Aug 142017
 
 August 14, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


August Strindberg Alpine Landscape I 1894

 

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)
Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)
US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)
Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)
Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)
Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)
Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)
More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)
Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)
Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

 

 

Creative accounting is subject to inherent limits.

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)

“Adjusted” earnings growth is 10.2% year-over-year in the second quarter, according to FactSet, based on the 91% of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results. The energy sector was a key driver, with 332% “adjusted” earnings growth from the oil-bust levels of a year ago. The sectors with double-digit earnings growth: information technology (14.7%), utilities (10.8%), and financials (10.3%). The rest were single digit. Earnings in the consumer discretionary sector declined. Revenues grew 5.1%, also led by the energy sector. At the beginning of Q2 last year, the WTI grade of crude oil traded at $35 a barrel. In Q2 this year, WTI ranged from $42 to $53 a barrel.

So the Wall-Street hype machine is cranking at maximum RPM to propagate the great news that earnings are soaring, and that this is the reason why stocks should also be soaring, and forget everything else. The hype machine carefully avoids showing the bigger picture which is dismal for earnings and ludicrous for stock valuations. Aggregate earnings per share (EPS) for the S&P 500 companies on a trailing 12-months basis rose for the second quarter in a row. That’s the foundation of the Wall Street hype. But here’s the thing with these EPS: they’re now back where they had been in… May 2014. Yep. More than three years of earnings stagnation. No growth whatsoever, even for “adjusted” earnings. In fact, on a trailing 12-month basis, aggregate EPS of the S&P 500 companies are down about 5% from their peak in Q4 2014.

And yet, over the same three-plus years of total earnings stagnation, the S&P 500 index has soared 34%. This chart shows those “adjusted” earnings per share for the S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked August 2012 as the point five years ago, and May 2014. And these are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). FactSet uses “adjusted” earnings for its analyses. These are the earnings with the bad stuff “adjusted” out of them by management to manipulate earnings into the most favorable light. Not all companies report “adjusted” earnings. Some only report GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But others put adjusted earnings into the foreground, and that’s what Wall Street dishes up.

[..] This is the peculiar situation of today: On average, these companies have stagnating earnings per share propped up by “adjusting” these earnings and by financial engineering. The price-earnings multiple (P/E ratio) for stagnating companies should be low. In January 2012, the P/E ratio for the companies in the S&P 500 index was 14.9. And that was high. As of Friday, the aggregate P/E ratio is 24.3:

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Brussels keeps Europe from recovering. A continent of zombies.

Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)

This week we have read that Brussels has certified “the end of the crisis”. In an uncomfortably triumphant statement, the group welcomed the fact that Europe had emerged from the crisis and returned to growth “thanks to the decisive action of the European Union”. Really? Thanks to the “decisive action” of the European Union the “economy is back in shape”? It is true that the communique says that “much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the crisis years”, but if we can say something about the European crisis is that the “decisive” action of the European Union has not helped to end the crisis, but has perpetuated and silenced it. The European economy is not “in shape”.

According to the Bank of International Settlements and Merrill Lynch, Europe has more zombie companies today than before the crisis, 9% of large listed non-financial corporations are considered walking dead, ie generating operating profits that do not cover their financial costs, in spite of all-time low-interest rates and an unprecedented monetary stimulus. And that is among the big companies, where the business results of the Eurostoxx remain below 2008. If we go to SMEs, the European Union has higher rates of bankruptcies and losses than in 2008, yet the tax burden on companies has increased. In fact, if anything can be said of the European business fabric is that it has been devastated by taxes.

The European Union has continued to hamper the high-productivity sectors to support the so-called national champions and zombies, that large amount of low-value added conglomerates, ridden by high debt and poor margins. While the United States saw the astronomical takeoff of technology giants and corporate profits growing at double digit rates, the EU decided to put obstacles to growth, and today, in the Eurostoxx 100, we have the same collection of dinosaurs that we had a decade ago. European banks, at the end of 2016, had more than €1 trillion in non-performing loans, a figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan. Europe has gone from financial crisis to financial crisis, and recently we have had new episodes in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Theory: Xi will not put up a real fight if he’s not certain he can win (Deng Xiao Ping’s stance on US).

US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)

Trump is expected to issue the so-called Section 301 investigation under the 1974 Trade Act later on Monday to investigate Chinese trade practices that force U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, multiple outlets reported. China will retaliate in such a case, said the Communist Party-linked Global Times, which is known for its nationalist slant. “The Trump administration should have second thoughts about putting pressure on China on trade and avoid a full-blown trade war,” said the newspaper, adding that the Beijing “should make use of the WTO mechanism to sue the U.S. for trade protectionism.” “The trade policies of the Trump administration have been widely criticized. Although filing a lawsuit with the WTO is time-consuming, it is highly likely that China would win,” it said.

The latest news about a U.S. probe into Chinese trade practices could lead to steep tariffs and comes as Trump is pressing for China’s cooperation in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program. “The U.S. now is walking softly and carrying a huge stick in regards to what it wants. Here, this is tactically nothing more than ‘We need your support with North Korea,’ part and parcel, that’s it. The symbolism of this is just politics and game play,” Frank Troise, managing director at SoHo Capital, told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” China has repeatedly said the two issues were not related, with the Global Times calling the link “illogical” in its Sunday night editorial. Commentaries in state media normally provide insight into government thinking beyond typically thin official statements.

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Neil Howe is an interesting voice, and that’s only partly because Steve Bannon likes his work.

Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)

[..] .. although 9/11 changed America’s attitude towards the rest of the world, I think that the stock market boom and celebrity circus that’s here in the United States really hadn’t changed very much. And I don’t think you really had a shift, a fundamental shift, in America’s perception of themselves as a people, as their own country, to a fundamental degree until 2008. Also, 2001, as we explained to many people at the time, was simply too early. Every turning starts when each generation is beginning to move into a new phase of life. Back in 2001 boomers were not yet retiring, millennials were still—maybe the first one of them was barely graduating from high school.

So, this was not what we expected. 2008 really did coincide with the generational maturity of the turning, so to speak. And I think that, in terms of the basic shift in our efficacy of the social system, I think 2008 was a bigger change.” The crisis also ushered in an era where central banks exhibit total control of markets, which has created an “artificial quality,” Howe said. “The economic emergency that occurred in 2008-2009 really catapulted us into by far the biggest economic emergency we’ve been in since the early 1930s. And, arguably, we are still living out the consequences of that with complete change in central bank policy, monetary policy, with sustaining these record low interest rates and arguable very high valuations in financial markets—almost anything pushed by that—and people still wondering how we’re going to get out from under that.

The constant discussion is when are central banks going to pull back on their balance sheets and actually go back to the old normal? So, I think there is the sense, even in this the booming markets that we see today, that there is this artificial quality: people think that there’s something wrong about this. We have not re-righted where we were. We are not letting price discovery and actual markets function the way they did before then. So, I do believe that 2008 was the beginning of a whole new regime. And I also believe that the political dysfunction, the sense of political dysfunction—created during the two turns of the Obama presidency and, obviously, also into the Trump presidency—of government completely grinding to a halt is going to have some very powerful repercussions in the years shortly to come.”

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Anarchy in the UK.

Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)

Alan Moore, the renowned graphic novel writer, and author of the dystopian classic V for Vendetta, politically identifies as an anarchist. His view that all political states are an outgrowth of anarchy, with the biggest gang taking control and dictating how things will be run, is manifested in V for Vendetta. As an anarchist, you can understand why he is doubtful of conspiracy theories and an all-powerful entity controlling the world. He believes in a chaotic world competing gangs position themselves to gain power and control.

“We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.”- Alan Moore

The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta has been adopted by anarchist groups around the world, including: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Occupy protestors. Moore’s positive view of the Occupy movement was based on his belief ordinary people had the right to reclaim what had been taken from them by criminal bankers. The initial impetus for the Occupy protests was the destruction of Main Street USA by Wall Street sociopaths, who not only escaped prosecution for their crimes, but were bailed out by the taxpayers they had pillaged and further enriched as captured politicians enabled them to get even bigger. Millions were evicted from their homes and lost their jobs. Middle class families have seen their real income continue to stagnate, while bankers, corporate executives, and politicians have reaped billions in bonuses, stock gains, and payoffs, provided by central bankers in their back pocket.

“I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it – they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people whose lives this is actually affecting.” – Alan Moore

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Basic argument: technological growth beats economic growth. But why argue this using social housing and libraries?

Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)

How is this possible? Because “a lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements”. This is a concrete example of real growth without what is normally understood by economic growth. If we can grasp this, we can see why the argument about whether indefinite growth is environmentally sustainable is bogus. Orthodox economics says that it is essential if the world’s worst-off are to escape their poverty. Critics argue for zero or even negative growth, claiming that this is the only way to ensure we don’t deplete the planet’s resources. Both are wrong. Real wealth is created not just by exploiting more resources and increasing society’s cash pot but by exploiting the same or fewer resources better.

The whole question of GDP growth is a red herring if we are interested in real wealth. What matters is that we do more with the resources we have. Building a better future depends on seeing this clearly. Take the need to reduce inequality, which many now accept is urgent. To do this it is assumed we need to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. But real equality is increased simply by making it possible for the less well-off to do more with the money they have. Social housing was, and could again be, an example of that. Take two people, one of whom earns £30k a year and the other £15k. To close the real wealth gap between the two does not necessarily require increasing the income of the latter. Providing them with a decent council flat at low rent effectively allows their disposable income to equalise.

The basic principle here is that what matters most is giving people the resources they need to live better, which doesn’t necessarily require giving them more cash. This has in effect been the principle behind all sorts of socially levelling initiatives. Local authorities didn’t give local people free books, they gave them the use of libraries. They didn’t give them cars, they gave them bus passes. We need to relearn the wisdom of these policies, and update them for the modern age. In an era where car ownership is not rare, what about low-cost car clubs? Why shouldn’t more people be able to borrow laptops and tablets from libraries as well as books and DVDs?

Read more …

“Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone.”

Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)

The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around the world. Factory farming of poultry in Asia is also increasing the threat of bird flu spreading beyond the region, with more deadly strains taking hold, according to a new report from a network of financial investors. Use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farms will increase by more than 120% in Asiaby 2030, based on current trends. Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone. The Chinese meat and animal feed producers New Hope Group and Wen’s Group are now among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world. The growth of Asian meat production in intensive units is also producing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain, with emissions likely to rise by more than 360m tonnes, the equivalent of running 100 coal-fired power plants for a year.

There are knock-on impacts such as deforestation, as China’s need for animal feed is responsible for more than a third of Brazil’s soybean production. The report, Factory Farming in Asia: Assessing Investment Risks, comes three years after a meat scandal in China, in which suppliers to McDonalds, KFC and others were found to be using dirty meat and products past their sell-by date. It also comes in the midst of a growing food scandal in Europe, which has required the recall of millions of eggs tainted with harmful chemicals, and as concerns have been aired over the impact of Brexit on imports of farm products to the UK. Asian food companies have rapidly expanded their meat production in response to growing populations and the tastes of the rising middle class, but this expansion has come to the detriment of food safety.

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They’re being shot at. And the Italian Foreign Minister calls that “a welcome readjustment” and a “positive process”.

More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)

Two more aid groups have suspended migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, joining Doctors Without Borders, because they felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard. Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye said on Sunday their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan authorities. Doctors Without Borders – or Medecins sans Frontieres – cited the same concern when it said on Saturday it would halt Mediterranean operations. “We leave a deadly gap in the Mediterranean,” Sea Eye’s founder Michael Busch Heuer warned on Facebook, adding that Libya had issued an “explicit threat” against non-government organisations operating in the area around its coast. Libyan coastguard boats have repeatedly clashed with NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan waters, sometimes opening fire.

The coastguard has defended such actions, saying the shooting was to assert control over rescue operations. “In general, we do not reject (NGO) presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters on Sunday. Tension has also been growing for weeks between aid groups and the Italian government, which has suggested some NGOs are facilitating people smuggling, while Italy is trying to enhance the role of the Libyan coastguard in blocking migrant departures. This month, Italy began a naval mission in Libyan waters to provide technical and operational support to its coastguard, despite opposition from factions in eastern Libya that oppose the U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli.

[..] Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that Libya’s growing role in controlling its waters was curbing people trafficking and producing a welcome “readjustment” in the Mediterranean. MSF’s decision to halt its rescue operations was part of this positive process, he told the newspaper La Stampa.

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There’s propaganda and then there’s reality. You decide who you believe.

Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)

Aleppo, a city retaken by Damascus from rebels in December last year, has become a major destination for displaced Syrian returning home in 2017 as numbers of returnees to Syria spills over 600,000, according to the UN. Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16% returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016. An estimated 67% of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination.

Among other places where refugees went in significant numbers, according to ICO, is Al-Hasakah Governorate, the north-eastern province dominated by Kurds. The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.

Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees. [..] The situation is far from rosy of course, according to IOM. The number of people forced to leave their homes in 2017 still outweighs that of returnees, with over 808,000 people estimated to be displaced. Around 10% of those who returned in 2016 and 2017 have ended up fleeing their homes again. Almost 20% of the returnees have no secure supply of food and access to water and health services is a problem for some 60%, a testament to the damage the Syrian war has taken on its civilian infrastructure.

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Love it. Absolute must read, the whole article. Very rich.

Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

The birth of an elephant is a spectacular occasion. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins crowd around the new arrival and its dazed mother, trumpeting and stamping and waving their trunks to welcome the floppy baby who has so recently arrived from out of the void, bursting through the border of existence to take its place in an unbroken line stretching back to the dawn of life. After almost two years in the womb and a few minutes to stretch its legs, the calf can begin to stumble around. But its trunk, an evolutionarily unique inheritance of up to 150,000 muscles with the dexterity to pick up a pin and the strength to uproot a tree, will be a mystery to it at first, with little apparent use except to sometimes suck upon like human babies do their thumbs.

Over time, with practice and guidance, it will find the potential in this appendage flailing off its face to breathe, drink, caress, thwack, probe, lift, haul, wrap, spray, sense, blast, stroke, smell, nudge, collect, bathe, toot, wave, and perform countless other functions that a person would rely on a combination of eyes, nose, hands, and strong machinery to do. Once the calf is weaned from its mother’s milk at five or whenever its next sibling is born, it will spend up to 16 hours a day eating 5% of its entire weight in leaves, grass, brush, bark, and basically any other kind of vegetation. It will only process about 40% of the nutrients in this food, however; the waste it leaves behind helps fertilize plant growth and provide accessible nutrition on the ground to smaller animals, thus making the elephant a keystone species in its habitat. From 250 pounds at birth, it will continue to grow throughout its life, to up to 7 tons for a male of the largest species or 4 tons for a female.

Of the many types of elephants and mammoths that used to roam the earth, one born today will belong to one of three surviving species: Elephas maximus in Asia, Loxodonta africana (savanna elephant) or Loxodonta cyclotis (forest elephant) in Africa. There are about 500,000 African elephants alive now (about a third of them the more reticent, less studied L. cyclotis), and only 40,000 – 50,000 Asian elephants remaining. The Swedish Elephant Encyclopedia database currently lists just under 5,000 (most of them E. maximus) living in captivity worldwide, in half as many locations — meaning that the average number of elephants per holding is less than two; many of them live without a single companion of their kind.

For the freeborn, if it is a cow, the “allomothers” who welcomed her into the world will be with her for life — a matriarchal clan led by the oldest and biggest. She in turn will be an enthusiastic caretaker and playmate to her younger cousins and siblings. When she is twelve or fourteen, she will go into heat (“estrus”) for the first time, a bewildering occurrence during which her mother will stand by and show her what to do and which male to accept. If she conceives, she will have a calf twenty-two months later, crucially aided in birthing and raising it by the more experienced older ladies. She may have another every four to five years into her fifties or sixties, but not all will survive.

Read more …

Feb 012017
 
 February 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Théodore Géricault The Raft of the Medusa 1819

 

Benoît Hamon won the run-off for the presidential nomination of the Socialist party in France last weekend. The party that still, lest we forget, runs the country; current president François Hollande is a Socialist, even if only in name, but he did win the previous election. Hamon ran on a platform of shortening the workweek from 35 to 32 hours, legalizing cannabis and ‘easing’ the country into a universal basic income of €750/month per capita. He’s way left of Hollande, who has a hilariously low approval rating of 4%.

Hamon doesn’t appear to have much chance of winning the presidency in the two voting rounds taking place on April 23 and May 7, but we all know how reliable election predictions are these days, and in that regard France is as volatile as the next country. With conservative runaway favorite François Fillon accused of having paid his wife $1 million for doing nothing and Marine Le Pen, already desperately short on funds, targeted by the EU over money, who knows what and who will decide the election? Hamon may simply be the only one left standing on the day after the vote.

I bring up Hamon, about whom I know very little, not least because he was more or less a late minute addition to the field that was supposed to have been an easy win for his former boss Manuel Valls, I bring up Hamon because he confirms something I’ve been talking about for a while. That is, the fact that ‘leftist France’ chooses to go even more left than expected, goes a way towards proving my ‘theory’ that voters in many if not most western countries will move away from their respective political centers, and towards extremes.

This is an inevitable consequence of traditional, less extreme, politicians and parties having all become clustered together in shapeless and colorless blobs in the center, both in the US and in most European countries, combined with the fact that all of their policies -especially economic ones- have spectacularly failed vast amounts of people (or voters, if you will).

The failure of their policies has been hidden from sight by interest rates squashed like bugs, ballooning central bank balance sheets, real estate bubbles, fabricated economic data, and fantasy stories in their media that seem(ed) to affirm the ‘recovery’ tales, but they all ‘forgot’ to -eventually- line up reality with the fantasies. They never made 99% of people actually more comfortable. The entire politics-economics-media deus ex machina has failed because it was/is based on lies and fake news, meant to hide economic reality (i.e. negative growth), and this will have grave consequences.

People have started noticing this despite the official and media-promoted data. And they’re not going to “un-notice”. Not only don’t people -once they find out- like having been lied to for years, they dislike worsening living conditions even more. And that’s all they get; the only people who get it better are the rich, because without that the machinery can’t continue pumping up the ‘official’ numbers.

 

And what do you get? People complain about Trump. And they focus on one of his -seemingly- crazy ideas: temporarily closing US borders to refugees from nations with large Muslim populations. Which is a fine thing to resist, because yes, it’s a pretty silly idea, but why haven’t they paid similar attention to how they’ve been lied to for years on both the economy and on Syria, on how Obama became the Drone King and how many innocent people lost their lives because of that?!

To how favorite all-American gal Hillary screwed up Northern Africa when she declared We Came We Saw He Died and the death of Libya’s Gaddafi, who gave his country the highest living standards in the region, free education and free health care, but was murdered by Hillary’s US troops, co-created the chaos that led to so many people wanting to flee their homelands in the first place?

Why is that? Why are there protests when people are halted at an American border crossing but not when American and British and French and Australian forces blow the very same people’s homes to smithereens? Could that have something to do with where the protesters get their information? With how much they know about what’s happening in the world before it reaches their doorsteps?

Yes, people are suffering, and it’s very unfair what’s happening to many caught in the Trump Ban, but does anyone really believe that that’s where it started, that this is the first time (or even a unique time) that protest is warranted, or more so? And if not, why is it happening? Because people only notice stuff when it hits them in the face, I would presume, but who among the protesters would volunteer to agree they live their lives with blinders on? Not many, I would venture. So why do we see what we do? Where were you when Obama ordered yet another child, a family, which hadn’t yet made it to a US airport but might as well have, to be collateral damage?

I get why you’re protesting the Trump ban, but I don’t get why that’s your prime focus. I am guessing that most of the protesters would not have voted Trump in the first place, and would have been much happier -to put it mildly- for Hillary to be president right now. But if you would have paid attention in history class, you would know that it was Hillary who brought the refugees to your welcome mats to begin with.

Take it a step further, like to the January 21 women’s march, and you would realize that the vast majority of the refugees would have much preferred to stay where they grew up, where the women in their families, their sisters and aunts and daughters used to live. Most of whom are gone now, they’re either dead or diaspora-ed to Jordan, Turkey, Alberta, Sweden, Greece. All on account of Obama and his crew. Who of course blamed it on Assad and Putin. “I killed 1000 children, but I had to because those guys are so dangerous….”

This generation of refugees, of the huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty is supposed to teach you about, didn’t come to America because it’s the promised land; they came because America turned their homeland into a giant pile of rubble surrounded by garbage heaps and minefields. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of Aleppo before it was destroyed, but I dare you to tell me there is even one existing American city today that’s more beautiful than Aleppo was before Americans and their allies reduced it to dust. Here you go. This is Aleppo before America got involved in Syria:

 

 

There’s very little left of that beautiful city, with its highly educated people and their lovely happy children. And none of that has anything at all to do with Donald Trump! I don’t want to give you pics of what Aleppo looks like now. I want you to remember how lovely it was before ‘we’ moved in, years go. Sure, what you hear and see in the west is that Assad and Putin are the bad guys in this story. But now that the US/EU supported ‘rebels’ are gone, dozens of schools are reopening, and medical centers, hospitals. Who are the bad guys now?

And yeah, Trump is an elephant, and elephants are always awkward and they’re messy and they tend to kick things over and when they make mistakes those tend to be huge, but how much valuable china does the US really have left anyway? Isn’t it all perhaps just a sliver off target, the demos, the outrage and indignation? Is the idea that your army can destroy people’s living environments with impunity without you protesting in anything approaching a serious way, and that then you get to demand, through protest, that those same people are allowed entry into your country? That’s way too late to do the right thing.

 

I started out making the point that as our politico-economic systems are failing, voters will move away from the center that devised and promoted those systems, and that this will happen in many countries. The US could have had Bernie Sanders as president, but the remaining powers in the center made that impossible. Likewise, many European countries will see a move towards either further left or further right.

Since the former is mostly dormant at best, while the latter has long been preparing for just such a moment, many nations will follow the American example and elect a right wing figurehead. This will cause a lot of chaos, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. People need to wake up and become active. The recent US demonstrations may be a first sign of that, even though they look largely out of focus. More than anything else, people need a mirror, they need to acknowledge that because they’ve been in a state of mindless self-centered slumber for so long, they have work to do now.

And that work needs to consist of more than yelling at the top of your lungs that Trump and Le Pen and Wilders are such terribly bad people. For one thing because that will only help them, for another because they were not the people who put you to sleep or were supporting mindless slaughter in faraway nations or were making up ‘official’ numbers as your economies were dumped into handbaskets on their way to hell. So ask yourselves, why did you believe what Obama was saying, or Merkel, or Cameron, Sarkozy, Rutte, you name them, while you could have known they were just making it all up, if only you had paid attention?

Why? What happened? Why did the term ‘fake news’ only recently become a hot potato, even though you’ve been bombarded with fake and false news for years? Is it because you were/are so eager to believe that your economy is recovering that any evidence to the contrary didn’t stand a chance? If so, do realize that for many people that was not true; it’s why they voted for the people you now so despise. Is it perhaps also because you’re so eager to believe your ‘leaders’ do the right thing that you completely miss out on the fact that they’re not? And whose fault is that?

 

In yet another angle, people claim that the planet’s in great peril because Trump doesn’t ‘believe’ in climate change. But it’s not Trump’s who’s the danger when it comes to climate change, you are, because you’re foolish enough to believe that things like last year’s infinitely bally-hood Paris Agreement (CON21) will actually ‘save’ something. That belief is more dangerous than a flat-out denial, because it lulls people into sleep, while denial keeps them awake.

It’s the idea that there’s still time to rescue the planet that’s dangerous, because it’s the perfect excuse to keep on doing what you were doing without having to feel too much guilt or remorse. You’re not going to save a single species with your electric car or whatever next green fad there is, the only way to do that is through drastic changes to your society and your own behavior.

That’s not only true with respect to the climate, it’s just as valid with respect to the refugees on your doorstep. If you want to rescue them, and those who will come after them, the only thing that makes any difference is making sure the bombing stops, that the US and European war machines are silenced. If you don’t do that, none of these protests are of any use. So sure, yeah, by all means, protest, but make sure you protest the real issues, not just a symptom.

That doesn’t mean you should shut the door in the face of these frail forms fainting at the door, that’s just insane, but it does mean that after welcoming your guests, you will also have to make sure what brought them there must stop. If you stop killing and maiming these people, and help rebuild Aleppo and a thousand other places, they won’t need to come to your door anymore.

 

As for the political field, unrest will continue and grow because the end of economic growth means the end of centralization, and our entire world, politically, economically, what have you, is based on these two things. Today, unrest is the only growth industry left. And it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a new day, a new dawn, it’s just that unfortunately this is not going to be a pretty one.

Still, none of it is unexpected. The Automatic Earth has been saying for years, and with us quite a few others, that this was and is inevitable. Of course there are those who say that we cried wolf, but we’ll take that risk any day. Saw a nice very short video of Mike Maloney saying in 2011 that Obama would have to double US debt between 2008 and 2016 just to keep the entire system from starting to collapse, running to stand still, Alice, Red Queen and all. And guess what?

There’s the recovery as it’s been sold to you. It’s all been borrowed, to the last penny. Will Donald Trump double US debt once again? Will the EU countries do the same? How about Japan and China? And to think that federal debt isn’t even the worst threat, personal debt is, and so many of us carry so much of that, and try to pass off our mortgaged homes as assets, not debt. An increasingly desperate game on all fronts.

Dec 202016
 
 December 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Homeless mother and child walking from Phoenix to Imperial County CA 1939

China Talks the Talk on Property Curbs, but Can it Walk the Walk? (BBG)
China May Be Losing Cat-and-Mouse Game With ‘Hong Kong Insurance’ Buyers (BBG)
New Italy PM Asks Parliament To Approve Borrowing €20 Billion For Banks (BBC)
After Aleppo: We Need A New Syria Policy (Ron Paul)
We’re About To Sign A Deal With Canada That’s Just As Bad As TTIP (Ind.)
Britain’s Shame: The People Who Are Homeless, Even Though They’re In Work (G.)
Nine In 10 Jobless Greeks Receive No Unemployment Benefit (Kath.)
Moody’s Voices Concern At ‘Material Delay’ In Greece Debt Relief Talks (G.)
Greek Hospitals Deepen Trauma For Refugee Women Giving Birth (Gill)
Thousands Of US Locales Have Lead Poisoning Worse Than Flint (R.)
Coal Continues Its March Towards Asia (IEA)
Air Pollution In Northern Chinese City Surpasses WHO Guideline By 100 Times (R.)
Japan Pulls Plug On Troubled Fast Breeder Reactor (AFP)
This Is The Polar Bear Capital Of The World, But The Snow Has Gone (G.)

 

 

Now that Trump is sealed in to become America’s 45th president in a month’s time, comparisons to Hitler and nazism seem to become the flavor of the day. Sad. Almost as sad as the multiple deadly attacks that have taken place over the last 24 hours. But there is enough to read about that everywhere. I’ll focus on things that may seem less important.

 

“They absolutely cannot have any significant drop in prices without risking real social instability.”

China Talks the Talk on Property Curbs, but Can it Walk the Walk? (BBG)

China is talking the talk about reining in the speculation that fueled spiraling property prices. The test will be whether it can walk the walk should growth start to falter. [..] With the leadership wed to Xi’s goal of annual growth averaging 6.5 percent through 2020, the challenge will be to achieve that amid another slowdown in the crucial property engine. “Policy makers are trying now to contain the property market by talking,” Zhu said. “That unfortunately is too late and does little to dispel the speculative sentiment and expectation that’s built up over the past one-and-half decades. The situation has already gone beyond a soft landing.” China’s highly leveraged developers are feeling the heat. Regulators in October choked off a key source of funding with the Shanghai Stock Exchange raising the threshold for property firms to sell bonds on their platform.

Medicine being administered to the bond market is also raising risks of dangerous side-effects as policy makers try to discourage risky investments made on borrowed money. Authorities have increased short-term money-market rates and tightened rules on using debt as collateral to buy even more securities. That’s sparked a jump in borrowing costs, prompted firms to cancel bond offerings and fueled speculation defaults will spread next year amid a near-record 4.5 trillion yuan of maturities. Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University in Shenzhen, cites the risk of increased credit growth for mortgages and real estate. Longer-term household loans increased by 569.2 billion yuan last month, accounting for more than two thirds of total new yuan loans. That was just shy of the 571.3 billion yuan record in September. The growth pace is likely to moderate, though “that isn’t saying a lot,” Balding said. “They absolutely cannot have any significant drop in prices without risking real social instability.”

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“They’ve also swiped their credit or debit cards again and again – in one case, as many as 800 times – so that each transaction remained below the limit.”

China May Be Losing Cat-and-Mouse Game With ‘Hong Kong Insurance’ Buyers (BBG)

It’s a game of cat-and-mouse that has gone on for most of this year, with Beijing showing no signs of winning yet. Each time China tightens up on money flowing out of the country for purchases of Hong Kong insurance, new routes seem to emerge. In the latest clampdown, which started on Saturday, MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. added restrictions on purchasing all but the cheapest insurance policies using credit cards issued in China, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Chinese have been spending billions of Hong Kong dollars on insurance products that are linked to investments, as a way of channeling money out of China. Chinese residents will “actively seek ways to get around the curbs no matter what,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steven Lam.

Mainland purchases of Hong Kong insurance may rise to fresh records after reaching a high of HK$18.9 billion ($2.4 billion) in the third quarter, he said. Tenacious mainland buyers have bypassed restrictions by channeling money through online payment services or by using Hong Kong money changers, who allow money to be received in Hong Kong based on domestic transfers to accounts within China. They’ve also swiped their credit or debit cards again and again – in one case, as many as 800 times – so that each transaction remained below the limit. The latest Visa and MasterCard rules restrict multiple swiping. Weakness in the yuan is encouraging Chinese residents to put their money into products denominated in either Hong Kong or U.S. dollars. That’s adding to the headaches for Chinese officials concerned that capital flight could further contribute to yuan depreciation. Outflows are estimated to have totaled more than $1.5 trillion since the beginning of 2015.

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One would almost hope the new technocrats fail miserably.

New Italy PM Asks Parliament To Approve Borrowing €20 Billion For Banks (BBC)

The Italian government will seek parliamentary approval to borrow up to €20bn to support its fragile banking sector and potentially rescue Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The country’s third-largest bank needs to raise €5bn in fresh capital by the end of the month. If Monte dei Paschi cannot arrange a private sector bailout, a state rescue may come as early as this week. It is saddled with bad loans and is deemed to be the weakest major EU bank. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, whose government has only been in office for a week, is under pressure because private investors would suffer any losses under EU bailout rules.

He described the move as a “precautionary measure”, adding: “We believe it is our duty to take this measure to protect savings. I hope all the political movements in parliament share this responsibility.” However, Italy’s economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, stressed the funds would be used to ensure adequate liquidity in the banking system and support other struggling banks. Officials have also said they were examining a scheme to compensate retail investors for any losses incurred. Mr Gentiloni’s predecessor, Matteo Renzi, resigned after losing a referendum on constitutional reform and was regularly accused of being too close to the banks.

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“We are a country sitting on $20 trillion in debt, living far beyond our means. Power can oftentimes be an illusion, and in any case it doesn’t last forever.”

After Aleppo: We Need A New Syria Policy (Ron Paul)

Over the past week, eastern Aleppo was completely brought back under control of the Syrian government. The population began to return to its homes, many of which were abandoned when al-Qaeda-linked rebels took over in 2012. As far as I know, the western mainstream media did not have a single reporter on the ground in Aleppo, but relied on “activists” to inform us that the Syrian army was massacring the civilian population. It hardly makes sense for an army to fight and defeat armed rebels just so it can go in and murder unarmed civilians, but then again not much mainstream reporting on the tragedy in Syria has made sense. I spoke to one western journalist last week who actually did report from Aleppo and she painted a very different picture of what was going on there.

She conducted video interviews with dozens of local residents and they told of being held hostage and starved by the “rebels,” many of whom were using US-supplied weapons supposed to go to “moderates.” We cannot be sure what exactly is happening in Aleppo, but we do know a few things about what happened in Syria over the past five years. This was no popular uprising to overthrow a dictator and bring in democracy. From the moment President Obama declared “Assad must go” and approved sending in weapons, it was obvious this was a foreign-sponsored regime change operation that used foreign fighters against Syrian government forces. If the Syrian people really opposed Assad, there is no way he could have survived five years of attack from foreigners and his own people.

Recently we heard that the CIA and Hillary Clinton believe that the Russians are behind leaked Democratic National Committee documents, and that the leaks were meant to influence the US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. These are the same people who for the past five years have been behind the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Isn’t supporting violent overthrow to influence who runs a country even worse than leaking documents? Is it OK when we do it? Why? Because we are the most powerful country? We are a country sitting on $20 trillion in debt, living far beyond our means. Power can oftentimes be an illusion, and in any case it doesn’t last forever. We can be sure that the example we set while we are the most powerful country will be followed by those who may one day take our place. The hypocrisy of our political leaders who say one thing and do another does not go unnoticed.

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Still not over. TISA is another one that keeps lurking.

We’re About To Sign A Deal With Canada That’s Just As Bad As TTIP (Ind.)

CETA is an EU-Canada trade deal just like the controversial EU-US deal TTIP. It was secretly negotiated over five years, locks in the privatisation of public services and will permit corporations across the North America to sue European governments in a private justice system. Brexit may not happen for at least two years, but CETA will be voted on in February – if it passes, it will immediately apply to the UK. Inequality is grist to the mill for far-right populists, yet the European Commission and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are failing to learn the lessons of Brexit and the rise of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Instead, it’s big business as usual, and continued support for policies that generate inequality and, in turn, fuel the xenophobic right.

This week there has been a clear demarcation of the crucial choice faced by the EU and UK, which may help determine the future rise of the far right in Europe – and, set against it, the decline of out-of-touch, centre-left parties. On Friday, the International Labour Organisation reported that the top 10% of highest paid workers in Europe together earn almost as much as the bottom 50%. Last week, the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee found that the EU-Canada trade deal CETA will only make this situation worse, “widening the income gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.” The cross-party committee points to CETA triggering potential job losses of more than 200,000 across the EU.

It goes on to point out what campaigners across Europe have long been saying about accords like CETA, TTIP, and the Donald Trump-opposed TPP: “There is a clear disparity between the levels of protection envisaged for investors and for labour interests and rights.” These investors are not the small businesses that CETA and TTIP’s supporters repeatedly cite. As the report makes clear, CETA has no chapter with specific measures to help small business. The clear disparity between workers and investor interests is perhaps best captured in one key element found across all these deals: the widely opposed “corporate court” private justice system that grants big business the power to sue states for policies that affect their profits. Put more simply, it’s a taxpayer-funded risk insurance scheme for corporations that would swing into play were a government to decide to ban nuclear power, oppose fracking or re-nationalise public services like the railways.

Despite voting to leave the EU, CETA can still affect the UK: the deal could be passed within the next two months, with large swathes of it immediately put in place. After that happens, those already struggling in the UK’s brittle Brexit economy will feel the squeeze of yet more anti-worker policy-making. Yet despite the clear dangers posed by CETA, Liam “Take Back Control” Fox has already signed the UK up to the deal, willfully bypassing UK parliamentary scrutiny along the way.

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“.. over 170,000 Londoners are homeless..”

Britain’s Shame: The People Who Are Homeless, Even Though They’re In Work (G.)


Illustration: Eva Bee

The former Tory minister George Young described the homeless as “what you step over when you come out of the opera”. No, Sir George: today’s homeless deliver your takeaways and pull pints at the local. Then they kip on park benches. Martin, who works for Islington council taking disabled children to school, told me how he’d spent a month sleeping either in Hampstead Heath or by the canal near London Zoo. “I was exhausted all the time,” he said. Some mornings, he’d knock for the children still clutching the bag that held all his belongings. This month, the charity Shelter calculated that over 170,000 Londoners are homeless. Its researchers pieced together the data for how many were both in a job and in temporary accommodation: it amounts to nearly half (47%) of all homeless households in the capital.

Figures like these, and shelters like Scott’s, neatly puncture many of the official boasts about work in post-crash Britain. The ministerial bragging about record employment? That economic miracle would include a third of the people dossing down at Scott’s place. The smugness with which David Cameron talked about the high-tech sharing economy? The Uber driver in that bunk over there might put him right on a few things. All the blether about how strong unions will destroy the economy? The casualised workforce in these improvised dormitories make a good argument for labour protection. Most of all, it proves that two of the hardiest orthodoxies in British politics are now a lie. First, the notion that work pays.

That is why Norman Tebbit told men to get on their bikes, why Gordon Brown fiddled about with tax credits, why George Osborne could get away with attacking “skivers”. But minimum wages, zero-hours contracts and a couple of shifts through a temping agency don’t pay. They certainly don’t pay enough to get you decent accommodation in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet. When that belief dies, so too must its corollary: that the homeless are always unemployed. “Why are beggars despised? For they are despised universally,” asked George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. “It is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living.” None of the people I met were begging, but each lived within the shadow of the idea that by being homeless, they had become despicable.

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Britain is bad, Greece is worse. “350,000 families without a single employed person..”

Nine In 10 Jobless Greeks Receive No Unemployment Benefit (Kath.)

Nine in 10 jobless Greeks do not receive unemployment benefits, according to a study by the country’s statistical authority (ELSTAT) and the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (INE/GSEE). The same study found that nearly 74 percent of the unemployed population have been without work for more than 12 months. Meanwhile, there are 350,000 families without a single employed person, while about 300,000 high-skilled workers have left the country in the past six years in search of better prospects, the study showed.

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Why is the entire Eurogroup of finance ministers silent on the feact that Dijsselbloem makes decisions behind their backs?

Moody’s Voices Concern At ‘Material Delay’ In Greece Debt Relief Talks (G.)

Fears that Greece’s seven-year debt crisis is about to enter a troubling new phase have been voiced by one of the world’s leading rating agencies. Moody’s said it was worried by the decision by the European authorities to suspend a debt-relief deal for Greece after the government in Athens gave a Christmas bonus to pensioners, promised free school meals for the poorest children and cancelled a VAT increase. The rating agency said any “material delay” in concluding talks between Greece and its European creditors would make it harder for the troubled country to meet next year’s onerous financial commitments and would increase the risks of bondholders not being paid. After months of negotiations, Europe agreed to limited debt relief to Greece earlier this month by giving Athens longer to pay and reducing the interest rate payable on its loans.

But within days the decision was put on hold by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the Luxembourg-based body that provides help to countries and banks facing financial difficulties – after Alexis Tsipras’s coalition government decided to provide help to pensioners, schoolchildren and VAT payers on the Greek islands. The plans involved spending amounting to €617m – less than 0.5% of Greece’s GDP – but were made without consultation with the country’s creditors. Hardliners in Brussels and in Berlin were outraged by Tsipras’s decision, seen as evidence of backsliding on a commitment made in August 2015 to keep to a tough programme of economic reforms in return for an €86bn bailout. Tsipras says that Greece has overachieved on the budget targets set by Europe and that the money will be going to those hardest hit by austerity. Greece has seen its economy shrink by 30% since its financial crisis began in 2009.

[..] “.. a material delay in the negotiations would raise the credit risk to bondholders. Greece has large upcoming maturities in July 2017, with €2.3bn owed to private-sector bondholders and €3.9bn to the ECB. Greece will be highly challenged to meet these redemptions without completion of the programme’s second review and without the disbursement of €6.1bn of ESM funding by the summer.”

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Troubling, but do be careful about where to lay the blame.

Greek Hospitals Deepen Trauma For Refugee Women Giving Birth (Gill)

Dr Konstantinos Spiriounis, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is a member of the department of municipal clinics and public health in Athens and until June this year worked at one of the city’s main public maternity hospitals, Elena. He says that the country’s economic problems have led to a recruitment crisis, putting hospitals under pressure, but that doctors do their best in difficult circumstances. “There are no new hires happening in the hospitals, so us doctors in Greece in public hospitals have learnt to do the work of two or three people. “Many times the doctors and nurses stay on when their shift ends because there isn’t anyone else to do it. You are always concerned in that you will make a mistake or miss something important, because you are so exhausted. Sometimes we find we’re out of things like gauze or medical tape, and we go buy it ourselves from the pharmacy.”

He says that all women are offered the same service, the best the doctors can provide. “We offer the same to everyone, whether you are Greek or a foreigner. For us, the cry of a baby and the joy of the mother is the same no matter where they are from.” But human rights lawyer Electra Leda Koutra, who worked on the research into birth experiences of refugee mothers, says vulnerable refugees need specific support. “A Greek woman will go home after birth. A refugee woman will be thrown back in a refugee camp or out on the streets [to] incredibly harsh, dangerous, unsanitary conditions.

“Treating refugee women ‘the same as Greeks’ means speaking to them in Greek, giving them no option but male obstetricians, not translating for their medical instructions upon exit from hospital, and not taking into account the conditions they will face right afterwards. All this so-called equal treatment constitutes blatant gender-based violence and discrimination.” The difficulties faced by the women in pregnancy and birth are part of a wider challenge for all refugee families in Greece, that of surviving day to day with no idea of what the future will bring. Since borders closed further west within Europe earlier in 2016, tens of thousands of refugees have been stuck in overstretched Greece and Italy. The EU has promised to disperse 160,000 to other EU countries, only 8,162 people have been found a new home, figures from the European commission show.

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Count me not surprised.

Thousands Of US Locales Have Lead Poisoning Worse Than Flint (R.)

On a sunny November afternoon in this historic city, birthplace of the Pony Express and death spot of Jesse James, Lauranda Mignery watched her son Kadin, 2, dig in their front yard. As he played, she scolded him for putting his fingers in his mouth. In explanation, she pointed to the peeling paint on her old house. Kadin, she said, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. He has lots of company: Within 15 blocks of his house, at least 120 small children have been poisoned since 2010, making the neighborhood among the most toxic in Missouri, Reuters found as part of an analysis of childhood lead testing results across the country. In St. Joseph, even a local pediatrician’s children were poisoned.

Last year, the city of Flint, Michigan, burst into the world spotlight after its children were exposed to lead in drinking water and some were poisoned. In the year after Flint switched to corrosive river water that leached lead from old pipes, 5 percent of the children screened there had high blood lead levels. Flint is no aberration. In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America. In all, Reuters found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher.

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Growth at all costs.

Coal Continues Its March Towards Asia (IEA)

Growth in global coal demand will stall over the next five years as the appetite for the fuel wanes and other energy sources gain ground, according to the latest coal forecast from the International Energy Agency. The share of coal in the power generation mix will drop to 36% by 2021, down from 41% in 2014, the IEA said in the latest Medium-Term Coal Market Report, driven by lower demand from China and the United States, along with fast growth of renewables and strong focus on energy efficiency. But in a sign of coal’s paradoxical position, the world is still highly dependent on coal. While coal demand dropped in 2015 for the first time this century, the IEA forecasts that demand will not reach 2014 levels again until 2021.

However such a path would depend greatly on the trajectory of China’s demand, which accounts for 50% of global coal demand – and almost half of coal production – and more than any other country influences global coal prices. The new report highlights the continuation of a major geographic shift in the global coal market towards Asia. In 2000, about half of coal demand was in Europe and North America, while Asia accounted for less than half. By 2015, Asia accounted for almost three-quarters of coal demand, while coal consumption in Europe and North America had declined sharply below one quarter. This shift will accelerate in the next years, according to the IEA.

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All costs, including that of human lives.

Air Pollution In Northern Chinese City Surpasses WHO Guideline By 100 Times (R.)

Concentrations of airborne pollutants in a major northern Chinese city exceeded a World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline by 100 times on Monday as north China battled with poor air quality for the third straight day. In Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province, levels of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter, soared to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday. That compares with a WHO guideline of an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms. In nearby Tianjin city, authorities grounded dozens of flights for the second day and closed all highways after severe smog blanketed the port city, one of more than 40 in China’s northeast to issue pollution warnings.

PM 2.5 levels hit 334 micrograms per cubic meter in Tianjin as of 4 p.m. local time, according to local environmental protection authorities. In Beijing, PM 2.5 levels were at 212 micrograms per cubic meter. On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts, including top steelmaking city Tangshan city in Hebei and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province. A red alert is the highest possible air pollution warning. Red alerts are issued when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours. The AQI is a different measure from the PM 2.5 gauge.

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After all the fast breeder hype this is what you end up with. But I’m sure there’ll be lots more talk. Coal it is then.

Japan Pulls Plug On Troubled Fast Breeder Reactor (AFP)

Japan has scrapped plans to generate electricity at a multi-billion dollar experimental nuclear reactor, the government said Monday, giving up on the decades-old project due to spiralling costs. Once touted as a “dream reactor,” the Monju facility was designed to generate more fuel than it consumes via nuclear chain reaction, an attractive alternative in a country with few natural resources. But its complex fast breeder reactor technology has been plagued with problems that have left it idle for more than a decade. It has also been a financial black hole since construction began in 1986, given its initial 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) construction cost and daily operating costs of 50 million yen, even while shut down. The government “will not restart (Monju) as a nuclear reactor and will take steps to decommission it,” science minister Hirokazu Matsuno told the governor of western Japan’s Fukui prefecture where it is located.

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Wave bye bye.

This Is The Polar Bear Capital Of The World, But The Snow Has Gone (G.)

Churchill, on the banks of the Hudson Bay in Canada, is known as the polar bear capital of the world. Hundreds of bears gather there each year before the sea freezes over in October and November so they can hunt seals again from the ice for the first time since the summer. I first went there 12 years ago at this time of year. The place was white, the temperature was -20C, and the bears were out feeding. This year I came back to make a film for Danish TV and set up live feeds of the bears. It was so different. In mid-November there was no snow or sea ice or ice; the land was green or brown and the temperature was 2C. The bears were walking around on the land waiting for the ice to form. It was like summer.

October had seen unprecedented temperatures all around the Arctic leading to a record-breaking slowdown of sea ice formation. Local people told me they had never seen it like this before. With Geoff York, director of conservation at Polar Bears International, we pored over satellite maps every day. It was shocking. The whole 470,000 sq mile bay was completely ice-free. This is the southernmost colony of polar bears in the world and in the past about 1,000 bears would be there. But studies have shown that in the last 20 years the surface temperature of Hudson Bay has warmed by about 3C. This has had a massive effect on the bear. The western Hudson Bay population has declined by more than 20% in 30 years. It’s the same elsewhere. New analysis of data from the southern Beaufort Sea in north-west Canada and Alaska suggest even greater population declines there.

We saw about 20 bears around Churchill in the 10 days I was there. That’s actually a few more than I saw last time, when I was there 12 years ago, but that was because most of the bears were out on the ice then. The ones we did see this year appeared thin, restless and hungry, and were starting to be more aggressive. There was a mum and a cub and it was very emotional because it looked pretty certain that the cub would not survive much longer. The days of bears in this region having triplets seem to be over. The declining sea ice has decreased hunting opportunities, so the bears are smaller and fewer cubs are being born in this area.

Read more …

Dec 192016
 
 December 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area 1952

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)
Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)
A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)
Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)
The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)
Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)
As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)
China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)
China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)
Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)
Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)
Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)
India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)
Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)
The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

 

 

Hitchens is a veteran. And western propaganda on Aleppo has gotten way out of hand.

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)

[..] the old cliche ‘the first casualty of war is truth’ is absolutely right, and should be displayed in letters of fire over every TV and newspaper report of conflict, for ever. Almost nothing can be checked. You become totally reliant on the people you are with, and you identify with them. If you can find a working phone, you will feel justified in shouting whatever you have got into the mouthpiece – as simple and unqualified as possible. And your office will feel justified in putting it on the front page (if you are lucky). And that is when you are actually there, which is a sort of excuse for bending the rules.

In the past few days we have been bombarded with colourful reports of events in eastern Aleppo, written or transmitted by people in Beirut (180 miles away and in another country), or even London (2,105 miles away and in another world). There have, we are told, been massacres of women and children, people have been burned alive. The sources for these reports are so-called ‘activists’. Who are they? As far as I know, there was not one single staff reporter for any Western news organisation in eastern Aleppo last week. Not one. This is for the very good reason that they would have been kidnapped and probably murdered. The zone was ruled without mercy by heavily armed Osama Bin Laden sympathisers, who were bombarding the west of the city with powerful artillery (they frequently killed innocent civilians and struck hospitals, since you ask).

That is why you never see pictures of armed males in eastern Aleppo, just beautifully composed photographs of handsome young unarmed men lifting wounded children from the rubble, with the light just right. The women are all but invisible, segregated and shrouded in black, just as in the IS areas, as we saw when they let them out. For reasons that I find it increasingly hard to understand or excuse, much of the British media refer to these Al Qaeda types coyly as ‘rebels’ (David Cameron used to call them ‘moderates’). But if they were in any other place in the world, including Birmingham or Belmarsh, they would call them extremists, jihadis, terrorists and fanatics. One of them, Abu Sakkar, famously cut out and sank his teeth into the heart of a fallen enemy, while his comrades cheered. This is a checked and verified fact, by the way.

Sakkar later confirmed it to the BBC, when Western journalists still had contact with these people, and there is film of it if you care to watch. There is also film of a Syrian ‘rebel’ group, Nour al-din al Zenki, beheading a 12-year-old boy called Abdullah Issa. They smirk a lot. It is on the behalf of these ‘moderates’ that MPs staged a wholly one-sided debate last week, and on their behalf that so many people have been emoting equally one-sidedly over alleged massacres and supposed war crimes by Syrian and Russian troops – for which I have yet to see a single piece of independent, checkable evidence.

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A real American Christmas comedy.

Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)

With even Harvard’s Larry Lessig admitting that his efforts to flip the Electoral College against Trump have failed miserably, it’s a near certainty that Trump will, in fact, be elected President when the Electoral College casts their votes tomorrow. That said, there could always be surprises and, as such, The Hill has published a list of five things you should keep an eye on as electors get set to cast their ballots. First, here is how the 538 electors should cast their ballots if they all strictly follow the will of the voters in their respective states.

That said, we know that at least one Texas elector, Chris Suprun, has vowed to go rogue tomorrow and anxious eyes will be waiting to see if anyone decides to join him. As The Hill points out, there hasn’t been an election since 1836 in which more than 1 elector changed his vote, so even 2 defectors would make history.

There’s no evidence of a widespread number of Republican defections—just one Republican elector from Texas has gone public with plans to break from Trump. But there hasn’t been an election in which more than one elector jumped ship for reasons other than the death of a candidate since 1836, according to the nonprofit FairVote. So a defection by even one more Republican elector would make history.

The next thing to watch is whether any Democrat electors will cast protest votes. A small group of Democratic electors had vowed to join Larry Lessig’s coup attempt by throwing their support behind an alternative Republican candidate. While this now seems like a remote possibility, it is something to watch for.

Democratic electors are the ones beating the drums for the revolt, yet they’re largely powerless to change the outcome. A handful of electors are already planning on uniting around a Republican alternative as a protest, but it’s still unclear how many are willing to join the protest. In theory, a unified front of the 232 Democrats could join with 38 Republicans to elect an alternative president. But in practice, the anti-Trump electors will be lucky if more than a dozen Democrats break.

With 29 states and the District of Columbia binding their electors by law, it will also be interesting to see if anyone in those states choose to defect, and if so, what penalties will be levied upon them.

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Lots of info from Parry, but basically just confirms what we already knew.

A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)

As Official Washington’s latest “group think” solidifies into certainty – that Russia used hacked Democratic emails to help elect Donald Trump – something entirely different may be afoot: a months-long effort by elements of the U.S. intelligence community to determine who becomes the next president. I was told by a well-placed intelligence source some months ago that senior leaders of the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies – from the CIA to the FBI – were deeply concerned about either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump ascending to the presidency. And, it’s true that intelligence officials often come to see themselves as the stewards of America’s fundamental interests, sometimes needing to protect the country from dangerous passions of the public or from inept or corrupt political leaders.

It was, after all, a senior FBI official, Mark Felt, who – as “Deep Throat” – guided The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate investigation into the criminality of President Richard Nixon. And, I was told by former U.S. intelligence officers that they wanted to block President Jimmy Carter’s reelection in 1980 because they viewed him as ineffectual and thus not protecting American global interests. It’s also true that intelligence community sources frequently plant stories in major mainstream publications that serve propaganda or political goals, including stories that can be misleading or entirely false. So, what to make of what we have seen over the past several months when there have been a series of leaks and investigations that have damaged both Clinton and Trump — with some major disclosures coming, overtly and covertly, from the U.S. intelligence community led by CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey?

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The WSJ headline is: “Donald Trump’s Team Tones Down Skepticism on Russia Hacking Evidence”. But all he does is say: “show us the proof, show me and the American people.” So let’s have it.

Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)

Fresh signs emerged Sunday that President-elect Donald Trump could embrace the intelligence community’s view that the Russians were behind a computer-hacking operation aimed at influencing the November election. A senior Trump aide said Mr. Trump could accept Russia’s involvement if there is a unified presentation of evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. This followed weeks of skepticism from the president-elect and his supporters that there is sufficient evidence that Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee or leak of stolen emails.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president-elect “would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page.” His statement follows an intensifying bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to launch a separate investigation into the matter. Mr. Trump has called for opening up new lines of cooperation with Russia, and some of his critics in both parties have said his refusal so far to say Russia tried to interfere in the election was a sign that he doesn’t believe that Moscow is a U.S. adversary.

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That’s quite the shift.

The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)

After the financial crisis, regulators were worried about too much risk being concentrated in too few hands.They are still concerned, but the hands have changed. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research is devoted to worrying about everything and anything that could spur another financial crisis, and near the top of the list is the post-crisis explosion in corporate credit. This pile of debt is “a top threat to stability,” according to this Treasury unit’s latest report, as Bloomberg’s Claire Boston wrote on Tuesday. In particular, these researchers are wary of the changing composition of who owns these bonds. Big banks and hedge funds own a much smaller proportion, while insurers and mutual funds own much more of it.


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More specifically, banks and household and nonprofits, a category that includes hedge funds, have reduced their holdings of U.S. corporate credit by $1.6 trillion since 2008, while insurers, mutual funds and the rest of the world have increased it by $3.6 trillion, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs that includes foreign sovereign debt and asset-backed securities. This is a salient matter. The Federal Reserve just raised rates for a second time in two years and predicts three rate increases next year, possibly marking the end of this era of financial repression that’s spurred a record pace of corporate-debt sales.

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With Goldman predicting the biggest fall for the yuan in 20 years, Beijing is in a bind.

Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)

Chinese savers, eager to convert their yuan before the currency keeps depreciating, are snapping up U.S. dollar investment products that offer options for keeping money at home instead of sending it overseas. The latest wealth management products from China Merchants Bank last week, paying 2.37% annual interest on U.S. dollars, sold out in 60 seconds flat. “You won’t be able to get it online because it’s gone in less than a minute,” said a branch manager, who would only give the surname Xu, and encourages customers to book a day in advance next time. A growing number of offerings of such U.S. dollar funds and how quickly they’re being purchased show the surging demand for foreign currency amid outflows that are estimated to have totaled more than $1.5 trillion since the beginning of 2015.

By shifting into dollars – U.S., Australian and Hong Kong are among the favorites – deposit holders are shielded from the yuan’s losses without having to take their money out of the country to seek returns. “It seems an attractive choice to convert the yuan into the dollar sooner rather than later,” Harrison Hu at NatWest Markets, a unit of RBS, wrote in a note. He estimates that household purchases of foreign exchange could double to $15 billion a month in the coming quarter, absent new controls. A more hawkish than expected outlook from the U.S. Federal Reserve after it lifted interest rates last week has helped accelerate a dollar rally, with analysts predicting further gains. As the yuan has declined, China’s authorities have tried to vigorously enforce strict rules on moving cash over the border, where it is often invested in purchases such as real estate.

In recent weeks, policy makers in Beijing have put the brakes on everything from companies buying assets overseas to offshore purchases of life insurance to stem the tide of cash outflows. The fresh measures include checks by the currency regulator on any capital account transactions involving foreign exchange of $5 million or more. That followed steps earlier this year to ban the sharing of foreign-exchange quotas. In November, banks sold 49% more foreign-currency denominated wealth management products, most of them in U.S. dollars, than in October, according to PY Standard. November’s foreign currency deposits increased 11.4% from a year earlier, more than double the 4.8% rise in October, according to the People’s Bank of China.

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If you’re really a market economy, what do you do?

As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)

Zhang Yuting lives and works in Shanghai, has only visited the United States once, and rarely needs to use foreign currency. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old accountant from putting a slice of her bank savings into the greenback. She is not alone. In the first 11 months of 2016, official figures show that foreign currency bank deposits owned by Chinese households rose by almost 32%, propelled by the yuan’s recent fall to eight-year lows against the dollar. The rapid rise – almost four times the growth rate for total deposits in the yuan and other currencies as recorded in central bank data – comes at a time when the yuan is under intense pressure from capital outflows. The outflows are partially a result of concerns that the yuan is going to weaken further as U.S. interest rates rise, and because of lingering concerns about the health of the Chinese economy.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S., as well as tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, have only added to the fears. “Expectations of capital flight are clear,” said Zhang, who used her yuan savings to buy $10,000 this year. “I might exchange more yuan early next year, as long as I’ve got money.” Household foreign currency deposits in China are not huge compared to the money that companies, banks and wealthy individuals have been directing into foreign currency accounts and other assets offshore. All up, households had $118.72 billion of foreign money in their bank accounts at the end of November, while total foreign currency deposits were $702.56 billion. But the high growth rate in the household forex holdings are symbolic of a growing headache for the government as it struggles to counter the yuan’s weakness

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Liquidity is one of the things central banks do not control. Not in the way China sees control.

China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)

China’s central bank stepped in to urge major commercial banks to lend to non-bank financial institutions on Thursday afternoon after many suspended interbank operations amid tight liquidity conditions, Caixin reported. The People’s Bank of China intervened to help institutions such as securities firms and fund managers after banks, including the big four state-owned banks, became reluctant to make loans, the financial magazine said, citing traders and institutional sources. Caixin said that traders pointed to worsening sentiment among banks about market conditions and growing caution over interbank lending, especially after the U.S. Fed triggered a sell-off in the bond futures market on Thursday by signaling more rate hikes in 2017. Liquidity has become a major factor affecting the market after the central bank increased the cost of capital through open market operations in the past month, the magazine added.

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Don’t believe a word of it.

China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)

China will strictly limit credit flowing into speculative buying in the property market in 2017, top leaders said at an economic conference on Friday, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency. “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate,” Xinhua said, citing a statement issued by the leaders after the Central Economic Work Conference concluded. “We must control credits in the macro sense,” they said in the statement. China will also boost the supply of land for cities where housing prices face stiff upward pressure, they said. China must quickly establish a long-term mechanism to restrain property bubbles and prevent price volatility in 2017, Xinhua said. Top leaders began the conference on Wednesday to map out economic and reform plans. The annual event is keenly watched by investors for clues to policy priorities and economic targets in the year ahead.

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That’s what the country always used to be good at after all.

Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)

The Bank of Italy’s Target 2 liabilities towards other Eurozone central banks — one of the most important indicators of banking stress — has risen by €129 billion in the last 12 months through November to €358.6 billion. That’s well above the €289 billion peak reached in August 2012 at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Foreign and local investors are dumping Italian government bonds and withdrawing their funding to Italian banks. The bank at the heart of Italy’s financial crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), has bled €6 billion of “commercial direct deposits” between September 30 and December 13, €2 billion of which since December 4, the date of Italy’s constitutional referendum.

Italy’s new Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who took over from Matteo Renzi after his defeat in the referendum,said his government — a virtual carbon copy of the last one — is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop MPS from collapsing and thereby engulfing other European banks. His options would include directly supporting Italy’s ailing banks, in contravention of the EU’s bail-in rules passed into law at the beginning of this year. Though now, that push comes to shove, the EU seems happy to look the other way. While attention is focused on the rescue of MPS, news regarding another Italian bank, Banca Etruria, has quietly slipped by the wayside. On Friday it was announced that the first part of an investigation concerning fraudulent bankruptcy charges, in which 21 board members are implicated, had been closed.

This strand of the investigation concerns €180 million of loans offered by the bank which were never paid back, leading to the regional lender’s bankruptcy and eventual bail-in/out last November that left bondholders holding virtually worthless bonds. The Banca Etruria scandal is a reminder — and certainly not a welcome one right now for Italian authorities — that a large part of the €360 billion of toxic loans putrefying on the balance sheets of Italy’s banks should never have been created at all and were a result of the widespread culture of corruption, political kickbacks, and other forms of fraud and abuse infecting Italy’s banking sector. Etruria is also under investigation for fraudulently selling high-risk bonds to retail investors — a common practice among banks in Italy (and Spain) during the liquidity-starved years of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Put simply, “misselling” subordinated debt to unsuspecting depositors was “the way they recapitalized the banking system,” as Jim Millstein, the U.S. Treasury official who led the restructuring of U.S. banks after the financial crisis, told Bloomberg earlier this year.

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Yeah, it’s unfair!!

Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)

Ireland will appeal the European Union’s order to force it to collect a record €13bn in taxes from Apple, the Irish government has said. The Irish finance department’s announcement on Monday comes nearly four months after EU competition authorities hit Apple with the back-tax bill based on its longtime reporting of European-wide profits through Ireland. The country charges the American company only for sales on its own territory at Europe-low rates that in turn have been greatly reduced by the controversial use of shell companies at home and abroad. In its formal legal submission, the Dublin says its low taxes are the whole point of its sales pitch to foreign investors — and said it is perfectly legal to levy far less tax on profits than imposed by competitors.

It accuses EU competition authorities of unfairness, exceeding their competence and authority, and seeking to breach Ireland’s sovereignty in national tax affairs. The ruling unveiled 30 August by the European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager called on Apple to pay Ireland the €13bn for gross underpayment of tax on profits across the bloc from 2003 to 2014. Her report concluded that Apple used two shell companies incorporated in Ireland to permit Apple to report its Europe-wide profits at effective rates well under 1%. The scope of the order could have been even greater because EU time limits meant the judgment could include potential tax infringements dating only from 2003, not all the way back to Apple’s original 1991 tax deal with Ireland. But Irish specialists in corporate tax estimate that the EU’s order, if enforced, actually would total €19bn because of compounding interest from delayed payment.

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Everybody appeals.

Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)

Apple will launch a legal challenge this week to a record $14 billion EU tax demand, arguing that EU regulators ignored tax experts and corporate law and deliberately picked a method to maximize the penalty, senior executives said. Apple’s combative stand underlines its anger with the European Commission, which said on Aug. 30 the company’s Irish tax deal was illegal state aid and ordered it to repay up to €13 billion to Ireland, where Apple has its European headquarters. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a former Danish economy minister, said Apple’s Irish tax bill implied a tax rate of 0.005% in 2014. Apple intends to lodge an appeal against the Commission’s ruling at Europe’s second highest court this week, its General Counsel Bruce Sewell and CFO Luca Maestri told Reuters.

The iPhone and iPad maker was singled out because of its success, Sewell said. “Apple is not an outlier in any sense that matters to the law. Apple is a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. It allows the commissioner to become Dane of the year for 2016,” he said, referring to the title accorded by Danish newspaper Berlingske last month. Apple will tell judges the Commission was not diligent in its investigation because it disregarded tax experts brought in by Irish authorities. “Now the Irish have put in an expert opinion from an incredibly well-respected Irish tax lawyer. The Commission not only didn’t attack that – didn’t argue with it, as far as we know – they probably didn’t even read it. Because there is no reference (in the EU decision) whatsoever,” Sewell said.

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A police state that bans gold and creates a huge underground market in it.

India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)

Assaults on people’s private property and the integrity of their homes through tax-raids continue. In a recent notification, government has made it clear that any ownership of jewelry above 500 grams of gold per married woman will be put under the microscopic scrutiny of tax authorities. Steep taxes and penalties will be imposed on those who cannot prove the source of their gold. In India’s Orwellian new-speak this means that because bullion has not been explicitly mentioned, its ownership will be deemed to be illegal. Courts will do what Modi wants. Huge bribes will have to be paid. Sane people are of course cleaning up their bank lockers. The secondary consequence of this will be a steep increase in unreported crimes, for people will be afraid of going to the police after a theft, fearing that the tax authorities will then ask questions.

At the same time, the gold market has mostly gone underground, and apparently the volume of gold buying has gone up. The salaried middle class is the consumption class, often heavily indebted. Poor people have limited amounts of gold. The government is merely doing what pleases the majority and their sense of envy, to the detriment of small businesses and savers. Now, the middle class is starting to face problems as well. This will worsen once the the impact of the destruction of small businesses becomes obvious. India has always had a negative-yielding economy. It has suddenly become even more negative-yielding. Business risk has gone through the roof. Savers will be victimized. It is because of negative yields that Indian savers buy gold. They will buy more going forward.

Sane Indians should stay a step ahead of their rapacious government and the evolving totalitarian society, which are less and less inhibited by any institutions or values in support of liberty. India will become a police state, likely with the full support of most Indians. Nationalism will be the thread that weaves them together. But it is a fake thread, devoid of any value. Eventually, there will be far too many stresses in the system, whose institutions are already in an advance stage of decay. India as it exists today is a British creation. With the British now gone for 69 years, it is an entity has less and less reason to exist in its current form.

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Yeah, let’s all get crazy when Brussels says so.

Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)

Despite widespread opposition in the ranks of SYRIZA to such a prospect, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has called for the creation of “closed” reception centers for migrants on Aegean islands, saying they will help minimize tensions amid local communities. A key reason for building tensions at existing centers on the islands is the slow pace at which migrants’ asylum applications are being processed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a pointed reference to the slow pace of migrant returns from Greece to Turkey last week. However, official figures show that an agreement signed in March between the European Union and Ankara significantly curbed arrivals in Greece. Of the 172,699 migrants that arrived in Greece from Turkey this year, only 20,457 have landed on the islands since the beginning of April, when the EU-Turkey deal went into effect.

Asylum officials on the Aegean islands have received a total of 21,314 applications, while 2,110 have appealed against initial rejections. The government hopes to create new facilities to accommodate migrants who have displayed delinquent behavior in a bid to curb the outbreak of rioting at larger centers and to stop thefts and other petty crimes that have been testing tolerance in local communities. “We propose small facilities for 150-200 people,” Mouzalas told Kathimerini, adding that authorities were not seeking the tolerance but the “solidarity” of islanders to help “normalize the situation.” As for the prospect of transferring some migrants from island centers to facilities on the mainland, Athens has asked EU officials about it but has failed to receive a response amid fears that such a move would constitute a violation of the EU-Turkey pact, Mouzalas said.

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There’s far more than seven, but hey, it’s John Vidal. Who spent half his life doing this.

The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

A baby ibex on a precipitous cliff edge. The hyenas of Harar eating from a human hand. Leopards in Mumbai, whales breaching and baby turtles heading blindly away from the sea. We are amazed by images of wildlife seen in ever more beautifully filmed natural history documentaries. They raise awareness, entertain, inform and amuse. We weep when we hear there are fewer birds in the sky, or that thousands of species are critically endangered. But there are some metaphorical megafauna that the BBC and we in the media really do not want everyone to see. After half a lifetime writing for the Guardian about the decline of the natural world, I have to report that there is a herd of enormous elephants in the forest that are trashing the place. We avert our eyes and pretend they are not there. We hope they will go away, but they appear to be breeding. But it is now clear that they are doing so much damage that unless confronted, there is little chance that the rest of the animals, including us, will survive very long.

Hyper-consumerism is the dominant matriarch of this destructive herd and the dysfunctional economic model that supports it, generating waste and ecological damage on a massive scale. The average US supermarket offers nearly 50,000 products; in the UK we throw away millions of tonnes of food a year; mobile phones have an average lifespan of just over a year; computers and cars just a few years more. The free market economy that has been built around it celebrates speed, obsolescence and quantity over longevity and efficiency. But we know that hyper-consumerism leads directly to deforestation, over-extraction of minerals, the waste of natural resources and pollution. We simply have too much stuff that no one possibly needs. To avoid ecological disaster, it must be culled.

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Oct 122016
 
 October 12, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924

October 14 Is A $7 Trillion Moment of Truth in Markets (BBG)
Pound Sterling Behaves Like An Emerging Market Currency (Ind.)
Royal Bank of Scotland’s Vampire Unit Guilty Of Financial Terrorism (Fraser)
China Weakens Yuan Fixing for Sixth Day, Fuels Depreciation Talk (BBG)
China Banks May Need $1.7 Trillion Capital Injection To Cover Bad Loans (R.)
China Cities Face End of Fairy Tale as Default Risks Rise (BBG)
Tokyo Apartment Prices To Fall 20% Or More: Deutsche (BBG)
Are Rising House Prices Good For The Economy? (Ahuri)
Bank of Russia Governor Says Oil Rally Can Mean Much Faster Easing (BBG)
The Truth About the War in Aleppo (David Stockman)
Oops! – A World War! (Dmitry Orlov)
Wounded Elephant (Jim Kunstler)
Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness That’s Wrenching Society Apart (Monbiot)
Obituary: Great Barrier Reef – 25 Million BC-2016 – (OO)
More Than 11,200 Migrants Stranded On Aegean Islands (Kath.)

 

 

The return of LIBOR.

October 14 Is A $7 Trillion Moment of Truth in Markets (BBG)

If the London Interbank Borrowing Rate was a musical artist, or an actor, or a sports team, we’d be calling 2016 its comeback year. Not since the financial crisis of 2008 has Libor, to which almost $7 trillion of debt including mortgages, student loans and corporate borrowings, is pegged – experienced such a surge. The three-month U.S. dollar Libor rate has jumped from 0.61% at the start of the year to 0.87% currently – a 42% rise – ahead of money market reform that’s due to come into effect on Oct. 14. The new rules require prime money market funds – an important source of short-term funding for banks and companies – to build up liquidity buffers, install redemption gates, and use ‘floating’ net asset values instead of a fixed $1-per-share price.

While the changes are aimed at reinforcing a $2.7 trillion industry that exacerbated the financial crisis, they are also causing turmoil in money markets as big banks adjust to the new reality of a shrinking pool of available funding. Some $1 trillion worth of assets have shifted from prime money market funds into government money market funds that invest in safer assets such as short-term U.S. debts. The exodus has driven up Libor rates as banks and other corporate entities compete to replace the lost funding. Now, analysts are debating whether the looming Oct. 14 deadline will mark a turning point for the interbank borrowing rate, as money markets acclimatize to a new reality.

While analysts at Deutsche Bank believe that Libor may be poised to tighten when compared to other benchmark interest rates after Oct. 14, their counterparts at TD Securities speculate that Libor will “head higher” and the spreads won’t “compress anytime soon.”

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But Britons just keep fighting and blaming each other.

Pound Sterling Behaves Like An Emerging Market Currency (Ind.)

Is the British pound the Mexican peso? Amid rising fears that the UK will take a big economic hit from its move to leave the European Union, the correlation between the pound and an index of emerging-market currencies has jumped to levels last seen in the run-up to the Brexit vote. “Investors are increasingly casting UK assets in an emerging-market light, amid a fundamental re-appraisal of the country’s medium- to long-term economic fortunes,” Chris Scicluna, London-based strategist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said. On Tuesday, the pound fell for a fourth day, tumbling 0.49% to below $1.23, bringing its year-to-date fall against the dollar to 17% — the worst among 16 major peers.

“The pound is the purest expression of investors’ fears about political risk in developed markets,” Nicholas Spiro at Lauressa Advisory wrote in a note to clients on Monday. “While the Mexican peso — the most liquid emerging market currency and the most reliable gauge of ‘Trump risk’ — has given sterling a run for its money this year, it’s the pound that has become a proxy for politically-driven volatility in markets.” While developed-country government bonds typically benefit from safe-haven buying during bouts of market nerves, the dynamic is now in reverse, with the pound and government bonds falling in tandem, and the UK 10-year note yielding 0.98% compared with 0.52% in mid-August. While global bond markets have sold off this month, amid expectations of tighter monetary policies, UK yields have outpaced rises in the US and euro-area countries.

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This story is fast moving beyond belief. A state owned bank that kills off 1000s of businesses to make a quick buck?!

Royal Bank of Scotland’s Vampire Unit Guilty Of Financial Terrorism (Fraser)

We all know that the Royal Bank of Scotland went rogue under Fred Goodwin. What was less clear – until yesterday anyway – was that, eight years after it was saved from oblivion thanks to Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s £850 billion bailout package, the bank appears be no less of a rogue institution today. A data dump of thousands of RBS documents leaked to Buzzfeed News and the BBC has demonstrated that the bank had a policy of pushing small business customer firms to the wall in order to grow its own profits, increase bonuses for staff and rebuild its tattered balance sheet in the wake of its near collapse. There have been many, many credible reports of such activity – essentially killing viable businesses for profit – over the past five years or so but, as the former business secretary Vince Cable told Newsnight last night, “there is now a smoking gun”.

What Kremlinologists of the bank knew before yesterday was that RBS, today 73% owned by UK taxpayers, together with its sister banks NatWest and Ulster Bank, had left a trail of destruction which some have described as a corporate holocaust across the UK’s and Ireland’s small and medium-sized company base, that they had been seeking to save their own skins at their customer firms’ expense, and that tens of thousands of business customers had been affected. For example, I revealed in my book Shredded: Inside RBS The Bank That Broke Britain how RBS was engaged in a form of “financial terrorism” with a view to bolstering its own balance sheet from August 2008 onwards.

In the book, I revealed that, in May 2009, RBS instituted a policy of cherry-picking businesses from across its UK and Irish customer base operating in sectors including care homes, pubs, nurseries, nightclubs, hotels, retail units, industrial units and farms etc. – for referral to its “vampire unit”, global restructuring group. The referrals often followed what I called “manufactured defaults”, which meant the bank engineered a covenant breach or an LTV breach either through a phoney “drive by” valuation of the customer’s property assets delivered by a tame firm of chartered surveyors or in some instances a missold swap.

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“They do want the depreciation; they just don’t want it to happen quickly..”

China Weakens Yuan Fixing for Sixth Day, Fuels Depreciation Talk (BBG)

China’s central bank weakened the yuan’s reference rate for a sixth day, the longest run of cuts in nine months, amid speculation policy makers will allow further declines as the dollar rises. The next possible target is 6.83 against the greenback, with a potential Federal Reserve interest-rate increase supporting the dollar, said Shaun Osborne at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. The People’s Bank of China may need to step up efforts to prevent market fears over any sharp depreciation, according to a Scotiabank report written by Singapore-based foreign-exchange strategist Qi Gao. The PBOC set its daily fixing at 6.7258 against the dollar, extending a six-day weakening run to 0.9%.

The onshore yuan extended declines from a six-year low to drop 0.06% to 6.7228 as of 9:49 a.m. in Shanghai, while the offshore rate climbed 0.07%. The Chinese currency has fallen 6.5% against a 13-currency index this year. “The yuan’s depreciation against the dollar and versus a trade-weighted basket are both intentional policy choice,” said Cliff Tan, a currency strategist in Hong Kong at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. “They do want the depreciation; they just don’t want it to happen quickly. Our forecast is still 6.80 at the end of this year, and it looks like the currency is headed there.”

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“S&P expects Beijing will continue to allow rapid credit growth over the next 12-18 months before attempting to rein it in…”

China Banks May Need $1.7 Trillion Capital Injection To Cover Bad Loans (R.)

Rising debt levels will worsen the credit profiles of China’s top 200 companies this year, requiring the country’s banks to raise as much as $1.7 trillion in capital to cover a likely surge in bad loans, S&P Global said in reports on Tuesday. The study sees little scope for improvement in 2017 amid worsening leverage and excess capacity in almost all sectors. Debt has emerged as one of China’s biggest challenges, with the country’s debt load rising to 250% of GDP. Excessive credit growth is signaling an increasing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) warned recently. 70% of the companies in the S&P survey were state owned, and they accounted for $2.8 trillion or 90% of the total respondents’ debt.

S&P estimated the problem credit ratio at Chinese banks was already at 5.6% at end-2015. In a downside scenario of unabated credit growth, that could worsen to 11-17%. In such a situation, banks would need as much as $1.7 trillion in recapitalization by 2020, S&P estimated. Even under a base case scenario, they would require $500 billion. That compares with China’s last big bank debt cleanup some two decades ago, when an estimated 4 trillion yuan ($600 billion) was spent on restructuring as of late 2005, according to a report for French economics thinktank CEPII. S&P expects Beijing will continue to allow rapid credit growth over the next 12-18 months before attempting to rein it in, implying risks would heighten in one to two years.

The IMF has warned China its credit growth is unsustainable, with companies sitting on $18 trillion in debt, equivalent to about 169% of GDP. Chinese banks’ non-performing loans are already at nearly 2%, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC). But some analysts believe the ratio could be as high as between 15 and 35%, as many banks are slow to recognize problem loans or park them off balance sheet, and as lenders come under political pressure from local governments to roll over bad loans to prevent job losses and defaults.

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LGFVs are the domain of shadow banks.

China Cities Face End of Fairy Tale as Default Risks Rise (BBG)

Finance firms that help keep cash flowing to China’s towns, cities and provinces face rising risks of landmark bond defaults just as they turn to global markets for funds. China’s economic slowdown is weighing on revenue at regional governments, hampering their ability to support the 5.3 trillion yuan ($789 billion) of outstanding onshore notes from local-government financing vehicles, which have yet to suffer nonpayments. Such issuance fell 18% last quarter as regulators curbed sales, forcing some to seek funds overseas. Financing units in provinces including Hunan, Jiangsu, Hubei and Sichuan are considering or planning U.S. currency notes, people familiar with the matters have said.

Warning signs are spreading. In the nation’s northeast, Changchun Urban Development & Investment Holdings Group was downgraded by Fitch Ratings last month. In the once-booming coal town of Ordos in Inner Mongolia, Yijinhuoluoqi Hongtai City Construction Investment & Development Co. had 189.5 million yuan of borrowings overdue as of March 31, according to Pengyuan Credit Rating, which downgraded it to A+ from AA- in May. “I don’t believe in the fairy tale that no LGFV will default,” said Terence Cheng, chief investment officer in at HuaAn Asset Management in Hong Kong. “Even China’s state-owned enterprises have been allowed to default. There is no absolute guarantee that an LGFV will not default.”

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Japan’s a big risk for bursting bubbles.

Tokyo Apartment Prices To Fall 20% Or More: Deutsche (BBG)

The Bank of Japan’s shift to controlling bond yields is driving up mortgage rates, prompting Deutsche Bank to predict Tokyo apartment prices may fall 20% or more by 2018. The BOJ’s negative-rate policy was already hurting buyer sentiment, and its move to boost longer-term yields is a double-blow to the industry, according to Yoji Otani, a real estate analyst at Deutsche Bank in Tokyo. The 35-year fixed mortgage rate has climbed for two straight months after touching a record low of 0.9% in August, and sales of new condominiums in Tokyo this year have fallen to the lowest since the nation’s property bubble collapse in the early 1990s.

“The one positive thing about negative rates was that it lowered borrowing costs, and now that is going to end,” said Otani, who expects prices to fall 20% to 30% by the end of 2018. “The collapse of this silent bubble has begun.” Banks have already started raising fixed-mortgage interest rates and some lenders may be charging customers 2% or more within two years under the BOJ’s current yield policy, according to Credit Suisse. The adoption of the new monetary policy is in effect a form of tapering and the cost of home loans will rise as the central bank becomes less aggressive in its bond purchase program, according Masahiro Mochizuki, a real estate analyst at the Swiss bank.

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Interesting findings on how Australia is the nation full of ATMs. Perverse consequences (“why Australian multi-factor productivity stopped growing at the turn of the millennium.”). h/t Yves

Are Rising House Prices Good For The Economy? (Ahuri)

Overall, the results indicate that a $1,000 increase in housing wealth is associated with an increase in debt of approximately $240 per annum. This is a large response compared to the magnitudes found in studies in the United States and United Kingdom… House price increases are associated with larger increases in total indebtedness for home owners with higher initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. Home owners with larger values of non-mortgage debt as well as higher LTV ratios are more sensitive to house price movements compared to other home owners… The take-up of further mortgage debt among vulnerable highly leveraged households exposes them to income, housing and financial market shocks.

The results are in contrast to the general belief in Australia that debt is held by those most able to service it—higher income and high-wealth households. Macroeconomic policy-makers should interpret high levels of debt and rising household debt-to-income ratios in Australia carefully. Overall, the findings show that house price changes influence household debt through two channels: a direct wealth effect and an indirect collateral effect via the household’s borrowing capacity. That is, some households face borrowing constraints and, for these households, rising house prices increase the value of their property that may be used as security for a loan and thereby loosen the borrowing constraints… Our results indicate that in response to increasing house prices, some home owners, especially home owners with low debt, engage in debt financing of consumption (involving extracting equity from their home).

Other home owners, especially those with relatively high debt levels refinance existing mortgages or adjust existing debt portfolios. The most important responses are in labour participation and hours of work by women, both partnered and single. The effect is strongest among the older cohort of women and is associated with early retirement for those experiencing above average housing wealth gains. Younger partnered men and women exhibit a reduction in hours of work in response to the gain in housing wealth. That is, these gains in wealth effectively fund time away from work to undertake non-market activities such as providing household care for children, ageing parents, undertaking volunteer work or enjoying more leisure.

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Putin and his people are talking up the price of oil. So far, it works to an extent.

Bank of Russia Governor Says Oil Rally Can Mean Much Faster Easing (BBG)

Russian central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina is growing confident that her country’s biggest vulnerability can turn into an asset. The Bank of Russia, which last month issued an unprecedented commitment to leave borrowing costs unchanged the rest of the year, will face an easier path to interest-rate cuts if oil prices rise further, Nabiullina said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Moscow on Tuesday. While Brent crude has almost doubled from a 12-year low in January, the central bank’s “moderately tight” stance allowed for only two reductions in 2016 before policy makers all but shut the door on more monetary easing this year.

“If there is a higher oil price, then it can lead to a stronger ruble, and – through the foreign-exchange channel – that in turn can cause a more rapid decline in inflation expectations, slowing inflation,” Nabiullina said. “Then we can ease monetary policy much faster.” The outlook marks a rare signal by the central bank that it’s open to deeper monetary easing as its chase of an inflation goal enters the final stretch. Policy makers are targeting price growth of 4% by end-2017 and see it reaching 5.5% to 6% in 2016 after overshooting their forecasts for a fourth consecutive year in 2015. Oil traded near a 15-month high after rising 3.1% Monday, when Putin said at a conference in Istanbul that his country is willing to join efforts by OPEC to stabilize the market through a production freeze or cut.

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The War Party. Read. Time to venture outside the narrative machine.

The Truth About the War in Aleppo (David Stockman)

This is starting to sound pretty ominous. The Washington War Party is coming unhinged and appears to be leaving no stone unturned when it comes to provoking Putin’s Russia and numerous others. The recent collapse of cooperation in Syria – based on the false claim that Assad and his Russian allies are waging genocide in Aleppo – is only the latest example. So now comes the U.S. Army’s chief of staff, General Mark Milley, doing his best imitation of Curtis LeMay in a recent speech dripping with bellicosity. While America has no industrial state enemy left on the planet that can even remotely challenge its economic might, technological superiority and overwhelming military power, General Milley unloaded a fusillade of bluster at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in Washington DC:

“The strategic resolve of our nation, the United States, is being challenged and our alliances tested in ways that we haven’t faced in many, many decades,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the audience. “I want to be clear to those who wish to do us harm … the United States military – despite all of our challenges, despite our [operational] tempo, despite everything we have been doing – we will stop you and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before. Make no mistake about that.” That is rank nonsense. We are not being “tested” by anyone. To the contrary, Imperial Washington is provoking tensions and confrontations everywhere – from the South China Sea to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the Black Sea, the Baltics and Ukraine – that have no bearing whatsoever on the safety and security of the citizens of Spokane WA, Topeka KS and Springfield MA.

Indeed, the clear and present danger to peace and freedom in the homeland lies not in the machinations of foreign capitals, but in the arrogant and bombastic groupthink that has overtaken the denizens of the Imperial City. The latter is again on display in the full-throated fulminations about the siege of Aleppo being emitted by the Washington War Party and its trained poodles in the establishment media – most especially the New York Times. We are told that the Russian Air Force and Assad’s military are targeting schools, hospitals and the 200,000 or so civilians of Eastern Aleppo for indiscriminate bombing and slaughter.

It’s shades of Benghazi 2011 all over again – an incipient genocide that Washington must stop in the name of R2P (Responsibility to Protect). No it’s not! What is happening in Aleppo is a raging sectarian civil war and a proxy battleground for the regional political maneuvers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. They are none of America’s business and haven’t been since the so-called Arab spring uprising spread to Syria in 2011. Indeed, Syria is a lawless, bombed-out, economically decimated failed state today owing to Washington’s heavy-handed intervention at the behest of the War Party’s bloody twin sisters. That is, the neocons and the R2P liberal interventionist claque around Hillary Clinton, including UN Ambassador Samantha Powers and National Security Council head Susan Rice.

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Does Dmitry rely too much on Russian rationalism as the main factor?

Oops! – A World War! (Dmitry Orlov)

Over the past week or so I’ve been receiving a steady stream of emails demanding to know whether an all-out nuclear war is about to erupt between the US and Russia. I’ve been watching the situation develop more or less carefully, and have been offering my opinion, briefly, one on one, to a few people’s great relief, and now I will attempt to spread the cheer far and wide. In short, on the one hand, all-out nuclear annihilation remains quite unlikely, barring an accident. But, on the other hand, such an accident is by no means impossible, because when it comes to US foreign policy “Oops!” seems to be the operative term.

One reason to be cheerful is that any plan to attack Russia is bound to become mired in bureaucracy. Battle plans are developed by mid-rank people within the US military establishment, approved and forwarded up the chain of command by higher-rank people and finally signed off on by the Pentagon’s top brass and their civilian political accomplices. The top brass and the politicians may be delusional, megalomaniacal and inadvertently suicidal, but the mid-rank people who develop the battle plans are rarely suicidal. If a particular plan has no conceivable chance of victory but is quite likely to lead to them and their families and friends becoming vaporized in a nuclear blast, they are unlikely to recommend it.

Another reason to be cheerful is that Russia has carefully limited the Pentagon’s options. One plan that, in the popular imagination, could lead to an all-out war with Russia, would be the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. What many people miss is that it is not possible to impose a no-fly zone on a country with a sufficiently powerful air defense system, such as Syria. As a first step, the air defense system would have to be taken out, and the air campaign to do so would be very expensive and incur massive losses in both equipment and personnel. But then the Russians made this step significantly worse by introducing their S-300 system. This is an autonomous, tracked, mobile system that can blow objects out of the sky over much of Syria and some of Turkey. It is very difficult to keep track of, because it can use “shoot and scoot” tactics, launching an attack and crawling away in a random direction over rough terrain.

Last on my list of reasons why war with Russia remains unlikely is that there isn’t much of a reason to start one, assuming the US behaves rationally. Currently, the biggest reason to start a war is that the Syrian army is winning the conflict in Aleppo. Once Aleppo is back in government hands and the US-supported jihadis are on the run, the Syrian civil war will largely be over, and the rebuilding will begin.

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“..who will emerge from the rubble? I suspect it will be someone we haven’t heard of before, just as Bonaparte was unheard of in France in 1792..”

Wounded Elephant (Jim Kunstler)

It is getting to be too late to sort out all the confusion sown by this horrific campaign. From here on its really more a matter of the dust settling. In background of it all looms the train-wreck of global finance, which will be the true determinant of what the American people will have to do in the years ahead. During the weeks of the election distraction, the European banks struggle to conceal their insolvency while the politicians of Euro-land desperately try to paper over the cracks in these fracturing institutions. Few can tell what is actually happening in China’s banking system, but it’s sending out ominous tremors that are hard to ignore.

But be sure it is all daisy-chained right into Wall Street and the US banks. The potential for wrecking markets and currencies around the world is extreme at this moment. It may only be a matter of whether it happens before or after the election. Then we’ll see what happens when financial institutions can’t trust each other. Trade stops. Economies crumble. Pretenses evaporate. If it gets bad enough, the shelves of the supermarkets go bare in three days and you’re living in a permanent hurricane disaster without the wind and rain. Believe me, that will be bad enough. Hillary, if elected, will not get to play FDR-2. Rather, she’ll be stuck in the role of Hoover, the Return, presiding over a freight elevator of an economy with a broken cable.

Expect problems with the US dollar. Expect “emergency” actions. Expect the unintended consequences of those actions. If there is one outstanding upshot of these “debates” it must be their staggering failure to reassure the American public that they can expect effective leadership through the hardships ahead. There must be many others out there like myself wondering who will emerge from the rubble? I suspect it will be someone we haven’t heard of before, just as Bonaparte was unheard of in France in 1792. This is not entirely a nation of clowns, though it feels like that lately.

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Uh, no, George; that’s quite a big miss. The process of loneliness emerging as a result of breaking social ties goes back way further than neoliberalism. Try the nuclear family. Try how we design our homes and cities.

Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness That’s Wrenching Society Apart (Monbiot)

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis. There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract. Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves.

Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do. As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves. Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress?

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One in a long line of obituaries, but a significant one. Many thousands of spcies will die with the reef.

Obituary: Great Barrier Reef : 25 Million BC-2016 (OO)

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old. For most of its life, the reef was the world’s largest living structure, and the only one visible from space. It was 1,400 miles long, with 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. In total area, it was larger than the United Kingdom, and it contained more biodiversity than all of Europe combined. It harbored 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins. Among its many other achievements, the reef was home to one of the world’s largest populations of dugong and the largest breeding ground of green turtles.

The reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene epoch. Its first 24.99 million years were seemingly happy ones, marked by overall growth. It was formed by corals, which are tiny anemone-like animals that secrete shell to form colonies of millions of individuals. Its complex, sheltered structure came to comprise the most important habit in the ocean. As sea levels rose and fell through the ages, the reef built itself into a vast labyrinth of shallow-water reefs and atolls extending 140 miles off the Australian coast and ending in an outer wall that plunged half a mile into the abyss. With such extraordinary diversity of life and landscape, it provided some of the most thrilling marine adventures on earth to humans who visited. Its otherworldly colors and patterns will be sorely missed.

[..] The Great Barrier Reef was predeceased by the South Pacific’s Coral Triangle, the Florida Reef off the Florida Keys, and most other coral reefs on earth. It is survived by the remnants of the Belize Barrier Reef and some deepwater corals.

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And winter is coming, also in Greece.

More Than 11,200 Migrants Stranded On Aegean Islands (Kath.)

Authorities say 162 migrants and refugees have arrived on Greece’s Aegean islands in the past 24 hours, raising the total number to 11,215. Authorities say 38 arrivals were reported on Samos, 38 on Chios and 22 on Lesvos. The number of individuals sheltered on Samos has increased by about 40% over the past 10 days, officials say. On Tuesday, State Minister Alekos Flabouraris chaired a meeting on immigration strategy where it was decided that migrants will be gradually moved out of an overcrowded facility on the island, while there are plans to build a second facility to detain migrants who commit violations.

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 August 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange ‘A season’s work in the beans’, Marion County, Oregon 1939

Neo-Liberalism Has Had Its Day. So What Happens Next? (G.)
BOJ’s Kuroda Says Won’t Rule Out Deepening Negative Rate Cut (R.)
EU Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence (Spiegel)
The Sound of Blairite Silence (Paul Mason)
53% Of Clinton Foundation Donors Would Be Barred Under Proposed Rule (ZH)
Leaked Memo Proves Soros Ruled Ukraine In 2014 (Duran)
The Aleppo Poster Child (Paul Craig Roberts)
Refugees In Greek Camps Targeted By Mafia Gangs (G.)
Hundreds Rescued From Overcrowded Migrant Boats In Med (EN)
‘Next Year Or The Year After, The Central Arctic Will Be Free Of Ice’ (G.)

 

 

Long, not terrible but not terribly convincing either.

Neo-Liberalism Has Had Its Day. So What Happens Next? (G.)

The western financial crisis of 2007-8 was the worst since 1931, yet its immediate repercussions were surprisingly modest. The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer. Subsequent economic policy, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has relied overwhelmingly on monetary policy, especially quantitative easing. It has failed. The western economy has stagnated and is now approaching its lost decade, with no end in sight.

After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.

The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis. But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital.

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Yada yada Kuroda.

BOJ’s Kuroda Says Won’t Rule Out Deepening Negative Rate Cut (R.)

The Bank of Japan will not rule out deepening a cut to negative rates it introduced in February, the Sankei newspaper quoted Governor Haruhiko Kuroda as saying, even as the controversial policy has failed to spur inflation or economic growth. In an interview with the daily, Kuroda said the BOJ’s negative rate policy has not reached its limits. “The degree of negative rates introduced by European central banks is bigger than Japan. Technically there definitely is room for a further cut,” Kuroda told the Sankei. The BOJ stunned markets in January when it set a minus 0.1% rate on some deposits that banks place at the central bank, with the move taking effect from February.

While the BOJ hoped the shift to negative rates would encourage banks to lend more, spurring higher spending and inflation, none of that has happened as yet. The BOJ will also consider whether to make any changes to the 80 trillion yen ($798 billion) per year massive asset-purchase plan once the outcome of a comprehensive assessment of its monetary policies is out in September, Kuroda said. The asset purchases are a key plank of the central bank’s “quantitative and qualitative easing” program deployed in 2013, aimed at achieving its 2% inflation target. Despite the aggressive easings, however, inflation is well off the target and growth remains anemic.

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Just another way to signal the failure of the EU. It’s endemic.

EU Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence (Spiegel)

Meeting minutes, correspondence and conversation records that SPIEGEL ONLINE and the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet have obtained now show that the European Commission and member states knew, since 2010 at the latest, that the extremely harmful emissions from diesel cars were strikingly higher than legal levels. But apparently none of the officials wanted the automakers to tell them why this was the case. According to EU officials, pressure from countries with a strong auto industry, most notably Germany, significantly reduced interest in an investigation. Instead of doing something about the environmental policy violation, the Commission and the member states passed the buck to each other.

This undignified back-and-forth even continued after the VW scandal about manipulated diesel cars in the United States was exposed in September 2015. The EU bureaucracy was one of the first to be informed, through its research organizations, about the high nitric oxide emissions of the VW vehicle fleet. In 2007, experts with European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) tested the emissions from operating diesel cars. Additional tests using the so-called PEMS method were performed in 2011 and 2013. The results were the same each time: Nitric oxide (NOX) emissions were several times higher than the levels measured in type approval tests in the laboratory.

Volkswagen was already making an unfavorable impression at the time. The biggest nitric oxide emitter in the 2011 and 2013 tests was a VW Multivan with a diesel engine. This emerges from the list of names of the car models involved, which were not published at the time but has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. The other eight diesel cars, however, that were randomly selected by the JRC engineers for the PEMS test had the same problem. Be it the Fiat Scudo, Bravo or Punto, the VW Golf or Passat, the Renault Clio or the BMW 120d, not a single model even remotely complied with nitric oxide limits in normal operation.

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The UK won’t let the US get away with claiming the title of ugliest political story.

The Sound of Blairite Silence (Paul Mason)

With Owen Smith it is never clear where, on the road from BBC Wales, via Pfizer, via the years as a special adviser in Belfast surrounded by all those nice members of MI5, via losing Blaenau Gwent to an independent because he was too identified with Blair … at what point did Owen become converted to Jeremy Lite left radical socialism? This combination of high personal ambition and the lack of a permanent belief system is exactly the right attribute for someone whose purpose is to be a placeholder for the Blairite counter-revolution. Who can forget, after all, that Angela Eagle -the original placeholder- launched her campaign without a single policy. Smith is there to remove the grip of Corbyn, and Corbynism on those few parts of the Labour machine it controls.

After that the money amassed by Saving Labour, Progress and Labour Tomorrow will be used to fund the party’s re-conversion to a safe tool of the global elite. It will be back to normal. At every stage, the pro-1% Labour machine has tried to suppress democracy: it tried to force Corbyn off the ballot paper; it tried to debar new, pro-Corbyn members from voting; it tried to produce a new Labour leader without a vote; it imposed an arbitrary cut-off date for new members voting. At the same time the Labour right is promoting an series of largely unfounded victim narratives: that ‘Corbyn is antisemitic’ (backed up with a defamatory attack on Shami Chakrabarti). It’s promoted the narrative of misogyny, of physical threats, of ‘Trotskyist entrism’, of Corbyn ‘sabotaging’ the Remain campaign.

We must anticipate the outcome of this on the principle that Chekov outlined in theatre: if a gun appears in Act I, by the end of Act III someone is going to get shot. Every signal from the Labour right appears to point towards a second coup against Corbyn, once he wins the leadership election, which will make Owen Smith s current effort look like a sideshow.

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There is simply too much wrong about this. A Hillary presidency would damage the reputation of America’s political system too severely. Even Trump Jr of all people makes a valid point.

And no, that does not mean I support Trump. Air everyone’s dirty laundry, by all means. Investigate Trump with all you got. But don’t ignore this.

53% Of Clinton Foundation Donors Would Be Barred Under Proposed Rule (ZH)

On Thursday evening, alongside Trump’s unexpected statement of “regret”, Bill Clinton made another just as important announcement when he said that should Hillary become president, the $2 billion Clinton Family foundation will no longer accept money from any corporate and foreign donors and will bring an end to its annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting regardless of the outcome of the November election. To this we responded that this was to be expected: after all “once Hillary is president, she will no longer need a backdoor way of legally receiving Saudi and other foreign money: at that moment, billions in Saudi dollars will be deemed perfectly acceptable for passage through the front door, mostly in exchange for weapons and ammo.”

Other had similar reactions, with the announcement drawing skepticism on Friday mostly from the right left as critics wondered why the Clintons have never before cut off corporate and overseas money to their charity, and more importantly why they would wait until after the election to do so. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Friday that the Clintons’ continued acceptance of those dollars during the presidential campaign is a “massive, ongoing conflict of interest.” The left also spoke up, when Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who was a leading surrogate for Clinton’s rival in the Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders, said the restrictions were a good step but should be imposed immediately. “In my opinion, and in the opinion of lots of Americans, this should have been done long ago,” she said.

As it turns out, the self-impossed restrictions would be more stringent than those put in place while Clinton was secretary of state – ironically when the temptation to bribe the top US diplomat was far higher – when the foundation was merely required to seek State Department approval to accept new donations from foreign governments, permitting the charity to accept millions of dollars from governments and wealthy interests all over the world. They would also be stricter than the policy adopted when Clinton launched her campaign that placed some limits on foreign government funding but allowed corporate and individual donations, for the simple reason that Hillary was willing the accept cash for any and all future favors.

Others questioned why Clinton had now decided that the foundation should rule out donations that she apparently thought were acceptable during her tenure as the country’s top diplomat. “Is it ok to accept foreign and corporate money when Secretary of State but not when POTUS???” Donald Trump Jr., son of the Republican nominee, tweeted Thursday night.

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A man so old he could die any moment now gets to shape a future he will not live to see, just because he has some money. If that’s not a damning verdict of our political systems, what is?

Leaked Memo Proves Soros Ruled Ukraine In 2014 (Duran)

We noted in a previous post how important Ukraine was to George Soros, with documents from DC Leaks that show Soros, and his Open Society NGO, scouring the Greek media and political landscape to push the benefits of his Ukraine coup upon a Russian leaning Greek society. Now more documents, in the massive 2,500 leaked tranche, show the immense power and control Soros had over Ukraine immediately following the illegal Maidan government overthrow. Soros and his NGO executives held detailed and extensive meetings with just about every actor involved in the Maidan coup: from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, to Ukraine’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Health, and Education. The only person missing was Victoria Nuland, though we are sure those meeting minutes are waiting to see the light of day.

Plans to subvert and undermine Russian influence and cultural ties to Ukraine are a central focus of every conversation. US hard power, and EU soft power, is central towards bringing Ukraine into the neo-liberal model that Soros champions, while bringing Russia to its economic knees. Soros’ NGO, International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) plays a key role in the formation of the “New Ukraine”…the term Soros frequently uses when referring to his Ukraine project. In a document titled, “Breakfast with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt”, George Soros, (aka GS), discusses Ukraine’s future with: Geoffrey Pyatt (US Ambassador to Ukraine); David Meale (Economic Counsellor to the Ambassador); Lenny Benardo (OSF); Yevhen Bystrytsky (Executive Director, IRF); Oleksandr Sushko (Board Chair, IRF); Ivan Krastev (Chariman, Centre for Liberal Studies); Sabine Freizer (OSF); Deff Barton (Director, USAID, Ukraine)

The meeting took place on March 31, 2014, just a few months after the Maidan coup, and weeks before a full out civil war erupted, after Ukraine forces attacked the Donbass. In the meeting, US Ambassador Pyatt outlines the general goal for fighting a PR war against Putin, for which GS is more than happy to assist. “Ambassador: The short term issue that needs to be addressed will be the problem in getting the message out from the government through professional PR tools, especially given Putin’s own professional smear campaigns.” “GS: Agreement on the strategic communications issue—providing professional PR assistance to Ukrainian government would be very useful. Gave an overview of the Crisis Media Center set up by IRF and the need for Yatseniuk to do more interviews with them that address directly with journalists and the public the current criticisms of his decision making.”

Pyatt pushes the idea of decentralization of power for the New Ukraine, without moving towards Lavrov’s recommendation for a federalized Ukraine. GS notes that a federalization model would result in Russia gaining influence over eastern regions in Ukraine, something that GS strictly opposes.

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How many more years of this?

The Aleppo Poster Child (Paul Craig Roberts)

Washington’s media presstitutes are using the image of the child to bring pressure on Russia to stop the Syrian army from retaking Alleppo. Washington wants its so-called moderate rebels to retain Alleppo so that Washington can split Syria in two, thereby keeping a permanent pressure against President Assad. As for the little boy in the propaganda picture, he does not seem to be badly injured. Let us not forget the tens of thousands of children that Washington’s wars and bombings of 7 Muslim countries have killed without any tears shed by CNN anchors, and let us not forget the 500,000 Iraqi children that the United Nations concluded died as a result of US sanctions against Iraq, children’s deaths that Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said were worth it.

Let us not forget that Washington’s determination to overthrow the Syrian government has brought many deaths to Syrians of all age groups. Washington alone is responsible for the deaths. The evil Obama regime has stated over and over that “Assad must go” and is prepared to destroy the country and much of the population in order to get rid of him. According to the Obama regime, Assad must go because he is a dictator. Washington tells this lie despite the fact that Assad was elected and re-elected and has far higher support among Syrians that Obama has among Americans. Moreover, whatever Washington accuses Assad of doing to Syrians is nothing compared to the death and destruction that Washington brought to Syria.

Perhaps the tragedy of Aleppo could have been avoided if the Russian government had not prematurely declared “mission accomplished” in Syria and withdrawn only to have to rush back after the Russian government was again deceived by Washington.

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The EU, Europe as a whole, fails dramatically, and nothing is improving.

Greece by then had already received €181m to help deal with the crisis from Brussels.

Look, Greece estimated the cost to its budget at €2 billion at least 6 months ago. Now, all the money goes to NGOs. Whose track record is not great, to say the least.

Refugees In Greek Camps Targeted By Mafia Gangs (G.)

Fresh evidence is emerging that refugees stranded in camps across Greece are falling victim to rising levels of vice peddled by mafia gangs who see the entrapped migrants as perfect prey for prostitution, drug trafficking and human smuggling. Details of the alarming conditions present in many of the facilities comes as the Greek government – facing criticism after the Observer’s exposé of sexual abuse in camps last week – announced urgent measures to deal with the crisis. A further four refugee centres, it said, would be set up in a bid to improve severe overcrowding, a major source of tensions in the camps. Aid workers say an estimated 58,000 migrants and asylum seekers in Greece are increasingly being targeted by Greek and Albanian mafias.

Tales of criminals infiltrating camps to recruit vulnerable women and men are legion. “If nothing is done to improve the lifestyle of these refugees and to use their time more productively, I see a major disaster,” warned Nesrin Abaza, an American aid worker volunteering at the first privately funded camp known as Elpida (Greek for hope) outside Thessaloniki. “These camps are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, gangs and violence. It seems like the world has forgotten about them. They are not headline news any more, so therefore they do not exist … but the neglect will show its ugly head.” With an estimated 55 centres nationwide – including “hotspots” on the Aegean islands within view of Turkey – Greece has effectively become a huge holding pen for refugees since EU and Balkan countries closed their borders to shut them out earlier this year.

[..] the EU released €83m in April to improve living conditions for refugees stranded in the country. The UN refugee agency, the International Federation of the Red Cross and six international NGOs were given the bulk of the funding. Greece by then had already received €181m to help deal with the crisis from Brussels. Announcing the emergency support, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, claimed the assistance was “a concrete example of how the EU delivers on the challenges Europe faces”. “We have to restore dignified living conditions for refugees and migrants in Europe as swiftly as possible,” he said. But four months later, as allegations of sexual abuse and criminal activity envelop the camps, questions are mounting over whether the money was properly administered. In addition to bad sanitary conditions and lack of police protection, the latest revelations have shone a light on whether the humanitarian system is working at all.

“There is no emphasis on humanity, it is all about numbers,” Amed Khan, a financier turned philanthropist who funded Elpida, told the Observer. Elpida, also established in a former factory near Thessaloniki, has a tea room and yoga centre and, seeing itself as a pioneering initiative, encourages refugees to regard it as a home. In the month since the camp opened its doors, it has won plaudits for being the most humane refugee centre in Greece. “Nobody is using money here efficiently or effectively,” lamented Khan. “The humanitarian system is the same one that has been in place since the second world war, it lacks intellectual flexibility and is totally broken. The real question to be asked is, has the aid that has been given been appropriately utilised?”

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3000 dead so far this year.

Hundreds Rescued From Overcrowded Migrant Boats In Med (EN)

More than 300 people have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea after migrant boats capsized off the coast of Libya. One small vessel packed with 27 Syrians flipped over and sank, according to humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The bodies of two women and one man were recovered. Among the dead were two girls, aged eight months and five years. The survivors were taken to the Sicilian port of Trapani. Migrants from North Africa are favouring the dangerous voyage toward Italy after last year’s prefered route from Turkey to the Greek islands has been largely shut down. According to the International Organization for Migration, about three thousand migrants have died in the Med so far this year.

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“You will be able to cross over the North Pole by ship.”

‘Next Year Or The Year After, The Central Arctic Will Be Free Of Ice’ (G.)

Peter Wadhams has spent his career in the Arctic, making more than 50 trips there, some in submarines under the polar ice. He is credited with being one of the first scientists to show that the thick icecap that once covered the Arctic ocean was beginning to thin and shrink. He was director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge from 1987 to 1992 and professor of ocean physics at Cambridge since 2001. His book, A Farewell to Ice, tells the story of his unravelling of this alarming trend and describes what the consequences for our planet will be if Arctic ice continues to disappear at its current rate. “You have said on several occasions that summer Arctic sea ice would disappear by the middle of this decade. It hasn’t. Are you being alarmist?”

No. There is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover. However, each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the North Pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.

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