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Hannity Calls For/Predicts War With Iran

Hannity Calls For/Predicts War With Iran

OK, sorry if this is just over the top, but this evening Trump’s close pal, Sean Hannity, has gone over the top both predicting and clearly supporting a full blown attack on Iran, “take out all their nuclear facilities.”  Curiously a sign of how over the top this is was given by one of his guests, a colonel, warned that it would take nuclear weapons by the US to fully take out the most deeply buried  Iranian capabilities.

I am reasonably certain that part of why Hannity was sounding the war trumpet rather than his usual “investigate Hillary and the Steele dossier” baloney is that today Trump put himself into a difficult contradictory situation, having gone doubtful last night on his followers in NC chanting “Send her back” to supporting those chanters today. So, much easier to distract everybody with a possible war in the Persian Gulf (sorry, not “Arabian Gulf,” not yet), especially given that there has been an ongoing escalation of incidents in the Gulf over oil tankers, with Iran pushing back against the US withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal.

But the bottom line is that what Hannity spouts often ends up being what his close pal Trump ends up doing.  I take this spout from Hannity all too seriously.  We may well be in more serious war with Iran soon, with such an effort accompanied by far more massive lies than the Bush admin gave us when he stupidly invaded Iraq on false pretenses, although Hannity is assuring us that “It will be all over very soon, with no boots on the ground.”  Yeah, we have heard that one before.

Barkley Rosser

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Eliminate The Debt Ceiling

Eliminate The Debt Ceiling

Several days ago in WaPo, Catherine Rampell published a highly reasonable column calling for eliminating the century-old US debt ceiling, something no other nation has ever had, a position supported by a wide array of economists including such a conservative GOP stalwart as the recently deceased Martin Feldstein, a former CEA Chair for Reagan.  I have made numerous posts here on this in the past, but the issue is hot again as once again the debt ceiling is being rapidly approached.

The latest story is that the “adults in the room,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, may be very near an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, Reportedly Pelosi has been open to eliminating the ceiling, but in the current circumstances I certainly understand why she might be wanting to secure a two year agreement to preserve funding for social safety programs crazy right wingers want to use the debt ceiling issue to trash as well as holding off any shutdowns this fall.  This is what used to be known as “good government,” but in the current environment, even this apparently reasonable deal, which also has no non-economic sideshows involving abortion or whatever, may yet not pass.  Pelosi says it must be agreed to by tomorrow evening if it will get passed properly by Congress before they all go on leave and the government might run out of money in early September (corporate tax payments have been way down due to Trump tax law).  Eliminating the ceiling would avoid all this bs, but this is not the moment for that.

This is definitely a weird and unprecedented situation.  For over a century we have had this completely indefensible debt ceiling, which has been raised so many times it is not worth counting, and when the WH and Congress have been controlled by the same party, it has been no big deal, although obviously that is what we need to get rid of the damned thing.  However, historically, when there has been split partisan control the game has been the WH pushing raising the ceiling while the opposition party in Congress has made lots of complaining noises and often made demands for raising it.  The problem this time is that the major power broker of the administration, Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney, was part of the tea party fanatics in the House who when Obama was prez tried to block raising the ceiling.  Apparently at times he and Trump have indulged in fantasies that if there is a default he could personally control which agencies get funded and which do not.  This is not true, and maybe they are figuring it out, but Mulvaney has said nothing, and Trump must pass on this.

If he messes up the deal, it will be all his fault, as his own Treasury Secretary has cut it with the Congressional leader of the opposition party in the House, with reportedly the toadish GOP-controlled Senate ready to go along.  He may or may not have figured out that triggering a shutdown did not help him, but if he thinks triggering a default will not be worse, this will be a big mistake, to put it mildly.

Barkley Rosser

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Fox News Is Calling The Persian Gulf “The Arabian Gulf”

Fox News Is Calling The Persian Gulf “The Arabian Gulf”

Yes.  For centuries throughout the entire world that crucial body of water has been called “the Persian Gulf,” even though in 1935 the nation of Persia changed its named to “Iran.”  I became aware several decades ago when I was in Saudi Arabia that they have a really big fuss that it should be called “the Arabian Gulf.”  I think maybe their fellow Arab GCC members have been supporting this nonsense as well, but nobody else did, certainly not the US.

But now here it is, and I had noticed in some other US media outlets recently. Is this yet another payoff to the murderous Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) for funneling piles of money to Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization?  I mean, Fox News does what Trump and his flunkies want.  So, not only are we not punishing MbS for his awful war in Yemen, which even the UAE is now getting out of, not only are we not punishing him for ordering the assassination of a US-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, but, heck, Trump through Fox News and I am not sure who is trying to change the name of this body of water from its historical origin to kiss the ass of this disgusting murderer.

Oh, there is also the matter that Trump has gotten himself off into a totally anti-Iran schtick, with his withdrawal from the JCPOA and his imposition of massive sanctions on Iran.  But this looks like an attempted permanent punishment.  Frankly, I hope the rest of the world does not go along with this bs, but in the US, I fear he may have succeeded, so many people are so ignorant.

Barkley Rosser

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A Half Century Since Apollo 11 Launched To The Moon

A Half Century Since Apollo 11 Launched To The Moon

On July 16, 1969, a half century ago today, a Saturn 5 rocket launched from Cape Kennedy on its way to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would land on the moon on July 20 before returning successfully to earth.  Recent books have made clear just how close a call it was with many things nearly going wrong that would have doomed them, including such oddities as Aldrin using a felt tipped pen to adjust a minor switch that was needed for them to return.  My late father played an important role in that event, which I have posted about here before.  At that time he and I had many disagreements, but on this matter we were in agreement, and I was pleased to watch the famous landing with him.

The recent book, _One Giant Leap_ by Charles Fishman, argues that JFK was motivated to push the project out of Cold War competition with the USSR.  My late father agreed that this was a motive that provided the support for it.  This does raise the question whether it was really worth it.  I mean, nobody has gone back since 1972, although there is much noise now about maybe going back.

A curious way of looking at this in perspective is to think about what we thought the future would look like from that time period as compared with what has happened.  One way of looking at that is to think about how the moon and human presence there was depicted in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which came out in 1968, the year before Apollo 11.  I well remember taking very seriously the forecast in that movie, which depicted fairly substantial and established US and Soviet moon bases for 20001, now 18 years in the past.  That certainly did not remotely happen, although some other things shown in that movie have come to pass, such as people being able to see each other while communicating with each other over distances (thank you, Skype!).

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Does Turkish Lira Decline Mean Turkey Leaves NATO?

Does Turkish Lira Decline Mean Turkey Leaves NATO?

Probably not, but Turkey is about to receive Russian S-400 missiles against US demands.  More signifigantly the US will kill high level US F-35 agreements, and will not fly US planes over Turkey if it uses the Russian systems.  This threatens Turkish membership in NATO.

The immediate result of this in financial markets has been a substantial decline of the Turkish lira over the last several weeks.  While pushing off the US has costs, there will be gains from favoring Russia, from Russian tourist business to other economic deals, as well as cooperation with Russia not only in Syria, but also with respect to Iran, where both Turkey and Russia disagree with US policy to pull out of the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, which has led to a very bad state.

More deeply we see the limits of the weltenschaaung that Trump put forward last September at the UN GA to massive laughter by many other  national leaders, a moment not known to most Americans while unprecedented, the idea of super nationalism. Now he is facing the outcome of his folly on these matters: both Putin and Turkish leader Erdogan agree with him on this nationalist baloney, but now they are allying against him and the US. This shows that the end of this approach is not international cooperation through international organizations like the UN.  It is nationalist competition and rivalries leading to warfare.

Oh, and Erdogan seems to be imitating Trump also on economic policy, although he is playing a weaker hand, with the Turkish economy’s problems one of the reasons the US Fed is looking at lowering interest rates, not only a supposed ally, but one of the G20 nations whose economic problems are serious enough to draw the attention of the US Fed.

Barkley Rosser

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The Condition Of North Korean Conventional Weapons

The Condition Of North Korean Conventional Weapons

This is based on essentially gossip, or if you prefer, a rumor.  I have been dining in Washington again and someone there who is in fact both well known and very well informed, but whom I shall not name, made a comment about the state of conventional weapons in DPRK and also said that this has not been publicly known.  According to this person their condition is much worse than publicly believed.  So out of date and out of condition are they  that supposedly North Korea can no longer  seriously threaten Seoul with a conventional attack (as has long been taken for granted as being possible and looming over the situation there).

The supposed implication of this, if indeed it is true (which it may not be, and this is simply not easily checked on), would be that the DPRK needs its nuclear weapons more than we have thought and will be even less willing to give them up than has been thought, not that many of us have taken too seriously the idea that they would be willing to give them up.  Indeed, there have been recent rumblings out of Washington, denied by the administration, that Trump may be willing to return to the position of earlier administrations and cease trying to get DPRK to give up those weapons while trying to put some limits on the program instead.  Needless to say, Trump has had nothing but ridicule for this position when it seemed to be that of Obama, but if he does it, well, this will sort of be like calling NAFTA the worst trade deal ever and then negotiation a new NAFTA that is only slightly different from it and proclaiming it to be the best trade deal ever.

Barkley Rosser

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The Expansion Of Assets With Negative Nominal Interest Rates

The Expansion Of Assets With Negative Nominal Interest Rates

Buried in the Weekend section of the Financial Times is a report that the aggregate value of assets that earn negative nominal yields has substantially expanded since the beginning of 2019 and has reached a new high.  So on January 1, 2019, the value of these assets was at $8.3 trillion.  As of six months later it had reached $13 trillion, a more than 50 percent increase.  There are fewer assets around that have negative yields than a few years ago, but the amount of money in them has grown, and the depth of some of the negative interest rates has deepened.  It used to be said that -0.5 percent was a lower bound, but some Swiss franc bonds are down to -0.8 percent.  The main ten year German government bond’s yield has fallen to -0.4 percent.

This reflects a general decline of interest rates around the world.  This would seem to be tied to a general slowdown in the growth of the world economy.  One of the most sharply shifting economies is that of Germany, in recent years the fastest growing in the EU, but apparently in negative GDP growth territory for the second quarter of 2019.  This is not a good sign for the entire European economy.  Of course, China has also been slowing down.

This general slowdown has spilled over into US long term interest rates, which the Fed really does not control.  Indeed, for only the seventh time since 1980, the ten-year Treasury bond’s yield dipped below the federal funds rare, a more dramatic inversion of the yield curve than we have seen so far, with the US economy going into recession soon after this inversion five out of the six previous times this happened. So this is not a definite sign of recession, but it is quite understandable that the Fed is now talking lowering short term rates, and not just because Trump is shouting at them to do so.

Barkley Rosser

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Iran Nuclear Deal: Better Late Than Never?

Iran Nuclear Deal: Better Late Than Never?

Monday has seen a curious coincidence that I have seen nobody else comment on regarding the  status of the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal.  On the one hand Iran has apparently now officially violated the agreement in terms of the amount of low level enriched uranium it has, going over the allowed limit, although it remains very far from obtaining in nuclear weapons. On the other the EU, more specifically and especially France and Germany, have gotten their alternative payment mechanism, Instex, operational.  This has been set up to allow European companies to deal with Iran without using dollars or the US-controlled SWIFT clearing system.

However, it is only initially going to deal with non-sensitive items like food and pharmaceuticals, not other goods, at least not now.  The Iranians have made it clear that for them to keep to the JCPOA the Europeans need to more fully offset the US sanctions.  That is not happening, not at least now, although the possibility is there.

So, this may be too late, but maybe Iran will not get too far above the limits.  Maybe there is still a chance to more seriously offset Trump’s illegal sanctions.

Barkley Rosser

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Rice Prices Rising In North Korea

Rice Prices Rising In North Korea

According to nkecon, on April 30 the price of rice in the DPRK was 4070 won per kg, but as of June 25 it had risen 26 percent to 5147 won per kg, the highest in many years.  The price of corn has also sharply risen although not quite as high abovee recent levels as has the price of rice.  However, the price of pork has fallen, reflecting standard corn-hog relations, and per capita incomes appear to have fallen.  Crop failures have now been passing through to consumers in higher prices.

And in the meantime Kim Jong Un has sent an “excellent letter” to Donald Trump, who is traveling from the G20 summit  in Osaka with South Korean President Moon, who would like there to be another Kim-Trump summit. Apparently Trump will visit  the DMZ, the most heavily fortified place on earth, which Trump has now said is a model for how the US-Mexican border should be.

Barkley Rosser

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Whither The Price Of Oil?

Whither The Price Of Oil?

I do not know, which is a kind of silly way to start a post, but pretty obviously this is an opening to talk about some other matters, especially the US-Iran situation.  However, I want to point out some things  that have been on my mind.  In particular, while oil price volatility has not been super extreme recently compared to some movements in the last decade and a half, the degree of uncertainty and confusion about what is going on in the oil markets has become extreme.  This is heavily a subjective judgment based on following Oilprice.com on a daily basis, which links to several stories a day, along with what has been happening to prices themselves.  In particular what has struck me for some time has been how  frequently I see completely contradictory stories on a given day, one declaring that prices are going up  (definitely!) while another declares exactly the opposite (definitely!).  This has been happening several times a week for quite some time now.

Here is the rough history of oil prices over the last two decades roughly.  I shall quote West Texas Intermediate (WTI), but keep in mind that for the last several years the more important global price of Brent crude has generally been about $10 higher than WTI.  So, the price reached a low in the late 90s, which coincided with a booming US economy, which even got down briefly into the teens of $, although was mostly in the 20s.  This began to rise gradually with some hiccups after the turn of the millennium and reached an all time nominal peak in July 2008 of $147, which was followed by a plunge to about $30 in November four months later as the financial crash also cranked up.  The price then rose again jerkily getting up to roughly the $100-120 range by 2011 until mid-2014, when it dropped over a half year to the $30 range, rose again to nearly over $80 by late 2018, then to fall to $40 by the end of the year, then rising to over $70 by April, then to fall back to the mid-$50s today, currently wobbling around.  So, a lot of moving up and down, but not as sharply as some years  ago.

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