Mar 132019
 


Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

 

Global Debt Up 50% Over Past Decade, But S&P Says Next Crisis Not As Bad (CNBC)
Theresa May’s Heart Was Never In It – And Now She Is Done And Dusted (Galloway)
UK Business Leaders: It’s Time To Stop This Circus (PA)
Corbyn Calls For General Election After May’s Brexit Defeat (G.)
Donald Tusk: UK Must Have A Credible Reason To Delay Brexit (G.)
UK In Fresh Attempt To Curb Power Of Tech Giants (G.)
Facebook Lifts Ban On Zero Hedge Articles After ‘Mistake’ (MW)
The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)
A Skeptic’s Guide to the Russiagate Fixation (Aaron Maté)
Resource Extraction Causes Half Of CO2 Emissions, 80% Of Biodiversity Loss (G.)
Air Pollution Kills 800,000 People A Year In Europe (G.)
Bayer Roundup Cancer Trial Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments (R.)
Pathogens Hitchhiking On Plastics ‘Could Carry Cholera From India To US’ (G.)
More Than 1,200 Species Globally Face Almost Certain Extinction (G.)

 

 

The last graph is not from the article, not BIS, but from Holger Zschaepitz on Twitter.

Global Debt Up 50% Over Past Decade, But S&P Says Next Crisis Not As Bad (CNBC)

Global debt has jumped since the financial crisis, though one ratings agency thinks that it poses significantly less danger than the last time around. Corporate, government and household indebtedness rose to $178 trillion as of June 2018, a 50 percent increase from a decade ago, according to figures S&P Global Ratings released Tuesday. The expansion was especially acute at the government level, which stood at $62.4 trillion, or 77 percent higher than it did before the public borrowing binge began. “Global debt is certainly higher and riskier today than it was a decade ago, with households, corporates, and governments all ramping up indebtedness,” S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Terry Chan said in a statement. “Although another credit downturn may be inevitable, we don’t believe it will be as bad as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.”

The lower danger level is due largely to the nature of the debt — primarily driven by government borrowing in sovereign countries rather than the private sector surge that led to the housing market collapse and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In addition, much of the gain on the corporate side came from Chinese companies that borrowed from domestic institutions, lowering the probability that defaults would cause global contagion.

[..] while the level of debt has amped up considerably, the amount of leverage, or debt to GDP, is up less dramatically, from 208 percent in June 2008 to 231 percent in June 2018. Households also have been more conservative. That’s particularly true in the U.S., which showed a gain of just more than $1 trillion during the decade to $15.3 trillion, just a 7 percent increase, or less than 1 percent a year. In China, that level has risen to $6.6 trillion, or 716 percent. The euro zone also is notable for restraint, with total debt in all categories rising just 4 percent in the period to $34.7 trillion.

One of the areas of particular worry that S&P cited was corporate debt, especially on the lower end of the scale. On a global basis, companies have racked up $23.8 trillion since the crisis, an increase of 51 percent. However, the triple-B category of near-junk debt showed a 170 percent gain since 2008, with analysts worried that “Fallen Angels,” or companies that go from lower investment-grade to high-yield debt, could cause default problems if they aren’t able to refinance.

Read more …

May suffers record losses in Parliament, but here’s the latest poll:

Westminster Voting Intention:
CON: 41% (+1)
LAB: 31% (-4)
LDM: 8% (-2)
UKIP: 6% (+3)
GRN: 6% (+2)

Theresa May’s Heart Was Never In It – And Now She Is Done And Dusted (Galloway)

What happens next in the short term is easy to predict. A “No deal” Brexit will be rejected Wednesday evening but only thanks to opposition votes. She released her own MPs from party discipline by announcing a “free-vote” because she could not countenance at least half of her own side voting for No Deal (not least because they were all elected on precisely that platform). But the government’s own members – the so-called “payroll vote” of a hundred plus, together with almost all of the opposition members will comfortably (for now) bury the “zero-option” of No-Deal. The next night the House will vote again comfortably in favour of seeking an extension of Article 50 thereby abandoning the pledge repeated like a mantra so often that Britain would leave the EU on March 29th. Assuming the EU agrees Britain then sails not just into uncharted waters but an uncharted raging torrent of bitterness, confusion, currency tumult, uncertainty and certain political change.

[..] Not only did Leave win the referendum, parliament overwhelmingly voted to trigger the implementation of withdrawal in Article 50, and then 80% of the voters in the general election of 2017 voted for the two main parties which BOTH promised to honour and implement the referendum result. And they haven’t. If that’s not a recipe for cooked geese its hard to imagine what would be. And then there’s the practical problems which now face the government. How long will be the extension they will now seek? And what can be done during that time to change this paradigm? An extension of a couple of months will change nothing. The EU have no intention of making further meaningful concessions – certainly not to this prime minister – and so further votes in parliament on the current package are the very definition of pointless.

A longer extension as long as this current parliament is in place will achieve nothing either. Except this. Both Nigel Farage and myself – both of us heavily involved in the referendum victory in 2016 – have announced that we will field lists of candidates to “Tell them Again” in the European Parliament elections which Britain will unexpectedly participate in should the extension take us past the deadline for those elections in the third week of May. With the state of confusion in the mainstream parties – and the large number of “Remainer” options to vote for it is likely that a focused Real Brexit electoral challenge will reap handsome political rewards. A disproportionate turn-out by angry Leave voters with a cause will change politics in Britain and in a likely Euro-sceptic new European Parliament too.

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They thought the Tories would make them richer. And only now do they wake up.

UK Business Leaders: It’s Time To Stop This Circus (PA)

Business leaders reacted with frustration to the continued uncertainty caused by MPs rejecting the Brexit deal. The Commons defeated Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 149, with further votes expected this week on whether to back a no-deal Brexit or delay the UK’s departure beyond 29 March. Industry leaders urged the Commons to reject the possibility of a no-deal Brexit this month, but stressed the need to find a way out of the impasse. Confederation of British Industry director general Carolyn Fairbairn called on MPs to “stop this circus” and said people’s jobs depended on a new approach. “Enough is enough. This must be the last day of failed politics,” she said.

“A new approach is needed by all parties. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it. Extending Article 50 to close the door on a March no-deal is now urgent. It should be as short as realistically possible and backed by a clear plan. “Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus.”Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is profoundly obvious that neither Government nor many businesses are ready for a disorderly exit – and this must not be allowed to happen on 29 March, whether by default or by design. Businesses have been failed over and over again by Westminster in recent months, but allowing a messy and disorderly exit on March 29 would take political negligence to new extremes.”

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A powerless voice.

Corbyn Calls For General Election After May’s Brexit Defeat (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has demanded a general election in response to Theresa May’s 149-vote Brexit deal defeat – but made no mention of a second referendum. The Labour leader also pledged that his party would vote against a no-deal Brexit outcome in Wednesday’s vote and signalled that he would continue to press for a customs union with the EU. “The prime minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her,” he said in the House of Commons. “It’s time that we have a general election and the people can choose who their government should be.” But despite Corbyn’s call for another poll, the party is understood to not have immediate plans to call for a vote of no confidence that could precipitate what would be the third general election in four years.

The opposition will initially focus on opposing no deal – which is expected to be defeated on Wednesday – and believes that an extension to the 29 March deadline is inevitable because more time is needed to negotiate an alternative. [..] Corbyn made no mention of a second referendum – which the party is theoretically committed to supporting if it cannot secure a general election – in his remarks after the vote, and hardly referred to it in his earlier speech in the Commons debate. “If this deal narrowly scrapes through tonight – I don’t think it will – we believe the option should be to go back to the people for a confirmatory vote on it,” Corbyn said, suggesting there is little sign that Labour will reactivate the idea soon.

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I don’t think people realize that this is the main next step in the circus. May won’t simply get any extension she wants. She can’t make Brussels part of her groundhog schemes, or not more than she already has. They’re going to ask billions, and tell her to accept a 1 or 2 year extension. Or leave.

Donald Tusk: UK Must Have A Credible Reason To Delay Brexit (G.)

Donald Tusk has warned after the second big defeat of Theresa May’s deal that he expects a credible reason for any delay to Brexit. Moments after the prime minister announced that the House of Commons would vote on an extension to the article 50 negotiating period beyond 29 March, the European council president issued an EU red line. “Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity,” a spokesman for Tusk said. “The EU27 will expect a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration. The smooth functioning of the EU institutions will need to be ensured.” There is frustration in Brussels at the failure by Downing Street to lay down any groundwork over a potential extension, raising the risk that leaders could reject any request.

At an EU-Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh last month, the prime minister had broached the issue of an extension of a few weeks during a meeting with Tusk to allow legislation to go through the Commons should her deal be ratified. But she declined to engage in any further discussion of the options if the deal failed again in the Commons. After losing by 149 votes, the fourth largest defeat ever on a government motion, May nevertheless told the Commons she would allow a free vote in her party on an article 50 extension. She said such an extension would be short, and that it risked a new cliff-edge in June, suggesting the British government is looking at a three-month delay. The EU’s 27 heads of state and government are set to discuss any request next Thursday afternoon at a leaders’ summit on 21 March in Brussels.

Read more …

Maybe the UK should focus on survival right now.

UK In Fresh Attempt To Curb Power Of Tech Giants (G.)

A fresh bid to curb the market power of US tech giants will be signalled by Philip Hammond on Wednesday when he welcomes the findings of an independent review calling for government action to ensure companies including Google, Facebook and Apple face stiffer competition. The chancellor will use his annual spring statement to promise action after a review conducted for the Treasury by Jason Furman, Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, concluded that the dominance of the big digital players was curbing innovation and reducing consumer choice. Furman, now a Harvard professor, said a new digital markets unit should be set up in Whitehall staffed by people with technological expertise and equipped with the powers to set and enforce greater competition.

The review says individuals should be given more control over their personal data to enable them to switch between platforms more easily, that the biggest tech companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple – should have to sign up to an enforceable code of conduct, and that merger policy should be toughened up. “Over the last 10 years the five largest firms have made over 400 acquisitions globally. None has been blocked and very few have had conditions attached to approval, in the UK or elsewhere, or even been scrutinised by competition authorities,” the review said.

“Ensuring that competition is vibrant requires ensuring that there are competitors. Merger control has long had this role and in the context of the digital economy it needs to become more active with an approach that is more forward-looking and more focused on innovation and the overall economic impact of mergers.”

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If anyone needed more proof that Facebook has far too much power….

Facebook Lifts Ban On Zero Hedge Articles After ‘Mistake’ (MW)

The popular financial blog Zero Hedge emerged from a three-day Facebook ban Tuesday, which the social network reportedly called “a mistake.” The bearish, markets-focused blog apparently noticed its content was being blocked Monday, two days into it. The blog does not have a Facebook page, but its articles were unable to be shared by Facebook users. The decision “surprised us,” Zero Hedge said in a blog post Tuesday night. “Not only do we not have an official Facebook account, but Facebook did not approach us even once with a warning or even notification.” Zero Hedge has a right-leaning, anti-establishment bent, and is a frequent Facebook critic. Some had speculated it had been caught up in Facebook’s ongoing efforts to root out “fake news” and misinformation, or to silence a critical, conservative voice.

Donald Trump Jr., Infowars writer Paul Joseph Watson and Brexit backer Nigel Farange were among those who condemned Facebook for the ban. But the site’s articles were available to share once again Tuesday morning. Zero Hedge said Facebook had not offered an explanation directly, but a Facebook spokesperson told Breitbart News on Tuesday: “This was a mistake with our automation to detect spam and we worked to fix it yesterday. . . . We use a combination of human review and automation to enforce our policies around spam and in this case, our automation incorrectly blocked this link. As soon as we identified the issue, we worked quickly to fix it.” In a blog post, Zero Hedge welcomed the news, saying Facebook users will “be presented with contrasting opinions, which even if wrong, will allow countless readers to make more informed opinions than if served with preapproved, uniform, and ideologically palatable content.”

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A 2016 Swiss study only now first translated into English. Missed this when it came out last Friday. But everyone should read it, or at least leaf through (it’s long). It makes you realize once more how important independent voices are. Yes, like the Automatic Earth.

The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)

It is one of the most important aspects of our media system – and yet hardly known to the public: most of the international news coverage in Western media is provided by only three global news agencies based in New York, London and Paris. The key role played by these agencies means that Western media often report on the same topics, even using the same wording. In addition, governments, military and intelligence services use these global news agencies as multipliers to spread their messages around the world. A study of the Syria war coverage by nine leading European newspapers clearly illustrates these issues: 78% of all articles were based in whole or in part on agency reports, yet 0% on investigative research. Moreover, 82% of all opinion pieces and interviews were in favor of the US and NATO intervention, while propaganda was attributed exclusively to the opposite side.


The Propaganda Multiplier: Governments, military and intelligence services using global news agencies to disseminate their messages to a worldwide audience.

“The Invisible Nerve Center Of The Media System”. So what are the names of these news agencies that are “always at the source of the story”? There are now only three global agencies left:
• The American Associated Press (AP) with over 4000 employees worldwide. The AP belongs to US media companies and has its main editorial office in New York. AP news is used by around 12,000 international media outlets, reaching more than half of the world’s population every day.
• The quasi-governmental French Agence France-Presse (AFP) based in Paris and with around 4000 employees. The AFP sends over 3000 stories and photos every day to media all over the world.
• The British agency Reuters in London, which is privately owned and employs just over 3000 people. Reuters was acquired in 2008 by Canadian media entrepreneur Thomson – one of the 25 richest people in the world – and merged into Thomson Reuters, headquartered in New York.


The three global news agencies Reuters, AFP and AP, and the three national agencies of the German-speaking countries of Austria (APA), Germany (DPA) and Switzerland (SDA).

In this case study, the geopolitical coverage in nine leading daily newspapers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland was examined for diversity and journalistic performance using the example of the Syrian war. The results confirm the high dependence on the global news agencies (63 to 90%, excluding commentaries and interviews) and the lack of own investigative research, as well as the rather biased commenting on events in favor of the US/NATO side (82% positive; 2% negative), whose stories were not checked by the newspapers for any propaganda.

Read more …

Aaron is one of the few sane voices on this out there. I have written about it too many times to count, and it’s good there are others too.

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Russiagate Fixation (Aaron Maté)

Robert Mueller has yet to allege collusion, and Democrats who accuse Trump of being a Kremlin conspirator are silent when his policies escalate tensions with Russia. As we await the rumored delivery of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the document will allege a Trump-Russia conspiracy. To date, Mueller’s numerous indictments and voluminous court filings have not accused a single American of collusion with Russia. And, tellingly, prominent media and political voices, who have spent two years raising expectations that Mueller will find collusion, are now quietly moving the goalposts.

A significant hurdle in the hunt for collusion is that every close associate to “flip” on President Donald Trump has stated that they did not witness it. In his recent congressional testimony, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen said that he has seen no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and knocked down several pillars of the conjecture surrounding it. In re-avowing that he has never been to Prague, Cohen rebuked a central claim of the Steele dossier that he traveled there to pay off Russian hackers. Cohen’s denial deals a serious blow to the credibility of the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele. It also underscores the credulousness of FBI officials, members of Congress, and the many news outlets that relied on and amplified Steele’s material. Cohen also poured cold water on suspicions fueled by Steele that Russians have compromising material on Trump.

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As the low hanging fruit is gone, this will get worse.

In 2015, the global fossil fuel industry received $5.3 trillion in subsidies, which amounts to 6.5% of global GDP – IMF.

Resource Extraction Causes Half Of CO2 Emissions, 80% Of Biodiversity Loss (G.)

Extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming. While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought. Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday. Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year.

Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes. Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore. “The global economy has focused on improvements in labour productivity at the cost of material and energy productivity. This was justifiable in a world where labour was the limiting factor of production. We have moved into a world where natural resources and environmental impacts have become the limiting factor of production and shifts are required to focus on resource productivity,” says the study.

The economic benefits and environmental costs are broken down by sector. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use. All the sectors combined together accounted for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions – even before accounting for any fuel that is burned.

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“The EU is lagging a long way behind..”

Air Pollution Kills 800,000 People A Year In Europe (G.)

The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.

The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. “To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,” said Prof Thomas Münzel at the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and one of the scientists behind the new study. “Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.” Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and also part of the team, said: “Since most air pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources of energy urgently. When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%.”

[..] The estimates of early deaths varied significantly between countries. In Germany, there were 154 early deaths per 100,000 people, with an average reduction of 2.4 years in life expectancy. In the UK, there were 98 deaths per 100,000 and a cut in lifespan of 1.5 years. Lelieveld said the UK’s lower number may be because Atlantic winds help to disperse pollution. Münzel said small particles, less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5), are not paid sufficient attention when tackling cardiovascular disease. “The prevention guidelines for CVD must adopt air pollution as an important risk factor,” he said. The EU’s PM2.5 limit is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline used by Canada and Australia. “The EU is lagging a long way behind,” Münzel said.

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What happens when the burden of proof is put on its head. The US justice system doesn’t appear to offer any relief. Monsanto should be trying to prove glyphosate is safe, not the other way around.

Note: the Monsanto name is vanishing.

Bayer Roundup Cancer Trial Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments (R.)

A trial in which a California man alleged his use of Bayer’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused his cancer went to a federal U.S. jury after lawyers for both sides delivered their closing arguments on Tuesday. The closely-watched case brought by plaintiff Edward Hardeman is only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States. Another California man was awarded $289 million in August after a state court jury in August found Roundup caused his cancer, sending Bayer shares plunging. Hardeman’s case has proceeded differently from the earlier trial, with an initial phase exclusively focused on scientific facts while omitting evidence of alleged corporate misconduct by company representatives.

Following the first phase, the six jurors in San Francisco federal court were asked by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria to decide whether Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s cancer. If the jury finds Roundup to have caused Hardeman’s cancer, the trial will proceed into a second stage, where his lawyers can present evidence allegedly showing the company’s efforts to influence scientists, regulators and the public about the safety of its products. Hardeman’s lawyer, Aimee Wagstaff, during her closing arguments on Tuesday said Hardeman had “extreme” exposure to Roundup, spraying the chemical more than 300 times over 26 years. “The dose makes the poison. The more you use, the higher the risk,” Wagstaff said. She urged jurors to consider all studies, including of rodents and cells, which she said showed an elevated cancer risk.

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Washing up on the beaches where your children play: 100 billion tiny petri dishes with harmful and potentially deadly bacterial cultures. Mermaid’s tears. Lovely.

Pathogens Hitchhiking On Plastics ‘Could Carry Cholera From India To US’ (G.)

Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide. The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds. The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.

“The danger is that pathogens could be transported over large distances and survive for much longer than normal,” Quilliam said. “When a pathogen is bound to a piece of plastic it’s going to be protected, as it can hide from things that normally kill it, like UV light. “And once you are sitting on a piece of plastic that is designed to be persistent for hundreds of years, and you are floating in the ocean currents, you have the opportunity to move great distances.” The scientists found 45% of nurdles, the size and shape of a lentil, collected from five EU-designated beaches in East Lothian were polluted with E coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhoea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis. While harmful in itself, E coli is also an indicator of sewage pollution. On a bathing beach, the contaminated nurdles, also known as “mermaids’ tears”, are a risk to children in particular, the researchers said.

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Something tells me the actual number is much higher. Nice maps though.

More Than 1,200 Species Globally Face Almost Certain Extinction (G.)

More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss. The project is from the same team of researchers that found just five countries are responsible for 70% of the world’s remaining wilderness.


The most affected biomes were in southern Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Thailand. Photograph: PLOS Biology

The new research, published in PLOS Biology, maps “hotspots” where species are most affected by threats such as agriculture, urbanisation, night lighting, roads, rail, waterways and population density, and “coolspots” that provide refuge from these threats. The team looked only at threats that were known to affect a species within its habitat range and found that for the majority of wildlife studied, intrusions were “extensive” across most habitat, “severely limiting the area within which species can survive”. They said most concerning was their finding that 1,237 species – nearly a quarter of the animals assessed – were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution. The situation was worse for 395 species, or 7%, which were found to be affected by at least one relevant threat across their entire habitat range.


The countries with the greatest areas of coolspots were also in south-east Asia, as well as the Amazon rainforest, parts of the Andes and Liberia. Photograph: PLOS Biology

Read more …

Feb 222019
 


Salvador Dali The ghost of Vermeer of Delft which can be used as a table 1934

 

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)
Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)
Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)
EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)
Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)
Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)
Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)
Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)
Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)
FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)
Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)
Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)
Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)
US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)
World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

 

 

Meanwhile in the real world that central bankers don’t want you to see:

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)

[..] with consensus expecting a tiny rebounding in January following December’s sharp drop, the deterioration in the US home market continued, and January existing home unexpectedly dropped 1.2% (exp. +0.2%), to 4.94 million, missing expectations of a rebound to 5.00 million. After December’s revision higher to 5.00 million, the January SAAR of 4.94 million was the first sub-5MM print since 2015, while the parallel pending home sales series confirms even more weakness is in store. Needless to say, it is very troubling that Americans are unable to afford home purchases with the 30% mortgage at just 4.5%, and suggests that even if inflation picks up, the Fed may have no choice but to keep rates flat to avoid a housing market crash.

As usual, NAR chief economist Larry Yun was optimistic, saying that he does not expect the numbers to decline further going forward. “Existing home sales in January were weak compared to historical norms; however, they are likely to have reached a cyclical low. Moderating home prices combined with gains in household income will boost housing affordability, bringing more buyers to the market in the coming months.” One wonders what “gains in household income” he is talking about. Meanwhile, properties are failing to sell as the slowdown spreads: Properties remained on the market for an average of 49 days in January, up from 46 days in December and 42 days a year ago. Thirty-eight percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.

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“Vancouver [..] saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.”

Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)

Canadians are accelerating the rate at which they borrow cash against their homes, despite the fact that the real estate market is slumping in the country. This exposes the country’s financial system to obvious vulnerabilities, according to rating company DBRS and Bloomberg. Home equity lines of credit in Canada reached a record $184.5 billion (USD) as of October 31, which equates to 11.3% of total household credit. This is the highest share since mid 2015, according to a report released last Thursday. Canadians are drawing on their home’s equity to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases. And they’re doing it so quickly that borrowing has grown faster than mortgages since 2017.

Analyst Robert Colangelo, who published the report on Thursday, commented: “The flexibility of Helocs could increase financial system vulnerabilities. In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity.” Obviously, home equity lines of credit can decrease visibility for lenders to identify credit problems as consumers use the equity in their homes to consolidate high interest loans and unsecured debt into one lump sum at a lower rate. Out of all of the Canadian banks, Toronto Dominion bank has the largest exposure to Helocs at about 39%, followed by Royal Bank of Canada which has 18% exposure. Other large banks are averaging 11% exposure, according to the report.

And the timing for Helocs to grow couldn’t be worse. Toronto’s real estate market continues to feel pain. Sales of new homes in the city fell to the lowest in almost 2 decades in 2018 and a glut of unsold condominiums continue to pile up, according to a Building Industry and Land Development Association report released February 1. Vancouver, still feeling the deflationary effects of a foreign real estate bubble popping, saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.

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People aged 65-74: A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. People aged 25-34: A$38,000.

That could topple a lot more than only a government.

Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)

In one of the world’s most developed economies, soaring costs for housing and education are rapidly widening the wealth-distribution gap between the younger and older generations amid the backdrop of one of the longest economic expansions in the country’s history. As younger workers grapple with the notion that they may never be able to afford a home, a backlash is stirring in the political arena, as younger voters embrace progressive (some would say “socialist”) politicians. No, we’re not talking about the US. We’re talking about Australia. After six years of tumultuous Liberal rule, the Labour Party is hoping to wrest back control of the government during elections later this year.

And it sees tackling this intergenerational divide as the best way to do it. And combating the country’s increasingly unaffordable housing bubble is a key plank of its proposals. The party has pledged to curb tax breaks for property investors that helped drive up home prices (alongside an influx of foreign capital). Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to scrap tax refunds worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year for share investors. The benefits are already being seen in the polls, where Labour is seeing a slight advantage. After 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australians are struggling with the fact that the wealthy have enjoyed the bulk of the economic benefits.

While Australia has avoided recession for 27 years, the spoils have not been shared evenly as older people capture a greater share of the nation’s wealth. According to the Grattan Institute, households headed by people aged 65-74 were on average A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. That far outstrips growth in other bands and compares with just A$38,000 for the 25-34 age group. [..] While Sydney’s median house price is still more than A$900,000 [..] prices have already fallen 12% since their mid-2017 peak.

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Doesn’t she want to run down the clock?

EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)

The European Union expects U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to be forced to request a three-month delay to Brexit, two EU officials said. Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn’t signed off until an EU summit on March 21-22. That is emerging as the EU’s current plan. The EU sees this as a “technical extension” to give British Parliament time to pass necessary legislation related to its departure from the bloc. Anything longer than three months would put the U.K. under pressure to take part in European elections on May 23-26, something that both sides are keen to avoid.

May is racing against the clock to change a controversial part of her deal, known as the “backstop,” in a way that would be acceptable to both the U.K. Parliament and the EU. However, with just five weeks to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the EU and talks at an impasse, ministers and lawmakers in her own party are threatening to vote against her next week to give Parliament control of the process. The prime minister has repeatedly spoken out against a delay, saying she wants to take the U.K. out of the EU as scheduled at the end of March. She’s never completely ruled it out, however. Any postponement would have to be requested by the U.K. and accepted by all the remaining 27 EU governments.

EU officials say the three-month extension would happen under their most optimistic scenario. The risk remains that the U.K. could leave the bloc March 29 without a deal. Alternatively, May could be forced to contemplate a longer delay if she can’t get backing for the agreement, according to one official.

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Chances that Parliament will vote her deal through are slim.

Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)

Dozens of normally loyal Conservative MPs could rebel against the government in a bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, Downing Street has been warned. Leaders of the Brexit Delivery Group of both Leavers and Remainers say MPs may back alternatives if Mrs May’s reworked deal cannot command a Commons majority. Co-chairman Andrew Percy told the BBC more than 30 may try to block no deal. The government says “productive” talks in Brussels aimed at addressing MPs’ concerns continue “urgently”. The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March. But the government has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving without a formal deal, in the event that Mrs May cannot get MPs to approve the deal she negotiated with Brussels in time.

Many MPs fear that scenario would be damaging to business and cause chaos at ports. However, Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs insist the “no-deal” option must be preserved as negotiating leverage in Brussels. Mr Percy told the BBC members of his group were becoming “tired” of the ERG’s refusal to back the prime minister. In a letter to government whips, he and co-chairman Simon Hart write: “Not only does this risk damaging the national interest, but also… we are putting in jeopardy the very thing many colleagues have spent decades campaigning for; our exit from the European Union.”

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The wonders of strip-mining social programs.

Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)

Britain has recorded the biggest-ever monthly surplus in public finances since the early 1990s, putting the government on a strong footing in the run-up to Brexit, now less than 40 days away. In a rare piece of positive economic news for Philip Hammond as he prepares for his spring statement next month, income from taxes outstripped public spending by £14.9bn, the biggest January surplus since records began in 1993. Although January is typically a surplus month for the exchequer because of seasonal trends in the payment of taxes, the Office for National Statistics said last month’s surplus was £5.5bn larger than a year ago. Income and capital gains tax receipts increased by 14%, twice the average growth rate earlier in the year.

Combined, the income from self-assessed income taxes and capital gains tax receipts was £21.4bn, the highest in January since comparable records began in 2000. The data comes after several disappointing months for the chancellor, as borrowing came in worse than forecast. Government borrowing for the first 10 months of the financial year has, however, fallen almost by half, as tax receipts have been much stronger than expected. The exchequer has borrowed about £21.2bn this year so far, £18.5bn lower than at the same point a year ago, and the lowest since the 10 months to January 2001. The latest update means the government could be on track to reduce the deficit – the gap between spending and tax income – close to its target of £25.5bn set by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is 39% less than in 2017-18.

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Who in the party will defend Corbyn?

Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour. On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow. With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit. The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, though, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit. Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”. She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”.

[..] The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”. And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all. That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party. Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

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Macron gambles that he can silence the Yellow Vests with antisemitism smear.

Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has declared anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism as he ramps up France’s crackdown on racism against Jewish people. Speaking at the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, Mr Macron said a surge in antisemitic attacks in his country had not been seen since World War Two. He promised a new law to tackle hate speech on the internet and said France would adopt the definition of antisemitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition does not use the phrase “anti-Zionism” but does say denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is antisemitic.

Some critics of Israel, its occupation of territory internationally recognised as Palestinian, and its isolation of the Gaza Strip, say they risk being unfairly branded antisemitic, although the IHRA definition says: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country” is not. Mr Macron’s words were well received from the World Jewish Congress which said: “This is just the beginning of a long road ahead. Adopting this definition of anti-Semitism must be followed by concrete steps to encode into law and ensure that this is enforced.”

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Stop suing the banks. Sue their execs instead.

Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)

The city of Philadelphia is suing Bank of America and six other major banks for conspiring to manipulate the rates of municipal bonds, illegally making millions of dollars while depriving the city of funds for public services. Pennsylvania’s largest city, with over 1.5 million residents, filed the complaint late on Wednesday in the federal court in Manhattan. The city accuses Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo of colluding to manipulate rates of variable-rate demand obligations (VRDO), of which Philadelphia has issued over $1.6 billion-worth. The fees the banks collected, in violation of federal antitrust laws, have deprived Philadelphia and other jurisdictions of critical funding for public services, the lawsuit claims.

According to the court documents, the banks are already being criminally investigated by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, while the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has contacted four of the defendants with questions about their conduct. The lawsuit claims that phone and email records will show that the banks agreed not to compete with each other for VRDO remarketing services between February 2008 and June 2016, resulting in artificially high rates and banks collecting fees “for doing, essentially, nothing.”

Similar lawsuits are already being litigated in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and New York, accusing major banks of conspiring to “robo-reset” the rates of state VRDOs without any considerations for the local markets or investor demand, violating the requirement to market and price the bonds at the lowest possible interest rates. Plaintiffs in those four lawsuits are seeking to recover over $1 billion in fees, ranging from $100 million in Massachusetts and $349 million in Illinois to $719 million in California, while the New York numbers have not been made available yet.

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Some things are impossible to properly summarize in a few lines. Read the whole thing at Epoch Times.

And again: the US needs a Special Counsel for this. The FBI cannot be a state within the state.

FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)

A key player in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign was Trisha Anderson, who, at the time, was the No. 2 lawyer at the agency’s Office of General Counsel. Despite having no specific experience in counterintelligence before coming to the FBI, Anderson was, in some manner, involved in virtually all of the significant events of the investigation. Anderson told members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in August last year during closed-door testimony that she was one of only about 10 people who had known about the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening.

A transcript of Anderson’s testimony, which was reviewed for this article, reveals that she had read all of the FBI’s FD302 forms detailing information that the author of the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, had provided to high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Anderson also told lawmakers that she personally signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without having read it. The FBI relied heavily on the unverified information in the Steele dossier—which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to obtain the FISA warrant.

Anderson also was part of a small group of FBI personnel who got to read then-FBI Director James Comey’s memos about conversations he had with President Donald Trump. Besides the investigation into Trump, Anderson also was involved in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for sending classified information using a private server. Anderson’s testimony reveals that she received the original referral from the inspectors general for both the State Department and Intelligence Community on Clinton after hundreds of classified emails had been found on her server. Her testimony also raises questions as to whether then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest.

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Get the impressions Stone’s getting bored sitting at home.

Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)

A judge imposed a sweeping gag order on Roger Stone, the former political adviser to President Donald Trump, after he created an Instagram post of the judge presiding over his criminal case next to an image that appeared to show the crosshairs of a gun. Stone told the judge at a hearing Thursday he made an “egregious error.” The new gag order prevents Stone from making any public comments on the case or investigation other than to solicit funds for his legal defense. If Stone violates the new gag order, his bond will be revoked and he’ll be detained. “There will not be a third chance,” District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

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I had no idea.

Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)

Hungary has accepted around 300 refugees from crisis-hit Venezuela, according to media reports from the country – surprising observers of its usually anti-immigration government. The refugees, who are thought to have Hungarian ancestry, are understood to have been welcomed into the country with the tacit support of the Orban administration and the help of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. The news has come as a surprise in the conservative central European state, given the anti-immigration stances and refugee crackdowns of premier Viktor Orban.

“We are speaking about Hungarians and we do not consider Hungarians migrants,” Mr Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a press conference in response to the report. Confirming that the programme began in April 2018, he added: “They, like any other Hungarian, have a right to return home.” A controversial law passed by the Orban government last year restricted the activities of NGOs and charities that provide assistance to migrants. The law was de facto targeted at those groups helping people arriving by land from the Middle East and Africa. The Hungarian opposition seized on the latest developments, claiming the government was acting hypocritically.

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He got it back in October apparently, so no big immediate change.

And Center Alliance Senator Patrick having asked for the passport only so Julian can give himself up to the UK police doesn’t help either.

Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that Mr Assange’s 2018 application for a new passport had been accepted. Consular and Crisis Management Division first assistant secretary Andrew Todd said, “Mr Assange does have an Australian passport”. [..] The department is understood to have issued Mr Assange with his new passport in October. A DFAT official at an estimate’s hearing in October said Mr Assange’s passport application had “not been rejected”. But absolute confirmation that he has actually received a new passport did not come until Thursday’s heading. DFAT officials told the estimates hearing they had no knowledge of legal proceedings against Mr Assange in the United States.

Documents show Mr Assange’s UK-based lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, applied for a new passport on his behalf in mid-2018. DFAT replied that it was of the belief that Mr Assange’s entitlement to a passport may be affected by ongoing legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. “Specifically, we understand you may be the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with a ‘serious foreign offence’ within the meaning of section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005,” DFAT replied. “In order to progress your application, we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who has pursued Mr Assange’s right to a passport in recent estimates hearings, said that, given Mr Assange’s failing health, the best thing would be for him to leave the Ecuador embassy and face the British justice system over breaching his bail conditions. After that, he should return to Australia, Senator Patrick said.

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“Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher..”

US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins. But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government. It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse. The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says. [..] Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics. The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the EPA, with about a third of this recycled and composted.

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Monoculture ‘R’ Us. You add it all up, the soil is poisoned, the food is poisoned, vertebrates are disappearing, insects are going gone, and how much longer for the human species?

World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates. The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals. Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, said the report, launched on Friday. It noted a “debilitating” loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. In the oceans, a third of fishing areas are being overharvested.

Many species that are indirectly involved in food production, such as birds that eat crop pests and mangrove trees that help to purify water, are less abundant than in the past, noted the study, which collated global data, academic papers and reports by the governments of 91 countries. It found 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi were in decline. Pollinators, which provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops, are under threat. As well as the well-documented decline of bees and other insects, the report noted that 17% of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats and birds, were threatened with extinction. Once lost, the species that are critical to our food systems cannot be recovered, it said. “This places the future of our food and the environment under severe threat.”

“The foundations of our food systems are being undermined,” wrote Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in an introduction to the study. “Parts of the global report make sombre reading. It is deeply concerning that in so many production systems in so many countries, biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it provides are reported to be in decline.” Agriculture was often to blame, he said, due to land-use changes and unsustainable management practices, such as over-exploitation of the soil and a reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other agro-chemicals. Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

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Mar 262018
 


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953

 

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

 

Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:

 

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

 

Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

 

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?

 

 

Mar 172018
 


Times Square NYC ca. 1909

 

Higher Interest Rates To Spell Private Debt Trouble in Many Countries (BBG)
The US Economy Is Not Really Growing (RIA)
US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion (WS)
Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats In Retaliation (Ind.)
EU Ready To Hit Big US Tech Firms With 3% Turnover Tax (R.)
Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 2 (Stockman)
School Daze (Jim Kunstler)
‘America’s New Vietnam’: The Homelessness Crisis Seems Unsolvable (G.)
An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves? (G.)
China To Bar People With Bad ‘Social Credit’ From Planes, Trains (R.)
Global Biodiversity Crisis Puts Mankind At Risk (AFP)

 

 

What’s kept us alive will kill us off.

Higher Interest Rates To Spell Private Debt Trouble in Many Countries (BBG)

Hong Kong, Sweden, China and Australia could all find themselves in hot water over private-sector debt if borrowing costs rise, according to research by Oxford Economics. That’s because those countries all have a particularly high share of floating-rate debt in relation to economic output. If interest rates increase, households and companies are likely to feel the pinch, the study of 16 economies found. With global economic momentum picking up, several major central banks are weighing steps to tighten policy, though the pace of movement varies significantly. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again next week and economists also predict that Sweden’s Riksbank will tighten policy later this year.

Oxford Economics estimated that an interest rate rise of 100 basis points would raise Hong Kong’s debt service ratio by around 2.5% of GDP after a year, while Sweden, China and Australia would experience increases of between 1.5% and 1.7% of GDP. By contrast, Germany, where debt levels are moderate, as well as France and the U.S. are less likely to suffer. For the latter two, that’s because mortgages are typically of fixed rate.

Read more …

It’s embarrassing that we need this to be pointed out.

The US Economy Is Not Really Growing (RIA)

Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% experienced in the 50 years prior to 2008. As a result of the combination of slow economic growth and deficit spending, most people are also aware that the debt/GDP ratio has been rising. However, what most people don’t know is that, over the past ten years, the dollar amount of cumulative government deficit spending exceeded the dollar amount of GDP growth. Put another way, in the absence of deficit spending, GDP growth would have been less than zero for the past decade. Could that be true?

Let’s begin with a shocking chart that confirms the statements above, and begins to answer the question. The black line shows the difference between quarterly GDP growth and the quarterly increase in Treasury debt outstanding (TDO). When the black line is above zero (red dotted line), the dollar amount is GDP is growing faster than the increase in TDO. From 1971 to 2008, the amount of GDP typically grew at a faster rate than the increase in TDO, which is why the black line is generally above the red dotted line.

Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% During the 1971-2008 period, inflation, budget deficits, and trade deficits varied widely, meaning that the relationship between GDP growth and TDO was stable even in the face of changes in other economic variables. Regardless of those changing economic variables, the US economy tended to grow at a pace faster than TDO for four decades. The only interruptions to the pattern occurred during recessions of the early 1980s, early 1990s, and early 2000s when GDP fell while budget deficits did not.

[..] From 2008-2017, GDP grew by $5.051 trillion, from $14.55 trillion to $19.74 trillion. During that same period, the increase in TDO totaled $11.26 trillion. In other words, for each dollar of deficit spending, the economy grew by less than 50 cents. Or, put another way, had the federal government not borrowed and spent the $11.263 trillion, GDP today would be significantly smaller than it is. It is possible to transform Chart 1, which shows annual changes in TDO and GDP from 1970-2017, into Chart 3 below, which shows the cumulative difference between the growth of TDO and GDP over the entire period from 1970-2017. The graph below clearly shows the abrupt regime change that occurred in the aftermath of the GFC. A period in which growth in GDP growth exceeded increases in TDO has been replaced by a period in which increases in TDO exceeded GDP growth.

Read more …

“These dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see.”

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion (WS)

The US gross national debt jumped by $72.8 billion in one day, on Thursday, the Treasury Department reported Friday afternoon. This March 16 is a historic date of gloomy proportions, because on this date, the US gross national debt punched through the $21 trillion mark and reached $21.03 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, a little over six months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.84 trillion. In those six-plus months – 132 reporting days, to be precise – the gross national debt spiked by $1.186 trillion. I tell you, these dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see. And we wonder: What was that? Where did it go?

Whatever it was and wherever it went, it added 6% to the gross national debt in just 6 months. And with 2017 GDP at $19.74 trillion in current dollars, the gross national debt now amounts to 106.4% of GDP. In the chart below, the flat spots are the various debt-ceiling periods. This is a uniquely American phenomenon when Congress forbids the Administration to borrow the money that it needs to borrow in order to spend it on the things that Congress told the Administration to spend it on via the appropriation bills. So that’s where we are, on this glorious day of March 16, 2018:

Read more …

So many holes have been pointed out in ‘the official story’ that not much of it remains standing.

Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats In Retaliation (Ind.)

Russia has announced it will expel 23 British diplomats in response to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain. The move marks the latest development in the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday morning that the 23 diplomatic representatives of the British Embassy in Moscow should leave Russia within a week. The ministry also said all activities by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations, would cease in Russia and that the planned reopening of the British consulate in St Petersburg would no longer go ahead. The ministry warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.

Shortly before the announcement, British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the foreign ministry for talks, where he learned of the retaliation measures. As he left the ministry, Mr Bristow said: “This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the UK, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Russia is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Act.” The retaliation from Russia comes four days after Theresa May announced that 23 Russian diplomats would be expelled from Britain after Russia missed a deadline to provide an explanation for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both remain critically ill in hospital.

Russia has continued to dismiss accusations of Russian culpability for the attack and to deny possessing Novichok, the nerve agent used in the incident. On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, saying it was “overwhelmingly likely” Mr Putin personally ordered the assassination attempt. Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, responded to the verbal escalation with a further denial of the state’s involvement. “Any reference or mention of our President in this connection is nothing but a shocking and unforgivable violation of the diplomatic rules of propriety,” Mr Peskov said.

Read more …

Once Europe does this, will other ‘entities’ follow?

EU Ready To Hit Big US Tech Firms With 3% Turnover Tax (R.)

Large companies with significant digital revenues in the European Union such as Google and Facebook could face a 3% tax on their turnover under a draft proposal by the European Commission seen by Reuters. The proposal, expected to be adopted next week and still subject to changes, updates an earlier draft which envisaged a tax rate of between 1 and 5%. The tax, if backed by EU states and lawmakers, would only apply to large firms with annual worldwide revenues above 750 million euros (£662.2 million) and annual “taxable” revenues above 50 million euros in the EU. The threshold for EU revenues has been raised from 10 million euros initially foreseen to exempt smaller companies and emerging start-ups from the tax.

Large U.S. firms such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon could also be hit by the new levy, which would apply across the 28 EU countries. Big tech firms have been accused by large EU states of paying too little tax in the bloc by re-routing some of their profits to low-tax member states like Ireland and Luxembourg. Services that will be taxed are digital advertising, which would capture both providers of users’ data like Google, and companies offering ad space on their websites, like popular social media such as Facebook. The tax would be also be levied on online platforms offering “intermediation services,” a concept under which the Commission includes gig economy firms such as Airbnb and Uber. Digital market places, including Amazon, would also be within the scope of the levy.

Read more …

True enough: Kudlow was by no means the only one to get it all awfully wrong.

Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 2 (Stockman)

Goldilocks is a conceit of monetary central planning and its erroneous predicate that falsifying financial asset prices is the route to prosperity. In fact, it only leads to immense and unstable financial bubbles which eventually crash – monkey-hammering the purported Goldilocks Economy as they do. It also leads to a complete corruption of the economic and financial narrative on both ends of the Acela Corridor. To wit, the Fed’s serial financial bubbles on Wall Street are falsely celebrated as arising from a booming main street economy. In fact, they are an economic dagger that bleeds it of investment and cash and exposes it to “restructuring” mayhem from the C-suites when the egregious inflation of share prices and stock option values finally gets crushed by another financial meltdown.

In this context, the Washington Post (WaPo) is out this morning with brutal takedown of our friend Larry Kudlow for his ebullient whistling past the graveyard on the eve of the financial crisis and Great Recession. It would be an understatement to say he didn’t see it coming, but it’s also completely unfair not to acknowledge that 95% of Wall Street and 100% of the FOMC were equally bubble-blind. In fact, when Larry Kudlow waxed eloquently in a piece in the National Review about the awesome economy the George Bush Administration had produced in December 2007, he was just delivering the Wall Street consensus forecast for the coming year:

“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told…….In fact, we are about to enter the seventh consecutive year of the Bush boom.”

Well, not exactly. The worst recession since the 1930s actually incepted that very month and 10 months latter came Washington’s hair-on-fire moment when the monetary and fiscal spigots were opened far wider than ever before – bailing out everything that was collapsing, tottering, moving or even standing still.

Read more …

Our education system serves uniquely to create pawns in games.

School Daze (Jim Kunstler)

Sunday night was Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s turn through the CBS 60-Minutes wringer of censure with a visibly frustrated inquisitor Lesley Stahl trying to hector her into self-incrimination. The sad truth about American schools is that they’re a mirror for the painful collapse of the society they supposedly serve — a process ongoing for decades before Ms. DeVos came on the scene. The expectation that some uber-regent can or ought to fix public education is bound to disappoint a news media searching for saviors. The further we leave the 20th century behind, the more anomalous its organizing principles look, especially the idea of preparing masses of young people for mass, regimented work at the giant corporate scale.

There’s a big divergence underway between the promises of schooling and the kind of future that the 21st century is actually presenting — of no plausible careers or vocations besides providing “therapy” and policing for the discontented masses stewing in anomie and compensatory pleasure-seeking, with all its nasty side effects. In the meantime, we’re stuck with wildly expensive, out-of-scale, giant centralized schools where the worst tendencies of human status competition are amplified by smart phones and social media to all but eclipse classroom learning.

Education in the years to come is destined to become more of a privilege than a right, and it will probably depend more on how much an individual young person really desires an education than just compelling masses of uninterested or indisposed kids to show up everyday for an elaborate and rather poorly supervised form of day-care. But it’s difficult to let go of old habits and obsolete arrangements, especially when we’ve spent countless billions of dollars on them. I call the future a World Made By Hand because it is going to be entirely unlike the sci-fi robotic fantasy that currently preoccupies the thought-leaders in this culture. A lot of what will be required in this time-to-come will be physical labor and small-scale skilled work in traditional crafts. There never were that many job openings for astronauts, not even in the 1960s, but in the decades ahead there will be none — notwithstanding Elon Musk’s wish to colonize Mars.

Read more …

In New York, 111,000 students in the public school system are homeless.

‘America’s New Vietnam’: The Homelessness Crisis Seems Unsolvable (G.)

In Los Angeles, the more the politicians push to solve the city’s festering homelessness crisis, the worse it seems to get. The city leadership has taken one bold step after another: restructuring the budget to free more than $100m a year in homelessness funding, sponsoring one voter-approved initiative to raise more than $1bn for housing and backing another regional proposal to raise the sales tax and generate an estimated $3.5bn for support services over the next decade. And yet the tent cities continue to proliferate, in rich neighborhoods and poor, by the beach, the airport, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and within view of City Hall itself. It’s the sorriest urban scene anywhere in America, and the same voters who not so long ago opened their hearts and their wallets to put an end to it are growing increasingly impatient.

As the numbers of homeless people continue to rise – the latest figures put the countywide number at 58,000, up more than 20% in a single year – and new encampments spring up on sidewalks, under freeways, and along stretches of river and rail lines, the politicians who not so long ago were earning praise for their courage are facing the beginnings of an angry backlash. “How many people have we housed?” the Los Angeles Times asked impatiently in a blistering series of editorials late last month. “How many are we on track toward housing? Is Los Angeles setting the national standard for rapid and effective response to a vexing problem? Or are its leaders merely mastering the art of appearances while passing the buck and hoping things turn around? … Who’s in charge here?”

Read more …

Sorry, but that apocalypse is already very much here. ‘Ordinary people’ already have no idea what’s true or real or not.

An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves? (G.)

John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear. The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation.

[..] “Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump. We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.

What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them? Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously. The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.

Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing. But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.

Read more …

Would have been nice to see Orwell comment on this.

China To Bar People With Bad ‘Social Credit’ From Planes, Trains (R.)

China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2.

It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1. The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.

Read more …

We’re going to figure this one out way too late. The time to stop this is now, not at some future point down the line. But we’re not doing anything at all. We blindly parrot claims about clean energy and electric cars that will allegedly ‘save’ us, because we want to do the saving without paying a price for it that makes our lives one iota less comfy.

Global Biodiversity Crisis Puts Mankind At Risk (AFP)

Earth is enduring a mass species extinction, scientists say – the first since the demise of the dinosaurs and only the sixth in half-a-billion years. The reason? Humanity’s voracious consumption, and wanton destruction, of the very gifts of nature that keep us alive. Starting Saturday, a comprehensive, global appraisal of the damage, and what can be done to reverse it, will be conducted in Colombia. “The science is clear: biodiversity is in crisis globally,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP ahead of a crucial meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “We depend on biodiversity for the food we eat, the water we drink, the clean air we breathe, the stability of weather patterns, and yet our actions are pushing nature’s ability to sustain us to the brink.”

Scientists and government envoys will gather as the 128-member IPBES to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on five monumental assessment reports designed to inform global policymaking into the future. Compiled over the last three years, the reports will provide the most up-to-date picture of the health of the world’s plants, animals and soil. [..] Meeting host Colombia claims to boast the world’s largest variety of birds and orchids and is second only to Brazil in terms of overall species diversity. Paradoxically, decades of conflict have preserved fragile habitats in no-go zones in the country, whose mountainous topography supports 311 different ecosystems.

Read more …

Oct 052017
 
 October 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Juan Gris Guitar on a chair 1913

 

S&P 500 Poised To Lose $10 Trillion In Value (Pal.)
The Sum of All Fears: China Shadow Banking Hits $40 Trillion (DT)
EU Parliament Defends ‘Proportionate Force’ in Catalonia (RT)
Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets (DQ)
ECB To Banks: Set Aside More Cash For Bad Debt Amid €1 Trillion Problem (G.)
Investors Are Too Inured to Markets’ Repeated Records (DDMB)
Puerto Rico’s Debt Is Quietly Sitting in Mom and Pop Mutual Funds (Martens)
The Cost Of Not Understanding Sovereign Currencies (Bill Black)
Whose Bright Idea Was RussiaGate? (PCR)
Who Really Holds Power at the Fed (BBG)
Court Orders Trump Administration Reinstate Obama Emissions Rule (AP)
US Honeybee Queen Life Expectancy Halves In 10 Years (NatGeo)
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forests Overwhelmed By Climate Change (LAT)
60% Of Global Biodiversity Loss Is Down To Meat-Based Diets (G.)
Are Space, Time, And Gravity All Just Illusions? (F.)

 

 

Just so you know.

S&P 500 Poised To Lose $10 Trillion In Value (Pal.)

The last two recessions were devastating for the S&P 500. The dot-com bubble during March 2000 to October 2002 saw the Index drop -49%, while the Global Credit Crisis from October 2007 to March 2009 saw an even greater drop of -57%. Since then, the S&P 500 has been on fire, gaining 250% and breaking record highs almost daily. As the old adage goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. If the S&P loses 57% in the next market crash, that would represent $10 trillion in value lost, and would take the Index down to 1,077. As the more cyclical sectors begin to decline, portfolio managers will begin to reallocate capital to more attractive sectors. As we noted in our previous write-up, Gold Stocks To Explode When The S&P Implodes, in the current bull market, the S&P is up 247%, while gold stocks are down -30%.

If the pattern holds, the succeeding bear market in the S&P will trigger a major gold rally, which we predict will continue into the next S&P bull. Portfolio managers will look for undervalued stocks in sectors considered safe havens. Gold stocks check all the boxes and a surge of capital will soon find its way into them. Using the materials sector as proxy to gold stocks, we saw in each of the last two bears the weighting of the sector increase. The total value drop was also less in terms of percentage compared to the overall market. We calculate inflows of $206 billion in 2000-2002, and $270 billion in 2007-2009. If the coming drop follows that of the recent recession, we can expect an inflow of at least $440 billion into gold stocks. That is a lot of money on the sidelines. And when it begins to pour in, gold stocks will explode.

Read more …

I’ve warned a thousand times on China’s shadow system. This is excellent from ‘Deep Throat’. As I’ve suggested, the shadow system is now bigger than the official one.

The Sum of All Fears: China Shadow Banking Hits $40 Trillion (DT)

Unfortunately, per the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), Shadow Bank lending has reversed course abruptly and skyrocketed since the 2015 McKinsey report. Nobody really knows how big China’s Shadow Bank ecosystem is, but the PBOC recently offered a rather shocking guess in their 2017 Financial Stability Report (pg.48). China’s Off-Balance-Sheet, un-regulated, “Shadow” loans have grown to nearly US $37 Trillion (RMB 252.3 Trillion) and have surpassed China’s US$34 Trillion, “On-Balance Sheet” bank assets as of the close of 2016. They also restated the 2015 numbers, increasing the 2015 figures to US$ 28 Trillion (RMB 189 Trillion), roughly doubling the 2015 figure.

Keep in mind, the PBOC estimating Non-Bank Shadow loans is a bit like the local Sheriff estimating “unreported financial crime”. He doesn’t have authority over the mechanics of the activity, lacks enforcement resources and therefore can’t do much about preventing the crime(s). Even if he had authority and resource, he’d have a hard time zeroing in on the metric….criminals generally don’t respond to surveys or self-report their schemes. Moreover, the Sheriff would have an incentive to under-estimate the problem and hope everything works out, since, at some point, someone is going to be held accountable. As history shows, and Chinese Bankers are well aware of this, financial scoundrels are normally exiled to horrific disgrace on a private tropical island with access to boatloads of Cayman Islands money…..so it goes.

Again, based solely on the usual, limited transparency inherent in PBOC reporting (good things are trumpeted and bad things are swept under the rug), a disclosure like this would indicate that the problem is potentially much larger than they are letting on. In the 2017 Financial Stability Report (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) the PBOC restates the Shadow Bank Assets for 2014 and 2015 (as shown by the dotted line in the chart below). To my knowledge, no other major economy has ever experienced an acceleration anywhere near these levels of Non-Bank, Shadow debt relative to GDP, much less restated it in a gigantic “ooppps….our bad” buried in a couple of paragraphs in the bowels of a report. In China….they do things big. The bigger the better. The two Charts below, prepared by Capital Economics illustrate that we’ve apparently entered uncharted waters.

Although the fiercely independent citizens, politicians and bankers of Hong Kong and Singapore might disagree, we can generalize that the leverage in those economies (tall bars on the left of the chart) is inextricably linked to the Chinese financial system. If there were ever a potential “ground-zero” for a default-induced financial contagion Shang-Hong-apore would be it. Moreover, when we examine the PBOC/CE Charts above, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to conclude that Shadow/Non-Bank Credit has become an absolutely essential tool for keeping all of the financial balls in the air. [..] Jahangir Aziz and Haibin Zhu from JP Morgan said the debts of the state-owned entities (SOEs) have alone reached 90pc of GDP or $13.3 trillion. Nearly 60pc of new credit this year is being used to repay old loans. It takes four times as much new credit to generate a given amount of extra of GDP as it did a decade ago.

Read more …

The EU leadership doesn’t give a shit what Europeans think of them (they’re not elected). Wave bye bye.

EU Parliament Defends ‘Proportionate Force’ in Catalonia (RT)

EU member states have the right to use “proportionate” force to defend the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice President, said three days after hundreds were injured by Spanish police trying to stop an independence vote in Catalonia. “It is a duty for any government to uphold the rule of law, and this sometimes requires the proportionate use of force,” Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a debate on Catalonia. “Respect for the rule of law is not optional – it’s fundamental,” he said. An independence referendum was held in the relatively prosperous Spanish region of Catalonia on Sunday, despite Madrid labeling it “unconstitutional.” A brutal mass police crackdown during the vote saw over 800 people, including women and the elderly, injured in Barcelona and elsewhere across the region.

“If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law,” Timmermans said. For the EU, “it is fundamental that the constitutions of every one of our member states are upheld and respected,” he added. According to Timmermans, the Catalan regional government “has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday.” The leader of the largest European Parliament group, the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, has also decried the Catalan referendum as invalid during the debate. “Who leaves Spain, leaves the European Union,” including the eurozone and the single market, Webber warned the Catalan authorities.

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“..the Rajoy administration dispatched two military convoys to Barcelona today to beef up its coercive capabilities in the city..”

Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets (DQ)

Spain’s biggest political crisis of a generation, which has led to the complete breakdown of communication and understanding between its government in Madrid and the separatist region of Catalonia, is finally beginning to take its toll on the country’s financial markets. Spain’s benchmark index, the Ibex 35, slumped nearly 3% following its worst day of trading since the Brexit vote last June. Spain’s 10-year risk premium — the differential between the yield on its 10-year bonds and the yield on Germany’s 10-year bonds — soared to 129 basis points. And that’s despite the fact that the ECB continues to buy Spanish debt hand over fist. But it is the banks that have borne the brunt of the pain this week. On Monday, the first trading day after the independence referendum, they lost €4.84 billion in market value.

Over the past five trading days, shares of the two biggest Catalan-based banks, Caixabank and Banco de Sabadell, have plunged respectively, 9% and 13%. So tense is the situation that the CEOs of each bank felt compelled to release a statement today reassuring customers that they have all the means and tools necessary to protect their interests. Their contingency plans include the option of abandoning their base of operations in Catalonia and moving elsewhere — to Madrid in the case of Sabadell and Mallorca in the case of Caixabank. But it wasn’t just Catalan banks that were caught up in today’s rout. Important Spanish banks with somewhat less exposure to Catalonia also saw their shares plunge.

Santander, Spain’s only global systemically important bank, was down 3.8% on the day’s trading; BBVA, Spain’s second bank which has important operations in Catalonia after acquiring the failed saving bank Catalunya Caixa in 2015, fell 3.6%; and Bankia was also down 3.6%. Standard & Poor’s today put Catalonia’s credit rating — at B+/B, it’s already deep into junk — on review for a downgrade of one notch or more, “if we believed that escalating political tensions between Catalonia’s government and Spain’s central government could put in question the full and timely refinancing of Catalonia’s short-term debt instruments or undermine the effectiveness of the central government’s financial support to Catalonia.” The threat of default moves a step closer.

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$1 trillion and now they start counting?!

ECB To Banks: Set Aside More Cash For Bad Debt Amid €1 Trillion Problem (G.)

The ECB is attempting to put a lid on the near €1tn of bad debts stored in eurozone banks by asking lenders to be more prudent about the way they handle new customers falling behind on repayments. The Frankfurt-based institution issued guidance on Wednesday intended to stop a new pile of problem debts being built up inside eurozone banks by setting out how much cash it wanted lenders to set aside for bad debts incurred from January 2018. The measures are not applicable to the existing €1tn of bad debts, which are largely a legacy of Europe’s financial problems in the aftermath of the 2008 crash and languishing on the balance sheets of banks in countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Italy. The ECB wants lenders to set aside 100% of the value of an unsecured loan within two years and gives lenders seven years to put aside the full amount of a secured loan, such as a mortgage.

The aim is to set a formal guideline for how to tackle problem loans – known as non-performing loans (NPLs) – in contrast to the current situation where there are a variety of approaches across eurozone countries. Policymakers are concerned that bad debts inside banks not only weaken lenders but also make it difficult for them to grant more loans, which in turn can impede economic growth. But they are sensitive to announcing new measures that would make banks more cautious about issuing new loans or push up the cost of borrowing. Sharon Donnery, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, who presented the latest plan by the ECB to tackle bad debts, said: “We want to prevent a build-up of insufficiently covered NPLs in the future.” The new measures are not applicable to the existing stock of bad debts for which lenders have set aside 45% of the value of their problem loans, so if the new rules had been applied it could have led to multibillion-euro provisions for lenders.

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Who did that headline?

Investors Are Too Inured to Markets’ Repeated Records (DDMB)

After several boom-and-bust cycles it’s clear many investors have exhausted the term “bubble.” Instead, they will recall this cycle with another word: “record.” The question is: Will the memories be tinged with regret? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” The stock market closes at a fresh high with such frequency it no longer triggers news flashes. The mirror image of these daily records is found in volatility, which has cascaded to record lows. The bond market, though, is where the real action has been since 2011. If the current pace of sales persists through the final quarter of this year, 2017 will mark the seventh consecutive year of record U.S. corporate bond issuance. In exchange, investors are extending issuers record lax lending terms and receiving near-record low returns. It is no longer uncommon for bonds to price at yields that are beneath an issuer’s leverage as gauged by debt as a multiple of earnings.

Moreover, three-quarters of loans sold into the $1 trillion leveraged loan market are of the “covenant-lite” variety, meaning they do not give investors protection against issuers loading themselves up with debt. Buyers have responded by pushing leveraged loan volumes up by more than half this year compared with 2016; issuance is on pace to surpass 2007’s record $534 billion. And while it isn’t at record lows, the yield spread over comparable Treasury bonds that investors receive for investment grade-rated credits has only been lower 20% of the time since 2000. In the case of high-yield credit, the spread has only been lower 14% of the time in the past 17 years.

The differentiating factor in the years 2004 through 2007, when spreads were at their tightest on record, is the relative dearth of securitization, a process by which pools of loans were divvied up into tranches engineered to disperse risk. Investors learned the hard way as the credit crisis unfolded that these “collateralized” vehicles did not perform as well as the underwriters advertised. And yet, while there’s no question the collateralized mortgage obligation, or CMO, hasn’t even flirted with a comeback, the same cannot be said of its cousin, the collateralized loan obligation. In September, CLO issuance volumes surpassed $82 billion, well past the $75 billion high end of what analysts had been forecasting for the full year. Volumes are running at twice last year’s pace and could easily surpass 2007’s record $89 billion level.

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Tax-free is not risk-free.

Puerto Rico’s Debt Is Quietly Sitting in Mom and Pop Mutual Funds (Martens)

There was likely a collective gasp at OppenheimerFunds Inc. yesterday when President Donald Trump made another of those market-moving pronouncements, telling Fox News that Puerto Rico’s debt would have to be wiped out. The President’s remarks suggested he thought the losers would be Wall Street banks. The President stated: “You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be — you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” The reality is that a large percentage of Puerto Rico’s debt is held in tax-free municipal bonds and municipal bond mutual funds, owned not by Wall Street banks or tycoons, but by mom and pop investors seeking tax-free income.

(As a result of Congressional legislation, the interest on municipal bonds issued by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, its political subdivisions and public corporations, is not subject to Federal, state or local taxes. This has made the individual bonds and mutual funds particularly attractive in places like New York City and to residents of New York counties with high local taxes.) According to a semi-annual report made last month at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Oppenheimer Rochester Fund Municipals, a popular tax-free fund held by many New York investors, was sitting on a boatload of Puerto Rico municipal bonds as of June 30, 2017. The SEC filing shows over 100 different Puerto Rico bonds, issued by the Commonwealth and numerous other Puerto Rico issuers like the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp. (The fund, of course, holds a widely diversified portfolio of other bonds as well.)

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MMT.

The Cost Of Not Understanding Sovereign Currencies (Bill Black)

Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist to former Vice President Joe Biden, recently published an op ed in the New York Times entitled ‘Do Republicans Really Care About the Deficit?’. Republican elites, of course, have not really cared about federal budget deficits for decades. That is a good thing that Democrats should embrace in a bipartisan spirit. Bernstein, of course, is correct that the Republicans are hypocrites about federal budget deficits, pretending to care about them when the Democrats hold power and displaying their lack of any real care when Republicans hold power and the context is tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats display a similar hypocrisy. Even Democrats like Bernstein who know that the Republicans proposed expansion of the federal budget deficit through tax cuts is not a real economic problem are primed to attack Republican hypocrisy by falsely asserting that the Republican deficits would harm the Nation. Democrats should embrace honesty as the best policy and stop embracing the politically attractive pose of claiming to be the Party that “really cares” about the federal budget deficit. That politically attractive pose is not simply dishonest and financially illiterate, it is also a trap. The Republican and New Democrat deficit strategy is to force Democrats to make an endless series of “Sophie’s choices.” Choose which excellent program to kill in order to save (temporarily) another from the chopping block because we supposedly cannot afford to provide both.

Then repeat the process. The Republicans and New Democrats constantly, and falsely, claim that the federal government cannot afford to provide medical care availability that is routinely provided in most of Europe and Canada. It is a pure myth that the United States cannot afford to provide the safety net of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to start with first principles. In a nation with a sovereign currency like the United States, federal tax revenues do not fund federal expenditures. If that sentence, which is indisputably correct, strikes you as bizarre then it is a measure of the force of the propaganda you have been fed throughout your life. Today would be an excellent day to free yourself from the hold of that destructive lie.

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“There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack. ”

Whose Bright Idea Was RussiaGate? (PCR)

The answer to the question in the title of this article is that Russiagate was created by CIA director John Brennan.The CIA started what is called Russiagate in order to prevent Trump from being able to normalize relations with Russia. The CIA and the military/security complex need an enemy in order to justify their huge budgets and unaccountable power. Russia has been assigned that role. The Democrats joined in as a way of attacking Trump. They hoped to have him tarnished as cooperating with Russia to steal the presidential election from Hillary and to have him impeached. I don’t think the Democrats have considered the consequence of further worsening the relations between the US and Russia.

Public Russia bashing pre-dates Trump. It has been going on privately in neoconservative circles for years, but appeared publicly during the Obama regime when Russia blocked Washington’s plans to invade Syria and to bomb Iran. Russia bashing became more intense when Washington’s coup in Ukraine failed to deliver Crimea. Washington had intended for the new Ukrainian regime to evict the Russians from their naval base on the Black Sea. This goal was frustrated when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia. The neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony requires the principal goal of US foreign policy to be to prevent the rise of other countries that can serve as a restraint on US unilateralism. This is the main basis for the hostility of US foreign policy toward Russia, and of course there also is the material interests of the military/security complex.

Russia bashing is much larger than merely Russiagate. The danger lies in Washington convincing Russia that Washington is planning a surprise attack on Russia. With US and NATO bases on Russia’s borders, efforts to arm Ukraine and to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO provide more evidence that Washington is surrounding Russia for attack. There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack. Washington is fully aware that there was no Russian interference in the presidential election or in the state elections. The military/security complex, the neoconservatives, and the Democratic Party are merely using the accusations to serve their own agendas. These selfish agendas are a dire threat to life on earth.

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Lots of changes.

Who Really Holds Power at the Fed (BBG)

To the casual observer, the Federal Open Market Committee September meeting in Washington might have looked like any other. But when San Francisco’s John Williams, Minneapolis’s Neel Kashkari, and the other regional Fed presidents took their seats at the big oval table, an historical anomaly glared back from the other side. In a rare alignment of events, the five voting presidents outweighed Board of Governors voters, who include Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. It’s a gap that opened up earlier this year and which looks poised to persist, at least for the near future. This matters. There are 12 Fed presidents, chosen for five-year terms by their regional boards. The seven governors are appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate for staggered 14-year terms.

Because of the retirement of Daniel Tarullo, the governor informally tasked with heading financial regulation, the Fed board has been down to four voters since May, and with Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer leaving, it’s possible the number could be down to three by the next FOMC meeting. It looks likely that Randal Quarles, Trump’s first nominee, could be confirmed before that, holding the Governors steady at four. The regional contingent, meanwhile, remains near full force, with only the Richmond Fed currently looking for a new president. At a time when the current occupant of the Oval Office could choose at least four new governors, the power of the regional presidents amounts to a stabilizing backbone and bastion of independence in an era of transition at the Fed. Yellen, Lael Brainard, and Jerome Powell are the holdouts on the board in Washington, and President Trump isn’t expected to reappoint Yellen when her term ends in February.

Thus it could fall to the Fed’s arcane system, born of populist angst, to protect monetary policy from massive upheaval. The current state of affairs underscores how this uniquely American setup, erected in stages beginning in the years before World War I, remains relevant a century later, even though many of the functional duties of the world’s most powerful central bank have changed. “The regional banks are a bizarre set of entities,” says Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institution fellow who studies the central bank. “In some ways the mission of the regional system is to bring in diverse viewpoints that challenge the political board.”

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“Prior to the rule, an estimated $100m in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico..”

Court Orders Trump Administration Reinstate Obama Emissions Rule (AP)

Rebuffing the Trump administration, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to reinstate an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The order by a judge in San Francisco came as the Interior Department moved to delay the rule until 2019, saying it was too burdensome to industry. The action followed an earlier effort by the department to postpone part of the rule set to take effect next year. US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the northern district of California said the department had failed to give a “reasoned explanation” for the changes and had not offered details why an earlier analysis by the Obama administration was faulty. She ordered the entire rule reinstated immediately.

The rule, finalized last November, forces energy companies to capture methane that’s burnt off or “flared” at drilling sites on public lands during production because it pollutes the environment. An estimated $330m a year in methane is wasted through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands, enough to power about 5m homes a year. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a leading contributor to global warming. It is far more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide but does not stay in the air as long. [..] Democratic senator Tom Udall from New Mexico said the methane rule provides badly needed revenue to states such as New Mexico for public education and other services.

Prior to the rule, an estimated $100m in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico, Udall said, adding that the rule has helped to reduce dangerous air pollution across the west, including a methane cloud the size of Delaware that hangs over the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

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What Happens If the Honeybees Disappear?

US Honeybee Queen Life Expectancy Halves In 10 Years (NatGeo)

A honeybee queen, when all is right in her world, should live for two to three years. But in the United States, beekeepers have seen that life span drop by more than half over the past decade, and researchers are trying to determine why. It’s one of many questions surrounding the mystery of honeybee mortality, a disturbing phenomenon that’s linked to a mix of factors, including parasites, pesticides, and habitat loss. Aside from making a delicious natural sweetener, honeybees—which are not native to the U.S.—also provide a crucial service to agriculture: pollination. From apples to almonds, many crops would suffer without honeybees. And while about 90% of beekeepers in this country are hobbyists, the majority of hives belong to large-scale, commercial operations, says North Carolina State University entomologist David Tarpy.

Colony collapse in general could be devastating to food production. So scientists are looking for alternatives. Most honeybees in the U.S. today are of Italian heritage and vulnerable to a pest called the varroa mite. But Russian bees are more resistant to it, and backyard beekeepers have had success with them. The problem, says Tarpy, is that Russian honeybees don’t make as much honey as their Italian counterparts and “aren’t as amenable” to the migratory nature of pollinating large-scale farms. Another option, says wildlife biologist Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey, is to embrace the thousands of North American wild bee species, which are excellent pollinators, rarely sting, and are typically the size of a grain of rice. The drawback for some people is that none of the wild bee species produce honey. But, says Droege, “we can always get honey from other countries.”

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I’ve always been in awe of 5000 year old trees. They ‘saw’ the pyramids being built.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forests Overwhelmed By Climate Change (LAT)

For thousands of years, wind-whipped, twisted bristlecone pines have been clinging to existence on the arid, stony crests of eastern California’s White Mountains, in conditions inhospitable to most other life. Their growth rings provide a year-by-year account of the struggle to survive: It’s a tortuous cycle of dying off almost entirely, leaving only a few strips of bark that then continue to grow diagonally skyward or sideways along the ground. But the world’s oldest trees may never have experienced temperature increases as rapid as those of recent decades. The climatic changes have triggered a struggle for dominance, in very slow motion, between the ancient bristlecones and the younger limber pines that have been able to charge up-slope as conditions become warmer and wetter.

Scientists know that bristlecone pines will remain standing for centuries to come. But how will they cope with the intrusion of limber pines competing for sunlight, moisture, nutrients and room to grow? Which plants and animals will be first to adapt to niches in the increasingly diverse forests at elevations above 11,000 feet? [..] average ambient temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, altering the precarious balance of life in the region long dominated by ancient bristlecone pines — regarded as symbols of longevity, strength and perseverance. “Whenever conditions change, there are winners and losers. And in this case, we won’t know the ultimate outcome for several thousand years,” Smithers said. “But some bristlecone pine forests could face a reduction in range if they’re crowded out … by limber pines moving into their turf.”

Bristlecone pines — named for their bottlebrush-like branches with short needles — are found in other parts of the semiarid Great Basin, which extends from California’s Sierra Nevada east to the Rockies. But the ones found in the White Mountains are the oldest. The slow growers are only about 25 feet tall and expand about 1 inch in diameter every 100 years. One of the oldest of the bunch is Methuselah, at about 4,768 years old. Its precise location is carefully guarded to avert vandalism.

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Animal feed.

60% Of Global Biodiversity Loss Is Down To Meat-Based Diets (G.)

The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned. The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF. Intensive and industrial animal farming also results in less nutritious food, it reveals, highlighting that six intensively reared chickens today have the same amount of omega-3 as found in just one chicken in the 1970s.

The study entitled Appetite for Destruction launches on Thursday at the 2017 Extinction and Livestock Conference in London, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming (CIFW), and warns of the vast amount of land needed to grow the crops used for animal feed and cites some of the world’s most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas. The report and conference come against a backdrop of alarming revelations of industrial farming. Last week a Guardian/ITV investigation showed chicken factory staff in the UK changing crucial food safety information. Protein-rich soy is now produced in such huge quantities that the average European consumes approximately 61kg each year, largely indirectly by eating animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.

In 2010, the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used in feed. But if global demand for meat grows as expected, the report says, soy production would need to increase by nearly 80% by 2050. “The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. “A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.”

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Author Ethan Siegel ends up being disappointed.

Are Space, Time, And Gravity All Just Illusions? (F.)

The Universe, as we know it, has a fundamental flaw staring us right in our faces, letting us know that our knowledge is incomplete. The four fundamental forces are described by two different and mutually incompatible frameworks: General Relativity for gravitation, and Quantum Field Theory for the electromagnetic and nuclear forces. Einstein’s theory on its own is just fine, describing how matter-and-energy relate to the curvature of space-and-time. Quantum field theories on their own are fine as well, describing how particles interact and experience forces. But where gravitational fields are strongest, and on the smallest of scales, we have no way of describing nature. The physics of our greatest theories breaks down. Under conventional circumstances, quantum field theory calculations are done in flat space, where spacetime isn’t curved.

We can do them in the curved space described by Einstein’s theory of gravity as well, although the calculations are far more difficult. This semi-classical approach gets us far, but it doesn’t get us everywhere. In particular, there are a few strong-field situations where we simply cannot obtain sensible answers using our current theories: • What happens to the gravitational field of an electron when it passes through a double slit? • What happens to the information of the particles that form a black hole, if the black hole’s eventual state is thermal radiation? • And what is the behavior of a gravitational field/force at and around a singularity? These questions all go unanswered without a quantum theory of gravity. The assumption we normally make is that there is a quantum theory of gravity, and we just haven’t found it yet.

Perhaps it’s string theory; perhaps it’s an alternative approach like loop quantum gravity, causal dynamical triangulations, or asymptotic safety. But since 2009, a new, exciting, and assumption-challenging approach has taken the scene by storm: the idea that gravity itself isn’t a real, fundamental force, but an illusory, emergent one. Pioneered by Erik Verlinde, the idea is that gravity emerges from a more fundamental phenomenon in the Universe, and that phenomenon is entropy. Sound waves emerge from molecular interactions; atoms emerge from quarks, gluons and electrons and the strong and electromagnetic interactions; planetary systems emerge from gravitation in General Relativity. But in the idea of entropic gravity — as well as some other scenarios (like qbits) — gravitation or even space and time themselves might emerge from other entities in a similar fashion.

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Jul 152016
 
 July 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Farm boy at main drugstore, Medford, Oregon 1939

(Nobody Believes) China’s Q2 GDP Growth Stable at 6.7% (ET)
Asian Shares Rise To Eight-Month Highs (R.)
US Exporters’ Gains From Chinese Economic Growth Shrink Further (WSJ)
Could Italy Bring Down The Euro? (Kern)
EU Finance Ministers Get Tough With Italian Bank Trying For Third Bailout (G.)
Who’s Buying It? (Roberts)
Canada New Home Prices Grow At Fastest Pace In Nearly 9 Years (R.)
UK MPs Decry ‘Failed’ Effort To Stop London Property Money Laundering (G.)
McKinsey Slams Globalization: “The Resentment Will Explode” (ZH)
Globalism vs. “Populism” (Smith)
President of Belgian Magistrates: Neoliberalism Is A Form Of Fascism (DDP)
In New Zealand, Lands and Rivers Can Be People -Legally Speaking- (NYT)
Obama Expected to Sign Industry-Backed GMO Label Bill Into Law (EW)
Biodiversity Is Below Safe Levels Across More Than Half Of World’s Land (G.)
Gleaning: Harvesting Spain’s Unwanted Crops To Feed The Hungry (G.)

 

 

I know, what does any of it mean with 100 people dying in Nice? Still, as many died in Syria.

“The speed of growth that it points to is increasingly hard to believe given the clear structural drags that the economy is facing..”

(Nobody Believes) China’s Q2 GDP Growth Stable at 6.7% (ET)

China’s GDP grew at 6.7% year on year in the second quarter of 2016, at least officially. However, most analysts don’t believe the official figures. “The official figure is still around 7%, but those data are made in the statistical kitchen,” says Willem Buiter, the chief economist of Citigroup. He thinks China is not growing at more than 4%. After reporting 6.7% growth over the year in the first quarter of 2016, analysts were looking for 6.6% growth in the second quarter compared to the second quarter of 2015, so China managed to engineer a small beat and create the illusion of stability. Quarterly growth even picked up from 1.1% in the first quarter to 1.8% in the second quarter.

“The speed of growth that it points to is increasingly hard to believe given the clear structural drags that the economy is facing,” research firm Capital Economics writes in a note. The analysts think China grew 4.5% based on a proprietary activity index, roughly the same as in the first quarter. Private investment was the biggest drag on growth, it just expanded 1% in May, down from 15% in early 2015. State companies have picked up the slack. A survey of thousands of companies by the China Beige Book (CBB) released earlier in July paints a similar picture. CBB says most indicators improved in the second quarter, although activity is roughly flat over the year. In most cases, less than 50% of survey respondents report an improvement in sales, hiring, capital expenditure, or bank lending.

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The harder they come…

Asian Shares Rise To Eight-Month Highs (R.)

Asian shares extended gains to eight-month highs on Friday, on track for a solid weekly rise, as better-than-expected economic data from China lifted risk sentiment that was already buoyant after record highs on Wall Street. China’s economy grew 6.7% in the second quarter from a year earlier, steady from the first quarter and slightly better than expected as the government stepped up efforts to stabilize growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

Industrial output and retail sales also beat forecasts, which helped alleviate fears of slowing momentum, though fixed-asset investment growth slipped and missed market expectations. “The data showed the signs of stabilisation, which is very encouraging,” said Julian Wang, economist for Greater China at HSBC. “However, public sector investment and housing market are slowing down. So the challenges still loom quite large in the second half of the year.”

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Well, that’s a surprise….

US Exporters’ Gains From Chinese Economic Growth Shrink Further (WSJ)

China’s economic roller coaster is taking a bite out of American exporters, hurting U.S. industries ranging from mining equipment to cotton producers and adding to criticism that China is getting more than it gives in trade with the U.S. The U.S. shipped just $42.4 billion to China in the first five months of the year, or 8.2% less than the year-earlier period and 13.8% below the peak export year of 2014, according to the Census Bureau. The export drop comes as China’s economy, while slowing, is still officially expanding at more than 6% a year. That growth is driven in part by the mountain of goods—worth $174 billion so far this year—the U.S. imports from China. That is quadruple the size of its exports to China during those months, and only slightly less than 2014 levels.

The slowdown in U.S. exports could exacerbate accusations in the 2016 presidential campaign that China is engaged in unfair trade practices. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has cited the trade gap with China in threatening to slap new tariffs on the country if he becomes president. U.S. companies have grown increasingly vocal in criticizing Beijing for allegedly dumping subsidized steel and other products on world markets and for refusing to open major parts of its economy to foreign investment—a roadblock that almost certainly hinders two-way trade.

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No doubt it could. But Brussels will first try and turn it into Greece….

Could Italy Bring Down The Euro? (Kern)

[..] M5S’s Luigi Di Maio, who, polls show, has a very good chance of succeeding Renzi as prime minister, has reiterated his party’s long-standing call for a referendum on the euro: “We want a consultative referendum on the euro. The euro as it is today does not work. We either have alternative currencies or a ‘euro 2.’ We entered the European Parliament to change many treaties. The mere fact that a country like Great Britain even held a referendum on whether to leave the EU signals the failure of the European Union.” A referendum on the euro would be “consultative” because Italian law does not allow such plebiscites to change international treaties, including those that involve Italy’s relations with the European Union.

But Grillo is seeking a legislative change to allow an “ad hoc” exception, similar to the one in June 1989, when Italy held a consultative referendum on whether to transfer certain powers to the European Parliament. The exception would presumably be approved if M5S wins the prime minister’s office. Meanwhile, analysts are warning that the turmoil in Italy could spread to the rest of the eurozone. The risk of contagion is due to the so-called “doom loop” that exists between European governments and European banks, which have more than doubled the holdings of their own governments’ debt from a low of €355 billion in September 2008 to €791 billion today. International banks have lent Italy more than €500 billion, according to Die Welt, which reports that French banks alone hold €250 billion of Italian debt.

German banks hold €84 billion of Italian bonds. The only question, according to analysts, is whether taxpayers or bondholders will be left holding the tab. Wolfgang Münchau warned of the consequences of a disorderly Italian exit from the euro: “An Italian exit from the single currency would trigger the total collapse of the eurozone within a very short period. It would probably lead to the most violent economic shock in history, dwarfing the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008 and the 1929 Wall Street crash.” As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph has pointed out, however, Italy must choose between the euro and its own economic survival. Leaving the euro “may be the only way to avert a catastrophic deindustrialization of the country before it is too late.”

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…like here.

EU Finance Ministers Get Tough With Italian Bank Trying For Third Bailout (G.)

The idea of modern banking was born in Siena in 1624, when the Medici Grand Duke decided to guarantee accounts held at Monte dei Paschi, the world’s oldest bank, with the proceeds of pasture he held in the Maremma in south-western Tuscany. Nearly 400 years later, the principle established by the Tuscan ruler – that account holders and investors are protected by the state – lies at the heart of a crisis at Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) that is worrying financial markets around the world. The country’s third-largest lender has already been bailed out twice in modern Italian history but is likely to need a third multibillion-euro intervention by the Italian government – a move that would need Brussels to break new rules designed to prevent such taxpayer bailouts after the 2008 global financial crisis.

So the question of who will pay for the inevitable rescue of MPS, whose share value has fallen 80% over the past year, has yet to be answered. Three weeks after the news that Britain has voted to leave the European Union shocked the markets, a debate over the fate of MPS and the economic and political repercussions of inaction is raging from Rome to Brussels and Paris to Berlin. The welfare of thousands of Italian households is at stake, as well as the political fortune of Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who is facing the toughest political challenge of his career. It is also testing Italy’s credibility among foreign investors. “There is no way they will let the bank go and create a systemic effect,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence. “The mechanics are still unclear but there will be a third bailout of Monte dei Paschi.”

[..] Unlike the US, Spanish and Irish financial crises, the Italian banking crisis is not the result of a speculative property bubble. While other issues have exacerbated the turmoil at Monte dei Paschi’s – including a poorly judged €9bn acquisition – the primary reason the bank is in trouble is because it doled out billions of euros in loans to small businesses at a time when the scale of the recession facing Italy was gravely underestimated. From 2007 to 2013, Italy lost about a quarter of its industrial production and tens of thousands of companies collapsed. In 2013 more than 150 shops closed every day. Construction and home sales slumped and none of the sectors has recovered fast enough.

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Central banks are the only buyers left.

Who’s Buying It? (Roberts)

With the market breaking out to all-time highs, the media has started to once again reach for their party hats as headlines suggest clear sailing for investors ahead. While I certainly do not disagree the breakout is indeed bullish, and signals a continuation of the long-term bullish trend, there are more than sufficient reasons to remain somewhat cautious. Earnings are still weak, there is little evidence of economic resurgence and inflationary pressures globally remain nascent. But, for now, a rash of global Central Banks continue to support asset prices by increasing accommodative policies either through additional reductions in interest rates or direct injections of liquidity. As Matt King from Citi recently noted: “It has been a surge in net global central bank asset purchases to their highest level since 2013.”

With the ECB in full QE mode, the BOC now using $300 billion in Pension Funds to prop up prices, and the BOJ now moving towards an additional $130 billion in QE as well, the liquidity push continues. Interestingly, despite the push by Central Banks to loft asset prices higher, individual market participants as measured by the Investment Company Institute (ICI) have a different idea. As shown in the chart below, despite asset prices ringing all-time highs, net equity inflows have turned decisively negative. This was much the same case following the 2012 market rout and it wasn’t until the launch of QE3 in 2013 that investors began to once again chase the markets.

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Trudeau needs to act, and very fast, or he’ll be staring a monster in the face.

Canada New Home Prices Grow At Fastest Pace In Nearly 9 Years (R.)

Canadian new home prices in May grew at their fastest pace in almost nine years, soaring 0.7% from April on strength in the booming markets of Toronto and Vancouver, Statistics Canada said on Thursday. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted a 0.2% advance. May’s increase was the largest since the 1.0% jump recorded in July 2007. The Liberal government is concerned about rapidly rising prices in Toronto and Vancouver and is mulling more restrictions on mortgages. The combined region of Toronto and Oshawa – which accounts for 27.92% of the entire Canadian market – posted a 1.9% gain, the highest in 27 years.

Builders cited market conditions and the price of land. Market conditions also helped drive up new home prices in Vancouver by 1.1%. Overall, housing prices increased by 2.7% from May 2015, the largest year-on-year rise since the 2.7% advance seen in September 2010. The new housing price index excludes apartments and condominiums, which the government says are a particular cause for concern and which account for one-third of new housing.

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A feature, not a bug.

UK MPs Decry ‘Failed’ Effort To Stop London Property Money Laundering (G.)

Government attempts to stop the UK property market being exploited by international money launderers are “totally inadequate” and the country has instead “laid out a welcome mat” to criminals, the House of Commons home affairs committee has said. The influential panel of MPs, chaired by the Labour backbencher Keith Vaz, said it was disgraceful that at least £100bn was being laundered through the UK every year and astonishing that just 335 out of 1.2m property transactions last year were deemed to be suspicious by law enforcement officials. That means only 0.01% of the 2.4 million buyers and sellers in the UK generated suspicious activity reports at the National Crime Agency (NCA), whose system, Vaz said, was not fit for purpose.

“The proceeds of crime legislation has failed,” Vaz said. “London is a centre for money laundering, and its standing as a global financial centre is dependent on proactively and effectively tackling money laundering. Investment in London properties is a major route which tarnishes the image of the capital. Supervision of the property market is totally inadequate.” The NCA’s system gathers suspicious activity reports from lawyers, accountants, bankers and other professionals but is overwhelmed with more than 380,000 reports per year, when it is designed to handle 20,000. [..] The MPs said it remained “far too easy for someone intent on laundering money to buy a property with their ill-gotten gains, and rent it out in a very buoyant and robust letting market and take in clean money in perpetuity”.

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As I said many times before: when growth goes, so does centralization. It seems hard to make that connection.

McKinsey Slams Globalization: “The Resentment Will Explode” (ZH)

The IMF is getting nervous, and what it appears to be most concerned about, is a collapse of the status quo. Moments ago, in a speech in Washington, IMF head Christine Lagarde said that “The greatest challenge we face today is the risk of the world turning its back on global cooperation—the cooperation which has served us all well. We know that globalization – and increased integration – over the past generation has yielded many economic benefits for many people.” The IMF is not alone: for years, consultancy giant McKinsey towed the party line as well saying in 2010 that “the core drivers of globalization are alive and well” and adding as recently as 2014 that “to be unconnected is to fall behind.”

That appears have changing, and cracks are starting to form behind the cohesive push for globalization, at least among those who benefit the most from globalization. In a stunning study released today, one which effectively refutes all its prior conclusions on the matter, McKinsey slams the establishment’s status quo thinking and admits that the economic gains of changes in the global economy have not been widely shared lately, especially in the developed world. In the report titled “Poorer Than Their Parents? Flat or Falling Incomes in Advanced Economies” it finds that prospects for income growth have deteriorated significantly since the financial crisis, and that the benefits from globalization are now over:

This overwhelmingly positive income trend has ended. A new McKinsey Global Institute report finds that between 2005 and 2014, real incomes in those same advanced economies were flat or fell for 65 to 70% of households, or more than 540 million people. And while government transfers and lower tax rates mitigated some of the impact, up to a quarter of all households still saw disposable income stall or fall in that decade.

As Bloomberg reports, Britain’s vote to exit the European Union exemplifies what happens when people feel like the system is letting them down, Richard Dobbs, the co-leader of the research, said in an interview Wednesday, ahead of the report’s release. He likened the buildup of resentment over globalization to a dangerous natural gas leak in a row of houses. “One of them will explode. I did not think that it would be the U.K. first,” said Dobbs, a senior partner of McKinsey and a member of the McKinsey Global Institute Council in London. “When we launch a new policy, let’s think about the impact on those groups” who have been left behind, Dobbs said. Sometimes the goals of fairness and efficiency can conflict, he said. “Are we prepared to damage competitiveness a bit to reduce the risk of an explosion?”

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Brandon Smith on one of my ‘hobby horses’. More good stuff in the article.

Globalism vs. “Populism” (Smith)

The globalists have used the method of false dichotomies for centuries to divide nations and peoples against each other in order to derive opportunity from chaos. That said, the above dichotomy is about as close to real as they have ever promoted. As I explained [earlier], the recent passage of the Brexit referendum in the U.K. has triggered a surge of new propaganda from establishment media outlets. The thrust of this propaganda is the notion that “populists” are behind the fight against globalization and these populists are going to foster the ruin of nations and the global economy. That is to say – globalism good, populism bad. There is a real fight between globalists and those who desire a free, decentralized and voluntary society.

They have just changed some of the labels and the language. We have yet to see how effective this strategy will be for the elites, but it is very useful for them in certain respects. The wielding of the term “populist” is about as sterilized and distant from “freedom and liberty” as you can get. It denotes not just “nationalism,” but selfish nationalism. And the association people are supposed to make in their minds is that selfish nationalism leads to destructive fascism (i.e. Nazis). Therefore, when you hear the term “populist,” the globalists hope you will think “Nazi.” Also, keep in mind that the narrative of the rise of populism coincides with grave warnings from the elites that such movements will cause global economic collapse if they continue to grow.

Of course, the elites have been fermenting an economic collapse for years. We have been experiencing many of the effects of it for some time. In a brilliant maneuver, the elites have attempted to re-label the liberty movement as “populist” (Nazis), and use liberty activists as a scapegoat for the fiscal time bomb THEY created. Will the masses buy it? I don’t know. I think that depends on how effectively we expose the strategy before the breakdown becomes too entrenched. The economic collapse itself has been handled masterfully by the elites, though. There is simply no solution that can prevent it from continuing. Even if every criminal globalist was hanging from a lamp post tomorrow and honest leadership was restored to government, the math cannot be changed and decades of struggle will be required before national economies can be made prosperous again.

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By Manuela Cadelli, President of the Magistrates’ Union of Belgium. Bit older, but interesting reasoning.

President of Belgian Magistrates: Neoliberalism Is A Form Of Fascism (DDP)

Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as in the novel by George Orwell. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernization of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernization of social security in action! Abstraction predominates in public discussion so as to occlude the implications for human beings. Thus, in relation to migrants, it is imperative that the need for hosting them does not lead to public appeals that our finances could not accommodate. Is it In the same way that other individuals qualify for assistance out of considerations of national solidarity?

Social Darwinism predominates, assigning the most stringent performance requirements to everyone and everything: to be weak is to fail. The foundations of our culture are overturned: every humanist premise is disqualified or demonetized because neoliberalism has the monopoly of rationality and realism. Margaret Thatcher said it in 1985: “There is no alternative.” Everything else is utopianism, unreason and regression. The virtue of debate and conflicting perspectives are discredited because history is ruled by necessity. This subculture harbours an existential threat of its own: shortcomings of performance condemn one to disappearance while at the same time everyone is charged with inefficiency and obliged to justify everything. Trust is broken. Evaluation reigns, and with it the bureaucracy which imposes definition and research of a plethora of targets, and indicators with which one must comply. Creativity and the critical spirit are stifled by management.

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In general, everywhere native people get an actual say, things improve.

In New Zealand, Lands and Rivers Can Be People -Legally Speaking- (NYT)

Can a stretch of land be a person in the eyes of the law? Can a body of water? In New Zealand, they can. A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon. The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features. Chris Finlayson, New Zealand’s attorney general, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. “In their worldview, ‘I am the river and the river is me,’” he said. “Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”

From 1954 to 2014, Te Urewera was an 821-square-mile national park on the North Island, but when the Te Urewera Act took effect, the government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” as the statute puts it. “The settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” said Pita Sharples, who was the minister of Maori affairs when the law was passed. It was also “undoubtedly legally revolutionary” in New Zealand “and on a world scale,” Jacinta Ruru of the University of Otago wrote in the Maori Law Review.

Personhood means, among other things, that lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself, with no need to show harm to a particular human. Next will be the Whanganui River, New Zealand’s third longest. The local Maori tribe views it as “an indivisible and living whole, comprising the river and all tributaries from the mountains to the sea — and that’s what we are giving effect to through this settlement,” Mr. Finlayson said. It is expected to clear Parliament and become law this year.

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How crazy is this? ‘Misinformation is also information’.

Obama Expected to Sign Industry-Backed GMO Label Bill Into Law (EW)

Looks like we’re finally getting GMO labels on food products—just not the kind you can actually read. President Obama is expected to throw his weight behind a controversial bill that allows businesses to use a smartphone scannable QR code instead of clear, concise wording that informs consumers if a product contains genetically modified ingredients. The bill would also nullify state-by-state GMO labeling mandates such as Vermont’s landmark law that took effect on July 1. “While there is broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe, we appreciate the bipartisan effort to address consumers’ interest in knowing more about their food, including whether it includes ingredients from genetically engineered crops,” White House spokeswoman Katie Hill told Bloomberg in an e-mail.

“We look forward to tracking its progress in the House and anticipate the president would sign it in its current form.” The House of Representatives is voting today on legislation from the Senate, which voted 63 to 30 in favor of the bill on July 7, less than a week after Vermont enacted its GMO label law. The bipartisan “compromise” bill was conceived after years of negotiations by Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and is supported by the very industry that produces and profits from such products, including the powerful Grocery Manufactures Association and world’s largest seed producer and pesticide giant Monsanto. UPDATE: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a 306-117 vote Thursday. The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk.

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Can’t stop the brilliance of the human brain.

Biodiversity Is Below Safe Levels Across More Than Half Of World’s Land (G.)

The variety of animals and plants has fallen to dangerous levels across more than half of the world’s landmass due to humanity destroying habitats to use as farmland, scientists have estimated. The unchecked loss of biodiversity is akin to playing ecological roulette and will set back efforts to bring people out of poverty in the long term, they warned. Analysing 1.8m records from 39,123 sites across Earth, the international study found that a measure of the intactness of biodiversity at sites has fallen below a safety limit across 58.1% of the world’s land. Under a proposal put forward by experts last year, a site losing more than 10% of its biodiversity is considered to have passed a precautionary threshold, beyond which the ecosystem’s ability to function could be compromised.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Prof Andy Purvis, of the Natural History Museum, and one of the authors. “Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.” Researchers said the study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, was the most comprehensive examination yet of biodiversity loss. The decline is not just bad news for the species but in the long term could spell problems for human health and economies. “If ecosystem functions don’t continue, then yes it affects the ability of agriculture to sustain human populations and we simply don’t know at which point that will be reached,” said Dr Tim Newbold, lead author of the work and a research associate at University College London. “We are entering the zone of uncertainty.”

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There’s a man and then there’s ‘a mensch’.

Gleaning: Harvesting Spain’s Unwanted Crops To Feed The Hungry (G.)

Under a blazing Catalan sun, Abdelouahid wipes the sweat from his brow in a cabbage patch full with clouds of white butterflies. “It’s really not warm today,” he says. “It’s only hot if you stop working.” Around him, unemployed workers and environmentalists squat in green bibs, black gloves and hats, plucking cabbages that would otherwise be threshed, to distribute at food banks around Barcelona. A 39-year-old Moroccan emigré with two small children, Abdelouahid began “gleaning” – harvesting farmers’ unwanted crops – with the Espigoladors (gleaners) after losing his job in the construction industry four years ago. It is Ramadan and he is fasting but still smiling as he cuts at the green jewels.

“I don’t like to spend my days at home, sending CVs to employers, waiting for their rejection letters, or going around the restaurants trying to find food,” he says. “I prefer to do something positive. A lot of people need this food. It is better to collect it than to leave it.” Europe wastes some 88m tonnes of food each year – around 173 kg per person – with costs estimated at €143bn (£113bn). Advocates of the new gleaning movements say that its collection could reduce pressure on land use, improve diets, feed the hungry and provide work for the socially excluded.

For now, most of its recovered foods go to food banks, but the Espigoladors social enterprise has launched an “Es Imperfect” (is imperfect) brand of jams, soups and sauces made from recovered produce. The line is growing so fast that the day after the cabbage picking, the project’s founder, Mireia Barba, was called to a meeting of Cotec, King Felip VI’s national development foundation. Another fruit of the gleaning project has been an “I’m imperfect too” advertising campaign which challenges conventional ideas of food and beauty, by using photos of ordinary people holding painted fruit. The idea was to change misconceptions about browned, soft or unusually shaped fruit and veg being any less tasty.

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Apr 242016
 
 April 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Shad fishing on the Potomac 1920

China’s Commodity Futures Bubble Insanity (ZH)
Where Have All Britain’s Shoppers Gone? (Observer)
Why America’s Impressive 5% Unemployment Rate Still Feels Like A Lie (Qz)
The Lemmings Of Wall Street (Stockman)
A Pro-EU ‘Study’ Straight From The Ministry Of Truth (Tel.)
ECB’s Nowotny Says Negative Rates Necessary To Avoid Deflation (Reuters)
Schaeuble Sees No Greece Debt Relief as Long as Debt Sustainable (BBG)
Why Juncker Should Worry About Panama Papers (Politico)
EU Finmins To Focus On Spending Cap To Cut Morass Of Budget Rules (R.)
UK Issues Travel Warning For Southern US States (CNBC)
US Government Is a Major Counterparty to Wall Street Derivatives (Martens)
Australian Politician Sets River On Fire (AFP)
In This Jungle, Mowgli Might Not Have Any Playmates Left (CNBC)
Visa-Free Travel A Stumbling Block For Turkey and EU (DW)
Merkel Accused Of Turning Blind Eye To Plight Of Syrian Refugees In Turkey (O.)
Tomorrow, We Have A Chance To Stop The Death Of Innocents (Observer)

It’s not just the next bubble in line: each bubble is crazier than the one before.

China’s Commodity Futures Bubble Insanity (ZH)

The credit-fueled speculative bubble in China’s commodity market, as we detailed previously, exploded this week as the mainstream slowly comes to realize that the gains in industrial metals are not a “sign of strength in China’s and the world’s economic recovery” but merely the next rotation of fast-money slooshing from Chinese equities to Chinese corporate bonds to Chinese real estate and now to Chinese commodity futures… Trading in futures on everything from steel reinforcement bars and hot-rolled coils to cotton and polyvinyl chloride has soared this week, prompting exchanges in Shanghai, Dalian and Zhengzhou to boost fees or issue warnings to investors. Deutsche Bank details the total crazinesss…

The onshore China commodity markets this week traded (conservatively) $350bn notional, a 17x increase on the $20bn notional that traded on Feb 1st 2016 i.e. a month ago (is it coincidence that the notional is about the same as at the peak of the equity frenzy?).

My calculations are pretty basic; I’ve trawled the screens and chosen 32 commodities in agri, metals and coke/coal and done a quick (contracts x value)/CNY for a dollar amount. I have not used the largest day’s volume either (e.g. Deformed Bar, RBTA has traded close to $100bn, but I used closer to $60bn). Cotton (VVA Comdty) has been trading $15bn, up from $500mm in Feb. In the US, the long established cotton contract (CT1 Comdty) trades $600mm. China listed Sugar (CBA Comdty) has traded $14bn versus the US listed sugar beet at $850mm.

This is what insanity looks like!!

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Deflation=slowing consumer spending=lower money velocity. Simple. But the only answer they can come up with is “We need some warm weather…”

Where Have All Britain’s Shoppers Gone? (Observer)

Shopping is the national pastime. High streets, malls and retail parks have long been places people went for a day out, rather than on a mission to buy a particular item, and their spending helped lift the country out of recession. But a big drop in footfall – the number of people visiting high street and retail centres – over the past year has exposed fresh cracks in the high street, leaving retail chiefs wondering where all their customers have gone. Analysts are reporting declines in the number of shopper visits to high streets and shopping centres around the country of as much as 10% in some cities over the past year. Worries about the economic outlook, coupled with the rise of internet shopping, jitters about the EU referendum and more spending on eating out and leisure leave little cash left over for splurging in the shops.

“There is a lot of nervousness around [among retailers],” says Tim Denison, retail analyst at Ipsos Retail Performance. “People have had more disposable income but retailers have not been as successful as they could have been in taking their share. Instead any spare money has gone on leisure and holidays rather than pure retail spend.” According to Ipsos’s retail traffic index, overall footfall was down 0.9% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago. But that headline masks the fact that some towns and cities are faring much worse than the national picture would suggest. The Ipsos data singles out Newcastle upon Tyne as the worst performer, with shopper numbers down a hefty 9.95% over the past year, closely followed by Stoke-on-Trent, down 8.1%. Other pockets of particular weakness were Chelmsford, Lincoln and Cambridge.

By comparison Ashford in Kent, Crawley in West Sussex and Epsom in Surrey were among the best-performing retail centres – the result, according to Denison, of wealth radiating out from London. Even in those towns, however, growth is not exactly rampant. Five of the top seven best-performing shopping centres were up less than 1% year on year. A number of retail chains have already blamed poor performance on declining numbers of shoppers. Poundland has pointed directly to the fact there are fewer people on the high street as a key reason behind its slowing sales. Last week value fashion retailer Primark revealed its first drop in UK underlying sales for 12 years, although boss George Weston said it was not yet time to press the panic button, given that chilly spring weather had weighed on all sales for all fashion retailers. “We need some warm weather and then we will know if there is a real problem on the high street,” he said.

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“..the labor participation rate has fallen from a high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.6% today. That 62.2% represents a 38-year low, which puts Bloomberg’s claim of a 42-year-low in joblessness in perspective.”

Why America’s Impressive 5% Unemployment Rate Still Feels Like A Lie (Qz)

On Apr. 14, Bloomberg News announced that jobless claims in the US have reached their lowest level since 1973. “All other labor market data are telling us that the economy is creating a lot of jobs,” economist Patrick Newport told the outlet. “This is further confirmation that the labor market is strong.” That same day, thousands of fast food workers, airport workers, home care workers, and adjunct professors took to the streets across the country to protest brutal labor conditions and demand a $15 minimum wage. Most of these workers make far below $15 per hour. Some make as low as $7.25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage. Most lack benefits. Some, like adjunct professors, have contingent, temporary jobs, sometimes consisting of only one poorly paid course per year.

Many low-wage employees work two or even three jobs in an attempt to cobble together enough income to cover basic needs. According to the US Bureau of Labor, all of these workers are considered “employed.” They are viewed as part of the American economy’s success story, a big part of which is our 5% unemployment rate. As president Barack Obama boasted in February: “The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” Obama’s claims of a strong economy ring hollow for the many thousands of workers who say they cannot make enough to survive. But Obama’s claims of a strong economy ring hollow for the many thousands of workers—in professions ranging from those which require a GED to those which require a PhD—who say they cannot make enough money to survive.

And these people, at least, are working. Those who cannot find work at all tell an even grimmer story.] There are three main reasons the vaunted economic recovery still feels false to so many. The first is the labor participation rate, which plunged at the start of the Great Recession and discounts the millions of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. The second is “the 1099 economy,” a term The New Republic’s David Dayen coined to refer to the soaring number of temps, contractors, freelancers, and other often involuntarily self-employed workers. The third is a surge in low-wage service jobs, coupled with a corresponding decrease in middle-class jobs.

Employment statistics in particular have a habit of eclipsing the real story. As any worker will tell you, it is not the number of jobs that matters most, but what kind of jobs are available, what they pay, and how that pay measures against the cost of living. The 5% unemployment rate, other words, is hiding the devastating story of underemployment, wage loss, and precariousness that defines life for millions of Americans. Since 2008, the labor participation rate has fallen from a high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.6% today. That 62.2% represents a 38-year low, which puts Bloomberg’s claim of a 42-year-low in joblessness in perspective. The jobless number is “low” only because more people are no longer considered to be participating in the workforce.

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“..the visage of an old age colony being hurtled toward the edge of a debt cliff by central bankers who have taken leave of their faculties does not bring the idea of economic recovery and growth immediately to mind.”

The Lemmings Of Wall Street (Stockman)

I mistakenly took Squawk Box off mute this morning. It was just in time to hear one of the regular anchors – the one who makes Joe Kernen sound slightly insightful by comparison – forecast a pick-up in global growth on the grounds that “China is recovering”. Yes, the credit intoxicated land of the Red Ponzi just tied one on for the record books. During Q1 it generated new debt at a madcap annual rate of $4 trillion or nearly 40% of GDP. And that incendiary deposit of more unpayable debt, which came on top of the $30 trillion already smothering history’s greatest construction site and open air gambling den, did indeed goose China’s real estate prices, state company CapEx, infrastructure building and steel production. Call it fiat growth because even pyramid building adds to stated GDP, at first.

Even then, the overwhelming share of this explosion of new credit went to pay interest on the existing mountain of IOUs. Charles Ponzi could never have imagined a scam so audacious. Nor are the red suzerains of Beijing unique in the headlong dash toward the financial cliff. Except for the nicety that Japan’s 30-year and 40-year bonds are trading at a microscopic fraction this side of zero (0.3%), Kuroda and his tiny band of mad men at the BOJ have driven the entirety of Japan’s monumental public debt – which is now actually measured in the quadrillions of yen – into the netherworld of negative yield. Needless to say, the visage of an old age colony being hurtled toward the edge of a debt cliff by central bankers who have taken leave of their faculties does not bring the idea of economic recovery and growth immediately to mind.

The same can be said for the ECB’s $90 billion per month bond buying bacchanalia. Having made German bunds so scarce as to have eviscerated any semblance of yield and turned Italy’s sovereign junk into super-bluechips, the ECB will soon be slurping up the corporate bonds of any global company that can fog a BBB credit breathalyzer and plant an SPV within the borders of the EU-19. What happens when Draghi is finally stopped and the Big Fat Bid of the ECB and its fast money front-runners disappears? The hopeful CNBC anchor-lady didn’t say. And about what happens if he isn’t stopped, she didn’t say, either.

The fact is, Simple Janet has already proven the end game. Money printing central bankers can’t stop. Were they to allow financial prices to normalize and trillions of bad credit to be liquidated, the whole financial house of cards they have built around the planet would blow sky high. The “soft landing” case is a null set.

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“The sole purpose of this “sober and serious” text, there can be no doubt, was to produce one conclusion – an alarming headline “finding” which, however dubious, can be repeated again and again in the weeks to come, until it lodges in the public consciousness.”

A Pro-EU ‘Study’ Straight From The Ministry Of Truth (Tel.)

Earlier this month, the government published a leaflet strongly urging us to vote “Remain” in the European Union – and sent it to all 27m UK households. Not only did the multi-million pound cost of producing and distributing this leaflet undermine the carefully-negotiated spending rules relating to the referendum on June 23, designed to stop the campaign becoming a money-driven free-for-all. The text itself was blatant propaganda – full of statistical sleights of hand disguised as reasoned arguments, a master-class in passive aggressive manipulation. It turns out, though, this tawdry leaflet was just the start when it comes to “Remain” using taxpayer cash and “the government machine” to bolster its cause.

For last week, Chancellor George Osborne launched a thumping 200-page “Treasury study” into the long-term implications of leaving the EU, which “forecast a £4,300 fall in GDP per household” if we leave. For many millions of voters, that’s a scary number – around a quarter of today’s average disposable income. Once again, this huge Treasury document represents a clear breach of long-standing rules that Whitehall remains detached from political campaigning, rules of particular relevance during a knife-edge referendum contest. And, reading through it, one is constantly stuck by the grotesque extent to which, for all the scientific pretence, the “analysis” is deliberately skewed.

The sole purpose of this “sober and serious” text, there can be no doubt, was to produce one conclusion – an alarming headline “finding” which, however dubious, can be repeated again and again in the weeks to come, until it lodges in the public consciousness. Rather than Her Majesty’s Treasury, this document could have been produced by Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Unusually for a newspaper pundit, perhaps, I’m a trained economist. And in all my many years of studying official economic documents – budgets, comprehensive spending reviews and the like – through all that sifting and weighing of fine-print, I’ve never come across methodology and assumptions so blatantly rigged.

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Ergo: the ECB doesn’t understand what deflation is.

ECB’s Nowotny Says Negative Rates Necessary To Avoid Deflation (Reuters)

The euro zone needs negative interest rates to avoid sliding into deflation, ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said in an Austrian newspaper interview, defending the policy against widespread criticism in Germany. The ECB kept the cost of borrowing for banks at zero on Thursday and will continue to charge them 0.4% for parking money at the central bank. A slew of German politicians have complained in recent weeks that low interest rates are hurting savers. But Nowotny defended the policy. “You have to discuss negative rates in a broad context,” the head of the Austrian central bank was quoted as saying by the newspaper Der Standard on Saturday.

They are part of the central bank’s efforts to stabilize Europe’s economic situation after a severe crisis, he said. “Now it is all about preventing Europe from dropping into deflation.” He said that he would welcome it if interest rates could be raised again “the sooner the better”, but that the conditions must be right. “This will happen as soon as the economy is doing better, business activity picks up and inflation gets higher.” Countering the criticism of low interest rates, Draghi himself said on Thursday that some of it could be seen as endangering its independence, which could delay investment and hence prolong its current policies.

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Next step is demand for more austerity in Greece.

Schaeuble Sees No Greece Debt Relief as Long as Debt Sustainable (BBG)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Greece doesn’t need debt relief now and won’t require an easing of its debt burden as long as the troika of creditors determines that debt sustainability is ensured. The European Stability Mechanism, the euro region’s financial backstop, will seek to lock in the favorable refinancing costs it’s passing on to Greece for an extended period of time, Schaeuble said in Amsterdam. While not part of the Greek program, these operations – if in place – would help ease pressure on Greece, he said. “The debt sustainability analysis determines whether measures are needed” to help the cash-strapped country, Schaeuble told reporters after a two-day meeting of EU finance ministers. “It is my conviction that this is not necessary for the coming years.”

Greece’s government bonds rose for a third day on Friday after euro-area finance ministers and the IMF signaled that a deal on the nation’s next bailout installment is in sight. Schaeuble said “we have no desire” to repeat the confrontation between Greece and its creditors from last summer. The nation’s government submitted a bill to parliament on Friday evening, overhauling the Greek pension system and raising income tax for middle and high earners. The bill, which also raises taxation on gambling and dividends, is part of a €5.4 billion belt-tightening package required by creditors for the conclusion of the bailout review. The government still has to negotiate with representatives of creditor institutions a set of contingency measures equal to 2% of Greek GDP, which will only be triggered if it fails to meet its budget targets. An agreement on the bailout package and the target for Greece to reach a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP by 2018 “appear possible,” Schaeuble said.

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He has little to fear unless and until the documents are released Wikileaks style. Once that is done, Juncker is not the biggest fish.

Why Juncker Should Worry About Panama Papers (Politico)

[..] The European Council chose to forget or ignore that Juncker had long resisted attempts to improve banking transparency and improve cross-border taxation – which had given Luxembourg a particular competitive advantage over its neighbors. A lot now depends on the extent to which LuxLeaks and/or the Panama Papers erode Juncker’s defense that everything was legal and he was ignorant of any wrongdoing. If there was law-breaking, then the ex-prime minister is vulnerable to the charge that either he didn’t know what was going on and should have, or he knew what was going on and allowed it. He is vulnerable also to whispers that Luxembourg’s business and political community is so small and tightly knit that complete ignorance is implausible.

What is more difficult to guess – at this moment of shifting standards – is whether Juncker will be condemned for allowing practices in Luxembourg that though legal were morally questionable. (You do not have to be a tax lawyer to see that what Juncker calls “the logic of non-harmonization” was compounded by Luxembourg’s culture of secrecy/discretion, which meant that companies could keep secret their tax arrangements and individuals could hide their revenue.) It is entirely possible that the government leaders who put Juncker in place – and their successors – will stick to the view that bygones should be bygones and Juncker’s past policies should not affect his standing as Commission president.

But what I detect, in at least some parts of Europe, is a readiness to revisit the past and to apply the standards of the present — meaning that what was legally correct may yet be found morally unacceptable in the court of public opinion. Juncker may choose to argue that his Commission is at the vanguard of reform. But what if his past record embarrasses the likes of Margrethe Vestager, as she turns over tax rulings made by national authorities with multinational corporations? Or Jonathan Hill, as he advances his proposal for increasing the tax transparency rules applying to multinationals? Or Pierre Moscovici, arguing for measures against tax evasion and money-laundering? Is this a sinner who repents, an opportunist, or just a hypocrite?

Whether Juncker is credible will also be important in the context of the Commission’s attempt to enforce fiscal discipline in Greece (or anywhere else). How does the Commission argue for improving revenue collection while LuxLeaks and Panama Papers paint a picture of a Juncker-run Grand-Duchy promoting tax-avoidance?

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The blind moving goalposts as they ‘see’ fit.

EU Finmins To Focus On Spending Cap To Cut Morass Of Budget Rules (R.)

EU finance ministers agreed on Saturday to discuss whether they can regain some control over a morass of EU budget rules by focusing mainly on an annual spending cap as the best measure of compliance. Years of changes and additions to EU rules, called the Stability and Growth Pact, have made meeting targets extremely complex, prompting an attempt to simplify them, European Commissioner Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference after the meeting of EU finance ministers. “We did not discuss how to change the Pact, just how to choose the indicators to assess the compliance with the Pact,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.

The Dutch, who currently preside over the EU, proposed that the ministers consider using a single indicator with which to judge budgetary compliance, called the expenditure rule. It already exists in EU law as one indicator to be used to judge the fiscal performance of an EU country, but has so far been more in the background. The focus until now was on the development of the structural budget balance, a measure that strips off changes to budget revenue and expenditure stemming from the phase of the business cycle as well as all one-offs. Because the structural deficit is a complex and volatile indicator, the Dutch instead proposed putting more emphasis on the expenditure rule, which says a government cannot increase annual spending more than its medium-term potential growth rate.

“It is directly in the hands of finance ministers. It gives us more guidance in the process of designing the budget. It says in advance what you have to do, and you have the control in your hands,” Dijsselbloem said. He said that while the structural deficit, which is the key indicator mentioned in EU economic legislation, was a valuable theoretical concept, it could not be directly controlled by finance ministers. “There was general agreement that we need an indicator that takes out all the cyclical elements and one-offs but preferably it should be more stable and not change all the time, and we could put more emphasis on indicators that we can actually directly influence as finance ministers,” he said.

Dijsselbloem said EU deputy finance ministers would further work on what measurement to use to better assess compliance and the ministers would return to the discussion in the third quarter of 2016. The aim of the EU budget rules, created in 1997, is to keep nominal budget deficits below 3% of gross domestic product and public debt below 60%. But as the rules were revised in 2005, 2011 and 2013 to take account of economic and political realities and to incorporate intergovernmental treaties, they became more and more complex. “The sheer number of indicators in the current framework poses a massive challenge for the national implementation of the fiscal framework,” the Dutch presidency said in a paper prepared for the ministers’ meeting. “It contains targets, upper limits and benchmarks for the nominal balance, structural balance, expenditure growth and debt development,” the paper said.

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While Obama was talking up the special relationship.

UK Issues Travel Warning For Southern US States (CNBC)

The U.K. government has updated foreign travel advice, warning British citizens about risks visiting America’s Southern states. Specifically the new advice draws attention to potential difficulties for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. “The U.S. is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” the U.K. Foreign Office website says. “LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi,” it said. North Carolina and Mississippi have introduced laws that negatively affect people in the LGBT community. The North Carolina “bathroom” law is a statewide policy banning individuals from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their sex as stated on their birth certificate.

Celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Pearl Jam have canceled concerts there in protest. And tech giant PayPal has canceled a large-scale investment plan after the legislation was rubber stamped. In Mississippi a “religious liberties” law will take effect in July. That legislation again blocks cities from allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as. It also aims to protect dozens of forms of businesses and services from being prosecuted if they refuse to serve LGBT people. A similar transgender “bathroom bill” in the Tennessee state failed Monday after it was withdrawn by its sponsor.

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By design.

US Government Is a Major Counterparty to Wall Street Derivatives (Martens)

According to a study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in March of last year, U.S. taxpayers have already injected $187.5 billion into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies that prior to the 2008 financial crash traded on the New York Stock Exchange, had shareholders and their own Board of Directors while also receiving an implicit taxpayer guarantee on their debt. The U.S. government put the pair into conservatorship on September 6, 2008. The public has been led to believe that the $187.5 billion bailout of the pair was the full extent of the taxpayers’ tab. But in an astonishing acknowledgement on February 25 of this year, the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, issued an audit report of the U.S. government’s finances, revealing that the government’s “remaining contractual commitment to the GSEs, if needed, is $258.1 billion.”

This suggests that somehow, without the American public’s awareness, the U.S. government is on the hook to two failed companies for $445.6 billion dollars. And that may be just the tip of the iceberg of this story. The official narrative around the bailout of Fannie and Freddie is that they were loaded up with toxic subprime debt piled high by the Wall Street banks that sold them dodgy mortgages. While that is factually true, the other potentially more important part of this story is the counterparty exposure the Wall Street banks had to Fannie and Freddie’s derivatives if the firms had been allowed to fail.

The New York Fed’s staff report of March 2015 concedes the following: “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac held large positions in interest rate derivatives for hedging. A disorderly failure of these firms would have caused serious disruptions for their derivative counterparties.” Exactly how big was this derivatives exposure and which Wall Street banks were being protected by the government takeover of these public-private partnerships that had spiraled out of control into gambling casinos? According to Fannie and Freddie’s regulator of 2003, OFHEO, “The notional amount of the combined financial derivatives outstanding of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increased from $72 billion at the end of 1993, the first year for which comparable data were reported, to $1.6 trillion at year-end 2001.”

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“Unbelievable. A river on fire. Don’t let it burn the boat..”

Australian Politician Sets River On Fire (AFP)

An Australian politician has set fire to a river to draw attention to methane gas he says is seeping into the water due to fracking, with the dramatic video attracting more than two millions views. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham used a kitchen lighter to ignite bubbles of methane in the Condamine River in Queensland, about 220 kilometres (140 miles) west of Brisbane. The video shows him jumping back in surprise, using an expletive as flames shoot up around the dinghy. “Unbelievable. A river on fire. Don’t let it burn the boat,” Buckingham, from New South Wales, said in the footage posted on Facebook on Friday evening, which has been viewed more than two million times. “Unbelievable, the most incredible thing I’ve seen. A tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin (river system),” he said, blaming it on nearby coal-seam gas mining, or fracking.

Australia is a major gas exporter, but the controversial fracking industry has faced a public backlash in some parts of the country over fears about the environmental impact. Farmers and other landowners are concerned that fracking, an extraction method under which high-pressure water and chemicals are used to split rockbeds, could contaminate groundwater sources. The Murray-Darling Basin is a river network sprawling for one million square kilometres (400,000 square miles) across five Australian states. But the industry has said the practice is safe and that coal seam gas mining is a vital part of the energy mix as the world looks for cleaner fuel sources.

Origin Energy, which operates wells in the region, said it was monitoring the bubbling. “We’re aware of concerns regarding bubbling of the Condamine River, in particular, recent videos demonstrating that this naturally occurring gas is flammable when ignited,” the company said in a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We understand that this can be worrying, however, the seeps pose no risk to the environment, or to public safety, providing people show common sense and act responsibly around them.” The Australian energy firm said the methane seeps could be due to several factors, including natural geology and faults, drought and flood cycles, as well as human activity including water bores and coal seam gas operations.

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The planet’s future is its past: cockroaches and jellyfish. “We’re gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life..” Eh, gradually?!

In This Jungle, Mowgli Might Not Have Any Playmates Left (CNBC)

In Disney’s live-action remake of “The Jungle Book,” young human Mowgli is still palling around with bears and panthers. In reality, however, the world has changed since Rudyard Kipling’s tales first hit shelves more than a century ago. Speaking figuratively, biodiversity’s bag of Skittles has not only gotten smaller, it now has fewer flavors. Just how different are things? One expert puts it this way: If Mowgli were around today, he would most likely be raised by cows, goats and chickens instead of wolves and panthers and orangutans. If he were really unfortunate, his compatriots could be even worse. “Maybe even rats and cockroaches, if things go badly,” said Charles Barber, former forest chief at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, in an interview with CNBC.

The problem, according to some scientific experts, is that humans have changed the world so dramatically that it has also altered the diversity of life on Earth. “Most of these changes represent a loss of biodiversity,” analysts wrote in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, a report that chronicled the effects of human activity on nature produced by the United Nations and the World Resources Institute, where Barber now works. Among the Millennium Assessment’s findings were that humans have “changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period in human history,” due to food, fresh water and fuel needs. The spillover from those changes has contributed to big gains in humanity’s development, but “have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services,” researchers wrote at the time.

This means that “plants and animals are now sharing the planet with a whole lot of people,” Barber said, adding that “we’re dealing with a fantastically different world.” One measure of biodiversity loss is just how fast certain species are now disappearing. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity state that an “extinction crisis” is underway that is wiping out plants and animals at a breathtaking pace. The last few hundred years have borne witness to mass extinctions that occur much quicker than the so-called natural “background rate” of one to five species per year. The CBD estimates that “literally dozens” of species are dying every day, which could see 30-50% of endangered populations being wiped out by midcentury.

Today, scientists say nearly a quarter of all mammals and coniferous trees are threatened with extinction. [..] A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found that between 1970 (the year Earth Day was born) and 2010, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish fell by more than 50%. “We’re gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life,” said WWF CEO Carter Roberts, at the time the report was published.

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If Brussels tries to push this through, it’ll mean the end of the EU. If it doesn’t, it’ll mean the refugee flow will start all over again and at the very least Schengen dies. Can’t win.

Visa-Free Travel A Stumbling Block For Turkey and EU (DW)

The refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey is stalled on the complexities of visa liberalization. EU officials say they won’t sacrifice their principles, but will they follow through? Turkish and EU leaders appear optimistic: 78 million Turkish citizens will gain long-coveted visa-free travel to the Schengen zone by June. After all, they have to in order to prevent a controversial deal on deportations from crumbling. Ankara has threatened to withdraw from the EU-Turkey migrant deal if visa liberalization is not in place by the end of June, putting in jeopardy a plan on which the European Union has pinned all of its hopes for slowing the arrival of people fleeing conflict and poverty.

Under the deal, reached in March, Turkey agreed to take back irregular migrants and refugees who crossed the Aegean to Greece in exchange for the European Union’s taking in Syrian refugees directly, as well as financial aid, visa liberalization and the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership talks. While several parts of the migration deal have come under criticism, Turkey’s long-running struggle to gain unfettered access to the European Union for its citizens raises its own questions and remains a major sticking point. The EU executive, the European Commission, will present its third visa-liberalization progress report on May 4, and, if Turkey fulfills all 72 criteria to bring the country into compliance with EU and international law, a legislative proposal will be put forward to transfer the country to the visa-free list.

Less than two weeks before May 4, the European Commission said this week that Turkey was making progress but had only met 35 of 72 criteria for visa-free travel. On Thursday, however, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that he believed all benchmarks would be met. In a troubling sign, Turkey and the EU appear unable to even agree on what criteria have been met so far, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying this week that his government had brought the number down to the “single digits.” He has vowed to push the remaining criteria through parliament. According to Angeliki Dimitriadi, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, a major issue is what the EU means by “implementing.”

“It’s unclear how we measure benchmarks,” Dimitriadi told DW. “Are we looking at the benchmark as laws being passed or looking for actual implementation of all 72 criteria? Questions remain whether they have fulfilled this on paper or in reality.” Noting that the technical aspects of meeting EU criteria -implementing biometric passports, for example – take time, Dimitriadi said it would be nearly impossible to meet the June deadline. “I would be extremely surprised if they succeeded, and it has nothing to do with Turkey,” she said. “Any country would have a problem.”

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“..only a third of the children go to school – partly because of a lack of capacity, and partly because they are put to work by their parents.”

Merkel Accused Of Turning Blind Eye To Plight Of Syrian Refugees In Turkey (O.)

Merkel and her European colleagues have been accused of pandering too much to Turkey, amid calls for stronger international criticism of its crackdown on the political opposition. On Saturday Can Dundar, one of two prominent Turkish journalists on trial for reporting that Turkey was supplying arms to Syrian rebels, said Merkel was betraying the principles of democracy and free speech. “When you arrive, we’ll be on trial – alongside several academics who signed a petition calling for peace,” Dundar wrote in Der Spiegel, the German weekly magazine. “Will you again leave, behaving as if none of this pressure exists? Or will you lend an ear to us, and those who stand with us, in support of free expression?”

There are also concerns that Merkel is undermining free speech in Germany, after she acceded to a request from Ankara to prosecute a German comedian who made fun of President Erdogan. By going ahead with the EU-Turkey deal, Merkel was also accused of turning a blind eye to the predicament of Syrians in Turkey; many are due to be deported back there on the basis that Turkey guarantees their rights. But, despite recent legislative changes, only a tiny minority of Syrians have the right to work in Turkey. The majority work in the black market and live in urban poverty, far from camps like the one Merkel visited – which house just 10% of Turkey’s 2.7 million Syrians. And some have been deported back to Syria, according to research by Amnesty International.

In the areas surrounding the camp, Syrians praised Merkel for her wider support for refugees in 2015 – but reminded her of the predicament of the majority who did not have homes provided for them by the Turkish state. “It’s true the camp in Nizip is very nice,” said Abu Shihab, Syrian manager of a sweatshop in Gaziantep that employs Syrian children. “But what about those who live outside the camps?” While Merkel’s visit to a child-protection centre highlighted her intention to help Syrian children, solving the humanitarian crisis requires a more concerted effort. In Gaziantep, surveys of refugees by the Syria Relief Network, a coalition of NGOs, suggest only a third of the children go to school – partly because of a lack of capacity, and partly because they are put to work by their parents.

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We’re dead set to do much worse tomorrow than we did yesterday. So much for progress.

Tomorrow, We Have A Chance To Stop The Death Of Innocents (Observer)

Rabbi Harry Jacobi was one of 10,000 Jewish children saved from Nazi-controlled territory on the eve of the Second World War by those who recognised their plight and the necessity to act. Born in Berlin, his family sent him to Amsterdam, as his uncle had agreed to sponsor him. It was assumed that he would be safe in the neutral Netherlands and he joined other children in the orphanage. In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and began their rapid march on the capital. On 15 May, a Dutch woman, Truus Wijsmuller, the head of the refugee committee, went straight to the orphanage, rounded up the children and had them bussed directly to the nearest port. There, on the docks, she nagged and cajoled and twisted arms until the captain of a cargo ship, De Bodegraven, finally agreed to take the children and set sail for Britain and safety.

No permission was sought or given; Wijsmuller and the ship’s captain simply ignored the red tape. The children were in danger and something had to be done. Ten minutes after they sailed, the radio announced that the Netherlands had capitulated. They survived the journey, although the boat was strafed by Nazi fighter planes, and at last arrived in Falmouth. There, they were held on the boat for three days while the authorities weighed up whether to let them in or not; three days of anxious uncertainty aboard a boat that the Nazis has reported sunk. Thankfully, permission was given to dock in Liverpool and Harry became one of the very lucky 10,000 children who avoided near-certain death, were welcomed to Britain and offered a secure future.

Ten thousand children. Hauntingly, just the same figure has surfaced recently in the discussions around tomorrow’s Commons debate on amendments to the immigration bill that calls on the UK to take a lead in protecting unaccompanied minors in Europe. Seventy-six years after Harry Jacobi’s rescue, the figure of 10,000 is the number of children that Europol has identified as having disappeared on our continent in the process of fleeing from danger and suffering elsewhere. Ten thousand children who will have disappeared into trafficking networks across Europe, forced into drug abuse, child labour, sexual exploitation. Independent medical assessments have found that nearly half of all unaccompanied minors carry a sexually transmitted disease, testament to the terrible dangers they face along the way to Europe.

Some will have died. In the past three months, two minors have died trying to reach their family members in the UK from Calais. These 10,000 are a small percentage of the 95,000 migrant children estimated to be alone in Europe. And the “Dubs amendment” to be debated tomorrow, named for Alf (Lord) Dubs, who has sponsored it and is himself a survivor of the Kindertransport, calls for the resettlement of only 3,000 in the UK. A tiny proportion of those at risk, but it’s a start in securing safe and legal routes out of danger. Anything is better than the appallingly unsafe and illegal routes currently creating such havoc.

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