DPC Levee, Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky 1905
Fast track: “The prime minister will meet with the president today for his swearing in ceremony, and will announce the government’s composition, in which we will take part.”
Greek Prime Minister-elect Alexis Tsipras forged an anti-austerity alliance within hours of his election victory, challenging European peers with a declaration that the era of bowing to international demands for budget cuts is over. Tsipras’s Syriza party and the Independent Greeks announced their coalition in Athens Monday morning after Syriza won an historic victory in elections by harnessing a public backlash against years of belt-tightening, job losses and hardship. In his victory speech, Tsipras said his priority is “for Greece and its people to regain their lost dignity.”
The Independent Greeks party will support Syriza in a vote of confidence in Parliament slated for Feb. 5, party leader Panos Kammenos told reporters after meeting with Tsipras. The Syriza leader will meet with President Karolos Papoulias at 3:30 p.m. in Athens to receive the mandate to govern. “As of this moment there’s a government in Greece,” said Kammenos. “The prime minister will meet with the president today for his swearing in ceremony, and will announce the government’s composition, in which we will take part.”
“In all of drama and comedy there is no figure more laughable than a rich man who does not know what he is doing. For the past four years the troika has provided Greeks with just such a spectacle.”
At Syriza’s HQ, the cigarette smoke in the cafe swirls into shapes. If those could reflect the images in the minds of the men hunched over their black coffees, they would probably be the faces of Che Guevara, or Aris Velouchiotis, the second world war Greek resistance fighter. These are veteran leftists who expected to end their days as professors of such esoteric subjects as development economics, human rights law and who killed who in the civil war. Instead, they are on the brink of power. Black coffee and hard pretzels are all the cafe provides, together with the possibility of contracting lung cancer. But on the eve of the vote, I found its occupants confident, if bemused. However, Syriza HQ is not the place to learn about radicalisation. The fact that a party with a “central committee” even got close to power has nothing to do with a sudden swing to Marxism in the Greek psyche.
It is, instead, testimony to three things: the strategic crisis of the eurozone, the determination of the Greek elite to cling to systemic corruption, and a new way of thinking among the young. Of these, the eurozone’s crisis is easiest to understand – because its consequences can be read so easily in the macroeconomic figures. The IMF predicted Greece would grow as the result of its aid package in 2010. Instead, the economy has shrunk by 25%. Wages are down by the same amount. Youth unemployment stands at 60% – and that is among those who are still in the country. So the economic collapse – about which all Greeks, both right and leftwing, are bitter – is not just seen as a material collapse. It demonstrated complete myopia among the European policy elite. In all of drama and comedy there is no figure more laughable as a rich man who does not know what he is doing.
For the past four years the troika – the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank – has provided Greeks with just such a spectacle. As for the Greek oligarchs, their misrule long predates the crisis. These are not only the famous shipping magnates, whose industry pays no tax, but the bosses of energy and construction groups and football clubs. As one eminent Greek economist told me last week: “These guys have avoided paying tax through the Metaxas dictatorship, the Nazi occupation, a civil war and a military junta.” They had no intention of paying taxes as the troika began demanding Greece balance the books after 2010, which is why the burden fell on those Greeks trapped in the PAYE system – a workforce of 3.5 million that fell during the crisis to just 2.5 million.
The oligarchs allowed the Greek state to become a battleground of conflicting interests. As Yiannis Palaiologos, a Greek journalist, put it in his recent book on the crisis, there is “a pervasive irresponsibility, a sense that no one is in charge, no one is willing or able to act as a custodian of the common good”. But their most corrosive impact is on the layers of society beneath them. “There goes X,” Greeks say to each other as the rich walk to their tables in trendy bars. “He is controlling Y in parliament and having an affair with Z.” It’s like a soap opera, but for real, and too many Greeks are deferentially mesmerised by it.
Anti-austerity Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras has vowed to end Greece’s “five years of humiliation and pain” after his general election win. Before cheering supporters, Mr Tsipras again pledged to renegotiate Greece’s massive international bailout. With nearly all of the votes counted in Sunday’s poll, Syriza looks set to have 149 seats, just two short of an absolute majority. Syriza’s victory has raised fears about Greece’s future in the euro. Greece has endured tough budget cuts in return for its 2010 bailout, worth €240bn and negotiated with the so-called troika – the EU, IMF and ECB. The economy has shrunk drastically since the 2008 global financial crisis, and increasing unemployment has thrown many Greeks into poverty. Syriza’s election result will send shockwaves through Europe, the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt in Athens says.
A majority of voters in Greece have essentially rejected a core policy for dealing with the eurozone crisis as devised by Brussels and Germany, our correspondent adds. The election result is expected to be one of the main issues at Monday’s meeting of 19 eurozone finance ministers. In Germany, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said he hoped “the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford”. Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveld was quoted by VRT network as saying that Greece “must respect the rules of monetary union”, although he added that there was room for some flexibility. In Italy, EU Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi said: “After this vote we will have new opportunities to pursue change in Europe to create growth and investment and fight against unemployment.”
From last week by Helena Smith.
“I will drive you to the wound of Greece. It won’t take long.” Tall, muscular and dark, Antonis is not a man given to hyperbole but he is, by his own admission, very angry. Now, staring into his rear-view mirror – only days before elections that could make or break Athens’ tumultuous ties with Europe – there is no hiding how incensed he is. “What has happened to this country is a catastrophe,” he fumes. “Our politicians, Europe, the IMF, they have stopped us having dreams.” The journey to the wound of Greece does not take long. For Antonis, a photographer with an eye for the unusual, it is not at the end of the pot-holed road we are driving down.
It is everywhere: in the mamas and papas scavenging through the rubbish bins, the broken pavements and shuttered shops, the abandoned cars and derelict houses, the new poor who mutter to themselves on graffiti-stained streets. “It is the loss of hope,” he says with a thump of his steering wheel. “I see it every day, a wound that will not heal. Please write that I, Antonis, hate this country, I hate everything about it.” For the 43-year-old, rage has been shaped by fate, one shared by over 1.3 million Greeks since their debt-stricken nation’s financial meltdown. In 2010, under the punitive effect of austerity – the price of the biggest bailout in western history – the Athenian photographic studio that employed him unexpectedly collapsed.
Overnight, he found himself out of work, another statistic in the record number of jobless thrown up by a crisis born in Athens that has reverberated through every EU capital since. “Unless they are stupid, or rich, no Greek has children anymore,” snarled Mavros who has been forced into the taxi driving business to make ends meet. “My predicament has denied me having the second child I always wanted.” It has also brought him face to face with the unravelling of a country that, five anguished years later, is torn between the agonising choice of yet more austerity, or voting in young insurgents who could put it on a devastating collision course with the EU and IMF, the creditors keeping it afloat.
“But it’s ultimately going to be much more difficult to figure out exactly what policies they will ultimately agree..”
As a victorious Syriza focuses on talks to find an ally to build a new Greek government, the left-wing party faces even more immediate and pressing problems, according to Greek politicians. Global markets are jittery as investors digest news that anti-bailout Syriza won a general election in Greece on Sunday. The party, led by Alexis Tsipras, is now in talks with the right-wing – and also anti-austerity — Independent Greeks party in order to form a coalition but are also due to meet the more centrist To Potama and Communist parties later today for coalition negotiations.
Talks are expected to continue over the next few days but could be concluded within hours, according to one former government minister. “By the end of the day we should have a coalition between these two parties (Syriza and Independent Greeks) but also there are other willing parties that are willing and available (to form a coalition) too,” Petros Doukas, former deputy finance minister of Greece, told CNBC Monday morning. “But it’s ultimately going to be much more difficult to figure out exactly what policies they will ultimately agree,” he said, adding that it would be an “uphill battle” for Syriza and the Independent Greeks – coming from the left and right of the political spectrum – to agree on policy.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle between Syriza and their left-wing promises, which they will not be able to deliver absolutely because they have some major problems to tackle immediately (such as) the banking problem and social security problems – there’s seven billion euros (worth of debt) maturing in March and they need European liquidity support for that,” Doukas said.
“Greece’s incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, conceded defeat early in the evening and admitted that “mistakes and injustices” had been made but insisted he was leaving office with a clear conscience. ”
European politics has been plunged into a volatile new era following a historic victory in Greece’s general election by far-left radicals committed to ending years of austerity. More than five years into the euro crisis that started in Greece in October 2009 and raised questions about the single currency’s survival, Greek voters roundly rejected the savage spending cuts and tax rises imposed by Europe which reduced the country to penury. Voters handed power to Alexis Tsipras, the charismatic 40-year-old former communist who leads the umbrella coalition of assorted leftists known as Syriza. He cruised to an eight-point victory over the incumbent centre-right New Democracy party, according to exit polls and projections after 93% of votes had been counted.The result surpassed pollster predictions and marginalised the two mainstream parties that have run the country since the military junta’s fall in 1974.
It appeared last night, however, that Syriza would win 149 seats – just short of securing the 151 of 300 seats that would enable Tsipras to govern without coalition partners. “The sovereign Greek people today have given a clear, strong, indisputable mandate,” Tsipras told a crowd of rapturous flag-waving party supporters. “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.” Greece’s incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, whose conservative-dominated coalition had been in office since June 2012, conceded defeat early in the evening and admitted that “mistakes and injustices” had been made but insisted he was leaving office with a clear conscience. “I assumed charge of a country that was on the brink of collapse … and we restored its international credibility,” said Samaras.
Tsipras’s victory, widely predicted, was nonetheless stunning in scale and in impact. Single-party majorities are very rare in parliamentary systems in Europe these days, in recent years occurring in only Hungary and Slovakia under strongman leaders of the right and left. For an upstart party such as Syriza, which has never been tested in power, the victory highlighted how five years of fiscal orthodoxy in Europe have turned politics upside down.“I just voted for the party that’s going to change Greece; in fact, the party that is going to change the whole of Europe,” said Panagiotis, 54, a self-employed electrician voting in the Kipseli district of Athens. “There has to be change, big change. The economy has collapsed … Syriza is Greece’s hope.”
Something to check by year-end: “Professional forecasters surveyed by the ECB before the QE announcement saw price growth of 0.3 % this year and 1.1 % in 2016. The bond-buying program is seen adding 0.4 percentage point and 0.3 percentage point respectively”
Mario Draghi’s reasons for flooding the euro area with money will be laid bare once again this week. Days after the European Central Bank president announced a €1.1 trillion ($1.2 trillion) stimulus plan, data may show prices in the euro area are falling at close to the fastest pace since the shared currency was introduced 16 years ago. Sinking prices, together with stubbornly high unemployment, will reinforce the picture of economic weakness that convinced the Frankfurt-based central bank to go ahead with the controversial purchase of government bonds. Anticipation of more action from Draghi to prevent a deflationary spiral lifted German investor confidence this month and that may be echoed in a euro-wide sentiment index on Thursday. “We’re seeing a moderate recovery, but the big question is, is it strong enough to get inflation back up over the relevant time horizon?” said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN Amro.
“It helps the story if things start to move a bit more in the right direction and then he can get another round of Super Mario credit.” While the ECB’s decision to start full-blown quantitative easing was widely anticipated, the size of the program exceeded forecasts. With monthly purchases of 60 billion euros until at least September 2016, the total was double economists’ projections. Even with that scale, it’s unclear whether the stimulus will be enough to push inflation back toward the ECB’s goal of just under 2 %. Professional forecasters surveyed by the ECB before the QE announcement saw price growth of 0.3 % this year and 1.1 % in 2016. The bond-buying program is seen adding 0.4 percentage point and 0.3 percentage point respectively, according to a euro-area central bank official who has seen the ECB’s internal calculations.
“That may be optimistic, with RBS saying the currency could fall toward record lows closer to $0.80..”
The euro may be the Charlie Brown of currencies, as like the comic character, it’s under a cloud of negatives, including the Greek election outcome, with analysts tipping further downside. “It’s the ugliest horse in the glue factory,” Jeffrey Halley at Saxo Capital Markets, told CNBC, advising selling it against all other G-10 currencies. The common currency nipped down, trading as low as $1.1098 in Asian hours Monday, its lowest since late 2003 although it later recovered to around $1.1174, after news Greece’s anti-austerity party Syriza looked set to win at least 149 seats in the 300 seat parliament – a larger-than-expected margin. The party ran on a platform of increasing spending and seeking forgiveness of some of its debt, with the rhetoric raising concerns Greece could dig in its heels on its bailout deal with the European Union, possibly defaulting on its bonds or exiting the common currency.
“Doubts over whether the EU bailout program (expiring on February 28) will be extended should keep Greek bonds and the euro under pressure,” Mizuho Bank said in a note Monday. It has a forecast for the euro to slip as lows as $1.0950. That may be optimistic, with RBS saying the currency could fall toward record lows closer to $0.80, although parity with the U.S. dollar is more likely in the meantime. The euro last traded at parity with the U.S. dollar in late 2002, in the wake of the dot-com bust and the late 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. “[The Greek election outcome] is something that’s going to generate a long debate on austerity with no real outcome for months,” said Greg Gibbs, senior foreign exchange strategist at RBS. “It’s another distraction.” The euro isn’t likely to find a bottom until the continent can produce “significantly” stronger inflation accompanied by stronger economic data, Gibbs said.
“Nobody should imagine the world will continue to demand oil as long as you have it in your fields..”
As the world’s oil producers wring their hands over a global glut that’s pushing down prices, evidence is mounting that Saudi Arabia is more concerned about shrinking demand. The world’s largest exporter has chosen not to cut production, counting instead on lower prices to stimulate consumption, said Mohammad Al Sabban, an adviser to Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister from 1988 to 2013. The Saudis are keeping an eye on investments in fuel efficiency and renewable energy, according to Francisco Blanch, Bank of America Corp.’s head of global commodity research. “Nobody should imagine the world will continue to demand oil as long as you have it in your fields,” Al Sabban said in an interview. “We need to prepare ourselves for that stage.”
The U.S. shale revolution showed that forecasts of dwindling world oil supply were premature. It also gave credence to the old adage, attributed to a Saudi oil minister more than 30 years ago, that the Stone Age didn’t end because of the lack of stone. With costs falling for clean energy and international attention focused on slowing climate change, the Saudis are more worried that the world is inching closer to peak demand. Among industrialized countries, that peak was reached 10 years ago, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, and fast-developing countries such as India and China won’t become as carbon-intensive, Al Sabban said.
Oil supplied 31 % of the world’s energy in 2012, compared with 46 % in 1973, the IEA said. Even as oil prices dropped 48 % last year, the most since 2008, global production rose 2.1 % to 93.3 million barrels a day, according to the IEA. The price plunge was caused by years of record-high prices that spurred expanding supplies while impairing demand – and not a Saudi conspiracy, Al Sabban said. Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries hope cheap energy will foster economic growth and, in turn, more oil consumption, he said.
Wow!: “U.S. inventories climbed to 383.5 million barrels last month, the highest level for December since 1930..”
Oil fell to the lowest level in almost six years as signs that Saudi Arabia’s new king will maintain its production policy and rising U.S. crude stockpiles bolstered speculation that a global glut will persist. Futures dropped as much as 2.7% in New York, extending a 6.4% slide last week. King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who took over after the death of King Abdullah on Jan. 23, pledged to maintain the policies of his predecessor. U.S. inventories climbed to 383.5 million barrels last month, the highest level for December since 1930, the American Petroleum Institute reported. Oil slumped almost 50% last year as OPEC resisted calls to cut output even as the U.S. pumped at the fastest pace in more than three decades.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter, has chosen not to reduce supply and count instead on lower prices to stimulate demand, according to Mohammad Al Sabban, an adviser to the kingdom’s petroleum minister from 1988 to 2013. “Crude production needs to slow down first to decelerate the speed of stockpiling, which is seen to be even faster than during the 2008 financial crisis,” Hong Sung Ki, a commodities analyst at Samsung Futures, said by phone. “With Saudi Arabia, the market hardly reacted last week and will remain unchanged as King Salman is known to be very conservative.” West Texas Intermediate for March delivery decreased as much as $1.24 to $44.35 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 72 cents to $45.59 on Jan. 23, the lowest close since March 2009. The volume of all futures traded was more than double the 100-day average.
Brent for March settlement slid as much as 94 cents, or 1.9%, to $47.85 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. It gained 27 cents to $48.79 on Jan. 23. The European benchmark crude traded at a premium of $3.26 to WTI. Crude stockpiles in the U.S., the world’s largest oil consumer, increased 7.4% in December from a year ago, the API in Washington said in a monthly report on Jan. 23. Production accelerated 16% to 9.12 million barrels a day, the highest level for any month since February 1986, according to the industry group.
Both stocks and property bubbles now at risk of popping.
Just below the surface of China’s world-beating equity rally, signs of trouble are emerging. While the Shanghai Composite Index touched a five-year high on Friday after a 63% gain during the past year, other gauges of investor enthusiasm are tumbling. Turnover sank 47% from its peak in December, while new equity account openings fell 50% and purchases using borrowed money dropped 38%. The number of stocks reaching new 52-week highs has declined 75% in the past six weeks. The indicators suggest to Deutsche Bank and Fortune SG that China’s mainland-traded A shares are no longer a one-way bet after monetary stimulus and a flood of new individual traders propelled the Shanghai gauge to 8 consecutive months of gains through December. Windsor Capital, one of China’s top 10 performing hedge funds, said last week investors will have to wait until the middle of this year before the $5.1 trillion market resumes its advance.
“We have seen fewer new account openings, narrower trading turnover and heightened market volatility recently in the A-share market,” Yuliang Chang at Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, said in e-mailed comments on Jan. 23. “This does not bode well for this liquidity-driven rally.” Chinese investors opened about 447,000 accounts to trade equities in the week to Jan. 16, down from a seven-year high of 892,000 in mid-December, while the number of accounts with transactions fell 29%. The value of shares traded on the Shanghai exchange has dropped to 420.7 billion yuan ($67.5 billion) from a record 792.7 billion yuan on Dec. 9. Meanwhile, the number of Shanghai Composite stocks recording new 52-week highs fell to 55 last week from 218 in December. Volatility has also increased, with a gauge of 30-day swings in the Shanghai index reaching a five-year high.
Government efforts to cool the growth of margin loans have curbed one of the biggest drivers of the rally. Stock purchases using borrowed money on the Shanghai exchange declined to 75.1 billion yuan on Jan. 22 from their Dec. 9 record of 121.8 billion yuan after policy makers suspended three of the nation’s biggest brokerages from loaning money to new equity-trading clients and said securities firms shouldn’t lend to investors with assets below 500,000 yuan.
This is really about shadow banking.
China’s investment trusts are pulling financing for the real estate industry as Kaisa’s missed payments heighten default concerns. Issuance of property-related products, which channel money from wealthy individual investors, tumbled 62% from a year earlier to 38.5 billion yuan ($6.2 billion) in the fourth quarter, data compiled by research firm Use Trust show. Builders must repay 241 billion yuan of trusts in 2015, up from 178 billion yuan last year. Kaisa, which missed a bond coupon payment this month, failed to repay a 2.5 billion yuan trust last week, people familiar with the matter said. “The record amount of trust products due is adding to the agony of property developers as they face a withering funding lifeline,” said Shuai Guorang, an analyst at Use Trust. “Investor demand for property trusts has declined as they are concerned about developers’ cash supply.”
While Premier Li Keqiang’s relaxation of property curbs has helped underpin a rebound in home sales, investors are speculating more developers may be caught up in an anti-corruption drive. Kaisa, Agile Property and Hydoo, which builds large-scale trade centers, have been linked to probes. Local authorities in Handan, southwest of Beijing, sent work teams into 13 developers after failure to repay funds, Xinhua News Agency reported. “A big portion of shadow bank funding, including trust financing, is borrowed by property developers,” said David Cui, China strategist at Bank of America. “If there is a sharp rise of defaults by the developers, it may cause a shock to investor confidence in shadow banking, which will raise risks of a credit crunch.” The number of publicly traded real estate firms with debt exceeding equity has increased to 135 out of 336 from 57 in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Chinese companies’ leverage ratio is too high,” said BOA’s Cui. “The probability of a credit crunch at some point is high.”
“..after a man was wrongly jailed [for 4 years] for trying to recover money stolen by a bank employee.”
China’s central bank and its top financial regulator are vowing action against the theft of bank depositors’ money, an issue that has entered the spotlight after a man was wrongly jailed for trying to recover money stolen by a bank employee. The man in question is Zhang Jing, the former chairman of a listed battery company in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Zhang is currently negotiating with a local branch of Agricultural Bank of China after he spent four years in jail for suing the bank over his missing deposit of more than 1.2 million yuan ($192,000), according to a report Monday in the government-owned Changjiang Business Daily. Zhang had sued state-owned AgBank back in 2005, but when the lender claimed ignorance of any missing funds, Zhang found himself arrested and sentenced to four years in prison, along with a 100,000-yuan fine, for “defrauding public property” from AgBank.
After Zhang was released from prison in 2010, he sought redress from the Supreme Court and finally got his case corrected in December last year, the report said. “This is extremely ridiculous,” the newspaper quoted Gao Yifei, a professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law, as saying. “The judges from first and second instances were very rash” in their judgement. And Zhang is by no means alone — other Chinese savers have found their deposits at state banks have gone missing, only to see the bank claim no fault in the incidents. A combined 95 million yuan worth of deposits from 42 separate accounts have reportedly disappeared at the United Rural Cooperative Bank of Hangzhou, located in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said Sunday in a special report.The missing funds turned out to be the result of an employee and her accomplices stealing passcodes, with two of the suspects now under arrest.
British democracy: “..can “at his discretion” take the power to overrule planning decisions.”
George Osborne has requested that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”, including the delivery of numerous “asks” from shale gas company Cuadrilla. The list of requests are laid out in a leaked letter to the chancellor’s cabinet colleagues. They include interventions in local planning, and offering public land for potential future drilling. Anti-fracking campaigners claim the letter reveals collusion with the industry, while Labour said it showed the government was an “unabashed cheerleader for fracking”. The revelations come on the day of a Commons vote on fracking – the first MPs have had on the issue – and just hours after an influential cross-party committee of MPs published a report calling for a fracking moratorium because of potential risks to public health and climate change.
The UK’s first planning applications for full-scale fracking are also set be decided this week, with Lancashire county councillors to begin deliberations on Wednesday – having already been advised to refuse the proposals by planning officials. David Cameron has said the government is “going all out” for shale gas in the UK, claiming it would create thousands of jobs, benefit community investment and cut reliance on imports. But opponents argue that high-pressure fracturing of rocks to release gas risks health and environmental impacts and will undermine the country’s climate change goals.In Osborne’s six-page letter, dated 24 September, to the high-level cabinet committee on economic affairs, the chancellor demands “rapid progress” on “reducing risks and delays to drilling” from Ed Davey, Eric Pickles, Vince Cable, Liz Truss and other ministers.
Top of the list is to “respond to the asks from Cuadrilla”, the company intending to frack in Lancashire. The “asks” include contacting the Health and Safety Executive and Lancashire county council about planning applications, and the Ministry of Defence over granting Cuadrilla trucks access to military land. In his preamble, the chancellor writes: “I expect to see rapid progress” on the recommendations. The letter, leaked to Friends of the Earth and seen by the Guardian, also includes moves to enable full shale gas production in future, such as ensuring that Pickles, whose communities department oversees planning, can “at his discretion” take the power to overrule planning decisions.
President Barack Obama will take steps to restrict 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas exploration, a move denounced by Alaskan lawmakers who have fought for years to open the area up to drillers. The administration on Sunday announced a plan to add protections to the refuge and also called on Congress to designate “core areas” of the 19.8 million-acre refuge as wilderness, including its Coastal Plain, according to a statement from the Interior Department. The designation is the highest level of protection from development that’s available to public lands, according to the department. “Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in the statement.
The administration and the U.S. Senate’s new Republican majority are already in conflict over energy issues, from climate change to construction of the Keystone pipeline from Canada. The arctic region represents one of the nation’s largest known petroleum reserves, though harsh conditions and environmental concerns have hampered exploration and development. Approval of a wilderness designation from the Republican-controlled Congress is “highly unlikely” with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski as chairman of the Senate’s key energy committee, said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, an environmental group.
Shogan said the proposal is nonetheless significant because it reverses a White House position made to Congress by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 recommending oil drilling in the refuge. More than 7 million acres of the wildlife refuge are now protected as wilderness. Obama’s proposal would expand that territory and include for the first time the Coastal Plain. The Interior Department said the refuge is home to most diverse wildlife in the Arctic, including caribou, polar bears, wolves and muskoxen. It was established in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower and expanded in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, according to the Alaska Wilderness League, which applauded Obama’s move. “This is a big deal,” Shogan said. “In the history of the Arctic Refuge, this is the closest that we have come to advancing Wilderness for the Coastal Plain.”
What a surprise! Link to clip in Orlov’s article just below.
Amid the devastation of yesterday’s Mariupol artillery strikes which killed or wounded dozens, which was promptly blamed by both sides on the “adversary” – and has been proclaimed by both ‘sides’ (more on that later) as more violent than before the truce – an ‘odd’ clip has emerged that appears to provide all the ‘proof’ a US intelligence officer would need to surmise that US military boots are on the ground in Ukraine. As the following clip shows, a Ukrainian journalist approaches what she thinks is a Ukrainian soldier (since he is wearing a Ukrainian military uniform and is carrying an AK) and asked him as they run through the battlezone, “tell me, what happened here?” His response, which requires no translation, speaks for itself.
With daily reportage of the ‘invasion’ of Russian military forces into Ukraine territory (admittedly unconfirmed by NATO), this clip raises many questions about American involvement in the ongoing conflict – most of all, was the US involved in the “staging” the Mariupol massacre, and if so it is clear who should be blamed (and isolated). Of course, US troops, or at least mercs, on the ground, should not be a total surprise, since just 2 months ago, we discussed the hacked US documents that revealed the extent of undisclosed US “lethal aid” being given to the Ukraine army. What was apparently left unleaked was the part of the US aid also includes US-speaking soldiers. The only question is whether US taxpayers are paying their wages.
“Local authorities in Ukrainian-controlled districts near the front report that Ukrainian soldiers are deserting with their weapons and taking to looting the countryside in increasing numbers.”
The following article appeared briefly at this URL on censor.net.ua and was quickly pulled down. Ironic? It would seem so. My translation. I bring it to you because it succinctly lays out the situation as I’ve been able to piece it together from multiple Russian- and Ukrainian-language sources, and because you are unlikely to come across anything this truthful from cough Western media cough.
“Panic in Kiev: Ukrainian forces surrender Donbass”
International observers report of growing panic in Kiev in connection with the successful counteroffensive of the separatists near Donbass. Over a week of fighting the partisans have delivered a heavy blow to the Ukrainian forces. The group of Ukrainian fighters in Donbas suffered huge losses, the soldiers are demoralized, the officers are confused and unable to control the situation. Ukrainian military leadership is seriously concerned of a new encirclement near Debaltsevo, as well as in other areas. The situation is made worse by the fact that army and national guard reserves are almost completely depleted, and plugging the gaps in defense using small formations cannot stabilize the front. Besides, the Ukrainian forces are running low on ordnance, food and medical supplies.
In turn, the partisan field commanders report 752 killed Ukrainian military personnel, 59 destroyed tanks and a large number of people taken prisoner. In view of their combat successes, the partisans are refusing to take part in any further negotiations in the format of the Minsk agreements and threaten to continue the counterattack. Local authorities in Ukrainian-controlled districts near the front report that Ukrainian soldiers are deserting with their weapons and taking to looting the countryside in increasing numbers. In this critical situation the military is afraid to report to president Poroshenko the real situation in the southeast of the country, hiding from him the full scale of the catastrophe.The head of state is still convinced that the situation is under control, and hopes that in case of a real threat he will still have the chance to ask the West for help.
And then there is this video evidence: American “boots on the ground” have invaded Eastern Ukraine. How do you say “Get out of my face, please!” in Ukrainian? I guess the grunts aren’t taught that in Basic Training… are they too busy learning how to shell civilians and then blame the other side?
Moore in fine form: “I tried to save more lives than a sniper ever could hope to — by preventing us from going to war in the first place..”
Filmmaker Michael Moore, an expert courter of controversy, has been pilloried over the past few days by some on the right, including the likes of Sarah Palin and Kid Rock, for incendiary words he tweeted about the “American Sniper” film. Newt Gingrich went so far as to suggest Moore should spend some time with ISIS and Boko Haram. This is what started it all:
After catching flak for his contentious remarks, Moore took to Facebook on Sunday to hit back at those accusing him of hating the troops. Damage control, it wasn’t. “Well, who would know better about hating our troops than those who supported sending them into a senseless war Iraq in the first place? And, for 4,482 of them, a senseless, unnecessary and regrettable death,” he wrote. “If you supported that invasion, if you voted for George W. Bush and the Republicans and Democrats who backed this war, then you are the ones who have some ‘splainin’ to do. Not me. You.” He went on to list the ways in which he’s proven his support of the troops. For one, when his dad died, Moore asked that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Veterans of Peace. He also mentioned how he pushes businesses to hire vets, raises money for wounded soldiers and offers free admission for military personnel and their families at his theater in Michigan.
Moore also took a swipe at the director of the film. “You can’t have a conversation about what Clint Eastwood is up to if you haven’t seen what it is he’s up to,” he wrote. “Eastwood made maybe the greatest Western ever — ‘Unforgiven’ — but now it’s sad seeing him talking to an empty chair on a stage or making an Iraq movie that Rolling Stone this week called ‘too dumb to bother criticizing.’” Then he took a parting shot directly at his network nemesis. “I tried to save more lives than a sniper ever could hope to — by preventing us from going to war in the first place,” he said. “So, Fox News and the other lazy media — quit making s**t up about me! You look ridiculous.”
“It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have.”
Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”. The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job.
“After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.” Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy. And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims.
Threats to Arab and Muslim Americans have tripled since the film came out, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. It’s not difficult to see why. “If you see anyone from about 16 to 65 and they’re male, shoot ’em,” wrote Kyle, describing his understanding of the rules of engagement in Iraq. “Kill every male you see. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.” The west does not see itself the way others see it; indeed it often does not see others at all. Solipsistic in its suffering and narcissistic in its impulses, it promotes itself as the upholder of principles it does not keep, and a morality it does not practise. This alone would barely distinguish it from most cultures. What makes the west different is the physical and philosophical force with which it simultaneously makes its case for superiority and contradicts it. It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have.
Global crisis or global solution to a problem?
Mike Huckabee thinks, inspired by the president’s daughters’ love of Beyonce, that America is in the midst of a values crisis. But in Japan, the worry is about a libido crisis. The birthrate is falling fast. By 2060, the population is expected to go down by a third, and, by 2100, if trends continue, by 61 %. In 2011, sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those of baby diapers. It’s an urgent national problem: there isn’t enough procreation. To examine Japanese attitudes toward sex, the Japan Family Planning Association interviewed 3,000 subjects, both male and female, about their sex lives. The group found that 49.3 % of participants (48.3 % of men, 50.1 % of women) had not had sex in the past month. 21.3 % of married men said they were too tired after work (versus 17.8 % of women). Of men, 15.7 % answered that they were no longer interested, after having children. 23.8 % of women said sex was “bothersome.”
There are a number of diagnoses for this aversion to the bedroom. Morinaga Takuro, an economic analyst and TV personality, believes this has something to do with attractiveness. He has suggested a “handsome tax”: “If we impose a handsome tax on men who look good to correct the injustice only slightly, then it will become easier for ugly men to find love, and the number of people getting married will increase.” “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Takuro writes a lament for the men in love with “2D female characters from anime and manga.” He expressed, in the Asahi Shimbun, “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Technology, of course, gets blame: virtual worlds, not to mention porn. But many, especially alarmed to see that more than 20 % of men between 25-29 say they have little interest in sex, see the low interest in sex as part of economic depression.
A Japanese columnist named Maki Fukasawa observes an increase in a group of men he’s dubbed “herbivores”: heterosexual guys who, in contrast to “carnivorous” businessmen, live without expression of sexuality. Angelika Koch, a Cambridge University scholar, author of Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy, sees “a subversion of the traditional male role of the Japanese ‘salaryman’: the corporate male in suit and tie who dedicates his life to his company as breadwinner for his family, the sexually assertive man who spends his evenings drinking with colleagues at hostess clubs and bars.” Whatever the case, it’s an urgent government concern. In 2014, aware of the dangers of becoming a nation of old folks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set aside 3 billion yen ($30 million) for programs aimed at boosting the birthrate, including matchmaking programs.
Even with my extensive Montréal experience, 3 feet in 24 hours is a lot.
A swath of the U.S. East Coast from Philadelphia to New York City to Maine braced for a potentially historic blizzard on Monday expected to dump as much as 3 feet (90 cm) of snow and snarl transportation for tens of millions of people. The National Weather Service (NWS) on Sunday issued a blizzard warning for the northern section of the East Coast from Monday afternoon until Tuesday, placing states from New Jersey to Indiana under winter storm watches and advisories. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights ahead of the storm. “This could be the biggest snowstorm in the history of this city,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference, saying the snowfall could reach up to 3 feet. De Blasio told residents of America’s financial capital and most populous city to stay off the roads and to “prepare for something worse than we have seen before.”
The biggest snowfall on record in New York City came during the storm of Feb. 11-12, 2006, dropping 26.9 inches (68 cm). The NWS called the approaching system a “crippling and potentially historic blizzard,” with many areas along the East Coast expected to be blanketed by 12 inches to 24 inches (30-60 cm) of snow. The New York City area could be the hardest hit, with lashing winds and snowfall of 30 inches (76 cm) or more in some suburbs. Delta Air Lines said on Sunday it was canceling 600 flights because of the blizzard warning for the East Coast, while United Airlines will cancel all Tuesday flights at airports in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The carrier will limit operations beginning on Monday night at Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports in the New York area. Southwest Airlines said Sunday evening it would cancel more than 130 of 3,410 flights scheduled for Monday due to the storm, an increase from its earlier plan to cancel about 20 flights.