Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Today's Links

“Far from a ‘revolution’ or struggle for ‘liberation,’ what the world is witnessing is the rape of Libya by a syndicate of imperialist powers determined to lay hold of its oil wealth and turn its territory into a neo-colonial base of operations for further interventions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.” wsws


1--Tectonic shifts like this, are rare. But when they do occur, they throw up the possibility of profound change and realignment.

we stand at the edge of one of those substantive inflection points...

Can the fabric of our polity really assimilate any greater inequalities, without tearing apart, without exploding? Are not the Gillets Jaunes flashing a red warning signal? Apparently not. Markets continue to soar away. For sure, the consequences however, to the inevitable (now fully locked-in) monetary authorities’ response to stagnation, this time will be that the 60% will sink closer to the economic ‘cliff edge’, (whilst the 40% fly high) – and the young will become the new long-term unemployed.  

Europe, where the abrupt ECB reversal marks a huge conceptual failure… [i.e. the destruction and transfer of wealth from Eurozone savers, to rescue debtors; and from the general public to the banks, government and large corporations to rescue their balance sheets]. This has contributed materially to having turned the Eurozone into an economic zombie, and having radicalised a large and hostile constituency.

Or, whether it is manifest with the EU’s evident befuddlement upon China’s tectonic ‘landing’ at Rome last month, heralding the shift of the global trade ‘plates’. Maybe the EU leaders do ‘get it’ – that the EU is already on the slipway, gliding down towards ‘new waters’, slipping towards its sibling separation from the erstwhile ‘parental home’ of the trans–Atlantic relationship, to a new life in which a Chinese partner features. But if so, strategic thinking is not evident...

2--The market is now entirely dependent on buybacks

In the fourth quarter 2018, share repurchases soared 62.8% from a year earlier to a record $223 billion, beating the prior quarterly record set in the third quarter last year, of $204 billion, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices on March 25. It was the fourth quarterly record in a row, the longest such streak in the 20 years of the data. For the whole year 2018, share buybacks soared 55% year-over-year to a record $806 billion, beating the prior record of $589 billion set in 2007 by a blistering 37%!

Share buybacks had already peaked in 2015 and ticked down in 2016 and 2017. Then the tax reform act became effective on January 1, 2018, and share buybacks skyrocketed....

outside of corporations buying back their own shares, was buying shares? Goldman Sachs strategists answered this question in a report cited by Bloomberg, that used data from the Federal Reserve to determine “net US equity demand.” These are the largest investor categories other than corporate buybacks, five-year totals:
  • Foreign investors shed $234 billion.
  • Pension funds shed $901 billion, possibly to keep asset-class allocations on target as share prices soared.
  • Stock mutual funds shed $217 billion.
  • Life insurers added 61 billion
  • Households added $223 billion.
The net effect of these investor groups is that they together shed $1.1 trillion of shares (included in these categories, and spread over them, are ETFs). But the $1.1 trillion of shares that these investor groups shed over those five years was overpowered by $2.95 trillion of share buybacks over those five years....

“Repurchases have consistently been the largest source of U.S. equity demand,” the Goldman strategists wrote in their note. “Without company buybacks, demand for shares would fall dramatically.”...

And then there is the biggie: The question of just “demand,” no matter what earnings or earnings-per-share may be.
“Eliminating the largest source of equity demand could lower the demand curve if other investor categories do not replace the corporate bid from buybacks,” they warned. And the bull market would lose the force that powered it.

Share buybacks are the relentless bid, buying at any price, buying not to acquire assets at a low price but buying with the specific purpose of pushing up prices.
Letting the stock market fend for itself and embark on its own price discovery without the relentless bid of share buybacks would be a true nightmare. No one would be ready for it. This type of world is just too painful to even imagine these days.

3--Once again, Brennan, the mastermind

Was Mr. Brennan a central player in the hoax, which would help explain the participation of Mr. Halper, Mr. Mifsud and Mr. Downer? Intel officials are likely to draw on other intelligence operatives.
There is also a glimpse of a paper trail.
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge reported last week that “in a Dec. 12, 2016 text, [FBI lawyer Lisa] Page wrote to McCabe: “Btw, Clapper told Pete that he was meeting with Brennan and Cohen for dinner tonight. Just FYSA [for your situational awareness].”
“Within a minute, McCabe replied, “OK.”
Ms. Herridge notes that those named are likely Peter Strzok and Mr. Brennan’s then-deputy, David Cohen. Ms. Herridge also notes that while we don’t yet know what was discussed during the dinner, government sources thought it “irregular” for Mr. Clapper to be in contact with the more junior-level Mr. Strzok. She also points out that the text came “during a critical time for the Russia probe.”
Indeed. It was right before the publication of the ICA, the official Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian 2016 election interference.

As Paul Sperry has reported, “A source close to the House investigation said Brennan himself selected the CIA and FBI analysts who worked on the ICA, and that they included former FBI counterespionage chief Peter Strzok.
“Strzok was the intermediary between Brennan and Comey, and he was one of the authors of the ICA,” according to the source.” Recall that the dossier-based ICA was briefed to Obama, Trump and Congress ahead of Trump’s inauguration.
Post-Mueller report, Mr. Brennan is spinning wildly that perhaps his early condemnations of Mr. Trumpwere based on “bad information.”
These are just some of the threads suggesting Mr. Brennan may be one of the Masters of the Big Lie, requiring full investigation.

4--Cockburn on Brexit

the explanation for the crisis gripping Britain is not a mystery: globalisation has produced political crises all over the world which differ in some respects but have certain common themes such as de-industrialisation, increased inequality, immigration, and the alienation of large parts of the population. There are obvious parallels between Trump supporters in Pennsylvania and Leave voters in the Labour strongholds in the Welsh Valleys. The same pressures were long visible in the Middle East where kleptocratic elites clustered around authoritarian rulers and their families, leaving the rest of the population to rot....

The failure of historians to find a convincing parallel between events in Britain’s past and the Brexit crisis may have a simple explanation: never before has the nation embarked on a project likely to make it poorer, weaker and less able to control its own future.

5-- The dictatorial impulse behind Trump’s political purge

The Democratic Party, far from representing an opposition to the drive towards authoritarian rule, is merely an alternative route to the same destination. Both capitalist parties, the Republicans under George W. Bush, the Democrats under Barack Obama, have built up the powers of the national-security state, carried out illegal wars, and attacked the democratic rights and social gains of the American working class. Trump invents nothing new; he merely takes hold of instruments forged by his predecessors to use against his political opponents in the ruling class and, above all, against the working class.

There is a chasm between the ruthless and aggressive posture of Trump, and the feckless response of the Democratic Party. The Democrats are more frightened of the implications of appealing to the American people to oppose the government than they are of anything the Trump administration might do. Herein lies Trump’s political advantage: his own inclinations better correspond to the desperate position in which the American ruling elite finds itself, with its social order crumbling, the working class coming forward, and the world position of American imperialism in decline.

The Democratic Party fights Trump on a right-wing basis, appealing to the national-security apparatus through its bogus campaign over Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election. They attack Trump from the right on foreign policy, demanding a more aggressive approach to Syria, Russia, North Korea and China. Even after the Mueller report has debunked their claims, the Democrats continue to promote allegations that Trump is a Russian puppet.

6--Libya on the brink of all-out civil war

“Far from a ‘revolution’ or struggle for ‘liberation,’ what the world is witnessing is the rape of Libya by a syndicate of imperialist powers determined to lay hold of its oil wealth and turn its territory into a neo-colonial base of operations for further interventions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.”

With the latest escalation of Libya’s protracted civil war—between rival forces that are all the products of CIA conspiracies and imperialist interventions—the consequences of this rape and the political criminality of those who justified and promoted it have become all the more evident.

Hifter, a former general in the Libyan army, turned against the government of Muammar Gaddafi in the late 1980s after becoming a prisoner of war during a conflict with neighboring Chad. He was quickly picked up by the US Central Intelligence Agency and remained a CIA “asset” for decades, taking up residence near the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia and becoming a US citizen.
Sent back to Libya in advance of the 2011 regime-change operation mounted by Washington, Paris and London, he was overshadowed by the Islamist Al Qaeda-linked forces that served as ground troops for the US-NATO air war, which ended up claiming the lives of as many as 50,000 Libyan civilians.

Unable to find a path to power, Hifter went back to the US, returning to Libya to mount a bloody campaign in 2014 to seize control of the eastern city of Benghazi from Islamist militias. He formed a military force comprised of various militias, which became the backbone of a regime based in the eastern city of Tobruk. His government has rivaled the US- and UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, chaired by wealthy businessman Fayez al-Sarraj. A third rival for state power is the Islamist-dominated General National Congress, which proclaimed itself a Salvation Government and rejected Sarraj’s authority.

Before his advance on Tripoli, Hifter managed to establish control in the summer of 2018 over oil facilities in central Libya, and, earlier this year, over a swathe of southern Libya that includes one of the country’s major oil fields....

There was no such call when the UK joined with France and the United States to overthrow the country’s government and inflict death upon its population and destruction upon its infrastructure. No one, from Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron on down, was ever held accountable for a criminal war of aggression that turned the country into a living hell.

Launched under the pretext of a UN resolution authorizing the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to halt the supposed (but non-existent) threat of a massacre in the eastern city of Benghazi, the war saw money and arms poured into Islamist militias and lavished on Al Qaeda operatives, who were backed by a relentless bombing campaign, which included nearly 30,000 sorties in the course of seven months.
A war launched on the pretext of protecting civilians culminated in the carpet bombing of Sirte, a bastion of popular support for Gaddafi, and the lynch-mob torture and murder of the Libyan leader, over which then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughingly gloated, “We came, we saw, he died.”...

n the intervening eight years, the attempts to install a pro-Western puppet regime in a devastated country controlled by clashing Islamist, tribal and other militias have failed miserably. The regime headed up by Sarraj, recognized as Libya’s “legitimate” government, barely controls even Tripoli. Under its supposed rule, the country’s education and health systems have collapsed, while inflation is ravaging living standards, the unemployment rate has reached 30 percent, and fully a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Conditions of life for masses of Libyans have deteriorated dramatically since the overthrow of Gaddafi.

7--Devin Nunes says he is sending eight criminal referrals to US attorney general William Barr

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