As Firms Buy-Back Shares In Record Amounts, Look Who Was Selling

As the old adage goes “if you’ve been at the table for a while and you still don’t know who the sucker is… it’s you.”

And in the case of the US equity market, it is hard to argue with who the ‘whales’ are and who the ‘suckers’ are based on the following data.

At the start of the year, when the impact of Trump’s offshore cash repatriation holiday was just being felt, JPMorgan made a daring forecast: it predicted that buybacks in 2018 would hit a record $842 billion, a number that would put any prior year’s total to shame. It also meant that as corporations themselves emerged as the biggest buyer of stocks in 2018, it would require an avalanche of selling to push the market lower.

More recently, when looking at its client trading activity, Bank of America made another surprising observation: in the first half, corporations were the only net buyers of stocks (with the only exception of companies in the Industrial sector), as institutions and hedge funds have been net sellers throughout 2018.

And while we were originally skeptical that JPMorgan’s forecast would be validated, the latest official data blown all our skepticism out of the water.

According to TrimTabs, Stock Buyback Announcements swelled to a record $436.6 Billion in the second quarter, smashing the previous record of $242.1 billion set just one quarter earlier, in Q1. Combined, this brings the first half total at a ridiculous $680 billion, or just $160 billion less than JPM’s full year forecast. Annualized, this number amounts to  $1.35 trillion, an absolutely staggering number.

Putting the Q2 number in context, TrimTabs writes that “the amount of money committed to buybacks last quarter could fund 6.8 million $1,000 bonus checks to workers every single trading day.”

So, as we have noted numerous times, the ‘demand’ side of the US equity market is dominated by corporate buybacks… and within that group, dominated by the Tech industry.

All of which perhaps explains why, amid a collapsing yield curve, crashing yuan, trade war turmoil, and geopolitical chaos, stocks soared, led by the mega-cap tech stocks.

However, there’s a dirty little secret lying just beneath the surface of this ‘different this time’ ramp in stocks.

Insiders are dumping their shares to retail investors at an almost unprecedented manner…

h/t @hmeisler

And guess what sector dominates… (hint – Tech!)

h/t @jmllubber

So while CNBC et al. are busy gloating over the soaring stock market (that must mean the economy is – or will be – awesome), perhaps it is worth them paying attention to just who is selling into this surge as they bring guest after guest on to stock-promote FANGs…

And even the SEC is starting to find this potential market abuse too much to ignore, as we noted previously, according to an analysis by SEC Commissioner Robert J. Jackson, Jr., company executives have been grossly abusing the timing of buyback announcements and selling significantly more of their stock immediately after the news than they do beforehand. taking advantage of price bumps that often accompany share-repurchase announcements.

But what is most infuriating, is that this is perfectly legal, and as the WSJ reports in a speech on Monday, a pissed off Jackson — appointed by President Trump and sworn in this year to fill a Democratic seat at the SEC — may emerge as the most credible SEC employee in years when he urges fellow regulators to review securities laws that provide protection to insiders who capitalize on the timing of buyback announcements.

This is where it gets bizarre: while companies engaging in buybacks have certain constraints, such as following a blackout period, or only selling on a NBBO uptick, insiders who sell stock into buyout bounces aren’t trading illegally and Jackson isn’t accusing them of that. But these price surges can be especially beneficial to corporate executives holding large chunks of corporate stock looking for an uptick to unload shares. And since it is the executives that decide when to buy back stock and when to announce it, it seems that this is yet another way for corporate insiders (literally) to skew the market in their favor. Oh, and the other difference of course, is that when the company, retail investors, algos (and central banks) are buying, corporate insiders – those who know their company better than anyone – are selling.

Almost as if the market is being inefficient and not rewarding those with the best information.

To be sure, Jackson is not happy with the fact that corporate insiders are so grossly exempt from what is so clearly insider trading, that it needs to be exempt:

“The SEC gives an exemption from market-manipulation rules to companies doing a buyback,” Mr. Jackson said in an interview. “The SEC shouldn’t be making it easier for executives to use them to cash out.”

And yet that’s precisely what the SEC has been doing for decades. Ironically, it is only a Trump-appointed commissioner who dares to blow the whistle.

However, we suspect that this will never be allowed – since it remains the source of Trump’s stock market (never mind enriching the anti-Trumpers at the top of the Silicon Valley sycophants).

via RSS Tyler Durden

James Howard Kunstler: Russian Hysteria An Exercise In PsyOps

Via Fareem of,

James Howard Kunstler is an author, social critic and public speaker — – whose work has been published in estimable journalistic stables such as Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. He has also hosted his own lecture as part of Ted Talks discussing public spaces in urban life.

James spoke to Newsvoice editor Erik Sandberg on a host of issues including the ongoing hysteria around Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, his feeling on Trump’s appointment, and how his career in journalism progressed to writing novels.

Russia hysteria is a dangerous and an idiotic exercise in pysops

The media over the last few years has indulged in wild speculation around U.S. - Russian relations. And as seen, the run up to this weeks meeting at Helsinki between the leaders of the two nations has been no different.

James believes the ongoing Russia investigation, the election of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton has made a certain class of people in the U.S. irrational.

I think that the thinking class in the United States has literally lost its mind. Donald Trump’s persona is so odious that it’s just driven them mad and he’s like a giant splinter in the eye of the thinking class.

A registered Democrat, Kunstler doesn’t believe that the Russians interfered in the U.S. election in any meaningful way. And any efforts to punish or antagonize them are crazy and dangerous. The ongoing expansion of NATO, playing war games at Russia’s borders and the destabilizing of Ukraine has consolidated bad relations with Russia stretching back to the Cold War.

History repeats itself tragically when the thinking classes of powerful nations start to behave extremely irrationally

Interfering with trade can be a possible precursor to war

“Doing anything to interfere with trade and erect barriers and put up tariffs might be a dangerous thing to do,” says Kunstler.

IMF’s most recent report estimates trade tensions across the world could cost global economy $430 billion. Kunstler opines we are now leaving behind 75 years of relative peace between the great powers of the world for a period of much greater competition manifested in things like these trade and tariff wars.

Just about everything ends up on the web and very little of it is curated

Finally, Kunstler ponders on the current state of the media and publishing industry. A prolific author, he is best known for his books The Geography of Nowhere (1994), The Long Emergency (2005), and most recently, the dystopian novel World Made by Hand followed by three sequels in the series.

He points out to the flurry of matter put out with publishers experimenting what works in an environment that lacks “the gatekeepers in culture.”

*  *  *

Listen to the full interview in our weekly Newsvoice Think podcast.

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Super-Rich Now Spend Up To $23 Million For Second Passport

Citizenship-by-Investment programs (CIPs) allows the super-rich a new nationality and an alternative or second passport, often seen as an indicator of economic or social status.

CIPs enable wealthy individuals to invest in a country in exchange for citizenship. Common forms of direct investment include an enterprise project, real estate development, or significant contribution to a country’s fund — and by the way, they do not come cheap.

According to a new report by Bloomberg, the ultra-rich are spending a whopping $23 million for citizenship in another country.

For some, purchasing a secondary passport is just another way to flaunt wealth. However, for others, a second passport is a “security” measure, said Christian Kalin, chairman of Henley & Partners, which provides citizenship advice for CIP programs.

Kalin said, clients want peace of mind in case a social disturbance or other upheavals in their native countries occur. In other words, if an economic or social collapse occurred in the United States, the super-rich would have the ability to jump on their Gulfstream or 74 foot Sunseeker yacht and bug-out to their second country.

While a majority of countries, the U.S. included, allow foreigners the chance to apply for citizenship after a thorough vetting process, only a small number of nations allow foreigners to acquire citizenship outright.

In fact, Bloomberg says about ten countries offer prospective residents the ability to buy citizenship. This includes Austria, which commands an astonishing $23 million for citizenship; Malta, which requires $1 million; and Caribbean islands like Saint Lucia, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda, which charge the affordable $100,000 apiece.

Bloomberg notes that the IMF classifies eight of the countries mentioned above as offshore financial centers, though Kalin said economic stability — not tax avoidance is what drives clients to obtain a second passport. However, Kalin indicated, “If you have a yacht and two airplanes, the next thing to get is a Maltese passport. “It’s the latest status symbol. We’ve had clients who simply like to collect a few.”

To the super-rich, a second passport buys much more than a travel document – it also buys them status, however, because CIP programs are expensive, the bottom 90 percent of Americans will never get the ability to achieve this type of elite status.

via RSS Tyler Durden

Republican Senators Introduce Bill To Snuff Out Europe’s Independence

Authored by Alex Gorka via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

In a meeting with Russia’s ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 19, President Vladimir Putin said that “the principles of competition and openness in global trade are increasingly being replaced by protectionism, while economic gain and expediency are being swapped for partisan agendas and political pressure. Economic ties and entrepreneurial freedom are being politicized.” He feels that Russia must counter this trend. There is ample evidence to prove his point. 

There is a large group of US lawmakers chomping at the bit to support anything that would bring Europe to heel and hurt Russia.

Their target is the Nord Stream 2 gas project that has a pipeline running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany with an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters. That joint venture between Russian energy giant Gazprom and the French company Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, the British-Danish Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall is expected to be operational by the end of 2019. The US president has the authority to impose sanctions on the project under the CAATSA sanctions law, but there is a risk that he will not. And so some US lawmakers believe that should be rectified by making those punitive measures mandatory.  

On July 18, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), to allow NATO member states to — in his words — “escape from Russia’s political coercion and manipulation.” That’s too much of a good thing, but then nobody in Europe asked for such “help.”  The senator’s website claims “the Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act, or the ‘ESCAPE Act,’ enhances the energy security of NATO members by providing those countries with reliable and dependable American energy. It also mandates sanctions on the Nord Stream II pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, along with other Russian energy export pipelines.”

In short, the legislation is intended to provide Europeans with guidance on what to do, as they clearly lack the ability to understand what’s good for them without the benefit of highly valuable advice from overseas. They just fail to see the need to “diversify their energy supplies and routes in order to enhance their energy security,” as that insidious “Russian President Vladimir Putin uses his country’s natural gas to ‘extort and threaten’ US allies.” Gullible enough to be easily manipulated, Europeans are too short-sighted to realize they are being “threatened.”  America’s Republican senators know better.

Take Germany for instance. It receives between 50-75% of its gas supplies from Russia. US President Donald Trump lambasted Berlin at the July NATO summit for its reliance on Russian oil and gas supplies, which are “inappropriate” and make Berlin “captive” to Moscow. This can’t go on and their American friend is determined to put an end to it and shore up the president’s tough stance with legislation.  Gas makes up only around 20% of Germany’s total energy mix, but the Americans are happy to ignore that inconvenient fact.

Mr. Barrasso wasted no time launching an effort to save his friends from falling into the trap laid by those wily Russians who dare to offer the stable, cheap energy that Europe needs so badly to boost its economic performance. The best way to do it is to punish the EU (for its own good), by authorizing mandatory sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas project, while promoting America’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The legislation includes a number of requirements that force the administration to exert pressure on the Europeans. “Lending a helping hand” to those who aren’t asking for it is a way to strong-arm them into compliance.

The US policy obviously runs counter to the interests of the EU, which does not need the US LNG at all, as its members are linked via pipeline to Russia, Norway, and Algeria. That’s cheaper and much more reliable.  Europe is far from being fully dependent on Nord Stream. It has competitive options, but Europe’s demand for gas is growing, which emphasizes the importance of lower prices. The Russian gas delivered under the sea can offset the declining production in the UK, Netherlands, and Denmark. It should be noted that Nord Stream 1 was already being utilized at full capacity in 2018. Europe will need an additional 120 billion cubic meters (bcm) of imported gas by 2035.

Russia’s gas exports to Europe rose 8.1% last year to a record level of 193.9 billion cubic meters (bcm), despite growing competition. More than 670 companies from 23 countries are involved in the project. As a result of these investments, Germany alone will benefit economically to the tune of over two billion euros and 13,000 full-time jobs. This positive effects will be even greater during the construction phase. Things may change as time goes by, but at present LNG is not as economically attractive as piped-in gas, because of the time needed for transportation by sea, regasification, and storage. Europe needs to spend money to construct facilities in order to increase the number of ports able to receive and reprocess the LNG. That’s a lot of time and effort. 

Europe’s right to make its own decisions is at stake as the ongoing battle over Nord Stream 2 heats up. It has the tools to stand up to America’s pressure. There is no doubt the bill will be pushed through Congress via an expedited process, but it can be fought. A strong European resistance could make US lawmakers think twice before throwing their support behind a bill curtailing the US president’s foreign-policy prerogatives. This is the time for the EU to stand tall and refuse to bow to outright pressure. The choice is between a strong and independent Europe that is able to defend its own interests and independence or a puppet on a string dancing to Washington’s tune. 

via RSS Tyler Durden

White Helmets “Rescued” By Israel Via Golan Heights In Overnight Operation

Overnight Saturday Israel evacuated 800 White Helmets members and their families from southern Syria in an operation that took them briefly into Israeli territory and then on to Jordan, where they are expected to be resettled in Britain, Canada, and Germany, according to officials in Amman. 

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed Israel’s spearheading the move at the request of the United States and European governments. The dead of night operation comes a week after reports first surfaced that serious discussions were held on the matter during the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels.

The IDF official twitter account posted the following statement: “Following an Israeli Government directive and at the request of the United States and additional European countries, the IDF recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families.

Photograph of part of the convoy of buses stopped near the Syrian border in the overnight evacuation of some 800 White Helmets and their families. Image via

The IDF further called the effort “an exceptional humanitarian gesture” and additionally confirmed that the White Helmets were transferred “through Israel”.

US officials including the State Department spokesperson have this summer made it a key talking point to warn of White Helmets being in “imminent danger” throughout Syria and face the threat of assassination especially in the country’s southwest, as pro-government forces have now nearly completed their successful campaign to take back all of Daraa and Quneitra provinces. 

The transfer began at around 9:30pm local time with a large convoy of buses exiting a frontier area on the Golan Heights toward Israel.

According to a Bild report, the convoy reached the Jordanian border at 5 a.m. and had some level of assistance from the United Nations. 

The Jerusalem Post notes that though the Jordanian government early on acknowledged it would initially host the displaced group, Israel had to keep its role hidden throughout the transfer.

“Neither the AP report nor the Jordanian government statement mention Israel. This points to the fact that Israel’s role was considered controversial and that the method of the evacuation had to be kept under wraps until it was complete,” according to the Jerusalem Post report

Meanwhile a number of journalists and analysts asked the obvious million dollar question: “Why evacuation specifically for just this group and its families?” Why not other civilians?”

As we’ve detailed many times before both the West and the group’s leadership have long claimed it’s nothing but a humanitarian non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to rescuing Syrians in the midst of war; however, far from being a “neutral” NGO the group has from its conception been funded by Western governments which have simultaneously sought the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while only operating in anti-Assad “rebel” territory, including still in al-Qaeda held Idlib. 

With today’s Israeli rescue operation giving greater clarity to the nature of the group fundamentally being a foreign-created and foreign sponsored entity, a number of mainstream media outlets are now for the first time casually and belatedly referencing this fact.

CBS for example writes, “The officials said the White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the United States and other Western nations for years, were likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retook control of the southwest.”

And the AFP acknowledges

The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.

Last year, a Netflix production called “The White Helmets” won an Academy Award for best short documentary.

Early Sunday Britain’s Foreign Office acknowledged in a statement that it and “international partners” had helped execute the planned evacuation. “White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection,” reads the statement.

The White Helmets organization was established in “late 2012 – early 2013” after a group of 20 Syrians were trained and organized by former British army officer James Le Mesurier. 

The group then received funding from Le Mesurier’s Netherlands-based non-profit group, Mayday Rescue – which is in turn funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments.

The US has in the past officially provided multiple tens of millions of dollars to the group through a USAID scheme initiated under the Obama administration. The Trump White House recently announced it would continue funding the group after a brief period in which their funding failed to be renewed by the State Department. 

Some prominent al-Qaeda linked leaders have in the past referenced the White Helmets as “the mujahideen of the civil defense” — a word that means jihadist fighter or “holy warrior” in militant Islam:

Though it appears the group is now non-existent in Syria’s southwest after evacuation by Israel, they are still operational in other parts of Syria, including in Idlib in Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey.

The group has faced a constant barrage of criticism after being caught on film multiple times bearing arms alongside known al-Qaeda terrorists and even assisting in al-Qaeda conducted field executions — this as the group consistently referenced itself as a homegrown “first-responder” organization.

via RSS Tyler Durden

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Was Predictable

Authored by José Niño vis The Mises Institute,

After pulling off a major upset in the Democratic Primary for New York’s 14th congressional district, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now being touted as the new face of the Democratic Party.

Ocasio’s victory has rejuvenated the Democratic Party and liberals naitionwide. For many on the Left, Ocasio’s recent victory is a breath of fresh air after putting up with Hilary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2016.

Beyond the typical R vs. D analysis that continues to grab headlines, what is most troubling about Ocasio’s meteoric rise to political fame is her complete disregard for basic economics.

A brief look at her platform is enough to realize that the ideas of socialism are alive and well in American politics.

Her platform is centered on the following policy planks:

  • Medicare for all

  • Free public university

  • Universal jobs guarantee

  • Housing as a human right

The common denominator of all her proposals is the amount of faith placed in the State to conduct private affairs. Channeling the spirit of failed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders , Ocasio describes her program asdemocratic socialism .

White-Washing Socialism

Leftists have tried their best to re-brand and obfuscate socialism to make it palatable to the misinformed masses.

No matter how many times socialist experiments have failed—from the Soviet Union to present-day Venezuela—many naïve leftists continue their never-ending goose chase for a socialist experiment that works.

The casual mention of socialism in political discourse is troubling.

When countries like Venezuela are crumbling before our very eyes it is astounding that many elected officials continue to flirt with the idea of implementing socialism.

In the Left’s imagination, Scandinavia is the silver bullet to the capitalist model.

This tired trope ignores several crucial details about the Nordic countries’ prosperity:

1. They are among the freest economies in the world (which admittedly may not be saying much), according to various economic freedom indices. At worst, they are mixed economies.

2. As highlighted in works like Scandinavian Unexceptionalism, Nordic countries first became rich through capitalism well before the welfare state was established.

Facts notwithstanding, the political Left continues to doze off into economic lala land and relies on raw emotion to draw conclusions on political economy.

Democracy: The God that Failed?

Many naïve minds on the Left make the mistake of asserting that Ocasio’s democratic socialism is something novel and bringing about socialist policies by democratic means, instead of authoritarian takeovers as in the Soviet case, will somehow avoid the pitfalls of socialism. Frankly, such an assumption is wishful thinking.

Harebrained socialist policies such as price controls will have the same effect—shortages—regardless if they were approved by a voter referendum or implemented by dictatorial fiat.

Democracies are not magical political systems exempt from economic and political downturns.

In fact, democracies with very little institutional checks and balances can devolve into systems where property rights are put on the chopping block and mob rule becomes the order of the day.

As avid students of history know, some of the Founding Fathers were justified in their skepticism towardsdemocracy . The Athenian case of democracy, albeit limited by today’s standards, was a story of an innovative political system that eventually succumbed to tyranny after Athens engaged in numerous military adventures and grandiose spending programs—all which were approved by the rubber stamp of democracy.

For that reason, the Founders championed more of a republican model of governance with several democratic features, but ultimately buttressed with strong checks and balances and competitive federalism.

Just More of the Same

The 20th century has witnessed the Founding Father’s original vision wither away in favor of a managerial state that gets constant democratic seals of approval at all levels of government to justify overreach.

In fact, Ocasio’s rise to prominence is no hack of the system. It is the logical end result of multiple generations acclimating to expansive government expansion.

New York is a telltale example of this. A state that was once a paragon of American capitalism during the Gilded Age , New York has taken the path to massive government intervention in the last few decades.

High taxes, out-of- control spending, lavish union privileges, and strict zoning laws, have compelled countless New Yorkers to move to other states with more affordable housing markets and friendlier business climates.

The media brands Ocasio-Cortez as revolutionary, but her ideology is part of the same old tired Leftist agenda of state control but this time it comes with a prettier face.

Multiple decades of media and institutional desensitization has culminated in a scenario where socialism is discussed nonchalantly in public forums.

Ocasio will very likely go on to win her seat by a comfortable margin, but the real losers will be her constituents.

Socialism’s marketing may change, but its results always remain the same once implemented – economic collapse and misery.

via RSS Tyler Durden

G-20 Communique Removes Pledge To Refrain From Competitive Devaluation

The global currency war just got its official launch.

While this weekend’s G-20 meeting in Argentina will not be a repeat of the diplomatic calamity that was Canada’s recent G-7 meeting, which concluded in disarray after Trump refused to endorse the joint statement, with US Treasury Steven Mnuchin expected to sign the final communique, a key omission in the final draft may have far greater consequences for the world than the theatrical Quebec fiasco, because as Bloomberg reports, pledges made by G-20 member nations in their March statement to refrain from competitive devaluations were removed from the draft statement.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told Bloomberg that the issue – arguably the single most important economic development in the context of the ongoing trade and currency war between the US and China – didn’t come up on Saturday, which effectively greenlights further devaluations in the coming weeks and months as countries respond to the threat of global slowdown as a result of rising tariffs.

And speaking of the economy, the draft Group of 20 statement notes that “global economic growth is less synchronized and faces increasing threats, including from trade tensions” adding that “downside risks over the short and medium term have increased.” A final version of the statement will be published later on Sunday.

Other economic risks cited include “rising financial vulnerabilities, heightened trade and geopolitical tensions, global imbalances, inequality” which is also a change from the G-20’s March statement which didn’t exclusively mention trade tensions.

The IMF also warned that the recent wave of trade tariffs would significantly harm global growth.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde presented the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Buenos Aires with a report warning that existing trade restrictions would reduce global output by 0.5 percent.

In the briefing note prepared for G20 ministers, the IMF said global economic growth may peak at 3.9 percent in 2018 and 2019, while downside risks have increased due to the growing trade conflict.

The G20 draft statement also warns on the threat to EMs as a result of the rising dollar, noting that while emerging markets are better prepared, they still face market volatility and possible capital outflows.

Ahead of the Argentine G-20 round, President Trump had raised the prospects of an “intense debate” on Friday with his tweets on trade and currency that accused the European Union and China of weakening their currencies to obtain trade benefits; and now that devaluation is not explicitly singled out, world leaders may see it as an endorsement to follow Trump in pressuring monetary authorities to pursue an easier monetary policy which takes the world back to “square one” in beggar thy neighbor policies. 

Curiously, Trump’s trade policies received a tacit endorsement from Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison, who said Trump had an unconventional but understandable approach to push for free trade.

“There are some grievances that have been around for a decade, Morrison said in an interview with Bloomberg News at the G-20 summit. “There is legitimate frustration about the failure of the system to resolve the issues that concern the U.S. and others.”

Separately, Reuters reported that the US sought “to woo Europe and Japan with free trade deals on Saturday to gain leverage in an escalating tariff war with China but its overtures faced stiff resistance from France at a G20 finance ministers meeting dominated by trade tensions.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the gathering of the financial leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies in Buenos Aires that he was renewing President Donald Trump’s proposal that G7 allies drop trade barriers between them.

“If Europe believes in free trade, we’re ready to sign a free trade agreement,” Mnuchin said, adding that such a deal would require the elimination of tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies. “It has to be all three issues.”

Europe, however, did not, and French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the European Union would not consider launching trade talks with the United States unless Trump first withdraws the steel and aluminum tariffs and stands down on a car tariff threat.

Repeating a phrase uttered previously by Macron, Le Maire told reporters on the G-20 sidelines that “we refuse to negotiate with a gun to our head.”

And while it is too soon to call for a collapse of the existing global order, the sense that increasingly more nations are taking their fate – both fiscal and monetary – in their own hands with little regard for how it will impact the rest, will be reinforced by today’s G-20 communique, whether the US ends up signing it or not.

via RSS Tyler Durden

Can Bitcoin Become the Global Monetary Standard?: New at Reason

If you find it hard to imagine how bitcoins could ever replace dollars as the world’s primary medium of exchange, consider the bizarre tale of the donut-shaped “rai” stones on the island of Yap. Weighing up to four metric tons and standing up to 12 feet tall, these rocks couldn’t be slipped into a wallet, deposited in a bank, or even moved around without enormous effort.

Yet for centuries they served the Yapese people as an effective form of money, because “the high cost of acquiring new stones” made them hard to debase, writes Saifedean Ammous in The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking. The system lasted until the 1870s, when the Irish-American ship captain David O’Keefe managed to overwhelm the island’s economy with a new supply of the giant limestone discs.

It’s an artful beginning to a book that makes a case for bitcoin as the best form of money ever conceived, writes Jim Epstein in the latest issue of Reason.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

The Life and Death of a Hollywood Blacklist: New at Reason

Ayn Rand was a blacklist truther. The novelist and screenwriter had been a friendly witness during the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ 1947 hearings on Hollywood subversion—the probe that prompted the studios to announce that they would not hire Communists. But when she was asked about her testimony two decades later, she claimed that the blacklist was a myth, writes Reason‘s Jesse Walker.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

“Hoax From The Beginning”: Carter Page FISA Application Exposes Flimsy Underpinnings Of FBI “Witch Hunt”

The late Saturday release of the FBI’s heavily redacted FISA warrant application for Carter Page reveals that the Obama administration was grasping at straws, so it cobbled together a combination of facts from Page’s business dealings in Russia, several press reports of varying reliability, and of course, the infamous Clinton-funded “Steele Dossier,” which the FBI went to great lengths to justify despite being largely unable to verify its claims.

Perhaps the most concerning takeaway, however, is the stark disconnect between the FBI’s multiple allegations against Page versus the fact that he hasn’t been charged with a single crime after nearly two years of DOJ/FBI investigations.

Once issued, the FISA warrant and its subsequent renewals allowed the Obama administration to spy on the Trump campaign using a wide investigatory net, so the October, 2016 application painted Page in the most criminal light possible, as intended, in order to convince the FISA judge to grant the warrant. It flat out accuses Page of being a Russian spy who was recruited by the Kremlin, which sought to “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law,” the application reads.

In order to reinforce their argument, the FBI used circular arguments which presented dossier claims as facts, such as “The FBI learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials” – when in fact that was simply another unverified claim from the dossier.

Another approach used to beef up the FISA application’s curb appeal was circular evidence, via the inclusion of a letter from Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) to former FBI Director James Comey, citing information Reid got from John Brennan, which was in turn from the Clinton-funded dossier

The application also reveals that FBI agent Peter Strzok lied when he said he had nothing to do with the FISA application, when in fact the disgraced FBI agent used Carter Page’s September 2016 letter to Comey defending himself against a Yahoo! News article written by Michael Isikoff (who used information obtained directly from Steele) as a pretext to open the investigation on Page.

Meanwhile, the FBI tried to downplay Steele feeding Isikoff information for his article, falsely claiming in the FISA application that Steele did not “directly provide” information to the reporter, when in fact he did. 

“Obviously the information that I got from Christopher Steele was information the FBI already had,” Isikoff said in a February podcast

The FBI also went to extreme lengths to convince the FISA judge that Steele (“Source #1”), was reliable when they could not verify the unsubstantiated claims in his dossier – while also having to explain why they still trusted his information after having terminated Steele’s contract over inappropriate disclosures he made to the media.

“Not withstanding Source1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate1’s ties to Russia, based on Source1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source 1s reporting herein to be credible” 

The warrant application also confirms a February report that the FBI received a copy of the dossier from the Obama State Department, after Steele provided it to senior DoS official Jonathan Winer. Winer was also approached by Clinton confidant Sydney Blumenthal with a separate anti-Trump dossier written by longtime Clinton pal Cody Shearer.

So two separate Clinton-originated dossiers went from Steele and Blumenthal to the State Department, which then gave it to the FBI. Of course, the agency also had a copy it received in early August, 2016 directly from Steele himself, and we also now know that there were multiple versions of the document which went through various conduits before reaching the FBI.

Curiously, the FBI spotlighted the dossier provided by the State Department, ostensibly to enhance its credibility. 

The FBI’s use of flimsy and uncorroborated evidence to support spying on Page, combined with the fact that a 3-month extension was granted despite the fact that it was obvious by June, 2017 he wasn’t a Russian agent, will most certainly embolden those, like President Trump, who have called the entire Russia investigation a “witch hunt.” 

Finally, on Sunday morning, president Trump responded with a series of tweets, including both his own thoughts, and quotes of others, stating that it is “looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC. Ask her how that worked out – she did better with Crazy Bernie. Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”

via RSS Tyler Durden