Mar 102019
 
 March 10, 2019  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Girl at Gee’s bend 1937

 

Bruce Ohr’s Testimony Contradicts Rosenstein And Simpson (Sara Carter)
Three-Quarters Of New Voters Would Back Remain In Second Brexit Referendum (G.)
Last-Ditch Brexit Negotiations Descend Into Open Hostility (Ind.)
Theresa May Warned Another Brutal Brexit Defeat In Commons Inevitable (Sky)
May Staggers On Amid Predictions Of Her Political Demise (AFP)
Belgium Tells Companies To Halt Exports To UK After March 29 (Ind.)
Joe Biden Tops 2020 Iowa Democratic Presidential Poll Ahead Of Sanders (AP)
Tulsi Gabbard Takes a Strong Stand For WikiLeaks (CF)
Elizabeth Warren Defends Her Big Tech Breakup Proposal (AT)
EU Plan To Rein In Facebook And Google Will Do Exactly The Opposite (G.)
Italian PM Sets Conditions Over Rail Link To Defuse Crisis (R.)
How America’s Food Giants Swallowed The Family Farms (G.)
Is The World’s Most Popular Weedkiller Carcinogenic? (G.)

 

 

The US went to Daylight Saving Time 3 weeks ahead of Europe. Caught me by surprise.

Do I need to call for a 2nd Special Counsel again? What a friggin mess.

Bruce Ohr’s Testimony Contradicts Rosenstein And Simpson (Sara Carter)

1. Glenn Simpson suggests in his testimony to the Senate that he never spoke to anyone at the FBI about Christopher Steele, the former British spy he hired to investigate the Trump campaign during the election. However, Ohr suggest otherwise telling former Rep.Trey Gowdy under questioning “As I recall, and this is after checking with my notes, Mr. Simpson and I spoke in August of 2016. I met with him, and he provided some information on possible intermediaries between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.”

2. In another instance, Simpson’s testimony also contradicts notes taken by Ohr after a meeting they had in December, 2016. Unverified allegations were decimated among the media that the Trump campaign had a computer server that was linked to a Russian bank in Moscow: Alpha Bank. Simpson suggested to the Senate that he knew very little about the Trump -Alpha Bank server story and couldn’t provide information. But Bruce Ohr’s own handwritten notes state that when he met with Simpson in December 2016, Simpson was concerned over the Alpha Bank story in the New York Times. “The New York Times story on Oct. 31 downplaying the connection between Alfa servers and the Trump campaign was incorrect. There was communication and it wasn’t spam,” stated Ohr’s notes. This suggests that Simpson was well aware of the story, which was believed by congressional investigators to have started from his research firm.

3. Ohr testified to lawmakers that Simpson provided information to federal officials that was false regarding Cleta Mitchell, a well-known Republican campaign finance lawyer, and information regarding the National Rifle Association. Sean Davis, with the Federalist pointed this out in a tweet today.

4. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not answer questions to lawmakers during testimony about when he learned that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was working for Fusion GPS. Just check this out from Rep. Matt Gaetz’s interview with Judge Jeanine on Fox News. “Rod Rosenstein won’t tell us when he first learned that Nellie Ohr was working for Fusion GPS,” said Gaetz, in August, 2018. “So I want to know from Bruce Ohr, when did he tell his colleagues at the Department of Justice that in violation of law that required him to disclose his wife’s occupation his sources of income. He did not do that. So when did all of the other people at the Department of Justice find this out because Rod Rosenstein, I’ve asked him twice in open hearing and he will not give an answer. I think there’s a real smoking gun there.”

However, in Ohr’s testimony he says he told the FBI about his wife’s role at Fusion GPS but only divulged his role to one person at the DOJ: Rosenstein. At the time, Rosenstein was overseeing the Trump-Russia probe, and had taken the information from Ohr and gave it to the FBI. Just read The Hill’s John Solomon full story here for the full background on Ohr’s testimony. I highlighted an important date below: remember Rosenstein wouldn’t answer lawmakers questions as to when he knew about Nellie Ohr. It also appears he failed to tell lawmakers about the information he delivered to the FBI.

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You go tell them they don’t count.

Three-Quarters Of New Voters Would Back Remain In Second Brexit Referendum (G.)

Some 87% of people who were too young to cast a ballot in the 2016 Brexit referendum but have since reached voting age would “definitely” take part if a second public vote were called, according to a new poll. And of the estimated 2 million new young voters, 74% would back remain. The survey, carried out by BMG on behalf of the anti-Brexit youth groups Our Future, Our Choice and For Our Future’s Sake, suggests the youth vote would be crucial in any second remain campaign and could significantly boost its chances of overturning the 2016 leave result.

The survey polled two groups: those who were too young to vote in 2016 and those who were eligible to vote but chose not to. Some 72% of those too young to vote in the original referendum feel it would be unfair if Britain left the EU without them having been able to vote on the issue. Only 3% of this demographic believe Britain’s standing in the world has increased since the referendum in June 2016. Further figures from the survey reveal that only 4% of this age group have had contact with their local MPs regarding Brexit. The proportion of young voters who would be angry if Britain left the EU without a public vote significantly outweighs those who would be happy – 55% to 9%.

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I was just watching Brexiteer David Davis saying the UK must be able to cut the Irish backstop when it wants, not wait for the other side to agree. But that would mean Ireland having no say at all in the matter.

Last-Ditch Brexit Negotiations Descend Into Open Hostility (Ind.)

Last-ditch negotiations in the Brexit process have descended into open hostility as one senior minister accused the EU of playing “games” with just three days to go until MPs vote on Theresa May‘s plans. After an extraordinary exchange between the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, and the EU’s chief negotiator on social media, the Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said she was was “deeply disappointed with what we’re hearing coming out of the EU”. “I do have to ask myself what games they are playing here,” the cabinet minister told Reuters after Mr Barclay accused Michel Barnier of trying to “rerun old arguments” as hopes of a Brexit breakthrough began to fade before Tuesday.

It comes as Westminster prepares for another week of political turmoil, with MPs gearing up to vote on the prime minister’s deal for a second time. Unless Ms May manages to secure last-minute concessions from Brussels over the weekend and into Monday, it appears she will suffer yet another heavy defeat in the House of Commons, throwing the Brexit process into further uncertainty. Ms Leadsom said she was still hopeful of a breakthrough, but added it would depend on the EU “coming to the table and taking seriously the [UK’s proposals]”. During a speech on Friday, Ms May pleaded with EU leaders to give ground in the negotiations as she told them: “Let’s get it done”. But hours later Mr Barnier indicated on his Twitter account that if the UK did not like the deal on the table, it could accept an alternative already rejected outright by the prime minister in the negotiating process.

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Will she last the week then?

Theresa May Warned Another Brutal Brexit Defeat In Commons Inevitable (Sky)

Theresa May has been warned another brutal Commons defeat over her Brexit deal is “inevitable” without late changes to the Northern Ireland backstop. The prime minister is preparing for a huge week in Westminster, with the withdrawal agreement she struck with Brussels set to go before parliament yet again. She has been trying to secure legally binding changes to the unpopular backstop to convince MPs that the UK cannot be tied indefinitely to EU rules against its wishes, which she hopes would be enough to get the deal through. But the likelihood of that happening appears remote as the clock continues to tick down, and further doubt has been cast over her chances by sceptical Brexiteers who she has been trying to win over.

Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds have described the situation as “grim”. In a joint article for The Sunday Telegraph, the pair said: “An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons.” They predict that a “three-figure majority” will reject the deal in its current state, with it having already been voted down by 230 MPs back in January. It had been speculated that Mrs May could try to secure a third meaningful vote if she loses by less than 50 on Tuesday, but a loss as predicted by Mr Baker and Mr Dodds would make that prospect unlikely.

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“the living embodiment of a closed door”

May Staggers On Amid Predictions Of Her Political Demise (AFP)

Whether her Brexit deal passes parliament or not this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s days are numbered, experts have said. The Conservative leader has in the past won praise for her determination and ability to survive what has often felt like one long political crisis since the 2016 EU referendum. But her approach to the Brexit endgame, seeking changes to the deal she herself negotiated with under three weeks to go until exit day, has prompted frustration and anger on all sides. Pro-European ministers are in revolt over the risk of a “no deal” exit, while Brexit hardliners are livid that her promise of a decisive divorce appears to be receding.

At the same time, criticism of May’s legacy from six years as interior minister is growing following a surge in knife crime and an ongoing row over the treatment of migrants. “At first she appeared to be a unifier, but she turned out to have too little courage, imagination or skill to lead the Brexit negotiations,” said an editorial in the Conservative-backing Spectator magazine. It reluctantly urged MPs to back May’s divorce deal on Tuesday, but only so that Britain could “turn the page on this unhappy chapter of our political history”.

[..] in the last election, she struggled to engage with voters and was dubbed the “Maybot” after churning out the same answers and speeches over and over again. Critics complain of similar difficulties in communicating during the Brexit talks, and even her own ministers are reportedly unsure what she will do if her deal is voted down. Matthew Parris, an anti-Brexit former Conservative MP who now writes for The Times, said he once thought May was a merely an “unremarkable” politician dealing with a tough situation. But he said her inability to engage with colleagues had exacerbated divisions over Brexit, describing her as “the living embodiment of the closed door”.

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Too much hassle.

Belgium Tells Companies To Halt Exports To UK After March 29 (Ind.)

Belgium’s customs authority is advising companies that export to the UK to halt shipments after Brexit day to avoid customs chaos in the event of a no-deal scenario. Kristian Vanderwaeren, chief executive of Belgian customs, called for a “Brexitpauze” after 29 March and said firms should do as much of their exporting as they can before new controls have to come in. “Who are we as customs to give the business world instructions? But we are still asking the SMEs and all other parties to wait. Do the necessary export to your customers before 29 March,” he told Belgian business newspaper De Tijd. Mr Vanderwaeren said larger industries “such as pharmaceutical companies and car manufacturers” had been “storing stock in the UK for months” to avoid having to get parts through after Brexit but that the vast majority of businesses were not well prepared with just weeks to go.

Belgium’s main port of Zeebrugge is expected to have to deal with around a million additional import declarations and 4.5 million extra export declarations once the UK leaves the single market and customs union. The warning follows chaos and hours of delays at Calais and the Eurostar terminal in Paris after French customs officers carried out a trial of the sort of checks they would have to impose under a no-deal Brexit. The customs chief also warned that many small businesses that dealt with the UK were simply not prepared to export and that it would be better for them to pause operations. “Our customs authority has written letters to some 20,000 companies that trade with the UK telling them they have to apply for an EORI number, which is necessary to be able to import and export,” Mr Vanderwaeren told the newspaper.

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New Iowa poll from CNN/DMR:
Biden – 27%
Sanders – 25%
Warren – 9%
Harris – 7%
O’Rourke – 5%
Booker – 3%
Klobuchar – 3%

Shout out to Michael Tracey on Twitter: “Biden running could be useful in the sense that it’ll keep the 2020 debate grounded in some semblance of historical perspective. Re-examining his decades-long record will necessitate this. Otherwise, the candidates would all pretend that the USA’s problems began on Jan. 20, 2017.”

Joe Biden Tops 2020 Iowa Democratic Presidential Poll Ahead Of Sanders (AP)

The former US vice-president Joe Biden has topped a poll of Iowa voters on Saturday that also showed Senator Bernie Sanders gaining momentum against him in the number two spot. Biden, who has not announced whether he is running in the 2020 election, is the first choice for president of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers with 27% in the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Sanders, 77, got 25%. “If I’m Joe Biden sitting on the fence and I see this poll, this might make me want to jump in,” J Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co, which conducted the poll, told the Des Moines Register. The newspaper’s Iowa poll has a long track record of relative accuracy in the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process. In this cycle, Iowa will hold the first contest in the Democratic race in February 2020.

[..] It was the Register’s first Iowa poll since candidates began jumping into the race at the beginning of the year. The poll also surveyed support of likely Iowa caucus-goers on issues that have dominated the early discussion and drawn support from most of the Democratic presidential contenders. The Green New Deal, a proposal by Democrats in Congress to tackle climate change, was supported in full by 65% of the Democratic voters, partially by 26%, with 4% against. The deal would fund government programs on clean energy and make buildings energy efficient while helping to address poverty.

Support was also measured for Medicare-for-all, a plan first proposed by Sanders in 2017, to replace the current mix of private and government-financed healthcare coverage with a universal coverage plan funded solely by the government. It was supported by 49% of the likely caucus-goers, partially by 35%, with 11% against.

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Gabbard isn’t even in that poll at all. Nice she speaks out, and nice the right wing is with her, but this is not about WikiLeaks going from a news organization (Obama Admin’s designation) to a hostile intelligence agency (Trump Admin’s designation). Because Assange has been locked up since 2012, no matter designation Obama gave him. That’s what counts.

Tulsi Gabbard Takes a Strong Stand For WikiLeaks (CF)

Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who has already taken a lot of heat from her party for being outspoken against senseless war and regime change, has released a strong statement in support of WikiLeaks. Gabbard, who is also a veteran, took to Twitter to talk about the dangers of designating the award-winning news organization a “hostile intelligence agency.” “If the government can change the designation Wikileaks from being a news organization (Obama Admin’s designation of Wikileaks) to a hostile intelligence agency (Trump Admin’s designation), then any entity – online and offline – is in danger of being designated a ‘hostile intelligence service’ if they carry out investigative reporting that the US government or a particular administration considers to be hostile to itself,” Gabbard wrote in a series of tweets on Saturday.

“This will have a chilling effect on investigative reporting of powerful government agencies or officials, including the president, intel agencies, etc. This is a serious breach of our constitutional freedoms and every American – Democrat, Republican or Independent – must stand up against it.” During his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed support for WikiLeaks, even saying that he “loves” the publisher, yet his administration has dramatically ramped up efforts to extradite the website’s founder Julian Assange to face charges in the US.

Whistleblower and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning is currently sitting in jail after refusing to testify before a secret grand jury regarding WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of the war logs. Manning was granted immunity for the testimony, but refused to participate in the political persecution of the news organization as she has a deeply held opposition to secret grand juries. Gabbard is famous for taking a stand when others won’t, even resigning from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election — as she supported Senator Bernie Sanders and was no longer impartial. She has faced backlash from both the right and the left for her principled belief in avoiding war whenever possible.

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Warren needs a profile or people will forget about her.

Elizabeth Warren Defends Her Big Tech Breakup Proposal (AT)

“Today, we have companies like Amazon: they have a platform. I buy a coffee maker and use it all the time, but Amazon also sucks out an incredible amount of info about every buyer and every seller. Then, Amazon makes the decision to have a competing coffee machine and drive out the business in that space,” she explained. “They have this incredible advantage from the information they get from their platform and the fact they can also manipulate the platform, putting themselves on page 1 and put the competitor on page 16 where no one ever goes… My view is break those things apart, and we’ll have a more robust market in America.”

Warren touched on many topics over the course of her hour-long conversation with Giridharadas, but her support of free markets and capitalism—in particular how those ideas need to be instituted fairly within industries like tech—came up again and again. The senator had multiple, varied analogies at the ready to help. If baseball is your language, Warren likened Big Tech’s current situation to the conflict of interest that might exist if one individual was, say, both umpire and team owner. If you prefer American history, she sees the power and influence of Google, Amazon, et al. as analogous to the railroads of the 1800s.

“The railroads of the Teddy Roosevelt era were the big monopoly of the 1800s—the railroads were where you had to be if you had a steel mill, wheat, or corn, you had to get your goods to the railroad,” Warren said. “What happened? Railroads figured out they could price differently depending on your desperation or whether they had a competitor in the field. They’d start their own steel company and then give discount rates to move that along and sell at a cheaper price, but they’d raise prices for competitors. “In that sense, what’s new is old,” she continued. “When someone gets market dominance, they destroy competition. The world that gave them birth, to get the opportunity to go and grow and do something, [the company] has grown big enough to destroy everything around it.”

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Still waiting for those new laws.

EU Plan To Rein In Facebook And Google Will Do Exactly The Opposite (G.)

The growth of the internet and user-generated content in the past 15 years has been underpinned by speed and ease of use. The foundations for this are commonly referred to as “safe harbour” provisions in copyright law. This means that organisations that allow users to upload content to their websites – Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook et al – are not liable for copyright infringement of their users, but are required to speedily remove content after the fact, if a copyright makes a complaint. Now, through article 13 of its new copyright directive, the EU is curtailing these safe harbour provisions, and thereby challenging the very basis of a free and open internet.

Imagine that you upload content to a video-sharing website and then have to wait for days for it to appear after it is vetted. That could be the future of the internet in the EU. The EU’s actions appear to be targeted at reducing the immense power of the likes of Facebook and Google. There is no question that their power needs to be reduced – but copyright law is not the correct approach. Blindly removing copyrighted content uploaded by users will snag legitimate fair-uses and inevitably result in a chilling effect on criticism, debate and commentary – so ultimately this threatens democracy and society at a time when it is especially vulnerable.

[..] the EU’s proposed copyright law amendments are ill-advised. It creates barriers to entry for newcomers to challenge incumbents, and only serves to strengthen the already powerful. Google and Facebook have the economic wherewithal to oversee all the content uploaded to their platforms. While it might increase costs for them, the vastly greater effect is on financially weaker competitors and any new, disruptive entrants on the horizon. New businesses will be hindered, forced to exist without the freedom that Google and Facebook once enjoyed to become the giants they are today. Instead of tackling the power of the internet giants, the new law will further secure their dominance. Two aspects of the EU law stand out. First, the notable exception from this law is for “non-profit encyclopedias” – which is essentially code for “Wikipedia”. Wikipedia should recognise the exception for what it is – a clever way to buy its silence.

And Wikipedia should rise above it and simply not accept it. Today, the site is a manifestation of a free and open internet. Wikipedia, if true to its ideals, should go dark in protest. Second, the EU seems to have recognised that innovation can be hindered and competition thwarted with article 13. As a result, there seems to be exceptions designed for small and young companies. To avail of this exception, companies must be less than three years old. But what about companies that take longer to grow? If the EU really wants to curtail the tech giants, they should go by market capitalisation, revenue and funds raised: say for example, a company that is valued at $1bn, has $50m in revenue, or has raised cumulatively at least $200m. These numbers could be anything, but at least a calibrated and targeted approach should be used – not arbitrary timings.

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My theory is Salvini wants the rail line, but he can’t keep himself from pissing off Macron.

Italian PM Sets Conditions Over Rail Link To Defuse Crisis (R.)

The multibillion-euro TAV link (Treno Alta Velocita) is backed by Matteo Salvini’s League party but strongly opposed by its coalition partner, 5-Star Movement, which argues that Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. Tensions between the two sides had escalated ahead of a Monday deadline for the company overseeing the project, TELT, to launch tenders to carry out works on it, threatening to bring down the government. But Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a post on Facebook he had asked TELT to halt the finalization of tenders for the rail link because his government had committed to “totally re-discussing” the project.

Conte published a response from TELT, which said it would call for expressions of interest from potential contractors for the French portion of the rail link on Monday, effectively launching the tender process, in order to avoid losing European Union funding. However, it said it would not proceed with the definition of contracts without the consent of both the Italian and French governments. Sources close to the matter said it normally takes six months between the launch of tenders and the next phase, when contract specifications are detailed.

The TAV is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. The EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of the costs of the TAV, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent. Italy’s transport minister, a 5-Star official, puts the total price tag at more than 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion). His French counterpart, Elisabeth Borne, said on Friday the European Commission had let it be known it was willing to increase its share to 50 percent, leaving France and Italy to finance 25 percent each.

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The US is already a socialist country, it’s just that their version is socialism for the rich. Huge amounts of subsidies are paid out to kill off small business. It’s exactly what the Soviet Union and China did.

How America’s Food Giants Swallowed The Family Farms (G.)

Tim Gibbons of Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a support group for family farmers set up during the 1980s farm crisis, says the cycle of economic shocks has blended with government policies to create a “monopolisation of the livestock industry, where a few multinational corporations control a vast majority of the livestock”. Gibbons explains: “They are vertically integrated, from animal genetics to grocery store. What they charge isn’t based upon what it costs to produce, and it’s not based on supply and demand, because they know what they need to make a profit. What they have done, through government support and taxpayer support, is to intentionally overproduce so that the price stays low, sometimes below the cost of production. That kicks their competition out of the market. Then they become the only player in town.

“Over time, it has extracted wealth and power from communities. We can see how that has impacted rural main streets. You can see the boarded-up storefronts. You can see the lack of economic opportunity.” Gibbons says that corporations game the system by obtaining low-interest, federally guaranteed loans to build Cafos that then overproduce. But they know the government will buy up the surplus to stabilise prices. “The system has been set up for the benefit of the factory farm corporations and their shareholders at the expense of family farmers, the real people, our environment, our food system,” he adds.

“The thing that is really pervasive about it is that they control the rules of the game because they control the democratic process. It’s a blueprint. We’re paying for our own demise. “It would be a different argument if it was just based upon inevitability or based on competition. But it’s not based upon competition: it’s based upon squelching competition.”

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Monsanto has succeeded in putting science upside down. If you can’t prove 100% that Roundup causes cancer, they argue they should be able to spray 6.1 billion kilos of it over your food. That is of course utter insanity. They must prove it is NOT carcinogenic, and until then it should not be allowed in the open.

Is The World’s Most Popular Weedkiller Carcinogenic? (G.)

An estimated 6.1 billion kilos of glyphosate-based weedkillers were sprayed across gardens and fields worldwide between 2005 and 2014 (the most recent point at which data has been collected). That is more than any other herbicide, so understanding the true impact on human health is vital. [..] There is no question that the glyphosate debate has become highly politicised in recent years. Despite the limited evidence linking glyphosate to health risks, a European Citizens Initiative petition against its use in agriculture still garnered 1.3 million signatures, with the European Union’s 2017 decision to license it for another five years sparking mass protests across the continent.

In addition to cancer, environmental activists have claimed links between herbicide exposure and everything from coeliac disease to autism, while on the other side of the fence, regulatory agencies blame an ongoing anti-GM agenda for driving public sentiment against this small molecule. If glyphosate is banned, campaigners will have struck another severe blow against GM crop production. “My personal perception is that glyphosate has become a symbol for the use of chemicals in agriculture and the way we produce food in Europe,” says Dr Bernhard Url, executive director of Efsa. “When science meets values, things become complicated. So when politicians are confronted with the opinion of Efsa that glyphosate is safe, they say, ‘No, I don’t want to hear that glyphosate is not carcinogenic because it doesn’t fit into my world view.

“I want a world without agrochemicals and if you, Efsa, tell us that glyphosate is safe to be used, you must be corrupt.’” A 2016 study which found a 1,000% rise in the levels of glyphosate in our urine in the past two decades – suggesting that increasing amounts of glyphosate is passing through our diet – provoked further outrage. Except it isn’t really clear whether that has any consequences at all for our health. An Efsa letter, published in the journal Nature, pointed out that glyphosate residues found in Italian pasta or German beer would only exceed known risk thresholds if someone were to consume their entire body weight’s worth of those products in a single day.

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Mar 092019
 


Juan Gris Portrait of Pablo Picasso 1912

 

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)
On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)
Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)
Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)
EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)
Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)
Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)
Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)
Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)
A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Wolf Richter has the entire top-11. I picked a few. Note: this is debt-to-GDP. For debt-to-disposable income, graphs are different. Note 2: Switzerland is always an odd one out because of the role of its banking system.

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)

US household debt inched down to 76.4% of GDP in the third quarter 2018, according to the newest batch of global data from the Bank for International Settlements. This was the lowest level since 2002. It put Americans in the inexplicably wimpy, and for the finance sector, insufferable 11th place:

Canadian households have long been making headlines with their top-notch borrowing binge to support their top-notch housing bubble. By other debt measures, such as debt-to-disposable income, Canadian and Australian households have been battling over first place for years. In the debt-to-GDP measure, Canadian households are in a still respectable 6th place: This debt will pose some issues as the majestic housing bubbles in top metros are now deflating:

Households in the Netherlands were track to be undisputed king of the hill, with a debt-to-GDP ratio nearing 120%, in part because GDP plunged during the Financial Crisis, which caused the spike in the debt-to-GDP ratio and the collapse of some banks. During the subsequent euro debt crisis, GDP declined again. But since then, the economy has grown, and households have curtailed their borrowing, edging away from the brink, and in the process getting demoted to 4th place:

Australian households have been caught up in one of the biggest housing bubbles in the world, financed by debt. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled between 1997 and 2016. Now that the housing bubble is deflating at an astounding pace, the debt ratio has begun to tick down, but remains in second place:

[..] the #1 debt slaves in the world: Swiss households. This is one of the reasons interest-rate repression remains the rule in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has imposed its negative interest rate policy on the country for years, and there have been stories of mortgages with 0% and even negative interest rates. There is simply too much household debt, and no one wants to see it blow up. Hence the negative interest rate policy. But this policy encourages more household borrowing, and the cycle will continue until it can’t:

China is in a category of its own. And so the chart has a different scale. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio is still in the German neighborhood of just above 50%, but it has quintupled in the 12 years since the BIS data began in 2006. The idea that Chinese households are paying cash to sustain their housing bubble or to buy cars has become a bad joke: Chinese consumers have discovered debt, and they are eagerly turning into debt slaves:

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Daniel Ellsberg: “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom, and it’s a travesty that she has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury. An investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing is a grave threat to all journalists’ rights, and Chelsea is doing us all a service for fighting it. She has already been tortured, spent years in jail, and has suffered more than enough. She should be released immediately.”

Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)

Following a dramatic hearing at a federal district court in Eastern Virginia, activist and former military prisoner Chelsea Manning was jailed by a judge for contempt of court after refusing to testify to a grand jury empaneled in the government’s long running criminal investigation into Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The judge, the Hon. Claude H. Hilton, ruled that Manning must remain in civil detention until she testifies, her lawyer Moira Meltzer-Cohen told the New York Times. Manning was subpoeaned in January to testify before the jury. But she vowed not to cooperate even though prosecutors offered immunity for her testimony. “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles,” she said on Thursday. “I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”

Manning’s jailing offers another glimpse into the government’s secretive investigation into Wikileaks, which was started under the Obama Administration and picked up by the Trump Administration. Manning served seven years in prison for leaking the infamous “collateral murder” tape to Wikileaks, by far the longest prison term ever served for leaking government secrets. Manning, who transitioned to a woman during her time in prison, twice tried to commit suicide before she was pardoned by Obama. Late last year, an accidental leak of some information in the case revealed that Assange had been charged under seal last summer. And while Manning has decided to refuse to cooperate, a Wikileaks volunteer recently agreed to testify against Assange in exchange for immunity. The grand jury has been investigating Assange for nine years.

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This is the worst condemnation of US media to date. And I betcha, no-one sees it that way. Whatever Mueller says, minds are made up. By what then? Can only be unproven accusations.

And it has similarities with the Chelsea Manning disaster: When will the first Republican refuse to testify before Nadler’s committee? In both cases people are looking to confirm pre-established narratives, if need be by force.

On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)

Only a small number of Americans have not yet made up their minds about whether Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also showed deep divisions in the United States in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided, the opinion poll released on Friday showed. About half of Americans believe President Trump tried to stop federal investigations into his campaign, the survey found. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to soon wrap up his investigation into U.S. allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. political process as well as the Trump campaign links and possible obstruction of justice.

Moscow and Trump deny the allegations. Barring bombshell revelations, the survey results suggest the investigation’s influence on voters in the 2020 campaign may already have run its course. The Reuters/Ipsos poll has tracked public opinion of the investigation since Mueller was appointed in May 2017 following Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey, gathering responses from more than 72,000 adults. Public opinion appears to have hardened early, changing little over the past two years despite a string of highly publicized criminal charges against people associated with the Trump campaign. Every time respondents were asked about the investigation, about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

With so few voters left undecided, the report expected from Mueller looks unlikely to serve as a significant voter turnout tool for Republicans or Democrats in November 2020 and could backfire on Democrats if they overplay it. “We keep waiting for something to happen during the Trump era to vastly change the way people view him,” said Kyle Kondik, a non-partisan analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “Maybe at this point there just aren’t many minds left to change.”

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The media can’t let go of Russiagate, no matter what Mueller says, it would leave them empty handed. So they play into the fact that Americans have their minds made up anyway. Scary when you think about it.

Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president he has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times. The details of their conversations remain unknown to the public, and in most cases even to senior administration officials. Democrats in Congress are now demanding more details of communications between the two leaders. Secrecy around such meetings, they say, raises fresh questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin at a time when his ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations. The meetings with Putin are not the only subject of such Democratic demands. House leaders left little room for doubt this week that they will utilize their newly minted majority to cast a wide net around the president, his family and their businesses.

The judiciary committee issued document requests to 81 individuals and entities, seeking information on everything from contacts between Trump aides and Moscow to hush money payments to women and possible obstruction of justice. [..] Democrats now say Trump’s reportedly forceful attempts to conceal his communications with Putin raise questions about his motivations in pursuing closer relations with a regime largely regarded as a primary adversary. In a joint letter this week, the chairs of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees raised “profound national security, counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.

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Discussions America should have but refuses. The Dem old guard wants things to stay as they were/are. But the party must change in radical ways.

Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) says former President Barack Obama’s promise of “hope and change” was just a mirage in a Politico interview that hit on Friday. The magazine profile explains that when she ran for office in 2016, she was fed up with the Democratic Party — not so much Trumpism or politics in general. Omar also reminded the interviewer that there was “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Obama administration. (Obama was called the “deporter-in-chief” by immigrant rights advocates for the record number of undocumented immigrants deported during his presidency; ICE deportations peaked at 409,849 in 2012. But it dropped to almost half of that by 2017.) mAnd she called out the “droning of countries around the world” under Obama. A 2015 report claimed that nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes in the Middle East “were not the intended targets.”

The interview dropped the day after the House passed a resolution condemning bigotry that included anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, which was a response to comments made by Omar, who accused people of having allegiances to foreign countries. (It did not mention Omar by name, however.) Her comments to Politico suggest she doesn’t mind being at the center of controversy. “As much as other people are uncomfortable, I’m excited about the change in tone that has taken place that is extremely positive … and my ability, I think, to agitate our foreign policy discussions in a way that many of my colleagues who have been anti-intervention, antiwar have been unable to do in the past,” she said. “So, I’m OK with taking the blows if it means it will ignite conversations that no one was willing to have before.”

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Is the Guardian finally standing up for May? Bit late, isn’t it?

EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)

Theresa May appears set for a second humiliating defeat when she brings her Brexit deal back to parliament next week, after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rebuffed her pleas for last-minute concessions. The prime minister urged MPs to “get it done” and back her deal, in an impassioned speech at a dockside warehouse in the leave-voting town of Grimsby. A vote against the deal would mean “not completing Brexit and getting on with all the other important issues people care about, just yet more months and years arguing”, May told MPs. “If we go down that road we might never leave the EU at all.”

Addressing workers from Ørsted, a Danish energy and wind turbine firm, May also urged the EU to make new concessions over the Irish backstop – the issue that caused many of her MPs to vote against the deal the first time – before last-ditch talks in Brussels this weekend. The EU “has to make a choice too”, the prime minister said. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote. “European leaders tell me they worry that time is running out and that we only have one chance to get it right. My message to them is: now is the moment for us to act.”

But Barnier immediately appeared to rebuff the prime minister, by responding with an offer of reverting to his original plan, the Northern Ireland-only backstop, which May repeatedly said no prime minister could accept, because it risked creating a border in the Irish Sea. The EU’s chief negotiator said in a series of tweets that the EU was committed “to give the UK the option to exit the single customs territory unilaterally, while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border. [The] UK will not be forced into a customs union against its will.” The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, immediately replied: “With a very real deadline looming, now is not the time to rerun old arguments. The UK has put forward clear new proposals. We now need to agree a balanced solution that can work for both sides.”

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If a tree falls in a forest….

Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned Theresa May not to make a third attempt to ram through her Brexit deal if it crashes to its expected defeat next week, saying it must be “the end of the road”. The prime minister has not ruled out a third “meaningful vote” if MPs reject her agreement next week – even with the scheduled exit day from the EU just three weeks away. But, speaking to Labour activists in Scotland, Mr Corbyn said Ms May must accept that defeat on Tuesday would “represent an unprecedented failure in British political history”. “Having already failed once to get her deal through, I want to make it clear to the prime minister if she fails again it will be the end of the road for her deal,” the Labour leader said.

“There is no coming back from it. There can be no more playing for time.” Mr Corbyn again insisted Labour’s softer Brexit proposals could secure agreement both at Westminster and in Brussels, following his “discussions with Michel Barnier” [the EU negotiator]. However, he also insisted Labour was not “obsessed” by Brexit like other parties – pointing to poverty and climate change as the issues that really matter. “Turn on the news at the moment and you’ll hear endlessly about constitutional issues. Brexit. Independence. It borders on the obsessive,” he told a conference in Dundee. “You don’t hear so much about the children arriving hungry to school or how the teachers at one nursery have had to arrange for Tesco and Greggs to donate their leftovers so they can feed the kids.”

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I think Moore has at least a partial burden of proof here. Just shouting out stuff isn’t good enough at this stage. Suggesting that research is good only if it’s paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M is quite the stretch. Even if politics and business are indeed eyeing huge profits off of going green and off people’s ignorance about what that means.

Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore had harsh words for the modern environmental movement, calling global warming “the greatest scam in history” and denouncing the use of “fear and guilt” to push the message. “The climate catastrophe is strictly a fear campaign – well, fear and guilt,” Moore told Breitbart radio host Rebecca Mansour. “You’re afraid you’re killing your children because you’re driving them in your SUV and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you feel guilty for doing that. There’s no stronger motivation than those two.” “This abomination that is occurring today in the climate issue is the biggest threat to the enlightenment that has occurred since Galileo.”

“Nothing else comes close,” Moore insisted, likening the contemporary environmental movement to “a toxic mix of ideology, of politics and religion.” “CO2 is the food for life! It’s not pollution,” the would-be heretic declared, claiming that the use of fossil fuels had actually “saved life from an early demise” because CO2 had been declining since the last ice age, with barely enough for the earth’s plant life to sustain itself, until humanity stepped into the breach during the Industrial Revolution. Moore, who founded the pioneering environmental activist group almost 50 years ago to protest nuclear war, met with an outpouring of support from conservatives and weary Democrats alike, after tweeting a scathing rebuke earlier this week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose quixotic Green New Deal has become the standard-bearer of the 21st century environmental movement.

“And so you’ve got the green movement creating stories that instill fear in the public. You’ve got the media echo chamber — fake news — repeating it over and over and over again to everybody that they’re killing their children, and then you’ve got the green politicians who are buying scientists with government money to produce fear for them in the form of scientific-looking materials, and then you’ve got the green businesses, the rent-seekers and the crony capitalists who are taking advantage of massive subsidies, huge tax write-offs, and government mandates requiring their technologies to make a fortune on this, and then of course you’ve got the scientists who are willingly, they’re basically hooked on government grants.

When they talk about the 99 percent consensus [among scientists] on climate change, that’s a completely ridiculous and false numbers, but most of the scientists — put it in quotes, scientists — who are pushing this catastrophic theory are getting paid by public money. They are not being paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M to do this research, where private companies expect to get something useful from their research that might produce a better product and make them a profit in the end because people want it — build a better mousetrap type of idea — but most of what these so-called scientists are doing is simply producing more fear so that politicians can use it control people’s mind and get their votes because some of the people are convinced, ‘Oh, this politician can save my kid from certain doom.’

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The collapse may happen soon, but likely not because of an old topic like this.

Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)

With the Italian government seemingly on the verge of collapse every few months, and with tensions between the two parties in the ruling coalition – Five Star and the League, especially as the former has been sliding in the polls at the expense of the latter’s rising popularity – escalating in recent weeks, it was only a matter of time before Italian bondholders had a PTSD flashback to May 2018 when the populist government first stormed on the stage, sending Italian bonds plunging. All that was missing was a catalyst. Said catalyst emerged as a lingering dispute within Italy’s ruling coalition over the future of a train, or technically a high-speed rail link with France, escalated suddenly on Thursday, once again raising the risk of a government collapse, with the 5-Star chief accusing his partner of acting irresponsibly.

The Alpine rail line has been backed by the ruling League party but is fiercely opposed by its coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which argues Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. And after League leader, the outspoken Matteo Salvini who continues to enjoy rising popularity with every new poll, said in an evening television interview he would not back down and his party would “never sign” a decree to block the project, 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio accused him of threatening to bring down the government.

While the tensions between Di Maio and Salvini were for the most part contained before closed doors, the animosity between the two “equal” vice premiers erupted in public when Di Maio said in a statement that Salvini “will bear the responsibility before millions of Italians” adding that he considers “this to be irresponsible behavior” adding that he was “stunned by the threat of a government crisis” coming from Salvini. The TAV project (Treno Alta Velocita) is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. According to Reuters, the EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of costs, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent.

Earlier on Thursday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that recently updated traffic projections for the line warranted a review of the project’s long-term viability and, if necessary, a renegotiation of the way the funding is split. Conte told reporters he had strong personal doubts about the validity of the venture and he would take responsibility for a final decision based on a cost-benefit analysis already carried out by the government. That analysis, commissioned by Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, a 5-Star politician, found the TAV was a waste of public money, estimating the economic return would be a negative balance of $7.9-$8.8 billion. Conte, who is technically not a member of either party but is closer to 5-Star, called the funding of the TAV “iniquitous” and said he would speak to France and the EU “to share our doubts and perplexities.”

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Like the part where Big Pharma gets the big subsidies.

Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)

In a radiation-proof room at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Emar Thomasa sits behind shielded glass as he carefully measures and mixes lutetium octreotate, an intravenous treatment for certain types of cancer. The Dutch hospital has been offering it to patients for more than a decade at 16,000 euros ($18,000) for one course of treatments. Drug firm Novartis, which in 2018 acquired rights to sell it in Europe, is asking more than five times that for its proprietary version, Lutathera. Thomasa is part of a protest against high drug prices launched by an unlikely group of rebels: Dutch pharmacies.

Three – Erasmus, Amsterdam’s University Medical Center (UMC) and the Transvaal Pharmacy in The Hague – have vowed to bypass drug company products and make treatments for a handful of rare diseases themselves, exercising their right to “compound” medicines. The Dutch market is small, with only hundreds of patients for the diseases in question. But the dispute is part of a growing global backlash against high drug prices, from the United States and Canada to Japan, and campaigners said it was being closely watched by health experts elsewhere. “People with rare diseases are dependent on medicines that are so expensive that they can’t afford them, when they could be offered for a much lower price,” said UMC pharmacist Marleen Kemper.

“The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in developing good products, but we think it’s not fair if these firms make big money off these patients.” Compounding is the ancient practice of preparing medicines for individual patients. Pharmacists are trained to compound, though nowadays most medicines are made by industrial producers. Drug companies have raised concerns about the safety of compounded medicines that have not been approved by European regulators. But the specialized compounding pharmacies, which have on-site laboratories, have been backed by the Dutch government as part of efforts to tame rapidly rising medicine costs.

[..] The first two drugs targeted by Dutch pharmacies are Novartis’s Lutathera and a drug called CDCA, registered in Europe by Leadiant. High prices are not unusual for new rare disease drugs, as companies must recoup development costs from a relatively small group of patients. Novartis charges 92,000 euros for a one-off course of four Lutathera injections. But while the drug is innovative, its development costs were relatively small and cannot justify the price tag, said Erasmus MC Chief Executive Ernst Kuipers. Main development costs amounted to about 40 million euros, including 15 million euros in public funding, according to Erasmus – where most of the testing took place – and a review published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine.

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Jim at his best.

A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

I don’t think you can overstate the damage we’ve done to ourselves in the sheer material arrangement of our national life. A decade ago, I sat in on many zoning board meetings called to approve new WalMarts and other chain-stores around my region of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Inevitably, the companies organized a claque of locals in the meeting hall — itself a depressing, low-ceilinged chamber of cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting — to fill the seats and yell in support of “bargain shopping.” That was some bargain they got. The chain-stores got approved and the Main Streets died, but that wasn’t the end of it. This dynamic also destroyed networks that gave local citizens an economic and social place.

Locally owned business people were the caretakers of the town. They took care of two buildings — their place of business and their home. They sat on library, school, and hospital boards and donated money to running local institutions. They employed people who lived in town and there were consequences for treating them well or badly. There was even a time in this country when local business people wouldn’t dare to put up an insultingly ugly building. A lot of this economic behavior has produced the social perversities of our time. Exterminating an entire class of local merchants has eliminated the heart of the American middle-class and grotesquely concentrated the nation’s wealth among corporate leviathans who comprise one percent of the population.

It also eliminated the place where young people learned how to do business, preparing themselves to try ventures of their own, and to make a place for themselves in the world. What is your place now? A cubicle in the marketing department of Old Navy? An aisle in the Home Depot? A desk in the Diversity and Inclusion office of some State University, pushing to sort the student population into racial and sexual categories because all other ways of belonging in society are gone? Or do you occupy ten square feet of sidewalk with a tarp and a shopping cart? None of those places are liable to furnish a personal sense that life is worth living.

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Mar 022019
 


Jean-Francois Millet Charity1859

 

Japan ‘Rooting For Donald Trump’ In China Trade War (SCMP)
Donald Trump Asks China To Abolish Tariffs On US Farm Produce (AFP)
China Welcomes Delay On US Tariff Hike (R.)
Canada Approves Huawei Exec’s Extradition, Sparking Ire From China (R.)
China Bans 23m From Buying Plane, Train Tickets In ‘Social Credit’ System (G.)
EU Ready To Give Britain More Guarantees ‘Backstop’ Is Temporary (R.)
Britain’s Witchfinders are Ready to Burn Jeremy Corbyn (Cook)
Greece Has Until March 11 To Implement Prior Actions – EU (K.)
Moody’s Upgrade Of Greek Rating Paves Way For 10-Year Bond Issue (XInhua)
Wikileaks and Russiagate: Trust Us, We’re The CIA (NM)
Why the Mueller Report Might Disappoint Almost Everybody (Time)

 

 

Some sur[prising numbers in those graphs.

Japan ‘Rooting For Donald Trump’ In China Trade War (SCMP)

A Japanese minister has urged the United States not to “monopolise” the concessions it extracts from China as part of any trade war deal, urging US President Donald Trump to share them with the rest of the world. Tamaki Tsukada, deputy director general for economic affairs within Japan’s foreign ministry, said: “We should be vigilant about what kind of agreement is reached between the US and China, and make sure that Trump will not monopolise whatever benefits he extracts out of China.” Tsukada, speaking at an event in Hong Kong on Thursday, said that while most countries are against any form of trade conflict in theory, many will be “rooting for Trump” in his ongoing tariff war with China, hoping that it leads to real structural reform within China, the benefits of which can be enjoyed by other trading nations.

“We need to recognise that all the heavy lifting will have to be done by the US. There’s a kind of alter ego of criticising on the surface, but at the same time rooting for Trump to get more out of China,” Tsukada told the Asia Trade Summit, organised by The Economist magazine. Negotiations between the US and China are continuing, with the US suspending the planned tariff increase from 10% to 25%. The deadline was due to be on Friday, but no further hard deadline will be imposed, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) confirmed this week. POLITICO reported on Thursday that a document detailing the proposed trade deal, stretching to 140 pages, has been written and that it includes a “significant enforcement mechanism”. If China is found to violate any provision of the deal, tariffs would “snap back” into place, or even be expanded.

China, meanwhile, would not be allowed to retaliate with tariffs, under the terms of the deal, POLITICO reported. [..] Many are looking at the US-Japan trade war in the 1980s for historical guidance as to what will happen and indeed, the parallels are great. “It is important that [the deal] is transparent, and the benefits are extended, that’s the lesson we can share with our Chinese colleagues out of our lessons in the 1980s and 1990s,” Tsukada said. [..] At its peak, Japan accounted for nearly 60 per cent of America’s total trade deficit through the late-1980s and early-1990s. But it in the mid-80s, it agreed to punitive trade reform that would scythe the deficit, under pressure from then US president Ronald Reagan and his trade negotiators, among whom was current US trade representative Robert Lighthizer.

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$14 billion worth of soybeans schlepped halfway across the planet to feed pigs.

And you’d like to tell me we have a sunny future?

Donald Trump Asks China To Abolish Tariffs On US Farm Produce (AFP)

Donald Trump has urged China to abolish tariffs on agricultural products imported from the United States – adding that trade talks between the rival powers were going well. “I have asked China to immediately remove all Tariffs on our agricultural products (including beef, pork, etc.),” the US president wrote on Twitter. He said his request was based on the fact that negotiations with China were “moving along nicely” – and his delay last week of a planned tariff increase on Chinese exports. “This is very important for our great farmers – and me!” he added. After months of trade war, the US and China agreed to a 90-day truce to work out their differences.

It was scheduled to end on Friday, but Trump lifted the ultimatum to increase tariffs after he was satisfied by progress made in several rounds of talks in Beijing and Washington. A White House economic official, Larry Kudlow, said on Thursday the two countries were on the brink of a “historic” trade agreement. A meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was also expected this month. After the latest round of talks in February, US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted that China had committed to buying “an additional” 10m tonnes of soybeans as a “show of good faith”. US farmers rely greatly on such trade with China: in 2017, around a third of US soybean production – worth $14bn -– was exported there, where it is used to feed pigs.

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He might actually pull it off.

China Welcomes Delay On US Tariff Hike (R.)

China said on Saturday that it welcomed the release of language from the United State Trade Representative’s office (USTR) delaying a scheduled hike in U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. In a statement posted on the website of the Ministry of Commerce, citing an unidentified official at China’s State Council Tariff Commission, China said that it was aware of the USTR’s announcement to maintain tariffs at 10 percent until further notice, and welcomed the step. The USTR released language to delay a scheduled hike in tariffs on Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday, ahead of the publication of a notice next Tuesday. President Donald Trump had announced the delay on Sunday as trade talks between the two sides had made progress.

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It’ll take years. But the Huawei issue will be resolved way before that.

Canada Approves Huawei Exec’s Extradition, Sparking Ire From China (R.)

Canada has approved extradition proceedings against the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, prompting a furious reaction from China. Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was detained in Vancouver last December and is under house arrest. In late January, the US justice department charged Meng and Huawei with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran. Meng will appear in a Vancouver court on 6 March, when a date will be set for her extradition hearing. “Today, department of Justice Canada officials issued an authority to proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Ms Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.

China, whose relations with Canada have deteriorated badly over the affair, denounced the decision and repeated previous demands for Meng’s release. Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement on Saturday that Beijing “deplores and firmly opposes the Canadian side’s obstinately moving forward the so-called judicial process”. He said: “This is a severe political incident. We once again urge the US side to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant and extradition request for Ms Meng Wanzhou and urge the Canadian side to immediately release Ms Meng Wanzhou and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound.”

Legal experts had predicted the government of prime minister Justin Trudeau would give the go-ahead for extradition proceedings, given the close judicial relationship between Canada and the United States. It could be years, though, before Meng is sent to the United States, since Canada’s slow-moving justice system allows many decisions to be appealed. A final decision will probably come down to the federal justice minister, who will face the choice of angering the United States by rejecting the extradition bid, or China by accepting it.

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2017: 6.15 million flight bans. 2018: 17.5 million. Progress.

China Bans 23m From Buying Plane, Train Tickets In ‘Social Credit’ System (G.)

China has blocked millions of “discredited” travellers from buying plane or train tickets as part of the country’s controversial “social credit” system aimed at improving the behaviour of citizens. According to the National Public Credit Information Centre, Chinese courts banned would-be travellers from buying flights 17.5 million times by the end of 2018. Citizens placed on black lists for social credit offences were prevented from buying train tickets 5.5 million times. The report released last week said: “Once discredited, limited everywhere”. The social credit system aims to incentivise “trustworthy” behaviour through penalties as well as rewards. According to a government document about the system dating from 2014, the aim is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Social credit offences range from not paying individual taxes or fines to spreading false information and taking drugs. More minor violations include using expired tickets, smoking on a train or not walking a dog on a leash. Local governments and agencies have been piloting aspects of the system, which will eventually give every Chinese citizen a personalised score. Critics saidauthorities in China were using technology and big data to create an Orwellian state of mass surveillance and control. Authorities have previously used blacklists to limit the travel of some citizens, but the social credit system appears to have expanded the practice. China’s supreme court said in 2017 that 6.15 million citizens had been barred from taking flights because of social credit offences.

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Provided Britain guarantees 1,2,3 etc. Nothing changes.

EU Ready To Give Britain More Guarantees ‘Backstop’ Is Temporary (R.)

The European Union is ready to give Britain more guarantees that the Irish “backstop” is only intended to be temporary, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator said on Friday. “We know that there are misgivings in Britain that the backstop could keep Britain forever connected to the EU,” Michel Barnier said in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper to be published on Saturday. “This is not the case. And we are ready to give further guarantees, assurances and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary.” The backstop, an arrangement designed to prevent the return of “hard” border infrastructure between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland if there is no trade deal after Brexit that makes it unnecessary, has become the main point of contention in the proposed Brexit deal.

“We will not reverse the backstop,” Barnier added. “It’s an insurance. We don’t want to make use of it. And this is also the case when you insure your house. It’s only intended for the worst-case scenario.” [..] Prime Minister Theresa May has said that, if British lawmakers once more reject her withdrawal agreement in a vote due to take place by March 12, they will get to vote on asking her to request that the EU delay Brexit. Barnier said EU guarantees that the backstop is temporary could come as part of the political agreement setting out expectations for Britain’s relationship with the bloc after it leaves.

He told Die Welt that any extension must be intended specifically to solve the impasse. He added that he saw little risk of the remaining 27 EU leaders opposing a delay to Britain’s exit, currently set down as March 29, as long as Britain was serious about finding a solution. “The question that the EU27 will ask is: What (is it) for? The answer cannot be that Britain wants to postpone a problem. One would want to solve it.” [..] any decision to allow an extension would have to be unanimously approved by EU leaders at a summit on March 21.

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Didn’t Trump patent “witchhunt”?

Britain’s Witchfinders are Ready to Burn Jeremy Corbyn (Cook)

In an earlier era, the guilt of women accused of witchcraft was tested through the ducking stool. If a woman drowned, she was innocent; if she survived, she was guilty and burnt at the stake. A foolproof system that created an endless supply of the wicked, justifying the status and salaries of the men charged with hunting down ever more of these diabolical women. And that is the Medieval equivalent of where the British Labour party has arrived, with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson for anti-semitism. Williamson, it should be noted, is widely seen as a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who was propelled unexpectedly into the Labour leadership nearly four years ago by its members.

His elevation infuriated most of the party’s MPs, who hanker for the return of the New Labour era under Tony Blair, when the party firmly occupied the political centre. Corbyn’s success has also outraged vocal supporters of Israel both in the Labour party – some 80 MPs are stalwart members of Labour Friends of Israel – and in the UK media. Corbyn is the first British party leader in sight of power to prefer the Palestinians’ right to justice over Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinians. For these reasons, the Blairite MPs have been trying to oust Corbyn any way they can. First through a failed re-run of the leadership contest and then by assisting the corporate media – which is equally opposed to Corbyn – in smearing him variously as a shambles, a misogynist, a sympathiser with terrorists, a Russian asset, and finally as an “enabler” of anti-semitism.

This last accusation has proved the most fruitful after the Israel lobby began to expand the definition of anti-semitism to include not just hatred of Jews but also criticism of Israel. Labour was eventually forced to accept a redefinition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that conflates anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s violent creation on the Palestinians’ homeland – with anti-semitism. Once the mud stuck through repetition, a vocal group of Labour MPs began denouncing the party for being “institutionally anti-semitic”, “endemically anti-semitic” and a “cesspit of anti-semitism”. The slurs continued relentlessly, even as statistics proved the accusation to be groundless. The figures show that anti-semitism exists only in the margins of the party, as racism does in all walks of life.

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Because what use are thumbscrews if you don’t tighten them enough from time to time to inflict more pain?

Greece Has Until March 11 To Implement Prior Actions – EU (K.)

Greece has until the Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers on March 11 to complete all of the pending prior actions it needs to secure the disbursement of 1-billion-euro from creditors, the Euro Working Group decided in Brussels on Friday. If Greece fails to implement the measures demanded by then, the decision on the next tranche will be deferred to April, the EWG said after hearing representatives of the lenders on Greece’s second post-bailout review, which was presented on Friday morning.

Lenders have yet to agree with the government’s plans for protecting the primary residence of debtors from foreclosure and are also seeking a new tender for the sale of the state-owned Public Power Corporation’s lignite mines, among other measures that are still pending. The German and Dutch representatives, moreover, suggested that the disbursement should be put off even longer in order to ensure that Greece is sticking to its commitments.

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And here’s today’s news from China. Don’t think the EU is happy with Moody’s.

Moody’s Upgrade Of Greek Rating Paves Way For 10-Year Bond Issue (XInhua)

Rating agency Moody’s announced on Friday it has upgraded Greece’s sovereign credit rating by two notches to “B1” with a stable outlook, from the “B3” rating with a positive outlook it had granted Greece just over a year earlier. Economists expected this upgrade to assist Greece in its next foray in the markets, probably with a 10-year bond. In a statement, Moody’s explained that its upgrade reflected the strengthening of Greece’s economy thanks to the implementation of reforms, the likelihood of a sustained strong fiscal performance, and the enhancement of public debt sustainability. Greek bond yields in the secondary market have already dropped to a decade-low, with the 10-year note’s rate standing at 3.65 percent on Friday.

“Greece benefits from the fact it has no open fronts at this stage and the international juncture is favorable, with the Italian crisis out of the way,” University of Athens Associate Professor of Economics Dimitris Kenourgios told Xinhua. He added that the upgrade by Moody’s is set to benefit the Greek government’s plans for a full return to the markets, even if the country’s sovereign rating remains well below investment grade by all rating agencies. In this context economists expect Greece to tap the markets with a benchmark 10-year bond soon, the first since March 2010, albeit for only a small amount of money. “Tapping the markets with a 10-year note for just 2.5 billion to 3 billion euros does not really make much of a difference for the economy. It is all to be done for appearances,” commented Giorgos Stratopoulos, a financial analyst at think tank E-Kyklos in Athens.

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And people tell me I can’t say Mueller’s a coward for his handling of Assange.

Wikileaks and Russiagate: Trust Us, We’re The CIA (NM)

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence (GRU) officers last year looked like a proper, formal, legal 29-page document with lots of details alleging that Russian officers had “hacked into the computer networks of the… Democratic National Committee (DNC)” and released the hacked documents to “Organisation 1”, now recognised as Wikileaks. The mainstream media certainly treated the indictments (a fancy word for ‘accusations’) as convictions in a court of law. They didn’t even feel the need to report the assessment of former NSA technical director William Binney, who says that if the DNC emails had been hacked, as per Muller’s indictments, the NSA would know about it. The NSA would possess records of the hack, including where the hack came from, says Binney, stressing “if it were the Russians, NSA would have a trace route to them and not equivocate on who did it.”

[..] the US national security establishment, with its long history of misleading the public, has been successfully misleading the public about Julian Assange since 2010. Successfully enough, as I explored in Part 2, for populations to tolerate Assange’s political imprisonment for journalism, in the form of arbitrary detention, for over eight years. “Trust us” they said in 2010. Wikileaks is harming innocents. In reality, however, there is “not a single shred of evidence that any of [Wikileaks’] disclosures caused anyone harm” writes journalist and author Nozomi Hayase. Vice President Joe Biden even admitted as much in 2010, saying that Wikileaks’ releases had done “no substantive damage” other than to be “embarrassing”. The Western War on Terror, in contrast, has killed somewhere between 500,000 and 1.3 to 2 million people since 9/11.

“Trust us” Wikileaks is a terrorist organisation. In truth, it is a media organisation. So ruled a UK tribunal in 2017. “Trust us,” Assange has been charged with rape. The fact is that no charge has ever been brought against Julian Assange, and the women involved in the Swedish investigation did not accuse Assange of rape. In text messages, one of the women said that police had “made up” the accusations. According to an official statement by Stockholm’s former Chief District Prosecutor and Director of the Stockholm Regional Prosecution Authority, the investigation was irregular from start to finish. Sweden itself sought to close the investigation, which was only ever a preliminary one, in 2013, by interviewing Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. The UK, however, did not agree.

“Trust us, though”, Assange is evading ‘British Justice.’ Not extradition to the US. He is free to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy at any time. And yet, in 2017 the US DoJ accidentally revealed that a sealed indictment containing secret charges does indeed await Julian Assange in the United States, confirming what Wikileaks has been saying for years. “But trust us. THIS time. We’re telling the truth now. Honest. He’s a Russian agent. And a Putin apologist. And Donald Trump’s stooge. And a Kremlin puppet. Donald Trump is all Julian Assange’s fault. It’s true.

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Time’s Renato Mariotti has been banging on about collusion for two years, and now that there appears to be none, simply says it was never about that. Not his fault, but yours for believing him.

Why the Mueller Report Might Disappoint Almost Everybody (Time)

After endless hype, special counsel Robert Mueller may be about to submit his report. It is impossible to know what his conclusions will be. But after so much speculation, one outcome seems likely: Mueller will disappoint just about everyone — especially President Trump’s critics. And it won’t be his fault. This is due in part to Trump’s successful disinformation crusade, which has worked to raise a nearly impossible and definitely illogical bar for Mueller to clear: proving “collusion” and charging a grand criminal conspiracy involving the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But it is also due to Trump’s critics, who have responded to Trump’s “No collusion!” mantra by shouting back, “Yes, collusion!”

The word collusion appears nowhere in the order authorizing Mueller’s investigation. There is not even a relevant crime called “collusion.” What Mueller is tasked with is investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with” the Trump campaign. If “links and/or coordination” also don’t sound like crimes, that’s because they aren’t. While Mueller is directed to charge and prosecute crimes he discovers, his is primarily a counterintelligence investigation — not a criminal one — the purpose of which is to identify threats to our national security, potentially including the President of the United States and his associates.

[..] Mueller’s report in fact could change very little. If Senate Republicans stand firm behind Trump, he will remain in office and the public will be left to speculate about the result of the many ongoing investigations of Trump’s campaign, his businesses and his Inaugural committee for years to come, as federal prosecutors investigate. Current Attorney General William Barr may be required by law not to release certain portions of the report or may try to hide the bulk of it from the public, though the latter seems just about politically impossible now. We do not know what Mueller will do. But especially given these indicators and constraints, any outsize expectations seem misguided. And despite being fueled by Trump’s critics, they will make it easier for Trump to declare a win even if there is compelling evidence he committed crimes.

Trump has obstructed justice before our very eyes, from the firing of then FBI Director James Comey to the public pressure he put on now former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after recusing himself, among many other examples. The public’s obsession with crimes that may never be charged has taken the focus away from that serious offense (which, for what it’s worth, is arguably a form of “collusion”). As the Mueller investigation ends and, ideally, becomes public, it is an opportunity to refocus on what has actually happened: Trump campaign officials have committed crimes, the President has obstructed justice in plain sight, and Trump has been implicated in breaking campaign-finance law. At last, we can address reality instead of what may be fantasy.

https://twitter.com/mtracey/status/1101587979578023936

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” 1910

 

Mar 012019
 


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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nobody is willing to say yes to intervention.

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

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

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

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

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

And Chelsea now helps them do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photograph: Sipa Asia/Rex/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A horse felled Troy.

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

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

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

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

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

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

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

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

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

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

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

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

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


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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

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


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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Feb 042019
 
 February 4, 2019  Posted by at 4:25 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer 1653

 

That statement is going to make me real popular, right? Any criticism of Robert Mueller for many people equals support for President Trump. But it doesn’t, and Mueller really is a coward and a liar, and it’s not hard to make that case, it’s even easier than how he makes his cases, because we can actually prove ours. We also don’t have to pervert the law, but he does.

Robert Mueller is a coward because he again, in his indictment of Roger Stone last week, makes claims against people who can’t defend themselves, and who moreover have in at least one case, that of Julian Assange, previously and repeatedly denied those claims. And Robert Mueller’s a liar because many of his claims are evidently not true; but though he will never be able to prove them, and he knows it, he still makes his ‘case’ based on them.

It’s also public knowledge that Mueller has lied since at least the WMD facade. On February 11 2003, then FBI director Mueller testified before Congress: “..as Director Tenet has pointed out, Secretary Powell presented evidence last week that Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, willfully attempting to evade and deceive the international community. Our particular concern is that Saddam Hussein may supply terrorists with biological, chemical, or radiological material.”

We know today he was lying, as was Colin Powell (and the entire Bush administration). Which is also interesting because a number of Mueller’s accusations against various ‘suspects’ are basically just that: someone has lied to Congress and must be punished for it. This is again the case in Roger Stone’s indictment, which would ring awfully hollow without it. And we don’t have to know how true that accusation is to realize that it’s being brought by someone who himself lied to Congress, but was never indicted for it. That is curious no matter how you look at it.

So what would happen if Mueller takes any of his present indictments into a courtroom? Note: as long as he treats those he indicts the same way he treated Paul Manafort and others, he’ll probably never have to present anything in a court; every ‘suspect’ will sign a plea deal because he threatens to destroy them, their freedom, their finances, their families. But what IF he did, purely hypothetically? What proof -not allegations- could he present to a judge about Russians hacking US-based servers or computers?

And what evidence of Julian Assange working with Russians, or with the Trump campaign? He has none. All there is is US intelligence agencies making claims without providing evidence. And they are a party to the whole story, they are not mere observers, so no judge worth his/her salt can accept their word on anything just because it’s them saying it. Even the FBI has to present evidence. In court, that is.

In the meantime, in the absence of a courtroom, Robert Mueller has been free to accuse people for 20 months now, without proof. And what those 20 months have shown us culminates in the Roger Stone indictment, which makes clear -once more- that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

 

Given his legal status, Mueller should be invested with the power to demand he gets the opportunity to talk to Assange. And in the unlikely event that he’s not provided with that opportunity by his superiors, at the very least he must stop talking about Assange. Can’t talk TO him, then stop talking ABOUT him. Sure, he never mentions his name, but that’s just more cowardice. We all know who Organization 1 is in Mueller’s indictments. And we all know who spoke for Organization 1 before he was muzzled.

Mueller could for instance travel to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after negotiating, both with the man himself and with ‘authorities’ from Ecuador, UK and US, to have a meeting with Assange. Considering his importance as head of an investigation into collusion that might topple a president and start a new cold war with Russia, that should be easy to do. But Mueller hasn’t talked to Assange. Nor has he indicated that he tried.

Mueller accusing Assange without talking to him should raise suspicions that he is not interested in finding the truth, but has other goals. And that shines a dark light on his entire investigation. Because of the fact itself, but also because Assange is a pivotal person in the entire Russia collusion narrative. Mueller can’t make his case without accusing, defaming Assange.

Assange is crucial in the Mueller indictment of 12 Russians issued conveniently three days before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, he’s crucial in the case made against Paul Manafort, and he’s again crucial in the indictment of Roger Stone. Without Assange, Mueller’s hands are empty. Julian is presented as the conduit between Trump and Russia. No conduit, no connection. And Assange has always denied the entire thing, all of it.

 

People who have been accused of, let alone indicted in, a crime, must be given their day in court, says American law, to be able to defend themselves against their accusers. But Assange is not, which means Robert Mueller is no less than a grave threat to the entire American justice system. Not Mueller alone, for sure, but he, along with the Attorney General and Deputy AG (and believe it or not, the President), are immediately responsible for the way the justice system is being perverted. That is very serious business.

As I said above, Mueller first, supposedly accidentally, dragged Assange into his investigation three days before the July 16 2018 Trump/Putin meeting in Helsinki, when he indicted 12 Russians and ‘Organization 1’. That indictment is here. It was arguably the first tangible thing that came out of the investigation, and while it was heralded as gospel by everyone who wants Trump to hang, it was shot so full of holes by others in no time that the term ‘tangible’ perhaps needs to be replaced.

That first indictment was not based on facts, it was based on faith (in US intelligence). 12 Russians who can’t defend themselves were grouped together as Guccifer 2, whose Russian lineage was also shot to smithereens within hours, and then there was Assange. Last week’s indictment, that of Roger Stone, perhaps -we can’t even be sure- alludes to Stone colluding with either Russians or Assange, but it carries no evidence of any collusion.

As WikiLeaks tweeted: “The indictment doesn’t have any reference to Stone talking to Assange, or Assange talking to Stone, or anyone at WikiLeaks telling him anything, whatsoever. It’s literally old men reading the news and wishing for things.

 

The job of a Special Counsel, his/her mandate, is to gather evidence of those crimes (s)he has been tasked with investigating. That mandate can be wide, but certainly not unlimited. The job at hand is not to suggest that things MIGHT have happened. It is not to blindly follow everything US intelligence may or may not claim is true, because all accusations will eventually have to be proven in a courtroom.

And it is not to point fingers at people for things the Special Counsel can’t prove they’ve done, or to accuse people who cannot defend themselves against whatever it is he or she might say (because then (s)he might say anything).

Mueller has never charged Assange with anything, despite the fact that Julian is all over all of his indictments. Mueller also refuses to talk to Assange, ostensibly because that way he can continue to accuse him of all manner of unproven ‘crimes’, and if he doesn’t have to prove what he accuses Assange of, he can accuse anyone of being in touch with Assange and conspiring to enact all sorts of collusion.

 

It’s a pity that America is so divided into a pro-Trump and anti-Trump side, and never the twain shall meet, because the perversion of the justice system exemplified by the Mueller investigation is very real; it’s rotting from the inside. This has not about Trump, if anything it’s about the justice system granting someone the right to defend themselves, which is being violated by Robert Mueller on a daily basis.

In early 2017, the DOJ attempted to set up meetings with Assange, who in the process offered evidence that there was no Russian involvement in the files WikiLeaks published in 2016. Those attempts, when near completion, were halted by Mueller’s very good friend James Comey and Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Warner last week in his capacity as Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman said about the Stone indictment: “It is clear from this indictment that those contacts [between Stone and WikiLeaks] happened at least with the full knowledge of, and appear to have been encouraged by, the highest levels of the Trump campaign..” No, Mr. Warner, that is sort of the exact point here. It is not clear. Nor is it true. And you know that, sir.

A year and a half later, in July 2018, Senator Rand Paul said that if Assange would agree to testify in the US, “I think that he should be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to the United States and testifying” Nothing came from that either. Where was Mueller?

Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves.

Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.

Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.

And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.

 

 

Jan 292019
 


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Earth 1566

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will UK MPs Take Control Of Brexit? (RT)

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

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

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

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

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The people’s interest?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonder what Putin and Xi are thinking. And doing.

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

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

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

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

Stone Cold (Kunstler)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A land of ordinary thieves.

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

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

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

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

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


Photograph: Matthew Fearn/PA

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


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Water 1566

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A view from the other side.

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

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

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

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

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

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Everyone on CNN drools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Deep Mid-Winter (Kunstler)

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

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

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

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As I said two weeks ago in Europe is Burning.

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

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

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

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As Varoufakis said, Macron is a spent force.

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

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

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

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

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Does Beijing have the space for a new Deal?

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

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


Moody’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 242019
 
 January 24, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Air 1566

 

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)
Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)
Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)
US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)
Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)
EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)
Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)
How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)
EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)
Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

 

 

The CIA couldn’t get to Chavez, but the moment he passed this became inevitable. Why Trump supports an unelected puppet while Russia, China, and Venezuela’s own army do not is anyone’s guess. The power of Langley.

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, has declared himself the interim president and has won the backing of the US, the EU and most of the regional bloc called the Lima Group – but a number of key allies remained steadfast in support of president Nicolás Maduro. Russia, a major Venezuelan ally, considers attempts to force Maduro from power to be illegal, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying on Thursday by the Interfax news agency. Franz Klintsevich, a senator and retired colonel, has warned that Moscow could wind up its military cooperation with Venezuela if Maduro, who he called the legitimately-elected president, was ousted.

Other MPs criticised US actions against Maduro. “The US is trying to carry out an operation to organise the next ‘colour revolution’ in Venezuela,” said Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, using a term for the popular uprisings that unseated leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Another committee member, Vladimir Dzhabrailov, said: “I do not think that we can recognise this – it is, in essence, a coup.” Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, is heavily invested in the South American nation’s oil fields, which produce declining amounts of crude each month. [Turkish President] Erdogan telephoned Maduro and offered his support, a spokesman said on Thursday.

China has not yet publicly declared its support for Maduro but Venezuela has been one of Beijing’s closest allies in Latin America, and the largest recipient of Chinese financing, as much as £38bn in loans by 2017. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, prompting concerns that as Venezuela’s economy spirals, state assets could fall into Chinese hands, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Mexico, part of the 14-member Lima Group, departed from the regional bloc’s call for democratic transition and said it would stick to its “constitutional principles of non-intervention”. It joined with Uruguay – the only other prominent Latin American country still recognising Maduro – in calling for additional talks between the government and opposition to find a “peaceful solution”.

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And why not. Things are not ugly enough yet.

Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)

After more than a week of back-and-forth with the Democratic leadership, President Trump has called off his search for an alternative venue for the State of the Union according to a pair of tweets sent late Wednesday night. Instead, he will reschedule the speech after the shutdown has ended due to the difficulty in finding a venue “that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber!” Trump blamed the decision to reschedule on Pelosi, and rightfully so. The Democratic leader is refusing to pass a resolution needed to formally invite the president to give the address at the Capitol. But lest Americans accuse her of pursuing political ends, Pelosi argued that “security concerns” motivated her to cancel the speech ue to both the Secret Service and DHS being affected by the shutdown, though both have assured the president that security wouldn’t be an issue if the SOTU was allowed to move forward.

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It’s absolutely nuts that it’s the Guardian, never having apologized for its fake piece about Assange and Manafort in November, which now comes with this, and even cites its own involvement in Assange’s initial leaks.

It’s like nothing ever happened.

Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)

Julian Assange, the fugitive WikiLeaks founder whose diplomatic sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy appears increasingly precarious, is launching a legal challenge against the Trump administration. Lawyers for the Australian activist have filed an urgent application to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) aimed at forcing the hand of US prosecutors, requiring them to “unseal” any secret charges against him. The legal move is an attempt to prevent Assange’s extradition to the US at a time that a new Ecuadorian government has been making his stay in the central London apartment increasingly inhospitable.

[..] The IACHR monitors human rights in the Americas and hears appeals on individual cases. The Trump administration, however, has boycotted its recent hearings. The 1,172-page submission by Assange’s lawyers calls on the US to unseal any secret charges against him and urges Ecuador to cease its “espionage activities” against him. Baltasar Garzón, the prominent Spanish judge who has pursued dictators, terrorists and drug barons, is the international coordinator of Assange’s legal team. He has said the case involves “the right to access and impart information freely” that has been put in “jeopardy”.

The Trump administration is refusing to reveal details of charges against Assange despite the fact that sources in the US Department of Justice have confirmed to the media that they exist under seal. “The revelation that the US has initiated a prosecution against Mr Assange has shocked the international community”, the legal submission to the IACHR states. The US government “is required to provide information as to the criminal charges that are imputed to Mr Assange in full”. The application alleges that US prosecutors have begun approaching people in the US, Germany and Iceland and pressed them to testify against Assange in return for immunity from prosecution. [..] In December, the New York Times reported that Ecuador’s new president, Lenin Moreno tried to negotiate handing over Mr Assange to the US. in exchange for “debt relief”..

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The Feds like traitors.

US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)

U.S. federal prosecutors have stepped up efforts to pressure witnesses to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday, in connection with what it said were secret criminal charges filed by the Trump administration. [..] A spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ office in Alexandria, Virginia, which has taken the lead for several years in investigations into WikiLeaks, did not respond to a request for comment on this story. According to the document filed to the human rights commission, one of the people contacted by Alexandria prosecutors was Jacob Appelbaum, a Berlin-based U.S. computer expert and hacker. Appelbaum told Reuters that while prosecutors offered him broad immunity from prosecution, he had no interest in cooperating or testifying before a grand jury.

Another potential witness targeted by U.S. prosecutors was David House, a Massachusetts computer programmer, the document said. House was involved in setting up a group to support Chelsea Manning, a U.S. soldier who passed on military communications to WikiLeaks and was jailed by U.S. authorities. House could not be reached. The American Civil Liberties Union which represented him in connection with the Manning case did not respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also contacted American activist and computer scientist, Jason Katz. Katz, who has lived in Iceland since 2011, did not respond to a request for comment sent to that country’s Pirate Party, of which he was a founding member.

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“The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK..” Everyone is.

Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)

More than 250 companies are in touch with the Dutch government about moving to the Netherlands because of Brexit, officials have said. The trade and investment arm of the country’s government has been soliciting moves from companies worried about access to the EU market, with Britain set to leave the single market and customs union. A number of high-profile companies have already announced a decision to cross the North Sea, most recently Japanese electronics giant Sony specifically citing Brexit. Last year Panasonic also announced it was moving to Amsterdam. Michiel Bakhuizen, a spokesman for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), told the AFP news agency that the number of firms in talks was growing.

“The number of businesses we are in contact with for a possible arrival is growing. At the start of 2017 it was 80, at the start of 2018 150, and now it’s more than 250,” he said. [..] The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK, with advanced plans to recruit as many as 1,000 extra border officials to deal with potential disruption and extra bureaucracy caused by the UK’s exit. In addition to private businesses, the UK has also lost a key EU agency to Amsterdam: the European Medicines Agency, which employs around 900 highly skilled workers. The Netherlands is not the only country to benefit from the UK’s policies. The EY financial services tracker reported earlier this month that 80 out of the 222 finance companies it follows have publicly said they are considering or have confirmed the relocation of UK staff and operations to the continent.

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“..opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March..”

EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has ruled out ever accepting Theresa May’s Brexit plan B, in a major blow to the prime minister’s bid to get MPs to back her plan. Michel Barnier said repeated requests for a time limit on the controversial backstop had already been discussed and rejected twice by EU leaders. But he also signalled there could be a way to avoid a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no deal, telling an EU committee on Wednesday: “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border.” In a separate joint interview with continental newspapers Mr Barnier said “we cannot tie the backstop to a time limit” as suggested by the prime minister.

He said the withdrawal agreement on the table was “the only possible option” for Britain and also ruled out the possibility of a so-called “managed no deal” as advocated by some Tory Brexiteers. “In the case of no deal, action will of course be taken to ensure that planes can land but … the ‘no deal’ cannot be a sum of mini-deals and be a situation of ‘business as usual’,” he [said]. “Even an agreement for an ordered Brexit will cause disruptions and have serious consequences. The ‘no deal’ even more so.” At the committee the chief negotiator elaborated, warning that the only way to avoid the UK crashing was to endorse another option on the table. “There appears to be a majority in the Commons to oppose a no deal but opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March”, he told the committee. “To stop no deal, a positive majority for another solution will need to emerge.”

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The cold and snowy air gets to people’s heads.

No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)

Fears are growing internationally that a no-deal Brexit poses a threat to the stability of the global economy, the head of Britain’s leading business body has warned. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said the failure to sort out Britain’s departure from the European Union was damaging Britain’s brand abroad and had joined a list of systemic risks to the world economy. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Fairbairn said there was mounting concern at the potential for a no-deal Brexit to cause damage well beyond the UK. The CBI held a private breakfast for UK business leaders in Davos attended by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. The UK chancellor, Philip Hammond, will address a CBI lunch on Thursday.

Fairbairn told the Guardian: “At my meetings at Davos, there is a recognition that the causes of vulnerability of the global economy now include Brexit.” The annual gathering of the WEF has been marked this year by anxiety about slowing growth and the trade dispute between the US and China. Fairbairn said Brexit had now catapulted up the list of worries. “It is everyone’s interest that Britain leaves the EU in a way that works for the British economy, the European economy and indeed the global economy,” she said.

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Port Augusta’s 49.5ºC is 121.1ºF.

Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)

Temperature records have tumbled across South Australia, with the city of Adelaide experiencing its hottest day on record, as the second heatwave in as many weeks hit southern parts of Australia. Adelaide hit 46.6C on Thursday afternoon, the hottest temperature recording in any Australian state capital city since records began 80 years ago. The Red Lion, a pub in the city’s Elizabeth North suburb, promised to hand out free beers if the mercury rose above 45C. By 1pm, there was a line out the door and round the block.In Port Augusta, 300km north-west, an all-time record was also set, as the city hit 49.5C.

Last week, temperatures in Adelaide, home to 1.3 million people, hit 45C, sending homelessness shelters into a “code red”, and sparking fears of another mass fish death in the Menindee Lakes in the neighbouring state of New South Wales. In central and western Australia, local authorities were forced to carry out an emergency animal cull, shooting 2,500 camels – and potentially a further hundred feral horses – who were dying of thirst.

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As soon as I read Victoria Nuland’s name I know what is going on.

How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)

Then-senior State Department official Jonathan Winer, who worked for then-Secretary John Kerry, wrote that Steele first approached him in the summer with his Trump research and then met again with him in September. Winer consulted his boss, Assistant Secretary for Eurasia Affairs Victoria Nuland, who said she first learned of Steele’s allegations in late July and urged Winer to send it to the FBI. (If you need further intrigue, Winer worked from 2008 to 2013 for the lobbying and public relations firm APCO Worldwide, the same firm that was a contractor for both the Clinton Global Initiative and Russia’s main nuclear fuel company that won big decisions from the Obama administration.) When the State Department office that oversees Russian affairs sends something to the FBI, agents take note.

But Steele was hardly done. He reached out to his longtime Justice Department contact, Bruce Ohr, then a deputy to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Steele had breakfast July 30, 2016, with Ohr and his wife, Nellie, to discuss the Russia-Trump dirt. (To thicken the plot, you should know that Nellie Ohr was a Russia expert working at the time for the same Fusion GPS firm that hired Steele and was hired by the Clinton campaign through Sussmann’s Perkins Coie.) Bruce Ohr immediately took Steele’s dirt on July 31, 2016, to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When the deputy attorney general’s office contacts the FBI, things happen. And, soon, Ohr was connected to the agents running the new Russia probe.

Around the same time, Australia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Downer, reached out to U.S. officials. Like so many characters in this narrative, Downer had his own connection to the Clintons: He secured a $25 million donation from Australia’s government to the Clinton Foundation in the early 2000s. Downer claims WikiLeaks’s release of hacked Clinton emails that month caused him to remember a conversation in May, in a London tavern, with a Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos. So he reported it to the FBI. The saturation campaign kept building. Sometime in September, Winer and Nuland got another version of Steele-like research suggesting Trump-Russia collusion, this time from known associates of the Clintons: Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer. Again, it was sent to the FBI.

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A rare wiser voice: “..the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus”

Vote is later today, riots are certain. How bad is it going to get?

EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday described the name deal reached between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as “problematic,” arguing it favors the latter. “The Prespes agreement is not balanced, and therefore it is problematic. The geographic qualifier on which all [Greek] governments agreed on is one thing, but the historic qualifier, attempted through the agreement, is another,” he was quoted as saying by state-run news agency ANA-MPA. He said ethnicity and language constitute national identity and, in the case of the Prespes accord, they “open the way for irredentist, nationalist policies.” Avramopoulos said the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus on the name dispute before making the deal.

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And then I saw God.

Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

The elemental building-blocks of life arrived on Earth when it collided with a “Mars-sized planet” 4.4 billion years ago – an impact that also created the Moon, a new study has found. Carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and other volatile elements integral to life were transferred to Earth’s outer layers through collision with a slightly smaller planet rich in these elements at the beginning of its existence. This impact produced the moon and, eventually, gave rise to carbon-based life, according to a new model of Earth’s development devised by petrologists at Rice University. In a collision with Earth, the volatile materials could transfer from the Mars-sized planet to Earth’s surface, but wouldn’t permeate to its core, which does not interact with its outer layers.

This model solves a mystery that has puzzled geologists for decades regarding why these vital elements exist in all layers of Earth except its molten core. “The core doesn’t interact with the rest of Earth, but everything above it, the mantle, the crust, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, are all connected,” explained Damanveer Grewal, lead author of the study, which was published in Science Advances. “Material cycles between them.” The collision theory resembles existing models in which a meteorite is responsible for seeding the volatile elements on Earth. Unfortunately, the carbon to nitrogen ratio in such meteorites (called carbonaceous chondrites) is much lower than the ratio found in Earth’s non-core material. Additionally, the collision theory explains why the moon and Earth have the same elemental composition – they were once part of the same sphere.


© Rasjdeep Dasgupta

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


Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight c1850

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Every possible outcome will mean chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Brexit will shake the markets.

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

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

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

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

Hunting for Golem (Jim Kunstler)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just the tip of the iceberg. Happy driving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fernando Llano / AP

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

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

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

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

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

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