Aug 312017
 
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Prohibition sale June 24 1920

 

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)
“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)
Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)
A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)
It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)
A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)
The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)
America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)
Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)
Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)
‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)
Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)
‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

 

 

$160 billion and counting.

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)

Hurricane Harvey is predicted to be the costliest natural disaster in the history of the U.S., with a damage cost exceeding Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. AccuWeather predicts that the damage cost will hit $160 billion. AccuWeather, a private weather firm, notes that the storm’s cost represents 0.8% of the national GDP, which is now at $19 trillion. “Business leaders and the Federal Reserve, major banks, insurance companies, etc. should begin to factor in the negative impact this catastrophe will have on business, corporate earnings and employment. The disaster is just beginning in certain areas,” AccuWeather founder Dr. Joel N. Myers said in a statement.

“Parts of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mold, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this 1,000-year flood.” Before Harvey, the costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Katrina, which caused $108 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast in 2005. The second-costliest was Hurricane Sandy, which caused $75 billion in damage in 2012. Hurricane Ike, the last storm to make landfall in Texas before Harvey, caused $37.5 billion in damage in 2008. [..] The Associated Press reports that 80% of Harvey’s victims do not have flood insurance. Thousands of families will have to take on more debt or spend much more to fix their homes. Others will sell their property to move out.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, estimated that flood damage alone cost at least $35 billion. Hunter explained to the AP that if you don’t have flood insurance, you can apply for federal disaster benefits. However, these are low interest loans that will add more debt. Homeowners insurance covers water damage caused by wind damage, but not if the water comes through the floor or walls, the AP explains. “Homeowners with water damage can get paid through their homeowners insurance but only if wind blows out a window or sends a roof aloft first, allowing the water in,” the AP notes. “If the water rushes through the floorboard or walls, you’re not covered.”

Read more …

There have been scores of chemicals released into the air already in the area.

“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)

[..] in a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has announced it is evacuating workers due to the risk of an explosion, after primary power was knocked out and flooding swamped its backup generators. The French company said the situation at the plant “has become serious” and said that it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas to set up a command post in a suitable location near our site. The plant, which produces explosive organic peroxides and ammonia, was hit by more than 40 inches of rain and has been heavily flooded, running without electricity since Sunday. The plant was closed since Friday but has had a skeleton staff of about a dozen in place.

Following the flood surge, the plant’s back-up generators also failed. The threat emerged once the company could no longer maintain refrigeration for chemicals located on site, which have to be stored at low temperatures. The plant lost cooling when backup generators were flooded and then workers transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers. On Tuesday afternoon, the company released a statement which admitted that “refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely.” It then warned that “while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

One day later, and with the torrential rains finally over, has the situation at the giant peroxide chemical plant stabilized? Unfortunately, according to Reuters, the answer is no. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Richard Rowe, the chief executive of Arkema’s American operations said that “the company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant.” Rowe added that the company now expects chemicals on site to catch fire or explode within the next six days. Since the plant remains flooded by about six feet of water, “the company has no way to prevent” this worst-case outcome. Anticipating the worst, the company earlier evacuated all remaining workers, while Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents in a 1.5-mile radius of the plant that makes organic chemicals.

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Insult. Injury.

Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)

The embattled populations of southeastern Texas, may soon encounter a new obstacle in their quests to rebuild their lives after Harvey when a new state insurance law that makes it harder for consumers to receive full claims goes into effect Friday. The new law decreases the chances that an insurance company will be forced to pay claim delay penalties and plaintiff attorneys’ fees related to weather-involved claims — a protection that may discourage struggling households from pursuing legal action even if they think the insurance companies are offering less of a payout than they should. Under the new regulations, insurance companies will enjoy greater freedoms to push back on insurance claims, and the first wave of such claimants are likely to be coming from areas impacted by Harvey.

Residents reeling from Harvey now have until just Friday to assess the damages to their homes that may still be under water, and to notify their insurance company of nay damages if they want to avoid navigating that new law. After Friday, new legal restrictions will be in place that make things more difficult for consumers, and interest rates imposed on insurance companies to deter late payments will be cut nearly in half. “Without this law, and as the law currently is until Friday, I think insurance companies would be more responsive to claims,” Kir Pittard, a Dallas attorney, wrote on Facebook of the new law. “After Friday, there won’t be the incentive because the penalty for delays have been reduced.” To put it bluntly, a lot of residents in the impact area of Harvey may face a long battle ahead to replace the roofs torn off their homes from high winds, activists say.

“Insurance companies already had a lot of power, and the bill gives them a lot more power. As we know, too often insurance companies wrongfully withhold payments, they delay payments, they deny claims,” Ware Wendell, the executive director of consumer watchdog group Texas Watch, told The Independent. “So, we’re very concerned that people are going to have blue tarps on their homes instead of roofs.”

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Nomi sees central banks the same way I do.

A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)

Since late 2007, the Federal Reserve has embarked on grand-scale collusion with other G-7 central banks to manufacture a massive amount of money. The scope and degree of this collusion are historically unprecedented and by admission of the perpetrators, unconventional in approach, and – depending on the speech – ineffective. Central bank efforts to provide liquidity to the private banking system have been delivered amidst a plethora of grandiose phrases like “unlimited” and “by all means necessary.” Central bankers have played a game with no defined goalposts, no clock rundown, no max scores, and no true end in sight. At the Fed’s instigation, central bankers built policy on the fly. Their science experiment morphed into something even Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t have imagined.

Confidence in the Fed and the U.S. dollar (as well as in other major central banks globally) has dropped considerably, even as this exercise remains in motion, and even though central bankers have tactiltly admitted that their money creation scheme was largely a bust, though not in any one official statement. On July 31, 2017, Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Fed, delivered a speech in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he addressed the phenomenon of low interest rates worldwide. Fischer admitted that “the effects of quantitative easing in the United States and abroad” are suppressing rates. He also said there was “a heightened demand for safe assets affecting yields on advanced-economy government securities.” (Actually, there’s been heighted demand for junky assets, as well, which has manifested in a bi-polarity of saver vs. speculator preference.)

What Fischer meant was that investors are realizing that low rates since 2008 haven’t fueled real growth, just asset bubbles. Remember, Fischer is the Fed’s No. 2 man. He was also a professor to former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and current European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Both have considered him to be a major influence in their economic outlook. The “Big Three” central banks – the Fed, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – have collectively held rates at a zero% on average since the global financial crisis began. For nearly a decade, central banks have been batting about tens of trillions of dollars to do so. They have fueled bubbles. They have amassed assets on their books worth nearly $14 trillion. That’s money not serving any productive, real-economy purpose – because it happens to be in lock-down.

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When the reserve currency sinks, strange things can happen.

It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)

The commodity rally since June has been impressive, and it could be tied to weakness in the US dollar. Those sharp increases — ranging between 15-40% — have had Morgan Stanley strategists slightly puzzled. On one hand, bulk commodities such as iron ore and coal have benefited from steady increases in demand. “Similarly, restocking in zinc and nickel markets have helped lift prices of those trades,” the analysts said. However, they added that fundamentals alone can’t explain the rise in the prices of copper, aluminium and lead. That suggests some of the price action is being driven by an external factor: the recent weakness in the US dollar. The analysts noted that this is the second commodity rally within the last year that’s been directly connected to the US dollar.

But the first one was the other way round — commodities staged a 4-week rally in the wake of the US election last November, when the US dollar was also rising. So why the difference? According to Price and Bates, it’s because the outlook for inflation has now largely reversed. “Post-election, markets positioned for new inflation risk, on the promise of a US infra-build story,” they said. But infrastructure reform is yet to get off the ground amid political gridlock in Washington, and US inflation remains stuck below the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2-3%. Currency markets have reacted by driving the US dollar lower throughout most of 2017. So it follows that commodities priced in US dollars have benefited from a fall in the greenback while overall commodity-demand remains unchanged.

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Try it in a smaller country first?!

A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)

A universal basic income could make the US economy trillions of dollars larger, permanently, according to a new study by the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Basic income, a proposal in which every American would be given a basic stipend from the government no strings attached, is often brought up as a potential solution to widespread automation reducing demand for labor in the future. But in the meantime, its critics typically allege that it is far too expensive to be practical, or else that it would spur millions of Americans to drop out of the labor force, wrecking the economy and depriving the government of a tax base for funding the plan. The Roosevelt study, written by Roosevelt research director Marshall Steinbaum, Michalis Nikiforos at Bard College’s Levy Institute, and Gennaro Zezza at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio in Italy, comes to a dramatically different conclusion.

And it does so using some notably rosy assumptions about the effects of large-scale increases to government spending, taxes, and deficits, assumptions that other analysts would dispute vociferously. Their paper analyzes three different models for a universal basic income: • A full universal basic income, in which every adult gets $1,000 a month ($12,000 a year) • A partial basic income, in which every adult gets $500 a month ($6,000 a year) • A child allowance, in which every child gets $250 a month ($3,000 a year) They find that enacting any of these policies by growing the federal debt — that is, without raising taxes to pay for it — would substantially grow the economy. The effect fades away within eight years, but GDP is left permanently higher. The big, $12,000 per year per adult policy, they find, would permanently grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10% — or about $2.5 trillion come 2025.

It would also, they find, increase the%age of Americans with jobs by about 2%, and expand the labor force to the tune of 4.5 to 4.7 million people. They also model the impact of the plan if it’s paid for with taxes. That amounts to large-scale income redistribution, which, the authors argue, would stimulate the economy, because lower-income people are likelier to spend their money in the near-term than rich people are. Thus, they find that a full $12,000 a year per adult basic income, paid for with progressive income taxes, would grow the economy by about 2.62% ($515 billion) and expand the labor force by about 1.1 million people.

These are extremely contentious estimates, borne of controversial assumptions about the way the economy works and the effects that a basic income would have on it. Many, if not most, economic modelers would come to very different conclusions: that a basic income discourages work, that raising taxes to pay for it could have profound negative economic impacts, and that not paying for it and exploding the deficit is a recipe for fiscal and economic ruin. But the authors argue that the economic model they’re using, run by the Bard College Levy Economics Institute, uses more realistic assumptions than alternative models, and is particularly well-suited for predicting a UBI’s impact.

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Part of Yanis’ plans for Greece. A parallel system.

The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)

any attempt to bring treasuries and central banks back under one roof would expose politicians to accusations of trying to get their grubby hands on the levers of monetary policy. But another response to the new reality is available: Leave central banks alone, but give governments a greater say in domestic money creation – and, indeed, greater independence from the central bank – by establishing a parallel payments system based on fiscal money or, more precisely, money backed by future taxes. How would fiscal money work? For starters, it would “live” on the tax authority’s digital platform, using the existing tax file numbers of individuals and companies. Anyone with a tax file number (TFN) in some country receives a free account linked to their TFN.

Individuals and firms will then be able to add credit to their TFN-linked account by transferring money from their normal bank account, in the same way that they do today to pay their taxes. And they will do so well in advance of tax payments because the state guarantees to extinguish in, say, a year €1,080 of the tax owed for every €1,000 transferred today – an effective annual interest rate of 8% payable to those willing to pay their taxes a year early. In practice, once, say, €1,000 has been transferred to one’s TFN-linked account, a personal identification number (the familiar PIN) is issued, which can be used either to transfer the €1,000 credit to someone else’s TFN-linked account or to pay taxes in the future. These time-stamped future tax euros, or fiscal euros, can be held for a year until maturity or be used to make payments to other taxpayers.

Smartphone apps and even government-issued cards (doubling as, say, social security ID) will make the transactions easy, fast, and virtually indistinguishable from other transactions involving central bank money. In this closed payments system, as fiscal money approaches maturity, taxpayers not in possession of that vintage will fuel rising demand for it. To ensure the system’s viability, the Treasury would control the total supply of fiscal money, using the effective interest rate to guarantee that the nominal value of the total supply never exceeds a%age of national income, or of aggregate taxes, agreed by the legislature. To ensure full transparency, and thus trust, a blockchain algorithm, designed and supervised by an independent national authority, could settle transactions in fiscal money.

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Is it low savings or high debt levels?

America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)

Caught up in the bluster of the US accusations being leveled at China, little attention is being paid to the potential consequences of Chinese retaliation. Three economic consequences stand out. First, imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and services would be the functional equivalent of a tax hike on American consumers. Chinese producers’ unit labor costs are less than one fifth those of America’s other major foreign suppliers. By diverting US demand away from Chinese trade, the costs of imported goods would undoubtedly rise sharply. The possibility of higher import prices and potential spillover effects on underlying inflation would hit middle-class US workers, who have faced more than three decades of real wage stagnation, especially hard.

Second, trade actions against China could lead to higher US interest rates. Foreigners currently own about 30% of all US Treasury securities, with the latest official data putting Chinese ownership at $1.15 trillion in June 2017 – fully 19% of total foreign holdings and slightly higher than Japan’s $1.09 trillion. In the event of new US tariffs, it seems reasonable to expect China to respond by reducing such purchases, reinforcing a strategy of asset diversification away from US dollar-based assets that has been under way for the past three years. In an era of still-large US budget deficits – likely to go even higher in the aftermath of Trump administration tax cuts and spending initiatives – the lack of demand for Treasuries by the largest foreign owner could well put upward pressure on borrowing costs.

Third, with growth in US domestic demand still depressed, American companies need to rely more on external demand. Yet the Trump administration seems all but oblivious to this component of the growth calculus. It is threatening trade sanctions not only against China – America’s third-largest and fastest-growing major export market – but also against NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico (America’s largest and second-largest export markets, respectively). As the reactive pathology of codependency would suggest, none of these countries can be expected to acquiesce to such measures without curtailing US access to their markets – a counter-response that could severely undermine the manufacturing revival that seems so central to the Trump presidency’s promise to “Make America Great Again.”

In the end, China’s economic leverage over America is largely the result of low US domestic saving. In the first quarter of 2017, the so-called net national saving rate – the combined depreciation-adjusted saving of businesses, households, and the government sector – stood at just 1.9% of national income, well below the longer-term average of 6.3% that prevailed over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Lacking in saving and wanting to consume and grow, the US must import surplus saving from abroad to close the gap, forcing it to run massive current-account and trade deficits with countries like China to attract the foreign capital.

Read more …

“..the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.”

Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)

Financial firms are sounding alarm bells and dusting off contingency plans over fears an increasingly dysfunctional U.S. Congress may fail to reach a deal to raise the country’s debt limit. Several lobbyists, representing dozens of bankers, investors and credit rating agencies, told Reuters they are worried that dynamics at play in Washington – a bitterly divided Republican party and unpredictable President Donald Trump – could rule out a deal before an October deadline. Policymakers have vowed to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, boosting hopes the debt limit battle could be included in an agreement on a legislative package.

But the acrimonious atmosphere following Trump’s remarks about the Charlottesville protests this month, which cost him key backers in the business community and raised worries about his ability to broker a deal, still lingers. The debt ceiling is a legal cap on how much money the government can borrow to fund its budget deficits and meet debt obligations. Failure to raise it from the current $19.8 trillion could lead to default, sending shockwaves across global markets. “The stakes here are incredibly high. The economic impact associated with debt default is so immense,” said Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA), one of the country’s key financial lobby groups. “We’re monitoring this extremely closely and we will mobilize as needed throughout September.”

While leading lawmakers and the administration have pledged it will get done, some corners of financial markets are already on edge. After all, Goldman Sachs estimated that failure to lift the cap would force a government spending cut equal to between 3 and 4% of U.S. gross domestic product, which would have crippling economic consequences. Moreover, previous debt limit negotiations went down to the wire, and the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.

Read more …

“U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce”

Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)

The first strange gold story involves Germany… The Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany, announced that it had completed the repatriation of gold to Frankfurt from foreign vaults. The German story is the completion of a process that began in 2013. That’s when the Deutsche Bundesbank first requested a return of some of the German gold from vaults in Paris, in London and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Those gold transfers have now been completed. This is a topic I first raised in the introduction to Currency Wars in 2011. I suggested that in extremis, the U.S. might freeze or confiscate foreign gold stored on U.S. soil using powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the Trading With the Enemy Act or the USA Patriot Act.

This then became a political issue in Europe with agitation for repatriation in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Europeans wanted to get gold out of the U.S. and safely back to their own national vaults. The German transfer was completed ahead of schedule; the original completion date was 2020. But the German central bank does not actually want the gold back because there is no well-developed gold-leasing market in Frankfurt and no experience leasing gold under German law. German gold in New York or London was available for leasing under New York or U.K. law as part of global price-manipulation schemes. Moving gold to Frankfurt reduces the floating supply available for leasing, making it more difficult to keep the manipulation going.

Why did Germany do it? The driving force both in 2013 (date of announcement) and 2017 (date of completion) is that both years are election years in Germany. Angela Merkel’s position as chancellor of Germany is up for a vote on Sept. 24, 2017. She may need a coalition to stay in power, and there’s a small nationalist party in Germany that agitates for gold repatriation. Merkel stage-managed this gold repatriation with the Deutsche Bundesbank both in 2013 and this week to appease that small nationalist party and keep them in the coalition. That’s why the repatriation was completed three years early. She needs the votes now.

The truly weird gold story comes from the United States… Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just paid a visit to Fort Knox to see the U.S. gold supply. Mnuchin is only the third Treasury secretary in history ever to visit Fort Knox and this was the first official visit from Washington since 1974. The U.S. government likes to ignore gold and not draw attention to it. Official visits to Fort Knox give gold some monetary credence that central banks would prefer it does not have. Why an impromptu visit by Mnuchin and McConnell? Why now? The answer may lie in the fact that the Treasury is running out of cash and could be broke by Sept. 29 if Congress does not increase the debt ceiling by then. But the Treasury could get $355 billion in cash from thin air without increasing the debt simply by revaluing U.S. gold to a market price. (U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce.)

Read more …

Naked power plays.

‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)

To a certain cast of people, the solution to every problem in Europe is “more Europe” – even, or especially, those problems that have been caused by Europe. The economic crisis that began a decade ago has exposed many flaws in the European economic model. The solution? Some are calling for a euro-zone budget and a euro-zone finance minister. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is dedicated to the idea. Berlin has signaled conditional support. And Brussels is always happy to accrue more power. The idea makes superficial sense: Monetary union, most people now accept, doesn’t really work without fiscal union. The European Central Bank is constantly under pressure to loosen monetary policy to help the weakest euro members, and to keep it tight to help the strongest. But currency is a blunt instrument.

The “more Europe” thinking is that if the EU had a large budget, it could redistribute wealth to more directly help struggling members. (This is what happens in the U.S.) A powerful finance minister would oversee member countries to keep deficits and debts down and prevent debt crises. Except that that doesn’t make much sense: As Martin Sandbu points out, the U.S. federal budget, hovering at around 20% of GDP, isn’t enough to act as much of a macro-economic stabilizer, and nobody contemplates an EU budget of even that scale in the foreseeable future. Regardless, the so-called debt crises in the euro zone were not ultimately caused by deficits and debts as such, but by monetary phenomena. The euro made Mediterranean countries uncompetitive, leading to slow growth and debt and deficits, and the interest on those debts spiked only when the implicit euro-zone-wide guarantee on those debts was called into question by Germany.

What of Germany, which is essential to any EU reform effort? Germany historically, and Angela Merkel especially, has always been keen on more European integration – but also doesn’t want to pay for it. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has favored the idea of an EU budget – with a little-noticed but all-important asterisk. EU countries’ access to a European macroeconomic stabilization fund would be conditioned on “the bailout fund having more say over national debt and budgets,” he told the German Bild newspaper. In other words, Germany would be happy to pay a little something toward a macro-economic stabilization fund in exchange for having practical control over the budgets of all the euro-zone countries.

The commitment to pay into the fund is probably not daunting, because the budgetary orthodoxy rules Germany would come up with would be unattainable, and the money would probably never be spent. In other words, Macron and the “more Europe” camp are willing to hand Germany control over the euro zone’s finances, in exchange for … well, perhaps nothing. It’s an offer that Merkel can’t refuse.

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No, it’s not ideal. But at least all-out chaos like in Libya has been prevented.

Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)

In recent months, as supplies of aid, money and weapons to Syria’s opposition have dwindled, it had clung to the hope that ongoing international political support would prevent an outright victory for Bashar al-Assad and his backers. Not any more. An announcement earlier this week by Jordan – one of the opposition’s most robust supporters – that “bilateral ties with Damascus are going in the right direction” has, for many, marked a death knell for the opposition cause. Within the ranks of the political opposition, and regional allies, the statement was the opening act of something that all had dreaded: normalisation with a bitter foe. And without anything much to show for it.

Emphasising his words, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said: “This is a very important message that everyone should hear.” And indeed, the about-face in Amman was quickly noted in Ankara, Doha, and Riyadh, where – after seven and a-half years of war – states that were committed to toppling the Syrian leader are now resigned to him staying. Returning from a summit in the Saudi capital last week, opposition leaders say they were told directly by the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, that Riyadh was disengaging. “The Saudis don’t care about Syria anymore,” said a senior western diplomat. “It’s all Qatar for them. Syria is lost.”

In Britain too, rhetoric that had demanded Assad leave the Presidential Palace, as a first step towards peace, has been replaced by what Whitehall calls “pragmatic realism”. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week couched Assad’s departure as “not a precondition. But part of a transition.” Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has openly delegated finding a solution to Syria to Russia. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to close a CIA-run programme, which had sent weapons from Jordan and Turkey to vetted Syrian rebel groups for much of the past four years. Washington has adopted a secondary role in twin, ailing, peace processes in Geneva and Astana and has focused its energies on fighting Isis, not Assad.

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How long ago is it that Justin vowed to fix this? “.. more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water “

‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

The suicide epidemic affecting First Nations communities across Canada has been a national crisis for decades, but it attracted international headlines after three indigenous communities were moved to declare a state of emergency in response to a series of deaths. In the spring of 2016, Attawapiskat First Nation reserve in Ontario declared a state of emergency after 11 young people tried to commit suicide in one night – adding to the estimated 100 attempts made over 10 months among this community of 2,000 people. Not long after, it was revealed that six people, including a 14-year-old girl, had killed themselves over a period of three months in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation community of northern Manitoba. In the aftermath, more than 150 youths in this remote community of 6,000 were put on suicide watch.

Then in June this year, another First Nations reserve in Ontario lost three 12-year-old girls who had reportedly agreed a suicide pact. This string of tragic events has seen media and government turn the spotlight on an issue too often ignored in Canada. Across the country, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the leading cause of death for First Nations people below the age of 44. Studies show young indigenous males are 10 times more likely to kill themselves than their non-indigenous male counterparts, while young indigenous females are 21 times more likely than young non-indigenous females. [..] The government has been criticised for its lack of support and funding for First Nations communities, which total 1.4 million people – just under 4.3% of Canada’s population. “We call that injustice,” says Roderick McCormick, an expert in indigenous health and suicide at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC.

He suggests a complex web of severe poverty plus lack of education and basic necessities underpins the rise in suicides among indigenous youths. “In terms of educational opportunities, healthcare and child welfare, the government is doing an injustice by not adequately funding our communities,” McCormick says. “When these remote reserves compare themselves to other communities across Canada, there is a huge gap that has become really evident.” Recent research has found more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water – with almost 90 of them being advised to boil their drinking water. Another study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that 60% of children on these reserves are living in poverty. “The communities I represent are living in abject poverty,” Wilson says. “My people are the poorest in this country, and that’s not right.”

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May 292017
 
 May 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Hokusai Views of Mount Fuji: Ejiri in Suruga Province 1831

 

Europe “Must Take Its Fate Into Its Own Hands” – Angela Merkel (AFP)
Stocks Won’t Crash Spectacularly but May Zigzag Lower (WS)
The Great Aussie Recession-Free Run Is Looking Shaky – Again (BBG)
Australia Retail Sector Shudders (Aus.)
US Homeowners Are Again Pocketing Cash as They Refinance Properties (WSJ)
The Guardian Mourns Corbyn’s Polling Surge (Cook)
Tories Pledge New Law Over Domestic Violence Directed At Children (G.)
US Should Focus On The Economy And Skip Irrelevant Talking Forums (CNBC)
Camille Paglia: Democrats Are Colluding With The Media To Create Chaos (WE)
How Team Obama Tried To Hack The Election (NYP)
Syria’s Assad Explains How The US Really Works (ICH)
Macron Promises Tough Talk At First Putin Meeting (R.)
Economists Have to Embrace Complexity to Avoid Disaster (Steve Keen)
Greek Archbishop: ‘I See a Europe of Exploitation, not Solidarity’ (GR)

 

 

I’ve seen a dozen versions of this. Few people seem to know how to properly translate Merkel’s comments, let alone interpret them. Well, let’s just say Merkel is in election mood, and stuff like this does well in Germany.

Europe “Must Take Its Fate Into Its Own Hands” – Angela Merkel (AFP)

Europe “must take its fate into its own hands” faced with a western alliance divided by Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she added. While Germany and Europe would strive to remain on good terms with America and Britain, “we have to fight for our own destiny”, Merkel went on. Special emphasis was needed on warm relations between Berlin and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, she said. The chancellor had just returned from a G7 summit which wound up Saturday without a deal between the US and the other six major advanced nations on upholding the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Merkel on Saturday labelled the result of the “six against one” discussion “very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory”. Trump offered a more positive assessment on Twitter Sunday, writing: “Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results!” The US president had earlier tweeted that he would reveal whether or not the US would stick to the global emissions deal – which he pledged to jettison on the campaign trail – only next week. On a previous leg of his first trip abroad as president, Trump had repeated past criticism of NATO allies for failing to meet the defensive alliance’s military spending commitment of 2% of GDP. Observers noted that he neglected to publicly endorse the pact’s Article Five, which guarantees that member countries will aid the others they are attacked.

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When shorts defeat their own goals: “..the more investors prepare for this by putting large amounts of money aside to plow into a crashing market to pick up the pieces, the more likely they will be to stop the crash in its tracks. “

Stocks Won’t Crash Spectacularly but May Zigzag Lower (WS)

The market is like a “coiled spring” after eight years of QE and interest rate repression, Singer said in the email announcing the $5-billion offering. His firm wants to have the liquidity to capitalize on a “possibly large opportunity set that could emerge when investor confidence is impaired, recent correlations and assumptions don’t work, and prices are changing rapidly.” He added: “The nature of modern markets is that rich opportunity sets seem to be ephemeral, providing surprising volatility, bargains and dislocations for only brief periods of time before governments, aware of the politically destructive effects of extreme volatility, rally to take stern actions to keep the balls up in the air.” So they’d have to act fast to front-run the Fed.

It will be an event that could produce extraordinary returns by picking up the pieces before central banks jump in and once again bail out stockholders and bondholders. That’s the theory. But here’s the thing: the more investors prepare for this by putting large amounts of money aside to plow into a crashing market to pick up the pieces, the more likely they will be to stop the crash in its tracks. As a sharp sell-off unfolds and after regular dip-buyers are crushed, the nervous crash buyers that don’t want to miss this opportunity will start buying. They’re nervous because the Fed could jump in and reverse the crash, and they want to pick up the pieces before that happens. So they’ll jump in early and the intense buying will stop the crash. This includes short-sellers who want to take profits and cover their positions during a crash.

They’re the most nervous bunch of them all. Under this buying pressure, asset prices would begin to bounce before the Fed steps in, and given the bouncing prices, it might not step in, though prices might not reach prior highs. Then, after a period of calm which the smart money will use to unload these positions and take profits, the sell-off would start all over again until crash-buyers pile in again to front-run the Fed. This can go on for many years – a brutal zigzagging lower that never quite offers the buying opportunities because too much money jumps in too soon to turn selloffs into rallies that then fail. Japanese stocks have gone through this since 1989 despite the Bank of Japan’s umpteen rounds of QE and endless interest rate repression. And they’re still going through it, with the Nikkei down nearly 50% from its peak almost three decades ago.

Given the smart money’s fervent intentions to capitalize on these crashes and given investors’ eagerness to put a lot of money behind this strategy in advance, I think a long drawn-out Japan-like downtrend in asset prices with dizzying ups and even bigger downs is a likely if terrible scenario that may well crush how investors feel about buying and holding these assets, as it did in Japan.

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The foundations are crumbling.

The Great Aussie Recession-Free Run Is Looking Shaky – Again (BBG)

Weak signals from Australia are forcing economists to revisit their Q1 growth forecasts. Some are even suggesting a contraction. Home building, net exports and household consumption could be a drag on GDP for the first three months of 2017, according to some estimates. A negative print would raise the specter of recession, especially as a cyclone that ripped through Queensland’s key coal mining region is tipped to subtract from growth in the three months through June. Sluggish data “all points to growth being only marginally positive at this stage and there’s certainly the risk of a negative quarter,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP in Sydney, who now expects first-quarter GDP growth of around 0.2% rather than the 0.5-0.6% he previously penciled in.

Australia’s enviable track-record in avoiding two straight quarters of contraction since 1991 is on shaky ground. While the economy grew a solid 1.1% in the final three months of last year, it was rebounding from a shock 0.5% decline. Australia & New Zealand Bank last week said growth could be just 0.1% in the first quarter of this year. That would be an annual rate of 1.5%, the lowest since 2009. While the Reserve Bank of Australia has said holding its benchmark interest rate at a record low 1.5% since September is appropriate for “sustainable growth” and meeting its inflation target, a soft GDP number won’t go unnoticed.

Oliver says anemic growth in the first half means the risks are still to the downside for borrowing costs, even if the market sees about a 20% chance of a cut this year. A weak number would likely cast further doubt on the government’s growth forecasts, delivered in its annual budget this month, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ruling coalition struggles in the polls. The Treasury is forecasting GDP growth of 1.75% in the 12 months through June, accelerating to 3% by fiscal 2019. “We’ve long held the view that sub-trend growth is likely to persist. This idea of a return back to 3%-plus growth looks a little ambitious at this stage,” said Su-Lin Ong at Royal Bank of Canada.

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There’s so much money locked up in the housing bubble, spending can only go down. Bubbles are never innocent.

Australia Retail Sector Shudders (Aus.)

“It’s no secret it’s tough in retail at the moment and the share prices of traditional retail business models are reflecting that”, said Andrew Mitchell, portfolio manager at Ophir Asset Management. “The reality is the Australian consumer just isn’t spending right now.” “Household disposable income growth is at the lowest point since the GFC (global financial crisis). Higher utility prices and higher petrol prices continue to create an impact and the out-of-cycle rate rises from banks won’t help either. When you have wage growth sitting at the lowest levels in 30 years, it s going to affect the discretionary spend.” Economic statistics point to some of the toughest times in the sector as shoppers go on strike, not even being swayed by heavily discounted sales as stores make room for winter stock.

Retail spending has slumped, according to UBS economist Scott Haslem. He noted that three of the past four months had seen month-on-month falls in national retail spending for the first time in almost six years, sending the year-on-year pace of sales to just 2.1% in March, its slowest since mid-2013. Mr Haslem admitted the weakness had been surprising, especially given the general level of consumer confidence, which seems to have stabilised of late. “This has caught us somewhat by surprise. Not least because overall consumer confidence, while modestly lower, remains around average and this (month s) wage data also show more evidence quarterly wage growth is ‘basing’ “, he said.

Mr Haslem pointed to the cashflow of the average Australian home as the culprit. “While low interest rates and falling petrol costs have softened the blow from slowing wage growth in recent years, with still low wages growth, and renewed rises across utilities, debt interest and petrol costs, household cashflow is now under significant renewed downward pressure”, he said. “Overall, the recent sharp weakening in consumer cashflow sheds much insight into the recent weakening in early 2017 retail sales. While households have broadly maintained their real consumption growth into late 2016, this has been significantly achieved by drawing on their saving. But with cashflow growth continuing to slow, and savings intentions rising, it’s likely this drawdown in saving rate will end.”

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The dumbest possible comment: this time is different.

US Homeowners Are Again Pocketing Cash as They Refinance Properties (WSJ)

Americans refinancing their mortgages are taking cash out in the process at levels not seen since the financial crisis. Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to data released this week by Freddie Mac. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2008. The cash-out level is still well below the almost 90% peak hit in the run-up to the housing meltdown. But it is up sharply from the post-crisis nadir of 12% in the second quarter of 2012. In a cash-out refi, a borrower refinances an existing mortgage with a new one, typically at a lower borrowing cost, that has a higher principal balance than the existing one. This allows the homeowner to pay off the old mortgage and still have cash left over for other uses.

The growing popularity of cash-out refis has helped buoy refinance activity. After booming for several years, demand for refinance mortgages had begun to slow as the Federal Reserve began increasing short-term interest rates and longer-term bond yields moved higher. Mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, though. The average rate for a fixed, 30-year mortgage was 3.95%, Freddie Mac reported this week. Meanwhile, rising home prices have helped increase the equity homeowners have in their houses. This allows more people to refinance to capture the benefit of lower mortgage rates. And borrowers whose homes are rising in value are often more likely to be interested in refinancing for cash. For example, in Denver and Dallas, where home prices have jumped, more than half of refinancers opted for cash last year, according to Freddie Mac.

To some housing-market observers, the fact that more homeowners are tapping their homes for cash represents a healthy confidence in the economy. It comes against a backdrop of continued gains in employment. At the same time, the increasing use of cash-out refis causes some concern since, in the run-up to the financial crisis, borrowers used their homes like veritable ATMs. Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist, says this time has been different. Borrowers now are subject to stricter standards when they get a loan or refinance a mortgage. There is also less money at stake now than a decade ago.

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Corbyn is making UK media nervous: A Telegraph headline today: “Jeremy Corbyn has long hated Britain”

The Guardian Mourns Corbyn’s Polling Surge (Cook)

It is quite extraordinary to read today’s coverage in Britain’s supposedly left-liberal newspaper the Guardian. In the “man bites dog” stakes, the day’s biggest story is the astounding turn-around in the polls two weeks before the British general election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has narrowed the Conservatives’ lead from an unassailable 22 points to 5, according to the latest YouGov survey. It looks possible for the first time, if the trend continues, that Corbyn could even win the popular poll. (Securing a majority of the British parliament’s seats is a different matter, given the UK’s inherently undemocratic electoral system.) Is the news that the “unelectable” Corbyn has dramatically closed the gap with the Tories front page news for the Guardian? Well, only very tangentially. It is buried in the paper’s lead story, which is far more interested in issues other than the new poll finding.

The story – headlined “May puts Manchester bombing at heart of election with attack on Corbyn” – largely adopts Conservative leader Theresa May’s line of attack against Corbyn for his suggestion that there might be a link between long-term western violence in the Middle East (now usually referred to as “intervention”) and terror attacks like the one in Manchester last week. Labour’s dramatic rise in the polls is briefly mentioned 12 – yes, 12! – paragraphs into the story. It is almost as though the Guardian does not want you to know that Corbyn and his policies are proving far more successful in the election campaign than the Guardian predicted or ever wanted. In fact, the Guardian’s only story on the poll – buried deep on the inside pages – could not be less enamoured with the polling turn-around. The story – headlined “Labour poll rise suggests Manchester attack has not boosted Tories” – is again framed as a story about Conservative failure rather than the draw of Corbyn and his policies.

Here is as excited as the Guardian can get about the Tories’ highly diminished 5-point lead: “It was always going to be the case that the polls would narrow during the course of the campaign, as Labour’s policies received greater media exposure, but the YouGov poll implies that public opinion is more volatile.” It sounds almost as though the Guardian, which has been denigrating Corbyn since his election as Labour leader nearly two years ago (along with the rest of the British media), does not want him to win. Let’s put that another way. It’s almost as though Britain’s only supposedly left-liberal newspaper would prefer that May and the Conservatives won. This, let us remind ourselves, is the same Conservative party that has made the once-surging, far-right UKIP party largely redundant by adopting many of its ugliest policies.

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Seeking publicity dead ahead of an election with plans to protect children from X,Y,Z, is a dead give away spindoctors are involved. Bill Clinton ‘launched’ a V-chip plan ahead of the 1996 election. when he was under severe pressure, which supposedly allowed parents to control what their kids could watch on TV. Great success voting wise, but never heard from again.

Tories Pledge New Law Over Domestic Violence Directed At Children (G.)

Theresa May has pledged to create a new aggravated offence when domestic violence is directed towards a child, in order to allow perpetrators to be punished for longer. She also confirmed that a Tory government would introduce a statutory definition for domestic violence and establish a special commissioner to stand up for victims. “We will launch a relentless drive to help survivors find justice and increase the number of successful prosecutions. This hidden scandal, that takes place every day in homes across Britain, must be tackled head on,” said May. “And we must respond to the devastating and lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on children, who carry the effects into adulthood.”

She argued that the Conservative party had delivered “real steps towards tackling domestic violence” over seven years, but wanted to go further. The Tory manifesto promised to support victims to leave abusive partners and to review the funding for refuges. However, the Labour party has analysed domestic violence rates since 2009, with an increase in violence against women perpetrated by their acquaintances. There has been a levelling off of violence against women by strangers and a fall in violence against men. Sarah Champion, the shadow women’s minister, has campaigned against the loss of 17% of specialist refuges for domestic violence victims in England since 2010.

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“..tweeting would have saved a lot of money and an embarrassing French and German media portrayal of a “confused and isolated America.”

US Should Focus On The Economy And Skip Irrelevant Talking Forums (CNBC)

Seeking to cut $610 billion from health care for the poor, and $192 billion from food assistance to 43 million Americans struggling to make ends meet, while spending millions of dollars on European jamborees will probably strike most people as an example of bad and insensitive public policy. Given the vacuity of last week’s European meetings, one may question why was it necessary for the U.S. president to spend four days and all that money to repeat for the nth time to people who took $165 billion net out of their U.S. trade in 2016 what he has been telling them over the last two years. No European leader has been in any doubt for quite some time that (a) trillions of dollars in U.S. trade deficits and a soaring net foreign debt of $8.1 trillion could not continue, (b) trade policies would be reviewed with particular attention to countries running systematic and large trade surpluses with the U.S., (c) the treaty on global warming would be closely scrutinized and (d) U.S. would insist on all member countries honoring their financial obligations to the NATO alliance.

All these issues have been explained in bilateral and multilateral forums and constantly amplified by the European media. The White House should have taken a cue from Italy’s former (and most probably future) Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Outraged by do-nothing summits in Brussels, he scolded the spendthrift Eurocrats for squandering public money and precious time on matters where a simple SMS could have taken care of their trivial agenda. Yes, tweeting would have saved a lot of money and an embarrassing French and German media portrayal of a “confused and isolated America.” That would have also spared Washington the German G-7 lecture about the virtues of free trade. Lacking no chutzpah, the German chancellor Angela Merkel told President Trump last week that the U.S. should not complain about trade deficits with Germany.

Why? Simple, she said: Germany is a big investor in the U.S. creating thousands of jobs. There was no repartee from the U.S. side because our trade experts failed to slip a note to the president to tell him that these investments were financed with the money we gave them to buy German goods. Running large trade deficits with Germany enables German companies to recycle their dollar earnings in the U.S., killing whatever is left of jobs and incomes in our manufacturing – Detroit automakers being one of the prominent cases in point. Yes, we are giving them the rope … and the German chancellor apparently wanted more of it. Thanks in large part to these kinds of trade policies we now have the stock of human and physical capital that sets the limits to potential (and noninflationary) growth rate at a miserable 1.5%.

Undeterred, our free-traders insist that we should focus on services, leave the manufacturing sector to Germans and the Chinese, keep piling on foreign debt and still think that we can make the country safe and secure, maybe even run the world on the side. A wonderful picture, isn’t it? Hospitality industries, Silicon Valley and Hollywood will be our big money spinners. Maybe. But that’s not the public policy platform that won the presidency last year. So, let’s see what the vox populi says during the all-important mid-term Congressional elections in November 2018. These elections could seal the fate of this administration and of the legislative control by the Republican Party.

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“I am appalled at the behavior of the media,” she declared. “It’s the collapse of journalism.”

Camille Paglia: Democrats Are Colluding With The Media To Create Chaos (WE)

Camille Paglia is much more worried about the media than about the steady string of Trump-related scandals they claim to be uncovering. In a Tuesday interview with the Washington Examiner, Paglia excoriated the press for its coverage of Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and his alleged sharing of classified information with Russian officials. Fresh off a spirited panel with Christina Hoff Sommers hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum, the iconic feminist dissident, who serves as a professor of media studies at the University of the Arts, accused journalists of colluding with the Democratic Party in an effort to damage the Trump administration. “Democrats are doing this in collusion with the media obviously, because they just want to create chaos,” she said when asked to comment on the aforementioned stories.

“They want to completely obliterate any sense that the Trump administration is making any progress on anything.” The popular author, whose latest book was released in March, pointed to early struggles experienced by previous presidential administrations to illustrate the media’s bias against Trump. “Obama’s administration for the first six months was chaos,” Paglia recalled. “Bill Clinton’s was chaos for six months. Nobody holds that against a new person.” “Those two guys had actually been politicians!” she continued, noting Trump’s relative inexperience with government operations. Paglia’s assessment of media bias in the Trump era leaves little room for optimism.

“I am appalled at the behavior of the media,” she declared. “It’s the collapse of journalism.” As the Examiner reported in April, Paglia, who cast her ballot for Jill Stein last November, is predicting Trump will win re-election in 2020. “I feel like the Democrats have overplayed their hand,” she said at the time. Though the news cycle has moved through plenty of additional scandals in the past month, it appears as though Paglia’s assessment of the president’s prospects has not changed. “I’m looking forward to voting Democrat again,” the acclaimed philosopher explained. “But the point is I feel that the media has so utterly lost its credibility that I think people are going to vote against the media again.”

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This fun is far from over.

How Team Obama Tried To Hack The Election (NYP)

New revelations have surfaced that the Obama administration abused intelligence during the election by launching a massive domestic-spy campaign that included snooping on Trump officials. The irony is mind-boggling: Targeting political opposition is long a technique of police states like Russia, which Team Obama has loudly condemned for allegedly using its own intelligence agencies to hack into our election. The revelations, as well as testimony this week from former Obama intel officials, show the extent to which the Obama administration politicized and weaponized intelligence against Americans. Thanks to Circa News, we now know the NSA under President Barack Obama routinely violated privacy protections while snooping through foreign intercepts involving US citizens — and failed to disclose the breaches, prompting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a month before the election to rebuke administration officials.

The story concerns what’s known as “upstream” data collection under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the NSA looks at the content of electronic communication. Upstream refers to intel scooped up about third parties: Person A sends Person B an e-mail mentioning Person C. Though Person C isn’t a party to the e-mail, his information will be scooped up and potentially used by the NSA. Further, the number of NSA data searches about Americans mushroomed after Obama loosened rules for protecting such identities from government officials and thus the reporters they talk to. The FISA court called it a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue” that NSA analysts — in violation of a 2011 rule change prohibiting officials from searching Americans’ information without a warrant — “had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”

A number of those searches were made from the White House, and included private citizens working for the Trump campaign, some of whose identities were leaked to the media. The revelations earned a stern rebuke from the ACLU and from civil-liberties champion Sen. Rand Paul. We also learned this week that Obama intelligence officials really had no good reason attaching a summary of a dossier on Trump to a highly classified Russia briefing they gave to Obama just weeks before Trump took office. Under congressional questioning Tuesday, Obama’s CIA chief John Brennan said the dossier did not “in any way” factor into the agency’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election. Why not? Because as Obama intel czar James Clapper earlier testified, “We could not corroborate the sourcing.”

But that didn’t stop Brennan in January from attaching its contents to the official report for the president. He also included the unverified allegations in the briefing he gave Hill Democrats. In so doing, Brennan virtually guaranteed that it would be leaked, which it promptly was. In short, Brennan politicized raw intelligence. In fact, he politicized the entire CIA.Langley vets say Brennan was the most politicized director in the agency’s history. Former CIA field-operations officer Gene Coyle said Brennan was “known as the greatest sycophant in the history of the CIA, and a supporter of Hillary Clinton before the election. I find it hard to put any real credence in anything that the man says.”

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“..it is unrealistic and a complete waste of time to make an assessment of the American President’s foreign policy..”

Syria’s Assad Explains How The US Really Works (ICH)

While Americans endlessly battle each other over seemingly important choices like Clinton and Trump or Democrats and Republicans, it is clear that the majority of the population has little understanding of how the U.S. government operates. Yet, for those who pay the price for the apathy and confusion of the general population of the West, it often becomes stunningly obvious that neither presidents nor political parties in America represent any discernible difference in the ongoing agenda of the Deep State and the rest of the oligarchical apparatus. Indeed, that agenda always marches forward regardless of who is president or which political party is in control.

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has thus had the unique position of not only being on the receiving end of American imperialism by virtue of not only being a citizen of a target country but also by being the head of the country, steeped in politics in his own right and thus understanding how certain factors come into play at the national level. With that in mind, it is worth pointing out a recent statement made by Assad during the course of an interview regarding the opinion of the Syrian government on Donald Trump. Assad stated,

“The American President has no policies. There are policies drawn by the American institutions which control the American regime which are the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, the big arms and oil companies, and financial institutions, in addition to some other lobbies which influence American decision-making. The American President merely implements these policies, and the evidence is that when Trump tried to move on a different track, during and after his election campaign, he couldn’t. He came under a ferocious attack. As we have seen in the past few week, he changed his rhetoric completely and subjected himself to the terms of the deep American state, or the deep American regime. That’s why it is unrealistic and a complete waste of time to make an assessment of the American President’s foreign policy, for he might say something; but he ultimately does what these institutions dictate to him. This is not new. This has been ongoing American policy for decades.”

Assad also addressed the Western media’s portrayal of him as a “devil” who kills and oppresses his own people. He stated,

“Yes, from a Western perspective, you are now sitting with the devil. This is how they market it in the West. But this is always the case when a state, a government, or an individual do not subjugate themselves to their interests, and do not work for their interests against the interests of their people. These have been the Western colonial demands throughout history. They say that this evil person is killing the good people. Okay, if he is killing the good people, who have been supporting him for the past six years? Neither Russia, nor Iran, nor any friendly state can support an individual at the expense of the people. This is impossible. If he is killing the people, how come the people support him? This is the contradictory Western narrative; and that’s why we shouldn’t waste our time on Western narratives because they have been full of lies throughout history, and not something new.”

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Russiagate in France. Macron better not walk his talk.

Macron Promises Tough Talk At First Putin Meeting (R.)

New French President Emmanuel Macron is promising tough talk at his first meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday, following an election campaign when his team accused Russian media of trying to interfere in the democratic process. Macron, who took office two weeks ago, has said that dialogue with Russia is vital in tackling a number of international disputes. Nevertheless, relations have been beset by mistrust, with Paris and Moscow backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war and at odds over the Ukraine conflict. Fresh from talks with his Western counterparts at a NATO meeting in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily, Macron will host the Russian president at the palace of Versailles outside Paris. Amid the baroque splendor, Macron will use an exhibition on Russian Tsar Peter the Great at the former royal palace to try to get Franco-Russian relations off to a new start.

“It’s indispensable to talk to Russia because there are a number of international subjects that will not be resolved without a tough dialogue with them,” Macron said. “I will be demanding in my exchanges with Russia,” the 39-year-old president told reporters at the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, where the Western leaders agreed to consider new measures against Moscow if the situation in Ukraine did not improve. Relations between Paris and Moscow were increasingly strained under former President Francois Hollande. Putin, 64, canceled his last planned visit in October after Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria. Then during the French election campaign the Macron camp alleged Russian hacking and disinformation efforts, at one point refusing accreditation to the Russian state-funded Sputnik and RT news outlets which it said were spreading Russian propaganda and fake news.

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Shamelessly promoting Steve’s new book “Can we avoid another financial crisis?”, of which this is an excerpt.

Economists Have to Embrace Complexity to Avoid Disaster (Steve Keen)

With a higher propensity to invest comes the debt-driven crisis that Minsky predicted, and which we experienced in 2008. However, something that Minsky did not predict, but which did happen in the real world, also occurs in this model: the crisis is preceded by a period of apparent economic tranquillity that superficially looks the same as the transition to equilibrium in the good outcome. Before the crisis begins, there is a period of diminishing volatility in unemployment: the cycles in employment (and wages share) diminish [..] But then the cycles start to rise again: apparent moderation gives way to increased volatility, and ultimately a complete collapse of the model, as the employment rate and wages share of output collapse to zero and the debt to GDP ratio rises to infinity.

This model, derived simply from the incontestable foundations of macroeconomic definitions, implies that the “Great Moderation”, far from being a sign of good economic management as mainstream economists interpreted it (Blanchard et al., 2010, p. 3), was actually a warning of an approaching crisis. The difference between the good and bad outcomes is the factor Minsky insisted was crucial to understanding capitalism, but which is absent from mainstream DSGE models: the level of private debt. It stabilizes at a low level in the good outcome, but reaches a high level and does not stabilize in the bad outcome. The model produces another prediction which has also become an empirical given: rising inequality. Workers’ share of GDP falls as the debt ratio rises, even though in this simple model, workers do no borrowing at all. If the debt ratio stabilises, then inequality stabilises too, as income shares reach positive equilibrium values.

But if the debt ratio continues rising—as it does with a higher propensity to invest—then inequality keeps rising as well. Rising inequality is therefore not merely a “bad thing” in this model: it is also a prelude to a crisis. The dynamics of rising inequality are more obvious in the next stage in the model’s development, which introduces prices and variable nominal interest rates. As debt rises over a number of cycles, a rising share going to bankers is offset by a smaller share going to workers, so that the capitalists share fluctuates but remains relatively constant over time. However, as wages and inflation are driven down, the compounding of debt ultimately overwhelms falling wages, and profit share collapses. Before this crisis ensues, the rising amount going to bankers in debt service is precisely offset by the declining share going to workers, so that profit share becomes effectively constant and the world appears utterly tranquil to capitalists—just before the system fails.


Figure 5: Rising inequality caused by rising debt

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Mob or Salvation Army? Al Capone posed as both at the same time…

Greek Archbishop: ‘I See a Europe of Exploitation, not Solidarity’ (GR)

Europe’s current face was not one of solidarity and support but more one of exploitation, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos suggested on Sunday, in an interview broadcast by the state television channel ERT1. “Today, I do not see a Europe of solidarity but I see every day, more often and more clearly, the Europe of exploitation,” he said. The foundations of this Europe had to “go back to the starting point, from where it began, with the same thoughts and the same purpose,” the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece added. The Archbishop also commented on the recent terrorist strike in Manchester, expressing his horror and condemnation and noting that “terrorism is one of the worst repercussions of war.”

It was necessary, he said, “to also look at the other side, to see who are those leading these people to become terrorists.” On Church-State relations, he said the role of the Church was to talk to everyone, including those responsible for the state, because the Church was not a political party and “cooperation is therefore necessary”. On the issue of Church property, he noted that the Church’s spiritual mission could not be carried out without economic support. “The Church must be free and financially independent,” he said. With regard to refugees, Ieronymos said the Church sees them as “people in need” and that their final destination “should be their own country.” In the future, he added, we must consider whether “refugees have also become a part of the exploitation of humanity.”

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Apr 122017
 
 April 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Frederick Carl Frieseke Girl In Blue Arranging Flowers 1915

 

Potential earthquakes and black swans are right ahead of us. What else is new? On April 16, Turkey has a referendum to decide whether Erdogan will become de facto supreme ruler. What happens if he loses the referendum is completely unclear, undiscussed even, but it’s obvious a loss would have the country shake on its already shaky foundations.

The Turkish economy is in horrible shape and Erdogan’s post-coup firings (hundreds of thousands) and jailings (tens of thousands) have made large parts of society unattended. The biggest of which may well be the army; you can’t fire large numbers of officers and pilots and expect to retain the same strike effectiveness.

Erdogan’s ongoing war on the Kurds is also turning against him, or at least internationally. Both Russia and the US acknowledge the important role Kurdish forces play in the battle against ISIS, and they’re not going to turn against them. So while Turkey demands a major role in neighboring Syria, it has essentially been put off-side, or benched.

Russia maintains (some of) its boycotts of Turkish products ($260 million worth of tomatoes) that were the result of Erdogan downing a Russian jet in late 2015, and the refuses to deliver arch-enemy Gülen, despite Michael Flynn’s best efforts. This means, by the way, that the country simply hasn’t provided irrefutable proof of the man’s role in the coup (if it was ever a real coup).

If Erdogan cannot come up a winner on Sunday, he would lose a lot of face. And he might lose more than that. Of course one must question if it’s even a option that the Turkish people vote NO, and that that would subsequently be announced as the referendum result. He controls just about anything in the country already; why not this too, by right or by might?!

 

Second black swan: France. It could be a genuine black one, as in unexpected. Less than two weeks before the first round of the presidential election, all of a sudden another contender has come to the fore. Far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon was never given any chance of winning, but one TV debate later his popularity is rising fast.

The French have long been tired of their political system, and this time around that could mean all established parties are out. Even perhaps including Emmanuel Macron, who doesn’t belong to a party but is still perceived as a member of the establishment, no matter how hard he tries not to be.

Come round two on May 7, voters might be faced with the -stark- choice between far left and far right, with a big gaping empty hole in between. That would leave no option of a ‘safe choice’, the big hope of everyone who doesn’t like Marine Le Pen. It would also leave no candidate who unwaveringly supports the euro or even the EU.

In fact, it’s ironic -make that funny- to what extent far left and far right ideas ‘meet in the middle’. Add to the irony that Melenchon’s rise makes a Le Pen presidency that much more likely, because a ‘communist’ is seen as at least as dangerous as Le Pen. That might give her the undecided votes she will need to prevail.

 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow, he’s way out of his league, and he knows it. His task is, if you read between the lines, to deliver warnings and threats to Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, but both are not only at least as smart as Rex, they have the many years of experience in international politics that he woefully lacks.

The White House issued a ‘we can prove it was Assad, and it was sarin’ report yesterday, but they can not. The sarin accusation even makes little sense given the photos of people attending to the victims with bare hands. Accusing Russia of being complicit in Assad attacking his own people with gas/chemicals doesn’t really fly either.

Tillerson said earlier in the week that Russia is either ‘incompetent or complicit’, that it should have made sure Assad had no chemical arsenal. But a 2013 treaty between the US and Russia established a UN body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that is responsible for that. And the US is part of that body, and as such co-responsible.

And yes, there will be people saying that Russia delivered chemical capacity to Assad despite the treaty. But why should it? That question falls into the same category as why Assad would use chemicals to begin with at this point in time. It makes no sense, there is no logic. But then in the US logic has been in short supply for a while, certainly when politics are concerned.

Tillerson apparently was told to tell Russia that it has to stop supporting Assad or else, but that is just real dumb. Syria is Russia’s only haven in the Middle East, and there’s no chance they will give it up. And why should they? Would the world be a better place if the US can do whatever it wants in the region? Haven’t the utterly failed regime changes in Iraq and Libya done enough damage?

Sure, Assad may be a shaky asset. But what about the Saudi’s and their western-supported obliteration of the entire nation and peoples of Yemen? Want to look at some pictures that can drive Ivanka to tears? You won’t see them in your media, and neither will she. It’s all just biased nonsense, and by now it’s hard to see how Trump will find his own way in, let alone find his way out of, this foreign swamp.

Threatening Russia is certainly not that way. But sure, the President must feel eager to disprove the unproven non-stop allegations of collaboration between him and Putin. And the one-sided attacks did indeed stop only when the bombs started to fall. It’s all so predictable it makes you want to puke all over your morning paper all over every single morning, Groundhog Day style.

 

The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer for “agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad”. I kid you not. The American press has lost all concerns about its own credibility, and the Pulitzers follow them with a vengeance. And that same press did a weather-vane like 180 as soon as 59 Tomahawks were aimed and fired at an abandoned airport in the sand.

They were anti-Trump mongers the whole time, and changed like a leaf on a tree in seconds, to become pro-war mongers. It’s something to behold. They love him! The starkest example, among too many to keep count of, was presented in a publication named The Hill, which we are apparently supposed to take serious. It’s just another WaPo and NYT clone, but this thing by “General Anthony J. Tata, Opinion Contributor” sums it all up too nicely to ignore:

Trump’s Adherence To American Values Demonstrates His Commitment To Protecting Us

In the wake of Tuesday’s Syrian chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, President Barack Obama will be remembered as America’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, the infamous United Kingdom Prime Minister who appeased Nazi Germany in 1938 by signing the Munich Agreement, setting the stage for the holocaust. Contrast Obama’s negligence with President Donald Trump’s decisive action a mere two days following the Syrian violation of international law. The Syrian government used chemicals to brutalize its citizens in Khan Sheikhoun.

President Trump immediately denounced the attacks, labeling them, “An affront to humanity.” Less than 72 hours later he ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles to destroy the airfield from which the bomb delivering airplanes departed. If Obama’s passivity in the face of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deployed in Syria in 2013 lends to Chamberlain comparisons, President Donald Trump’s military action against Syria this week compares favorably to Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s effective wartime successor.

Just as Chamberlain and Churchill viewed Nazi Germany differently, how could two modern day American presidents see essentially the same horrifying pictures of chemical weapons attack victims and come to two decidedly different conclusions about their terror and an effective response?

Jarring images of Tuesday’s sarin nerve agent attack on its citizens that circulated the world this week were similar to those that went viral in 2013: bodies torqued in gruesome death poses, patients oozing bodily fluids from their mouths and noses, and children running blind through the streets. In 2013, an unimpressed President Obama found a passive, ineffective diplomatic solution relying on unreliable Russian oversight. Syria obviously maintained and built its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. The United Nations was even in on the deal, declaring that there were no more chemical weapons in Syria.

There’s so much stupidity and mendacity in that, you really have to take some time out to let it sink in. But it’s also very representative of American media these days. CNN, WaPo, NYT, they’re all full of people who by now must feel really shortchanged because Trump hasn’t dropped many more bombs on Syria, and they’re more than willing not to show us the pictures of the children those bombs would maim and kill. After all, how many pictures have you seen of Yemen’s death and famine?

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo that “we’re not going into Syria”, you can bet your buttocks lots of executives behind the desks there were thinking of one thing only: how do we get him to do it anyway? They still have hope there’ll be a major war soon, I guarantee you that.

But Putin is not going to move an inch, not on Syria and not on anything else. He knows the US army can do a lot of damage, but it can’t win. It hasn’t won an actual war in many decades, and it won’t win this one either if whoever’s in Washington decides to start it.

Before I started writing this I was thinking about Rip van Winkle rather than Groundhog Day. The whole media 180, and the war cries, are exactly like they were in 2003. Now, Rip van Winkle allegedly slept for 20 years, not 14, but hey, details. The cute thing about the Rip van Winkle story is also in the details:

When he awakens, Van Winkle discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. Van Winkle returns just after an election, and people are asking how he voted. (Wikipedia)

That election thing is priceless. But Rip woke up to find his entire world completely changed. Whereas today’s hollow US war talk is something we’ve seen before, and many times. That’s more Groundhog Day style. There must be a way to connect the two stories in a way that fits today’s reality. Whoever finds it is in Hollywood blockbuster territory.

War is far too popular in America. It’s scary. Not least of all because the US has zero chance of winning. For the same reasons, by the by, that it can’t fix its health care system.

America as a country, a society, is not effective enough anymore to win anything, there’s no chance of a concerted effort, it’s too inward looking and distracted by TV-shaped reality and ‘social’ media, and its entire society is aimed only at maximizing profit at the expense of one’s own neighbors. America has turned into cats in a sack.

But yes, these are often the most dangerous times in the existence of an empire. The waning days. The downward slope. The swans that will pop up in that are definitely black; there’s no predicting those graceful beauties.

Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Ramón Casas Decadence 1899

 

Reading up on the Syria ‘chemical attack’ issue (is that the right term to use?). The headlines are entirely predictable, and by now that probably won’t surprise anyone, no matter where they are or what views they adhere to. We know there’s been an attack and that some kind of chemical was used. The media talk about sarin.

They also, almost unanimously, blame the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for it. But that’s the same government that just this week saw both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN enjoy Nikki Haley point to a significant shift in American policy, towards a view that removing Assad is no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

That comes after many years of insisting that Assad must be removed. And after many years of US involvement in removing other regimes in the region, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi. It also comes on the eve of a large Syria conference, the first in a long time, due to start today. Russia and the States send only lower-level representatives, politically sensitive etc., but still.

The question arises what reason the Syrian government could possibly have to launch a chemical attack anywhere on its territory, gruesome pictures of which, with many child casualties, were posted soon after the attack supposedly too place. And that’s where logic at least seems to break down.

Syria was not supposed to have any chemical warfare arsenals left, far as I understand, there was an accord to that extent in 2013. Did they hide any (Saddam WMD style?!), or did they recently obtain them (from Russia?!). But most of all, why use them on the eve of a conference where you have everything to gain?

I’ll be the last to claim that I know, but it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense. Being denied recognition, legitimacy even in a sense, for years, and then throw it away the day before? Not even declaring Assad -and by association Putin and Iraq- to be complete idiots would seem to explain that. And they’re not idiots.

The Russians say a ‘rebel’ chemical weapons depot may have been hit. I don’t know, and barely a soul does, but opinions have been pre-cooked, and there we go again. There are pictures of White Helmets tending to the wounded, but then if this were sarin, that might not be advisable to do with bare hands and without gas masks. And the White Helmets themselves are not beyond scrutiny either. Meanwhile, Trump has followed everyone else in the West in accusing Assad.

 

Any of this sound familiar? It does to me. When I open my -personalized, no less- Google News page, all main headlines concerning either US politics or topics like the Syria chemical attack come from a ‘select’ group of ‘media’. It’s all NYT, WaPo, CNN, BBC, all the time. Google likes The Hill too, for some reason. Since my page is ‘personalized’ I don’t know how it is for others, but I have an idea.

The same opinion-forming (leading) ‘reporting’ that happens in the case of Syria, is also applied to the US. And it’s tearing the country apart, bit by inevitable bit. The MSM’s answer to the Trump campaign- and subsequent election- has been to do more of the same ‘leading’, much more. And they have plenty of takers. Subscriptions are way up, so they think they’ve hit a gold mine, a very welcome one too given where sales numbers were heading.

Trump’s the best thing that happened to WaPo in years. But then again, they still lost, and bigly. Their preferred candidate lost. And the entire storyline they had spun over, say, the entire year leading up to November 8, had gone nowhere. None of it got Hillary elected, and none of it was ever proven.

Now, of course, it’s not the job of news organizations to choose sides in politics (their job’s the opposite), and even less to make up a storyline in order to promote whatever side they pick. It’s really weird that that aspect has been largely lost on America over the past few years; not that it’s entirely new, don’t get me wrong, but it got a lot more pronounced and ‘brazen’.

It’s as if people have all of a sudden started to find it normal that their news sources tell them what to think. The echo chamber has become both much larger and a whole lot more cramped at the same time. And got for too comfy with 1984.

 

What makes it even weirder is that it should be obvious to us all that there has been a large shift in politics as well, albeit over a longer period of time. There is no left in the system anymore, there is no left left; workers and the poor in general have nobody left who represents them.

This is true in the US as it is in Europe. Britain’s Labor party is all but dead, Holland’s Labor equivalent went from 38 to 9 seats in the recent election, the list goes on. The US democrats? Are you kidding? Left? Left of what?

The media have followed this development as much as they have led the way. There’s a lot of synergy there; it’s just that there’s none left with the people they’re either supposed to represent or inform. But that in turn means you might as well say that the whole thing is dead. What left there still is left will have to re-invent itself.

The political system and the media may cross-pollinate as much as they want, and they obviously seem to want that a lot, but they still depend for their survival on a connection with people, voters, readers. Only, they appear to have concluded Groucho stye that “Hey, if you can fake that, you can fake anything..”

Problem is, this did cost the US media’s candidate the election. So now they’re echo-chambering to less than half of the population. Who are so receptive that they may be temporarily fooled into thinking they’re doing fine. But the other -more than- half already thinks they’re full of it, and that’s not going to change back (my humble prediction).

 

If the US MSM would go back to impartial reporting, they would be fine. The same is true for the Democratic party -and its link to the poorer part of America. But both have made their beds (and bets) and must now lie on them.

For the media, this means being forced to turn over ever more readers and viewers to ‘new media’. It’s not even a technology thing, it’s just that they themselves have chosen to become irrelevant. And yes, it is ironic that the soon-so-be richest man on the planet, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, controls the bigliest web success and destroys the WaPo at the same time. It’s an awful shame too. But the paper for him is financial pocket change, not a legacy of hard work.

Bezos et al do this by trying to dictate what people think, by becoming Edward Bernays and Joe Goebbels. The idea might have worked without the Interwebs, but I must retract that: it would have been sacrificed on the altar of economic mayhem. Lots of irony in there, though.

The New York Times and Washington Post owe their reputation to America’s times of plenty, and those are gone, long gone. These papers are no longer capable of Woodward and Bernstein, because there’s nothing left that’s objective, the entire focus is partisan now, and that means you’re going to miss out on the big, the real stories, if they’re your news sources.

And it’s not even that they’re papers, and they may or may not get digital; it’s their owners’ choices for certain political directions that’s doing them in. Maybe that’s an inevitbale process; that news organizations must perish one sources change, or processes, or range. I’m not sure of that, though; I think they’re squandering a 100 year -or so- legacy on an altar of political megalomania.

 

And that gets me to what got me thinking about the reporting on Syria’s chemical attack to begin with, and the way it’s presented. That is, I read a lot of things, it’s what I do, but instead of the journalists asking the questions, I know it’s up to -people like- me to do that. That goes for Syria, and just as much for US domestic issues. There’s nobody left I can rely on. Again I aks of you: any of this sound familiar?

I’m by no means ready to go with everything Fox says, or any -formerly- right-wing source. But I can no longer trust the left wing either, let alone the formerly neutral ones. I’m on my own. And so are you.

Now, Russia spying on America is a done deal, of course they do. Everyone spies on every other one, if they have the technology they will do it. But Susan Rice ‘unmasking’ people in the Republican campaign is a step or two further. It may be technically legal, but it skirts far too close for comfort to potential political interference.

Since the entire Russia story was never proven, after a year and change of investigation by the entire media AND intelligence machine, I think perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that it was always merely a convenient front for spying on Trump and the other Republicans. I don’t know that, it’s deduction that leads me there.

 

Still, of course the Russia-Trump connection probe just keeps on going. They haven’t found a thing, no shred, after all this time, but maybe, maybe… Look, I always said that a Trump presidency would be ugly and stupid -just still preferable to Hillary- but this ‘Putin is the devil’ meme is a lot uglier than that.

If and when you lose, as the Dems and their media have, doubling down is not the way to go, not if you want to win the next one. You have to look at what mistakes you’ve made and learn from them, not focus even more on what is or was wrong with the other side. That makes no sense. Losers must lose with grace, as much as winners win with it.

It’s not just in the US that people have completely lost sight of this most basic of principles; in the UK the post-Brexit bickering just won’t stop, and everything gets worse in the process. But it’s all about blaming the others, not your own side. How that can be helpful when you’ve lost is not clear to me at all.

 

Susan Rice will be before a Senate or Congress committee soon, and it will be interesting to see what she has to say. I’m sure her legal counsel have previously assured her that it was all perfectly within her job prescription. But she, what can I say, she doesn’t look good in her press appearances.

And you can complain all you want about the photos with only males in Trump’s office, but the entire glass ceiling female crew, Donna Brazile, Huma Abedin, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, they all look to have broken that ceiling but from the wrong side, (lost in gravity?!), and in the wrong way. They’ve all either cheated to get where they are (were), or cheated while they were there.

What a loss that is. That ceiling must be broken, badly, but not by women who are part of it. It fits the overall picture, though. If and when nothing is what it seems, it’s a lot easier to get people to believe what you tell them, certainly when you can put a NYT or WaPo stamp on what you’re saying. The problem is, by now you’ll only be talking to less than half of the people. And that’s on a good day.

The whole thing is broken, and you don’t heal that by pointing out to what extent the other side is broken. You heal it by looking at your own f*ck-ups, and then correct them. And until you do that, the risk of chemicals raining down on kids in Syria will just continue to be the same as Obama ordering drone strikes. Or the US and UK and France and Germany selling weapons to the Saudis that allow them to obliterate an entire nation and people in Yemen.

This is not about Assad, it’s about you, and Theresa May and Trump and Obama and Hillary and W. and Merkel and Tony Blair and scores of French and German politicians who’ve kept the death racket alive all these years. It’s where the money is.

 

 

Feb 012017
 
 February 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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William Henry Jackson North from Brink Wood, Pen Mar Park, Maryland 1906

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)
ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)
Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)
EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)
Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)
Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)
UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)
UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)
Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)
Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)
We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)
The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

 

 

“The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)

Sterling completed its best January against the dollar in six years after Donald Trump and a key adviser renewed an attack on countries that “exploit” their weak currencies. The value of the pound climbed as high as $1.2593 against the dollar after the US president heavily criticised China and Japan for “play[ing] the money market”. His comments followed a meeting with pharmaceutical executives in which he pledged to bring back drug manufacturing to the US. The rise in sterling’s value on Tuesday rounded off its best January performance against the dollar since 2011 and its first positive start to the year in half a decade. It came as Mr Trump’s trade chief put the US on a collision course with Germany after he accused Berlin of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the US and the rest of the EU.

Peter Navarro, who heads the US president’s new National Trade Council, described the single currency as an “implicit Deutsche Mark” that gave Germany a competitive advantage over its trade partners. The economics professor also said Germany was the main obstacle to a trade deal between the US and European bloc as he dismissed a revival of TTIP talks. “A big obstacle to viewing TTIP as a bilateral deal is Germany, which continues to exploit other countries in the EU as well as the US with an ‘implicit Deutsche Mark’ that is grossly undervalued,” Mr Navarro said. “The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Mr Trump has highlighted a preference for “one-on-one” trade deals. He pulled the US out of the TPP with 11 Pacific Rim nations on his first full day in office. Mr Navarro told the Financial Times the UK’s decision to leave the EU had “killed” a similar trade deal between the US and Europe. Mr Trump has signalled that the US will engage in trade talks with the UK. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said the country had no influence over the euro exchange rate. “I neither want to nor can I do something to change the situation,” she told reporters in Stockholm. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, has warned that the country’s persistent current account surplus has contributed to imbalances and hindered growth in the eurozone. Analysis by the OECD suggests the euro is trading below its “fair value”. Data published by the think-tank shows the the euro is the most undervalued currency among the dollar’s major peers.

Read more …

To repeat for a 1000th time: inflation numbers are meaningless unless money velocity is considered. And velocity is certainly not rising in southern Europe. That in turn would mean if it is rising in Germany – something I haven’t seen any proof of but let’s say it is -, what we see here is a huge threat to the eurozone. Because what is good for Germany is not good for others, and the others will have had enough of it.

ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)

The eurozone has reached its inflation target for the first time in four years, but ECB chief Mario Draghi has no time to rest on his laurels: He must now brace for renewed attacks on his easy-money policy in Germany. Overall inflation for the 19 countries that use the euro in January came in at a preliminary 1.8% – within a whisper of the ECB’s official target of “below, but close to, 2%,” but core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was unchanged from December at 0.9%, making any immediate change in policy unlikely. However, with German elections looming this September, and top-selling tabloid Bild featuring a “horror curve” showing that despite the spike in inflation –which was even higher in Germany, at 1.9% in January – savers are still earning nothing thanks to the policy of negative rates to spur spending elsewhere in the eurozone, Draghi’s problems are more political than economic.

“Someone has to put a stop to Draghi,” said Jörg Meuthen from the far-right, Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has high hopes of entering the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) for the first time in September. The party is keen to play on the collective German memory of hyperinflation in the first decades of the 20th century. Other inflation hawks, including mainstream figure like Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, are frustrated with Draghi’s insistence that he cannot tailor monetary policy for the eurozone to the needs of the Germany economy, which is growing much more robustly than neighboring countries who still need the ECB’s support.

With Euroskeptic populists challenging the established order in elections this year in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the ECB will come under increasing pressure to explain why it is doing what it’s doing, said Anatoli Annenkov, economist at Société Générale. While he assumes a slow recovery in core inflation, “we had years and years of downside surprises and now that it is going up, we might also see upside surprises,” he said. Beyond Brexit and fears of protectionist policies from the new U.S. administration, the ECB is bracing for internal pressure from the largest economy in the eurozone. In his most recent press conference, Draghi attempted to project unity among the ECB’s governing council in support of the €2.3 trillion bond-buying program designed to stimulate the eurozone economy.

But that façade crumbled just days later when German executive board member Sabine Lautenschläger suggested it might be time to bring the policy to an end. “All preconditions for a stable rise in inflation exist. I am thus optimistic that we can soon turn to the question of an exit,” she said in a speech last week. Her former boss, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, has also signaled that the ECB should let economic data — rather than its previous commitment to keeping quantitative easing running until the end of 2017 — dictate its policy in the coming months.

Read more …

Really? Japan would try and deny this?

Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)

Japan has rejected Donald Trump’s claims that Tokyo was deliberately weakening the yen to gain an unfair trade advantage over the US. Trump told a meeting of pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday that Japan, along with China and Germany, were guilty of “global freeloading” for using regulation and currency devaluation in their trade dealings with the US. The president’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, also accused Germany of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to gain an unfair advantage over the US and other EU countries. In unusually frank comments, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Trump’s criticism “completely misses the mark”. Suga added that the Bank of Japan’s pursuit of monetary easing was intended to boost inflation, not weaken the yen against the dollar.

Japan’s policy was in line with G7 and G20 agreements, he said, adding that Tokyo would continue to respond to “one-sided” currency moves by other countries. Vowing to end the emasculation of US trade, Trump’s said: “You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. … they play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.” According to a transcript of Tuesday’s meeting, Trump said other countries “live on devaluation”. Trump’s outburst, which suggests he could backtrack on his wish to see higher US interest rates, came at the end of the worst January for the dollar for three decades. But that follows a huge rise in the dollar on the back of his election win in November when promises of a huge stimulus for the US economy sent the greenback to 14-year highs.

Read more …

Said many times before: Tusk got his job solely because of his Putin-bashing as PM of Poland.

EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)

Donald Trump has joined Russia, China and radical Islam as a threat to the European Union, EU leaders were told on Tuesday by the man chairing a summit where they will debate relations with the United States. European Council President Donald Tusk, a conservative former premier of Poland, wrote to EU national leaders to lay out themes for discussion when they meet in Malta on Friday to discuss the future of their Union as Britain prepares to leave. In vivid language that reflects deep concern in Europe at the new U.S. president’s support for Brexit, as well as his ban on refugees and people from several Muslim countries, Tusk called on Europeans to rally against eurosceptic nationalists at home and take “spectacular steps” to deepen the continent’s integration.

Saying the EU faced the biggest challenges of its 60-year history, Tusk named an “assertive China”, “Russia’s aggressive policy” toward its neighbors and “radical Islam” fuelling anarchy in the Middle East and Africa as key external threats. These, “as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration, all make our future highly unpredictable,” he said. Laying out issues leaders may address in a 60th anniversary declaration at Rome in March, Tusk said the EU unity built after World War Two and the Cold War was needed “to avoid another historic catastrophe”. He also said Americans should not weaken Transatlantic ties fundamental to “global order and peace”.

“The disintegration of the EU will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China,” Tusk wrote to the EU leaders. “Only together can we be fully independent.” Senior officials discussed a possible EU response to Trump at a meeting in Brussels on Monday where some governments stressed that Europeans should not be hasty to alienate a key ally, diplomats said. “We don’t want to get fired,” one senior EU diplomat said in reference to Trump’s reality TV catchphrase. Another said that because the full U.S. administration was not yet in place, Europeans should be cautious: “No government in Europe can respond in a coherent manner to this series of orders and tweets,” the diplomat said.

Read more …

“Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated.”

Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)

Following a plunge of over 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday, Trump pivoted to something he thought would please his financial backers on Wall Street. He called the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 by the Obama administration a “disaster” and promised to “do a big number” on it soon. The Dow closed down 122 points — now wary of Trump’s fire-ready-aim leadership on complex matters. The legitimate fear across Wall Street right now is that Trump’s zero-vetting approach to rule-by-Executive-Order could leave Wall Street in the same chaotic state as the airports experienced from his ham-fisted approach to immigration. But it’s not just Trump that Wall Street needs to fear: it’s Goldman Sachs as well. Trump has stuffed his administration with so many Goldman Sachs progeny that his administration is now regularly referred to as Government Sachs.

Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated. That’s because when it comes to derivatives, Goldman Sachs is keeping a lot of secrets. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is the regulator of national banks. Each quarter it publishes a report on the derivative holdings of the biggest Wall Street banks and their holding companies. Its most recent report shows that as of September 30, 2016 Goldman Sachs Bank USA (a taxpayer-backstopped, FDIC insured bank where it holds its derivatives) had “credit exposure to risk-based capital” of 433%. That figure was more than double that of JPMorgan Chase (216%) and six times that of Bank of America (68%).

There’s another big problem with Goldman Sachs: it has a miniscule asset base compared to the big guns on Wall Street but it’s attempting to play in the big leagues in terms of derivatives. As the chart above shows, Goldman Sachs is the third largest holder of derivatives on Wall Street with $45.48 trillion in notionals (face amount). (As of 2015, the entire GDP of the United States was only $18 trillion.) But Goldman only has $880 billion in assets. That ratio compares to JPMorgan Chase with $2.5 trillion in assets and $50.6 trillion in derivatives and Citigroup with $1.8 trillion in assets and $51.78 trillion in derivatives. The amount of these derivatives is insane on all levels but, clearly, Goldman stands out starkly in its ratios.

There’s another highly disturbing aspect of Goldman’s derivatives. Dodd-Frank legislation mandated that derivatives at the big Wall Street banks move into the sunshine by moving out of over-the-counter contracts whose details are known only to the buyer and seller and onto some type of centrally cleared platform. Dodd-Frank was signed into law on July 21, 2010. It’s almost six years later and yet the OCC’s report of September 30, 2016 shows that of the total derivatives held by Goldman Sachs only 24% are centrally cleared versus 76% at Goldman that remain over-the-counter. Again, that’s a far higher %age of over-the-counter contracts than at its peer banks on Wall Street.

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5 weeks.

Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)

Theresa May has set a target date of launching the formal Brexit process on March 9. The Government is aiming to push through its EU Bill through Parliament by March 7, which would allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 at a summit of European leaders on March 9 and 10. MPs will start debating the crucial Brexit legislation today and fiery clashes are expected in the commons chamber as the SNP, Lib Dems and dozens of Labour MPs say they will defy June’s vote to leave the EU and vote against triggering Article 50. Ministers told the House of Lords yesterday that it hopes to have the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill approved by March 7. The following day – March 8 – is the Budget, before Mrs May travels to Brussels for the long-awaited Brexit showdown with her EU counterparts.

The PM has promised to trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism for quitting the EU, by the end of March. But she does not want to get off on the wrong foot with EU leaders by clashing with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which effectively gave birth to the EU. She could tell her European counterparts of her timetable at a meeting in Malta on Friday. The timetable could be knocked off course if the Lords initiate what is known as parliamentary ‘ping-pong’ by sending the bill back to the Commons with a series of amendments. And in a sign of the trouble ahead for Mrs May, a senior Tory told the Independent: ‘What we are seeing now is a huge raft of amendments being tabled. ‘There are cross party talks going on about this. It’s not going to be plain sailing for the Prime Minster.’

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How much chaos is Britain capable of?

UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)

MPs are to vote later on whether to give Theresa May the power to get Brexit negotiations under way. The government is expected to win, with most Conservative and Labour MPs set to back its European Union Bill. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a rebellion by some on his side, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats are also promising to oppose ministers. The vote, which will follow two days of parliamentary debate, is expected at about 19:00 GMT. On Monday, politicians made impassioned speeches for and against the bill, which, if passed, will allow Mrs May to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by her own deadline of 31 March. This would get formal Brexit negotiations with the EU started, with the UK expected to leave the 28-member group in 2019.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said MPs had to implement a decision made by the people in last June’s referendum, which the Leave campaign won by 51.9% to 48.1%. Doing otherwise would be viewed “dimly”, he warned. Mr Corbyn has imposed a three-line whip – the strongest possible sanction – on his MPs to back the bill, which is only two lines long. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called the vote a “difficult decision” for Labour – most of whose MPs supported Remain in the referendum – but it had to “accept the result”. Two shadow ministers have quit Labour’s front bench in order to oppose the bill, while MPs Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown told the Commons they would also vote against it. A government source said up to 30 Labour MPs were expected to defy Mr Corbyn.

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Cameron and Osborne worked on this for years.

UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)

Pressure on the government to help struggling Britons has intensified after a leading thinktank warned that falling living standards for the poor threatened the biggest rise in inequality since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. The Resolution Foundation said Theresa May would need to make good on her pledge to support “just about managing” households as it released a report showing that rising inflation and an end to recent strong jobs growth would hit the least well-off hardest. Its warnings chime with other forecasts for a squeeze on family budgets on the back of sluggish wage growth, welfare cuts, rising global oil prices and the pound’s sharp fall since the Brexit vote. The drop in sterling has made imports more expensive and there are already signs that is being passed on to consumers, with inflation hitting its highest level for more than two years in December.

The Resolution Foundation’s study found that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality. Since its sharp increase in the early 1980s – a period of high unemployment, factory closures and a cut in the top rate of tax from 83% to 60% – inequality has broadly remained flat. But the Resolution Foundation forecast that between 2015 and the next general election in 2020 incomes for the poorest half of households will fall by 2%. That compares with a rise of 4% during the last parliament and 1% between 2005 and 2010 – the five-year period that included the deepest recession since the 1930s.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain has enjoyed a welcome mini-boom in living standards in recent years. But that boom is slowing rapidly as inflation rises, productivity flatlines and employment growth slows. “The squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis tended to hit richer households the most. But this time around it’s low- and middle-income families with kids who are set to be worst affected. “This could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds on living standards – the weak income growth of the last parliament and rising inequality from the time Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.

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Curious piece, sources ‘a tad‘ shaky, but it could still well be right.

Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)

A Syrian diplomatic source underlined that the visit by 130 US figures, including three former secretaries and congresspersons, is a “good omen” in the relations between Damascus and Washington. According to the source, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who had last week said that she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a recent trip to the war-torn country, stressed during the meeting that “affairs are going on in a way that an unprecedented opening is seen in the relations between the two sides in different fields”. Referring to three existing scenarios on Syria, she said that the first option is continued war which doesn’t benefit any sides and the US administration will likely oppose it; the second option is the victory of dissidents which is opposed by Trump and he even dismisses interactions with them.

The third option is Assad’s continued ruling over Syria as the best person to manage the country provided that certain considerations will receive attention in the formation of the government, the Syrian source said. According to the source, Gabbard has indirectly spoken about a US plan to pave the ground for Trump’s showoff by annihilation of the ISIS in Raqqa like what was done by former US President Barack Obama. “Raqqa city is a political card important for the world since it is considered as the ISIS’s first base; meantime, ending the war is Raqqa militarily is easy since there are no tunnels and tall buildings in there which facilitates any military measure to annihilate terrorism,” the Syrian diplomatic source said. Back from a weeklong trip to Syria [she] defended her meeting with the war-torn country’s president, saying there’s no possibility of a viable peace agreement unless Bashar Assad is part of the conversation.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said she originally had no intention of sitting down with Assad, according to a statement issued by her office detailing her travels. But she changed her mind when the opportunity arose. “I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering,” Gabbard said. Gabbard said that the U.S. has “waged wars of regime change” in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Yet each has resulted “in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda” and the Islamic State group, she said. “My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear,” Gabbard said. “Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.”

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Germany moving soldiers and equipment through Europe is scary enough. The purpose makes it worse.

Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)

Germany began sending tanks and other equipment to Lithuania on Tuesday as part of a NATO mission to beef up the defense of eastern Europe and send a signal of resolve to Russia, which has denounced the build-up as an act of aggression. The German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports would continue until late February. Seven decades after the end of World War Two, the movement of German troops to eastern Europe, even on a NATO mission, remains a sensitive issue both in Germany and the region. On Monday the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War.

The movements are part of a strategy agreed by NATO leaders last July to reassure member states that were once part of the Soviet bloc and have been alarmed by Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The 28-nation Western alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression. The deployments focus on Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fear Moscow could try to destabilize them by cyber attacks, territorial incursions or other means. Russia denies such intentions and has described NATO’s behavior as aggressive and threatening.

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Good luck with that. A state may be beneficial, but not the ones we see around us.

“Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy.”

We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)

We’re often told that the state and the market have entirely different roles. But meet any number of the people paying the price for Britain’s crash, and you’ll see that they play almost identical parts using similar language and similar bureaucracy. And far from protecting low-paid workers from the depredations of the market, the state wants to hurl more people into it under the pretence that they are shirkers. None of this fits with how social democrats view the state. Having attended my fair share of Labour and other leftwing political meetings, I know that a staple feature is that some grey-haired man in a jumper will leap up towards the end and launch into a good-hearted defence of the state. Public investment, social security, industrial strategy: all will circle back to the state; all will be met with murmurs of approval. And all are a million miles away from the experiences I regularly hear while reporting.

[..] At the end of 2015, a team of academics held a series of two-day discussions with small groups of members of the public across Europe. They were asked only one big question: what should the government do for your children’s generation? Of all the countries, the British were easily the most pessimistic about what could be done – behind even Slovenia. The British liked the NHS and pensions, but thought both would be gone in a generation. They didn’t talk about the good things that could be done by government. Trade unions came up just once in the entire two days. “I found it quite shocking,” recalls Peter Taylor-Gooby, of the University of Kent. “Of all the groups we interviewed, the British had this mood of resigned, reluctant individualism.”

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy. Three decades of both right and left privatising, outsourcing and deregulating have shrunk the public imagination about what their representatives in government can achieve. Put that alongside the shattering of the working class, the smashing of trade unions, and the diminishment of so many other social institutions. The need for the state and collective action hasn’t diminished, but the public belief in it has gone. The state is now either invisible or hostile. This has happened without the pundits and politicians noticing, but its consequences could shape politics for decades.

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Editorial in Kathemerini bytThe new British ambassador in Athens, who wastes not one word on what has happened to Greece courtesy of the EU. Not one word! No compassion for the people of Greece, no understanding, not consolation, no hope. Not one word on what Britain intends to do to help Greece. No, the UK wants Greek help. She either doesn’t know what’s going on, or she chooses to blindly ignore it. In both cases, she should not be where she is. She talks about Britain only, as if Britain is the main victim here. Me, me, me. Well, f**king stay home then. Athens now has this dimwit and Victoria Nuland lackey Geoffrey Platt as US ambassador.

The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

As the new British ambassador in Athens, I begin my mission in Greece at a challenging time. I’ve been struck by the anxiety and even sadness expressed by many Greeks about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Much of that is based in uncertainty about what this means for the future of Europe, and for the relationship between the United Kingdom and Greece. That’s understandable. And that was why Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech last week sought to provide as much clarity as possible for our partners about what the United Kingdom is seeking from the forthcoming negotiations and beyond. Above all, we intend to remain the best friend and neighbor possible to our European partners. We are not seeking to undermine the European Union. Indeed it is in the best interests of the UK that the EU should succeed.

A prosperous, stable Greece is a critical element in that, and I believe Greece has a strong interest in the specific outcomes to which the prime minister committed the UK government to pursue on 23 January. First – the prime minister said repeatedly in her speech that our cooperation with all European partners on defense, security and foreign policy, including intelligence sharing, will continue. The security of our citizens is not negotiable. With Greece, that means the highly valued collaboration we have with partners in the Greek armed forces, police, coast guard and customs on migration, counterterrorism, and organized crime will remain a priority. Second, our aim of a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement, which gives British and European companies the maximum freedom to trade across our markets, can only be of benefit to Greece.

The United Kingdom is the second biggest export market for Greece’s pharmaceutical products, and third largest for agricultural products; while the freedom for the British financial and professional services to continue to trade across borders will benefit both the City of London and the Greek shipping sector, one of its most important customers. Third: There is much concern about the status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit. Britain values very highly the contribution of Greeks who live and work and study in the UK – for example the hugely talented Greek clinical staff in, for example, the National Health Service – as well as the 10,000 Greek students in our universities. The rights and benefits of current students, and those starting in academic year 17/18, are secure to the end of their courses. And we want to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens already living in Britain, as well as the rights of British nationals in other member-states, as early as we can. Greece’s support on this would be very welcome.

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Feb 042016
 
 February 4, 2016  Posted by at 8:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Alexander Gardner Ruins of Gallego Mills after Great Fire, Richmond, VA 1865

The best way it was put came from a German newspaper, the Leipziger Volkszeitung, on Tuesday, in an article that describes 5 separate incidents in two days in which buildings occupied by asylum seekers are targeted with rocks and home-made explosives. The headline quotes Leipzig’s head of police as saying: A pogrom mood prevails (Es herrscht Pogromstimmung). The full line further down in the article says: “Across the whole country, a pogrom mood prevails that is gathering an explosive intensity.”

It is early February in Europe. 62,000 more refugees reached Greece in January. Over 360 drowned trying, or 12 every single day. At least a quarter of them were children. About 90% of these people came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and are therefore considered ‘real’ refugees, no matter how often you read the word ‘migrants’ instead. It’s funny that someone wrote on our Facebook page that the word ‘refugee’ is often abused, because so many are really ‘migrants’.

Funny, because it’s the other way around: the word migrant is the one that is used wrongly, and often for political purposes. Dutch uber assclown Frans Timmermans, right hand man to EC President Juncker, claimed in Dutch media recently that 60% of ‘arrivals’ were people from countries “where you can assume they have no reason to apply for refugee status”.

The UNHCR, and even Frontex, say the correct number is 10% are ‘migrants’. 39% Syrian, 24-25% each Iraqi and Afghani. And just like not all migrants are refugees, the group ‘migrants’ does not have a subset called ‘refugees’. Confusing the terms is derogatory. Timmermans is just plain lying.

Staying in that vein, EU border cops Frontex stated the other day that there were “more than 880,000 illegal border crossings detected” in Greece in 2015. That at once raises the question whether refugees are illegals. An interesting question, because according to the Geneva convention they are not: they have the right to seek asylum, and executing one’s rights cannot per definition be illegal. Frontex, like Timmermans, uses insinuations to create an atmosphere, a mood.

And before you know it that turns into a pogrom mood. But Europe’s politicians, overwhelmed as they are with the combination of the refugee influx and their own incompetence, have apparently decided that it may play into their hands to steer their people’s moods against refugees. At that point, the entire issue becomes a cattle trade, something we’ll see more of.

Back to Timmermans and his lie about 60% being ‘migrants’: that’s more than a little mistake. That’s false insinuation. Timmermans became very popular in Holland because of his handling of the MH-17 aftermath (he was -the Dutch equivalent of- secretary of state at the time). Which is also funny, because what he did was accuse Russia of shooting down the plane mere minutes after is was shot, and way before any evidence could possibly have been gathered.

And he never stopped. He held a tearjerker of a speech at the UN and kept on hammering on the guilt of the Russians, carried on the waves of the ‘objective’ western media.

Of course, the US did the same, and never substantiated a single word either. It has taken the Dutch a year and a half to question their government’s account of the event, but the anti-Russia sentiment is now firmly in place. Since most victims were Dutch, Holland leads the investigation into the disaster. It has not brought one shed of proof to light, only innuendo.

Lately, Dutch people and media have started asking (it’s a miracle!) how it’s possible that all of Ukraine’s groundradar systems happened to be switched off when the plane came down, and why it has taken so long to find this out. Switching off groundradar must be reported internationally -to Eurocontrol, in this case- for obvious (safety) reasons. This was not done. When will they begin to wonder if maybe it was Ukraine all along? That would mean letting go of the Putin as bogeyman meme, so it may take a while.

Meanwhile the Dutch government -minus Timmermans, whose Putin bashing gave him almost as good a Brussels job as Donald Tusk got for his as PM of Poland- is chairing the EU until July 1. With youthful fervor, they started out by suggesting a sort of ferry service that would take refugees straight back from Greece to Turkey.

At the same time, the Times in Britain wrote about an EU plan to make it illegal to help refugees at sea. See, now they’re flaunting Geneva, and they’re flaunting international maritime law too. The latter says it’s illegal to NOT help people in distress at sea, and the EU is a signatory -or at least its member states. The former says specifically that ‘push-back’ of refugees is not allowed. The European Commission itself warned Greece about this in 2013.

Back to the drawing board. Or perhaps not quite: at the same time the government in The Hague came with their nonsensical ferry plan, the Dutch parliament -a few doors down- voted to let Holland start bombing Syria. You know, to support one’s partners. So you bomb the crap out of them, and then send them back when they seek to flee your bombs. Holland’s been bombing Iraq for a long time.

And that kind of tomfoolery is why there are international agreements in place, meticulously articulated after earlier disasters and vowing to never make the same mistakes again. But you don’t have to know law to be a politician, or be smart, or have a conscience. The job’s basically open to anyone who can successfully sell a second-hand car.

Being an outright sociopath ticks off a few boxes too, but people will say I shouldn’t say that. Dutch PM Mark Rutte looks like such a decent guy, after all. But the shrewd observer’s already seen that he’s merely another body-double dummy sprouted from the same egg as Cameron and Osborne, Harper in Canada, Renzi, you name them, know the type, early 40’s ideal sons in law but with a bit too much ambition.

Works well in times of plenty, but has no idea what to do in case of a headwind. And then goes berserk without knowing what that is.

The two things that stood out for me when I was making notes were that German police chief talking about a pogrom, and our dear friend Wolfgang Schäuble, German FinMin, who of all people was the only one who made sense about 10 days ago when he said that what Syria would take was a Marshall Plan, and it would cost the world a whole lot more than anyone realized.

For once, he was right. Apparently, the people he was with when he said it, and Rutte was one, didn’t even react to what he said. “Cost? Is that going to cost me votes back home?” It was hilarious to see, today, that Gordon Brown -yeah, they let him out- was talking about a Marshall Plan for Syria -they let him read papers again, too- in connection with a high-level meeting on the issue that takes place in London -oh, wait, that’s how Gordon managed to sneak in-.

World leaders are going to promise away billions of dollars to ‘help’ the Syrian people. The problem here is obvious. These are the same leaders who have been responsible for bombing the region to smithereens. And now take the lead in doling out other people’s money -yours- to ‘help’ the people who survived, and have often fled thousands of miles from home.

That’s who I would like help from if I had lost half my family, seen a bunch of my kids drown, and get my few remaining possessions taken away from me by the ‘authorities’ of a country that tells me I should be really awfully grateful they’ll accomodate me. Grateful? You guys bombed my home to the ground! Grateful for what, exactly?

Oh, but the accomodation is only temporary. Says ‘poor’ Angela Merkel, she of short-lived Mother Teresa fame. When the war is over, they have to return. Right. Return to what? How about this?:

And when do you think the war will be over, Angela? What? It’s all Assad’s fault? Oh, Putin again. Yeah. Pray tell, what’s the combined take of the US, UK, France and Germany arms industries every day after day that this wholly psychopathic use of a formerly beautiful nation for target practice goes on? Yeah, right, you’re fighting that evil ISIS. Well, so is Assad. While some of ‘our’ friends, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, to name a few, are helping them out. And ‘we’ at least sort of gave birth to them.

It’s not that hard, is it? Syria=Libya=Iraq. 2003 is not the beginning, but it very much IS when this utter destruction really took off. 12 and a half years of target practice and rising defense expenditures, and ‘we’ are nowhere near done yet. But we’ll throw the poor dogs some scraps. We’ll promise $10 billion with wide sociopath smiles at the camera and aim for $3 or $4 max. While knowing it’ll cost a $trillion just to rebuild a few cities in Syria. But then we can pretend we have no such money.

So when will the war stop? Not a soul will address that issue in the London conference this weekend (“Supporting Syria – And The Region”, they have less than zero shame). They all profit from that war, while blaming its existence on others. What they will do is shove a few scraps off their rich tables to the subhumans whose drowned children they have never expressed nor felt any sympathy for.

Well, here come the refugees, Europe. 62,000 in January points to well over a million in 2016. And that’s lowballing it. An estimate in late 2015 said 3 million. A Bulgarian Red Cross leader went for 3 million just this spring.

Get ready. For the pogrom.

PS: Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Erdogan, who makes money off of ISIS oil, and off EU refugee cattle trade money, and off ‘people smugglers’ taking off from Turkey for Greece. A $4 billion industry last year. Think he doesn’t demand his cut? Ideal son in law. Well, next time, then.

PS 2: Who wrote this?: “Nightsticks and Water Cannons, Tear Gas, Padlocks, Molotov Cocktails And Rocks, Behind Every Curtain.”

PS 3: I wrote a year ago that the only way to approach a crisis like this is to put the people first. How many children have been sacrificed on the Brussels altar since then? Grow a pair, Europe.

PS 4: There’ll be a huge amount of violence against refugees in Europe this year, It will get very ugly, and many people will die. And your ‘leaders’ are the ones who have instigated this. Again, grow a pair. Be someone. Someone real.