Nov 132018
 
 November 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peasant burning weeds 1883

 

Dow Plunges 600 Points As Apple Leads Tech Rout (CNBC)
The Economic Consequences Of Debt (Roberts)
The Fed Supports Capital In Its Eternal War With Labor (Hunt)
China State Banks Selling Dollars In FX Market To Arrest Yuan Losses (R.)
Goldman Sachs Down Most In 7 Years On 1MDB, ‘Fear Of The Unknown'(BBG)
Banking Consolidation In Europe Is ‘Inevitable’ – UBS Chief (CNBC)
China Scours Social Media, Erases Thousands Of Accounts (R.)
Working to Protect the World from Bananas (Epsilon)
Turkey, France Spar Over Khashoggi Killing (AFP)
US Federal, State Elections Still In Flux (R.)
Rock the Vote (Kunstler)
Crucifying Julian Assange (Chris Hedges)
Stan Lee Leaves a Legacy as Complex as His Superheroes (DB)

 

 

“..the FANG trade is dead and the market is struggling to find a replacement.”

Dow Plunges 600 Points As Apple Leads Tech Rout (CNBC)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 602 points on Monday after a big decline in Apple shares, a rise in the U.S. dollar and lingering worries about global trade weighed on investor sentiment. Monday’s losses bring the Dow’s decline over the past two sessions to 804 points; it closed at 25,387.18. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite pulled back 2.8 percent to 7,200.87 and fell back into the correction territory it first entered during the October market rout. The S&P 500 dropped 2 percent to 2,726.22 as financials tanked, led by Goldman Sachs. In late-afternoon trading, the major indexes hit their lows of the day after Bloomberg News reported the White House was circulating a draft report on auto tariffs. Shares of General Motors turned negative following the report.

Apple shares tanked by 5 percent after Lumentum Holdings, which makes technology for the iPhone’s face-recognition function, cut its outlook for fiscal second quarter 2019. Lumentum CEO Alan Lowe said one of its largest customers asked the company to “materially reduce shipments” for its products. Shares of Lumentum plunged 33 percent. The decline in Apple pressured the broader technology sector. The Technology Select Sector SPDR dropped 3.5 percent. Alphabet and Amazon shares pulled back 2.7 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively. Amazon shares fell into bear-market territory, down about 20 percent from its 52-week high. [..] Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, said “the FANG trade is dead and the market is struggling to find a replacement.”

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I’m partial to the last graph. It shows an undeniable long term trendline.

The Economic Consequences Of Debt (Roberts)

The relevance of debt growth versus economic growth is all too evident as shown below. Since 1980, the overall increase in debt has surged to levels that currently usurp the entirety of economic growth. With economic growth rates now at the lowest levels on record, the growth in debt continues to divert more tax dollars away from productive investments into the service of debt and social welfare. It now requires nearly $3.00 of debt to create $1 of economic growth.

Another way to view the impact of debt on the economy is to look at what “debt-free” economic growth would be. In other words, without debt, there has actually been no organic economic growth.

In fact, the economic deficit has never been greater. For the 30-year period from 1952 to 1982, the economic surplus fostered a rising economic growth rate which averaged roughly 8% during that period. Today, with the economy expected to grow at just 2% over the long-term, the economic deficit has never been greater.

But it isn’t just Federal debt that is the problem. It is all debt. When it comes to households, which are responsible for roughly 2/3rds of economic growth through personal consumption expenditures, debt was used to sustain a standard of living well beyond what income and wage growth could support. This worked out as long as the ability to leverage indebtedness was an option. The problem is that when rising interest rates hit a point where additional leverage becomes problematic, further economic cannot be achieved. Given the massive increase in deficit spending by households to support consumption, the “bang point” between rates and the economy is likely closer than most believe.

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The Fed must step back as wages rise.

The Fed Supports Capital In Its Eternal War With Labor (Hunt)

For 46 years, from 1951 to 1997, we were no more and no less rich than our economy grew. Which makes sense. That’s the neutral vision of monetary policy, where you’re not trying to pull forward future growth through leverage and easy money in order to create more wealth today. For the past 20 years, however, we have had a series of wealth bubbles – first the Dot-Com bubble, then the Housing Bubble, and today the Financial Asset Bubble – that have made us richer than our economy grows. Each of these bubbles was intentionally “blown” by the Fed through monetary policy. That’s the tried and true method of creating a wealth bubble in the modern age of fiat money – you artificially lower the cost of money to encourage borrowing and leverage, which in turn pulls future growth into the present. It’s a neat trick so long as you can keep it going.

But that’s the problem, of course. The Fed can’t keep it going, not if it wants to satisfy its raison d’etre, which is to keep inflation bottled up, particularly wage inflation. Once wage inflation starts to pick up, the Fed ALWAYS stops blowing bubbles. Why? Because the Fed, like every central bank, was created to support Capital in its eternal war with Labor. It’s in the name. They are bankers. I know that sounds all Marxist and conspiratorial and all that, but it’s really not. It’s very straightforward. It’s Alexander Hamilton, not Karl Marx. In case you haven’t noticed, wage inflation has started to pick up. The Fed has stopped blowing this Financial Asset Bubble. Then isn’t the inescapable conclusion that we are now inevitably heading back to that GDP growth line? And if that IS the conclusion, then how bad could it get for investors?

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A very ominous sign.

China State Banks Selling Dollars In FX Market To Arrest Yuan Losses (R.)

Major state-owned Chinese banks were seen selling dollars at around 6.97 per dollar in the onshore spot foreign exchange market in early trade on Tuesday, three traders said, in an apparent attempt to arrest sharp losses in the local currency. The onshore spot market opened at 6.9681 per dollar, weakening to a low of 6.9703 at one point in early deals. “Big banks were selling (dollars) to defend the yuan,” said one of the traders. The move by the state-run banks helped the yuan recover to 6.9550. The onshore spot yuan was trading at 6.9645 as of 0237 GMT.

Traders attributed the sharp morning losses in the yuan to broad strength in the U.S. dollar, which hit 16-month highs against a basket of six other major currencies. They also suspect the authorities are keen to prevent the yuan from weakening too sharply before U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping’s meeting later this month. The two countries’ leaders plan to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit, in Argentina at the end of November for a high-stakes talk.

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The Squid got hungry.

Goldman Sachs Down Most In 7 Years On 1MDB, ‘Fear Of The Unknown'(BBG)

Goldman Sachs Group’s reputation is facing one of its biggest crises of the decade – and now its shares are, too. Since prosecutors implicated a trio of Goldman Sachs bankers in a multi-billion-dollar Malaysian fraud early this month, investors have endured an almost daily drip of news on the firm’s ties to the scandal. The barrage culminated on Monday (Nov 12) as Malaysia’s finance minister demanded a “full refund”, tipping Goldman’s shares into their biggest drop since 2011. Across Wall Street, analysts expressed surprise over the dive, noting the bank – which hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing – can probably stomach any payment that might be extracted in the case. Instead, some said, the decline appeared to be due to a combination of concern over the persistently harsh spotlight and uncertainty about what’s to come.

It was also a generally bad day in US markets. “It’s not so much the dollar amount,” said Mr Gerard Cassidy at RBC Capital Markets. “It’s more that we don’t know all of the facts yet; we don’t know all of the important points to the story at this time. It’s the fear of the unknown.” On Nov 1, at least three senior Goldman Sachs bankers were publicly implicated by the US Department of Justice in a multi-year criminal enterprise that included bribing officials in Malaysia and elsewhere and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars. The firm has said it’s cooperating with the investigations and may face “significant” fines. [..] The Malaysia probe focuses on the country’s scandal-plagued state investment company, 1Malaysia Development Bhd and the US$6.5 billion it raised in 2012 and 2013. Goldman Sachs handled the deals, reaping almost US$600 million in fees.

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“..technology will make the sector more “effective and more efficient.”

Banking Consolidation In Europe Is ‘Inevitable’ – UBS Chief (CNBC)

The European banking system needs consolidation and “as time goes by, it will become more and more inevitable,” the head of one of the largest banks in Europe told CNBC on Tuesday. Often investors, policy-makers and other industry experts refer to fragmentation as one of the biggest hurdles to European banks. UBS chief Sergio Ermotti told CNBC that the issue is “not sustainable.” “That’s something that as time goes by will become more and more inevitable, is part of the solutions. For sure consolidation needs to happen, in particular in Europe, where we see a lot of fragmentation that it is not sustainable,” Ermotti told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche. He further added that technology will make the sector more “effective and more efficient.”

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Self-media: social media not run by government.

China Scours Social Media, Erases Thousands Of Accounts (R.)

China’s top cyber authority has scrubbed 9,800 social media accounts of independent news providers deemed to have posted sensational, vulgar or politically harmful content on the Internet, it said late on Monday. China’s strict online censorship rules have tightened in recent years with new legislation to restrict media outlets, surveillance measures for media sites and rolling campaigns to remove content deemed unacceptable. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement that the campaign, launched on Oct. 20, had erased the accounts for violations that included “spreading politically harmful information, maliciously falsifying (Chinese Communist) party history, slandering heroes and defaming the nation’s image.”

CAC also summoned social media giants, including Tencent’s Wechat and Sina-owned Weibo, warning them against failing to prevent “uncivilized growth” and “all kinds of chaos” among independent media on their platforms. “The chaos among self-media accounts has seriously trampled on the dignity of the law and damaged the interests of the masses,” CAC said. The term “self-media” is mostly used on Chinese social media to describe independent news accounts that produce original content but are not officially registered with the authorities.

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Despair no more. Big Brother is here.

Working to Protect the World from Bananas (Epsilon)

The main story is the increased pace and arc of the Chinese system overall, not the ‘play-by-play’. With technology, even totalitarian surveillance technology, there typically is no ‘big bang’, just a bunch of independent systems coming on line, getting adopted over time, then getting networked together, resulting in a series of subtle shifts in personal behavior, and then a tipping point. Having watched this system come on line for nearly 20 years, the deployment of the Chinese technology-driven domestic surveillance system was pretty limited even up until 2010, but has been absolutely rip-roaring and accelerating over the last five years thanks to the same driving forces of most other tech advances since 2010:

• Ubiquitous handheld connected device • App adoption • Cheap sensors (inc. cameras) • Cheap massive data storage • Sophisticated statistical algorithms • Leaps forward in compute power and cost. All of these advances are so powerful for surveillance with its inherent big, unstructured data characteristics that I think we are now really close to an inflection point where the system is starting to really work in a functional day-to-day way, which will then lead to a behavioral tipping point. I don’t think the main story is that controversial at this point, i.e., I don’t think anyone, even the Chinese government, denies this system is being built, the intention of it, or that it is starting to work in a practical way.

Therefore, I think the more interesting story in many ways is the sub-story of the willful ignorance of the main story by the West. I was at an event last week where a new fancy think tank on AI ethics based here in San Francisco was presenting and expounding their tenet of “Working to protect the privacy and security of individuals”, whilst simultaneously welcoming Baidu into their organization. I’m sorry, but that’s like “Working to protect the world from bananas” while signing up Del Monte as a member. Bananas. With hypocritical sprinkles. And a big ignorant cherry on top.

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They’ve all heard the tapes, but not one of them talks about the content.

Turkey, France Spar Over Khashoggi Killing (AFP)

Turkey on Monday lashed out at “unacceptable” and “impertinent” comments by the French foreign minister who accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of playing a “political game” over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had shared recordings linked to the Saudi journalist’s murder last month with Riyadh, the United States, France, Britain and other allies, without giving details of the tapes’ specific content. In an interview with France 2 television on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he “for the moment was not aware” of any information transmitted by Ankara. Asked if the Turkish president was lying, he said: “It means that he has a political game to play in these circumstances.”

His comments provoked fury in Ankara. “We find it unacceptable that he accused President Erdogan of ‘playing political games’,” the communications director at the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, told AFP in a written statement. “Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded even more sharply, saying that his French counterpart’s accusations amounted to “impertinence”. “It does not fit the seriousness of a foreign minister,” he said, accusing Le Drian of “exceeding his authority”.

[..] Altun said Ankara had shared evidence linked to the murder with officials from a large number of countries and that France was “no exception”. “I confirm that evidence pertaining to the Khashoggi murder has also been shared with the relevant agencies of the French government,” he said. A representative of French intelligence listened to the audio recording and examined detailed information including a transcript on October 24, he added.

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The US is incapable of building a strong election system. How disgraceful is that?

US Federal, State Elections Still In Flux (R.)

Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 elections and Republicans held onto a majority in the U.S. Senate, but more than a dozen races remain undecided nearly a week later. The outcomes of two Senate races, 13 House seats and two governorships had yet to be settled on Monday. The results of Arizona’s U.S. Senate race became clear on Monday, when Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema declared victory and Republican candidate Martha McSally conceded after multiple media outlets called the race for Sinema. Florida ordered a recount in the race where Democratic Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Florida also ordered a recount for its gubernatorial race, while the winner of the governor’s race in Georgia remained uncertain, with a December runoff still possible. In one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate races, Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and her Democratic challenger, Mike Espy, will contest a runoff on Nov. 27 after neither won a majority. Vote tallies continue to trickle in for the 13 U.S. House races that appear too close to call, and there is no consensus among media outlets and data provider DDHQ that a victor has emerged. Democrats held narrow leads in eight of those races, according to unfinished tallies compiled by DDHQ.

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“.. C-Span will be livelier and more colorful than the WWE Wrestlemania round-robin, midget division.”

Rock the Vote (Kunstler)

It warmed my heart to read in The Wall Street Journal that Hillary Clinton is preparing to re-enter the Washington DC swamp from her deluxe exile in the woods of Chappaqua, New York, and make another run for the White House — though it’s hard to calculate how many porters in sandals and loincloths will be required to lug all her baggage around the campaign trail. Will hubbie hit the hustings with her? That would be rich. I can just imagine the pussy-hatted legions shrieking #MeToo at every stop. Surely there is no better way to put the Democratic Party out of its misery. The post-election melodramas in Georgia and Florida grind on, despite the various rules and laws about deadlines for certifying ballots and accounting for their origin.

What is a ballot after all but a mere scrap of paper, easily reproducible, and interchangeable. Sometimes, they make strange journeys out of election headquarters in trucks and SUVs, seeking fun and excitement, and they have been known to mysteriously turn up by the hundredweight in broom closets where they retreat to caucus. Only one thing is certain: the ballot fiasco is a billable hours bonanza for DC lawyers arriving on the scene to sort things out — which they may not manage anyway. If the vote count somehow remains in favor of the provisional winners — Republicans Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis (Fla), and Brian Kemp (Ga) — you can be sure we’ll be in a frenzy of sore loserdom that will make the Medieval ergot outbreaks of yore look like episodes of Peewee’s Playhouse.

If the provisional votes get overturned, the attorneys billable hours will quickly exceed the national debt, and we’ll find ourselves in a new era where the free citizens of this republic can‘t be trusted to the simple task of counting ballots, or even holding elections in the first place. [..] Meanwhile, the new Democratic majority congress prepares to ramp up its longed-for multi-committee inquisition against Trump and Trumpism, and the Republican Senate will counter-punch with binders of criminal referrals against the superstars of the Resistance. C-Span will be livelier and more colorful than the WWE Wrestlemania round-robin, midget division.

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The role of the MSM demands much more scrutiny.

Crucifying Julian Assange (Chris Hedges)

Assange was once feted and courted by some of the largest media organizations in the world, including The New York Times and The Guardian, for the information he possessed. But once his trove of material documenting U.S. war crimes, much of it provided by Chelsea Manning, was published by these media outlets he was pushed aside and demonized. A leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch dated March 8, 2008, exposed a black propaganda campaign to discredit WikiLeaks and Assange.

The document said the smear campaign should seek to destroy the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and blacken Assange’s reputation. It largely has worked. Assange is especially vilified for publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials. The Democrats and former FBI Director James Comey say the emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, by Russian government hackers. Comey has said the messages were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary. Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

The Democratic Party—seeking to blame its election defeat on Russian “interference” rather than the grotesque income inequality, the betrayal of the working class, the loss of civil liberties, the deindustrialization and the corporate coup d’état that the party helped orchestrate—attacks Assange as a traitor, although he is not a U.S. citizen. Nor is he a spy. He is not bound by any law I am aware of to keep U.S. government secrets. He has not committed a crime.

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Enough controversy for ten.

Stan Lee Leaves a Legacy as Complex as His Superheroes (DB)

He was born Stanley Martin Lieber in the Bronx. For nearly 22 years, beginning almost immediately after graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he labored in obscurity as a writer, editor, and art director in a publishing industry just one cultural rung above pornography: comic books. And then, in 1961, he became one of the pivotal 20th century figures who elevated comics into the first draft of American pop culture. Stan Lee, who died Monday, November 12 at age 95, is synonymous with Marvel Comics. Nearly every movie released by Hollywood upstart-turned-juggernaut Marvel Studios can trace part of its creative origins to Lee. (The exceptions are the Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and forthcoming Captain Marvel franchises.)

Among people who shaped the legacy of the Disney company, which purchased Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, Lee is probably second only to Walt Disney himself. George Lucas is third because of the debts Star Wars owes to the comics creations of Lee’s greatest creative partner and bitterest foe, Jack Kirby. Lee’s legacy at Marvel is immortal. But so too is the debate and controversy over what that legacy specifically is. In some quarters in comics, and especially to devotees of Kirby, Stan Lee is a supervillain–a man who stole credit, and corresponding fortunes, from the people who truly shaped Marvel creatively in the ’60s, relegating them to also-ran obscurity.

Aspects of that critique, uncomfortably, have merit. Lee had a maestro’s instincts for what we now call branding, and it cast a shadow long enough to keep his Marvel collaborators in darkness. In press interviews, his endless public appearances, and his own writing, Lee portrayed himself as the driver of the Marvel Universe, rendering artists like Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko as afterthoughts.

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Jun 182018
 
 June 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Pflanze und Fenster Stillleben 1927

 

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)
Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)
Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)
The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)
May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)
FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)
Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)
Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)
Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)
Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)
Losing The Buzz (ODT)
Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)
Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

 

 

There’s a thought.

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)

Germany may only account for 3.4% of the world economy, but it is more than a quarter of the European Union’s demand and output. The EU, in turn, is close to 20% of the world economy, and, based on last year’s numbers, it takes $283.5 billion of U.S. exports, or 18.3% of America’s total goods sold overseas. What the U.S. sells to the EU is more than 40% of all the goods America exports to China and Japan. That shows that the damage caused to the U.S. economy transcends, by far, Germany’s surplus of $64.2 billion on American trades in 2017. Imagine, for example, what would happen to the EU economy, to the rest of the world — and to U.S. export sales in general — if Germany were not living off its fellow Europeans with a massive €164.4 billion trade surplus.

That German surplus is stifling the economic growth in the rest of Europe, because it is a deficit for countries trading with Germany. You can think of those €164.4 billion as a large wealth transfer to Germany. Indeed, it is a structural foundation of Germany’s export-driven economy, where sales to the rest of the world account for nearly a half of German GDP (compared with 14% in the U.S. case). What Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world need here is a radical change of German economic policies. Germany should be generating more growth from domestic demand to give an opportunity to its trade partners to sell more of their goods and services on German markets. That would boost intra-European growth and create opportunities for more American sales to Europe — its largest overseas customer.

There is nothing new here. It’s a very old story Germans don’t even want to talk about. And why should they? France is meekly taking it on the chin with annual deficits of 36 to 41 billion euros on its German trades, and the rest of Europe does not dare question what it wrongly sees as a virtuously strong German economy.

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There will be no such deal. Not a comprehensive one.

Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)

Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has signalled he is open to giving Angela Merkel more time to reach a deal with Germany’s EU partners over an asylum row that has threatened to bring down her government. As the German chancellor met leaders of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday in an attempt to divert the collapse of her fledgling administration, Seehofer emerged from emergency talks with his Christian Social Union (CSU) saying he had no intention of toppling Merkel. Seehofer wants police stationed at borders to turn back refugees and migrants arriving from other EU countries but signalled he would give Merkel two weeks’ grace to reach migration agreements with EU partners.

“No one in the CSU is interested in bringing the chancellor down, or dissolving the CDU/CSU parliamentary partnership or destroying the coalition,” Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that he did not want the asylum row to endanger the coalition government, which is less than 100 days old. Seehofer said his party was keen to find a way to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany. “We finally want to have a solution for the return of refugees at our borders which is fit for the future,” he added. But he was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag as having voiced his scepticism about the future of the CDU/CSU alliance in a meeting of the CSU’s leadership. “I cannot work with this woman any more,” he was quoted as saying.

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A row with the IMF, you mean.

Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)

Eurozone finance ministers are braced for a row this week with the Greek government over the terms of a “golden goodbye” as the country prepares to exit its third bailout programme. Concerns that Greece will suffer a fourth financial collapse unless an agreement is signed with the EU to write off some of its debt mountain are likely to surface before a showdown in Brussels on Thursday. The IMF, which has lent Greece several billion euros and has taken part in a tripartite monitoring of reforms with the European commission and ECB, is expected to pull out of the arrangement unless Brussels reduces Greece’s debt burden. Without the IMF on board, Germany and other hardline countries such as Finland and Austria could demand stricter clauses in the reform programme due to be imposed on Greece as the price of its final bailout payoff.

“Everyone has an interest to alleviating the burden, for Greece and the rest of the creditors,” said Olivier Bailly, the chief adviser to the EU’s finance commissioner, Pierre Moscovici. “If we leave too much burden, this will slow down Greece’s recovery.” He played down the impact of the IMF pulling out of the first stage of surveillance that will last until at least 2022. “What is important is that the IMF give its view on debt measures. What the markets expect is that it says they are credible enough,” he said, admitting that the lack of involvement by the Washington-based lender of last resort puts pressure on Germany. Finance ministers from the 19-member currency bloc will meet on Thursday to agree a package of measures that will include a final loan payment of between €10bn and €12bn and a cash buffer of up to €20bn. The payments are due to be the last of the €86bn bailout agreed in 2015.

[..] Hans Vijlbrief, the top EU official advising eurogroup ministers, said: “It’s very important that Greece can stand on its own feet. If it’s not credible, we won’t come out. This is the first condition.” The Eurogroup is seeking to reduce Greek debt payments by extending loans until beyond 2040 and reducing the interest rate to near 1%, well below the rate Greece would need to pay international investors. The IMF, however, has insisted that reducing the overall debt mountain from the outset is the only way to stabilise Athens’ public finances. Vijlbrief said the EU charter prevented the Eurogroup from offering debt write-offs, but this assertion has never been tested and is still the basis for IMF involvement in the next stage of Greece’s recovery.

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The bank of banks feels threatened.

The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)

Cryptocurrencies are not scalable and are more likely to suffer a breakdown in trust and efficiency the greater the number of people using them, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS)said on Sunday in its latest warning about the rise of virtual currencies. For any form of money to work across large networks it requires trust in the stability of its value and in its ability to scale efficiently, the BIS, an umbrella group for the world’s central banks, said in its annual report. But trust can disappear instantly because of the fragility of the decentralized networks on which cryptocurrencies depend, the BIS said.

Those networks are also prone to congestion the bigger they become, according to the BIS, which noted the high transaction fees of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, and the limited number of transactions per second they can handle. “Trust can evaporate at any time because of the fragility of the decentralised consensus through which transactions are recorded,” the Switzerland-based group said in its report. “Not only does this call into question the finality of individual payments, it also means that a cryptocurrency can simply stop functioning, resulting in a complete loss of value.”

The BIS’ head of research, Hyun Song Shin, said sovereign money had value because it had users, but many people holding cryptocurrencies did so often purely for speculative purposes. “Without users, it would simply be a worthless token. That’s true whether it’s a piece of paper with a face on it, or a digital token,” he said, comparing virtual coins to baseball cards or Tamagotchi. [..] Agustin Carstens, general manager of the BIS, has described bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.

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The claim is so out there it’s funny.

May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)

Theresa May’s promise of £400m extra in weekly NHS spending within five years has been overshadowed by scepticism among experts and her own backbenchers over her claim it can be financed through a windfall delivered by Brexit. Ahead of a major speech by the prime minister in which she will pledge a £20bn annual real-terms NHS funding increase by 2023-24, May was ridiculed for arguing that some of the money would come from a so-called Brexit dividend. “At the moment, as a member of the European Union, every year we spend significant amounts of money on our subscription, if you like, to the EU,” she said in an interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

“When we leave we won’t be doing that. It’s right that we use that money to spend on our priorities, and the NHS is our number-one priority.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said, however, that even the government had accepted the idea of an immediate post-Brexit boost to coffers would not happen. The decision to announce extra spending for the NHS and to frame it specifically as a benefit of leaving the EU has been widely seen as a sop by May to hardline Brexiters in her cabinet and on the Tory backbenches ahead of some potentially crucial votes this week on the EU withdrawal bill.

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Finally there’s peace, and now this. Colombia is set to become a NATO member.

FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)

Conservative Ivan Duque won Colombia’s presidential election Sunday after a campaign that turned into a referendum on a landmark 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels that he pledged to overhaul. Duque, 41, polled 54 percent to his leftist rival Gustavo Petro’s 42 percent with almost all the votes counted, electoral authority figures showed. Petro, a leftist former mayor and ex-guerrilla, supports the deal. Tensions over the deal became apparent in the immediate aftermath of Duque’s victory, after the president-elect lost no time in pledging “corrections” to the peace deal. “That peace we long for — that demands corrections — will have corrections, so that the victims are the center of the process, to guarantee truth, justice and reparation,” Duque told supporters in his victory speech at his campaign headquarters.

“The time has come to build real change,” Duque said, promising a future for Colombians “of lawfulness, freedom of enterprise and equity,” after decades of conflict. His vanquished opponent Petro promised to resist any fundamental changes to the deal. “Our role is not to be impotent and watch it being destroyed,” he said. FARC, which disarmed and transformed into a political party after the peace deal but did not contest the election, immediately called on Duque to show “good sense” in dealing with the agreement. “What the country demands is an integral peace, which will lead us to the hoped-for reconciliation,” the FARC said in a statement after Duque’s presidential win. The former rebels also called for an early meeting with Duque.

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A US supported coup soon?

Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that Latin America “is no longer the United States’ backyard” while denouncing the United States’ attempt to convince its South American allies to help it orchestrate a military intervention or coup in Venezuela. In an interview with news agency EFE, Morales explained that several Latin American leaders have confided in him that U.S. Vice president Mike Pence is “trying to convince some United States-friendly countries” help them seize control of the South American country and replace the current government led by Nicolas Maduro. The real target, Morales explained, is not the Venezuelan president but “Venezuelan oil, and Venezuelans know that.”

Drawing parallels to 2011 military intervention in Libya, Morales said the U.S. isn’t interested in helping with alleged humanitarian crisis since, despite the current political and social turmoil in Libya, the U.S. will not intervene there since “the country’s oil is now owned by the U.S. and some European oil companies,” Morales asserted. “One military intervention (in the region) would only create another armed conflict,” he added pointing to Colombia’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a general sign of an escalation of “military aggression to all Latin America and the Caribbean” region. Morales explained, however, that U.S. interventionism is not only militaristic.

“When there are no military coups, they seek judicial or congressional coups” as in the case of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment, which is barring him from running in the upcoming 2018 elections.

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They warned of the last one as well.

Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)

In recent days, speculation has swirled regarding whether another chemical-weapons attack will soon take place in Syria, as sources in both Syrian intelligence and the Russian military have warned that U.S.-backed forces in the U.S.-occupied region of Deir ez-Zor are planning to stage a chemical weapons attack to be blamed on the Syrian government. Concern that such an event could soon take place has only grown since the U.S. government announcement this past Thursday that the U.S. would provide $6.6 million over the next year to fund the White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group that has been accused of staging “false flag” chemical weapons attacks in the past.

Notably, the White Helmets were largely responsible for staging the recent alleged chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, which led the United States, the United Kingdom and France to attack Syrian government targets. That same attack in Eastern Ghouta had been predicted weeks prior by the Russian military and Syrian government, who are warning once again that a similar event is likely to occur in coming weeks. An additional and largely overlooked indication that another staged attack could soon take place has been the recent movements of U.S. military assets to the Syrian coast, particularly the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG). As MintPress previously reported, the deployment of the HSTCSG – which consists of some 6,500 sailors — was first announced in April prior to the U.S., France and U.K. bombing of Syria. However, the group did not arrive until after that bombing had taken place.

While the April bombing was called a “one-time shot” by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the fact that the Truman strike group’s deployment to the region was not canceled after the bombings occurred led some to suggest that the U.S. may have been anticipating more strikes against Syria’s government in the coming months. Indeed, soon after the U.S.-led bombing of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared the U.S. was “locked and loaded” should the Syrian government again be accused of using chemical weapons. Now, amid claims from both the Syrian and Russian governments of another chemical weapons provocation, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets, the strike group’s deployment directly off the Syrian coast has only given greater credence to those previously voiced concerns.

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12,000 refugees so far this year.

Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)

While European Union countries shut their doors to migrants – Italy and Malta last week refused to allow a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants to dock at their ports – Greek authorities are reopening unused camps and facilities across the mainland to accommodate the swelling number of asylum seekers. Following a series of meetings last week, sources told Kathimerini, the Ministry for Migration Policy decided to reopen four camps, first set up at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, raising the total number of operational centers to 25. More specifically, tents have been set up again at the Malakasa camp, north of Athens, to house 300 people.

The Vagiochori camp near Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, is also expected to open in the coming days, providing accommodation for 400 individuals. The facility at Elefsina, west of the capital, has been hosting 250 refugees since late April, while another 350 migrants and refugees were transferred to the reception center at Oinofyta, north of Attica. A drop in the migrant population at the Skaramangas refugee center, meanwhile, was reversed after September last year, with the current number estimated at more than 2,000. An average 75 migrants land daily on Greece’s Aegean islands. A total of 12,065 people had entered the country until June 11 this year.

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“..the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)

A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether. The UK alone consumes more than 5bn bananas a year, while the fruit is a staple food in many poor countries and accounts for an export industry worth $13bn (£9.8bn) a year. But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East. As experts warn the fungus known as “fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, scientists are scrambling to create a more robust variety that could help sustain the crop.

A single type of banana, called the Cavendish, accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s. Now researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish after securing $10m from investors. The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershno, : “In the developed world we tend to take bananas for granted. A banana found in your local supermarket grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the UK probably costs less than an apple grown 20 miles away. “If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However,people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

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“10,000,000,000,000,000,000. 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

Losing The Buzz (ODT)

He starts at the beginning, with a black and white photocopy of a pie chart representing the animal kingdom and its various, speciated slices of pie. 80 percent of all known species of animals are insects, he says. You can tell an insect – if you can get it to hold still for long enough – by its six legs, exoskeleton divided into a head, thorax and abdomen and its two waggling antennae. By far the biggest orders of insects are the coleoptera (beetles) and the hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), followed by the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), then diptera (flies and mosquitoes) and, finally, other insects, such as grasshoppers and silverfish. “The total number of individual insects alive worldwide today is …” He writes it out. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. “… 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

[..] The total biomass, that is the total weight of all organisms on earth, is estimated at 545.2 Gt C (gigatons of carbon), the researchers say. More than 80% of this, 452.5Gt C, is plants. Next comes bacteria (16%, 87.2Gt C) and fungi (2%, 10.9 Gt C). Animals make up just 0.4% of the total biomass. The globe’s 7.6 billion people account for just 0.01% of all living things. And yet our impact on the globe has been enormous – some would say catastrophic. According to the Proceedings article, humans are responsible for the possibly irreparable loss of large chunks of the animal and plant kingdoms; more than 80% of all wild animals and half of all plants.

Anthony Harris finds it deeply disturbing. “Farmed poultry now makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% wild,” he says with a shocked tone. “The picture for mammals is worse. 60 percent of all mammals on earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are humans and just 4% of all mammals are wild.’ [..] Without insects, we face total ecological collapse and global famine. It is being called the Sixth Mass Extinction. The Fifth Mass Extinction was the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Harvard entomologist Prof E.O. Wilson has estimated that, without insects and other land-based invertebrates, humanity would only last a few months. Land-based plants and animals would be next to go. The planet would fall quiet and still. The last time the earth was like that was 440 million years ago.

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Anyone seen any initiative to stop this?

Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)

Certainly, the statistics are grim. Native ladybird populations are crashing; three quarters of butterfly species – such as the painted lady and the Glanville fritillary – have dropped significantly in numbers; while bees, of which there are more than 250 species in the UK, are also suffering major plunges in populations, with great yellow bumblebees, solitary potter flower bees and other species declining steeply in recent years. Other threatened insects include the New Forest cicada, the tansy beetle and the oil beetle. As for moths, some of the most beautiful visitors to our homes and gardens, the picture is particularly alarming. Apart from the tiger moth, which was once widespread in the UK, the V-moth (Marcaria wauaria) recorded a 99% fall in numbers between 1968 and 2007 and is now threatened with extinction, a fate that has already befallen the orange upperwing, the bordered gothic and the Brighton wainscot in recent years.

An insect Armageddon is under way, say many entomologists, the result of a multiple whammy of environmental impacts: pollution, habitat changes, overuse of pesticides, and global warming. And it is a decline that could have crucial consequences. Our creepy crawlies may have unsettling looks but they lie at the foot of a wildlife food chain that makes them vitally important to the makeup and nature of the countryside. They are “the little things that run the world” according to the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, who once observed: “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

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Beginning and end of a speech by Pilger in Sydney. Tomorrow there are many rallies for Assange, especially in Australia. There is also a UN Human RIghts Commission meeting in Genava.

Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy. The Australian government and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be. They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home. Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in JulianE’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London unprotected. We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a US extradition warrant is successful — a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

[..] Malcolm Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia. Julian Assange’s father has written to Turnbull. It is a moving letter, in which he has appealed to the prime minister to bring his son home. He refers to the real possibility of a tragedy. I have watched Assange’s health deteriorate in his years of confinement without sunlight. He has had a relentless cough, but is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray . Malcolm Turnbull can remain silent. Or he can seize this opportunity and use his government’s diplomatic influence to defend the life of an Australian citizen, whose courageous public service is recognised by countless people across the world. He can bring Julian Assange home.

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