Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Why John Kelly Needs to Keep His Damn Mouth Shut

I never paid too much attention to the American Civil War but still I was taken aback when White House Chief of Staff and retired Marine general John Kelly wrote it off as a failure of the North and South to compromise, even parroting Trump's line in saying that it was fought by people of good faith on both sides and capping that off with praising Robert E. Lee as an "honorable man."

It sounded a bit "out there" but then I read this article from The Atlantic that made my stomach churn at Kelly's praise for Robert E. Lee.  He might have been a four star Marine general but when it comes to the South and the Civil War, especially Robert E. Lee, he's a son of a bitch.

Just Sayin' It Sounds a Little Weird to Me.

America's new ambassador to Canada is Kelly Knight Craft. It looks like we got a winner this time.

Her remark that there is good science on both sides of the climate change debate made me wonder just who Ambassador Knight Craft is and what she's all about.

It turns out she has quite an interest in Canadian affairs in the form of about $750,000 USD invested in US pipeline giant, Kinder Morgan.

I suppose that means she'll get along just fine with prime minister Trudeau.

But there's something more, something a bit quirky, that came out of her Wiki page. Ambassador Kelly was born in 62 as Kelly Guilfoil, the daughter of veterinarian, Bobby Guilfoil.

Kelly Knight Craft has been married three times, divorced twice. Her spouses, in chronological order, are/were David Moross, Judson Knight and the current title holder, Joe Craft. It seems she took her hubby's last name - in fact two of them, Knight and Craft. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. If she and Joe are happy to keep Judson along for the ride, well so be it.

Then there's this, from Vice.

The Crafts certainly seem aligned with Trump when it comes to his commitment to coal. Trump is said to be preparing an executive order to lift a federal coal moratorium, and to repeal green initiatives.

Joseph Craft, who was on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans for a time, has used his sway to bring about pro-coal laws and to defend the notoriously dirty electricity source.

The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote that the coal magnate “may be Kentucky’s most powerful non-elected individual.” The paper suggested that his political contributions might be more about benefits for his coal business, and reported that he remains a climate change skeptic.

That seems to back up with what Craft’s company argued in corporate filings submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, where Alliance Resource Partners lamented that initiatives to limit carbon emissions could hurt the coal business, adding that measures from governments in America and abroad aimed at tackling the “perceived threat from climate change attributed to greenhouse gas emissions” could raise costs and “reduce demand for coal.”

Sounds like we've got ourselves a winner, folks.

Casting Bones and Reading Entrails Takes on a New Dimension When They're Trump's Guts and Bones

Poor old Donald, America's "tax returns concealer in chief." Not for nothing did the Mango Mussolini refuse to divulge his personal tax info. There's probably a lot to hide. His problem is that special counsel Mueller is building a case for spilling Trump's guts before the eyes of the American public.

The issue is money laundering and Kompromat, a Russian word for compromising material on someone that can later be used to manipulate that person. Evidence of crimes could be a fine example of Kompromat.

Ever since the controversial Steele dossier there have been rumours that Moscow had dirt on Trump of the sort that might bend him to their will. But there are more than rumours.

Trump has a history of money laundering.  Trump's now failed Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City was nailed for 106 violations of money laundering laws in its first year and a half of operation back in the early 90s.

Normally, if a gambler cashes out $10,000-plus in a single day, the casino must fill out a form listing their name, physical address, Social Security number, and birthdate. The casino has 15 days to send the form to the IRS.
According to a dozen anti-money laundering experts, casinos often run into these problems. But getting caught with 106 violations in the casino's opening years is an indicator of a serious problem, they said.
The violations date back to a time when the Taj Mahal was the preferred gambling spot for Russian mobsters living in Brooklyn, according to federal investigators who tracked organized crime in New York City. They also occurred at a time when the Taj Mahal casino was short on cash and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile it turns out that George Papadopoulos might be a problem not just for Trump but for his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Sessions, of course, was caught not disclosing meetings he had with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Apparently he's in hot water again.

Sessions has repeatedly testified to the Senate that he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians. (Though in his most recent appearance, he categorized that narrowly by saying he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”)

But the Papadopoulos plea shows that Sessions — then acting as Trump’s top foreign policy adviser — was in a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump, at which Papadopoulos explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.” It also shows that Papadopoulos kept a number of campaign officials in the loop on his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, though they secretly determined that the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal,” itself a sign the campaign was trying to hide its efforts to make nice with the Russians.

Papadopoulos also learned, on April 26, [three days before the DNC realized they had been hacked] that the Russians “have dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” A key part of Papadopoulos’s cooperation must pertain to what he told the Trump campaign about these emails. According to his complaint, he originally claimed he hadn’t told anyone on the campaign about the dirt on Clinton because he didn’t know if it was real. But as his plea makes clear, after being arrested, he “met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.” 

To be sure, Papadopoulos’s plea perhaps hurts Trump the most. After all, Trump was in the March 31 meeting too, along with Sessions. Trump personally intervened in the White House spin about the June 9, 2016, meeting, pushing the line — and the lie — that it pertained to adoptions rather than obtaining dirt on Clinton.

But unlike Trump, Sessions’s claims about such meetings came in sworn testimony to the Senate. During his confirmation process, Sessions was asked a key question by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

More recently, on October 18, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Sessions a series of questions about his knowledge of interactions with Russians, including whether he had discussed emails with Russian officials since the campaign. To that question, Sessions said he “did not recall.”

Franken then asked, in an attempt to clarify the confirmation questions, “You don’t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians?”

“I did not — and I’m not aware of anyone else that did. I don’t believe that it happened,” said the attorney general whose own department had, two weeks earlier, already gotten a guilty plea from a campaign surrogate describing such discussions with Russians.

It’s part of a pattern that began early for Sessions. He initially denied categorically meeting with Russians during the campaign, but was forced to walk that back when it emerged he had met at least twice with then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He then claimed that the meetings had focused purely on foreign affairs and his senatorial duties, a claim rebutted by Kislyak himself, who told his superiors that he spoke with Sessions about the 2016 campaign.

Why do I keep getting these names in my head - Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, Dean?

Monsanto Fingered?

Glyphosate is the key chemical in agri-chem giant Monsanto's controversial herbicide, RoundUp.

Now in a development similar to the discovery of decades old Exxon internal documents acknowledging man-made climate change, Monsanto is hoist on the petard of its own in house emails.  From Der Spiegel:

Some companies' reputations are so poor that the public already has low expectations when it comes to their ethics and business practices. That doesn't make it any less shocking when the accusations against them are confirmed in black and white.

Monsanto's strategies for whitewashing glyphosate have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos. Even worse, these "Monsanto Papers" suggest that the company doesn't even seem to know whether Roundup is harmless to people's health.

"You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen," Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer wrote in one of the emails. "We have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement."

The email, sent on Nov. 22, 2003, is one of more than 100 documents that a court in the United States ordered Monsanto to provide as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.

The documents suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto.

The popular agricultural chemical has been in use for more than 40 years and can now be found almost everywhere: in the urine of humans and animals, in milk, in beer, in ice cream, and above all in feed pellets from the United States and Brazil, which also end up being fed to German cattle and pigs.

Hang the Rich

No, this isn't about taxing the rich to raise revenues to fight inequality. It's about locking the bastards up.

"Better Late Than Never" Gordon Brown, former British prime minister, argues that it was a huge blunder not to prosecute and jail the bankers behind the 2007/8 Great Recession, a "pour encourager les autres" sort of thing.

“If bankers who act fraudulently are not put in jail with their bonuses returned, assets confiscated and banned from future practice, we will only give a green light to similar risk-laden behaviour in new forms,” Brown says.

Brown had been prime minister for less than two months when the financial crisis began in the summer of 2007, but had been chancellor during the previous decade when the problems in the global banking system had gone unnoticed and unchecked.

Accusing the Conservatives of being too soft on bankers since taking office in 2010, Brown says: “Little has changed since the promise in 2009 that we bring finance to heel. The banks that were deemed ‘too big to fail’ are now even bigger than they were.

“Dividends and bankers’ pay today represent almost exactly the same share of banks’ revenues as before the crisis hit.”

Well, I guess it's a bit more humane than randomly hanging hedge fund managers from street lamps but still it's a bit rich coming from a former chancellor of the exchequer in the Blairified Labour era.

That Tightness in Your Chest? That's Time Running Out.

The clock is running out - on us, me and you.

As The Guardian's Damian Carrington reminds us, the health of hundreds of millions of people around the world is already being damaged by climate change, in some cases terminally damaged as in "extinguished."

It's good to remember that we're getting our version of climate change, probably the mildest strain of the contagion, but every day in many distant corners of the world others are experiencing a far more vicious form of climate change, one that causes disease, all manner of suffering, dislocation and, yes, death.

Ask yourself if we, as Canadians, would support the sale and export of supertanker loads of bitumen to overseas buyers, if we had to accept that each load would claim innocent lives? Would we think it just fine to consign people - the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable - to that fate for the sake of a load of crud that should never have been brought to the surface in the first place? Do we think we have a right to windfall profit that surpasses another's right to live? Do you think there's a reason we don't ask these questions in our House of Commons and our provincial legislatures?

Heatwaves are affecting many more vulnerable people and global warming is boosting the transmission of deadly diseases such as dengue fever, the world’s most rapidly spreading disease. Air pollution from fossil fuel burning is also causing millions of early deaths each year, while damage to crops from extreme weather threatens hunger for millions of children.

The findings, published in the Lancet journal, come from researchers at 26 institutions around the world, including many universities, the World Health Organization, World Bank and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO reported on Monday that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere made a record jump in 2016 to hit a concentration not seen for more than three million years.

“Climate change is happening and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Prof Anthony Costello, at the World Health Organization and co-chair of the group behind the new report. It follows a related report in 2009 that warned that climate change was the biggest danger to global health in the 21st century, an assessment repeated in the new report.

But Costello said acting to halt global warming would also deliver a huge benefit for health: “The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.”

Whether it's crop failures from heatwaves, droughts and floods or respiratory failure caused by air pollution, or the spread of diseases such as Dengue fever or large scale deaths from overheating, the butcher's bill for our fossil energy promotion is growing alarmingly.

Meanwhile, another warning from the UN that emissions curbs promised by world governments and the private sector, even if they were magically honoured (and that would be real magic), still have us facing at least 3 degrees Celsius of heating by the end of the century.  To put that in perspective, today we're at about 1 degree C of heating over pre-industrial levels. Today, at 1C, we're experiencing disease, dislocation, suffering and death on a scale of hundreds of millions of people, human beings.

As Costello argues, we still have an opportunity to achieve "the most significant advance for public health this century" but we're doing next to nothing to make that a reality. That holds doubly true for petro-states such as Canada. As Schellnhuber warned the delegations to the Paris summit in December, 2015, we have a chance but it demanded the "induced implosion" of the global fossil energy industry. Governments had to shut them down. Judging by our own prime minister, himself the father of young kids, that's simply not going to happen.

I Hope Bob Mueller Has a Sense of Humour

There are some things that just get better with age. That includes scandals. They need time to soak and simmer. Yesterday it was Manafort (plus one) and Papadopoulos.

Trump began yesterday running for cover, focused on distancing himself from Paul Manafort. His former campaign manager's foibles had nothing to do with Trump or his presidential campaign. Besides it all was old news by the time Trump decided to run. It was unconvincing but probably was just what Trump's base wanted to hear.

The George Papadopoulos guilty plea, well that caught Trump off guard. He had to hold fire until he could work out what to say. Today the Mango Mussolini lashed back, calling Papadopoulos a "liar." Hard to argue that one. The guy did plead guilty to lying to FBI investigators. He's a confessed liar. Only Trump needs to maintain that everything Papadopoulos told the FBI after he was caught lying, that's the real lie. Talk about reed thin.

Curiously enough the Russians got into it too. A Russian government spokesperson is arguing that Mueller's case is "cooked up."   Really, how so?

...the spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, pointed out that the 31-page indictment wrongly describes Yulia Tymoshenko as a former president of Ukraine.

In fact, Tymoshenko twice served as the country's prime minister, before being jailed in 2011 on embezzlement charges that the U.S. and others said were politically motivated.

"I liked a lot the bit that, it turns out, according to the recent findings of American enforcers, the Ukrainian president before [Viktor] Yanukovych was Yulia Tymoshenko," Zakharova told the state-owned Russia 1 television station Monday. "We did not know that, but there you go."

She suggested that the mistake undermined the rest of the indictment.

"This is a very important moment showing the way how, once again, this document had been made, cooked up," Zakharova added. "You understand when you talk about serious investigation one cannot allow things like that."

Why am I suddenly thinking Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha? Why did Team Putin even decide to air such a stupid argument?

If this is what we're getting on Day 2 you can only imagine what awaits in the coming weeks as more information comes out of the investigation. It does sound as though Mueller has Putin as rattled as Trump.

There's plenty of new speculation that Papadopoulos, described by the FBI as a "proactive cooperator" probably spent a good bit of time since July meeting with Trump's people while wearing a wire.

Harry Litman, a former US attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in the New York Times that Papadopoulos' guilty plea is far more immediately ominous to the president and his inner circle than the charges against Manafort and Gates.

A paragraph in the plea agreement indicates that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on October 5 to lying to the FBI about his contact with the professor and the plea was sealed so that he could act as a "proactive cooperator".

"The meaning of that phrase is unclear," Litman wrote. "But one nerve-racking possible implication is that Mr Papadopoulos has recently worn a wire in conversations with other former campaign officials. This will surely have members of Mr Trump's inner circle agonising about the possibility and wondering who else might have been similarly cooperating with the investigation."

Former public defender and professor Seth Abramson explained on Twitter why the term "proactive cooperator" is probably bad news for others in Trump's orbit.

"Prosecutors often require a defendant to perform cooperative services for the government well in advance of his or her formal plea," he tweeted.

Former US attorney Preet Bharara, who Trump fired earlier this year, told Politico Magazine: "Hard to tell, but the George Papadopoulos guilty plea tells us (a) Mueller is moving fast (b) the Mueller team keeps secrets well (c) more charges should be expected and (d) this team takes obstruction and lying very, very seriously. That should be of concern to some people."

There's a powerful psychological game in play here and, providing you're the one asking rather than answering the questions, it can be immensely fun to play.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Another FBI Investigation to Worry Trump. This Time It's Whitefish.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI has launched an investigation into the incredibly smelly $300 million no-bid contract given to Montana company, Whitefish Energy, to rebuild Puerto Rico's shattered electricity grid.

Whitefish is basically a shell company incorporated just two years ago that had, prior to hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico just two full-time people on staff. It's also based in the small town of Whitefish, Montana, which just happens to be the home of Trump Interior Secretary, Ryan "Scorched Earth" Zinke.

Ricardo Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), announced Sunday the agency will cancel its contract with Whitefish Energy after the company “finish(es) what they started.” The announcement comes a day after the island’s governor, Ricardo Roselló requested that the deal be torn up. Whitefish Energy, a two-person outfit out of Whitefish, Mont., raised eyebrows when it landed the $300 million, no-bid contract in the weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and left the U.S. territory largely without power.

At "Coincidence Central," a.k.a. the Trump White House, officials indignantly deny there could be any possible connection between Whitefish Energy, a Trump donor, and the favourite son of Whitefish, Interior Secretary Zinke, and the Trump administration. Who would even imagine such a thing?

Grifters, they're just a bunch of damn grifters.

Garrison Keillor Pens Donald Trump's Obituary

Who better than Garrison Keillor - author, humourist, creator of the long-running radio show, "Prairie Home Companion" (1974-2016) to write Donald Trump's political obituary.

"Donald Trump is Done," from The Chicago Tribune.

When his old campaign manager was indicted Monday, Mr. Trump called me on the phone, crying like a baby, and begged me to endorse him. I said, "You're already president, Mr. President. You were elected." He said, "I'd still like your endorsement." I have a recording of the phone call. It's so sad. Donald Trump is done. He couldn't get elected dogcatcher in New York, his hometown. I was very very nice about it. Very nice. But New Yorkers love dogs and he does not. There are 14 recorded instances of him kicking small dogs, and I have documentary proof of all but two of them.

Plus many other instances of him running around grabbing women's cats. Knocked on the door, grabbed the cat, walked away. Just to show that a famous rich guy could get away with it. Where is the apology? No, the man couldn't even get a job as a school crossing guard in New York. Look at him leading his grandchildren toward the helicopter — thank God there's a Marine there to keep them from walking into the rotor.

He's very wary of children, afraid they'll pull off the wig. It's from La Bouffant on 8th & 45th, 3rd floor. Horsehair. Palomino filly. I have receipts.

Trump shot a man on Fifth Avenue last year just to see if he could get away with it and he did. His base said, "Well, some people just need to be shot, that's all. As a warning to the others." Why is he so hung up on virility? Because the Army rejected him on account of bone spurs that you get from wearing high heels. Everybody knows that.

Just look at how he salutes the Marine honor guard — TOTAL DISASTER — it's not a salute, it's a little yoo-hoo. Uniforms are a huge turn-on for him. And when he salutes the flag, he doesn't even look at it. Total disrespect for the flag. And the salute is very weak in the wrists. Know why there's ABSOLUTELY NO video of him hitting a golf ball? Because (pardon me for being politically incorrect) he swings like a girl. And when he slices it into the parking lot, he tees up another ball. Mr. Mulligan. Mr. Multi-Mulligan.

He sits at that ridiculous little desk in the Oval Office and signs a presidential proclamation as if he's Kim Jong Un or something and he holds it up like a kid holding up his school project that his mama wrote for him. The man can barely read, that's why he hates TelePrompter. Total lightweight.

He is NOT A NICE PERSON and so the name Trump is as popular as herpes these days. Trumpet players have taken up the cornet. Card players refer to the lead suit as the jump suit. Tramps prefer to be called hoboes, town dumps are now refuse heaps, and girls named Dawn are becoming Cheryls. To residents of his crummy building on Fifth Avenue, it's now known as Chump Tower because it's caused so much grief and tragedy for people. It wasn't constructed — it was fabricated. FABRICATED. Plywood modules shipped down from Canada and installed by minimum-wage temps from Hoboken. I can prove this. I have documentation. The wind whistles through the tower at night, roaches the size of rats. Ask anybody.

People who voted for him are humiliated. So his ratings have tanked. The same people who admire him tend to drive Dodge Darts and wear sweatshirts from schools they didn't attend. Nobody stays in his hotels except foreign CEOs and their tootsies. He is weak. Weak on #s, weak on 1st Amendment, worst president in history. Failed @ real estate and now @ politics. His record = BAD. First president in my lifetime who DOES NOT KNOW the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." The lips are not even moving.

He quit holding rallies in stadiums because nobody wants to go hear a loser brag about his manliness for an hour, you can hear that in any barroom. Only places he can draw a crowd are rural areas where billboards are riddled with bullet holes, shot by men angry because they can't read. He is so over. Totally irrelevant, exhausted, flamed out. The sleepytime eyes and la-di-da hair and the tweet-tweet-tweet say it all. Real men don't tweet. Ask anybody. We bark, we protest, we thunder, condemn, denounce, we give 'em hell, sometimes we post. Wimps tweet. And now the perps are going to start walking and talking. And the fat lady is waiting in the wings.

They're Back. Putin Exploits Trump Again. This Time It's Cuba.

Donald Trump may be incapable of doing anything good for the United States but he keeps delivering a bountiful windfall to Beijing and Moscow. As Trump tears down or undermines traditional alliances abroad, China and Russia move rapidly to exploit opportunities.

Now Moscow is turning to Havana. Trump wants to give Cuba the cold shoulder. Putin doesn't mind. All the more good pickings for Vlad & Company.  For starters Russia is planning to reactivate its massive electronic eavesdropping facility closed by Putin himself in 2001 to cut costs.

And this time the Russia-Cuba deal won't be about cheap cane sugar and rum. This time Russia is looking to help Cuba exploit its offshore oil resources.

In 2014, Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba's debt. The remaining $3.5 billion is supposed to be settled by giving preferential treatment to Russian investments on the island.

Thus Rosneft is involved in the modernization of Cuba's largest refinery in Cienfuegos, even through Venezuela has drastically reduced its oil deliveries. Instead of 100,000 barrels a day, Caracas is currently only delivering about 55,000 barrels a day to the Caribbean island. Against this background, Cuba has also extended test drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Unsurprisingly, Russian companies are also involved in this initiative.

In September, both countries signed a whole package of agreements, including in the energy and railroad sectors, while other agreements cover food production and the textile industry. In addition, Russia is suppling trucks, buses and elevators. The island also expects around 100,000 Russian tourists this year.

In all, trade between Russia and Cuba rose 73 percent in the first half of 2017 to $176 million. It is still a long way from Cuba's biggest trading partners — China and Venezuela — but the trend is clear.

Russia also signed an agreement at the end of 2016 to modernize Cuba's armed forces. And reports keep appearing that Russia could again open a military base on Cuba. However, this seems unlikely since Havana is still interested in a stable relationship with the US.

Yet while the tensions between the US and Cuba grow under Donald Trump, countries like China, Iran and Russia are stepping into the breach.

"Cuba is trying to diversify its relations," says Richard Feinberg, an expert on Latin America at the Brookings Institution. "As closer economic relations with the US are not likely to occur in the coming years, one has to look for alternative allies, especially strong countries such as Russia and China can offer favorable payment conditions."

"Idiots", "Anarchists" and "Assholes" - John Boehner Sums Up Today's GOP

He was a movement conservative, through and through, and a Republican powerhouse in his day, but former GOP house speaker, John Boehner, doesn't think much of the current Republican crew in Congress or the White House.

Despite his remove, Boehner has been following Trump's ascendance with a critical eye. “Everything else he’s done (in office) has been a complete disaster,” the former Speaker told the Associated Press over the summer. “He’s still learning how to be president.” And as Politico discovered in a long-form interview with Boehner, the Ohio Republican is still haunted by the idea that he paved the way for Trump's takeover of the G.O.P. That idea may have some merit—he was, after all, part of the party's first wave of outsider populism when he was elected in 1994—but in over 18 hours of conversation with Politico’s Tim Alberta, Boehner, now golfing frequently and ironing his underwear in peace, opened up about his frustration with today's Republican party.

Three Million Years, Are You Kidding? Another Record for Mankind.

Atmospheric CO2 levels got a bump last year to 403.3 ppm, up from 400.0 ppm in 2015. This is all getting into ancient records territory. The last time our planet's atmosphere logged 403.3 ppm CO2 was about 3 million years ago.

“Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” according to The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual flagship report.

The last time Earth experienced similar CO2 concentration rates was during the Pliocene era (three to five million years ago), when the sea level was up to 20m higher than now.

Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” World Meteorological Organisation chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The momentum from the Paris accord in 2015 is faltering due to the failure of national governments to live up to their promises. In a report to be released on Tuesday, UN Environment will show the gap between international goals and domestic commitments leaves the world on course for warming well beyond the 2C target and probably beyond 3C. International efforts to act have also been weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision to quit the accord.

Prof Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This should set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power. We know that, as climate change intensifies, the ability of the land and oceans to mop up our carbon emissions will weaken. There’s still time to steer these emissions down and so keep some control, but if we wait too long humankind will become a passenger on a one-way street to dangerous climate change.”

Just to refresh, let's unpack those warnings. We need "rapid cuts" in atmospheric greenhouse gas loadings. That's rapid as in R.F.N. Not some $20 a tonne carbon tax. Rapid, big, cuts - now. One part of that challenge is to rapidly decarbonize our societies and our economies. Another part is to find some damn way to capture massive quantities of atmospheric greenhouse gases. And this is no longer a matter of just man-made CO2 emissions either. We've awakened that sleeping giant, Earth, and it's now in the game of releasing massive amounts of once safely sequestered greenhouse gases - CO2 from overheated forests and soil as well as wildfires in our temperate forests and tundra plus mega-methane releases from thawing permafrost and melting seabed methane clathrates. So, kids, we have to wipe our own bottoms and Mother Nature's and those bottoms aren't getting any nicer with the passage of time.

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming - Papadopoulis Rolls Over

It's raining Trump conspirators. Just after word got out that Paul Manafort (plus one) has been indicted for tax evasion and money laundering, it's being reported that another Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller's investigators.  Papadopoulos was a senior foreign policy adviser to Trump during the campaign. It's a safe bet George has decided to play "Let's Make a Deal."

This could be juicy, the break that goes beyond tawdry money laundering.

Paul Manafort is reported to have turned himself in to the FBI. I wonder who'll be posting his bail.


The New Republic seems to agree that the Papadopoulos  plea is possibly a much bigger deal than the indictment of Paul Manafort (plus one) for money laundering and tax evasion.

The Papadopoulos plea is even more important than the Manafort indictment on a number of counts. First, because it is a plea, it suggests that Papadopoulos has flipped and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Manafort indictment, by contrast, suggests that Manafort is not yet cooperating, since one major reason for bringing an indictment could be to put pressure on Manafort.

Second, the Papadopoulos plea directly links a Trump campaign official with attempts to make a deal with the Russian government. Papadopoulos had emailed a high-ranking campaign official with a subject heading “New message from Russia.” In it, he proposed to make an “off the record” trip to Russia to meet with Russian foreign ministry officials “in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign.”


In sum, a member of Trump’s campaign has pled guilty and provided evidence that the campaign did collude or attempt to collude with Russia. That cuts to the heart of the Mueller investigation—and it means that the president should be in very deep trouble.

While the spotlight will remain on Paul Manafort, his indictment does not directly affect Trump - unless and until Manafort decides to cut his losses and roll over on the Mango Mussolini.  Papadopoulos, that's a different matter altogether.

Even most journalists have little grasp of how an investigation of this order works. Those who have been through this before can read a lot into developments, especially the announcement of Papadopoulos' guilty plea atop the Manafort (plus one) charges.  From The Atlantic. 

The Papadopoulos revelations came as a complete surprise and undermined conservative talking points.

“Not only does this suggest that Mueller is taking into account the optics and the politics of the moment, but that he’s actually trying to take advantage of them to maximize the clout of the investigation and to control the narrative,” Vladeck said.

Other filings released Monday revealed Papadopoulos was actively cooperating with Mueller’s investigation as part of his plea deal. “One assumes that the plea deal was in exchange for something” on Papadopoulos’s part, Vladeck said. “And the ‘something’ is clearly not related to the Manafort indictment. So the real question is, what exactly did Papadopoulos give up?”

Papadopoulos’s plea agreement was initially sealed. According to a motion filed in July, were its particulars publicly known at the time, they would have hampered his ability to work on behalf of investigators as a “proactive cooperator.” According to Barrett, that phrase could refer to Papadopoulos “having law enforcement-monitored meetings,” including wearing a wire or arranging “calls or emails with other subjects of the investigation who are unaware that he is cooperating with the government.

If the Papadopoulos plea was indeed a surprise, it will have Team Trump scrambling especially given that it seems the Trump adviser had been working for Team Mueller for nearly four months. He might have been wired in meetings or telephone calls with top Trump officials. Loose lips sink ships and people who have reason to fear that worry.

Manafort Told to Turn Himself In

And so it begins. Special counsel Robert Mueller has called on former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to surrender himself to authorities for arrest on money laundering and tax evasion charges.  The Bill of Indictment can be read in its entirety here.

Apparently Mueller went after Manafort and his co-conspirator, Gates, first as there was a limitations issue. The boys were very nearly off the hook.

There's nothing in the indictment that ties the alleged crimes to Trump or the Trump campaign. There's also no smoking gun that leads to Moscow or Putin.

There is plenty of information linking Manafort's activities to Cyprus, a hotbed for dirty Russian money and the former stomping grounds of Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce Secretary. Ross, a legendary vulture capitalist who earned the moniker, "The King of Bankruptcy," was also vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the island state's largest bank.

There have been various accounts suggesting that questionable money went to Cyprus from Russia and then onto Deutsche Bank before the funds were transmitted to the United States for laundering into real estate assets, especially the pricey stuff in Manhattan.

The indictment seems pretty damning and puts Manafort under a lot of pressure. He'll lose his assets and quite possibly face a really long stretch in the Greybar Hotel. It will also put a lot of people who were involved in the day to day activities of this web of companies and Manafort's transactions in a rather awkward and uncomfortable position. This may be their collective "Come to Jesus" moment where little people and mid-level types become very cooperative with investigators.

The path that appears to me goes from Manafort to Wilbur Ross to Trump with a lot of secondary sweeps along the way.  My hunch is that Trump needed money to keep his real estate 'empire' from cratering and bringing down him and his clan. When Trump's access to conventional financing dried up, another source turned up, one that worked best when no questions were asked.

That's the money-laundering part of Mueller's investigation, the bricks and mortar stuff. The glitz, if it can be proved, goes to Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. To get at that, Mueller needs to get Trump's associates to start rolling over on each other. I'm pretty sure that's behind today's arrests and others we may see in the near future.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Must Watch - The Chronology of American Crazy

C'mon, we've all known that just to the south of us, in the homeland of our American cousins, our largest trading partners and closest allies, a degree of crazy lubricated the gears that kept that state churning over. We always kept a polite distance, sensing that they were a little nuts.

Kurt Andersen, in a must watch video, explains the chronology of crazy in the United States. They've been crazy from the get go but they're hyper-crazy now.

Feeling the Heat, Trump Lashes Out.

Whenever Donald Trump's knickers bunch up he hauls out his Hillary Clinton punching bag.

The Mango Mussolini must have a raging case of swamp ass today, fearful of just who is going to be taken down tomorrow by special counsel, Robert Mueller, when the first arrest in the Russia inquiry is made.

Amid reports that the first arrests in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election were imminent, Donald Trump sent an extraordinary fusillade of angry tweets about the special counsel’s attention to “phony Trump/Russia ‘collusion’” which, he insisted, “doesn’t exist”.

The president sought to focus attention instead on supposed scandals involving Hillary Clinton, demanding authorities “do something”. As he did so, his most bullish defender strove to cast doubt on the reach and integrity of Mueller.

“We have to have the public have confidence in the fact that the grand jury process is secret and, as a result, is fair,” the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, told ABC.

Christie and Trump aimed their bullhorns at Mueller while the rest of the political world braced for the first arrests stemming from the special counsel’s investigation. CNN, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have reported that Mueller’s team has filed its first charges under seal, with one or more arrests coming as soon as Monday.

Trump tweeted furiously – without referencing the sealed indictment outright.

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton,” the president wrote, floating as supposed Clinton scandals “the uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted emails, the Comey fix and so much more”.

“Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, ‘collusion’, which doesn’t exist. The [Democrats] are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the [Republicans] are now fighting back like never before.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

He concluded: “All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”


Media Matters for America reports that Trump's media minions, the cast of FOX News, are also running around with chapped derrieres.

According to multiple reports, special counsel Robert Mueller has filed the first charges of his investigation, and arrests could follow as early as Monday. The reaction on Fox News was swift. Corey Lewandowski said that the focus should be squarely on "the Clinton administration." Fox News host Jeanine Pirro called for Hillary Clinton to be locked up immediately, for Mueller to resign, for deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to be fired, and for James Comey and more to be investigated. Pirro's statement about Clinton even gave away that it was entirely about changing the subject, saying that it was time to "turn the tables." This is incredibly important because of how much Trump himself watches and takes advice from Fox News. Right-wing media for months have called for Trump to fire Mueller -- and as indictments loom, the real test will begin. Even before the news of the indictment broke, the right-wing echo chamber was trying to muddy the waters. Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity were the main players in ginning up a story about Hillary Clinton and uranium that has previously been debunked. Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka even went on Fox News and suggested executing Clinton. That really happened, and the White House even refused to condemn it. There's no question about it: as indictment loom, right-wing media is rabid.

Islamabad Takes the Piss Out Of Tillerson

Rex, the "King without a throne," Tillerson recently blamed Pakistan for not doing enough  to suppress insurgents who cross over to attack US and Afghan troops. That earned Old Rex a rebuke from Pakistan's foreign minister.

America's security "failures" in Afghanistan are evident from events of the week when visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not move out of a U.S. military base and invited Afghan leaders to his "bunker" for talks, neighboring Pakistan said Thursday.

"This situation tells the whole story of U.S. failures, despite fighting in the country for 16 years," Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said. He was briefing a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs in Islamabad.

Tillerson visited Afghanistan on Monday for two hours. He held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and top leaders of his unity government at the U.S.-run Bagram military base, about 60 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul. Officials cited security concerns for arranging the meeting at the base.

Pakistan is accused of sheltering and maintaining secret ties to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Both militant groups are waging a deadly insurgency in Afghanistan. Asif said Pakistan's influence on the Afghan Taliban has lately diminished because it has moved its bases to the Afghan side of the border.

"We told them [the U.S. delegation] there are influential players in the region, which might not have good relations with America but have a stake in the Afghan dispute," Asif said.

He was apparently referring to Russia and Iran. Both have acknowledged publicly they maintain ties with the Taliban.

The Rape of Puerto Rico

The US island territory of Puerto Rico has had a rough time of it going back years before the devastation of Hurricane Maria.  The hurricane did, however, take down the remnants of PR's flagging electrical grid. Now a contract has been let to restore the grid and that's good news and very bad news for the rapidly declining population of Puerto Rico.

When the Americans conquered Iraq and set up a provisional government in Baghdad there were endless stories of people with no experience jumping into positions of high responsibility and of the waste/loss of hundreds of millions, more like several billions of dollars of aid cash. Anybody who could get a team with an idea to Baghdad seemed to be rewarded with a pallet of crisp greenbacks.

Is Puerto Rico poised for the same treatment? Jaws dropped when the no-bid $300 million electrical grid contract  was awarded to Whitefish Energy, a 2 year old Montana company headquartered in a cabin that, until recently, had just two permanent employees.

Whitefish has links to both Trump and to Interior Secretary Ryan "Scorched Earth" Zinke who also hails from Whitefish, Montana, population 7,279. Zinke's son also worked for the start-up company.

Whitefish, sure is purdy,

On Friday, Whitefish's favourite son, Zinke, lashed back at critics“Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime,” Zinke said.

What also makes the Whitefish contract reminiscent of  post-collapse Baghdad are the lavish "free fire zone" labour rates in the deal.

Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows those labor rates are pricey indeed: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way.

For subcontractors, the bulk of Whitefish's workforce, the prices go even higher. A general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.

Now, to make sense of those figures, a fully qualified lineman in Canada makes an average of just over $41 an hour. In California it's $47 an hour, USD, and $39 an hour in Arizona.

Whitefish Energy isn't doing much of the work perhaps because two-man companies rarely have the personnel, the means and the know-how for rebuilding an electrical grid. No problem. Whitefish is subcontracting the real work and, of course, pocketing its cut.

I don't know but it sure sounds like rape to me.


Associated Press reports that the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, has called for cancellation of the  Whitefish contract.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ya Think? IMF Fears Worsening Inequality a Threat to Capitalism.

You have to hand it to the really, really rich. No, I mean that. You have to hand it to them. As in when you hand your wallet to the guy holding the pistol to your head. And across the developed world (and elsewhere) that's what we're doing, handing it to them. When the average billionaire's wealth increased a whopping 17 per cent last year there was a lot of government support making that happen.

Read Joe Stiglitz' book, "The Price of Inequality," if you have difficulty believing that most inequality is neither market nor merit-based. It's legislated and by the same people you elect to represent the public interest.

The hyper-rich often act like professional sports teams that blackmail their home cities for new stadiums on the threat they'll leave if they don't get their way. The hyper-rich play the same game, threatening to take their money elsewhere. And our federal government has a history of knuckling under just as those weak kneed cities float new bond issues to raise the ransom needed for the new stadium.

So now the IMF says it's all gone much too far, to the point where today's Gilded Age inequality threatens capitalism itself.

Inequality has reached levels that can only be considered toxic. Back in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, drawing heavily from the words of Abraham Lincoln, said this:

The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.

We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means.

Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. ...The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens.

A Demoralized America?

Trump seems to have brought the American people to a new low.

Seven in 10 Americans say the nation’s political divisions are at least as big as during the Vietnam War, according to a new poll, which also finds nearly 6 in 10 saying Donald Trump’s presidency is making the U.S. political system more dysfunctional.

The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll — conducted nine months into Trump’s tumultuous presidency — reveals a starkly pessimistic view of U.S. politics, widespread distrust of the nation’s political leaders and their ability to compromise, and an erosion of pride in the way democracy works in America.

Trump’s arrival in the White House in January ushered in a period of big political fights — over issues including health care, taxes and immigration — and a sharp escalation in personal attacks on political opponents, over social media and elsewhere.

Seven in 10 Americans say the nation’s politics have reached a dangerous low point, and a majority of those believe the situation is a “new normal” rather than temporary, according to the poll.

The polls finds that 7 in 10 Americans view the Trump administration as dysfunctional. But dissatisfaction extends well beyond the executive branch: Even more Americans, 8 in 10, say Congress is dysfunctional, and there is limited trust in other institutions, including the media.

This is a society ripe for hijacking by some charismatic who isn't a raging buffoon like Trump. A people who lack confidence in their government and their institutions can be easy meat for a would-be saviour, someone who can project a sense of credibility that Trump simply cannot muster.

The good news for Congressional Republicans is that a lot of disgruntled Americans see their country's malaise as the fault of Democrats.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Mueller Investigation, First Charges Laid

Who is charged? No one knows as yet. What are the charges? Ditto. Arrests could be made as soon as Monday.

CNN reports that a federal grand jury has approved the first charges but they've been sealed by a federal judge.

Meanwhile, In the Delusional States of America

I suppose if you locked your doors, disconnected the power and drew your shutters you might manage to get through a day without being exposed to some head-shaking example of lunacy from the Delusional States of America.

How about this one. FEMA, America's Federal Emergency Management Agency, charged with keeping Americans secure in their own homes, has weighed in on the National Flood Insurance Program.

This is a tough one for Congress. America is getting hammered by a lot of severe flooding. Some of the worst occurs during severe storm events, hurricanes and such. Some of it is flash flooding inland caused by severe rain storms of protracted duration. A lot of that happening now.

The problem is that, since the private insurers bid adieu to flood insurance, the government stepped in. That problem is made all the worse when the government is afraid to raise premiums to make the programme self-sustaining. They wanted to do that but it raised a furor, especially in the flood-prone south and the heartland states - places that keep the Republicans in power. The proposed rate increases would not only cost a lot - a lot - but they would also sink housing prices. That gets voters pissed off and Donald Trump is a fiery object lesson of what can happen when voters are pissed off.

And so FEMA's latest proposals to the flood insurance programme raised eyebrows when it turned out that it completely omitted any reference to sea level rise.

“This climate-change denying insurance proposal will encourage people to continue building in areas likely to be flooded by hurricane surges and sea-level rise,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma should be the wake-up call to all Americans that we can’t ignore climate change anymore and must take immediate, common sense steps to protect our future.”

FEMA is responsible for developing comprehensive criteria for land use and management that restricts development of land exposed to flood risk. Communities can voluntarily participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, adopting land use and control measures to obtain lower-cost flood insurance.

“The overarching purpose of this program is to keep development out of flood prone areas but this continues to be ignored putting people and wildlife at increased risk,” said Lopez.

Good one, FEMA.

Politics as a Displacement Activity

"Displacement activity" is how the Financial Times columnist, Simon Kuper, describes the infuriating fondness of our political leadership to become absorbed in secondary matters, even trivialities, while they ignore the really pressing problems of the day.

Kuper argues what's going on and not going on in our parliaments, congresses and legislatures reveals a somewhat dystopian near-future overtaking us.

 Climate change is making natural disasters more frequent, and more Americans now live in at-risk areas. But meanwhile, Donald Trump argues on Twitter about what he supposedly said to a soldier’s widow. So far, Trump is dangerous less because of what he says (hot air) or does (little) than because of the issues he ignores. 

He’s not alone: politics in many western countries has become a displacement activity. Most politicians bang on about identity while ignoring automation, climate change and the imminent revolution in medicine. They talk more about the 1950s than the 2020s. This is partly because they want to distract voters from real problems, and partly because today’s politicians tend to be lawyers, entertainers and ex-journalists who know less about tech than the average 14-year-old. (Trump said in a sworn deposition in 2007 that he didn’t own a computer; his secretary sent his emails.) But the new forces are already transforming politics. 

Ironically, given the volume of American climate denial, the US looks like becoming the first western country to be hit by climate change. Each new natural disaster will prompt political squabbles over whether Washington should bail out the stricken region. At-risk cities such as Miami and New Orleans will gradually lose appeal as the risks become uninsurable. If you buy an apartment on Miami Beach now, are you confident it will survive another 30 years undamaged? And who will want to buy it from you in 2047? Miami could fade as Detroit did.

Kuper looks to the horizon and sees the dust clouds of chaos approaching.

On the upside, many Africans will soon, for the first time ever, have access to energy (thanks to solar panels) and medical care (as apps monitor everything from blood pressure to sugar levels, and instantly prescribe treatment). But as Africa gets hotter, drier and overpopulated, people will struggle to feed themselves, says the United Nations University. So they will head north, in much greater numbers than Syrians have, becoming the new bogeymen for European populists. Patrolling robots — possibly with attack capabilities — will guard Fortress Europe. 

Everywhere, automation will continue to eat low-skilled jobs. That will keep people angry. Carl Benedikt Frey of Oxford university’s Martin School recalls workers smashing up machines during the British industrial revolution, and says: “There was a machinery riot last year: it was the US presidential election.” American workers hit by automation overwhelmingly voted Trump, even though he doesn’t talk about robots.

Those really important problems that worry you, the threats that your grandkids will face? Forget about them. Your political caste already has.
Even if governments want to redress inequality, they won’t be able to, given that paying tax has become almost voluntary for global companies.

The country hit hardest by automation could be China (though Germany could suffer too, especially if its carmakers fail to transform). China’s model of exploiting cheap factory labour without environmental regulations has run its course, says Wadhwa. “I don’t think we need Chinese robots.” Even if China’s economy keeps growing, low-skilled men won’t find appealing careers, and they won’t even have the option of electing a pretend system-smasher like Trump. The most likely outcome: China’s regime joins the populist trend and runs with aggressive nationalism.

Troubled regimes will also ratchet up surveillance. Now they merely know what you say. In 10 years, thanks to your devices, they will know your next move even before you do. Already, satellites are monitoring Egypt’s wheat fields, so as to predict the harvest, which predicts the chance of social strife. Meanwhile, western politicians will probably keep obsessing over newsy identity issues. My prediction for the 2020s: moral panics over virtual-reality sex.

I suspect Kuper's arguments are probably sound. Politics, even in Canada, has become a displacement activity.  The big issues, threats that loom 30, 20, even ten years away never become the subject of earnest debate in our provincial legislatures or on the floor of the House of Commons. The dedbate on the petro-economy fits well with Kuper's observation about a focus on the 1950s rather than the 2020s.

Back during Harper's zenith I labeled him "the fractional prime minister" for his pattern of focusing his attention on a few narrow issues while utterly ignoring the great challenges facing our country. I imagined Trudeau would at least include these existential challenges among his top priorities. He hasn't. And so we're not even acknowledging, much less discussing, the world Canadians will be living in 30, 20, even ten years from now. This is the time, these are the critical and irreplaceable years, in which we can still explore and analyze and plan for changes we'll need to implement before these troubles, as a reward for our indifference and neglect, dictate for us changes we will have to accept and endure.

If we don't foresee the future and prepare for it accordingly, we will have one option - submission.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Will China Topple the Petro-Dollar?

The United States has reaped enormous benefits from the global consensus that treats the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. No country, it seems, is as aware of this advantage nor as determined to end it than the new largest economy of them all, China.

For decades the United States and Saudi Arabia maintained a pact that ensured exclusivity for the American greenback. That may soon be over.

Saudi Arabia is not just being courted by the Trump administration. Without the pomp and circumstance of the Riyadh summit, where Trump addressed representatives from across the Muslim world earlier this year, the Chinese government is taking quiet steps to bring Saudi Arabia’s hydrocarbon reserves firmly into its orbit. Through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and a reported offer to invest in the kingdom’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, the Chinese are laying the groundwork for a profound economic shift in the Middle East and the world.

Forged by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Saudi King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 1973, the petrodollar system has wedded the greenback to the world’s most sought-after commodity.

In return for conducting energy sales exclusively in dollars, the United States agreed to sell Saudi Arabia advanced military equipment.
One obvious reason China wants oil to be traded in yuan is to increase global demand for yuan-denominated assets. This would increase capital inflows and may eventually lead to the yuan being a plausible global alternative to the American dollar. Saudi Arabia is OPEC’s historic swing producer and price arbiter — if it agreed to conduct transactions in currencies other than the dollar, other OPEC producers would be forced to follow suit.

Beijing’s thinking is also influenced by geopolitical calculations. China’s return on investment in Saudi infrastructure could take decades, but Beijing would gain a valuable foothold in the Gulf and possibly persuade one of the world’s leading oil producers to upend the way oil is traded. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, especially the United Arab Emirates, provide a valuable hub to Middle Eastern and African markets through their ports, airports, and global networks. This spring and summer, Beijing and Riyadh announced a number of deals in various sectors, including increased energy exports and a reported $20 billion shared investment fund.

The Chinese have not given Saudi Arabia much time to consider its options. Chinese state-owned oil companies PetroChina and Sinopec have already expressed interest in a direct purchase of 5 percent of Saudi Aramco. This could prove to be a boon for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been eager to achieve a $2 trillion valuation of Aramco in a highly anticipated initial public offering, which is currently scheduled for 2018.

For Mohammed bin Salman, Chinese investment in Aramco could kick-start a new economic partnership with Beijing.  As part of its economic reform, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan intends to raise foreign direct investment from 3.8 percent of GDP to 5.7 percent, or an additional $12 billion per year.

It is a far safer bet that China would be able and willing to inject that type of money into Saudi Arabia than U.S. private equity and hedge funds. The main reason for this is the difference in Chinese and Western time horizons when considering return on investment. While Western governments and companies have historically had appetite for infrastructure projects that offer a return on investment in a maximum of 30 to 40 years, the Chinese are playing a much longer game — in some cases investing in projects that break even in more than 100 years.

Toppling the petrodollar with the yuan would have ramifications, possibly seismic, throughout the global economy. That could be especially felt by nations most closely tied to the American economy, Canada foremost among them. Yet now that America has become nearly ungovernable it has created a vulnerability that the boys in Beijing cannot pass up.  Becoming the world's dominant power is a matter of more than GDP.

I Missed This Last April. It Seems Justin Did Too.

This comes directly from the business page of Canada's most oil-friendly newspaper, The Calgary Herald. It's from April 24, 2017 to be exact.

China’s ambassador to Canada tried to allay concerns about a possible free trade pact between the two countries, addressing worries surrounding state-owned enterprises snapping up oilsands assets.

To be honest, Chinese enterprises buying Canadian oilsands enterprises are actually incurring (a) loss,” Ambassador Lu Shaye told the Canada China Business Council on Wednesday, according to a copy of his speech.

Canadian oilsands is not competitive given the current international oil price. Even if Canadians did not disapprove of China’s investment in (the) oilsands industry, I do not believe that Chinese enterprises would still be interested in this.”

So, just what is the deal? We're told this Kinder Morgan pipeline, so fiercely opposed in British Columbia, must be pushed through to meet Chinese demand. When Trudeau said he was going to renege on his solemn election promises, that was the line he used to justify his betrayal.

WTF?  Do we have some order from China for a million barrels of bitumen a day? If not, where are we planning to ship this crud?

What Worries Billionaires? You and Me, Us.

Not since the time of the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts
 at the turn of the 20th century was so much owned by so few 

I'm pretty sure I've never spent time with a billionaire.  I've never had the chance to hear them out, what makes them tick, what troubles them, their deepest worries. It can't be easy, tossing around at night with dreams of guillotines, gilded of course.

Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn (£4.5tn) – more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS / PwC Billionaires report.

Josef Stadler, lead author of the report and UBS’s head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients are concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Stadler said. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about.

“The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?”

Stadler added: “We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age.”

It's not like they're feeling much love these days from the International Monetary Fund that recently prescribed what is essentially confiscatory taxation to relieve billionaires of the burden of their excess wealth and use it to diminish the scourge of inequality.

Billionaires’ fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in technology and commodities. The billionaires’ average return was double that achieved by the world’s stock markets and far more than the average interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street bank accounts.

And now for something, well, not entirely different.