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.

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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

 

May 082018
 


Franco Fontana Praga 1967

 

Emerging Market Currencies Feel The Heat As US Economy Brightens (SCMP)
Two-Thirds Of Americans Believe It’s A Good Time To Buy A Home (MW)
Obamacare Premiums May Soar As Much As 91% Next Year (ZH)
Which Hunt? (Jim Kunstler)
The Donald’s Fabulous Fiscal Folly, Wall Street’s Wile E. Coyote (Stockman)
Trump To Unveil Iran Decision Tuesday; Europeans Move His Way (R.)
State Dept.: Giuliani Doesn’t Speak For US On Foreign Policy (AP)
Are You in a BS Job? In Academe, You’re Hardly Alone (David Graeber)
Theresa May Faces Renewed Turmoil Over Brexit Options (G.)
Shocks From Australian Banks’ Inquiry May Squeeze A Nation (R.)
“Creating Wealth” Through Debt (Michael Hudson)
Australia Pledges Millions To Help Save The Koala (AFP)
Glyphosate-Based Weedkillers Much More Toxic Than Their Active Ingredient (G.)

 

 

Feels like someone is trying not to let the US dollar rise too fast.

Emerging Market Currencies Feel The Heat As US Economy Brightens (SCMP)

A stream of broadly upbeat US economic data is opening up fissures in the foreign exchange markets. Market participants are recognising that the balance of risk is changing. Emerging markets, which have enjoyed substantive capital inflows, will not be immune to this process, and certain currencies are already feeling the heat. Emerging markets were major beneficiaries of inward capital flows last year, as evidenced in data from the Bank for International Settlements on 30 April. Overall “foreign currency credit continued to grow during 2017, with US dollar credit rising by 8% to US$11.4 trillion and euro credit by 10% to €3 trillion (US$3.57 trillion),” the bank wrote. US dollar credit to emerging market economies rose by 10% to US$3.67 trillion in the year to end-2017, it added.

This US-dollar dominance is critical, as the main currency moving into any markets, not just emerging markers, will also be the main mover out of them. [..] It seems an age ago now but, in June 2017, Argentina could issue a US dollar-denominated 100-year government bond receiving US$9.75 billion of orders for a US$2.75 billion issue with a coupon of 7.125%. Foreign investors had a taste for Argentina but now want out. Last Friday, with inflation in Argentina in April at 25.4%, the local central bank had to raise its benchmark interest rate to 40% in an attempt to arrest the pace of the peso’s decline. It had fallen 7.83% versus the US dollar on Thursday alone.

Friday also saw the Turkish lira hit a record low against the US dollar, beset by 11% year-on-year inflation and, among other factors, investor concerns that Turkey’s central bank could come under political pressure not to tighten monetary policy as far as they might. [..] Markets can behave like predators, pursuing what they perceive as the weakest prey first. Argentina and Turkey are currently filling that not-to-be-envied role in the wider emerging markets space. But they probably won’t be the last. Billions of US dollars of capital have flowed into emerging markets in recent years but the tide may be turning. It would be easy to just characterise Argentina and Turkey as special cases but that would be naive.

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Oh, sure. Never better.

Two-Thirds Of Americans Believe It’s A Good Time To Buy A Home (MW)

House prices are soaring and, despite warnings from some analysts, most Americans believe they will continue to soar. A majority of U.S. adults (64%) continue to believe home prices in their local area will increase over the next year, a survey released Monday by polling firm Gallup concluded. That’s up 9 percentage points over the past two years and is the highest percentage since before the housing market crash and Great Recession in the mid-2000s. The level of optimism is edging closer to the 70% of adults in 2005 who said prices would continue rising. That, of course, was less than one year before the peak of the housing market bubble in early 2006, which was largely fueled by a wave of subprime lending. (Roughly one-quarter of respondents in both 2005 and 2018 said they believed house prices would remain the same.)

In 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession, only 22% of Americans believed house prices would rise. But optimism about the housing market has made a slow recovery—along with the market itself—in the intervening years. Today, only 10% in the Gallup survey believe prices will fall. That compares to 5% who felt similarly pessimistic in 2005, just two years before the crash. Opinions vary between the West and East coasts, and renters and homeowners. Some 70% of homeowners see prices continuing to rise versus 59% of renters. Only 59% of Western residents see prices increasing, compared to a range of 65% to 68% in the other parts of the U.S. (The median sale price of a home in California is more than double that in the rest of the country.)

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About that house you were planning to buy…

Obamacare Premiums May Soar As Much As 91% Next Year (ZH)

Residents of Maryland and Virginia face double-digit percentage increases in premiums for individual Obamacare plans in 2019, according to rate requests made by insurers. The largest hikes are being sought by CareFirst, which is seeking a 64% increase in Virginia, and a whopping 91% increase in Maryland for its PPO. Other insurers are following suit in the two states, with Kaiser requesting hikes of 32% and 37% respectively, followed by CareFirst’s HMO offering. “In Maryland, CareFirst wants to raise rates by 91% on a plan covering 15,000 people, Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said. If approved, premiums for a 40-year-old could reach $1,334 a month.” -Bloomberg

That’s over $16,000 per year for an individual plan in a state with an average personal income of $59,524. “We have folks in Maryland that are struggling, that are trying to do the right thing, and they’re paying more for their health insurance than they are for their mortgage,” Redmer said on a call with reporters. “Maryland is seeking permission from the federal government to create a reinsurance program that would use $975 million in state and federal funds over five years to lower rates. That would help only temporarily, Redmer said.” -Bloomberg “I believe we’ve been in a death spiral for a year or two,” he said, adding that a permanent solution requires Congress to fix the Affordable Care Act.

Virginia and Maryland are the first two states in which 2019 rate requests – which are subject to regulatory approval and may change – have been made public, however increases are anticipated across the country as insurers adjust to the post-ACA battle. Final premium increases will need to be approved ahead of the November 1 open-enrollment period. The hikes are being blamed in part by the expectation that the elimination of the Obamacare stipulation forcing all Americans to have health coverage would leave insurers with a smaller pool of sicker clients.

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“..the collusion of multiple intelligence agencies with social media companies and what used to be the respectable organs of the news..”

Which Hunt? (Jim Kunstler)

It was refreshing to read the response of Federal Judge T. S. Ellis III to a squad of prosecutors from Robert Mueller’s office who came into his Alexandria, Virginia, court to open the case against Paul Manafort, erstwhile Trump campaign manager, for money-laundering shenanigans dating as far back as 2005. Said response by the judge being: “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. You really care about getting information that Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.”

Judge Ellis’s concise summation was like a spring zephyr clearing out a long winter’s fog of unreality in our national politics — the idea that Mueller’s mission has been anything but the Deep State’s ongoing crusade to nullify the 2016 election. In the meantime of the past year, Mueller has been additionally burdened by obvious misconduct in the FBI and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, which makes Mueller himself look like the instrument of a cover-up, or at least a massive organized distraction from the misdeeds of the Deep State itself.

I was never a Trump supporter or voter, but it seems to me he deserves to succeed or fail as President on his own merits (or lack of). It’s much more disturbing to me to see the runaway train that federal prosecution has turned into, along with orchestrated intrigues of FBI and DOJ officials at the highest level. These are of a piece with the creeping surveillance of all Americans, and the collusion of multiple intelligence agencies with social media companies and what used to be the respectable organs of the news, especially The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN — all of which are behaving like Grand Inquisitors in a medieval religious hysteria.

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Stockman does a Trump: “Simple Steve Mnuchin”.

The Donald’s Fabulous Fiscal Folly, Wall Street’s Wile E. Coyote (Stockman)

There has never been a more fiscally clueless team at the top than the Donald and his dimwitted Treasury secretary, Simple Steve Mnuchin. After reading the latter’s recent claim that financing Uncle Sam’s impending trillion dollar deficits will be a breeze, we now understand how he sat on the Board of Sears for 10-years and never noticed that the company was going bankrupt. In any event, fixing to borrow upwards of $1.2 trillion in FY 2019, Simple Steve apparently didn’t get the memo about the Fed’s unfolding QT campaign and the fact that it will be draining cash from the bond pits at a $600 billion annual rate by October. After all, no one who can do third-grade math would expect that the bond market can “easily handle” what will in effect be $1.8 trillion of homeless USTs:

“U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt after his department said it borrowed a record amount for the first quarter. ‘It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said… ‘But I think the market can easily handle it.’ Then again, Simple Steve is apparently not alone in his fog of incomprehension. Even if you did get the memo—like most of the Wall Street day traders—you might still be under the delusion that the Fed is your friend and that when push comes to shove, it will put QT on ice in order to forestall any unpleasant hissy-fitting in the casino.

That is, it’s allegedly still safe to buy the dips or play the swing trade between the 50-DMA and 200-DMA because the Powell Put undergirds the latter. So never fear dear punters: At about 2615 on the S&P 500 (the current 200-DMA), the Eccles Building cavalry will ride to the rescue. That would appear to be the meaning of the chart below—except it isn’t. What it really says is that after nine years of buying the dips successfully, Wall Street has essentially deputized its own cavalry. [..] there is in our judgment 15-20% of downside before the Fed relents, but by that point it will be too late.

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China and Russia stand behind Iran.

Trump To Unveil Iran Decision Tuesday; Europeans Move His Way (R.)

President Donald Trump will announce on Tuesday whether he will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and a senior U.S. official said it was unclear if efforts by European allies to address Trump’s concerns would be enough to save the pact. Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the deal, which eased economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program, unless France, Germany and Britain – which also signed the agreement – fix what he has called its flaws. The senior U.S. official said the European allies had moved significantly in Trump’s direction on what he sees as the defects – the failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the terms under which international inspectors visit suspected Iranian sites, and “sunset” clauses under which some terms expire.

The official did not know, however, if the Europeans had done enough to convince Trump to remain in the deal. “The big question in my mind is does he think the Europeans have moved far enough so that we can all be unified and announce a deal? That’s one option,” said the official. “Or (does he conclude) the Europeans have not moved far enough and we say they’ve got to move more?” European diplomats said privately they expected Trump to effectively withdraw from the agreement, which was struck by six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – and Iran in July 2015.

[..] Under the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the United States committed to easing a series of U.S. sanctions on Iran and it has done so under a string of “waivers” that effectively suspend them. Under U.S. law, Trump has until Saturday to decide whether to reintroduce U.S. sanctions related to Iran’s central bank and Iranian oil exports. The reimposition of sanctions would dissuade foreign companies from doing business with Iran because they could be subject to U.S. penalties.

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The Rudy show. There won’t be a sequel.

State Dept.: Giuliani Doesn’t Speak For US On Foreign Policy (AP)

The Trump administration sought to distance itself Monday from Rudy Giuliani’s dramatic public statements about Iran and North Korea, saying that President Donald Trump’s new lawyer does not speak for the president on matters of foreign policy. Since joining Trump’s legal team last month and becoming its public face, Giuliani has raised eyebrows for a series of startling assertions not only about his legal strategy and the special counsel investigation, but also about global affairs and Trump’s policies. That spurred widespread confusion over whether the former New York mayor, now on Trump’s payroll, was disclosing information he’d been told by the president, stating U.S. government policy or merely describing his own impression of events.

“He speaks for himself and not on behalf of the administration on foreign policy,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Monday. It was the clearest sign to date that Trump’s administration is seeking to draw a line between itself and Giuliani on matters of government policy, even as he continues to act as his spokesman on matters related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. It comes as Trump prepares for a series of high-stakes moments in the coming weeks on Iran, North Korea and the Mideast conflict — the type of delicate and potentially explosive regions where events can easily be upended by an errant remark by an emissary of the U.S. president. Giuliani’s perplexing and sometimes conflicting remarks have increasingly become a cause of consternation for Trump’s aides.

Asked last week whether Giuliani’s portfolio included foreign policy, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said simply, “Not that I’m aware of.” [..] Giuliani’s remarks have been watched with equal concern at the State Department, the Pentagon and other national security agencies, starting last week when he said on television that North Korea would release three Americans detained in the country. “We got Kim Jong Un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today,” Giuliani told Fox News. Although Trump has hinted that such a move could be coming, there has been no formal announcement by the U.S. government, which is in detailed talks with North Korea at the moment to plan a historic summit between Kim and Trump. The detainees have not yet been released as predicted by Giuliani.

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Bullshitization.

Are You in a BS Job? In Academe, You’re Hardly Alone (David Graeber)

For a number of years now, I have been conducting research on forms of employment seen as utterly pointless by those who perform them. The proportion of these jobs is startlingly high. Surveys in Britain and Holland reveal that 37 to 40% of all workers there are convinced that their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world. And there seems every reason to believe that numbers in other wealthy countries are much the same. There would appear to be whole industries — telemarketing, corporate law, financial or management consulting, lobbying — in which almost everyone involved finds the enterprise a waste of time, and believes that if their jobs disappeared it would either make no difference or make the world a better place.

Generally speaking, we should trust people’s instincts in such matters. (Some of them might be wrong, but no one else is in a position to know better.) If one includes the work of those who unwittingly perform real labor in support of all this — for instance, the cleaners, guards, and mechanics who maintain the office buildings where people perform bullshit jobs — it’s clear that 50% of all work could be eliminated with no downside. (I am assuming here that provision is made such that those whose jobs were eliminated continue to be supported.) If nothing else, this would have immediate salutary effects on carbon emissions, not to mention overall social happiness and well-being.

Even this estimate probably understates the extent of the problem, because it doesn’t address the creeping bullshitization of real jobs. According to a 2016 survey, American office workers reported that they spent four out of eight hours doing their actual jobs; the rest of the time was spent in email, useless meetings, and pointless administrative tasks. The trend has much less effect on obviously useful occupations, like those of tailors, steamfitters, and chefs, or obviously beneficial ones, like designers and musicians, so one might argue that most of the jobs affected are largely pointless anyway; but the phenomenon has clearly damaged a number of indisputably useful fields of endeavor. Nurses nowadays often have to spend at least half of their time on paperwork, and primary- and secondary-school teachers complain of galloping bureaucratization.

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Nice going, Boris: “..the foreign secretary dismissed May’s customs partnership proposal as “crazy” “

Theresa May Faces Renewed Turmoil Over Brexit Options (G.)

Theresa May is facing renewed cross-party pressure to accept membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or risk defeat in the Commons. Peers vote on Tuesday night on a series of amendments as officials work to try to find a deal on May’s preferred option of a customs relationship with Europe that is acceptable to Brexiters and remainers in her cabinet, as well as MPs and EU negotiators. The policy paper rejected by the inner cabinet on the Brexit subcommittee last week has been withdrawn for further work and will not be discussed at this week’s regular meeting.

A Downing Street source said: “It was agreed on Wednesday that more work needed to be done to flesh out the general principles agreed – no hard border and as frictionless trade as possible. “We realise the urgency. But as Greg Clark [the business secretary] said on Sunday, it is a crucial question to get right.” The prime minister also came under pressure from Boris Johnson, who is currently in Washington trying to persuade Donald Trump to stick with the Iran nuclear deal. In an interview with the Daily Mail, the foreign secretary dismissed May’s customs partnership proposal as “crazy” and said it would create massive bureaucracy. The scheme involves the UK levying border tariffs on imports on behalf of the EU and refunding them where the imported goods stay in Britain.

Johnson also condemned any system that prevented the UK from establishing its own trade policy and negotiating deals with non-EU countries, which is also the principle objection of Conservatives led by Jacob Rees-Mogg in the European Research Group. Meanwhile, the Irish government is concerned that many MPs and peers still believe that Dublin will back down at the last minute on the hard border. One parliamentarian who visited Westminster recently said he was surprised by how confident MPs were that there could be a frictionless border between north and south without a customs union. “Both May’s proposals for maximum facilitation and a customs partnership have been rejected by [the EU negotiator] Michel Barnier as magical thinking,” he said.

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Horse. Barn.

Shocks From Australian Banks’ Inquiry May Squeeze A Nation (R.)

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group last week said that in the wake of the Royal Commission, which has uncovered wide-spread examples of careless and at times fraudulent lending practices, it would likely be harder for customers to borrow money. And National Australia Bank said net interest margins on its all-important mortgage book were falling; while Westpac told Reuters it had recently increased scrutiny of borrowers’ living expenses, including asking them to disclose such items as gym memberships and pet insurance, when making loan assessments. The inquiry has come at a time when there was already a push for increased controls on lending and new capital requirements.

Those had helped spark a wave of divestments of cash-intensive wealth management, insurance and financial planning arms. Borrowers have begun to feel the squeeze, according to Sydney real estate agent Peter Wong, as banks dig through credit histories and ask borrowers for bigger deposits. “The residential sector has become very, very cautious and so, obviously, they’re making sure that they dot their i’s and cross their t’s, and before it wasn’t like that,” said Wong, who runs an agency in inner-city Chinatown. “I’ve got property on the market and I’ve had it on for over three months whereas previously, being a popular area, people would buy fairly quickly.”

Australia has an oligopoly banking system – Commonwealth Bank of Australia sits alongside Westpac, NAB and ANZ making up the so-called “Big Four” – which collectively dominate property, investment and business lending, giving Australians limited options when seeking credit.

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Hudson warns China not to become the west.

“Creating Wealth” Through Debt (Michael Hudson)

Western capitalism has not turned out the way that Marx expected. He was optimistic in forecasting that industrial capitalists would gain control of government to free economies from unnecessary costs of production in the form of rent and interest that increase the cost of living (and hence, the break-even wage level). Along with most other economists of his day, he expected rentier income and the ownership of land, natural resources and banking to be taken out of the hands of the hereditary aristocracies that had held them since Europe’s feudal epoch. Socialism was seen as the logical extension of classical political economy, whose main policy was to abolish rent paid to landlords and interest paid to banks and bondholders.

A century ago there was an almost universal belief in mixed economies. Governments were expected to tax away land rent and natural resource rent, regulate monopolies to bring prices in line with actual cost value, and create basic infrastructure with money created by their own treasury or central bank. Socializing land rent was the core of Physiocracy and the economics of Adam Smith, whose logic was refined by Alfred Marshall, Simon Patten and other bourgeois economists of the late 19th century. That was the path that European and American capitalism seemed to be following in the decades leading up to World War I. That logic sought to use the government to support industry instead of the landlord and financial classes.

China is progressing along this “mixed economy” road to socialism, but Western economies are suffering from a resurgence of the pre-capitalist rentier classes. Their slogan of “small government” means a shift in planning to finance, real estate and monopolies. This economic philosophy is reversing the logic of industrial capitalism, replacing public investment and subsidy with privatization and rent extraction. The Western economies’ tax shift favoring finance and real estate is a case in point. It reverses John Stuart Mill’s “Ricardian socialism” based on public collection of the land’s rental value and the “unearned increment” of rising land prices.

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A new threatened species every single day. So far this week: mountain gorillas, right whales and koalas.

Australia Pledges Millions To Help Save The Koala (AFP)

Australia unveiled on Monday a US$34 million plan to help bring its koala population back from the brink, following a rapid decline in the furry marsupial’s fortunes. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates there may be as few as 43,000 koalas left in the wild, down from a population believed to number more than 10 million prior to European settlement of the continent in 1788. “Koalas are a national treasure,” said Gladys Berejiklian, premier of New South Wales state, in announcing her government’s conservation plan. “It would be such a shame if this nationally iconic marsupial did not have its future secured.”

Habitat loss, dog attacks, car strikes, climate change and disease have taken their toll on one of Australia’s most recognisable animals. Studies show a 26% decline in the koala population in New South Wales over the last 15-20 years. The state lists the species as “vulnerable”, while in other parts of the country they are effectively extinct. Under the Aus$45 million plan, thousands of hectares will be set aside to preserve the marsupial’s natural habitat.

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The madness of it. After 44 years of active use, they’re finally being tested (!). But their formulas remain confidential business information, so they don’t even know what they’re testing.

Glyphosate-Based Weedkillers Much More Toxic Than Their Active Ingredient (G.)

US government researchers have uncovered evidence that some popular weedkilling products, like Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup, are potentially more toxic to human cells than their active ingredient is by itself. These “formulated” weedkillers are commonly used in agriculture, leaving residues in food and water, as well as public spaces such as golf courses, parks and children’s playgrounds. The tests are part of the US National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) first-ever examination of herbicide formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate, but that also include other chemicals. While regulators have previously required extensive testing of glyphosate in isolation, government scientists have not fully examined the toxicity of the more complex products sold to consumers, farmers and others.

Monsanto introduced its glyphosate-based Roundup brand in 1974. But it is only now, after more than 40 years of widespread use, that the government is investigating the toxicity of “glyphosate-based herbicides” on human cells. The NTP tests were requested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015 classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The IARC also highlighted concerns about formulations which combine glyphosate with other ingredients to enhance weed killing effectiveness. Monsanto and rivals sell hundreds of these products around the world in a market valued at roughly $9bn.

Mike DeVito, acting chief of the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, told the Guardian the agency’s work is ongoing but its early findings are clear on one key point. “We see the formulations are much more toxic. The formulations were killing the cells. The glyphosate really didn’t do it,” DeVito said. [..] “This testing is important, because the EPA has only been looking at the active ingredient. But it’s the formulations that people are exposed to on their lawns and gardens, where they play and in their food,” said Jennifer Sass, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One problem government scientists have run into is corporate secrecy about the ingredients mixed with glyphosate in their products. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show uncertainty within the EPA over Roundup formulations and how those formulations have changed over the last three decades. That confusion has continued with the NTP testing. “We don’t know what the formulation is. That is confidential business information,” DeVito said. NTP scientists sourced some samples from store shelves, picking up products the EPA told them were the top sellers, he said.

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