Unknown California State Automobile Association signage 1925
Hard to find any news articles these days that are not severely biased. So let’s go with Jim.
• “That War You Ordered….” (Jim Kunstler)
The Russia paranoia frenzy is serious business because it indicates that a state-of-war exists between the permanent bureaucracy of government (a.k.a. the Deep State) and the new Trump administration. There are features of the struggle that ought to be much more disturbing than the dubious alleged monkey business about Russia hacking the election and the hoo-hah around a single intercepted phone call between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador, made to open a line-of-communication between high-ranking officials, strictly routine business in any other administration. Most disturbing are signs that the so-called intelligence community (IC) has gone rogue in collusion with forces aligned around Democratic Party functionaries up to and including former president Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with CNN, The Times, The Wash-Po, NBC News and a few other mouthpieces of the defeated establishment.
Obama and Hillary remain conspicuously sequestered from this maelstrom, but they must be working their phones like nobody’s business. (Is the IC monitoring them, too, one wonders?) Until his Queeg-on-steroids news conference late yesterday, Trump laid pretty low after General Flynn was thrown under the bus, but he must be plotting counter-moves, with Bannon and Steven Miller straining at their leashes, slavering for blood. Will some employees over at the CIA and the — what? — sixteen other IC outposts that stud the government like shipworms in a rotting hulk — be called on the carpet of the oval office, and possibly handed pink slips? How do you drain that swamp in Langley, VA? Perhaps with subpoenas? Surely Jeff Sessions over at the Department of Justice has got to be weighing action against the IC leakers. That shit is against the law.
The next disturbing element of the situation is all the war-drum beating by the same cast of characters: the IC, the Democratic Party, and major media. Why in hell are we antagonizing Russia? In the last month of Obama’s term — and for the first time in many years — NATO moved a bunch of tanks close to Russia’s border with the Baltic states. Do you really think Russia wants to reoccupy these countries for the pleasure of subsidizing them and draining the Russian treasury? In those twilight days of Obama, government officials made wild and unspecific charges about “Russian aggression,” and vague assertions about Russian plans to dominate the global scene. ajor what-the-fuck there. There’s the ugly situation in Ukraine, of course, but that was engineered by Obama’s state department.
Do you know why Russia annexed Crimea after that? It couldn’t have been for more transparently rational reasons. And what exactly is our beef with Russia in Syria? That they’re trying to prop up the Assad government because the last thing the Middle East needs is another failed state with no government whatsoever? What’s our plan for Syria, anyway? Same as Somalia, Iraq, and Libya? These stories about Russia’s intentions seem insane on their face. It’s amazing that readers of The New York Times swallow them whole. It must say something about the deterioration of the coastal gene pool. The story-mongers have a purpose though: to promote a state of permanent hostility, neo-cold-war style, to justify the grotesquely overgrown operations of the IC.
• US ‘Unwavering’ In NATO Support – Pence (BBC)
The US will be “unwavering” in its support for Nato, vice-president Mike Pence told European leaders at the Munich Security Conference. In the first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, Mr Pence said the US would “stand with Europe today and every day”. But he told the gathered leaders that European countries were “failing to pay their fair share” on defence. That failure “erodes the foundation of our alliance”, he said. Apart from the US, only four other nations had met a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, “The time has come to do more,” he said.
President Donald Trump warned before taking office that the US might not uphold its commitment to come to the defence of Nato allies who were not perceived to have contributed enough financially. Mr Pence went on to say that the US would “continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found”. Mr Pence said Russia must honour the Minsk peace accords on Ukraine and de-escalate its military operations in the east of the country.
Juncker makes sense for a change.
• European Union President Rejects Trump Call For More NATO Spending (CNBC)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said Europe should resist U.S. pressure to spend more spending on defense. U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the NATO defense alliance, suggesting he could withdraw support if European countries did not raise defense spending to at least 2% of their economic output.In a speech on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference Thursday, Juncker, who heads the EU’s executive arm, suggested some resistance to Trump’s threat was in order. “It has been the American message for many, many years. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this,” he said. Juncker also said the EU’s other spending commitments made up for any shortfalls in military funding. “Modern politics cannot just be about raising defense spending,” he said.
“If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different,” he said. Juncker added that European nations should bundle their defense spending better and spend the money more efficiently. At a NATO meeting Wednesday, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reinforced Trump’s message, warning treaty allies they must boost their defense spending or America could “moderate its commitment.” “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do. I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” he said in a speech to NATO allies in the Belgian city of Brussels on Wednesday.
Originally filed by reporter (see URL) as: “Melania Trump’s Slovenia Would Pick Russian Over US Protection”. Say no more.
• Four NATO Nations Would Pick Russia to Defend Them If Threatened (BBG)
Who you gonna call? For the citizens of four NATO countries asked which military power they’d want fighting on their side if attacked, the answer was simple – Russia. That was among the findings of a multi-nation Gallup poll published just ahead of Friday’s annual gathering of the transatlantic security community in Germany that appeared to map out shifts in the post-Cold War security alliances which have come under renewed strain and scrutiny since Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency. By far the largest number of countries polled by WIN/Gallup International chose the U.S. for their go-to defense partner, suggesting that it remains the world’s only military power with truly global reach and alliances. At the same time, however, China and Russia picked each other, war-torn Ukraine and Iraq split down the middle, while those four members of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization – Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey – plumped for Russia.
As U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis tours Europe delivering a message of tough love to NATO allies – increase spending or see the U.S. “moderate’’ its support – the poll shows the world’s gradual political reorganization around different security poles, according to Kancho Stoychev, vice president of WIN/Gallup International. “It isn’t surprising that Russians and Chinese chose each other, but it is new,’’ said Stoychev. “It shows us something very important – that U.S. policy over the last 20 years has driven Russia into the arms of China, which is quite strange because Russia is fundamentally a part of Europe.’’ At the same time, some of the results in European NATO countries showed how their fundamental security choices were moving beyond the alliance, he said. Bulgaria and Greece, for example, see their biggest security threat coming from Turkey.
Right wing. As I said, very hard to find anything unbiased. All heels are dug in deeply.
• Who Really Rules The United States? (FreeB)
Donald Trump was elected president last November by winning 306 electoral votes. He pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., to overturn the system of politics that had left the nation’s capital and major financial and tech centers flourishing but large swaths of the country mired in stagnation and decay. “What truly matters,” he said in his Inaugural Address, “is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Is it? By any historical and constitutional standard, “the people” elected Donald Trump and endorsed his program of nation-state populist reform. Yet over the last few weeks America has been in the throes of an unprecedented revolt. Not of the people against the government—that happened last year—but of the government against the people. What this says about the state of American democracy, and what it portends for the future, is incredibly disturbing.
There is, of course, the case of Michael Flynn. He made a lot of enemies inside the government during his career, suffice it to say. And when he exposed himself as vulnerable those enemies pounced. But consider the means: anonymous and possibly illegal leaks of private conversations. Yes, the conversation in question was with a foreign national. And no one doubts we spy on ambassadors. But we aren’t supposed to spy on Americans without probable cause. And we most certainly are not supposed to disclose the results of our spying in the pages of the Washington Post because it suits a partisan or personal agenda. Here was a case of current and former national security officials using their position, their sources, and their methods to crush a political enemy. And no one but supporters of the president seems to be disturbed.
Why? Because we are meant to believe that the mysterious, elusive, nefarious, and to date unproven connection between Donald Trump and the Kremlin is more important than the norms of intelligence and the decisions of the voters. But why should we believe that? And who elected these officials to make this judgment for us? Nor is Flynn the only example of nameless bureaucrats working to undermine and ultimately overturn the results of last year’s election. According to the New York Times, civil servants at the EPA are lobbying Congress to reject Donald Trump’s nominee to run the agency. Is it because Scott Pruitt lacks qualifications? No. Is it because he is ethically compromised? Sorry. The reason for the opposition is that Pruitt is a critic of the way the EPA was run during the presidency of Barack Obama. He has a policy difference with the men and women who are soon to be his employees. Up until, oh, this month, the normal course of action was for civil servants to follow the direction of the political appointees who serve as proxies for the elected president.
• Australia Headed For ‘Economic Armageddon’ (News.com.au)
Australia is headed for an “economic Armageddon”, with record household debt, record foreign debt and a massive housing bubble creating a perfect storm that could “wipe out” millions of families if there is a global shock. That is the apocalyptic warning of a former government economic advisor, who says the government needs to cut tax incentives such as negative gearing and welfare handouts and the RBA needs to increase interest rates in order to avoid a “devastating depression”. Corporate governance specialist John Adams, who was an economics and policy advisor to Senator Arthur Sinodinos and management consultant to a big four accounting firm, believes he has found seven disturbing signs that the global economy is primed for a major fall. Worse still, Australia is particularly vulnerable because of significant structural imbalances, including record levels of household debt not seen since the lead up to the last great depression in the 1920s.
“Australians should be concerned over the state of both the Australian and global economy,” Mr Adams told news.com.au. “The data clearly demonstrates that there are significant structural economic imbalances in the Australian economy. Significant expansion of the broad money supply and record low interest rates by the Reserve Bank of Australia as well as generous tax incentives and welfare provisions by the Federal Government have led Australians to amass record levels of personal debt which have fuelled the creation of asset bubbles, particularly in housing. “Millions of Australians are not only doing it tough through significant cost of living and debt serving pressures, but are at significant risk of being financially wiped out if an unanticipated adverse international economic shock were to hit Australia such as a new global financial crisis.”
End of the year?
• China Is Going Broke (Jim Rickards)
[..] of the 2.9 trillion, about one trillion of that is not liquid, meaning it’s wealth of some kind, it represents investment, but China wanted to improve their returns actually on their investments, so they invested in hedge funds, they invested in private equity funds, they made direct investments in gold mines in Zambia and so forth, so about a trillion of that is, it’s wealth, but it’s not liquid. It’s not money that you can use to pay your bills. So now, we’re down to 1.9 trillion liquid. Well, about another trillion is going to have to be held in what’s called a “precautionary reserve” to bail out the Chinese banking system.
When you look at the Chinese banking system, private estimates are that the bad debts are 25% of total assets. Banks usually run with 5, maybe 7-8% capital. Even if you said 10% capital, well, if 25% of your assets are bad, that completely wipes out your capital, so the Chinese banking system is technically insolvent, even though they don’t admit that. I mean, they cook the books, they take these bad loans. Let’s say I’m a bank and I have a loan to a state owned enterprise, a steel mill or something and the guy can’t pay me, can’t even come close to paying me and the loan’s due, I say, “Well, look, you owe me 300 million dollars. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a new loan for 400 million dollars, but I’ll take the money and pay myself back the old loan plus the interest, and then I’ll give the new loan to your maturity and I’ll see you in two years.”
So, if you did that in the U.S. banking system you’d go to jail. You’re not allowed to do that. You’re throwing good money after bad and you’re supposed to right off a loan that is clearly not performing or where the borrower is unable to pay. But in this case, it’s just extend to pretend, and so it’s still on the books, in my example, 400 million dollar good loan with a two year maturity, but in fact it’s a rotten loan that the guy couldn’t pay in the first place, and now he just can’t pay a bigger amount. He’s probably going to go bankrupt and I’ll have to write it off at the end of the day. So, with that as background for the Chinese banking system, people kind of shrug and say, “Well, can’t China just bail it out? They’ve got all this money.”
Well, the answer is they could, and they’ve done so before, and they can bail it out, but it’s going to trust a trillion dollars, so you’ve got to put a trillion dollars to one side, for when the time comes, to bail out the banking system. Well, now you’re down to 900 billion, right? Remember, we started with four trillion, 1.1 trillion’s out door, 1 trillion’s illiquid, 1 trillion you’ve got to hold to one side to bail out the banking system, well now you only have 900 billion of liquid assets to defend your currency, to prop up the Chinese yuan. But the problem is the reserves are going out the door at a rate of, it varies month to month, 30, 40, 50 billion dollars a month. Some months more, some months over 100 billion dollars.
Blair getting involved will be a huge boon for Brexit.
• Brexit Was A Revolt Against Snobs Like Tony Blair (Spec.)
The brass neck of Tony Blair. The Brexit vote was ‘based on imperfect knowledge’, says the man who unleashed barbarism across the Middle East on the basis of a student dissertation he printed off the internet. Who marched thousands into unimaginable horror on the basis of myth and spin. That NHS claim on the side of the Leave bus is small fry, infinitesimally small fry, in comparison with the guff this bloke came out with. It didn’t cause anyone to die, for one. For Blair to lecture the British people about truth is an affront to memory and decency and reason. No self-respecting citizen should put up with it. Blair made his comments about our ‘imperfect knowledge’ – dimwits that we are – in a speech for Open Britain, a cross-party pro-EU group, in London this morning.
The speech sums up the elitism and arrogance and contempt for democracy of those Remainers who just cannot accept that they lost. ‘The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit’, Blair haughtily declared. Rubbish. We all knew what it meant to tick the box saying ‘Leave the European Union’ — it meant leaving the European Union. It meant what it said — and we meant what we said. Blair and the connected, moneyed weepers for the EU who make up Open Britain can’t get their heads around this. They think we didn’t know what we were doing. And so they’ve come to enlighten us and make us think again. Remainers must ‘rise up’, says Blair, and turn the throng’s ‘imperfect knowledge’ into ‘informed knowledge’ by giving us ‘easy to understand’ information about how Brexit will ‘cause real damage to the country’.
Risen, brave, ‘informed’ Remainers must hold back the ‘rush over the cliff’s edge’, he said. The whole thing stinks to the heavens of paternalism. Blair is positioning himself and his switched-on mates as the possessors of information that we the imperfect plebs lack. Like lemmings we’re leaping off the cliff, and this good man must save us. He must impart to us his wisdom — in ‘easy to understand’ ways, of course, because we can’t handle anything too complex — and in the process fulfil the duty of the political leader to ‘give answers’ rather than ‘ride the anger’ of the public. He depicts Open Britain as cool and knowledgable, and Leavers as uninformed and angry. It’s positively aristocratic, with Open Britain fancying itself as the small but beautiful font of wisdom in a land of madness.
[..] Blair spoke in the language of revolution. Remainers must ‘rise up’. He talked about the need for a ‘revolt’, by ‘force of argument’, against the Leave vote. Excitable media outlets have gone even further, describing his speech as a call ‘for people to “rise up” against Brexit’, a plea that ‘Britain must rise up against Brexit’.
How to kill a city, part 826.
• Small Businesses Face Being ‘Driven Out Of London’ (Ind.)
An increase in business rates is one of biggest issues concerning small businesses in London, easily trumping fears around economic uncertainty and worries relating to recruiting the right talent. According to a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and trade body Camden Town Unlimited, the average micro business in the city, defined as a company with fewer than 10 employees, will be paying business rates of £17,000 as of April this year under a Government hike. “London is in serious danger of losing its vital support system of micro and small businesses,” the FSB’s chair for London, Sue Terpilowski, said in a statement. “We need to realise that the hard costs of operating a business in the capital are starting to outweigh the benefits which simply does not make economic sense – and so tacking these burdens at the spring Budget is critical,” Ms Terpilowski added.
Business rates – which are sometimes referred to as non-domestic rates – are levies that companies occupying commercial properties pay. That tax goes towards covering the cost of services provided by local authorities and the emergency services. The survey found that close to three quarters – 74% – of businesses consider rates to be one of the biggest issues affecting them, while 36% cited economic uncertainty, and, one third said that the difficulty around recruiting the right staff was their biggest concern. “The new business rates will drive firms out of London, force some businesses to cut staff or close down altogether,” said Simon Pitkeathley, the chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited.
Fast and furious. Caught in the oil wars.
• Norway Central Bank Chief Warns Of Sharp Drop In Wealth Fund (BBG)
Norway’s central bank governor sharpened his warning on rising spending of oil revenue as he drew up scenarios for a 50% loss of capital over the next 10 years for the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund. Governor Oystein Olsen said that the continued rise in oil cash spending, which now accounts for about 20% of the budget and 8% of GDP, must now be halted to protect the $900 billion fund, the world’s largest sovereign pool of cash. “With a high level of oil revenue spending, there’s a risk of a sharp reduction in the fund’s capital,” Olsen said in the traditional Annual Address in Oslo Thursday. “This could, for example, happen if a global recession triggers both a decline in oil revenue and low or negative returns on the fund’s capital.” Government withdrawals from the fund are estimated to jump about 25% this year after an historic first outflow last year. The Conservative-led government was last year forced to dip into the oil fund for the first time to cover budget needs and protect the economy amid a plunge in oil prices.
Why the euro is doomed.
• Only Germans Love the Euro These Days (BBG)
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen unsettled investors with her pledge to pull France out of the euro and re-denominate all French debt in newly minted francs. Polls suggest Le Pen won’t get the chance; she is expected to lose a second-round runoff. Even if polls are correct this time, that doesn’t mean the euro is safe. In fact, political support for the single currency has been waning – especially in Germany’s two largest euro-zone trading partners. In both France and Italy, there is now a plurality of support for candidates who advocate a withdrawal from the euro, with pro-euro candidates gathering less than 30% in polls. In France, anti-euro candidates – Le Pen and Socialist Jean-Luc Melanchon – together have nearly 40% support.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of Le Pen’s supporters, or Melanchon’s, oppose the euro. Most French voters still tell pollsters they favor the euro; but clearly that support waning, as the latest Eurobarometer poll showed. Anti-euro sentiment, once a blip on the fringes of public opinion, is now credible and has found its way onto political platforms. Respondents are asked whether they think the euro is a good or bad thing for their country. In Italy, the euro gets even less love than in France, with 47% saying the euro is a “bad” thing for their country. That is in stark contrast to Germany, where there is now a clear majority in favor of the euro. This chart shows how opinion has changed over time:
This is a dramatic reversal in opinion: A German population that was initially reluctant to give up the Deutsche mark is now firmly wedded to the euro, while support in France and Italy has declined (particularly sharply in Italy’s case). But this shift is the logical result of the euro’s structural deficiencies. German industry, whose productivity has been increasing more than its European counterparts, now dominates the continental economy. While German unemployment was decreasing and its economy recovering from the financial crisis, Italy was stagnant with rising unemployment. Already saddled with a very large public debt (now over 130% of gross domestic product), Italy could neither reflate its economy, nor bail out its banks, while whole segments of its industry, particularly in lower and medium-cost goods, have disappeared.
Damning: 56% of Greeks make less than €8,600 a year. And the Troika wants to tax them more. “..the tax- free income threshold, now at about €8,600 per person per year, a number the IMF maintains lets some 56% of wage-earning Greeks escape paying income tax.”
• How Do You Say Deja Vu In Greek? (R.)
[..] it would not be trite to say that another festering row with Greece is the last thing the euro zone needs when faced with a protectionist U.S. president, Britain leaving the European Union, and anti-euro politicians vying for power or presence in French, Dutch and German elections. So EU officials have been urging speed in finding agreement and calmly warning of instability ahead if none is found. “There is a common understanding that time lost in reaching an agreement will have a cost for everyone,” the European commissioner responsible for the euro, Valdis Dombrovskis, told Greek news portal Euro2day. The issue, however, is multi-layered and thus particularly complex. Part of it is about what kind of primary surplus – what is left in a surplus budget before debt obligations – Greece must reach and run for some time.
The bailout, signed by Greece and euro zone lenders, says 3.5% of GDP(which would be by far the highest in the euro zone). The IMF, the other major lender, says that is undoable without further Greek belt-tightening. It says 1.5% of GDP and some form of debt relaxation – for example, over what is paid when – would be more realistic and sustainable. The IMF, furthermore, says it won’t participate in any bailout that it does not believe to be viable. Germany and others say that the IMF must be a part of the bailout or there is no deal. Both lenders have told Greece they want about €3.6 billion in additional savings, including a reduction in the tax- free income threshold, now at about €8,600 per person per year, a number the IMF maintains lets some 56% of wage-earning Greeks escape paying income tax.
Greece says no. Its economy contracted again in the fourth quarter of 2016, nearly one in four Greeks is unemployed and its pensioners have already seen 11 cuts to income. So plenty of scope for crisis – if not quite yet.
Good example of why rising prices do not equal inflation. Greece is deflating like mad. Money velocity has plummeted, making recovery impossible.
• Can Tax Increases Bring Inflation To Greece? (KTG)
Special consumption fees imposed on fuel, coffee, tobacco products and telecommunications beginning of the year skyrocketed consumer prices and led to the inevitable: inflation. According to Greek Statistics Authority ELSTAT inflation reached 1.5% in January from 0.3% in December. ‘This is almost a five-year high and above market expectations that were forecasting a 0.4% for January,’ Reuters notes. I do not know how ‘markets’ make their forecasts, but real Greek life shows a different picture. The supermarkets had massive discount offers in a plethora of goods in December. The special fees imposed as of 1.1.2017 were not immediately seen in supermarket prices but in fuel and tobaccoo products and telecommunications. Super markets kept offering discounts until around January 20th. Then the “households party” was over.
On February 1st, the price for half a kilo filter coffee went up to €7.68 from €5.46. Apparently sales stagnated, the import company lowered the price by 1 euro. A week later, the discount offer was just 50 cents. Officially, the special fee was supposed to be €2-3 per kilo of roasted coffee. In real life, the increase is higher €2.12 for just half a kilo. Similarly, the price for 400-gr package for a cocoa drink of a well known international brand went up to €3.40 from €2.60. At the same time, the cheaper soft package disappeared from the supermarket shelves. Here to note that for year the hard package used to contain 500gr. Sometime in 2010, I was badly surprised to see the package was down to 400gr, while the price remained the same.
In real life, I have to spend a total of €9 to €10 more per supermarket visit once a week. This makes a nice sum of €40 more per month. And that’s alone for the supermarket. Add the increases in other sectors and start the calculation.
As the EU keeps stressing the importance of unity, the Troika inches ever closer to causing a civil war in Greece. Unity is not just a word.
• Greek Labor Minister Says Pensioners Can Barely Make Ends Meet (K.)
Greece’s Minister of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity Effie Achtsioglou insisted in a letter published Friday in the Financial Times that Greek pensioners have barely enough to live on and urged IMF chief Christine Lagarde to listen. “We cannot accept IMF insistence on further cuts in pensions. As minister for pensions I must answer, hoping that IMF managing director Christine Lagarde will listen,” she said, ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup, in a bid to explain why Greece cannot make any more pension cuts. “The narrative about Greek pensions is driven by demands of its creditors. They argue that the pension system is overgenerous and a drain on the economy,” she said, adding that it is based on the crude statistic that pensions require annual transfers from the state budget of around 11% of GDP in Greece compared with the eurozone average of 2.25%.
This comparison, she said, is misleading. “Following the implementation of the new pension law last year, total state financing of pensions is projected at less than 9% of GDP,” she explained. “The bottom line is that Greece’s old people are much worse off than elsewhere in Europe because they do not have access to other benefits. Per capita income for individuals aged over 65 is about €9,000, compared with €20,000 in the eurozone.” she added, asking “how could the major problem confronting Greece be overgenerous pensions, when 43% of pensioners receive less than €660 a month?.”