First Family First: How this happy Gandhi-Vadra family photo will impress voters

Unlike mama Rahul Gandhi, 19-year-old Rehan Vadra may not shy away from joining politics in the near future.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is often asked about his chemistry with sister Priyanka Gandhi, who is just two years younger than him. Is there the usual sibling fighting as happens between siblings with not much of an age gap?

Rahul was recently asked this very question during a discussion with some school students in Pune.

“My sister has been my friend and we understand each other well. If there is a situation of argument, sometimes she backs off, sometimes I do,” he said. He also had a heartwarming rakshabandhan story to share. He does not take off the rakhi Priyanka ties every year until it breaks on its own.


Dressed to impress? Don’t miss Rehan’s Modi, sorry, Nehru jacket and rudraksh mala! (Photo: Twitter)

Well, such eye-moistening stories come handy during election season. But no matter what people say about the Gandhi family’s inner love and outer discomfort about the apparently tainted Vadra khandaan, Rahul, Robert and Priyanka do come across quite pally with each other. The camaraderie extends to Rehan (also spelt as Raihan) and Mirya Vadra — Gen Y of the Gandhi-Vadra family.

The junior brother-sister duo was seen accompanying the senior brother-sister duo as Rahul Gandhi was on his way to filing his nomination in Amethi.

Robert was no outsider either, in fact, fitting perfectly into the picture.

A happy family, with an incurable wound in its soul, fighting its way back — total Bollywood.

Rehan loves Mama. Mama loves Rehan.


We have seen them before with mom Priyanka. Now, we see them with Congress general secretary Priyanka. (Photo: India Today)

It may be his first political appearance in a Modi, oops, Nehru jacket and a rudraksh mala — but not at all his first public appearance.

He’s visited Amethi before; he’s accompanied Rahul Gandhi on many of his political tours. In 2015, he was photographed visiting an Amethi family and spending a night there in a vest and a blue lungi.

Rehan (19 years old now) followed in Gandhi — and not Vadra’s — footsteps, and has ‘been there, done that’ re everything his uncle and maternal grandfather did. Like both Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Rehan too studied in The Doon School. Like them, Rehan also took an interest in pistol shooting and participated in Jaipur’s Maharaja Karni Singh Memorial air pistol shooting competition in 2014.


When Rehan did his bit in Amethi. (Photo: ANI)

Rahul had won gold in the 1989 Delhi state championships, scoring 271 out of 300. But apparently, bhanja-ji is not as gifted in shooting as Mamaji was.

However, his political gifts remain in untested waters — but not for long. As soon as Rehan becomes 21, it’s speculated that he would take his political plunge, without much dilly-dallying.

Not a lot is known about Rehan’s sister, Miraya. She was apparently a state-level basketball player and was seen representing Gurgaon’s Shri Ram School at a match in 2015.


A happy family! (Photo: Twitter)

Both of them, however, were part of I-Parliament, an initiative to raise political awareness among youth.

India loves family persons and family photos — because how can those who can’t keep a family together be able to keep the countrymen together?

Indeed, the Amethi outing was a political masterstroke — papering over all purported resentments simmering underneath.

Wah, Gandhiji, wah!


Deutsche-Commerzbank Merger Is As Good As Dead: Here’s Why

The fact that many stakeholders of Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank are opposed, or at the very least skeptical, of a “merger of weakquals” involving the two German banks has been widely known for weeks, if not months. But now, it appears one of these groups is trying to sabotage the deal by pushing for an extraordinary meeting of the bank’s supervisory board.

According to Bloomberg, which cited reports in a German trade publication, Commerzbank’s powerful labor representatives, who control half of the seats on the bank’s board, are opposed to the deal, and are seeking to formally quash talks over fears that the ‘synergies’ produced by the merger could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs.


No meeting has yet been set, and whether the labor reps would be able to find an ally among the bank’s shareholders is still unclear. But according to the report, if the labor reps succeed in killing the deal, they might not stop there: Word on the street is that they are also fed up with Commerzbank CEO Martin Zielke, who has been pushing fort he merger, trying to convince staff that it would be a good plan to quickly increase market share, and are actively trying to oust him.

A spokesman for the bank denied the rumors, but one of the board’s labor reps has said that he would love to see Zielke thrown out.

“Rumors and speculation on personnel changes are made up out of thin air,” Commerzbank Supervisory Board Chairman Stefan Schmittmann said by email. “Such allegations are irresponsible and unworthy of discussion.”

“I won’t shed a tear” if Zielke were to step down as CEO, Commerzbank supervisory board member and labor representative Stefan Wittmann said on the sidelines of an event in Berlin. Wittmann, who is employed by the Ver.di union, has emerged as one of the strongest voices opposing the deal.

He coordinates his work closely with Ver.di’s main representative on Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board, Jan Duscheck. On the sidelines of the Berlin protest, Duscheck said labor representatives on the boards of both banks are united in their opposition to a deal.

If the labor reps succeed in calling the meeting, they would then need two majority votes to kill the merger: one to get a motion on the agenda to end the talks, and another to adopt it.

But as if the resistance of Commerzbank workers (who could be joined by Deutsche employees in their resistance to the deal) wasn’t enough, other powerful stakeholders have expressed apprehension about the deal. Christian Sewing, DB’s CEO, has pursued it only reluctantly, and now top ECB officials have reportedly “questioned the logic” of the deal, adding that the regulator doesn’t see how the tie-up would put the banks on safer footing. The central bank had previously said that Deutsche would likely need to raise buffer funds for the merger, creating another potential stumbling block.

Several members of the European Central Bank’s supervisory board questioned the logic of a merger at recent meetings, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the deliberations were private. Officials are concerned that the ECB’s credibility will suffer a major blow if they approve a deal and the merged bank then runs into trouble, they said.

This essentially leaves the German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as the only major stakeholder who is pushing for the deal, in the hopes that it would create a “national champion” more capable of servicing Germany’s major industrial exporters.

Even investors are apparently opposed: Both DB and Commerzbank shares rallied on news that the deal might be as good as dead.

If the plan is killed, either by the ECB or labor unions, then Scholz would have only one clear option for creating the German superbank of his dreams: Outright nationalization.

In the Herald: April 12, 1920

Wobbled like a jelly
“I was very much surprised to see the overfeeding of show stock at the Royal,” wrote H. Williamson, of Brocklesby Stud, Corowa. “Why the judges so frequently gave the prizes to horses that wobbled like a jelly was quite incomprehensible. It is quite possible to get them as round and firm as an apple, which must be preferable to being as round and soft as a pudding. Neither a fat man nor a fat beast is a pleasing sight.”

A windfall in Wagga
“A Wagga furniture warehouseman has discovered a way to get rich quickly, and is the lucky possessor of £500 in crisp bank notes. Mr Robert Nesbitt purchased a small picture some years ago and left it hanging on the wall of his residence. Last evening a young son took the picture out of its frame, and to the delight and amazement of his family five bank notes were found in the packing between the picture and the back.”

Triflers need not apply
“Young man, 30, mechanic, good position and means, wishes to meet young woman, view to matrimony, no triflers, enclose photo, J. Kennedy. Newcastle… Refined elderly gentleman of good family, small income, with few social opportunities, desires correspondence with a lady, view to matrimony, refined gentlewomen invited to reply … Working man would like to meet working girl. Home or foreign no object.”

Combustion Cometh: Central Banks Are Hopelessly Trapped

This is all going to end badly, even some ardent bulls will freely admit this, the question is the how, when and the where. Frankly it’s a tragedy that’s unfolding and discerning eyes can see it. Since the December lows markets have taken the scripted route higher salivating at the prospect of dovish central bankers once again levitating asset prices higher. A Pavlovian response learned over the past 10 years. Record buybacks keep flushing through markets and cheap money days are here again as yields have dropped markedly since their peak last fall.

But investors may sooner or later learn the hard way that this sudden capitulation by central bankers is not a positive sign, but rather a sign of desperation.

Fact is central banks are hopelessly trapped:

Sven Henrich@NorthmanTrader · Apr 10, 2019

10 years after the financial crisis is there any conceivable scenario under which central banks will ever normalize balance sheets to pre-crisis levels?

View image on Twitter

Sven Henrich@NorthmanTrader

1. The Fed stopping here is an admission of failure
2. Full normalization would crash global equities
3. Central banks are trapped & are forced to remain accommodative
4. Central bank policy is still in crisis mode
5. It’s all a propped up shell game2475:00 PM – Apr 10, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy100 people are talking about this

The capitulation is as complete as it is global and 10 years after the financial crisis there is not a single central bank that has an exit plan. As today’s Fed minutes again highlighted: No rate hikes in 2019 while the tech sector is making a new all time human history high this week. What an absurdity. A slowing economy ignored by markets as cheap money once again dominates everything.

So great is the fear of falling markets and a slowing economy that the grand central bank experiment has ended in utter failure. But at least the Fed tried for a little bit before capitulating. The enormity of the central bank failure is perhaps best encapsulated by the state of the ECB under Mario Draghi:

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Sven Henrich@NorthmanTrader

Draghi is retiring this year with this legacy.
Just ponder that.
Charts via @Schuldensuehner2845:32 PM – Apr 10, 2019193 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Yet in their desperation central banks may have set a combustion process in motion that they can’t stop, one that may bring about even more ghastly consequences than the market troubles they sought to avert in the first place.

A blow-off topping scenario driven by several factors: All in dovish central banks, a renewed desperate hunt for yield, FOMO chasing, a China deal, continuous record buybacks, trillion deficits ($1.1T for 2019 now) and an administration pre-occupied with managing market levels with the expressed goal to levitate markets to ever higher prices for the 2020 US election.

The latter point not lost on Wall Street, here from Morgan Stanley’s chief global strategist of investment management: Trump’s dangerous obsession with the markets

“Mr. Trump’s willingness to bend policy to please the markets is now clear — and it’s risky. In recent years the stock markets have grown larger than the economyand they are now big enough to take the economy down with them when they deflate.“

And that is the underlying motivation of it all, prevent any lasting damage to equity markets to minimize the impact on the economy. Central bankers know this hence they always intervene when things get hairy:

And this is how you end up with the loosest financial conditions in 25 years, 3.8% unemployment and a Fed too scared to raise rates with the lowest Fed funds rate on record during and while on the verge of the longest economic expansion cycle in history. Well done.

The steepness and relentless nature of this rally has left many people confounded even though it is not inconsistent with the concept of a bear market rally and I’ve written extensively about this.

But because so many people and funds are left behind the case can be made that a psychological capitulation could add further fuel to the fire.

Fund flows have been negative, hedge funds are underperforming and exposure to this rally is generally weak:

The underlying message: What happens if all these folks feel the need for speed, can no longer take the pain of being left out and want to get on board? One could easily imagine the ultimate freak chase, throw all caution to the wind and chase. Markets have undergone periods like this before, think 1999/2000. Just relentless buying, caution be damned until it all falls apart and crashes.

So what’s so bad about all that if it happens? The answer is both technical and fundamental. While central banks and a China deal may successfully delay a global recession stocks have already disconnected from the underlying growth picture. As I outlined in Icarus Warning many stocks are already historically stretched to the upside. Yes the extremes can become more extreme, but it is the historical references that suggest further squeezes to new highs would be unsustainable setting up markets for something sinister.

How sinister? Very and let me use technicals to outline the scenario.

Let’s start with a chart I’ve been talking about since January 2018 and have discussed again recently in my YouTube videos:

The technical pivot zone is based on the 2.618 fib level derived from the 2007 highs and the 2009 lows. On $ES futures that level is 3102.

Note the 2 major trend lines, the upper trend line following the 2007 highs into the January 2018 and September 2018 highs, and the lower trend line from the 2009 lows, the one that was broken in December 2018 and has been hugged by markets for the last several weeks. The resulting wedge has an apex, precisely at the 2.618 fib.

But it gets more fun. Check this long standing trend line from 1987:

Originating from the 1987 crash it formed following the 2000 crash and then ended up being resistance in 2014/2015 and again twice in 2018.

How’s this relevant? Check what happens when you combine all 3 trend lines on one chart:

I kid you not. Freak coincidence? I can’t say, I also can’t say if the apex will be met, but were it to get hit it would be a point of unprecedented historical confluence resistance.

The 2.618 fib and 3 historic trend lines converging at the same point in time. When?

October 2019:

From October 1987 to October 2019 and all points meeting there for quadruple confluence suggesting a massive technical reaction to take place there at a point where key individual stocks would be massively overbought and disconnected from the underlying economy.

What would happen then? Here’s a technically based possibility, chart courtesy from my wife Mella:

A classic megaphone structure that suggests a 30% drop from the pattern top. What’s the implication? You already know:

“In recent years the stock markets have grown larger than the economyand they are now big enough to take the economy down with them when they deflate.“

I don’t want to use the “C” word, but in context of a global slowing economy, massive debt run-ups, an administration desperate to manage markets higher, a panicked FOMO chase and trapped central bankers left with historic little ammunition to deal with an upcoming recession this script not only points to a “C” event but also toward a path of a multi-year bear market.

What’s this scenario suggest? 5%-7% upside risk and 25%-30% downside risk.

In closing let me be absolutely clear: None of this is set in stone. It’s a speculative scenario that may never happen, but one that is based on specific technical points of confluence and structures and a scenario that has some solid foundation in context of the current environment outlined. But it’s a scenario that should scare bulls and bears alike, stubborn bulls and bears alike that is.

I’m on the record that I’m not a fan of this portion of the rally. The construct is poor, both technically and fundamentally (driven by central banks, jawboning and buybacks) and as it keeps levitating vertically higher it becomes ever more subject to sudden reversal risk. But I’ve also said it can keep squeezing until something breaks and nothing has broken yet. And perhaps the initial break will be sizable and invalidate this scenario, or it may be shallow and build sufficient energy for this scenario to unfold.

None of us can know how it all ends. But what we can do is be extremely mindful of the overall environment, the driving factors and technicals and recognize that global markets, central banks, politics, the economy, the business cycle and technicals are all converging here in 2019 for a toxic combination that may result in combustion. Stay sharp.

The spy who made the Sydney Opera House sails possible

Joe Bertony, the engineer who invented the Sydney Opera House erection arch, which made the building of Sydney’s most famous white sails possible, has died at his Hornsby home at the age of 97.

Stage one of the build was a podium built to resemble a Mayan pyramid. Stage two was the roof, which began on March 25, 1963, and was handled by Queensland construction company Hornibrook. Project manager Dundas Corbett Gore employed some exceptional engineers, including Bertony.

Bertony’s crucial contribution was the truss that supported the arches before each concrete segment was glued in place.

Joe Bertony, the engineer who invented the Sydney Opera House erection arch.
Joe Bertony, the engineer who invented the Sydney Opera House erection arch. CREDIT:HELEN PITT

One of the great stories about the building of the Sydney Opera House is the role played by Bertony, a French spy who twice escaped from concentration camps in World War II and was awarded France’s Croix de Guerre.

Bertony was born in Corsica in 1922 and was intrigued by maths from a young age. He went into the French navy to study naval engineering at Saint-Tropez where he was recruited to work as a spy.

Bertony worked as a French agent and was twice captured by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps to die. He escaped both times; once jumping off a train almost naked, surviving in the snow with few clothes and no food for 10 days.

“I used up way more than my nine lives,” Bertony, who lived in Hornsby, said.

The first camp he was at was Mauthausen-Gusen near Vienna, Austria, where an estimated 320,000 people were killed. He escaped during a transfer due to an administrative error and went back to work for the military in France.

He was again arrested in Paris and sent to Buchenwald as one of 350 western Allied prisoners forced to work for the local armament factories.

Of the 238,380 incarcerated, there were the mentally ill, physically disabled, religious and political prisoners, immigrants, criminals and homosexuals. He worked as a technician in the control unit making the liquid-propelled V1 and V2 German bombs. The Allied forces called the V1s buzz bombs, or doodlebugs, Hitler’s secret weapon.

Joe Bertony at work on a model of the erection arch in 1963.
Joe Bertony at work on a model of the erection arch in 1963. CREDIT:FAIRFAX MEDIA ARCHIVE

“Because we were working on the rocket control, we were working in an underground factory,” Bertony told me. There was no such thing as lunch. They were lucky to get a loaf of bread a day to be shared between five of them – once an SS soldier got angry because they shared it only four ways. “It is lucky I have a good metabolism as I was able to survive on very little food,” he said.

From time to time they would work on a farm, where they would occasionally boil up grass to give some greenery to the inmates. At Buchenwald, he was referred to as the “carotenfuhrer” the “fuhrer” (leader) of the carrots. His job, when not designing armaments, was to guard the silos filled with carrots.

“If any inmate of my party were found eating or stealing a carrot he was punished for it – stripped naked and whipped and I was forced to watch, then I was dealt the same punishment,” he said. It happened many times because many people were hungry.

Bertony ate so little he survived purely on his wits. At the end of the war, when the Americans came to liberate those at Buchenwald in 1945, he was elated. He could hear the Americans approach his underground tunnel. But before Germany capitulated, the SS soldiers rounded them up and foot-marched them out of the camp towards the centre of Germany. At the Czech border near the mountains, they put the prisoners onto a train carrying cattle.

“They started to empty us off the train and dug a big hole and shot people and put them in. Another guy and I decided we were going to take pot luck and we jumped off the moving train into the snow. We walked in the snow almost naked – just the camp jacket and flimsy pants – and no food for 10 days.

“When we arrived back past the SS line we were almost dead. The Americans were coming in with tanks – we made our own luck. The other fellow and I split before we got to the line because we could not pass together. He passed the border some kilometres away. He found a farm near the frontline, so the Germans were protecting him. We stayed in touch with each other for many years – he was a year older than me but he died about 10 years ago.”

Bertony was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for valour for his wartime activities. General Charles De Gaulle said that during both deportations he proved his heroism to France through “courageous discipline”. Much like the “courageous discipline” he was later to show at Bennelong Point, as one of the many migrant workers known then as “new Australians”.

After the war, Bertony fled Europe looking for a better life. In 1952 he arrived in Western Australia and headed to Rum Jungle, to work in the uranium mines in the Northern Territory. Bertony lived in nearby Bachelor, 100 kilometres south of Darwin, a town that was built pretty much overnight to house workers, mostly single foreign bachelors without work papers like Bertony.

With the money he earned there – along with the good references he got for his impeccable problem-solving skills – he found himself in Queensland in the early 1960s where he got a job with Hornibrook. He was then asked to go to Sydney to solve the biggest construction problem they had encountered: the Sydney Opera House.

To a significant extent it was Bertony’s complex hand-written mathematical equations that made the roof construction possible; it took 30,000 separate equations just to work out how much stress should be applied. The margin of error could be no more than 12.7mm when putting the segments together; anything more would have thrown the whole thing out of alignment. Everything is curved and there is not one flat plane in the entire roof, so the geometry is highly complex.

When Hornibrook wanted to double-check some of Bertony’s calculations by computer, he was relieved. It was frightening for him to think that if he had made a mistake no one would find it in all that mass of numbers. So he welcomed the work of a younger colleague, David Evans, who taught himself computer programming to test the calculations.

Opera House CEO Louise Herron and Joe Bertony, inventor of the Opera House erection arch at the building's 45th anniversary.
Opera House CEO Louise Herron and Joe Bertony, inventor of the Opera House erection arch at the building’s 45th anniversary.CREDIT:HELEN PITT

At that time in Australia there was only one computer large enough to cope with such a job: the IBM 7090 at the Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia.

Evans spent one week a month working the night shift in South Australia, since that was the only time the computer was free. At no point were Bertony’s calculations incorrect.

Evans later said of his colleague: “I doubt if there was anyone with Joe’s genius to see how to develop the telescopic truss and to build the ribs with it, or to do a dozen other things of importance on that site. It would have taken many minds and many rounds of trial and error, and a much longer time and a much bigger budget, to get those ribs in the air if Joe hadn’t been there. Other solutions would have lacked his elegance and genius.”

After the Opera House, Bertony went back to bridges. His other major projects include Sydney’s Roseville Bridge and the Hume Highway’s Pheasants’ Nest Bridge across the Nepean River.

Bertony, who owns the copyright to the 30,000 longhand equations used to design the erection arch, gifted them to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and they are now part of the collection at the Powerhouse Museum.

What astounded him whenever he looked at the sails of the Sydney Opera House was that he helped build them with little more than schoolboy geometry.

In his last year Bertony, a widower, was living in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby and driving a recently purchased electric car. He was working on a wind technology project for Scotland.

Joe Bertony 1922-2019

Helen Pitt is author of The House the story of the Sydney Opera House.

Maserati-driving alleged Dark Web dealer facing more drug import charges

A Maserati-driving, beach house-owning 25-year-old alleged at the helm of a multi-million dollar drug syndicate will face court on Friday, slapped with six additional charges relating to the alleged importation of cocaine, ketamine and MDMA worth $17 million.

Cody Ward, 25, was arrested by detectives at his Callala Beach home on the state’s South Coast in February, following months of surveillance of his alleged online drug sales business.

Cody Ward, 25, is now facing six more serious charges.
Cody Ward, 25, is now facing six more serious charges.CREDIT:FACEBOOK

Investigators believe Mr Ward was buying and selling millions of dollars worth of drugs via the Dark Web, then shipping them to clients across Australia via the postal system.

Police say customers received free samples, with a small amount of cocaine being sent with the purchase of MDMA or other drugs.Advertisement

The Dark Web is an encrypted part of the internet only accessible to users with special software that is meant to allow users to remain anonymous.

Upon his arrest in January, Mr Ward was charged with four counts of drug supply, knowingly directing activities of a criminal group and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime.

As police raided his South Coast home in January, investigators seized more than $80,000 in cash, a Maserati and a Mercedes Benz, a vacuum sealer, mobile phones, 2.5 kilograms of powder believed to be cocaine, amphetamines and other substances, 100,000 LSD tablets, Xanax and other pills.

Sisters Shanese Koullias, 24, and Patricia Koullias, 20, were also charged over their roles in the operation, which police believe involved packaging and sending the drugs.

All three remain behind bars. On Tuesday, Mr Ward was slapped with six further charges – four counts of import commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs, and two counts of import marketable quantity of border-controlled drugs.

In February, the NSW Crime Commission successfully won a bid to freeze Mr Ward’s assets and those of Shanese Koullias. 

Among Mr Ward’s assets are cars, his Callala Bay home and funds held in three Commonwealth Bank accounts.

The freeze order made by the NSW Supreme Court’s Justice David Davies also allows for the NSW Trustee and Guardian to take control of cash police seized during Mr Ward’s arrest: $14,000 located in his car and almost $100,000 spread across three houses.

Both Mr Ward and Ms Shanese Koullias will also be forced to give sworn evidence in court about their financial affairs and property dealings, Justice Davies ruled.

Mr Ward will appear in Nowra Local Court to face the new charges on Friday.

Rabobank: “A Black Hole Has Appeared Before Our Eyes: It’s Now Arriving 31 October”

A black hole has appeared before our eyes: it’s now arriving 31 October, Halloween of all days, as the new departure date for the UK from the EU – provided the UK is on its best behaviour in the meantime and joins in the European spirit by sending its share of anti-EU populist radicals to the EU parliament on 23 May. That date appears a compromise between what I have referred to already several times this week, a German desire to kick the can, and a French desire to kick the British. On balance, one has to say it’s France 1, Germany 0, UK -1.

Why? Six and a half months sounds a long time, but it isn’t in UK political terms. We are stuck with PM May’s “leadership” given she can’t be challenged until December, even though half her party no longer recognise her authority; we have the same hopelessly divided UK parliament; the same hopelessly divided Labour party; the same hated withdrawal agreement; six months is enough time for a general election, but the Tories would not vote for Xmas and allow one in the current febrile political atmosphere; and for those hoping for a compromise between the Tories and Labour to bridge the gap on a new Brexit approach, six months is not enough time to conceive, plan, and hold a referendum. In short, this is a can-kicking exercise that doesn’t actually kick the can very far or in a very useful direction. Indeed, the French are still muttering about Hard Brexit, with the UK Telegraph reporting an Elysee source saying this is their assumed default option, and the UK are in the background also working 24-hours a day on preparing for one. Has GBP noticed at all? No, as an extension was priced in. However, the underlying dynamic does not appear quite so well represented at close to 1.31. 

A black hole also looms before the ECB’s eyes: Japanification. As our ECB team note, a very minimalist policy statement yesterday was followed by a press conference in which Mr. Draghi didn’t volunteer much new information – though he did promise to use all instruments if necessary (while I am relying on the world’s smallest violin vis-à-vis their GDP and inflation forecasts). Specifically, TLTRO-3 details will be announced in the coming months, but Draghi suggested that pricing may still be at a discount to MRO (i.e. negative rates for the time being). Draghi didn’t give specifics regarding tiered deposit rates, but the ECB is looking at potential side effects of negative rates and the need for any mitigation. However, implicitly he confirmed the market’s dovish interpretation of his recent comments on mitigating such side effects. See here for more on that front.

A black hole is right in front of the Fed’s eyes: a recession. Except they can’t see it. As our Fed-watcher extraordinairePhilip Marey notes here, the minutes of the FOMC meeting on March 19-20 show that muted inflationary pressures and downside risks to the economic outlook made the Committee remove all hikes for 2019 from the dot plot. However, the Fed still thinks that the US economy is in a good place regardless(!) In contrast, we expect the US economy to slide into recession in the summer of 2020 and the Fed to cut rates in 2020, after remaining on hold in 2019. (At which point the world’s smallest violin will again be making an appearance.) 10-year yields sub 2.50% even as oil prices look perkier seem to agree?

And likely explaining both Brexit and the ECB’s and Fed’s muddle, a black hole has appeared for the developed world’s middle-class, says a new OECD report. It argues “Governments need to do more to support middle-class households who are struggling to maintain their economic weight and lifestyles as their stagnating incomes fail to keep up with the rising costs of housing and education. Indeed, the middle class is shown to have shrunk in most OECD countries as it has become more difficult for younger generations to make it there: while almost 70% of baby boomers were part of middle-income households in their twenties, only 60% of millennials are today. Moreover, except for a few countries, middle incomes are barely higher today than they were ten years ago, increasing by just 0.3% per year, a third less than the average income of the richest 10%. More than 1 in 5 middle-income households spend more than they earn and over-indebtedness is higher for them than for both low-income and high-income households. In addition, labour market prospects have become increasingly uncertain: 1 in 6 middle-income workers are in jobs that are at high risk of automation, compared to 1 in 5 low-income and 1 in 10 high-income workers. “Today the middle class looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters,” says the OECD Secretary-General. “Governments must listen to people’s concerns and protect and promote middle class living standards. This will help drive inclusive and sustainable growth and create a more cohesive and stable social fabric.”

Please explain to slow learners like yours-truly how this rallying cry sits alongside OECD policy prescriptions like austerity, massive house-price, education, and health-care inflation, outsourcing, free trade, free-movement wage competition, and tech disruption? That’s right: it isn’t. So the OECD now says “to help the middle class, a comprehensive action plan is needed…Governments should improve access to high-quality public services and ensure better social protectioncoverage…policies should encourage the supply of affordable housing. Targeted grants, financial support for loans and tax relief for home buyers would help lower middle-income households…mortgage relief would help overburdened households get back on track. As temporary or unstable jobs – often offering lower wages and job security – increasingly replace traditional middle-class jobs, more investment is needed in vocational education and training…Social insurance and collective bargaining coverage for non-standard workers, such as part-time or temporary employees or self-employed, should be extended. Finally, to foster fairness of the socio-economic system, policies need to consider shifting the tax burden from labour income to income from capital and capital gains, property and inheritance, as well as making income taxes more progressive and fair.

That’s right, folks. The rich man’s club of the OECD wants higher taxes on capital; higher taxes on the rich; stronger unions; more public spending; mortgage relief; more affordable housing; and better social services. A complete reversal of the socio-economic policies of the last 40 years. All they have to do now is work out that this is not compatible with central-bank asset-price inflation, which makes housing unaffordable, and with free trade, which makes higher state spending unaffordable and higher wages uncompetitive. Either that, or the OECD will have to embrace Modern Monetary Theory. Pick your black hole – or wait for populists to pick it for you, because when the middle-class goes, everything goes.

Big win for women’s reproductive freedom, but still a long way to go

This week saw a big win for women’s rights in Australia in the High Court. It is an historic step forward in the long journey for reproductive freedom for women in Australia. It’s also a timely reminder of how far we have to go.

The High Court this week confirmed that women have the right to access abortion clinics safely.
The High Court this week confirmed that women have the right to access abortion clinics safely.CREDIT:KARLEEN MINNEY

In the 1970s, my nan, as a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, pushed for the decriminalisation of abortion. She knew what it felt like to discover a pregnancy and be powerless in the face of it, because of the law.

My nan, like the women she volunteered alongside, waited until her 80s to see abortion finally decriminalised in Victoria and her 90s to see the High Court affirm the importance of harassment-free access to abortion.

Women like her got us here.

This week, in a landmark decision, the High Court confirmed that women have the right to access abortion clinics safely, without being accosted and intimidated by strangers. Safe access zone laws, which prohibit harassment outside abortion clinics, are here to stay.

The decision confirms our right to access the healthcare we need without having to forgo our safety, privacy and dignity.

As one High Court judge said, the laws are about making sure women seeking an abortion, and the staff helping them, can do so “in an atmosphere of privacy and dignity”.

In Victoria, the laws prohibit a range of behaviours within 150 metres of a clinic, such as filming patients and staff and harassing, obstructing or threatening them. They also prohibit a person communicating in a way that is likely to cause anxiety or distress, which the High Court said is a necessary and reasonable restriction on the constitutionally protected freedom of political communication.

The court’s decision does not undermine our right to talk about political matters. What it does make clear is that freedom of speech is not a licence to harm others with impunity.

Competing rights need to be balanced. The right to access healthcare without being psychologically harmed or fearing for your safety and privacy is a fundamental human right.

This week is a week to feel proud about living in Victoria – a state that decriminalised abortion in 2008 and introduced and defended safe access zones.

It is a time to feel proud of the women who came before us, like my nan, and fought for our right to control our own bodies and destinies.

This week is also one to reflect on what remains to be done across Australia.

Astonishingly, in NSW, abortion is still criminalised in archaic laws written in 1900. Despite safe access zones being introduced in 2018, women in NSW face an uphill battle to wrench control of their bodies from a male-dominated parliament.

In the NT, a woman confronted with the devastating news of a fatal foetal condition 24 weeks into her pregnancy has no choice but to travel interstate for an abortion, or risk falling foul of the criminal law. In WA, her fate falls into the hands of six practitioners and is also subject to the criminal law.

In Tasmania, women are being forced to fly to Victoria to access surgical abortions because their government is failing to provide this safe medical procedure.

In WA and SA, for the past 37 days, extreme anti-choice activists have parked themselves outside clinics. In WA, they have stopped cars, stuffed rosary beads, baby booties and medically misleading pamphlets through car windows. They have yelled at staff and women and called them murderers.

Only WA and SA have failed to put in place sensible safe access zone laws.

The WA government’s commitment to a discussion paper on safe access zones isn’t enough. Laws known to promote women’s health and safety, and which have the High Court’s tick of constitutional approval, shouldn’t be up for discussion – they should be a reality.

There is much to be hopeful for, with a High Court win, the modernisation of abortion laws in Queensland last year and abortion decriminalisation on the agenda this year in SA.

Each of us should be able to decide what is right for our bodies. Women have fought for this basic right for generations. So while history was made this week, we’ll keep pushing leaders around Australia to make reproductive rights a reality for all.

Adrianne Walters is senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.

Mnuchin flouts the law to help Trump

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

By E.J. Dionne Jr.ColumnistApril 11 at 8:23 AM

Surprise, surprise. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin waited until late Wednesday to announce that he would not meet the House Ways and Means Committee’s deadline to turn over six years of President Trump’s tax returns.

A process that is supposed to be independent of politics is clearly drenched in it. A system set up to keep the president from interfering in Congress’ oversight role is being subverted by an administration whose only apparent purpose is to protect Trump. Mnuchin seems to be following what we can now call the Barr Rule, named after Attorney General William P. Barr: Trump can pretty well do whatever he pleases, because he’s president.

Mnuchin was all about Trump’s rights. “The Committee’s request,” Mnuchin said, “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens.” This from an administration that cares very little about rights for a lot of other people.

As The Post’s Jeff Stein and Damian Paletta reported, Mnuchin’s letter to the committee “appeared to closely track the legal issues raised by Trump’s lawyers in a letter last week in response to the demand made by Ways and Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.).” Meaning that Trump’s desire to protect his private interests is likely to dictate public policy. The treasury secretary is clearly following the lead of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Stein and Paletta wrote:

Mnuchin revealed in testimony this week that Treasury attorneys had consulted with White House attorneys about the possible release of the returns. Mnuchin described the discussions between the White House and Treasury officials as purely “informational,” though he wouldn’t provide more details. White House officials similarly would not offer more information.

Democrats cried foul, saying any White House involvement in Treasury’s decision-making raised the risk of improper political involvement. The reason federal law says the treasury secretary “shall furnish” tax returns requested by Congress is to block any involvement from the White House.

That phrase “shall furnish” is really important. It doesn’t leave any wiggle room. And Neal’s request was carefully framed and comes from a congressional committee that has a long-recognized legal right to individual returns for public policy and accountability purposes.

As former treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers wrote in The Post, the law says what it says and “for the secretary to seek to decide whether to pass on the president’s tax return to Congress would surely be inappropriate and probably illegal.” Summers continued: “I would surely not have done it. Rather, I would have indicated to the IRS commissioner that I expected the IRS to comply with the law as always.” The law in question, he noted, dates to 1924, and “I have not been able to find any case where the IRS did not promptly provide full disclosure to a tax-writing committee.”

Mnuchin’s letter was not a flat refusal to comply, but it seems clear where this will end up. Which raises the question: Why is Trump so insistent on withholding his tax returns from an American public that has rightly grown accustomed to knowing how a president makes — and has made — his money? What is in those returns? The Trump administration, it seems, will use any means necessary to avoid answering those questions.

Taliban Claims Shoot Down Of US B-52 Bomber Over Afghanistan

The Taliban is currently claiming that militants have shot down a US B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber over Afghanistan, Middle East based news site Muraselon reports, citing official Taliban statements. 

Taliban spokesman Qarri Muhammad Yousef Ahmad was cited by the Mideast news source as saying, “Mujaheddin of the Islamic Emirate targeted US B-52 bomber with heavy weapons today early morning in Lar area in Washir district of Helmand province, the bomber went down and all its crew were killed while smoke still rising from the crash site.”File photo of B-52 long-range heavy bomber, via AFP.

Russian and Iranian state media were quick to circulate the claim, though it’s as yet to be confirmed by other sources. Neither US nor Afghan national sources have acknowledged a B-52 crash, which the Taliban further said killed all crew members on board. 

The alleged incident occurred as the aircraft was departing Shawrab Airbase in southern Afghanistan during the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Well-known Taliban sources online also cited the alleged shoot down, such as Alemara Arabic, which brands itself the Arabic language version of the “Official account of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”:

الإمارة الإسلامية@alemara_ar · Apr 10, 2019

إسقاط طائرة عسكرية أمريكية ضخمة بنيران المجاهدين قرب قاعدة شوراب الجوية بولاية هلمند جنوب #أفغانستان .
التفاصيل لاحقا..#طالبان

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الإمارة الإسلامية@alemara_ar

استهدف مجاهدو الإمارة الإسلامية قاذفة أمريكية من نوع B52 بنيران الأسلحة الثقيلة صباح اليوم في منطقة “لر” بمديرية واشير في ولاية #هلمند جنوب #أفغانستان.
سقطت القاذفة واحترقت وقتل كامل طاقمها ولا زال الدخان يتصاعد منها.
التفاصيل لاحقا…

قاري محمد يوسف أحمدي#طالبان AM – Apr 10, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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The claim of a Taliban-downed US aircraft — which if true would constitute a rare and disastrous event for coalition forces — comes on the heels of a Taliban attack on a US convoy in north-eastern Afghanistan on Monday, which killed three US Marines and wounded an Afghan contractor. 

Early reports out of neighboring Iran which highlighted the claimed incident featured publication of misleading photos of a downed B-52 bomber, given that the main image was of a prior B-52 accidental crash in Guam in 2016.

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Fadi Hussein | فادي@fadihussein8Replying to @fadihussein8

وكالة فارس الايرانية في محاولة لتأكيد الخبر تنشر صورة من عام ٢٠١٦ وتقول أنها اليوم.
The Taliban claimed it shot down a US B52. To confirm their words the Iran Based Fars News Agency released the image of a B52 that crashed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam (May 19, 2016)810:49 PM – Apr 10, 2019See Fadi Hussein | فادي’s other TweetsTwitter Ads info and privacy

The photograph circulated separately from Taliban media accounts after it was promoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency. 

The B-52 was originally developed to carry nuclear weapons but has been adapted over the years for long-range strategic bombing raids, the first and longest lasting of its kind for the US military. It frequently operates over Afghanistan and in Middle East theaters.