Funding Ltd, recorded an £80m increase in the value of its ground rents from the year before, taking them to £267.4m. Tuttiett is the sole director of the company, which has no other employees. The financing of Tuttiett’s property empire is helped by low-interest loans totalling £336m made by an insurance company, Rothesay Life, spun out of Goldman Sachs, in which the US investment bank remains the largest shareholder. Among the Rothesay Life loans made to E&J is one at £128m with a stated interest rate of just 0.95% a year, although it is understood the real rate paid is likely to be higher. The existence of the Rothesay loans opens a back door into Tuttiett’s interests, as Companies House lists all the properties over which Rothesay has a charge.
In another sign the bloom is off the boom for the oilsands, the industry has returned almost one million hectares of northern Alberta exploration leases to the province over the past two years. The total area covered by oilsands leases remained constant at about nine million hectares between 2011 and 2014. But it fell to 8.5 million hectares in 2015 and 8.1 million in 2016, following the crash in world oil prices from over US$100 to under $60 per barrel in 2014. Most of the returned acreage either represents expired or surrendered leases, according to Alberta Energy. Observers were surprised by the size of the lease returns which they attributed to industry cost-cutting and disinterest in spending to develop new prospects when there’s no money to build projects already on the books.
“It costs money to maintain these lands,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting in Calgary. “You can’t convince shareholders to continue to put that money out if there’s no prospect for success.” Alberta’s oilsands have been getting little respect lately, thanks to the exit of large foreign companies, the province’s hard cap on oilsands emissions, increasing carbon taxes and the stumbling price of crude oil. Its troubles have been welcomed by environmentalists who point out the industry’s outsized impact on air, land and water pollution. “This is good news. It’s a sign that investment dollars are shifting out of carbon-intensive energy,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.
Aid workers have accused the EU of “wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean” as they face being forced to suspend rescue missions for refugees attempting the world’s deadliest sea crossing. Italy is attempting to impose a code of conduct on NGOs operating ships in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya, which is now the main launching point for migrants trying to reach Europe on smugglers’ boats. Humanitarian groups have argued the code will impede their work by banning the transfer of refugees to larger ships, which allows vessels to continue rescues, and forcing them to allow police officers on board. A revised code of conduct is expected to be presented by the Italian interior ministry on Monday, following meetings between officials and NGOs.
The 11-point plan, which has been approved by the European Commission and border agency Frontex, could see any groups refusing to sign up denied access to Italian ports or forbidden from carrying out rescues. They are currently deployed by officials at Rome’s Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and charities fear any move to restrict their operations, leaving just Italian coastguard and naval ships, will dramatically reduce rescue capacity during peak season. German charity Sea-Watch announced the deployment of a second rescue vessel in response to the plans, which it called a “desperate reaction” by a country abandoned on the frontline of the refuge crisis by its European allies. “The EU is wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean by refusing to create a legal means of safe passage and failing to even provide adequate resources for maritime rescue,” said CEO Axel Grafmanns.
“The NGOs are currently bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis and they are being left alone.” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has staff on two rescue ships, said it was engaging with Italian authorities in an “open and constructive way” over the proposed code but had serious concerns over several clauses. “MSF employees are humanitarian workers, not police officers, and that for reasons of independence they will do what is strictly requested by the law but nothing more so as to protect our independence and neutrality,” a spokesperson said.
And here we are: The WaPo, left with almost zero credibility after so many anti-Trump and anti-Russia opinions more often than not disguised as factual reports, can only find a willing ear anymore inside its echo chamber. As usual, the WaPo article is based on anonymous sources. America is trapped inside it own narrative.
Multiple White House officials, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, are refuting a Washington Post story claiming that President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office last week. But some believe McMaster’s statement contained holes. On Monday evening, National Security Advisor McMaster called a report published earlier in the day by the Washington Post “false.” The report that went viral cited unverifiable sources, unnamed current and former US officials, who claimed that Trump disclosed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak “code-word information” relating to Islamic State during a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office at the White House.
The intelligence was reportedly from “a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement” and not authorized to be shared with Russia, US allies or even within much of the US government. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” McMaster told reporters outside the White House. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell also called the story “false” Monday. “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” Powell said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was also at the meeting, denied the allegation. McMaster told reporters that Trump did discuss civil aviation threats with Lavrov and Kislyak. [..] The Russian Embassy in DC had no comment on the media claim, according to a representative.
Oh for the days when Donald Trump wasn’t taking the presidential daily brief – and didn’t know highly classified information that he could give to the Russians. But a bit bizarrely, Trump’s reported disclosure of Islamic State plans to two Russian officials during an Oval Office visit last week wasn’t illegal. If anyone else in the government, except possibly the vice president, had revealed such classified information that person would be going to prison. The president, however, has inherent constitutional authority to declassify information at will. And that means the federal laws that criminalize the disclosure of classified secrets don’t apply to him. If this doesn’t make much sense to you, I feel your pain.
To understand the legal structure of classification and declassification requires a brief journey into the constitutional law of separation of powers. That’s not always especially fun. But at this juncture in U.S. history, it’s essential. Not since Richard Nixon’s administration has separation of powers been so central to the fate of the republic. The authority to label facts or documents as classified rests with the president in his capacity as a commander in chief. Or at least that’s what the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1988 case, Department of the Navy v. Egan. Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the opinion, said that the executive’s “authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security … flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant.”
Blackmun’s idea that the president has an inherent right to decide who gets access to classified information seems to imply the converse: that the president has the inherent authority to declassify information, too. Although there’s no case on this point, scholars took that view during the years of the George W. Bush administration, when the president was thought to have declassified some information that was leaked to the news media by White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. It makes sense. If it is up to the president to decide what can’t be disclosed, it should be up to him to decide what can be.
[..] If you’re following closely, you’ll have noticed an anomaly: The president can classify and declassify. But the president can’t send people to prison for disobeying his order. That requires a federal law passed by Congress, and a conviction before a judge. Thus, under the separation of powers, the president has inherent authority to fire his own employees for disclosing classified information, but lacks the power to punish them criminally without Congress and the courts. That law exists: 18 U.S. Code Section 798, if you care to look it up. It makes it a federal crime to communicate “classified information” to an “unauthorized person.” The catch is that the law defines classified information as information determined classified by a U.S. government agency, and similarly defines an unauthorized person as someone not determined authorized by the executive branch. That puts Trump in the clear insofar as he has an inherent authority to declare information unclassified.
I realize that many Democrats, liberals and progressives hate Donald Trump so much that they believe that any pretext is justified in taking him down, even if that plays into the hands of the neoconservatives and other warmongers. Many people who detest Trump view Russia-gate as the most likely path to achieve Trump’s impeachment, so this desirable end justifies whatever means. Some people have told me that they even believe that it is the responsibility of the major news media, the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and members of Congress to engage in a “soft coup” against Trump – also known as a “constitutional coup” or “deep state coup” – for the “good of the country.”
The argument is that it sometimes falls to these Establishment institutions to “correct” a mistake made by the American voters, in this case, the election of a largely unqualified individual as U.S. president. It is even viewed by some anti-Trump activists as a responsibility of “responsible” journalists, government officials and others to play this “guardian” role, to not simply “resist” Trump but to remove him. There are obvious counter-arguments to this view, particularly that it makes something of a sham of American democracy. It also imposes on journalists a need to violate the ethical responsibility to provide objective reporting, not taking sides in political disputes. But The New York Times and The Washington Post, in particular, have made it clear that they view Trump as a clear and present danger to the American system and thus have cast aside any pretense of neutrality.
The Times justifies its open hostility to the President as part of its duty to protect “the truth”; the Post has adopted a slogan aimed at Trump, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In other words, America’s two most influential political newspapers are effectively pushing for a “soft coup” under the guise of defending “democracy” and “truth.” But the obvious problem with a “soft coup” is that America’s democratic process, as imperfect as it has been and still is, has held this diverse country together since 1788 with the notable exception of the Civil War. If Americans believe that the Washington elites are removing an elected president – even one as buffoonish as Donald Trump – it could tear apart the fabric of national unity, which is already under extraordinary stress from intense partisanship.
That means that the “soft coup” would have to be carried out under the guise of a serious investigation into something grave enough to justify the President’s removal, a removal that could be accomplished by congressional impeachment, his forced resignation, or the application of Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to judge a President incapable of continuing in office. That is where Russia-gate comes in. The gauzy allegation that Trump and/or his advisers somehow colluded with Russian intelligence officials to rig the 2016 election would probably clear the threshold for an extreme action like removing a President. And, given the determination of many key figures in the Establishment to get rid of Trump, it should come as no surprise that no one seems to care that no actual government-verified evidence has been revealed publicly to support any of the Russia-gate allegations.
Behind China’s trillion-dollar effort to build a modern Silk Road is a lending program of unprecedented breadth, one that will help build ports, roads and rail links, but could also leave some banks and many countries with quite a hangover. At the heart of that splurge are China’s two policy lenders, China Development Bank (CDB) and Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM), which have between them already provided $200 billion in loans throughout Asia, the Middle East and even Africa. They are due to extend at least $55 billion more, according to announcements made during a lavish two-day Belt and Road summit in Beijing, which ends on Monday. Thanks to cheaper funding, CDB and EXIM have helped to unblock what Chinese president Xi Jinping on Sunday called a ‘prominent challenge’ to the Silk Road: the funding bottleneck.
But as the Belt and Road project grows, so do the risks to policy banks, commercial lenders and borrowers, all of whom are tangled in projects with questionable business logic, bankers and analysts say. EXIM, seeking to contain risk, says it has imposed a debt ceiling for each country. CDB says it has applied strict limits on sovereign borrowers’ credit lines and controls the concentration of loans. “For some countries, if we give them too many loans, too much debt, then the sustainability of its debt is questionable,” Sun Ping, vice governor of EXIM, told reporters last week. For now, funds are cheap and plentiful, thanks to Beijing. Belt and Road infrastructure loans so far have been primarily negotiated government to government, with interest rates below those offered by commercial banks and extended repayment schedules, bankers and analysts said.
[..] 47 of China’s 102 central-government-owned conglomerates participated in 1,676 Belt and Road projects, according to government statistics. China Communications Construction alone has notched up $40 billion of contracts and built 10,320 kilometres of road, 95 deepwater ports, 10 airports, 152 bridges and 2,080 railways in Belt and Road countries. China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan is among those to warn that this reliance on cheap loans raises “risks and problems”, starting with moral hazard and unsustainability. China has been caught out before; it is owed $65 billion by Venezuela, now torn by crisis. “The jurisdictions where many of these loans are going are places that would have difficulty getting loans from Western commercial banks – their credit ratings are not very good, or the projects in question often are not commercially viable,” said Jack Yuan at Fitch in Shanghai. “The broader concern is that capital continues to be mis-allocated by Chinese banks.”
China’s banking regulator is tightening disclosure rules on lenders’ wealth management products (WMP) as it tries to track risky lending practices in the shadow banking sector, the latest in a series of steps by Beijing aimed at defusing financial risks. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said in a notice late on Monday it plans to launch 46 new or revised rules this year, part of which targets risks related to shadowbanking activities. Authorities are trying to better regulate 30 trillion yuan ($4.35 trillion) of WMPs, much of it sitting off-balance sheet in the shadowbanking sector. The WMPS have been used to channel deposits into risky investments, often via many layers of asset management schemes to skirt lending and capital rules.
The CBRC will now require that banks report the underlying assets and liabilities of their WMPs, as well as all layers of investment schemes, on a weekly basis. Previously, banks were required to hand in less detailed information, and on a monthly basis. The new rules – published by a WMP management platform under CBRC – reflect regulators’ desire to have a full picture of banks’ activities, and could slow the growth of WMPs. In March, China’s newly appointment banking regulator Guo Shuqing, vowed to strengthen supervision of the lending sector, underscoring Beijing’s determination to fend off financial risks and push reforms this year. Separately, CBRC unveiled a long list of rules it aims to publish this year, many of these related to risk-management. The rules are to “ensure that (risk) does not become systemic,” CBRC said.
New Zealand’s housing market is the most over-valued among the so-called G-10 economies and the most at risk of a correction, according to Goldman Sachs. In research published this week, the investment bank said there is about a 40% chance of a housing “bust” in New Zealand over the next two years, which it defines as house prices falling 5% or more after adjustment for inflation. The report looks at housing markets in the G-10 countries – those with the 10 most-traded currencies in the world – and finds they are most elevated in small, open economies such as New Zealand, where house prices have rocketed in recent years. In Auckland, the nation’s largest city, the average price has surged 91% since 2007 to more than NZ$1 million ($688,000).
Goldman compares house-price levels across economies using three standard metrics: the ratio of house prices to rent, the ratio of house prices to household income and house prices adjusted for inflation. “Using an average of these measures, house prices in New Zealand appear the most over-valued, followed by Canada, Sweden, Australia and Norway,” it said. “According to the model, the probability of a housing bust over the next five to eight quarters is the highest in Sweden and New Zealand at 35 to 40%.” A graph in the report shows that New Zealand’s probability of a housing bust is just above 40%, while Sweden’s is just above 35%. The risk of a bust in Australia is about 25%.
Former intelligence officers, journalists and artists are among more than 100 signatories of an open letter calling on President Trump to close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any planned charges against the whistleblower group.
The letter released Monday by the Courage Foundation includes NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and renowned scholar and activist Noah Chomsky among the original signatories. A significant number of former personnel from US intelligence agencies are backing the letter. Among them are former senior NSA officials Thomas Drake, William Binney and Kirk Wiebe. Daniel Ellsberg, the former State and Defense Department official who released top secret Pentagon Papers in 1971 and retired FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel Coleen Rowley also signed the letter.
The plea to President Trump is in response to comments made by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, in which he confirmed that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was a “priority” for the US government. Fears are growing that charges including conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act are being considered against members of WikiLeaks. Several artists are also pushing the call for Trump to drop any proposed charges against the whistleblower organization. Among the big names are Oliver Stone, Ken Loach, Pamela Anderson, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Vivienne Westwood.
The letter acknowledges that the Obama administration prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined and opened a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks that had no precedent. “It now appears the US is preparing to take the next step — prosecuting publishers who provide the “currency” of free speech, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson,” the document states. “A threat to WikiLeaks’ work — which is publishing information protected under the First Amendment — is a threat to all free journalism. If the DOJ is able to convict a publisher for its journalistic work, all free journalism can be criminalized.”
Several big-name hedge fund investors trimmed their stakes in financial companies in the first quarter as hopes for immediate tax cuts and loosening of regulations after President Donald Trump’s victory in November began to fade. Adage Capital Management cut its position in Wells Fargo, which has come under fire for its sales practices, by 3.9 million shares, according to regulatory filings, while John Burbank’s Passport Capital cut its stake in the company by 947,000 shares. Third Point cut its stake in JPMorgan Chase by 28%, to 3.75 million shares, while Suvretta Capital Management sold all of its shares of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Citigroup. Overall, financial companies in the S&P 500 were up 2.1% in the first quarter, compared with 5.5% for the index as a whole.
Financials significantly outperformed the broad market following Trump’s Nov. 8 election. Trump had pledged to do a “big number” on the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which raised banks’ capital requirements and restricted their ability to make speculative bets with customers’ money. The Treasury Department is still filling vacancies and will not be able to complete a review of the law by Trump’s June deadline, sources told Reuters. Quarterly disclosures of hedge fund managers’ stock holdings, in what are known as 13F filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are one of the few public ways of tracking what the managers are selling and buying. But relying on the filings to develop an investment strategy comes with some risk because the disclosures come out 45 days after the end of each quarter and may not reflect current positions.
Ford plans to shrink its salaried workforce in North America and Asia by about 10% as it works to boost profits and its sliding stock price, a source familiar with the plan told Reuters on Monday. A person briefed on the plan said Ford plans to offer generous early retirement incentives to reduce its salaried headcount by Oct. 1, but does not plan cuts to its hourly workforce or its production. The move could put the U.S. automaker on a collision course with President Donald Trump, who has made boosting auto employment a top priority. Ford has about 30,000 salaried workers in the United States.
The cuts are part of a previously announced plan to slash costs by $3 billion, the person said, as U.S. new vehicles auto sales have shown signs of decline after seven years of consecutive growth since the end of the Great Recession. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday evening that Ford plans to cut 10% of its 200,000-person global workforce, but the person briefed on the plan disputed that figure. The source requested anonymity in order to be able to discuss the matter freely. Ford declined to comment on any job cuts but said it remains focused on its core strategies to “drive profitable growth”. “Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work,” it said in a statement. “We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation.”
Congress is considering dramatic changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, which has a $25 billion debt that its director says cannot be repaid. But as a Sept. 30 deadline looms for the program to be renewed, disagreements remain over how much homeowners should be forced to pay for flood insurance to make the program more solvent. If Congress can’t reach an agreement, a lapse in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s legal authority to write new policies could disrupt real estate sales in flood-prone areas around the country.
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are circulating draft legislation to renew the program, but it contains provisions – such as vouchers to help low-income homeowners keep the cost of premiums and fees from getting too high — that are not in a draft that Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee plan to release this week. Disputes also remain over how to address wrongdoing by insurance companies and affiliated contractors in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and last year’s floods in Louisiana, and whether older properties that flood repeatedly should still receive discounts. Many in Congress also want to encourage more private insurers to enter the market, but some warn the government could be left with only the riskiest properties.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron secured backing Monday from key ally Chancellor Angela Merkel for his bid to shake up Europe, despite scepticism in Berlin over his proposed reforms. Travelling to the German capital to meet the veteran leader in his first official trip abroad, Macron used the opportunity to call for a “historic reconstruction” of Europe. During his campaign, Macron had thrown up ideas on reforming the eurozone, noting that the currency bloc cannot go on as it is if it wanted to avoid falling prey to protest and populism. Among reforms he wants to see are setting up a separate budget for the 28-member group, as well as giving it its own parliament and finance minister. But the proposals have sent alarm bells ringing in Berlin, and initial relief about his victory against far-right leader Marine Le Pen had quickly given way to fears about his reform plans.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that such deep-reaching reforms would require treaty changes, which were “not realistic” at a time when Europe is hit by a surge of anti-euro populism. Saturday’s edition of weekly news magazine Der Spiegel featured a cover picture of Macron with the headline “expensive friend”. But at a joint press conference following their talks, Merkel adopted a conciliatory tone and offered what appeared to be a key concession. “From the German point of view, it’s possible to change the treaty if it makes sense,” she said. “If we can say why, what for, what the point is, then Germany will be ready.” Merkel’s approach underlined her view that it was crucial not only for France, but for Germany, to help Macron succeed – a point that she has repeatedly stressed.
Yet it remains to be seen if her approach would go down well in Germany, which is deeply adverse to shouldering burdens of eurozone laggards. Macron sought to bat away German fears on debt, saying he was opposed to mutualising “old debt” between eurozone countries. However, he signalled readiness to look at sharing future burdens. “I am not a promoter of the mutualisation of old debt” within the eurozone, said Macron after meeting Merkel, adding however that the joint financing of future projects should be considered. Underlining the concerns over Macron’s proposals, Germany’s biggest selling daily Bild warned ahead of the French leader’s meeting with Merkel that before seeking deeper EU integration, “France must once again be at the same level as Germany politically and economically”. “Only then can the EU be reformed or develop deeper integration,” it said.
Ye olde ‘there is stil time’ delusion: there is still time to make Germany change its stance on the EU, in the same way that there is still time to save the planet. No, there isn’t, if you include the time it will take to turn around what has been the ‘normal’. You need a revolution, not a change.
After Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France’s presidential election, Germany must decide whether it wants to continue its single-minded focus on budget rigour or work with him to ensure the future of the European project, a German diplomat said. In an interview with Reuters hours before the new French president travels to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, pushed back against German politicians who have picked holes in Macron’s ideas for Europe since his election win. Among those are Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has come to personify Berlin’s focus on the “Schwarze Null”, or balanced budget. He has suggested Macron’s plans to create a budget and finance minister for the euro zone are unrealistic.
“My wish is that this issue is not used in the (German) election campaign, but that we have a serious discussion over the question: ‘What is more important to us? The Schwarze Null as a categoric imperative or the future of Europe?'” Ischinger said. “If compromises are necessary and make sense, then I would support compromise rather than categorical imperatives.” Mainstream parties in Germany applauded Macron’s victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen earlier this month. But since then, conservative politicians and media have criticized his plans, suggesting they would lead to a “transfer union” in which German money would be used to pay for uncompetitive member states that are reluctant to reform. Schaeuble has suggested some of Macron’s more ambitious plans would require politically thorny changes to the EU treaty. But Ischinger, a former German ambassador to Britain and the United States, said much could be done on an intergovernmental basis.
In 2010, with the first casualty (Greece) in the emergency room and the first economic adjustment programme (with financial package) approved, the Eurosystem eventually became an occasional buyer of government debt. Two years later, with three more casualties (Ireland, Portugal, and Spain) and a systemic collapse in sight, the ECB added the newly crafted Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) to its toolbox. This meant that the ECB had formally become ready to be an unlimited, albeit conditional, outright buyer in the secondary market for Eurozone government debts. The introduction of OMTs was the way to restore systemic liquidity buffers in a monetary system that had become unsustainable, while remaining consistent with the monetary financing prohibition laid down in the Treaty.
As events during the crisis unfolded, and depending on the narrative about its causes, several different meanings have been attached to the notion of the Eurozone crisis. This has been seen, alternatively, as the unwinding of intra-euro lending and borrowing, the consequence of private credit bubbles, the product of unsustainable public debt, the failure of inadequately supervised banking and financial institutions, and, most notably, as a double-dip recession followed by an unusually weak expansion combined with a visibly inadequate policy (and political) response. Today, six years after the crisis erupted, and notwithstanding the modified ECB practice that saved the day, the Eurozone is still visibly failing to enact sustainable policies that can effectively restore economic prosperity.
Accordingly, there have been two distinct phases in the Eurozone crisis. Between 2010 and 2012 the monetary union was in jeopardy of undergoing an operational breakdown up until the change in the operational practice in the market for public sector securities, complemented by the banking union reform. Since 2012, the problems have been the continuing sluggishness of the real economy, the acute lack of demand, vulnerability to internal and external shocks, and, ultimately, the risk of a political implosion. While the ECB has successfully reclaimed one indispensable tool to operationally manage the euro, the deflationary bias of the euro area has not gone away. Effectively, Europe’s economic performance has been vastly disappointing ever since the launch of the euro.
Greece’s economy returned to recession in the first quarter as delays in concluding talks between the government and its creditors raised the specter of another debt drama. GDP contracted 0.1% in the first three months of the year after shrinking 1.2% in the previous quarter, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said in a statement on Monday. The seasonally adjusted contraction was 0.5% from a year earlier. Talks between creditors on easing the country’s debt load are accelerating after Greece and officials from the IMF and euro-area institutions ended a months-long impasse over the austerity measures the government needs to take. While that’s prompted a rally in Greek stocks and bonds this month, the delay has taken a toll on the economy. That cost led the government to cut its GDP growth forecast for this year to 1.8% from 2.7% on Saturday. The European Commission reduced its estimate to 2.1% last week.
Just plain nonsense. If people are smart enough to hack into such systems, they are certainly also smart enough to either leave no trace at all, or to leave traces that point to someone else. So if you find something that points to Russia, you know it wasn’t them. And that’s before you pump a story up like this, where one lonely unconnected laptop becomes a threat to the entire US grid.
A story published by The Washington Post Friday claims Russia hacked the electrical grid in Vermont. This caused hysteria on social media but has been denied by a spokesman for a Vermont utility company. The Post story was titled, “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.” The story said, “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.” The Post published the story before being able to get comment from the two utility companies in Vermont. The Burlington Electric Department would end up putting out a statement showing the premise of The Washington Post story as being untrue.
“Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks,” a spokesman for the Burlington Electric Department said. “We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.” The Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told The Burlington Free Press, “The grid is not in danger.” However, this false Washington Post story about a Russian intrusion into the American electrical grid has caused panic among journalists.
“CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter..” Yada yada. And Putin’s decision not to expel Russains was not some stunnning reversal either. He saw this one coming from miles away, it wasn’t some last-minute thing. As I said yesterday on Facebook:
“Stunning reversal”? I beg to differ. Lavrov suggesting earlier that Putin expel 35 US diplomats was a clear set-up. And Obama in turn allowed Putin to take the high road by expelling 35 Russians with just 3 weeks left till Trump.“We reserve the right to retaliate, but we will not sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy.” Bye bye Barack. You lost.
As mainstream media continues to push a narrative of problematic “fake news,” on Thursday evening CNN falsely accused Russia of retaliating against American children by closing the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Shortly after the announcement of new US sanctions against Russia, CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter” had reported to them that Moscow was closing the school. “Russian authorities ordered the closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow, a US official briefed on the matter said. The order from the Russian government closes the school, which serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel, to US and foreign nationals,” reported CNN. The lie was rapidly debunked by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
“US officials ‘anonymously informed’ their media that Russia closed the Anglo-American School in Moscow as a retaliatory measure,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote of CNN’s claims on her Facebook page. “That’s a lie. Apparently, the White House has completely lost its senses and began inventing sanctions against its own children.” On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the new sanctions by “embarrassing” US President Barack Obama and brushing it off, stating that he will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office to improve relations between the two countries. Putin also wished Obama a happy new year, and invited US diplomats children to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties at the Kremlin. CNN has not retracted their fake-news story or acknowledged the error.
Even when reporting on it, US media have no qualms about throwing in more false news: ..Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum.. Slander.
President-elect Donald Trump Friday slammed CNN and NBC News for its coverage of the Moscow hacking issue, saying on Twitter that “the Russians are playing” the news organizations “for such fools” and that they “don’t have a clue.” Trump’s post followed an earlier one Friday in which he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not expelling American diplomats in retaliation for President Barack Obama’s sanctions on Thursday in response to the breach at the Democratic National Committee and other party operatives. The later post also came as CNN’s Jim Sciutto interviewed former Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who once served as a Trump surrogate, on Putin’s response. Sciutto challenged Hoekstra’s assertions that U.S. intelligence agencies have hacked other world leaders.
“Quite a throw-away line there, Congressman Hoekstra,” the CNN anchor said. “I’m an American and I listen to that, I hear that a foreign actor hacked into political organizations in the U.S. – and they strategically leaked it out during an election campaign. “Whether that’s Republican or Democrat or any other party, that sounds serious. “Are you saying, ‘Heck it’s another part of the Wild West in cyberspace and we as a country should let that pass?” Sciutto asked. “I’m not saying we should let it pass,” Hoekstra responded. He then referenced former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum. “Snowden clearly demonstrated that the United States hacked into [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and that we were listening to her conversations,” Hoekstra said.
The US’ decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats has affected 96 people, including the officials themselves and their families, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Moscow refrained from responding in kind, to not ruin the New Year for American diplomats. The Russians forced to leave the US includes some pre-school children, Maria Zakharova said. “One can only hope that this was the last thing that the current administration does to spoil bilateral relations – the last strange, unwise decision. It targeted, among other things, ordinary people and their simple human joys – things which unite people all around the world. Practically everyone celebrates the New Year, but this is what the Obama administration did,” she said.
The US declared 35 Russian diplomats accredited in the US persona non grata, giving them 72 hours to leave the country. The foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that while some of the Russian diplomats had been working in the US for years, others arrived as recently as two months ago. This did not prevent Washington from expelling them for allegedly trying to interfere with the US election in 2015 and early 2016, which was the reason stated by the US. The Kremlin decided to send a government plane to the US to evacuate the Russians. Some of them reportedly complained that buying plane tickets on such short notice was problematic.
Zakharova said Moscow hoped that the bad timing of the expulsion and all the troubles it caused to the Russian citizens was an oversight rather than intended malice on the part of the White House. Russia refrained from its usual practice of responding to expulsions of its citizens by a foreign power with mirror expulsions of the respective country’s citizens from Russia. “We took into serious consideration how our American colleagues and their families would feel. Especially their children, who are now preparing for the New Year and are on their Christmas holidays,” Zakharova explained. “They would have been cut off from their school programs and forced to pack their things and go back to their homeland in 72 hours. So we decided against it.”
President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons earlier this month, doubling the total for his presidency – and ensuring that it will not go down as the least forgiving in more than a century. Instead, it will probably end up as the second-least forgiving. It’s a strange legacy for a president who has spoken so eloquently about the need for a more fair and rational criminal-justice system. It’s also a missed opportunity to notch a small victory for another issue the president is passionate about: voting rights. There are 50,000 people released from federal prisons each year, and many return to states that either permanently bar them from voting or require them to apply for restoration of their rights. Most of these felons don’t deserve pardons, of course; only 3,000 have applied. And most ex-offenders without voting rights have committed state, not federal, crimes.
None of this should stop Obama from issuing pardons in deserving federal cases. There are other ways for the president to show clemency besides pardons. A commutation, for example, reduces a prisoner’s sentence. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates – more than the last 11 presidents combined, a statistic the administration is fond of citing. A less heralded statistic is that Obama has received far more applications – some 31,000 – than his predecessors. The reason is simple: He invited federal prisoners to apply. A frequent critic of the nation’s harsh sentencing laws, he is the first president to organize an official clemency initiative to address the issue.
Deutsche Bank, UniCredit and eight other European Union banks would fall short of the ECB’s capital demands on Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena based on stress-test results, highlighting potential objections to the plan. The ECB told Monte Paschi it needed enough capital to push its common equity Tier 1 ratio to 8% of risk-weighted assets in the adverse scenario of the stress test, the Bank of Italy said in a statement late on Dec. 29. That’s well above the legal minimum of 4.5%. This year’s health check had no pass mark, but in 2014 lenders were held to a CET1 ratio of 5.5%. Monte Paschi was the worst performer in the stress test’s adverse scenario with a CET1 ratio of minus 2.4%, followed by Allied Irish Banks with 4.3%. The Italian government is planning a bailout of Monte Paschi.
Under European Union law, state aid can be given to solvent banks to cover a stress-test shortfall, but the absence of a hurdle means the size of the gap could be disputed when Italy seeks approval for the rescue from the European Commission. “There’s a lot more to be explained,” said John Raymond at CreditSights. “They just say, ‘Oh, this is needed to get to 8%,’ as if we all knew the number was 8%, when in fact that’s a completely new number.” The government in Rome is planning a so-called precautionary recapitalization for Monte Paschi. The Bank of Italy said the ECB’s demands for an 8% CET1 ratio and a total capital ratio of 11.5% translate to a shortfall of 8.8 billion euros ($9.3 billion).
Closing the CET1 gap requires 6.3 billion euros of high-quality capital, 4.2 billion euros of which will come from converting subordinated debt to equity, with the remainder provided by the government, according to the Bank of Italy. Another 2.5 billion euros will be needed to offset capital lost in the debt-to-equity conversion to reach the 11.5% total ratio. A person familiar with the matter said the CET1 premium of 3.5 %age points above the legal minimum is intended to restore market confidence. In the stress test, Deutsche Bank emerged with a CET1 ratio of 7.8%, while UniCredit had 7.1%. The CET1 ratios of Barclays and Societe Generale were 7.3% and 7.5%, respectively.
A private email I got yesterday talked about rumors swirling around in China that the country may ‘close’, and return to the isolation of Mao times, with only ‘official’ companies being allowed to handle dollars, and no Chinese individuals at all, as well as a fixed exchange rate. I don’t see how that would work in a practical sense. As I said a few days ago in my China article, in which I mentioned such capital controls, this too would risk social unrest. People who’ve tasted freedom are not likely to give it up again easily. It would also mean an end to the economic expansion.
China enhanced its ability to stabilize its currency, as the rising dollar threatens to undermine its economy by accelerating the flow of capital out of the country. China’s central bank is adjusting the mix of foreign currencies used in setting the yuan’s official daily value, a change analysts said should help support the weakening currency. The move, which goes into effect Jan. 1, reflects the delicate dance Chinese policy makers face with the yuan. China wants a slightly weaker currency to help exporters and maintain competitiveness with other economies as the dollar rises. But it also worries that a sharp decline in the yuan’s value would raise fears the central bank is losing control, undermine the public’s trust and trigger excessive capital outflows.
By diluting the dollar’s share and bringing in currencies from the Korean won to the Saudi riyal and Swedish krona, the People’s Bank of China is giving itself more room to maneuver to keep the yuan from falling too fast, analysts said. In recent weeks, the yuan has buckled under uncertainty about China’s economic performance, a surging U.S. dollar following Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory and escalating flows of Chinese currency moving offshore. The potential for faster U.S. interest-rate increases could add even more downward pressure on the yuan, with some analysts and investors predicting the currency could break the psychologically important seven-yuan-per-dollar level as soon as next month. The yuan has dropped 7% against the dollar this year, nearly double the decline from the year before.
China’s move is the latest by global policy makers trying to adjust to a powerful dollar rally that has recently lifted the U.S. currency to a 14-year high. In emerging markets, a stronger dollar makes it more expensive for governments and companies to pay back their dollar-denominated loans. In China, how to manage the yuan’s value has become a hot topic in official circles since a nearly 2% devaluation 16 months ago shocked global markets. In the past year the central bank has sought a less abrupt path, constricting channels for moving money out of the country and managing the pace of depreciation.
The central bank controls the mainland trading of the yuan by specifying an official rate against the dollar and then allowing the currency to move 2% above or below the so-called daily fix. Since the beginning of this year, the central bank has been taking into account the yuan’s performance against both the dollar and a wider selection of currencies when determining the daily fix. That move has paved the way for the yuan’s gradual deprecation.
Remember the promises of the imminent global growth recovery ‘next year’? IMF, the leading light of exuberant growth expectations has been at this game for some years now. And every time, turning the calendar resets the fabled ‘growth recovery’ out another 12 months. Well, here’s a simple view of the extent to which the IMF has missed the boat called Realism and jumped onboard the boat called Hope.
Table above posts cumulative 2010-2016 real GDP growth that was forecast by the IMF back in September 2011, against what the Fund now anticipates / estimates as of October 2016. The sea of red marks all the countries for which IMF’s forecasts have been wildly on an optimistic side. Green marks the lonely four cases, including tax arbitrage-driven GDPs of Ireland and Luxembourg, where IMF forecasts turned out to be too conservative. German gap is minor in size – in fact, it is not even statistically different from zero. But Maltese one is a bit of an issue. Maltese economy has been growing fast in recent years, prompting the IMF to warn the Government this year that its banking sector is starting to get overexposed to construction sector, and its construction sector is becoming a bit of a bubble, and that all of this is too closely linked to Government spending and investment boom that cannot be sustained.
Oh, and then there are inflows of labour from abroad to sustain all of this growth. Remember Ireland ca 2005-2006? Yep, Malta is a slightly milder version. Notice the large negative gaps: Greece at -21 percentage points, Cyprus at -18 percentage points, Finland at -15 percentage points and so on… the bird-eye’s view of the IMF’s horrific errors is: • Two ‘programme’ countries – where the IMF is one of the economic policy ‘masters’, so at the very least it should have known what was happening on the ground; and
• IMF’s sheer incomprehension of economic drivers for growth in the case of Finland, which, until the recession hit it, was the darling of IMF’s ‘competitiveness leaders board’.
Median-average miss is between 4.33 and 4.97 percentage points in cumulative growth undershoot over 7 years, compared to IMF end-of-2011 projections. So next time the Fund starts issuing ‘happiness is just around the corner’ updates, and anchoring them to the ‘convincing’ view of ‘competitiveness’ and ‘structural drivers’ stuff, take them with a grain of salt.
Tried to find a better source for this, not as one-sided as CNN, but does it really matter anymore at this point? Anyone who wants to believe more secret and anonymous ‘news’ about Russia and the US elections, can and will. Others find it hard to believe that the WaPo comes with yet another unsubstantiated ‘story’. CNN calls this ‘revelations’, but that really is not the word. And saying things like “the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community” can probably best be seen as an attempt at comedy.
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team slammed the CIA Friday, following reports the agency has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win. In a stunning response to widening claims of a Russian espionage operation targeting the presidential race, Trump’s camp risked an early feud with the Intelligence community on which he will rely for top secret assessments of the greatest threats facing the United States. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition said in a terse, unsigned statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
The sharp pushback to revelations in The Washington Post, which followed an earlier CNN report on alleged Russian interference in the election, represented a startling rebuke from an incoming White House to the CIA. The transition team’s reference to the agency’s most humiliating recent intelligence misfire – over its conclusion that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — threatens to cast an early cloud over relations between the Trump White House and the CIA. The top leadership of the agency that presided over the Iraq failure during the Bush administration has long since been replaced. But the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community about the incoming President’s attitude to America’s spy agencies.
CNN reported this week that Trump is getting intelligence briefings only once a week. Several previous presidents preparing for the inauguration had a more intense briefing schedule. Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation into Russia’s hacking told CNN last week that the US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the US election was intended to steer the election toward Trump, rather than simply to undermine or in other ways disrupt the political process. On Friday, the Post cited US officials as saying that intelligence agencies have identified individuals connected to the Russian government who gave Wikileaks thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence to suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with which he has vowed to improve relations, played a nefarious role in the US election. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said in an interview for the latest issue of Time magazine, adding that he thought intelligence community accusations about Russian interventions in the election were politically motivated.
The headlines tell us that the Dow Jones is up around 1,000 points since Donald Trump won the election on November 8th. The conventional wisdom is that this shows how much confidence people have in Trump’s ability to generate a healthy American economy. The argument is that if people are willing to buy stock in American firms, this indicates their belief that those firms will see improving profits over the next few years. They then draw the conclusion that more profitable firms indicate a healthier American economy. Although this argument is correct about stock prices reflecting an increasing belief in the profitability of US firms, it makes a major error in assuming that profitable firms necessarily mean a better economy. First, it’s important to understand that phrases like “a healthier economy” are themselves problematic. The “economy” is not the thing we should be concerned about. In fact, in some fundamental sense there’s no such thing as “the economy.”
As Russ Roberts and John Papola memorably put it in the music video “Fight of the Century:”
The economy’s not a car.
There’s no engine to stall.
No experts can fix it.
There’s no “it” at all.
The economy is us
Things are not “good/bad for the economy.” They are good or bad for the people who comprise the market process, specifically in our capacity as consumers. All the economy amounts to is people engaging exchanges in order to better satisfy their wants. What we should care about is whether or not people are able to better satisfy those wants. And “better satisfy” here means not just more and better goods and services, but at cheaper prices too. Lower prices mean that consumers have income left over to purchase goods they otherwise couldn’t, enabling them to better satisfy their wants by satisfying more of them. In a genuinely free market, the profitability of firms is a good reflection of their ability to better satisfy the wants of consumers. Our willingness to pay for their goods and services reflects the fact that we receive value from those products, so their profits are at least a general signal of having created that value and satisfied consumer wants.
Trump’s policies may well enrich many firms, but they will impoverish the average American. In fact, consumers get much more value out of most innovations than is reflected in the profits of firms. A famous study by economist William Nordhaus estimated that profits made up only about 2.2% of the total benefits created by innovations. If you doubt this, ask yourself how much it would take for you to give up your smartphone and its connectivity. Then multiply that by all of the smartphone users in the world. Then compare that to the profits made off smartphones. The total value to consumers will dwarf the profits of smartphone producers. However, when markets aren’t free, profits do not necessarily reflect value creation. Firms who profit through privileges, protections, and subsidies from governments demonstrate that they are able to please political actors, not that they can deliver value to consumers by better satisfying their wants.
Nothing in his work prepares you for meeting Streeck (pronounced Stray-k). Professionally, he is the political economist barking last orders for our way of life, and warning of the “dark ages” ahead. His books bear bluntly fin-de-siecle titles: two years ago was Buying Time, while the latest is called How Will Capitalism End? (spoiler: not well). Even his admirers talk of his “despair”, by which they mean sentences such as this: “Before capitalism will go to hell, it will for the foreseeable future hang in limbo, dead or about to die from an overdose of itself but still very much around, as nobody will have the power to move its decaying body out of the way.”
What does such gloom look like in the flesh? Small glasses, neat side parting and moustache, a backpack, a smart anorak and at least a decade younger than his 70 years. Alluding to Trump’s victory, he cheerily declares “What a morning!” as if discussing the likelihood of rain, then strolls into the gallery. [..] At a time when macroeconomists have failed and other academics have retreated into disciplinary solipsism, Streeck is one of the few to have risen to the moment. Many of the themes that will define this year, this decade, are in his work. The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them.
This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time: “Professionalised political science tends to underestimate the impact of moral outrage. With its penchant for studied indifference … [it] has nothing but elitist contempt for what it calls “populism”, sharing this with the power elites to which it would like to be close … [But] citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones.”
The European Union should embark on a process of decentralisation and return certain areas of decision making to the member states if it wants to survive and thrive, according to Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner Oliver Hart. Today (9 December), Hart and his colleague, Bengt Holmström, will receive the top prize for their work on contract theory, which covers everything from how CEOs are paid to privatisation. Hart told EFE that he believes the keyword in EU politics is now “decentralisation” and that Brussels has “gone too far in centralising power”. The British-born economist said that “if it abandons this trend, the EU could survive and flourish, otherwise, it could fail”.
The Harvard University professor insisted that the EU member states are not “sufficiently homogeneous” to be considered one single entity, adding that trying to make the EU-28 into one was an “error”. Hart said that the concerns felt by the member states about decision making and centralisation of power in Brussels should be addressed by returning competences to the EU capitals. The Nobel winner conceded that the EU should retain control of “some important areas”, like free trade and free movement of workers, the latter of which he admitted is “ultimately, an idea that I personally like, although I understand that there are political worries”.
His prize-winning colleague, Holmström, also told EFE that the EU needs to “redefine its priorities, limiting its activities and its regulatory arm, in order to focus on what can be done on the essential things”. The Finnish economist, who also teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said that Brussels needs to rejig its system of governance and its basic rules in order to make them “clearer and simpler”. Hart argued that “the euro was an mistake” and said that it’s an opinion that he has maintained ever since the monetary union was first introduced. The economist added that it “wouldn’t be a sad thing at all” if in the future Europe abandoned the single currency and that the British were “very clever” to stay out of it.
Buying of banking stocks has reached panic proportions, suggesting a trend reversal over the next couple of weeks may be likely. The SPDR Financial Select Sector exchange-traded fund rose 0.2% Friday, closing at the highest level since Feb. 1, 2008. Financials have been the best performer of the S&P 500’s 11 key sectors since Donald Trump was elected president, with the sector tracking stock (XLF) soaring 18.8% since Nov. 8, compared with a 5.6% gain in the S&P 500 index. The XLF produced this week its best rolling one-month (22 sessions) %age gains since August 2009, as the financial crisis was ending. Investors appear to be banking that President-elect Donald Trump will provide a Goldilocks scenario for financials, as his promises of lower regulations, lower corporate taxes and a revived economy that results in higher longer-term interest rates are just right for the sector.
A number of technical warnings signs have flashed, however, suggesting the postelection buying frenzy is petering out. On Thursday, 73% of the S&P 500 financial sector hit 52-week highs, the most since Feb. 13, 1997, and the second highest%age since 1990, according to Jason Goepfert, president of Sundial Capital. His research suggests that the previous five-largest surges in 52-week highs in financials produced a median loss of 1.9% over the next week, and a decline of 2.5% over the next two weeks. In comparison, his data showed the average for all days was a gain of 0.2% in a week and a 0.4% rise in two weeks. “There is no doubt that momentum is impressive in the sector—the problem is that it seems to have entered panic mode and that rarely lasts,” Goepfert wrote in a note to clients.
You don’t have to call it a Trump rally. But some market specialists appear to be struggling to pin a name to the recent moves across global markets, which has pushed the S&P 500, DJIA, the Nasdaq – and most recently the Dow Jones Transportation Average – into record territory since President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over rival Hillary Clinton. The Dow scored its 14th record close on Friday. Steve Barrow at Standard Bank said in a Nov. 30 research note that “whatever fears might exist in some quarters about Trump’s win, some sort of animal spirits might have been spurred.” So-called animal spirits is an oft-used term on Wall Street coined by famed economist John Maynard Keynes to describe gut instinct.
Or as Keynes explained, “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction”. A certain verve to scoop up assets has certainly appeared to be at play since early November. Indeed, the Dow industrials as of Friday’s close have risen nearly 8% since the election outcome, the broad-stock benchmark S&P 500 index has climbed 5.6%, while the Nasdaq has picked up 4.8% over the same 30-day period. The Nasdaq scored its first record close since Nov. 29 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the small-cap focused Russell 2000 which is most sensitive to economic prospects for the country, has jumped more than 15.2% since Nov. 8. To be sure, the U.S. has been a shining star compared with its weaker sisters abroad when it comes to economic growth. The ECB on Thursday said it planned on scaling back elements of its stimulus program but noted that it would extend it “if necessary.”
Barrow speculates that global growth has mostly stagnated in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis because the market didn’t put much faith in the tools, namely asset-repurchases and ultralow rates, that have been put in place by central bankers. By contrast, Trump has proposed a raft of fiscal-stimulus measures to upgrade the U.S.’s ailing infrastructure. The market now appears to be betting, in part, that the incoming leader of the free world will make good on those promises, which could inject a dose of spending that could create jobs and break a trend of economic stagnation. As a result infrastructure companies, commodities associated with construction and bank shares, among other asset classes, vaulted higher. Wall Street is euphoric over the possibilities.
The beatings will continue until morale improves, the saying goes. That’s one interpretation of the ECB’s somewhat convoluted rejig of its quantitative easing program this week. By insisting he’s not tapering bond buying while simultaneously reducing the monthly purchases and extending the time frame, President Mario Draghi is sending a mixed message that likely reflects disagreements among his Governing Council members. Cutting the program to €60 billion per month from €80 billion throws a bone to those who worry that it’s time to withdraw the monetary medicine; lengthening the timeline until the end of next year pacifies policy makers who fear the patient isn’t yet on the road to recovery.
But in financial markets, bond yields are effectively tightening monetary conditions on the central bank’s behalf, suggesting investors are beginning to anticipate an improved economic outlook. That could play out in two ways: Either bonds are correct, and the ECB will find itself tapering properly next year, or bonds are wrong, in which case Draghi will have to make good on his pledge to do more if needed. The 10-year German bond yield has climbed to about 0.4% from a low of almost -0.2% in July. That’s still a ridiculously low level; the average in the past two decades is about 3.4%, and for most of the 1990s the range was between 5% and 9%. Nevertheless, it amounts to a significant tightening in monetary conditions in just three months as the yield curve has steepened:
Also, don’t forget that the euro zone remains a fractured economic landscape. Germany, with an unemployment rate of 6%, will find it easier to withstand rising borrowing costs than Italy, where the jobless rate is almost twice as high. And the Italian yield curve has replicated the move seen in Germany, at higher levels that have doubled 10-year yields to 2% since August:
How China manages its currency is likely to be the global economic story of 2017. Despite the government’s best efforts, capital continues to leave the country at a brisk pace, with a balance-of-payments deficit through the third quarter of $469 billion. Attempts to arrest this flow probably won’t work. But they may well create new risks. Capital outflows began gathering steam in 2012, when the government liberalized current-account payment transactions in goods and services. Enterprising Chinese figured out that while they couldn’t officially move money abroad to buy a house via the capital account – individuals are barred from moving more than $50,000 out of the country each year – they could create false trade invoices that would allow them to deposit money where they needed it.
The result was a huge discrepancy between payments recorded for imports and the declared value of goods passing through customs, amounting to $526 billion in hidden outflows last year. The problem has only worsened in 2016. French investment bank Natixis estimates that outflows will total more than $900 billion this year, despite new restrictions on yuan movements, including prohibitions on using credit and debit cards to pay for insurance products in Hong Kong. Last week, the government added yet another restriction. It announced that all international capital-account transactions of more than $5 million will need to be approved by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. This has businesses deeply concerned, given that the administration likely doesn’t have the manpower for the sheer number of transactions it will need to review.
And if such restrictions can be placed on the capital account, it seems only a matter of time until they’re imposed on goods and services transactions. All of which raises a simple question: Why is Beijing working so hard to prop up the yuan and crack down on outward capital flows? The common answer is that it fears the trade consequences of a declining yuan. But that’s not it. Since the government devalued the yuan on Aug. 11, the combined value of imports and exports has fallen by only 8%, even as the value of the yuan has fallen 8% against the U.S. dollar. Any coming decline in the currency won’t make much difference, given the weak global economy and the product mix China is buying and selling.
The real reason is that the government is concerned about the implications of further liberalizing. China’s rickety banks, with delinquency rates of 30%, are receiving regular liquidity injections from the PBOC. Money market rates have been rising, from under 2% this summer to above 2.3% in Shanghai today. Allowing international capital mobility could easily trigger larger withdrawals – and hence liquidity crunches for banks already feeling the pinch of bad loans. In other words, China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis.
The EU has launched an investigation into whether Chinese producers of certain corrosion-resistant steels are selling into Europe at unfairly low prices, in its latest action against cheap Chinese steel imports. The European Commission has determined that a complaint brought by EU steelmakers association Eurofer merits an investigation, the EU’s official journal said on Friday. The EU has imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades after investigations over the past few years to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.
Some 5,000 jobs have been axed in the British steel industry in the last year, as it struggles to compete with cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs. G20 governments recorecognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China, the source of 50% of the world’s steel and the largest steel consumer, has said the problem is a global one. In October, the European Commission set provisional import tariffs of up to 73.7% for heavy plate steel and up to 22.6% for hot-rolled steel coming from China. Those investigations are set to conclude in April.
Feels political. They could have announced this just as easily a week ago, before the referendum. Now a crisis threatens that may help make the case for interim technocrats to step in, and keep Grillo out.
Fears that the Italian government will have to prop up Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) are mounting after the European Central Bank refused to give the world’s oldest bank more time to find major investors to back a €5bn (£4.2bn) cash injection. Trading in the troubled bank’s shares was repeatedly halted on the Italian stock exchange on Friday. The MPS share price closed 10% lower as the bank’s board held a meeting that had already been scheduled before the reports that the ECB had rejected its calls for an extension to the deadline to bolster its financial position. The ECB [..] decision may have closed the door to a private sector solution, under which major investors including the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar would pump billions into the bank.
But MPS said on Friday night that its board would next meet on Sunday night and that it was pressing on with its private sector solutions Even so there were concerns that the Italian government would still have to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. ECB officials had told Reuters they hoped the refusal to extend the deadline would pave the way for similar support for other Italian banks which are struggling with €360bn of bad loans.
It appeared to leave the Italian government with little option but to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. The bank has capital above regulatory minimums.
[..] The eurosceptic Five Star Movement, the second most popular party in Italy, said the government needed to step into the fray. “MPS can only be saved by state aid in order to avoid bail-in rules [that hurt] small savers, as happened a year ago,” the party’s MEPs said in a statement on founder Beppe Grillo’s blog. “This is not the time to fear the EU and a possible infraction procedure. The consequences of a disordered bail-in would be disastrous to say the least, almost apocalyptic if one considers the size of MPS.” They added that it was time to “slam our fists at the table in Brussels … while not giving a damn about the deficit”.
Rising travel costs, airport delays, and other stressors mean fewer people will be flying home for the holidays this December. Almost 60% of people who normally fly home for the holidays will not this year, a survey of more than 1,000 visitors to travel deals website Airfarewatchdog found; 36% of whom say because it is too expensive and 21% would prefer to drive than deal with delays and long lines. An additional 13% said “the skies are too crowded” to fly home this year. It’s also not cheap: 70% of people who fly home for the holidays spend between $500 and $1,000 and 20% spend more than $1,000, according to a study of more than 1,000 users from travel assistant app Mezi.
Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, making such steep spending a major yearly commitment. Still, 18% of respondents in the Airfarewatchdog study said they fly home every year and still plan to do so. Air travel makes up a small%age of holiday travel – less than 10% in 2015, according to travel and automotive services non-profit AAA. But whether driving or flying home for the holidays, the majority of Americans are stressed out – 65% of people say they have anxiety about going home for the holidays, including 72% of women and 58% of men. The top sources of dread for these respondents include being bored and having nothing to do, conflict with family members, and questions about their relationship status.
A goodwill gesture to ease the plight of those hardest hit in Greece by tax increases and budget cuts has backfired spectacularly on the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with the country’s international creditors making clear he has acted out of step. In the starkest case yet of how closely watched loan-reliant Athens is, lenders reacted with unusual alacrity on Friday after the leftist leader announced a one-off Christmas bonus for 1.6 million low-income pensioners. “The programme includes clear commitments to discuss all measures related to programme objectives with the institutions in advance,” an EU spokeswoman said. “The commission was not made aware of all the details of the announcements before they were made. We will now need to study them.”
Retirees have been among those most affected by the gruelling regime of austerity the debt-stricken country has been forced to enact in exchange for over €300bn in emergency rescue funding. Once unassailable, Tsipras’s own popularity has plummeted amid scenes of pensioners being teargassed and beaten as they took to the streets in protest. Under the scheme – announced in a televised address following a nationwide strike when anti-austerity demonstrations had swept the country – Tsipras said handouts of €617m would be given to those living on €800 or less a month. [..] State minister Alekos Flambouraris, the 42-year-old politician’s closest mentor, said creditors had not been forewarned as the money came out of the surplus Greece had managed to achieve through stringent belt-tightening.
[..] social tensions are also spiralling. “Tsipras is worried and that is why he made this move,” Grigoris Kalomoiris, chief policy maker at the union of public sector employees Adedy, told the Guardian. “Come January there will be more cuts to salaries and pensions in very real terms. We are all being pushed to breaking point. This, believe me, is the calm before the storm.” Ignoring creditor anger, Tsipras’s beleaguered administration dug in its heels late on Friday, saying the bonus did not threaten fiscal targets and would not be rescinded. “It is up to the Greek government to distribute expenditure in the way it sees most fit and socially correct, as long as agreed goals are reached,” the prime minister’s office said. “Greece is not a colony.”
The port of Heraklion on the island of Crete turned into a battle field when hundreds of raging farmers attacked striking seamen and set the ticket offices of ANEK shipping company on fire on Friday evening. Angry about the ongoing strike of the seamen, the farmers threw flares at a ferry docked at the port. The sailors of Blue Horizon ferry answered with water drops. A farmer from Ierapetra had claimed that the ferry captain had put in operation the machines so that the ferry depart from the pier and that the lines were cut at risk of injuring farmers. The farmers were shouting “traitors” and some climbed on the lines. They kept demanding that the ferry opens its doors so that they can ship their products to the mainland.
Almost at the same time, a group of farmers moved to the ticket offices of shipping company ANEK and set it on fire. Hundreds of angry and determined farmers arrived at the port of Heraklion around 5pm and declared that they will not step back until 150 trucks loaded with vegetables get on board and leave for Piraeus. The harbormaster of Heraklion was injured and taken to the hospital with an ambulance. He was reportedly when he hit at a door during the incidents. In the 9th day of the seamen strike, the farmers are in rage as they cannot forward their products to the mainland and abroad, thus losing thousands of euros.
MANUS, Papua New Guinea — The plane banks over the dense tropical forest of Manus Island, little touched, it seems, by human hand. South Pacific waters lap onto deserted beaches. The jungle glistens, impenetrable. At the unfenced airport, built by occupying Japanese forces during World War II, a sign “welcomes you to our very beautiful island paradise in the sun.” It could be that, a 60-mile-long slice of heaven. But for more than 900 asylum seekers from across the world banished by Australia to this remote corner of the Papua New Guinea archipelago, Manus has been hell; a three and a half year exercise in mental and physical cruelty conducted in near secrecy beneath the green canopy of the tropics.
A road, newly paved by Australia as part payment to its former colony for hosting this punitive experiment in refugee management, leads to Lorengau, a capital of romantic name and unromantic misery. Here I find Benham Satah, a Kurd who fled persecution in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. Detained on Australia’s Christmas Island after crossing in a smuggler’s boat from Indonesia and later forced onto a Manus-bound plane, he has languished here since Aug. 27, 2013. Endless limbo undoes the mind. But going home could mean facing death: Refugees do not flee out of choice but because they have no choice. Satah’s light brown eyes are glassy. His legs tremble.
A young man with a college degree in English, he is now nameless, a mere registration number — FRT009 — to Australian officials. “Sometimes I cut myself,” he says, “so that I can see my blood and remember, ‘Oh, yes! I am alive.’ ” Reza Barati, his former roommate at what the men’s ID badges call the Offshore Processing Center (Orwell would be proud), is dead. A fellow Iranian Kurd, he was killed, aged 23, on Feb. 17, 2014. Satah witnessed the tall, quiet volleyball player being beaten to death after a local mob scaled the wall of the facility. Protests by asylum seekers had led to rising tensions with the Australian authorities and their Manus enforcers.
The murder obsesses Satah but constitutes a mere fraction of the human cost of a policy that, since July 19, 2013, has sent more than 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Manus and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, far from inquiring eyes. (Unable to obtain a press visa to visit Manus, I went nonetheless.) The toll among Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Lebanese, Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Iranian and other migrants is devastating: self-immolation, overdoses, death from septicemia as a result of medical negligence, sexual abuse and rampant despair. A recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report by three medical experts found that 88% of the 181 asylum seekers and refugees examined on Manus were suffering from depressive disorders, including, in some cases, psychosis.