Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train at Emporia, Kansas 1943
Recipe for mayhem.
• Credit Bust In Rich Countries Caused Credit Boom In Emerging Markets (Economist)
The build-up of emerging-market credit began just as the rich world’s financial system started to creak in 2007. According to figures collated by JP Morgan, private-sector debt in emerging markets rose from 73% of GDP at the end of 2007 to 107% of GDP by the end of last year. These figures include loans made by banks and bonds issued by companies. Including the credit extended by non-bank financial institutions (so-called “shadow banks”) for the handful of emerging markets where such estimates are available gives a steeper rise and a higher total burden: 127% of GDP. The credit boom in emerging markets was in large part a response to the credit bust in the rich world. Fearing a depression in its richest export markets, the authorities in China brought about a massive increase in credit in 2009.
Meanwhile a flood of capital escaping the paltry yields on offer in developed economies pushed interest rates lower in developing ones. This search for yield by rich-world investors took them to ever more exotic places. A dollar-denominated government bond issued in 2012 by Zambia, a copper-rich country with an average GDP per person of $1,700 a year, offered just 5.4% interest; even so, it was 24 times oversubscribed as rich-world investors clamoured to buy. The following year a state-backed tuna-fishing venture in Mozambique, a country even poorer than Zambia, was able to raise $850m at an interest rate of 8.5%.
In contrast to the credit booms in America and Europe, where households were the main borrowers, three-quarters of the private debt burden in emerging markets is shouldered by businesses: corporate debt has ballooned from less than 50% of GDP in 2008 to almost 75% by 2014. Much of the lending was done in Asia, notably in China. But Turkey, Brazil and Chile also saw substantial increases in the ratio of company debt to GDP. Construction firms (notably in China and Latin America) increased their leverage a great deal. The oil and gas industry was a big player, too, according to the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report.
A point I’ve made 1000 times. “..a breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions..”
• Irish President: Unaccountable Forces Are Running EU (IT)
Unaccountable forces removed from democratic control are today in control in the European Union, President Michael D Higgins has declared in one of the most pointed speeches of his term in office. “The present institutional structure of the European Union can be seen as reflecting the distribution of political power in recent decades, decades that have seen the emergence of a new financialised global order, where unaccountable agencies and forces removed from democratic oversight or control are in the ascendancy,” he said. He made the speech as he opened the Royal Irish Academy’s Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society. The anti-austerity street protests in many EU states, he said, could be seen as “not just the mechanical result of deplorable levels of unemployment and deteriorating material circumstances”, but also a reflection of a “breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions”.
Deep injury has been inflicted on people’s moral outlook in recent decades by an extraordinarily narrow version of economics which had cut ties with its ethical and philosophical roots, Mr Higgins said. European leaders must remain “attentive and open”, he added saying, “a social view of Europe demands that our fellow citizens should never be seen merely as ‘consumers’ of public policies, driven by a sense of their sectional interests.” He was confident, he said, that the new educational centre “will contribute in an important way, over the years to come, in tackling the deep injuries inflicted upon our moral imaginations by the extraordinary ascendancy in recent decades of what is an extraordinarily narrow version of economics”.
This connection “of economy, ecology and ethics” and “of policy, theory and method”, had been at the centre of his presidency, “because I believe that they are essential to reading and understanding the current situation in which we find ourselves”. Referring to upcoming commemorations in Ireland, he said: “One can legitimately wonder, for example, what shape would our economy and society have assumed, had our fellow citizens kept alive, during Ireland’s recent economic boom, the cultural, philosophical, political and moral motivations which underpinned the Irish national revival, or the spirit of other historical movements for social and political reform such as the co-operative movement. “We neglected the contribution of the co-operative instinct to our social cohesion,” he said.
Every country will want to protect itself when times get worse.
• The Global Economy Slows Down. Is It Recession Or Protectionism? (Guardian)
Goldman Sachs’s decision to close down its loss-making Bric fund was a symbolic reminder that the days are gone when the economic rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the four countries from which the fund drew its name) seemed guaranteed. Indeed, Brazil and Russia are both in recession. The US Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates from near zero, which many experts now expect to happen next month, could deepen the agony of countries already struggling with plunging currencies and rising borrowing costs. The International Monetary Fund has warned of a flurry of bankruptcies in emerging economies as rates rise.
“A lot of these countries haven’t been helping themselves: Taiwan, Korea; they’ve all been cranking up their own credit growth,” says Russell Jones of Llewellyn Consulting, an economics advisory firm. But he too believes the world should escape a general slump. “I don’t think we’re on the cusp of a major downturn — probably more of the same.” Simon Evenett of St Gallen University in Switzerland, who collates detailed data for the thinktank Global Trade Alert, offers an alternative explanation for the recent slide in trade volumes. He calculates that about half of the fall, since exports peaked in September last year, has been caused by the commodity price rout; but the rest, rather than evidence of sickly global demand, has resulted from a creeping rise in protectionism.
His analysis suggests the declines have overwhelmingly taken place in just 28 categories of product. “That’s very concentrated; that makes me doubt that it’s a global downturn.” Eight of these categories are commodities; but the rest map closely on to areas where countries have taken protectionist measures. In the wake of the financial crisis, policymakers from the G20 countries pledged not to resort to the tit-for-tat protectionism that led to collapsing trade volumes in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, and was ultimately seen as a contributor to the Great Depression. Since then, there has been little sign of anything with the scope of America’s Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, which slapped import tariffs on more than 800 products.
But Evenett says there has been a flurry of more subtle manoeuvres: restricting public procurement to domestic firms, for example, or quietly tightening regulations to raise the bar against imports. “I think the China story is adding spice to it, but I think there’s more going on here,” he says. He is concerned that unless action is taken, politicians will continue to throw sand in the wheels of the international trading system. If he’s right, the downturn seen so far may not be sending a warning signal about global demand; instead, it would be best read as a measure of the fragility of globalisation.
With China debt levels where they are, a curious idea.
• Yuan’s Rise Means World Economy Takes Step To Greater Stability (Bloomberg)
With China’s yuan taking the biggest step yet toward joining the dollar and euro as a top-rank reserve currency, the global economy may be approaching an era of greater stability. So say economists who highlight the dollar’s role in the biggest financial crises in recent decades. Drawn to the liquidity and security of the unit of the world’s biggest economy, investors and governments relied on the dollar and produced dislocations including historically low borrowing costs in the 2000s even as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Rushes toward the safety of the dollar challenged global policy makers in 2008 as money markets seized up, prompting the Fed to open swap lines with counterparts that remain in place today.
China responded in 2009 with a call for reducing reliance on the dollar, with central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan floating the idea of a “super-sovereign” reserve currency. While the proposal fell flat, Zhou and his allies began a campaign to win inclusion for the yuan in the IMF’s special drawing rights unit. The SDR, as it’s called, is a kind of overdraft account for members of the IMF, convertible into dollars, euros, pounds and yen. The fund’s staff said Friday that the yuan has now met the qualification terms for inclusion in the SDR. “The current configuration of the global monetary-financial system that is centered and increasingly dominated by the dollar is not a stable or a sustainable one,” Stephen Jen of SLJ Macro Partners, a former IMF economist, wrote with colleague Joana Freire last week.
Some 87% of foreign-exchange trading involves the dollar, the most recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements showed. “The role of the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant vehicle currency remains unchallenged,” the BIS said in 2013, noting that the euro had declined in the wake of the European debt crisis. With the world’s second-largest economy and as the number-one trading nation, China may offer the global system a currency that can complement the dollar. For now, restrictions on the ability to take money in and out of China, and on what foreign investors can buy, mean the yuan’s role will be limited.
“..I hope and pray I’m not going to have to fight for the next five years.”
• Whistleblower At HBOS Bank Attacks ‘Ludicrously Bad’ City Regulation (Guardian)
When the long-delayed official report into the near-collapse of HBOS is released on Thursday former bank bosses James Crosby, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson will be braced for a fresh round of condemnation. But if the report’s 500 pages are likely to revive painful criticism of their role in the demise of Britain’s biggest mortgage lender and savings institution, its publication also marks a crucial moment for a lesser known former executive at the bank: Paul Moore. Moore, 57, emerged some years ago as the whistleblower at HBOS. He said he was sacked as head of group regulatory risk at the end of 2004 – less than two years after joining – after warning that the then fast-growing bank was too strongly motivated by sales.
His views were first aired in public shortly after the bank had to be rescued by Lloyds in September 2008. The enlarged institution was later bailed out with £20bn of taxpayer money. On learning that the publication of the report by the Financial Conduct Authority and Bank of England – first promised in 2013 – has finally been scheduled for Thursday, Moore said: “I’m a bit nervous and a bit frightened and I hope and pray I’m not going to have to fight for the next five years.” His main fear now, he says, is that the report could turn out to be “a cover-up and a fudge”. If he was writing it, he says, he would refer the directors not just for banning orders but for criminal investigation, as well as demanding a proper judicial inquiry into the auditing of all the big banks and the conduct of the credit ratings agencies.
That is not all. “I would name and shame in the most rigorous detail the ludicrously bad regulators,” says Moore. Thursday’s report will be published alongside an analysis of the decision by the City regulator at the time of the collapse, the Financial Services Authority, to punish only one HBOS banker – Peter Cummings, who ran the bank’s commercial lending arm and has now been banned for life from the City and fined £500,000. Work on the official report only began after the enforcement action against Cummings, although in 2013 the parliamentary commission on banking standards, set up in the wake of the Libor-rigging scandal, published its own account of the collapse. It accused Crosby, Hornby and Stevenson of “colossal” management failures and questioned why it was only Cummings who had been censured by the City regulator.
Earlier evidence Moore had given to the Treasury select committee in 2009 had been so damning it led to a fresh examination of the role of Crosby, and forced his resignation as deputy chairman of the then City regulator, the Financial Services Authority. When Moore’s allegations were first aired at the select committee, Crosby had insisted there was no substance to them. A report – commissioned from the bank’s auditors, KPMG – concluded that he lost his job because of personality clashes inside the lender and not that Crosby sacked him because of warnings that HBOS was “going too fast”. Crosby has since handed back his knighthood and 30% of his pension, and keeps out of the public eye.
The EU makes it impossible for Greece to leave its recession.
• More Tough Measures Loom As Greece Eyes Bailout Loans (Kath.)
The government is hoping to clinch the release of €2 billion in loan funding, and another €10 billion for Greek banks, after a tough round of negotiations with representatives of the country’s international creditors which has focused mainly on the issue of nonperforming loans and foreclosures of primary residences. The money is linked to a series of additional measures that Greece must legislate next week before turning to a second set of prior actions including even more contentious reforms such as higher taxes on farmers and an overhaul of the pension system. Greece is already running behind schedule on reforms. But authorities are hoping the creditors will show some flexibility so the process of recapitalizing Greece’s banks is not derailed.
Talks are already under way within the key ministries on the next round of reforms. Labor and Social Security Minister Giorgos Katrougalos, whose ministry is overseeing the difficult task of pension reform, aims to reach a “comprehensive” agreement with creditors and approve it in Parliament by early next month, according to sources. The hope is that the creditors will reward an active effort by Greeks to make up for lost time by making some concessions in the pension overhaul. Already Greek authorities are seeking to soften the impact of the pension overhaul by exploring the possibility of increasing the social security contributions of employers and workers instead of further reducing monthly payouts.
Other politically contentious challenges the government faces in the coming weeks include raising taxes on Greek farmers, creating a new tax system, creating a task force that will manage a new fund for privatizing state assets and drafting new measures to meet fiscal targets for the next two years. SYRIZA officials have expressed concerns about the impact on social cohesion of the bailout program’s austerity measures, which has already struck the leftists’ popularity, according to opinion polls.
Europe’s next powder keg…
• ECB Demands Portugal’s Novo Banco Plug $1.5 Billion Capital Hole (Reuters)
The ECB has ordered Portugal’s Novo Banco to fill a €1.4 billion hole in its finances, possibly delaying its planned sale and hampering Lisbon’s efforts to draw a line under its biggest banking collapse. The request to repair Novo Banco, created from the failed Banco Espirito Santo (BES), presents a challenge for any anti-austerity, Socialist-led government that could come to power in coming weeks after a parliamentary vote this week. Of nine banks across the euro zone tested by the ECB as a follow-through on wider checks last year, only Novo Banco was found to be short of capital. It has two weeks to present a plan of action and nine months to plug the gap. The Bank of Portugal said in a statement that Novo Banco had already started working on a plan to raise capital through asset sales to meet the shortfall.
The plan will be presented in the coming weeks. The central bank failed to sell Novo Banco in September as the bids it received were seen as too low. The result of the ‘stress test’ means the sale can resume. “Preparation for the new phase of the sale process will be initiated immediately, now that one of the main factors of uncertainty hanging over the previous process is out of the way,” the Bank of Portugal said. The Bank of Portugal is in charge of the sale process under the terms of the €4.9 billion rescue plan for BES, which was carried out by a bank resolution fund that is formally the responsibility of Portugal’s other banks. The government lent part of the money to the fund used in the rescue and must be repaid.
“The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion.”
• The Streets of Paris Are as Familiar to Me as the Streets of Beirut (Joey Ayoub)
I come from a privileged Francophone community in Lebanon. This has meant that I have always seen France as my second home. The streets of Paris are as familiar to me as the streets of Beirut. I was just in Paris a few days ago. These have been two horrible nights of violence. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut; the second took the lives of over 120 people and counting in Paris. It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris. We do not get a “safe” button on Facebook. We do not get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users. We do not change policies which will affect the lives of countless innocent refugees. This could not be clearer. I say this with no resentment whatsoever, just sadness.
It is a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the progressive rhetoric we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us members of this curious species are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the “world”. And I know that by “world”, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work. I do not matter. My “body” does not matter to the “world”. If I die, it will not make a difference. Again, I say this with no resentment. That statement is merely a fact. It is a political fact, true, but a fact nonetheless. Maybe I should have some resentment in me, but I am too tired. It is a heavy thing to realize. I know that I am fortunate enough that when I do die, I will be remembered by friends and loved ones.
Maybe my blog and an online presence might even gather some thoughts by people around the world. That is the beauty of the internet. And even that is out of reach to too many. Never so clearly as now have I understood what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about when he spoke of the Black Body in America. I think there is a story to be told of the Arab Body as well. The Native American Body. The Indigenous Body. The Latin American Body. The Indian Body. The Kurdish Body. The Pakistani Body. The Chinese Body. And so many other bodies. The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion.
But maybe it is an illusion worth preserving because without even that vague aspiration towards oneness on the part of some part of the body, I am not sure what sort of world we would be living in now. Some bodies are global, but most bodies remain local, regional, “ethnic”. My thoughts are with all the victims of today’s and yesterday’s horrific attacks, and my thoughts are with all those who will suffer serious discrimination as a result of the actions of a few mass murderers and the general failure of humanity’s imagination to see itself as a unified entity. My only hope is that we can be strong enough to generate the opposite response to what these criminals intended. I want to be optimistic enough to say that we are getting there, wherever “there” might be. We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about Race. We just have to.
Interesting point of view.
• After Paris, Europe May Never Feel As Free Again (Guardian)
How long will it be before European liberalism cracks? The aftermath of a terrorist massacre is the worst time to make predictions. The extremity of the outrage pushes policy-makers and citizens to play with equally outraged responses. It is worth steadying yourself with the thought that until Friday night, Europe’s response to terrorism has not been extreme. Despite gruesome predictions to the contrary, European democracies have not turned themselves into police states. There have been no backlashes or pogroms against Muslims. EU countries, including Britain, have remained free and good societies overall; nations we can be proud of in our necessarily grudging way, for all the faults and abuses we must tackle.
People running from real terror know our true state better than we do. They flee to Europe, not from Europe. Callous though it may sound today to say it, the modest response to terrorism is the consequence of the modesty of the violence. Since al-Qaida’s assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the most striking feature of Islamist terrorism in Europe is how little of it there has been. You can give credit to police forces and intelligence agencies for arresting suspects before they strike. You can repeat the essential point that we are up against Islamism, not Islam, and most Muslims want nothing to do with totalitarian religion. Whatever the reason, the practical consequence remains that no one in power has felt the need to move towards anything resembling martial law.
Europe has “just” endured the attacks on Madrid and the 7/7 assault on London, and the actual and attempted murders of Jews, satirists, freethinkers in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen and Marseille. Beyond that, there have been “lone wolf” killers of the type who did for poor Lee Rigby. I am not pretending that Europe has stayed the same. After Islamists sanctioned the murder of cartoonists who mocked Muhammad, a cowardly self-censorship spread across the arts and journalism, which was all the more cowardly for being unacknowledged. But it remains true that radical Islam has not forced a radical break with the past.
If you could travel in a time machine, you would see the continuities between our world and the Britain or France or Denmark of 20 years ago hugely outweigh the differences. I do not mean to minimise Islamist crimes when I say that Europe has been lucky. From Nigeria to Afghanistan, a clerical fascist doctrine that mandates mass murder and self-murder has pushed whole regions into civil war. Yet divinely sanctioned violence has failed to engulf our continent. Suspects are still innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The European convention on human rights remains in force. Terrorism is still subject to the rule of law, not martial law. In spite of all the provocations, we are what we once were.
“What is clear is that there are 4 million people displaced by the crisis and, for them, a solution will need to be reached.”
• What’s Next for Migrants After Paris? (Atlantic)
After a terrorist attack killed more than 120 people and injured hundreds more on Friday, France imposed border controls and authorities discovered a Syrian passport on one of the attackers. While it’s not clear whether any of the assailants were migrants themselves, the attack has nonetheless reignited the debate over Europe’s migrant crisis. As Quartz notes, the attacks attributed to ISIS are anything but good news for migrants in Europe. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party in France, told reporters on Saturday that “urgent action is needed” to “annihilate” Islamic fundamentalism. Le Pen went on to advocate that France regain control of its borders and expel “illegal migrants.”
In Poland, incoming Minister of European Affairs Konrad Szymanski announced today that the country will not accept migrants without security guarantees. In September, Poland agreed to accept 4,500 refugees as part of a European Union quota system. In the U.S., the role the country should play in this refugee crisis is a subject of continued partisan debate. President Obama announced in September that at least 10,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the U.S. over the next year. While this number might seem small compared to the 4 million total refugees created by the war since 2011, it represents a marked jump from the fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees accepted last year. But some GOP candidates argued against the administration’s policy by suggesting that ISIS militants could infiltrate the country by hiding among refugees.
According to Vox, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum quickly cited the Paris attacks to justify closing the borders to more Syrian refugees. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders have remained mostly quiet on the subject so far. All three have publically expressed their condolences for the victims and their families, but no one has yet made the leap to policy. Meanwhile, to the north, Canada has its own ambitious refugee agenda to assess. Newly elected Canadian PM Justin Trudeau committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year — a number deemed unrealistic by some observers. [..] the Toronto Star reported earlier today that the country remains steadfast in its plan despite the Paris attacks. Ultimately, how the recent events will affect the debate surrounding migration in Europe and beyond remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are 4 million people displaced by the crisis and, for them, a solution will need to be reached.
As should be obvious. But is not at all.
• Syrian Refugees In France Say Paris Terror Is The Terror They Fled (BuzzFeed)
Syrians who fled a brutal war and often undertook deadly sea journeys to settle in France reacted with horror to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, and said they recognized the enemy all too well. “Syrians left Syria in dangerous ways to live in peace, but the killers followed them to Europe,” said Moaz Shaklab, a businessman from the Syrian city of Homs who settled in France two years ago as a refugee. The Paris attacks could spark new waves of Islamophobia in France and beyond — and with it fear of the refugees pouring into Europe from Syria and other countries. This is exactly what ISIS wants; the group has vowed to make it impossible for Muslims to exist peacefully in the West. Yet citizens in France share an ally against Islamic extremism in most refugees settling there.
Many newly arrived Syrians sought to escape the terror of ISIS and other jihadi groups, in addition to the brutal campaign being waged by Bashar al-Assad. Many worked against ISIS and other jihadi groups before leaving or have friends and family doing so now. “We’re united with the French people against terrorism,” Shaklab said. “And we don’t forget that they are united with us to get our freedom.” French police officials told the AP on Saturday that they had found a Syrian passport at the scene of an attack that they believed belonged to an assailant. But because of the refugee crisis, fake Syrian passports are now prevalent and easy to obtain.
Whether or not the passport is authentic, news of its discovery promised to help to fan refugee fears — which may have been the intent of the man who brought it to the scene. Sakher Edris, a journalist and political organizer who worked against both ISIS and the Syrian government before fleeing to France this summer, said he expected a backlash against refugees following the attacks. “We are really scared,” he said. “French people are kind, and it’s understandable to have some backlash, but we want them to know that we are with them against terror.”
Stop our ‘friends’ from funding it.
• There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS (Esquire)
It’s not like this is any kind of secret. In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton. “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said. Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.
It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home.
Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states… And the still, stately progress of the news from Paris continues. There are arrests today in Brussels, of alleged co-conspirators. The body count has stabilized. New information comes at its own pace, as if out of respect for the dead. In the stillness of the news itself, there is refuge and reason and a kind of wounded, ragged peace, as whatever rolled up from the depths of the sickness of the human heart rolls back again, like the tide and, like the tide, one day will return.
Given the American desire for world dominance, what are the odds?
• Syrian Transition Plan Reached by US, Russia in Vienna (Bloomberg)
Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017. As a first step, the United Nations agreed to convene Syria’s government with opposition representatives by Jan. 1, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday at a joint press conference in Vienna. A cease-fire between the government in Damascus and recognized opposition groups should be in place within six months, according to their statement. The terrorist attacks in Paris galvanized the diplomats, who at previous talks had been unable to resolve the discord within their ranks.
While Russia and Iran had sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. and its regional allies had insisted upon his removal. With diplomats bogged down over the question of Assad, terrorist groups like Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, grew and become more powerful inside Syria. “It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide,” Kerry said. “There can be no doubt that this crisis is not Syria’s alone to bear.” Assad has “cut his own deal” with Islamic State, buying oil from the group and failing to attack militants, Kerry said. Assad’s allies have conveyed that he’s prepared to be serious and engage in talks, but the “proof will be in the pudding,” he said. In a statement posted on Twitter, Islamic State said the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and injured 352 came in retribution for French involvement in the Syrian civil war.
The conflict has so far cost about 250,000 lives, sent millions fleeing the region, and triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Diplomats meeting in the Austrian capital also decided to place Islamic State, along with the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front terrorist group, on a list of those subject to military strikes even when a cease-fire is in place. The list, managed by the Kingdom of Jordan, may later be expanded to include other groups in Syria, Kerry and Lavrov said. The Paris attacks “show that it doesn’t matter if you’re for Assad or against him,” said Lavrov, “ISIS is your enemy.”
Many more countries will follow the example.
• Poland to Shun Refugees After Paris Attack, Future Minister Says (Bloomberg)
Poland’s new government won’t accept migrant quotas imposed by the European Union, as the terror attacks in France have exposed the weakness in the bloc, the nation’s future minister for European affairs said. “In the wake of the tragic events in Paris, Poland doesn’t see the political possibilities to implement a decision on the relocation of refugees,” Konrad Szymanski was quoted as saying on Wpolityce.pl website on Saturday. “The attacks mean there’s a need for an even deeper revision of the European policy regarding the migrant crisis.” Szymanski’s rejection of the EU quotas hours after Paris was rocked by terrorist attacks underscore the divide among governments in the bloc over the influx of Middle Eastern migrants.
His Law & Justice party will take power in Poland this week after winning last month’s general election on a campaign that tapped into concerns among the country’s conservative Catholic base that too many Muslims are arriving in Europe. Poland’s previous cabinet, led by the Civic Platform party, also opposed efforts led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to force EU member states to take in more migrants. While incoming Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland will meet an commitment by the Civic Platform to shelter 7,000 refugees, prime minister designate Beata Szydlo referred to the deal as “blackmail.” She will be sworn in on Monday.
Only the small make it through. It takes many millions of years for larger creatures to develop.
• After Mass Extinctions, The Meek (Fish) Inherit The Earth (WaPo)
A new study suggests that being a little shrimpy might come in handy when the going gets tough. A mass extinction called the Hangenberg event, which took place some 359 million years ago, led to a reduction in vertebrate size for around 40 million years afterward. The research, published Thursday in Science, adds support to the so-called Lilliput Effect, which suggests that mass extinctions cause marked shrinkage in the animal population. To study how fish fared after this devastating extinction, the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauren Sallen (along with Andrew K. Galimberti at the University of Maine) studied 1,120 fish fossils dating back 419 to 323 million years ago. She found that the ancient fish had been increasing in size over time — which is to be expected — but that body size plummeted after 97% of species were wiped out.
“Some large species hung on, but most eventually died out,” Sallan said in a statement. Before the extinction, some fish had grown to be as big as school buses. But in the unstable ecosystem of a post-mass-extinction ocean, only small fish — ones that could reproduce quickly and survive on less food — could thrive. That means an ocean full of enormous sea monsters gave way to an ocean full of sardine-like critters. “[T]he end result is an ocean in which most sharks are less than a meter and most fishes and tetrapods are less than 10 centimeters, which is extremely tiny. Yet these are the ancestors of everything that dominates from then on, including humans,” Sallan said. There’s a very good reason to look into these devastating extinctions of the distant past: Many scientists believe that Earth is on the verge of a sixth mass extinction — one caused by human activity.
What Europe stands for.
• Two Refugee Children Die In Greece In Separate Incidents (Kath.)
Two refugee children died in Greece in two separate incidents on Saturday. A 3-year-old boy drowned off the coast of Chios, in the eastern Aegean, after an engine blast on a refugee boat that threw the passengers in the sea, coast guard officials said. Fifteen other people were rescued while officials arrested an 18-year-old Turk believed to be a trafficker. Meanwhile, a 5-year-old Syrian girl was killed by an oncoming train while she was walking on rail tracks near the town of Alexandroupoli, police said.
Home › Forums › Debt Rattle November 15 2015