Aug 292020
 


Johannes Vermeer Woman (in Blue) Reading a Letter 1662-3

 

The US Social Fabric Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling (Greenwald)
Kyle Rittenhouse Worked as a Lifeguard in Kenosha the Day of the Shooting (GP)
CNN Has Turned Itself Into America’s Baghdad Bob (Widburg)
Kamala Harris Promises National Mask Mandate If Elected (NYP)
Judge Voids 50,000 Absentee Ballot Requests In Iowa County (AP)
Chairman of Joint Chiefs: No Role For Military In Presidential Election (AP)
France Sees ‘Exponential Rise’ In COVID Cases (BBC)
German Court Overturns Protest Ban (ZH)
German Economy Succumbing to Zombie Companies – Lacalle (SL)
End of an Abe Era for Japan

 

 

There are serious infection problems popping up in Europe, exposing even more incompetence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Side Of Social Media

 

 

It’s coming from within. It comes from the realization across -social- media that people’s sub-conscious can be easily manipulated into generating fear and anger.

The US Social Fabric Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling (Greenwald)

The year 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous in modern American history. To find events remotely as destabilizing and transformative, one has to go back to the 2008 financial crisis and the 9/11 and anthrax attacks of 2001, though those systemic shocks, profound as they were, were isolated (one a national security crisis, the other a financial crisis) and thus more limited in scope than the multicrisis instability now shaping U.S. politics and culture. Since the end of World War II, the only close competitor to the current moment is the multipronged unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s: serial assassinations of political leaders, mass civil rights and anti-war protests, sustained riots, fury over a heinous war in Indochina, and the resignation of a corruption-plagued president.

But those events unfolded and built upon one another over the course of a decade. By crucial contrast, the current confluence of crises, each of historic significance in their own right — a global pandemic, an economic and social shutdown, mass unemployment, an enduring protest movement provoking increasing levels of violence and volatility, and a presidential election centrally focused on one of the most divisive political figures the U.S. has known who happens to be the incumbent president — are happening simultaneously, having exploded one on top of the other in a matter of a few months. Lurking beneath the headlines justifiably devoted to these major stories of 2020 are very troubling data that reflect intensifying pathologies in the U.S. population — not moral or allegorical sicknesses but mental, emotional, psychological and scientifically proven sickness.

Many people fortunate enough to have survived this pandemic with their physical health intact know anecdotally — from observing others and themselves — that these political and social crises have spawned emotional difficulties and psychological challenges. But the data are nonetheless stunning, in terms of both the depth of the social and mental health crises they demonstrate and the pervasiveness of them. Perhaps the most illustrative study was one released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, based on an extensive mental health survey of Americans in late June. One question posed by researchers was whether someone has “seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days”— not fleetingly considered it as a momentary fantasy nor thought about it ever in their lifetime, but seriously considered suicide at least once in the past 30 days. The results are staggering.

For Americans between 18-24 years old, 25.5 percent — just over 1 out of every 4 young Americans — said they had. For the much larger group of Americans ages 25-44, the percentage was somewhat lower but still extremely alarming: 16 percent. A total of 18.6 percent of Hispanic Americans and 15 percent of African Americans said they had seriously considered suicide in the past month. The two groups with the largest percentage who said yes: Americans with less than a high school degree and unpaid caregivers, both of whom have 30 percent — or almost 1 out of every 3 — who answered in the affirmative. A full 10 percent of the U.S. population generally had seriously contemplated suicide in the month of June.

In a remotely healthy society, one that provides basic emotional needs to its population, suicide and serious suicidal ideation are rare events. It is anathema to the most basic human instinct: the will to live. A society in which such a vast swath of the population is seriously considering it as an option is one which is anything but healthy, one which is plainly failing to provide its citizens the basic necessities for a fulfilling life.

Read more …

No, I don’t know all the facts. But I’m always wary of people crucifying minors. And I’m intrigued by the interest of Lin Wood in the case, since he took on the defense of Nicholas Sandmann, himself also a minor the media crucified, on completely false and fabricated grounds. It has cost those same media not only millions, but also a great deal of their reputation.

Kyle Rittenhouse Worked as a Lifeguard in Kenosha the Day of the Shooting (GP)

Kyle Rittenhouse is a community lifeguard who was working in Kenosha the day of the shooting. This simple fact destroys the narrative being peddled by the mainstream media that he had “crossed state lines” to harm the rioters. In a statement by Rittenhouse’s legal team at Pierce Bainbridge, provided to the Gateway Pundit, “after Kyle finished his work that day as a community lifeguard in Kenosha, he wanted to help clean up some of the damage, so he and a friend went to the local public high school to remove graffiti by rioters.” Additionally, the weapon Rittenhouse was using to protect himself and others never crossed state lines. “Later in the day, they received information about a call for help from a local business owner, whose downtown Kenosha auto dealership was largely destroyed by mob violence,” the statement continues.

“Business owner needed help to protect what he had left of his life’s work, including two nearby mechanic’s shops. Kyle and a friend armed themselves with rifles due to the deadly violence gripping Kenosha and many other American cities, and headed to the business premises. The weapons were in Wisconsin and never crossed state lines.” When Rittenhouse arrived at the mechanics shop, he and others stood guard to prevent further destruction. Later that night, long after the 8 p.m. curfew had passed, the police began to disperse a group of rioters. His lawyer, John M. Pierce, explains that while dispersing the mob, they maneuvered a mass of individuals down the street towards the auto shops. Rittenhouse and the others were threatened and taunted, but he did not react. “His intent was not to incite violence, but simply to deter property damage and use his training to provide first aid to injured community members,” Pierce says.

After the situation seemed to be diffused, Rittenhouse became increasingly concerned about people who were injured at the gas station, so he went in that direction with his first aid kit. He helped those he could find who were injured, either by administering aid or directing them which way to go for help beyond what he could offer. The statement says that by the final time that Rittenhouse returned to the gas station and “confirmed there were no more injured individuals who needed assistance, police had advanced their formation and blocked what would have been his path back to the mechanic’s shop. Kyle then complied with the police instructions not to go back there. Kyle returned to the gas station until he learned of a need to help protect the second mechanic’s shop further down the street where property destruction was imminent with no police were nearby.”

“As Kyle proceeded towards the second mechanic’s shop, he was accosted by multiple rioters who recognized that he had been attempting to protect a business the mob wanted to destroy. This outraged the rioters and created a mob now determined to hurt Kyle. They began chasing him down. Kyle attempted to get away, but he could not do so quickly enough. Upon the sound of a gunshot behind him, Kyle turned and was immediately faced with an attacker lunging towards him and reaching for his rifle. He reacted instantaneously and justifiably with his weapon to protect himself, firing and striking the attacker,” Pierce explains. Additionally, Rittenhouse stopped to ensure care for his attacker, hardly sounds like someone who had went to the riot with intent to kill.

“Kyle stopped to ensure care for the wounded attacker but faced a growing mob gesturing towards him. He realized he needed to flee for his safety and his survival. Another attacker struck Kyle from behind as he fled down the street. Kyle turned as the mob pressed in on him and he fell to the ground,” his legal team says. “One attacker kicked Kyle on the ground while he was on the ground. Yet another bashed him over the head with a skateboard. Several rioters tried to disarm Kyle. In fear for his life and concerned the crowd would either continue to shoot at him or even use his own weapon against him, Kyle had no choice but to fire multiple rounds towards his immediate attackers, striking two, including one armed attacker. The rest of the mob began to disperse upon hearing the additional gunshots.” Rittenhouse then attempted to turn himself in, but was told to keep moving. He went and turned himself in to his local police that evening.

Lin Wood

Tucker Rittenhouse

Read more …

There are no limits anymore.

CNN Has Turned Itself Into America’s Baghdad Bob (Widburg)

On Tuesday, with its reporter standing in front of a raging fire, CNN ran a ludicrous chyron stating, “fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting.” Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be worthy of reporting three days later. However, for some reason, this chyron was a bridge too far for many people, and the internet is still flooded with memes. It’s apparent that, with this latest denial of objective reality, CNN has finally completed its transformation into Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, whom many Americans remember almost fondly as Baghdad Bob, the Hussein regime propagandist who insisted that Saddam was winning even as U.S. troops entered Baghdad.

In 2003, when our military successfully invaded Iraq and quickly captured Baghdad, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhafk, AKA Baghdad Bob, was Saddam Hussein’s minister of information. As troops neared and then entered Baghdad, al-Sahhaf gave daily press briefings during which he announced the most outrageous lies about the wars. For example, Baghdad Bob insisted that American troops were committing suicide “by the hundreds” and that none had entered Baghdad. Meanwhile, Americans were a few hundred yards away from him, and the audience could hear the sounds of their fighting. On April 8, four days before Americans captured Baghdad, al-Sahhaf was still insisting that U.S. troops “are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender. It is they who will surrender.”


Baghdad Bob was last heard from some years ago, living in the United Arab Emirates. However, it’s entirely possible that he’s currently working for CNN, a former news network and now a sloppy propaganda outlet for the anarcho-Marxists of Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Obviously, things are a bit different here for Bob. Last time, American troops were closing in on Baghdad as Bob spun manifest lies about events. This time, American anarchists and communists are closing in on an American city as CNN spins manifest lies about events. But aside from the details, that chyron running across the bottom of the CNN screen is vintage Baghdad Bob:

Read more …

Still thinks she wants to win?

Kamala Harris Promises National Mask Mandate If Elected (NYP)

Kamala Harris said on Friday that a nationwide mask mandate would be among the first orders of business if she and Joe Biden were elected to the White House in November, calling it the “responsible” thing to do. The Democratic vice presidential nominee expanded on the three-month plan that Biden has promised to enact if he won the White House, explaining that every American would be expected to wear a face covering amid the pandemic. “Yes,” Harris, 55, said when asked if that would be one of their first actions in power during an interview on NBC’s “TODAY.” “It’s a standard. I mean, nobody’s going to be punished,” Harris continued when asked how it would be enforced.


“Nobody likes to wear a mask, this is a universal feeling, right? So, that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is this is what we as responsible people who love our neighbor, we have to just do that right now. God willing, it won’t be forever.” The CDC recommends mask-wearing in public when you are unable to stay 6-feet away from others so as to stop the spread of disease. President Trump rejected Biden’s mandate earlier this month during a White House briefing, telling reporters the Democratic nominee had showed an “appalling lack of respect” for the American people. “It’s up to the governors. We want to have a certain freedom,” Trump said. “If the president has the unilateral power to order every single citizen to cover their face in nearly all instances, what other powers does he have?” he asked.

Read more …

There are dozens of such lawsuits pending.

Judge Voids 50,000 Absentee Ballot Requests In Iowa County (AP)

A judge ordered an Iowa county Thursday to invalidate 50,000 requests for absentee ballots, agreeing with President Donald Trump’s campaign that its elections commissioner overstepped his authority by pre-filling them with voters’ personal information. Judge Ian Thornhill issued a temporary injunction ordering Linn County Auditor Joel Miller to notify voters in writing that the forms should not have been pre-filled with their information and cannot be processed. Instead, they’ll have to either fill out new requests for absentee ballots or vote on Election Day. The ruling marks an initial victory for Trump’s challenges to absentee voting procedures in three counties in Iowa, which is expected to be competitive in his race against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

They’re part of an unprecedented legal battle involving dozens of lawsuits nationwide that will shape the rules of the election. Republicans said the ruling would hold a “rogue auditor” accountable and enhance voting security, while outraged Democrats called it an act of voter suppression. Miller said he would abide by the order, pledging to void the returned requests and send out new blank forms to voters next month. At issue was Miller’s decision to send absentee ballot request forms to 140,000 voters in July that were already filled with their personal information, including names, dates of birth and, most significantly, voter identification numbers. Miller, a Democrat, has said his goal was to make it as easy as possible to vote absentee during a pandemic, as the virus spreads uncontrolled across the state.


Voters had to review, sign and return the forms to request ballots that will be mailed beginning Oct. 5. About 50,000 requests have been returned in the Democratic-leaning county, which is Iowa’s second largest and is recovering from a derecho that devastated the region Aug. 10. The phone system for the county elections office remained out of service Thursday. Thornhill ruled that Miller’s mailing violated a “clear directive” from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, who told county officials in July that absentee ballot request forms mailed to voters must be blank in order to ensure uniformity.

Read more …

Both sides will sell this as an affirmation of their views.

Chairman of Joint Chiefs: No Role For Military In Presidential Election (AP)

The U.S. armed forces will have no role in carrying out the election process or resolving a disputed vote, the top U.S. military officer told Congress in comments released Friday. The comments from Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underscore the extraordinary political environment in America, where the president has declared without evidence that the expected surge in mail-in ballots will make the vote “inaccurate and fraudulent,” and has suggested he might not accept the election results if he loses. Trump’s repeated complaints questioning the election’s validity have triggered unprecedented worries about the potential for chaos surrounding the election results.

Some have speculated that the military might be called upon to get involved, either by Trump trying to use it to help his reelection prospects or as, Democratic challenger Joe Biden has suggested, to remove Trump from the White House if he refuses to accept defeat. The military has adamantly sought to tamp down that speculation and is zealously protective of its historically nonpartisan nature. “I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Milley said in written responses to several questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process.”


Milley’s tone reflects the longstanding views of military leaders who insist that the nation’s military stays out of politics and that troops are sworn to protect the country and uphold the Constitution. But the two Congress members, Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, said Friday that Trump’s recent comments and his efforts to use the military to quell protests have fueled their concerns. The two lawmakers released Milley’s answers.

Read more …

“On Friday, masks were made mandatory outdoors in Paris to fight the rising infections.”

How does that work exactly?

France Sees ‘Exponential Rise’ In COVID Cases (BBC)

France has recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March, as President Emmanuel Macron raised the possibility of another nationwide lockdown. A further 7,379 cases were confirmed on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 267,077. It was the largest daily spike since 31 March, when 7,578 cases were tallied at the peak of the first wave. France was seeing an “exponential” rise in cases, the health ministry said. The ministry said Friday’s rise follows daily increases of 6,111 on Thursday and 5,429 on Wednesday. Despite the sharp rise, hospital numbers and daily deaths were relatively stable, as young people less vulnerable to the disease make up most of the new infections, the ministry said. Another 20 people were confirmed to have died with Covid-19 on Friday, bringing France’s overall death toll to 30,596.


Shortly before Friday’s figures were released, Mr Macron said a second national lockdown could not be ruled out if infections spiralled out of control. However he said his government was trying to avoid the return of restrictions that would set back the country’s fragile economic recovery. “Containment is the crudest of measures to fight against a virus,” said Mr Macron, urging people to be “collectively very rigorous”. France began easing its eight-week-long lockdown in May. But some parts of the country – including the capital Paris – remained under tighter controls. Local authorities have been given powers to enforce lockdown measures, such as closing down bars and restaurants, in areas where cases are surging. On Friday, masks were made mandatory outdoors in Paris to fight the rising infections.

HCQ OTC

Read more …

Germany, too, has fallen into the trap of allowing one type of protest, but banning another. That’s just politics, nothing to do with health care.

German Court Overturns Protest Ban (ZH)

Earlier in the week, we reported that authorities in Berlin had banned a series of planned demonstrations against the country’s COVID-19 lockdown measures – claiming they were organized by “right-wing extremists” and would lead to the spread of the virus. The city said it would deploy several thousand police around the German capital this weekend, citing threats. Notably, the German city did not ban a June Black Lives Matter protest in which approximately 15,000 people turned out. Meanwhile, the Assembly for Freedom had 17,000 registered demonstrators for the August 29 event before Berlin shut it down. “We are still in the middle of a pandemic with rising infection figures,” said Berlin Interior Minister, Andreas Geisel.

“This is not a decision against freedom of assembly, but a decision in favor of infection protection,” he continued, adding that Berlin should not be “misused as a stage for corona deniers… and right-wing extremists.” About 20,000 people, including libertarians, constitutional loyalists, far-right supporters and anti-vaccination activists, marched in Berlin on Aug. 1. But now, as Off-Guardian reports, the Berlin Senate’s decision to ban the coronavirus protest planned for this weekend has been overturned by the Administrative Court. That said, the protest will still be under some restrictions – the court ruled that the organizers must follow all the laws and restrictions they are protesting against.


According to a report from Deutsche Welle: “…the judges said protest organizers and participants must provide barriers in front of the stages where speeches will be held – and must regularly remind participants to observe social distancing rules and keep their distance. Wearing masks was not included in the judge’s guidelines for the protest.” The court’s decision can be appealed by the Senate, but given the timeframe that seems unlikely at this stage. Many thousands were reportedly travelling to Berlin regardless, as it was thought the protest organizers intended to go ahead in spite of the ban. A similar protest on August 1st drew tens of thousands of people. The Berlin protest is taking place alongside other events around the world for a global day of action. Protests are planned for London, Ottawa, Paris and Zurich.

Read more …

“..these types of policies are relatively social at the beginning but they become the most anti-social afterwards..”

German Economy Succumbing to Zombie Companies – Lacalle (SL)

Zombie companies are generally defined as companies that have been in business for at least ten years and whose debt servicing costs have exceeded profits for at least the last three years. Such structurally unprofitable companies, once a rarity, now represent a terrifying 18% of publicly traded companies in the US. The trend is growing in Europe as well, and as Mr. Lacalle warns, endless stimulus, low interest rates, and bailouts in the wake of Covid are exacerbating the phenomenon. The end result is a stifling of innovation, lower long term productivity, and decreased economic mobility. Some excerpts from Daniel Lacalle:

“The (German) government has given enormous levels of subsidies to keep companies that had problems in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic, to keep them alive…” “Huge transfers of public money go to companies that… don’t allow a certain level of creative destruction, which is very important for progress…. The rise of Zombie Companies, which is a big problem in the European Union, is doing three things: It’s stopping innovation…, consumers end up with worse products and services, and the third problem is that these companies don’t hire and invest more…” “Something that looks quite good as a headline can be extremely damaging for jobs, for growth, and for the future development of the economy… The rise of zombie companies inevitably leads to a financial crisis when those companies inevitably become insolvent…”


“The biggest lesson for the United States is that these types of policies are relatively social at the beginning but they become the most anti-social afterwards when higher unemployment, lower growth, and lower productivity become the norm.” Another problem with larger and larger swaths of the economy being taken over by structurally unprofitable companies is taxes. Companies only pay taxes on profits and with governments running deficits like there is no tomorrow, there is simply no feasible tax plan that will come close to balancing America’s budget deficits. The economy is simply insufficiently productive to support current levels of government spending. Keeping money-losing companies in business only makes the matter worse.

Read more …

This can’t help but make me laugh: “He was widely praised for early “Abenomics..” One look at Japan’s debt-to-GDP tells you all you need to know.

End of an Abe Era for Japan

Abe’s political legacy is substantial. After working as cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, he became prime minister in 2006 but crashed and burned and resigned – officially due to ulcerative colitis – in 2007. He was older, wiser and better advised when he started his second term at the helm in December 2012. In that term, which ended on Friday, he served the longest premiership in Japanese history. In many ways, Abe has overseen a success story. Economically, his inflationary “Abenomics” overcame Japan’s “lost decade” of the 1990s, and socially, as Asia Times recently noted in a review of an Abe biography, the country boasts low unemployment, equal distribution of income, fine infrastructure, minimal public disorder, a low crime rate and low Covid-19 death rates.

Even so, his legacy is mixed. In neighboring countries, he is widely seen as a raging nationalist for his claimed historical revisionism and his moves to empower Japan’s military. However, in terms of trade and tourism, many of his actions in office have been those of an internationalist. He was widely praised for early “Abenomics,” but while its loose monetary and expansionary fiscal policies beat back the deflation that had plagued Japan, it’s “third arrow” – corporate reform – never rose from the deck. He won hosting rights to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics to local acclaim, only to see the multi-billion dollar dream crash amid the pandemic.

Politically, Abe appears to have maintained a balance within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party between its center-right and hard-right elements, and as a result, a true hard-right party has not appeared on Japan’s political scene. There have also been clear failures. Abe talked about “creating a Japan where women can shine,” but according to the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality ranking, last year Japan placed 121st out of the 153 countries, the worst among G7 economies. Abe has also leaned on media. National broadcaster NHK has been ridiculed as “Abe TV” and Japan’s Freedom Of Press ranking, 22 when he took office, is now 66th. And when it comes to Japan’s biggest national challenge – its ongoing demographic decline – he proved incapable of reversing it.

Abe’s grandfather and a strong personal influence was war criminal Nobuskue Kishi, who was rehabilitated by the US and then became Japan’s prime minister. Many in China and the Koreas, countries which suffered from Japan’s militarism and imperialism in the first half of the 20th century, consider Abe his grandfather’s grandson, a dangerous nationalist. However, he has declined to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine since 2013, although his cabinet members, in a sop to Japan’s hard right, have done so. Abe’s oft-stated hopes of rewriting article 9 of Japan’s constitution – a Herculean task – enabling a wider, more expeditionary role for Japan’s Self Defense Forces, came to naught. Even so, during his term, he quietly oversaw the expansion and empowerment of Japan’s military. Notably, the Maritime Self Defense Force took on a far more expeditionary look under his oversight, standing up a marine brigade and green-lighting the conversion of two existing warships into F-35-armed aircraft carriers.

Read more …

 

 

We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, your support is now an integral part of the process.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

 

 

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

Mar 272020
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Portrait of his father 1628-29

 

I was following the numbers all afternoon, because I knew this was going to be the day that the US would become the no. 1. The no. 1 loser, that is. Here’s some of what I wrote in the Automatic Earth Comments section as we went along:

500,000 global cases was at noon EDT. 3.5 hours later there were another 20,000. [..] At 12.38 pm the US was 6,300 cases behind China. That is now 1,200.

God’s Own Country will take the definite no. 1 position sometime this afternoon, and then run away with it. The US has many fewer fatalities so far, but there, too, it will come out on top.

All this is why America pronounced Nicolas Maduro a drug trafficker and narco-terrorist today.

The US took the topspot at about 3pm. That done and achieved, I realize I’ve been so busy lately documenting the spread of the coronavirus and -some of- its consequences that the next steps in the demise, though clearly visible, risk going unnoticed.

But then I saw that the US is charging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking (narco-terrorism?!), and I was wide awake again. Why does the US, on the verge of becoming the worst hit “corona country”, charge him now, of all possible times, when they could have done it any given day for the past 7 years? Well, exactly because of the corona threat.

And I don’t think this is Trump; he may take a political hit, but he only has to do better than Joe Biden, and anybody could do that. This smells much more like some deep state thing, Mike Pompeo and his crew.

 

In their phone alerts, CNN had a few real howlers as the day went by.

“Health officials say the peak is yet to come”

“Stocks see third day of gains”

Meanwhile, it took them hours to clue into the fact that the US had become the no. 1. But it’s that second point that warrants scrutiny. In the expectation and the “fulfillment” of the $6 trillion “stimulus” package, stocks managed to rise. Yay! But that no. 1 position won’t leave any of that standing. No sirree.

The US is no longer capable of formulating and negotiating adequate legislation even in times of real crisis. And it’s not that it’s GOP against Dems, and one would do everything so much better than the other. It’s one set of special interests against another, and in the end both win. And there is no escape left from that.

I said earlier about the stimulus that such a package in the US today is possible only provided that the rich get 1000 times what the poor get. That’s the only way to get those $1,500 checks to people who actually need them. For every such check a million bucks goes to the rich and powerful.

And if only they were also 1000 times more likely to catch the coronavirus, at least we would have a sense of justice. But no such luck.

 

What the stimulus will really end up doing is it will expose the Fed. You can talk about unlimited QE all you want, but talk enough and it will lose all meaning. I’ve long said that there are no markets left because there is no price discovery, and lately I’ve seen many people saying exactly that, just much later.

The stimulus really only serves to take even more price discovery away, if that was still possible. And that’s it. The rich will be handed hundreds of billions with nowhere to go. The losses in the stock “markets” lately have been staggering, trillions were lost. But then you look at a graph and you think holy sh*t, there’s so much more to go, so much more downside before we get to anything resembling normal. This was two weeks ago:

 

 

Markets as they -used to- exist under capitalism can be an awesome instrument, because there is such a multitude of participants. However, when you start trying to control the “markets” because sometimes they fall a little and you don’t like that, you unleash formidable forces that are also part of that instrument. Like so many natural phenomena, they will tend towards a balance, and you can’t stop that. Not for long.

The process that looks like it may end soon started under Alan Greenspan and the housing bubbles he blew, and the seeds of the demise were sown right then and there. Now that $6 trillion has been thrown at the wall that won’t stick, what is next?

The Fed policies (and I include most other central banks under that moniker) worked for a while because the QE’s and the ultra low rates supported banks and other enterprises that were essentially zombies. They also “zombified” many other companies that might have been able to survive without them. Look at Boeing.

Look at Apple. They look like a great company but what are their shares worth? Nobody knows, because they bought back too many of them to make price discovery viable. So at least part of Apple looks great only because of trickery, not because of great products. Steve Jobs is turning in his grave as we speak.

 

And now the zombies may be killed off by a virus. Just not if the Fed can help it. But if America runs away with that top spot hard enough, if tens of thousands of new cases become a daily occurrence (we’re at 17,000 so far today), and the first ten thousand fatalities are counted, the country will be locked down and the “markets” will fall off a cliff.

Unless, and that what I’m starting to fear may happen, the powers that be see no other choice than to close the “markets”. That will mean the entire financial system is on the brink of collapse. It would be announced as temporary, but the damage would be done. Everything would turn into one giant margin call, banks would be forced to close, the works, a real depression.

Let’s hope that none of this happens, but the signs are not favorable. America appears much less prepared for a pandemic than even Lombardy was, with too little or too late of everything, ventilators, masks, protective clothing, medicine, you name it. You can’t run an economy in a setting like that.

But at least you’ll be rid of the zombies. It’s a shame, really, that there is no virus that kills only zombies, that so much else must be destroyed with them. The thing is, we did have these instruments to kill zombies, they were called central banks. Should have used them when we had the chance.

 

Our readership is up a lot, but ad revenue only keeps dropping. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

You heard it here first, like so many other things. And no, though it would be far more lucrative financially, the Automatic Earth will not adopt any paywalls, not here and not on Patreon. But you can still support us there, as well as right here. It’s easy. Thanks everyone for your donations overnight.

 

 

 

 

 

Support us in virustime. Help the Automatic Earth survive. It’s good for you.

 

Jan 032020
 
 January 3, 2020  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Alfred Palmer New B-25 bomber at Kansas City plant of North American Aviation 1942

 

America Just Took Out The World’s No. 1 Bad Guy (CNBC)
US Strike That Killed Iranian Commander Starkly Divides US Lawmakers (CNN)
Erdogan Questions Europe As 250,000 Flee Idlib (ZH)
US Dollar as Global Reserve Currency vs Euro, Yen, Renminbi, & Others (WS)
China Cuts US Dollar Weighting In Key Index To Boost Fortunes Of Yuan (SCMP)
China’s Central Bank Frees Up $115 Billion To Support Growth (SCMP)
What the Fed Did to Calm Year-End Hissy-Fit of its Crybaby Cronies (WS)
Greece, Israel, Cyprus: Turkey’s Libya Troops Bill Dangerous Escalation (R.)
Leaders Of Greece, Israel, Cyprus Ink Deal For Pipeline (K.)
The Terrifying Rise of the Zombie State Narrative (Craig Murray)

 

 

Inevitably, the killing of Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad leads to the confirmation of US party lines’ divide. While the GOP stands behind the decision, the Dems have a hard time reconciling their own contradictions. They are a war party, if you look past Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders, but they can’t be seen to agree with Trump. So the likes of Schumer and Pelosi say that while Soleimani won’t be mourned by any American since he was a really terrible person, Trump should have asked for their permission.

The logic being that this could lead to WWIII, a theme that’s all over the internet, so much it makes one think independent thought is under threat. Be that as it may, the president needs permission to declare war, not to hit an individual. Moreover, since they agree killing the man might have been a good idea, they surely realize that he was in a spot where they could get at him, for a limited amount of time, so asking for permission would heve risked losing the opportunity. Weak.

The following two tweets are worth citing:

Nicole Alexander Fisher: “Pelosi voted for Trump’s NDAA which stripped a provison that would have prevented unauthorized war with Iran. She sided with Trump and warhawks on this, as did 188 other Democrats. 41 Dems like AOC, Ilhan Omar, Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and Joe Kennedy voted no.”

Soleimani fought ISIS, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda etc., along with the US.

Sara Abdallah: “The “no. 1 bad guy” who led the counter-terrorism campaigns that defeated ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; the “no. 1 bad guy” who prevented a jihadist takeover of the Middle East.”

I’m still wondering how CNBC became the no. 1 warmonger for the MSM. This is some headline. As for the Dems and GOP, one would be inclined to say: pick your side. But if you look just a little bit closer, you see there is only one side.

 

America Just Took Out The World’s No. 1 Bad Guy (CNBC)

So, just who is this top Iranian general the U.S. just eliminated? For many of us who watch and analyze news out of the Middle East daily, he was the world’s number one bad guy. Qassim Soleimani has been in control of Iran’s Quds Force for more than 20 years. His current greatest hits include helping Bashar al Assad slaughter hundreds of thousands of his own people in the Syrian civil war, stoking the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war, and overseeing the killing of hundreds of Iraqi protesters recently demonstrating against Iranian influence in their country. But most importantly for Americans, Soleimani was behind the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War. Last year, the U.S. State Department put the number of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Iraq at 608 since 2003.


The killing of Soleimani doesn’t have the emotional power of the takedown of Osama bin Laden, and he wasn’t even as well-known to Americans as ISIS founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. But in many ways, taking him out means much more in terms of saving current lives. Remember that bin Laden and al Baghdadi were mostly out of business and in hiding at the time of their deaths. Solemani was busier than ever, directing mayhem all over the Middle East and beyond. For example, these last few days have made it clear to the whole world just how much Iran controlled just about all of Iraq and Iraq’s Shia population. It appears Solemeini not only felt justified in being the likely mastermind behind Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, he also was comfortable enough to travel to Iraq personally to oversee it. But this time, he got too comfortable.

Read more …

No, it doesn’t.

US Strike That Killed Iranian Commander Starkly Divides US Lawmakers (CNN)

The US airstrike that killed Iran Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani generated starkly different reactions along party lines Thursday night, with Republicans heaping praise on President Donald Trump and Democrats expressing concerns about the legality and consequences of the attack. The Pentagon confirmed in a statement that Trump had ordered the strike, saying Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

[..] Some key members of Congress — such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is a member of the congressional Gang of Eight leaders, who are briefed on classified matters — had not been made aware of the attack ahead of time. It’s not clear how many other lawmakers had advance notice of the strike. The Pentagon added that “this strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans” and the US “will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

[..] Democrats pushed back on Republican sentiments about the attack, stressing the potential consequences and lambasting the decision to carry out the strike without congressional authorization. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut emphasized that Soleimani “was an enemy of the United States” in a tweet before stating, “The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” In a more explicit statement, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said, “President Trump is bringing our nation to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any congressional approval as required under the Constitution of the United States.”

[..] On the campaign trail, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden said “no American will mourn” Soleimani but that the strike that killed him is a “hugely escalatory move.” “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “I’m not privy to the intelligence and much remains unknown, but Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East. I hope the Administration has thought through the second- and third-order consequences of the path they have chosen.”

Read more …

This situation is not likely to improve after the assassination:

Erdogan Questions Europe As 250,000 Flee Idlib (ZH)

As Russian and Syrian jets have dramatically stepped up their bombardment of jihadist-held Idlib over the past three weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again warned a massive wave of refugees is headed into Turkey, but that his country is without help and thus is seeking to prevent the new influx. “Right now, 200,000 to 250,000 migrants are moving toward our borders,” Erdogan said while addressing a conference in Ankara. “We are trying to prevent them with some measures, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult, they are humans too.” This after the UN on Monday said that of Idlib province’s some 3 million civilian population, up to 284,000 are currently on the move.


International reports commonly put the current numbers of Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey at about 3.7 million, which Erdogan has of late constantly reminded Europe of as he seeks support for foreign military intervention in places like northeast Syria and now even Libya. During his latest comments, Erdogan actually put the number of refugees across all provinces of Turkey at a whopping 5 million — which would be larger than many small countries. Crucially, during his speech on Thursday, he alluded to his prior threats to “open the gates” and allow refugees to flood into Europe, starting with Greece and other Mediterranean nations:

“Although they [the West] have more resources than we do, why don’t they accept them, why don’t they open the gates?” Erdogan asked. While also slamming Arab League member states for not acting, he answered his own question with, “We are Turkey. Alone this gives us a power and superiority that nobody has.” In late December, Erdogan reiterated prior provocative threats underscoring that “Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped,” as Reuters summarized of the statement.

Read more …

Remarkably stable, really.

US Dollar as Global Reserve Currency vs Euro, Yen, Renminbi, & Others (WS)

The US economy and financial system – including being able to maintain and fund the gargantuan trade deficits and fiscal deficits – has become reliant on the dollar being the dominant global reserve currency. And the IMF just released its next installment on how this status has been changing. Total foreign exchange reserves in all currencies combined declined 0.6% in the third quarter from the second quarter to $11.66 trillion, according to the IMF’s quarterly COFER data. US-dollar-denominated exchange reserves – such as Treasury securities, US corporate bonds, etc. held by foreign central banks – ticked down 0.4% to $6.51 trillion. But holdings denominated in other currencies fell faster, and the share of dollar-denominated reserves edged up to 61.8% of total exchange reserves.


The US dollar’s share of total global reserve currencies declines when central banks other than the Fed proportionately reduce their dollar-denominated assets and add assets denominated in other foreign currencies. Over the long term, the recent moves in the dollar’s share are relatively small. There have been huge moves from 1977 through 1991, when the dollar’s share plunged from 85% to 46%, and then huge moves as the share rose again to 70% by 2000:

In October 2016, the IMF included the Chinese renminbi in the currency basket of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), and the renminbi became officially a global reserve currency. But since then, progress of the currency has been exceedingly slow, and there are no signs the RMB would dethrone the US dollar anytime soon.The creation of the euro came with a lot of hopeful rhetoric that it would reach parity with the US dollar in every way, including as global trade currency, global financing currency, and global reserve currency. [..] During the initial phase of the conversion of European currencies to the euro, the euro’s share of global reserve currencies rose and the dollar’s share fell from 71.5% in 2001 to 66.5% in 2002.

Read more …

Wait, so China is desperate for dollars, and then decides dollars are becoming less important? Yeah, we’ll all believe it.

China Cuts US Dollar Weighting In Key Index To Boost Fortunes Of Yuan (SCMP)

China’s decision to cut the weighting of the US dollar in a basket of foreign currencies used to determine the strength of the yuan will help Beijing’s long-term efforts to weaken the international dominance of the American currency, economists said. The China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS), a unit of the Chinese central bank, trimmed the weighting of the US dollar on Wednesday to 21.59 per cent from 22.40 per cent in a key yuan exchange index to make it “more representative” of current trade conditions. The new version of the index will be based on 2018 trade data, rather than data from 2015, when the CFETS was first established. The move, which comes amid heightened trade tensions between China and the United States, will help Beijing’s long-term efforts to create an alternative international payments system, economists said.


“The yuan hopes to become a reserve currency, to prevent the situation where the US dollar dominates the global financial system – or the so-called hegemony of the US dollar. This is a longer-term goal … and an inevitable trend,” said Shen Jianguan, vice-president and chief economist at JD Digits, although he added that the adjustment also reflected changes to China’s trading environment. His remarks were echoed by Lu Zhengwei, chief economist at China Industrial Bank, who said the cut would give the yuan marginally more independence against the US dollar. “The yuan should live its own way – now there is too much shadow from other [currencies] hanging over it,” he said.

Read more …

The amount is symbolic.

China’s Central Bank Frees Up $115 Billion To Support Growth (SCMP)

China’s central bank has announced a move to unleash 800 billion yuan (US$115 billion) from the banking system to support the economy, sending a pro-growth message on the first day of 2020. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will reduce the deposit reserve ratio in financial institutions by 0.5 percentage points from January 6, mainly to offer sufficient funding to the real economy, according to a notice published on the bank’s website. The announcement on Wednesday came after growth continued to weaken while China and the United States prepared to sign an interim trade deal in mid-January. The central bank said this round of funding was partially to offset cash withdrawals before the Lunar New Year, and would not change its stance on monetary policy.


From Monday, the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for big banks will be lowered to 12.5 per cent, while the ratio for medium and small banks will be reduced to 10.5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. In 2019, the central bank cut the RRR rate three times. “The RRR cut will help boost investor confidence and support the economy, which is gradually steadying,” said Wen Bin, an economist at Minsheng Bank in Beijing, who also expects another cut in China’s new loan prime rate this month. After 18 months of the trade war between China and the United States, the Chinese economy, the world’s second largest, is facing external and domestic headwinds, with growth slowing to 6 per cent in the third quarter, the lowest since 1992. By value of goods, China’s export growth fell 0.3 per cent between January and November 2019, while import growth was down 4.5 per cent for the same period.

Read more …

End the Fed. They lost control a decade ago.

What the Fed Did to Calm Year-End Hissy-Fit of its Crybaby Cronies (WS)

The big fear was that the repo market would blow out again at the end of 2019, as banks would be window-dressing their balance sheets by building up reserves to certain levels. In the process, they would refuse to lend to the repo market. And borrowing pressure on the other side – such as hedge funds or mortgage REITs that borrow cheaply in the repo market to fund long-term bets – would drive up repo rates. At the end of 2018, repo rates blew out, but quickly settled down without the Fed’s involvement. In September 2019, repo rates blew out again. At this point, the rattled Fed started dousing the market with hundreds of billions of dollars to calm the repo market and prevent another year-end blowout.


To do this, the Fed engaged in repo operations and also began purchasing short-term Treasury bills. This calmed the repo market, and at the end of December, repo rates didn’t blow out. But on January 1, the Fed did a huge $64 billion reverse repo, the opposite of a repo, thus draining overnight $64 billion in liquidity from the market. This astounding spike in reverse repo balances showed up on its balance sheet for the week ended January 1, released today:

In a reverse repo, the Fed sells securities and takes in cash, under an agreement to buy back those securities at a fixed price on a set date. A reverse repo drains liquidity from the market. When the reverse repo unwinds on the maturity date, as the Fed buys back those securities, it adds liquidity to the market. Reverse repos are liabilities on the Fed balance sheet. In a normal repo, the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, under agreements to repurchase them at a fixed price on a specific date, such as the next day or in a longer period. This adds liquidity to the market for the duration of the repo.


When the repo matures and unwinds, the liquidity gets drained. But a new repo can roll this over. Repos are assets on the Fed’s balance sheet. Total repos on the Fed’s balance sheet on January 1 rose to $256 billion, up $48 billion from a month earlier (as of Dec 4 balance sheet):

Read more …

Erdogan is not sitting pretty.

Greece, Israel, Cyprus: Turkey’s Libya Troops Bill Dangerous Escalation (R.)

Turkey’s bill allowing troop deployment in Libya marks a dangerous escalation in the North African country’s civil war and severely threatens stability in the region, a joint statement by Greece, Israel and Cyprus said late on Thursday. “This decision constitutes a gross violation of the UNSC resolution…imposing an arms embargo in Libya and seriously undermines the international community’s efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to the Libyan conflict,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said in the statement.


Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows troops to be deployed in Libya, in a move that paves the way for further military cooperation between Ankara and Tripoli but is unlikely to put boots on the ground immediately. Turkey’s move comes after Ankara and the internationally recognized government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj signed two separate agreements in November: one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, infuriating Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

Read more …

The exact same countries want to cut a pipeline straight through an area claimed by Turkey. Think there’s a connection?

Leaders Of Greece, Israel, Cyprus Ink Deal For Pipeline (K.)

The intergovernmental agreement signed on Thursday by Greece, Israel and Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed pipeline sent out multiple diplomatic messages. The first of these relates to the endurance of the trilateral cooperation itself. In the 10 years since its inception, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and the prime ministers of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, confirmed that the relationship between the three countries is not circumstantial. Skepticism concerning the situation in Jerusalem after three consecutive national elections which will have been held by March is reasonable. However, it will be very difficult for any Israeli government to roll back years of planning.

The second message concerns Turkey, as the pipeline will link Israel’s reserves with Cyprus, then Crete and mainland Greece through an area that Ankara says belongs to Turkey, according to the pact it signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based government. The EastMed agreement is essentially a legal act stemming from international law as it expresses the will of three sovereign and elected governments (in contrast to that in Tripoli) to deepen their cooperation. At the same time it is a message of cooperation which leaves the door open for Ankara to take part if it decides so. However, signs Thursday were not encouraging as a pair of Turkish F-16s fighter jets made six overflights over Oinousses and the nearby island of Panagia, while the presence of the Turkish fleet around Cyprus remains emphatic.

Moreover, the Turkish Parliament decided on Thursday to approve the deployment of troops to Libya, if deemed necessary. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said any project that ignores the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the region will fail, while Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said the pipeline is an obstacle to efforts for a solution to the Cyprus problem. The third message is to countries such as Italy and Egypt. With the signing of the deal, Athens, Nicosia and Jerusalem showed they were not willing to wait for the perfect conditions to prevail before moving ahead.

Read more …

“..the western powers are now busily attacking the Iraqi Shia majority government they themselves installed, for the crime of being a Shia majority government.”

The Terrifying Rise of the Zombie State Narrative (Craig Murray)

The ruling Establishment has learnt a profound lesson from the debacle over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. The lesson they have learnt is not that it is wrong to attack and destroy an entire country on the basis of lies. They have not learnt that lesson despite the fact the western powers are now busily attacking the Iraqi Shia majority government they themselves installed, for the crime of being a Shia majority government. No, the lesson they have learnt is never to admit they lied, never to admit they were wrong. They see the ghost-like waxen visage of Tony Blair wandering around, stinking rich but less popular than an Epstein birthday party, and realise that being widely recognised as a lying mass murderer is not a good career choice.

[..] The security services outlet Bellingcat would publish some photos of big missiles planted in the sand. The Washington Post, Guardian, New York Times, BBC and CNN would republish and amplify these pictures and copy and paste the official statements from government spokesmen. Robert Fisk would get to the scene and interview a few eye witnesses who saw the missiles being planted, and he would be derided as a senile old has-been. Seymour Hersh and Peter Hitchens would interview whistleblowers and be shunned by their colleagues and left off the airwaves. Bloggers like myself would be derided as mad conspiracy theorists or paid Russian agents if we cast any doubt on the Bellingcat “evidence”.

Wikipedia would ruthlessly expunge any alternative narrative as being from unreliable sources. The Integrity Initiative, 77th Brigade, GCHQ and their US equivalents would be pumping out the “Iraqi WMD found” narrative all over social media. Mad Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council would be banning dissenting accounts all over the place in his role as Facebook Witchfinder-General.

Read more …

 

 

 

Include the Automatic Earth in your 2020 charity list. Support us on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Dec 062019
 


Paul Gauguin When are you getting married? 1892

 

 

It wasn’t really the plan to make this a series, but it seems to have turned into one. Part 1 is here: The Fed Detests Free Markets. Part 3 will follow soon. And yeah, I did think perhaps I should have called this one “End The Fed” Is No Longer Enough. Because that’s the idea here. But what’s in a name?

 

 

Okay, let’s talk a bit more about finance again. Though I still think this requires caution, because the meaning of the terminology used in such conversations appears to have acquired ever more diverse meanings for different groups of people. Up to the point where you must ask: are we really still talking about the same thing here?

I’ve said multiple times before that there are no more markets really, or investors, because central banks have killed off the markets. There are still “contraptions” that look like them, like the real thing, but they’re fake. You can see this every time a Fed chief opens their mouth and every single person involved in the fake markets hangs on their lips.

They do that because that Fed head actually determines what anything will be worth tomorrow, not the markets, since the Fed buys everything up, and puts interest rates down so more people can buy grossly overpriced property and assets, and allows companies to buy their own shares so nobody knows what they’re worth anymore.

The Fed today is in the business of propping up zombies. And when I say the Fed, that also means the ECB and BOJ, western central banks. I won’t get into the PBOC here, but they’re not far behind.

Recently, Christine Lagarde, the new ECB head, said the most incredible thing (at least to my ears, I guess not to hers):

We should be happier to have a job than to have our savings protected … I think that it is in this spirit that monetary policy has been decided by my predecessors and I think they made quite a beneficial choice.

Who on earth ever claimed jobs vs savings is some necessary or inevitable “choice”? Why should it be? If this were true, isn’t that a sign that something is terribly wrong? That you can have a job, but you can’t save anything? And aren’t the central banks to blame for that then?

The entire system has been built for decades around the notion that people save, either to purchase big items, or for their old age, and that people put money into their pension systems. And now central banks come along and in no time destroy what has been valid for all these years. And they never even warned about it.

Anyway, after Lagarde’s remarks, I guess the Fed’s Jay Powell felt he couldn’t be left behind and said:

US central bankers see a “sustained expansion” ahead for the country’s economy, with the full impact of recent interest rate cuts still to be felt and low unemployment boosting household spending, Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell said on Wednesday in remarks that brushed aside any worries of a looming slowdown.

“The baseline outlook remains favorable,” and the current level of interest rates “appropriate,” Mr Powell said in remarks prepared for delivery to the joint economic committee of congress, a panel that includes some members from the House of Representatives and Senate.


His comments tracked closely to those in his news conference last month after the US central bank cut rates for the third time this year and signaled it was likely done reducing borrowing costs absent a significant change in the economic outlook. Despite “noteworthy risks” including slowing global growth and fallout from the US-China trade war, “my colleagues and I see a sustained expansion of economic activity … as most likely,” Mr Powell said in his prepared remarks for the hearing.

Former Goldman and Bear Stearns banker, and friend of the Automatic Earth, Nomi Prins, tweeted yesterday: “Tuesday, the Fed added $95 billion in liquidity to financial markets. Today, Fed’s vice chair told Congress, “The Board’s latest [review] confirms the current health of the banking system. It depicts a stable, healthy, and resilient banking sector…” The Fed’s official for supervision and regulation told Congress, “The Board’s latest Supervision and Regulation Report… describes steady improvements in safety and soundness, with a gradual decline in outstanding supervisory actions at both the largest & smallest organizations..”

“The baseline outlook remains favorable,” Powell said. That must be why they have been pulling out all the stops and invented new ones, for a decade+. Bernanke, Yellen, the lot of them, all because the baseline has remained so favorable. Why would anyone want to listen to this guy, who so obviously dabbles in complete nonsense? Well, because he’s the one giving the money away.

I think I can tell Mr. Powell what the “full impact of recent interest rate cuts” will be, what it will feel like, and it won’t be anywhere near what he pretends it will be. I must think he knows that too, or he’s an utter fool, and I don’t think he is. He’s just doing a job, while he’s worth $100 million, and that job is very different from how it’s presented to the public.

I’ll tell you about that full impact in part 3 of this Fed essay, which I left on the shelf for a long time because I thought people would declare me nuts, but which now, with increasing chatter of a next recession, maybe can be exposed to daylight. It’s about how grave the damage is that central banks have inflicted on their economies, something I never see discussed. Powell and Draghi/Lagarde and Kuroda are not just the ones giving the money away, they’re also taking it away, just not from the same people. And that latter part is much more important to societies and economies.

A third quote, just to complete the “circle”, deals with BOJ chief Kuroda; it’s from a June 2019 Reuters article entitled How Japan Turned Against Its ‘Bazooka’-Wielding Central Bank Chief:

The direction taken by the BOJ could determine whether Japan’s banking sector avoids a hard landing and whether Abe or his successor will lean on the central bank to take the most extreme step remaining: printing money for the explicit purpose of financing a national debt that is now more than twice the size of Japan’s economy. That could risk a costly downgrade by credit rating agencies for Japan, and, by extension, Japanese corporate borrowers.

The spurning of Kuroda-nomics also has political implications. It is part of a broader public dissatisfaction with what has been labeled “Abenomics” – the prime minister’s plan to reflate the economy out of prolonged stagnation through a combination of aggressive monetary easing, bold fiscal spending and fundamental structural reforms in the economy.


“Kuroda’s radical stimulus kept interest rates low, allowing politicians to delay reforms to get Japan’s fiscal house in order,” said Koichi Haji, executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute. “The foot-dragging could cost Japan dearly. The options left for the BOJ all seem extreme.”

Options left for the BOJ will be even more extreme because Japan’s Birth Rate Has Hit Its Lowest Level Since Records Began In 1899. As a Dutch comment on that report said: “by 2050 there will be one working Japanese for every child or pensioner [..] Japan adopted a law in April designed to make it easier for foreigners to work in Japan. The goal was to attract 350,000 foreign workers. 8 months later, just 400 had arrived”.

And just this week we read that Japan is preparing another $120-$230 billion stimulus package. Extreme has become normal in no time. Only, the ratings agencies could lower their rating for Japan, because of this. Then again, why should they do it only for Japan? Everyone’s in “extreme” territory, or as Ben Bernanke called it in 2008, “uncharted territory”. Same difference.

 

But Lagarde is right on one thing: it is “the monetary policy decided by her predecessors” that has destroyed savings -and pensions-. How on earth she can call that “beneficial” is very hard to grasp. What is the goal, what is all these central bankers’ goal? That in the end nobody has any savings or pensions anymore, and they all must go into debt or perish? That would create entire societies made up of zombies. And that’s “policy”?

It’s policy to spin a fantasy tale so people like Jay Powell can claim that “the baseline outlook remains favorable” and “sustained expansion” lies ahead for the economy, and it’s policy to pay for that fantasy with money that belongs to savers and pensioners, and that you can then hand out to a bunch of zombie “investors”. That’s policy.

The role of today’s central bankers is possible only because the public are made to think these are very smart people that have the interest of Joe Blow at heart, and because they have “unlimited resources” to make stocks and bonds and the housing market look good. But what would happen if Joe Blow knew what is going on?

The Fed is now considering “policy” that “makes up for lost inflation”. No, stop laughing, I’m serious. Their extreme policies in uncharted territory have failed so dismally, they’ve obviously not been extreme enough.

Once they’ve gone down the path of extreme stimulus (not that they call it that), there’s no way back. Because they’ve just destroyed the markets, and then they go: let’s see how the markets react to that. Well, they don’t. They’re dead. You killed them. There are parties left who love feeding off of your free money teats, but they’re not the markets or even market participants. They’re rich socialists. But they’re also the only ones the Fed cares about.

Still, a central bank that doesn’t have the population at large, at the center of its policies, is a scourge on a society and/or country. And it should be abolished. But in the case of the Fed, ECB and BOJ, it is probably already too late for that. They have done their damage. “End The Fed” is no longer enough. Societies need to develop emergency measures to counter the damage done, or face untold misery, unrest and eventually, revolution.

People don’t see this, because these central banks -temporarily- taper over the disaster they’ve wrought with their “policies”. Time for the media to step in? No, it’s too late for that too, and besides, what media? They’ve been silent all along, why would they speak up now?

More in part 3.

 

 

Put the Automatic Earth on your Christmas donations list. Support us on Paypal and Patreon.

Top of the page, left and right sidebars. Thank you.

 

 

 

Aug 022019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with a toy boat 1937

 

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)
Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)
Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)
Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)
US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)
The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)
EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)
Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)
Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)
Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)
Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)
Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

 

 

The war on savings and pensions continues unabated. Central banks are in so deep there’s no way out anymore. But what happens when you want to, or have to, retire?

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)

It’s called interest-rate repression. Or more poetically, financial repression. It’s where central banks manipulate interest rates down to where investments with little credit risk, such as Treasury securities, FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs, pay little or no interest, or pay less interest than the rate of inflation. People such as savers and retirees, and institutions such as pension funds, that depend on this cash flow have lost their income stream. In addition, the purchasing power of their principal is getting gradually wiped out by inflation. How much money are we talking about? In the US alone, this interest rate repression impacts nearly $40 trillion. This includes savings products, Treasury securities, municipal bonds, and high-grade corporate debt.

$40 Trillion with a T. A 2% reduction across the board cuts this income by $800 billion a year. And this has had an impact. Central banks have accomplished this interest-rate repression by pushing short-term rates to zero or below zero, and by buying bonds and other assets to push long-term rates down too. These were emergency measures during the Financial Crisis that have become the “new normal,” as it has been called. This new normal has been going on for over a decade now. Other central banks, including the ECB and the Bank of Japan, pushed their policy rates below zero. This, in addition to vast asset buying binges by those central banks, produced $13 trillion in negative yielding bonds. But that’s a different universe of idiocy that we’re not going to get into today. We’re going to stick to US conditions.

To the Fed’s credit, it is the only major central bank that has raised its policy-rate target a bit, from near-zero to a range between 2.25% and 2.5%, which are still historically low rates. But it is under immense pressure by Wall Street and by the White House to cut rates again. So now we have this situation where short-term Treasury yields are low, and long-dated Treasury yields are even lower. How much money are we talking about here? Let’s see. There are $22 trillion in Treasury securities. They’re held by individuals and institutions, including insurance companies, pension funds, and the Social Security Trust Fund. Then there is high-grade corporate debt. The category of triple-A to single-A-rated debt is about $3.3 trillion. These yields have been pushed down too.

Then there are $3.8 trillion in municipal bonds outstanding. Many of them trade below US Treasury yields. For example, the GO bonds of California, which is not exactly a paragon of fiscal rectitude. During trading last Thursday, the California 10-year yield was 1.76%. This was about one-third of a percentage point below the US Treasury 10-year yield of 2.08% on the same day. Then there are $9.4 trillion in savings products, mostly savings accounts and CDs at banks. There are also about $3 trillion in checking accounts, payroll accounts, etc., but they’re not included here. These are just savings products. So let’s add these categories up: They amount to $39 trillion.

Read more …

“There is no shortage of money in the market.”

Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)

Ralph Hamers made his plea as central banks redouble efforts to keep the cost of borrowing at historic lows to buoy the economy, a policy that weighs on bank profits and makes it costly to hold deposits. “I don’t think QE is a recipe to support an uncertain environment,” Hamers told journalists, referring to so-called quantitative easing to print fresh money. “There is no shortage of money in the market.” Although bankers have previously made similar complaints, Hamers’ blunt comments carry weight because his bank is one of Europe’s largest, with 38 million customers. ING, the largest Dutch bank, cautioned on Thursday that rock-bottom interest rates would pressure future earnings, as it announced a 1.4 billion euro net profit in the second quarter of the year.


“Looking ahead, we expect that persistently low interest rates will put pressure on net interest income,” Hamers said, referring to the bank’s chief earnings pillar from activities such as lending. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has all but pledged to loosen monetary policy further amid a continued economic deterioration of Europe’s euro currency bloc, still grappling with the aftermath of a debt crisis. Officials recently told Reuters that an interest rate cut in September appeared certain, while government bond buys were also likely. Draghi recently said the outlook looked bleak as a global trade war hit Europe’s manufacturers.

Read more …

Did he do it to push Powell?

Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)

Donald Trump’s surprise decision to escalate the trade war with tariffs on another $300bn of Chinese goods has sent global financial markets into a tailspin. After sharp falls on Wall Street in the wake of the US president’s announcement on Twitter on Thursday, Asian share prices plummeted on Friday morning as growing hopes that the world’s two economic superpowers would be able to reach a deal were dashed. In Tokyo the Nikkei was down 2.3%, with a similar fall in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Kospi was down 0.8% in Seoul while in Sydney the benchmark ASX200, which passed its pre-global financial crisis all-time high on Tuesday, fell 0.3%. On the commodities markets the price of Brent crude oil plunged 7%, its biggest fall for four years, although it recovered 2.5% on Friday to $62.01.


Trump’s decision was also likely to increase the chances of another cut in US interest rates with the prospect of worsening trade with China forcing the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy again in September. It follows Wednesday’s 0.25% reduction, which was widely seen as not being enough to please the president who has been very vocal in calling for lower rates to boost the economy. As a signal of lower rates to come, the 10-year US bond yield fell almost 12 basis points on Thursday to 1.902%, hitting the lowest level since Trump won the presidential election in November 2016. The US dollar also fell and stockmarkets in Europe and the US were braced for a turbulent last day’s trading of the week. The FTSE100 is set to drop 1% at the opening and the Dow 0.3%.

Read more …

“It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.”

Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)

Earlier today, we wrote a post titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Not Cut Again?”, with Goldman providing a stylized answer, although in retrospect, the post should have been titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Cut Again”, as that is what the market was far more concerned about after yesterday’s hawkish Powell press conference. In any case, Goldman hinted at the one specific catalyst that could force the Fed to cut more: “We also see risks in the other direction, especially on a significant escalation of tariffs against China.” To this, we said that “if an acceleration in the trade war with China is what the Fed will need to cut more, it’s pretty clear what that means for the chances of any trade deal between Washington and Beijing, since even Trump now understands that if he keeps escalating trade war with China, Powell will have no choice but to eventually cut to 0% (and lower).”

Just a few hours later, we were proven right in suggesting that an escalation in the trade war is inevitable and imminent when Trump tweeted that he would hike tariffs on $300BN in Chinese imports to 10% starting September 1, ending the tentative ceasefire with Beijing with a bang, and sending risk prices sharply lower. And yes, while Trump did suffer a modest drop in his favorite polling indicator – i.e., the stock market – which “cratered” as much as 1.5% below its all time high – far more importantly Trump also called Powell’s bluff, and effectively forced the Fed to prepare for more rate cuts as the trade war with China – which Powell explicitly highlighted as a condition that would result in more easing – is set to escalate further.

Late today, Bloomberg confirmed as much noting that traders “fixated on a timeline in which Powell seems to suggest cooling trade tensions reduced the need for future rate reductions — and a day later Trump revs the tensions back up”, just as we said he would. “It fits the pattern of a president bent on getting the central bank to submit, many thought”, the Bloomberg authors concluded. “Powell was very careful to say that he was looking at three things, one of which was global growth and the extent to which that is risked by trade tensions,” said Ellen Hazen, senior vice president and portfolio manager for F.L. Putnam, which has $2.2 billion under management. “It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.” Precisely, hence our prediction first thing this morning.

Read more …

Really? Xi is going to build more bridges to nowhere?

US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)

President Donald Trump is threatening new levies on $300 billion of Chinese goods entering the United States, after Shanghai talks proved inconclusive this week. That might not prod Chinese officials into striking a deal, but it is likely to raise some unwelcome zombies. Trump is among those who claim the Chinese economy is on the brink of the abyss. And it’s true that as a truce in trade negotiations gets more elusive the country’s business community is being forced to price in a new status quo. Their country has stumbled into a cold war with the world’s largest economy, a nuclear-armed military colossus that controls the world’s foremost trading currency. But a $13 trillion economy growing at 6.2% is hardly imploding, and a country where private consumption makes up roughly two-fifths of nominal GDP has padding against a downturn in trade.


Tensions exacerbate economic problems of China’s own making, though. There is a massive stack of non-performing debt incurred by government banks that mis-allocated capital after the global financial crisis. And there are still plenty of inefficient state-backed companies that compete with China’s private sector, driving down profitability across the board. If the new 10% tariffs kick in on Sept. 1 as Trump threatened on Thursday, President Xi Jinping may re-open a playbook that reformist officials have been trying to close. The central government has already pushed localities to ramp up infrastructure spending, and there may be more to come. Construction investment creates jobs immediately, and the government can order banks to lend, and order state firms to build.

Read more …

Trump won’t like this.

The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)

New officials at the heart of the EU will likely keep America’s big tech firms under close scrutiny, experts have told CNBC. The European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — has fined companies such as Google for disrespecting its competition rules, it’s asked Ireland to collect unpaid taxes from Apple and is currently investigating Amazon. It has also proposed different laws that seek to limit online content and there’s little evidence that anything will change under the EU’s new leadership. Dexter Thillien, a senior industry analyst at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC via telephone Wednesday that Europe is keen to continue to be seen as the global leading force in tech regulation. Thillien explained that Europe saw a loophole in global tech regulation and felt the need to act.


“Europeans have all the negatives but none of the positives,” he said, referring to the fact that Europe has not created any large tech firms but has had to deal with the presence of Silicon Valley behemoths. “The European Commission has become more assertive making big tech companies pay their fair share of taxes. If anything, the incoming Commission looks even more determined to do so,” Florian Hense, an economist at Berenberg, told CNBC via email. Ursula von der Leyen, the president-elect of the Commission, said during a speech earlier this month that “if (tech companies) are making these profits by benefiting from our education system, our skilled workers, our infrastructure and our social security, if this is so, it is not acceptable that they make profits, but they are barely paying any taxes because they play our tax system.”

Read more …

A European under Washington’s thumb.

EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)

European Union finance ministers are set on Friday to choose the bloc’s candidate to lead the International Monetary Fund from a list of four names, a spokeswoman for the French government said. The list includes Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch former head of euro zone finance ministers; Nadia Calvino, the Spanish economy minister; Olli Rehn, the Finnish central bank governor; and Bulgaria’s World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva. Mario Centeno, the Portuguese chairman of euro zone finance ministers, said on Thursday he was pulling out of the race “in this stage of the process”, adding that he would be available if needed for a compromise solution.


Britain did not field a candidate because it could not come up with a name on time, a European official said. It had been expected to name a candidate and the deadline was extended by a few hours on Thursday to allow it to do so. France is leading the process to select a European candidate. The top job at the Washington-based global lender has historically been filled by a European. Outgoing IMF head Christine Lagarde is taking over from Mario Draghi as European Central Bank president.

Read more …

is that enough to push through a no-deal Brexit?

Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)

The Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, leaving new PM Boris Johnson with a Commons working majority of just one. Jane Dodds overturned an 8,038 majority to beat incumbent Conservative Chris Davies by 1,425 votes. Mr Davies stood again after being unseated by a petition following his conviction for a false expenses claim. It was the first electoral test for Mr Johnson just eight days after becoming prime minister. It is the quickest by-election defeat for any new prime minister since World War Two.


Now, with the thinnest possible working majority, he will have to rely heavily on the support of his own MPs and his confidence-and-supply partners the DUP to get any legislation passed in key votes. It was also a bad night for Labour, whose vote share dropped by 12.4% as it was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party. The result means the Lib Dems now have 13 MPs. Ms Dodds, who is the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, said: “My very first act as your new MP when I get to Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson, wherever he’s hiding, and tell him to stop playing with the future of our community and rule out a no-deal Brexit.”

Read more …

“Paddy should know his place..”

Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)

Boris Johnson’s approach to Ireland is part of an ignoble tradition in British politics. At its heart is the false assumption that superiority in resources and military prowess equates to a superiority in intellectual power and moral rectitude. In short, the idea that might is right and that, ultimately, Paddy should know his place. This assumption shaped and even, at times, dominated, policy on Ireland for centuries before independence. It runs through 19th-century British depictions of the Irish as incapable of self-government, unreliable, lazy and inferior. For Benjamin Disraeli, a British prime minister who shares some personal characteristics with the current incumbent, the Irish were “wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious”.

Most obviously, this sense of superiority and a refined “moral” stance was clearly manifest in government policy during the Great Famine of 1845-49, which caused the deaths of more than one million people on the island of Ireland. This consistently damaging strain of thought continued into the 20th century, with British military and economic power often used crudely to address deep-rooted political conflicts in Ireland, which refused, and continue to refuse, to allow for simple solutions. Ireland, the thinking went, should be the handmaiden for glorious Britannia – and this servile position is for Ireland’s own benefit and ultimately serves Irish interests.

Of course, within this particular strain of British political thought, the history of violence and tragedy in Ireland is sometimes portrayed as a product of Irish recalcitrance – a tendency towards disorder and conflict that fails to recognise the beneficence of British policy on the island. Britain, it is often suggested, is a guarantor of Irish stability, addressing and suppressing the inherent conflicts in Irish society, rather than a highly disruptive force that has often recklessly pursued its own interests at a serious cost to its nearest neighbour.

Read more …

“Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”.

Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)

In The Ultras, the brutal, brilliant novel by Eoin McNamee set during the Troubles, the protagonist (based on the real-life undercover British intelligence officer Robert Nairac) finds himself in the company of dangerous men like himself. The Ultras plot terrible events and create dark polities while forcing everyone else to live with their consequences. “Ultra meaning beyond,” wrote McNamee. “Ultra meaning extreme.” The so-called war cabinet formed by the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and whose course the maverick arch-Brexiteer Dominic Cummings now charts, of course bears no resemblance to the characters in the war of the Ultras imagined by McNamee.

But the sheer velocity and ferocity of their opening salvoes about crashing out of the EU with no deal on October 31 unless the backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland – is abolished, raise the kind of alarm that we in Ireland have not felt since the dark years of the Troubles. The political fear is that this new breed of “Brexit Ultras” (Johnson’s cabinet with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party snapping at its heels) could deliberately pursue a no-deal EU exit at the expense of a volatile Irish peace. The sabre-rattling and pre-emptive blame-shifting of course is intended to shore up political support in the UK ahead of a possible general election, but also to intimidate Ireland into abandoning the backstop while shaking the unity of the EU27.

Europe, with its own demons to face, has its red lines too and will not sacrifice the single market or its external borders, or jeopardise the wider integrity of the European project. Ireland, and the fragile peace process that has been built over the past 20 years, falls between these two positions. And while it is still early days for the Johnson premiership, we have a deteriorated state of Anglo-Irish relations following his ascent to power. How real is the damaging rhetoric emanating from London and the anti-Irish tropes spewing from much of the British media? David Yelland, the former editor of the Sun, revealed that he had been shocked when “Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”. “It seems, amazingly, that this is the actual policy of HMG under Johnson,” tweeted Yelland. “They are anti-Irish, arrogant, dangerous and wrong.”

Read more …

Well, actually, they’re going to change hardware: a second flight control computer and a second angle-of-attack sensor. Both of which are altready on board, but not used.

Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)

Boeing Co plans further changes to the software architecture of the 737 MAX flight-control system to address a flaw discovered after a test in June, two people briefed on the matter said late on Thursday. The redesign, first reported by the Seattle Times, involves using and receiving input from both flight control computers rather than one. The move comes in response to an effort to address a problem discovered in June during a Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) simulator test. This is on top of earlier announced changes to take input from both angle-of-attack sensors in the MCAS anti-stall system linked to two deadly crashes that led to a global grounding of the plane.


Boeing still hopes to complete the software redesign by the end of September to submit to the FAA for approval, the sources said. For decades, 737 models have used only one of the flight control computers for each flight, with the system switching to the other computer on the following flight, according to people familiar with the plane’s design. The FAA said in June that it had identified a new risk that would need to be addressed before the plane could be ungrounded. Under a scenario where a specific fault in a microprocessor caused an uncommanded movement of the plane’s horizontal tail, it took pilots too long to recognize a loss of control known as runaway stabilizer, a Boeing official said at the time.

Read more …

Crazy bag lady.

Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

Once a shining beacon of hope for Russiagate true believers, it looks like Rachel Maddow has left her best days behind her; MSNBC’s conspiracy queen has seen her show plummet to fifth place in cable news ratings. What happened? You rise fast and fall hard in the fickle world of television. Just last April, Maddow overtook Fox News’ Sean Hannity to claim the title of most-watched host across cable news. She had become a reliable source for Russigate aficionados to get their daily dose of crazy. Sadly for Maddow, the latest data released by Nielsen shows her show in fifth place with a total audience of 2.4877 million viewers for July – behind Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and The Five (all Fox News shows).


For context, in January this year, Maddow still boasted an audience of nearly 3.3 million, which means she shed around 800,000 viewers in just six months. Maddow was also in fifth place among viewers in the 25-54 age range – the group most-favored by advertisers. Ouch. Once dubbed “the smartest person on TV” by Forbes (really), this is certainly not the big payoff Maddow was expecting, having dedicated three years of her career to breathlessly covering every twist and turn in the anticlimactic Trump-Russia “collusion” drama.

Read more …

 

Ship with dolphins.Wall painting from Akrotiri, Thera island (Santorini), Greece.17th century BC.

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 062019
 


Jack Delano A welder in the roundhouse of the Chicago and North Western Railroad’s Proviso yard 1942

 

It’s rare that I reach back into the past of the Automatic Earth, but it’s not entirely unique either. The reason I do it today is not only the relevance of the article -in my view-, or the fact it was published so long ago, but it’s that the ‘world’ has changed so much since January 1 2014, the date I wrote the piece below, as Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. It’s gained much new relevance since.

This essay, way back when, dealt with Carl -Gustav- Jung, probably the most influential psycho-analist we’ve ever known (he’s having a heated discussion with Freud about this as we speak, over a glass of brandy), and his take in the 1950s on our ability to incorporate new technologies into our lives, our minds and brains.

Jung couldn’t have dreamt how much of that was yet to come, but he already put some very dire warnings out there. His main point appears to be that our capacity to ’embrace’ anything new is per definition -very- limited because we ARE our ancestors, and whatever they never knew, we will have a hard if not impossible time making part of our lives.

It’s just that, as he warns, we are completely blind to this. Once you lose the link to your ancestors, you will move away from them ever faster. Because there’s nothing left to anchor you. But at the same time, you ARE your ancestors.

I am thinking about this on a near constant basis as I see people sit or move around with their iPhones et al, and their Facebook and Instagram et al, and I wonder what they did with their lives before they could walk the streets bumping into each other -or the odd car- before a constant link to faraway places seemed appropriate and/or needed.

Jung already thought about this, before it existed, 60-odd years ago. He framed it as: what are you giving up for what you gain? But of course the whole younger part of the poulation, who’ve never known anything else, have no notion of having given up anything. They never did anything else with their lives.

Well, Jung had a completely different idea. He said our brains haven’t even processed the times we never knew, ‘primitivity’, ‘antiquity’, or the Middle Ages yet, let alone radio, TV, or the internet. “We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.”

Carl Jung claimed that our only true frame of reference is our ancestors, and since they never knew radio, TV, internet, we cannot incorporate such things into our lives without losing our connection to them. But we ARE them, and if we would ever lose that connection, we would be beyond lost. We’d be gone. First mentally, then -inevitably- physically.

And what we label ‘progress’ is then merely a way to move ever faster awasy from what we really are, which is the ancestors that gave birth to us. Gone, lost, into some empty space, with no grounding and no purpose.

Perhaps that goes a ways towards explaining why we are destroying the planet we live on. We lost the connection to who we are. We are focused today only on progress, on the future, and not on the present, because the present requires a link to the past.

Here’s my take on this 5.5 years ago. Before all these millions of zombies were stalking the streets looking only at their phones, eagerly – nay, desperately- awaiting messages from people thousands of miles away. Mostly about what food they eat, no less, or what dress they wear.

The concept of what constitutes our lives has changed profoundly. It is no longer the people around us, or even the landscape, our lives now are made up of people who are not here (and landscapes in travel brochures and nature documentaries). That is quite something.

Carl Jung said quite a while ago that our minds and brains cannot handle that. But there you are and here we go.

 

 

Ilargi, Jan 1 2014: I thought I’d start off 2014 on a philosophical note, with something that I hope perhaps people will remember as the year progresses, or even through the rest of their lives, and share with those around them. In my humble view, that would do the planet a world of good. But it’s not easy; we have wandered far.

There are many things we have neglected and forgotten, if not never understood or even thought about, that are nevertheless essential to our personal well-being and that of our surroundings. If anyone in the western world has considered and analyzed these forgotten ‘things’, it’s Carl Gustav Jung, the psycho-therapist who died in 1961. Jung defined the collective unconscious, archetypes and synchronicity, among many other things. It was his active interest in Eastern civilization and philosophies that led him to ponder how the collective unconsciousness influences our notion of progress.

In general, Jung suggested that our minds are woefully ill-equipped to incorporate progress into our lives when it takes the shape of new methodology, and new machinery, gadgets, because we don’t have a suitable frame of reference for them. We interpret the world through the frame of reference embedded in our minds that was built through countless generations of our ancestors. That is not to say we can never comprehend or incorporate new things, but that it must always be a gradual process, and if we are not at all times sufficiently aware of how this process takes place, as it takes place, we will lose ourselves, because we risk losing our connection to our ancestors, and we ARE, in essence, our ancestors.

In particular, we need to be aware of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute progress, that every time we add something to our world, we take something away as well. It’s the Eastern notion of balance, of yin and yang, at play: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. Life does not by definition only get better when someone invents a new phone or car or facial cream, even if that phone makes it easier to talk to someone thousands of miles away, or the car makes it easier to go see people, or get away from them, or the cream dissolves wrinkles like magic. It doesn’t work like that. We pay a price: for everything we add, we lose something. The question then becomes: what do we value most. But that’s a question we never ask: we see everything new as an addition to our lives, and ignore what gets taken away from us.

As Jung wrote about these issues, probably in the late 1950s, the world was very different from what it is today. If he were alive now, he would undoubtedly have found that difference very painfully unsettling, and declared it dangerous for all of mankind. When we lose our connection to the collective references passed on by those whose DNA we carry, references that we are born with, we lose our connection with ourselves, and we become disoriented, dissatisfied.

There is no happy ending to this process. It needs to be shut down at some point, and therefore it will, in order for us to reconnect with our own minds and brains, which owe their composition and very existence to our forefathers. But for the process to be shut down, we must be deprived of both our ability and our drive to generate progress, since we will never volunteer to stop. We must go on, because we lost our connection to ourselves. There is no way back, not if we insist on keeping on going “forward”. That suggests a return to a sort of stone age world is the only possible outcome.

 

It is precisely Jung and Freud’s insights into the human mind that have made it possible for politicians and advertisers and other tricksters to fool us into thinking we want or need the things that make our world poorer, not richer. There is a huge amount of irony in this: that we use our increased ability to understand our minds in order to fool ourselves. If that doesn’t prove that Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse, what does?

Although it would be best to incorporate the principle into our lives as just that, a general principle, it is of course possible to name specific examples. The automobile, the car, has brought us a lot of pleasure and comfort. It has also polluted our world like maybe no other single invention has ever done. And that’s not even the worst part: the car has cut through our communities like a gutting knife (to the point where we have no recollection of what these communities used to look like), separating us from each other, turned public space into no-go zones, and arguably been made more important than the people whose comfort they were was supposed to serve. For many people who have no car, for one reason or another, their own communities have become de facto inaccessible and unnavigable.

And the car is an easy example. What about medicine? We have, through progress in medicine, been able to save so many people from dying, and/or enabled them to die later, that our population has exploded, a huge problem in more ways than I could even attempt to discuss here. And that’s a hard one: nobody, including me, will suggest we stop saving lives, or start killing people, but there is a problem all the same. Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse.

We can all come up with many examples, fridges, supermarkets, nuclear plants, photographs, indoor plumbing, and think about how they have changed our lives for the better or the worse. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk losing ourselves in examples. We should keep sight of the overriding principle: that we risk destroying our world as we seek to improve it. And that the lessons from a behemoth mind like Jung’s should be used to make us wiser, not to fool us into buying things that harm our lives.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Jung’s prolific writing should be obligatory course material in every single educational institution on the planet, but then you wouldn’t understand your world’s priorities, now, would you? We go with what we find convenient, not with what can make us wiser people. We pick material wealth over mental wealth any day and every day, or mental wealth only if there’s money in it. And perhaps that points to the reason why we find people like Carl Gustav Jung so easy to ignore.

I’ll leave you with Jung’s own words, after saying this: Our rush to obtain new things, a rush we call progress, and to make money from these new things – after all, what money is there in old things? – has disconnected us from our ancestors. Unfortunately, we ARE our ancestors. There is a price we pay for everything that is different today from what is was when our parents were our age, and our grandparents, and their parents before them, and so on. We ignore that price, and pretend we don’t need to pay it, encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t always have to be paid immediately, and we can leave it to our kids to settle the bill. Something we do all too willingly, which somehow puts our connections to our ancestors in a cynical, bleak light even more.

 

Here’s Jung from his book ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, published in 1963, 2 years after his death, in the paragraphs with which he closes the chapter “The Tower”:

 

Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new , in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.

Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress, which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up.

We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognise that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us.

The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.

Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

Reforms by retrogressions, on the other hand, are as a rule less expensive and in addition more lasting, for they return to the simpler, tried and tested ways of the past and make the sparsest use of newspapers, radio, television, and all supposedly timesaving innovations.

In this book I have devoted considerable space to my subjective view of the world, which, however, is not a product of rational thinking. It is rather a vision such as will come to one who undertakes, deliberately, with half-closed eyes and somewhat closed ears, to see and hear the form and voice of being. If our impressions are too distinct, we are held to the hour and minute of the present and have no way of knowing how our ancestral psyches listen to and understand the present – in other words, how our unconscious is responding to it. Thus we remain ignorant of whether our ancestral components find elementary gratification in our lives, or whether they are repelled. Inner peace and contentment depend in large measure upon whether or not the historical family, which is inherent in the individual, can be harmonised with the ephemeral conditions of the present.

In the Tower at Bollingen it is as if one lived in many centuries simultaneously. The place will outlive me, and in its location and style it points backwards to things of long ago. There is very little about it to suggest the present. If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamp and the matches would be new to him; otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty.

There is nothing to disturb the dead, neither electric light nor telephone. Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house. There I live in my second personality and see life in the round, as something forever coming into being and passing on.

 

 

 

 

Dec 272018
 
 December 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Francis Tattegrain La ramasseuse d’épaves (The Beachcomber) 1880

 

I haven’t really written about finance since April of this year, and given recent fluctuations in what people persist in calling the markets, maybe it’s time. Then again, nothing has changed since that article in April entitled This Is Not A Market. I was right then, and I still am.

[..] markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is. Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all.

[..] we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

But perhaps that is confusing, and confusion in and of itself doesn’t lead to better understanding. So maybe I should call what there is out there today ‘zombie markets’. It doesn’t really make much difference. What murdered functioning markets is intervention by central banks, in alleged attempts to save those same markets. Cue your favorite horror movie.

Now Jerome Powell and the Fed he inherited are apparently trying to undo the misery Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen before him wrought upon the economic system, and people, cue Trump, get into fights about that one. All the while still handing the Fed, the ECB, the BoJ, much more power than they should ever have been granted.

And you won’t get actual markets back until that power is wrestled from their cold dead zombie fingers. Even then, the damage will be hard to oversee, and it will take decades. The bankers and investors their free and easy trillions were bestowed upon will be just fine, thank you, but everyone else will definitely not be.

Central banks don’t serve societies, they serve banks. They fool everyone, politicians first of all, into believing that societies automatically do well if only the demands of banks are met first, and as obviously stupid as that sounds, nary a squeak of protest can be heard. Least of all from ‘market participants’ who have done nothing for the better part of this millennium except feast at the teat of main street largesse.

In the past few days we’ve had both -stock- market rallies and plunges of 5% or so, and people have started to realize that is not normal, and it scares them. So you get Tyler posting DataTrek’s Nicolas Colas saying “Healthy” Markets Don’t Rally 1,086 Points On The Dow. Well, he’s kinda right, but there hasn’t been a healthy market in 10+ years, and he’s missed that last bit. Like most people have who work in those so-called ‘markets’.

 

Here’s why Colas is right, but doesn’t understand why. Price discovery is the flipside of the coin that is a functional market, because it allows for people to see why something is valued at the level it is, by a large(r) number of participants. Take that away and it is obvious that violent price swings may start occurring as soon as the comforting money teat stutters, or even just threatens to do so; a rumor is enough.

In physics terms, price discovery, and therefore markets themselves -provided they’re ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’- delivers negative feedback to the system, i.e. it injects self-correcting measures. Take away price discovery, in other words kill the market, and you get positive feedback, where -simplified- changes tend to lead to ever bigger changes until something breaks.

Also, different markets, like stocks, bonds, housing, will keep a check on each other, so nothing will reach insane valuations. If they tend to, people stop buying and will shift their money somewhere else. But when everything has an insane value, how would people know what’s insane anymore, and where could they shift that is not insane?

It doesn’t matter much for ‘market participants’, or ‘investors’ as they prefer to label themselves, they shift trillions around on a daily basis just to justify their paychecks, but for mom and pop it’s a whole different story. In between the two you have pension funds, whose rapid forced move from AAA assets to risk will strangle mom and pop’s old-age plans no matter what.

 

People inevitably talk about the chances of a recession happening, but maybe they should first ask what exactly a recession, or a bear market, is or means when it occurs in a zombie (or just plain dead) market.

If asset ‘values’ have increased by 50% because central banks and companies themselves have bought stocks, it would seem logical that a 10% drop doesn’t have the same meaning as it would in a marketplace where no such manipulation has taken place. Maybe a 50% drop would make more sense then.

The inevitable future is that people are going to get tired of borrowing as soon as it becomes too expensive, hence unattractive, to do so. Central banks can still do more QE, and keep rates low for longer, but that’s not an infinity and beyond move. It a simple question of the longer it lasts the higher will be the price that has to be paid. One more, one last, simple question: who’s going to pay? We all know, don’t we?

 

That’s where the Fed is now. You can let interest rates rise, as Powell et al are indicating they want to do, but that will cut off debt growth, and since debt is exclusively what keeps the economy going, it will cut into economic growth as well. Or you can keep interest rates low (and lower), but then people have less and less idea of the actual value of assets, which can, and eventually necessarily will, cause people to flee from these assets.

Powell’s rate hikes schedule looks nice from a normalizing point of view, and g-d knows what normal is anymore, but it would massacre the zombie markets the Fed itself created when it decided to kill the actual markets. You can get back to normal, but only if the Fed retreats into the Eccles Building and stays there until 2050 or so (or is abolished).

They won’t, the banks whose interests they protect will soon be in far too dire straits, and bailouts have become much harder to come by since 2008. It’ll be a long time before markets actually function again, and we won’t get there without a world of pain. Which will be felt by those who never participated in the so-called markets to begin with. Beware of yellow vests.

To top off the perversity of zombie markets, one more thing. Zombie markets build overcapacity. One of the best things price discovery brings to an economy is that it lets zombies die, that bankrupt companies and bankrupt ideas go the way of the dodo.

That, again, is negative feedback. Take that away, as low rates and free money do, and you end up with positive feedback, which makes zombies appear alive, and distorts the valuation of everything.

Most of what the ‘popular’ financial press discusses is about stocks, what the Dow and S&P have done for the day. But the bond markets are much bigger. So what are we to think when the two are completely out of sync -and whack-?

 

Oh well, those are just ‘the markets’, and we already know that they are living dead. Where that may be less obvious, if only because nobody wants it to be true, is in housing markets. Which, though this is being kept from you with much effort, are what’s keeping the entire US, and most of Europe’s, economies going. And guess what?

The Fed and Draghi have just about hit the max on home prices (check 2019 for the sequel). Prices have gotten too high, Jay Powell wants higher interest rates, Draghi can’t be left too far behind him because EU money would all flow to the US, and it’s all well on its way to inevitability.

And anyway, the only thing that’s being achieved with ever higher home prices is ever more debt for the people who buy them, and who will all be on the hook if those prices are subject to the negative feedback loops healthy markets must be subject too, or else.

The only parties who have profited from rising home prices are the banks who dole out the mortgages and the zombie economy that relies on them creating the money society runs on that way. We have all come to rely on a bunch of zombies to keep ourselves from debt slavery, and no, zombies are not actually alive. Nor are the financial markets, and the economies, that prop them up.

Among the first things in 2019 you will see enormous amounts of junk rated debt getting rated ever -and faster- lower , and the pace at which ever more debt that is not yet junk, downgraded to(wards) junk, accelerating. It looks like the zombies can never totally take over, but that is little comfort to those neck deep in debt even before we start falling.

And as for the ‘players’, the economic model will allow again for them to shove the losses of their braindead ventures onto the destiny of those with ever lower paying jobs, who if they’re lucky enough to be young enough, start their careers in those jobs with ever higher student debts.

You’d think that at some point they should be happy they were never sufficiently credit-worthy to afford one of the grossly overpriced properties that are swung like so many carrots before their eyes, but that’s not how the system works. The system will always find a way to keep pushing them deeper into the financial swamp somehow.

The last remaining growth industry our societies have left is inequality, and that’s what our central banks and governments are all betting on to keep Jack Sparrow’s Flying Dutchman afloat for a while longer. Where the poor get squeezed more so the 1% or 10% get to look good a little longer.

But in the end it’s all zombies all the way down, like the turtles, and some equivalent of the yellow vests will pop up in unexpected places. My prediction for next year.

It doesn’t look to me that a year from now we’ll see 2019 as a particular peaceful year, not at all like 2018. I called it from Chaos to Mayhem earlier, and I’m sticking with that. We’re done borrowing from the future, it’s getting time to pay back those loans from that future.

And that ain’t going to happen when there are no functioning markets; after all, how does anyone know what to pay back when the only thing they do know is everything is way overvalued? How wrong can I be when I say debts will only be paid back at fair value?

2019, guys, big year.

 

 

Sep 242018
 
 September 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


M. C. Escher Circle limit III 1959

 

BIS Warns Zombies Are Crippling Global Growth (ZH)
‘Key Allies’ Want FBI Docs Blocked: Trump (AAP)
White House Denies Trump Executive Order On Facebook, Google, Twitter (Ind.)
Christine Blasey Ford Reaches Deal to Testify at Kavanaugh Hearing (NYT)
OPEC Predicts Massive Rise In Oil Production Over Next Five Years (G.)
Leading Tory Eurosceptics Unveil Rival Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Labour’s New Brexit Referendum Won’t Offer Option To Remain (Ind.)
How Michael Moore Lost His Audience (Variety)
Panama Revokes Registration Of Last Migrant Rescue Ship In Central Med (R.)
America’s Era Of Climate Mass Migration Is Here (G.)
Air Pollution Rots Our Brains. Is That Why We Don’t Do Anything About It? (G.)

 

 

The benefits of easy money.

BIS Warns Zombies Are Crippling Global Growth (ZH)

In the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel-based organization that oversees the world’s central banks warned that decades of falling interest rates have led to a sharp increase in the number of “zombie” firms, rising to an all time high since the 1980s, threatening economic growth and preventing interest rates from rising. Zombie firms are defined as companies that are at least 10 years old, yet are unable to cover their debt service costs from profits, in other words the Interest Coverage Ratio (ICR) is less than 1x for at least 3 consecutive quarters. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.

According to a second definition, a requirement for a “zombie” is to have comparatively low expected future growth potential. Specifically, zombies are required to have a ratio of their assets’ market value to their replacement cost (Tobin’s q) that is below the median within their sector in any given year. According to authors Ryan Banerjee and Boris Hofmann, zombie firms that fall under the two definitions are very similar with respect to their current profitability, but qualitatively different in their profitability prospects, which may be a function of how central banks have “broken” the market. Graph 1 below shows that, for non-zombie firms, the median ICR is over four times earnings under both definitions. As the majority of zombie firms make losses, the median ICRs are below minus 7 under the broad measure and around minus 5 under the narrow one, so this is hardly a surprise.

Read more …

And that’s it?

‘Key Allies’ Want FBI Docs Blocked: Trump (AAP)

US President Donald Trump says “key allies” have asked him not to release classified FBI documents related to the probe into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, raising speculation the Australian government could be exposed. Former Australian high commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer has become a reluctant player in the controversy for his London drinks session with former Trump foreign relations aide George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, sentenced to 14 days’ jail for lying to the FBI, has repeatedly targeted Downer in Twitter tirades in recent days, claiming the former Australian foreign affairs minister recorded their meeting at the Kensington Wine Rooms in May, 2016, and was acting as a spy. Downer has strongly rejected this.

“Alexander Downer will go down in history as a stooge for (Hillary) Clinton who single-handedly caused irreparable damage between the USA-Australia,” Papadopoulos wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Congrats, buddy.” On Monday Trump ordered documents related to the FBI’s Russian investigation, including text messages from FBI figures Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, be declassified and released publicly. However, on Friday the president pulled back. “I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump announced on Twitter. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. “Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release.”

[..] “After reports are finally out that the British and Australian governments were actively spying and trying to sabotage the Trump campaign, those two governments called the president to ask for him not to declassify any FISA documents,” Papadopoulos wrote on Twitter. “Strange.”

Read more …

Taking another road. If 3/4 of Americans say Big Tech is politically biased, can’t very well not investigate.

White House Denies Trump Executive Order On Facebook, Google, Twitter (Ind.)

The White House sought to distance itself Saturday from reports that President Donald Trump is considering an executive order that would subject tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter to federal investigations for alleged political bias. For weeks, top tech companies have been on edge, fearing that the Trump administration could seek to regulate the industry in response to the president’s tweets attacking social-media sites for silencing conservatives online. Their worst suspicions seemed to come true Friday night, with the emergence of a draft executive order that called for nearly every federal agency to study how companies like Facebook police their platforms and refer instances of “bias” to the Justice Department for further study.

But three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary. Asked about the document, Lindsay Walters, the deputy White House press secretary, said of the digital-age ‘whodunit’ on Saturday: “Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process.”

Read more …

This dominates the news. Sex sells. But what a convoluted story it has become.

Christine Blasey Ford Reaches Deal to Testify at Kavanaugh Hearing (NYT)

Senators looking to confirm or refute the allegations will face a nearly impossible task. Complicating matters, Dr. Blasey has said she does not recall the specific date or location of the house where the alleged incident occurred, though she believes it was during the summer of 1982. Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party. The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

Read more …

Hmmm. Methinks is rates rise, US shale is in deep doodoo.

OPEC Predicts Massive Rise In Oil Production Over Next Five Years (G.)

World oil production will soar to new records over the next five years, as a dramatic expansion in demand from airlines offsets the arrival of electric cars, according to a report from Opec. In a forecast that will dismay environmentalists – and which questions the theory that oil company reserves will become “stranded assets” – Opec’s annual report significantly revised production estimates upwards. Most of the production increase will come from countries outside Opec, led by explosive growth from frackers in the United States, with China and India leading the increase in demand.

Opec expects global oil demand to reach nearly 112m barrels per day by 2040, driven by transportation and petrochemicals. That is up from almost 100m today and higher than last year’s projection. Coal will continue to be be burned in record amounts, despite concerns about its impact on climate change. Opec estimates that coal usage in the OECD countries will plummet by a third by 2040, but it will increase by 20% in developing countries to reach five times the volumes burned in the west. The world’s airlines will be the single fastest growing user of oil, increasing consumption by 2.2% a year on average, to 2040.

However, the largest absolute growth is expected to come from road transport. The number of vehicles on roads across the world are expected to leap from 1.1bn now to around 2.4bn in 2040. In its central scenario, Opec expects just 320m of those to be electric, a number that climbs to 720m in a scenario where battery-powered cars take off rapidly. It said that if the higher prediction for electric cars came to pass, oil demand would only slip slightly to 109m bpd rather than 111.7m bpd by 2040, the report said.

Read more …

Who cares about deadlines?

Leading Tory Eurosceptics Unveil Rival Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Leading Tory Eurosceptics are to spell out rival Brexit plans that directly contradict Theresa May’s proposals, setting the scene for intense Tory infighting just weeks before a deal is meant to be agreed with the EU. The rebel plans are likely to demand looser future relations with Brussels and are to be laid out by ex-cabinet minister David Davis and lead eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg, but are also said to enjoy support inside the cabinet. In a sign of the impending hostilities, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab launched a pre-emptive attack on the approach taken by the Eurosceptics on Sunday, saying the kind of free trade deal they outline is “off the table”.

Ms May will meet her top team during the morning to discuss the fallout of last week’s summit in Salzburg where EU leaders torpedoed her “Chequers” proposals, forcing the prime minister to accuse them of disrespecting the UK. Monday’s cabinet meeting could also see a new clash between senior ministers over Britain’s future immigration policy and whether EU citizens should be afforded any kind of special status.

Read more …

But that’s what his own people want.

Labour’s New Brexit Referendum Won’t Offer Option To Remain (Ind.)

Remaining in the EU would not be on the ballot paper in a new Brexit referendum under Labour, John McDonnell has said. The shadow chancellor said Labour would “go for a people’s vote” on leaving the EU if it cannot push the government into calling a general election but any vote would only be on the terms of the deal. Rows over Brexit have dominated the start of Labour’s annual conference where more than 100 constituency parties submitted motions demanding a second referendum and thousands of people joined a march demanding a people’s vote on the final deal.

On Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn suggested Labour would shift its Brexit stance towards a vote on the final deal if party members backed it, but insisted that an election was a better way to solve the crisis. Unite boss Len McCluskey, a close ally of Mr Corbyn, went further, saying Labour could back a referendum on Theresa May’s deal or no-deal. However he said offering voters the chance to remain in the EU was “wrong”. Asked to guarantee that Labour would allow staying in the EU on the ballot paper, Mr McDonnell told the Today programme: “My view at the moment is that parliament will decide what will be on the ballot paper. “We’ll be arguing that it should be a vote on the deal itself, and then enable us to go back and do the negotiations.”

Read more …

He simply lost it, in more than one sense.

How Michael Moore Lost His Audience (Variety)

The films of Michael Moore have been faltering at the box office for several years now. This weekend, though, the lackluster performance of his latest truth-to-power opus, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” was notably dramatic, if not downright stark. The movie is a sequel, of sorts, to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore’s scathing riff on the administration of George W. Bush. That movie, when it was released in 2004, made $119 million, becoming the highest-grossing documentary of all time. It was a special moment, of course. America was still grappling with the shock of 9/11, and Moore’s film became a lightning rod — a catharsis for liberals (or some of them, anyway) and a symbol, for conservatives, of everything that was wrong with liberalism. But one thing, perhaps, that everyone could agree on is that in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore, for good or ill, had become instrumental in defining the national dialogue.

“Fahrenheit 11/9,” his scathing riff on the administration of Donald J. Trump, will be lucky to gross one-tenth of what “Fahrenheit 9/11” did. That’s more than just a staggering comedown. It symbolizes a couple of things at once: how different the two eras are, but also how Michael Moore’s audience — there’s no other way to put it — has gradually drifted away. It symbolizes that Moore is no longer defining the dialogue. A Trump-era conservative would probably say, “It’s about time! Michael Moore has lied so much that it’s all finally caught up with him.” A Trump-era liberal would probably say, “I still agree with him, but I’ve seen enough Michael Moore movies. I know his message already.”

Read more …

There must be a country with a flag to share.

Panama Revokes Registration Of Last Migrant Rescue Ship In Central Med (R.)

The Panama Maritime Authority has revoked the registration of search and rescue ship Aquarius 2 in a move that means there will be no charity rescue ships off the Libyan coast in the near future unless the vessel can find a new flag to sail under. Aquarius 2, the one remaining charity rescue vessel still operating in the Central Mediterranean area, is currently at sea with 58 survivors on board. The decision by the Panama Authority (PMA) means that once the ship comes into port it will be deflagged and will not be allowed to operate again unless it can find a new flag.

SOS Mediterranee, one of the charities that operates the Aquarius, said in a statement it was reeling from news of the revocation, which it said followed pressure from the Italian government. “On Saturday … the Aquarius team was shocked to learn of an official communication from the Panamanian authorities stating that the Italian authorities had urged the PMA to take ‘immediate action’ against the Aquarius,” it said. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the Italian government had applied no pressure on Panama.

Read more …

Interesting for sure, but perhaps a bit premature.

America’s Era Of Climate Mass Migration Is Here (G.)

The population shift gathering pace is so sprawling that it may rival anything in US history. “Including all climate impacts it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something twice as large as the Dustbowl,” said Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard University, referencing the 1930s upheaval in which 2.5 million people moved from the dusty, drought-ridden plains to California. This enormous migration will probably take place over a longer period than the Dustbowl but its implications are both profound and opaque. It will plunge the US into an utterly alien reality. “It is very difficult to model human behaviour under such extreme and historically unprecedented circumstances,” Keenan admits.

The closest analogue could be the Great Migration – a period spanning a large chunk of the 20th century when about 6 million black people departed the Jim Crow south for cities in the north, midwest and west. By the end of this century, sea level rise alone could displace 13 million people, according to one study, including 6 million in Florida. States including Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey will also have to grapple with hordes of residents seeking dry ground. “There’s not a state unaffected by this,” said demographer Mat Hauer, lead author of the research, which is predicated on a severe 6ft sea level increase.

There are established migration preferences for some places – south Florida to Georgia, New York to Colorado – but in many cases people would uproot to the closest inland city, if they have the means. “The Great Migration was out of the south into the industrialized north, whereas this is from every coastal place in the US to every other place in the US,” said Hauer. “Not everyone can afford to move, so we could end up with trapped populations that would be in a downward spiral. I have a hard time imagining what that future would be like.”

Read more …

Like the angle.

Air Pollution Rots Our Brains. Is That Why We Don’t Do Anything About It? (G.)

Researchers from Beijing University and Yale School of Health published research last month showing that people who live in major cities – which is, today, most of us – are not only suffering from increases in respiratory illnesses and other chronic conditions due to air pollution, but are losing our cognitive functions. The study showed that high pollution levels lead to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the impact on some participants equivalent to losing several years of education. Other studies have shown that high air pollution is linked to premature birth, low birth weight, mental illness in children and dementia in the elderly.

We’re only just beginning to understand how the air we breathe affects not just our physical environment, but our mental capacity as well. And the air we breathe is changing in the long term, as well as the short. Rising carbon dioxide levels – the main driver of climate change – aren’t just a hazard to the earth and other living creatures, they’re also affecting our thinking. At higher levels, CO2 clouds the mind: it makes us slower and less likely to develop new ideas, it degrades our ability to take in new information, change our minds, or formulate complex thoughts.

Read more …

Apr 292018
 


John Collier Lady Godiva c1897

 

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)
Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)
North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)
Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)
Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)
Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)
Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)
Facebook’s Global Monopoly Poses A Deadly Threat In Developing Nations (G.)
Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)
‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)
In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)
Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

 

 

Why own stocks?

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)

If anything, the stock market is being extraordinarily critical of what it’s being served, notably earnings that are exceeding already high expectations. Take Caterpillar, which initially rallied Tuesday after reporting better-than-expected results. But on the post-earnings conference call, its chief financial officer called the first quarter the farm- and construction-equipment maker’s “high-water mark for the year.” So, if it doesn’t get any better than that, the stock market’s response isn’t to savor the moment, but to sell it. CAT ended up losing 6.2% in reaction to that comment, leading a massive retreat in industrial and material names that helped the Dow industrials shed over 400 points in the trading session.

That isn’t an entirely irrational response, given data that show growth is slowing, while inflation is picking up. To those late-cycle symptoms add rising rates, both the ones administered by the Federal Reserve and those set by the bond market. On the latter score, the benchmark Treasury 10-year note briefly peaked just over 3%, a psychologically significant but otherwise not terribly meaningful number. Arguably far more significant is that investors and savers can get 2% on six-month Treasury bills and almost 2.5% on a two-year note. Two years ago, dividend stocks provided investors a one-percentage point advantage over risk-free rates, says Danielle DiMartino Booth in her Money Strong missive. Now those places have been swapped.

Adds David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff, this ability to get a “safe yield” for the first time in a decade, with no risk from falling stock or bond prices, represents a “seminal shift and a huge source of competition for the dividend allure of the stock market.” The prospect of higher rates may cheer savers, but poses greater risk to an economy never more dependent on debt, DiMartino Booth says. But that’s the direction the Fed is headed, given the rise in inflation and signs of slowing growth, an unpleasant combination that suggests stagflation; if not 1970s-style double-digit inflation and unemployment, then an economy expanding more slowly than prices are rising.

Read more …

He claims it’s all still intact.

Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has promised to close his main nuclear weapons test site in May and said he will invite South Korean and American media to witness the shutdown. Ahead of an historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump expected within the next three to four weeks, Kim told South Korea’s president that two tunnels at the nuclear test site are still in good condition, playing down international speculation that the site was so badly damaged by nuclear explosions that it can no longer be used. Kim’s pledges to Moon at their historic summit on Friday were detailed in Seoul on Sunday by Moon’s chief communication official.

Kim told President Moon Jae-in on the disputed Korean border that Trump will learn at their meeting that North Korea has no intention of using its nuclear arsenal toward South or the Pacific or to target the U.S. The North had no reason to own nuclear weapons if it and the U.S. promise non-aggression against each other, he said, according the the Seoul briefing. Trump said Saturday night that he expects his historic meeting with Kim will take place “over the next three or four weeks.” “Strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war, not get us in,” Trump told a rally in Washington, Michigan. Earlier, he said details of the summit are being ironed out, and that he’d spoken with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about preparations for the meeting.

Read more …

Symbols are important.

North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)

North Korea has decided to wind its clock forward half an hour to match its time with the South’s, two years and eight months after it decided to adopt its own standard time, News 1 reported. Seoul’s presidential official Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday that in talks between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Kim said he would shift time in Pyongyang to Korea Standard Time (UTC+9:00) Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim is said to have pointed to the two clocks hanging inside the Peace House, located on the South’s side of Panmunjom truce village, and said that this “pained his heart,” before suggesting to Moon that the South and North “first unify the time.”

Until 2015, Pyongyang used the same time (135 degrees East) as Seoul but adopted its own standard time which was thirty minutes behind KST. The North Korean leader said, as Pyongyang was the one that changed the time, it should be the one to make the adjustment again, JoongAng Ilbo reported. Yoon said this indicates Kim’s willingness to actively coordinate with the international community.

Read more …

A continent full of zombies.

Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)

[..] there are signs that the ECB has quietly begun to taper its corporate-bond buying program. The rate of purchases under the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme dropped 50% in April to about €700 million per week, down from €1.4 billion during the first quarter, analysts at Deutsche Bank pointed out. That could mean the ECB is starting a “stealth taper” in order to wean the European bond market off the corporate debt purchases it began in June 2016, Deutsche Bank said. But are the companies that benefited from the ECB’s largesse ready for life without Draghi? There’s no doubting the ECB’s bond buying has exacerbated distortions in the corporate bond market — distortions that were first engendered by the central bank’s low interest rate policy. Yields came crashing down and spreads narrowed.

At the peak of ECB’s bond buying binge, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index fell as low as 0.69%. For German blue-chip companies such as BASF, Continental, Linde, SAP and Siemens, yields fell to less than 0.5%. France’s pharmaceutical company Sanofi and German consumer goods manufacturer Henkel even managed to issue bonds at slightly negative yields, effectively helping pay off their debts. But that was then. Now, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index is back above 1.10%. As Reuters reports, some of Europe’s biggest money managers are reducing their exposure to corporate bonds. Some are even shorting them, betting that stress is building in a market that was buoyed by years of rock-bottom borrowing costs. Some new bond issues have even struggled to find buyers, when not so long ago they were flying off shelves.

Bank of America guesstimated last year that as many as 50 of the euro zone’s 600 biggest companies deserve to be classified as “zombies,” as they pay far too much interest in relation to their profits. For these companies the ECB’s bond-buying program was a godsend, allowing them to continue refinancing their debt and stave off default. But interest rates are beginning to rise again. Whether or not the ECB has already begun to taper its corporate bond buying on the quiet, the program will likely be phased out later this year. And yields have already been rising ever so gradually in anticipation. That means that the companies that have benefited from the central bank’s monetary support are going to soon find themselves facing a whole new, more challenging reality. For some it’s unlikely to be a pleasant one.

Read more …

That’s what happens when you try and run an economy on a housing bubble.

Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)

Home ownership among young families has plummeted across every corner of Britain over the past 35 years, according to a devastating inquiry into the housing crisis facing millennials. The proportion of families headed by a 25- to 34-year-old that own their own home has more than halved in some regions, showing that the crisis goes far beyond London. Analysis conducted as part of a two-year investigation into intergenerational fairness in Britain, chaired by a former Tory minister, found that millennials are being forced into increasingly cramped and expensive rented properties that leave them with a longer commute and little chance of saving for a home. It also finds an increasing proportion of the young living in overcrowded housing.

The commission, which has been overseen by the Resolution Foundation thinktank and includes the former universities minister David Willetts, is expected to conclude that new taxes on property wealth may be the only way to restore fairness and prepare the country to pay the care and support costs of an ageing population. Ownership among 25- to 34-year-olds has plummeted in Greater Manchester from 53% in 1984 to 26% last year. It has fallen from 54% to 25% in south Yorkshire, from 45% to 20% in the West Midlands, from 50% to 28% in Wales and from 55% to 27% in the south-east. In outer London, the proportion has collapsed from 53% to just 16%. Out of 22 regions analysed by the commission, in only one – Strathclyde in Scotland – has home ownership among the young remained stable. It stood at 32% in 1984 and 33% last year, having peaked at 45% in 2002.

Ownership in London has fallen consistently over the past 30 years, whereas rates in some other parts of the country declined more slowly before the early 2000s, but very rapidly thereafter. Even favourable economic conditions are likely to result in millennials catching up with the home ownership levels of the previous cohort only by the age of 45. Fast-growing inheritances will help some, but nearly half of young non-homeowners have parents who do not own either.

Read more …

We need an overall ban on data harvesting for profit.

Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)

Twitter has now also become embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal – as the Sunday Telegraph reveals that the social media giant sold user data to Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher and director of Global Science Research (GSR), who created an app which harvested the data of millions of Facebook users’ without their consent before selling it to political data firm Cambridge Analytica. “Aleksandr Kogan, who created tools for Cambridge Analytica that allowed the political consultancy to psychologically profile and target voters, bought the data from the microblogging website in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light. -Sunday Telegraph”

Kogan says that the data was only used to generate “brand reports” and “survey extender tools” which were not in violation of Twitter’s data policies. While most tweets are public information and easy for anyone to access, Twitter charges companies and organizations for access to information in bulk – though Twitter bans companies which use the data for political purposes or to match with personal user information found elsewhere. A Twitter spokesman confirmed the ban and said: “Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.

The company said it does not allow “inferring or deriving sensitive information like race or political affiliation, or attempts to match a user’s Twitter information with other personal identifiers” and that it had staff in place to police this “rigorously”.-Sunday Telegraph Data licensing made up 13% of Twitter’s 2017 revenue at $333 million. In a March blog post, Citron Research said that Twitter’s 2018 data-licensing business will generate $400 million (analysts polled by FactSet say $387 million) and that it represents the fastest-growing segment of the company’s operations (which it is, according to FactSet).

Read more …

“..I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from..”

Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)

Even if Facebook’s stellar Q1 earnings report hadn’t helped erase some of the losses that Facebook shares incurred in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sanderberg would still believe that the company’s troubles are largely behind them and that the company had essentially repaired the damage done to its reputation. That was the assessment delivered by early Facebook investor and one-time Zuckerberg mentor Roger McNamee, who warned during an appearance at an event organized by Quartz in Washington DC last week that the company’s leaders are deeply complacent and still haven’t accepted the fact that Facebook has badly mislead its users about how the company profits off their data.

Despite Zuckerberg’s warning, embedded in his opening statement to Congress earlier this month, that the company planned to make changes that could “significantly impact” profitability, McNamee believes it’s likely Facebook is “going to get away” with the bad things that it has done, which is “particularly dangerous” considering the 2018 midterm elections are only months away. McNamee said he’s deeply disappointed in how Zuckerberg and Sandberg have responded to the crisis by refusing to accept responsibility. During their post-crisis media tour, both executives insisted on blaming Cambridge Analytica for “misleading” Facebook, even though Facebook never bothered to alert users whose data had been affected. “They’ve done bupkis to protect us,” McNamee said.

The whole affair has left McNamee – who considers his involvement with Facebook during its early days to be the “highlight of a long career” – deeply saddened. “Every part of this has made me sadder and sadder and sadder. I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from,” he said in a conversation with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief. McNamee has become an outspoken critic of the company, comparing its role in the 2016 US election to “the plot of a sci-fi novel” while at the same time admitting that he has “profited enormously” by backing Facebook early on. The organization he helped found, the Center for Humane Technology, has made it a mission to expose Facebook’s multiple flaws, and to try to fix them.

Read more …

Facebook facilitates ethnic cleansing. But profits are more important.

Facebook’s Global Monopoly Is A Deadly Problem In Developing Nations (G.)

[..] Facebook is a new kind of monopoly. We’re accustomed to the idea of companies becoming dominant in some jurisdictions. But we have never before encountered a corporation that has a global monopoly. Because wherever you go on the planet these days, Facebook is the only social-networking game in town. It has no serious competitors – anywhere. The implications of this are only now beginning to dawn on us. In the past two years, we have woken up to Facebook’s pernicious role in western democratic politics and are beginning to think about ways of addressing that problem in our bailiwicks. To date, the ideas about regulation that have surfaced seem ineffectual and so the damage continues.

But at least liberal democracies have some degree of immunity to the untruths disseminated by bad actors who exploit Facebook’s automated targeting systems – provided by a free press, parliamentary inquiries, independent judiciaries, public-service broadcasters, universities, professional bodies and so on. Other societies, particularly the developing countries now most assiduously targeted by Facebook, have few such institutions and it is there that the company has the capacity to wreak the most havoc. We’ve had intimations of this for a while, notably after it became clear that Facebook was a medium for anti-Muslim hysteria in Myanmar, hysteria that was subsequently translated into full-blown ethnic cleansing.

One of the key figures in all this was the ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who used Facebook to broadcast his views about the Rohingya after he was banned from preaching by the government. Wirathu compared Muslims to mad dogs and posted gruesome pictures of dead bodies that he claimed were killed by Muslims – with predictable consequences. United Nations officials now say that social media has had a “determining role” in anti-Rohingya Muslim violence in Myanmar, which the UN itself has called “ethnic cleansing”. For “social media”, read Facebook, because there’s no competition to it in Myanmar.

Read more …

Torture.

Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)

Late yesterday, Telesur reported that Ecuador had signed a “security deal” with the United States, which is expected to result in a US military presence in that country. Telesur wrote: “Ecuador signed Wednesday a cooperation agreement with the United States to fight transnational organized crime and drug trafficking…. Moreno’s move is a further shift away from the policies of his left-wing predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa, who has criticized and refused to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia, arguing peace is not obtained with helicopters and weapons but rather by promoting economic and social development.”

The news comes as a new blow to hopes that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno would heed calls from around the globe to end the solitary confinement of Julian Assange. Tomorrow, the arbitrarily confined journalist will have been totally isolated for one month. The latest news of a military agreement struck between Moreno’s government and the US comes as yet another major shift away from the policies of Ecuador’s prior administration. It is also a distinct pivot away from Ecuador’s decision, made just a few months prior, to confer citizenship and diplomatic status on the Wikileaks Editor-In-Chief.

This writer previously expressed the opinion that the ongoing solitary confinement of Assange by his own government constitutes torture. Disobedient Media has also reported consistently on the numerous online and physical vigils, petitions and other efforts to encourage Ecuador to return the Ecuadorian embassy in London to a place of refuge, as intended when the previous administration bravely granted Assange political asylum from the threats to his life and work emanating from the United States.

In our previous report, Disobedient Media noted that enforced isolation is not only torture in the opinions of those who have experienced it, but has also been labeled as such by the UN. Rick Raemisch wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times that, according to the Nelson Mandela rules, solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days constitutes torture. This means that the length of time for which Julian Assange has been cut off from the outside world would now have almost doubled the official benchmark for being considered torture.

Read more …

if the US would simply clean ita back yard, and stop stoking tensions there, it wouldn’t have these problems.

‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)

Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who drew the wrath of President Donald Trump in a month-long caravan to the U.S. border will make hard decisions on Sunday whether to risk being deported all the way home by trying to cross, or to build a life in Mexico. After angry tweets from Trump, U.S. border authorities said some people associated with the caravan had been caught trying to slip through the fence, and encouraged the rest to hand themselves in to authorities. “We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door, and answer questions honestly,” San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott said in a statement.

Most of the group of about 400 travelers who arrived in border city Tijuana on buses over the past couple of days said they intended to legally seek asylum in San Diego later on Sunday, but lawyers advising the group gave them stark advice – not everyone will be successful. After the grueling journey, a somber mood took hold as the reality sank in that many of them would be separated from their families. Lovers and parents with slightly older sons and daughters could be forced to split up. At venues around the city, U.S. immigration lawyers working on a pro bono basis on Saturday listened to harrowing tales of life in the immigrants’ home countries.

Death threats from local gangs, the murder of family members, retaliatory rape, and political persecution back home prompted them to flee, the migrants and lawyers say. Many of the immigrants who spoke at length with Reuters at various points during their trip through Mexico had been short on knowledge of their legal rights, but at least 24 recounted detailed stories of facing death threats.

Read more …

How true.

In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)

My cursor is hovering over the “unfriend” button, but I haven’t clicked it. Today, my relationship-severing finger is poised to get rid of Matt. Matt is a friend with whom I spent a lot of time about six years ago. We were close in rehab, but I haven’t seen him since. I entered Greenbriar treatment center in Washington, Pennsylvania, just a few days after he’d arrived, and he showed me the ropes. For the next few weeks, we were virtually inseparable. Rehab can be a frightening place when you first arrive. With any luck, you’ve already had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment with yourself and you’ve realized that you need to be there or else you’re going to die. I had had no such moment and was fully convinced that this was all a big mistake.

Once I got through the door into the facility, I heard it lock electronically with a loud buzz and a finality that shook my bones. I immediately regretted it. There is no lonelier feeling on this Earth than sitting there, abandoned and broken. You’ve burned all your bridges on the outside and your life feels as though it’s half a world away. This is the moment when you really need a guy like Matt to walk up to you, thrust out his hand and say: “Hi! I’m Matt! What’s your name?” Over the next few weeks, he and I attended group therapy sessions together and stayed up late talking about our problems, our addictions and our families. We ugly-cried in front of each other as we shared our darkest secrets, what we had done for drugs and how deeply unhappy we were.

Matt is a man who, in many ways, helped me to take my recovery seriously in rehab and, in the first few weeks after my release, he helped me to remain sober on the outside. And, today, I sit in front of my monitor poised to cancel him forever because whiteness is apparently more addictive than any drug could ever be. We sobered up in the same facility, but he was a victim. I was an addict. Matt is a Christian. I am not. Matt is a Republican. I am not. And, most significantly, Matt is white. I am not. And these facts make all the difference in America.

Read more …

First you destroy it, then you spend taxpayers’ money to restore it. It’s called a profit model.

Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Australia pledged half a billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef Sunday in what it said would be a game-changer for the embattled natural wonder, but conservationists were not convinced. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.It is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural runoff.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more than Aus$500 million ($400 million) would go towards improving water quality, tackling predators, and expanding restoration efforts.

Turnbull said it was the “largest ever single investment — to protect the reef, secure its viability and the 64,000 jobs that rely on the reef”.”We want to ensure the reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” he added.The reef is a critical national asset, contributing Aus$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.Canberra has previously committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to protect the site over the next decade, but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby.With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.

Canberra insists it is taking strong action to address the global threat of climate change, having set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Read more …

Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

Read more …

It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

Read more …

“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

Read more …

Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

Read more …

The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

Read more …

David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

Read more …

Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

Read more …

Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

Read more …

“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

Read more …

Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

Read more …

Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

Read more …

As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

Read more …

Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

Read more …

The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

Read more …