Jan 142019
 
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 7:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The soldier and the laughing girl 1657

 

There will be elections for the European Parliament on May 23-26 2019. They will likely change the face of Europe more than anything has done since the EU was founded. That is not some wild prediction. Many European countries have held elections since the last European elections in 2014, and just about all had outcomes that shook up domestic political ratios.

In most cases, countries went from traditional parties to newly founded ones. France erased the Socialists and center-right in 2017, and the final round of the presidential elections was between Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Emmanuel Macron’s brand-new En Marche. Macron won sort of by default, because France as a country would never have voted for Le Pen.

In Italy, M5S and Lega have taken over. In Germany, Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition lost bigly though it remained the biggest party, but Angela lost her ‘socialist’ SPD partner which gave up so much it didn’t want to be in government anymore. In Spain, Mariano Rajoy’s center right lost enough to cede power to the Socialists who came up tops because they played a smart game, not because the Spanish wanted it to rule.

We don’t have to go through all 27/28 different countries to establish that there are almost tectonic shifts happening all over, away from traditional parties and towards whoever showed up without insanely extreme views. And if you think this move is now completed, you may want to think again.

It’s amusing to realize that the country with the biggest political shift, the UK, is the only one that still hangs on to its traditional parties, and seeks its protest voice in a different way, namely through Brexit. That is, Britain shows it can get no satisfaction from the EU, whereas in the other major EU nations the dissatisfaction is projected onto domestic parties.

The underlying thought is the same: people are fed up with incumbent politicians and their affiliation with the European project. And nobody in Brussels really appears to be willing to realize this: the only thing they talk about is more Europe. But all these changes will now be reflected in the power politics of the European parliament.

And they do know that. They just hope they can limit the damage through the model in which power is divided in Europe. And to get any of that power, national parties need to find partners from other countries to form European parties (blocks) with. You need parties from at least 7 other nations to run for the European Parliament.

 

There are really only two parties in that parliament that really matter: the center right European People’s Party (EPP) which has 217 MEPs (members of European Parliament), and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) which has 190 MEPs. Then there are the European Conservatives and Reformists – 74 MEPs, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – 70 MEPs, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE) – 52 MEPs, and the European Greens/European Free Alliance – 50 MEPs.

These numbers, like the national ones, are set to change, a lot. How exactly is hard to predict, because it’s not clear which block which -relatively- new party will be part of. But it’s not a wild guess to think that at the end of May the division of powers will not be left vs right (both of which are pretty much fake anyway), but pro-EU and anti-EU. Or rather, More Europe vs Less Europe.

Germany’s up-and-coming real right-wing AfD at their conference this weekend voted in a resolution that calls for getting rid of the European Parliament itself, calling it undemocratic, and claiming the “competence to make laws is exclusively for nation states.” Similar sentiments play out in Italy, Poland, Hungary and many other member states.

Given the changes in vote ratios mentioned before, it’s hard to see the More Europe model survive the elections. But that of course doesn’t keep the main parties (blocks) from running outspoken pro-Europe candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head chief after the elections. The EPP has German Europe stalwart Manfred Weber as ‘Spitzenkandidat’, the so-called Socialists/Democrats have Dutch Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s right-hand man.

They think they will be able to continue business as usual, and accumulate more power and sovereignty in the process, while support for the EU crumbles more by the day. But that’s all in the far far future, that is a whole 4 months away. And who knows what Europe will look like by then? Brussels sure doesn’t seem to know, or want to.

 

In Germany, the entire political system will have to reinvent itself after Merkel. And as said before, with an entire new look as far as vote numbers go. Far right and the Greens are on their way to becoming new power blocks, the Christian center right CDU/CSU and the formerly left SPD are on their way to much less support.

This is a pattern that plays out all over Europe, but what happens in Germany is, because of the way the EU is set up, crucial for all EU member states. Nothing happens in Europe without approval from Berlin. And what will the other 26 remaining members do when that level of power moves towards the AfD?

Of even more immediate concern may be Germany’s economic performance. Because the latest signs are not encouraging. Germany and Holland have done very well, but that is because they have all the others as their ‘domestic’ market. And now not even that turns out to be enough. Germany’s numbers are going down fast:

 

 

Then again, for now, worries about Germany will be trumped by those about France and Britain. The numbers of Yellow Vests in the streets of France was much larger again the past weekend than the last few ones. Macron keeps on making ever bigger mistakes. This Saturday, his riot police was filmed carrying semi-automatic weapons with live ammo. As he claimed that many of his people want to get things without making any effort.

Macron all along has tried to drive a wedge between the protesters and the people. But a large majority of the people support the protests, even if they don’t don a yellow vest. Still, Paris claims that the protesters are not the Republic, and they’re trying to overthrow democracy. When the Yellow vests approached government buildings last weekend, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux fled, saying: “It wasn’t me who was attacked, it was the Republic.” Ergo: Not the people are the Republic, the government is. That should sell well.

For a very large number of French this sounds like they are not actually considered French by their own government. And now Macron insists on holding a national debate, in which everyone can have their say, but at the same time he insists he will not change his policies, which are what the Yellow Vests are protesting in the first place.

What they see is that Little Napoleon hasn’t hardly appeared in public for a very long time (big no-no!), but he does try to dictate to them what democracy is, and then in the same breath that they only have the choices he gives them. Protests are only allowed if the government gives permission, Paris proclaims.

Macron has cancelled his spot in the upcoming Davos spectacle for the wealthy and powerful, and I bet you the thought has crossed his mind that if he went he wouldn’t be allowed back in to his country. Not decisive, but that thought surely counts. He’s seen the whole Let Them Eat Cake scenario play out in his mind’s eye. Before putting his hand over his heart while looking in the mirror.

Macron does everything wrong than he can. And in that France has a lot in common with our for now last topic, subject, victim, take your pick, the UK.

 

Tomorrow Theresa May is going to lose another vote, and even if she doesn’t, chaos is still guaranteed. Both the Leave and the Remain camps, opposites as they are, are divided into countless other camps, and there is no way there will ever be an agreement. You’d have a hard time finding even just two people who think Brexit means the same, let alone millions.

I wrote earlier today I wondered how come Britain is so quiet in the face of that, with the Yellow Vests example just a few miles away. And I really don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow. The EU has hinted Brexit may not happen until the summer, not on March 29. But that’s the EU, and that’s what the Brexit vote was meant to move away from, not let them dictate even more.

Theresa May basically sat on her hands for two years, and wanted to do the work in 6 months, but that was always going to be a pipedream. The UK, in 40-odd years of EU membership, signed up to thousands of pieces of legislation, which contain hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. All that must be checked, if need be changed, negotiated about, voted on, etc.

Not something anyone can do in half a year, and that has nothing to do with liking the EU or not. May has held her country hostage for the entire time she’s been PM, and she does that even more now, as she’s saying it’s either her deal or no Brexit at all. She’s decided No Deal is not an option. Which may be wise in view of all those documents, but who is she to decide eth entire nation future for decades to come? She wasn’t even elected as PM.

We’ll know more tomorrow after that Parliament vote, which May will lose. Or will we? If Brussels accepts a major delay in Brexit, chances are May will stay in office, and we’ll have 4-5-6 more months of the same road to nowhere. Second referendum, general election? Poisoned chalices all of them.

Even if May wins the vote Tuesday, because she’s scared a sufficient number of MPs into a catatonic state, nothing will change either. All possible outcomes are guaranteed to have a large group of people standing against them. All options will create the appearance of a small group of people dictating life-changing events for everyone else.

Where are the British Yellow Vests? The mayor of Poland’s second-biggest city, Gdansk, was stabbed to death in public on a stage where he held a speech, Is that where we’re going?

And lest we forget, what happens in Europe is not very different from what happens in the US; things merely play out slightly differently in different locations. In the US, as in the UK, there are no whole new parties taking over, no AfD and Macron and Yellow Vests and Salvini, but there is Trump and Brexit.

The common denominator is people’s anger with the economic models that leave them scrambling to make do, all the while seeing their lives being taken away from them bit by bit while whoever’s in power keeps bankers and other rich folk contented.

It’s not much use seeing all this as separate incidents or developments. It’s a big wave that will reshape the world as we know it. Let Them Eat Cake has gone global, and there’s not nearly enough cake to go round.

 

 

Jan 132019
 
 January 13, 2019  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Field with Flowers near Arles 1888

 

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)
Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)
House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)
Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)
The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)
What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)
Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)
May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)
Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)
Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)
The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

 

 

All politics today, with one finance story (and one on recycling). Expect venture capital to plunge in 2019.

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)

Though most people look at record VC spending as a sign of a strong, healthy economy, my research has found that the current VC boom is the result of another tech bubble that inflated due to the Federal Reserves ultra-stimulative monetary policies of the past decade. Unfortunately, this tech bubble is going to end just like the late-1990s dotcom bubble did – in another disastrous bust. The chart below shows the monthly count of global VC deals that raised $100 million or more since 2007. According to this chart, a new “unicorn” startup was born every four days in 2018.

The chart below shows the Nasdaq Composite Index and the two bubbles that formed in it in the past two decades. Lofty tech stock prices and valuations encourage the tech startup bubble because publicly traded tech companies have more buying power with which to acquire tech startups and because they allow startups to IPO at very high valuations.

In the chart below, I compared the monthly global VC deals chart to the Nasdaq Composite Index and they line up perfectly. Surges in the Nasdaq lead to surges in VC deals, while lulls or declines in the Nasdaq lead to lulls or declines in VC deals.

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The FBI has to be investigated over this (why was the probe launched?). But no-one has the power to do so.

Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)

Donald Trump has strongly denied the stunning claim that he was secretly working on behalf of Russia and again threatened to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. In 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he described as an “insult” the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was “the most insulting article ever written”. “If you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing,” he said during the Fox News interview. “I think [the story] was a great insult and the New York Times is a disaster of a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said.”

Citing anonymous sources, the Times said the investigation was part counterintelligence, to determine whether Trump was knowingly or unknowingly working for Moscow and posed a threat to national security. It was also part criminal, to ascertain whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. The FBI effort was soon absorbed into the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the Times reported, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect is still being pursued. The president again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the entire Russia investigation was a “terrible hoax”. “Everybody knows it. It’s really a shame because it takes time; it takes effort. Everybody knows there’s no collusion,” he said.

[..] Trump’s warm relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ringing. The day after firing Comey, he hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office – and disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation. At a summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the question of election interference. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care … I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

Read more …

Sometimes you think they actually believe their Putin as bogeymen tales. But that can’t be true. They know as well as we do that there’s never been any proof, and you can’t base policy on innuendo alone. That would be dangerous.

House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)

A U.S. House of Representatives committee will look into a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against U.S. interests, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Saturday. The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump’s actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Trump rejected the Times piece in a late Saturday night interview on Fox News as “the most insulting article I’ve ever had written” and lashed out at Comey and the FBI in half a dozen tweets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior” in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers would seek to protect investigators from the president’s “increasingly unhinged attacks.” “There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president’s behavior was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president,” Nadler said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump’s contacts with Russia. “Counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning,” said Schiff, a California Democrat. Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as “the web of lies about those interactions, and the president’s own statements and actions,” have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.

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Schumer here moves on the basis of a collusion-themed link between Manafort and Deripaska.

But the article after this one says: “The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.”

Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska. On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms. Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”

Read more …

It’s a shame I don’t have more speace for Aaron Maté’s piece. Click the link and read.

@yashalevine on Twitter about Kilimnik: “Yep, the supposed Russian intelligence asset linking Trump through Manafort to the Kremlin spent a decade on the payroll of a CIA cutout meddling in Russian politics. “

The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)

Partisans of the theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election believe that they have found their smoking gun. On Tuesday, defense attorneys inadvertently revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has claimed that former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Now we’re being told that the revelation “is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” (former FBI agent Clint Watts), “makes the no-collusion scenario even more remote,” (New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait), and, “effectively end[s] the debate about whether there was ‘collusion.’” (Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall). But like prior developments in the Mueller probe that sparked similar declarations, the latest information about Manafort is hardly proof of collusion.

According to an accidentally unredacted passage, Mueller believes that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data…related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked as Manafort’s fixer and translator in Ukraine. Manafort’s employment of Kilimnik has fueled speculation because Mueller has stated that Kilimnik has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”Yet Mueller’s only references that Kilmnik has Kremlin “ties” came in two court filings in 2017 and 2018, and it’s not clear what Mueller meant in either case. In April 2018, Manafort’s attorneys told a Virginia judge that they have made “multiple discovery requests” seeking any contacts between Manafort and “Russian intelligence officials,” but that the special counsel informed them that “there are no materials responsive to [those] requests.”

Kilimnik insists that he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.” According to a lengthy profile in The Atlantic, “insinuations” that Kilimnik has worked for Russian intelligence during his years in Ukraine “were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence.” All of this has been lost on US media outlets, who routinely portray Kilimnik as a “Russian operative” or an “alleged Russian spy.” [..] Rather than imagining it as part of some grand Trump-Russia conspiracy, there’s a more plausible explanation for why Manafort wanted public polling data to be forwarded to Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort was heavily in debt when he joined Trump’s team. Being able to show former Ukrainian clients “that he was managing a winning candidate,” the Times noted, “would help [Manafort] collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.”

All of this highlights another inconvenient fact about Mueller’s case against Manafort: It is not about Russia, but about tax, bank, and lobbying violations stemming from his time in Ukraine. The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.

Read more …

And what goes for Aaron Maté’s piece is also valid for Stephen Cohen. Worth reading the whole thing.

What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)

First, no foreign-policy initiative undertaken by President Trump, however wise it may be in regard to US national interests, will be accepted by that establishment. Any prominent political figure who does so will promptly and falsely be branded, in the malign spirit of Russiagate, as “pro-Putin,” or, as was Senator Rand Paul, arguably the only foreign-policy statesman in the senate today, “an isolationist.” This is unprecedented in modern American history. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to such establishment constraints on his ability to conduct national-security policy during the Watergate scandals.

Second, not surprisingly, the condemnations of Trump’s decision are infused with escalating, but still unproven, Russiagate allegations of the president’s “collusion” with the Kremlin. Thus, equally predictably, the Times finds a Moscow source to say, of the withdrawals, “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving” to Putin. (In fact, it is not clear that the Kremlin is eager to see the United States withdraw from either Syria or Afghanistan, as this would leave Russia alone with what it regards as common terrorist enemies.)

Closer to home, there is the newly reelected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked about Trump’s policies and Russian President Putin, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “I think that the president’s relationship with thugs all over the world is appalling. Vladimir Putin, really? Really? I think it’s dangerous.” By this “leadership” reasoning, Trump should be the first US president since FDR to have no “relationship” whatsoever with a Kremlin leader. And to the extent that Pelosi speaks for the Democratic Party, it can no longer be considered a party of American national security.

But, third, something larger than even anti-Trumpism plays a major role in condemnations of the president’s withdrawal decisions: imperial thinking about America’s rightful role in the world. Euphemisms abound, but, if not an entreaty to American empire, what else could the New York Times’ David Sanger mean when he writes of a “world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II,” and complains that Trump is reducing “the global footprint needed to keep that order together”? Or when President Obama’s national-security adviser Susan Rice bemoans Trump’s failures in “preserving American global leadership,” which a Times lead editorial insists is an “imperative”?

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The news about fake news has itself become fake news.

Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)

Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the phrase “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles online and perhaps more famously by President Donald Trump, who uses it as a cudgel against mainstream media outlets. Facebook, meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem. Trump’s relationship with the media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president.

Since then he has not only labeled as “fake” news outlets that have reported critically on his administration but described CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people.” The good news: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday, but the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.

[..] To shed light on the issue in the latest study of which users were more likely to share misleading facts on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.

The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

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Catastrophe is inevitable for May.

May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose. Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels. May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.” On Friday, her foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Brexit might not happen at all if May’s deal was defeated. Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is scheduled to quit the European Union on March 29. The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit, citing a senior government source.

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Way too late.

Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)

Labour MPs have been told to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to table a dramatic and immediate vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government as early as Tuesday evening in an attempt to force a general election if – as expected – she suffers a heavy defeat this week on her Brexit deal. Messages have been sent to Labour MPs, even those who are unwell, to ensure their presence both for the “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint on Tuesday and the following day. Labour whips have told MPs the no-confidence vote is likely to be tabled within hours of a government loss, with the actual vote taking place on Wednesday.

The news comes before what promises to be one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in recent parliamentary history in which, barring another delay, May will put her Brexit deal to parliament despite deep and widespread opposition across the Commons, including from many MPs inside her own party. A senior shadow cabinet member said: “There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.” Senior Tories said on Saturday that they could not see how the prime minister could win the meaningful vote “in any circumstances” and that a defeat by less than 100 would now be regarded as the best she could hope for.

But even if she suffered a loss of closer to 200, which many Tories fear could be the case, Conservative MPs and ministers still expect her to stagger on and seek to bring an improved offer back to the Commons for a further vote within weeks.

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The number of protesters is increasing rapidly again.

Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)

Gilets jaunes protesters engaged in a ninth weekend of protests all over France on Saturday as the president, Emmanuel Macron, prepared to stake his political future on an open letter to the French people and a national debate. Officials said that at least 84,000 demonstrators turned out across France, thousands more than last weekend, with about 8,000 of those in Paris where protests passed “without serious incident”. Gilets jaunes – named after the hi-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure. After the violence of previous weeks, the government put on a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide and about 7,000 in Paris.

[..] Macron has attempted to take the sting out of the protests by announcing a “great national debate” to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship, but just days before the consultation is due to begin on Tuesday, there is still confusion over how it will be carried out. The president will publish an open letter to the French people on Monday to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”. “It’s a great opportunity and everyone must take it … I want a real debate,” he said.

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When are we going to stop producing the stuff that needs recycling?

The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer. Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular.

But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country. But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

Read more …

Jan 122019
 
 January 12, 2019  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Landscape 1920

 

FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working For Russia (NYT)
Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons (Greenwald)
Exasperated Democrats Try To Rein In Ocasio-Cortez (Pol.)
Fed Paid Banks $38.5 Billion in Interest on “Reserves” in 2018 (WS)
Fed Balance Sheet and Currency In Circulation (WS)
Retailers Are Slashing iPhone Prices Across China (CNBC)
Apple Plans To Launch Three New iPhones This Year (CNBC)
Unclear How Deep, Lasting Germany’s Economic Problems Are: ECB’s Nowotny (R.)
France Vows Tough Response As New ‘Yellow Vest’ Demos Loom (AFP)
Google Sued For Covering Up $90m Payout To Ex-Exec Accused Of Sexcrimes (AFP)
My Walk To Work Shows Me How Homelessness Is Transforming Britain (G.)

 

 

Trump fired Comey, and Comey’s friends opened an inquiry.

Trump called Russiagate a made-up story, and that was reason for the FBI to open an inquiry into Russiagate.

Outlets like the NYTimes look increasingly like Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for short-term gains.

FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working For Russia (NYT)

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

[..] The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry. “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

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A remarkable turnaround. The peaceniks have turned into warmongers.

Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons (Greenwald)

[..] what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent. A similar gap is seen among those who voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections (28 percent support withdrawal while 54 percent oppose it), as opposed to the widespread support for withdrawal among 2018 GOP voters: 74 percent to 18 percent.

Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents. This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.

With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81 percent to 11 percent; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

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They don’t understand AOC anymore then they understood Trump.

Exasperated Democrats Try To Rein In Ocasio-Cortez (Pol.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold. The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.

“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.” Incumbent Democrats are most annoyed by Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to back primary opponents against members of their ranks she deems too moderate. But their frustration goes beyond that: Democratic leaders are upset that she railed against their new set of House rules on Twitter the first week of the new Congress. Rank and file are peeved that there’s a grassroots movement to try to win her a top committee post they feel she doesn’t deserve.

Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told POLITICO that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively. “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.” It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.

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Yes, we want fewer reserves, but don’t worry, we’ll just pay you more interest on what remains, so you’re fine.

Fed Paid Banks $38.5 Billion in Interest on “Reserves” in 2018 (WS)

The Fed reported its preliminary results this morning for the year 2018. The headline is that it sent $65.4 billion of its profits to the US Treasury Department in 2018, and that this amount had plunged by 18.5% from the remittances, as they’re called, in 2017, and by 44.1% from the peak of $117 billion in 2015. The Fed earns interest income on the huge pile of securities it holds. After covering operating expenses, interest expenses, and some other items, it is required to remit the rest to the Treasury Department – to the taxpayer. Therefore, the amounts in interest expense the Fed pays the banks on their “Excess Reserves” and “Required Reserves” comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket and its transferred to the banks to become bank profits, and thereby bank executive bonuses and stock holder dividends, funded by the dear taxpayers. And this amount was huge in 2018: $38.5 billion!

The $38.5 billion: This is what the Fed paid US banks and foreign banks in the US on their Excess Reserves and Required Reserves on deposit at the Fed. • Required Reserves are the amounts that banks have to keep on deposit at the Fed for liquidity purposes. This is relatively small, $192 billion at year-end, and was roughly flat in 2018. • Excess Reserves are the amounts that banks voluntarily deposit at the Fed to earn risk-free income. The amount peaked in September 2014 at $2.7 trillion and has since fallen to $1.5 trillion. Of that $1.2 trillion drop, $510 billion occurred in 2018.

The interest rate that the Fed paid on both types of reserves was 1.5% at the beginning of 2018, and was raised four times with each rate hike during the year, but less than the 1/4-point hikes of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate. At its December meeting, the Fed raised this rate to 2.4%. So the balances of Excess Reserves have plunged, and the interest rate the Fed pays on those reserve balances has jumped. Both factors combined caused the Fed to pay a record $38.5 billion to US banks and foreign banks in the US.

Here is the sordid history of this annual wealth transfer from taxpayers to the banks via the Fed:

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Wolf Richter has much more on this topic in the article, I just wanted to point out that, counterintuitively perhaps, the amount of US currency in circulation has surged. To the mattresses!

Fed Balance Sheet and Currency In Circulation (WS)

The Fed’s balance sheet would be “substantially smaller” after the Fed gets done with its QE unwind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday. [..] “Don’t know the exact level. That would depend really on the public’s appetite for our liabilities, specifically currency. To us, that’s a liability. And the public has a large appetite for currency….” “So it will be substantially smaller than it is now,” he said. “But nowhere near what it was before, and the reason is, currency was well less than $1 trillion before quantitative easing started and now is moving up toward $2 trillion.” The line item on the Fed’s balance sheet called “currency in circulation” is composed of Federal Reserve Notes – as it says on the wrinkled and thinning wad of twenties in my pocket — and coins. In other words, hard cash.

And as Powell pointed out, this is a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, not an asset. The Treasury Department produces the bills and coins. But the Fed manages the amounts in circulation via the banking system. Currency in circulation grows when there is a lot of demand for paper-dollar cash. There must always be enough paper-dollars in the banking system to satisfy the demand by customers for the physical dollars. And as Powell pointed out, “the public has a large appetite for currency.” This demand for dollars is on a global basis. People globally are hoarding this stuff, and some countries use it as their primary currency, or as an alternate currency alongside their own trashed currency. When the Financial Crisis set in, folks started hoarding more of it, and demand increased at a steeper rate. This chart shows currency in circulation. The amount more than doubled from $830 billion in February 2008 to $1.72 trillion now:

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$2000 for a phone. Get real. It’s a dead business model.

Retailers Are Slashing iPhone Prices Across China (CNBC)

Apple’s latest iPhone models are facing huge discounts in China as retailers try to sell the struggling devices. That comes as the top-of-the-line Apple smartphones have posted poor China sales on what experts say are too-high prices for the world’s largest smartphone market and a lack of innovative features compared to local competitors like Huawei. The technology giant itself acknowledged earlier this month that unexpectedly low sales in the Chinese market would likely lead to worse-than-anticipated first quarter revenues. One of the most recent iPhone cost cuts in the country came from Suning, a large Chinese retailer, which changed the price of the 128GB version of the iPhone XR from 6,999 yuan ($1,036) to 5,799 yuan ($858) — a 1,200 yuan ($178) discount.

Other third-party sellers on the site had the devices for even cheaper, offering flash sales to try to unload iPhones.[..] Apple’s issues in China are down to two major factors, experts and local consumers say: It got its pricing wrong, and it has failed to introduce features to excite consumers in a forward-thinking technology market. Now, analysts said, competitors have taken market share in the premium smartphone space. In a public letter released on Jan. 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook blamed the slowing Chinese economy and rising trade tensions with the U.S. as one of the key reasons for lowering first quarter sales guidance. Experts, however, told CNBC that much of the iPhone’s China problem comes down to the company setting the wrong prices.

[..] “The trade war is background noise and more of a scapegoat excuse with the real issues being iPhone XR demand and a mispriced product in a competitive Chinese market,” Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, told CNBC by email. “It’s time for Cook and Apple to look in the mirror, take their medicine around pricing and execution and move forward with the biggest installed base in the world to turn this ship around from this dark chapter in Cupertino,” he added.

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Of course, when your new phones don’t sell, you launch more new phones. Now with 3 cameras. Where’s Steve Jobs?

Apple Plans To Launch Three New iPhones This Year (CNBC)

Apple plans to unveil three new iPhone models this year, including a successor to the XR, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The tech giant’s new phones will include new camera features, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. The higher-end model will be fitted with a triple rear camera, while the lower-end models will have a double rear camera, the report said. One will feature a liquid-crystal display, the display that Apple’s lower-end iPhone XR model comes with. The XR has reportedly struggled to win over Chinese consumers. Apple recently lowered its revenue guidance for the first quarter, alarming investors, and cited lower-than-expected iPhone revenue “primarily in Greater China” as one of the main reasons behind its warning.

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Yeah, they’re not selling enough cars, i.e. they don’t create enough pollution: “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty..”

Unclear How Deep, Lasting Germany’s Economic Problems Are: ECB’s Nowotny (R.)

It is unclear if Germany’s recent economic setbacks are a one-off or a more lasting phenomenon caused by structural problems, particularly in its car industry, European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny said in remarks published on Saturday. Struggling to adjust to new emission testing standards, Germany’s car manufacturing contracted in the third quarter, dragging overall economic growth into negative territory and raising fears that Europe’s five-year-old growth run may be coming to a premature end. The Bundesbank said in a monthly economic report last month that Germany’s dominant car industry may take longer than previously thought to recover from a slump, weighing on growth in the euro zone’s biggest economy.

“The most important economic question for Europe is whether these are one-off slowdowns or whether structural factors are behind them,” ECB’s Governing Council member Nowotny said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard, discussing the prospect of a second quarter of negative growth in Germany. “The fear is that particularly in the auto industry we have lasting changes that affect Germany especially,” said Nowotny, who is also governor of the Austrian National Bank. The Bundesbank said in its report last month that while a quick rebound in the auto sector had been forecast, fresh data was disappointing those hopes.

It added that the slump was exacerbated by an overall deterioration in sentiment as well as uncertainty over the future of diesel cars as cities contemplate bans to reduce pollution. “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty,” Nowotny said. “If people defer the purchase of a car by just half a year, that causes a vast fall in demand. There would be lasting and dramatic consequences if there were real structural collapses in the export- and machinery-oriented economy. Germany could become vulnerable,” he said.

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Macron et al are clueless. They keep trying to separate the protesters from the ‘real French’, but they’re the same people.

France Vows Tough Response As New ‘Yellow Vest’ Demos Loom (AFP)

France braced for a fresh round of “yellow vest” protests across the country on Saturday, with the authorities vowing zero tolerance for violence after weekly scenes of rioting and vandalism in Paris and other cities over the past two months. [..] “Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many yellow vests. “Those who think that, a few thousand people, can make us question our institutions, are wrong,” Castaner added later Friday.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who has presented her party as the longstanding expression of many yellow vest demands, condemned the government’s reaction as “disturbing”. “To accuse all protesters of ‘complicity’ with the thugs: here is a new verbal provocation and legal ineptitude waiting to undermine our rule of law,” she wrote on Twitter. [..] Macron has called for a national debate on voters’ grievances, beginning next week, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger. But the process risks being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the respected Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”. And it’s uncertain if the public consultations will be enough, with many protesters calling for Macron’s resignation or an immediate referendum on his presidency. “I had some hope with this ‘great debate’, but it’s not looking good because they don’t want to talk about taxes, and they’re the ones who are deciding the subjects,” said Patrick Lerest, a 62-year-old protester in Nemours, southeast of Paris. “I want us to have a real debate,” he said.

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Damning no matter the outcome of the suit. Do no evil. Where is #MeToo?

Google Sued For Covering Up $90m Payout To Ex-Exec Accused Of Sexcrimes (AFP)

Google’s board of directors is being sued for approving a $90m (£70m) payout to a former executive and covering up allegations including that he forced a female employee to perform oral sex. The lawsuit, brought by shareholder James Martin, claims directors made the payment to stop details of the allegations becoming public. It also cites examples of alleged sexual misconduct by other former employees which Google directors kept private. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin allowed Mr Rubin to “quietly resign” even after an internal investigation had found the allegations against him credible, the complaint filed in California alleges.

“The directors’ wrongful conduct allowed the illegal conduct to proliferate and continue,” the complaint states. “As such, members of Alphabet’s board were knowing and direct enablers of the sexual harassment and discrimination.” The lawsuit also cites allegations that while Mr Rubin was at Google he engaged in “human sex trafficking – paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women to be, in Rubin’s own words, ‘owned’ by him”. Mr Page, Mr Brin and other top executives failed in their duty by allowing harassment to occur at their company, approving excessive severance payments and keeping details of the allegations private, the lawsuit alleges. David Drummond, the chief legal officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet, and investor Ram Shriram are named among others in the court filings.

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Why there’s Brexit.

My Walk To Work Shows Me How Homelessness Is Transforming Britain (G.)

Before Christmas, the housing secretary James Brokenshire insisted that the fact the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 has nothing to do with Tory policies. Rather, he said, it was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and the number of foreigners. Brokenshire has since rowed back from this palpably ludicrous claim, admitting that Tories “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”. Anyone who has seen this for themselves – which is to say, everyone who lives in a British city – could have told him that, because what has really changed is not just the number of homeless people, but who these homeless people are.

At Shelter from the Storm, my local shelter, the co-founder Sheila Scott told me last week that, when she started a decade ago, the people who stayed were “town-square drinkers” and foreign itinerants. Now, half the inhabitants have regular jobs and three-quarters are British. Some leave every night at 2am to work at Amazon factories; some are Uber drivers who took out too many loans to buy their car to do their job. Most have been driven out of their properties by private landlords – and you have only to look at Caledonian Road to see the damage such landlords can do. Many of the shopkeepers have been driven out by what one described to me as “deliberately high rents”, their stores turned into expensive flats.

One private landlord, Andrew Panayi, owns 200 properties in the area, and even though he has been fined for renting substandard properties (one tenant called them “worse than prison cells”), he still keeps a tight grip on the street. These landlords exploit the real problem, which is a lack of social housing and the decimation of social services. Scott says councils now send people directly to her, as they have nowhere else to put them. But they will soon have to send them to a new address: Shelter from the Storm is moving, because a property developer has bought the lot they currently stand on; like so many of the people the charity helps, it is being pushed out of the area.

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Jan 102019
 


René Magritte The menaced assassin 1927

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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First the rates, now a full 180º?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany Probably Just Went Into A Recession (BI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After next Tuesday the gloves really come off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Becoming a weird story, fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photograph Courtesy Aaron K. Yoshino, Honolulu Magazine

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

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


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

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Jan 092019
 
 January 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Where Euclid walked 1955

 

Trump Calls Illegal Immigration A ‘Crisis,’ Doesn’t Declare Emergency (AP)
House Democrats To Test Republicans On Trump’s Wall Demand (R.)
Cross-Party Alliance Of MPs Tells May: We Will Stop No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May May Have To Draw Up New Brexit Plan Three Days After Commons Defeat (G.)
Brexit Moment in 80 Days, No One Knows What’ll Happen (DQ)
China’s Stability Is at Risk (Christopher Whalen)
China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption (R.)
Apple Cuts Q1 Production Plan For New iPhones By 10% (R.)
Tim Cook Says Apple’s ‘Ecosystem Has Never Been Stronger’ (MW)
Germany Heads for a Technical Recession (WS)
France Moves To Ban All Protests, Major Crackdown On Yellow Vests (ZH)

 

 

Trump should be careful about doing underwhelming speeches. But America’s political problems are clear, and will not be solved anytime soon. That is, too many old people in charge. Limit number and length of terms in Washington. Get rid of Schumer and Pelosi.

PS: CNN reports Rod Rosenstein is stepping down.

Trump Calls Illegal Immigration A ‘Crisis,’ Doesn’t Declare Emergency (AP)

In a somber televised plea, President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night, blaming illegal immigration for the scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and framing the debate over the partial government shutdown in stark terms. “This is a choice between right and wrong,” he declared. Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain. Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for spending some $5.7 billion for a border wall on both security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid the extended shutdown.

Trump, who will visit the Mexican border in person on Thursday, invited the Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him on Wednesday, saying it was “immoral” for “politicians to do nothing.” Previous meetings have led to no agreement as Trump insists on the wall that was his signature promise in the 2016 presidential campaign. Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers. Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said. Schumer said Trump “just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”

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Better negotiate. Digging in doesn’t help.

House Democrats To Test Republicans On Trump’s Wall Demand (R.)

As a partial U.S. government shutdown neared the three-week mark, Democrats on Wednesday were set to test Republicans’ resolve in backing President Donald Trump’s drive to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which has sparked an impasse over agency funding. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats who took control of the chamber last week plan to advance a bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been in partial shutdown mode since Dec. 22. Democrats are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.

In a countermove, the Trump administration said on Tuesday that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund checks get sent. But it was the Republican president’s insistence on a massive barrier on the border that dominated the Washington debate and sparked a political blame game. In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” referring to murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

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79 days to go. The real mess starts now.

Cross-Party Alliance Of MPs Tells May: We Will Stop No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Theresa May faces a concerted campaign of parliamentary warfare from a powerful cross-party alliance of MPs determined to use every lever at their disposal to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal in March. The former staunch loyalist Sir Oliver Letwin signalled that he and other senior Conservatives would defy party whips, repeatedly if necessary, to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as the government suffered a humiliating defeat during a debate on the finance bill in the Commons. Letwin and 16 other former government ministers were among 20 Conservatives who banded together with the home affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, and the Labour leadership to pass an anti no-deal amendment.

They defeated the government by 303 votes to 296 – a majority of seven – making May the first prime minister in 41 years to lose a vote on a government finance bill. The move came after the PM conceded to senior ministers she was on course to lose next week’s historic Brexit vote, as the first cabinet meeting of the new year exposed deep divisions about the best way out of the deadlock. May told her cabinet she would respond swiftly with a statement to the House of Commons if she failed to win MPs’ backing for her deal next Tuesday. But cabinet sources said it was unclear what course she planned to take – and the general mood was of how “boxed in” the government was.

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If/when she loses next Tuesday.

May May Have To Draw Up New Brexit Plan Three Days After Commons Defeat (G.)

MPs will attempt to force the government to return with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal within three days of her plan being defeated in parliament. Another five-day debate leading up to a vote on May’s deal on 15 January will start on Wednesday, opened by the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay. Before that, MPs must approve a business motion to allow the debate and vote to go ahead, which a cross-party group of MPs, led by the Conservative Dominic Grieve, hope to amend if the Speaker allows it. The amendment says that following defeat of the government’s plan, which is widely anticipated, “a minister of the crown shall table within three sitting days a motion … considering the process of exiting the European Union under article 50”.

Other MPs who have signed the amendment include the former Tory cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin and ex-Tory ministers Jo Johnson, Guto Bebb and Sam Gyimah. It has also been backed by Labour MPs including Stephen Doughty and Chris Leslie. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the health select committee, who also signed the amendment, said the aim was to prevent the government “running down the clock” towards no deal. Previously, the Commons had mandated the government to make a statement within 21 days.

“If and when the PM’s plan is voted down on Tuesday, MPs can’t be made to wait potentially until 12 Feb for the next vote. The situation is too urgent now,” Leslie said. A previous amendment by Grieve that the Commons voted through before Christmas means that any statement the government brings forward after a defeat is in itself amendable – allowing MPs to put forward their own alternatives for the future of the Brexit process.

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$1 trillion to leave London, but that still leaves $7-8 trillion.

Brexit Moment in 80 Days, No One Knows What’ll Happen (DQ)

With just 80 days remaining until Brexit Day, March 29, nerves are fraying on both sides of the English Channel. Nowhere is this more true than in the City of London where the Square Mile’s dominance of the global financial industry faces its biggest threat in decades. In the City’s worst-case scenario — a crash-out Brexit on March 29 — London-based firms that have not prepped properly for this outcome could be cut off from the continent altogether. Since moving key operations and staff across the channel is a costly, complex, timely undertaking, many companies have preferred to play a waiting game. But the clock continues to tick down, and as the risk of a disorderly exit grows, inaction is becoming a risky strategy.

Since the EU Referendum in June 2016, only 36% of the financial services companies in London have said they are considering or have confirmed relocating operations and/or staff to Europe, according to the latest edition of Ernst&Young’s Brexit Tracker (which monitors 222 financial services firms in the UK). This rises to 56% (27 out of 48) among universal banks, investment banks, and brokerages. A total of 20 companies have already announced a transfer of assets out of London to Europe. “Not all firms have publicly declared the value of the assets being transferred, but the Brexit Tracker has followed public announcements worth around £800 billion ($1 trillion),” the report says.

This figure echoes findings by a study published in November by German trade group Frankfurt Main Finance (FMF), which estimated that London is poised to lose €800 billion ($900 billion) in balance-sheet assets by March 29. According to German Bank Helaba, Frankfurt alone has attracted 25 lenders looking to move part of their operations out of the City of London, including Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS, Nomura and Standard Chartered Bank.

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“Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation.”

“The CCP is happy to tolerate or even encourage wealth creation, but only so long as it does not become a problem.”

China’s Stability Is at Risk (Christopher Whalen)

The western view of China’s political economy is driven partly by anecdote, partly by accepting Beijing’s propaganda/economic data as fact. Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking. But this apostate view was quickly rejected by legions of captive western economists and investment analysts whose livelihood depends upon “selling China” to credulous foreign audiences.

Facts aside, the perception of China is what matters to global investors, part of a larger pathology of hope-based investment allocation that eschews those rare bits of hard data that disagree with the positive narrative. China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.

Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Headed by Leland Miller, CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.

Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.

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Groundhog Day. China’s been promoting domestic stuff for years, but that only really ever worked in real estate loans. Domextic spending is even falling right now.

China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption (R.)

China plans to introduce policies to boost domestic spending on items such as autos and home appliances this year, state television CCTV quoted a senior state planning official as saying on Tuesday. Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said in an interview with CCTV that the policies will be part of wider efforts to strengthen domestic consumption in China, the world’s second largest economy. The state planner will also introduce policies in house leasing and services, as well as elderly and child care, with plans to also lower investment barriers in other sectors such as culture and sports. He also said that the NDRC planned to move ahead with a second batch of major foreign-invested projects in the first quarter of 2019, which could include new energy ventures, according to an interview transcript published by state news agency Xinhua.

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China mobile phone shipments down 16%.

Apple Cuts Q1 Production Plan For New iPhones By 10% (R.)

Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10 percent for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States. Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.

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Tim, credibility is a big issue in your position. Be careful. Besides, just because you talk to Jim Cramer doesn’t mean you have to sound like him.

Tim Cook Says Apple’s ‘Ecosystem Has Never Been Stronger’ (MW)

Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.

“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.” “We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached. “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.

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On top of Merkel stepping down.

Germany Heads for a Technical Recession (WS)

OK, this is embarrassing in the land of super-stimulus via the ECB’s negative-interest-rate policy and years of QE that were supposed to perform miracles: Production in Germany’s industry, which includes construction, dropped 1.9% in November from the prior month (seasonally adjusted), the German statistical agency Destatis reported this morning. This drop is also embarrassing because economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.3% gain. The agency also downwardly revised October, to a monthly decline of 0.8%. This makes three months in a row of declines. In November, compared to a year earlier (adjusted for inflation and calendar differences, but not for seasonality), the production index dropped an ugly 4.7%:

Production was down in all major segments, including energy and construction which are focused on Germany itself, rather than exports. [..] Industrial production is a big power in the German economy. And the trend is not good. Germany’s GDP already declined in the third quarter:

The declines in production in October and November put Germany a step closer to “negative economic growth,” as it’s called euphemistically, for two quarters in a row. If this occurs, it would be a technical recession. And it’s not going to get a lot better soon: Destatis reported yesterday that new orders in manufacturing – a harbinger for future production – dropped 4.3% in November from a year ago (adjusted for inflation and calendar differences); and it revised down October’s orders to a year-over-year drop of 3.0%.

[..] this economic slowdown is occurring despite, or perhaps because of, the mother of all stimuli engineered by a major central bank – negative interest rates and massive QE – that has benefited a few hedge funds who were able to front run the ECB’s bond buys and make a quick buck, and bond traders for a while, as bond prices were rising due to falling yields. And it has allowed even junk-rated companies to borrow money for a song from beaten down investors, savers, and pension funds. But this stopped a year ago.

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France does everything wrong.

France Moves To Ban All Protests, Major Crackdown On Yellow Vests (ZH)

France is signaling it’s making preparations for a massive new crackdown on the gilets jaunes or “yellow vests” anti-government protests that have gripped the country for seven weeks. A new law under consideration could make any demonstration illegal to begin with if not previously approved by authorities, in an initiative already being compared to the pre-Maiden so-called “dictatorship law” in Ukraine. In the name of reigning in the violence that has recently included torching structures along the prestigious Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris, and smashing through the gates of government ministry buildings, the French government appears set to enact something close to a martial law scenario prohibiting almost any protest and curtailing freedom of speech.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented the new initiative to curtail the violence and unrest while targeting “troublemakers” and banning anonymity through wearing masks on French TV channel TF1 on Monday. He said the law would give police authority crack down on “unauthorized demonstrations” at a moment when police are already arresting citizens for merely wearing a yellow vest, even if they are not directly engaged in protests in some cases. PM Philippe said the government would support a “new law punishing those who do not respect the requirement to declare [protests], those who take part in unauthorized demonstrations and those who arrive at demonstrations wearing face masks”.

Philippe’s tone during the statements was one of the proverbial “the gloves are off” as he described the onus would be on “the troublemakers, and not taxpayers, to pay for the damage caused” to businesses and property.

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Jan 072019
 
 January 7, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Berthe Morisot Julie and her boat 1884

 

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction (Balding)
China Drops Hints Of Trade Pain Ahead (BV)
US and China To Resume Trade Talks With Both Eager For Compromise (G.)
May To Hold Parliamentary Brexit Vote On January 15 (R.)
Theresa May Pleads For EU To Give Ground And Rescue Brexit Deal (G.)
Germany and Ireland Step Up Efforts To Find Brexit Border ‘Fix’ (G.)
Average UK Unsecured Household Debt Hits Record £15,400 (G.)
UK Car Sales Record Biggest Fall Since Financial Crisis (R.)
France’s Macron Reeling As Tough Stance Against ‘Yellow Vests’ Backfires (R.)
The Euro: A Mindless Idea – Ashoka Mody (Spiked)

 

 

$1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year. There are $90 billion of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars. Good luck.

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction (Balding)

China’s foreign debt has been rising rapidly, and that’s becoming an increasingly big problem — for the country and, potentially, the world. Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion. For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year. Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017. External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.

The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor. The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.

Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure. To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars. If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.

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More trickle down fails.

China Drops Hints Of Trade Pain Ahead (BV)

While a cut in the reserve requirement ratio, China’s fifth in a year, was not surprising, the 100-basis point shift that started off 2019 was larger than anticipated. Of course, demand for cash tends to spike around this time of year, due to both the Chinese New Year holiday and tax deadlines, but the economy is cooling uncomfortably fast. Official figures may show growth slowed to 6.3% in the fourth quarter, Standard Chartered reckons. Friday’s announcement adds to other easing measures: People’s Bank of China officials last month announced a new policy tool to encourage lenders to disburse their cash more widely. The “targeted medium-term lending facility” will make cheaper funding available to banks that the PBOC judges to be doing their part by lending more to small companies.

It’s certainly not full-blown monetary stimulus yet; the central bank has not fired its heavier artillery, such as a benchmark rate cut. The market has also been kept waiting for reductions to cost of borrowing from the PBOC’s more important channel, its regular medium-term lending facility. But the overall direction of travel is clear, and both recent moves point to structural issues that worry pessimists: the extra liquidity pumped into the system does not seem to be translating into more loans for smaller companies, which may signal deeper problems with capital allocation, not to mention the private sector’s nervousness about politics in 2019.

All of this is bad news for Beijing’s trade negotiators, when they hold talks with U.S. counterparts face-to-face this week. As the pain mounts, they may be pushed to yield more in order to gain relief. They could, for example, agree to formally drop the controversial “Made in China 2025” plan, or to announce concrete measures to beef up enforcement of intellectual property rights. Trump said on Sunday that weakness in China’s economy will push officials to negotiate. He may be right.

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Tariffs rose Jan 1. It’s getting urgent.

US and China To Resume Trade Talks With Both Eager For Compromise (G.)

US officials arrived in China for the first face-to-face negotiations since a 90-day truce was declared in a trade war between Washington and Beijing, in the hope of ending a bruising confrontation between the world’s two largest economies. Hopes that the sixth round of negotiations between the two sides could yield a breakthrough helped Asian shares rise on Monday, combined with optimism about the state of the global economy on the back of strong US jobs figures on Friday. In Tokyo, the Nikkei soared more than 3% and there were also strong positive moves in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney. US and Chinese trade representatives were set to hold talks on Monday and Tuesday.

After failing to reach an agreement in December when Donald Trump and Xi Jinping met, both sides agreed to suspend tariff increases while holding discussions on technology transfers, as well as intellectual property theft and cybersecurity. If no agreement is reached, US tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods will increase in March to 25% from the current 10%. Trump said on Sunday that China was under pressure to do a deal amid signs of a slowdown in its economy. “I think China wants to get it resolved. Their economy’s not doing well. I think that gives them a great incentive to negotiate,” he said. “China’s slowdown is occurring across the board, affecting almost every industry and region,” said Scott Kennedy, a trade expert focused on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Resolving the trade war or at least finding some common ground with Washington will be needed to fully restore confidence,” he said.

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Whatever the outcome, chaos guaranteed. You can jot down next Tuesday night in your agenda for that.

May To Hold Parliamentary Brexit Vote On January 15 (R.)

Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a delayed parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday, January 15, the BBC reported on Monday, citing government sources. May was forced to pull the vote on her deal in December after she said it would be defeated by a large majority. The government had previously said the vote would be held in the week of January 14. May said on Sunday that Britain would be in uncharted territory if her Brexit deal is rejected by parliament, despite little sign that she has won over sceptical lawmakers.

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In case you were still wondering who will be blamed.

Theresa May Pleads For EU To Give Ground And Rescue Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May is preparing to make another desperate plea to EU leaders to offer a concession on the Irish backstop as she attempts to win over Brexiters who have vowed to vote down the government’s deal. The prime minister on Sunday promised to hold the meaningful vote in parliament in the week beginning 14 January despite growing opposition from Conservative backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist party, whose votes are required to push the deal through parliament. As MPs prepare to return to Westminster with the crucial Commons vote looming on the withdrawal agreement, Downing Street insisted that new compromises could still be won from Europe that would ensure the safe passage of May’s plan.

The hope of new developments came as opposition to the prime minister’s deal hardened. The hurdles facing May include: • Brexiters say the government faces a disaster if it fails to ditch the current deal, with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds describing the Irish backstop as “toxic”. • EU sources say talks to be held in Dublin on Tuesday between Leo Varadkar and Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, will not seek to reopen negotiations over the 585-page withdrawal agreement. • Senior MPs including Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan are launching a parliamentary campaign to rewrite government legislation to block a no-deal Brexit. • Chris Patten, the former Conservative Party chairman, called for a second referendum on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. • More than 200 MPs have signed a letter calling for Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Tory ex-minister Dame Caroline Spelman, who organised the letter with Labour’s Jack Dromey, said the group had been invited to see the prime minister on Tuesday.

In an interview on Sunday, May said the vote, which was due to be held last month and postponed, would go ahead next week, as she sought further clarification from the EU to address MPs’ concerns. She also said she would look at giving parliament a greater say in how the UK’s future relationship would be negotiated, but refused to say exactly what that might be. Asked if there had been any changes she could offer to backbenchers who were expected to vote down her deal, she told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “What we will be setting out over the next few days are assurances in three areas: first are measures specific to Northern Ireland; the second is a greater role for parliament as we take these negotiations forward into the next stage for our future relationship; and third – and we are still working on this – is further assurances from the European Union to address the issues that have been raised.”

Whitehall sources insisted that a compromise could still be found with the EU and that further planned announcements will be made this week that would win over MPs opposed to the deal. “We will be working flat out. There will be further contacts with the EU leaders. The issue of the backstop is not yet over,” the source said.

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“The EU cannot now give another concession ahead of the vote because if the deal isn’t ratified, it means any new concessions will simply be banked again to no benefit at all. It would be pointless.”

Germany and Ireland Step Up Efforts To Find Brexit Border ‘Fix’ (G.)

Germany’s foreign affairs minister is to fly to Dublin on Tuesday for Brexit talks as relations with Ireland intensify in an attempt to find a “fix” that will help Theresa May get the EU withdrawal agreement ratified. Heiko Maas will address an annual gathering of Ireland’s global diplomatic corps and take part in an unofficial fourth round of talks between Ireland and German leaders since Thursday. He will make the address in English, with a large German media contingent accredited, a reflection of how significant his speech is deemed back in Berlin. Last week the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had a lengthy telephone call with Angela Merkel. He then flew to Munich to address a meeting of her coalition partners, the CSU, and on Friday met the Germany chancellor’s successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, for discussions on Brexit and the future of Europe.

The emerging Irish-German nexus on the Irish border backstop “fix” is being seen as significant in Irish political circles, where people also point to the fact that Varadkar speaks German and has a good working relationship with Merkel. They point out it was Merkel, not the taoiseach, who requested the phone call with Varadkar last Thursday. The talks lasted 40 minutes and were, according to Varadkar, “an opportunity to kind of brainstorm a bit as to what we could do to assist prime minister Theresa May in securing ratification of the withdrawal agreement”. But informed EU sources say Brexiters should not raise their hopes of a reopening of negotiations. The “fix” will be further details in the political declaration on the future relationship and not the 585-page withdrawal agreement. “That is locked,” said one EU source.

There is deep frustration that the British cannot see how far the EU went to break the impasse on the Irish border talks, yielding to May’s demands for a UK-wide customs arrangement. One EU source said: “The EU was totally opposed to this in 2017 and again in March and June in 2018. It then emerged out of the tunnel in the autumn as the solution, but the Brexiters did not see it for what it was – a major concession. [..] “They are now looking for more concessions, but they just can’t be given. The Brits banked this major concession and just did nothing with it. People can’t understand why it wasn’t sold as a victory for May. “The EU cannot now give another concession ahead of the vote because if the deal isn’t ratified, it means any new concessions will simply be banked again to no benefit at all. It would be pointless.”

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That’s about $20,000. Not including mortgages and student loans.

Average UK Unsecured Household Debt Hits Record £15,400 (G.)

Britain’s household debt mountain has reached a new peak, with UK homes now owing an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders, according to the TUC. The trade union body said household debt rose sharply in 2018 as years of austerity and wage stagnation forced households to increase their borrowing. The TUC said in its annual report on the nation’s finances that the amounts owed by British households rose to a combined £428bn in the third quarter of 2018. Each household owed £886 more than it did 12 months previously, it said. The figures do not include outstanding mortgage debts but do include student loans.

The level of unsecured debt as a share of household income is now 30.4%, the highest level it has ever been at. It is well above the £286bn peak in 2008 before the financial crisis, the TUC said. That figure also included student loans, but tuition fees then were £3,000 a year compared with up to £9,250 now. [..] The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Household debt is at crisis level. Years of austerity and wage stagnation has pushed millions of families deep into the red. The government is skating on thin ice by relying on household debt to drive growth. A strong economy needs people spending wages, not credit cards and loans.”

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They’re going to stay home?!

UK Car Sales Record Biggest Fall Since Financial Crisis (R.)

British new car sales in 2018 fell at their fastest rate since the global financial crisis a decade ago, hit by a slump in demand for diesel, stricter emissions rules and waning consumer confidence due to Brexit, according to an industry body. Demand dropped by nearly 7% last year to 2.37 million vehicles, the largest fall since registrations nosedived 11.3% in 2008, preliminary data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed. A nearly 30% drop in demand for diesel was the most significant factor in the decline. Diesel has been pummelled since the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal of 2015, prompting a crackdown and higher levies.

But the industry also warned that Britain’s departure from the European Union due at the end of March risks the future of a sector which employs over 850,000 people and has been one of Britain’s few manufacturing success stories since the 1980s. “It’s still hard to see any upside to Brexit,” said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes. “Everyone recognises that Brexit is an existential threat to the UK automotive industry and we hope a practical solution will prevail,” he said, calling for lawmakers to back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal to guarantee a transition period. [..] After record highs in 2015 and 2016, demand fell in 2017 and some analysts see car demand as a leading indicator which could be a harbinger for future economic performance. Britain’s economy slowed to a crawl at the end of 2018, the housing market is stalling and lending to consumers growing at its slowest pace in nearly four years, according to data released on Friday.

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Macron is not just a fool himself, he’s surrounded by them as well. His spokesman after fleeing his office out of a back door as protesters invaded the courtyard and smashed up several cars said: “It wasn’t me who was attacked.” “It was the Republic.”.

Because the government is the Republic. The population is not.

France’s Macron Reeling As Tough Stance Against ‘Yellow Vests’ Backfires (R.)

Emmanuel Macron intended to start the new year on the offensive against the ‘yellow vest’ protesters. Instead, the French president is reeling from more violent street demonstrations. What began as a grassroots rebellion against diesel taxes and the high cost of living has morphed into something more perilous for Macron – an assault on his presidency and French institutions. The anti-government protesters on Saturday used a forklift truck to force their way into a government ministry compound, torched cars near the Champs Elysees and in one violent skirmish on a bridge over the Seine punched and kicked riot police officers to the ground.

The French authorities’ struggle to maintain order during the weekend protests raises questions not just over policing tactics but also over how Macron responds, as he prepares to bring in stricter rules for unemployment benefits and cut thousands of public sector jobs. On Sunday evening, Macron wrote on Twitter: “Once again, the Republic was attacked with extreme violence – its guardians, its representatives, its symbols.” His administration had hardened its stance against the yellow vests after the protest movement appeared to have lost momentum over the Christmas holidays.

The government would not relent in its pursuit of reforms to reshape the economy, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Friday, branding the remaining protesters agitators seeking to overthrow the government. Twenty-four hours later, he was fleeing his office out of a back door as protesters invaded the courtyard and smashed up several cars. “It wasn’t me who was attacked,” he later said. “It was the Republic.”

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“There is a Euro, which is a single currency in an incomplete monetary union, with a set of fiscal rules that are evidently economically illiterate..”

The Euro: A Mindless Idea – Ashoka Mody (Spiked)

[..] most serious of all is the notion of common economic development as a basis for Europe. It was briefly true after the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which opened up the borders, but the momentum ran out within two decades. You open borders, but once they’re open, there’s not a lot more you can do. Even the gains from the so-called Single Market are very limited beyond a certain point. Every economist understands that. On the Euro, there was never any question that it was a bad idea. Nicholas Kaldor, an economist at Cambridge University, wrote in March 1971 that a single currency was a terrible idea, both as economics and as politics. And Kaldor has been proven right time and again.

But the entire European establishment just ignores every subsequent warning from well-regarded economists, and produces defensive counternarratives. For example, I often hear that Europe needs fixed exchange rates in order to have a Single Market. Why? Germany is trading a lot with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are in the Single Market, but have different currencies. These fluctuate, but the trade continues apace. You don’t need a single currency for a Single Market.

spiked: When did your critique of the European project emerge? Was it during your involvement in the Irish bailout? Mody: When I finished at the IMF I planned to write a book on the Euro crisis. And I began writing it as an IMF economist would – what happened before the crash, the bubble, the bubble bursting, the panic, the fact it wasn’t well managed, and so on. But I soon realised that something wasn’t right here. And so I spent two years tracing the history of the Euro, and asking the question: what brought the Euro into existence in its current form? You see, it is not just that there is a Euro. There is a Euro, which is a single currency in an incomplete monetary union, with a set of fiscal rules that are evidently economically illiterate – and nobody questions the fact that they are economically illiterate, that they lack a necessary fiscal backstop and the necessary fiscal union. So why does it exist?

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Jan 062019
 
 January 6, 2019  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Osny, rue de Pontoise, Winter 1883

 

You Won’t Hear The Ugly Truth From The Fed (Henrich)
Yellow Vests Torch Cars In Chaos Of France’s 8th Weekend Of Clashes (Exp.)
If Corbyn Backs Brexit, He Faces Electoral Catastrophe (O.)
Brexit Deal Critics Risking Democracy – May (BBC)
EU Dashes May’s Hopes Of Landing Better Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Hackers Release 9/11 Papers, Say Future Leaks To Burn Down US Deep State (RT)
Documents Link UK Govt-Funded Integrity Initiative To Anti-Russia Narrative (RT)
Fears Grow In Africa That The Flood Of Funds From China Will Start To Ebb (O.)
It’s Nancy Pelosi’s Smile That Gets Me (Jim Kunstler)
Ex–NY Times Editor Jill Abramson Says Fox Took Her Words Out Of Context (AP)

 

 

Because the Fed IS the ugly truth.

It is sad that so many people still look at the Fed to save the “markets”. Sad and blind. Like nobody has any interest in having functioning markets and societies, and it’s all only about a quick buck.

You Won’t Hear The Ugly Truth From The Fed (Henrich)

In March 2009 markets bottomed on the expansion of QE1 (quantitative easing, part one), which was introduced following the initial announcement in November 2008. Every major correction since then has been met with major central-bank interventions: QE2, Twist, QE3 and so on. When market tumbled in 2015 and 2016, global central banks embarked on the largest combined intervention effort in history. The sum: More than $5 trillion between 2016 and 2017, giving us a grand total of over $15 trillion, courtesy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan:

When did global central-bank balance sheets peak? Early 2018. When did global markets peak? January 2018. And don’t think the Fed was not still active in the jawboning business despite QE3 ending. After all, their official language remained “accommodative” and their interest-rate increase schedule was the slowest in history, cautious and tinkering so as not to upset the markets. With tax cuts coming into the U.S. economy in early 2018, along with record buybacks, the markets at first ignored the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening), but then it all changed. And guess what changed? Two things. In September 2018, for the first time in 10 years, the U.S. central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) removed one little word from its policy stance: “accommodative.” And the Fed increased its QT program. When did U.S. markets peak? September 2018.

[..] Global central banks did the dirty work for the Fed between 2016 and 2017, adding ever more artificial liquidity. But then the ECB slowed its QE program and finally ended it in late 2018. How did the DAX (German stock index) handle all that removal in artificial liquidity? Not well.

[..] don’t mistake this rally for anything but for what it really is: Central banks again coming to the rescue of stressed markets. Their action and words matter in heavily oversold markets. But the reality remains, artificial liquidity is coming out of these markets. [..] What’s the larger message here? Free-market price discovery would require a full accounting of market bubbles and the realities of structural problems, which remain unresolved. Central banks exist to prevent the consequences of excess to come to fruition and give license to politicians to avoid addressing structural problems.

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Macron still does everything wrong. Now he chides the protesters for not accepting a debate on his terms.

Yellow Vests Torch Cars In Chaos Of France’s 8th Weekend Of Clashes (Exp.)

The yellow vest protesters who have entered their eighth week of street rallies are trying to topple President Macron and his administration, according to a French government spokesman. The movement made up largely of working and lower middle-class citizens has won widespread public approval as it is seen by many as a means of making the voices of ordinary men and women heard. But after months of unrest in Paris and other French cities, Benjamin Griveaux said the gilets jaunes are not interested in the three-month debate on the reforms promised by Mr Macron, but instead want to overthrow the young president. Speaking at a press conference on Friday after the weekly cabinet meeting, Mr Griveaux said members of the movement “seek insurrection and basically want to overthrow the government”.

He added: “They are henceforth involved in a political struggle to contest the legitimacy of the government and of the president of the republic. “Those who called for a debate don’t want to participate in a big national debate.” Mr Macron said he intends to write a letter to the French people this month outlining how he will deliver his ambitious plans. [..] ‘Angry France’, one of the group which makes up the yellow vests, rejected the president’s offer of a national debate. A statement issued by the group read: “Mr President, this movement that you don’t recognise is nevertheless spreading and strengthening itself even as your fellow citizens are cudgelled, gassed and detained for hours in an unbelievable lack of respect for citizens’ rights.”

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Corbyn has already built a disaster.

Westminster voting intention:

CON: 40% (-1)
LAB: 34% (-5)
LDEM: 10% (+3)
GRN: 4% (-)
UKIP: 4% (+1)

via @YouGov, 21 Dec – 04 Jan
Chgs. w/ 17 Dec

If Corbyn Backs Brexit, He Faces Electoral Catastrophe (O.)

I have seldom seen a poll on a subject dividing the nation for which the lessons are so clear. The biggest survey yet conducted on Brexit shows that Remain would comfortably win a referendum held today – and that Labour would crash to a landslide election defeat if it helped Brexit go ahead. YouGov questioned more than 25,000 people between 21 December and last Friday. It tested two referendum scenarios. If the choice is Remain versus the government’s withdrawal agreement, Remain leads by 26 points: 63% to 37%. If the choice is Remain versus leaving the EU without a deal, Remain wins by 16 points: 58% to 42%. The difference is explained by the views of those who voted Leave in 2016.

Many of them want a clean break with Brussels, but back away from an agreement that fails to redeem the promise in 2016 to “take back control”. Among all voters, only 22% support the government’s deal. Among Leave voters the figure is not much higher: 28%. The larger point is that the nature of the choice has changed since 2016 – 52% voted Leave when it was a general aspiration with little apparent downside. Today support for Brexit is significantly lower when Leave is more clearly defined. This pattern is familiar to referendums in different countries: many people support the broad idea of change, but back away when the details are laid out. They want “change”, but not “this change”. That is clearly the case today: 80% of people who voted Leave two years ago still say they want Brexit to go ahead; but the figure falls to 69% if the choice is a “no deal” Brexit, and only 55% if the referendum offers the withdrawal agreement.

The rest say they don’t know, or switch to Remain. (The respective loyalty rates on the other side – Remain voters in 2016 who would stick with Remain today – are significantly higher.) [..] The conventional voting intention question produces a six-point Conservative lead (40% to 34%). This is bad enough for an opposition that ought to be reaping electoral dividends at a time when the government is in crisis. However, when voters are asked how they would vote if Labour failed to resist Brexit, the Conservatives open up a 17-point lead (43% to 26%). That would be an even worse result than in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory in 1983, when Labour slumped to 209 seats, its worst result since the 1930s.

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“..fewer than one in four voters..” support May’s deal. But opposing it risks democracy. You tell me.

Brexit Deal Critics Risking Democracy – May (BBC)

The prime minister has urged MPs to back her Brexit deal, saying it is the only way to honour the referendum result and protect the economy. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Theresa May said her critics – both Remainers and Brexiteers – risk damaging democracy if they oppose her plan. But a poll carried out for the People’s Vote campaign suggests fewer than one in four voters support her Brexit deal. MPs are due to vote on whether to back Mrs May’s Brexit plan next week. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 – regardless of whether there is a deal with the EU or not. A deal on the terms of the UK’s divorce and the framework of future relations has been agreed between the prime minister and the EU – but it needs to pass a vote by MPs in Parliament before it is accepted.

The House of Commons vote had been scheduled to take place in December but Mrs May called it off after it became clear that not enough MPs would vote for her deal. The debate on the deal will restart on Wednesday, with the crucial vote now expected to take place on 15 January. Writing in the Mail, Mrs May said: “The only way to both honour the result of the referendum and protect jobs and security is by backing the deal that is on the table.” She said “no one else has an alternative plan” that delivers on the EU referendum result, protects jobs and provides certainty to businesses.

“There are some in Parliament who, despite voting in favour of holding the referendum, voting in favour of triggering Article 50 and standing on manifestos committed to delivering Brexit, now want to stop us leaving by holding another referendum,” she said. “Others across the House of Commons are so focused on their particular vision of Brexit that they risk making a perfect ideal the enemy of a good deal. “Both groups are motivated by what they think is best for the country, but both must realise the risks they are running with our democracy and the livelihoods of our constituents.”

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May is now holding the entire country hostage.

She’s going to have to have that vote soon. But today’s Telegraph reports she wants to delay it again. Because she knows she will lose.

EU Dashes May’s Hopes Of Landing Better Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s hopes of securing the legally binding changes needed to win support for her Brexit deal are fading, after EU sources said it was unlikely there would be a new European summit to approve them. An emergency council like the one held in November would be needed to sanction any changes that would have legal force. But diplomats have told The Independent that any concessions offered would be unlikely to require a meeting. It means any alterations or new language secured by the prime minister will probably not satisfy enough rebel Tories or her DUP partners in government to win the Commons vote expected in the coming weeks. Only this week the DUP warned the prime minister that unless Brussels gave significant ground on the hated Irish backstop it would not support her plans.

MPs return to Westminster next week and begin several days of debate on Ms May’s deal before it is put to a vote that most people expect the prime minister to lose. Downing Street has been trying to play down expectations that Ms May will secure a major change before the vote due on 15 or 16 January, but there had been talk that European officials are holding back one concession that they could make to the UK later in the year. But even for those changes to have legal force, a new summit would need to be called as currently there is only one scheduled for the end of March – far too late to do anything meaningful before the UK drops out of the EU on 29 March. European insiders told The Independent that the idea of a summit had been considered, but this was now looking less likely.

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They want a lot more money.

Hackers Release 9/11 Papers, Say Future Leaks To Burn Down US Deep State (RT)

The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for 650 documents it says are related to 9/11. Unless a ransom is paid, it threatened with more leaks that will have devastating consequences for the US ‘deep state’. The document dump is just a fraction of the 18,000 secret documents related to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks believed to have been stolen from insurers, law firms, and government agencies. The Dark Overlord initially threatened to release the 10GB of data unless the hacked firms paid an unspecified bitcoin ransom. However, on Wednesday, the group announced a “tiered compensation plan” in which the public could make bitcoin payments to unlock the troves of documents.

A day later, the Dark Overlord said that it had received more than $12,000 in bitcoin – enough to unlock “layer 1” and several “checkpoints,” comprised of 650 documents in total. There are four more layers that remain encrypted and, according to the group, “each layer contains more secrets, more damaging materials… and generally just more truth.” The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.” [..] By design, the “layer 1” documents – if authentic – do not appear to contain any explosive revelations. The publications focus mostly on testimonies from airport security and details concerning insurance pay-outs to parties affected by the 9/11 attacks. However, the data dump suggests that the group is not bluffing.

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British smear is second to none.

Documents Link UK Govt-Funded Integrity Initiative To Anti-Russia Narrative (RT)

The Integrity Initiative, a UK-funded group exposed in leaked files as psyop network, played a key role in monitoring and molding media narratives after the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal, newly-dumped documents reveal. Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked in November after hackers released documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting “Russian disinformation.” The secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge – ostensibly as part of its noble crusade against anti-Russian disinformation.

Now, new leaks show that the organization played a central role in shaping media narratives after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were mysteriously poisoned in Salisbury last March. It’s notable that many of the draconian anti-Russia measures that the group advocated as far back as 2015 were swiftly implemented following the Skripal affair – even as London refused to back up its finger-pointing with evidence. Days after the Skripals were poisoned, the Institute solicited its services to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, offering to “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries. After receiving the government’s blessing, the Integrity Initiative (II) launched ‘Operation Iris,’ enlisting “global investigative solutions” firm Harod Associates to analyze social media activity related to Skripal.

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China’s taken the place of the IMF.

Fears Grow In Africa That The Flood Of Funds From China Will Start To Ebb (O.)

Concerns over Chinese growth could spell problems for Africa and other parts of the developing world. Beijing funded an overseas investment boom in the past few decades as it strove to become the world’s second largest economic superpower, while also buying vast amounts of the natural resources produced by emerging nations. The scale of the expansion forms part of China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” Initiative, a state-backed campaign to promote its influence around the world, while providing stimulus for its own slowing economy. The transcontinental development project launched by China’s president, Xi Jinping, in 2013 aims to improve infrastructure links between Asia, Europe and Africa, with the aim for China to reap the benefits from increasing levels of global trade.

Mounting tensions between China and the US, however, have acted as a handbrake on rising levels of world trade. The IMF forecasts Chinese growth will slow to 6.2% this year from about 6.6% in 2018, due to escalations in the trade dispute that erupted last year. There are also rising fears over the rapid growth of debt in China used to fuel its expansion over the past decade. With Chinese investment in some African nations worth more than some of those states’ own domestic spending, analysts fear the prospect of weaker investment in future and fading demand for commodity exports. Figures from the United Nations’ development agency, Unctad, show that weakness in global commodity prices in 2014 and 2015 caused foreign direct investment flows into Africa to fall from $55bn in 2015 to $42bn in 2017, showing how Africa might be hit by a Chinese slowdown.

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“Nancy’s smile is full of malice and bad faith..”

It’s Nancy Pelosi’s Smile That Gets Me (Jim Kunstler)

It’s Nancy Pelosi’s smile that gets me…oh, and not in a good way. It’s a smile that is actually the opposite of what a smile is supposed to do: signal good will and good faith. Nancy’s smile is full of malice and bad faith, like the smiles on representations of Shiva-the-Destroyer and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god who demanded thousands of human hearts to eat, lest he bring on the end of the world. It’s not exactly the end of the world in Washington D.C., but as the old saying goes: you can see it from there! It’s out on the edge of town like one of those sinister, broken-down circuses from the Ray Bradbury story-bag, with its ragtag cast of motheaten lions, crippled acrobats, a crooked wagon full of heartbroken freaks, and a shadowy ringmaster on a mission from the heart of darkness.

The new Democratic majority congress has convened in the spirit of a religious movement devoted to a single apocalyptic objective: toppling the Golden Golem of Greatness who rules in the House of White Privilege. They’re all revved up for inquisition, looking to apply as many thumbscrews, cattle prods, electrodes, waterboards, and bamboo splinters as necessary in pursuit of rectifying the heresy of the 2016 election. The simpleton California congressman Brad Sherman (D-30th dist.) couldn’t contain his glee, like a seven-year-old boy about to pull the wings off a fly. As soon as the Democratic majority was sworn in, he filed his articles of impeachment to impress his Wokester San Fernando Valley constituents out for deplorable blood.

That was even a bit too much for Madam Speaker who reminded Sherman that some scintilla of a predicate crime was required — but surely would be available when Special Counsel Robert Mueller hurls down his tablets of accusation from on high.

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But Kurtz simple quoted directly from her book?! Here’s thinking she got a few angry calls. Genre: if you ever want to work in this town again….

Ex–NY Times Editor Jill Abramson Says Fox Took Her Words Out Of Context (AP)

Jill Abramson, the former editor of the New York Times, said Fox News took her criticism of the newspaper’s Trump coverage in her upcoming book “totally out of context” for a story that appeared this week. The Fox News story, headlined “Former NY Times editor rips Trump coverage as biased,” quotes from Abramson’s book, “Merchants of Truth.” She wrote that although current Times executive editor Dean Baquet publicly said he didn’t want the newspaper to be the opposition party, “his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump.” With an audience perceived to be mostly liberal, “there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative,” she wrote in the book.

In a Saturday tweet, Trump commended Abramson as “100% correct” about the paper’s “[h]orrible and totally dishonest reporting on almost everything they write” and suggested it justified his calling the Times “fake news”. [..] Abramson was executive editor of the New York Times Co. flagship from 2011 to 2014 before being fired following a dispute with Baquet, then one of her deputies. She said in an email interview with the Associated Press that the Fox article’s author, “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz, had ignored compliments that she had for the Times and the Washington Post. “His article is an attempt to Foxify my book,” she wrote in the email, saying her book was “full of praise” for the New York Times and the Washington Post “and their coverage of Trump.”

Kurtz said in a phone interview with the AP that he was “sorry to see Jill back away from her own words” and that his report was accurate. “I would have written this story the same way if I were working for any news organization,” said Kurtz, a former Washington Post media columnist. “Her sometimes harsh criticism of her former paper’s Trump coverage leaps off the page and is clearly the most newsworthy element in the book because of her standing as a former executive editor.” [..] Abramson wrote that the more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased. The late publisher Adolph Ochs’s promise to cover the news without fear or favor “sounded like an impossible promise in such a polarized environment, where the very definition of ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ was under constant assault,” she wrote in the book.

Read more …

Jan 032019
 
 January 3, 2019  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gerard Dou A woman playing a clavichord 1665

 

$55 Billion Wiped Off Apple Value As China Slowdown Takes Toll (G.)
China’s Economy Deteriorating Faster than Expected, Apple Warns (WS)
Apple Sales Look $9 Billion Worse Than Expected, Tim Cook Blames China (RT)
When The Stock Buybacks Go Bye-Bye (Colombo)
Corbyn Defies Calls From Within Labour To Back Second Brexit Referendum (G.)
French ‘Yellow Vest’ Leader Arrested (AFP)
After Trump, Society Will Have A Gigantic Media Hangover (Arkin)
Reporter Quits NBC Citing Network’s Support For Endless War (CJ)
Greek Consumption Is Over 90% Of GDP (Traa)
Towns And Villages Offered Millions To Become UK’s ‘Nuclear Dustbin’ (DM)

 

 

As we use focusing on the dark side of the moon and the farthest reaches of the galaxy to evade reality, and Britain uses a few handfuls of migrants to not be forced to talk about Brexit, China uses Apple and Apple uses China to turn attention away from actual issues.

$55 Billion Wiped Off Apple Value As China Slowdown Takes Toll (G.)

Apple cut its sales forecasts for its key end of year period on Wednesday, citing the unforeseen “magnitude” of the economic slowdown in China. Trading in the company’s shares was temporarily halted as Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, issued a letter to shareholders explaining the reason for the change. When selling started again, Apple shares fell by 7.45%, wiping $55bn (£44bn) off its value. “While we anticipated some challenges in key emerging markets, we did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in greater China,” he said. He cited falling sales of iPhones, Mac computers and iPads. The news sparked a “flash crash” in currency markets as investors rushed to less risky assets, with the Japanese yen soaring against most major currencies in a matter of seconds.

US stock futures pointed to another rough start on Wall Street, with Nasdaq E-mini futures down 2.2% and S&P 500 E-mini futures off 1.3%. MSCI’s broadest gauge of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4% after an early attempt at a bounce. Japanese markets were closed for holidays but Nikkei futures dropped 1.9%. Shares in China and Hong Kong see-sawed between gains and losses as investors waited for Beijing to roll out fresh support measures for the cooling Chinese economy. China’s central bank said late on Wednesday it was adjusting policy to benefit more small firms that are having trouble obtaining finance, in its latest move to ease strains on the private sector, a key job creator. Apple’s statement was its first profit warning since 2002 and its first of the smartphone age. It is also one that will further rattle investors already worried about the slowing Chinese economy.

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Faster than expected? Maybe the numbers were just too good for too long.

China’s Economy Deteriorating Faster than Expected, Apple Warns (WS)

On Wednesday after the market closed, Apple released a letter to shareholders in which it said that revenues are going to be a lot worse in the quarter ended December 29 than its guidance two months ago, that iPhone revenues have dropped year-over-year, that China’s economic problems are deeper than expected, and that iPhone revenues are hurting elsewhere too. This confirms a series of revenue warnings from Apple suppliers. Shares plunged 7.5% after hours to $146. If shares close at this level on Thursday, it would be the lowest close since November 7, 2017. Shares have plunged 38% in three months. Wow, this was quick:

In its “Letter from Tim Cook,” Apple slashed its revenue guidance by 6% to 10% from its prior guidance two months ago, to about $84 billion in the quarter, down from its previous guidance of $89 billion to $93 billion. Just to get this straight, this revenue guidance of $84 billion represents a 5% revenue decline from the quarter a year ago. The price increases of its new models aren’t exactly helping a lot, it seems. Here are some of the key points Apple made in its letter: While we anticipated some challenges in key emerging markets, we did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in Greater China. In fact, most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPad.

China’s economy began to slow in the second half of 2018. The government-reported GDP growth during the September quarter was the second lowest in the last 25 years. We believe the economic environment in China has been further impacted by rising trade tensions with the United States. As the climate of mounting uncertainty weighed on financial markets, the effects appeared to reach consumers as well, with traffic to our retail stores and our channel partners in China declining as the quarter progressed. And market data has shown that the contraction in Greater China’s smartphone market has been particularly sharp. Lower than anticipated iPhone revenue, primarily in Greater China, accounts for all of our revenue shortfall to our guidance…

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Note how this is happening while Huawei is a news issue.

Apple Sales Look $9 Billion Worse Than Expected, Tim Cook Blames China (RT)

Apple shares plummeted after CEO Tim Cook revealed that the iPhone maker expects a drop of up to $9bn in revenue compared to its November report. More affordable battery replacements are to blame, among other things. Apple stated that it now expects a revenue of approximately $84 billion in the first quarter of 2019, down from its previous estimate of $89bn to $93bn. Markets have reacted swiftly to the news, sending Apple shares into a 7.5-percent nosedive. Explaining the causes behind the revision, Cook almost squarely blamed the expected drop in sales on the economic slowdown in mainland China, a key emerging market for Apple smartphones.

“While we anticipated some challenges in key emerging markets, we did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in Greater China,” Cook wrote, noting that “most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China.” By far the greatest hit was dealt by iPhone sales, which, per Cook’s admission, are responsible “for all our revenue shortfall to our guidance and for much more than our entire year-over-year revenue decline” In fact, non-iPhone product revenues actually contributed to 19-percent growth, except in China, where, according to Cook, a cooling-down economy hurt all kinds of Apple products (but still, the iPhone was the worst by far).

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That second graph tells a very serious story. No dividends at all even..

When The Stock Buybacks Go Bye-Bye (Colombo)

Debt-funded stock buybacks have been one of the major drivers of the U.S. stock market boom since the Great Recession. Ironically, 2018 was the most active year on record for buyback activity, yet the stock market faltered and experienced its first annual loss since 2008. If the stock market performed as poorly as it did in 2018 with record amounts of buybacks to prop it up, just imagine how much worse it would be if buybacks were to slow down significantly or grind to a halt? Well, that is the risk that I’m going to address in this piece. From the bear market low in March 2009 until the recent peak, the S&P 500 surged by approximately 300%:

The chart below shows how stock buybacks have been rising steadily since 2009. As I explained several months ago, U.S. corporations have taken advantage of ultra-low bond yields to borrow heavily in the corporate bond market to fund buybacks (I believe that a corporate debt bubble formed as a result of this borrowing).

The LQD iShares Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF is a good proxy for the U.S. corporate bond market. When the ETF falls in price, corporate bond yields are rising and vice versa. The 110 to 115 support zone is the key line in the sand to watch in the LQD ETF. If LQD closes below this zone in a convincing manner, it would likely foreshadow an even more powerful bond and stock market bust ahead.

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Between now and March 29, it is very possible that a majority of Brits want to stay in the EU. But they have nobody to speak for them.

Corbyn Defies Calls From Within Labour To Back Second Brexit Referendum (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will defy calls to change course on the party’s Brexit policy ahead of parliament’s vote on the deal, insisting that the government should secure a new deal with the EU if MPs reject Theresa May’s agreement. Under increasing pressure from Labour members and MPs to reconsider his approach as preparations for the delayed “meaningful vote” ramp up over the next week, Corbyn said on Wednesday that the party’s policy remained “sequential” and that no decision could be made on a second referendum until parliament voted down the deal on offer. His remarks come as Westminster gears up for the end of recess and the return in earnest of the Brexit debate. MPs are expected to hold the delayed vote in the second week of January.

With Corbyn’s position coming under increasing scrutiny ahead of the crucial vote, it is understood that a number of high-profile leftwing Labour figures, including Ann Pettifor, a former adviser to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as the economics commentator Paul Mason, and Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA trade union, are in advanced discussions about forming a policy commission to make the left’s case for remaining in the EU. Their planned intervention follows the publication of a new study revealing that an overwhelming majority of party members want the Labour leader to back a second referendum, though most remain loyal to Corbyn’s leadership. Corbyn and several of his closest allies have been both publicly and privately sceptical of the policy, and the Labour leader has said in a previous interview with the Guardian that the party would pursue a negotiated Brexit deal even if it won a snap general election.

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I thought they had no leaders?!

French ‘Yellow Vest’ Leader Arrested (AFP)

One of the leaders of the “yellow vest” anti-government demonstrations, Eric Drouet, was detained by French police and placed in custody on Wednesday for organising a central Paris protest without declaring it, according to a source at the prosecutors office. Drouet – who already faces a trial for carrying a weapon – was held while heading for the Champs-Elysees, according to a police source. A few dozen demonstrators had gathered outside a McDonalds near France’s famous Arc de Triomphe war monument and had been waiting for Drouet to arrive early Wednesday evening.

“Yellow vest” demonstrations — so-called after the high-visibility jackets they wear — began in rural France in November over fuel taxes and ballooned into a wider revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business policies, which they view as skewed towards the rich. The protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in Paris and other big French cities, plunging Macron’s presidency into crisis. Drouet was first arrested last month. He face trial on June 5 for “carrying a prohibited category D weapon”, a judicial source told AFP. Radical leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, a fierce critic of Macron, tweeted: “Again Eric Drouet arrested, why? Abuse of power. A politicised police targeting and harassing the leaders of the yellow vest movement.”

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Brian Stelter at CNN covers BIll Arkin leaving NBC, and predictably tries to make it into something negative about Trump: “Reporter warns of Trump circus”. But if you read well, you see that Arkin depicts CNN as part of the Trump circus. The circus is the way the media covers the president: “I find myself completely out of synch with the network, being neither a day-to-day reporter nor interested in the Trump circus.” What Arkin says is he leaves NBC because they are too similar to CNN.

The one thing CNN did right was to post Arkin’s mail in its entirety. Here’s part of that.

After Trump, Society Will Have A Gigantic Media Hangover (Arkin)

In our day-to-day whirlwind and hostage status as prisoners of Donald Trump, I think – like everyone else does – that we miss so much. People who don’t understand the medium, or the pressures, loudly opine that it’s corporate control or even worse, that it’s partisan. Sometimes I quip in response to friends on the outside (and to government sources) that if they mean by the word partisan that it is New Yorkers and Washingtonians against the rest of the country then they are right. For me I realized how out of step I was when I looked at Trump’s various bumbling intuitions: his desire to improve relations with Russia, to denuclearize North Korea, to get out of the Middle East, to question why we are fighting in Africa, even in his attacks on the intelligence community and the FBI.

Of course he is an ignorant and incompetent impostor. And yet I’m alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war. Really? We shouldn’t get out Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula? Even on Russia, though we should be concerned about the brittleness of our democracy that it is so vulnerable to manipulation, do we really yearn for the Cold War? And don’t even get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionize this historically destructive institution. Even without Trump, our biggest challenge as we move forward is that we have become exhausted parents of our infant (and infantile) social media children.

And because of the “cycle,” we at NBC (and all others in the field of journalism) suffer from a really bad case of not being able to ever take a breath. We are a long way from resolving the rules of the road in this age, whether it be with regard to our personal conduct or anything related to hard news. I also don’t think that we are on a straight line towards digital nirvana, that is, that all of this information will democratize and improve society. I sense that there is already smartphone and social media fatigue creeping across the land, and my guess is that nothing we currently see – nothing that is snappy or chatty – will solve our horrific challenges of information overload or the role (and nature) of journalism. AndI am sure that once Trump leaves center stage, society will have a gigantic media hangover.

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Arkin understands what’s happening. There’s no way he’s the only one at the MSM. Time to call them out. Not just for war oor anti-war coverage, as Caitlin does here, but for the Trump circus they’ve created.

Reporter Quits NBC Citing Network’s Support For Endless War (CJ)

A journalist with NBC has resigned from the network with a statement which highlights the immense resistance that ostensibly liberal mass media outlets have to antiwar narratives, skepticism of US military agendas, and any movement in the opposite direction of endless military expansionism. “January 4 is my last day at NBC News and I’d like to say goodbye to my friends, hopefully not for good,” begins an email titled ‘My goodbye letter to NBC’ sent to various contacts by William M Arkin, an award-winning journalist who has been associated with the network for 30 years. “This isn’t the first time I’ve left NBC, but this time the parting is more bittersweet, the world and the state of journalism in tandem crisis,” the email continues. “My expertise, though seeming to be all the more central to the challenges and dangers we face, also seems to be less valued at the moment. And I find myself completely out of synch with the network, being neither a day-to-day reporter nor interested in the Trump circus.”

The lengthy email covers details about Arkin’s relationship with NBC and its staff, his opinions about the mainstream media’s refusal to adequately scrutinize and criticize the US war machine’s spectacular failures in the Middle East, how he “argued endlessly with MSNBC about all things national security for years”, the fact that his position as a civilian military analyst was unusual and “peculiar” in a media environment where that role is normally dominated by “THE GENERALS and former government officials,” and how he was “one of the few to report that there weren’t any WMD in Iraq” and remembers “fondly presenting that conclusion to an incredulous NBC editorial board.” “A scholar at heart, I also found myself an often lone voice that was anti-nuclear and even anti-military, anti-military for me meaning opinionated but also highly knowledgeable, somewhat akin to a movie critic, loving my subject but also not shy about making judgements regarding the flops and the losers,” he writes.

“I thought that the mission was to break through the machine of perpetual war acceptance and conventional wisdom to challenge Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness. It was also an interesting moment at NBC because everyone was looking over their shoulder at Vice and other upstarts creeping up on the mainstream. But then Trump got elected and Investigations got sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in a directionless adrenaline rush, the national security and political version of leading the broadcast with every snow storm. And I would assert that in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable. No wars won but the ball is kept in play.

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In the US, consumption is some 70% of GDP. Quite high. In Greece it has become 90%. This simply means that almost all money goes towards basic needs. But you wouldn’t know that from this piece by one Bob Traa in Kathimerini. He gets completely lost in -shaky- economic theory.

Greek Consumption Is Over 90% Of GDP (Traa)

In this Note, we look at the Hellenic Statistical Authority’s (ELSTAT) report of the quarterly national accounts from the demand side. We are interested in the structure of aggregate demand and how government policy connects to this structure. In the next Note, we will look at the income side of GDP – who earns what. Figure 1 shows us the four-quarter moving average of the share of final consumption (by the private sector and the government combined) out of GDP. We will show for each component how Greece compares to the eurozone overall. All data are from ELSTAT and Eurostat from Q1 1995 through Q3 2018. These figures are interesting and generate lots of ideas and hypotheses.

For instance, note that consumption in Greece (around 90 percent of GDP) is much higher than in the eurozone as a whole (around 75 percent of GDP). This means that the flip side of consumption, saving, is much lower in Greece than in the eurozone as a whole. If you enjoy spending, but you are not a good saver, guess where the difference must come from: debt. But why is saving so much lower in Greece than in the eurozone? One possible candidate is an overvalued real exchange rate. When the real exchange rate is overvalued, this provides incentives to pull in consumption from the future into the present, because consumption today is relatively cheap, compared to consumption tomorrow when the real exchange rate resets to equilibrium – i.e. falls. Another way to put this is that Greece is not quite competitive yet.

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There is no solution for nuclear waste. But the call for more plants is everywhere. Again. Look up the status of Yucca Mountain to see where the legal positions are. People are going to tell you nuclear energy is clean. It is the opposite.

Towns And Villages Offered Millions To Become UK’s ‘Nuclear Dustbin’ (DM)

Towns and villages are being offered millions of pounds as an incentive to become Britain’s ‘nuclear dustbin’. Hundreds of tons of radioactive nuclear power station waste needs to be stored a kilometre – roughly 3,000ft – deep in the ground. The facility will need to hold 750,000 cubic metres of waste – enough to fill three quarters of Wembley stadium – and will cost an estimated £8billion to build. To provide an incentive to hosting the dumping ground, the selected area will be given between £1million and £2.5million a year for community projects, the Government said. The sweetener comes after the last attempt to find a nuclear burial ground flopped in 2013 – following five years of consultations – when Cumbria county council rejected the plan. It is expected the process to find a site will take 20 years, and it will take ten years to build. It will then need to remain safe for up to 200,000 years.

In the new scheme, rather than a council deciding, a final decision will rest on a local referendum. Waste is currently stored at 30 sites, mostly at Sellafield in Cumbria. It includes around 112 tonnes – the world’s biggest stockpile – of plutonium, the most poisonous substance ever created. In 2016 the House of Commons Office of Science and Technology warned that plutonium is so dangerous it can even ‘self-sustain a nuclear chain reaction under certain conditions’. Other radioactive materials include uranium. A Government document on how it find a site said the dump would need 600 skilled staff and was ‘likely to have a positive effect on the local economy’ and ‘will provide jobs and benefits to the economy for more than 100 years’.

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https://twitter.com/i/status/1080512542299033602

Dec 302018
 
 December 30, 2018  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in ecstasy 1480

 

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)
Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)
UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)
Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)
Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)
Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)
Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)
Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)
Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)
EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)
People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

 

 

“China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity.”

Will China be 2019’s big story? Is the PBOC even more powerless than the Fed?

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)

Just about every economic measure is trending down in China, and not surprisingly, deflation fears are mounting. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released Dec. 27, reported that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring all fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. A much-weaker 2019 appears to be in the offing for China, but it’s not solely due to trade tensions with the United States. The domestic economy was already on weak footing and the CBB argues that government support is unlikely. The CBB is a research service that speaks to thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter. It contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation.

“Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” said Shehzad Qazi, CBB managing director, in an interview. While lower prices look good for consumers, policy-makers don’t like deflation for a number of reasons. With prices falling, companies produce less, often lay off workers, and reduce investment, leading to a vicious circle of sorts. While the trade war hurts export-sensitive regions, local orders have now weakened for two straight quarters. Hiring fell for the first time since early 2016. Worse still, the fall was concentrated in services and retail, two sectors being counted upon to pick up the slack left by manufacturing’s woes.

Also, debt—of which China has plenty—becomes more problematic under deflation, as its value adjusted for inflation rises. And it’s an issue for central bankers, who typically target 2 percent inflation for price stability. Rate cuts to spur the economy and inflation are less effective, since the real interest rates are higher when accounting for deflation. “China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity. Appearances by inflation should be cheered,” according to the CBB Q4 preview. “They are also rare.”

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No effort needed.

Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)

The European Union is not trying to keep Britain in and wants to start discussing future ties the moment the U.K. parliament approves Brexit, partly to focus on its own unity ahead of May elections, the head of the bloc’s executive said. “It is being insinuated that our aim is to keep the United Kingdom in the EU by all possible means. That is not our intention. All we want is clarity about our future relations. And we respect the result of the referendum.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview. Juncker said the EU was ready to start negotiating a new deal with Britain right after the British parliament approves the divorce deal. A vote is now due in the week starting Jan. 14.

He also said Britain should get its act together. “And then tell us what it is you want,” he said. “I am working on the assumption that it will leave, because that is what the people of the United Kingdom have decided,” he added, refusing to be drawn into whether Britain would hold a second Brexit vote. “That is for the British to decide.” [..] He said he felt EU citizens were increasingly growing apart, another problem to tackle ahead of Europe-wide parliamentary elections in May. “We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep,” Juncker said. “We must not imply that the populists are right … they are just loud and do not have any specific proposals to offer on solving the challenges of our time.”

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They want more delays.

UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)

Britain’s trade minister Liam Fox said there is a “50-50” chance that Brexit may be stopped if parliament rejects the government’s divorce deal with the European Union next month. “If we were not to vote for that, I’m not sure I would give it (Brexit) much more than 50-50,” Fox, a leading supporter of leaving the EU, told the Sunday Times newspaper. With three months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, May’s Brexit deal is floundering, opening up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a trade deal to calling Brexit off. Earlier this month, May pulled a planned vote on her deal after admitting parliament would reject it. Lawmakers are set to vote on the deal in the week starting Jan. 14.

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But a delay of a few months?! What good will that do?

Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)

Senior Tory and Labour MPs are planning to force the government to delay Brexit by several months to avoid a no-deal outcome if Theresa May fails to get her deal through parliament in January, the Observer has been told. Cross-party talks have been under way for several weeks to ensure the 29 March date is put back – probably until July at the latest – if the government does not push for a delay itself. It is also understood that cabinet ministers have discussed the option of a delay with senior backbench MPs in both the main parties and that Downing Street is considering scenarios in which a delay might have to be requested from Brussels.

One senior Tory backbencher said: “I have had these discussions with ministers. They will not say so in public but of course the option of a delay has to be looked at in detail now. If we are determined to avoid a no deal, and the prime minister’s deal fails, we will have to ask to stop the clock, and that will give time for us to decide to go whatever way we decide thereafter.” The Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he believed that even if May got her deal through, there would probably be insufficient time to push all the necessary legislation through parliament to allow Brexit to happen smoothly and that a delay might well be necessary. But if her deal were voted down, the need to take up the option of a delay would become a “certainty”.

He said: “I think that if she does not get her deal passed, a delay would be inevitable to give more time to avoid a no deal, and also there is the possibility that there would be a referendum, so this would allow for that.” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that parliament would need to discuss all options, including a possible delay, if and when May failed to get her blueprint through the Commons. “If the prime minister’s deal is voted down in early January, then we will be just nine weeks away from the date we are due to leave the EU,” Starmer said. “If the deal is rejected, parliament will need to have a very serious debate about how to protect the economy from a no-deal scenario and at this stage nothing should be ruled out.”


Brexit options. Click to enlarge

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“..if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters…”

Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem? A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows how demented it is.

You also write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to? George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It’s Scott of the Antarctic, it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we’re not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

You describe a false caricature of Germany, put about by Brexiters, of an expansionist nation. You also say that the EU, and especially Germany, had a need to severely punish debtor countries. Is Germany the glue that holds the EU together or a controlling villain? There’s no doubt that Germany is the major power in Europe, and that’s one of the things going on with Brexit. It’s this idea that this country we defeated twice in the 20th century is now seen as the dominant power. That leads to fantasies that Britain really lost the war and we’re being taken over insidiously by the Germans. The real problem with the Germans isn’t that they’re trying to take over Europe. It’s that they’ve promulgated a very heavy austerity that is deeply ingrained in the German mentality. The irony is, it’s exactly the policy that the Tory Brexiters themselves were pursuing.

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Not quite UBI.

Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)

Italy’s parliament has approved a revised budget for 2019, amid opposition complaints that it was dictated by the EU. The country’s populist government had originally vowed to push through costly campaign promises including a universal basic income. But in October, the European Commission raised concerns about the impact of such spending on Italy’s debt levels. Rome was told to revise its budget, or face fines and disciplinary action. Under a deal struck with the Commission last week, Italy lowered its planned budget deficit from 2.4% of GDP to 2.04% – less of a reduction than European officials had hoped for. The value of its concessions is understood to be a little more than €10bn. The deadline for passing the budget was 31 December, after which the government would have been forced to continue with the 2018 budget on a monthly basis.

[..] Italy’s coalition government, made up of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League, has pledged the following:
• A new income support scheme known as the “citizens’ wage” will pay €780 a month to 1.7 million of Italy’s poorest families. The measure is forecast to cost €7.1bn.
• The retirement age will be cut from the current 67 to 62, for workers who have paid into the pension system for 38 years.
• More than a million self-employed workers earning under €65,000 a year will see their taxes cut to 15%.

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Watch for New Year’s Eve.

Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)

Protesters in France have marched on the headquarters of various French media organisations, with groups taking to the streets in small groups in Paris and across the country. Now in its seventh week, the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests have shrunk somewhat but hundreds of demonstrators, some chanting “fake news” and “journalists – collaborationists”, and others hurling stones, descended on the offices of TV network BFM and the state-run France Televisions. Police in riot gear intervened, leading to skirmishes, with officers eventually using tear gas to disperse those on the streets and making a number of arrests. Despite a lower turnout than at previous protests demonstrators still caused havoc, with some setting fire to a number of cars in central Paris leaving streets choked by fumes.

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Damn foreigners!

Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)

A cyber-attack has caused printing and delivery disruptions to major US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun. The attack on Saturday appeared to originate outside the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. It led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of the Times, the Tribune, the Sun and other newspapers that share a production platform in Los Angeles. Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Sun, as well as the New York Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, said it first detected the malware on Friday.

The west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also hit, as they are printed on the shared production platform, the Los Angeles Times said. A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias, said the virus affected back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”. “There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised,” Kollias said. Most San Diego Union-Tribune subscribers were without a newspaper on Saturday as the virus infected the company’s business systems and hobbled its ability to publish, the paper’s editor and publisher, Jeff Light, wrote on its website.

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“..when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.”

Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)

The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon. But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria. In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.”

Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting, where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy. Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the U.S. had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.

Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States. Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”

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New Knowledge. Defenders of freedom. Geez…

Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)

The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves. Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections. At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online.

Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped. Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify. The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.” Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right? This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online. New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

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How popular do you think it would be if we pay people to not kill off orangutans? Lions, hippos?

EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)

The European Union is phasing out the use of palm oil in transport fuel, triggering criticism of trade protectionism and threats of retaliation from major producersIndonesia and Malaysia. The European move comes after years of activist campaigns about the vegetable oil associated with rampant deforestation and labor abuses, highlighting how consumer concerns about sustainability are increasingly influencing businesses. According to Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations co-founded by the World Wildlife Fund, the large Indonesian island of Sumatra lost 56 percent of its 25 million hectares (250,000 square kilometers, or bigger than the size of the U.K.) of natural forests over 31 years.

The palm oil industry, with its national epicenter on that island, is thought to be one of the biggest drivers of that loss, the coalition said. France and Norway have become the first few countries to start curbing use of palm oil in the last month, driving fears in major Southeast Asian producing countries, where the cash crop has powered economic growth. Indonesia and Malaysia together produce over 80 percent of the world’s palm oil. More broadly, the EU agreed in June to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuel from 2030 as part of a broader plan to increase the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy production. The EU is one of the world’s top consumers of palm oil, which is used in a wide range of products from baked goods to detergents.

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All of a sudden the UK creates a frenzy over refugees in the Channel.

People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

Tech companies are failing to crack down on people-smugglers using their platforms to lure migrants “to their deaths” with promise of safe passage to Europe, the UN has warned. Companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp are “enabling criminal activity” by traffickers who entrap victims who are unaware of the dangers they face, according to the UN’s migration agency. The warning comes amid a surge in migrants attempting to reach the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats, with almost 100 people intercepted by both British and French authorities while attempting to reach the UK from France since Christmas Day. [..]

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said migrants were being “lured to Calais” over the internet as smugglers operate via social networks “without any real oversight” from the companies controlling them. He said that while tech firms had taken measures to curb other exploitative activities such as child pornography, efforts to prevent people-smuggling has been “microscopic” compared with the damage it causes. [..] Charities on the ground in northern France meanwhile cautioned that irregular migration was not the result of social media but of the persecution faced by migrants in their home countries. But they said failure by European governments to inform refugees of their right to seek asylum and how to do so had enabled criminal gangs to “fill the void”, often through online social networks.

Mr Doyle told The Independent: “People like to point fingers over the migration crisis, but a big part of it must be that the guy or the girl in the village with nothing but a cracked smartphone can actually meet a smuggler in a heartbeat. “This person will often have no prior knowledge, no sense that this is a trap, no sense that this is going to end up in their prostitution, their slavery, their murder, their drowning. “But the tech companies that have done so much to bring technology to its current place are not investing in civic communication to help counter-balance the nonsense people get from social media.

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Dec 182018
 


Titian The rape of Europe 1560-62

 

It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.

What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.

I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.

 

In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.

However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.

As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.

We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.

What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.

And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.

It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.

Anyway, more on that later.

 

Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.

There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.

But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.

And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.

Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.

The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.

Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.

 

As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.

Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?

But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.

I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.

It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.

It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.

According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.

Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.

And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.

And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.

 

That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.

But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.

And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.

Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?

It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.

It’s later than you think.