Aug 202018
 
 August 20, 2018  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Henry Bacon General View of the Acropolis at Sunset 1927(?)

 

It’s Not Turkey, It’s The Debt Cycle (Steen Jakobsen)
Turkish Firms, Government Face $3.8 Billion Bond Crunch In October: SocGen (R.)
David Stockman: ‘Unhinged White House’ To Cause Stock Market Crash (CNBC)
Trump Is The Unsung Hero Of The World Economy (CNBC)
Greece’s Bailout Is Finally At An End – But Has Been A Failure (G.)
End Of Greek Bailouts Offers Little Hope To Young (BBC)
Varoufakis Says Biggest Mistake Was Trusting Tsipras (K.)
First No-Deal Brexit Advisory Notices To Be Released On Thursday (Ind.)
Britain’s Low-Earning Parents ‘Can’t Afford Basic Lifestyle’ (BBC)
In US, UK, People Die Early Due To ‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (G.)

 

 

Deleveraging and shrinking liquidity.

It’s Not Turkey, It’s The Debt Cycle (Steen Jakobsen)

There is currently a lot of focus on Turkey, and for good reason, but Turkey is really only a second or third derivative of the global macro story. Turkey represents the catalyst for a new theme, which is “too much debt and current account deficits equals crisis”. In that sense, we have come full cycle from deficits and debt mattering in the 1980s and ‘90s but not in the ‘00s and ‘10s post- the Nasdaq crash and great financial crisis under the biggest monetary experiment of all time. In our view, the order of sequence for this crisis is as follows: 1. The debt cycle is on pause as first China and now the US have deleveraged and ‘normalised’.

2. The stock of credit or the ‘credit cake’ has collapsed. First it was the ‘change of the change of credit’, or the credit impulse, which tanked in late 2017 and into 2018. Now it is also the stock of credit. Right now, global M2 over global growth is less than one, meaning the world is trying to achieve 6% global growth with less than 2.5% growth in its monetary base… the exact opposite of the 00’s and ‘10s central bank- and politician-driven model. 3. This smaller credit cake is spilling over to a stronger USD (as US growth increases versus the rest of the world) and a higher marginal cost of funding (as the amount of dollars available in the credit system shrinks), leading to a mini-emerging market crisis.

4. Finally, the Turkish situation was really created by the aforementioned factors but it was made worse by President Erdogan’s autocratic and naive monetary and fiscal response. The reason this mini-crisis is not idiosyncratic is points one through three, but the market is still treating Turkey as the starting point of the current EM mini-crisis. Where do we go from here? More and more investors seem to believe that we are on the brink of an ‘Asian crisis 2.0’ or a liquidity crisis.

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It costs Turks 25% more to pay off debt than it did in June.

Turkish Firms, Government Face $3.8 Billion Bond Crunch In October: SocGen (R.)

Turkey and its firms face repayments of nearly $3.8 billion on foreign currency bonds in October as the country struggles with a plunging lira that has lost more than a third of its value since the start of the year. Emerging market (EM) investors have been worried about Turkey’s external debt burden and the ability of its firms and banks to repay after a boom in hard currency issuance to help finance a rapidly growing economy. For companies, the cost of servicing foreign debt has risen by a quarter in lira terms in the past two months alone. “Turkey’s external financing requirements are large,” Jason Daw at Societe General wrote in a note to clients. “It has the highest FX-denominated debt in EM and short-term external debt of $180 billion and total external debt of $460 billion.”

Calculations by Societe General show that Turkish firms will face $1.8 billion of hard-currency denominated bonds maturing by the year-end while $1.25 billion of government bonds will come due. Additionally, a total of $2.3 billion in interest must be paid. The heaviest month for repayments is October, when $3 billion in principal and $762 million interest are due. “Principal and interest payments should be closely watched to year end – it is 25 percent more costly for the corporate sector to repay their obligations compared to June given FX depreciation,” Daw wrote.

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When will stocks implode?

David Stockman: ‘Unhinged White House’ To Cause Stock Market Crash (CNBC)

Just days before the anniversary of what’s expected to be the longest bull market in U.S. history, David Stockman is warning investors a crash is inevitable. Stockman, who served as the Office of Management and Budget director in the Reagan administration, puts a large part of the blame on Washington’s decision to place tariffs on China and the ballooning budget deficit. “This economy isn’t strong, and it can’t take the punishment that’s coming out of an unhinged White House and a Washington policy environment where they all have their heads in the sand,” Stockman said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” According to Stockman, the China trade war is the primary catalyst that could finally pushes stocks over the edge.

“We’re not going to have a happy solution to this. We’re in a trade war big time. It’s going to keep getting worse because Donald Trump is unhinged. He is an economic ignoramus on trade,” Stockman added. “This is not caused by bad trade deals. Our big trade deficits are the result of bad monetary policy for decades. We priced [ourselves] out of the world market, and what he’s trying to do is going to cause a train wreck.” Stockman is relentlessly bearish, and his previous dire warnings have yet to materialize. Right now, Stockman isn’t ruling out another all-time high in what he’s been calling the “biggest stock market bubble in recorded history.” However, he warned a 20 to 40% shock could “easily” wipe out gains in the days that follow.

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Who profits from the tax cuts?

Trump Is The Unsung Hero Of The World Economy (CNBC)

Washington’s huge fiscal and monetary stimuli will give the world economy an estimated $600 billion shot in the arm this year. That amount represents the difference between the expected U.S. purchases and sales of goods and services in world trade. Technically, you can call it the U.S. current account deficit. Some people may recall that this is exactly the opposite of what President Donald Trump promised in 2015 and has repeated ever since. The data published earlier this month show that Trump is nowhere close to delivering on that promise. In fact, China, Japan and Europe are getting a big piece of his tax cut in their combined trade surplus of $297.8 billion during the first six months of this year. That is an 8.2 percent increase from what they got out of a more sluggish American economy a year ago.

In spite of that, China, Japan and the European Union keep complaining about U.S. protectionism, accusing Trump of allegedly destroying the multilateral trading system. And they don’t even have the courtesy to recycle some of their surplus dollars in purchases of American IOUs that are fueling their economic growth. In the first half of this year, Japan, China and Germany reduced their Treasury holdings by $31.1 billion, $6.2 billion and $1.1 billion respectively. Washington — and the national security strategists, in particular — may wish to think about what those countries did with all the dollars they got from dumping their goods and services on U.S. markets. In fact, Trump is playing nice with those trading partners. Unfortunately, while doing that, he is also saddling generations of Americans with the soaring and debilitating public debt that will inevitably lead to slowing growth of jobs and incomes at home.

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It’s a sad day. By far the highest tax burden and by far the lowest incomes in the EU. That’s not a viable model.

Greece’s Bailout Is Finally At An End – But Has Been A Failure (G.)

After eight years, Greece will on Monday be deemed strong enough to stand on its own feet. The international bailout programme that has provided Athens with emergency financial support will come to an end. Aside from the tough budget rules in place for the next decade or more, Greeks can wave goodbye to the troika – the officials from the IMF, the ECB and the EU – that has in effect been running the country since 2010. Beware the hype that trumpets this as a great success story, a tribute to solidarity and a commonsense approach that has restored economic stability and prevented Greece from being the first country to leave the euro. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Greece has been a colossal failure. It is a tale of incompetence, of dogma, of needless delay and of the interests of banks being put before the needs of people. And there will be long-term consequences. When Greece first received help in 2010, the plan was for it to have access to the financial markets within two years. It has taken two further rescue packages and six years for that to happen. The Greek economy has recently been growing, but it has a vast amount of ground to make up, following a peak-to-trough contraction that saw GDP shrink by almost a third. The loss of so much output could have been avoided, but Greece – like the rest of Europe – was subjected to the idea that the priority in the wake of the most serious financial crisis in a century was for governments to balance the books through deflation.

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The only young Greeks who have a future have left.

End Of Greek Bailouts Offers Little Hope To Young (BBC)

The crisis hit all parts of Greek society – but it was particularly hard on the young. Between 2008 and 2016 the country lost almost 4% of its citizens to emigration – more than 400,000 people. And while Greece didn’t record the ages of those emigrating, the country is getting older. The average (median) age has jumped by more than four years since 2008; and while those aged 20 to 39 used to make up 29% of the population, that’s fallen to just 24%. Giorgios Christides is a Greek journalist covering his country for German news magazine Der Spiegel. Back in 2012 he wrote a piece for the BBC about his friends “fleeing Greece one by one”. He says the economic improvements since the peak of the crisis in 2012 are not enough to have changed that.

Greeks love their country, and many “would return the second they thought they could find a worthwhile job and good prospects back home”, he says. Low wages and high taxes for the self-employed make those good prospects rare. Even a “best-case scenario” of a permanent job presents difficulties “if you want to leave your parents’ home, have children, lead a full and meaningful life,” he said. Part of the reason for the exodus is a lack of job opportunities. Greece’s unemployment rate peaked at 27.5% in 2013 – but for those under 25, it was more than double that, at 58%. Last year, more than four in every 10 young Greeks were still jobless.

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“They are doing me a great honor by trying to pass on their sins to me.”

Varoufakis Says Biggest Mistake Was Trusting Tsipras (K.)

Almost three years after the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government signed the third bailout program and two days before Greece is set to complete it, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said his biggest mistake during his tumultuous tenure was “trusting Tsipras.” “My mistake was trusting Mr. Tsipras – [trusting] that we had been elected with a clear mandate not to extend the country’s debt colony status with a new memorandum and that we would fight until the end to link the total debt and the repayment rate with the GDP and its growth rate – what we call the growth clause,” he told SKAI television on Saturday. Asked to comment on the estimation made by the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Klaus Regling that the first six months of 2015, when Varoufakis was at the helm of the finance ministry, cost the country €86-200 billion, the former minister was dismissive.

“The cost was huge since 2010 and it is entirely due to the troika’s wrong program,” he said, referring to the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF who supervised Greece’s three adjustment programs. “They are doing me a great honor by trying to pass on their sins to me. A finance minister is judged by the debt levels he leaves behind, in relation to what he found, the cash reserves and the GDP. You will see that I mostly delivered what I had received,” he added. Varoufakis described the ESM as a “a sinful mechanism of alleged stability, which in essence destabilised the Greek economy and Europe.”

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They’re nowhere.

First No-Deal Brexit Advisory Notices To Be Released On Thursday (Ind.)

The government is to begin publishing its Brexit technical notices, setting out the consequences of crashing out of the EU without a deal, on Thursday, the prime minister’s office has said. The first of the explanatory documents are expected from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) within days and are designed to inform citizens and businesses how to cope with a no-deal scenario. All 84 of the notices are due to be published before the end of September. Some are thought to be broad in scope, covering issues like financial services, company law and climate change, while others will focus on specific problems including travelling abroad with pets.

Two days before the first publication, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab will travel to Brussels in a bid to pick up the pace of talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Theresa May’s office added on Saturday. “On the agenda will be resolving the few remaining withdrawal issues related to the UK leaving the EU and pressing ahead with discussions on the future relationship,” Downing Street said of Tuesday’s planned summit.

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The perks of austerity. You see it in Greece, you see it in the UK.

Britain’s Low-Earning Parents ‘Can’t Afford Basic Lifestyle’ (BBC)

Low-earning parents working full-time are still unable to earn enough to provide their family with a basic, no-frills lifestyle, research suggests. A single parent on the National Living Wage is £74 a week short of the minimum income needed, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. A couple with two children would be £49 a week short of the income needed, the charity said. But this was better than last year, when couples were £59 a week short. The National Living Wage is currently £7.83 an hour for those aged over 25. A government spokesperson said fewer families were living in absolute poverty.

“The employment rate is at a near-record high and the National Living Wage has delivered the highest pay increase for the lowest paid in 20 years, worth £2,000 extra per year for a full-time worker,” the spokesperson added. But the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said gains from modest increases in wages had been “clawed back” through the freezing of tax credits. Rising prices and changes to various benefit schemes had also “hit family budgets hard”, it said. The CPAG’s definition of a “no-frills” lifestyle is based on the Minimum Income Standard, a set of criteria drawn up by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. It calculates the income required for a minimum standard of living based on essentials such as food, clothes and accommodation, as well as “other costs required to take part in society”.

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More consequences of austerity.

In US, UK, People Die Early Due To ‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (G.)

Britain and America are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. They are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early. In Britain, life expectancy, which increased steadily for a century, slowed dramatically between 2010 and 2016. The rate of increase dropped by 90% for women and 76% for men, to 82.8 years and 79.1 years respectively.

Now, death rates among older people have so much increased over the last two years – with expectations that this will continue – that two major insurance companies, Aviva and Legal and General, are releasing hundreds of millions of pounds they had been holding as reserves to pay annuities to pay to shareholders instead. Society, once again, affecting the citadels of high finance. Trends in the US are more serious and foretell what is likely to happen in Britain without an urgent change in course. Death rates of people in midlife (between 25 and 64) are increasing across the racial and ethnic divide. It has long been known that the mortality rates of midlife American black and Hispanic people have been worse than the non-Hispanic white population, but last week the British Medical Journal published an important study re-examining the trends for all racial groups between 1999 and 2016 .

The malaises that have plagued the black population are extending to the non-Hispanic, midlife white population. As the report states: “All cause mortality increased… among non-Hispanic whites.” Why? “Drug overdoses were the leading cause of increased mortality in midlife, but mortality also increased for alcohol-related conditions, suicides and organ diseases involving multiple body systems” (notably liver, heart diseases and cancers). US doctors coined a phrase for this condition: “shit-life syndrome”.

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Aug 042018
 
 August 4, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan Spring rain 1912

 

The Everything Bubble Has Found Its Pin. The Pin’s Name is Jerome Powell. (PC)
The Fed Accelerates its QE Unwind (WS)
US Gains Only 157,000 Jobs In July As Unemployment Falls To 3.9% (MW)
US Government Has No Idea How Many Gig Workers There Are (MW)
Mark Carney Says Risk Of A No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Uncomfortably High’ (G.)
The Conservatives Are In Crisis Over Austerity, Not Just Brexit (NS)
US Secret Service And The Guardian Face Off Over ‘Russian Spy’ (RT)
Russia Seeks US Help To Rebuild Syria (R.)
Judge Calls US Efforts To Reunite Deported Parents ‘Unacceptable’ (R.)
US Court Orders Trump Administration To Fully Reinstate DACA Program (R.)
Trump Administration Lifts GMO Crop Ban For US Wildlife Refuges (R.)

 

 

Error? Powell obviously wants a strong dollar. And yes, that has consequences.

The Everything Bubble Has Found Its Pin. The Pin’s Name is Jerome Powell. (PC)

The Powell Fed is playing with matches next to over $60 trillion in $USD-denominated debt. The $USD is the reserve currency of the world. As such it is the currency of choice if you are going to issue debt. As a result of this, entities around the globe, whether they be corporations or countries, will often choose to issue debt denominated in the $USD, even if the $USD is not a currency used in their economy. When you borrow money in the $USD… you are effectively SHORTING the $USD. You are betting/hopingthat the $USD will weaken, making your debt servicing/ future debt repayment, cheaper on a relative basis. In this environment, when the $USD strengthens, it becomes MORE DIFFICULT to service your debt.

This is true even for the US itself. The $20 trillion we owe in public debt is effectively one gigantic $20 trillion $USD short. Enter Jerome Powell. For whatever reason, the Powell Fed has decided to embark on the most aggressively hawkish monetary policy in Fed history. And the currency markets have taken note. The $USD is breaking out of downtrends in Every. Single. Currency. Pair. The day Jerome Powell became Fed chair is annotated buy the vertical blue line. Assuming Jerome Powell DOESN’T want to blow up the $60 trillion $USD-denominated debt bubble… the above chart SCREAMS “policy error.”

I’m not being dramatic here… the last time the $USD rallied like this against every major currency was in 2014. At that time the entire commodity complex imploded by over 60% and the Emerging Market came within a hair’s breadth of systemic collapse. Again, I’m not being dramatic here… within six months of the $USD’s rally in 2014, Brazil’s stock market was down nearly 70%. China’s was down nearly 50%. Emerging Markets across the board dropped over 30%. Oil fell from $105 to $30 and change. Etc. I don’t see any indication Powell is aware of this… which means… BUCKLE UP. THE EVERYTHING BUBBLE HAS FOUND ITS PIN. AND THE PIN’S NAME IS JEROME POWELL.

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And Powell is very clear on “balance sheet normalization” too.

The Fed Accelerates its QE Unwind (WS)

The Fed’s QE Unwind – “balance sheet normalization,” as it calls this – is accelerating toward cruising speed. The first 12 months of the QE unwind, which started in October 2017, are the ramp-up period – just like there was the “Taper” during the final 12 months of QE. The plan calls for shedding up to $420 billion in securities in 2018 and up to $600 billion a year in each of the following years until the balance sheet is sufficiently “normalized” – or until something big breaks. In July, the QE Unwind accelerated sharply. According to the plan, the Fed was supposed to shed up to $24 billion in Treasury Securities in July, up from $18 billion a month in the prior three months. And? The Fed released its weekly balance sheet Thursday afternoon. Over the four weeks ending August 1, the balance of Treasury securities fell by $23.5 billion to $2,337 billion, the lowest since April 16, 2014.

Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $129 billion in Treasuries. The step-pattern in the chart is a result of how the Fed sheds Treasury securities. It doesn’t sell them outright but allows them to “roll off” when they mature. Treasuries only mature mid-month or at the end of the month. Hence the stair-steps. In mid-July, no Treasuries matured. But on July 31, $28.4 billion matured. The Fed replaced about $4 billion of them with new Treasury securities directly via its arrangement with the Treasury Department that cuts out Walls Street (its “primary dealers”) with which the Fed normally does business. Those $4 billion in securities, to use the jargon, were “rolled over.” But it did not replace about $24 billion of maturing Treasuries. They “rolled off.”

Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet for the four weeks ending August 1 dropped by $34.1 billion. This brought the drop since October, when the QE unwind began, to $205 billion. At $4,256 billion, total assets are now at the lowest level since April 9, 2014, during the middle of the “taper.” It took the Fed about six years to pile on these securities, and now it’s going to take years to shed them:

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Trend is towards lower paid jobs.

US Gains Only 157,000 Jobs In July As Unemployment Falls To 3.9% (MW)

The U.S. posted another solid spurt in hiring in July, showing that companies are still able to find enough workers to meet the growing needs of a rapidly expanding U.S. economy. Some 157,000 new jobs were created last month despite widespread complaints among businesses about a shortage of skilled labor, the Labor Department said Friday. The increase in hiring fell below the 195,000 MarketWatch forecast, but job gains in May and June was stronger than previously reported. The smaller gain in employment was also a result of governments cutting jobs in education during the summer break and the closure of Toys R Us. Otherwise hiring may have topped 200,000.

Unemployment, meanwhile, slipped below 4% again, to 3.9%, as more people found work.The jobless rate is at a nearly two-decade low. Far-flung complaints about how hard it is to find good workers still aren’t inducing companies to jack up salaries and wages, however. Hourly pay rose 7 cents in July to $25.07, but the 12-month rate of wage gains was unchanged at 2.7%. And even those increases have been largely eaten up by rising inflation. Wages usually rise 3% to 4% a year when the labor market is as tight as it is now.

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Much more interesting than the jobs report. 75 million gig workers? And they’re all counted as ’employed’?

US Government Has No Idea How Many Gig Workers There Are (MW)

The BLS does not have an explicit definition for a gig worker, or a formal way of tracking them. It comes closest in a survey called the Contingent Worker Supplement, which studies “contingent workers” in temporary working arrangements that they don’t expect to last more than a year. But prior to last month, the BLS had not released the Contingent Worker Supplement since 2005 due in large part to a lack of funding. The most recent report found that 5.9 million people or 3.8% of all workers are contingent workers. “It’s not that the BLS doesn’t care about secondary work, they do,” said Demetra Nightingale at the Urban Institute, a think tank. But without adequate funding it is difficult for the BLS to study those workers, she said.

These workers come in many forms. They include side hustlers with regular jobs and freelancers who take on extra clients on their off-hours, according to Freelancing in America, a 2017 survey conducted in part by Freelancers Union. That survey estimated that 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, or 36% of the workforce. Other estimates say the gig economy is even larger than that. The Federal Reserve has a very broad definition of people working in the gig economy. The Fed says gig workers could be anyone from a babysitter to an Uber driver. According to that definition, there are as many as 75 million gig workers.

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My first thought when reading this: he’s trying to get himself fired. Brexit Britain doesn’t need some Canadian opinion.

Mark Carney Says Risk Of A No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Uncomfortably High’ (G.)

Mark Carney has warned that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high” and will lead to higher prices, as Theresa May prepares to meet the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for talks. The Bank of England governor said both the UK and EU should “do all things to avoid” a no-deal scenario. He added that the banks had done the “stockpiling” and the country’s financial system was in a position to be able to withstand a shock that could result from the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. His remarks led to sterling falling sharply to just under $1.30. Carney told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the possibility of a no-deal is uncomfortably high at this point.” Asked if no deal would be a disaster, he said: “It is highly undesirable. Parties should do all things to avoid it.”

Pushed on what no deal would mean, he said “disruption to trade as we know it”, before adding: “As a consequence of that, a disruption to the level of economic activity, higher prices for a period of time. “Our job at the Bank of England is to make sure those issues don’t happen in the financial system, so that people will have things to worry about in a no-deal Brexit, which is still a relatively unlikely possibility but it is a possibility, but what we don’t want to have is people worrying about their money in the bank, whether or not they can get a loan from the bank – whether for a mortgage or for a business idea – and we have put the banks through the wringer well in advance of this to make sure they have the capital.”

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An already completely gutted society. More to come. Local councils are being cut to the bone.

The Conservatives Are In Crisis Over Austerity, Not Just Brexit (NS)

The Conservative party is engaged in the bloodiest incarnation yet of its 30-year Europe war. After Theresa May’s Chequers deal succeeded in alienating almost everyone, Remainers are backing a “people’s vote”, while Leavers are embracing no deal. There is no obvious means by which the parliamentary deadlock can be broken. But the Brexit crisis is masking another one: over austerity. The Leave vote in 2016 and the loss of the Tories’ majority in 2017 were symptoms of voter discontent over spending cuts (a new study published this week suggested that austerity may have directly caused Brexit). As the New Statesman’s Crumbling Britain series has charted, eight years of austerity have enfeebled the public realm.

Rough sleeping, which fell by three-quarters under the last Labour government, has risen by 169 per cent since 2010. The NHS has been forced to cancel operations and even urgent surgery as it struggles to meet ever greater demand. Relative child poverty has increased for three consecutive years and now stands at 4.1 million, or 30 per cent of children. Nearly 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres and 478 libraries are estimated to have closed since 2010. Potholed roads and uncollected bins are evidence of the scale of austerity borne by councils (real-terms funding for local authorities has been cut by 49 per cent since David Cameron took office as prime minister). Northamptonshire Council, a Conservative flagship, has declared itself effectively bankrupt – and others may follow.

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The Guardian is up to some strange things.

US Secret Service And The Guardian Face Off Over ‘Russian Spy’ (RT)

US Secret Service has scolded the Guardian for “irresponsible and inaccurate” reporting on an alleged Russian spy at the US embassy in Moscow. Unfazed, the newspaper continued to spin the story calling it the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The British newspaper, never one to pass up a good Russia scare story, published a fresh one on Friday, citing multiple intelligence analysts to reinforce the idea that its own anonymously-sourced revelations of a suspected spy with high-level security clearance having been embedded for a decade in the US embassy in Moscow,”could be just the tip of the iceberg.” The Secret Service, meanwhile, has been issuing repeated rebuttals to the Guardian’s reporting.

The security officials were quite emphatic in bashing the article as “wrought with irresponsible and inaccurate reporting based on the claims of “anonymous sources’.” In its press release on Thursday, the Secret Service specifically points out that before the publication came out, it had provided the Guardian with background to the story “clearly refuting unfounded information” in its statement to the editor. The Guardian did mention the agency’s response, bundling it in the middle of its article, while citing its unnamed “intelligence source” profusely, claiming that the Russian woman, the suspected mole, “had access to the most damaging database, which is the US Secret Service official mail system.”

This allegedly included “schedules of the president – current and past, vice-president and their spouses, including Hillary Clinton.” According to the Secret Service, the allegations that a mysterious foreign ‘femme fatale’ could have access to such sensitive information, are unfounded. “FSNs [Foreign Service Nationals] working under the direction of the U.S. Secret Service have never been provided or placed in a position to obtain, secret or classified information as erroneously reported.”

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You break it, you bought it.

Russia Seeks US Help To Rebuild Syria (R.)

Russia has used a closely guarded communications channel with America’s top general to propose the two former Cold War foes cooperate to rebuild Syria and repatriate refugees to the war-torn country, according to a U.S. government memo. The proposal was sent in a July 19 letter by Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, to U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the memo which was seen by Reuters. The Russian plan, which has not been previously reported, has received an icy reception in Washington. The memo said the U.S. policy was only to support such efforts if there were a political solution to end Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, including steps like U.N.-supervised elections.

The proposal illustrates how Russia, having helped turn the tide of the war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, is now pressing Washington and others to aid the reconstruction of areas under his control. Such an effort would likely further cement Assad’s hold on power. “The proposal argues that the Syrian regime lacks the equipment, fuel, other material, and funding needed to rebuild the country in order to accept refugee returns,” according to the memo, which specified that the proposal related to Syrian government-held areas of the country. The United States in 2011 adopted a policy that Assad must leave power but then watched as his forces, backed by Iran and then Russia, clawed back territory and secure Assad’s position. The United States has drawn a line on reconstruction assistance, saying it should be tied to a process that includes U.N.-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria. It blames Assad for Syria’s devastation.

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But what can Sabraw do?

Judge Calls US Efforts To Reunite Deported Parents ‘Unacceptable’ (R.)

A federal judge on Friday described as “unacceptable” the U.S. government’s progress in reuniting immigrant children in the United States with deported parents and ordered the government to appoint a person to take charge of its efforts. “This is going to be a significant undertaking and it’s clear there has to be one person in charge,” said U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw at a hearing in San Diego. Sabraw in June ordered the government to begin reuniting some 2,500 children that officials separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. The families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” U.S. government policy toward illegal immigration that began in early May.

Many of them had crossed the border illegally, while others had sought asylum. About 1,900 children have since been reconnected with their parents or a sponsor. On Thursday, the government proposed that non-profit groups should take the lead in locating as many as 500 parents deported or removed from the United States without their children. At Friday’s hearing, Sabraw said it was it was “100 percent the responsibility of the administration” to reunite those families. Sabraw also noted that as few as 12 of the 500 parents in question have been located. “That is just unacceptable at this point,” he said. “The reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child.”

The government’s lawyer, Scott Stewart, said that the agencies involved would consider appointing a point person or persons. Stewart said the government had proposed a plan with non-profit groups in a prominent role because it believed that was the quickest way to locate parents.

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Different judge. Legal opinions are sorely need in the US.

US Court Orders Trump Administration To Fully Reinstate DACA Program (R.)

A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Trump administration must fully restore a program that protects from deportation some young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, including accepting new applications for the program. U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., said he would stay Friday’s order, however, until August 23 to give the administration time to decide whether to appeal. Bates first issued a ruling in April ordering the federal government to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, including taking applications. He stayed that ruling for 90 days to give the government time to better explain why the program should be ended.

On Friday Bates, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, said he would not revise his previous ruling because the arguments of President Donald Trump’s administration did not override his concerns. Under DACA, roughly 700,000 young adults, often referred to as “Dreamers”, were protected from deportation and given work permits for two-year periods, after which they must re-apply to the program.

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Better put this before a judge as well. But no surprise that Monsanto is powerful stateside.

Trump Administration Lifts GMO Crop Ban For US Wildlife Refuges (R.)

The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted. Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the 2-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats afforded by wildlife refuges. “Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keating, federal lands policy analyst for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

Limited agricultural activity is authorized on some refuges by law, including cooperative agreements in which farmers are permitted to grow certain crops to produce more food or improve habitat for the wildlife there. The rollback, spelled out in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo, ends a policy that had prohibited farmers on refuges from planting biotech crops – such as soybeans and corn – engineered to resist insect pests and weed-controlling herbicides. That policy also had barred the use on wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in conjunction with GMO crops. Neonics are a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of wild bees and other pollinating insects around the world.

Rather than continuing to impose a blanket ban on GMO crops and neonics on refuges, Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in Thursday’s memo that decisions about their use would be made on a case-by-case basis.

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Jul 302018
 
 July 30, 2018  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Family of Saltimbanques 1905

 

Why did Britain vote Yes in the Brexit vote Cameron called? To a large degree to protest policies he himself imposed. For many it’s still a mystery ‘mechanism’, but not for all. People like Steve Bannon understand it very well. That is, austerity and mass migration make voters turn to the political right. Even if they are initiated by the right. When Britain’s Tories under David Cameron and George Osborne began ripping apart much of the country’s institutions and infrastructure, they knew that their austerity measures would only make their party stronger.

The incompetence of Theresa May and her ministers on Brexit will lead to an almighty backlash, and soon, but then Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, far to the right of May, will take over. Labour under Corbyn doesn’t stand a chance. The same pattern repeats itself everywhere, and nobody knows how to stop it. How could they if and when they don’t understand it?

For the right, this is a ‘can’t lose’, and they’re not done. That’s why Steve Bannon is touring Europe. It’s easy pickings: a rightwing government that imposes austerity measures will be rewarded for it with more voters. If it also lets in large numbers of migrants, even more votes. Can’t lose. The migration streams in Europe are supported by the right, because they know that subsequently opposing them will keep them in power.

Under political systems as we once knew them, you’d expect people to turn left instead of right, but there is no left left to vote for. What’s left of what was once left, has become an indistinguishable part of a big shapeless blob in the center -or even center-right- of our political systems. Or perhaps we should say: the systems as we once knew them. And it’s indeed just what’s left of the left, which in most cases is very little. In many countries, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, formerly left parties have been all but extinguished, former ‘glory’ brought to its knees.

Spain is an exception, but leftwing PM Pablo Sanchez seems to have landed his job primarily by playing a better game of chess -or poker- than his opponents when he forced then-PM Mariano Rajoy out. But just wait till you see what happens when refugees and migrants begin flooding into Spain, instead of Greece and Italy, for real. That development has already started. Italy closed its borders, Spain opened them. It will lead to a rightwing government in Madrid, too.

This is not about opinion. it’s simply what happens. When there is no left to turn to to halt austerity, let alone temper migration numbers, people will turn to the only alternative available to them. Right. The same right that is more than ready to magnify the problems, whether it’s migration or increasing levels of poverty. They win either way.

 

In Germany, the leftwing SDP hardly exists anymore. Center-right Angela Merkel, Queen of Europe, opened the doors of the nation and whaddaya know, parties to her right started growing. If I can insert one bit of opinion here, I’d say letting one million migrants into your country in one year is asking for trouble. Migration must always take place in moderation, especially when the difference in wealth between an existing population and new arrivals is very large. It’s different in Turkey or Lebanon, where wealth disparities are much smaller.

And those countries are already largely Muslim, whereas allowing many people into your country who have completely different religions and worldviews is a whole different game. Canada does this -relatively- well: new arrivals are Canadian first, and Muslim or Syrian after. European countries have never mastered that model; that’s why they have ghetto’s and assorted other problems. Migration and assimilation must be two sides of the same coin, or you have not immigration but an invasion.

The right can do what it wants and still win and get bigger, while privatizing everything in sight and robbing the public of all they once owed. And then that same public will vote for them again. It’s neoliberal and neocon and there’s nobody left to explain, let alone fight it. And if there were, there’s a formidable propaganda machine waiting in the wings, and they’ve been at it for a while now. The -formerly- left has no such machine. The best they can do is blame Russia. But they themselves are to blame, not Moscow.

 

So the people vote against their own best interests, and it’s not even very hard to get them to do that anymore. All you need to do is deprive them of all other options. Once the left wing becomes part of the center, whether it’s in the US or any of many European countries, rien ne va plus. The die has been cast.

The left must turn against neoliberalism, but it has no economists to explain the reason why, and no leaders who understand economics. So they have become neoliberalists themselves. They’re all stuck in the austerity model, and nobody gets how damaging it is to take a meat cleaver to an already suffering economy. The people of Greece can explain that one.

Economies function -or not- because of money flowing through them. You can cut away some of the fat in lean times, but you can’t cut away the arteries. Austerity is deadly to an economy, but the irony is that it makes people vote for those who first, initiate it, and second, promote more austerity.

I don’t want to insert any political opinions, but I do think that for a society, and an economy, to properly function there needs to be a balance, between left and right, between rich and poor, between owners and workers. We’re far away from any such balance wherever I look. And as I’ve said before, that’s why we have Trump.

To reveal what has so far remained hidden: everything done under the guise of ‘left’ that was merely more neoliberalism. To allow people who don’t agree with him to form an opinion and an identity, something they thought was not necessary under neoliberals like Obama or Tony Blair or Merkel. I don’t see any of that happening though, and that means many more years of Trump and other rightwing dominance.

If the answer to austerity is to vote for more austerity, what will be the answer to collapsing stock- and housing markets? I have an idea. And it doesn’t include Jeremy Corbyn. Or Bernie Sanders.

 

 

Jul 292018
 
 July 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The old guitarist 1903-4

 

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)
Julian Assange Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)
In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)
Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)
David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)
An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)
Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)
Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)
Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)
Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

 

 

GDP may look strong, but sentiments are crumbling.

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)

Something is amiss in Corporate America. Both national and regional surveys reveal a sinking sense that the economy’s tailwinds are shifting to headwinds. The downtrodden confidence is a curiosity given many economists’ forecasts calling for second-quarter growth to have accelerated to a 4.2 percent annualized rate, the fastest since 2014. Soft though the survey data may be, the numbers don’t lie. If something doesn’t give – and fast – what follows is sure to be damaging to the real economy. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey for July revealed that the business outlook had slumped to the lowest level in over two years.

Odds are pretty good this number was dragged down by those with the highest incomes, many of whom are likely also business owners and corporate executives who’ve been on the front line of the rising costs to run their businesses. But there may be more than meets the eye among those whose incomes rank in the top third of households. While the majority of these respondents expressed concern over the tariffs, what they’re reading, hearing and seeing may be dampening their outlooks even further. As things stand, it’s as if January never happened, a month in which confidence was so high, the “news heard” among high income earners hit a 20-year high. By the beginning of July, “news heard” had slid to minus 18, the lowest in two years.

The six-month, 79-point swing is so severe it rivals August 2011, when the euro crisis shook world markets, Standard & Poor’s stripped the U.S. of its AAA credit rating and households were rattled by the debt ceiling debacle. [..] Consider the starting point for many companies. Last year’s weak dollar and natural disasters had many struggling to satisfy overseas demands and the massive needs required to rebuild. Labor and raw material costs were already on the rise to correct for the imbalances. The tariffs were the insult to injury many manufacturers could simply not afford.

“The actual economic impact will really come down to time,” cautioned Boockvar. “The longer this goes on, the more actual business activity will be negatively affected.” To Boockvar’s point, the collapse in business sentiment suggests many companies don’t foresee the ability to withstand further blows to their ability to profitably conduct business. Businesses are saying as much.

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Unbelievable garbage from CNN. That they pay attention to Assange now may be a ominous sign. They straight-faced claim that Assange fled rape allegations in Sweden. He did not. Sweden told him he was free to go to London. Only to turn around and issue a warrant for him.

Julian Assange Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)

Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19, 2012 to claim political asylum. He has been there ever since – a total of 2,230 days – rarely seeing daylight. But multiple sources say his situation is now untenable and he may soon leave, whether he wants to or not. The question is: what will happen to Assange as and when he does walk out of his bolt-hole around the corner from Harrods? The recent indictments issued by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller imply that Assange and WikiLeaks were a conduit for Russian intelligence in distributing hacked Democratic Party emails in 2016. According to the indictment document, “The conspirators (…) discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organisation 1 to heighten their impact.”

Assange has always maintained that he did not receive them from the Russian government. He told Fox News in January 2017: “Our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party.” A member of Assange’s legal team, Jennifer Robinson, told CNN this week: “WikiLeaks has made very clear they were not engaged in any way with the Russian state with respect to that publication. There is no connection between WikiLeaks and any of those who have been indicted.” His lawyers argue that all Assange did was publish the hacked emails, as did other media, after being in contact with a hacker called Guccifer 2.0. The Special Counsel alleges that Guccifer 2.0 was a cover for Russian intelligence, saying in the indictment that on July 14th [2016], Guccifer 2.0 sent WikiLeaks an encrypted attachment that contained “instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents.”

Whether a sealed indictment awaits Assange in relation to the Russian hacking investigation is unknown. But according to US officials, charges have been drawn up relating to previous WikiLeaks disclosures of classified US documents. Assange would face arrest if/when he leaves the embassy because he skipped bail in 2012 – when Swedish authorities were seeking his extradition to face accusations of rape. Last year Sweden suspended the investigation, but Assange’s lawyers fear his arrest would be swiftly followed by a US extradition request. Assange maintains his innocence.

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This feels like too little too late. We know all this, we have for a long time. And it’s worse: as I wrote in May in I am Julian Assange, the Guardian engaged in an active smear campaign against Assange then. So does CNN -see above. That’s much more relevant than that they don’t defend him.

In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)

Last Tuesday a top lawyer for the New York Times named David McCraw warned a room full of judges that the prosecution of Julian Assange for WikiLeaks publications would set a very dangerous precedent which would end up hurting mainstream news media outlets like NYT, the Washington Post, and other outlets which publish secret government documents. “I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers,” McCraw said. “From that incident, from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” Do you know where I read about this? Not in the New York Times.

“Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself,” activist Ray McGovern wrote for the alternative media outlet Consortium News. “In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.” So let’s unpack that a bit. It is now public knowledge that the Ecuadorian government is actively seeking to turn Assange over to be arrested by the British government. This was initially reported by RT, then independently confirmed by The Intercept, and is today full mainstream public knowledge being reported by mainstream outlets like CNN.

It is also public knowledge that Assange’s asylum was granted by the Ecuadorian government due to a feared attempt to extradite him to the United States and prosecute him for WikiLeaks publications. Everyone from President Donald Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff to Democratic members of the US Senate have made public statements clearly indicating that there is a US government interest in getting Assange out of the shelter of political asylum and into prison.

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The state of the media is something to behold. Can it slide even further? You bet.

Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)

Some people you just can’t reason with, especially the hell-spawned man-beast who personally directed Russian “meddling” and “interference” in our election and stole certain victory from president-designee Hillary. (I know this because The New York Times and The Washington Post said so.) Another astonishment: in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would not recognize Crimea as part of Russia and would demand the return of the region to Ukraine. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Pompeo is pissing up a rope on that one. Russia will not give up its warm-water naval bases on the Black Sea anymore than the US will return its San Diego naval installation to Mexico, and Mr. Pompeo knows it.

So do the posturing idiots on the senate committee, who apparently forgot that our own government officials fomented the 2014 Ukrainian coup that prompted Russia to annex Crimea and its military assets in the first place. How many of you feel a gnawing disgust and contempt for both sides of the US political spectrum? The news, day and night, reveals a nation unable to think, unable to discern reality from fantasy, avid to dissemble and lie about absolutely everything, eager to support any racketeering operation designed to fleece its own citizens, and utterly ignoring the genuine problems that can drive us into a new dark age.

On balance, and just for now, I’m more disturbed by the side represented by the Democratic Party, aka the “progressives” or “the Resistance,” because they are responsible for politicizing the FBI before, during, and after the 2016 election and that was a dastardly act of institutional debauchery in an agency with the power to destroy the lives and careers of American citizens. The product of that corruption is a dangerous manufactured hysteria inciting hostility and aggression against another nation that could lead to a war that humanity will not recover from.

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Austerity leads to right wing support everywhere.

David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)

As the Brexit negotiations roll on, we do see some signs of progress. Our understanding of the underlying causes of the referendum outcome has developed significantly in the last two years. Leave-supporting areas can be easily distinguished from those supporting Remain. Broadly speaking, they are more deprived, have lower levels of income, fewer high status-jobs, a weaker economic structure, and an ageing demographic with lower levels of educational attainment. Further, non-economic factors have also been highlighted as important correlates of support for Brexit . But an open question to economists, though, is what are the economic origins of the relationships between these characteristics and support for Leave?

An important cross-cutting observation that has been made over and over again is that Leave-supporting areas stand out in having an electorate that has been “left behind”, is particularly reliant on the welfare state and is thus exposed to welfare cuts. In a recent paper, I show that austerity-induced reforms, including widespread cuts to the welfare state since 2010, were an important factor behind the decision of many people to shift their political support to UKIP and, subsequently, support Leave in the EU referendum.

The austerity-induced reforms of the welfare state, implemented in the years after 2010, were broad and deep. In 2013, it was estimated that the measures included in the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 would cost every working-age Briton, on average, around £400 per year. Crucially, the impact of the cuts was far from uniform across the UK: it varied from around £900 in Blackpool to just above £100 in the City of London. Aggregate figures suggest that overall government spending for welfare and protection contracted by 16 per cent in real per capita terms, reaching levels last seen in the early 2000s.

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What is Bernie thinking?

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)

Let me preface this open letter of sorts that I’m writing to Senator Bernie Sanders. I’m not penning this missive as though I’m a crestfallen supporter, after falling for the okie doke in 2008 and waking up to the deception of Obama, I decided to stop putting my faith in politicians. Rather, I write this article on behalf of Bernie’s legions of supporters and the millions of Americans who put their faith in someone who spoke against the iniquities that are ravaging our nation and our planet as a whole. Bernie, it was your decision to speak against this consolidated graft that is cratering society that captured the imagination of the disaffected and gave people hope that their voices could be heard above the cash extortion that dominates our government.

Instead of continuing your rebellion against the establishment and speaking against the corrosive nature of our politics, you are charting a course towards irrelevance by jumping on this cockamamie #Russiagate narrative. Here is what I don’t get about your decision to glom on to this most ridiculous assertion that 12 Russians had more impact on our elections than the billions of dollars that are spent by corporations and plutocrats to bend elected officials like pretzels. The insinuation the punditry is making is that Americans were duped to vote against their own self-interests because they refused to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Never mind that Hillary was one of the most divisive and disliked politician to run for president in modern American history. Never mind that the DNC essentially rigged the primaries to ensure her victory at your expense. Instead of focusing on the structural and systematic flaws that render our votes irrelevant, fingers are pointed at a manufactured villain halfway around the world in order to distract from the fact that our elections have been hijacked by moneyed interests and entrenched leeches who are sucking the citizenry dry. Whatever efforts Russia might have made to influence our elections were outweighed by a kleptocracy that hacked down our democracy with dark money and self-centered politicians who put their interests above that of the people they purportedly serve.

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This one’s for you, bible belt.

Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)

Vladimir Putin says that the adoption of Christianity more than 1,000 years in territory that later became Russia marked the starting point for forming Russia itself. Putin’s comments came Saturday in a ceremony marking the 1,030th anniversary of the adoption by Christianity by Prince Vladimir, the leader of Kievan Rus, a loose federation of Slavic tribes that preceded the Russian state. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of clergy and believers at a huge statue of the prince outside the Kremlin, Putin said adopting Christianity was “the starting point for the formation and development of Russian statehood, the true spiritual birth of our ancestors, the determination of their identity. Identity, the flowering of national culture and education.” The comments underline strong ties between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Book review. Hope the book itself is better. What social media do to people’s brains and social lives is far more relevant.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)

If you’re online these days, you likely sense that something’s wrong with the internet. You probably feel weird about how many times a day you check Facebook or Instagram, and likely a little uneasy about how annoyed or envious you feel when you do. Maybe the hostility online depresses you. Maybe you worry about the next generation, and how anxious they all seem. Maybe you’ve even considered deleting your accounts. This is exactly what Jaron Lanier, a leader in the tech world, says you should do. Right away. Lanier — a pioneer in the world of internet startups, and virtual reality in particular — has long been a critic of the Silicon Valley status quo. In this slim, highly-readable manifesto, he lays out his case against social media. And it is a devastating one.

In 10 simple arguments, the tech insider paints a picture of a wide-scale behaviour modification apparatus driven by social attention — both the carrot of approval and the stick of criticism, which generates the most intensity or “engagement.” “There is no evil genius seated in a cubicle in a social media company performing calculations and deciding that making people feel bad is more ‘engaging’ and therefore more profitable than making them feel good,” he writes. “Or at least, I’ve never met or heard of such a person. The prime directive to be engaging reinforces itself, and no one even notices that negative emotions are being amplified more than positive ones.”

According to Lanier, the social media apparatus has made people into lab rats, placing them under constant surveillance. He believes the process is making people angrier, more isolated, less empathetic, less informed about the world, and less able to support themselves financially. Add to all that: Lanier says this highly tuned behaviour modification system is for rent to anyone looking to influence the public. The constant stream of data, and the algorithms that tweak subsequent efforts to sway people, aren’t just used to sell soap, he notes, but to influence politics.

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Wonderful tale. But given the demise of insect numbers, bats must be under severe threat.

Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)

Here’s a flicker in the periphery. I notice it because of the way it moves; it’s a sort of fast fidget – staccato and angular in movement and path, like a movie projected at the wrong frame rate. It doesn’t swoop like a swallow, or bumble like a moth. The bat moves like a bat, and like nothing else. I’m sitting near my home under some trees, watching the coming night deepen the navy sky. The day has been airlessly hot, and with nightfall relief creeps into the air like a balm. Animals are out – I can hear twitches in the bushes behind me. Young frogs; hedgehogs maybe. Looking for water. Then I notice this bat. Seconds after I see it, I feel it pass so close that it makes my hair move, with it a split-second rustle of papery wings. I shiver.

Bats are just flying mice, people say, except they’re not, at all. Worldwide there are two main groups: Megachiroptera, big-eyed, placid-faced, small-eared – almost anthropomorphic, a man-bat; and Microchiroptera, the opposite. Nature’s darkness-creature has over time become ours, too. Their thorny outline is so conversant with the sinister that we nearly forget why. Light never catches them. They are opaque, darkly anonymous silhouettes into which humans project all manner of eerie ideas. Unwittingly, bats reinforce these with their habits. They haunt churches. Fly by night. Sleep subversively inverted. And the one far-flung species that feeds on blood bears the name “vampire” all too neatly.

This solitary bat flies about me in rapid loops. This one is maybe a noctule, or a pipistrelle. Catching insects perhaps. I worry that it will hit me but it won’t. It sees by echoing its sounds off nearby objects like aerial sonar, and it’s an excellent way to navigate. Those sounds are too high-pitched for the human ear to detect, and so to us, other than those wings, the bat makes no sound. None at all. I watch it. Bats need to catch air under their wings to fly. They can’t lift off like birds: they must drop. Their flight is a fall, arrested again and again with each frantic flap. That’s why they don’t move like anything else. Except, perhaps, a human trying to fly.

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And so the issue keeps shifting. But it doesn’t get resolved.

Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)

Shelters in the south of Spain are struggling to deal with a huge influx of migrants, many of whom are being left without a proper place to sleep. The arrivals – 1,300 in the past three days – have stretched services to their breaking point with the strain felt particularly hard in Algeciras as well as other municipalities along the coast of Andalusia. The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain has doubled since last year. Spain is now the main entry point into Europe, above Italy or Greece. But shelter services have been unable to keep up with the demand, leaving many migrants to sleep in overcrowded centers.

Up to 260 migrants spent the past two nights on the deck of a Maritime Rescue ship, more than 50 huddled together on a small courtyard of a police station in Algeciras, and 90 more jostled for a spot in the port of Barbate. Many more are left to wander the streets of towns like Medina Sidonia and Chiclana after spending the maximum legal 72-hour period in police custody. Immigration officials have traveled to Cádiz to look for a solution to what the Spanish government describes as a “collapse” of services. In a press release, the government said that 400 migrants had nowhere to go and blamed the problem on the former administration of Mariano Rajoy for its “lack of foresight.” “The number of arrivals has not stopped rising since 2017 but despite this nothing was done,” said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.

IN NUMBERS
• The number of people arriving by sea has tripled in the past year. Since the beginning of the year, 22,711 migrants have reached Spain, 19,586 by sea.
• Spain has overtaken Greece and Italy as the country which received the highest number of migrants.
• An average of 54 people arrived in Spain by sea each day in the first five months of 2018. That average has since shot up to 220 per day.
• Since the beginning of the year, 294 people have died trying to reach Spain – almost double the figure from the same period last year.

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Your donations are now also feeding the people in Mati, where conditions are really bad. I’ll have much more on the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund soon, many new and very positive developments, after a bit of a lull. More donations of course are needed and welcome.

Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

A 42-year-old woman who was in intensive care after suffering extensive burns in the deadly wildfire that ripped through the coastal town of Mati in east Attica this week died early Saturday morning, raising the number of fatalities to 88. On Friday night, authorities also identified the bodies of the nine-year-old twin girls and their grandparents that went missing after the wildfires. Their bodies were among a group of victims recovered by emergency crews on Tuesday lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach. The news was reported on broadcaster SKAI by the private investigator the family had hired to find the children. It was confirmed by a reported friend of the family on his Facebook page.

The twins’ father had provided forensic authorities with a DNA sample and appeared on several TV stations seeking help in finding them. A total of 46 adult burn victims are being treated in hospitals in Athens, with nine of them in intensive care. Two children remain in hospital but authorities said their injuries are not life-threatening. Five days after the deadly blaze, there was still confusion over the number of those missing. The Athens Medical School’s Forensics and Toxicology Lab said it has conducted autopsies on 86 bodies, of which only 25 have been identified. As sources explained to Kathimerini, in the first 48 hours after the fires, several authorities wrote up lists of missing persons, which means the same people may have been recorded twice or more.

Since there was no official information on where relatives should report missing persons, police started separate investigations, when the relevant authority in this case would have been the fire service. On Saturday, Dimitra Lambarou, the deputy mayor of Marathonas, which has administrational jurisdiction over the majority of the devastated coastal town on Mati, said she is resigning over the deadly fires. “Since no-one else did it, I will,” she told broadcaster SKAI on Saturday. “I’m really ashamed for all those people who are in positions of responsibility,” she said and accused Marathonas mayor Ilias Psinakis of “not rising to the occasion.”

Read more …

Jul 232018
 
 July 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Man in a bowler hat 1964

 

Martyrs to the Cause: Carter Page and Julian Assange (Raimondo)
British Assassination Campaign Targeting Russian Exiles? (SCF)
The Burden Of Proof Is On The Russiagaters (CJ)
Russian Hysteria An Exercise In PsyOps (Kunstler)
Liquidity Crisis: Tesla Asks Suppliers For “Cash Back” (ZH)
Portugal Dared to Cast Aside Austerity. It’s Having a Major Revival.
How The Fracking Revolution Broke OPEC’s Hold On Oil Prices (Rapier)
Less Than 20% Of US Apartments Affordable For Middle-Income Black Renters (MW)
China Probes Stainless Steel Imports From Indonesia, EU, Japan And Korea (R.)
The World’s Largest Megacities By 2100 (ZH/VC)
Earth’s Resources Consumed In Ever Greater Destructive Volumes (G.)
Crop Failure And Bankruptcy Threaten Farmers As Drought Grips Europe (G.)

 

 

“Assange is, in short, the greatest journalist of our time..”

Martyrs to the Cause: Carter Page and Julian Assange (Raimondo)

Assange was granted sanctuary due to Rafael Correa, then the President of Ecuador: unfortunately, Correa’s successor – one Lenin Moreno – has caved to pressure from the US and Britain, and it looks like Assange is going to be handed over to the British imminently. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but my own view is that there has indeed been a grand jury secretly deliberating his case, and charges will be made public: which means Assange will be sent to America, and to an uncertain fate. Uncertain due to the Supreme Court decision in the Pentagon Papers case, in which the Supremes ruled that the First Amendment protects journalists who report facts that may embarrass or otherwise inconvenience the government.

In other circumstances, and in an earlier era, his fate would not be uncertain, it would be sealed. After all, WikiLeaks has revealed more US government secrets than any single individual or state adversary in history. One after another the revelations came – a US helicopter gunship gunning down Iraqi civilians, the entire secret diplomatic history of the US, complete with original documents and references, the methodology of hi-tech US surveillance on ordinary Americans, and the list goes on and on. Assange is, in short, the greatest journalist of our time – and so naturally the rest of the profession hates his guts, and is calling for his head.

The reasons for this should be clear enough: the Russia-gate mythology, a matter of faith for the Fourth Estate, characterizes Assange as one of its chief demons. He is, in their fake-expert phraseology, a Russian “asset,” Putin’s puppet, who deprived Hillary Clinton of her rightful due and “stole” the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.

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Since the narrative is not based on any evidence whatsoever, we can simply turn it upside down.

British Assassination Campaign Targeting Russian Exiles? (SCF)

For its part, the Russian government has always categorically denied any involvement in the ill-fate of nationals living in exile in Britain. On the Skripal case, Moscow has pointed out that the British authorities have not produced any independently verifiable evidence against the Kremlin. Russian requests for access to the investigation file have been rejected by the British. On the Litvinenko case, Russia has said that the official British inquiry was conducted without due process of transparency, or Russia being allowed to defend itself. It was more trial by media. A common denominator is that the British have operated on a presumption of guilt. The “proof” is largely at the level of allegation or innuendo of Russian malfeasance.

But let’s turn the premise of the argument around. What if the British state were the ones conducting a campaign of assassination against Russian émigrés, with the cold-blooded objective of using those deaths as a propaganda campaign to blacken and criminalize Russia? In a recent British media interview Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was typically harangued over alleged Russian malign activity in Britain. Lavrov rightly turned the question around, and said that the Russian authorities are the ones who are entitled to demand an explanation from the British state on why so many of its nationals have met untimely deaths. The presumption of guilt against Russia is based on a premise of Russophobia, which prevents an open-minded inquiry.

If an open mind is permitted, then surely a more pertinent position is to ask the British authorities to explain the high number of deaths in their jurisdiction. As ever, the litmus-test question is: who gains from the deaths? In the case of the alleged attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, would Russia risk such a bizarre plot against an exile who had been living in Britain undisturbed for 10 years? Or would Britain gain much more from smearing Moscow at the time of President Putin’s re-election in March, and in the run-up to the World Cup?

The more recent alleged nerve-agent poisoning of two British citizens – Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess – in the southern English town of Amesbury revived official anti-Russia accusations and public fears over the earlier Skripal incident in nearby Salisbury. The Amesbury incident in early July occurred just as a successful World Cup tournament in Russia was underway. It also came ahead of US President Donald Trump’s landmark summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Again, who stands to gain most from these provocative events? Russia or Britain?

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This is how it should be done.

The Burden Of Proof Is On The Russiagaters (CJ)

As we’ve discussed previously, in a post-Iraq invasion world the confident-sounding assertions of spies, government officials and media pundits is not sufficient evidence for the public to rationally support claims that are being used to escalate dangerous cold war tensions with a nuclear superpower. The western empire has every motive in the world to lie about the behaviors of a noncompliant government, and has an extensive and well-documented history of doing exactly that. Hard, verifiable, publicly available proof is required. Assertions are not evidence.

But even if there wasn’t an extensive and recent history of disastrous US-led escalations premised on lies advanced by spies, government officials and media pundits, the burden of proof would still be on those making the claim, because that’s how logic works. Whether you’re talking about law, philosophy or debate, the burden of proof is always on the party making the claim. A group of spies, government officials and media pundits saying that something happened in an assertive tone of voice is not the same thing as proof. That side of the Russiagate debate is the side making the claim, so the burden of proof is on them. Until proof is made publicly available, there is no logical reason for the public to accept the CIA/CNN Russia narrative as fact, because the burden of proof has not been met.

[..] There are many Russiagate skeptics who have been doing copious amounts of research to come up with other theories about what could have happened in 2016, and that’s fine. But in a way this can actually make the debate more confused, because instead of leaning back and insisting that the burden of proof be met, you are leaning in and trying to convince everyone of your alternative theory. Russiagaters love this more than anything, because you’ve shifted the burden of proof for them. Now you’re the one making the claims, so they can lean back and come up with reasons to be skeptical of your argument.

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“I think that the thinking class in the United States has literally lost its mind.”

Russian Hysteria An Exercise In PsyOps (Kunstler)

The media over the last few years has indulged in wild speculation around U.S.-Russian relations. And as seen, the run up to this weeks meeting at Helsinki between the leaders of the two nations has been no different. James believes the ongoing Russia investigation, the election of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton has made a certain class of people in the U.S. irrational. “I think that the thinking class in the United States has literally lost its mind. Donald Trump’s persona is so odious that it’s just driven them mad and he’s like a giant splinter in the eye of the thinking class.”

A registered Democrat, Kunstler doesn’t believe that the Russians interfered in the U.S. election in any meaningful way. And any efforts to punish or antagonize them are crazy and dangerous. The ongoing expansion of NATO, playing war games at Russia’s borders and the destabilizing of Ukraine has consolidated bad relations with Russia stretching back to the Cold War. History repeats itself tragically when the thinking classes of powerful nations start to behave extremely irrationally. “Doing anything to interfere with trade and erect barriers and put up tariffs might be a dangerous thing to do,” says Kunstler.

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Boy, what a story.

Liquidity Crisis: Tesla Asks Suppliers For “Cash Back” (ZH)

According to a memo seen by The Wall Street Journal that was sent to a supplier last week, Tesla said it is asking its suppliers for cash back to, drumroll, help it become profitable, as if that is somehow the priority of the company’s suppliers. And we are not talking about a few cents here and there: Tesla requested the supplier return what it calls a meaningful amount of money of its payments since 2016. But wait, it gets better: the memo which was sent by a global supply manager (who will probably be fired shortly), described the request as “essential to Tesla’s continued operation” and characterized it as an investment in the car company to continue the long-term growth between both players.

In other words, Tesla has given its vendors an ultimatum: give us a haircut, or else we won’t survive, and not only is your business with us over, but all those billions in payables we owe you, well, good luck with the other pre-petition claims in bankruptcy court. Or as one Tesla skeptic noted on twitter: “TSLA has been cranking out cars 24/7 at 2-3x the rate they can deliver them, turning supplier parts on credit into finished goods. Then they turn around and “ask” for a cash back so they don’t default on said suppliers. Y’all just got played.” For those wondering how much money Tesla owes its suppliers, or “ransom” as it is now better known, the answer is $2.6 billion and rising exponentially.

As the WSJ further adds, “while Tesla said in the memo that all suppliers were being asked to help it become profitable, it is unclear how many were asked for a discount on contracted spending amounts retroactively.” While Tesla did not comment on the memo, it spun the situation as standard industry practice (it isn’t) confirming it is seeking price reductions from suppliers for projects, some of which date back to 2016, and some of which final acceptance many not yet have occurred. The company called such requests a standard part of procurement negotiations to improve its competitive advantage, especially as it ramps up Model 3 production. Odd that Tesla did not consider all these aspects of its business when it signed contracts which laid out, very clearly, what its obligations were.

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Why still austerity in Greece?

Portugal Dared to Cast Aside Austerity. It’s Having a Major Revival.

Ramón Rivera had barely gotten his olive oil business started in the sun-swept Algarve region of Portugal when Europe’s debt crisis struck. The economy crumbled, wages were cut, and unemployment doubled. The government in Lisbon had to accept a humiliating international bailout. But as the misery deepened, Portugal took a daring stand: In 2015, it cast aside the austerity measures its European creditors had imposed, igniting a virtuous cycle that put its economy back on a path to growth. The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions and social security, and offered incentives to businesses. The government’s U-turn, and willingness to spend, had a powerful effect. Creditors railed against the move, but the gloom that had gripped the nation through years of belt-tightening began to lift. Business confidence rebounded. Production and exports began to take off — including at Mr. Rivera’s olive groves.

“We had faith that Portugal would come out of the crisis,” said Mr. Rivera, the general manager of Elaia. The company focused on state-of-the-art harvesting technology, and it is now one of Portugal’s biggest olive oil producers. “We saw that this was the best place in the world to invest.” At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade. The renewal is visible just about everywhere. Hotels, restaurants and shops have opened in droves, fueled by a tourism surge that has helped cut unemployment in half.

In the Beato district of Lisbon, a mega-campus for start-ups rises from the rubble of a derelict military factory. Bosch, Google and Mercedes-Benz recently opened offices and digital research centers here, collectively employing thousands. Foreign investment in aerospace, construction and other sectors is at a record high. And traditional Portuguese industries, including textiles and paper mills, are putting money into innovation, driving a boom in exports. “What happened in Portugal shows that too much austerity deepens a recession, and creates a vicious circle,” Prime Minister António Costa said in an interview. “We devised an alternative to austerity, focusing on higher growth, and more and better jobs.”

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How long for?

How The Fracking Revolution Broke OPEC’s Hold On Oil Prices (Rapier)

A decade ago, in the summer of 2008, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was racing toward $150 a barrel. Over the previous three years, and despite strong demand growth, the world had only increased oil production by 1.2 million BPD, and it essentially all came from OPEC. Many analysts, including me, were extremely concerned about the future hold OPEC would maintain over the world’s oil supplies. It appeared that there would an enormous transfer of wealth from those countries dependent upon oil imports – like the United States – to OPEC countries. In many cases, these countries have interests that are hostile to those of the U.S., so this was very much an issue of national security.

But the future played out differently than it seemed it would in the summer of 2008. Unbeknownst to most people, oil producers were experimenting with a marriage between two established oil drilling technologies — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The success of this marriage would unlock oil in tight oil and shale oil deposits that had previously been too expensive to recover, and would result in one of the greatest oil booms the world had ever seen. In fact, the “fracking revolution” caused U.S. oil production to turn upward in 2009, and then rise over the next seven years at the fastest rate in U.S. history.

While it is still true that OPEC still produced 42.6% of the world’s oil in 2017, the majority of new oil production since 2008 has come from the U.S. Of the 10.3 million BPD of new oil production since 2008, the U.S. supplied 6.2 million BPD (60%). The world’s two other major oil-producing countries, Saudi Arabia and Russia, saw their production increase by 1.7 million BPD and 1.2 million BPD respectively since 2008. OPEC overall increased its production by 3.6 million BPD since 2008, primarily as a result of production growth in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. But OPEC’s gains were limited by production declines in Venezuela, Libya, and Nigeria. There were also regional production declines in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South and Central America.

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What happens if you use cheap credit to make your zombie economy look alive.

Less Than 20% Of US Apartments Affordable For Middle-Income Black Renters (MW)

Millions of Americans rent because they can’t afford to buy. And many of those people struggle to pay the rent, new research suggests, more so if they are African-American or Hispanic. A renter who earned $39,647 per year, the median black household income in the U.S., could afford just 16.2% of rentals available on Zillow if they kept their housing costs below 30% of their pretax income, according to a new analysis from the real-estate company. Hispanic renters fared somewhat better: Those who earned the median household income could afford 27.3% of rentals before they risked spending more than a third of their pretax income on housing.

Spending 30% of your gross income on rent is the traditional measure of affordability used by many real-estate experts. Comparatively, white renters who earned the median household income for their demographic could afford 49.7% of rentals, while Asian renters could afford 67.4%. “Perhaps more so than any other factor, income determines where and how we live in the United States today,” said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas in the report. “Income disparities across racial and ethnic groups in the United States have remained stubbornly persistent and, as a result, black and Hispanic families encounter far fewer affordable rental options than white and Asian families,” he said.

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More tariffs?

China Probes Stainless Steel Imports From Indonesia, EU, Japan And Korea (R.)

China on Monday launched an anti-dumping probe into stainless steel imports worth $1.3 billion, including from a privately owned Chinese mill with operations offshore, after complaints that a flood of product has damaged the local industry. The Commerce Ministry said on Monday the investigation will target imports of stainless steel billet and hot-rolled stainless steel sheet and plate from the European Union, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, which nearly tripled last year. The move follows a complaint by Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel with backing from four other state-owned mills including Baosteel’s stainless steel division, which blamed cheap imports on falling prices, it said.

China makes and consumes around half of the world’s stainless steel, which is used to protect against corrosion in buildings, transportation and packaging. While the complaint targets eight foreign producers, it also lists a number Chinese companies, including the Indonesian unit of one of the world’s top producers, Tsingshan Stainless Steel, and 19 traders who import product. Some private Chinese companies have opened or started building plants in Indonesia in recent years, drawing on its plentiful nickel resources and lower-cost of production. A significant portion of the new production has been sold in China, analysts say.

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At least a little scary.

The World’s Largest Megacities By 2100 (ZH/VC)

Throughout the course of human history, the biggest cities have always seemed impossibly large. For many millennia, it was almost unfathomable for a city to sustain more than 1 million residents. In fact, as Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the largest cities globally, such as London and Beijing, were able to consistently hold populations beyond that impressive mark. Despite this, in the modern era, we’ve quickly discovered that a city of 1 million people isn’t remarkable at all. In China alone, there are now over 100 cities with a million people today – and as such, our mental benchmark for what we consider to be a “big city” has changed considerably from past times.

Just like a city the size of modern Tokyo was hard to imagine for someone living in the 19th century, it can be an extremely difficult thought experiment for us to visualize what future megacities will look like. Researchers at the Global Cities Institute have crunched the numbers to provide us with one view of the potential megacities of the future, extrapolating a variety of factors to project a list of the 101 largest cities in the years 2010, 2025, 2050, 2075, and 2100.

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The Overshoot theme is shaky, but not fully devoid of meaning.

Earth’s Resources Consumed In Ever Greater Destructive Volumes (G.)

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days. As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded. To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt.

The overshoot began in the 1970s, when rising populations and increasing average demands pushed consumption beyond a sustainable level. Since then, the day at which humanity has busted its annual planetary budget has moved forward. Thirty years ago, the overshoot was on 15 October. Twenty years ago, 30 September. Ten years ago, 15 August. There was a brief slowdown, but the pace has picked back up in the past two years. On current trends, next year could mark the first time, the planet’s budget is busted in July. While ever greater food production, mineral extraction, forest clearance and fossil-fuel burning bring short-term (and unequally distributed) lifestyle gains, the long-term consequences are increasingly apparent in terms of soil erosion, water shortages and climate disruption.

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Record highs everywhere.

Crop Failure And Bankruptcy Threaten Farmers As Drought Grips Europe (G.)

Farmers across northern and central Europe are facing crop failure and bankruptcy as one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory strengthens its grip. States of emergency have been declared in Latvia and Lithuania, while the sun continues to bake Swedish fields that have received only 12% of their normal rainfall. The abnormally hot temperatures – which have topped 30C in the Arctic Circle – are in line with climate change trends, according to the World Meteorological Organization. And as about 50 wildfires rage across Sweden, no respite from the heatwave is yet in sight. Lennart Nilsson, a 55-year-old cattle farmer from Falkenberg near Malmo and co-chair of the Swedish Farmers Association, said it was the worst drought he had experienced.

“This is really serious,” he said. “Most of south-west Sweden hasn’t had rain since the first days of May. A very early harvest has started but yields seem to be the lowest for 25 years – 50% lower, or more in some cases – and it is causing severe losses.” If no rain comes soon, Nilsson’s association estimates agricultural losses of up to 8bn Swedish kronor (£700m) this year and widespread bankruptcies. The drought would personally cost him around 500,000 kronor (£43,000), Nilsson said, adding that, like most farmers, he is now operating at a loss. The picture is little different in the Netherlands, where Iris Bouwers, a 25-year-old farmer, said the parched summer had been a “catastrophe” for her farm.

“Older families around me are comparing this to 1976,” she said. “My dad can’t remember any drought like this.” The Bouwerses expect to lose €100,000 this year after a 30% drop in their potato crop. After investing in a pig stable over the winter, the family have no savings to cover the loss. Asked what she would do, Bouwers just laughed. “Hope and pray,” she said. “There is not much more I can do. I wouldn’t talk about bankruptcy yet, but our deficit will be substantial. It probably means we need to have a very good talk with the bank.”

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Jun 112018
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Les parapluies 1880-86

 

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)
Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)
Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)
In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)
Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)
Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)
French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)
Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)
Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)
Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)
Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)
New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)
Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

 

 

As the G7 leaders have a few days to lick their wounds, and all attention will continue to be on Trump, I’ll leave all that alone for now. One last thing: hope they understand now that ganging up on Trump is not a good idea. It would be good if the Democrats and media understand that too. They must all reinvent themselves.

Let’s turn to debt: “There is no set of math that works to pay this off.”

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)

“Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt.” – Anonymous. You can find hundreds of quotes on the Internet discussing the problems of debt. Debt traps borrowers, lenders, and innocent bystanders, too. If debt were a drug, we would demand it be outlawed. The advantage of debt is it lets you bring the future into the present, buying things you couldn’t afford if you had to pay full price now. This can be good or bad, depending on what you buy. Going into debt for education that will raise your income, or for factory equipment that will increase your output, can be positive. Debt for a tropical vacation, probably not.

And that’s our core economic problem. The entire world went into debt for the equivalent of tropical vacations and, having now enjoyed them, realizes it must pay the bill. The resources to do so do not yet exist. So, in the time-honored tradition of lenders everywhere, we extend and pretend. But with our ability to pretend almost gone, we’re heading to the Great Reset. I’ve been analogizing our fate to a train wreck you know is coming but are powerless to stop. You look away because watching the disaster hurts, but it happens anyway. That’s where we are, like it or not.

And we don’t even really like to talk about it in polite circles. In a private email conversation this week, which must remain anonymous, this pithy line jumped out at me: “The total of Federal (remember they do not use GAAP) debt, state debt, and city debt [unfunded liabilities included] exceeds $200 trillion dollars. There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Let me be sure it’s heard by repeating it: There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Therefore, there has to be some form of remediation. This conversation is uncomfortable, so it is avoided.”

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Hopeful but for now not practical. The solution is in Africa itself. Let Salvini work on that, instead of this sort of stunts.

Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)

Mayors across the south of Italy have pledged to defy a move by the new Italian government – an alliance of the far right and populists – to prevent a rescue boat with 629 people on board from docking in the Sicilian capital. But the mayors’ defiance appears unlikely to serve any practical purpose without the direct support of the Italian coastguard. In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, Aquarius. The Maltese government rejected a request to take the boat, saying international law required that the migrants should be taken to Italian ports.

Salvini, the leader of the League, a far-right party, wrote on Facebook: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.” Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said he was ready to open the city’s seaport to allow the rescued migrants to safely disembark. “Palermo in ancient Greek meant ‘complete port’. We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now,” Orlando said. “Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’

Other mayors in Italy’s south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, also said they were ready to disobey Salvini’s order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports. A representative of Doctors Without Borders said the mayors’ remarks were “nice but not practical” because it was standard practice to wait for the Italian coastguard, which is under the control of the Italian government, to allow a ship to dock.

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Why the confusion between Finance Minister and Economy Minister?

Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)

Italy’s new economy minister Giovanni Tria ruled out leaving the euro and said he would focus on structural reforms over deficit spending. “The position of the executive is clear and unanimous,” Tria told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in his first major interview since the country’s populist government was sworn in at the start of this month. “There isn’t any discussion on a plan to leave the euro,” he said, adding that “the government is determined, in any event, to prevent market conditions which push towards the exit to be materialized.”

Tria’s comments appeared designed to reassure financial markets — and to calm fears in the European Commission and among other EU governments that the new administration would implement anti-euro policies and clash with Brussels. Tria told Corriere that the government’s strategy would be “growth and employment” with a program “based on structural reforms,” and that his country would also “make progress on many aspects of the European governance program and banking union.” Though the new government has not adopted a policy of leaving the euro, some members of the coalition including Matteo Salvini, the new interior minister, have criticized the currency in the past and others have floated the idea of a referendum on Italy quitting the monetary union.

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Support for Assange is mounting. But not nearly enough yet. This must grow the same way Free Nelson Mandela did

In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)

Nowhere in the Western world is truth respected. Even universities are imposing censorship and speech control. Governments are shutting down, and will eventually criminalize, all explanations that differ from official ones. The Western world no longer has a print and TV media. In its place there is a propaganda ministry for the ruling elite. Whistleblowers are prosecuted and imprisoned despite their protection by federal statue. The US Department of Justice is a Department of Injustice. It has been a long time since any justice flowed from the DOJ. The total corruption of the print and TV media led to the rise of Intermet media such as Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange, a prisoner since 2012.

Assange is an Australian and Ecuadorian citizen. He is not an American citizen. Yet US politicians and media claim that he is guilty of treason because he published official documents leaked to Wikileaks that prove the duplicity and criminality of the US government. It is strickly impossible for a non-citizen to be guilty of treason. It is strickly impossible under the US Constitution for the reporting of facts to be spying. The function of the media is to expose and to hold accountable the government. This function is no longer performed by the Western print and TV media. Washington wants revenge and is determined to get it.

If Assange were as corrupt at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, MSNBC, etc., he would have reported the leaker to Washington, not published the information, and retired as a multi-millionaire with Washington’s thanks. However, unfortunately for Assange, he had integrity. Integrity today in the Western world has no value. You cannot find integrity in the government, in the global corporations, in the universities and schools, and most certainly not in the media.

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“What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet.”

Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)

This year’s Bilderberg summit is a council of war. On the agenda: Russia and Iran. In the conference room: the secretary general of Nato, the German defence minister, and the director of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE. They are joined in Turin, Italy, by a slew of academic strategists and military theorists, but for those countries in geopolitical hotspots there is nothing theoretical about these talks. Not when the prime ministers of Estonia and Serbia are discussing Russia, or Turkey’s deputy PM is talking about Iran. The clearest indication that some sort of US-led conflict is on the cards is the presence of the Pentagon’s top war-gamer, James H Baker.

He is an expert in military trends, and no trend is more trendy in the world of battle strategy than artificial intelligence. Bilderberg is devoting a whole session to AI this year – and has invited military theorist Michael C Horowitz, who has written extensively on its likely impact on the future of war. Horowitz sees AI as “the ultimate enabler”. In an article published just a few weeks ago in the Texas National Security Review, he quotes Putin’s remark from 2017: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

Horowitz says “China, Russia, and others are investing significantly in AI to increase their relative military capabilities”, because it offers “the ability to disrupt US military superiority”. Global military domination is suddenly up for grabs – which brings us to the most intriguing item on this year’s Bilderberg agenda: “US world leadership”. [..] What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet. There’s not much dignity in undermining democracy. But there is a huge pile of money, and for many people that’s enough.

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Just as MSB is trying to invest a lot in his ‘new’ Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)

Inward investment into Saudi Arabia collapsed last year, according to newly published data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), raising serious questions about the prospects for the economic reform agenda being pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). According to the latest UNCTAD World Investment Report, published on June 7, foreign direct investment (FDI) into Saudi Arabia last year amounted to just $1.4 billion, down from $7.5bn the year before and as much as $12.2bn in 2012. The precipitous fall means the country was outranked by far smaller economies in terms of its ability to attract international investment last year, with the likes of Oman and Jordan overtaking it in 2017, with inward FDI of $1.9bn and $1.7bn respectively.

The situation is equally stark when one looks at the amount of investment coming to Saudi Arabia compared to the rest of the surrounding West Asia region. While the kingdom accounted for around a quarter of total regional FDI between 2012 and 2016, last year it attracted just 5.6% of the regional total. While the Saudi economy has been losing out, others have been gaining a bigger piece of the pie. The UAE has seen its share of regional FDI more than double over the past six years, from 19% in 2012 to 41% in 2017. And even Qatar – which has been the subject of an economic boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June last year – managed to increase its FDI take in 2017, attracting $986m compared to $774m a year earlier.

UNCTAD attributed the fall in investment into Saudi Arabia to significant divestments and negative intra-company loans by foreign multinationals. As an example, it pointed to the UK/Dutch Shell Group which sold its 50% stake in the Sadaf petrochemicals venture to its partner Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) for $820m in August. However, the report also notes that FDI to Saudi Arabia has been contracting since the global financial crisis in 2008/09. And although there has been a similar pattern across the region – inflows to West Asia have fallen in most years since hitting a peak of $85bn in 2008 – the performance of Saudi Arabia last year is still appreciably worse than any other economy in the immediate neighbourhood. It is also far worse than the global picture – worldwide FDI inflows were down 23% last year to $1.43 trillion.

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Palm oil destroys rainforests and orangutans. And you want to burn it?

French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)

French farmers began a blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots on Sunday evening over plans by Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant, which have fanned farmer discontent over unfair competition. The Vatry fuel depot in the Marne region of northeastern France was the first to be blocked on Sunday evening as about 100 farmers set up barricades with tractors and mounds of rubble, a spokesman from the FNSEA farmers union told Reuters. At least five sites will be blocked on Sunday evening, with a total of 13 sites blocked from 9 a.m. Monday, Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA said in an interview with France Info television.

French oil and gas major Total, which operates five refineries and nine petrol depots in France, said late on Sunday that farmers have gathered at two depots and it had taken measures together with authorities, to limit disruptions. It urged clients not to rush to petrol stations to fill their tanks, which could spark panic buying and shortages. The French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as one of the feedstocks at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow local oilseed crops such as rapeseed and environmentalists who blame palm oil cultivation for deforestation in southeast Asia.

[..] Palm oil has been widely criticized in Europe for environmental destruction and some lawmakers are pushing for a ban on its use in biofuel as part of new EU energy targets. The issue has caused friction with Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two largest palm oil producers, with Malaysian officials warning of trade repercussions that could affect a potential deal to buy French fighter jets. The refinery protests in France also illustrate a souring relationship between farmers in the EU’s biggest agricultural producer and the government of President Emmanuel Macron. Many farmers welcome the president’s call for fairer farmgate prices as part of a food chain review last year, but they have been angered by Macron’s attempt to phase out common weedkiller glyphosate before other EU countries.

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“..among the most nature-depleted countries in the world..”

Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)

He’s currently enjoying a great bounty of nature, from tree-climbing slugs to blackbird-gobbling little owls on this year’s Springwatch, but Chris Packham warns that we are presiding over “an ecological apocalypse” and Britain is increasingly “a green and unpleasant land”. The naturalist and broadcaster is urging people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”, visiting road verges, farmland, parks, allotments and community nature reserves across the country to record what wildlife remains – from butterflies to bryophytes, linnets to lichens. According to Packham, British people have normalised a “national catastrophe” and only see a wealth of wildlife in nature reserves, with the wider countryside bereft of life.

“Nature reserves are becoming natural art installations,” he said. “It’s just like looking at your favourite Constable or Rothko. We go there, muse over it, and feel good because we’ve seen a bittern or some avocets or orchids. But on the journey home there’s nothing – only wood pigeons and non-native pheasants and dead badgers on the side of the road. “It’s catastrophic and that’s what we’ve forgotten – our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it.” Packham said he looked at the rolling hills beyond this year’s setting for Springwatch on the National Trust’s Sherborne estate in the Cotswolds and despaired. “How many wildflowers can we see? None. Where’s the pink of ragged robin? Where’s the yellow of flag iris? The other colours are not there. It’s not green and pleasant – it’s green and unpleasant.”

Packham’s recent tweets have gone viral after he commented on the absence of insects during a weekend at his home in the middle of the New Forest national park. He did not see a single butterfly in his garden and said he sleeps with his windows open but rarely finds craneflies or moths in his room in the morning whereas they were commonplace when he was a boy. Since Packham first became passionate about birds, in 1970, Britain has lost 90 million wild birds, with turtle doves (down 95% since 1990) hurtling towards extinction. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with scientific data from more than 50 conservation and research organisations revealing that 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline.

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Opposition leader is a government ally.

Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)

The leader of Turkey’s nationalist MHP opposition party Devlet Bahceli, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attacked Greece and Cyprus during an election rally in Izmir on Sunday, claiming “Cyprus is Turkish.” Bahceli was commenting on Greek criticism over an MHP campaign video that depicts the island of Cyprus as Turkish territory. “What else are we to do? Cyprus is Turkish and will remain so,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish conservative newspaper Yeni Safak. He went on to “warn” Greeks not to forget “the days when their grandfathers drowned in the bottom of the sea,” and accused the Greek government of “playing games” in the Aegean.

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Ehh.. racist it is not.

Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)

Austria’s move to close mosques and expel “foreign-funded” imams has infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning of a war “between cross and crescent” and threatening that Ankara will not sit idle. “These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday. Crescent, which can be seen on mosques and other Muslim entities, symbolizes Islamic religion since time immemorial. “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?” he asked, quoted by AFP. “That means we’re going to have to do something,” Erdogan added without elaborating.

Earlier this week, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl from the right-wing FPO party announced that the country vows to close seven mosques and potentially expel dozens of Turkish-funded imams and their families in Austria’s crackdown on “political Islam.” Austrian officials, including Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, claimed the move was to battle radicalization and growing ‘parallel societies’. However, this explanation did not sit well with Ankara. “Austria’s decision to close seven mosques and expel imams is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of Tayyip Erdogan, commented on Twitter.

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A crazy situation. Turkey can not be allowed to enter Greek territory to abduct or murder anyone.

Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)

Greece has put in place the “greatest possible” measures to protect eight Turkish commandos accused of being coup plotters after Ankara said it would do everything possible to bring them back. A week after the men were freed from detention, Athens said they were under 24/7 guard at an undisclosed location, for fear of retaliation. The admission came despite mounting tensions with Ankara, which has scrapped a refugee readmission deal with Athens, arguing the soldiers participated in the abortive coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Greece’s deputy defence minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told the Guardian: “We are enforcing the greatest possible measures to secure their safety in a place which for obvious reasons will remain unknown.

“We haven’t forgotten what happened in our region a few months ago.” Kouvelis was referring to the enforced removal from Kosovo of six Turkish citizens also denounced as followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara has blamed for orchestrating the putsch. Tensions over the eight men, who flew into Greece on a Black Hawk helicopter a day after the failed coup, have added to an increasingly fiery campaign ahead of in Turkey on 24 June. Friction with the west has escalated as the race appears to have tightened. At the weekend, Erdogan accused Austria of fomenting a religious war between “cross” and “crescent” after it raised the prospect of expelling Turkish Muslim clerics.

But Greece has been the focus of growing animus in Ankara. Turkey has consistently argued the eight men were involved in the putsch against Erdogan. The Greek supreme court has rejected any notion of sending the men back, saying they would not get a fair trial in Turkey, where a purge of the military and civil establishment continues. In April, the council of state, Greece’s highest administrative court, granted one of the eight commandos permanent asylum, despite objections by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government. Similar judgments are expected to follow when verdicts are issued in the remaining cases.

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Pile it on!

New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)

Greece submitted a draft bill to parliament late on Friday, a bill fully packed with austerity measures worth 5.1 billion euros and counter-measures worth 1.5 billion, in an effort to sweeten the bitter pill to thousands of pensioners and employees. The bill outlines reforms in the energy, pension and labor sectors as the government races to secure the last loans from its international bailout program, conclude the last program review and head to a so-called “clean exit” in August. The bill includes the country’s medium-term fiscal strategy framework through 2022, which foresees an average 2 percent annual growth and pledges to increase minimum wages and restore collective labor bargaining.

At the same time, the bill includes measures to expedite privatizations in the energy sector, the reduction of state spending on pensions and labor market reforms including arbitration when there is a dispute between employers and staff. • Pension cuts up to 18% to be implemented as of 2019. • Tax-free basis will be broadening to annual income of 5.686 euros, when EU’s poverty line is at 6,000. The measure to go into effect as of 2020. • Privatizations worth 3.9 billion euros
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill on upcoming Thursday, before the Eurogroup of June 21.

Athens is keen to pass a final review by its creditors ahead of a Eurogroup meeting on June 21, where it is also hoping for progress on a deal on further debt relief to be implemented after the current bailout program expires in August. If it gets the green light from the review and Eurogroup, it will receive about 12 billion euros ($14 billion) of new loans. [..] revenues will increase through the pension cuts, the changes in real estate objective value that will increase the property taxes, scrapping the decreased of Value Added Tax on all islands, scrapping the 15% discount on social security contributions as of 2019. • Pension cuts worth €2.9 billion annually. €1.2 billion will be cut from public sector pensions and €1.4 billion on private sector pensions. • Broadening the tax-free basis will bring revenues worth €1.9 billion.

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h/t Lambert Strether

Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth. –Rachael Carson, Silent Spring What’s important to keep in mind in this quote from Rachael Carson’s 56-year-old warning shot over the bow of corporate civilization is that there are two roads being traveled now. We are no longer at a fork. The fork is half-a-century behind us. The goal is not to get the superhighway to somehow re-route itself and follow the path less traveled. It can’t.

The superhighway will, and must, continue accelerating in its inevitable direction, simply because the greed and power of the people driving that highway will not allow them to alter course. But if there is any truth to Rachael Carson’s warning (and there seems to be growing evidence of it) the other path—the Road Less Traveled—will become the surviving branch of our evolutionary diagram. The present goal, therefore, should be to create as many exits from the superhighway as possible—and to encourage and enable as many people as possible to take those exits to explore and follow the other path. Visualizing how we all got on this superhighway in the first place will be helpful to seeing the exit ramps. To make this visualization, it isn’t necessary to speculate about an ancient, human pre-history.

The process can be clearly seen and understood in a modern anecdote describing how one particular community of people joined the highway. I quote now from the book Fishing Lessons by Kevin M. Bailey*, where he retells author Robert Johannes’ story of fishermen in Palau, an island country in Micronesia. “Seafood was once abundant there. The Palauan fisherman never had trouble finding enough fish to satisfy their own and their village’s needs. The fisherman gave away the fish they didn’t eat to other villagers…. They lived in a state of ‘subsistence affluence.’ “…. After Japan colonized Palau in the 1920s the fishermen began to sell their fish to obtain attractive and exotic goods offered by the Japanese. The fishermen bought nets and motorized boats with the money, allowing them to catch more fish to sell in order to obtain more goods.

They fished harder to harvest more fish and visited more distant areas of the reef to find them. Over the years, the fish abundance dropped. “The fishermen bought even bigger boats to catch the vanishing fish, but to do that they had to borrow money. They had to sell all their fish to pay off their loans. They stopped giving them away in the villages; instead they sold them to the outsiders and to other villagers. Now the people in the village had to work for the money to buy their food…. “Pretty soon, there were not enough fish over the reefs for the fishermen to make payments on their loans, so the village sold their customary access rights to the fishing grounds. The people in the village began to eat imported fish in cans.”

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Jun 042018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1964

 

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)
If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)
The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)
Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)
Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)
Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)
Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)
Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)
Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)
Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)
Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)
Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

“.. If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages..”

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)

“The ECB (European Central Bank) just had its 20th birthday. But there is really nothing to celebrate. The EU is in a total mess and the Euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999, is a failed currency. Every president of the ECB has had to deal with fires that had very little to do with price stability but were more a question of survival. Most of these fires were a lot more serious than the candles in the Euro cake above which Draghi is trying to blow out. During the Frenchman Trichet’s watch, he had to deal with the Great Financial Crisis that started in 2006…

[..] The EU now has major economic and/or political problems in many countries. Italy’s new coalition government is a protest against the EU and Euro. With debt to GDP already the highest in Europe, the new regime will exacerbate the problems. Lower taxes and higher spending will guarantee that. As the chart below shows, Italian debt to GDP is already 140%. By 2050 this is projected to grow to 210%. As interest rates go up, servicing the growing debt will soon absorb all tax revenue. Italy will be bankrupt long before 2050 and default on all its debt.

Between now and 2050, the Italian working age population is forecast to decline by 1/3, from 36 million to 24 million. There will be a lot less people to pay for a much higher debt.

The consequences of massive debt, economic stagnation and population decline will be a much lower GDP, which is expected to decline 35% by 2050.

If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages. I must stress here that I find it so sad that this glorious country is suffering so much already and will suffer a lot more. Personally I love Italy — the people, the food, the architecture, the history and the Giola di Vivere (joie de vivre) of the Italians. It will be so tragic to see all of this disintegrate. Hopefully it will take a long time, although, sadly, the crisis might actually be around the corner.

But Italy is just one of many countries which will collapse in coming years. Spain is in a similar situation and the prime minister has just been kicked out. Greece’s problems have never been resolved and this fine country is also bankrupt and so are the Greek banks. I could go on with Portugal, France, Ireland, the UK and many others. Most of these countries have insoluble problems. It is only a matter of degree and time when the EU/Eurozone house of cards comes down.

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To make tariffs threats credible.

If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)

[..] to maintain leverage in negotiations, the Administration must convince trading partners that the US intends to impose trade restrictions. However, and this is the key part, “it is unlikely that the White House can convince trading partners that tariff threats are credible without also convincing financial markets.” In other words, for Trump’s trade negotiations to be successful, and for US trade partners to take a flip-flopping Trump credibly, the market has to crash. Incidentally, this makes sense when one considers that when Trump officially launched the trade war with China in early April, the president explicitly warned that stocks “may take a hit”, and told investors to prepare for “pain” in the market, a statement which promptly became a self-fulfilling prophecy and sent the market sharply lower.

The other consequence is that markets may tumble not as an effect, but as a cause of the trade war: after all Trump needs to be taken seriously, and that could mean another slide in the S&P. Goldman agrees as much: “… we do not expect trade policy risks to fade anytime soon. While we think that financial market sentiment around trade issues is unlikely to become as negative again as it was in early April, when the President floated the possibility of tariffs on another $100 billion in imports from China, we do not expect markets to become entirely comfortable with the outlook for trade policy, either.”

The punchline: “The challenge that the White House faces is that, to maintain leverage in negotiations, trading partners must believe that the US intends to follow through with proposed actions like tariffs. However, repeated threats begin to lose credibility unless they are followed up with action.” In short, just as China said earlier, the US can’t have its cake and eat it too: Trump can’t have trade war, or the threat thereof, and record high stocks.

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It’s going to be public. But can the Fed afford to damage Deutsche?

Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)

Deutsche Bank AG will face another challenge this month when the Federal Reserve publishes the results of a “stress test” on the bulk of its U.S. operations for the first time. Germany’s largest lender is already facing challenges with U.S. bank regulators and in financial markets, with its stock price falling to historic lows on Thursday. Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating to BBB+ from A- on Friday. The downgrade came after reports earlier in the week that the Fed designated one of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. businesses as “troubled” last year, something a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Reuters on Friday. The Fed’s stress test results, expected to be released sometime this month, will be the next big public barometer of Deutsche Bank’s financial strength.

It could be difficult for a bank with a subsidiary on the “troubled” list to pass the scenarios, according to a person familiar with the tests who was not authorized to speak publicly. That is because the capital, liquidity and risk management failures that would land a bank on the list are similar to those that lead banks to flunk the stress test, the person said. The Fed has been examining how the biggest U.S. banks would handle a range of adverse economic and market scenarios since 2009, requiring many to shore up their capital buffers and risk management controls. But this is the first year it will publicly release results of six foreign lenders, including Deutsche Bank, after requiring them to create consolidated U.S. holding companies with ring-fenced capital. The Fed tested those new entities last year in a trial run, the results of which are confidential.

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Austerity eats people.

The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)

Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services. Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.

Millions of tonnes of explosives were used during the mining boom to build more than 100 new mines, but it wasn’t just prime farmland that was blasted away in the boom, it was access to the middle class. At the same time that Gina Rinehart was becoming the world’s richest woman on the back of rising iron-ore prices, those on the minimum wage were falling further and further behind their fellow Australians. Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or ’80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.

Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them.

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Relax capital controls when nobody has any money left to get out of the bank.

Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)

Greece is to take a substantial step towards easing capital controls – restrictions associated with the worst days of economic crisis – as it prepares to exit its current bailout programme. Signalling that confidence is gradually returning to the country’s banking system, the leftist-led government has doubled the amount depositors will be able to withdraw from their accounts as of Monday. “As is usually the case with the economy, this is about psychology,” said a senior official at the Bank of Greece. “The relaxation is as much about boosting confidence among investors and savers as showing banks can now afford to work under normal conditions.” Barely three months before its third international bailout programme expires, the country once at the epicentre of the euro crisis is keen to prove its financial turmoil is over.

Under the new rules, the limit on cash withdrawals from local banks will be raised from €2,300 to €5,000 per month. Business transactions will also be facilitated, with cash transfers abroad being doubled to €40,000 a month. The Greek finance ministry said it had similarly decided to increase the amount depositors can take abroad, in euros or foreign currency, from €2,300 to €3,000 per trip. From 1 July, banks will be allowed to accept customer orders for money transfers overseas for up to €4,000 bi-monthly. In a statement the finance ministry said the aim was to fully lift restrictions “as soon as possible” while ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability.

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“serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times…”

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)

The Commonwealth Bank Monday agreed to the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history to settle claims it breached anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Aus$700 million (US$530 million) fine – which is subject to court approval – comes after mediation between the nation’s biggest lender and the country’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. It follows the bank being taken to court last August for “serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times, with AUSTRAC filing 100 further claims in December. CBA was also accused of failing to adequately monitor suspected terrorist financiers.

“While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made,” said CBA chief executive Matt Comyn in a statement. “Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step towards moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologise to the community for letting them down.” The bank, which in the fallout has replaced senior leadership overseeing financial crimes and pumped millions of dollars into improving its systems, also agreed to pay AUSTRAC’s Aus$2.5 million legal fees.

After slumping more than 10 percent over the past month, during which it admitted losing financial records for almost 20 million customers, CBA’s share price rallied 1.44 percent on the settlement to close at Aus$69.69. The scandal is only the latest issue to damage the reputation of Australian banks, which have been under intense scrutiny amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud, and rigging benchmark interest rates. Last week, ANZ Bank was accused of “cartel arrangements” over a multi-billion-dollar capital raising, along with its advisers Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. They face potential criminal charges.

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Germany blows up the EU in slow motion.

Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)

The causal link between Germany’s two political headaches has an economic basis. Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.

To see the link, recall the “fiscal compact” to eliminate structural budget deficits that Germany insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to bailout loans for distressed governments and banks. Then note that this pan-European austerity drive took place against the backdrop of massive excess savings over investment. Finally, note that large excess savings and balanced government budgets necessarily mean large trade surpluses – and thus the increasing reliance of Germany, and Europe, on massive net exports to the United States and Asia. In other words, the same incompetent policies that gave rise to the xenophobic, anti-Europeanist Italian government also bolstered Trump’s power over Merkel.

Europe’s inability to get its own house in order has engendered a new Italian majority that is planning to expel a half-million migrants, blowing fresh winds into the sails of militant racists in Hungary, Poland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany itself. Meanwhile, with Europe too enfeebled to tame Trump, the US will aim to force China to deregulate its financial and tech sectors. If it succeeds, at least 15% of China’s national income will gush out of the country, adding to the deflationary forces that are breeding political monsters in Europe and in the US.

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And still no UN emergency meeting. The shame will not wash away.

Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)

At least 47 people died and 68 others were rescued after their migrant boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast, according to the country’s defence ministry. Authorities said about 180 people, of both Tunisian and other nationalities, were hemmed in onboard the vessel. A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it hit trouble in order to escape arrest. “I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours,” he told Reuters from a hospital in the city of Sfax where people were arriving in search of relatives and friends. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned on Twitter that the final number of missing was still not known.

Tunisia has recently seen growing use of its coasts by human traffickers ferrying migrants from Africa to Europe, as Libyan authorities have cracked down on similar activity on their own shores. Tunisia has been suffering from an economic crisis since the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as president in 2011, which led to rocketing unemployment and inflation. In a separate incident, nine people including six children were killed off the coast of Turkey on Sunday after their speedboat sank, the Turkish coast guard said. By 30 May, the IOM had recorded 32,080 people as having reached Europe by boat in 2018 and around 660 as having died or gone missing in the attempt.

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And there’s always more.

Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)

Nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, state media reports said. The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey’s Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added. Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives, it said. The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear. The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear. Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. [..] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM. As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.

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Bayer wants to get rid of the bad name Monsanto has. Let’s give Bayer an even worse name.

Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)

Germany’s Bayer will wrap up the $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto on Thursday this week and also retire the name of the U.S. seeds maker, it said on Monday. The German drugmaker had received all required approvals from regulatory authorities, it said in a statement. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio,” it said. Bayer launched a 6 billion euro ($7 billion) rights issue on Sunday, a cornerstone of the financing package for the deal.

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Yeah. We need more air travel. Without counting the externalities.

Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)

Governments need to urgently tackle a capacity crisis facing airports as demand for international travel grows, but they should be cautious about private sector involvement, airline industry group IATA warned Monday. With passenger levels projected to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036, infrastructure such as airports and air traffic control systems were not keeping pace, the International Air Transport Association said. Major airports have sought to address the crisis by managing slots — giving airlines specific operating rights at particular times. But there was still a need for new airports, IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac said at the body’s annual meeting in Sydney.

“We are in a capacity crisis. And we don’t see the required airport infrastructure investment to solve it,” he said, adding that cash-strapped governments were increasingly turning to private firms to increase airport capacity. But he cautioned against privatised airports, warning that they have “not lived up to airline expectations” with many carriers having “far too many bitter experiences”. [..] IATA Monday projected global air passenger traffic to rise by 6.5 percent this year to 4.36 billion, after increases of 7.0 and 7.3 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

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Not sure it’s wise to blame this on climate change. The extinction stories come too fast. How about blaming Monsanto and booming air travel?

Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)

Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs.

The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low. One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds. “In the past, Sumburgh Head was brimming with birds, and the air was thick with the smell of guano. The place was covered with colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and guillemots,” said Helen Moncrieff, manager of RSPB Scotland’s office in Shetland.

“There were thousands and thousands of birds and visitors were guaranteed a sight of puffins. Today they have to be very patient. At the same time, guillemots have halved in numbers. It is utterly tragic.” This grim description is backed by figures that reveal the staggering decreases in seabird numbers in Shetland, the most northerly part of the British Isles. In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season. Similarly, Shetland’s kittiwake population plummeted from over 55,000 in 1981 to 5,000 in 2011, and observers believe those numbers have declined even further in the past few years.

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Absolutely wonderful from Jim.

Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

I was interviewing a couple of homesteaders on an island north of Seattle at twilight last night when they noticed that the twelve-year-old family dog, name of Lacy, had not come home for dinner as ever and always at that hour. A search ensued and they soon found her dead in the meadow a hundred feet behind the house with two big puncture wounds in her body. Nobody had heard a gunshot. We’d just been talking inside and a nearby window was open. They suspect the dog met up with a black-tailed deer buck out there and was gored to death. We hadn’t heard a yelp, or anything. A week ago, an eagle got one of their geese, and some land-based monster got its companion just the other day.

Nature is what it is, of course, and it’s natural for human beings to think of its random operations as malevolent. That aspersion probably inclines us to think of ourselves as beings apart from nature (some of us, anyway). We at least recognize the tragic side of this condition we’re immersed in, and would wish that encounters between its denizens might end differently — like maybe that two sovereign creatures meeting up by sheer chance on a mild spring evening would exchange pleasantries, ask what each was up to, and go on their ways.

Malevolent nature visited me the night before, back home in upstate New York. Something slit the screened window of my henhouse, got inside, and slaughtered two of my birds. Big Red was missing altogether except for a drift of orange feathers. I found Little Blue just outside in a drift of her own feathers, half-eaten. I suspect a raccoon got them, slitting the window screen cleverly with its dexterous hand-like paws — yes, so much like our own clever hands. (In classic after-the-fact human style, I fortified the window with steel hardware cloth the next day.)

It’s the time of year when the wild critters of field and woodland are birthing their young and anxious to procure food for them. Who can blame them for that. Chicken is an excellent dish. I eat it myself, though never my own hens. I actually rescued Little Blue from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk last year as the hawk struggled to get airborne with her and let go as I screeched at it. Blue recovered from the talon punctures and had a good year — one good year on this earth with all its menace, when it is not busy being beautiful.

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Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

May 282018
 


Brassaï La Bande du Grand Albert 1931-32

 

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)
Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)
Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)
First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)
Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)
Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)
Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)
Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)
Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)
Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)
US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)
Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)
In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)
‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

 

 

“The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini.”

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)

I concede that there are issues over which I would welcome the Italian President’s use of constitutional powers that (in my humble opinion) he should not have. One such issue is the outrageous policy of the Lega and the promise of its leader, Mr Salvini, to expel five hundred thousand migrants from Italy. Had President Mattarella refused Mr Salvini the post of Interior Minister, on the basis that he rejects such a monstrous project, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, Mr Mattarella had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the formation of a 5S-Lega government on the basis that there is no place in a European country for scenes involving security forces rounding up hundreds of thousands of people, caging them, and forcing them into trains, buses and ferries before expelling them goodness knows where.

No, Mr Mattarella vetoed the formation of a government backed by an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: His disapproval of the Finance Minister designate. And what was this disapproval based on? The fact that the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s eurozone rules, has in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of euro exit just in case it is needed. It was as if President Mattarella were to declare that reasonableness in a prospective Finance Minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post!

Let’s face it: There is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share a concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. And there is no prudent finance minister who does not have a plan for euro exit; indeed, I have itr on good authority that the German finance ministry, the ECB, every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mr Mattarella telling us that only the Italian Finance Minister is not allowed to imagine having such a plan? Beyond his moral drift (as he condones Mr Salvini’s industrial-scale misanthropy while vetoing a legitimate concern about the eurozone’s capacity to let Italy breathe in its midst), President Mattarella has made a major tactical blunder.

In short, he fell right into Mr Salvini’s trap. The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini. Mr Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. Already last night hescaled the high moral with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”

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More than half of Italy feel utterly betrayed by their own president.

Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)

Italy’s president rejected Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte’s pick for the economy ministry, a political source said on Sunday, a veto that may lead to another election this year.Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experience, took his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella, but the president rejected Conte’s candidate to the Economy Ministry, the 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona. Before Conte or Mattarella had finished their meeting, far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said that the only option now was to hold another election, probably later this year, without directly confirming the president’s veto.

“In a democracy, if we are still in democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say,” Salvini said in a fiery speech to supporters in central Italy. Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio had met Mattarella informally on Sunday to try to find a solution. “The problem is Savona,” the coalition source said, explaining that the economist had not sufficiently softened some of his more eurosceptic positions. On Sunday, Savona tried to allay concerns about his views in his first public statement on the matter. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the EU, but he has distinguished credentials, including as industry minister in the early 1990s. “I want a different Europe, stronger, but more equal,” Savona said in a statement.

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Another technocrat. That won’t go well this time around.

Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)

Italy’s president is expected to ask a former IMF official on Monday to head a stopgap government amidst political and constitutional turmoil, with early elections looking inevitable. President Sergio Mattarella has called in Carlo Cottarelli after two anti-establishment parties angrily abandoned their plans to form a coalition in the face of a veto from the head of state over their choice of economy minister. In a televised address, Mattarella said he had rejected the candidate, 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona, because he had threatened to pull Italy from the single currency. “The uncertainty over our position has alarmed investors and savers both in Italy and abroad,” he said, adding: “Membership of the euro is a fundamental choice. If we want to discuss it, then we should do so in a serious fashion.”

Financial markets tumbled last week on fears the coalition being discussed would unleash a spending splurge and dangerously ramp up Italy’s already huge debt, which is equivalent to more than 1.3 times the nation’s domestic output. After Mattarella’s move, the euro gained ground, adding 0.6% against the Japanese yen and ticking up against other major trading partners as well. The far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which had spent days drawing up a coalition pact aimed at ending a stalemate following an inconclusive March vote, responded with fury to Mattarella, accusing him of abusing his office.

5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio called on parliament to impeach the mild-mannered Mattarella, while League chief Matteo Salvini threatened mass protests unless snap elections were called. “If there’s not the OK of Berlin, Paris or Brussels, a government cannot be formed in Italy. It’s madness, and I ask the Italian people to stay close to us because I want to bring democracy back to this country,” Salvini told reporters. [..] Cottarelli would be a calming choice for the financial markets, but any technocratic administration would likely only be a short-term solution because the majority of parliamentarians have said they would not support such a government.

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Portugal is supposed to be the Prince of the PIIGS.

First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)

While most investors are focused on Italian politics – the parallel currency ‘mini-BoT’ fears and potential for a constitutional crisis – Spain is now facing its own political crisis amid calls for a no-confidence vote against Rajoy. However, ‘Spaxit’ remains a distant concern for investors as another member of the PIIGS peripheral problems is starting to signal concerns about ‘Portugone’?

And the fundamental data confirms Portugal is next in line for a debt crisis… As Statista’s Brigitte van de Pas notes, on average, European Union countries had a gross government debt of roughly 81% of GDP in 2018. This average disguises real differences between EU countries. Whereas Greece had a government debt of 177.8% in 2018, Estonia had a debt of only 8.8% – the lowest in the entire EU zone.

While, the high Greek debt is well-known, a number of other countries however also have a debt that is higher than their own GDP. The Italian debt, for example, is lower than the Greek but still significant, at over 130% of GDP. Portugal, in third place, had a debt of 122.5%. One small positive note though: all three countries had even higher debts in 2017, and the European Commission forecasted a slow, but further decrease of their government debt in 2019. Whether this holds true for Italy, with their newly-elected government of Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega remains to be seen.

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“U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! [..] China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase!”

Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)

[First], Congress’s approving a bill to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act. If this passes, smaller financial institutions will find relief from the strict rules that have applied to Wall Street banks since after the 2008 crisis. This is sheer idiocy! It will not end well. The second is the U.S. corporate debt is suffering one of its worst sell-offs since 2000. This is another disaster in the making. U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! Only government debt has risen faster, from $35 to $64 trillion, or 83%. China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase! Of course, many of these bonds are simply financial engineering to buy back stock to increase earnings per share.

Uber-low long-term interest rates thanks to QE have allowed companies to do this cheaply. The problem is these long-term rates have been rising since just July 2016. They’ve gone from 1.38% to 3.10%. That’s an increase of 172 basis points in the risk-free 10-year Treasury bond. That naturally reverberates up through the risk spectrum from investment grade corporate bonds to junk bonds. You see, here’s the thing…Governments have artificially pushed down bond yields for so long that companies have embraced speculation rather than productive investment (i.e. they’re not spending money on productive assets that will serve them and the economy well in the long-term). This mentality only creates financial asset bubbles that burst.

When companies buy back their own shares at historically high valuations, they’re speculating, just like an investor or hedge fund. When stocks crash ahead, shareholders will demand to know why these corporations used the money they will need to survive the crisis to speculate in their own stock… at the highest prices in history! Well, as the numbers are now showing, this corporate bond bubble is starting to burst, and of course that will ultimately hit junk bonds the worst… then stocks and real estate. But the real story here is that we’ve been in this bond bubble since 1981. And the quality of this corporate debt has been falling for nearly 40 years now. QE has only accelerated the decline. We’re now at the point where the median corporate bond rating is borderline junk…

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You don’t say…

Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)

A veteran market researcher is out with a warning — saying the Federal Reserve is relying too heavily on economic surveys skewed by social media to mold their policies. According to Bianco Research President James Bianco, most economists mistakenly believe that leading indicators are signaling an “A+” economy that can withstand rising interest rates. “It’s more like a B- economy,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “It’s not this screaming home run that everybody thinks it is based on the survey data.” Bianco said social media is creating the bandwagon effect among survey respondents, a psychological phenomenon characterized by people following the herd.

“The advent of social media is allowing us basically to be inundated with financial news or economic news,” he said, adding the bulk of the news about the world’s largest economy has been largely favorable. “When somebody is asked ‘what do you think about the economy,” they are not answering ‘what do you think about the economy,’ Bianco said. “They are answering ‘What have you read about the economy?'” Bianco fears the Fed will make a policy error based on respondents’ answers. “Economists like at the Fed say ‘Wow, look at that data. It’s even better than we thought. We have to raise rates even faster,'” he said, adding that the tightening could derail the bull market. “The 10-Year [yield] could very well be at 3% by the end of next year with a 3% funds rate,” Bianco said. “[That’s when] you get an inverted yield curve.”

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Nobo’s popular at home anymore. Except for Putin.

Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)

Washington finds itself increasingly isolated in its economic and military policies. Merkel’s visit to Russia reaffirms the desire to create an alternative axis to the one between Brussels and Washington. The victory in Italy of two parties strongly opposed to new wars and the annulment of the JCPOA, and especially the sanctions against Russia, serves to form a new alliance, accentuating internal divisions within Europe. Macron, Merkel and May are all grappling with a strong crisis of popularity at home, which does not aid them in their decision-making. Exactly the same problems affect MbS, Trump, and Netanyahu in their respective countries. These leaders find themselves adopting aggressive policies in order to alleviate internal problems.

They also struggle to find a common strategy, often displaying schizophrenic behavior that belies the fact that they are meant to be on the same side of the barricades in terms of the desired world order. In direct contrast, China, Russia, Iran, and now India, are trying to respond to Western madness in a rational, moderate, and mutually beneficial way. And as a result, Europeans may perhaps begin to understand that the future lies not in piggybacking on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Trump seems to have offered the perfect occasion for European leaders to assert their sovereignty and start to move away from their traditional servility shown towards Washington.

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“This, as the saying goes, could be it.”

Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez really wants to be Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has been mostly flat in the polls for months, slowly trending down from 23% at the beginning of the year to 19% in the Metroscopia poll in El País on May 13. Articles had recently appeared wondering if Mr. Sánchez had anything relevant to say at all. His only notable intervention of late had been a meeting with Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa, the Prime Minister’s office, to agree on a joint response to the challenge posed by Quim Torra, the new separatist First Minister of Catalonia, whom Mr. Sánchez then decided to frame as “Spain’s Le Pen”, “a racist and a supremacist”.

With the publication of the Gürtel fraud case judgement on Thursday, the Socialist Party, which holds 84 out of 350 seats in Congress, has seized on an opportunity to move back into the political spotlight and oust the Popular Party from power with a motion of no confidence. Mariano Rajoy, famously unresponsive as political scandals erupt and opponents die off, wants to stay on as Prime Minister, of course, but this is a serious crisis: El País has characterised it as a “national emergency”. It is such a big mess that the PM felt he had to cancel his trip to Kiev to watch Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

He gave an unscheduled press conference on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his ministers, and accused Mr. Sánchez of wanting to destabilise Spain and wreck the country’s economic recovery. Moncloa sent out an unsigned, unofficial, unstamped “economic report” on Saturday, warning that the socialist motion of no confidence would cost €5 billion and 6,500 jobs. PP spokesman Fernando Martínez Maíllo said Mr. Sánchez would become the “Judas of Spanish politics” if he did a deal with Catalan separatists to take power. The Popular Party and Mr. Rajoy himself—also sliding inexorably downwards in the polls—sense real danger in the PSOE’s move. This, as the saying goes, could be it.

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“By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt.”

Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)

Spain’s maritime rescue service has rescued hundreds of people trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this weekend amid growing concerns that the country is struggling to cope with the migration crisis. The service said its crews had rescued 293 people from nine boats on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 250 migrants were rescued from eight boats, three of which were in poor condition and later sank, they added. The migrants were from various countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa. On a single day in August last year, Spanish rescuers saved 593 people from 15 small paddle boats – including 35 children and a baby – after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

According to statistics from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 21,468 migrants and refugees arrived in Spain by sea in 2017, with 224 people dying on the journey. The arrival figures showed a threefold increase on 2016, when 6,046 people reached Spain and 128 people died en route. By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has already warned that Spain is facing “another very challenging year” when it comes to helping and protecting those arriving on its shores.

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His case looks solid. But we’re talking the heart of these companies’ business models.

Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)

Accusing Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram of “intentionally” violating Europe’s strict new privacy rules that officially went into effect on Friday, Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems filed four lawsuits against the tech companies arguing they are still “coercing users into sharing personal data” despite rolling out new policies ostensibly aimed at complying with the new regulations.

Titled the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new rules require companies to explicitly and clearly request consent from users before mining their data, and Schrems argues in his complaints – which seek fines totaling $8.8 billion – that Google, Facebook, and the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are still utilizing “forced consent” strategies to extract users’ data when “the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service,” TechCrunch explains. “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Schrems wrote in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent. In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the ‘agree’-button—that’s not a free choice.” While Facebook—which is currently embroiled in international controversy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal—insists that its new policies are in compliance with Europe’s new regulatory framework, Schrems argues that Facebook and Google aren’t even attempting to follow the new law. “They totally know that it’s going to be a violation, they don’t even try to hide it,” Schrems told the Financial Times. Schrems believes that courts can curtail companies’ ability to poke around in our private lives and wean them off their idea that, “ ‘We’re Silicon Valley, we know what’s right for everybody else.’ ”

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Strong lobby for this in Washington.

US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)

The United States should freeze the sale of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because they are more likely to used against Greece than against terrorists, Democratic US Congressman Brad Sherman told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a Foreign Affairs Hearing on May 23. “I hope that the administration will oppose and prevent the sale of F-35s [to Turkey]. They are not a weapon to be used against terrorists. They are a weapon to be used against Greece,” he said.

A US Senate committee passed earlier this week a defense policy bill that includes a measure to prevent Turkey from purchasing the F-35s, citing the country’s detention of US citizen Andrew Brunson and its agreement with Russia to buy its weapons systems in December. Sherman also called on the State Department not to block a House resolution on genocidal campaigns committed by the Ottoman Empire. “I hope the State Department will at least be neutral should Congress consider, as we are considering, the remembrance of the millions of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac victims of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century,” he added.

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Fastest growing industry.

Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)

The UK’s largest food redistribution charity is helping to feed a record 772,000 people a week – 60% more than the previous year – with food that would otherwise be , new figures reveal. One in eight people in the UK go hungry every day – with the most needy increasingly dependent on – yet perfectly good food is wasted every day through the food production supply chain. FareShare said it was now redistributing food that otherwise would have been wasted with an annual value of £28.7m, up from £22.4m last year. “Three years ago we were helping to feed 211,000 people a week – today it’s three-quarters of a million,” said FareShare’s chief executive, Lindsay Boswell. “We reported in 2015 that we provided food across 320 towns and cities – now it’s 15,000. It’s not rocket science to see there has been a massive hike in demand for food from frontline charities.”

FareShare currently redistributes about 13,500 tonnes of surplus food every year donated by supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers to 9,653 charities including hospices, homeless shelters, care homes and women’s refuges, but its annual target is 100,000 tonnes. Demand for surplus food has soared against a background of growing dependence on food banks and rising in the UK. FareShare says it has the capacity – and a waiting list of charities wanting help – but needs access to more food. Its solution is a government fund that would cover the costs of storage and transport. Available to any charity or producer that incurs the costs of redistributing food, it would also save charities and other beneficiaries £150m by making free food available to them. A public petition supporting this move attracted more than 16,000 signatures, which guarantees a government response.

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People will start leaving in droves sson.

In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)

For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life. When Ms. Lewis and her husband bought their home a quarter-century ago, Prescot had a comforting village feel. Now, core government relief programs are being cut and public facilities eliminated, adding pressure to public services like police and fire departments, just as they, too, grapple with diminished funding.

By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says. “The government has created destitution,” says Barry Kushner, a Labour Party councilman in Liverpool and the cabinet member for children’s services. “Austerity has had nothing to do with economics. It was about getting out from under welfare. It’s about politics abandoning vulnerable people.”

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They should do that for all Americans stationed abroad today. Bring the living ones home while they’re still alive.

‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

Wearing bandanas, cowboy hats or gleaming helmets, tens of thousands of bikers descended on Washington Sunday to parade in honor of US soldiers missing in action in foreign wars, a now 30-year-old tradition known as “Rolling Thunder.” “We’re gonna keep riding until we get everybody back home, from all wars,” said Jack Richardson, who at 73 crossed the country from California for the 13th time to participate in the annual Memorial Day weekend spectacular. Dressed in a leather jacket emblazoned with patches, this Vietnam War veteran had assembled with thousands of other bikers in a parking lot near the Pentagon, awaiting the start of the parade.

The route will take them into the center of official Washington, past the monuments on the National Mall and the austere black marble memorial engraved with the names of the nearly 60,000 US soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. “Still there are families waiting back home here in the United States that have not found out where their dads, their fathers, their brothers – they don’t know where they are,” said Richardson, a retired Los Angeles police officer who served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. “They don’t know if they’re still in Vietnam, they don’t know if they’re still alive, they don’t know if they’re dead, they don’t know if they’re captured,” he said.

According to organizers, more than 85,000 US soldiers remain unaccounted for in conflicts as far back as World War I. Most are from World War II, but 1,598 of the missing are from the war in Vietnam, a conflict still fresh in the memories of older veterans. The parade was begun in 1988 with some 2,500 motorcycles under the motto “We will never forget” to press for an accounting of the Vietnam missing. It has grown every year since into a rumbling, roaring extravaganza that organizers say attracts over a million people, including spectators. Besides the missing, the bikers also come to remember their fallen comrades.

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May 132018
 
 May 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Le repos 1932
This painting has a story. It’s very funny. Read below.

 

Bill Gross’s Wife Paints Fake Picasso, Swaps It With Real Thing In Divorce (NYP)
Fed To Deliver ‘Punch In The Face’ Markets Aren’t Prepared For – Boockvar (CNBC)
Who’s Most Afraid of a Latin American Debt Crisis? (DQ)
Can We Blame The Bankers? (Pettifor)
UK’s 17-Year Wage Squeeze The Worst In Two Hundred Years (Tily)
EU Set To Push For 6-Month Extension To Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)
The Hard Border Is Too Hard A Question (G.)
Half A Million ‘Hidden’ Young People In UK Left Without State Help (Ind.)
UK Campaigners Slam £1 Million Incentive To Store Nuclear Waste (G.)
Italy Could Blow Up Europe As We Know It (Pol.eu)
Italy’s Radical M5S And League On Verge Of Forming Government (G.)
EU’s Mogherini: Iran Nuclear Deal Will Hold (Pol.eu)
Damage To North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site Is Worse Than Anyone Thought (Ind.)
Bad Bitches From Mars (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Bill Gross’s wife. About the Picasso above.

Bill Gross’s Wife Paints Fake Picasso, Swaps It With Real Thing In Divorce (NYP)

A woman locked in a contentious divorce with her bond-trader husband took a Picasso off his wall and replaced it with a forgery she made herself. Sue Gross didn’t wait until she and Wall Street titan Bill Gross had finalized their split, swapping out a 1932 Pablo Picasso painting entitled “Le Repos” hanging in their bedroom with her own rendering. The original is expected to fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby’s Monday evening. The painting, which depicts Picasso lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, had belonged to them jointly. But a coin flip in August 2017 amid the couple’s divorce proceedings awarded Sue full custody of Picasso’s depiction of his sleeping mistress, which the couple had owned since 2006.

After the flip, Bill Gross tried to make arrangements for the piece to be transferred from his Laguna Beach, Calif., house to his ex-wife, sources told The Post. But the ex-Mrs. Gross said that was unnecessary; she already had taken the real thing. The couple’s art collection had been appraised by Sotheby’s in January 2017 amid the divorce proceedings, but Bill learned only later the Picasso was appraised in a different location than Laguna Beach. Bill was shocked Sue already had the piece, a source said, adding that Bill said, She stole the damn thing. In November testimony, the ex-wife readily admitted to swiping the Picasso, citing an e-mail Bill sent to her where he instructed her to “take all the furniture and art that you’d like”.

“And so I did,” she said. But it wasn’t quite that simple, as testimony revealed the ex-wife’s prowess for both painting and artful deception. “Well, you didn’t take it and leave an empty spot on the wall, though, did you?” lawyers for Bill Gross asked. “No,” Sue responded. “You replaced it with a fake?” the lawyer asked. “Well, it was a painting I painted,” Sue responded. “A replication of the Picasso?” the lawyer asked. “A replication, yes,” Sue answered. “And it had the Picasso signature and everything, didn’t it?” the lawyer asked. “Not exactly . . .” she said. “Whose signature was it? Sue Gross?” the lawyer asked.

“I don’t remember how I signed it. Bill will remember because I painted it at home years ago,” she said. “Did you tell him that you took the Picasso?” the lawyer asked. “No. We didn’t speak for a year and a half,” she answered just before the line of questioning turned to a 7-foot, 300-pound rabbit sculpture she also admitted taking.

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“..it’s very rare that the Fed engineers soft landings, and I’m not a believer that they’re going to do it again this time.”

Fed To Deliver ‘Punch In The Face’ Markets Aren’t Prepared For – Boockvar (CNBC)

Markets already know the Federal Reserve will deliver more rate hikes this year. They’re just not prepared for how much it will hurt, according to Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Advisory Group. “The Fed is trying to ease the effect of their rate hike cycle by being very transparent,” Boockvar told CNBC’s “Futures Now” this week. It is “trying to convince us that quantitative tightening is like watching paint dry.” Fed chair Jerome Powell is carrying on Janet Yellen’s legacy of full transparency by prepping the markets as best as he can for inevitable monetary tightening. The Fed’s message of ‘steady-as-she-goes’ rate increases has calmed Wall Street into thinking this will mostly be a smooth path higher.

Boockvar expects tighter monetary policy will have a far greater impact than the Fed is telegraphing, and the market is anticipating. “Regardless of how they tell us, regardless of how they do it, there’s still a rise in the cost of capital, there’s still a drain of liquidity,” he said. He used a colorful analogy for the shock the markets will be dealt, even with the Fed’s fair warning. “If I gave you a month’s notice that I’m going to punch you in the face, when I punch you in the face, it’s still going to feel the same, it’s still going to hurt,” he said. Even worse, it’s more like two blows: While the Fed hikes interest rates, it’s also shrinking its balance sheet, Boockvar points out. “The biggest risk to the market is that they’re really tightening twice through the reduction of the size of their balance sheet,” said Boockvar.

[..] “At the same time, they’ll likely raise two more times this year, so the rise in interest rates to me is very noteworthy,” said Boockvar. “In a very over-levered, credit-dependent economy, that is my main concern because it’s very rare that the Fed engineers soft landings, and I’m not a believer that they’re going to do it again this time.”

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Spain.

Who’s Most Afraid of a Latin American Debt Crisis? (DQ)

Economic history appears to be rhyming once again in Latin America. Perennial credit-basket-case Argentina was one of the first countries to suffer a major currency crisis this century. Now, its government has asked the IMF for a brand-new bailout. But if this classic last-gasp fix was meant to calm the markets, it isn’t working. Previous Latin American debt crises have taught us two things: • The direct impact on the general populace, already suffering from sky-high poverty rates, is devastating; • Once the first domino falls, contagion can spread like wildfire. The debt crisis of the early 1980s, which spread to virtually all corners of the region, famously paved the way to Latin America’s “lost decade.”

Mexico’s Tequila Crisis of 1994-5 at one point became so serious that it almost brought down some of Wall Street’s biggest banks. At the moment, as long as the US dollar and US yields continue to rise, emerging market jitters can be expected to grow. As British financial correspondent Neal Kimberley notes, markets often behave like predators, running down what they perceive as the weakest prey first — a role being filled, with usual aplomb, by Argentina. Emerging market weakness is by now a generalized trend. The jitters could soon spread to Latin America’s two largest economies, Brazil and Mexico, which between them account for close to 60% of Latin America’s GDP. Both of the countries face general elections in the next two months.

[..] But it’s not just countries that are at risk of contagion; so, too, are global companies with a big stake in the affected markets. Few companies are more exposed to Latin America than large Spanish ones. Some were already burnt in Argentina’s last crisis and default. But in the aftermath of Spain’s real estate collapse, opportunities at home dried up to such an extent that access to Latin America’s fast-growing economies became a godsend. But it could soon become a curse.

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What makes austerity dangerous.

Can We Blame The Bankers? (Pettifor)

At a Rethinking Economics conference in Oslo last month I pointed out that western politicians and economists are repeating policy errors of the 1930s. The pattern of a global financial crash, followed by austerity in Europe and the UK, led in those years to the rise of populism, authoritarianism and ultimately fascism. The scale of economic and political failures and missteps led in turn to a catastrophic world war. Today that pattern – of a global financial crash, austerity and a rise in political populism and authoritarianism – is evident in both Europe and the US. And talk of war has risen to the top of the US political agenda. Why have we not learnt lessons from the past?

The “fount and matrix” (to quote Karl Polanyi) of the international financial system prior to its collapse in 1929, was the self-regulating market. The gold standard was the policy by which the private finance sector, backed by economists, central bankers and policy-makers, sought to extend the domestic market system to the international sphere – beyond the reach of regulatory democracy. In the event, the 1929 stock market crash put an end to the delusional aspirations of Haute Finance: namely that financiers could detach their activities from democratic, accountable political oversight. (Polanyi, The Great Transformation 1944).

Between 1929 and 1931 the losses from the US stock market crash were estimated at $50bn. It was the worst economic failure in the history of the international economy. Within three years of the crash millions of Americans were unemployed, and farmers were caught between rising debts and deflating commodity prices. In Germany between 1930 and 1932, Heinrich Brüning, the Chancellor, with the tacit support of Social Democrats, imposed a savage austerity programme that led to high levels of unemployment and cuts in welfare programmes. This in turn led to the demise of social democracy, the rise of fascism and ultimately a global war.

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Again, austerity. Theresa May trumps Napoleon.

UK’s 17-Year Wage Squeeze The Worst In Two Hundred Years (Tily)

A decade on from the financial crisis, real wages today are still worth £24 a week less than they were in 2008. By the time they’re forecast to return to their pre-crash level in 2025, real wages will have been in decline for 17 years – the longest period since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The TUC compared the current wage squeeze (including the forecast) with every major earnings crisis over the past two centuries. We found that the only slump longer than the one we’re experiencing today was the 24 years between 1798 and 1822, a period when Europe was ravaged by the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. In fact, real wages even recovered faster during the Great Depression (10 years) and after the Second World War (7 years), as the chart below shows:


Year zero is the pre-crisis peak. Outcomes in subsequent years are measured as an index relative to that point. The real wage index returns to 100 when the crisis is over.

The current crisis not only dwarfs all others during the last century; it is the biggest since the period between 1798, when Nelson destroyed the French Fleet at the Battle of the Nile, and 1822, when the economy finally began to recover from the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars:

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What’s the difference?

EU Set To Push For 6-Month Extension To Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)

The EU is to push for an optional six-month extension to the Brexit transition period to be built in to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, The Independent understands. European Commission officials will seek the extension to give the EU added flexibility, but it comes as key figures in the UK also look to extend the transition to give time to implement new customs arrangements. Next week a crunch meeting will see Theresa May’s top ministers try to agree what kind of customs relations to seek in negotiations, with both of her proposed options potentially needing more time than the current transition allows. The Independent has been told by two sources in Brussels that the EU wants the six-month extension to protect its own interests, as Brexit negotiations come to their most critical phase.

One said: “Of course they are aware of the sensitivity around the issue in London, but it is about giving the commission more leeway if needed, at the end of the transition to get things in place.” A second official in Brussels said it would be normal for the commission to seek the added time, simply as a safety precaution given the uncertainty surrounding the British position. The commission is expected to try to put the optional six-month extension into the withdrawal agreement late on in the negotiations process, in order to maximise the chance of it being accepted. According to the current withdrawal agreement text, the transition period is set to last around 18 months from the end of March 2019 until December 2020 – to give time for both sides to get their houses in order before new legal and trade systems come into play.

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They have no clue how to solve this. This whole Brexit preparation thing is just a waste of time.

The Hard Border Is Too Hard A Question (G.)

[..] it would be satisfying to rewind and show that the reason many now believe Britain must stay connected to the EU for five years or so relates to complex customs rules and how they cannot be reconciled with open borders. Parliament only took notice when MPs on the Brexit select committee damned the government’s dithering. The committee’s message was that keeping the Irish border open and at the same time installing border controls with the EU couldn’t work. Ever since their report last December, the border contradiction has travelled through Whitehall like a virus, forcing civil servants to drop what they are doing in a desperate bid to find a cure. As one senior civil servant put it, officials are too busy finding a way to put the right export stamp on a sheep’s backside to think about anything else.

So far, no cure has been found and the situation is looking desperate. Foreign companies have virtually switched off the stream of investment into the UK. By the end of last year, OECD figures show foreign direct investment down by half on the average seen from 2012 to 2015 and by 90% on the bumper inflow of funds seen in 2016. [..] Even the most confident Brexiters have noticed the economy flagging under the weight of the customs union uncertainty. It’s such a quandary that last week Tory MPs were openly considering adding another three years to the transition deal just to give the brightest minds in the civil service enough time to sort it out. That would take the UK’s membership of the customs union to 2023.

They recognise that any attempt to stay inside an economic zone with the EU – whether that be the “Norway option”, under the banner of the European Economic Area, or the “Swiss option”, which involves negotiating upwards of 100 separate trade agreements – comes with a demand for free movement of labour. That, as we know, is an unacceptable outcome for Leave voters.

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Throwing away much of a generation. Just like in Greece.

Half A Million ‘Hidden’ Young People In UK Left Without State Help (Ind.)

Almost half a million young people are at risk of “a life of unemployment and poverty” after being left without any state help to survive and find work, ministers have been warned. The alarm has been raised over a staggering number of “hidden jobless” who have “fallen off the government radar”, despite promises of intensive support to achieve their potential. The new research has found that 480,000 16- to 24-year-olds are missing out on both benefits and advice – no less than 60 per cent of the official total of young jobless. Strikingly, many of them have good job prospects, boasting impressive GCSE qualifications and having continued with their education beyond 16.

But they refuse to go to job centres because they are “unhelpful” or they “fear being treated badly” – due to the threat of sanctions – while others lack the necessary documents. A senior MP has now demanded answers from ministers, while campaigners are urging the government to let them plug the gap where the state is failing young people. Frank Field, the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, told The Independent: “It seems as though a small army of unemployed young people have fallen through the gaps in the safety net without any official data recording whether they are destitute. “If we are to prevent them from being consigned to a life of unemployment and poverty, a first move must involve gathering accurate data on which young people are without either a job or an income, so they can then receive appropriate support.”

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One word: Yucca.

UK Campaigners Slam £1 Million Incentive To Store Nuclear Waste (G.)

MPs from both major parties have attacked the government’s latest incentive to entice communities into volunteering to host Britain’s first deep underground store for nuclear waste as “completely inadequate”. Ministers have offered up to £1m per community for areas that constructively engage in offering to take part in the scheme, and a further sum of up to £2.5m where deep borehole investigations take place. The aim is to find a permanent underground geological disposal facility (GDF) that could store for thousands of years the waste from Britain’s nuclear energy and bomb-making programmes. The scheme could involve building stores under the seabed to house highly radioactive material. It is predicted that the UK is likely to have produced 4.9m tonnes of nuclear waste by 2125.

But critics say the inducements offered by the government – part of the consultations it launched this year – to ensure local cooperation are “simply not good enough”, and point to the example of France, which has a similar amount of nuclear waste. It offers around €30m (£26.5m) a year as local support for districts neighbouring the site at Bure, in north-east France, and has also offered €60m in community projects. [..] The government is seeking to dispose of the UK’s nuclear waste underground because current storage facilities are both ineffective and expensive to maintain. A GDF would involve sealing the waste in rock for as long as it remains a hazard. The plan was also criticised by the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who said the UK should stop making nuclear waste and stop building new reactors.

“We are still pouring untold billions of taxpayer money into propping up an industry that the free market would have killed off years ago,” he said. “In return, we will be compounding the catastrophe of a nuclear waste build-up, which we are no closer to solving than we were when the industry was born.” Nina Schrank, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added: “The lack of seriousness with which the UK government treats nuclear legacy issues makes it predictable that their quest for a suitable site has been so unsuccessful that they are looking again at the Irish Sea, which Sellafield turned into one of the most radioactively contaminated seas in the world.”

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“..we all know what usually happens when the EU goes on the ballot (see France and Netherlands in 2005, Ireland in 2008, Britain in 2016, pick your year in Denmark)”

Italy Could Blow Up Europe As We Know It (Pol.eu)

As Italy’s leading vote-getters work through the weekend to hammer out a coalition deal — about time, some might add, two months after the election — the EU and Brussels establishments are in a state of heightened anxiety. A government of the 5Stars (anti-establishment, in media shorthand) and the League (far right, ditto) together, or somehow alone, is unprecedented. Never before in any of the six original EU countries, much less one of its leading powers, have parties deeply skeptical toward the EU grabbed the reins of power. If that happens, the consequences for Italy and the EU could be felt for months and years to come. But the appetizer has been served. A surprise election outcome that sidelined Italy’s more traditional left and right parties and catapulted this odd couple into the limelight is disrupting European politics in unexpected ways.

[..] an Italian euro-exit is hardly off the table either. Beppe Grillo, the 5Stars’ founder, last week revived the idea of forcing a referendum on Italy’s membership in the single currency. It is, after all, in the party’s DNA — and we all know what usually happens when the EU goes on the ballot (see France and Netherlands in 2005, Ireland in 2008, Britain in 2016, pick your year in Denmark). Italy’s high debt, low growth and terrible demographics make it an unhappy fit in a eurozone dominated by northern economic powerhouses. If anything, the speculation about the intentions of any government with the 5Stars in it hardly helps boost investor confidence in Italy.

[..] The success of these two parties brings home the changed mood among Italians. That’s especially true for the young. In a 2017 poll, just over half of people under 45 said they would vote to leave the EU if Italy holds a referendum on EU membership (while 68 percent of respondents over 45 supported staying in the bloc). Young adults in Italy have memories only of economic stagnation and crisis. While domestic politics and finance can be blamed for much of that, the heavy hand of the EU is often present in the tale of woe.

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Just yesterday, Berlusconi got permission to run again. So maybe no new government yet?

Italy’s Radical M5S And League On Verge Of Forming Government (G.)

When Italians went to the polls in early March, the message was loud and clear: it was time for the parties that had dominated politics since the early 1990s to vacate the stage. Over 50% of voters backed two outsider parties, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League. Over two months later, the pair are on the verge of forming a coalition government that could break decisively with the centrist policies that went before. Matteo Salvini, leader of the League (formerly the Northern League), and his M5S counterpart, Luigi di Maio, have been thrashing out a deal that could be revealed as soon as Sunday. “The Italian people want this government,” said Mattia Diletti, a professor at Sapienza University in Rome.

“They want to see something new, and I think Sergio Mattarella [Italy’s president] understands this.” Salvini and Di Maio, an odd couple who have spent most of the past two months hurling insults at each other, are working to put together a policy document and are expected to update Mattarella on Sunday. Di Maio has said that “considerable steps forward” have been made on a policy programme, with agreement on issues such as tougher laws on immigration, reform of pensions, a flat tax and a universal basic income. But it is unclear who Italy’s next prime minister will be. The names mooted in the Italian press include the League’s deputy leader, Giancarlo Giorgetti; Giampiero Massolo, chairman of shipbuilder Fincantieri and ex-chief of the secret service, and Elisabetta Belloni, the foreign ministry’s secretary general.

In any event, the candidate is likely to be someone who will heed Mattarella’s thinly disguised warning to the coalition on Thursday against retreating from Europe. M5S has softened its stance on the EU, saying it would like to open discussions on “some treaties” rather than pull Italy out, while Salvini has said he wants to “defend Italy” within the bloc.

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Hmmm…doubtful at best: .. the secret of change — and we need change — is to put all energies not in destroying the old, but rather in building the new.

So change, but decided by the same people…

EU’s Mogherini: Iran Nuclear Deal Will Hold (Pol.eu)

The Iran nuclear deal can survive without the United States’ support, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Friday. Speaking at a State of the Union conference, Mogherini said she has received assurances from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the country would stand by the agreement, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on Iran earlier this week. “We are determined to keep this deal in place,” Mogherini said, adding that only Iran has the power to unilaterally wreck the deal.

The Italian diplomat will meet with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the United Kingdom — the three European powers that brokered the nuclear deal along with the EU, U.S., China and Russia — in Brussels Tuesday to discuss the future of the agreement. The European diplomats will also meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Europeans are seeking to demonstrate that they can still deliver most of the economic benefits Tehran was promised in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program and allowing a robust system of international inspections, as well as persuade European companies active in Iran not to abandon their deals out of fear of being penalized by the U.S.

In her speech, Mogherini took several shots at Trump, though she did not mention the U.S. president by name, saying: “It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times. While the secret of change — and we need change — is to put all energies not in destroying the old, but rather in building the new. “This impulse to destroy is not leading us anywhere good,” she added. “It is not solving any of our problems.”

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And he’s going to make closing it into a wonderful ceremony. Everyone’s welcome.

Damage To North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site Is Worse Than Anyone Thought (Ind.)

The damage to North Korea’s nuclear test site after its latest missile firing is believed to be worse than previously thought, it has been reported. Space-based radar showed that after the initial impact of the blast, which took place in September 2017, a large part of the underground Punggye-ri test site caved in. Chinese scientists had previously said that due to a partial collapse of a mountain near the test region that part of the site was no longer useable. The new research, from a study published in Science magazine, confirms this is likely to be the case. Sylvain Barbot, one of the authors of the study, said: “This means that a very large domain has collapsed around the test site, not merely a tunnel or two.”

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I made that title up.

Bad Bitches From Mars (Jim Kunstler)

I sense that with Schneiderman we’ve reached the zenith in this comic phase of American cultural collapse. The same week, Vanity Fair Magazine ran this item about the pop star Rihanna: Rihanna’s lingerie collection will drop on Friday [today], and there’s one very special addition that is making people lose their minds: her line, Savage x Fenty, will feature handcuffs. [Fenty is Ms. Rihanna’s surname.] Just days after she reimagined the Pope at the Met Gala, Rihanna is reminding us that this is still her week. She told Vogue that it was only natural that Fenty Beauty, which launched last fall, feature a lingerie line for women who want to express agency over their own looks and bodies…. ‘Women should be wearing lingerie for their damn selves,’ Rihanna [told Vogue]. I want people to wear Savage x Fenty and think, I’m a bad bitch.’”

[..] The Martian in me sees America turning into something like a Fellini movie, a panorama of fabulous excess and sinister fantasy, with the more malign forces of commerce propelling the garbage barge to ever darker extremes at the edge of a flat earth. On one part of the edge stands President Trump, all greatness and little goodness; and on the other edge stand characters like Eric Schneiderman and Harvey Weinstein, deposed champions of social justice — now cultural blood-brothers in the Sexual Predators Hall of Infamy. Mr. Schneiderman was all set to drag Mr. Weinstein, figuratively speaking, over several miles of broken glass and old Gillette blue blades in the state courts, and now it looks like the former NY AG himself may submit to a death of a thousand cuts by civil litigation, or maybe even a trip to one of his old criminal courtrooms, if the ever-vengeful Governor Andrew Cuomo has his wicked way.

If America were an X-rated billiard parlor, I’d think it had run the table on political sex stories, with nothing but the eight-ball of doom left on the table, and a wrathful deity — the Pope’s boss, shall we say — standing there chalking up his cue stick. When he sinks that last shot, a new game will get underway. I believe it will have to do with financial markets and currencies, and a lot more will hang on the outcome. The break itself should be a doozy — all those colored balls banging into each other and dropping into oblivion.

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For your Sunday calm: Philip Glass paints both the river flowing by, and the traffic of New York City, all at the same time. For him, in the end, it’s the same thing.