Feb 122018
 
 February 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Camille Corot The Burning of Sodom (formerly “The Destruction of Sodom”) 1843 and 1857

 

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)
Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)
Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)
‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)
History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)
Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)
May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)
China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)
China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)
Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)
Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)
Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)
The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

 

 

Ultra low rates but ultra high payments.

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)

“Interest On The Debt Will Be The Fastest Growing Part Of The Federal Budget…By Far. Forget Medicare, Social Security and the Pentagon: $1 trillion-plus deficits means massive increases in the national debt and that debt will have to be borrowed at higher interest rates. Add the need for the Treasury to roll-over existing debt at higher and higher rates and you get an immediate increase in the amount the U.S. will need to spend on interest each year.” Watch this space:

Some people may argue that tax cuts will bring in so much economic growth it will all pay for itself. There is precisely zero evidence for such an assertion:

If you know your tax cut history you know where in the chart above major tax cuts were passed. The debt continued to rise and will continue to rise as spending continues to be expanded. But here’s the kicker: Never in modern times have we seen tax cuts being implemented and spending increased with debt to GDP north of 100%:

Many corporations are drowning in debt, as are consumers, and so are their interest payments:

People invariably argue and say: Yea well, but as a percent of disposable income it’s not so bad. Yes, it’s called artificial low rates, they can mask a lot, but what is currently the situation is not the point, it’s sustainability of debt loads in the very immediate future. As you saw in the above data we are already seeing a vast increase in interest payments despite rates having barely moved off of the historic zero bound line. “As for total debt, the CBO last predicted borrowings of $25.5 trillion by 2027. According to Riedl, the tax cuts, new discretionary outlays and additional interest on the extra spending could add $5 trillion to that number, bringing the total of $30 trillion. That’s 107% of the national income estimate projected by the CBO.

The scariest unknown is what happens to interest expense. At $25.5 trillion, the CBO forecasts outlays for interest of $818 billion in 2027. Going to $30 trillion will raise the load to over $1 trillion. One dollar in seven in spending would be going to interest, versus one in 15 today. And that scenario assumes that the yield on the 10-year Treasury increases to just 3.5% over the next decade, far below its historic average. “If rates go to their average in the 1990s,” warns Riedl, “the deficit will go not to $2 trillion, but to between $2.5 and $3 trillion.”

Read more …

“..the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies..”

Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)

While Cole is happy to accept the back-patting and congratulations for having foretold in near-perfect detail the dynamics that would drive this week’s volatility explosion, those who read our piece summarizing Cole’s (uncannily well-timed) interview two weeks ago will remember that short-vol ETPs like XIV represent only a fraction of the collective $2 trillion short-gamma position that touches nearly every corner of the market. Other components of what calls the ‘implicit’ gamma short – which we’ve touched on this week – include $600 billion invested in risk-parity strategies, $400 billion in volatility-control funds. And $250 billion of risk premium strategies… Rather than buy the dip, Cole ominously warned that it’s more likely this is the beginning of a much larger selloff. Or, as Kevin Spacey’s character put it in the movie “Margin Call”, because of vulnerabilities related to the market’s massively short gamma positioning, “there will be turmoil in the markets for the foreseeable future.”

Everyone talks – congratulations about calling this. Well, I don’t think what I’ve really talked about has come to pass yet. The VIX ETPs are the smallest portion of the global short-vol trade. Talk about this idea of about 1.5 to 2 trillion dollars’ worth of short-vol exposure, both explicit and implicit. Explicit short volatility are VIX exchange-rated products and vol overwriting funds. You know, the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies, strategies that may not be directly shorting options, but use financial engineering to mimic the components of a short-option portfolio. About 1.5 trillion dollars’ worth of these, of exposure, this is what we’re seeing come online now.

This is the real risk. So stocks and bonds sell off together. You have disorderly unwind withdrawal of liquidity. And then, all of a sudden, increasing volatility results in a quick deleveraging of these implicit short-volatility strategies. And this will drive the next leg of the crisis. So, people say congratulations, you called the short-vol trade. No, nothing has happened yet. This is an appetizer. This is just the appetizer for the unwind that is about to come. I think this is what people should be really afraid of, and I think this is the next leg of this that we will see. Whether this happens in two weeks or whether this happens over two years, I don’t know. But I strongly believe this will come to pass. And it will be quite disorderly and ugly.

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Practice and theory.

Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)

Echoing Mark Spitznagel’s insights into how ‘naiveté’ led to the epic losses experienced by many ‘nickel-picker-uppers’ this week in the short-vol game, Nassim Taleb takes to YouTube to provide some more color on the fallacy of forecasting and what destroyed XIV traders. Taleb begins by noting that “many people attempted to profit by forecasting volatility [would drop] and from the fact that the contract [in this case XIV] was poorly constructed… they were right, until they were destroyed.” Academics cannot get the idea that you don’t have to be right about the world to make money.

“Antifragile explains why understanding x is different from f(x) the payoff or exposure from x. Most of the harm/gains come from f(x) being convex or concave, not from understanding x. Forecasting is off an average, and average is for academics and other morons.” As Valuewalk’s Jacob Wolinsky writes, this video illustrates the point with XIV that went bust while being correct about volatility –and why people who make money are usually wrong.

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Has Pandora’s box been opened?

‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)

Financial markets are braced for more volatility this week amid predictions from the world’s biggest hedge fund that a “big shakeout” is coming. The Australian stock market was the first to test the water on Monday morning and one point was down 0.7%. But it rallied slightly in afternoon trade to close down 0.3%. Bourses elsewhere in Asia Pacific also found calmer waters. South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.9% while Hong Kong put on 0.8%. The Nikkei in Japan was closed for a holiday. The FTSE100 is London is due to open up 1.25% according to futures trading, while the Dow Jones average on Wall Street is set to rise 0.7%. Last week saw $4tn wiped off the value of shares around the world and the US market entered into an official correction after falling more than 10% from its record level in January.

Wall Street staged a late rally on Friday as the Dow Jones finished 330 points higher and the closely watched Vix index, or “fear index”, has dropped four points to 29 on Monday from 33 on Friday. But Bob Prince, co-chief investment officer at the $160bn US hedge fund Bridgewater, told the Financial Times on Monday (paywall): “There had been a lot of complacency built up in markets over a long time, so we don’t think this shakeout will be over in a matter of days. “We’ll probably have a much bigger shakeout coming.” David Bassanese, the chief economist at BetaShares Capital in Sydney, said in a note on Sunday that despite the big falls last week, the selling could continue. “History suggests the depth of corrections – assuming the underlying bull market persists – don’t usually get beyond 15%, so there’s certainly some scope for market weakness before a bottom is reached,” he said.

Investors would be jittery about US inflation figures on Wednesday, he said. The market was forecasting a “fairly benign” 1.7% annual prices growth, but anything above that was likely to result in more stock losses. Chris Weston at online trader IG said on Monday: “A massive buildup in market leverage has been partially unwound in the blink of an eye and what started as systematic funds selling out of equity and futures positions, as implied volatility headed higher, has morphed into something far more broad-based incorporating many other market participants.”

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“..the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days..”

History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)

Perhaps the biggest question on Wall Street right now is whether the recent pain in the U.S. stock market is over. If history is any indication, the answer is no. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 entered correction territory on Thursday, defined as a 10% drop from a recent peak—in this case, record highs that were hit in late January. According to Bespoke Investment Group, which analyzed the 95 corrections the S&P has seen since 1928, investors might want to brace themselves for more pain.

Per Bespoke’s data, the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days. Were the S&P to hit that median in the current selloff, it would bottom around 2,400, or roughly 7.8% below current levels. “Keep in mind, though, that these are median levels. There have been a number of corrections (13) that saw declines of less than 11%, while several saw deeper declines of more than 20%,” the research group wrote in a blog post. A decline of 20% would put the index into bear-market territory, where nearly one-fifth of S&P components currently trade. “In terms of length, prior corrections have also been all over the map. Some have lasted as little as three days, while others have stretched on for well over a year.”

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It will hit millions everywhere.

Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)

The Bank of England’s warning that it plans to raise interest rates from as early as May will hit millions of low-income families who have only survived financially for a decade by using cheap credit. The Resolution Foundation said almost half of low-income families were in debt distress before Threadneedle Street said last week that it needed to increase the base rate at an accelerated pace over the next two years. The Bank governor, Mark Carney, said the strength of the economy warranted higher borrowing costs. He cited rising average wages and resilient GDP growth as reasons to begin pushing interest rates from the historically low level of 0.5%.

But a study by the foundation showed the proportion of households in some form of debt distress rose to 45% among the poorest fifth of working age households, with more than a third experiencing difficulty in paying for accommodation and one in six in arrears on either their mortgage or consumer debts. Households headed by someone aged 25-34 spent nearly £1 in every £5 of their pre-tax income on debt repayments in 2017, compared with 20p for households aged 65 and over. Levels of consumer credit have soared in recent years to more than £200bn, prompting debt charities to warn that lenders are repeating the mistakes made in the early part of the century, when households on low incomes were sold loans they could not repay.

Matt Whittaker, the chief economist at the Resolution Foundation, said most of the increase in consumer debt since 2014 was among middle and higher income groups and they could afford to absorb an increase in interest rates. The cost of servicing Britain’s household debt is low by historical standards, he said, with repayments accounting for 7.7% of disposable income, well below the 12.3% recorded just before the financial crisis, and in line with the level seen during the mid-1990s and early 2000s. “However, while the recent growth in debt is less of a concern, it is very worrying that almost half of low-income families are already showing signs of debt distress,” Whittaker said. “While rates have been at historic lows for a decade now, many families have experienced a tight income squeeze over this period and have not been able to get back on the front foot when it comes to servicing their debts.”

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Yawn.

May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May embarks this week on a determined push to bring her divided Cabinet together and come up with a Brexit plan. As European negotiators show increasing signs of impatience, senior U.K. ministers are preparing to deliver a series of speeches in the coming weeks setting out a vision of life outside the European Union. They’ll culminate with an address by May. Dubbed a “Road Map to Brexit,” the schedule begins on Wednesday when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issues an appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate. May is expected to offer a new security relationship three days later when she addresses a conference in Munich. Also scheduled to make speeches are Brexit Secretary David Davis, Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

Absent, however, is Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who enraged Brexit supporters in January by suggesting Britain would see only “very modest” changes to its relationship with the EU once it leaves the bloc. May has ordered key ministers to attend an “away day” at Chequers, the prime ministerial country retreat outside London, after two meetings to find a joint position on Brexit ended without agreement last week. With just 13 months to go before Britain exits the EU, the ruling Conservatives are mired in a civil war between those who want to retain close ties to the bloc and hard-liners demanding a clean break, including total withdrawal from the EU single market and the customs union. On Friday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, expressed his exasperation by warning that the post-Brexit bridging period that once seemed a certainty “is not a given,” prompting investors to sell the pound.

Businesses have said they’ll start to activate contingency plans to move jobs and operations out of the U.K. unless a transition deal is nailed down by the end of March. In her speech to cap off the “Road to Brexit” push — the date of which hasn’t been announced — May will set out the government’s “ambitions for Britain’s partnership with the EU after we have left.” It will be her third major address, following her Lancaster House speech in January last year and her Florence speech in September. “Brexit is a defining moment in the history of our nation,” May’s office said in a statement. “We will be forging an ambitious new partnership with Europe and charting our own way in the world to become a truly global, free-trading nation.”

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Afghanistan is like a Bermuda triangle.

China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)

The latest plot twist in the endless historical saga of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires has thrown up an intriguing new chapter. For the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a military base alongside Afghanistan’s border with China. “We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers,” Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, admitted to the AFP. On the record, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only admitted that Beijing was involved in “capacity-building” in Afghanistan, while NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, led by the United States, basically issued a “no comment.”

The military base will eventually be built in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. It is one of the most spectacular, barren and remote stretches of Central Asia and according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there. True to Sydney Wignall’s fabled Spy on the Roof of the World ethos, a great deal of shadow play is in effect. Apparently, this is basically about China’s own war on terror. Beijing’s strategic priority is to prevent Uyghur fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been exiled in Afghanistan, crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations across Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

There is also the fear that ISIS or Daesh jihadis from Syria and Iraq may also use Afghanistan as a springboard to reach the country. Even though the jihad galaxy may be split, Beijing is concerned about ETIM. As early as September 2013, the capo of historic al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. Later, in July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh said: “Muslim rights [should be] forcibly seized in China, India and Palestine.” Then, on March 1, 2017, Daesh released a video announcing its presence in Afghanistan, with the terror group’s Uyghur jihadis vowing, on the record, to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang. At the heart of the matter is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

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Empty politics.

China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)

China will boost its job creation effort and promote entrepreneurship this year, a spokeswoman for the top state planner said on Sunday, under pressure to find work for millions of unemployed people and new college graduates. Meng Wei of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said China needs to create jobs for 9.7 million people registered as unemployed and 8.2 million new college graduates, as well as workers affected by industrial capacity cuts. China’s urban-registered unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent last year and has remained generally stable despite slowing economic growth and the government forging ahead with plans to cut back industrial capacity.

Many analysts say, however, that the official data is an unreliable indicator of employment conditions because it only measures employment in urban areas and does not take into account the millions of migrant workers who form the bedrock of China’s labour force. “We will implement an employment-first strategy and more proactive employment policies…and vigorously promote employment and entrepreneurship,” Meng told a news conference on Sunday, adding that protecting jobs was fundamental to China’s stable growth policy. Authorities are counting on “new growth engines” such as technology and services to support job creation. Meng said China will create a policy environment that supports the digital economy and will promote the big data, artificial intelligence and industrial internet sectors.

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QE bankrolls the house.

Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)

In June of 2008, US crude hit $144-a-barrel, a figure so harsh that it crippled economic activity — since just about everything we do depends on oil for making, enabling, and transporting stuff. The price and supply of oil became so problematic after the year 2000 that the US had to desperately engineer a work-around to keep this hyper-complex society operating. The “solution” was debt. If you can’t afford to run your society, then try borrowing from the future to keep your mojo working. The shale oil industry was a prime beneficiary of this new hyper-debt regime. The orgy of borrowing was primed by Federal Reserve “creation” of trillions of dollars of “capital” out of thin air (QE), along with supernaturally low interest rates on the borrowed money (ZIRP). The oil companies were desperate in 2008. They were, after all, in the business of producing… oil! (Duh….) — even if a giant company like BP pretended for a while that its initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum.”

The discovery of new oil had been heading down remorselessly for decades, to the point that the world was fatally short of replacing the oil it used every year with new supply. The last significant big fields — Alaska, the North Sea, and Siberia — had been discovered in the 1960s and we knew for sure that the first two were well past their peaks in the early 2000s. By 2005, most of the theoretically producible new oil was in places that were difficult and ultra-expensive to drill in: deep water, for instance, where you need a giant platform costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention armies of highly skilled (highly paid) technicians, plus helicopters to service the rigs. The financial risk (for instance, of drilling a “dry hole”) was matched by the environmental risk of a blowout, which is exactly what happened to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, with clean-up costs estimated at $61 billion.

[..] The shale oil companies could get plenty of cash-flow going, but it all went to servicing their bonds or other “innovative” financing schemes, and for many of the companies the cash flow wasn’t even covering those costs. It cost at least six million dollars for each shale well, and it was in the nature of shale oil that the wells depleted so quickly that after Year Three they were pretty much done. But it was something to do, at least, if you were an oil company — an alternative to 1) doing no business at all, or 2) getting into some other line-of-work, like making yoga pants or gluten-free cupcakes.

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“..87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17..” “..more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone..”

Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)

Oxfam was scrambling on Sunday night to contain a growing crisis over claims of sexual misconduct by aid workers before a crunch meeting on Monday that could see the charity stripped of its government funding. Amid anger from the government and the wider aid sector at revelations that Oxfam staff in Haiti paid prostitutes – possibly underage – for sex in 2011, the charity’s chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson, pledged to widen a review of its practices to include the Haiti allegations and admitted “anger and shame that behaviour like that … happened in our organisation”. She set out the steps Oxfam would take to avoid a similar scandal in future after the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, issued a damning rebuke to the charity. Mordaunt warned that it would receive no more public money unless it demonstrated “moral leadership” and handed over all information on aid workers’ alleged use of prostitutes on the island.

[..] Oxfam’s fight to secure its financial footing came after days of escalating stories about the conduct of its workers after revelations that staff in Haiti had been dismissed for using prostitutes for sex parties. Any hopes the charity’s leadership had that the scandal might quickly subside were dashed when it was reported in the Observer that Oxfam staff in Chad had also used prostitutes and when Oxfam’s own annual report resurfaced, showing it dealt with 87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17. Oxfam’s crisis threatened to spill across the charity sector on Sunday with reports that more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone.

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Everyone in Haiti knew about this. And it’s not just Oxfam either.

Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)

deep disgust at what they were hearing was tinged with a sense of inevitability for some. “We’ve all worked with people who’ve worked in Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti, Malawi, Thailand etc who’ve seen similar things across the entire sector,” said one Oxfam worker in the Middle East. Goldring, admired by staff as “deeply thoughtful”, set out the story – first a chronology of what happened in Haiti in 2011, and then a commentary on the issues it raised, including pointing out the dilemmas that the Oxfam staff handling the case faced. For example, he said, the charity didn’t report it to the Haitian police because it was concerned that could rebound adversely on the women involved.

He struck one attendee as “desperately keen to put across the point that we don’t think there was a cover-up because we didn’t hide that there was a problem in Haiti”. Only Oxfam hadn’t been open about what that problem was. Some staff also felt there was a “single-mindedness about the attack on Oxfam” that was not commensurate with the weight of what had happened in 2011. It was shocking and wrong, but some felt that the problems revealed were probably not unique to Oxfam. “I’m really frustrated at the Oxfam-only lens in this – granted what happened was horrific,” said one Oxfam worker abroad. “I’ve worked for [several other NGOs] and there just isn’t any type of policy or procedure in place for any of this stuff.”

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The people responsible for these decisions should be taken to court. Even -make that especially- politicians must be held to their own laws.

The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade. Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case. In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of Wikileaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK.

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents we support in other parts of the world. According to a new release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him at the embassy in London, as had happened in 44 other cases between Sweden and Britain.

Ny wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.” Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.” In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

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Jan 262018
 
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Horacio Coppola Avenida Díaz Vélez al 4800, Buenos Aires 1952

 

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)
Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)
Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)
Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)
China Chills (Mauldin)
Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)
Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)
Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)
Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)
Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)
Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)
Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)
1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)
Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)
A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

 

 

One Goldman alumni to another. And Trump repaired it somewhat, and then this morning the dollar falls again. Trump may address this in his speech today in Davos. Mnuchin never talked about anything but short term. Storm, teacup.

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)

The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has taken a sideswipe at the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, for endorsing a weaker dollar, emphasising deep concerns among central bankers over the economically destabilising impact of exchange rate swings. At the ECB’s regular conference Mr Draghi referred indirectly to the surprising comments at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday by Mr Mnuchin, who said “a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities.” These comments sent the dollar, which has been trending lower since early 2017, down still further. The dollar index, which measures the traded value of the greenback against a basket of other currencies, including sterling and the euro, hit a three-year low of 88.5.

Mr Draghi complained to reporters in Frankfurt that although exchange rate movements were “a fact of nature” reflecting economic fundamentals some recent volatility was caused by “someone else” – a clear reference to Mr Mnuchin – whose “use of language…doesn’t reflect the terms of reference that have been agreed.” Mr Draghi cited an IMF communique from last year, signed by the US, which said: “We will refrain from competitive devaluations, and will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes”. Asked directly by journalists whether the ECB Council had been concerned by the Treasury Secretary’s comments Mr Draghi answered in the affirmative. “Several members of the Council expressed concern, and this concern was also in a sense was broader than simply the exchange rate, it was about the overall status of international relations right now,” he said.

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Objection, your honor. Leading.

Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving at a far faster pace than previously known and appears to be wrapping up at least one key part of his investigation – whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, according to current and former U.S. officials. Mueller has quietly moved closer to those around Trump by interviewing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey in recent weeks, officials said. His team has also interviewed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, NBC News reported. Those high-level officials all have some degree of knowledge about events surrounding Trump’s decisions to fire Comey and Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser.

“Clearly the names that are coming out now indicate that we’re into the obstruction of justice side of it,” said Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. “He’s now getting people who are closest to the president, closest to the issues.” Next, Mueller is expected to schedule an interview with Trump in coming weeks to discuss those events, according to a person familiar with the matter. “I’m looking forward to it,” Trump said of a meeting with Mueller, which he suggested may happen in about two to three weeks. He told reporters at the White House Wednesday that “I would love to do it” and “I would do it under oath” even though his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton wasn’t sworn in when she was interviewed in 2016 over her use of private emails as secretary of state.

Even if Mueller wraps up the obstruction probe, other elements of his investigation – such as whether Trump or anyone close to him helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election or broke any other laws — are likely to continue for months more, said two officials who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the probe.

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New York Times based on anonymous sources as usual.

Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has described as “fake news” a report that he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down when his own lawyer threatened to resign. White House counsel Donald McGahn said the sacking would have a “catastrophic effect” on the presidency, the New York Times reported. Mr Mueller is leading an inquiry into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to influence the US election. Both Moscow and Mr Trump deny this. “Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories,” Mr Trump said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, where he is due to give a speech later.

He has also been speaking about other issues: • Russian news agency Tass quoted Mr Trump as saying he “hoped” for more dialogue between the US and Russia • White House officials said Mr Trump was open to rejoining the Paris climate change agreement, if better terms for the US could be agreed • Mr Trump will say in his speech that he is in favour of “fair and reciprocal” free trade but will not tolerate trade abuses and intellectual property theft, according to US officials
Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed special counsel last May to look into the collusion allegations.

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Nobody acknowledges the importance of price discovery anymore. Without which there are no functioning markets. How fast people forget.

Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)

[..] the real economic iniquity of central bank driven Bubble Finance is that it destroys all the pricing signals that are essential to financial discipline on both ends of the Acela Corridor. And as quaint at it may sound, discipline is the sine qua non of long-term stability and sustainable gains in productivity, living standards and real wealth. The pols of the Imperial City should be petrified, therefore, by the prospect of borrowing $1.2 trillion during the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2019) at a rate of 6.0% of GDP during month #111 through month #123 of the business expansion; and doing so at the very time the central bank is pivoting to an unprecedented spell of QT (quantitative tightening), involving the disgorgement of up to $2 trillion of its elephantine balance sheet back into the bond market.

Even as a matter of economics 101, the forthcoming $1.8 trillion of combined bond supply from the sales of the US Treasury ($1.2 trillion) and the QT-disgorgement of the Fed ($600 billion) is self-evidently enough to monkey-hammer the existing supply/demand balances, and thereby send yields soaring. But that’s barely the half of it. All the laws of economics, which are now being insouciantly ignored by the stock market revilers, are also time and place bound. That is to say, deficit finance in a muscle-bound Welfare State/Warfare State democracy like the US is always a questionable idea. After all, it is virtually guaranteed based on the budgetary doomsday forces now at work that by 2030 the public debt will approach $40 trillion compared to the $930 billion level where it stood when the Gipper took office in January 1981. In a half century, therefore, the GDP – swollen by inflation notwithstanding – will have grown by 8.5X versus a 43X eruption of the debt.

[..] At the present time, the S&P 500 is trading at the absurd multiple of 26.3X what are estimated to be reported profits for 2017. Yet the sell-side stock peddlers say not to worry because the one-year forward multiple on ex-items earnings is still only in the high teens. So what! The business cycle has not been outlawed and this one has at best a few quarters or even a year or two to go. So forward earnings are irrelevant nonsense. They are an interim place holder before the 30% to 50% hit to profits happens when the US economy finally experiences its next rendezvous with recession. The very idea that you would value the market based on a timeless forward PE multiple is complete baloney, of course. Yet that’s exactly where the Fed’s drastic financial repression and destruction of honest price discovery has led.

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That is one graph.

China Chills (Mauldin)

People have been predicting Chinese real estate crashes for years. Eventually they will be right. Is that time approaching? Here’s the lead from a January 16 Wall Street Journal story, “China’s Hot Housing Market Begins to Cool.” “BEIJING—China’s housing market has defied gravity and government restraints for two years, floating on a tide of bank loans and speculation. Until now. In Beijing and Shanghai – two of the country’s largest markets – and other megacities, sales have stalled and prices have dropped, falling slightly in some pockets and dramatically in others. Demand has dried up in these areas as a result of government measures including higher mortgage rates, higher down-payment requirements and limits on buying a second or third home. Would-be sellers are increasingly putting plans on hold in hope that prices will rebound.” That doesn’t sound good at all. WSJ backs up the gloomy language with data, though:

Some of this shake-out is happening by design as the government tries to manage growth on a sustainable path. The picture also varies greatly by city and region. Beijing and Shanghai are China’s equivalents of Washington and New York – except that they are much, much larger. What happens to them affects the whole country to some degree – and other countries, too. By some estimates, China’s property market accounts for a third of GDP growth. Falling construction activity will mean less need to import construction materials from Australia – and maybe fewer Chinese buyers in Canada. Falling demand won’t be good for housing prices in either of those places.

Then there are wild cards. President Trump has so far held back on promises to crack down on trade with China, in part because he wants Beijing’s help managing the North Korea issue. I doubt he will wait forever. He has a lot of latitude to impose tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions on China. Ironically, a peaceful resolution on the Korean Peninsula might be economically negative if it removes a barrier to trade war.

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Bunch of hipsters.

Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)

Losing the Obama coalition cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency in 2016; her base wasn’t big enough to bring success. Losing the Model S coalition could cost Elon Musk his own dreams, because his base isn’t big enough on its own, either. The Model S coalition of technophiles (techies) and progressives gave Tesla a strong tailwind when the vehicle launched. Techies formed the base, while progressives were the balance of the coalition. But while they came together for the Model S to strike a blow against Big Oil, these two groups aren’t natural allies.

We can see the rift growing in real time: while techies continue to celebrate Amazon, Uber, and Silicon Valley in general, there’s an escalating progressive backlash against labor conditions at warehouse distribution centres, more and more and more and more evidence of Uber’s culture of toxic lawlessness, and the obscene excesses of startup culture (which include a Dickensian digital class divide, possibly-endemic sexism, predatory sex parties and entitlement complexes worthy of the sons of Trump — and that’s only the stuff we know about so far).

The difference between the groups is aptly captured in the 2015 Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle study conducted by Simon Fraser University in Canada (webpage here, full report here, executive summary here).

Figure 23 from the SFU Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study 2015

The chart above shows the results of a study of Volt, Leaf, and Model S early adopters who were asked what images would be attributed to their vehicles. This tells us something about the buyers, because consumers purchase products whose so-called “symbolic benefits” (the brand, basically) match their own self-image, values, interests, and aspirations.

Volt and Leaf owners (yellow and green bars, respectively) are pretty similar, except when it comes to thinking their vehicle is attractive or sporty — the styling of the Leaf 1.0 is, shall we say, an acquired taste! Joking aside, this tells us that first-generation Leaf 1.0 buyers, like first-generation Prius buyers before them, really didn’t care about style. These people, and others of like mind, form the progressive coalition. The Tesla early adopters are different in two categories, and extremely different in four, suggesting that Tesla buyers have different motivations than Volt and Leaf owners. Tesla’s “tribe” wants status goods – which for automobiles means something sporty, exotic, powerful, and successful. They’re Tesla’s techie base.

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As if that is the most important thing as the ship sinks.

Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)

A fresh outbreak of Tory infighting is threatening Theresa May’s leadership after Philip Hammond vowed to keep Britain interlocked with the EU – while hard Brexit supporters staged an open revolt. The Prime Minister was accused of “losing control of the Brexit process” as the two wings of her party fought over her withdrawal policy, which Eurosceptics increasingly see as a sellout. In Davos, the Chancellor inflamed tensions with a dramatic call for only “very modest” changes to the UK’s trading rules with the EU, setting out the risks of trying to break free. He went out of his way to praise the plea by the CBI employers’ organisation for the “closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK post-Brexit” – days after it called for permanent membership of the customs union.

Britain must not agree to anything that “throws away all the benefits we have of the complete alignment of our regulatory systems, the complete integration of our economies”, Mr Hammond said. He later sought to clarify his remarks by saying “for anyone concerned” that the UK would be outside the customs union and single market “which clearly represents change”. But, in a major speech, Jacob Rees-Mogg put himself at the head of a growing Brexiteer revolt. The Government was accused of planning to leave the UK “shackled to the EU” and of putting the free-trade benefits of Brexit “at risk”. “The British people did not vote for that. They did not vote for the management of decline,” Mr Rees-Mogg told an audience in Hampshire. “They voted for hope and opportunity and politicians must now deliver it.

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Uk and US have much in common.

Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)

Economic insecurity has become the “new normal” in the UK with at least 70% of the UK’s working population “chronically broke”, according to a study by the thinktank the Royal Society of Arts. Thriving, striving or just about surviving, the RSA/Populus survey of more than 2,000 workers, found that while about 30% of respondents said they lived comfortably, 40% said their finances were permanently precarious. The remaining 30% said they were not managing to get by. “Economic insecurity now stretches right throughout our labour market, including within jobs that appear safe on the surface,” said Brhmie Balaram, the author of the report and a senior researcher at the RSA.

According to the report, 32% of the UK’s workers have less than £500 in savings and 41% have less than £1,000. Almost 30% are concerned about their level of debt while 43% of workers do not have anyone in their household they could depend on to support them financially in the event of hardship. Fewer than half of employees (44%) feel they have progressed in their careers over the last five years; only 40% feel they have good opportunities to progress in future. “From retail workers to warehouse operatives, and from care workers to cleaners, we are beginning to uncover the hidden millions who are chronically broke year in, year out,” said Balaram. “The real danger for this group of workers is a childcare bill unpaid and yet another rent rise around the corner.”

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Anyone want to argue the UK is NOT a class society?

Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)

Rough sleeping in the north London borough of Camden has increased by 647%, according to government figures released on Thursday. The huge rise is accounted for in part by an official underestimate of the problem last year, but no one who lives here will be surprised to see it confirmed that there has been a sharp jump in the numbers of people sleeping on the streets. Camden reported the largest increase in rough sleeping of any area in England, from 17 rough sleepers in 2016 (an optimistic estimate) to 127 counted this year. Ten years ago there were almost no rough sleepers in Camden. So what’s gone wrong? The Labour-run council says it’s clear that cuts are to blame. Councillor Nadia Shah said: “Rough sleeping in Camden is now at unprecedented levels. This is an appalling situation made worse by the politics of austerity that have led to cuts in services across the country.”

Nationally, welfare reform and cuts to benefits have increased financial insecurity, while soaring rents and reductions in the permitted housing benefit payments have left many people with an impossible gap between rent owing and income. On top of this, changes to the way housing benefit is paid have increasingly meant money no longer goes straight to the landlord but to the tenant, which has led to a sharp rise in arrears and evictions. Huge pressure on mental health services means vulnerable people are not getting the support they need. Drug and alcohol addiction services are struggling financially. Reductions to local authority budgets mean Camden’s funding from central government will have fallen by half between 2010 and 2020. In 2019-20 the council is forecast to receive £106m, down from the £241m received in 2010-11.

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How political is the British court system?

Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)

After more than five years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange will ask a U.K. court to lift his arrest warrant. A one-day hearing will take place at Westminster Magistrates court and a ruling is scheduled to be issued Friday, according to a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service. Assange, 46, has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since evading deportation in a Swedish sexual assault probe. It’s “theoretically possible” that Assange could be released Friday, the CPS spokesman said. Assange and WikiLeaks have become famous over the past decade for disclosing confidential documents about the U.S. government and politics. In 2016, WikiLeaks injected itself into the middle of the U.S. presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Assange is asking the court to lift the warrant about eight months after Swedish prosecutors dropped the underlying rape probe, saying that his steps to evade questioning made it impossible to pursue the case. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he would be extradited to the U.S. London police say that warrant is still in force unless lifted by court. “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court” in 2012, the police said in an emailed statement. “The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.”

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Last time they were on the brink of war was 1996. Never far away.

Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has again disputed Greece’s sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea, while accusing Athens of building up bilateral tension while Ankara is busy fighting what he described as “terrorism” in its wider region. In comments made to local media on Wednesday, Yildirim accused Athens of pursuing a repeat of the 1996 Imia crisis, when the two countries came to the brink of war over ownership of the uninhabited Aegean islets, adding that such an attempt “will not go down well” in Ankara. “In case something similar occurs, there are always means at Turkey’s disposal to defend itself. Let there be no qualms about that,” he said. Turkey disputes Greece’s territorial sovereignty over the rocky formations, known in Turkish as Kardak, on the basis of its “gray zones” theory.

Last week, a Turkish patrol boat conducting a dangerous maneuver bumped into a Hellenic Navy gunboat near Imia. No damage was reported from the contact. Meanwhile, notwithstanding Turkey’s ongoing air and ground operation in the Afrin region of northern Syria aimed at fighting Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets continue, if at a lower rate. A mock dogfight between Greek and Turkish F-16s took place northwest of Lesvos island on Wednesday at 2.35 p.m. The issue of Turkey’s provocations was raised on Wednesday by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, described Turkey as an “aggressive neighbor, sometimes unpredictable with an aggressive military activity in the Aegean.” “For somebody, it is very easy to be also aggressive if they are living in Luxembourg or Netherlands, because their neighbors are Belgium and Luxembourg, and not Turkey. But it’s not so easy for us,” he said in English.

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In a bankrupt country. Greece should demand hundreds of billions from the EU to handle this.

Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)

The majority of migrants and refugees who have landed on the Aegean islands since the March 2016 deal signed between the European Union and Ankara will remain in Greece as conditions for their return to Turkey are considered “not safe,” according to data from the country’s Asylum Service. According to the data, authorities have processed 25,814 applications for asylum submitted by individuals stuck at island screening centers, or hotspots. Authorities have rejected 5,437 of those claims and, under the terms of the deal, the applicants should be returned to Turkey. However, only around 1,400 of that number have been returned so far. Meanwhile, 20,337 people have received permission to move to the Greek mainland. They will move to the next stage of their asylum process, provided that they are not enlisted in a European relocation schemes. A total of 21,726 mostly Syrian refugees were relocated from Greece to other EU member-states under a program which was completed in 2017.

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Sometimes a headline is enough.

1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)

A chunk of what is now Canada broke away from the rest of North America and collided with Australia around 1.7 billion years ago, according to a new study. A team of geologists examining rocks found in northern Queensland concluded some of them did not appear to have originated in Australia, and had characteristics more common among those found in Canada. They say the discovery indicates the region surrounding present-day Georgetown in northern Queensland broke apart from the continent of North America during its early formation and smashed into what is now known as Australia. “Our research shows that about 1.7 billion years ago, Georgetown rocks were deposited into a shallow sea when the region was part of North America,” said Adam Nordsvan, a PhD student at Curtin University, who led the study published in the journal Geology.

“Georgetown then broke away from North America and collided with the Mount Isa region of northern Australia around 100 million years later.” The discovery provides scientists with new evidence about the formation of the ancient supercontinent, Nuna – a land mass made up of many of the continents we know today. Over millennia, the Earth’s continents have slowly moved around, reorganising themselves into different combinations, and Mr Nordsvan and his collaborators are trying to understand some of these ancient movements. “This was a critical part of global continental reorganisation when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna,” said Mr Nordsvan. Nuna existed long before the more well-known supercontinent of Pangaea, which was formed around 335 million years ago.

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We have no idea of our own history.

Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)

A prehistoric jawbone discovered in a cave in Israel has prompted scientists to rethink theories of how the earliest human pioneers came to populate the planet, suggesting that our ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought. The fossil, dated to nearly 200,000 years ago, is almost twice as old as any previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa, where our species is thought to have originated. Until recently, several converging lines of evidence – from fossils, genetics and archaeology – suggested that modern humans first dispersed from Africa into Eurasia about 60,000 years ago, quickly supplanting other early human species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, that they may have encountered along the way. However, a series of recent discoveries, including a trove of 100,000 year-old human teeth found in a cave in China, have clouded this straightforward narrative.

And the latest find, at the Misliya cave site in northern Israel, has added a new and unexpected twist. “What Misliya tells us is that modern humans left Africa not 100,000 years ago, but 200,000 years ago,” said Prof Israel Hershkovitz, who led the work at Tel Aviv University. “This is a revolution in the way we understand the evolution of our own species.” The find suggests that there were multiple waves of migration across Europe and Asia and could also mean that modern humans in the Middle East were mingling, and possibly mating, with other human species for tens of thousands of years. “Misliya breaks the mould of existing scenarios for the timing of the first known Homo sapiens in these regions,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s important in removing a long-lasting constraint on our thinking.”

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Plastic carrying disease.

A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, say scientists. More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region. This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025. Plastic raises by 20-fold the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs, according to research. Plastic bags, bottles and rice sacks were among the items found. “Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change,” said Dr Joleah Lamb of Cornell University in Ithaca, US. “It’s sad how many pieces of plastic there are in the coral reefs …if we can start targeting those big polluters of plastic, hopefully we can start reducing the amount that is going on to these reefs.”

More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural importance. It’s thought that plastic allows diseases that prey on the marine invertebrates that make-up coral reefs to flourish. Branching or finger-like forms of corals are most likely to get entangled in plastic debris. These are important habitats for fish and fisheries, the scientists say. “A lot of times we come across big rice sacks or draping plastic bags,” said Dr Lamb, who led the study. “What we do find is these corals with a lot of complexity like branches and finger-like corals will become eight times more likely to be entangled in these types of plastics.” In the study, published in the journal Science, international researchers surveyed more than 150 reefs from four countries in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014.

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Jan 252018
 
 January 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Grete Stern Sueño No. 27: No destiñe con el agua 1951

 

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)
A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)
Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)
Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)
IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)
Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)
Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)
Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)
Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)
How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)
Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)
We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)
Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)
Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)
Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)
Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

 

 

Winning bigly. Triumphant talk of the town in Davos. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein are on board. “They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.” How long will it last?

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)

President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong. A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed. Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office – unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.

The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.” “He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.” The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.

“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in Davos. “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC. [..] Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. [..] Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”

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When does Beijing start to talk about currency manipulation.

A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3% or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47% for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

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Calculation: others lose more than the US does short term.

Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)

Speaking one’s mind can be dangerous, especially for the U.S. Treasury secretary. Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was good for his country. Textbook theory certainly supports his view that a depreciating currency is good for exporters. But the remarks are a break with what his predecessors have publicly asserted since 1995. If the greenback became a trade weapon it would be to the detriment of foreign holders of U.S. debt. Treasury secretaries since Robert Rubin have repeated the mantra that a strong dollar is in U.S. interests. That meant something when Rubin articulated it in 1995 with the aim of shoring up a weak dollar. But it has been used ad nauseam since then, both when the U.S. authorities were intervening in the currency markets to buy their currency and when they were selling it.

What qualified as strong is up for grabs. Since 1995, an index of the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies has risen as high as 121 and then fallen more than 40% without the wording being questioned or amended. The maxim has served its purpose, though, by reassuring investors and other countries that the United States would not try to talk its currency down to win a trade advantage. Little wonder then that the dollar index, which has been on a losing streak since the year started, hit a three-year low after Mnuchin’s comments. He probably had no intention of weakening the dollar and there is no evidence that President Donald Trump’s administration is about to embark on such a policy. The remarks do, however, reveal how focused U.S. policymakers are on domestic interests. From there, actually egging on such moves is only a small step.

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There’s no way to keep the reserve currency down, and there’s no alternative either, but they’ll take what they can get today.

Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)

U.S. presidents and Treasury secretaries have a long tradition of declaring their allegiance to a strong dollar policy in public remarks, even if privately many welcomed a softer dollar to boost U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits. If the U.S. is publicly supporting a weak dollar while also imposing tariffs on foreign imports — as the Trump administration did this week — it could invite retaliation from other countries, potentially sparking both currency and trade wars, economists say. “It’s remarkable, really, this kind of bomb-throwing from Mnuchin on the dollar the same week they slap on tariffs,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to action this week by the Trump White House to impose tariffs on some imported solar panels and washing machines. “The problem with this is it just invites retaliation. This is not a friendly action.”

A weaker U.S. dollar, while potentially a boost for exports, makes many foreign consumer goods more expensive for Americans to buy. That could hit lower-income consumers the hardest, including less well-off voters in Trump’s political base. Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports could also hurt domestic manufacturers. The concept of a public strong-dollar policy dates back at least three administrations to when Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin served as Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. The general approach reflects the belief that a stronger dollar improves the value of U.S. Treasury bonds, equities and other dollar-denominated assets and gives Americans more purchasing power. It also generally reflects an improving U.S. economy.

“I have been consistent in saying, as my predecessors have said, that a strong dollar is good for the United States. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, the truth is our economy is performing quite well,” then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in January 2015, echoing the regular public refrain of U.S. officials. Mnuchin did nod to this tradition in his Davos comments after remarking on the benefits of a weaker dollar. “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

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She must appear impartial. But this of course is utter crap: “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets..”. There are no markets. There’s only central banks.

IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may wish to explain his comments in which he appeared to back a weak dollar, adding that U.S. tax cuts will probably cause the world’s reserve currency to rally. “I really hope that Secretary Mnuchin has a chance to clarify exactly what he said,” Lagarde said in Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene in Davos, Switzerland. “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of U.S. policy.” The dollar slid to the lowest since December 2014 on Thursday, a day after Mnuchin’s endorsement of a weaker greenback at the WEF. The euro also climbed to its strongest against the dollar since 2014. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos.

The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” Losses for the greenback have mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration a year ago, with the currency weakening against every Group-of-10 peer. Lagarde reiterated the IMF’s view, presented in its World Economic Outlook this week, that the U.S. tax reform is likely to lead to dollar’s strengthening in the medium term. For many market analysts, Mnuchin’s comments represent a stark break from previous U.S. administrations and could provoke pushback from other regions before too long. “This is a further break away from the ‘strong USD’ mantra launched in the mid-1990s by Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Rubin and adhered to by subsequent Treasury leaders,” wrote Credit Agricole CIB strategists led by Valentin Marinov in a note to clients. “Inevitably, the Administration’s vocal preference for a weak dollar is likely to raise the risk of global currency wars.”

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A carrot for the Democrats. They’ll take it.

Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)

Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would support a plan that offered a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, as part of a broader immigration package that the White House is expected to unveil next week. Trump made the comments to a group of reporters assembled for a briefing on the president’s immigration plan before he departs to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. According to the Associated Press, Trump said he would be open to allowing certain immigrants to become citizens after “10 or 12 years”. Trump told reporters he would allow the Dreamers to “morph into” citizens over a period of time.

“Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, of after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.” Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Senators deeply involved in the negotiations over immigration, called Trump’s statement “a major breakthrough”. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for Daca recipients,” he said. “This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.” Trump had previously rejected the idea of citizenship for the young immigrants as “amnesty”. According to the AP, a senior White House official immediately clarified the remarks, telling reporters that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was only a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House would preview to Congress on Monday.

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He’s not bluffing.

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)

Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he would be willing to speak to the special counsel office’s under oath, adding that he was “looking forward” to talking with Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. Speaking with reporters at the White House before he set out for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about a potential interview with Mueller. “I’m looking forward to it,” he answered. “I would love to do it.” He added that the interview could occur in “two or three weeks”. Trump’s statement would seem to end months of speculation about whether the special counsel would interview the president, though he also said he would testify under oath last year. The president’s attorneys have met with their counterparts in the special counsel’s office.

Mueller’s team is tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacks of Democratic party emails and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians. The special counsel’s office has charged Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort with money laundering and conspiracy, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his former foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice, and has questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in part to discuss the president’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Also on Wednesday, Trump rejected criticism of his attacks on the Russia inquiry. “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said. He added: “We’re going to find out” if he gets a fair shake from Robert Mueller. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Trump said. “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

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For what it’s worth.

Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)

Weiss Ratings, which claims to offer the first “ratings” on cryptocurrencies, has judged ethereum to be better than bitcoin. The securities ratings agency announced Wednesday that it gave ethereum a B rating because it “benefits from more readily upgradable technology and better speed, despite some bottlenecks.” Bitcoin received a “fair” C+ rating because the digital currency is “encountering major network bottlenecks, causing delays and high transactions costs,” according to a release. “Despite intense ongoing efforts that are achieving some initial success, Bitcoin has no immediate mechanism for promptly upgrading its software code.” None of the 74 cryptocurrencies the agency covers received an “excellent” A rating. B-rated ethereum and digital currency EOS have the highest ratings.

That tough take is apparently a trademark of the 47-year-old independent financial ratings agency. Reports from Barron’s and The New York Times from 2002 and 1992, respectively, note Weiss’ lack of A ratings in coverage of insurance stocks, mutual funds and other securities. The Florida-based company usually flies under the radar in comparison to better-known agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Weiss says it does not accept compensation from the companies it rates for issuing the rating. Foreign cryptocurrency investors were apparently very worried that Weiss would issue negative ratings on digital currencies. The agency said in a release Wednesday that “staff was up all night last night fending off denial of service attacks from Korea” and cited Korean social media posts calling others to bring down the ratings agency’s website. The hackers then broke into the website, took information from it and are distorting it on social media, the company said.

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No, Beppe is not ‘gaffe-prone’. He built a formidable force, and he’s the first to recognize he’s too old to take the next step. M5S was always going to be movement by and for the young. Because they’re not yet corrupt.

Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)

Beppe Grillo, the bombastic comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside in what some speculate could be a move to bolster the party’s chances before the general election on 4 March. Grillo, who has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party, roared on to the political scene in 2009 after joining forces with the late web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio to launch a blog that railed against political corruption. The blog struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

But the blog has now removed most references to the party. The 69-year-old has started a new blog, which he said will focus on technology and visions for the future as part of an “extraordinary liberating adventure”. He added that while he “likes to have points of view” he is “fed up with opinions”. Quite what that means has left commentators guessing, but Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy. As he toured comedy clubs, the gaffe-prone Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership. Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”. “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said. The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”

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“..we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.”

How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)

What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work. After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try. As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been “suspended” until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.

There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree. Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement. John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations. The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.

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It’s time for Putin to tell Erdogan to back off.

Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation. Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict. “He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria. However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call. “President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

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Get him out of there, to a safe place. Get him treatment. A society that persecutes its smartest and bravest cannot succeed.

We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has not stepped outside the heavily surveilled confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he entered the building almost six years ago. Naturally, much of the media attention has focused on his international legal drama and threats to his safety, including arrest and possible extradition to the US. In contrast, ongoing violations of his human rights, including his fundamental right to healthcare in the context of his unusual confinement, have received less coverage. As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange.

While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare. Packing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and after being conspicuously photographed entering the embassy, we performed our examinations in a poorly ventilated conference room. The reason for examining Mr Assange in these conditions is that he has no access to proper medical facilities. Although it is possible for clinicians to visit him in the embassy, most doctors are reluctant to do so. Even for those who will see him, their capacity to provide care is limited. At the embassy, there are none of the diagnostic tests, treatments and procedures that we have concluded he needs urgently.

As clinicians, it is our ethical duty to advocate for the health and human rights of all people as promised under international law, and to call on our colleagues to hold our professional societies, institutions and governments accountable. In 2012, Ecuador, in accordance with its right as a sovereign state, formally determined that Mr Assange meets the requirements enshrined by the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. Regardless of the allegations against Mr Assange, he remains a citizen of Australia and a refugee, and, as the Guardian reported last week, he is now also a citizen of Ecuador.

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Trump should support Assange vs their common enemy.

Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)

At this juncture, it bears reminding that Jeff Bezos, the current owner of the Washington Post, has a $600 million contract with the CIA in relation to his monolithic company Amazon. The Nation wrote in 2013: “Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs. Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.” The Nation’s coverage of the CIA’s contract with Amazon has since been removed from their web page for unknown reasons, but is available through archive services.

When discussing The Washington Post’s exercise in gaslighting, it is important to keep the outlet’s well-documented financial connection with the CIA through Bezos in mind. In so doing, it is also pertinent to note that the CIA has made its hatred for Assange very clear, especially over the course of the last year. CIA Director Mike Pompeo put the agency’s hatred for Wikileaks were on full display as recently as yesterday, when the CIA Director lambasted the journalistic organization as a threat on par with Al Qaeda. Pompeo said of Al Qaeda and Wikileaks: “They don’t have a flag at the UN, but they represent real threats to the United States of America.” That a group who publishes information that is inconvenient for the CIA would be likened to a terrorist network speaks to the threat which Wikileaks represents not to the safety of the American public, but to the plutocratic class and the American deep state.

Pompeo is well known for his previous reference to Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The Hill wrote of the incident: “In his first major public appearance since taking the top intelligence post in the Trump administration, Pompeo took aim at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden…” The Hill also cited Pompeo’s characterization of Assange as a: “fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.” Pompeo’s vitriolic characterization of Wikileaks is helpful, because it demonstrates that the CIA’s response to Wikileaks is on par with the force with which terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are pursued. In that light, the magnitude of the threat faced by Assange and Wikileaks associates cannot be over-estimated. Pompeo’s words are not only absurd in light of Wikileaks being an extremely accurate journalistic organization, but also depict the real impetus behind Assange having been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years.

The CIA Director’s statements, even taken at face value, completely undercut the manipulative coverage of Wikileaks and Assange by outlets like the Washington Post. That providing evidence of corruption is considered an existential threat by the establishment is indicative of the value of Wikileaks to the public. The publisher is only a threat to those whose lies are exposed by their publications. The same plutocracy that has aggressively targeted Assange and Wikileaks has progressively strangled free press and freedom of thought in the United States and the world for decades.

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The zenith of EU cruelty: starve a gutted economy of investment. It’s how you guarantee it can’t ever recover.

Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)

Greece ended 2017 with a revenue shortfall of 719 million euros that was covered by the failure to implement budgeted investments of 1.57 billion euros, leading to a primary surplus of 1.94 billion euros. At the same time Greek taxpayers piled up more arrears to the state, with December witnessing an increase in the creation of new debts. The definitive data of the budget’s execution last year, issued on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry, showed that the primary surplus was far above the target, exceeding it by some 877 million euros. Public Investments Program spending was 800 million euros below target, depriving the economy of much-needed cash just as it is trying to recover.

The shortfall was particularly evident on the program’s EU co-funded side, which missed the target by 1.127 billion euros, while the national part of the program showed a 327-million-euro increase in investment. It is therefore no surprise that the economy is now seen to have grown by an even smaller rate than the revised estimate included in the 2018 budget. The 1.941-billion-euro primary surplus, if confirmed by Eurostat in April, will be added to the so-called cash buffer to be created ahead of the conclusion of the bailout program. The non-execution of public investments co-funded by the EU also had an impact on budget revenues, as inflows from Brussels were 1.213 billion euros short of the target.

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Those that have jobs, that is.

Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)

Greeks work the longest hours in Europe, while Germans clock the least hours, new data by the OECD reveal. The OECD includes 35 developed countries and some developing nations. The data were presented during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mexicans are shown to be the hardest workers in the world, as the average Mexican spends 2,255 hours working per year, the equivalent of around 43 hours per week. In Europe, Greeks work the longest hours, averaging 2,035 hours per year. Germans, on the other hand, work the least in Europe and the world, averaging only 1,363 hours per year. The differences between countries has to do with differences in work cultures, the OECD says.

For instance, Mexicans work the most hours because they have a fear of unemployment, while lax labor rules allow employers to break a 48-hour-week law. However, although South Koreans come third in hours worked per year, employees there aim to boost economic growth. The Japanese, who are stereotyped as working very long hours, in fact put in only 1,713 hours per year, below the OECD average. An important factor regarding hours of work is the level of productivity. According to the study, Germans work the least hours but manage to maintain high productivity levels. The average German worker is reported to be 27% more productive than their British counterparts who work 1,676 hours per year. The Dutch, French and Danes also work fewer than 1,500 hours per year on average, while Americans average 1,783 work hours per year.

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The easiest problem to solve, isn’t. So what hope is there then? If you must have plastic, and you rarely do really, make it compostable, edible. By next year, not 20-30 years from now.

Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

Plastic packaging waste is a huge problem around the world. Despite efforts in some European countries such as plastic bottle deposit schemes or having to pay for plastic bags in the supermarket, Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that the average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste per year. Eurostat figures show that the UK lies above this average, with its citizens responsible for 35kg of waste. The worst country by a long way though is Ireland. 61kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person, 9kg more than the second most prolific country, Luxembourg. The least is created in Bulgaria where a more acceptable 14kg is disposed of over the year.

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Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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William Claxton John Coltrane at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 1960

 

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)
The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)
Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)
IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)
IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)
Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)
UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)
Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)
Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)
Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

 

 

Make your own solar panels. What’s wrong with that?

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, in his first major move to level a global playing field he says is tilted against American companies. The U.S. will impose new duties of as much as 30 percent on foreign-made solar equipment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday. The president also approved tariffs starting as high as 50 percent on imported washing machines. Chinese and South Korean officials condemned the move, analysts said it could backfire, while markets largely shrugged it off. The tariffs were announced as Trump prepares to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the international business and political elite gather to mull the current state of the global order.

While the measures may sharpen the president’s “America First” policy after months of rhetoric and herald a hotter trade conflict with China, in Asia manufacturers and investors said the reality wasn’t as bad as they had feared. Investors “are used to bluff from Trump, which often turns out to be a non-event,” said Qiu Zhicheng at ICBC International Research in Hong Kong. “As long as the situation doesn’t escalate into a full-scale trade war, the market impact will be limited. We believe the two economies will stay rational, as a trade war would hurt both.” LG Electronics, a maker of domestic appliances, and South Korean solar panel makers fell initially in Seoul trading on the news before recovering. Samsung said the tariff on washing machines is a “great loss” for U.S. workers and consumers.

South Korea’s trade minister said Tuesday that his nation will file a petition with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping duties on Korean washing machine and solar panel makers. The U.S. decision is “excessive,” Kim Hyun-chong said. China exported more than 21 million washing machines worth just under 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) globally from January through November 2017, according to customs data. China is also the world’s largest exporter of solar panels.

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David knows his shutdowns.

The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)

Nowadays, government “shutdowns” are obviously not all that, and we do claim some expertise on the topic. Since 1975 there have been 14 shutdowns and we have had the privilege of being on-hand up close and personnel during 11 of these. Five shutdowns occurred while your editor was a member of the US House (1977-1981) and another six during his stint as director of OMB. The idea back then, needless to say, was that shutdowns came about mainly when anti-spenders refused to capitulate to the incessant demands of the swamp creatures for more appropriations, pork and graft.

[..] What is really happening, of course, is that the Trumpite/GOP is proving in spades that America is now saddled with two pro-government parties. This means a good shutdown is going to waste and that there is no stopping the fiscal doomsday machine that is now racing toward a national calamity, unimpeded. After all, the reason Washington is operating on its 3rd CR of the fiscal year and struggled a whole weekend to get a fourth one lasting a mere 16 days, lies in the utter irresponsibility of the Trump GOP approach to fiscal policy.

These clowns want to spend $120 billion on disaster relief without a single dime of off-setting cuts; raise defense by $80 billion when the Pentagon is already a $620 billion swamp of waste; appropriate $33 billion for an utterly idiotic Wall on the Mexican border when the problem could be solved by cancelling the $32 billion per year “War on Drugs” and putting up guest worker sign-up booths along the border; and authorizing tens of billions on top of that to pay for the backroom “deals” that were made in order to get the votes for a massive tax bill that not a single Senators or House member had read before it was ram-rodded into law by desperate GOP leaders on Christmas Eve.

So this shutdown is indeed different. Unlike the case back in the day, there is no fiscal red line whatsoever at issue; only a prospective eruption of more red ink and an interim game of political chicken about 700,000 Dreamers, who at the end of the day will not be deported and who will eventually get a path to citizenship. That’s because they, and millions of more immigrants to come, comprise the only available “growth” margin for the US work force in the decades ahead; and therefore constitute the next generation of Tax Mules which will be absolutely necessary to support today’s 50 million retirees. That is, as their population inexorably swells toward 100 million during the next four decades.

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Pressure on the FBI is set to increase tenfold.

Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)

On Sunday, the FBI revealed that it had lost five months of text messages between Trump antagonists Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The agency offered a lame explanation that “software upgrades” and “misconfiguration issues” interfered with the app that is supposed to automatically save and archive communications between officials on FBI phones. This was the couple who chattered about an FBI-generated “insurance policy” for the outcome of the 2016 election with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When will these three be invited to testify before a house or senate committee to inform the nation exactly what the “insurance policy” was?

The bad odor at the FBI seeps into several other areas of misbehavior involving Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. Did the Obama White House use the Christopher Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton Campaign, to obtain FISA warrants against her opponent in the election for the purpose of conducting electronic surveillance on him? Was the FBI abetting a Democratic Party coup to get rid of Trump by any means necessary once he got into office?

Did the FBI conduct a stupendously half-assed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by dismissing the charges before interviewing any of the principal characters involved, granting blanket immunities to Obama White House officials, and failing to secure computers that contained evidence? Does the FBI actually know what then Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed with Bill Clinton in the parked airplane on the Phoenix tarmac? Did the FBI fail to investigate enormous contributions (roughly $150 million) to the Clinton Foundation after the Uranium One deal was signed? Did they look into any of the improprieties surrounding the DNC’s effort to nullify Bernie Sander’s primary campaign?

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Growth is God.

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)

The IMF on Monday revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners. However, the IMF, in an update of its World Economic Outlook, also added that U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.\ The tax cuts would likely widen the U.S. current account deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar and affect international investment flows, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said. “Political leaders and policymakers must stay mindful that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long,” Obstfeld told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said economic gains from the tax cuts would be partially paid back later in the form of lower growth as temporary spending incentives, notably for investment, expired and as rising federal debt took a toll. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde pointed to a “troubling” increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency, saying now was the time to address structural deficiencies in their economies. Obstfeld said a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

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IMF wants their cake and eat it. They warn against the failure of their own policy recommendations.

IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)

The global economy is growing faster than expected, fuelling CEO optimism as they arrive this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. But the IMFhas warned that the next crisis will hit sooner and harder that we thought. “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, issuing a warning by quoting British poet William Blake to describe the state of mind of businessmen and politicians in the world. The global economy continues to beat previous forecasts. The Fund revised upward by 0.2% the growth expected for this year and next. In Europe, the IMF increased further its outlook by 0.3% in 2018 (2.2%) and in 2019 (2%). But “complacency is one of the risks we should go against”, Lagarde told reporters in Davos hours before the official opening of the WEF.

The economy is growing but not because countries have lifted their growth potential via investment in human capital or technology. Instead, reforms have been elusive and growth has benefited just the few that are on top of the pile. “We are not satisfied,” Lagarde insisted, because “too many people have been left out of the acceleration of growth”. Against the backdrop of fragile growth and outstanding challenges, including a high level of debt, the Fund’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, stressed that “the next recession will come sooner and will be harder to fight”. He warned political leaders that the economic momentum is due to factors that are “unlikely to last for long”, including the monetary stimulus and supportive fiscal stance. For that reason, he urged countries to adopt measures aimed at improving the resilience of their societies in the fast-changing digital revolution and to improve the inclusiveness of their societies.

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Another huge surge in debt. Insane. But the only way to keep the zombie from dying.

Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)

Is anyone paying attention? I don’t know, but the cost of carrying debt has been rising and it’s already showing measurable impacts despite the Fed Funds rate still being very low. My concern of course is that the global debt construct will bring global growth to a screeching halt (see also The Debt Beneath). As the 10 year is already piercing above the 2.6% area now I want to pay attention to the data coming in as the Fed is dot plotting more rate hikes to come. After all the Fed has hiked 5 times off the bottom floor in the past 2 years:

Can we see any measurable impact? You bet we can. Here are personal interest payments for consumers:

Mind you we are still near the lows of the previous cycle and already total interest payments are near record highs. The driver of course is record consumer debt and credit card debt. But despite rates still being historically low this rise in interest rates has an impact on the consumer. Already we see this: “The big four US retail banks sustained a near 20 per cent jump in losses from credit cards in 2017, raising doubts about the ability of consumers to fuel economic expansion. “People are using their cards to get from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Charles Peabody, managing director at the Washington-based investment group Compass Point. “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” Recently disclosed results showed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo took a combined $12.5bn hit from soured card loans last year, about $2bn more than a year ago.”

I repeat: “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” [..] “Economists with Deutsche Bank expect the extra debt the Treasury must issue to fund President Donald Trump’s tax package and the amount of debt the Federal Reserve plans to redeem at maturity this year will bloat issuance to about $1tn in 2018. That’s up more than 50 per cent from a year earlier and, when coupled with a 30 per cent rise in the amount of corporate debt that’s due to mature, leaves questions of who the eventual buyer will be.“ A good question indeed. That’s a lot of debt issuance:

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2018 will be the year of the Brexit reversal.

UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Business leaders are privately pushing for a new campaign to reverse Brexit as concerns mount about the viability of government plans to prevent a collapse in exports to Europe. On Monday, the CBI launched its most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy by calling for full customs union with the EU and single market participation, even if it means abandoning the pursuit of separate trade deals with the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, senior figures on the CBI policy council are urging the lobby group to toughen its message still further and spell out their belief that this logic should ultimately lead to a national rethink of the decision to leave the EU, perhaps through a second referendum or an election.

While this is not the CBI’s official position, the group says it has decided to speak out about the problems of the government’s approach to Brexit after “thousands of conversations” and workshops with its members over the past two to three months. “It’s not for us to say [whether to reverse Brexit], we are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union,” said a spokesman. “If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision, we are just being very practical about it.”

Government ministers reacted furiously to previews of the CBI’s evolving position over the weekend, which now directly challenges the British strategy of leaving the customs union so that new trade deals can be pursued outside a common tariff area. The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, told an audience at Warwick University on Monday: “There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU; a day when investing in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived.”

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The former government, to be exact.

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10bn (£7.2bn) today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8bn. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government.

As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: • all lost business opportunities since 2012 • his legal costs • loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting • his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion • loss of reputation. “I cannot be expected to accept all the losses to myself and my family as a result of the action of the New Zealand government,” he told the BBC. “This should never have happened and they should have known better. And because they made a malicious mistake, there is now a damages case to be answered.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me.”

Mr Dotcom’s key argument over his extradition is the warrants used for the raid on his mansion and arrest in January 2012 were based on Section 131 of the 1994 Copyright Act of New Zealand. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom. “92B of Section 131 – an amendment created by parliament in 2012 – prohibits any criminal sanction against an internet service provider in New Zealand. “In order for the US to be successful with an extradition, the allegation of the crimes that they are charging someone with also have to be a crime in the country from which they request the extradition.”

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We must find ways to protect Assange et al.

Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)

Former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa has warned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s days are numbered at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Correa, who gave Assange asylum back in 2012, said that he’s “afraid for Julian Assange’s safety” due to the new government´s actions with regards to his case. He said that he believes President Lenin Moreno is likely “take away the support” previously afforded to the anti-secrecy activist. “It will only take pressure from the United States to” withdraw protection for Assange and “surely it’s already being done, and maybe they await the results of the Feb. 4 (referendum) to make a decision,” said Correa, in an article published by AFP.

When asked does he have evidence to support his claim, Correa said it’s clear that Moreno “has no convictions, it’s clear that he has yielded to the usual powerbrokers” and will “soon enough yield regarding the question of Assange.” The 54-year old economist added that the ambassador for the United States was shamelessly interfering in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something “hadn’t occurred during ten years” of his government. Earlier this week Correa officially left the ruling PAIS Alliance, the leftist political movement he founded in 2006 and which he first rose to political prominence. Having referred to Moreno as a “traitor,” someone who has called for an “unconstitutional” referendum that could spell an end to “democracy,” Correa went on to say that “they can rob us of Alianza Pais, but never our will and convictions. Despite the pain, this only strengthens us.”

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In the future, Manus will be compared to Birkenau.

Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)

Dozens of refugees held for years in Australia’s remote Pacific detention camps departed for resettlement in the United States on Tuesday, asylum-seeker advocates said. The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said 40 men flew out from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby under a deal struck by Australia with former US president Barack Obama but bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump. “It was a bitter-sweet moment for the refugees — who on the one hand, are happy to be gaining the freedom that Australia denied them more than four years ago; but on the other, they remain extremely concerned for those that are being left behind,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The refugees, from camps on Manus Island, flew to Manila from where they will fly on to the US in different groups in the coming weeks before being resettled across the country, it said. The group released photos showing the refugees lining up before dawn to get on buses for the airport, then waiting at the gate to board their flight to Manila. Another 18 men were due to leave Port Moresby in the coming weeks, it said. [..] Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru under a tough policy designed to choke off the flow of refugees to the country. More than 1,000 still remain in limbo in the remote locations.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But until now only about 50 refugees have been sent to the US, under an agreement President Trump attacked after taking office as a “dumb deal”. The Refugee Action Coalition said a further 130 people on Nauru have been accepted by the US and are expected to depart next month.

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Merkel can’t take that she’s yesterday’s news.

Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection.

Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach. Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed. In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.”

In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low. The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

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Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Joan Miró Personnages Rythmiques 1934

 

Richest 1% Took 82% Of New Global Wealth Last Year (Ind.)
42 People Hold Same Wealth As 3.7 Billion Poorest (G.)
Three Charts To Consider Ahead Of Monday’s Post-Government-Shutdown Open (ZH)
Republicans Float Minor Immigration Deal In Bid To End Deadlock (G.)
20 Senators Support Bipartisan Plan To Reopen Government (ZH)
US Shutdown Exposes ‘Chaotic Political System’ – China News Agency (R.)
FBI “Loses” Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump Agents (AP)
Fed Scared to Death of Causing Global Financial Crash – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Macron Admits France Would Vote To Leave EU If Referendum Held (ZH)
Apple Leak Reveals Sudden iPhone X Cancellation (F.)
Assange a ‘Problem’, ‘More Than a Nuisance’ – Ecuador President (Sp.)
Opioids: The Big Money Is In Chronic Pain, Which Is Endless (NDN)

 

 

Either we stop this, or it’s pitchforks and guillotines.

Richest 1% Took 82% Of New Global Wealth Last Year (Ind.)

Growing inequality resulted in 82% of new global wealth going to the richest 1% last year, while the poorest half of the world saw their prosperity flatline, a report by Oxfam has shown. It means that of the $9.2tn increase in global wealth between July 2016 and June 2017, around $7.6tn (£6tn) went to 75 million people, while the bottom 3.7 billion saw no increase. It helped spark the sharpest increase in the number of billionaires ever recorded, to 2,043, with one created every two days, according to Oxfam’s report, published ahead of the annual World Economic Forum of global political and business leaders in Swiss ski resort Davos. The wealth of those billionaires increased by $762bn over 12 months, it added.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the statistics signal that “something is very wrong with the global economy”. “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.” He said a living wage, “decent conditions” and equality for women were essential if work was to be a “genuine route out of poverty”. “If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay,” Mr Goldring added, as he pushed for a crackdown on tax avoidance and a revamp of business models that prioritise social benefit over shareholder returns.

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After everything western workers fought hard and often bloody fights for, how did we end up back in the Middle Ages again?

42 People Hold Same Wealth As 3.7 Billion Poorest (G.)

The development charity Oxfam has called for action to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor as it launched a new report showing that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. In a report published on Monday to coincide with the gathering of some of the world’s richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.” Booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by $6bn in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam said it had made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s report, Oxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half the world’s population. The charity added that the wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (£550bn) in 2017 enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It said nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

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What happens when price discovery is murdered.

Three Charts To Consider Ahead Of Monday’s Post-Government-Shutdown Open (ZH)

VALUE: The S&P 500 is trading at a Price-to-Sales ratio of 2.35x… a new record high for valuation…

GREED: The S&P 500 is up 8 of the last 9 weeks, 16 of the last 19 weeks, and 15 of the last 15 months (and 22 of the last 23 months – since The Shanghai Accord). This has pushed The S&P 500 to an RSI of 88.4… a new record high for overbought…

FEAR: The S&P 500 has averaged about four 5% declines – from peak to trough – annually since 1927, but volatility in US stocks has evaporated in recent years. Amid a reportedly robust global economy and still supportive global monetary policy, Friday’s 0.4% gain meant that the S&P 500 extended its streak to 395 days without a 5% reversal… a new a new record for tranquillity…

As The FT notes, the last time the S&P 500 suffered a 5% setback was in the global market carnage that followed the UK’s shock vote in June 2016 to leave the EU, which constitutes the last significant, if brief, bout of volatility in markets. The last time the US stock market suffered an actual correction – typically defined as a drop of over 10% from the recent peak — was in early 2016, when investors’ anxiety grew over the state of China’s economy. Some investors and analysts fear that the tranquillity is encouraging investors to stop buying protection against declines, or to making aggressive “short” bets on volatility staying low through complicated derivatives – which could exacerbate any turbulence that might erupt.

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Who’s going to blink first?

Republicans Float Minor Immigration Deal In Bid To End Deadlock (G.)

The US government shutdown edged closer to a resolution on Sunday night after a minor concession from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said he would allow a vote on immigration reform in February if Democrats agree to fund the government. However, one Democratic source cautioned that no deal had been reached. McConnell’s proposal represented the fruit of a bipartisan effort among moderates in both parties to resolve the shutdown, which began at midnight on Saturday. The shutdown was spurred by the inability of Congress to reach a deal to resolve the status of “Dreamers” – undocumented migrants brought into the United States as children. They had been protected from deportation until September 2017 when the Trump administration ended the Daca program, which had been created by Barack Obama.

Trump allowed a six-month grace period for Congress to give Dreamers permanent legal status through legislation. However, with that expiring in early March, Democrats, facing heavy pressure from immigration advocates, had pledged not to fund the government until a deal was reached. McConnell’s proposal would allow the Senate to debate and vote on an immigration deal if a broader bipartisan compromise was not reached in the next three weeks. Speaking on the floor, the top Senate Republican said he would push for a Monday vote on a short-term deal to fund the government through 8 February, as well as extend a popular health insurance program called Chip that provides healthcare coverage to nine million children for six years.

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Let’s keep it shut till summer, see what happens.

20 Senators Support Bipartisan Plan To Reopen Government (ZH)

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a procedural vote on a senate measure that would keep the federal government running through Feb. 8 to begin at 1 am Monday, a bipartisan group of senators signaled that they’re nearing an agreement to reopen the government following a Sunday afternoon meeting, the Hill reported. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson said the group had reached a “consensus of understanding” – essentially agreeing to the broad strokes of a plan to satisfy recalcitrant Democrats and Republicans, per the Hill. As they left the meeting in Maine senator Susan Collins’s office, some members expressed optimism that they will reach an understanding, if not a final agreement, that would let them move forward. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham predicted that the group could cobble together a deal before the 1 am vote.

“Yeah because if it doesn’t happen tonight it’s going to be a lot harder,” he said, alluding to the fact that most federal agencies have elected to wait until Monday before implementing the terms of the shutdown (here’s a quick guide to what departments and services will be impacted by the shutdown)… As the BBC pointed out, the closure of many federal services will be felt around the country and hundreds of thousands of federal staff face unpaid leave. According to Politico, the senators took their proposal to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after the 90-minute meeting. The plan would reopen the government through Feb. 8 and have McConnell commit on the Senate floor to holding an immigration vote before that date.

[..] this is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party in this case, the Republicans – controls both Congress and the White House And according to the Associated Press, the 2013 shutdown left 800,000 government workers on temporary leave. The bipartisan group isn’t crafting separate legislation. Instead, senators say the bulk of their talks were about how to get 60 votes for the bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, paired with a commitment that will satisfy Democrats on bringing up an immigration bill. Since before the shutdown even began at 12:01 am ET on Saturday morning, Republicans and Democrats have traded accusations of blame. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he would bring such a bill up for a vote in the House if it passes the Senate.

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Easy pickings.

US Shutdown Exposes ‘Chaotic Political System’ – China News Agency (R.)

The shutdown of the US government exposes “chronic flaws” in the country’s political system, China’s official news agency said on Sunday. Funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight on Friday in Washington after members of Congress failed to agree on a stopgap funding bill. “What’s so ironic is that it came on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency on Saturday, a slap in the face for the leadership in Washington,” the Xinhua news agency’s Liu Chang said in a commentary piece. The article said that the Trump administration had “backtracked” on policies supported by his predecessor, Barack Obama, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and US participation in the Paris climate agreement.

“If there was any legacy that has survived the transfer of power, it was the spirit of non-cooperation across party lines,” the commentary said. While Xinhua commentaries are not official statements, they offer a reflection of Beijing’s thinking. “The western democratic system is hailed by the developed world as near perfect and the most superior political system to run a country,” it said. “However, what’s happening in the United States today will make more people worldwide reflect on the viability and legitimacy of such a chaotic political system.”

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First the NSA a few days ago, now the FBI. Both should be under investigation, but who’s going to do the investigating?

Look, you and I have back-ups of our files. So do NSA and FBI. The only way to lose the info is to deliberately delete it, multiple times.

US intelligence is flipping the country the bird’s middle finger.

FBI “Loses” Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump Agents (AP)

The Justice Department has turned over to Congress additional text messages involving an FBI agent who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team following the discovery of derogatory comments about President Donald Trump. But the department also said in a letter to lawmakers that its record of messages sent to and from the agent, Peter Strzok, was incomplete because the FBI, for technical reasons, had been unable to preserve and retrieve about five months’ worth of communications. New text messages highlighted in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are from the spring and summer of 2016 and involve discussion of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

They reference Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to accept the FBI’s conclusion in that case and a draft statement that former FBI Director James Comey had prepared in anticipation of closing out the Clinton investigation without criminal charges. Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who also worked the Clinton email case, was reassigned last summer from the team investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign after Mueller learned he had exchanged politically charged text messages — many anti-Trump in nature — with an FBI lawyer also detailed to the group. The lawyer, Lisa Page, left Mueller’s team before the text messages were discovered.

The Justice Department last month produced for reporters and Congress hundreds of text messages that the two had traded before becoming part of the Mueller investigation. Many focused on their observations of the 2016 election and included discussions in often colorful language of their personal feelings about Trump, Clinton and other public figures. Some Republican lawmakers have contended the communication reveals the FBI and the Mueller team to be politically tainted and biased against Trump — assertions Wray has flatly rejected. In addition to the communications already made public, the Justice Department on Friday provided Johnson’s committee with 384 pages of text messages, according to a letter from the Wisconsin lawmaker that was obtained by The Associated Press.

But, according to the letter, the FBI told the department that its system for retaining text messages sent and received on bureau phones had failed to preserve communications between Strzok and Page over a five-month period between Dec. 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017. May 17 was the date that Mueller was appointed as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The explanation for the gap was “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities.”

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Are they really? You don’t think they may have seen this coming, and prepared for it?

Fed Scared to Death of Causing Global Financial Crash – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Two time, best-selling author Nomi Prins says central bankers have no idea how to stop the easy money policies that they started after the financial meltdown of 2008. Prins explains, “So, when the Fed says they are going to remove assets from their $4.5 trillion book by not reinvesting the interest payment . . . the reality is they haven’t really done that. They have reduced their book by about $10 billion off of $4.5 trillion since they mentioned they were going to start ‘tapering.” The media discusses this as a major tightening move. Somehow all of our economies have finally worked because of central bank activity. Growth is real. It’s all positive. The markets are evidence of that because of the levels they are at; and, therefore, these central banks, starting with the Fed, are going to reverse course of these last 10 years.

The reality is if you look at the actual activity of the central banks, beyond the Fed raising rates by a little bit, there hasn’t been and there isn’t being a reversal of course because they are scared to death that too much of a reversal is going to cause a major crash throughout the financial system. Everything is connected. All the banks are connected. Money flows around the world in less than nanoseconds, and all of it has the propensity to collapse if that carpet the central banks have created is dragged from beneath the floor of all this activity.”Prins, who just finished traveling the globe to research her upcoming book, thinks there is one big thing that can take the entire system down. Prins contends, “There hasn’t been any real growth in the real economy. That is an indication of the misfire of this entire plan.

There has been tremendous growth in stock markets and bond markets. If you look at localities or states or governments whose debt to GDP levels are well over 100%, in Japan it’s over 200%, in the United States it over 100%, and this is the same throughout the world. These are levels that they have never been, and they are all at their historic highs. That’s why debt will ultimately be the destructor of the system. In order for that to happen, the cheapness of money that allow states, municipalities and corporations to continue to borrow at these cheap levels has to go away. . . At some point, there will be a mistake. There might be a tiny smidge of an interest rate hike at some central bank, probably the Fed, which ripples throughout the system as a mistake, not because real growth has happened, and that’s why interest rates have been raised. That will incur defaults throughout the system.

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Macron defines European democracy. Straight faced.

Macron Admits France Would Vote To Leave EU If Referendum Held (ZH)

When Marine Le Pen lost last year’s French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron in what appeared to be a landslide, the establishment breathed a sigh of relief because not only was the notorious Eurosceptic populist defeated, but also the wind appeared to be turning, and after a tumultuous 2016, 2017 started off with a bang for the unelected Eurocrats in Brussels. After all, the people had spoken and they wanted more Europe (and Euro), not less. Or maybe not. The French president sent shockwaves across Europe after he conceded that French voters would quit the EU if France held an in/out referendum on continued membership in the Brussels-led bloc. Not surprisingly no other EU country has risked putting membership of the bloc to a public vote since Britain shocked member-states by voting to leave the bloc in 2016, despite polls which showed virtually no possibility of such an outcome.

In an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr, Emmanuel Macron admitted that he would lose a French referendum on EU membership. Asked about the Brexit vote, the candid president told Marr: “I am not the one to judge or comment on the decision of your people.” But, he added “my interpretation is that a lot of the losers of globalisation suddenly decided it was no more for them.” Marr then pushed the French president, regarded by many as the EU’s new leader, on whether Britain’s decision was a one-off. Quoted by Express, the BBC journalist asked: “If France had had the same referendum, it might have had the same result?” Macron responded: “Yes, probably, probably. Yes. In a similar context. But we have a very different context in France” although he said he would not make it easy: “I wouldn’t take any bet though – I would have fought very hard to win.

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Got to admire the efforts to turn this into a positive story.

Apple Leak Reveals Sudden iPhone X Cancellation (F.)

It may be the smartphone of the moment, but a new leak reveals Apple AAPL -0.45% will soon cancel the iPhone X. And the source could not be more credible… In a new report obtained by AppleInsider, acclaimed KGI Securities’ analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says disappointing sales of the iPhone X will lead to the cancellation of the model “with production ceasing in the summer”. This would be the first time Apple has cancelled an iPhone model after just one generation since the iPhone 5C in 2014. Kuo, who has a long track record successfully revealing Apple’s plans, said disinterest in China is the main reason. In China big screens are king and the iPhone X’s polarising ‘notch’ is seen by Chinese consumers as removing too much usable space. Especially when the cheaper iPhone 8 Plus actually delivers slightly more.

The news also follows a new survey from Cowan which claims interest in new iPhones has hit an historic low. That said it is not all doom and gloom. While the iPhone X will not bring Apple the much anticipated sales ‘Super Cycle’, Kuo states Apple will see modest 5% growth in the first half of 2018. This comes from Apple having three premium models (iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X) on sale for the first time. Furthermore Kuo believes Apple will enjoy a better end to 2018 with 10% growth as the outgoing iPhone X will be replaced by a total of three new iPhone X-inspired designs: a second generation 5.8-inch iPhone X, 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus and a “$650-750” 6.1-inch iPhone SE replacement which will be fitted with Face ID. Apple hopes it will be the latter two which once again excite the Chinese market.

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Ecuador requires countries to stand with it.

Assange a ‘Problem’, ‘More Than a Nuisance’ – Ecuador President (Sp.)

In an interview the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, stated that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is an “inherited problem” that has created “more than a nuisance” for his government. “We hope to have a positive result in the short term,” Lenin Moreno said in an interview with television networks. Ecuador wanted to resolve the Assange issue, so the Australian whistleblower was “granted Ecuadorian citizenship and a diplomatic rank so that he could leave the territory of the embassy” in London, Moreno said. “The problem persists,” the Ecuadorian president said, pointing out that the country’s Foreign Ministry intends to solve it “using the mediation of important people.” The head of state assured that their names will soon be made public.

The Ecuadorian government wants to see a “positive result” with Assange in a short time, Moreno added. Earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador officially confirmed that the authorities granted citizenship to Julian Assange. According to El Universo, the number of his passport is listed in the relevant databases. This is confirmed on the website of the Internal Revenue Service, where the specified number corresponds to a person named Julian Paul Assange. According to the publication, citizenship was granted to him on December 21. Ecuador’s foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said that she fears that third party states may threaten Julian Assange’s life. She added that Assange won’t leave Ecuador’s Embassy in UK because there are no security guaranties.

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“The big money was not in acute pain, which goes away, or cancer pain, where patients die quickly..”

Opioids: The Big Money Is In Chronic Pain, Which Is Endless (NDN)

Opioids affect us in complex and mysterious ways . They don’t stop sensation, like local anesthetics. Instead, these drugs work by activating natural opioid receptors in our brains. They change our experience of pain. They replace pain, in part, with pleasure. Pain thresholds are built into us for powerful evolutionary reasons. Opioids make us feel good in the short term, but they also distort essential mechanisms necessary for survival in a Darwinian world. Tolerance is the body’s natural attempt to restore those mechanisms. We become less sensitive to opioids, and need higher doses for the same effect. Tolerance is the first step toward physical addiction; the two are linked. As tolerance rises, the risk of overdose and death follows closely behind. The time it takes for this process to occur is the key to understanding the opioid epidemic. A week or two of opioids may cause euphoria and pleasure, but it will rarely create physical addiction. Given a few months, however, anyone can be made into an opioid addict.

[..] In 1996 a single company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, introduced a patented new opioid compound into the market with FDA approval. They called it OxyContin, and marketed it as a new drug. OxyContin wasn’t a new drug. It was simply a new pill designed to release an old drug — oxycodone — more slowly. Oxycodone was first synthesized in 1916, and is closely related to heroin. Since it releases oxycodone more slowly, OxyContin doesn’t have to be taken as often to relieve pain. That slower release also allowed Purdue to put higher doses of oxycodone into each pill. Purdue Pharma used this distinction as a pretext for claims that OxyContin was safer and less addictive than other opioids and therefore should be widely prescribed for pain of all kinds.

The FDA enabled this assertion, and the FDA examiner who approved OxyContin’s initial application took a job with Purdue shortly thereafter. Once the FDA approved the drug, Purdue unleashed a fraudulent marketing campaign designed to generate as many new OxyContin consumers as possible. A critical element of their strategy was to expand the traditional indications for opioid prescriptions beyond acute pain into the far more controversial category of chronic pain. Chronic pain is so broadly defined that tens of millions of patients became potential customers. This was hugely consequential. When drugs are approved by the FDA, health insurance pays for them. The big money was not in acute pain, which goes away, or cancer pain, where patients die quickly, but in chronic pain, which is endless.

Read more …

Jan 182018
 
 January 18, 2018  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Henry Matisse Bouquet of flowers for July 14 Oct 7 1919

 

Japan and Europe Start the Central Bank Reset (BBG)
The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)
South Korea Considers Shutting Down Domestic Cryptocurrency Exchanges (R.)
Trump Reveals Winners Of Controversial ‘Fake News Awards’ (AFP)
Trump Considers Big ‘Fine’ Over China Intellectual Property Theft (R.)
China’s Communists Take More Stakes In Private Companies (BBG)
Apple Expects to Pay $38 Billion Tax on Repatriated Cash (BBG)
Apple May Not Hire 20,000 New Workers, or Bring Back Its Overseas Cash (MW)
Assange Keeps Warning Of AI Censorship (CJ)
Australia’s Household Debt-to-Income Ratio Reaches 200% (AFR)
Mario Draghi Told To Drop Membership Of Secretive Bankers’ Club (G.)
Global Air Traffic At New Record (AFP)
Europe’s Microwave Ovens Emit Nearly As Much CO2 As 7 Million Cars (G.)
1 Million Tonnes A Year: UK Supermarkets Shamed For Plastic Packaging (G.)
The Plastic-Free Stores Showing The Big Brands How To Do It (G.)

 

 

Coordinated efforts to crash the conomy. Ignore the recovery narrative.

Japan and Europe Start the Central Bank Reset (BBG)

This is going to be an exciting year for monetary policy. In fact, it already is, thanks to Europe and Japan. Investors were taken aback last week when the Bank of Japan bought fewer bonds and the ECB revealed – shock, horror – its language would have to evolve with the euro region’s economy. Both developments, and the reaction, were welcome. They say a lot about the strength of global growth and how it still surprises many people. First to Japan: Investors were wrong to interpret the reduced purchases as a sign that a policy shift is imminent. They were, however, right about the long-term direction of policy. It isn’t going to get looser. Will it remain accommodative as far as the eye can see? Yes.

With Japan’s economic sunny patch extending and inflation headed in the right direction – if still way too low – it’s not a stretch to see Governor Haruhiko Kuroda or his successor ease up a little on the stimulus. Just not right now. That was Jan. 9. Two days later, the fever struck in Europe. The proximate cause was the release of minutes from the ECB’s December meeting and the implication contained therein that communications would have to reflect a stronger growth terrain and improving, albeit still low, inflation. The euro jumped and German bond yields climbed. It feels like we just got through a big change from the ECB: the taper of bond purchases to 30 billion euros a month until September. (Remember when officials hated the word “taper”?) Now, here were policymakers flagging further revisions.

What’s the thread linking these two happenings? Despite all the data and pronouncements about a robust global economy and a synchronized upswing, people are still taken aback by signs that (a) it’s a reality and (b) policy is bound to react. I’m not saying policy is going to change overnight. But if you start with a global framework – we are in a global marketplace, are we not? – key to that framework really ought to be the direction of policy. Ask yourself: Are monetary chieftains going to make policy more easy or less easy, assuming the upswing in growth is sustainable? The answer has to be “less.”

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Because it’s by far the biggest, and it’s a debt bubble, not a gossip one.

The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)

The credit-driven bubble has a different dynamic than a narrative-bubble. If professional investors and brokers can borrow money at 3%, invest in stocks earning 5%, and leverage 3-to-1, they can earn 6% returns on equity plus healthy capital gains that can boost the total return to 10% or higher. Even greater returns are possible using off-balance sheet derivatives. Credit bubbles don’t need a narrative or a good story. They just need easy money. A narrative bubble bursts when the story changes. It’s exactly like The Emperor’s New Clothes where loyal subjects go along with the pretense that the emperor is finely dressed until a little boy shouts out that the emperor is actually naked. Psychology and behavior change in an instant.

When investors realized in 2000 that Pets.com was not the next Amazon but just a sock-puppet mascot with negative cash flow, the stock crashed 98% in 9 months from IPO to bankruptcy. The sock-puppet had no clothes. A credit bubble bursts when the credit dries up. The Fed won’t raise interest rates just to pop a bubble — they would rather clean up the mess afterwards that try to guess when a bubble exists in the first place. But the Fed will raise rates for other reasons, including the illusory Phillips Curve that assumes a tradeoff between low unemployment and high inflation, currency wars, inflation or to move away from the zero bound before the next recession. It doesn’t matter. Higher rates are a case of “taking away the punch bowl” and can cause a credit bubble to burst.

The other leading cause of bursting credit bubbles is rising credit losses. Higher credit losses can emerge in junk bonds (1989), emerging markets (1998), or commercial real estate (2008). Credit crack-ups in one sector lead to tightening credit conditions in all sectors and lead in turn to recessions and stock market corrections. What type of bubble are we in now? What signs should investors look for to gauge when this bubble will burst? My starting hypothesis is that we are in a credit bubble, not a narrative bubble. There is no dominant story similar to the Nifty Fifty or dot.com days. Investors do look at traditional valuation metrics rather than invented substitutes contained in corporate press releases and Wall Street research. But even traditional valuation metrics can turn on a dime when the credit spigot is turned off.

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BTC recovered somewhat overnight.

South Korea Considers Shutting Down Domestic Cryptocurrency Exchanges (R.)

South Korean policymakers joined the global chorus of virtual-coin critics on Thursday, saying Seoul is considering shutting down domestic virtual currency exchanges as the new breed of market exposes users to speculative frenzy and crime. The country’s tough stance comes as policymakers from the United States to Germany struggle to come up with stricter regulation against money laundering and other crimes. Responding to questions in parliament, South Korea’s chief of the Financial Services Commission said: “(The government) is considering both shutting down all local virtual currency exchanges or just the ones who have been violating the law.” Separately, Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol told a news conference that “cryptocurrency is not a legal currency and is not being used as such as of now.”

Regulators around the world are still debating how to address risks posed by cryptocurrencies, as bitcoin, the world’s most popular virtual currency, soared more than 1,700% last year. Prices have plummeted since South Korea announced last week it may ban domestic cryptocurrency exchanges. On Wednesday, bitcoin slid 18%. According to Bithumb, South Korea’s second-largest virtual currency exchange, the nation’s bitcoin trading price stood at 15,697,000 won ($14,690.69) as of 0314 GMT on Thursday. On the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, bitcoin was traded at $11,750. [..] On Thursday, the BOK governor said the central bank had begun looking into the market’s impact on the economy. “We have started looking at virtual currency from a long-term standpoint, as central banks could start issuing digital currencies in the future. This sort of research has begun at the Bank of International Settlements and we are part of that research.”

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“Studies have shown that over 90% of the media’s coverage of President Trump is negative…”

Trump Reveals Winners Of Controversial ‘Fake News Awards’ (AFP)

Donald Trump unveiled the winners of his much-touted “Fake News Awards” late Wednesday, escalating his already persistent attacks on a number of major US media outlets. The awards dropped hours after a senator from Trump’s own Republican party hurled a stinging rebuke at the president, accusing the US leader of undermining the free press with Stalinist language. The brash Republican president announced the ten “honorees” using his preferred medium of Twitter, linking to a list published on the Republican Party’s website that crashed minutes after his big reveal. The “winners” of the spoof awards included top networks and newspapers CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, all of which have been regular targets of Trump’s ire.

Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, who writes a regular opinion column for The New York Times, nabbed the number one spot. The administration said he merited the award for writing “on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Following the former reality star’s stunning rise to power, Krugman had written that Trump’s inexperience on economic policy and unpredictability risked further damaging the weak global economy. The list also pointed to a reporting error from ABC’s veteran reporter Brian Ross, who was suspended for four weeks without pay after he was forced to correct a bombshell report on ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn.

[..] 11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!

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“We’re talking about big damages. We’re talking about numbers that you haven’t even thought about,” Trump said.”

Trump Considers Big ‘Fine’ Over China Intellectual Property Theft (R.)

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States was considering a big “fine” as part of a probe into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property, the clearest indication yet that his administration will take retaliatory trade action against China. In an interview with Reuters, Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said China had forced U.S. companies to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there. The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Cohn said the United States Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon. “We have a very big intellectual property potential fine going, which is going to come out soon,” Trump said in the interview.

While Trump did not specify what he meant by a “fine” against China, the 1974 trade law that authorized an investigation into China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies. Trump said the damages could be high, without elaborating on how the numbers were reached or how the costs would be imposed. “We’re talking about big damages. We’re talking about numbers that you haven’t even thought about,” Trump said.

U.S. businesses say they lose hundreds of billions of dollars in technology and millions of jobs to Chinese firms which have stolen ideas and software or forced them to turn over intellectual property as part of the price of doing business in China. The president said he wanted the United States to have a good relationship with China, but Beijing needed to treat the United States fairly. Trump said he would be announcing some kind of action against China over trade and said he would discuss the issue during his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on Jan. 30. Asked about the potential for a trade war depending on U.S. action over steel, aluminum and solar panels, Trump said he hoped a trade war would not ensue. “I don’t think so, I hope not. But if there is, there is,” he said.

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This is not going to work. It’s a one way ticket back to Mao.

China’s Communists Take More Stakes In Private Companies (BBG)

After tightening the Communist Party’s grip on state-owned enterprises, President Xi Jinping’s administration is signaling an increasing presence in private companies. Xi has called state enterprises the “backbone” of China’s socialist economy. But most of the giants were founded before the boom in technology-driven industries over the past two decades. That’s created a large swathe of the economy that’s largely private – think tech and consumer champions like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, along with innovators in sectors from finance to automation. Now, SOEs are on track to take stakes in private companies. “China wants to maintain state control over every aspect of the national economy, and it needs to keep up with the changes in the economic structure,” said Chen Li at Credit Suisse.

“How can it overlook the most important industries to the future economy?” Much of the overhaul of state-owned enterprises under Xi has focused on a consolidation in the hundreds of sprawling units across the country, such as those that have reshaped the shipping and train-making industries. But a lesser-noticed part of the broad “mixed ownership” initiative features SOEs being encouraged to take stakes in private companies. This part of the initiative has yet to gather pace, though equity strategists anticipate moves to come. They would showcase how China continues to develop its own path toward developed-nation status – not entirely state dominated, but with more control by political authorities than in countries like France that have nurtured state champions.

The head of the Beijing agency that oversees China’s SOEs, Xiao Yaqing, reiterated the push in a People’s Daily article on state enterprise reforms Dec. 13. The private stakes will be acquired through various means, he and other top officials have said. The mechanism has already been applied in the case of the state’s crackdown on financier Xiao Jianhua’s Tomorrow Holding empire. The government ordered the holding company to divest from many of its financial assets, people with knowledge of the matter said this month. State-owned Citic Guoan Group Co. bought a $1.4 billion stake in Hengtou Securities – known as Hengtai on the mainland – with a large part of the purchase coming from Tomorrow Group. Investors applauded the move, in a sign of what could happen when the state invests elsewhere. Hengtou has jumped more than 20% this year after announcing the stake sale.

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More Trump success.

Apple Expects to Pay $38 Billion Tax on Repatriated Cash (BBG)

Apple said it will bring hundreds of billions of overseas dollars back to the U.S., pay about $38 billion in taxes on the money and invest tens of billions on domestic jobs, manufacturing and data centers in the coming years. The iPhone maker plans capital expenditures of $30 billion in the U.S. over five years and will create 20,000 new jobs at existing sites and a new campus it intends to open, the Cupertino, California-based company said Wednesday in a statement. “We are focusing our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in the statement, which alluded to unspecified plans by the company to accelerate education programs.

In its December approval of the most extensive tax-code revisions since 1986, Congress scrapped the previous international tax system for corporations — an unusual arrangement that allowed companies to defer U.S. income taxes on foreign earnings until they returned the income to the U.S. That “deferral” provision led companies to stockpile an estimated $3.1 trillion offshore. By switching to a new system that’s designed to focus on domestic economic activity, congressional tax writers also imposed a two-tiered levy on that accumulated foreign income: Cash will be taxed at 15.5%, less liquid assets at 8%. Companies can pay over eight years. Apple has the largest offshore cash reserves of any U.S. company, with about $252 billion in at the end of September, the most recently reported fiscal quarter.

The company, which opened a new headquarters in Cupertino last year, said it also plans to open another site in the U.S. focused initially on employees who provide technical support to Apple product users. Apple said it will announce the location of the new campus at a later date. The company already has a sprawling campus in Austin, Texas, for supply chain and technical support employees.

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Or maybe not.

Apple May Not Hire 20,000 New Workers, or Bring Back Its Overseas Cash (MW)

Apple announced a series of plans Wednesday that were celebrated as promises to hire thousands of workers and bring home billions of dollars in cash. Well, not necessarily. Apple said in its release that the company planned to “create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one.” The key word there is “create,” which Apple really likes to use when discussing jobs: The company even has a portion of its website dedicated to “job creation” that claims it is “responsible for 2 million jobs” in the United States, most of which are jobs “attributable to the App Store ecosystem.” Apple currently employs 84,000 people in the U.S., it said Wednesday, while an October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said that it has a total of 132,000 full-time employees worldwide, suggesting that about a third of its employees work abroad.

A quarter of the 2 million jobs Apple claims responsibility for are positions through Apple’s U.S.-based suppliers. “From the people who manufacture components for our products to the people who distribute and deliver them, Apple directly or indirectly supports hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs,” Apple says on the page. [..] Many also took Apple’s promise to pay $38 billion in repatriation taxes as a promise that Apple would bring home more than a quarter-trillion dollars it currently has overseas. However, Apple does not have to bring home that money, and much of it is tied up in long-term investments that would make it unlikely. The company has to pay taxes on overseas earnings whether it brings the money back to the United States or not, so paying the tax does not mean the money is coming home.

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What I wrote about last week: “digital super states” like Facebook and Google have been working to “re-establish discourse control”.

Assange Keeps Warning Of AI Censorship (CJ)

In a statement that was recently read during the “Organising Resistance to Internet Censorship” webinar, sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site, Assange warned of how “digital super states” like Facebook and Google have been working to “re-establish discourse control”, giving authority over how ideas and information are shared back to those in power. Assange went on to say that the manipulative attempts of world power structures to regain control of discourse in the information age has been “operating at a scale, speed, and increasingly at a subtlety, that appears likely to eclipse human counter-measures.”

What this means is that using increasingly more advanced forms of artificial intelligence, power structures are becoming more and more capable of controlling the ideas and information that people are able to access and share with one another, hide information which goes against the interests of those power structures and elevate narratives which support those interests, all of course while maintaining the illusion of freedom and lively debate. In an appearance via video link at musician and activist M.I.A.’s Meltdown Festival last June, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief expounded in far more detail about his thoughts on the potential for artificial intelligence to be used for controlling online information and discourse in a way human intelligence can’t hope to keep up with.

Pointing out how AI can already outmaneuver even the greatest chess players in the world, he describes how programs which can operate with exponentially more tactical intelligence than the human intellect can manipulate the field of available information so effectively and subtly that people won’t even know they are being manipulated. People will be living in a world that they think they understand and know about, but they’ll unknowingly be viewing only establishment-approved information. “When you have AI programs harvesting all the search queries and YouTube videos someone uploads it starts to lay out perceptual influence campaigns, twenty to thirty moves ahead,” Assange said. “This starts to become totally beneath the level of human perception.”

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Sell sell sell.

Australia’s Household Debt-to-Income Ratio Reaches 200% (AFR)

The closely tracked Australian household debt-to-income ratio has now reached the 200% level, and analysts at UBS are concerned about rising pressures among borrowers. The increase was because of the Australian Bureau of Statistics revision to include self-managed superannuation debt. That resulted in a 3% rise in household debt from “extremely elevated levels”, and pushed the ratio to income to 199.7%, “one of the highest in the world,” according to UBS. “With subdued growth in household income expected to continue, this implies household leverage is likely to rise further in the near term,” it said. “As a result we expect total household debt to disposable income to peak around 205% before the slow deleveraging process begins.”

High household debt levels will constrain further borrowing and weigh on prospects for earnings growth at the big banks, analysts Jonathan Mott and Rachel Bentvelzen said as they downgraded their forecasts for housing credit growth. House prices, which have begun to decline in Sydney, are expected to slide further as a result of tighter lending standards, the retreat of foreign buyers, lending limits imposed by regulators and concerns about proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax that have been tabled by the Opposition. “Sentiment for investment into the housing market is waning, with the ‘fear of missing out’ euphoria fading quickly, especially in Sydney,” the analysts said in a note to clients.

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The insanity of today.

Mario Draghi Told To Drop Membership Of Secretive Bankers’ Club (G.)

The president of the European Central Bank has been told by the EU’s watchdog he should drop his membership of a secretive club of corporate bankers, after claims the group had been given an inside seat from which it could influence key policies. Following a year-long investigation, Mario Draghi was informed on Wednesday by the European ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, that his close relationship with the Washington-based G30 group threatened the reputation of the bank, despite his assurances to the contrary. Members of the exclusive club, of which only two of the current 33 are women, are chosen by an anonymous board of trustees, it emerged during the ombudsman’s investigation. Only the identity of the chair of the trustees, Jacob A Frenkel, the chairman of JPMorgan Chase, has been made public.

O’Reilly noted the group’s secrecy and lack of transparency over the content of its meetings. She additionally called for a ban on all future presidents of the ECB taking up membership of the club, previously named the Consultative Group on International Economic and Monetary Affairs. The ruling followed a complaint by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based NGO, which claimed Draghi’s close relationship to G30 was in contravention of the ECB’s ethical code. During his presidency of the ECB, Draghi, an Italian economist who previously worked at Goldman Sachs, has attended four G30 meetings, in 2012, 2013 and twice in 2015.

O’Reilly said there was a danger that the bank’s independence could be perceived to have been compromised by Draghi’s involvement with the group, whose members include a number of central bank governors, private sector bankers and academics. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is a member. But O’Reilly said there was no evidence of sensitive information being shared. The ombudsman said: “The ECB takes decisions that directly affect the lives of millions of citizens. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and in consideration of the additional powers given to the ECB in recent years to supervise member state banks in the public interest, it is important to demonstrate to that public that there is a clear separation between the ECB as supervisor and the finance industry which is affected by its decisions.”

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Not one word about emissions. Not one. Oh wait, “continuous improvements to its safety, security, efficiency and environmental footprint “. Pants on fire.

Global Air Traffic At New Record (AFP)

Budget carriers continued to push global air traffic to new record levels last year, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on Wednesday. Scheduled air services carried “a new record” of 4.1 billion passengers in 2017, an increase of 7.1% over the previous year, ICAO said, citing preliminary data. The figure compares with 6% growth in 2016. “The sustainability of the tremendous growth in international civil air traffic is demonstrated by the continuous improvements to its safety, security, efficiency and environmental footprint,” ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said in a statement from the Montreal-based agency.

Early this month, two industry studies showed that last year was the safest for civil aviation since plane crash statistics were first compiled in 1946. A total of 10 crashes of civil passenger and cargo planes claimed 44 lives, said the Aviation Safety Network. A separate report from the To70 agency said no major airline crashed a plane in 2017. ICAO, a United Nations agency, said Wednesday that low-cost carriers flew an estimated 1.2 billion passengers or about 30% of the global total last year. The budget airline sector “consistently grew at a faster pace compared to the world average growth, and its market share continued to increase, specifically in emerging economies,” ICAO said.

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Missed opportunity: including the emissions of electric cars.

Europe’s Microwave Ovens Emit Nearly As Much CO2 As 7 Million Cars (G.)

Popping frozen peas into the microwave for a couple of minutes may seem utterly harmless, but Europe’s stock of these quick-cook ovens emit as much carbon as nearly 7m cars, a new study has found. And the problem is growing: with costs falling and kitchen appliances becoming “status” items, owners are throwing away microwaves after an average of eight years, pushing rising sales. A study by the University of Manchester worked out the emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change – at every stage of microwaves, from manufacture to waste disposal. “It is electricity consumption by microwaves that has the biggest impact on the environment,” say the authors.

“Efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently. For example, electricity consumption by microwaves can be reduced by adjusting the time of cooking to the type of food.” Each year more microwaves are sold than any other type of oven in the EU: annual sales are expected to reach 135m by the end of the decade. David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that the damage done by microwaves is still a fraction of that done by cars. “Yes, there are a lot of microwaves in the EU, and yes they use electricity,” he said.

“But their emissions are dwarfed by those from cars – there are around 30m cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU. Latest data show that passenger cars in the UK emitted 69m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This is ten times the amount this new microwave oven study estimates for annual emissions for all the microwave ovens in the whole of the EU.” The energy used by microwaves is lower than any other form of cooking. uSwitch, the price comparison website, lists microwaves as the most energy efficient, followed by a hob and finally an oven, advising readers to buy a microwave if they don’t have one. However, they urge owners to switch them off at the wall after use, to avoid powering the clock.

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The Guardian can try to chest thump as much as it wants, but it too got triggered for real only through David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, just like Theresa may et al.

1 Million Tonnes A Year: UK Supermarkets Shamed For Plastic Packaging (G.)

Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year, according to an investigation by the Guardian which reveals how top chains keep details of their plastic footprint secret. As concern over the scale of unnecessary plastic waste grows, the Guardian asked Britain’s eight leading supermarkets to explain how much plastic packaging they sell to consumers and whether they would commit to a plastic-free aisle in their stores. The chains have to declare the amount of plastic they put on the market annually under an EU directive. But the information is kept secret, and Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Asda and Lidl all refused the Guardian’s request, with most saying the information was “commercially sensitive”. None committed to setting up plastic-free aisles – something the prime minister called for last week.

Only two supermarkets, Aldi and the Co-op, were open about the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market. Using their data, and other publicly available market share information, environmental consultants Eunomia estimated that the top supermarkets are creating a plastic waste problem of more than 800,000 tonnes each year – well over half of all annual UK household plastic waste of 1.5m tonnes. The 800,000 tonnes of waste from food and beverage products would fill enough large 10-yard skips to extend from London to Sydney, or cover the whole of Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm. The revelations will add to mounting public concern about the damage that plastic does to the natural world. The Guardian has already revealed the vertiginous growth in plastic production, and the heavy environmental toll it exacts.

Dominic Hogg, chairman of Eunomia, said the figures could be higher. “The data reported for plastic packaging put on the market as a whole is an underestimate in our view,” said Hogg. Supermarkets in the UK keep their plastic footprint secret with a confidentiality agreement signed with the agencies involved in the British recycling compliance scheme. It means the amount of plastic packaging created by each supermarket and the money they pay towards its recycling is kept out of the public domain. One leading supermarket manager is calling for the whole system to be made more transparent and targeted to make the irresponsible producers pay more. Iain Ferguson, head of sustainability at the Co-op, said Britain should adopt the French system of “bonus-malus”, where supermarkets are taxed more for using material which is not easily recyclable and less for sustainable and recyclable packaging.

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And it really is this simple.

The Plastic-Free Stores Showing The Big Brands How To Do It (G.)

In the past few weeks Richard Eckersley has noticed a change in the type of people who come into his shop. The former Manchester United footballer, who turned his back on the game to set up the the UK’s first “zero waste” store on Totnes high street in Devon, says it is no longer only committed environmentalists who pop in, looking for a cleaner way to shop. “We thought January might be a bit quieter but it has been crazy,” says Eckersley, who set up the Earth.Food.Love shop with his wife Nicola in March. “A lot of new people are coming in – people who have not necessarily been involved in green issues before … it really feels like this [concern about plastic waste] is starting to break out of the environmental bubble.”

Last week Theresa May put cutting plastic pollution at the heart of the government’s 25-year environmental plan, and although critics said it was short on detail she did call for supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles to offer customers more choice. But Eckersley says many consumers are already way ahead of politicians. He and his wife have helped people who are planning to set up similar stores in Wales, Birmingham and Bristol. “We are getting calls every week from around the country from people wanting to set up something similar in their towns … it feels like this has really tapped into something that is growing all the time.” More than 200 miles away, Ingrid Caldironi shares the enthusiasm. She set up the plastic-free Bulk Market in east London last year. It has proven so popular that it is now moving to bigger, permanent premises at the end of the month.

“We have had an amazing response, especially in the last couple of months,” she says. Eckersley and Caldironi are at the vanguard of a burgeoning anti-plastics movement in the UK that has been fuelled by newspaper investigations including the Guardian’s Bottling It series, the Blue Planet television series and a general alarm at the damage plastic is doing to the natural environment. But their enthusiasm is not shared by big supermarkets, which have thus far shown little inclination to reduce their plastic waste. “For a nation of shopkeepers we are lagging behind in this race,” says Sian Sutherland, founder of the campaign A Plastic Planet which led the calls for plastic-free aisles. “The most exciting thing is that politicians and industry are no longer claiming that we can recycle our way out of the plastic problem,” she added. “Banning the use of indestructible plastic packaging for food and drink products is the only answer.”

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Jan 112018
 
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Gutzon Borglum Repairing the Face of Abraham Lincoln, Mount Rushmore 1962

 

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)
Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)
The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)
China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)
Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)
South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)
South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)
China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)
Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)
Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)
Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)
Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)
Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)
Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

 

 

As Abenomics goes belly-up, so will a large segment of financial markets. Japan is done.

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)

Japan is the catalyst that could bring the record-setting bull market for stocks across the globe to a screeching halt, according to Société Générale’s uberbear Albert Edwards. The prominent SocGen strategist says surprise monetary tightening in Japan could be the trigger that finally upend what has been an protracted and unrelenting global rally for assets considered risky. While most investors are busy eyeing rate increases in the U.S. and tapering by the ECB in the eurozone, Edwards says they should also watch developments in the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, where corporate profits are surging and inflation has picked up.

“We’ve been looking for surprises and one thing that can catch us out is if the Bank of Japan starts tightening. If it actually follows the Fed and the ECB and announces some sort of tapering,” he said, speaking at SocGen’s annual strategy conference in London on Tuesday. “This could be far more important than the Fed. A lot of major trends start with Japan. People don’t focus on Japan enough in my view,” he added. Investors on Tuesday got a taste of how BOJ tightening can rattle the markets. The central bank said it would buy less of its long-dated bonds, sparking speculation Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda could back away from its ultraloose monetary policy as early as this year. The surprise announcement sent global bond markets into spin on Tuesday. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes jumped above 2.5% to its highest since March and the 30-year bond yield logged its biggest one-day jump since Dec. 19.

[..] The BOJ has for years been among the most accommodative central banks in the world and as recent as December reaffirmed its commitment to aggressive qualitative and quantitative-easing program, also known as QQE. With inflation stubbornly running below the BOJ’s 2% annual target, the central bank has since early 2016 kept interest rates in negative territory and even introduced a 0%-target for its 10-year government bond yields to avoid deflation. The determined efforts by the BOJ to boost consumer prices have turned investors against the yen with data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showing an extreme bearishness toward the Japanese currency. However, downbeat investors on the yen could be caught flat-footed if inflation starts to pick up, prompting the BOJ to halt easing efforts, Edwards warned.

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A concerted effort to let markets implode. And blame Trump.

Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)

Many people do not realize that America is not only entering a new year, but within the next month we will also be entering a new economic era. In early February, Janet Yellen is set to leave the Federal Reserve and be replaced by the new Fed chair nominee, Jerome Powell. Now, to be clear, the Fed chair along with the bank governors do not set central bank policy. Policy for most central banks around the world is dictated in Switzerland by the Bank for International Settlements. Fed chairmen like Janet Yellen are mere mascots implementing policy initiatives as ordered. This is why we are now seeing supposedly separate central banking institutions around the world acting in unison, first with stimulus, then with fiscal tightening. However, it is important to note that each new Fed chair does tend to signal a new shift in action for the central bank.

For example, Alan Greenspan oversaw the low interest rate easy money phase of the Fed, which created the conditions for the derivatives and credit bubble and subsequent crash in 2008. Ben Bernanke oversaw the stimulus and bailout phase, flooding the markets with massive amounts of fiat and engineering an even larger bubble in stocks, bonds and just about every other asset except perhaps some select commodities. Janet Yellen managed the tapering phase, in which stimulus has been carefully and systematically diminished while still maintaining delusional stock market euphoria. Now comes the era of Jerome Powell, who will oversee the last stages of fiscal tightening, the reduction of the Fed balance sheet, faster rate increases and the final implosion of the ‘everything’ bubble.

As I warned before Trump won the election in 2016, a Trump presidency would inevitably be followed by economic crisis, and this would be facilitated by the Federal Reserve pulling the plug on fiat life support measures which kept the illusion of recovery going for the past several years. It is important to note that the mainstream media is consistently referring to Jerome Powell as “Trump’s candidate” for the Fed, or “Trump’s pick” (as if the president really has much of a choice in the roster of candidates for the Fed chair). The public is being subtly conditioned to view Powell as if he is an extension of the Trump administration. This could not be further from the truth. Powell and the Fed are autonomous from government.

[..] So, why is the media insisting on misrepresenting Powell as some kind of Trump agent? Because Trump, and by extension all the conservatives that support him, are meant to take the blame when the ‘everything’ bubble vaporizes our financial structure. Jerome Powell is “Trump’s guy” at the Fed; so any actions Powell takes to crush the recovery narrative will also be blamed on the Trump administration.

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Bond markets want their cake and eat it. First, low yields are a good thing; then rising yields show how good everything has become.

The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)

Government bond yields, exemplified by the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury, have enjoyed three decades of decline. Their recent jump is prompting a heated debate over whether that bull market is over. It matters because there’s more riding on the question than ever before.

The value of benchmark bonds eligible for inclusion in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index, which includes government, corporate and securitized debt from 24 local currency markets, has doubled in the past decade to almost $50 trillion.

While calling the turn in bonds, especially in Europe, has been a widow-making trade in recent years, recent moves certainly look like the trend is no longer your friend. The yield on the two-year Treasury has about doubled in the past year, and is a whisker away from 2%. Even at its current super-low level of about 0.55%, the 10-year German yield is up from its nadir of about minus 0.2% reached in July 2016.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if government bond yields are on a sustained path to higher levels, it’s arguably a positive sign for the global economy. A return to more normal borrowing costs would reinforce hopes that the world is finally free from the debilitating aftershocks from the financial crisis. Moreover, the new normal is still likely to be at lower levels than the old normal. Note that in the past 30 years, the 10-year Treasury yield peaked at about 9.4% in August 1988 and plateaued at 1.36% in July 2016. Its current poke above 2.5% still leaves it at about half of its three-decade average. For central banks seeking to normalize monetary policy, rising government bond yields will come as something for a relief. For investors who bought at the peak of the bull market, however, there could be painful times ahead.

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Only game in town.

China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)

China added to bond investors’ jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market. Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation’s foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter. The news comes as global debt markets were already selling off amid signs that central banks are starting to step back after years of bond-buying stimulus. Yields on 10-year Treasuries rose for a fifth day, touching the highest since March. China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn’t clear whether the officials’ recommendations have been adopted.

The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt, the thinking of these officials goes, according to the people [..] “With markets already dealing with supply indigestion, headlines regarding potentially lower Chinese demand for Treasuries are renewing bearish dynamics,” said Michael Leister at Commerzbank. “Today’s headlines will underscore concerns that the fading global quantitative-easing bid will trigger lasting upside pressure on developed-market yields.” The Chinese officials didn’t specify why trade tensions would spur a cutback in Treasuries purchases, though foreign holdings of U.S. securities have sometimes been a geopolitical football in the past.

[..] Any reduction in Chinese purchases would come just as the U.S. prepares to boost its supply of debt. The Treasury Department said in its most recent quarterly refunding announcement in November that borrowing needs will increase as the Federal Reserve reduces its balance sheet and as fiscal deficits look set to widen. “It’s a complicated chess game as with everything the Chinese do,” said Charles Wyplosz, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “For years they have been bothered by the fact that they are so heavily invested in one particular class of U.S. bonds, so it’s just a question of time before they would try to diversify.”

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The dollar is still king.

Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)

The Bloomberg News report that senior government officials in Beijing recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries is encountering a wall of skepticism, and rightly so. Even China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange said Thursday that the report “might have cited wrong sources or may be fake news.” There’s a third possibility: that Beijing floated a trial balloon to see how the market would react.To the extent China would have to scoop up incoming dollars to keep the value of the yuan from rising too much too soon, what else can it possibly purchase with those dollars? Treasuries maturing in five years pay 2.32%. If China tries to alter the composition of its $3.1 trillion foreign-exchange war chest by swapping dollars to buy comparable securities denominated in any of the world’s main reserve currencies, it will find German bunds and British gilts paying even less.

Japanese and Swiss bonds offer somewhat higher yields. However, if every central bank in the world had given up on the world’s most liquid security every time it got a half-percent extra yield somewhere else, the dollar’s share in the world’s known reserves wouldn’t have held above 60% for almost a quarter-century. (It’s 63.5% now.) If Beijing wants a bargaining chip in trade tensions with the U.S., it should look elsewhere.In 2009, the Chinese central bank did try to diversify away from the dollar. The euro’s share in known global reserves peaked at 28% a few months after Wen Jiabao, the then Chinese premier, said he was “worried” about the huge amount of money his country had lent to the U.S.Then he – and the world – got something rather more real to worry about as the European debt crisis became an existential threat to that region’s single currency. According to the most recent data from the IMF, the euro’s share in worldwide foreign-exchange reserves is now down to 20%.

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As 2018 progresses, we’ll see many reports, across the globe, of taxes owed on 2017 crypto gains.

South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)

South Korea’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges were raided by police and tax agencies this week for alleged tax evasion, people familiar with the investigation said on Thursday. “A few officials from the National Tax Service raided our office this week,” an official at Coinone, a major cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, told Reuters. “Local police also have been investigating our company since last year, they think what we do is gambling,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said Coinone was cooperating with the investigation. Bithumb, the second largest virtual currency operator in South Korea, was also raided by the tax authorities on Wednesday.

“We were asked by the tax officials to disclose paperwork and things yesterday,” an official at Bithumb said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. South Korean financial authorities had previously said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The crackdown on Seoul-based operators of some of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchanges comes as the government attempts to calm frenzied demand for cryptocurrency trading in Asia’s fourth largest economy. Bitcoin’s 1,500% surge last year has stoked huge demand for cryptocurency in South Korea, drawing college students to housewives and sparking concerns about a gambling addiction.

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They’re getting serious.

South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)

South Korea’s justice minister said on Thursday that a bill is being prepared to ban all cryptocurrency trading in the country. That news is a major development for the cryptocurrency space, as South Korea is one of the biggest markets for major coins like bitcoin and ethereum. According to industry website CryptoCompare, more than 10% of ethereum is traded against the South Korean won — the second largest concentration in terms of fiat currencies behind the dollar. Meanwhile, 5% of all bitcoin are traded against the won. “There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies and justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency trading through exchanges,” Park Sang-ki said at a press conference, according to the ministry’s press office.

Bitcoin tumbled more than 12% following Park’s remarks, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index that tracks prices from four exchanges. At 1:26 p.m. HK/SIN, the cryptocurrency price retraced some of its losses to trade at $13,547.7. Park added that he couldn’t disclose more specific details about proposed shutdown of cryptocurrency trading exchanges in the country, adding that various government agencies would work together to implement several measures. Reuters further reported that a press official said the proposed ban on cryptocurrency trading was announced after “enough discussion” with other government agencies including the nation’s finance ministry and financial regulators.

Cryptocurrency trading in South Korea is very speculative and similar to gambling. Major cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum are priced significantly higher in the country’s exchanges than elsewhere in the world. For example, bitcoin traded at $17,169.65 per token at local exchange Bithumb, which was a 31% premium to the CoinDesk average price. That difference in price is called a “kimchi premium” by many traders. [..] earlier this week, industry data provider CoinMarketCap tweeted that it would exclude some South Korean exchanges in price calculations due to the “extreme divergence in prices from the rest of the world” and for “limited arbitrage opportunity.”

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Beijing doesn’t see bitcoin as an asset to its power politics.

China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)

China is moving to eradicate the country’s bitcoin mining industry over concerns about excessive electricity consumption and financial risk, reflecting authorities’ judgment that cryptocurrencies are not a strategic industry. A multi-agency task force has instructed provincial governments to “actively guide” companies in their respective regions to exit the cryptocurrency mining industry, according to a document seen by the Financial Times. The move to pressure miners follows China’s shutdown of local bitcoin exchanges and its ban on initial coin offerings. Miners create new bitcoins by solving complex maths problems whose solutions are used to validate new bitcoin transactions. Though ostensibly a computational task, the reliance on raw computing power makes the process more akin to industrial manufacturing than traditional high-technology businesses.

Many bitcoin miners have established operations in remote areas without even registering a company. Some have also skirted Chinese regulations that forbid end users from purchasing electricity directly from power producers rather than grid operators. China mines about three-quarters of the world’s bitcoins, according to Liao Xiang, chief executive of Lightningasic, a Shenzhen-based mining operation. Chinese miners have taken advantage of cheap electricity in regions rich in coal or hydroelectric power, including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Yunnan. The global industry accounts for 0.17% of global electricity consumption, more than 161 individual countries, according to Digiconomist, a website that tracks the industry.

[..] Bitcoin mining “consumes a large amount of electricity and also encourages a spirit of speculation in ‘virtual currencies'”, according to the document. Mining operations contradict efforts to prevent financial risk and to discourage activities that “deviate from the needs of the real economy”, it added. The internet finance task force, which includes the People’s Bank of China, has previously led regulatory tightening efforts on peer-to-peer lending and online consumer loans. The order does not call on regional authorities to shut mining operations directly, but rather to squeeze them out by strictly enforcing policies on electricity consumption, land use, tax collection and environmental regulation

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How Democrats sell out Dreamers.

Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall. This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122. That the Democrats very likely won’t do this speaks to their irrational aversion to a Wall that they can’t view dispassionately any more than Trump can. It used to be that enhanced security on the border, and yes, a physical structure that in places is effectively a wall, had bipartisan support.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 passed the House by a vote of 283-138 and the Senate 80-19. It called for building roughly 700 miles of double-layer fencing on the border, and no one seemed to believe that the United States had irreparably sullied its reputation. This wasn’t the first time anyone had thought of a fence, of course. There had been barriers in the San Diego area for a very long time, although not particularly robust ones. Beginning in the 1980s, more serious structures were built. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are 46 miles of fencing overall and 13 miles of double fencing in the San Diego-Tijuana corridor, where there used to be a nightly influx of undocumented immigrants. In some sections, the barriers are 10-feet-tall military helicopter pads indistinguishable from a wall.

Again, no one believes San Diego has closed itself off from the world by adopting a common-sensical and — in this urban area — effective prophylactic against illegal immigration. But Democrats now find find physical barriers on the border offensive, especially if they have enough solidity to be called a Wall. One immigration advocate, in a typical sentiment, told The Huffington Post that the Wall is a “tool to instill hate and division.” This lunacy has rapidly become Democratic orthodoxy. Harry Enten of 538 notes that in 2006 almost 40% of Democrats supported building a Wall. By February of last year, Democrats were against it by 89% to 8%.

The hostility toward the Wall is part of a broader Democratic leftward lurch on immigration, but also a simple schoolyard calculus that if Trump supports something, they must oppose it. This forecloses the most basic legislative give-and-take. If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gave Trump something significant on the Wall, they would be able to find their way home — as John Jay said after concluding an unpopular treaty with the British in 1795 — by the light of their own burning effigies. Their voters would scorn them as traitors complicit in the alleged horrid bigotry of Donald J. Trump.

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Well, no. Just another instance of everything being insinuated, in the hope that a sliver is remembered. Fake news.

Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)

Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum have been detailed in a report prepared by the US Senate. The report by Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee, titled Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe: implications for US national security, pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”. This opacity, the report suggests, “may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors”.

“Investigative journalists have also raised questions about the sources of sudden and possibly illicit wealth that may have been directed to support the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign.” The UK Electoral Commission has already launched an investigation into the issue. The senators point out that Ukip and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, did not just fan anti-EU sentiment but also “criticised European sanctions on Russia, and provided flattering assessments of Russian President Putin”. The report adds that although officially the Russian government asserted its neutrality on Brexit, its English-language media outlets RT and Sputnik covered the referendum campaign extensively and offered ‘’systematically one-sided coverage’’. The senators also challenge the adequacy of the investigations by Facebook and Twitter into the allegations of widespread social media interference by the Russians during the referendum.

They reference University of Edinburgh research showing more than 400 Russian-run Twitter accounts that had been active in the US election had also been actively posting about Brexit. In addition, the senators noted that research conducted by a joint team of experts from the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University reportedly identified 150,000 Twitter accounts with various Russian ties that disseminated messages about Brexit. The report also points to the vast flow of Russian money into the UK, including the London property market. It records how the Metropolitan police noted that a total value of £180m in properties in the UK had been put under investigation as possibly purchased with corrupt proceeds by secretive offshore companies.

Overall the report breaks little new ground in terms of fresh evidence but says the picture remains incomplete. “The allegations that have emerged of Russian interference prior to the Brexit referendum are all the more stunning given the innate resilience within British society to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic agenda,” the senators wrote. The report, which chronicles Russian disinformation efforts in 19 countries, calls on Donald Trump to assert leadership on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, saying: “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a US president.”

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Don’t hold your breath. US and UK want revenge.

Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)

The Ecuadorian ID reportedly granted to Julian Assange could mark his first step to obtaining diplomatic immunity, as Ecuador wants to resolve Assange’s indefinite embassy stay, human rights activist Peter Tatchell told RT. “Granting an identity card is potentially the first step towards granting citizenship of Ecuador. And there is a possibility that he could be then granted a diplomatic status, which would give him diplomatic immunity,” Tatchell said. He added that diplomatic immunity would mean that the WikiLeaks co-founder would be “free to leave the embassy and travel to Ecuador and the British government would not be able to lay a finger on him.”

Ecuadorian media reports Assange was given an ID card issued on December 21, citing “reliable sources” and providing the civil registry number of the document. The whistleblower also uploaded a photo of himself on Twitter wearing a yellow, blue and red shirt, the colors of the Ecuadorian flag, but made not comments on the issue. nEcuador usually issues such ID cards for people claiming residency status, which are called cedulas. It is, however, unclear whether Assange was granted residency status or full citizenship.

However, Tatchell says “the Ecuadorian government has made it very clear that it wants a resolution [of this whole situation around Assange] and they are prepared to negotiate [to give] a way for Julian Assange [to leave] the embassy.” He added that “granting him [Assange] an identity card is a new development that can open the door for further things in the future.” The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations states that someone who holds a diplomatic passport is immune from prosecution, the activist explained. It is still no guarantee, however. “There is still a possibility that, even if he was granted diplomatic immunity by the Ecuadorians, the British government might still try to snatch him,” Tatchell said, although “many British officials would be glad to see Assange getting a diplomatic passport and leaving [the UK],” he added.

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Debt. Colony. Forever.

Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)

In a report about Greece’s new omnibus bill and a potential break from its bailout in August 2018, German newspaper Handelsblatt claims the country will remain under lenders’ supervision for another 40 years. The newspaper says the enormous bill, which was introduced to parliament on Tuesday and is expected to be put to vote next Monday, is highly detailed but lawmakers have not been given enough time to scrutinize it. “The plan is that the multi-bill will pass from the Greek parliament before the next Eurogroup meeting on January 22, so that Greece’s lenders can release the next €5.5 billion bailout tranche, leading the country out of its bailout obligations by August 2018,” the paper notes. It adds that the short time afforded to lawmakers to study the bill and debate it is exactly what Greek PM Alexis Tsipras needs for a smooth vote.

The German paper also notes protests and strikes against the bill scheduled for next Friday and Monday. In spite of the fact the bill will lead to further wage and pension cuts, as well as tax increases, the government majority in parliament — despite vocal unhappiness from some of Tsipras’ own SYRIZA lawmakers — is expected to vote for it, the report says. “Tsipras has pledged to his supporters that the country will break its austerity vicious circle next August and throw out its despised lenders for good,” the report adds. “But with the country committed to more austerity measures until 2022, that is self-delusion.” “A total of 80% of the Greek debt remains in the hands of the country’s lenders,” Handelsblatt concludes. “This means that until Greece pays up its debt, which, with today’s rates it will manage to do by 2059, the country will be under its lenders’ financial supervision.”

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Same findings as the German report last year. This is the food chain that feeds us.

Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)

Modest levels of pollution found in many English rivers are having a devastating impact on mayflies, new research suggests, killing about 80% of all eggs. Clouds of emerging mayflies were once a regular sight on English summer evenings and they are a key part of the food chain that supports fish, birds and mammals. The finding that even pollution well below guidelines can cause serious harm adds to concerns about plummeting insect numbers. In October, a study found that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by 75% in 25 years, prompting warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

Paul Knight, chief executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation (STC), which is conducting an in-depth three-year survey of rivers, said: “The results of this groundbreaking new study are irrefutable. We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lose your invertebrates and other species will follow.” The new research looked at the blue-winged olive, a common mayfly present across the British Isles and most of continental Europe. Its numbers have fallen significantly in recent decades and it has almost vanished from some English rivers. The prime suspects for this decline are fine sediment and phosphate pollution in rivers, which are washed off farmed fields and also result from untreated sewage. Some research has been done on how the larval and adult stages of mayflies are affected by pollution, but not on their eggs.

“The young life stages are the most vulnerable, just as with human babies,” said Nick Everall, at the Aquascience Consultancy and who led the research published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Blue-winged olive eggs are laid on river beds and then have to survive for up to eight months over winter before hatching into nymphs. However, experiments in the laboratory found that the fine sediment settles on the eggs and suffocates them, by preventing oxygen transferring into the egg. The sediment can also allow fungus to grow and kill the eggs, while phosphate is known to affect the development of eggs.

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The Cynical Society:

1) The BBC broadcasts David Attenborough’s new Blue Planet 2 series, in which one episode is all about -plastics- pollution
2) All of Britain watches, so the national conversation becomes ‘something must be done’
3) May has to do/say something, but the plastics industry are her friends, and she judges it’s all lip service anyway that will fade (and those who really care are not her voters)
4) She decides to pay only lip service too, and pushes the issue forward by 25 years, i.e. not her problem

Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

Theresa May will commit the UK to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as she launches the Government’s environmental plan for the next 25-years. Under the pledge waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. But the target was given a frosty reception from environmental groups with one leading organisation saying it “lacks urgency, detail and bite”, while another said the country “can’t afford to wait” so long. The broader 25-year plan, first promised three years ago, will also urge supermarkets to set up “plastic-free aisles” for goods with no packaging and confirm plans to extend the 5p charge for carrier bags to all English retailers.

It comes as the Government seeks to burnish its environmental credentials with recent pledges on animal protection and plastic microbeads. But with concern growing around plastic waste, Ms May will say: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do. “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. [..] Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “A 25 year plan is clearly needed – but with the nation facing an accelerating environmental crisis we can’t afford to wait a quarter of a century for urgent action to tackle the issues that already threaten our lives, health and planet.”

He went on: “If Theresa May wants to champion the environment she must spell out the bold measures her Government will take in the next few weeks and months.” WWF Chief Executive Tanya Steele welcomed “any step” to reduce plastic waste, adding that plastic-free aisles can spur change. But she said: “If we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics.” Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said the plan was now “years behind schedule” branding the plan “a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories image”. She went on: “[It] appears to contain only weak proposals with Britain’s plastic waste crisis kicked into the long grass.” Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said “The Conservatives should be eliminating all avoidable plastic waste now – a target of 2042 beggars belief.”

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Jan 102018
 
 January 10, 2018  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River 1942

 

Is Bank of Japan The Latest To Take The Punch Bowl Away? (CNBC)
Fed Officials Are Scrambling To Figure Out How To Fight Next Recession (BI)
Market Could Be Headed For A ‘Melt-Up’ Of 30% – Bill Miller (CNBC)
People Have A Hard Time Even Imagining How The Market Could Decline (ZH)
World Bank Issues Warnings On Interest Rates And Inflation (G.)
South Korea’s Moon Says Trump Deserves ‘Big’ Credit For North Korea Talks (R.)
Apple’s Privacy Feature Costs Ad Companies Millions (G.)
Antivirus Tools Caught With Their Hands In The Windows Cookie Jar (Reg.)
Julian Assange’s Stay In London Embassy Untenable, Says Ecuador (G.)
Australia Must Rescue Assange From The Establishment That Tortured Manning (CJ)
The Fog of War: Global Airstrike Deaths Up At Least 82% In 2017 (RT)
Scores Feared Dead And Up To 100 Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya Coast (G.)

 

 

The Last of the Mohicans. But does Japan really want to, and can it, carry the global financial system on its shoulders now the Fed and ECB no longer want to do their share?

Is Bank of Japan The Latest To Take The Punch Bowl Away? (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan is seen as the last grown-up in the room actively filling the global liquidity punch bowl with both hands. That’s why a slight tweak to its bond-buying program caused a flurry across financial markets Tuesday, sparking speculation it was joining the Fed and ECB in cutting back on asset purchases, a move that could ultimately help drive up global interest rates. On Tuesday, the BOJ modestly trimmed its purchases of Japanese government bonds by about $10 billion in the 10- to 25-year maturities and another $10 billion in maturities of more than 25 years. The yen jumped about 0.5% to about 112.60 to the dollar, and bond yields rose. The U.S. 10-year yield also moved higher, breaking above the key 2.50% to as high as 2.55%. Meanwhile, the 10-year JGB yield moved in a range of about 0.16 and saw a high of 0.074%.

But some strategists say while the BOJ may have sent a powerful signal, it is just acting on a technicality that comes with changes it made to its bond purchase program back in 2016. Unlike the U.S. and Europe, where central banks have targeted the balance sheet size, the Japanese central bank is targeting interest rates and its purchases are based on prices. “I think it’s too early to proclaim the easy conditions in Japan are over. That said, I do think it’s constructive and it shows how sensitive the markets are to any potential change,” said Greg Peters, senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income. The Bank of Japan has been a poster child for central bank easing, taking its rates to negative levels and buying all types of assets, including stocks.

“They’re still buying ETFs, J-REITs, corporate paper. They changed how they’re easing, but they’re still easing,” said Marc Chandler, head of fixed-income strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. “I think the market is overinterpreting this, partly because of their positions. They’re short yen. They’re long euros. They’re being squeezed on both legs today.” [..] While it’s last to leave the party, a change in BOJ policies would be the most symbolic move yet that the extreme policies adopted in the global financial crisis are finally coming to an end, and the juice that helped push risk assets higher is being slowly withdrawn. Chandler said the BOJ has made a point of saying it will continue to ease. “The BOJ says, ‘We’re going to be patient. We’re going to be the last one out.’ … [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe told the Bank of Japan..

“If long rates continue to move higher, and the BOJ follows this with a continued reduction in the pace of the purchases, then we know we’re on to something. We’re on to a potential change in monetary policy in Japan,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Financial Group. “I think that is likely in 2018,” Boockvar said. “Whether this is the beginning of it, we’ll have to see. They have some cover too. They know what the Fed is going to do, and they know what the ECB is doing. Does the BOJ want to be the outlier of temporary insanity when every other central bank is pulling back? They are the epitome of extremity in terms of monetary policy.”

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Fed interference will go down in history as the uttermost of stupidities. Not yet though, the narrative of saving the economy can still be kept alive. But wait till things go south.

Fed Officials Are Scrambling To Figure Out How To Fight Next Recession (BI)

Federal Reserve officials puzzled by chronically-low US inflation seem to agree on at least one thing: They worry, almost universally, that they will lack the tools to fight the next recession, whenever it comes. Yet instead of focusing on tried and true policy measures like low interest rates and possibly bond buys, Fed officials current and former appear focused instead on broad shifts in the policy framework, including moving away from the current inflation targeting regime toward a potentially more aggressive approach. More importantly, the string of discordant ideas being offered up at a Brookings Institution conference by such high profile figures as former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, former White House economic advisor Lawrence Summers, and two current Fed members, does more to confuse the already muddled outlook for monetary policy than clarify it.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren suggested the Fed follow the model of the Bank of Canada, which periodically reviews its approach to maintaining price stability. He also called for the Fed to move toward an inflation target range, which he hinted might be from 1.5% to 3%, rather than the current 2% goal. John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, called for a system where the Fed would target the price level, meaning that it would compensate periods of undershooting the 2% inflation goal with periods of overshooting. US inflation has remained stubbornly below the Fed’s 2% target for much of the economic recovery, suggesting the labor market is not as healthy as the 17-year low unemployment rate of 4.1% suggests.

Shifting to a price-level target is “not nearly as scary as you might think” Williams told the audience of monetary economists, academics, and market participants. He worried about the “issue of credibility” that has resulted from persistently below-target inflation, which makes it look ” like the central bank is not committed to its goals.” Prolonged low inflation, which also reflects soft wage growth, can make monetary policy less effective because “it gets into inflation expectations and makes it harder to achieve 2% objective in good times.”

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Possible in theory, but with CB tightening not in practice.

Market Could Be Headed For A ‘Melt-Up’ Of 30% – Bill Miller (CNBC)

Worried about higher interest rates putting a dent on the stock market’s rip-roaring rally? Fear not, a rise in rates will actually help stocks, according to legendary investor Bill Miller. “Those 10-year yields go through 2.6% and head towards 3%, I think we could have the kind of melt-up we had in 2013, where we had the market go up 30%,” Miller, the founder of Miller Value Partners, told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Tuesday. “If we can get the 10-year towards that 3% level, you’ll see the same thing.” “In 2013, people finally began to lose money in bonds. They took money out of bond funds and put it into equity funds,” Miller said. Miller is considered one of the best investors ever, after beating the market for 15 years in a row while working at Legg Mason. Stocks have been on a rip-roaring rally for more than a year, as economic data and corporate earnings have improved.

On Tuesday, they closed at fresh record highs. But some experts fear the improvements in the economy could force the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy faster than they forecast, thus pushing interest rates higher. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose to 2.55% on Tuesday and hit its highest level since March.The yield has not traded above 3% since early 2014. It last traded above 2.6% last March. But Miller thinks the stock market could get another boost from lower corporate tax rates. President Donald Trump signed a bill in December that slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. “The tax cuts are probably partly in the market, but maybe not wholly in the market because we’re seeing things like companies raising the minimum wage, giving bonuses,” he said. “The people that are getting those $1,000 bonuses probably have a marginal propensity to consume of 99%.”

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It’s high time for that decline then.

People Have A Hard Time Even Imagining How The Market Could Decline (ZH)

A calm complacency never before seen has fallen blanket-like over US equity markets. “The behavior of volatility has entirely changed since 2014,” noted BAML in a a recent note thanks to major central banks keeping interest rates near historic lows (and printed more money than ever before). As The Wall Street Journal points out, One sign of that: VIX closed below 10 more times last year than any others year in its history, and until today, closed below 10 for the first 5 days of 2018… And while correlation is not causation, there is a clear causal link between the conditioning now deeply embedded within investors’ minds and the endless expansion of central bank balance sheets…

As JPMorgan’s infamous quant guru Marko Kolanovic wrote, “the first four Fed hikes in a decade have failed to generate the revival of volatilities that many had expected at the end of last year,” and a wave of political uncertainty linked to U.S. tensions with North Korea and the new presidential administration also raised the prospect that market tumults could occur with greater frequency… but no… In fact worse still for The Fed, financial conditions eased as they tightened and vol collapsed to levels never seen before…

All of which has led, as The Wall Street Journal reports, to a number of investors abandoning defensive positions taken to protect against a market downturn, in the latest sign that many doubters are shedding caution as the long rally rolls on. “I haven’t seen hedging activity this light since the end of the financial crisis,” said Peter Cecchini, a New York-based chief market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald. “It started in late 2016 and accelerated in the second half of the year.” But as Morgan Stanley warns in a recent note, what goes up (this fast) typically comes down… “Our team has observed a dramatic shift in sentiment since we initiated coverage in April. In April, it felt as if people were looking for a reason for the market to fail. Now, we have seen a total reversal with people having a hard time even imagining how the market could decline.”

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Recovery is just a story. Unless it has become viable to fight debt with more debt.

World Bank Issues Warnings On Interest Rates And Inflation (G.)

Financial markets are complacent about the risks of sharply higher interest rates that could be triggered by better than expected growth in the global economy this year, the World Bank has warned. The Washington-based organisation said that much of the rich west was running at full capacity as a result of a broad-based upswing in activity, but were now vulnerable to a period of rising inflation that would prompt action from central banks. Launching the Bank’s global economic prospects, the lead author Franziska Ohnsorge said: “There could be faster than expected inflation that would mean faster than expected interest rate hikes.” Ohnsorge added that stock markets were at levels similar to those seen before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, while bond markets were assuming that low inflation would keep official borrowing costs down.

“Financial markets are vulnerable to unforeseen negative news. They appear to be complacent,” she said, while announcing that the Bank has revised up its 2018 forecast for the global economy following a better than expected performance in the US, China, the eurozone and Japan in 2017. In its half-yearly assessment, the Bank said a recovery in manufacturing, investment and trade would mean global growth of 3.1% this year, up from the 2.9% pencilled in last June. But it warned the acceleration in growth would be temporary unless governments implemented structural reforms to raise long-term growth potential. “The broad-based recovery in global growth is encouraging, but this is no time for complacency,” said Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s president.

“This is a great opportunity to invest in human and physical capital. If policy makers around the world focus on these key investments, they can increase their countries’ productivity, boost workforce participation, and move closer to the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

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They’re even planning to march in the Olympics opening ceremony together.

South Korea’s Moon Says Trump Deserves ‘Big’ Credit For North Korea Talks (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued. The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs. North Korea ramped up its missile launches last year and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in some of the strongest international sanctions yet. The latest sanctions sought to drastically cut the North’s access to refined petroleum imports and earnings from workers abroad. Pyongyang called the steps an “act of war”.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted. “I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.” Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

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Ads are killing the experience. Most people by now have ad blockers. That whole industry needs drastic change.

Apple’s Privacy Feature Costs Ad Companies Millions (G.)

Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web. Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced. With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dennis Buchheim, general manager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab, said that the feature would impact the industry widely.

“We expect a range of companies are facing similar negative impacts from Apple’s Safari tracking changes. Moreover, we anticipate that Apple will retain ITP and evolve it over time as they see fit,” Buchheim told the Guardian. “There will surely be some continued efforts to ‘outwit’ ITP, but we recommend more sustainable, responsible approaches in the short-term,” Buchheim added. “We also want to work across the industry (ideally including Apple) longer-term to address more robust, cross-device advertising targeting and measurement capabilities that are also consumer friendly.” ITP was announced in June 2017 and released for iPhones, iPads and Macs in September. The feature prevents Apple users from being tracked around the internet through careful management of “cookies”, small pieces of code that allow an advertising technology company to continually identify users as they browse.

Its launch sparked complaints from the advertising industry, which called ITP “sabotage”. An open letter signed by six advertising trade bodies called on Apple “to rethink its plan … [that risks] disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.” It also accused the company of ignoring internet standards, which say that a cookie should remain on a computer until it expires naturally or is manually removed by a user. Instead, the industry said, Apple is replacing those standards “with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet”.

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We haven’t heard the last of this flaw which is actually a feature.

Antivirus Tools Caught With Their Hands In The Windows Cookie Jar (Reg.)

Microsoft’s workaround to protect Windows computers from the Intel processor security flaw dubbed Meltdown has revealed the rootkit-like nature of modern security tools. Some anti-malware packages are incompatible with Redmond’s Meltdown patch, released last week, because the tools make, according to Microsoft, “unsupported calls into Windows kernel memory,” crashing the system with a blue screen of death. In extreme cases, systems fail to boot up when antivirus packages clash with the patch. The problem arises because the Meltdown patch involves moving the kernel into its own private virtual memory address space. Usually, operating systems such as Windows and Linux map the kernel into the top region of every user process’s virtual memory space.

The kernel is marked invisible to the running programs, although due to the Meltdown design oversight in Intel’s modern chips, its memory can still be read by applications. This is bad because it means programs can siphon off passwords and other secrets held in protected kernel memory. Certain antivirus products drill deep into the kernel’s internals in order to keep tabs on the system and detect the presence of malware. These tools turn out to trash the computer if the kernel is moved out the way into a separate context. In other words, Microsoft went to shift its cookies out of its jar, and caught antivirus makers with their hands stuck in the pot. Thus, Microsoft asked anti-malware vendors to test whether or not their software is compatible with the security update, and set a specific Windows registry key to confirm all is well.

Only when the key is set will the operating system allow the Meltdown workaround to be installed and activated. Therefore, if an antivirus tool does not set the key, or the user does not set the key manually for some reason, the security fix is not applied. In fact, until this registry key is set, the user won’t be able to apply any Windows security updates – not just this month’s patches, but any of them in the future.

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UK and US will not give in any time soon.

Julian Assange’s Stay In London Embassy Untenable, Says Ecuador (G.)

Ecuador’s foreign minister has said Julian Assange’s five-and-a-half-year stay in her country’s London embassy is “untenable” and should be ended through international mediation. The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in Knightsbridge since the summer of 2012, when he faced the prospect of extradition to Sweden over claims that he sexually assaulted two women. He denies the accusations. Swedish prosecutors last year unexpectedly dropped their investigation into the allegations, which included a claim of rape. But Assange still faces arrest for breaching bail conditions if he steps outside the embassy and WikiLeaks has voiced fears that the US will seek his extradition and that there is a sealed indictment ordering his arrest. [..] Jeff Sessions, said last May that Assange’s arrest was now a “priority”.

Ecuador’s foreign minister, María Fernanda Espinosa, said her country was now seeking a “third country or a personality” to mediate a final settlement with the UK to resolve the impasse and said it was “considering and exploring the possibility of mediation”. “No solution will be achieved without international cooperation and the cooperation of the United Kingdom, which has also shown interest in seeking a way out,” she told foreign correspondents in Quito, according to Agence France-Presse. Assange, who has received numerous visitors to his modest quarters in the embassy, ranging from Nigel Farage to Lady Gaga, has described the period since his initial arrest as a “terrible injustice”. Not being able to see his children grow up was “not something I can forgive”, he said.

[..] On Tuesday evening, a lawyer for Assange appeared to welcome Ecuador’s proposal. He said his client had a right to asylum and argued that the risk of him being persecuted in the US had “escalated further in recent months under the Trump administration’s war on WikiLeaks” and that the investigation in Sweden had twice been discontinued. “If the UK wishes to show that it is a nation that respects its human rights obligations and commitments to the United Nations, it is time for Mr Assange to be allowed to enjoy his right to liberty, and fundamental right to protection against persecution in the United States,” he said. A spokesperson for the UK government said: “The government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

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“Julian Assange isn’t hiding from justice, he’s hiding from injustice.”

Australia Must Rescue Assange From The Establishment That Tortured Manning (CJ)

Private Manning was tortured. As sure as if they’d strapped her down and set upon her flesh with fire and steel, she was tortured. United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez stated unequivocally in 2012 that Manning’s treatment at the hands of the US government during her imprisonment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” after 295 legal scholars had already signed a letter in 2011 declaring that she was being “detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.” Humans, like all primates, are evolutionarily programmed to be social animals, which is why solitary confinement causes our systems to become saturated in distress signals as real as pain or fear. Studies have shown that fifteen days of this draconian practice causes permanent psychological damage. Manning was in solitary confinement for nearly a year.

Manning attempted suicide in July of 2016. To punish her for her attempt to end her misery, they tortured her some more. She attempted suicide again three months later. The same sadistic regime which inflicted these horrors upon Manning has during the current administration prioritized the arrest of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, and the international arms of the US power establishment have been working to facilitate that aim. The Guardian reports that Ecuador’s foreign minister is now saying Assange’s continued stay in the nation’s London embassy has become “untenable” and is seeking international mediation, to which a spokesman for the UK government has responded that “The government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

Justice. A government whose international operations are uniformly indistinct from America’s wants Assange to leave political asylum and trust his life to an international power establishment that tortures whistleblowers in the name of “justice”. Julian Assange isn’t hiding from justice, he’s hiding from injustice. What sane human being wouldn’t? Time after time after time we are shown that whistleblowers, leakers, and those who facilitate them are not shown anything remotely resembling justice by this depraved Orwellian establishment. Which is why Australia must intervene and protect him.

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The value of your life plunges along with that of others.

The Fog of War: Global Airstrike Deaths Up At Least 82% In 2017 (RT)

More than 15,000 civilians were killed by explosive weapons in 2017, a 42 percent increase on last year, while deaths by airstrikes increased by 82 percent, a new study by Action on Armed Violence has found. The research shows that, while official stats on civilian casualties are on the rise, they’re still modest in comparison to the “true figures.” “The US has a habit of assuming all fighting-aged men are, in fact, fighters…This is the hammer that the US uses to establish the truth in war,” the organization’s Executive Director Iain Overton told RT. Much of the increase is due to the battles to retake Islamic State strongholds in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. The Syrian conflict and the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen also accounted for a large proportion of civilian deaths.

The survey, found 8,932 civilians were killed by air-launched explosives in the first 11 months of 2017, compared to 4,902 during the same period in 2016. “At least 60 countries around the world saw explosive weapons being used last year,” Action on Armed Violence’s Executive Director Iain Overton told RT. “We have always acknowledged that our data would likely represent a lower figure of total civilians killed or injured than might actually be the case,” Overton said. “This is particularly true when there is a single fatality or wounding, and particularly in under-reporting of those injured by a bomb blast.” “When the fog of war descends casualty figures often fall short – both because they become highly politicized and because accurate reporting is often a casualty of war itself,” he added.

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Europe has no morals left.

Scores Feared Dead And Up To 100 Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya Coast (G.)

Survivors from a boat that foundered off Libya’s coast on Tuesday said about 50 people who had embarked with them were feared dead, while the coastguard said the number of missing might be as high as 100. Libyan coastguard vessels picked up nearly 300 migrants from three boats off the coast of the North African country on Tuesday, but one rubber boat was punctured and the coastguard only found 16 survivors clinging to its wreckage. “We found the migrant boat at about 10 o’clock this morning. It had sunk and we found 16 migrants. The rest were all missing and, unfortunately, we didn’t find any bodies or [other] survivors,” said Nasr al-Qamoudi, a coastguard commander.

Several of the survivors, who were brought back to a naval base in Tripoli, said there were originally about 70 people on board the boat when it set off near the town of Khoms, east of the capital. A coastguard statement later said that “at least 90-100” migrants were missing. The two other migrant boats were found off Zawiya, west of Tripoli. [..] Libya is the most common departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa by sea. More than 600,000 have crossed the central Mediterranean in the past four years, generally travelling in flimsy inflatable craft provided by smugglers that often break down or puncture. Under heavy pressure from Italy, some Libyan armed factions have blocked smuggling since last summer. Libya’s Italian-backed coastguard has also stepped up interceptions, returning migrants to Libya, where they are detained and often re-enter smuggling networks.

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Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Greenfield, Indiana 1960

 

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)
How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)
Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)
Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)
Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)
How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)
Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)
China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)
Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)
Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)
Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)
Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)
FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

 

 

Absolute must read.

“Economics failed the economy by telling us that everything that could be traded should be traded, since trade is always beneficial to humankind.”

“..the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.”

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. Don’t worry, this essay isn t going to be a jeremiad against them, that would be too easy, and too shallow, but that is where the story of how modern economics failed the economy and how to understand how to undo it should begin. Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place. If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like. Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while, creating no value themselves. The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was *because* finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t. And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

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Discuss. Do social media make you depressed?

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech. Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place.

There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element. Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many – or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

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The Fed is not the biggest player anymore.

Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)

A flattening of government bond yield curves that may presage an economic downturn could prompt verbal interventions in the coming week by central bankers still struggling to hit this cycle’s inflation targets. ECB chief Mario Draghi, U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and BOE head Mark Carney will form an all-star panel on Tuesday at an ECB-hosted conference in Frankfurt. The subject? “Challenges and opportunities of central bank communication.” Curve-flattening on both sides of the Atlantic, but more markedly in the United States, suggests investors have doubts over the future path of inflation and may be starting to price in a downturn just as the global economy picks up speed.

Since the Fed began raising rates in 2015, the difference between long- and short-term U.S. yields has shrunk to levels not seen since before the 2008 financial crisis, reaching 67 basis points – its flattest in a decade – in the past week. That partly reflects uncertainty about the passage of a Republican-sponsored bill to cut U.S. taxes, which has hauled down longer-term projections of inflation while expectations for upcoming rate increases push short-term yields higher. With curve-flattening typically signaling a muted outlook for both growth and inflation, the trend suggests investors see a risk that the Fed’s current monetary tightening cycle will start to slow the world’s biggest economy. A flatter curve, which makes lending less profitable, also poses a risk to the banking sector, nursed back to fragile health by central banks after it nearly collapsed a decade ago. But with crisis-era policies still largely in place, how would central banks cushion the impact of a downturn?

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Because of Draghi and Kuroda.

Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about junk bonds this week, that they have gotten clobbered, that losses have been taken, that this is a predictor of where stocks are headed, etc., etc., because after a steamy rally in junk-bond prices from the February 2016 low, there has now been a sell-off. When bond prices fall, bond yields rise by definition. And the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds – the upper end of the junk-bond spectrum – did this:

No one likes to lose money, and junk bonds did lose money this week, an astounding event, after all the easy money that had been made since early February 2016. But how far have yields really spiked? The chart below shows the same BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield BB Effective Yield index, but it puts that “spike” into a three-year context:

For further context, the BB yield spiked – a true spike – to over 16% during the Financial Crisis, as bond prices crashed and as credit froze up. Currently, at 4.36%, the average BB yield is off record lows, but it’s still low, and junk bond prices are still enormously inflated, given the inherent credit risks, and have a lot further to fall before any hand-wringing is appropriate. The low BB yield means that risky companies with a junk credit rating can still borrow money at near record low costs in a world awash in global liquidity that is trying to find a place to go. This shows that “financial conditions” are very easy. The market has now four Fed rate hikes under its belt and the QE unwind has commenced. Another rake hike is likely in December. Tightening is under way. By “tightening” its monetary policy, the Fed attempts to tighten financial conditions in the markets. That’s its goal.

But that hasn’t happened yet. While short-term yields have responded to the rate hikes, longer-term yields are now lower than they’d been at the time of the rate hike in December 2016. Stocks have rocketed higher. Volatility indices are near record lows. And various yield spreads have narrowed sharply – for example, the difference between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year Treasury yield is currently just 0.73 percentage points. In other words, raising money is easy and cheap. And “financial stress” in the markets, as measured by the St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index, has just hit a record low. In the chart below, the red line (= zero) represents “normal financial market conditions.” Values below the red line indicate below-average financial market stress. Values above the red line indicate higher than average financial stress. The latest reading of the index dropped to -1.60, by a hair below the prior record low in 2014:

In other words, financial conditions have never been easier despite the current series of rate hikes, the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization, and the hand-wringing about junk bonds this week. The chart below shows the Financial Stress Index going back to 2014. In that time frame, all values are below zero. Financial stress in the markets was heading back to normal in late 2015 and early 2016, as a small sector of the total markets – energy junk-bonds – were getting crushed and as the S&P 500 index experienced a downdraft. But in early February 2016, everything turned around:

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Europe’s problem is huge: “..the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.” Thing is, it’s Draghi who keeps the global economy going.

Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)

The ECB faces the Devil’s Alternative that Frederick Forsyth mentioned in one of his books. All options are potentially risky. Mario Draghi knows that maintaining the so-called stimuli involves more risks than benefits, but also knows that eliminating them could make the eurozone deck of cards collapse. Despite the massive injection of liquidity, he knows that he can not disguise political risks such as the secessionist coup in Catalonia. The Ibex reflects this, making it clear that the European Central Bank does not print prosperity, it only puts a floor to valuations. The ECB wants a weak euro. But it is a game of juggling to pretend a weak euro and at the same time a strong economy. The EU countries export mostly to themselves. Member countries sell more than two-thirds of their goods and services to other countries in the eurozone.

Therefore, the more they export and their economies recover, the stronger the euro, and with it, the risk of losing competitiveness. The ECB has tried to break the euro strength with dovish messages, but it has not worked until political risk reappeared. With the German elections and the prospect of a weak coalition, the results of the Austrian elections and the situation in Spain, market operators have realized – at last – that the mirage of “this time is different “in the European Union was simply that, a mirage. A weak euro has not helped the EU to export more abroad. Non-EU exports from the member countries have been stagnant since the monetary stimulus program was launched, even though the euro is much weaker than its basket of currencies compared to when the stimulus program began. The Central Bank Trap. This shows that export growth is not achieved by artificial subsidies such as a devaluation, but from added value, something that the EU has stopped looking for.

Escape From The Central Bank Trap explains that the ECB has got itself in a problem that is not easy to solve. The first evidence is that it should have finished its stimuli months ago according to its own plan, but is unable to do it. The second is that, with more than a trillion euros of excessive liquidity, the ECB keeps a figure of repurchases that were clearly unnecessary and that have resulted in the figure of excess liquidity being multiplied by more than ten. The third is that perverse incentives have taken over the European economic policy. Risks are relevant. This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston and I explained that the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.

Now that the ECB “reduces” these repurchases to 30 billion euros per month, it will continue to be more than 100% of net issuances. What does that mean? That the US always maintained a healthy secondary market alive, which guaranteed that there would not be huge risks of collapse when tapering started, because the Federal Reserve bought less than what was issued, paying attention to the market accepting the valuations of bonds and financial assets. By extending the repurchase program, the ECB admits that it does not know if there is a secondary market that would buy European government bonds at current yields. Ask yourself a question. Would you buy bonds from a heavily indebted state that has stopped its reform impulse with a 10-year yield of less than 2%, if the ECB did not buy them back? Exactly. No.

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What’s needed is a whole overthrow of taxation as we know it. The Paradise Papers point to where the changes should be.

How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)

President Donald Trump wanted to call it the Cut Cut Cut Act. Congressional Republicans settled on the less catchy and no more descriptive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. What the legislation that began making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives in early November actually would do is sharply reduce taxes for business while rearranging the personal income tax with a mix of cuts and increases. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “a game changer for our country.” The president said it was “the rocket fuel our economy needs to soar higher than ever before.” That’s a lot to expect from some changes in the tax code. But then, here in the U.S. we’ve come to expect big things of our income taxes. On the right, cutting them has been portrayed for decades as a near-magical growth elixir. On the left, raising or rearranging them is seen as essential to making society fairer.

And across the political spectrum, economic and social policies have come to rely on carving credits, deductions, and other exceptions out of the tax code to favor this or that behavior. It can sometimes feel, in fact, as if “we have lost sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues to fund government.” That was the lament of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform in November 2005. But this bipartisan group of worthies couldn’t agree on how to raise those revenues either, instead offering two plans with differing priorities. Both were mostly ignored by Congress at the time, though some of the recommendations—such as shrinking the tax deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes—have found their way into this year’s bill. Overall, though, it appears that the legislation will only make it harder to raise revenue to fund government.

The House and Senate have passed budget resolutions clearing the way for $1.5 trillion in revenue losses over the next decade from the tax changes. That’s $150 billion a year to add to a federal deficit that totaled a sinister-sounding $666 billion, 3.5% of GDP, in the just-ended fiscal year. All of which is a longer way of saying that we’ll almost certainly be back at this once again in the all-too-foreseeable future, trying to figure out a better way to fund the government. Since 1981, the year of President Ronald Reagan’s big tax cut, Congress has passed and presidents have signed 55 bills that the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center counts as “major” tax legislation. During the prior 36 years there had been just 18. [..] Ominously, most previous U.S. tax eras ended with major wars that required big increases in government revenue. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that to break us out of the cut-reform-increase-repeat loop we’re currently trapped in.

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This will make the next debt round a lot harder, and more expensive.

Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla’s first-ever pure corporate bonds are trading under water, boding ill for the Silicon Valley car maker’s next attempt to tap capital markets. Tesla sold $1.8 billion in the senior notes in August at a yield of 5.300%, at the height of excitement about the Model 3 and expectations the sedan’s production ramp would run as smoothly as Chief Executive Elon Musk had predicted. That same month, Tesla shares rose 10% to mark their last monthly gain this year so far. The stock lost 4.2% in September and 2.8% in October. The stock is down 9% so far in November, on the heels of a quarterly miss earlier in the month and news that the company has further pushed out its Model 3 production targets. “Third-quarter results put some pressure on the cash flow needs,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with CFRA Research.

The wider-than-expected quarterly loss and production delays “makes it harder for them to get a sweeter deal than they had in the past,” on capital raising, be it when selling bonds or equity, he said. The 5.300% notes, which mature in 2025, were trading at 94 cents on the dollar on Friday to yield 6.287%, according to trading platform MarketAxess. On a spread basis, they were trading at 393 basis points above comparable Treasurys. The bonds fell under par within a week of issuance, but were holding above 97 cents for much of October. Wall Street has long seemed to accept that Tesla’s high capital expenses and negative free cash flow will be the reality for the company at least in the short term.

But the weak performance of the bonds may be a sign that bond investors, at least, are starting to disbelieve Tesla’s growth story and will be looking for higher premiums to take on higher risk, said Trip Miller, a managing partner at hedge fund, Gullane Capital LLC. That higher cost of borrowing will have its own negative implications, he said. “Maybe the dam is starting to break for Tesla,” Miller said. Gullane does not have a position in Tesla because “their balance sheet is very, very troublesome for us,” he said.

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Everyone’s fighting corruption these days. Time for us to start doing the same?

China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)

China must win its battle against corruption or face being erased by history, its new top graft buster said in an editorial on Saturday, underscoring the ruling Communist party’s focus on eliminating corrupt behaviour. Zhao Leji, appointed to the new seven-member politburo standing committee last month and tasked to lead president Xi Jinping’s signature war on corruption, wrote in the state-run People’s Daily that failure would lead to the party’s downfall. “If our control of the party is not strong and party governance is not strict, then the party won’t be able to avoid being erased by history and the historic task the party carries will not be able to be fulfilled,” Zhao wrote. Xi, like others before him, has warned corruption is so serious it could lead to the end of the party’s grip on power.

The president’s corruption fight has ensnared more than 1.3 million officials. At last month’s five-yearly party congress he said it would continue to target both “tigers” and “flies“, a reference to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats. Zhao, formerly a low-profile official, replaced Wang Qishan, whose sweeping anti-graft campaign had made him China’s second most-powerful politician. “The facts tell us and warn us that the party’s position as the top political leader and power is the foundation of our political stability, economic development, national unity and social stability,” Zhao wrote. Zhao leads the central commission for discipline inspection, having previously been in charge of the party’s powerful organisation department, which is in charge of personnel decisions. He added that there would be no tolerance of people who “just do what they want to do” and ignore orders or carry on with banned behaviours such as trying to get around policy decisions.

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It’s crazy these people are kept from talking.

Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed a joint statement on Syria on Saturday that said they would continue joint efforts in fighting Islamic State until it is defeated, the Kremlin said. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the Kremlin announcement or the conversation the Kremlin said took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang. The Kremlin said the statement on Syria was coordinated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson especially for the meeting in Danang. Putin and Trump confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to take an active part in the Geneva political process, it said.

Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, according to the text of the joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website. Television pictures from Danang showed Putin and Trump chatting – apparently amicably – as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea. Earlier pictures from the meeting show Trump walking up to Putin as he sits at the summit table and patting him on the back. The two lean in to speak to each other and clasp each other briefly as they exchange a few words. Although the White House had said no official meeting was planned, the two also shook hands at a dinner on Friday evening. Trump has shown little appetite for holding talks with Putin unless there is some sense that progress could be made on festering issues such as Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.

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“Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage.”

Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)

The ride-hailing firm Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights, in a case that could have major ramifications for labour rights in the growing gig economy. The US company, which claims that drivers are self-employed, said it would launch a further appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, meaning the case could end up in thesupreme court next year. Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case last year after arguing they should be classified as workers, citing Uber’s control over their working conditions. Uber challenged the ruling at the tribunal in central London, warning that it could deprive riders of the “personal flexibility they value”. It claims that the majority of its drivers prefer their existing employment status.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which backed the appeal, said drivers will still be able to enjoy the freedoms of self-employment – such as flexibility in choosing shifts – even if they have worker status. The union said the decision showed companies in the gig economy – which involves people on flexible working patterns with irregular shifts and minimal employment rights – have been choosing to “deprive workers of their rights”. Farrar said: “It is time for the mayor of London, Transport for London and the transport secretary to step up and use their leverage to defend worker rights rather than turn a blind eye to sweatshop conditions.” “If Uber are successful in having this business model, obliterating industrial relations as we know them in the UK, then I can guarantee you on every high street, in retail, fast food, any industry you like, the same thing will go on.”

Farrar said he was willing to fight the case all the way to the supreme court if necessary but called on Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, to intervene instead. “We’ve asked to meet him when he came to London and Uber declined to do that, which tells you everything.” Aslam said: “Today is a good day for workers, we made history. The judge confirmed that Uber is unlawfully denying our rights.” “It’s about making sure workers across the UK are protected. Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage. That can’t be allowed to happen.”

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Good.

Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)

Greece is cracking down on undeclared income of owners leasing residential lodgings on a short-term basis. Tax authorities are creating an online platform where Airbnb lodged properties should be declared, or face a hefty fine. According to a report in Naftemporiki, registration will be mandatory and it will provide property owners with a certification number, which should be declared on any digital platform, website and social media where it is advertised – including the Airbnb website. The platform will demand the declaration of the property, the names of the renters and the duration of the lease, or otherwise face a fine of up to €5,000. Naftemporiki says that income from short-term residential leasing will be taxed based on income.

Specifically, for a taxpayer with a yearly income of up to 12,000 euros, the tax rate for income derived from short-term residential leasing will reach 15%; 35% for a taxpayer with between 12,000 to 35,000 euros in annual income. Above an annual income of 45,000 euros, a taxpayer’s income from short-term residential leasing will reach the astronomical rate of 45%, i.e. nearly one in two euros goes to the state. Tax authorities aim to collect revenue from people who put their property for lease on Airbnb, as many crisis-hit Greeks try to make ends meet by renting their homes to foreign visitors. It is estimated that three million tourists will be hosted in Greek homes in 2017.

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He’s lying. They didn’t act to save the Greek banks, but the German and French ones. And he knows it.

Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)

Outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem acknowledged on Thursday that Greece’s creditors put too much emphasis on saving the banks at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. In an exchange of views on Greece in the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Dijsselbloem was asked if he agrees with the view that Greece’s first bailout programme was designed to support the banks. Dijsselbloem noted that “banks were the biggest problem in all countries,” at the start of the crisis. “We had a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis and we spent a lot of the tax-payers’ money – in the wrong way, in my opinion – to save the banks so that the people criticizing us and saying that everything was being done for the benefit of the banks were to some extent right,” he said.

“This was the reason why we introduced the banking union and the introduction of higher standards, better supervision and a reform and rescue framework when banks have losses…Precisely so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again,” Dijsselbloem added. Dijsselbloem also claimed that the labour market reforms adopted by Greece had brought “clear improvements” that were reflected in the latest unemployment figures in the country. Referring to the programme as a whole, the outgoing Eurogroup president said the economic situation in Greece had improved as a result of the reforms and stressed the need to conclude the third review on time.

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This story gets darker fast. The UK deleted a lot of documents relvant to the Assange accusations AND told the Swedes not to talk to him in London.

FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

The siege by Scotland Yard agents around the red brick building in Knightsbridge has been gone for two years now. And with Sweden dropping the rape investigation last May, even the European arrest warrant hanging over Julian Assange’s head like the sword of Damocles has gone. Many expected the founder of WikiLeaks to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been confined for over five years, after spending one and a half years under house arrest. But Assange hasn’t dared leave the Embassy due to concern he would be arrested, extradited to the US and charged for publishing WikiLeaks’ secret documents.

Julian Assange’s situation is unique. Like him and his work or not, he is the only western publisher confined to a tiny embassy, without access to even the one hour a day outdoors maximum security prisoners usually receive. He is being arbitrarily detained, according to a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision which has completely faded into oblivion. December 7th will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange.

That is why next Monday, La Repubblica will appear before a London Tribunal to defend the press’ right to access the documents regarding his case, after spending the last two years attempting Freedom of Information requests (FOI) without success. It is entirely possible, however, that we will never be able to access many of these documents, as last week London authorities informed us that “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered”. A questionable choice indeed: Close is the lawyer who supported the Swedish prosecutors in the Swedish investigation on Julian Assange from the beginning. What was the rationale for deleting historical records pertaining to a controversial and still ongoing case?

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May 212017
 
 May 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 21 2017
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Alfred Buckham Tower of London and Tower Bridge c1920

 

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)
A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)
U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)
Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)
May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)
Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)
Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)
The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)
CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)
Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)
Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)
Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)
Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)
Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

 

 

Crazy. In America it is still considered OK to kill people for profit. Has been for ages.

But look at what’s not even being said: talking about Saudi Arabia without mentioning its support for Salafi religion and terrorism paints only part of the picture. To make a buck, and to create more chaos, the US supports the very terrorists it claims to be fighting.

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)

President Trump’s newly announced arms agreement with Saudi Arabia ratifies an Obama administration policy that has drawn criticism from a voluble, bipartisan minority of senators. Saudi Arabia, armed with American weapons, fought a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, where the government was overthrown by a rebel group tied to the Iranians. Allegations that Saudi Arabia has bombed civilians and committed other human rights abuses compromised what would otherwise tend to be unanimous U.S. support for the conflict. A $1.15 billion arms deal last year turned controversial, but that pact is dwarfed by the $110 billion pact signed Saturday. “[M]any of the armaments we’re providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it’s important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters following meetings in Riyadh.

But Saudi Arabia has attacked civilians intentionally, according to Senate critics of such agreements, rather than by mistakes borne of imprecise airstrike technology. “[T]he country is on the brink of famine in part because the Saudis have intentionally destroyed transit hubs and key bridges, and blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a piece published by the Huffington Post. “By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.”

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wanted Tillerson to make a series of demands on the Saudis designed to ease civilian suffering in Yemen, such as ending delays on humanitarian aid at a port city held by the rebels. “First, renounce any intention to conduct a military operation against the Port of Hudaydah,” Young, a former Marine who sits with Murphy on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week during a colloquy on the Senate floor with the Connecticut Democrat. “Second, redouble efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. Third, end any delays to the delivery of humanitarian aid caused by the Saudi-led coalition. And, fourth, permit the delivery of much-needed U.S.-funded cranes to the Port of Hudaydah that would permit the quicker delivery of food and medicine. I said it before, with more than 10 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance there is no time to waste.”

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Reports of poverty in America won’t stop coming in.

A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)

There was some good news and some not so good news in the Fed’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. First the good news. The report, based on the Board’s fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking conducted in October 2016, presents a “picture of improving financial well-being among Americans”, at least according to the report (read on to see if this is merited). Overall, 70% of the more than 6,600 respondents said they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” up 1% from 2015 and up 8% from the first survey results in 2013. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage, or 92%, of those who responded they were “living comfortably” was among the group with more than $100,000 in family income.

For Americans making less than $40,000 the breakdown was almost evenly split with 49% saying they are “just getting by.” According to the same study, 28% of respondents said that their income in the last 12 months was less than $25,000, and 40% report that their income was less than the key $40,000 cutoff, which suggests that roughly 4 in 10 Americans are “finding it difficult to get by.” The improvements in well-being as reported by the survey respondents were concentrated among high-income adults, with at least some college education, and prompted the WSJ to write that “U.S Household financial health improved in recent years.” Even so, most of the changes reported in the survey were relatively modest, “reflecting a slowly improving economy and an unemployment level at or below 5% throughout 2016.”

Now, the not so good news. Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. Troubling as this statistic remains, the overall share of adults who would struggle to come up with $400 in a pinch has declined by 2% from the last survey conducted in 2015, and down 6% since 2013. Of the group that could not pay in cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay off the expense over time. while a quarter would borrow from friends of family, and another 27% just couldn’t pay the expense. Others would turn to selling items or using a payday loan.

The breakdown was largely by education attainment: 79% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree said they would still be able to pay all of their other bills in full if hit with a $400 charge. Just 52% of those with no more than a high school diploma said the same. Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

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Election talk.

U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)

The U.K. will quit Brexit talks unless the EU drops its demands of a divorce payment of €100 billion ($112 billion), Brexit Secretary David Davis said. Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU would otherwise be plunged into “chaos,” and even a £1 billion settlement would be “a lot of money,” Davis said in an interview published in the Sunday Times. The size of Britain’s exit bill, and which types of negotiations can begin before it has been agreed, has been a source of debate for weeks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the U.K. will have to pay about £50 billion, while Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has signaled a figure between €40 billion and €60 billion. The Financial Times estimated the cost could balloon to €100 billion, while a study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales put the cost at as little as £5 billion ($6.5 billion).

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has said it will meet its commitments to the EU, but has questioned how the EU’s preliminary estimates have been reached. “We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away,” Davis said. “Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it.” In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, May said that “money paid in the past” by the U.K. into joint EU projects and the European Investment Bank ought to be taken account in the final divorce bill. “There is much debate about what the U.K.’s obligations might be or indeed what our rights might be,” she said. “We make it clear that we would look at those both rights and obligations.”

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Is there enough time left for May to alienate enough people? She certainly tries.

Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of boosting her parliamentary majority suffered a blow on Saturday, as Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party edged closer in the polls and Conservatives faced a backlash over proposed changes to social care. Labour cut the Tories’ lead in the latest Opinium Research survey to 13 points from 15 points a week earlier, and a new YouGov survey in the Sunday Times put Corbyn’s party nine points behind. The last time Labour managed a single-digit deficit in the YouGov series was in September. The tightening polls mark a setback for May as she seeks to strengthen her position ahead of upcoming Brexit negotiations. In another blow, 47% of respondents in a Survation poll said they opposed May’s plan to require people to tap into assets above £100,000 ($130,000), excluding the value of their homes, to pay for the costs of their old-age care.

Attacking May’s social care pledge and manifesto promises to pensioners, a demographic that traditionally votes Conservative, Corbyn labeled the Tories a “nasty” party in a speech in Birmingham on Saturday. He reiterated the accusation in an emailed statement and set out five pledges for how his party would help older voters. “Theresa May and the Conservatives won’t stand up for pensioners,” Corbyn said in the statement. “Their only concern is their billionaire friends.” Labour’s pledges to older voters include preserving a so-called triple lock on pension payments for five years, under which the government guarantees pensions will rise annually by whichever is greatest: the rate of inflation, the rise in earnings, or 2.5%. The Tories say they’ll drop the 2.5% provision starting in 2020.

Corbyn’s party also says it will guarantee winter fuel subsidies for all pensioners, and will not raise the state pension age beyond 66. The Conservative manifesto, unveiled by May on Thursday, would scrap the fuel payments for well-off pensioners, and said the state pension age should reflect increases in life expectancy. In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, May warned that a lot is “at stake” in the election and said the U.K. has “great challenges,” including the need to provide “security for older people while being fair to the young”. “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election, and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of Europe,” May wrote. Labour’s leader would “bring chaos to Britain,” she said.

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It’s plenty bad enough that it’s needed. And then scrap it? Scrapping it merely confirms that Britain is a third world country run by a cynical elite. Good thing there’s an election right ahead.

May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)

About 900,000 children from struggling families will lose their right to free school lunches under a cut unveiled in the Conservative manifesto. The total includes more than 600,000 young children recently defined as coming from “ordinary working families”, according to analysis for the Observer by the Education Policy Institute. It means that the surprise measure risks undermining Theresa May’s pledge to prioritise families that are “just about managing” – those who are in work, but struggling to make ends meet. May opted to end universal free school lunches for infants, introduced under the coalition government, and replace them with free breakfasts. The money saved will be used to see off a looming Tory rebellion over school funding.

The move risks punishing exactly the kind of families the prime minister has promised to help and will cost families about £440 for every child hit by the cut. It is likely to save about £650m a year. However, the Conservatives pointed to recent evidence that free breakfasts were more cost-effective, adding that the poorest children would still receive a free lunch. After a week in which the parties released their election manifestos, more Tory candidates expressed private reservations about their party’s plan to make people pay for their old-age home care through their estates.

With the large Tory poll lead closing slightly in recent days, some nervous candidates are urging the leadership to make another attempt to explain the policy to voters, while others are planning to lobby for concessions after the election. May has insisted it is a fair measure that ensures only those with estates worth more than £100,000 will pay. Jeremy Corbyn attempted to exploit the row by accusing the Tories of provoking a “war between generations”. He accused May of drawing up an “anti-pensioner package” that weakened protections for the state pension, removed the winter fuel allowance from many and forced thousands to pay huge amounts for home care. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said May’s social care policy would “go down as her poll tax”.

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“Interestingly, this policy puts the Tories in direct conflict with Prince William, who has been a vocal supporter of a total ban on ivory sales. Will we see the Duke of Cambridge campaigning for Labour – which has pledged to introduce the total ban the Prince has been lobbying for?”

Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)

After heavy lobbying from wealthy antiques dealers, Theresa May has sneakily dropped the proposed outright ban on elephant ivory sales from the Tories’ 2017 manifesto. Following bans in both the US and China, David Cameron had pledged in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to put a complete ban on all ivory trading. However, after huge pressure from rich and powerful antiques dealers, Theresa May has conveniently decided to completely scrap the plans altogether. The Tories did not decide to implement the ban during the two years after it was announced by David Cameron, and even their staunch supporters in the British press were writing negative pieces about the Tories reticence in pushing through the much-needed legislation.

A quote from a Daily Mail article written in March entitled “Tories’ shame over blood ivory”, said: “A much more likely reason (for the Tories dropping the ivory ban) is that they are being swayed by the powerful antiques industry, which fears it will lose millions of pounds if antique ivory sales are stopped, and whose figurehead happens to be Victoria Borwick, Conservative MP for Kensington, and president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association.” The most powerful UK antique traders association is The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, and their President, Lady Victoria Borwick (also the Conservative MP for Kensington) can be seen shaking hands with Theresa May in the image above.

The only mention of the subject in the Conservative Party’s latest 2017 manifesto is a general pledge to work with international organisations to protect endangered species and the marine environment. Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto has specifically pledged to introduce a “total ban on ivory trading”. An elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes on average, and their numbers have fallen by almost a third in Africa since 2007. So as well as being in favour of bringing back fox hunting, Theresa May also couldn’t really care about elephants being killed either. Are you seriously going to vote for a woman who bows to lobbyists over a practice as disgusting as elephant poaching?

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Should be quite the event, that Senate testimony of his.

Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)

Clearly disappointed to have been left out of the headline heroics from Friday night (courtesy of The Washington Post and The New York Times), CNN has decided that anon-sourced perspectives on officials’ feelings now warrants reportage. The latest in the sad sage of mainstream media’s downward spiral, as The Hill reports, is that former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify that he believes President Trump was deliberately trying to meddle in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a report late Friday. Despite swearing under oath that he “had never” been influenced during an investigation, and further that if he had he would have reported it immediately… CNN now reports that, according to a source, Comey has come to believe the president intended to influence him…

Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question. “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day, the panel’s leaders announced Friday. The central question at that blockbuster hearing will be whether Comey believed the President was trying to interfere with his investigation.

Sources say Comey had reached no conclusion about the President’s intent before he was fired. But Comey did immediately recognize that the new President was not following normal protocols during their interactions. So to clarify, a disgruntled fired employee, who previously said no effort to influence was undertaken, has now changed his mind, according to sources, and thinks his former boss was trying to influence him (according to sources).

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The west has rewritten WWII history from the start.

The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)

We entered the monument to the siege of Leningrad from the back. There is a large semi-circle with eternal flame torches at intervals and embedded sculptures of Lenin’s face, and other symbols of the Soviet era. The monument was built in the post-war period so the Soviet iconography is understandable. In the middle is a sculpture of a soldier, a half-naked woman looking forlorn into the distance, and another woman collapsed on the ground with a dead boy in her arms. There are several concentric steps that follow the semi-circle and I sat down on one of them and took in the feel of the area. Classical style music played in the background with a woman’s haunting voice singing in Russian. It was explained to me that it was a semi-circle instead of a full-circle to represent the fact the city was not completely surrounded and ultimately not defeated.

I finally got up and went through the opening in the semi-circle and came out to the front where a tall column with 1941 and 1945 on it stood with a large statue of two soldiers in front of it. There are several statues on either side of the front part of the monument of figures, from soldiers to civilians, who labored to assist in alleviating the suffering of the siege and defending the city. Soldiers and civilians helped to put out fires, retrieve un-exploded ordnance from buildings, repair damage, and built the road of life over a frozen body of water to evacuate civilians and transport supplies. The siege lasted 872 days (Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944), resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths, mostly from starvation and freezing, and some from bombing and illness.

Most were buried in mass graves, the largest of which was Piskarevskoye Cemetery, which received around 500,000 bodies. An accurate accounting of deaths is complicated by the fact that many unregistered refugees had fled to Leningrad before the siege to escape the advancing Nazi army. According to Wikipedia, by the end of the siege: “Only 700,000 people were left alive of a 3.5 million pre-war population. Among them were soldiers, workers, surviving children and women. Of the 700,000 survivors, about 300,000 were soldiers who came from other parts of the country to help in the besieged city.”


sculpture commemorating the defense of Leningrad during World War II. (courtesy of saint-petersburg.com.)

I told Mike that I didn’t think the average American could even begin to fathom this level of suffering. With the exception of a very small percentage of the population sent to fight our myriad and senseless conflicts, war is something that happens to other people somewhere else. It’s an abstraction – or worse yet, fodder for entertainment. [..] it all made me ponder how spoiled Americans have been in this respect, with a vast ocean on either side and weak or friendly neighbors to the north and south. We have not experienced a war on our soil since the 1860’s and have not suffered an invasion since 1812. I can’t help but think that this, along with our youth, goes a long way toward explaining our lack of perspective and humility as a nation. Only those without wisdom would characterize themselves as “exceptional” and “indispensable.”

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Under Obama and Clinton.

CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)

You know what they say about biting the hand that feeds. The NYT just dropped its latest deep-state scoop, and boy is it a doozy. But instead of using the information as more leverage to attack President Trump, the leaks reveal allegedly extreme incompetence at the highest levels of the CIA, what NYT’s “current and former government sources” characterized as the worst intelligence breach in decades. These officials revealed that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.”

The sheer number of U.S. assets lost rivaled those lost to the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen during the 1980s and 1990s, the NYT noted. The timing of the scoop is also curious: Instead of dropping it during the market day, standard practice for anti-Trump revelations from WaPo, NYT and CNN, this story appeared at noon on a Saturday, when global markets were shuttered – almost guaranteeing it won’t dominate the cable-news cycle, which will likely be laser-focused on Trump’s first trip abroad. One possible reason: the head of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 was Mike Morell, an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, who in August of 2016 penned “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

That is explainable: after all Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time when, as we now learn, China was killing CIA spies. Beginning in 2010, CIA operatives meant to collect information on the innerworkings of the Communist Party started disappearing. The NYT reports that between the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources. According to three sources, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building – a grisly killing meant to send a message to any others who might have been working for U.S. intelligence. Still others were imprisoned. All told, the Communist Party killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the CIA’s sources.

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Every country is willing to break every law, domestic or international, if it suits them.

Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)

Prominent jurist and head of Julian Assange’s legal team Baltasar Garzon told RT that the US has been secretly conducting an investigation into his client and WikiLeaks, arguing that those implicated in crimes should face legal action instead. Garzon, a renowned human rights judge who sat on Spain’s central criminal court and once indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said in an interview to RT Spanish that while Sweden dropping charges against the WikiLeaks co-founder is a welcome step, the main threat to his freedom comes from Washington. “He [Assange] is satisfied, but, in his own words, the war only begins now. We understood that Sweden was merely a tool in the fight against the freedom of speech. This [role] is the main occupation of the US,” Garzon said.

Assange’s legal team has been preparing to use all means available to gain the upper hand in a possible legal battle, including UN resolutions and international law “in the hopes that this country, despite all its power, admits that neither Julian Assange, nor WikiLeaks, nor freedom of speech advocates are to blame for its woes,” Garzon said. Those who should be held accountable are not whistleblowers and their sources, he argued, but those “ham-fisted leaders who neglected their responsibility to protect freedom and security in the society.” The ones who should be “investigated and persecuted” are “those who were exposed by WikiLeaks,” he said.

Not much is known about the clandestine proceedings allegedly underway in Virginia, Garzon said, noting that all the scant data they managed to obtain was received through information leaks and that they continue to be in the dark about the status of the proceedings. “Since 2010, the US has been carrying out a secret investigation against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for revealing secret materials, for the fight for the freedom of speech and information,” Garzon said, adding that as far as he is aware, no charges have been brought against his client at this point.

As for the UK police warning that Assange would be arrested for failing to surrender to the British courts back in June 2012, Garzon believes it only serves as a pretext to limit his freedom of movement, barring him from leaving the embassy. “I believe that it is against the law, because he did not breach any pre-trial restrictions. He was on the embassy’s territory, because he was granted political asylum. He obtained refugee status. That is to say, this situation goes against the law,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the British police failed to inform Assange that this sort of proceedings had been opened against him during his five-year stay in the embassy.

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A ‘secret’ I’ve only mentioned 1000 times.

Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)

Forget all the claims and protestations about “families of nations” and a “new Europe” and “the European project.” The European Union, and especially the eurozone, is a German empire. The new capital of Europe is not Brussels — let alone Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament — but Berlin. The ultimate power of the EU is not the president of the European Commission, but the chancellor of Germany. That’s the takeaway from “Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment,” the sensational memoir by the ill-fated, but colorful, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. His account of his role in the Greek debt crisis of early 2015 is the talk of the town in London, where it has just been published. And it has been tossed into the middle of the Brexit war of words with the EU, and the British election, like a grenade.

Varoufakis gives a detailed and candid account of the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes as he tried, and failed, to prevent the Greek debt crisis from bringing the country to its knees. He doesn’t spare himself, and he comes across — to his own admission — as politically naive and diplomatically inept. It’s a staggering tale of endemic lying in Brussels and corruption in Athens. But what is most fascinating is how, in the end, all roads lead to Berlin. When a roadblock is thrown up to a Greek debt deal, even in a meeting in Brussels or London or elsewhere, it almost always turns out to be the work of Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s hard-line finance minister.

[..] Most astonishingly, and outrageously, Varoufakis reveals that Berlin actually went behind the scenes to scupper a rescue deal struck between Athens and Beijing. The Germans didn’t want to let the Greeks off the hook. It was late March 2015. Greece was on the rack. It had just days left before literally running out of money and shutting the banks. And then, miraculously, Beijing stepped in with the offer of help. The Chinese wanted to get their exports to the heart of Europe faster. So they were offering to make major investments in the Athenian Port of Piraeus, and in Greek railways, as part of a “new Silk Road,” or commercial route. And along with the deal, they were willing to buy short-term Greek paper to keep the country afloat.

The Chinese were awash with surplus euros and dollars that needed a home, and Greece’s entire budget shortfall was chicken feed to them anyway. But days after agreeing to the deal, they suddenly, and mysteriously, pulled back. Varoufakis was shocked when they virtually sat out two auctions of short-term Greek government debt. He then discovered that the Chinese ambassador was also surprised, and this was a decision taken secretly at the highest levels in Beijing. Varoufakis recalls: “I told Alexis [Tsipras, the prime minister] what had happened and suggested strongly that he contact the Chinese prime minister. “The next day Alexis relayed the news from Beijing. Someone had apparently called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: Stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.”

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Germany wants chaos in Greece. Breaking laws and treaties won’t stop one second.

Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has reduced the number of asylum-seeker family members allowed into the country from Greece to 70 a month, German news group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland reported on Friday. The group of local papers said the information was provided by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government following a request from the Left Party. In its response, the Interior Ministry said the decrease in numbers had to do with “limited support and accommodation capacities,” as well as the “considerable logistical coordination effort by state and federal authorities.” Left lawmaker Ulla Jelpke described the explanation as a “miserable excuse,” and accused the government of shirking its responsibilities under the EU’s Dublin regulation.

The law stipulates that separated refugee and asylum-seeking families are entitled to a legal reunion once an immediate relative arrives in a country covered by the Dublin rule. “The federal government is trampling all over EU law and child welfare,” Jelpke said, adding that the cap should be removed because there was a need for as many as 400 refugee family members per month to be reunited with their loved ones in Germany. The EU took in some 1.6 million refugees and migrants – most of them from Syria – between 2014 and 2016. The majority arrived in Germany via frontline states like Italy and Greece. But the scale of the influx prompted many countries to introduce extra controls and to close their borders, blocking the so-called Balkan route and leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in Greece’s refugee camps.

According to information published by Greek newspaper “Efimerida ton Synakton”, around 2,000 refugees are waiting in Greece to be reunited with their families in Germany. It reported that Germany received only 70 Dublin transfers from Greece in April under the new cap, compared to 540 in March and 370 in February.

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This will not stop. It’s a feature of German and therefore Troika behavior.

Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)

“At the present time, Germany will not accept any Greek debt reduction,” said a spokesperson for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking to Bild. The German official also told the German newspaper that Berlin will not accept extending the debt repayment period, neither will accept that the European Stability Mechanism acquires the International Monetary Fund loans to Greece. The representative of Schaeuble said that on Monday the euro zone finance ministers would examine in detail what the Greek government has voted. “We welcome the ratification of the measures, it is an important step. At the Eurogroup on Monday we will look in every detail of what the Greek government has voted on. The goal is to close the second evaluation, but we can not prejudge the outcome of a comprehensive agreement,=” the German official said.

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After years of ever more severe austerity, the debt only keeps going up. How is that possible? What’s the way out? The Troika makes sure there’s no way out. All exits are blocked.

Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

Greece’s central government debt went up in 2017, from €326,258 billion in December to €326,528 billion in March, according to data released on Friday by the Public Debt Management Agency. The Greek government cash reserves stood at €2,908 billion at the end of March, compared with 2,791 billion at the end of December. Two thirds (67.6%) of the total debt has a variable interest rate. The Greek government wants to “lock” that at a fixed interest rate, in view of the new debt settlement. In this case, it will be protected in the long run from the risk of rising interest rates, but in the short term there will be a burden in relation to the very low variable rate of 1% of the bailout loans. Of the total soverign debt, €56.6 billion is in state bonds and 14.9 billion in short-term securities.

To these, must be added another €13.6 billion from public authorities’ repos. Repos increased by €2.3 billion in three months, a trend that shows that the Greek government is pumping from every source of liquidity in the public sector, but with a rather costly interest rate. A total €254.9 billion are loans, mainly from the European Stability Mechanism, received under the country’s economic rescue plans. The average duration of the Greek debt is 18.19 years, but the government seeks to restructure the debt and extend maturities. In 2017, payments for loans and bonds amount to about €8.5-9 billion. According to the medium term debt repayment plan, in 2017 and 2018 the public debt should be reduced to €319-320 billion.

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