Nov 082018
 
 November 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Juan-Les-Pins 1920

 

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)
Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?
Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)
The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)
Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)
China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)
EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)
Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)
The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)
EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

 

 

I could use any report about what happened yesterday, I’ll stick with Tyler Durden. Because everything I read from major news outlets is about freedom of the press being violated by Trump and his staff. I saw the press conference, and that was not my impression. After Jim Acosta has asked multiple questions, in antagonistic fashion, Trump said it was enough. Then Acosta tried to turn it into the Jim Acosta show.

Access to a president’s press-ops does not mean permission to be obnoxious, nor does it mean a journalist gets to set the rules, which the president would then have to abide by. You’ve had multiple questions, there are dozens of other reporters, that’s it for you. Refusing to hand over the mic at that point means denying your peers their own freedom of the press. Also of course, there’s history here: Acosta and CNN have been hounding Trump for over 2 years now. Not objectively, not impartial, but with an agenda. And now they get to play the victims again.

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)

Following the disturbing behavior in this morning’s White House press conference, when a journalist from CNN refused to hand his mic back to a White House aide… White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders announced that CNN’s Jim Acosta has had his media credentials pulled: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern… This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history. ”

Sanders continued: “Contrary to CNN’s assertions there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today. Only they would attack the President for not supporting a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of 1.5 hours including several from the reporter in question. The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it‘s an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this Administration. As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”

While some have questioned whether he “acosta’d her”, the CNN reporter has just confirmed it via tweet… “I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit” Shortly after the press briefing debacle, Rawstory reports that CNN President Jeff Zucker attempted to rally the network’s reporters… “I want you to know that we have your backs,” Zucker said a memo to employees that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “That this organization believes fiercely in the protections granted to us by the First Amendment, and we will defend them, and you, vigorously, every time.” Although not even CNN probably expected this level of escalation. Which is why we wonder, how long before a) the rest of the press corps boycotts the White House briefings, and b) the hashtag #BringBackAcosta starts trending?

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Funny, I was doing a podcast with Jim Kunstler yesterday, and as soon as we finished there were the Acosta and Sessions events (would have been prominent material in our conversation). The Sessions firing was obvious well before the midterms. Whatever you think of it, Sessions left Trump in a hole when he first accepted the AG job and recused himself in the Mueller files right after. A dependable AG is crucial for any president, and even more for Trump, who’s been under investigation(s) from day one. There’s an assumption that Mueller will now be fired, but everyone understands that can only be done with solid reasoning. That the Mueller investigation should be wrapped up is clear to everyone except those who like it hanging over Trump’s head.

Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller could use a legal concept known as “constructive discharge” to challenge the appointment of Matt Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, by arguing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out as opposed to voluntarily leaving, reports Bloomberg, citing a former federal prosecutor. “Mueller could argue in court that Trump effectively fired Sessions after months of verbal abuse, a legal concept known as a constructive discharge, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Trump can appoint an acting official without Senate confirmation if he replaces someone who has been incapacitated or resigned. It doesn’t apply if the previous official was fired.”-Bloomberg

Whitaker was appointed to run the DOJ after Sessions submitted his resignation Wednesday at Trump’s request. While Sessions had recused himself from the Trump-Russia probe, Whitaker will now control oversight of the investigation – a duty which has fallen on the shoulders of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – despite the fact that he himself was involved in the FISA warrant process to spy on the Trump campaign. Sessions’ resignation letter begins with “At your request,” making it unambiguous that Trump fired him. “The question is whether he was constructively fired, which means he didn’t resign from his post,” Mariotti said. “I don’t know the answer as to how the courts would view that.”

Challenging Whitaker’s appointment “could be Mueller himself,” said Mariotti, adding “That would be one obvious person.” “Legal experts agree it would be difficult to remove Whitaker from a post he can hold for seven months under the law. He can’t be appointed permanently, and Trump said he would appoint someone at a later date.” -Bloomberg “It’s not clear whether a firing would allow Trump to appoint him as an interim,” said former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, who teaches law at the University of Michigan. If Sessions voluntarily resigned, “it’s permissible for Trump to make this interim appointment.”

“I don’t see any reason why Whitaker would not be the one to supervise the Mueller investigation and take it out of the hands of Rod Rosenstein,” she added. Rosenstein appeared at the White House on Wednesday for a previously unscheduled appointment. Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes that special counsels can be removed under the law for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause.” Whitaker is on record saying that if Mueller investigates the Trump family finances beyond anything to do with Russia, “that goes beyond the scope of the special counsel.”

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“..allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.”

Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)

A group of large institutional investors including BlackRock and Allianz’s Pacific Investment Management Co has sued 16 major banks, accusing them of rigging prices in the roughly $5.1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by plaintiffs that decided to “opt out” of similar nationwide litigation that has resulted in $2.31 billion (£1.76 billion) of settlements with 15 of the banks. Those settlements followed worldwide regulatory probes that have led to more than $10 billion of fines for several banks, and the convictions or indictments of some traders. The banks being sued are: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Japan’s MUFG Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale, Standard Chartered and UBS.

Investors typically opt out of litigation when they hope to recover more by suing on their own. The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit accused the banks of violating U.S. antitrust law by conspiring from 2003 to 2013 to rig currency benchmarks including the WM/Reuters Closing Rates for their own benefit by sharing confidential orders and trading positions. This manipulation was allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.” “By colluding to manipulate FX prices, benchmarks, and bid/ask spreads, defendants restrained trade, decreased competition, and artificially increased prices, thereby injuring plaintiffs,” the 221-page complaint said.

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What can be done with gold.

The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)

The Fed could actually cause inflation in about 15 minutes if it used it. How? The Fed can call a board meeting, vote on a new policy, walk outside and announce to the world that effective immediately, the price of gold is $5,000 per ounce. They could make that new price stick by using the Treasury’s gold in Fort Knox and the major U.S. bank gold dealers to conduct “open market operations” in gold. They will be a buyer if the price hits $4,950 per ounce or less and a seller if the price hits $5,050 per ounce or higher. They will print money when they buy and reduce the money supply when they sell via the banks. The Fed would target the gold price rather than interest rates.

The point is to cause a generalized increase in the price level. A rise in the price of gold from today’s roughly $1,230 per ounce to $5,000 per ounce is a massive devaluation of the dollar when measured in the quantity of gold that one dollar can buy. There it is — massive inflation in 15 minutes: the time it takes to vote on the new policy.

Don’t think this is possible? It’s happened in the U.S. twice in the past 80 years. The first time was in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered an increase in the gold price from $20.67 per ounce to $35.00 per ounce, nearly a 75% rise in the dollar price of gold. He did this to break the deflation of the Great Depression, and it worked. The economy grew strongly from 1934-36. The second time was in the 1970s when Nixon ended the conversion of dollars into gold by U.S. trading partners. Nixon did not want inflation, but he got it. Gold went from $35 per ounce to $800 per ounce in less than nine years, a 2,200% increase. U.S. dollar inflation was over 50% from 1977-1981. The value of the dollar was cut in half in those five years.

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Abenomics keeps on giving…

Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)

Japan’s core machinery orders tumbled by the most on record in September after a severe earthquake and typhoons disrupted business activity, with economists now also worried about a fall in overseas orders. The 18.3 percent slump in machinery orders far outpaced the median market estimate for a 10.0 percent decline and follows a 6.8 percent increase in August. September’s 12.5 percent decline in overseas machinery orders, the biggest such fall in more than two years, could signal sustained weakness in export demand. Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and the machinery orders slump suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum.

Manufacturers surveyed by the government expect core machinery orders to rise 3.6 percent in October-December after a 0.9 percent increase in July-September, but some economists worry this forecast is overly optimistic. “I was already expecting capital expenditure to be weak in July-September, but the fall in overseas orders makes me worried about demand from China,” said Hiroaki Muto, economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. “Japan’s economy will resume expansion from the fourth quarter, but I’m worried the pace of growth will wane.”

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Watch the rest of the year.

China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)

China reported much stronger-than-expected exports for October as shippers rushed goods to the United States, its biggest trading partner, racing to beat higher tariff rates due to kick in at the start of next year. Import growth also defied forecasts for a slowdown, suggesting Beijing’s growth-boosting measures to support the cooling economy may be slowly starting to make themselves felt. The upbeat trade readings from China offer good news for both those worried about global demand and for the country’s policymakers after the economy logged its weakest growth since the global financial crisis in the third quarter. October was the first full month after the latest U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect on Sept. 24, in a significant escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle.

But analysts continue to warn of the risk of a sharp drop in U.S. demand for Chinese goods early in 2019, with all eyes now on whether presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping can make any breakthroughs on trade when they meet later this month. China’s exports rose 15.6 percent last month from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, picking up from September’s 14.5 percent and beating analysts’ forecasts for a modest slowdown to 11 percent. “The strong export growth in October was buoyed by front-loading activities by exporters…,” said Iris Pang, Greater China Economist at ING in Hong Kong, noting the month is traditionally quieter due to long holidays. “We expect exports to remain strong towards the end of the year as businesses are afraid of a failure in the Trump-Xi meeting, which could lead to broader tariffs on more Chinese goods from the U.S.” Pang said.

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The edge of monoply.

EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)

EU regulators are close to wrapping up their third case against Alphabet unit Google involving its AdSense advertising service, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday, suggesting the company may soon be hit with another hefty fine. The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager come four months after she levied a record 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) fine against Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. That followed a 2.4 billion euro fine imposed on the company last year after it thwarted rivals of shopping comparison websites. The European Commission in 2016 opened a third case when it accused Google of preventing third parties using its AdSense product from displaying search advertisements from Google’s competitors. Vestager can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.

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Europe’s finances in all Italian hands.

Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)

Italian Andrea Enria was picked on Wednesday to head the European Central Bank’s supervisory arm, overseeing a bloated, 21 trillion euro banking sector still troubled by a legacy of bad debt from the euro zone’s financial crisis. Defeating Ireland’s Sharon Donnery in a hotly-contested run-off, Enria will now head the Single Supervisory Mechanism, covering the euro zone’s 118 top lenders, with many still reeling from the last recession and facing new challenges from hacking to fintech. The ECB’s Governing Council selected Enria in a secret ballot, and his appointment must now be approved by the full European Parliament and relevant ministers.

Enria, who has chaired the London-based European Banking Authority since 2011, has played a major role in shaping the European Union’s new financial rulebook in the aftermath of the crisis. A former supervisor at the Bank of Italy and the ECB, he is viewed as politically neutral and ruffled some feathers at home for what was seen as an overly tough stance on unpaid bank loans and credit to small companies. “If approved by the Parliament and confirmed by the Council of the European Union, Mr Enria will succeed Danièle Nouy as Chair of the Supervisory Board on 1 January 2019,” the ECB said in a statement.

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Long read. The origins are curious. And extremely misguided. How can you deny that opium is addictive after seeing Britain’s opium trade laying siege to large swaths of China?

“One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic…”

The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)

Jane Ballantyne was, at one time, a true believer. The British-born doctor, who trained as an anaesthetist on the NHS before her appointment to head the pain department at Harvard and its associated hospital, drank up the promise of opioid painkillers – drugs such as morphine and methadone – in the late 1990s. Ballantyne listened to the evangelists among her colleagues who painted the drugs as magic bullets against the scourge of chronic pain blighting millions of American lives. Doctors such as Russell Portenoy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York saw how effective morphine was in easing the pain of dying cancer patients thanks to the hospice movement that came out of the UK in the 1970s.

Why, the new thinking went, could the same opioids not be made to work for people grappling with the physical and mental toll of debilitating pain from arthritis, wrecked knees and bodies worn out by physically demanding jobs? As Portenoy saw it, opiates were effective painkillers through most of recorded history and it was only outdated fears about addiction that prevented the drugs still playing that role. Opioids were languishing from the legacy of an earlier epidemic that prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint the US’s first opium commissioner, Dr Hamilton Wright, in 1908. Portenoy wanted to liberate them from this taint. Wright described Americans as “the greatest drug fiends in the world”, and opium and morphine as a “national curse”. After that the medical profession treated opioid pain relief with what Portenoy and his colleagues regarded as unwarranted fear, stigmatising a valuable medicine.

These new evangelists painted a picture of a nation awash in chronic pain that could be relieved if only the medical profession would overcome its prejudices. They constructed a web of claims they said were rooted in science to back their case, including an assertion that the risk of addiction from narcotic painkillers was “less than 1%” and that dosages could be increased without limit until the pain was overcome. But the evidence was, at best, thin and in time would not stand up to detailed scrutiny. One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic. He said that what looked to prescribing doctors like a patient hooked on the drug was “pseudo-addiction”.

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Guess where most of the world’s ivory is traded? It’s very clear what Europeans want, but Brussels again simply slips them the finger.

EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

Politicians and campaigners have expressed dismay that the European Union (EU) appears to be holding back on further restrictions on the continent’s ivory trade, despite enormous global pressure. Europe is the largest domestic market for ivory products in the world and research has demonstrated that illegally poached ivory often makes its way into the legal market. In 2017, the European Commission banned the export of raw ivory, but many still think the only way to make a dent in demand for products made of the material is to ban the domestic trade entirely. China, the US and the UK have already moved to halt such trade in an effort to make elephants a less lucrative target for poachers and to stamp out the corruption and organised crime the trade supports.

Despite the backing of African leaders and scores of European politicians, a new report outlining efforts to curb wildlife trafficking in Europe has removed a pledge to further restrict the trade. [..] Besides the consultation respondents calling for tougher rules, 32 African nations have joined together in calling for an EU-wide ban, including a complete shutdown of the domestic market. Further support has come from over 100 MEPs who wrote to the environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in July urging a total ban. Responding to the discrepancy between different versions of the report, chair of interest group MEPs for Wildlife, Catherine Bearder said: “The EU is a major transit point for illegal wildlife products being shipped to the Far East and other global destinations. Elephants are being pushed to the brink of extinction and for what? For useless trinkets the world doesn’t need.”

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Mar 142018
 
 March 14, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass 1888

 

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)
Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)
What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)
New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)
Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)
False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)
Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)
The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)
More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

 

 

Bit of a hyperbole headline perhaps (how would you know), but certainly unequalled in our times. I think Hawking greatest achievement was that once people had accepted his ‘initial’ groundbreaking theories on black holes (nothing can escape, event horizons etc.), he turned around and said they were not true: matter does escape from them after all: Hawking radiation.

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)

He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.” Professor Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”. Professor Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.

Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation.” “My goal is simple,” Professor Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

With Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.” Professor Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

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Not a general view.

Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)

[..] the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire. That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious “indispensable nation” conceit—even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.

Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the “enemies” it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history. We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show. So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak.

The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called “experts”.To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to “de-nuclearizing” Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time. That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the “Hermit Kingdom” restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.

[..] since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to. That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the Cold War ended when they pursued “sunshine policy” rapprochement with the North. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.

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The choice for Tillerson was never a good one. But with adding Pompeo, Haspel and next up John Bolton, Trump’s own picks are a bigger threat to him than Robert Mueller ever could be.

What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)

The firing of Secretary of State Tillerson, the movement of CIA Director Pompeo to Secretary of State, and the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand, indicate that the military/security complex has closed its grip on the Trump regime. There will be no more talk of normalizing relations with Russia. The combination of the Israel Lobby, the neoconservatives, and the military/security complex have proven to be too powerful for peace to be established between the two nuclear powers. If you look at Trump’s administration, the above three forces are those in charge. Israel remains determined to use the US military to destabilize Syria and Iran in order to isolate Hezbollah and cut off the milita’s support and supplies.

The neoconservatives both support Israel’s interest and their own desire for Washington’s hegemony over the world. The military/security complex intends to hold on to the “Russia threat” as a justification of its budget and power. The presstitutes are in complete harmony with the scheme. Although Russiagate has been proven to be false charges orchestrated by the DNC, FBI, and CIA, the presstitutes continue to repeat the charges as if evidence exists that proves the charges to be true. The “stolen election” is fiction turned into fact. And now we have a new charge, that Putin ordered a former British spy in England to be eliminated while sitting on a park bench with the use of a highly unlikely form of military poison.

The charge is preposterous, but that is not preventing the fiction from becoming fact. Having served in Washington for a quarter century and having known members of the British government, I do not believe that any of them believe the Russiagate and Skripal poisoning stories. What is happening is that an agenda has taken precedence over truth. This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons easily give Russia military superiority over the US. As China and Iran see the situation similarly to the Russians, the US is greatly out-classed.

Yet, Washington and its vassals persist in making violent and false charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and on occasion China. Russia, Iran, and China know that these charges are false. Confronting an endless string of false and hostile charges, they prepare for war. The world is being driven to war, which would be nuclear, by a tiny minority: Israeli Zionists, neoconservatives, and the US military/security complex. We are witnessing the most reckless and irresponsible behavior in world history. Where are the voices against it?

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She should be held in one of those sites.

New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)

As CIA director Mike Pompeo moves to become the United States’ secretary of state, deputy director Gina Haspel has been nominated to lead the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to run the CIA. Haspel’s nomination will be controversial; she played a leading role (paywall) in running a US torture site abroad and later destroyed the evidence of it. In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil. One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head.

He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information. ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation. CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.

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You can’t pull this stuff without proof. But note how she gets support from all over, countries, media. Like the US does when it invades yet another nation.

Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)

Theresa May is drawing up plans for an “economic war” with Vladimir Putin and his allies after Moscow refused to explain how a deadly Russian nerve agent came to be used in a rural British city. The Independent understands the ground is already being prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals. Ms May is also understood to be considering expelling diplomats and pushing for joint international action with allies. The Prime Minister is set to meet her National Security Council on Wednesday to finalise her approach which is then likely be announced to the House of Commons in the afternoon.

Action came a step closer after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. But Britain’s allies gave early support to Ms May’s push, with Angela Merkel calling for unified action and Donald Trump saying there must be “consequences” for those responsible. [..] A Government minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures. “Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this. “That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to be economic, political and diplomatic.”

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“.. the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down..”

False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)

An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.

Is there anything new and different behind this latest provocation? Not really; it seems like a replay of the Litvinenko assassination back in November 2006. The choice of an exotic poison (Polonium 210), the lack of evidence (the British claimed that compelling circumstantial evidence exists but haven’t provided any), and the instantaneous leap to “blame Russia” are all the same. The Russians offered to prosecute whoever is responsible if only the British would provide them with the evidence, but the British have failed to do so.

Giving the British story the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what would compel Russia’s secret services to go after Skripal. In Russia, he was convicted and sentenced for treason, then pardoned and released to the British in a prisoner exchange that included ten Russian spies who had worked in the US, including the rather memorable Anna Chapman. It is a very important rule of the spy business that those released in a spy swap are never acted against; if this rule were violated, the resulting bad faith would make spy swaps impossible to negotiate.

[..] My simple and consistent explanation, expressed in a single sentence, is as follows: Under direction from their colleagues in the US, and closely following a script previously worked out in the Litvinenko case over a decade ago, the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down in order to obtain an excuse to compromise the World Cup games in Russia this summer and also to create a scandal immediately before the Russian presidential election.

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Too close to politics.

Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won’t be allowed to serve ads through any of Google’s ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott said. Google’s hard-line approach follows a similar ban that Facebook announced earlier this year. While the crypto-currency boom has produced a lot of excitement and wealth, it’s still a largely unregulated space and has spawned countless high-profile scams.

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Virginia Fidler has it right, except for this: “The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem”. Thing is, it makes no difference if they’re aware or not. I’ve said it before: the demise of retirement systems is the no. 1 reason for UBI.

The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)

42% of Americans are facing their golden years with less than $10,000 in savings. A lack of savings and planning has reduced what should be an enjoyable time in seniors’ lives to a period of stress and worries for many. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care is spiraling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans 65 years of age and older may spend up to $46,000 annually on healthcare. This is not good news for those with only $10,000 on which to fall back on. For adults over 50, this should be a call to act now, while there is still time. Only one-third of adults in that age group have savings greater than $10,000. Retirement planning needs to become a priority, as there is little time to waste.

Pensions are becoming rarer, and Social Security is becoming less secure than it used to be. Many health needs of seniors are not covered by Medicare. Some experts believe the Social Security system will be depleted by 2030. Adults over the age of 50 need to consider making contributions into 401(k) accounts or similar retirement plans. Social Security was never intended to be the sole income of retiring seniors. It was meant to supplement approximately only 40% of post-retirement spending. Social security was supposed to enhance seniors’ lives, not support it entirely. However, according to Investopedia.com, 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security to cover 90% of their basic needs. Almost a quarter of married couples depend on Social Security to meet most of their expenses.

Some seniors struggling with poverty are able to receive supplemental income (“SPM”), such as food stamps for a bit of additional help. The need is especially high for seniors who are women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and those with ongoing health issues.6,400,000 million American seniors are living at poverty level, struggling to meet fundamental needs such as rent and food. This number is likely to increase as more boomers become eligible for Social Security and the system becomes less able to support them.

What does this mean for the Millennial generation? The current Social Security system will be unsustainable at some point. It cannot continue at the current level. It probably won’t be abolished, as that would cause chaos for seniors. However, Millennials are aware that changes are coming. They know that benefits will likely be reduced by the time they grow older. The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem. Members of the boomer generation who assumed Social Security would take care of their needs are learning a hard lesson.

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Turkey rattles the cage.

More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

According to official figures released on Tuesday more than 500 migrants reached islands of the eastern Aegean in the previous four days, following a two-week lull in arrivals. The spike in arrivals was attributed by a Greek Police official to Turkish authorities, who, he said, control the influx. “But they always make sure not to overdo it so they can claim they are honoring the joint EU-Turkey agreement,” the official said, referring to a deal signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 to curb human smuggling. The two-week drop in arrivals eased the pressure on facilities, as did the transfer of migrants to camps on the mainland. But some camps, notably on Lesvos, remain overcrowded.

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Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

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“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

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Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

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Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

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France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

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And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

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Feb 182017
 
 February 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown California State Automobile Association signage 1925

 

“That War You Ordered….” (Jim Kunstler)
US ‘Unwavering’ In NATO Support – Pence (BBC)
European Union President Rejects Trump Call For More NATO Spending (CNBC)
Four NATO Nations Would Pick Russia to Defend Them If Threatened (BBG)
Who Really Rules The United States? (FreeB)
Australia Headed For ‘Economic Armageddon’ (News.com.au)
China Is Going Broke (Jim Rickards)
Brexit Was A Revolt Against Snobs Like Tony Blair (Spec.)
Small Businesses Face Being ‘Driven Out Of London’ (Ind.)
Norway Central Bank Chief Warns Of Sharp Drop In Wealth Fund (BBG)
Only Germans Love the Euro These Days (BBG)
How Do You Say Deja Vu In Greek? (R.)
Can Tax Increases Bring Inflation To Greece? (KTG)
Greek Labor Minister Says Pensioners Can Barely Make Ends Meet (K.)

 

 

Hard to find any news articles these days that are not severely biased. So let’s go with Jim.

“That War You Ordered….” (Jim Kunstler)

The Russia paranoia frenzy is serious business because it indicates that a state-of-war exists between the permanent bureaucracy of government (a.k.a. the Deep State) and the new Trump administration. There are features of the struggle that ought to be much more disturbing than the dubious alleged monkey business about Russia hacking the election and the hoo-hah around a single intercepted phone call between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador, made to open a line-of-communication between high-ranking officials, strictly routine business in any other administration. Most disturbing are signs that the so-called intelligence community (IC) has gone rogue in collusion with forces aligned around Democratic Party functionaries up to and including former president Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with CNN, The Times, The Wash-Po, NBC News and a few other mouthpieces of the defeated establishment.

Obama and Hillary remain conspicuously sequestered from this maelstrom, but they must be working their phones like nobody’s business. (Is the IC monitoring them, too, one wonders?) Until his Queeg-on-steroids news conference late yesterday, Trump laid pretty low after General Flynn was thrown under the bus, but he must be plotting counter-moves, with Bannon and Steven Miller straining at their leashes, slavering for blood. Will some employees over at the CIA and the — what? — sixteen other IC outposts that stud the government like shipworms in a rotting hulk — be called on the carpet of the oval office, and possibly handed pink slips? How do you drain that swamp in Langley, VA? Perhaps with subpoenas? Surely Jeff Sessions over at the Department of Justice has got to be weighing action against the IC leakers. That shit is against the law.

The next disturbing element of the situation is all the war-drum beating by the same cast of characters: the IC, the Democratic Party, and major media. Why in hell are we antagonizing Russia? In the last month of Obama’s term — and for the first time in many years — NATO moved a bunch of tanks close to Russia’s border with the Baltic states. Do you really think Russia wants to reoccupy these countries for the pleasure of subsidizing them and draining the Russian treasury? In those twilight days of Obama, government officials made wild and unspecific charges about “Russian aggression,” and vague assertions about Russian plans to dominate the global scene. ajor what-the-fuck there. There’s the ugly situation in Ukraine, of course, but that was engineered by Obama’s state department.

Do you know why Russia annexed Crimea after that? It couldn’t have been for more transparently rational reasons. And what exactly is our beef with Russia in Syria? That they’re trying to prop up the Assad government because the last thing the Middle East needs is another failed state with no government whatsoever? What’s our plan for Syria, anyway? Same as Somalia, Iraq, and Libya? These stories about Russia’s intentions seem insane on their face. It’s amazing that readers of The New York Times swallow them whole. It must say something about the deterioration of the coastal gene pool. The story-mongers have a purpose though: to promote a state of permanent hostility, neo-cold-war style, to justify the grotesquely overgrown operations of the IC.

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Hollow words.

US ‘Unwavering’ In NATO Support – Pence (BBC)

The US will be “unwavering” in its support for Nato, vice-president Mike Pence told European leaders at the Munich Security Conference. In the first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, Mr Pence said the US would “stand with Europe today and every day”. But he told the gathered leaders that European countries were “failing to pay their fair share” on defence. That failure “erodes the foundation of our alliance”, he said. Apart from the US, only four other nations had met a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, “The time has come to do more,” he said.

President Donald Trump warned before taking office that the US might not uphold its commitment to come to the defence of Nato allies who were not perceived to have contributed enough financially. Mr Pence went on to say that the US would “continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found”. Mr Pence said Russia must honour the Minsk peace accords on Ukraine and de-escalate its military operations in the east of the country.

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Juncker makes sense for a change.

European Union President Rejects Trump Call For More NATO Spending (CNBC)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said Europe should resist U.S. pressure to spend more spending on defense. U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the NATO defense alliance, suggesting he could withdraw support if European countries did not raise defense spending to at least 2% of their economic output.In a speech on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference Thursday, Juncker, who heads the EU’s executive arm, suggested some resistance to Trump’s threat was in order. “It has been the American message for many, many years. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this,” he said. Juncker also said the EU’s other spending commitments made up for any shortfalls in military funding. “Modern politics cannot just be about raising defense spending,” he said.

“If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different,” he said. Juncker added that European nations should bundle their defense spending better and spend the money more efficiently. At a NATO meeting Wednesday, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reinforced Trump’s message, warning treaty allies they must boost their defense spending or America could “moderate its commitment.” “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do. I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” he said in a speech to NATO allies in the Belgian city of Brussels on Wednesday.

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Originally filed by reporter (see URL) as: “Melania Trump’s Slovenia Would Pick Russian Over US Protection”. Say no more.

Four NATO Nations Would Pick Russia to Defend Them If Threatened (BBG)

Who you gonna call? For the citizens of four NATO countries asked which military power they’d want fighting on their side if attacked, the answer was simple – Russia. That was among the findings of a multi-nation Gallup poll published just ahead of Friday’s annual gathering of the transatlantic security community in Germany that appeared to map out shifts in the post-Cold War security alliances which have come under renewed strain and scrutiny since Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency. By far the largest number of countries polled by WIN/Gallup International chose the U.S. for their go-to defense partner, suggesting that it remains the world’s only military power with truly global reach and alliances. At the same time, however, China and Russia picked each other, war-torn Ukraine and Iraq split down the middle, while those four members of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization – Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey – plumped for Russia.

As U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis tours Europe delivering a message of tough love to NATO allies – increase spending or see the U.S. “moderate’’ its support – the poll shows the world’s gradual political reorganization around different security poles, according to Kancho Stoychev, vice president of WIN/Gallup International. “It isn’t surprising that Russians and Chinese chose each other, but it is new,’’ said Stoychev. “It shows us something very important – that U.S. policy over the last 20 years has driven Russia into the arms of China, which is quite strange because Russia is fundamentally a part of Europe.’’ At the same time, some of the results in European NATO countries showed how their fundamental security choices were moving beyond the alliance, he said. Bulgaria and Greece, for example, see their biggest security threat coming from Turkey.

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Right wing. As I said, very hard to find anything unbiased. All heels are dug in deeply.

Who Really Rules The United States? (FreeB)

Donald Trump was elected president last November by winning 306 electoral votes. He pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., to overturn the system of politics that had left the nation’s capital and major financial and tech centers flourishing but large swaths of the country mired in stagnation and decay. “What truly matters,” he said in his Inaugural Address, “is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Is it? By any historical and constitutional standard, “the people” elected Donald Trump and endorsed his program of nation-state populist reform. Yet over the last few weeks America has been in the throes of an unprecedented revolt. Not of the people against the government—that happened last year—but of the government against the people. What this says about the state of American democracy, and what it portends for the future, is incredibly disturbing.

There is, of course, the case of Michael Flynn. He made a lot of enemies inside the government during his career, suffice it to say. And when he exposed himself as vulnerable those enemies pounced. But consider the means: anonymous and possibly illegal leaks of private conversations. Yes, the conversation in question was with a foreign national. And no one doubts we spy on ambassadors. But we aren’t supposed to spy on Americans without probable cause. And we most certainly are not supposed to disclose the results of our spying in the pages of the Washington Post because it suits a partisan or personal agenda. Here was a case of current and former national security officials using their position, their sources, and their methods to crush a political enemy. And no one but supporters of the president seems to be disturbed.

Why? Because we are meant to believe that the mysterious, elusive, nefarious, and to date unproven connection between Donald Trump and the Kremlin is more important than the norms of intelligence and the decisions of the voters. But why should we believe that? And who elected these officials to make this judgment for us? Nor is Flynn the only example of nameless bureaucrats working to undermine and ultimately overturn the results of last year’s election. According to the New York Times, civil servants at the EPA are lobbying Congress to reject Donald Trump’s nominee to run the agency. Is it because Scott Pruitt lacks qualifications? No. Is it because he is ethically compromised? Sorry. The reason for the opposition is that Pruitt is a critic of the way the EPA was run during the presidency of Barack Obama. He has a policy difference with the men and women who are soon to be his employees. Up until, oh, this month, the normal course of action was for civil servants to follow the direction of the political appointees who serve as proxies for the elected president.

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Personal debt.

Australia Headed For ‘Economic Armageddon’ (News.com.au)

Australia is headed for an “economic Armageddon”, with record household debt, record foreign debt and a massive housing bubble creating a perfect storm that could “wipe out” millions of families if there is a global shock. That is the apocalyptic warning of a former government economic advisor, who says the government needs to cut tax incentives such as negative gearing and welfare handouts and the RBA needs to increase interest rates in order to avoid a “devastating depression”. Corporate governance specialist John Adams, who was an economics and policy advisor to Senator Arthur Sinodinos and management consultant to a big four accounting firm, believes he has found seven disturbing signs that the global economy is primed for a major fall. Worse still, Australia is particularly vulnerable because of significant structural imbalances, including record levels of household debt not seen since the lead up to the last great depression in the 1920s.

“Australians should be concerned over the state of both the Australian and global economy,” Mr Adams told news.com.au. “The data clearly demonstrates that there are significant structural economic imbalances in the Australian economy. Significant expansion of the broad money supply and record low interest rates by the Reserve Bank of Australia as well as generous tax incentives and welfare provisions by the Federal Government have led Australians to amass record levels of personal debt which have fuelled the creation of asset bubbles, particularly in housing. “Millions of Australians are not only doing it tough through significant cost of living and debt serving pressures, but are at significant risk of being financially wiped out if an unanticipated adverse international economic shock were to hit Australia such as a new global financial crisis.”

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End of the year?

China Is Going Broke (Jim Rickards)

[..] of the 2.9 trillion, about one trillion of that is not liquid, meaning it’s wealth of some kind, it represents investment, but China wanted to improve their returns actually on their investments, so they invested in hedge funds, they invested in private equity funds, they made direct investments in gold mines in Zambia and so forth, so about a trillion of that is, it’s wealth, but it’s not liquid. It’s not money that you can use to pay your bills. So now, we’re down to 1.9 trillion liquid. Well, about another trillion is going to have to be held in what’s called a “precautionary reserve” to bail out the Chinese banking system.

When you look at the Chinese banking system, private estimates are that the bad debts are 25% of total assets. Banks usually run with 5, maybe 7-8% capital. Even if you said 10% capital, well, if 25% of your assets are bad, that completely wipes out your capital, so the Chinese banking system is technically insolvent, even though they don’t admit that. I mean, they cook the books, they take these bad loans. Let’s say I’m a bank and I have a loan to a state owned enterprise, a steel mill or something and the guy can’t pay me, can’t even come close to paying me and the loan’s due, I say, “Well, look, you owe me 300 million dollars. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a new loan for 400 million dollars, but I’ll take the money and pay myself back the old loan plus the interest, and then I’ll give the new loan to your maturity and I’ll see you in two years.”

So, if you did that in the U.S. banking system you’d go to jail. You’re not allowed to do that. You’re throwing good money after bad and you’re supposed to right off a loan that is clearly not performing or where the borrower is unable to pay. But in this case, it’s just extend to pretend, and so it’s still on the books, in my example, 400 million dollar good loan with a two year maturity, but in fact it’s a rotten loan that the guy couldn’t pay in the first place, and now he just can’t pay a bigger amount. He’s probably going to go bankrupt and I’ll have to write it off at the end of the day. So, with that as background for the Chinese banking system, people kind of shrug and say, “Well, can’t China just bail it out? They’ve got all this money.”

Well, the answer is they could, and they’ve done so before, and they can bail it out, but it’s going to trust a trillion dollars, so you’ve got to put a trillion dollars to one side, for when the time comes, to bail out the banking system. Well, now you’re down to 900 billion, right? Remember, we started with four trillion, 1.1 trillion’s out door, 1 trillion’s illiquid, 1 trillion you’ve got to hold to one side to bail out the banking system, well now you only have 900 billion of liquid assets to defend your currency, to prop up the Chinese yuan. But the problem is the reserves are going out the door at a rate of, it varies month to month, 30, 40, 50 billion dollars a month. Some months more, some months over 100 billion dollars.

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Blair getting involved will be a huge boon for Brexit.

Brexit Was A Revolt Against Snobs Like Tony Blair (Spec.)

The brass neck of Tony Blair. The Brexit vote was ‘based on imperfect knowledge’, says the man who unleashed barbarism across the Middle East on the basis of a student dissertation he printed off the internet. Who marched thousands into unimaginable horror on the basis of myth and spin. That NHS claim on the side of the Leave bus is small fry, infinitesimally small fry, in comparison with the guff this bloke came out with. It didn’t cause anyone to die, for one. For Blair to lecture the British people about truth is an affront to memory and decency and reason. No self-respecting citizen should put up with it. Blair made his comments about our ‘imperfect knowledge’ – dimwits that we are – in a speech for Open Britain, a cross-party pro-EU group, in London this morning.

The speech sums up the elitism and arrogance and contempt for democracy of those Remainers who just cannot accept that they lost. ‘The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit’, Blair haughtily declared. Rubbish. We all knew what it meant to tick the box saying ‘Leave the European Union’ — it meant leaving the European Union. It meant what it said — and we meant what we said. Blair and the connected, moneyed weepers for the EU who make up Open Britain can’t get their heads around this. They think we didn’t know what we were doing. And so they’ve come to enlighten us and make us think again. Remainers must ‘rise up’, says Blair, and turn the throng’s ‘imperfect knowledge’ into ‘informed knowledge’ by giving us ‘easy to understand’ information about how Brexit will ‘cause real damage to the country’.

Risen, brave, ‘informed’ Remainers must hold back the ‘rush over the cliff’s edge’, he said. The whole thing stinks to the heavens of paternalism. Blair is positioning himself and his switched-on mates as the possessors of information that we the imperfect plebs lack. Like lemmings we’re leaping off the cliff, and this good man must save us. He must impart to us his wisdom — in ‘easy to understand’ ways, of course, because we can’t handle anything too complex — and in the process fulfil the duty of the political leader to ‘give answers’ rather than ‘ride the anger’ of the public. He depicts Open Britain as cool and knowledgable, and Leavers as uninformed and angry. It’s positively aristocratic, with Open Britain fancying itself as the small but beautiful font of wisdom in a land of madness.

[..] Blair spoke in the language of revolution. Remainers must ‘rise up’. He talked about the need for a ‘revolt’, by ‘force of argument’, against the Leave vote. Excitable media outlets have gone even further, describing his speech as a call ‘for people to “rise up” against Brexit’, a plea that ‘Britain must rise up against Brexit’.

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How to kill a city, part 826.

Small Businesses Face Being ‘Driven Out Of London’ (Ind.)

An increase in business rates is one of biggest issues concerning small businesses in London, easily trumping fears around economic uncertainty and worries relating to recruiting the right talent. According to a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and trade body Camden Town Unlimited, the average micro business in the city, defined as a company with fewer than 10 employees, will be paying business rates of £17,000 as of April this year under a Government hike. “London is in serious danger of losing its vital support system of micro and small businesses,” the FSB’s chair for London, Sue Terpilowski, said in a statement. “We need to realise that the hard costs of operating a business in the capital are starting to outweigh the benefits which simply does not make economic sense – and so tacking these burdens at the spring Budget is critical,” Ms Terpilowski added.

Business rates – which are sometimes referred to as non-domestic rates – are levies that companies occupying commercial properties pay. That tax goes towards covering the cost of services provided by local authorities and the emergency services. The survey found that close to three quarters – 74% – of businesses consider rates to be one of the biggest issues affecting them, while 36% cited economic uncertainty, and, one third said that the difficulty around recruiting the right staff was their biggest concern. “The new business rates will drive firms out of London, force some businesses to cut staff or close down altogether,” said Simon Pitkeathley, the chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited.

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Fast and furious. Caught in the oil wars.

Norway Central Bank Chief Warns Of Sharp Drop In Wealth Fund (BBG)

Norway’s central bank governor sharpened his warning on rising spending of oil revenue as he drew up scenarios for a 50% loss of capital over the next 10 years for the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund. Governor Oystein Olsen said that the continued rise in oil cash spending, which now accounts for about 20% of the budget and 8% of GDP, must now be halted to protect the $900 billion fund, the world’s largest sovereign pool of cash. “With a high level of oil revenue spending, there’s a risk of a sharp reduction in the fund’s capital,” Olsen said in the traditional Annual Address in Oslo Thursday. “This could, for example, happen if a global recession triggers both a decline in oil revenue and low or negative returns on the fund’s capital.” Government withdrawals from the fund are estimated to jump about 25% this year after an historic first outflow last year. The Conservative-led government was last year forced to dip into the oil fund for the first time to cover budget needs and protect the economy amid a plunge in oil prices.

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Why the euro is doomed.

Only Germans Love the Euro These Days (BBG)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen unsettled investors with her pledge to pull France out of the euro and re-denominate all French debt in newly minted francs. Polls suggest Le Pen won’t get the chance; she is expected to lose a second-round runoff. Even if polls are correct this time, that doesn’t mean the euro is safe. In fact, political support for the single currency has been waning – especially in Germany’s two largest euro-zone trading partners. In both France and Italy, there is now a plurality of support for candidates who advocate a withdrawal from the euro, with pro-euro candidates gathering less than 30% in polls. In France, anti-euro candidates – Le Pen and Socialist Jean-Luc Melanchon – together have nearly 40% support.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of Le Pen’s supporters, or Melanchon’s, oppose the euro. Most French voters still tell pollsters they favor the euro; but clearly that support waning, as the latest Eurobarometer poll showed. Anti-euro sentiment, once a blip on the fringes of public opinion, is now credible and has found its way onto political platforms. Respondents are asked whether they think the euro is a good or bad thing for their country. In Italy, the euro gets even less love than in France, with 47% saying the euro is a “bad” thing for their country. That is in stark contrast to Germany, where there is now a clear majority in favor of the euro. This chart shows how opinion has changed over time:

This is a dramatic reversal in opinion: A German population that was initially reluctant to give up the Deutsche mark is now firmly wedded to the euro, while support in France and Italy has declined (particularly sharply in Italy’s case). But this shift is the logical result of the euro’s structural deficiencies. German industry, whose productivity has been increasing more than its European counterparts, now dominates the continental economy. While German unemployment was decreasing and its economy recovering from the financial crisis, Italy was stagnant with rising unemployment. Already saddled with a very large public debt (now over 130% of gross domestic product), Italy could neither reflate its economy, nor bail out its banks, while whole segments of its industry, particularly in lower and medium-cost goods, have disappeared.

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Damning: 56% of Greeks make less than €8,600 a year. And the Troika wants to tax them more. “..the tax- free income threshold, now at about €8,600 per person per year, a number the IMF maintains lets some 56% of wage-earning Greeks escape paying income tax.”

How Do You Say Deja Vu In Greek? (R.)

[..] it would not be trite to say that another festering row with Greece is the last thing the euro zone needs when faced with a protectionist U.S. president, Britain leaving the European Union, and anti-euro politicians vying for power or presence in French, Dutch and German elections. So EU officials have been urging speed in finding agreement and calmly warning of instability ahead if none is found. “There is a common understanding that time lost in reaching an agreement will have a cost for everyone,” the European commissioner responsible for the euro, Valdis Dombrovskis, told Greek news portal Euro2day. The issue, however, is multi-layered and thus particularly complex. Part of it is about what kind of primary surplus – what is left in a surplus budget before debt obligations – Greece must reach and run for some time.

The bailout, signed by Greece and euro zone lenders, says 3.5% of GDP(which would be by far the highest in the euro zone). The IMF, the other major lender, says that is undoable without further Greek belt-tightening. It says 1.5% of GDP and some form of debt relaxation – for example, over what is paid when – would be more realistic and sustainable. The IMF, furthermore, says it won’t participate in any bailout that it does not believe to be viable. Germany and others say that the IMF must be a part of the bailout or there is no deal. Both lenders have told Greece they want about €3.6 billion in additional savings, including a reduction in the tax- free income threshold, now at about €8,600 per person per year, a number the IMF maintains lets some 56% of wage-earning Greeks escape paying income tax.

Greece says no. Its economy contracted again in the fourth quarter of 2016, nearly one in four Greeks is unemployed and its pensioners have already seen 11 cuts to income. So plenty of scope for crisis – if not quite yet.

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Good example of why rising prices do not equal inflation. Greece is deflating like mad. Money velocity has plummeted, making recovery impossible.

Can Tax Increases Bring Inflation To Greece? (KTG)

Special consumption fees imposed on fuel, coffee, tobacco products and telecommunications beginning of the year skyrocketed consumer prices and led to the inevitable: inflation. According to Greek Statistics Authority ELSTAT inflation reached 1.5% in January from 0.3% in December. ‘This is almost a five-year high and above market expectations that were forecasting a 0.4% for January,’ Reuters notes. I do not know how ‘markets’ make their forecasts, but real Greek life shows a different picture. The supermarkets had massive discount offers in a plethora of goods in December. The special fees imposed as of 1.1.2017 were not immediately seen in supermarket prices but in fuel and tobaccoo products and telecommunications. Super markets kept offering discounts until around January 20th. Then the “households party” was over.

On February 1st, the price for half a kilo filter coffee went up to €7.68 from €5.46. Apparently sales stagnated, the import company lowered the price by 1 euro. A week later, the discount offer was just 50 cents. Officially, the special fee was supposed to be €2-3 per kilo of roasted coffee. In real life, the increase is higher €2.12 for just half a kilo. Similarly, the price for 400-gr package for a cocoa drink of a well known international brand went up to €3.40 from €2.60. At the same time, the cheaper soft package disappeared from the supermarket shelves. Here to note that for year the hard package used to contain 500gr. Sometime in 2010, I was badly surprised to see the package was down to 400gr, while the price remained the same.

In real life, I have to spend a total of €9 to €10 more per supermarket visit once a week. This makes a nice sum of €40 more per month. And that’s alone for the supermarket. Add the increases in other sectors and start the calculation.

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As the EU keeps stressing the importance of unity, the Troika inches ever closer to causing a civil war in Greece. Unity is not just a word.

Greek Labor Minister Says Pensioners Can Barely Make Ends Meet (K.)

Greece’s Minister of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity Effie Achtsioglou insisted in a letter published Friday in the Financial Times that Greek pensioners have barely enough to live on and urged IMF chief Christine Lagarde to listen. “We cannot accept IMF insistence on further cuts in pensions. As minister for pensions I must answer, hoping that IMF managing director Christine Lagarde will listen,” she said, ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup, in a bid to explain why Greece cannot make any more pension cuts. “The narrative about Greek pensions is driven by demands of its creditors. They argue that the pension system is overgenerous and a drain on the economy,” she said, adding that it is based on the crude statistic that pensions require annual transfers from the state budget of around 11% of GDP in Greece compared with the eurozone average of 2.25%.

This comparison, she said, is misleading. “Following the implementation of the new pension law last year, total state financing of pensions is projected at less than 9% of GDP,” she explained. “The bottom line is that Greece’s old people are much worse off than elsewhere in Europe because they do not have access to other benefits. Per capita income for individuals aged over 65 is about €9,000, compared with €20,000 in the eurozone.” she added, asking “how could the major problem confronting Greece be overgenerous pensions, when 43% of pensioners receive less than €660 a month?.”

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PRESS CONFERENCE

searching
inside his cranium

trying to find
a brain to rack,

he found the word
”uranium”

and launched
an unclear attack

Brian Bilston

Nov 092014
 
 November 9, 2014  Posted by at 7:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Peerless touring car, Bay Area 1923

As I was writing The Broken Model Of The Eurozone yesterday, I already knew there would have to be a sequel, because doing everything in one go would have been too much. And then, considerably less than two seconds later, it dawned on me that if I wanted to cover broken models and systems, a book would be the very least. But I don’t want to write a book, or, certainly, not here and now. Therefore, the best I think I can do is to sit down and let it flow, train of thought, stream of consciousness, probably the approach that suits me best to begin with.

There’s no question that the eurozone is by no means the only broken model, design, system, structure, in our world, though its built-in fatal flaws are perhaps easier to pinpoint than they are in other models. Everyone can see why having no mechanism to keep poor member nations from getting poorer must of necessity doom the eurozone, and the euro. Everyone, that is, but the people with the most vested interests.

That said, when you get to think about it, it’s hard to find a model, a system, in our ‘modern’ societies that is not broken, through similar design flaws. Just the past few days, we had the US midterm elections, and it doesn’t come more broken than that. As Ron Paul stated once again, US politics is a monopoly system, not a democracy. That part exists only in people’s dreams and in media stories. In reality, it’s pick your favorite identical twin. Yet for some reason, people still vote. Go figure.

Then there was the BLS unemployment report, which is no longer even a joke, but such an outright insult to Americans that it’s difficult to see why anyone looks at it anymore, other than for propagandistic reasons. A model designed to ignore the combined erosion in labor participation, wages and benefits that has taken place in the US since 2007, and the number of people who can’t make enough to pay their bills and feed their kids, is useless as a gauge for the American economy.

What these, and just about any other model I can think of that we use to run our world, have in common, is/are a number of flaws:

First, they were designed to operate exclusively in growing economies. Perhaps not even on purpose, but they sure don’t function in less glorious days, if only because no provisions were made for such days. It’s at least one reason why protagonists are so eager to point to growth even where there is none.

Second, whether in days of growth or of non-growth, they offer no protection from destructive exploitation of the natural world, either by nations, by corporations or by ourselves. A self defeating model.

Third, they are so far removed from the ‘human scale’ that we can’t internalize the ways they work and don’t work, other than perhaps in abstract theory. We can’t understand how the systems work that govern our lives, and therefore not why they fail.

These three characteristics guarantee inherent self limitation, self defeat and eventual self destruction. Sort of like the spy message that destroys itself 10 seconds after being read.

I was reading John Michael Greer’s recent Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy, in which he reiterates how an increase in complexity of a society means ever more intermediaries take position in between productive economic participants, skimming off the fruits of other people’s daily labor. And how a decrease in complexity, such as the one we’re seeing today in our world, forced by diminishing economic returns, will lead to those intermediary positions disappearing, and a renewed form of feudalism taking the helm.

There are many shapes and sizes of these intermediaries active in our present societies, but none are more powerful, in more than one way, than politicians and traders/investors. The political world and financial world don’t produce anything of value, they owe their wealth and power solely to others who do.

The past century – or two – of ultra cheap fuels, which have enabled one single human being to produce as much as a thousand of her ancestors, created the space in which the financial and political intermediate powerholders operate. The debt machine gone haywire of the last few decades either created even more of that space or made up for what was lost due to rising fuel prices. Both fossil fuels and debt now stumble on their last legs, and society will need to be remolded, along principles that may indeed well resemble feudalism more than anything else.

To be sure, Greer doesn’t define feudalism along the lines of the bad rap it has gotten, but simply as a system in which rights and obligations for both lords and servant are clearly defined.

What he doesn’t specify, but I will, is that the feudal model operates on a human scale. That points to another aspect: the servant – for lack of a better word – in a balanced feudal system knows his master. We, today, do not. We only know a bunch of people pushed forward for their gift of gab and telegenic faces. The way our leaders are (pre-) selected is not much different from seeing how many second hand cars or tupperware bowls they can sell on a TV sales channel.

But then those leaders are (s)elected to head entities so far beyond the human scale it should be obvious to anyone that they cannot function properly no matter how much growth there is. Leaders of entities like the US, the EU or China have little in common with the people they supposedly represent, and they don’t have to, nobody expects them to. The US midterms were mostly a a battle of the bulge, as in candidates’ bulging wallets.

And on top large scale national politics we have created yet another, even more anonymous layer of power. UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO, there’s an ever growing collection of supra-national organizations that keep on guzzling up more power and more money every single day.

Like ‘smaller’ entities such as the US and EU, only more, the supra-nationals attract a certain kind of people, those that like to assert power without being held directly accountable. In structures that far exceed the human scale, they are like fish in water. And that’s why we should never accept having them in those positions. IMF and World Bank have a history of at best disputable and at worst very bloody interventions in nations across the globe.

We should have today celebrated the end of NATO along with that of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. But it’s still there, and playing an active role in the flaring up of the Ukraine civil war. As for the UN, there should be a place for an organization like it, but not with the money gobbling corporate structure, serving shady interests, that it has today.

Our political systems don’t work. Our economic systems don’t work. We live on a steady – but hardly nutritious – diet of debt and propaganda. Our societies are no longer productive enough to allow for the numbers of intermediaries they have given birth to. But it’s the intermediaries who have more often than not taken up the most powerful positions in our societies. So they will fight, and initially often successfully, to keep their positions, at the cost of the more productive segments. It’s a mechanism that’s much easier to understand than it is to fight.

I tend to think that it’s easier to make the effort to get rid of things like models and systems and structures when you know they will need to go soon anyway. But that’s without counting in propaganda. Without including Freud and spin doctors and Edward Bernays and why detergent commercials work so well. When you do take all those into account, things don’t look so easy anymore.

What the EU has in common with all present day political and financial structures, bar none, is that it can, and indeed was built to, function only in times of growth. Take away growth and inherent flaws become exposed. Take away growth and panic ensues. Well, we no longer have growth, other than in our dreams and spin.

Or more accurately, there is indeed one thing that does still grow: our debt. It’s all we have left to keep up the pretense that we’re still growing. That and a pack of lies that grows more outrageous as time goes by. We run our societies on debt and propaganda. To a large extent, propaganda about why and how debt, and more debt, can’t hurt us.

Because as long as we believe that, we’ll leave our political and financial structures and power holders keep their plush seats. And as long as we believe it, they’re free to take more and more away from us. Something we feel powerless to stop, because we’re scared of what may happen when we stop believing. In broken models.