Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cartoon of the Day

Peter Zeihan on Geopolitics

 
This Is How the World Ends, Part I


by Peter Zeihan, Melissa Taylor, and Michael N. Nayebi-Oskoui
 
I like to say that I sell context. It’s all about how seemingly disparate things like age structures and trade patterns and political evolutions and technological advances interact. In any such dynamic system there are winners and losers. My concern is that the global system itself now faces a moment of truth in which the countries of the world, first and foremost the United States, will fail to rise to the occasion. Which is a nice way of saying that what I’m really seeing – what I’m really selling – is the end of the world.

This world system was put into place 70 years ago. The core of the international system during the Cold War was the Americans’ support of the global trade and security order. The Americans agreed to provide global and regional security to their allies in exchange for deference on security matters. When issues of economic import rose to prominence, the Americans tended to give way. When issues of strategic import rose to prominence, the Americans tended to get their way because that was the deal.

This arrangement froze geopolitics as previously independent countries were pulled into a massive, interconnected system because of not only America’s overwhelming economic and military power, but also the power of the alliance structure it controlled. This was such a powerful force that it even pulled in America’s enemies one-by-one and allowed them to rise, fueled on exports. In the process, the US made the global economy dependent on the relatively free flow of goods, people, and money while also alleviating the need for the large militaries that defined the first half of the 20
th Century. In other words, the US and its alliance shifted every global system that mattered for literally every country in the world.

Everyone except the US, which managed throughout this to remain isolated economically. It maintains its own military, largely produces what it needs (though it imports a lot of what it wants) and remains the largest economy in the world. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, just as the world began to truly bet their economies on the American plan, the American’s need for this incredibly expensive system faded. It’s taken the US awhile, but it finally noticed.

There is no replacement for US power, economic or military. “Europe” as a concept, China, and Russia are all in existential struggles and each of them is likely to lose. There is no alternate reserve currency. There is no one who can react to any event anywhere in the world like the US can. The Americans are leaving a power vacuum and we know what happens in power vacuums.

I’ve been speaking and writing about this approaching “end” for the better part of the past decade. One of the fun things – and incidentally, one of the things that helps keep me sane – is that it is all very abstract. I can blithely note that wars will happen, that supply chains will break down, that the lights will go out, that famine is an inevitability, but so long as the timeframes are fuzzy and the locations are over the horizon it is easy to speak and write with a degree of detachment. This doesn’t affect me, and certainly not right now.

I think/fear that I’m about to lose that insulation. The end is pretty god-damn nigh. Exactly how this plays out is still very much up in the air. The blow by blow will matter immensely in the short and even medium term. So I’m going to lay out the most recent big events that seem to be giving shape to the Disorder over the course of several newsletters. Event 1: The United States withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal (May 8)

The Obama administration did not sign the U.S. up to the nuclear deal because it thought Iran would suddenly become an upstanding member of the international community. After decades of being the region’s arbiter, the American security apparatus in specific and the American public in general wanted to get out of the region. That meant the White House needed to make a choice. 
 
Option one was to appoint a “winner.” This “winner” would patrol the region, keep the local powers in line, and in general do what the Americans had done: keep the region as stable and static as possible.

The Obama team didn’t like the candidates. Iran was out as a matter of principle. Saudi Arabia didn’t field a meaningful army, much less a navy. Israel was potent, but small, and the religious angle meant it could never lead the region. Turkey may have been capable, but it had unrelated interests in Europe and the Caucasus and the Mediterranean, and so could never concentrate its efforts on such a gangly region like the Middle East.

Even then, there was no guarantee that any “winner” would look out for American interests unless a large American military presence remained… which would defeat the point of a sustained withdrawal. And the last thing Washington wanted was to cause the emergence of a new regional hegemon that was not consistently pro-American.

That left option two: establish a regional balance of power so the region would self-regulate. This balance, ultimately, is what the nuclear deal sought to achieve: partially rehabilitate Iran, partially reintroduce it into the international system so that Iran could counter – and be countered by – the other regional players. In doing so – or so the theory goes – the region’s wars will be many, but limited.

The key selling point of the balance-of-power option was that the Middle East has so many competing centers of power that no single country would ever be able to gain a significant, long-term advantage. That would keep any of the (many) expected battles bottled up within the region. It sounds a bit cruel, but the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen are good examples of the balance-of-power strategy working because those conflicts keep the region’s powers at one another’s throats.

Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal does two things. First, it wrecks the balance-of-power strategy by gutting the possibilities of the region’s most active player: Iran. The resurrection of global financial sanctions on Iran will – at a minimum – halve the country’s export earnings by year’s end. This means the Americans will need a new strategy for the region. At present, the Trump administration hasn’t offered anything as to what that might be. But that is an issue for another day.

From my point of view, the second outcome of the withdrawal is far more important. The old/new sanctions on Iran uncaps what has traditionally been the Americans’ most potent economic weapon: secondary sanctions.

Secondary sanctions are not something the Americans have ever used often or liberally. They present would-be sanctions busters with a choice: do business with the sanctioned country (in this case, Iran) or do business with the United States. Since the Iranian market is roughly 1% the size of the American market, there may be a bit of whining but for most firms that’s not all that difficult a decision. And that’s before you consider the long-term demographics of the world’s major economies.

What is truly different this time around is the presence of some institutional infrastructure the Obama administration set up a few years back to force the Iranians to negotiate the nuclear deal in the first place. Via an exhausting series of bilateral negotiations, the Obama team got a good hard grip on something called SWIFT, a system for managing financial transfers between various players in the international space. They used this newfound power to apply secondary sanctions to anything that touched the U.S. dollar. Since the U.S. dollar is the only global currency of exchange (the euro position has been shrinking for years, and even the Chinese yuan has been backpedaling of late) the end result was to cut any sanctions-busters out of pretty much all international trade, even if those sanctions-busters have no direct exposure to the American market.

I think the Trump administration fully understands just how powerful of a tool it just picked up, and that tool is perfect for the job of pretty much everything else on the administration’s international agenda.

 
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 Up next: Europe Guts Itself.
 

Now’s the Time to Restore Integrity to EPA Regulatory Science

Calvin Beisner May 22, 2018

For decades the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gotten away with creating regulations that lack sound scientific basis, costing Americans hundreds of billions of dollars without solid evidence that those costs were justified.

It’s done this in two ways.

Sometimes it’s simply thrown out scientific results and regulated to satisfy a political pressure group. That was largely the case when in 1972, contrary to its own scientific findings but under heavy pressure from environmentalists, it banned the use of DDT, the most effective, least expensive, safe pesticide by which to control or eradicate disease-carrying insects like mosquitos and lice.......To Read More....

Instead of Curing Cancer and Acne, Rattlesnake Pills Give You Salmonella

By Alex Berezow — May 3, 2018 @ American Council on Science and Health
 
One time when I was a little kid, our family visited Arizona. We went to a restaurant somewhere out in the desert that served fried rattlesnake. As you probably guessed, it tastes like chicken.
Rattlesnake meat is perfectly fine to consume. However, snakes and other reptiles, as well as amphibians, can carry Salmonella. That's why it's important for people to wash their hands after handling pet reptiles... or to cook them properly if you plan on eating them. The CDC reports on a person in Kansas who found that out the hard way.

Some people like to take "rattlesnake pills." This dietary supplement, which according to the CDC contains "dehydrated and pulverized rattlesnake meat," is not approved by the FDA. Despite this, (literally) snake oil salesmen market the pills as cure-alls for everything from acne to cancer to HIV. Of course, you can find rattlesnake pills in any location that peddles alternative medicine and other "natural cures."

The Kansas patient recalls traveling to the State of Chihuahua in Mexico, where he purchased and consumed what he believed to be homemade rattlesnake pills. Consider the number of serious judgment errors that went into this decision:
  1. The patient went to Chihuahua, a region that is currently under a level 3 travel warning by the U.S. State Department due to violent crime and gangs. (A level 3 warning means people should "reconsider" traveling there; level 4 means people should not go at all.)
  2. He purchased rattlesnake pills, which he wrongly believes confer some sort of miraculous health benefit.
  3. He purchased homemade pills, because the best medicine is made in somebody's basement.
  4. He ate them. Not just one, but five. (If one is healthy, five must be better, right?)
As the patient found out, there's actually nothing magical about a rattlesnake. Just because rattlesnakes are tough and cool doesn't mean that you'll be tough and cool if you eat them. Instead, you might just be a dope.

Source: Bottichio L, Webb LM, Leos G, Tolar B, Dowell N, Basler C. "Notes from the Field: Salmonella Oranienburg Infection Linked to Consumption of Rattlesnake Pills — Kansas and Texas, 2017." MMWR 67 (17): 502-503. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6717a4.

Bombshell: More Obama admin spies attempted to insert selves into Trump campaign

"I will tell you, when we finally find out the truth about this, director Clapper and the rest of them are going to be wearing some orange suits."

By Thomas Lifson May 22, 2018

Last night, Michael Caputo, the former Trump campaign aide who has been forced to sell his house to pay legal bills arising out of the Mueller probe, let slip a bombshell: he was approached by at least one other government informant who was attempting to be planted into the campaign. Appearing on The Ingraham Angle along with Carter Page, he made the stunning charge eight minutes into the interview embedded below:...........
"Let me tell you something that I know for a fact," Caputo said on "The Ingraham Angle" with host Laura Ingraham. "This informant, this person [whom] they tried to plant into the campaign ... he's not the only person who came at the campaign. And the FBI is not the only Obama agency who came at the campaign." "I know because they came at me. And I'm looking for clearance from my attorney to reveal this to the public. This is just the beginning."
Chuck Ross, who already deserves a Pulitzer for his incredible reporting on the Obama administration spy ring, spotted the revelation:...............Tick, tick, tick...............More

My Take - What did the President know and when did he know it?

Gingrich: 'Most Sobering Political Scandal in American History'

By Susan Jones | May 22, 2018

(CNSNews.com) - Reports that the FBI sent a confidential source to speak with Trump campaign advisers has the president demanding an investigation into "whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes," as he tweeted on Sunday.

The Justice Department's inspector general now plans to look into that possibility, and that's a good thing, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News's Sean Hannity Monday night:
Well, I think it's rapidly becoming the biggest and most sobering political scandal in American history. Somebody pointed out earlier, back when J. Edgar Hoover was spying at Lyndon Johnson's behest on Richard Nixon, we thought it was terrible. Back when they had a break in at Watergate, we thought it was terrible.
This is a multi-year effort that has two different fronts. People need to always remember that. One front was protecting, propping up, covering up for Bill and Hillary Clinton. The other front, as Trump became more and more serious, the other front was to stop Trump at any cost.

Now, I believe that the reason you see people like (former Deputy Attorney General) Sally Yates go berserk, you see (former CIA Director) John Brennan go berserk, you see (former Director of National Intelligence) General (James) Clapper go berserk -- they're all guilty. When you see somebody in the Obama team who gets that rattled and is that angry -- what you know is they're scared to death that they're going to get drawn into all this, and their role is going to come out and it will involve, I think, felonies and frankly, I suspect it reaches to President Obama. 
It's inconceivable that President Obama could have had this many things going on and not known it, because his administration was very controlling and very tight, and I think we're going to discover all of the stuff, in the end, ends up with the Obama White House and has the president and his senior staff's fingerprints all over it.
Gingrich said the main thing for Americans to understand is that "the corruption was so deep at the top." ............To Read More....

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why the Left Won't Call Anyone 'Animals'

A glimpse into leftist moral darkness.
"It's never right to call other human beings 'animals.' It's not something we should even have to debate. No matter how debased the behavior of a given individual or group, no matter how much legitimate anger that genuinely evil actions might inspire, dehumanizing others always leads us down a dangerous path."

John Brennan in Panic Mode

Former CIA chief faces the legal consequences of his dirty deeds.

John Brennan’s Plot to Infiltrate the Trump Campaign

It came out of his “inter-agency taskforce” at Langley.

George Neumayr May 22, 2018

As Trump won primary after primary in 2016, a rattled John Brennan started claiming to colleagues at the CIA that Estonia’s intelligence agency had alerted him to an intercepted phone call suggesting Putin was pouring money into the Trump campaign. The tip was bogus, but Brennan bit on it with opportunistic relish.

Out of Brennan’s alarmist chatter about the bogus tip came an extraordinary leak to the BBC: that Brennan had used it, along with later half-baked tips from British intelligence, as the justification to form a multi-agency spy operation (given the Orwellian designation of an “inter-agency taskforce”) on the Trump campaign, which he was running right out of CIA headquarters.

The CIA was furious about the leak, but never denied the BBC’s story. To Congress earlier this year, Brennan acknowledged the existence of the group, but cast his role in it as the mere conduit of tips about Trump-Russia collusion: “It was well beyond my mandate as director of CIA to follow on any of those leads that involved U.S. persons. But I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau.”

But if his role had truly been passive, the “inter-agency taskforce” wouldn’t have been meeting at CIA headquarters. By keeping its discussions at Langley, Brennan could keep his finger wedged in the pie. Both before and after the FBI’s official probe began in late July 2016, Brennan was bringing together into the same room at CIA headquarters a cast of Trump haters across the Obama administration whose activities he could direct — from Peter Strzok, the FBI liaison to Brennan, to the doltish Jim Clapper, Brennan’s errand boy, to an assortment of Brennan’s buddies at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and White House..............The members of Brennan’s working group at Langley “were just a bunch of out-of-control idiots,” says a former high-ranking CIA official to TAS.........To Read More.....

An honest Democrat savages Deep State, Mueller probe

The "deep state" is in a deep state of desperation. With little time left before the Justice Department inspector general's report becomes public, and with special counsel Robert Mueller having failed to bring down Donald Trump after a year of trying, they know a reckoning is coming.

At this point, there is little doubt that the highest echelons of the FBI and the Justice Department broke their own rules to end the Hillary Clinton "matter," but we can expect the inspector general to document what was done or, more pointedly, not done. It is hard to see how a year-long investigation of this won't come down hard on former FBI Director James Comey and perhaps even former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who definitely wasn't playing mahjong in a secret "no aides allowed" meeting with former President Clinton on a Phoenix airport tarmac. ............Read more

Collusion: Thank Goodness the Deep-Staters Are Idiots

One of my articles of faith is that there are no conspiracies, only stupid efforts to cover things up.  Hello, Intelligence Community! In the last week or so, we have seen the unraveling of the Russia collusion narrative, the notion that the Trump presidential campaign was in bed with the Reds. Imagine! Not under the bed, as in olden times, when the left did it, but actually in bed with the pesky Russkies!  I can't believe the Trumpists did that!

Here is the shocking truth. In addition to its vital national task of surveilling the world to detect the plans of terrorists, prevent school shootings, and foil MS-13 in its animalistic designs, our Intelligence Community found time to snag some peripheral Trump campaign hangers-on into compromising positions by asking them about Russians and emails. And that gave them a reason to wiretap these peripheral campaign hangers-on using the carefully crafted protocols in the nation's wise counterintelligence laws.

Gradually, the project to spy on the Trump campaign – you know, just in case – morphed into a conspiracy to avoid facing the embarrassment of the exposure of government spying on the out-of-power party's campaign..........But I am comforted by all of this. We have learned over the months that these Deep State hangers-on are merely fools and knaves, from Brennan to Clapper, from Comey to McCabe and the lovebird twins, and don't forget the inimitable Stefan Halper, who appears to have enjoyed too many counterintelligence lunches at his London club. Did somebody say "what did the president know and when did he know it?"................ Read more

Net Neutrality is a Fancy Term for Internet Socialism

Marina Medvin May 18, 2018

Don’t be fooled by the terminology. Net neutrality isn’t a tech term that will be hard for you to comprehend. You will get it in an instant, I promise. It’s the same old socialism, just rebranded to make it tech-trendy.  There’s nothing neutral about net neutrality. It simply means everyone pays more, for things they need and don’t need, all indiscriminately, like taxes. Net neutrality is just internet socialism.

People who originally fought for net neutrality were afraid of “unregulated capitalism.” Red flags all over the place.  Why else did you think Democrats wanted it so badly?..........
Democrat thought process: How dare you ask for the right to pay for better service! How dare you ask to pay less to save some money and not subsidize your neighbor’s internet! Everyone pays the same and gets the same. Government tells you what you need and what you pay.
 The internet is not a commune. The internet is a marketplace. I like to keep my markets free, competitive, innovative and profitable. Socialism inhibits all of that.............. To Read More....

Caruba's Corner: The End of Freedom in America

By Alan Caruba Wednesday, February 25, 2015 @ Warning Signs


 

The America that has existed from the days of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, when its sovereignty was acknowledged by a treaty with England 1783, and its founding in 1788 with the ratification of the Constitution is no more. The America for which thousands fought and gave their lives is no more.

That America ends on February 26 when the Federal Communications Commission, under intense pressure from the Obama White House and with the votes of its Democratic Party commissioners asserts government control over the Internet with a 332-page set of regulations, dubbed “Net Neutrality.”

Writing in the Feb 22nd Wall Street Journal, columnist L. Gordon Crovitz summed up what will occur saying “Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn’t broken…The permissionless Internet which allows anyone to introduce a website, app, or device without government review, ends this week.”

“The big politicization came when President Obama in November demanded that the supposedly independent FCC apply agency’s most extreme regulation to the Internet.” Of course Obama wants the Internet regulated and of course the Democratic Party will support this move to control who gets to put up a website or blog and, more importantly, who gets to say anything critical of the President.


The Democratic Party has been in everything but name the Communist Party in the United States for several decades. Obama was raised and mentored to be a Marxist. What we are witnessing is nothing less than tyranny replacing democracy.

Crovitz warned that “This week Mr. Obama’s bureaucrats will give him the regulated Internet he demands. Unless Congress or the courts block Obamanet, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.”

Earlier this week, as reported by Giuseppe Macri in The Daily Caller the FCC’s two Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, asked Chairman Tom Wheeler “to delay the vote and release his proposal to the public. ‘We respectfully request that FCC leadership immediately release the 332-page Internet regulation plan publicly and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it.’”

There is some evil at work here because, as the Republican commissioners point out, “the plan in front of us right now is so drastically different than the proposal the FCC adopted and put out for public comment last May.”

Shades of ObamaCare! Even the Democrats who voted that monstrosity into law had not read it. Now neither Congress, nor the rest of America is being permitted to see regulations that will determine what can and cannot be posted to the Internet, the greatest instrument of free speech ever invented since the printing press.

Commissioner Pai says that the FCC is “adopting a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority we don’t have.” He estimates that the regulations will add up to $11 billion in new taxes on Internet access.
 
In a commentary, “Neutralize Obama’s Hijacking of the Internet”, Judi McLeod, the editor of CanadaFreePress.com, said “Forget NSA, the FBI, the CIA, and all warnings sent by Edward Snowden. They’ve got nothing on how Net Neutrality will silence you.”

“Someday in the near future when you type in the words “Islamic terrorists” in an Internet post, you will be knocked off the Net and find it all but impossible to climb back on again.”

Do I think the Congress will exercise its oversight responsibilities and stop this tyrannical power grab? No. Do I think our court system will do anything other than bow to precedent set by earlier FCC regulations? Yes.

As a nation founded on and devoted to freedom of speech, I think February 26, 2015 will go down in the history books as the day when that freedom came to an end in America.

Thanks to a National Security Agency we no longer have any privacy regarding anything we say using telephones, the Internet or any other form of communication.

If the Democrat-controlled FCC has its way, the Internet will slow your access and could eliminate access countless sites that provide news and express opinions the federal government finds offensive. That's what tyrannies do.

© Alan Caruba, 2015


Editor's Note: My friend Alan Caruba passed on June 15, 2015. Alan's work is insightful, logical, factual, and has a timeless about it. Alan had given me blanket permission to publish his work when he was alive. I had intended to archive many of his articles, but like most of us, I got caught up in life. Well, that effort is long overdue, so every week I intend to publish one or more of of his old articles from Warning Signs starting from the last one published as a tribute to my friend, Alan Caruba. Please enjoy Caruba's Corner!

Italy’s Countdown to Fiscal Crisis

May 20, 2018 by Dan Mitchell @ International Liberty
As a general rule, we worry too much about deficits and debt. Yes, red ink matters, but we should pay more attention to variables such as the overall burden of government spending and the structure of the tax system.

That being said, Greece shows that a nation can experience a crisis if investors no longer trust that a government is capable of “servicing” its debt (i.e., paying interest and principal to people and institutions that hold government bonds).

This doesn’t change the fact that Greece’s main fiscal problem is too much spending. It simply shows that it’s also important to recognize the side-effects of too much spending (if you have a brain tumor, that’s your main problem, even if crippling headaches are a side-effect of the tumor).
Anyhow, it’s quite likely that Italy will be the next nation to travel down this path.

This in in part because the Italian economy is moribund, as noted by the Wall Street Journal.
Italy’s national elections…featured populist promises of largess but neglected what economists have long said is the real Italian disease: The country has forgotten how to grow. …The Italian economy contracted deeply in Europe’s debt crisis earlier this decade. A belated recovery now under way yielded 1.5% growth in 2017—a full percentage point less than the eurozone as a whole and not enough to dispel Italians’ pervasive sense of national decline. Many European policy makers view Italy’s stasis as the likeliest cause of a future eurozone crisis.
Why would Italy be the cause of a future crisis?

For the simple reason that it is only the 4th-largest economy in Europe, but this chart from the Financial Times shows it has the most nominal debt.


So what’s the solution?

The obvious answer is to dramatically reduce the burden of government.

Interestingly, even the International Monetary Fund put forth a half-decent proposal based on revenue-neutral tax reform and modest spending restraint.
The scenario modeled assumes a permanent fiscal consolidation of about 2 percent of GDP (in the structural primary balance) over four years…, supported by a pro-growth mix of revenue and expenditure reforms… Two types of growth-friendly revenue and spending measures are considered along the envisaged fiscal consolidation path: shifting taxation from direct to indirect taxes, and lowering expenditure and shifting its composition from transfers to investment. On the revenue side, a lower labor tax wedge (1.5 percent of GDP) is offset by higher VAT collections (1 percent of GDP) and introducing a modern property tax (0.5 percent of GDP). On the expenditure side, spending on public consumption is lowered by 1.25 percent of GDP, while productive public investment spending is increased by 0.5 percent of GDP. The remaining portion of the fiscal consolidation, 1.25 percent of GDP, is implemented via reduced social transfers.
Not overly bold, to be sure, but I suppose I should be delighted that the IMF didn’t follow its usual approach and recommend big tax increases.

So are Italians ready to take my good advice, or even the so-so advice of the IMF?

Nope. They just had an election and the result is a government that wants more red ink.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page is not impressed by the economic agenda of Italy’s putative new government.
Five-Star wants expansive welfare payments for poor Italians, revenues to pay for it not included. Italy’s public debt to GDP, at 132%, is already second-highest in the eurozone behind Greece. Poor Italians need more economic growth to generate job opportunities, not public handouts that discourage work. The League’s promise of a pro-growth 15% flat tax is a far better idea, especially in a country where tax avoidance is rife. The two parties would also reverse the 2011 Monti government pension reforms, which raised the retirement age and moved Italy toward a contribution-based benefit system. …Recent labor-market reforms may also be on the block.
Simply stated, Italy elected free-lunch politicians who promised big tax cuts and big spending increases. I like the first part of that lunch, but the overall meal doesn’t add up in a nation that has a very high debt level.

And I don’t think the government has a very sensible plan to make the numbers work.
…problematic for the rest of Europe are the two parties’ demand for an exemption from the European Union’s 3% GDP cap on annual budget deficits. …the two parties want the European Central Bank to cancel some €250 billion in Italian debt.
Demond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute suggests this will lead to a fiscal crisis because of two factors. First, the economy is weak.
Anyone who thought that the Eurozone debt crisis was resolved has not been paying attention to economic and political developments in Italy…the recent Italian parliamentary election…saw a surge in support for populist political parties not known for their commitment to economic orthodoxy or to real economic reform. …To say that the Italian economy is in a very poor state would be a gross understatement. Over the past decade, Italy has managed to experience a triple-dip economic recession that has left the level of its economy today 5 percent below its pre-2008 peak. Meanwhile, Italy’s current unemployment level is around double that of its northern neighbors, while its youth unemployment continues to exceed 25 percent. …the country’s public debt to GDP ratio continued to rise to 133 percent, making the country the most indebted country in the Eurozone after Greece. …its banking system remains clogged with non-performing loans that still amount to 15 percent of its balance sheet…
Second, existing debt is high.
…having the world’s third-largest government bond market after Japan and the United States, with $2.5 trillion in bonds outstanding, Italy is simply too large a country for even Germany to save. …global policymakers…, it would seem not too early for them to start making contingency plans for a full blown Italian economic crisis.
Since he writes on issues I care about, I always enjoy reading Lachman’s work. Though I don’t always agree with his analysis.

Why, for instance, does he think an Italian fiscal crisis threatens the European currency?
…the Italian economy is far too large an economy to fail if the Euro is to survive in anything like its present form.
Would the dollar be threatened if (when?) Illinois goes bankrupt?
But let’s not get sidetracked.3

To give you an idea of the fairy-tale thinking of Italian politicians, I’ll close with this chart from L’Osservatorio on the fiscal impact of the government’s agenda. It’s in Italian, but all you need to know is that the promised tax cuts and spending increases are on the left side and the compensating savings (what we would call “pay-fors”) are on the right side.


Wow, makes me wonder if Italy has passed the point of no return.

By the way, Italy may be the next domino, but it’s not the only European nation with fiscal problems.
P.S. No wonder some people want Sardinia to secede from Italy and become part of “sensible” Switzerland.

P.P.S. Some leftists genuinely think the United States should emulate Italy.

P.P.P.S. As a fan of spending caps, I can’t resist pointing out that anti-deficit rules in Europe have not stopped politicians from expanding government.

Environmentalists Win With New IARC Director Elisabete Weiderpass

By Hank Campbell — May 17, 2018 @ American Council on Science and Health

With the term of controversial International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Director Christopher Wild thankfully at an end, speculation about the new head of the embattled UN agency was rampant, probably for the first time in its history.
 
The reason there was so much concern is simple: They have lost their way. They no longer do science, they do activism and call it epidemiology. The inmates in epidemiology, from Martyn Smith to Chris Portier, have been running the asylum, they have exploited IARC's bizarre 'five orders of magnitude for dose determines hazard' to get pet causes for trial lawyers a veil of legitimacy, and the public and government agencies no longer trust it. Before making any decisions on its funding future, U.S. policymakers wanted to know if IARC was truly serious about reform or if they would continue with the activist status quo that have declared bacon and toast as dangerous as plutonium and cigarettes.

We now have the answer. The status quo has won, which means we may be facing 10 more years of ideological winter masquerading as evidence.

Last month, I handicapped the top 8 choices and I concluded there two ways this could go: Dr. Elisabete Weiderpass, an IARC insider so inside she is even married to a member of the Old Guard, Harri Vainio; or Dr. Shuji Ogino, an Asian pathologist in the U.S. I noted that Weiderpass had an advantage in that she is a reliable choice for a group that does not want to shake things up too much. But she is a woman, so Europeans can pretend they are being progressive. Ogino is not European, which would also be progressive but I noted "He is Asian and Europeans may want to diversify but not that much. They may prefer a European woman over an Asian man."

And I finished, "Either the first vote will come down along predictable lines but then they will want to reach a consensus and Ogino will get the nod. Or the Old Guard will win and their safe choice, Weiderpass, will sail through without any resistance at all. It's IARC, which means it is more politics than science."

Defenders of IARC in the environmental community will pretend that kind of cultural litmus test had nothing to do with it, at least for public consumption, but since they have politically manipulated the organization into adopting their agenda, they know they are just playing to the crowd.

It's not like Dr. Weiderpass is unqualified, I instead noted she had excellent credentials with an MD and a PhD, but IARC faces an existential crisis. The only people pretending to care what IARC says are trial lawyers in California. Only an outsider can fix that. Instead, member countries took the safe route, someone married to an IARC insider of 30 years, but not someone obviously symbolic of the malaise there, like Joachim Schüz.

The challenge for Weiderpass is to avoid 'catching a falling knife' - to watch helplessly as governments abandon IARC. The agency needs to get back to doing the kind of rigorous work they did when Dr. John Higginson first ran it. Higgonson was on our Board so it has been painful to watch such a great hazard assessment agency fall into disrepair, chasing media attention. Repairing their reputation means shucking off the influence of our own National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which under the guidance of Dr. Linda Birnbaum has embraced correlation scaremongering and telling toxicologists and biologists to go find a mechanism after her statisticians declare things harmful. That is where IARC got Portier, it is where they got Martyn Smith.

That isn't science, it isn't evidence-based thinking. And IARC needs to be a legitimate force for the public good once again, or be gone.
 

EPA to Ban Methylene Chloride in Paint Strippers: Science or Scaremongering?

By ACSH Staff — May 18, 2018 @ American Council on Science and Heatlh

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has moved to place a ban on methylene chloride (dichloromethane, DCM) citing associations to a higher risk of cancer and neurological and liver problems. This was proposed in 2014 and under the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA was required to perform risk evaluations on the uses of ten specific chemicals, including methylene chloride.
 
With a new administration and concern about "secret science" and "sue and settle" efforts at EPA in the past, it was unclear if EPA would want to revisit the risk assessments of this volatile organic compound. They have accepted the findings from 2017 and will prohibit consumer and commercial paint stripping uses of it.

Why it is a concern.

DCM is the paint stripper of choice and that is why it's so popular. It works very well. But it is volatile (has a low boiling point) so fumes are inevitable. Inhaling the fumes can be harmful and it is also absorbed through the skin. It can be detected at very low concentrations by its sweet smell but smelling it doesn't speak to whether a dangerous exposure has taken place. As with all chemicals, it's the exposure that determines the harm, even though OSHA maintains that once you can smell it you are already overexposed (2).In high concentrations, it can be deadly. In a high-profile 2012 case, a worker using a methylene chloride product to refinish a bathtub died in an unventilated bathroom.
In industrial settings, there is much less risk because workers wear full-face respirators like in the image, and that is why the ban will only be for commercial and residential paint stripping products.

1. Why not create a new standard instead of banning it? 

There is no way to significantly reduce exposure to methylene chloride if it is being used to strip paint, especially in a non-industrial setting, such as homes. It takes a lot to do the job completely, and it is so volatile that it is impossible not to inhale some unless you are using a commercial full-face respirator, something that do-it-your-selfers are unlikely to do.

When a chemical is banned finding an alternative can be challenging. The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA) argues that current replacements are less effective, may be as toxic, and some are flammable (1).

2. Is the ban an example of EPA overreach?

"Methylene chloride is arguably the most dangerous of all the solvents sold at Home Depot," said Dr. Josh Bloom, Senior Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health. "Chemists use it all of the time, but we do so in fume hoods. Some argue it's not necessary to ban it, but this is not a knee-jerk chemophobic response by EPA. There is real risk here." (3)

It is used in for other applications, like adhesives, pharmaceuticals, and aerosols, but only paint strippers have any risk.

Given the assessments done, this is an instance where EPA concern is warranted.

NOTE:

(1) Halogenated hydrocarbons, such as methylene chloride and chloroform are not flammable. Another, carbon tetrachloride is actually used in fire extinguishers.

(2) The OSHA position is more regulatory than scientific. One drop of DCM in a room will probably be detected by smell but will cause no harm to anyone. A comparison of this to workers exposed to high concentrations of the chemical, especially in poorly ventilated areas, is meaningless.

(3) Methylene chloride may be toxic to humans, but it is even more so to paint, which comes sloughing off as soon as the solvent is applied. Nothing works better. The question is what will be used to replace it. Dr. Bloom says "There is nothing strips paint better than methylene chloride. Since all halogenated solvents (like chloroform) are just as toxic, or worse, it will be interesting to see what the substitute will be. My best guess a mixture of toluene and acetone, but it won't work as well and toluene has its own toxicity issues."