Jun 182017
 
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Fred Lyon Land’s End San Francisco 1953

 

Global Inequality Much Worse Than Previously Thought (Ind.)
The US Is Where the Rich Are the Richest (BBG)
UK Wealth Gap Rises As Home Ownership Falls (G.)
UK Debt Bubble Returns Millions To Days Of 2008 Crash (G.)
Macron Set To Dynamite Parties That Have Dominated For Half A Century (AFP)
Secret Plot To Oust Theresa May If She Fails To Deliver ‘Hard’ Brexit (Tel.)
Arrogance: The Greeks Had A Word For It (G.)
Illinois Finances In ‘Massive Crisis Mode’ (AP)
Metastability (Kocic)
Young Greeks Can’t Name EU Achievements (K.)
Abandoned and Abused: Syrian Refugee Children On Greek Detention Island (G.)

 

 

It’s like the mob rules the world.

Global Inequality Much Worse Than Previously Thought (Ind.)

The gap between rich and poor across the globe is even wider than we currently think, according to a new analysis. Official estimates of inequality only take into account the money that the tax man sees, according to a recent paper by economists, Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman. But recent leaks of vast caches of documents from secretive jurisdictions such as Panama and Switzerland have given a more accurate picture of the sheer scale of global tax evasion – most of it carried out by very wealthy people. The three economists have used this trove of data to make a new assessment of the true wealth of the planet’s richest people, and thus a potentially more accurate measure of just how much richer they are than those at the bottom.

Until now, most assessments of wealth have relied on random tax audits, which do not pick up hidden offshore assets. This would not impact measurements global inequality if the poor dodged paying their dues as much as the rich did. In fact the rich evade many multiples more than the poor, according to Alstadsæter, Johannesen and Zucman. They studied three sets of documents: the Panama Papers, leaked from a Central American law firm which helped people set up tax haven companies; the Swiss Leaks, which revealed the dealings of HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary; and Scandinavian tax records, which give an unusually detailed picture of the income of citizens of that region. By combining the data sets they were able to make an estimate of the true size and scope of tax evasion, and thus inequality.

They found the wealthiest 0.01% in Norway, Sweden and Denmark evaded 30% of their personal taxes on average, compared to just 3% in the total population. In Norway, which has particularly detailed data, the super-rich, ie the top 0.1% of the wealth pyramid, are 30% wealthier than previously thought, when their hidden offshore assets are taken into account. This means they actually own 10% of all wealth, not the 8% previously thought. The authors posit that the scale of tax evasion is likely to be even worse in many other countries which have far less stringent tax disclosure rules. Only when we can truly assess how much personal wealth is stashed offshore will the scale of global equality be known, the economists say.

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It’s also where this won’t last. You CAN go to far.

The US Is Where the Rich Are the Richest (BBG)

It’s an excellent time to be rich, especially in the U.S. Around the world, the number of millionaires and billionaires is surging right along with the value of their holdings. Even as economic growth has slowed, the rich have managed to gain a larger slice of the world’s wealth. Globally, almost 18 million households control more than $1 million in wealth, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group. These rich folk represent just 1% of the world’s population, but they hold 45% of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth. They will control more than half the world’s wealth by 2021, BCG said. Rising inequality is of course no surprise. Reams of data have shown that in recent decades the rich have been taking ever-larger shares of wealth and income—especially in the U.S., where corporate profits are nearing records while wages for the workforce remain stagnant.

In fact, while global inequality is simply accelerating, in America it’s gone into overdrive. The share of income going to the top 1% in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last 35 years, after dropping in the decades after World War II (when the rich were taxed at high double-digit rates). The tide shifted in the 1980s under Republican President Ronald Reagan, a decade when “trickle-down economics” saw tax rates for the rich fall, union membership shrink, and stock markets spike. Now, those policies and their progeny have helped put 63% of America’s private wealth in the hands of U.S. millionaires and billionaires, BCG said. By 2021, their share of the nation’s wealth will rise to an estimated 70%. The world’s wealth “gained momentum” last year, BCG concluded, rising 5.3% globally from 2015 to 2016.

The firm expects growth to accelerate to about 6% annually for the next five years, in both the U.S. and globally. But a lot of that can again be attributed to the rich. The wealth held by everyone else is just barely growing. Where is all this wealth coming from? The sources are slightly different in the U.S. compared with the rest of the world. Globally, about half of new wealth comes from existing financial assets—rising stock prices or yields on bonds and bank deposits—held predominately by the already well-off. The rest of the world’s new wealth comes from what BCG classifies as “new wealth creation,” from people saving money they’ve earned through labor or entrepreneurship. In the U.S., the creation of “new” wealth is a minor factor, making up just 28% of the nation’s wealth increase last year. It’s even lower in Japan, at 21%. In the rest of the Asia Pacific region, meanwhile, two-thirds of the rise is driven by new wealth creation.

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Whenever you see “rising pension wealth” anywhere these days, feel free to laugh out loud.

UK Wealth Gap Rises As Home Ownership Falls (G.)

A fall in home ownership is fuelling the return of rising wealth inequality across Britain, it has emerged. Booming house prices in the run-up to the financial crisis had led to a decade-long fall in the uneven distribution of the country’s wealth. However, comprehensive new analysis of the UK’s wealth divisions has now found that the trend has gone into reverse. The study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found that just a tenth of adults own around half of the nation’s wealth. The top 1% own 14% of the total. It warned that even this figure may be an underestimate because of the difficulties in calculating the assets of the super-rich. By contrast, 15% of adults in Britain have either no share of the nation’s record £11.1 trillion of wealth, or have negative wealth. The study found that wealth is distributed far less evenly than earnings or household income.

The thinktank measured wealth inequality using the “Gini coefficient”, with 0 being perfect wealth equality and 1 representing a society where a single person has it all. Wealth inequality was almost twice as high as earnings inequality. Despite the perception that wealth inequality has been rising for decades, the research found that the inequality of net financial and property wealth fell steadily between 1995 and 2005, with the Gini coefficient falling from 0.71 to 0.64. The fall was driven by high and rising home ownership, with more households benefiting from the pre-crisis property price boom. As a result, the proportion of property wealth owned by the bottom four-fifths of adults grew from 35% in 1995 to 40% in 2005.

However, home ownership has been falling steadily since the mid-2000s, with the wealth held by the bottom four-fifths of the population dipping as a result. Since the financial crisis, home ownership among the least wealthy 50% of the population has fallen by about 12%. Meanwhile, it has risen by 1% for the wealthiest tenth. The shift in property ownership further towards the richest has contributed to the widening of wealth inequality. Including private pensions, the Gini coefficient rose from 0.67 to 0.69 from 2006-08 to 2012-14. Total wealth across Britain, which includes private pensions, property, financial and physical wealth, rose in the wake of the financial crisis from £9.9tn in 2006-08 to £11.1tn in 2012-14. This has been fuelled by rising pension wealth. [..] Private pensions account for 40% of the wealth total – the largest share at £4.5tn.

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Add this to all the other issues. A gutted society.

UK Debt Bubble Returns Millions To Days Of 2008 Crash (G.)

Charities and financial advisers are calling on the government to use the Queen’s speech to address the “bubble” of unmanageable debt that households are rapidly accumulating. Unsecured consumer credit – including credit cards, car loans and payday loans – is this year expected to hit levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash. There has been concern in the Bank of England that consumer spending is being underpinned by debt, amid comparisons to the run-up to the financial crash. In addition, figures published last week show inflation reached a four-year high in May, meaning shopping is getting increasingly expensive, further intensifying the squeeze on household budgets.

Debt advisers are urging the government to make good on fulfil a promise in the Conservative manifesto to introduce a scheme where those in serious debt are protected by law from further interest, charges and enforcement action for up to six weeks. Many campaigners would like to see this extended further, to up to a year. “It would be excellent if the government in the Queen’s speech committed to helping households who are struggling with debt. It really is one of the great problems of the time that politicians have to grapple with,” said Peter Tutton, head of policy at debt charity StepChange. “We are seeing more and more households struggling just to make basic ends meet – to pay their rent, to pay their council tax, to pay their gas bill. We would like to see the government say, ‘we need to do something about this’.”

The charity estimates that 2.9 million people in the UK are experiencing severe financial debt in the aftermath of the recession. One reason is that many who lost their jobs found new jobs that were less well paid. Sara Williams, the author of Debt Camel, a blog advising on money problems, said: “The recent large increases in consumer credit … look alarming to debt advisers – very much like a bubble building up.”

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I still want to see who paid for all this. It’s too fast and furious to be spontaneous.

Macron Set To Dynamite Parties That Have Dominated For Half A Century (AFP)

French voters went to the polls on Sunday for parliamentary elections set to hand a landslide victory to the centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron which would complete his stunning reset of national politics. The new assembly is due to be transformed with a new generation of lawmakers – younger, more female and more ethnically diverse – winning seats in the afterglow of Macron’s success in presidential elections last month. The scale of the change is forecast to be so large that some observers have compared the overhaul to 1958, the start of the present presidential system, or even the post-war rebirth of French democracy in 1945. It is also entirely unexpected: Macron was unknown three years ago and initially given little chance of emerging as president, but he and his 15-month-old Republic on the Move (REM) party have tapped into widespread desire for change.

“It’s like a science fiction movie for me,” REM candidate Beatrice Failles, a weapons inspector, writer and community activist, told AFP this week during campaigning in Paris. REM and its allies are forecast to win 400-470 seats in the 577-strong parliament, one of the biggest majorities post-war that would give the pro-EU Macron a free hand to implement his business-friendly programme. Sunday’s voting is the decisive second round of the election after a first round last weekend which was topped by REM. If confirmed, the victory will come at the expense of France’s traditional parties, the rightwing Republicans and Socialists, but also the far-right National Front which faces major disappointment. The Socialists are set to be the biggest victim of voters’ desire to reject establishment figures associated with years of high unemployment, terror attacks and lost national confidence.

Pollsters predict the party faces financial ruin with its strength in parliament falling from nearly 300 seats to around 20 after their five years in power under president Francois Hollande. The main concern for observers and critics is the likely absence of any political counterweight to Macron, leading some to forecast that opposition could be led through street protests or in the media. “Desperately seeking an opposition,” said the front page of Le Parisien newspaper on Saturday. [..] In the first round, REM won 32% of the total number of votes cast, but this represented only about 15% of the total number of registered voters. Around half of REM’s candidates are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. They include a mathematician, a bullfighter and a former Rwandan orphan. “You could take a goat and give it Macron’s endorsement and it would have good chance of being elected,” political analyst Christophe Barbier joked recently.

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Brexit negotiations will be insane. Multiple governments will fall over this.

Secret Plot To Oust Theresa May If She Fails To Deliver ‘Hard’ Brexit (Tel.)

Theresa May will face a “stalking horse” challenge to topple her as Prime Minister if she waters down Brexit, senior Tories have warned. Leading Eurosceptic MPs have told The Telegraph they are prepared to mount an immediate leadership challenge if Mrs May deviates from her original plan. The revelation comes after a torrid week for the Prime Minister in which she faced fierce criticism for her handling of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Conservative MPs – including Cabinet ministers – have concluded that Mrs May cannot lead them into the next election and they are now discussing when she could go. Eurosceptic MPs have warned that any attempt to keep Britain in the customs union and single market or any leeway for the European Court of Justice to retain an oversight function will trigger an “overnight” coup.

The plot has been likened to Sir Anthony Meyer’s 1989 challenge against Margaret Thatcher. One influential former minister said: “If we had a strong signal that she were backsliding I think she would be in major difficulty. The point is she is not a unifying figure any more. She has really hacked off the parliamentary party for obvious reasons. So I’m afraid to say there is no goodwill towards her.” They added: “What we would do is to put up a candidate to run against her, a stalking horse. You can imagine who would do it. It would be a rerun of the Margaret Thatcher scenario, with Anthony Meyer. Of course Meyer had no chance at all, but she lost support and she was gone. Bear in mind that she was a hell of a lot more popular than the current Prime Minister.” Another former minister said: “If she weakened on Brexit, the world would fall in… all hell would break loose.”

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Hubris. England.

Arrogance: The Greeks Had A Word For It (G.)

“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare – or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad – who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.” So says the immortal Bertie Wooster at the start of the PG Wodehouse story Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest, and it is fairly certain that the hapless hero, in introducing his “fairly rummy” anecdote, is raking back through his sketchily absorbed education to reach for the word “hubris”, a word inherited from those brainy lads, the Greeks.

In the past week of political turmoil, “hubris” is a word that has been exercised rather more than usual. So have other Greek words, most notably “chaos” (the inchoate matter out of which the universe was formed, according to the poet Hesiod). And “crisis”, which began life meaning “a picking apart” or “a separation”; also a bringing to trial, or a moment of judgment. Though whether a universe will be formed from the current chaos, whether a judgment or a moment of clear-eyed seeing will drop neatly out of our present crisis, remains very much to be seen.

Bertie Wooster’s definition of hubris is a perfectly good one as far as our rather limited modern usage of the word goes. The lead piping came for the Tories, first in the shape of an exit poll on election night and, since then, perhaps in their slow, shocked and wholly inadequate reaction to the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower. But hubris, like chaos and crisis, began with a rather different meaning. For the Greeks, it did not simply signal that pride goes before a fall but, rather, something stronger and more morally freighted. Hubris described an act intentionally designed to dishonour its victim. Hubris was something expressly calculated to cause shame to the weak. Hubris was tinged with violence. Hubris was excessive and brutal.

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The first of many. I know I’ve said that before, but these things can be hidden, until they cannot.

Illinois Finances In ‘Massive Crisis Mode’ (AP)

It’s a new low, even for a state that’s seen its financial situation grow increasingly desperate amid a standoff between the Democrat-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Illinois already has $15 billion in overdue bills and the lowest credit rating of any state, and some ratings agencies have warned they will downgrade the rating to “junk” if there’s no budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1. Rauner on Thursday said he was calling lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session, after the Legislature adjourned May 31 without approving a state spending plan — the third straight year lawmakers have been unable to agree on a budget. Legislators are due at the Capitol on Wednesday, and Rauner said the session will continue through June 30 or until the two sides have a deal.

Lawmakers from both parties have acknowledged Illinois needs to raise taxes to make up for revenue lost when a previous tax hike expired, leaving the state on pace to take in $6 billion less than it is spending this year — even without a budget. Rauner, a former businessman who is seeking a second term in 2018, wants Democrats to approve changes he says are needed to improve Illinois’ long-term financial health before he’ll support a tax increase. Among them are term limits for lawmakers, a four-year property tax freeze and new workers’ compensation laws that would reduce costs for employers. Democrats say they’re willing to approve some items on Rauner’s list, but that what he’s demanding keeps changing or goes too far and would hurt working families. Senate Democrats also note that they approved a $37 billion budget with $3 billion in cuts and an income tax increase in May. The House has not taken up that plan.

In the absence of a budget, funding has been reduced or eliminated in areas such as social services and higher education. Many vendors have gone months without being paid. And increasingly, they’re filing lawsuits to try to get paid. The courts already have ruled in favor of state workers who want paychecks, as well as lottery winners whose payouts were put on hold. Transit agencies have sued, as has a coalition of social service agencies, including one that’s run by Rauner’s wife. Health care plans that administer the state’s Medicaid program also asked a federal judge to order Mendoza’s office to immediately pay $2 billion in unpaid bills. They argued that access to health care for the poor and other vulnerable groups was impaired or “at grave risk” because the state wasn’t paying providers, causing them to leave the program.

Judge Joan Lefkow ruled June 7 that Illinois isn’t complying with a previous agreement to pay the bills and gave attorneys for the providers and the state until Tuesday to work out a level of payment. Mendoza says whatever that amount will be, it will likely put Illinois at the point where 100% of revenues must be paid to one of the office’s “core priorities,” such as those required by court order. And if this lawsuit doesn’t do it, the next court ruling against the state will. Then, she’s not sure what will happen, other than more damage. “Once the money’s gone, the money’s gone, and I can’t print it,” Mendoza said.

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A very useful concept. Reference to Minsky would be in order, though.

Metastability (Kocic)

Big changes threaten to explode not when uncertainty begins to rise, but when it is withdrawn. Excessive determinism is almost always the biggest enemy of stability. This seeming contradiction is behind the concept of metastability which captures the mode of market functioning in the last years. Imagine you have to balance a long stick on your finger. By placing it vertically on your fingertip, the stick could fall either left or right from its initial position because standing upright is unstable. However, in trying to keep the stick vertical, you instinctively (and randomly) wiggle your finger. The added randomness (noise) acts as a stabilizer of an otherwise unstable equilibrium. So long as the noise is administered carefully, the stick remains vertical, or metastable. The withdrawal of noise becomes destabilizing.

In general, there are three types of equilibria to distinguish: stable, unstable and metastable. The bottom of the valley is stable; top of the hill is unstable; a dimple at the top of the hill is metastable. Metastability is what seems stable, but is not – a stable waiting for something to happen. Avalanche is a good example of metastability to keep in mind – a totally innocuous event can trigger a cataclysmic event (e.g. a skier’s scream, or simply continued snowfall until the snow cover is so massive that its own weight triggers an avalanche). Complacency is a source of metastability. It has a moral hazard inscribed into it. Complacency encourages bad behavior and penalizing dissent – there is a negative carry for not joining the crowd, which further reinforces bad behavior.

This is the source of the positive feedback that triggers occasional anxiety attacks, which, although episodic, have the potential to create liquidity problems. Complacency arises either when everyone agrees with everyone else or when no one agrees with anyone. In these situations, which capture the two modes of recent market trading, current and the QE period, the markets become calm and volatility selling and carry strategies define the trading landscape. But, calm makes us worry, and persistent worrying causes fear, and fear tends to be reinforcing. Persistence of low volatility causes misallocation of capital. This is how complacency leads to buildup of risk – it is the avalanche waiting to happen. For a given level of uncertainty, on the risk/reward curve investors settle at a point that corresponds to their risk limits. This position is determined by the volatility cone on the risk frontier, its width commensurate with volatility.

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Insanely positive still.

Young Greeks Can’t Name EU Achievements (K.)

An 84% majority of Greeks aged between 16-25 say that peace is the most important result of the country’s membership in the EU, according to an upcoming survey, which also found that 24% are unable to name three or more achievements of the 28-member club. The online survey, which will be published in full on Wednesday, was conducted by pro-European think tank To Diktio (The Network) with the help of MAD TV on a sample of 1,173 high-school and university students using a multiple-choice questionnaire. Asked if they think that Greece’s membership of the 28-member bloc improves their daily life, just over 37% gave a negative answer.

Whereas most of those who took part in the poll said they are in favor of closer European integration, only a minority said they consider the establishment of welfare states a significant contribution of the EU process. Meanwhile, 86% agreed it is “very significant” that they can travel, live, study or work freely across the EU, while 72% said it is positive that “we have a common strong currency which makes our transactions easier.” Finally, 83% said that the union can play a key role in “protecting fundamental rights regardless of gender, race, religion, disability or age.” Greece joined the EEC, the predecessor of today’s EU, in 1981.

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Just to add the proper insult, the picture below comes from Yuan Yang on Twitter: “Five min into this international property fair & I’ve already been offered to emigrate to the UK, Australia & get my kids into school in US”.

While Syrians kids face abuse, Greece offers passports and ‘Easy Living’ to wealthy Chinese. Mankind has fully lost its compass.

Abandoned and Abused: Syrian Refugee Children On Greek Detention Island (G.)

Rasha went missing late afternoon last Saturday. Her peers describe hanging out as normal with the 20-year-old Syrian in the Greek refugee detention camp. Then she vanished. Last Tuesday her friend Amira, 15, received a flurry of images on her phone. Rasha was lying naked in bed with a man. Superimposed upon his head were grotesque cartoon faces and an accompanying message from the anonymous caller: “I promise I will kidnap you also.” This was far from being the first threat that the teenage refugee from the Syrian city of Qamishli has received since arriving on the Aegean island of Chios six months ago. Existence in the razor-wire-fenced detention centre, a former factory known as Vial, deep within the island’s mountainous interior, is fraught for a child hoping for a fresh start in Europe, preferably the UK.

Fellow refugees intimidate her routinely. “Men say they will attack me, they try and trap us by saying don’t go to Souda [another refugee camp on the island] or go into the town. They say: ‘If I see you there, I will attack you. I will kidnap you and kill you.’” Amira is among scores of unaccompanied minors on Chios who are eligible to claim asylum in the UK under the so-called Dubs amendment. A year ago the UK government announced it would urgently offer sanctuary to a sizeable proportion of Europe’s vulnerable child refugees, a figure widely understood to be about 3,000 minors until, in February, the Home Office unexpectedly stopped the scheme after helping just 480, one child for every 130,000 UK residents. Not a single unaccompanied minor has been transferred from Greece to the UK under the Dubs scheme.

On Tuesday the last chance to reopen Dubs will be heard in the high court in London, a legal challenge that describes the Home Office’s premature closure of Dubs as unlawful and “seriously defective”. The three-day hearing holds potentially profound ramifications for Chios, which is separated by a slim strip of water from Turkey, so close that Amira can see its summer homes and factories from the island’s coast. Beyond lie the borders with Syria and Iraq from where each day people board a motley flotilla of rubber boats and dinghies to attempt the short but perilous crossing to Europe’s gateway. What those that successfully make the crossing quickly encounter could hardly be further from their aspirations of a civilised and safe world. The child refugees of Chios describe being stabbed by local people, police beatings, attacks by the far right, knife fights among drunken adult asylum seekers, and sleepless nights in flimsy tents on pebble beaches.


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Jan 292017
 
 January 29, 2017  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Michael Andrews A Shadow 1974

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)
Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)
Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)
Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)
Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)
UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)
Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)
Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)
Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)
How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)
This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)
Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)
Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

 

 

Strong from Fisk: “It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA.”

But do note: none of these things have occurred under Trump. So where were you when Obama became the Drone King? When Hillary said We Came We Saw He Died? Do you feel those things are less important or less cruel than what happened yesterday in US airports? Now is the time to speak.

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)

So Donald Trump is going to f**k them all. No excuses for such filthy words today. I’m only quoting the man whose Pentagon offices he just used to disgrace himself – and America. For it was Secretary of Defence James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis who told Iraqis in 2003 that he came “in peace’ – he even urged his Marines to be compassionate – but said of those who might dare to resist America’s illegal invasion of their country: “If you f**k with me, I’ll kill you all.” There’s no getting round it. Call it Nazi, Fascist, racist, vicious, illiberal, immoral, cruel. More dangerously, what Trump has done is a wicked precedent. If you can stop them coming, you can chuck them out. If you can demand “extreme vetting” of Muslims from seven countries, you can also demand a “values test” for those Muslims who have already made it to the USA.

Those on visas. Those with residency only. Those – if they are American citizens – with dual citizenship. Or full US citizens of Muslim origin. Or just Americans who are Muslims. Or Hispanics. Or Jews? Refugees one day. Citizens the next. Then refugees again. No, of course, Trump would never visit such obscene tests on Jewish immigrants – for they would be obscene, would they not? – and nor will he stop Christians from Muslim countries. America has always condemned sectarian states, but now Trump declares that he approves of sectarianism. Minorities will be welcome – the Alawites of Syria, to whom Bashar al-Assad belongs, will presumably not count, and I guess we can expect all US embassies to have three queues for visa applicants. One for Muslims, one for Christians, and a third marked ‘Other’. That’s where most of us will be standing in line. And by doing so, we will automatically give approval to this iniquitous system – and to Trump.

There’s no point in wasting time over the obvious: that America has bombed, directly or indirectly, five of the seven nations on Trump’s banned list. Sudan just escapes, but the US blew a packed Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky in 1988 and has raised no objections to Israel’s bombing of Iranian personnel in Syria. So that makes six. There’s nothing to be gained by reiterating that the four countries whose citizens participated in the international crimes against humanity of 9/11 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Lebanon – do not feature on the list. For the Saudis must be loved, cosseted, fawned over, approved, even when they chop off heads and when their citizens funnel cash to the murderers of Isis. Egypt is ruled by Trump’s “fantastic guy” anti-‘terrorist’ president al-Sisi. The glisteningly wealthy Emirates won’t be touched. Nor will Lebanon, although its tens of thousands of dual-national Syrians may have a tough time in the future.

But no, this vile piece of legislation is not aimed at nations. It’s targeting refugees, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The Muslim ones, that is, not the Christians. How can they ever withstand a “values test”? And what are America’s “values” anyway? It’s OK to attack sovereign states. It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA. It’s OK to fast-track Saudi visas – as the Brits have been doing for years – even if they are members of the most inspirational Wahhabi cult in the world: membership includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, you name it.

There’s even no value in touting our own participation in this charade. Having just patted the killer governments of the Gulf on the head – and heading off to do the same to Turkey’s autocrat-in-chief – our poodlet prime minister, fresh out of Washington, hasn’t uttered a word about Trump’s wickedness. Wasn’t it Britain – and America, for heaven’s sake – that was weeping copious tears, buckets of the stuff, for the 250,000 (or 90,000) Muslim refugees of eastern Aleppo a couple of months ago? And now, so much do we care for them, that they are being well and truly f****d.

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More of this please.

Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)

Two judges temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing parts of his order to halt immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the U.S. A nationwide ruling in Brooklyn, New York, barring refugees and visa holders already legally in the U.S. from being turned back came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to halt the Jan 27 order. A separate order in Alexandria, Virginia, forbid the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the U.S. who were being detained at Dulles International Airport.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings. White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday night. There were wrenching scenes – and angry protests – at major airports across the country before the court orders were issued. At Los Angeles International Airport, a lawyer reported that an 80-year-old insulin-dependent visitor was being held by officials and had no contact with her worried family. Shane Moss, a 38-year-old from Missouri, was returning from Thailand with his girlfriend, a dietician and joint Canadian-Iranian citizen with a valid work visa, when they were forced to separate. Hours later, he had not heard from her. “They won’t tell me anything,” Moss said. “I’m worn out. I’ve been up for 20-something hours and we’ve still got to get home to Kansas City.”

[..] The executive order, issued on Friday, bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S. for the next three months in an effort to stop terrorists and gain hold of the immigration system. White House officials told reporters, before the court orders were issued, that green card holders from those countries who found themselves abroad and trying to come back would be evaluated case by case. Last year there were nearly 32,000 immigrant visas issued in the U.S. to the seven affected countries. The order also halts refugee resettlement to the U.S. for 120 days, and orders that refugee admissions for 2017 be cut to 50,000 from the planned limit of 110,000.

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This is from what I would call a decidedly right wing lawyer (though he also says he’s ‘pro-refugees’). “I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11.” But who says: “It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

[..] I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.

So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction. How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.”

I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people. Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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It started at least a week ago.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)

Following an executive order signed late Friday, President Donald Trump on Saturday launched a sweeping attack on the travel rights of individuals from more than a half dozen Muslim majority countries, turning away travelers at multiple U.S. airports and leaving others stranded without answers — and without hope — across the world. Trump’s order triggered waves of outrage and condemnation at home and abroad, prompting thousands of protesters to flood several American airports and ultimately culminating in a stay issued by a federal district judge in New York City on the deportation of people who were being detained by immigration officials. Similar stays were issued by judges in Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

The administration’s assault on civil liberties explicitly targeted the world’s most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing devastating wars – as well as young people with student visas pursuing an education in the United States, green card holders with deep roots in the country, and a number of citizens of countries not included in the ban. It also impacted American children traveling with, or waiting to meet, their non-citizen parents. With an estimated 500,000 people in the crosshairs, Trump’s order was carried out swiftly and sowed confusion among the nation’s immigration and homeland security agencies – which were excluded from the drafting process and were scrambling to understand how to implement it, according to media reports and two government officials who spoke to The Intercept.

Days before the executive order was signed, reports began to emerge that valid visa holders were suddenly being prevented from reentering the country after taking trips abroad. A senior U.S. immigration official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, confirmed to The Intercept that the rash of unusual student visa revocations began roughly a week before the official order was signed. Many of the stories the official heard about were anecdotal. Others, however, the official was able to review via internal Department of Homeland Security monitoring systems. While visas are revoked every day with little explanation afforded to those affected, the backgrounds of the individuals in these cases raised no red flags, the official said.

On the contrary, the impacted individuals whose files the official reviewed included a young mother of a U.S. citizen child, and students at some of the nation’s top universities publicly recognized for their outstanding achievement. These students had already undergone rigorous U.S. government vetting before being admitted to the country, and had only traveled abroad briefly over their winter break. The Intercept has independently verified two of these stories by speaking to those denied entry, who asked that their names not be used because they are attempting to appeal the decisions.

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Interesting notion: “elite overproduction”.

Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)

Consider the “structural-demographic theory” that was first proposed by the sociologist Jack Goldstone and subsequently developed and tested with data by others, including myself. The theory explains major outbreaks of political violence, such as the French Revolution or American Civil War, by focusing on several interrelated processes. One is the falling or stagnating living standards of the general population. But contrary to the widely held view, popular discontent by itself is not a sufficient cause of a civil war or a revolution. A more important factor is what has been called “elite overproduction” – that is, the appearance of too many elite candidates vying for a limited supply of power positions within the government and the economy. As written about in my book War and Peace and War, elite overproduction results in intense intra-elite competition, polarisation, and conflict that ultimately takes violent forms.

[..] The structural-demographic theory has been tested by several investigators on many historical societies. The theory predicts very long-term cycles in which periods when societies are internally at peace are succeeded by waves of unrest. Both of these “integrative” and “disintegrative” phases are about a century long. The theory focuses entirely on the dynamics of political instability within states as external wars have a logic of their own (in fact, it is typically societies which are in their integrative phases that prosecute successful wars of external conquest). Our empirical investigations of a variety of historical societies confirm that they go through structural-demographic cycles. But on top of the long cycles are often superimposed shorter oscillations with periods of roughly 50 years.

It appears that people eventually tire of incessant fighting, so during the disintegrative phases human generations experiencing a lot of fighting tend to alternate with relatively peaceful ones. Recently the Journal of Peace Research published my article in which I tested the predictions of the theory on American data. Constructing and analysing a database on US political violence (between 1780 and 2010), I found that the dynamics of violent incidences were just as predicted by the theory: a long structural-demographic cycle with a 50-year cycle superimposed on it:

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This is really the worst news of all. Money, and the military-industrial complex, still rule supreme. Nothing at all will improve until we root it out.

UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)

The UK has signed a £100m deal to design new fighter jets for Turkey, despite the country’s President undertaking a severe crackdown on his regime’s opponents. Theresa May said it could open the way to billions of pounds worth of business, as she became the first foreign leader to visit Turkey since Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a wave of arrests and sackings in the wake of last summer’s coup. Questioned over human rights concerns, Downing Street officials said the deal to design the TF-X jets was sealed in light of Turkey’s status as a Nato ally and claimed Ms May could approach human rights as a “separate” issue. The PM did warn the President it was “important” for him to uphold human rights, as the stony faced Turkish leader looked on.

The UK is already mired in controversy regarding some £3bn worth of licences granted to export arms to Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom embarked on a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen. The announcement in Ankara yesterday means BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries have signed a “heads of agreement”, establishing a partnership for the development of the Turkish Fighter Programme or TF-X. Downing Street sources said the £100m contract has the potential to facilitate multibillion pound contracts between the UK and Turkish firms over the project’s 20-year lifetime. Ms May added: “It marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come.”

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How will Justin avoid a major battle with Washington? Build a wall?

Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a stand on social media against the temporary US ban on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries Mr Trudeau underscored his government’s commitment to bringing in “those fleeing persecution, terror & war”. The US Department of Homeland Security said the entry ban would also apply to dual nationals of the seven countries. However, Mr Trudeau’s office says Canadian dual nationals are exempt. “We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process,” a spokeswoman for Mr Trudeau said in an emailed statement.

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn “confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban,” the statement said. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is a dual national who arrived as a Somali refugee. Within hours, Mr Trudeau’s tweets had been shared more than 150,000 times. “Welcome to Canada” also became a trending term in the country. Mr Trudeau, who gained global attention for granting entry to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the past 13 months, also sent a pointed tweet that showed him greeting a young refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

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Growth, centralization and decline. I’ve made the connection many times.

Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)

The famous French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand supposedly said that a weakness of the Bourbon monarchs was that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. If so, the genetic descendants of the Bourbons are now in charge of Europe. But before explaining why, let’s first establish that Europe is in trouble [..] because of statism and demographic change. What’s far more noteworthy, though, is that even the Europeans are waking up to the fact that the continent faces a very grim future. For instance, the bureaucrats in Brussels are pessimistic, as reported by the EU Observer. “…the report warns of a longer term risk for the EU economy. “As expectations of low growth ahead affect investment today, there is potential for a vicious circle,” the commission’s director general for economic and financial affairs writes in the report’s foreword. “In short, the projected pace of GDP growth may not be sufficient to prevent the cyclical impact of the crisis from becoming permanent (hysteresis), ” Marco Buti writes.”

The people of Europe share that grim assessment. Pew has some very sobering data on angst across the continent. Support for European economic integration – the 1957 raison d’etre for creating the European Economic Community, the EU’s predecessor – is down over last year in five of the eight EU countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future. The favorability of the EU has fallen from a median of 60% in 2012 to 45% in 2013.

Establishment-oriented voices in the United States also agree that the outlook is rather dismal. Writing in the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby offers a grim assessment of Europe’s future. “…since 2008…, the 28 countries in the European Union managed combined growth of just 4%. And in the subset consisting of the eurozone minus Germany, output actually fell. …most of the Mediterranean periphery has suffered a lost decade. …The unemployment rate in the euro area stands at 9.8%, more than double the U.S. rate. Unemployment among Europe’s youth is even more appalling: In Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, more than 1 in 4 workers under 25 are jobless.” The bottom line is that there’s widespread consensus that Europe is a mess and that things will probably get worse unless there are big changes.

But the key question, as always, is whether the changes are positive or negative. And this is why I started with a reference to the Bourbon kings. European leaders today also are infamous for learning nothing and forgetting nothing. [..] As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has sagely observed, it is centralization and harmonization that creates systemic risk. And all this talk about “common resources” and “public risk sharing” is simply the governmental version of co-signing a loan for the deadbeat family alcoholic. Yet Europe’s ideologues can’t resist their lemming-like march in the wrong direction. What makes this especially odd is that there is so much evidence that Europe originally became rich for the opposite reason.

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Elections in (7?) weeks and everyone turns right. Pragmatism, politicians call it.

Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)

Nourdin el Ouali has grown used to far-right attacks on Dutch Muslims, and to dog-whistle politics. But when the country’s prime minister wrote an open letter last week, in effect demanding that minorities integrate or “go away”, he was still shocked. Mark Rutte’s letter comes less than two months before a national election, and after months of watching populist Geert Wilders rising into the top position in national polls. If the election were held tomorrow his far-right party would probably be the largest in parliament. The letter did not directly mention Muslims, and began instead by attacking people who drop litter or spit on buses. However, in his warning of “something wrong” in Dutch society, the message was clear.

Rutte’s naked bid to woo far-right voters for the 15 March election prompted scathing criticism across mainstream society, and worry among Dutch Muslims, who have already endured a sharp rise in hate crime and say they face regular discrimination in daily life. “It concerns me a lot, because it’s the prime minister who wrote the letter,” says Ouali, a Rotterdam native, founder and city councillor for the progressive Nida party. “You would expect a different role from someone in this position, to rise above it all, bring people together – not writing this kind of letter where he really in a sneaky way talks about Dutch identity, implying there are groups [of Dutch citizens] that are a threat to the Dutch way of life.”

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“..those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)

What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.

It’s about environmental chaos—meaning that you and the people you care about may have many hungry days ahead as crazy weather messes with the harvests, and it’s by no means certain you won’t die early from some tropical microbe that’s been jarred loose from its native habitat to find a new and tasty home in you. It’s about rapid demographic contraction—meaning that you get to have the experience a lot of people in the Rust Belt have already, of walking past one abandoned house after another and remembering the people who used to live there, until they didn’t any more. More than anything else, it’s about loss. Things that you value—things you think of as important, meaningful, even necessary—are going to go away forever in the years immediately ahead of us, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

It really is as simple as that. People who live in an age of decline and fall can’t afford to cultivate a sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, [..] the notion that the universe is somehow obliged to give people what they think they deserve is very deeply engrained in American popular culture these days. That’s a very unwise notion to believe right now, and as we slide further down the slope, it could very readily become fatal—and no, by the way, I don’t mean that last adjective in a metaphorical sense. History recalls how great the fall can be, Roger Hodgson sang. In our case, it’s shaping up to be one for the record books—and those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

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Greece can not save itself by agreeing to more cuts; it can only doom itself.

This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)

Despite decisive action proposed by the IMF to ease Greece’s financial burden, more turbulence lies ahead for the debt-ridden European nation, reveals the latest IMF report, which was delivered to the Fund’s board members for consultation. CNBC has received the report through a close source to the IMF. According to IMF deputy spokesman William Murray, the report will be discussed at the IMF’s board meeting on Feb.6. Among the reforms they are pressing are further cuts to pension programs and an increase in income taxes. Without a substantial pace of reforms, Greece will be unable to narrow the gap in its real per-capita income relative to the euro zone and remain prosperous and competitive. This has prompted the euro zone’s finance ministers to demand that Greece proceed with these necessary reforms until Feb. 20 or risk the IMF dissolving support of the Greek financial program.

In the latest report, the IMF claims the Greek banks have a weak capital structure and are exposed to the risk of nonperforming loans. The Greek banks’ current strategies require a reduction in the aggregate nonperforming loans ratio to 48, 42 and 34% by 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, but these backloaded NPL reductions “do not appear consistent with the Greek authorities’ ambitious investment and growth assumptions.” Among the measures included in the IMF report is the push to rebalance the policy mix toward growth-friendly and equitable policies and to lower the threshold of tax-free income. “Greece’s revenue yields lag behind peers as high marginal tax rates applied on narrow bases encourage tax evasion, discourage labour participation in the formal economy and provide incentives for firms to relocate to low tax neighbouring countries,” the IMF report said.

In addition, the IMF supports a further reduction to Greece’s pensions, which in recent years have fallen by 40%. The report stresses that “while recent pension reforms have helped address expected long-run pressures from population aging, pensions for current retirees remain unaffordably high.” At this point, the IMF is very critical, claiming that “the Greek authorities did not see a need to reduce pension spending or the income tax credit.” The IMF is hardening its stance not only against Greece but also across the euro zone countries seeking greater debt relief for Greece. Yet even with with full implementation of policies agreed to under the ESM program, a debt sustainability analysis included in the report reveals that Greece’s public debt is “highly unsustainable.” It further emphasizes that Greece’s public debt and financing needs will become “explosive” in the long run if Greece is unable to replace highly subsided official sector financing with market financing at rates consistent with sustainability.

The IMF projects Greek debt will reach 170% of GDP by 2020 and 164% of GDP by 2022 but will rise thereafter, reaching around 275% of GDP by 2060. (This is based on the cost of debt rising over time as market financing replaces highly subsidized official sector financing. It should more than offset the debt-reducing effects of growth and the primary balance surplus. ) The country’s gross financing needs (defined as the sum of budget deficits and funds required to roll over debt that matures in the course of the year) will be higher: a 15% of GDP threshold by 2024 and a 20% of GDP threshold by 2031, reaching around 33% by 2040 and about 62% of GDP by 2060.

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It all falls apart.

Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)

Two historic Greek newspapers, including the country’s best-selling daily, will cease publication, the debt-ridden Lambrakis Press Group announced on Saturday. “‘To Vima’ weekly and ‘Ta Nea’ daily are forced to cease their publication within days due to financial reasons,” the company said in a statement. Lambrakis Press Group (DOL) “is lacking any available resources and as a result it can’t support the printing of its newspapers and, of course, can’t ensure the unhampered operation of the other media outlets it owns,” it added. Besides the two newspapers DOL owns numerous magazines, news sites and the Vima FM radio. DOL failed to pay its €99 million ($106-million) debt obligations in December, Antonis Karakoussis, director of the Vima newspaper and Vima FM radio said on January 11.

He added that this situation was the result of the economic crisis Greece has faced since 2010 which has already led to the closure of many media outlets. In Saturday’s statement DOL accused the creditor banks of putting the press group in a special management regime without providing for the continuation of its publications. DOL says the creditor banks are withholding all its earnings “whether these come from newspaper sales or from advertisements”. Lambrakis Press Group, one of the shareholders of the Mega Channel TV station that is also heavily indebted, has also faced legal turmoil over the past months, with its president, Stavros Psycharis, being prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering. With its particularly critical stance against Greece’s leftist Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras since his election in 2015, DOL has been, along with other Greek media moguls, the target of the government’s effort to “reestablish transparency” in what it calls a sector “of oligarchs”.

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Yes, it’s come to this. Lesbos resident Eric Kempson has more in the video.

Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

A 46-year-old Syrian man was found dead in his tent in the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos on Saturday morning. He was the second person to die at the facility last week, after the death of a 22-year-old Egyptian man a few days earlier. The deaths have highlighted the poor conditions that refugees face at camps on the Greek islands, especially during the current cold weather. The government is making efforts to create new facilities and move some migrants to the mainland but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accused Athens last week of failing to respond to its proposals about improving conditions at the existing camps.

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Jun 072015
 
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NPC Hessick & Son Coal Co. Washington 1925

Americans Live With The Austerity Europeans Are So Concerned About (Guardian)
TiSA, TPP and TTIP Will Sideline National Laws, Wikileaks Says (Independent)
Fast-Tracking the TPP-TiSA-TTIP Trinity (Gaius Publius)
Syriza Holds Firm in Polls at 45%, Eight in 10 Still Want Euro (Kathimerini)
Varoufakis Urges Debt Relief After Tsipras Says Greece Deal Near (Bloomberg)
Putin: Speculation On Grexit Is Counterproductive (Kathimerini)
Key Points On Greek Ongoing Negotiations (Bruegel)
The Economics Of Parallel Currencies (Bruegel)
Greece And Ukraine Crises Drown Out G7 Summit Agenda (Reuters)
The Growth Of The State-Owned Trading Houses (Bloomberg)
Yellen Balks At Turning Over Files To Congress (AP)
New Toys For Flash Boys In China’s Fledgling Derivatives Market (Reuters)
All the Happy Workers (Atlantic)
Dodgy Money-Laundering Housing Deals To Come Out In The Wash (NZ Herald)
Canada Confronts Its Dark Of History Of Abuse (Guardian)
Russia ‘Never Viewed Europe As A Mistress’ – Putin (RT)
‘Third World War is Being Fought Piecemeal’: Pope Francis (RT)
Cameron, Merkel At Odds Over Plan To Settle Refugees Across Europe (Guardian)
Over 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean Saturday, More On The Way (Reuters)

In der Not ist der Mittelweg der Tod

“If you were to ask Americans about austerity, we most likely would think you meant personal sacrifice..”

Americans Live With The Austerity Europeans Are So Concerned About (Guardian)

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, an investment banker turned Pulitzer-winning historian, wrote a book to name an idea that had been floating around since before the United States was a country. In his book, The Epic of America, Adams coined the “American Dream,” defining it as a notion “of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.” The European upper class, he wrote, would not understand. The dream says that if you work hard enough, you can make it in the US, and it is a damnable idea if ever there was one. The dream has allowed us to ignore that our social safety net has been shredded into cobwebs, because the dream tells us that if we work hard enough, we won’t ever need a net.

And that entirely obscures reality. Stories about austerity measures in the EU don’t get much attention in the States, mainly because austerity is already our reality. Our safety net is knit together by charities and faith groups which do the work that government could more easily and efficiently accomplish. We ignore the reality that so many of our fellow citizens aren’t making it – and we ignore that the opportunity for social mobility is greater in other countries than it is here. Through the rose-colored glasses of the American Dream, the people who are falling short simply Are Not Trying Hard Enough. They’ve Earned Their Low Rung On the Ladder. Oh, and: They Are Sucking The Rest Of Us Dry.

That’s by no means the attitude of everyone, but a significant portion of our conservatives (Hello, House Speaker John Boehner. See me waving?) would have us believe that your station in life is entirely of your own making, which is nonsense. If you were to ask Americans about austerity, we most likely would think you meant personal sacrifice, and we’re not having any of that, either. Back in 1977, our then-President Jimmy Carter appeared on television in a sweater to deliver what he called an “unpleasant talk” to urge Americans to do the radical thing and turn down their thermostats. His talk was not well-received; he was not re-elected.

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It’s a simple corporate coup d’état.

TiSA, TPP and TTIP Will Sideline National Laws, Wikileaks Says (Independent)

Wikileaks has warned that governments negotiating a far-reaching global service agreement are ‘surrendering a large part of their global sovereignty’ and exacerbating the social inequality of poorer countries in the process. The Trade in Services Agreement exposed in a 17 document dump by Wikileaks on Thursday relates to ongoing negotiations to lock market liberalisations into global law. If a country like China wanted to join, it would have to scrap all discriminatory practices against foreign firms – so discrimination against a foreign firm opening a hospital in China would be banned, for example. Under the agreement, retailers like Zara or Marks & Spencers would have the right to open stores in any of the signing countries and be treated like domestic companies.

A nationalised service, such as the British telecoms industry in the eighties, would have to ensure it was not harming competition under these terms. “Nothing it will do to extend the liberalisation but it locks in those rules in case of a coup d’etat,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) and a leading author on trade diplomacy, told The Independent. However he said that fears the trade agreements will lead to the dismantling of the NHS are unfounded. “Do people really think that countries far more progressive than UK (EU countries like France, Germany or Sweden) would ever accept something that threatens their social welfare model? Do people really believe that Obama would put Obamacare up for negotiation?” Lee-Makiyama said.

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“TiSA protects the right of big money players to make a profit from “services..”

Fast-Tracking the TPP-TiSA-TTIP Trinity (Gaius Publius)

Fast Track is not just a path to TPP … it’s evil all on its own. There’s now another leaked “trade” deal, called TISA, and Fast Track will “fast-track” that one too. Want your municipal water service privatized? How about your government postal service? Read on. Most of the coverage of the Fast Track bill (formally called “Trade Promotion Authority” or TPA) moving through Congress is about how it will “grease the skids” for passage of TPP, the “next NAFTA” trade deal with 11 other Pacific rim countries. But as we pointed out here, TPA will grease the skids for anything the President sends to Congress as a “trade” bill — anything. One of the “trade” deals being negotiated now, which only the wonks have heard about, is called TISA, or Trade In Services Agreement. Fast Track legislation, if approved, will grease the TISA skids as well.

Why do you care? Because (a) TISA is also being negotiated in secret, like TPP; (b) TISA chapters have been recently leaked by Wikileaks; and (c) what’s revealed in those chapters should have Congress shutting the door on Fast Track faster and tighter than you’d shut the door on an invading army of rats headed for your apartment. Congress won’t shut that door on its own — the rats in this metaphor have bought most of its members — but it should. So it falls to us to force them. Stop Fast Track and you stop all these “trade” deals. (Joseph Stiglitz will explain below why I keep putting “trade” in quotes.) What’s TISA? It’s worse than TPP. As you read the following, keep the word “services” in mind. TISA protects the right of big money players to make a profit from “services,” any and all of them.

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How many leading European parties even have 45%?

Syriza Holds Firm in Polls at 45%, Eight in 10 Still Want Euro (Kathimerini)

An opinion poll published over the weekend showed Syriza holding a strong lead of 23.6% over New Democracy, while eight in 10 Greeks said they wanted to remain in the eurozone. According to the poll by Metron Analysis, if elections were held now, 45% of Greeks would vote for Syriza and 21.4% for ND. Such a result would allow Syriza, which co-governs with the right-wing Independent Greeks, to rule autonomously. Potami garnered 6.1%, followed by Golden Dawn on 4.4%, the Communist Party with 4.3%, ANEL with 3.2% and PASOK falling below the 3% threshold to enter Parliament with 2.9%. The survey found that 79% of Greeks want to stay in the eurozone. Nearly half (47%) said Greece should accept a proposal by creditors to secure loans, with 35% saying it should rebuff the plan. A total of 59% said they were satisfied with the government’s style of negotiation.

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Europe must get serious. They can’t afford to let the mess get bigger. But they don’t realize that.

Varoufakis Urges Debt Relief After Tsipras Says Greece Deal Near (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis rejected the latest proposal from his country’s creditors and urged them to instead consider debt relief. “As finance minister, I’ll refuse to put my signature on a deal” such as the one that’s being proposed, Varoufakis told Proto Thema newspaper. “We will not sign a deal that extends this self-feeding crisis of the last five years.” His comments come a day after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decried the “clearly unrealistic” demands being made, even as he said the two sides were closer to a deal. A Greek plan, submitted about the same time, is still on the table and awaiting feedback, a Greek government official said by e-mail on Saturday, asking not to be identified in line with policy. [..]

Varoufakis said what was needed was “a debt restructuring that will make Greek debt sustainable, without a cost for the creditors.” He said cutting pensions was “not a reform” and what is instead needed is an investment plan. Frustration is growing. After listening to Tsipras address lawmakers on Friday night, Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir said he wondered “whether this is the same Tsipras who was in Brussels and Berlin this week.” Kazimir, who commented on his social media account, said “debt restructuring is not on the table.” In a sign of how little maneuvering room there is, Greece on Thursday notified the IMF that a €300 million payment due Friday would be deferred and bundled with three more payments at the end of June. [..]

“Tsipras has his back against the wall,” said Miranda Xafa, a former Greek representative to the IMF who runs a consultancy in Athens. “If a deal is not reached next week, in time for parliamentary approval of the deal, we are staring at disorderly default, deposit withdrawals, capital controls, and social unrest. I think a deal is in the making.” Tsipras on Friday said voters are urging the government to not “succumb to the irrational, blackmailing demands of our creditors.” Even with those comments, he said Greece is “closer to a deal than ever before.” “I’m sure that in the coming days our realistic and consistent position will be vindicated,” he said.

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Putin must be stunned at what Brussels is doing.

Putin: Speculation On Grexit Is Counterproductive (Kathimerini)

Greece has the sovereign right to decide which unions and zones it wishes to be a member of, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. In an interview published on Saturday, Putin highlighted the historically close ties and good partnership between his country and Greece. He added that Russia was developing its relationship with the country “independently of whether Greece is a member of the European Union, NATO or the eurozone.”

On the subject of whether or not Russia would be willing to assist Greece on both a political and a financial level in case of a possible eurozone exit, Putin noted that trying to guess the future would be a mistake as well as “counterproductive for both the European and the Greek economies.” The Russian president’s comments on Greece followed a discussion via telephone with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday during which the two leaders talked about cooperation in the energy sector. The two men also agreed to meet in Saint Petersburg during a business conference scheduled to take place in Russian’s second-largest city on June 18 to 20.

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Vast differences still linger. And Syriza has no room to give in.

Key Points On Greek Ongoing Negotiations (Bruegel)

Greek negotiations will continue next week, after Greece asked to bundle all June IMF payments at the end of the month. In the meantime, the finding of a common ground between Greece and its creditors is not yet in sight. The primary surplus issue is where positions seem to have converged the most, with the creditors moving significantly closer to the Greek position. On the VAT, the Greek government appears to have taken a U-turn compared to the proposals rumoured last month and positions on pensions and labour market remain still very far apart, with no immediate solution evident from the documents.

The negotiations over next week will be further complicated by the fact that the Greek proposal includes a section on the restructuring of its debt vis-à-vis the creditors. The details of the plan have been clarified in another leaked paper, which was published by the FT this morning. Many of the restructuring elements had been hinted at or heard before, during these months of negotiations: the plan would include (i) a buyback of the debt owed to the ECB with a ESM loan; (ii) IMF partial buyback with SMP profits; (iii) additional re profiling of the Greek Loan Facility; (iv) splitting EFSF loans in two and substitute half with a perpetuity.

None of these seems to be politically acceptable at the moment: IMF has previously appeared in favor of debt relief, provided it is done on the EU side of Greek debt; the GLF and EFSF terms have already been eased substantially and the perpetuity idea looks hardly digestible in Berlin; the ECB president Mario Draghi said yesterday that the ECB expects timely and full repayment of the SMP; and political support for the ECB/ESM swap idea looks elusive. Given the postponement of IMF payments, the hard deadline becomes the redemption of debt due to the ECB in July. But for the agreement to be signed off nationally and money to be disbursed on time, a deal should be reached sooner. Time is running out, and options would start to look scarce, even to the most resourceful Ulysses.

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Chances of a parallel currency in Greece are rising fast: “..a source of liquidity for the governments that is outside the bond markets, does not involve the banks and lies outside any of the restrictions..”

The Economics Of Parallel Currencies (Bruegel)

What’s at stake: As Greece faces a severe shortage of euros, the idea of introducing a parallel currency used for some domestic transactions – while keeping the euro in place for existing bank deposits and for foreign transactions – has made a comeback. Although historical examples of parallel currencies exist, the analysis of the idea remains in its infancy. It remains unclear whether and how one could find the right mechanics. Biagio Bossone and Marco Cattaneo write that according to several recent media reports, both the Greek government and the ECB are taking into consideration the possibility (for Greece) to issue a parallel domestic currency to pay for government expenditures, including civil servant salaries, pensions, etc. This could happen in the coming weeks as Greece faces a severe shortage of euros. A new domestic currency would help make payments to public employees and pensioners while freeing up the euros needed to pay out creditors.

Ludwig Schuster writes that at the present time, we are talking about around thirty recent proposals calling for a parallel currency in the eurozone, and these have been coming from very different backgrounds. While specific proposals have been mentioned now and again in the media, the response has been barely discernible. Ludwig Schuster writes that the idea of parallel currencies was discussed before the creation of the euro. It was, for example, proposed to first introduce the euro complementary to the national currencies, to soften the transition to complete integration. As we now know, the political decision-makers went down a different path. Similarly, following reunification, the German Federal Government decided to take the Ostmark out of circulation after introducing the Deutschmark instead of keeping it as a secondary currency during a transition phase (the then Minister of Finance, Oskar Lafontaine, was unable to gain support for this idea).

John Cochrane writes that in modern financial markets, a country doesn’t even need the right to print money in order to, well, print money! Bonds are money these days. Greece can print up small-denomination zero-coupon bearer bonds, essentially IOUs. Gavyn Davies writes these IOUs would not formally be given the status of legal tender, since this is explicitly against the terms of the treaties. Yanis Varousfakis writes that the great advantage of such schemes is that it creates a source of liquidity for the governments that is outside the bond markets, does not involve the banks and lies outside any of the restrictions imposed by European institutions. Biagio Bossone and Marco Cattaneo write that the introduction of a Greek parallel currency could take place in at least two ways. The first avenue would be for Greece to issue IOUs, i.e., promises to pay to the bearer euros upon a future time expiration. Basically, these IOUs would be euro denominated debt obligations issued and used to replace euros to pay salaries, pensions, etc.

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17.000 police to protect 7 ‘leaders’…

Greece And Ukraine Crises Drown Out G7 Summit Agenda (Reuters)

Leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations meet on Sunday in the Bavarian Alps for a summit overshadowed by Greece’s debt crisis and ongoing violence in Ukraine. Host Angela Merkel is hoping to secure commitments from her G7 guests to tackle global warming to build momentum in the run-up to a major United Nations climate summit in Paris in December. The German agenda also foresees discussions on global health issues, from Ebola to antibiotics and tropical diseases. But on the evening before the German chancellor welcomes the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States, she and French President Francois Hollande were forced into their fourth emergency phone call in 10 days with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to try to break a deadlock between Athens and its international creditors.

The two sides have been wrangling for months over the terms of a cash-for-reform deal for Greece. Without aid from euro zone partners and the IMF, Greece could default on its loans within weeks, possibly forcing it out of the currency bloc. An upsurge of violence in eastern Ukraine will also play a prominent role at the meeting at Schloss Elmau, a luxury hotel perched in the picturesque mountains of southern Germany near the Austrian border. European monitors have blamed the bloodshed on Russian-backed separatists and the leaders could decide at the summit to send a strong message to President Vladimir Putin, who was frozen out of what used to be the G8 after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.

Ahead of the gathering, thousands of anti-G7 protesters marched in the nearby town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Saturday. There were sporadic clashes with police and several marchers were taken to hospital with injuries, but the violence was minor compared to some previous summits. The Germans have deployed 17,000 police around the former winter Olympic games venue at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Another 2,000 are on stand-by across the border in Austria.

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Arguably, the TTP et al treaties will end this too.

The Growth Of The State-Owned Trading Houses (Bloomberg)

When Azerbaijan’s Socar took over the storied commodity trader Phibro this year, it put a stamp on a new trend: the emergence of giant state enterprises to buy and sell natural resources. Azerbaijan is not alone: Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Thailand and Russia are also building or expanding government-owned firms to procure and market commodities directly, bypassing the traditional oil and grain traders such as Glencore, Cargill, Vitol Group and Trafigura. “Countries want to secure the offtake of their production or they want to secure supplies,” Socar Trading Chief Executive Officer Arzu Azimov said in an interview. “There is a trend of national companies building trading arms. The new cadre of state trading houses has deep pockets and lofty ambitions.

They have built their capabilities through acquisitions and rapid organic growth, often poaching executives from U.S. and European competitors to do it. And over time, they could damage the business model of the current dominant groups. “The growth of the state-owned traders is making it harder for the established houses,” said Andrew Montague-Fuller, director of energy consultants Molten Group. Socar purchased the remnants of Phibro in March. The U.S. firm, which once owned investment bank Salomon Brothers and dominated commodity markets for most of the past century, had been scaling back for a decade.

Commodity houses serve as the middlemen of global trade, controlling the flow of fuels, grains and metals between groups such as Exxon Mobil and FedEx or coffee farmers in Africa and Nestle. Executives from non-state traders have given a guarded welcome to the new entities. “State-owned trading houses are a new source of competition and will undoubtedly change the market dynamics, but will also create opportunities and will be clients for trading firms,” said Pierre Lorinet, chief financial officer of Trafigura. That’s because the new houses don’t yet have the capacity to handle all aspects of trading. Yet the threat from large new rivals is obvious, with the state firms eating into the commodity flows of the traditional traders and enjoying privileged access to the natural resources of the countries that own them.

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Who governs the nation, you said?

Yellen Balks At Turning Over Files To Congress (AP)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is balking at turning over some of the documents ordered by a key House lawmaker in his investigation of a possible leak of market-sensitive information. Yellen has told Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who heads the House Financial Services Committee, that she can’t provide some documents sought by his subpoena because doing so could jeopardize a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and the Fed’s watchdog inspector general. Yellen said the inspector general has told the Fed that the documents in question – which include records related to an earlier internal review by the Fed’s general counsel – should not be provided.

“The Federal Reserve is mindful that we must not impede that open criminal investigation,” Yellen wrote in a letter to Hensarling Thursday. The move escalated a months-long battle between the Fed chair and the lawmaker over an alleged leak in 2012 of interest-rate information to a financial newsletter. Hensarling, a vocal critic of the Fed, issued a subpoena to the central bank last month, saying it had repeatedly failed to adequately respond to the panel’s questions and requests for documents. He has said that his committee is trying to determine whether or not the Fed’s probe was dropped at the request of several members of its policymaking body.

The Fed told the committee in March that its own investigation found no evidence that sensitive information was deliberately leaked from the September 2012 interest-rate policy meeting. Any disclosure of information on Fed policymakers’ views appeared to have been “unintentional or careless” and did not contain details of policy proposals, the Fed concluded. An aide to Hensarling said the central bank has “not provided a valid legal justification for its failure to provide complete and adequate responses to the committee.” “The Fed once again is acting in a manner that can only be characterized as resistant to accountability, transparency and oversight,” Jeff Emerson, an aide to Hensarling, said in a statement.

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Creating bigger losses.

New Toys For Flash Boys In China’s Fledgling Derivatives Market (Reuters)

The rapid liberalization of Chinese derivatives markets has attracted a new breed of creative traders employing complex trading strategies that can generate quick profits – and an extra dollop of risk – in China’s runaway stock boom.
Brokerages and fund managers are investing in mathematics whizzes and hardware, and moving servers onto trading floors to gain precious microseconds dealing in new options and futures contracts, helping China’s CSI300 index become the world’s most traded equity futures contract in May. The introduction of new derivative products is intended to help investors hedge risk, but it also gives rise to the kind of sophisticated trading strategies that have made quick-trading “flash boys” notorious in the United States and Europe.

For the most part the strategies and the traders employing them are untested in China, where the derivatives market barely existed five years ago, and slick automated trading strategies can produce horrific crashes when they go wrong. “Currently, there are many hedging tools in the market, but liquidity and stability is still a problem the hedge fund industry needs to address,” Hong Lei, deputy head of China’s Asset Management Association, told an industry forum last month. “China’s market is highly inefficient, which means it’s relatively easy to produce absolute returns,” said Ken Zhu, Chairman and CEO of hedge fund firm Scientific Investment.

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“..around 20% of employees in North America and Europe are “actively disengaged.”

All the Happy Workers (Atlantic)

The end of capitalism has often been imagined as a crisis of epic proportions. Perhaps a financial crisis will occur that is so vast not even government finances can rescue the system. Maybe the rising anger of exploited individuals will gradually congeal into a political movement, leading to revolution. Might some single ecological disaster bring the system to a halt? Most optimistically, capitalism might be so innovative that it will eventually produce its own superior successor, through technological invention. But in the years that have followed the demise of state socialism in the early 1990s, a more lackluster possibility has arisen. What if the greatest threat to capitalism, at least in the liberal West, is simply lack of enthusiasm and activity? What if, rather than inciting violence or explicit refusal, contemporary capitalism is just met with a yawn?

From a political point of view, this would be somewhat disappointing. Yet it is no less of an obstacle for the longer-term viability of capitalism. Without a certain level of commitment on the part of employees, businesses run into some very tangible problems, which soon show up in their profits. This fear has gripped the imaginations of managers and policymakers in recent years, and not without reason. Various studies of employee engagement have highlighted the economic costs of allowing workers to become mentally withdrawn from their jobs. Gallup conducts frequent and wide-ranging studies in this area and has found that only 13% of the global workforce is properly “engaged,” while around 20% of employees in North America and Europe are “actively disengaged.” They estimate that active disengagement costs the U.S. economy as much as $550 billion a year.

Disengagement is believed to manifest itself in absenteeism, sickness and—sometimes more problematic—presenteeism, in which employees come into the office purely to be physically present. A Canadian study suggests over a quarter of workplace absence is due to general burnout, rather than sickness. Few private-sector managers are required to negotiate with unions any longer, but nearly all of them confront a much trickier challenge, of dealing with employees who are regularly absent, unmotivated, or suffering from persistent, low-level mental-health problems. Resistance to work no longer manifests itself in organized voice or outright refusal, but in diffuse forms of apathy and chronic health problems. The border separating general ennui from clinical mental-health problems is especially challenging to managers in 21st century workplaces, seeing as it requires them to ask personal questions on matters that they are largely unqualified to deal with.

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And only now are people starting to look at where the money comes from that blows the bubbles.

Dodgy Money-Laundering Housing Deals To Come Out In The Wash (NZ Herald)

The Government’s pre-Budget announcement of its two-year “bright line” tax on capital gains surprised a few people and captured headlines. But the accompanying news that non-residents buying property would first have to open a bank account here, get an IRD number and declare their own passport and home tax details may have a bigger impact. The Government is pointing to this measure as having the most potential to reduce foreign demand for Auckland properties and Prime Minister John Key has indicated information on non-resident buying would be gathered and published. He said New Zealand tax authorities would also share these details with foreign tax authorities.

The elephant in the room of Auckland’s property debate is whether some of the money pouring into Auckland, from China in particular, is money laundering of ill-gotten funds. Without any data, the debate is fuelled by anecdote and rumour, but the issue is capturing global attention. In November, China’s President Xi Jinping asked for Key’s help to track down a number of Chinese nationals who had fled to New Zealand with allegedly corruptly obtained funds. This was part of Xi’s campaign to crack down on the “tigers and flies” officials and their cronies. Chinese authorities say New Zealand is the third most popular destination for such fugitives. The issue of money laundering from China is heating up in Australia, too, where data on how much property is bought by non-residents is collected.

More than 25% of all new and existing homes sold last year in Sydney and Melbourne were sold to non-residents, leaving many across the Tasman asking where the money came from. The investments have sparked calls for tougher laws governing money laundering. This is where the money laundering issue becomes more topical and direct for New Zealanders, and in particular the real estate agents, solicitors and accountants who handle money flowing out of China and into New Zealand. New Zealand introduced anti-money laundering rules for banks, insurers, finance companies, share brokers, fund managers and even loan sharks in 2013 that requires them to ask tougher questions about who they open accounts for and where the money comes from.

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What a dark tale.

Canada Confronts Its Dark Of History Of Abuse (Guardian)

Sue Caribou contracts pneumonia once a year, like clockwork. The recurring illness stems from her childhood years at one of Canada’s horrific residential schools. “I was thrown into a cold shower every night, sometimes after being raped”, the frail 50-year-old indigenous mother of six said, matter-of-factly. Caribou was snatched from her parents’ house in 1972 by the state-funded, church-run Indian Residential School system that brutally attempted to assimilate native children for over a century. She was only seven years old. “We had to stand like soldiers while singing the national anthem, otherwise, we would be beaten up”, she recalled. Caribou said Catholic missionaries physically and sexually abused her until 1979 at the Guy Hill institution, in the east of the province of Manitoba.

She said she was called a “dog”, was forced to eat rotten vegetables and was forbidden to speak her native language of Cree. “I vowed to myself that if I ever get out alive of that horrible place, I would speak up and fight for our rights”, she said. Her voice and that of 150,000 other residential school pupils was finally heard across the nation this week as Canada faced one of the darkest chapters in its history. The head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), set up to examine the school system’s legacy, did not mince his words when he unveiled his landmark report. “Canada clearly participated in a period of cultural genocide”, declared Justice Murray Sinclair to cries and applause of survivors in Ottawa.

Although prime minister Stephen Harper apologised for the school system in 2008 (as did the Roman Catholic Church in 2009), his government has always denied that it was a form of genocide. Many survivors who gathered in Ottawa felt empowered for the first time in their life after hearing findings of the six-year-long commission. It feels like our story is validated at last and is out there for the world to see”, said a tearful 58 year-old Cindy Tom-Lindley, who is executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivor Society in British Columbia. “We were too scared as children to speak out. So to give our testimonies to the commission was liberating and emotional.”

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The west has only one, entirely fictional, narrative left.

Russia ‘Never Viewed Europe As A Mistress’ – Putin (RT)

Russia has never sought a no-obligation kind of relationship with Europe, and has always called for a serious partnership, President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that touched on EU sanctions, energy disputes and severed business ties with Ukraine. “We have never viewed Europe as a mistress,” Putin told Il Corriere della Sera on the eve of his visit to Italy. “I am quite serious now. We have always proposed a serious relationship. But now I have the impression that Europe has actually been trying to establish material-based relations with us, and solely for its own gain.” Putin said the “deterioration in relations” between Moscow and the EU states was not Russia’s fault. “This was not our choice,” Putin said.

“It was dictated to us by our partners. It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather, we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.” The Russian president recalled the “notorious” Third Energy Package and Brussels’ denial of access for Russian nuclear energy products to the European market – despite all the existing agreements. The EU is also reluctant to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russia’s integration attempts on the territory of the former USSR, initially the Customs Union, which was later succeeded by the Eurasian Economic Union. “It is all right when integration takes place in Europe, but if we do the same in the territory of the former Soviet Union, they try to explain it by Russia’s desire to restore an empire,” Putin said. “I don’t understand the reasons for such an approach.”

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“..in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war..”

‘Third World War is Being Fought Piecemeal’: Pope Francis (RT)

Pope Francis has attacked what he called “the atmosphere of war,” which he believes is hampering the world. He also attacked those profiteering from war and those engaging in arms sales, as he led a mass in Bosnia on Saturday. Francis received a joyous welcome from around 100,000 people who lined the streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, as his motorcade made its way to the national stadium, where the pontiff celebrated mass for a mainly Catholic audience of around 65,000, speaking in Italian. Many conflicts across the planet amount to “a kind of Third World War being fought piecemeal and, in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war,” the pontiff said, according to AFP.

“Some wish to incite and foment this atmosphere deliberately,” he added, attacking those who want to foster division for political ends or profit from war through arms dealing. “But war means children, women and the elderly in refugee camps; it means forced displacement, destroyed houses, streets and factories: above all countless shattered lives.” “You know this well having experienced it here,” he added, alluding to the wars that preceded the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Security was tight, with thousands of police officers lining the route taken by the pope. Shops and cafes were closed, while local residents were told not to open their windows or stand on their balconies. Just prior to the visit, Islamists claiming to be members of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) called for Muslims to take-up jihad in the Balkans.

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Fiddling as they drown.

Cameron, Merkel At Odds Over Plan To Settle Refugees Across Europe (Guardian)

David Cameron is set to clash with Angela Merkel at the G7 summit over her plans for a pan-EU distribution of the migrants coming across the Mediterranean from north Africa, with the British prime minister insistent that such measures will only encourage the traffickers. The German chancellor has said that finding a way forward on the migration crisis will be a priority during the two-day talks starting in Bavaria on Sunday. She has previously said there should be a new EU system that distributes asylum seekers to member states based on their population and economic strength. Merkel is expected to make further such calls in the days to come.

Downing Street, however, insists that it will not go along with any such plans. Government officials claim they would deal only with the symptoms and not the cause of the humanitarian disaster. One government official said: “The more the traffickers see that people are being resettled, the greater the incentive there is for them.” As part of his freshly announced agenda of tackling corruption, officials said Cameron would instead argue that attempts to dismantle the human trafficking networks should remain the focus, although the idea of an EU military force destroying boats in the Mediterranean has been rejected by the Libyan authorities. The prime minister of the government in Tripoli said recently that he was ready to repel any such action, likening it to the “colonial mentality” of the Italian occupiers of Libya last century.

A Downing Street source said talks with the authorities in Tripoli were ongoing, but would not be drawn on suggestions that the EU would go ahead without Libya’s approval. “We are not there yet,” the source said. However, Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, suggested that the government could not rely on Labour’s support if it sought to go ahead with such military plans. Benn told the Observer: “The movement of migrants across the Mediterranean has now reached crisis point. As we know, thousands of innocent people have died and hundreds of thousands of others have been put at risk.” But although he was clear traffickers were to blame, he said, it was essential that “any action taken to deal with that trade is backed by the UN security council, has clear rules of engagement and has the consent of the relevant Libyan authorities”.

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500,000 people are reported to wait in Lybia to make the crossing.

Over 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean Saturday, More On The Way (Reuters)

More than 2,000 migrants were rescued from five wooden boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday and as many as seven other vessels have been reported at sea, the privately funded Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Italy’s coastguard said. “MOAS coordinated the rescue of over 2,000 people together with Italian, Irish and Germany ships,” the group tweeted. The migrants were packed onto wooden fishing boats in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. Italy’s coastguard, which coordinates sea rescue efforts in from Rome, could not confirm the number of migrants who had been saved so far, but said about a dozen different migrant boats had been reported and rescue operations were ongoing. “We have several assets at work,” a coastguard spokesman said.

During the first five months of the year, there were 46,500 sea arrivals in Italy, a 12% increase on the same period of last year, the UN refugee agency said. Italy’s government projects 200,000 will come this year, up from 170,000 in 2014. The summer months are usually the busiest period for departures because the calm seas make the crossing easier. This year growing anarchy in Libya – the last point on one of the main transit routes to Europe – is giving free hand to people smugglers who make an average of €80,000 from each boatload, according to an ongoing investigation by an Italian court. MOAS, which is operating a privately funded rescue operation with Doctors without Borders, said its Phoenix ship plucked 372 mostly Eritreans from one boat. The Italian navy said one of its ships was still trying to remove about 560 from a wooden boat, while another navy ship has finished rescuing 316 from yet another.

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