Jul 102017
 
 July 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Anne Lyon getting into her Riley on Nob Hill, San Francisco 1950s

 

Propaganda-ville (Robert Parry)
Trump Cannot Improve Relations With Russia (PCR)
Comey’s Leaked Trump Memos Contained Classified Information (ZH)
Tales from the FOMC Underground (PT)
Stock Market Tsunami Siren Goes Off (WS)
America Is Struggling With Economic Rot (BBG)
May Appeals To Corbyn For Help In Coming Up With New Ideas (Ind.)
US-Russian Ceasefire Deal Holding In Southwest Syria (R.)
The Lynx Could Return To UK Within Months After 1,300-Year Absence (Ind.)

 

 

When slow news becomes no news. I must have seen 100 different versions of the non-story of one of Trump’s not-so-bright sons meeting with a Russian lady, a story that’s supposed to prove what nothing else has yet proven, not even Bob Mueller, Russian meddling. Yeah, Russia spies, and it hacks, and so does everyone else. But that’s clearly not news, and you can’t make it so be endlessly repeating it. That Comey leaked classified information is apparently much less newsworthy. Only, it is not. It just serves the machine to a lesser degree. Be careful, America, or you’ll have no news sources left soon. Not a great prospect.

Propaganda-ville (Robert Parry)

As much as the U.S. mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tension escalate with nuclear-armed Russia. This media problem has grown over recent decades as lucrative careerism has replaced responsible professionalism. Pack journalism has always been a threat to quality reporting but now it has evolved into a self-sustaining media lifestyle in which the old motto, “there’s safety in numbers,” is borne out by the fact that being horrendously wrong, such as on Iraq’s WMD, leads to almost no accountability because so many important colleagues were wrong as well.

Similarly, there has been no accountability after many mainstream journalists and commentators falsely stated as flat-fact that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” concurred that Russia did “meddle” in last November’s U.S. election. For months, this claim has been the go-to put-down whenever anyone questions the groupthink of Russian venality perverting American democracy. Even the esteemed “Politifact” deemed the assertion “true.” But it was never true. It was at best a needled distortion of a claim by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he issued a statement last Oct. 7 alleging Russian meddling. Because Clapper was the chief of the U.S. Intelligence Community, his opinion morphed into a claim that it represented the consensus of all 17 intelligence agencies, a dishonest twist that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began touting.

However, for people who understand how the U.S. Intelligence Community works, the claim of a 17-agencies consensus has a specific meaning, some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE) that seeks out judgments and dissents from the various agencies. But there was no NIE regarding alleged Russian meddling and there apparently wasn’t even a formal assessment from a subset of the agencies at the time of Clapper’s statement. President Obama did not order a publishable assessment until December – after the election – and it was not completed until Jan. 6, when a report from Clapper’s office presented the opinions of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – three agencies (or four if you count the DNI’s office), not 17.

The report also contained no hard evidence of a Russian “hack” and amounted to a one-sided circumstantial case at best. However, by then, the U.S. mainstream media had embraced the “all-17-intelligence-agencies” refrain and anyone who disagreed, including President Trump, was treated as delusional. The argument went: “How can anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies have confirmed as true?” It wasn’t until May 8 when then-former DNI Clapper belatedly set the record straight in sworn congressional testimony in which he explained that there were only three “contributing agencies” from which analysts were “hand-picked.”

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Paul Craig Roberts lays it on. A bit much if you ask me, but then so is everything else.

Trump Cannot Improve Relations With Russia (PCR)

On the same day that President Donald Trump said “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia,” and the day after he said “I had a tremendous meeting yesterday with President Putin,” the ignorant, stupid, Nikki Haley, who Trump appointed as US UN Ambassador, publicly contracted her president, forcefully stating: “we can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.” The ignorant stupid Haley is still in office, a perfect demonstration of Trump’s powerlessness. The ignorant stupid Haley has gone far beyond Obama’s crazed UN Ambassador, neocon Smantha Power in doing everything in her power to ruin the prospect of normal relations between the two major nuclear powers. Why does Nikki Haley work in favor of a confrontation between nuclear powers that would destroy all life on earth?

What is wrong with Nikki Haley? Is she demented? Has she lost her mind, assuming she ever had one? How can President Trump normalize relations with Russia when every one of his appointees wants to worsen the relations to the point of nuclear war? How is President Trump going to improve relations with Russia when President Trump stands powerless in face of his dressing down by his UN Ambassador? Clearly, Trump is powerless, a mere cipher. Joining Nikki Haley was Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson, allegedly a friend of Russia, is also working overtime to worsen relations between the two nuclear powers by publicly contradicting the President of the United States, thereby making it clear that Trump is barely even a cipher.

Tillerson, a disgrace, said that Putin’s refusal to admit that Putin elected Trump by interferring in the US election “stands as an obstacle to our ability to improve the relationship between the US and Russia and it needs to be addressed in terms of how we assure the American people that interference into our eletions will not occur by Russia or anyone else.” Trump’s incompetence is illustrated by his appointments. There is no one in “his” government that supports him. Everyone of them works to undermine him. And he sits there and Twitters. So, what is President Putin’s belief that an understanding can now be worked out with Washington worth? Not a plugged nickel. Trump has zero authority over “his” government. He can be contradicted at will by his own appointees. The President of the United States is a joke.

You can find him on Twitter, but nowhere else, not in the Oval Office making foreign or military policy. The president Twitters and thinks that that is policy. The Trump administration was destroyed when the weak Donald Trump allowed the neoconservatives to remove his National Security Advisor, General Flynn. Trump has never recovered. “His” administration is staffed with violent Russophobes. Wars can be the only outcome. We know two things about the alleged Russian inteferrance in the Trump/Hillary presidential election. One is that John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, and Comey, Obama’s FBI director, implied repeatedly that Trump was elected by Russian interference in the election, but neither the CIA nor the FBI have provided any evidence whatsoever that any such interference occurred. Indeed, months into the case, the special prosecutor, the former FBI director, can produce no evidence.

The whole thing is a sham, but it is ongoing. There will be no end to it as it is designed to undermind President Trump with the people who elected him. The message is: “Trump is not for America. Trump is for Russia.”

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Is Muelller going to investigate Comey soon?

Comey’s Leaked Trump Memos Contained Classified Information (ZH)

Comey’s troubles started when he testified under oath last month that he considered the memos he prepared to be personal documents and that he shared at least one of them with a Columbia University lawyer friend. As Comey later disclosed, he asked that lawyer to leak information from one memo to the news media in hopes of increasing pressure to get a special prosecutor named in the Russia case after Comey was fired as FBI director. The Hill recounts that particular exchange with Senator Roy Blunt: “So you didn’t consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document?,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked Comey on June 8. “You considered it to be, somehow, your own personal document that you could share to the media as you wanted through a friend?”

“Correct,” Comey answered. “I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.” Comey insisted in his testimony he believed his personal memos were unclassified, though he hinted one or two documents he created might have been contained classified information. “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership,” he testified about the one memo he later leaked about former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Additionally, he added, “My view was that the content of those unclassified, memorialization of those conversations was my recollection recorded.”

That’s when the problems escalated, because according to The Hill – which for the first time disclosed that the total number of memos linked to Comey’s nine conversations with Trump – when the seven memos Comey wrote regarding his nine conversations with Trump about Russia earlier this year were shown to Congress in recent days, the FBI claimed all were, in fact, deemed to be government documents. Oops. As The Hill reveals, four, or more than half, of the seven memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the “secret” or “confidential” level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter. This is a major problem for Comey because FBI policy forbids any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property.

“Unauthorized disclosure, misuse, or negligent handling of information contained in the files, electronic or paper, of the FBI or which I may acquire as an employee of the FBI could impair national security, place human life in jeopardy, result in the denial of due process, prevent the FBI from effectively discharging its responsibilities, or violate federal law,” states the agreement all FBI agents sign. FBI policy further adds that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America” and that an agent “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”

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“..Not since Herbert C. Hoover has there been a more perfect scapegoat for an economic depression of the Fed’s making.”

Tales from the FOMC Underground (PT)

“What should we do?” began Yellen. “A decade of easy monetary policies has turned financial markets into a Las Vegas casino while the economy’s lazed around like my smelly house cats. What the heck was Bernanke thinking?” “Hell, Janet,” remarked New York Fed President William Dudley. “He wasn’t thinking. He soiled his pantaloons and then he soiled them again.” “So now we must clean up his stinky pile while he promotes his revisionist courage to act shtick. The reality is we must orchestrate a take-down of financial markets, and we must do it by year’s end.” “Well, gawd damn Bill!” barked St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. “With the exception of Neel, the $700 billion dollar bailout boy, don’t you think we all know that?”

“Hey, now!” interjected Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. “Don’t blame me. I was just carrying out Hank Paulson’s will, right Bill? Saving our boys’ bacon back at Goldman so they could continue doing god’s work.” “Besides Fish, it was you all who lined up behind Bernanke and tickled the poodle with his crazy QE experiment while I was busy chopping wood at Donner Pass and getting my fanny spanked in the California Governor’s race by retread Jerry Moonbeam Brown, of all people.” “Fair enough,” continued Bullard. “The point is, taking down the stock market will cause an extreme upset to the economy’s applecart. The mobs will come after us with torches and pitchforks.” “You see, the real trick is to do the dirty deed then disappear behind a fog of confusion. That’s what Greenspan would do. How can we pull that off?”

After a moment of silent contemplation, and a licked finger held up to the cool political winds drafting across the country… “Eureka! We can pin it on President Donald J. Trump!” exclaimed Chicago Fed President Charles Evans. “Could our good fortune be any better? Not since Herbert C. Hoover has there been a more perfect scapegoat for an economic depression of the Fed’s making.” “Hear, hear!” approved Yellen. “Damn the economy,” they bellowed in harmony… minus Kashkari. “This one’s on Trump!” “Bill, one last thing,” closed Yellen. “After the meeting, remember to give the public that shake n’ bake you dreamed up about crashing unemployment. We have to give off an air of being data dependent.” “That misdirection should twist them up until NFL football starts. Shortly after that, our work will be done…” “…and by the New Year, Congress and Joe public will be begging us to rescue the economy from the Fed’s… I mean… Trump’s disastrous economic program.”

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Earnings vs S&P. Something will give.

Stock Market Tsunami Siren Goes Off (WS)

Everyone who’s watching the stock market has their own reasons for their endless optimism, their doom-and-gloom visions, their bouts of anxiety that come with trying to sit on the fence until the very last moment, or their blasé attitude that nothing can go wrong because the Fed has their back. But there are some factors that are like a tsunami siren that should send inhabitants scrambling to higher ground. Since July 2012 – so over the past five years – the trailing 12-month earnings per share of all the companies in the S&P 500 index rose just 12% in total. Or just over 2% per year on average. Or barely at the rate of inflation – nothing more. These are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) but “adjusted earnings” as reported by companies to make their earnings look better.

Not all companies report “adjusted earnings.” Some just stick to GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But many others also report “adjusted earnings,” and that’s what Wall Street propagates. “Adjusted earnings” are earnings with the bad stuff adjusted out of them, at the will of management. They generally display earnings in the most favorable light – hence significantly higher earnings than under GAAP. This is the most optimistic earnings number. It’s the number that data provider FactSet uses for its analyses, and these adjusted earnings seen in the most favorable light grew only a little over 2% per year on average for the S&P 500 companies over the past five years, or 12% in total. Yet, over the same period, the S&P 500 Index itself soared 80%.

And these adjusted earnings are now back where they’d been on March 2014, with no growth whatsoever. Total stagnation, even for adjusted earnings. And yet, over the same three-plus years, the S&P 500 index has soared 33%. This chart shows those adjusted earnings per share for all S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked July 2012 and March 2014:

Given that there has been zero earnings growth over the past three years, even under the most optimistic “adjusted earnings” scenario, and only about 2% per year on average over the past five years, the S&P 500 companies are not high-growth companies. On average, they’re stagnating companies with stagnating earnings. And the price-earnings ratio for stagnating companies should be low. In 2012 it was around 15.5. Now, as of July 7, it is nearly 26. In other words, earnings didn’t expand. The only thing that expanded was the multiple of those earnings to the share prices – the P/E ratio. Such periods of multiple expansion are common. They’re part of the stock market’s boom and bust cycle. And they’re invariably followed by periods of multiple contraction. How long can this period of multiple expansion go on? That’s what everyone wants to know. Projections include “forever.” But “forever” doesn’t exist in the stock market. The next segment of the cycle is a multiple contraction.

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The incessant call far a return to normal. There’s no such thing. The economy never recovered.

America Is Struggling With Economic Rot (BBG)

The Great Recession, and the financial crisis that preceded it, were such enormous and terrible events that they occupied most of our economic thinking for a decade. But now that the smoke has cleared and the economy has returned to a semblance of normality, we’re starting to think more about long-term trends. And evidence is mounting that the Great Recession may have drawn attention away from a slow rot that has been eating the U.S. economy since the turn of the century. Some of the top macroeconomists in the business have a new paper that reaches this conclusion. In “The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009,” John G. Fernald, Robert E. Hall, James H. Stock and Mark W. Watson break down the declines in growth and employment into a structural, long-term component and a short-term part related to the crash.

That’s an inherently hard thing to do, since there’s no universally accepted theory of how recessions work. But Fernald et al. use two accounting methods, and find basically the same thing – although the recession hurt the economy a lot, it happened to coincide with two trends that were slowly eroding the U.S.’s fundamentals. Those two trends are slowing productivity and reduced labor-force participation. Slow productivity growth is hardly news – Bloomberg View recently ran a whole series of articles about the phenomenon. This unhappy trend appears to have begun three years before the financial crisis:

As for labor-force participation, this has been falling since the turn of the century, though the last two years have seen a small uptick:

Both of these trends might have been exacerbated by the Great Recession. That economic disaster caused businesses to stop investing, which may have deprived them of the technology needed to increase productivity. Workers thrown out of employment by the recession might have seen their skills, connections and work ethic degrade, preventing them from going back to work even after the economy recovered.

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His advise: call a snap election.

May Appeals To Corbyn For Help In Coming Up With New Ideas (Ind.)

Theresa May is to insist she has the right vision for Britain and an “unshakeable sense of purpose” to build a fairer nation as she launches a fightback after her General Election gamble backfired. The Prime Minister will acknowledge that the loss of her Commons majority means she will have to adopt a different approach to government, signalling she is prepared to “debate and discuss” ideas with her opponents. But amid rumours of unrest within Tory ranks about her position, Ms May will insist her commitment is “undimmed” almost 12 months after entering Number 10 as Prime Minister. Her comments in a speech on Tuesday will be viewed as an attempt to relaunch her premiership after the humiliation of the election result and the need to strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her administration in the Commons.

Ms May will return to her core message from when she succeeded David Cameron: a “commitment to greater fairness” and tackling “injustice and vested interests” in recognition that the EU referendum result was a “profound call for change across our country”. She will say: “Though the result of last month’s General Election was not what I wanted, those defining beliefs remain, my commitment to change in Britain is undimmed; my belief in the potential of the British people and what we can achieve together as a nation remains steadfast; and the determination I have to get to grips with the challenges posed by a changing world never more sure. “I am convinced that the path that I set out in that first speech outside Number 10 and upon which we have set ourselves as a Government remains the right one.

“It will lead to the stronger, fairer Britain that we need.” The fragile nature of Ms May’s position in the Commons will not stop her being “bold”, she will insist. “I think this country needs a Government that is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for Britain and we are determined to be that Government. “In everything we do, we will act with an unshakeable sense of purpose to build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see.”

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Hard to believe.

US-Russian Ceasefire Deal Holding In Southwest Syria (R.)

A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria held through the day, a monitor and rebels said on Sunday, in the first peacemaking effort of the war by the U.S. government under President Donald Trump. The United States, Russia and Jordan reached the “de-escalation agreement,” which appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany this week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said “calm prevailed” in the southwest since the truce began at noon (0900 GMT) on Sunday despite minor violations. Combatants briefly exchanged fire in Deraa province and in Quneitra around midnight, but this “did not threaten the ceasefire,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman.

Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman of the Southern Front coalition of Western-backed rebel groups, said “a cautious calm” continued into the evening. “The situation is relatively calm,” Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan faction in Quneitra, said earlier. Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks. “Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding … Good!” Trump tweeted on Sunday. A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a “sign of satisfaction.” “We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions,” the government official told Reuters.

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Majestic animal. But 1,300 years is a big gap.

The Lynx Could Return To UK Within Months After 1,300-Year Absence (Ind.)

The Eurasian lynx could be stalking through British woodlands within months after plans were submitted to reintroduce the species, absent from Britain for about 1,300 years. Campaigners have applied for a licence to import six of the wildcats, which were hunted to extinction in the UK, and release them in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest. The Lynx Trust said the animals, which can grow to 1.3m in length, “belong” in Britain and there was a “moral obligation” to bring them back. The cats’ return would also generate millions of pounds for rural communities by attracting tourists, according to the group. But the proposal has met with opposition from sheep farmers, who claim their livestock would be put at risk.

The scheme would initially involve six lynx, four females and two males, being imported from Sweden and fitted with GPS tracking collars for a five-year trial. The trust applied to Natural England for permission to release the cats after it carried out an 11-month consultation. No date has been set for the proposed reintroduction but they cats could return to the UK by the end of 2017 if the plans are approved. The trust said in a statement: “In many other countries Eurasian lynx reintroduction has proven exceptionally low-conflict and wonderfully beneficial for the local communities that live alongside them, and we do sincerely hope that these cats, which thrived here for millions of years, do have the opportunity to prove they can still fit into both our ecology, and alongside local communities like those across the Kielder region.”

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Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

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A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

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Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

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Dec 282016
 
 December 28, 2016  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 28 2016
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Albert Kahn Paris, Autochrome Lumière color photo 1914

Turkey and Russia Agree on Syria Ceasefire, Into Effect by Midnight (R.)
Erdogan Says He Has Evidence US-Led Coalition Has Given Support To ISIS (Ind.)
Turkey Says Saudis, Qatar Should Attend Syria Peace Talks (AP)
‘US Raised Middle East Terrorists & Wants Them To Stay’ – Iran Def Min (RT)
Toshiba Shares Fall 20%, Hit Limit, As US Nuclear Writedown Sinks In (AFP)
China To Rein In Outward Investment As Domestic Growth Stalls (G.)
Chinese Interbank Funding Freezes Again As Overnight Repo Hits 33% (ZH)
No Happy New Year in China as Currency, Liquidity Fears Loom (BBG)
Greek Taxpayers Face €4 Billion Tax Bill By New Year’s Eve (Xinhua)
Clash Over New Government Sends Romania Spiraling Toward Crisis (BBG)
Inequality and Skin in the Game (Taleb)
The New Normal ‘Safety Net’: Surging Disability Benefits Claims (ZH)
The Battle Against The ‘Superbugs’: Transplants, Chemotherapy At Risk (CNBC)

 

 

Obama’s PR fiasco widens.

Turkey and Russia Agree on Syria Ceasefire, Into Effect by Midnight (R.)

Turkey and Russia have agreed on a proposal toward a general ceasefire in Syria, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said on Wednesday, and will aim to put it into effect by midnight. Anadolu, citing sources, said the two countries have reached a consensus that will be presented to participants in the conflict on expanding the ceasefire that was established in Aleppo earlier this month. Russia, Iran and Turkey said last week they were ready to help broker a peace deal after holding talks in Moscow where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to. Arrangements for the talks, which would not include the United States and be distinct from separate intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations, remain hazy, but Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan, a close ally. Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday said the Syrian government was consulting with the opposition ahead of possible peace talks, while a Saudi-backed opposition group said it knew nothing of the negotiations but supported a ceasefire.

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Accuse the accuser.

Erdogan Says He Has Evidence US-Led Coalition Has Given Support To ISIS (Ind.)

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he has uncovered evidence that US-led coalition forces have helped support terrorists in Syria – including Isis. American-led forces have been working alongside Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad but have attempted to avoid helping Isis and other Islamist militant groups. However, speaking on Tuesday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, he said he believed they had given support to a variety of militant groups, including Isis Kurdish outfits YPG and PYD. “They were accusing us of supporting Daesh [Islamic State],” he told a press conference, according to Reuters. “Now they give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD. It’s very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.”

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So Turkey is accused of aiding ISIS, now accuses the US of doing just that, and wants known ISIS backers to join peace talks. Enter Putin stage left.

Turkey Says Saudis, Qatar Should Attend Syria Peace Talks (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Saudi Arabia and Qatar should join its meeting with Russia and Iran to discuss Syrian peace efforts. Russia, Turkey and Iran, which helped broker the withdrawal of civilians and militants from the Syrian city of Aleppo, have agreed to hold talks on Syria in Kazakhstan next month. Erdogan said Tuesday the meeting of foreign ministers should include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying they had “shown goodwill and given support” to Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the main backers of rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is closely allied with Moscow and Tehran. Erdogan added, however, that Turkey would not take part if any “terror organizations” are also invited, referring to Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

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All the US has ever bet on is chaos.

‘US Raised Middle East Terrorists & Wants Them To Stay’ – Iran Def Min (RT)

Washington appears unready to play a serious role in fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), as it has fostered terrorists itself and now wants them to remain in the Middle East, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told RT. “The Western coalition is of a formal nature, they have no real intention to fight neither in Syria nor in Iraq. We don’t see any readiness on their part to play a truly useful and meaningful role in fighting IS, because it’s them who have raised terrorists and they are interested in keeping them there,” Dehghan said. According to the Iranian defense minister, Tehran has never coordinated its operations with the Americans and “will never collaborate with them.”

“Maybe the coalition forces would like to see terrorists weakened, but certainly not destroyed, because those terrorists are their tool for destabilizing this region and some other parts of the world.” He also mentioned Al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and said that terrorists in Syria receive support from the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He also accused Turkey of supporting terrorists on the ground. “If Iran, Russia and Syria were to reach an agreement with Turkey to end Turkish support for those terrorist groups, particularly IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and start fighting them, then I think we would see the situation in Syria improve,” he added. According to the minister, any ceasefire in Syria demands guarantees and all parties should agree to fulfill the conditions for a truce.

“We shouldn’t let Islamic State or Al-Nusra groups take part in the ceasefire. All other groups should start a political process and negotiations with the Syrian government.” He added that after the truce comes into force, it is important to separate terrorists and opposition groups ready to negotiate with the Syrian government. All sides should fight IS and Al-Nusra Front, Dehghan stated, adding that everyone should stop supporting terrorists in political, financial and military areas.

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That’s a big company to have this happen to.

Toshiba Shares Fall 20%, Hit Limit, As US Nuclear Writedown Sinks In (AFP)

Toshiba shares dived more than 20% on Wednesday in their second straight double-digit plunge as the company said it may book a one-time loss of several billion dollars over its US nuclear business. Toshiba’s stock price dropped by 20.42% to 311.60 yen, the largest fall allowed for a single day, about 30 minutes after the opening bell, as the company failed to remove investor worries over the potential risk. On Tuesday the Tokyo-based conglomerate said costs linked to the acquisition in 2015 by its US subsidiary of a nuclear service company would possibly come to “several billion US dollars, resulting in a negative impact on Toshiba’s financial results”. The exact figure of the potential writedown was still being worked out, Toshiba president Satoshi Tsunakawa said after the announcement, apologising for “causing concern”.

The company statement suggested the figure would be released soon, citing an end-of-year deadline. Toshiba shares had closed nearly 12% lower on Tuesday on media reports about the potential loss. Analysts said uncertainty was fuelling investor anxiety. “Concerns have yet to be cleared away as they said they didn’t know the figure,” Yukihiko Shimada, senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities, told AFP. SMBC Nikko credit analysts Yutaka Ban and Kentaro Harada said in a report that investors “can’t be optimistic about the situation” even though the total writedown may not end up as big as the 500 billion yen (US$4.3bn) reported by local media. Nomura Securities analyst Masaya Yamasaki said in a report issued late on Tuesday that the expected loss “is negative for the company as its financial standing is fragile”.

Tsunakawa answered in the affirmative when asked if Toshiba was considering boosting capital. Its chief financial officer, Masayoshi Hirata, said that after the figure was confirmed the company would “explain and seek support” from financial institutions. Toshiba said the possible loss was related to the valuation of the purchase by subsidiary Westinghouse Electric of the nuclear construction and services business of Chicago Bridge and Iron.

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Something’s not right.

China To Rein In Outward Investment As Domestic Growth Stalls (G.)

Beijing has signalled plans to curb Chinese firms’ investment in foreign assets, after revealing that companies from China are on course to spend 1.12 trillion yuan (£130bn) on everything from British football clubs to a Hollywood film producer in 2016. Companies from China ramped up their spending on overseas assets during the year, as a weakening domestic economy saw investors turn their attention overseas. A diverse array of targets included the maker of Godzilla, Aston Villa Football Club and the pub in which former prime minister David Cameron and Chinese premier Xi Jinping once shared a pint. The spending spree boosted non-financial overseas investment 55% in the first 11 months of 2016, putting Chinese companies on course to spend £130bn this year, compared with £86bn in 2015, said commerce minister Gao Hucheng.

While foreign investment has soared, the amount of money flowing into the country is set to remain broadly flat at £92bn. This means the difference between investments abroad and those coming into China has reached an unprecedented £39bn. The widening gap has triggered concerns about capital flight, where investors send their money out of the country rather than investing it to spur domestic growth. Gao signalled that Beijing would move to address the investment gap by reining in Chinese firms’ overseas spending and making it easier for firms from abroad to access the Chinese economy.

He said the government would “promote the healthy and orderly development of outbound investment and cooperation in 2017”, in remarks at a conference that were published on the commerce ministry’s website. In November it was reported that China was preparing a clampdown on non-Chinese mergers and acquisitions. Separately, the ministry said on its blog that China would sharply reduce restrictions on foreign investment access in 2017 to make it easier for overseas firms to spend their cash in the People’s Republic. No details were given on what restrictions would be changed.

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Even worse than in other years, and there’s a reason for that.

Chinese Interbank Funding Freezes Again As Overnight Repo Hits 33% (ZH)

… when it comes to more traditional unsecured short-term funding markets, like the simple overnight repo, these reflect overall levels of liquidity in the interbank market, or as the case may be, complete absence thereof. And while China is notorious for suffering major liquidity shortages heading into a new year (including the non-lunar variety), what happened overnight in China is worth pointing out because according to Bloomberg data, the overnight repo rate traded on Shanghai Stock Exchange soared as much as 30.87% to 33%, the highest since September 29, before closing at 18.55%.

And while some of the liquidity squeeze was certainly calendar driven, what is more concerning for Chinese markets, where as we reported recently the local authorities, regulators and even press are confirming that the government crackdown on the credit and housing bubble may be serious for once due to fears about “rising social tensions”, much of the overnight repo rate spike was driven by the PBOC which pulled a net 150 billion yuan of funds in open-market operations today, the most since December 7. The result was another brief, but painful, freeze of the interbank lending market. Should the PBOC continue to not only not inject liquidity among banks, but aggressively withdraw it, it is possible that a repeat of the 2013 bank crisis when as a result of the government’s eagerness to delever the economy it almost crushed its financial sector (it ultimately gave up, with Chinese debt/GDP subsequently rising to 300% according to the IIF), should be one of the more notable risk factors for 2017.

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How can Beijing NOT devalue?

No Happy New Year in China as Currency, Liquidity Fears Loom (BBG)

China bulls could be facing a grim New Year’s eve. The first day of 2017 is when an annual $50,000 quota to convert the yuan into foreign exchange resets, stoking concern there will be a rush to sell the local currency. With tax payments and a regulatory assessment also tightening liquidity in the money market toward year-end, January may bring scant relief as lenders prepare for stronger cash demand before Lunar New Year holidays, which are only a month away. China’s markets are seeing renewed pressure this month as the Federal Reserve projects a faster pace of rate increases for 2017 and its Chinese counterpart tightens monetary conditions to spur deleveraging and defend the exchange rate. The declines are capping off a tough year for investors during which bonds, shares and currency all slumped.

“You have Chinese New Year quite early, and because of that one-month window, most of the banks will try to lock the money in a three-month cycle,” said Arthur Lau, Hong Kong-based head of Asia ex-Japan fixed income at PineBridge Investments. “The current situation in the bond market is partly because of year-end and because of Chinese New Year.” The week-long Lunar New Year holidays are traditionally a time when people give out cash gifts and companies pay employee bonuses. China’s 10-year government bond yield has surged 21 basis points in December, poised for its biggest monthly increase since August 2013, and its first annual gain since that same year. The yuan’s 6.6% decline in 2016 puts it on course for its worst year since 1994, while the Shanghai Composite Index is headed for its largest drop in five years.

The three-month interbank rate known as Shibor rose for a 50th day, its longest streak since 2010, to an 18-month high on Wednesday. The overnight repurchase rate on the Shanghai Stock Exchange jumped to as high as 33% the day before, the highest since Sept. 29. As banks become more reluctant to offer cash to other types of institutions, the latter have to turn to the exchange for money, said Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities in Shanghai. Bond and money markets may stabilize after Lunar New Year holidays – which start Jan. 27 and end Feb. 2 – though they’re unlikely to return to levels before the latest rout owing to yuan weakness and tighter monetary policy, said Lau. The People Bank of China’s yuan position – a gauge of capital flows – dropped the most in 10 months in November amid expectations for faster U.S. rate increases.

The onshore yuan’s surging trading volume suggests outflows are quickening, according to Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at RBS. The daily average value of transactions in Shanghai climbed to $34 billion in December as of Monday, the highest since at least April 2014, according to data from China Foreign Exchange Trade System. “In the new year, the new foreign-exchange purchase quota starts, so we expect yuan positions in January to drop significantly,” Liu Dongliang at China Merchants Bank wrote in a note this month. “Within the foreseeable future, the market will be pessimistic about funding conditions. It happens to be near year-end now, where money markets are tight, and after New Year’s Day it’s almost Chinese New Year.”

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“Happy New Year with fewer taxes!”

Greek Taxpayers Face €4 Billion Tax Bill By New Year’s Eve (Xinhua)

Greek taxpayers are obliged to pay some €4 billion in taxes by New Year Eve, as outstanding debts to the state have soared to more than €94 billion by November, according to Finance Ministry data. However, some recession-hit taxpayers seem unable to pay the full taxes within deadlines and apply for settlements to pay their debts in more installments. To collect as much as possible to reach bailout targets, the Greek state has launched confiscation procedures for debtors. According to official data, in the first 10 months of 2016, the procedures had been applied onto 108,729 debtors. And another 1.6 million debtors are facing confiscation in early 2017 should they do not immediately settle their debts to the Tax office.

However, some debtors complained about the levies, saying they can not afford any more as they have been struggling to make ends meet amid seven-year austerity. Many financial analysts also warned that Greek society has reached a breaking point due to over-taxation combined with salary, pension cuts and high unemployment rates. Despite the levies, the country’s tax evasion still exists. According to a recent study conducted by the independent Greek research organization diaNEOsis, tax evasion in Greece is estimated range between 6% and 9% of the country’s GDP, which means a loss of some €16 billion in taxes a year. Experts as well as ordinary citizens urge the government to do more to address widespread tax evasion instead of adding more burdens on those who are trying to pay their share.

While mentioning the tax obligations due by Friday, the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ESEE), which represents small and medium-sized companies in Greece, wishes in an e-mailed card to its members on Tuesday “Happy New Year with fewer taxes!”

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is this just a stunt to get rid of the president, proposing a female Muslim for PM?

Clash Over New Government Sends Romania Spiraling Toward Crisis (BBG)

Romania tumbled toward a new political crisis after President Klaus Iohannis rejected a prime minister nominee from the Social Democratic Party, which threatened to suspend him after winning a landslide election victory this month. Iohannis called on the party to pick someone else to lead a government after Sevil Shhaideh, a former development minister with little previous political influence, was picked by Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea last week. Dragnea, who can’t take the post himself because he was previously convicted of rigging a referendum, called the decision unjustified. He said he’ll consider his options, including potentially starting the procedure to suspend Iohannis, and will announce a decision by Dec. 29.

“It seems the president clearly wants to be suspended,” Dragnea said in a speech in Bucharest on Tuesday. “We’ll weigh our options very carefully, because we don’t want to take emotional decisions. We don’t want to trigger a political crisis for nothing, but if we come to the conclusion that the president must be suspended, I won’t hesitate.” The standoff in the European Union’s second-poorest country raises the risk of returning to the type of crisis that led to months of bickering between top leaders and culminated in Traian Basescu’s suspension from the presidency in 2012. It may also undermine one of the fastest paces of growth in the EU by delaying investment and the tapping of development funds, an area where Romania has ranked last in the 28-member club.

Iohannis has the constitutional right to reject any premier candidate that he doesn’t consider fit for the job. He didn’t give a reason for his decision. The choice of Shhaideh, a member of the mainly Orthodox country’s tiny Muslim minority, had fueled speculation that Dragnea may try to run the government himself from the sidelines.

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“..the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that [..] there is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.

Inequality and Skin in the Game (Taleb)

There is inequality and inequality. The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one’s understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a “fan”. You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don’t resent them.

The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted –and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don’t just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.

There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave. The author Joan Williams, in an insightful article, explains that the working class is impressed by the rich, as role models. Michèle Lamont, the author of The Dignity of Working Men, whom she cites, did a systematic interview of blue collar Americans and found present a resentment of professionals but, unexpectedly, not of the rich. It is safe to accept that the American public –actually all public –despise people who make a lot of money on a salary, or, rather, salarymen who make a lot of money. This is indeed generalized to other countries: a few years ago the Swiss, of all people almost voted a law capping salaries of managers . But the same Swiss hold rich entrepreneurs, and people who have derived their celebrity by other means, in some respect.

In this chapter I will propose that effectively what people resent –or should resent –is the person at the top who has no skin in the game, that is, because he doesn’t bear his allotted risk, is immune to the possibility of falling from his pedestal, exiting the income or wealth bracket, and getting to the soup kitchen. Again, on that account, the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that, by advertising his episode of bankruptcy and his personal losses of close to a billion dollars, they removed the resentment (the second type of inequality) one may have towards him. There is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.

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Many countries use these ‘outlets’, pushing people into programs not intended for them.

The New Normal ‘Safety Net’: Surging Disability Benefits Claims (ZH)

If you’ve paid into Social Security, become injured or sick, and can no longer earn more than $1,130 a month, you can get a monthly subsidy from the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. As Bloomberg notes, in 1990 fewer than 2.5% of working-age Americans were “on the check;” by 2015 the number stood at 5.2%, with geographical “disability belts” appearing across America. That growth has left the fund in periodic need of rescues by Congress – most recently in 2015, when the Bipartisan Budget Act shifted money from Social Security’s old-age survivors’ fund to extend the solvency of the disability fund to 2023. Something changed in 2000…

“None of us should be surprised that the cost of the program was rising,” says Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary. He says the program’s growth is mostly a consequence of demographic change. Older workers are more likely to get sick, and as women have entered the workforce, they too have become eligible for benefits.”

In 1956, when the disability insurance fund was created, qualification was based on a list of accepted medical conditions. In 1984, Congress broadened the criteria, giving more weight to chronic pain and mental disorders. The qualification process also became more subjective. Now, rather than check diagnostic conditions against a list, the process determines whether applicants are able to perform work that’s available. It’s not as if you go to the doctor, the doctor says, “I’m sorry, son, you’ve got disability, Autor says. “It’s a social construct, because it’s about whether you can work.”

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I’m prety sure it’s worse than this: “..more than 70% of the antibiotics considered medically important for human health sold in the U.S. are actually used in livestock.”

But also: “..half of antibiotic use in humans is unnecessary.”

The Battle Against The ‘Superbugs’: Transplants, Chemotherapy At Risk (CNBC)

Headlines about antibiotic resistance – the increase in so-called “superbugs” – have been persistent in 2016. The issue of infection-causing bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs used to fight them poses a pressing risk to public health worldwide, and according to a 2014 report from the World Health Organization, “threatens the achievements of modern medicine.” The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the U.K. government, estimated that “by 2050, 10 million lives a year and a cumulative $100 trillion of economic output are at risk due to the rise of drug resistant infections.” For perspective, cancer currently kills 8.2 million people annually. In September of this year, the United Nations agreed on a declaration to fight antibiotic resistance.

This was only the fourth time in the organisation’s 71-year history that a health issue has been treated with such gravity, putting antibiotic resistance on par with HIV and ebola. “It’s hard to be too dramatic,” Prof. Michael Gardam, associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, told CNBC via telephone. Echoing this severity, Prof. Toby Jenkins, a biophysical chemist at the University of Bath, said that “a Doomsday scenario is that transplant surgery will be impossible, chemotherapy likewise.” “Even a dental abscess could become deadly, or at least very painful,” he added. The overprescription of antibiotics is one cause of the problem, with Gardam saying that it is “becoming the norm to use last line drugs” in treating bacterial infections, and that “just in case” prescriptions should be handled with care. The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half of antibiotic use in humans is unnecessary.

But, other contributing factors well integrated into daily life are also to blame. Gardam also criticized antibacterial soap and toothpaste, particularly prevalent in North America. Deeming such products unnecessary, Gardam warned that “your mouth is not meant to be a sterile zone.” He also stressed the importance of “not messing around with the natural flora of the body,” as such consumer products are wont to do. The food industry also plays a significant part in the antibiotic resistance dilemma, with healthy food-producing animals fed drugs to both prevent disease and promote growth. According to 2012 data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and research firm IMS Health, more than 70% of the antibiotics considered medically important for human health sold in the U.S. are actually used in livestock.

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Jun 052015
 
 June 5, 2015  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Russell Lee Tracy, California. Gasoline filling station 1942

In Greek Debt Puzzle, the Game Theorists Have It (NY Times)
Greece Misses IMF Payment In Warning Shot, Showdown With Europe Escalates (AEP)
A Speech of Hope for Greece (Yanis Varoufakis)
EU/IMF Lenders Demand Asset Sales, Pension Cuts In Greek Proposal (Reuters)
Greece’s IMF Repayment Delay Smacks Of Both Desperation And Defiance (Guardian)
Greek Finance Ministry: German WWII Debt €280 To €340 Billion (Kathimerini)
Stay Out Of Harm’s Way – The Casino Is Fixing To Blow (David Stockman)
The Lawsuit Machine Going After Student Debtors (Bloomberg)
Bernie Sanders: Let’s Spend $5.5 Billion to Employ 1 Million Young People (BBG)
Housing Bubble Was Built By JP Morgan, Barclays (MarketWatch)
The Real Reason Why There Is No Bond Market Liquidity Left (Zero Hedge)
US Workers Ask: Where’s My Raise? (WSJ)
Levels Of UK Household Debt At Record High (Independent)
There’s a Big Decision Looming for Chinese Stocks (Bloomberg)
We Are The Propagandists: US Turns Truth In Ukraine On Its Head (Salon)
Kiev Allows Foreign Armed Forces, ‘Potential Carriers Of Nukes’ In Ukraine (RT)
US Knowingly Conceals Ceasefire Violations By Kiev (RT)
Global Dairy Costs Drop to 5-Year Low on Record Milk Output (Bloomberg)
Californians Urged To Rip Out Their Lawns (Guardian)
The Rewilding Plan That Would Return Britain To Nature (BBC)
Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500% (Vice)

“It would be as if Delaware brought down the United States economy. That would be the fault of the U.S., not Delaware.”

In Greek Debt Puzzle, the Game Theorists Have It (NY Times)

That Yanis Varoufakis, the rakish Greek finance minister, would meet with senior European officials wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and open-collar shirt would probably have fascinated John F. Nash Jr., the Nobel prize -winning mathematician, game theorist and Princeton professor who was thrown from a taxi and killed last month. Is Mr. Varoufakis really a radical, or simply acting like one to increase Greece’s negotiating leverage — what game theorists mean when they say it can be rational to behave irrationally? Mr. Varoufakis is himself a noted game theorist, co-author of the textbook “Game Theory: a Critical Introduction” and a longtime admirer of Dr. Nash. The two met in Athens in June 2000 after Dr. Nash delivered a lecture on money.

After learning of Dr. Nash’s death, Mr. Varoufakis wrote on Twitter: “Reading your work was inspirational. Meeting you, and spending time together, was an unearned bonus, Farewell John Nash Jr.” The intense and hard-fought negotiations between Greece and its creditors, which have roiled global financial markets for months and appear to be nearing a climax, are the sort of high-stakes game that fascinated Dr. Nash, who won the Nobel in economic science, and lend themselves to the analysis he pioneered. On Thursday, markets were rattled when Greece deferred a payment to the IMF as it continued to seek a new debt deal. “It’s exactly the kind of game that Nash had in mind,” said Sylvia Nasar, author of the definitive Nash biography “A Beautiful Mind,” which was the basis for the Academy Award-winning movie. “There are more than two players. They have common as well as opposing interests. Not making a deal leaves everybody worse off.”

Unfortunately for the financial markets and the future of the European Union, that’s no guarantee that Greece and its creditors will reach a deal that averts the doomsday scenario — a debt default by Greece that could cause it to lose its membership in Europe’s currency union and set off another crisis. I asked Mr. Varoufakis this week how it felt to have the fate of the global economy to a large extent resting on him. “I don’t really feel the weight of the world economy,” he said. “I feel the weight of the Greek people resting on my shoulders. If little Greece, in order to survive, brings down the financial world, it can’t be our fault. It would be as if Delaware brought down the United States economy. That would be the fault of the U.S., not Delaware.”

Virtually everyone agrees that a default by Greece is the least desirable outcome for both Greece and its creditors — among them Germany and France; the European Central Bank; and the I.M.F. Yet one of Dr. Nash’s critical insights is that there may be many possible outcomes — so-called Nash equilibriums — that produce suboptimal results. A Nash equilibrium exists when each side’s strategy is optimal given what they believe to be the others’ strategy. For example, if Germany and other creditors don’t believe Greece’s threat to default, and underestimate the severity of such an outcome, they might see their optimal strategy as remaining firm in their demands for Greek fiscal austerity and structural reforms. If, on the other hand, Germany believes Mr. Varoufakis to be ideologically motivated to reject further austerity, it might well cave to Greek demands for leniency.

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“In a strange way we are all breathing a sigh of relief. We were afraid of a bad deal that would split the party but this is so atrocious it makes life easier. None of us can accept it..”

Greece Misses IMF Payment In Warning Shot, Showdown With Europe Escalates (AEP)

Greece is to take the drastic step of skipping a €300m payment to the IMF on Friday, invoking an obscure mechanism in abeyance since the 1970s to bundle all debts due in June and pay them at the end of the month. It is the first time that a developed country has ever missed a payment to the IMF since the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions at the end of the Second World War. The news broke after the Athens stock exchange had closed but a bloodbath is feared when the bourse opens on Friday. Yields on two-year Greek bonds spiked 63 basis points to 21.8pc amid mounting fears of a deposit run on Greek banks and the imposition of capital controls as soon as this weekend. The IMF said it had been notified by the Greek authorities that they would pay the entire €1.6bn due this month on June 30, dusting down a procedure last used by Zambia in the 1980s.

The shock move came as leaders of the ruling Syriza movement were locked in a series of emergency meetings to vent their fury over the latest austerity demands by the European creditor powers. Senior figures in the party lined up to denounce the “ultimatum” from Brussels as another wasted moment after four months of acrimonious talks. “It cannot form the basis of an agreement,” said Tassos Koronakis, the party secretary. Alexis Mitropoulos, the deputy speaker of parliament, called it “the most vulgar and murderous plan” that shattered hopes of a deal just as everybody was expecting a breakthrough. Others daubed their war paint and vowed angrily that there would be no “surrender”.

The skipped payment is the clearest sign to date that the crisis is escalating to a dangerous level as Syriza refuses to buckle. It will not be resolved without European statesmanship of a high order, so far lacking. While the authorities sought to play down the Greek decision, it was clearly intended as a warning shot. Syriza had the money at hand. It chose not to pay as a conscious political choice. The Greeks accuse the IMF of violating its own rules by colluding in an EMU-led policy that leaves the country with unsustainable debts. Athens is implicity threatening to escalate the situation all the way to a full default to the IMF, setting off a grave institutional and political crisis within the Fund itself.

Syriza leaders say they are unwilling to burn any more of the country’s dwindling cash reserves to pay creditors until there is a credible offer on the table, insisting that their priority is to pay pensions and salaries and avoid default to their own people. One cabinet minister told The Telegraph that the proposals by creditors seemed designed to bring about a deliberate rupture. “They want to force us into a position where we can’t sign,” he said. “In a strange way we are all breathing a sigh of relief. We were afraid of a bad deal that would split the party but this is so atrocious it makes life easier. None of us can accept it,” he said.

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“..once President Harry Truman’s administration decided to rehabilitate Germany, there was no turning back.”

A Speech of Hope for Greece (Yanis Varoufakis)

On September 6, 1946 US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes traveled to Stuttgart to deliver his historic “Speech of Hope.” Byrnes’ address marked America’s post-war change of heart vis-à-vis Germany and gave a fallen nation a chance to imagine recovery, growth, and a return to normalcy. Seven decades later, it is my country, Greece, that needs such a chance. Until Byrnes’ “Speech of Hope,” the Allies were committed to converting “…Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character.” That was the express intention of the Morgenthau Plan, devised by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and co-signed by the United States and Britain two years earlier, in September 1944.

Indeed, when the US, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945, they agreed on the “reduction or destruction of all civilian heavy-industry with war potential” and on “restructuring the German economy toward agriculture and light industry.” By 1946, the Allies had reduced Germany’s steel output to 75% of its pre-war level. Car production plummeted to around 10% of pre-war output. By the end of the decade, 706 industrial plants were destroyed. Byrnes’ speech signaled to the German people a reversal of that punitive de-industrialization drive. Of course, Germany owes its post-war recovery and wealth to its people and their hard work, innovation, and devotion to a united, democratic Europe. But Germans could not have staged their magnificent post-war renaissance without the support signified by the “Speech of Hope.”

Prior to Byrnes’ speech, and for a while afterwards, America’s allies were not keen to restore hope to the defeated Germans. But once President Harry Truman’s administration decided to rehabilitate Germany, there was no turning back. Its rebirth was underway, facilitated by the Marshall Plan, the US-sponsored 1953 debt write-down, and by the infusion of migrant labor from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Europe could not have united in peace and democracy without that sea change. Someone had to put aside moralistic objections and look dispassionately at a country locked in a set of circumstances that would only reproduce discord and fragmentation across the continent. The US, having emerged from the war as the only creditor country, did precisely that.

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Insane demands that they know will not be accepted: “..increasing value-added tax to 11% (from 6%) for items including drugs and 23% for items including electricity.”

EU/IMF Lenders Demand Asset Sales, Pension Cuts In Greek Proposal (Reuters)

Greece’s EU/IMF lenders have asked Athens to commit to sell off state assets, enforce pension cuts and press on with labour reforms, two sources familiar with the plan said on Thursday, demands that would cross the Greek government’s “red lines”. If Greece were to accept the plan, lenders would aim to unlock €10.9 billion in unused bank bailout funds that were returned to the European Financial Stability Fund. This would enable Greece to cover its financial needs through July and August, the sources said. Meanwhile, a debate regarding progress of ongoing negotiations with Greece’s lenders would take place in Greek Parliament on Friday at 6 p.m. following a decision by premier Alexis Tsipras, it emerged on Thursday.

In a five-page proposal presented to Tsipras in Brussels on Wednesday, EU/IMF lenders asked Athens to reduce spending on pensions by 1% of gross domestic product and promise not to reverse any legislated reforms, the sources said. They also demanded Athens raise €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – by increasing value-added tax to 11% for items including drugs and 23% for items including electricity, the sources told Reuters. They want Greece to scrap a benefit for low income pensioners, called EKAS, to save €800 million by 2016 – a move that if accepted, would force Tsipras to violate his pledge to avoid any new pension cuts. The proposal also calls for a hike in healthcare contributions by Greeks and a cut in the fuel subsidy.

The lenders have also demanded Tsipras not make any unilateral move to restore collective bargaining rights and raise minimum wage level to pre-crisis levels – pledges he made before coming to power in January. The proposal also asks Athens to commit to privatising Grid operator ADMIE, Greece’s major ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, the former airport complex of Hellenikon, Greece’s biggest oil refinery Hellenic Petroleum and Greek telecoms operator OTE. Some of the asset sales mentioned – like ADMIE and Hellenikon – have been staunchly opposed by Tsipras’s Syriza party. The proposal does not make any mention of offering debt relief to Athens .

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People have strange views. As soon as the IMF said Greece had the permission to delay, it was clear that they would unless a deal had been made. It doesn’t matter if they announce it at the last moment.

Greece’s IMF Repayment Delay Smacks Of Both Desperation And Defiance (Guardian)

You could almost hear the gritted teeth through which the IMF issued its terse statement acknowledging that Athens planned to miss Friday’s deadline for making a €300m debt repayment. The Washington-based lender, which was always wary about being dragged into Europe’s debt crisis, didn’t condemn Greece’s actions, let alone suggest that deferring the payment was tantamount to default. It simply restated that in a little-known loophole adopted in the late 1970s, “country members can ask to bundle together multiple principal payments falling due in a calendar month”. But it was clear that the IMF had received little warning of Greece’s plans.

Yanis Varofakis, the country’s pugnacious finance minister, has long argued that the end of June, when the four-month extension to the country’s bailout programme the Syriza government won in February expires, is the real deadline for reaching an agreement. But the lastminute decision to delay the payment, just hours after IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she fully expected it to arrive, smacked of both desperation and defiance. Greece’s stance is likely to infuriate the IMF, which doesn’t want to shoulder the blame for pushing Greece into default, but reportedly believes current plans for tackling its debt burden remain unrealistic.

Even with the rest of the month now apparently available to secure a deal, the distance between Greece and its creditors remains considerable, as leaked negotiating texts from both sides suggested on Thursday. Meanwhile, both the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who faces an uphill struggle selling any deal to his party, and Varoufakis, who has been sidelined from the talks but remains finance minister, have continued to make pungent public statements about the sacrifices of the Greek people.

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In parliament. Wonder what the next step will be.

Greek Finance Ministry: German WWII Debt €280 To €340 Billion (Kathimerini)

Members of a special committee at the Finance Ministry’s General Accounting Office told the parliamentary inquiry into Germany’s unpaid reparations to Greece that Athens is owed between €280 and €340 billion by Berlin. Five officials from the General Accounting Office appeared before the committee, which is chaired by Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou. The head of the Finance Ministry panel that investigated Germany’s war debt, Panayiotis Karakousis, said that his team found no evidence that Greece had waived its right to claim Second World War reparations. On a visit to Berlin earlier this year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her country had a moral duty to settle the matter but he did not refer to any specific figures.

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Absolutely. Thar she blows.

Stay Out Of Harm’s Way – The Casino Is Fixing To Blow (David Stockman)

Shock waves have been rumbling through the global bond market in the last few days. On April 17 the yield on the 10-year German bund pierced through the 5bps level, but yesterday it tagged 100bps. That amounted to a 20X move in 39 trading days. It also amounted to total annihilation if you were front running Mario Draghi’s bond buying campaign on 95% repo leverage and didn’t hit the sell button fast enough. And there were a lot of sell buttons to hit. The Italian 10-year yield has soared from a low of 1.03% in late March to 2.21% last night, and the yield on the Spanish bond has doubled in a similar manner. Needless to say, this is not by way of a lamentation in behalf of the euro-bond speculators who have had their heads handed to them in recent days.

After harvesting hundreds of billions of windfall gains since Draghi’s mid-2012 “whatever it takes ukase” they were overdue to get slapped around good and hard. Instead, what we have here is just one more striking demonstration that financial markets are utterly broken. The notion of honest price discovery might as well be relegated to the museum of financial history. The exact catalyst for yesterday’s panicked global bond sell-off, apparently, was Draghi’s public confession that although the ECB would stay the course on its $1.3 trillion QE program, it cannot prevent short-run “volatility” in the trading pits.

Why that should be a surprise to anyone is hard to fathom, but it does crystalize the “look ma, no hands” essence of today’s markets. The trading herd goes in the direction enabled by the central banks until a few dare devils finally fall off their bikes, causing an unexpected pile-up and inducing the pack to temporarily reverse direction. Thus, it is not surprising that a few traders got caught flat-footed in recent days. In the case of the insanely over-valued Italian 10 year bond, for instance, the price went straight up (and the yield straight down) for nearly 33 months.

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Creating an even dumber generation.

The Lawsuit Machine Going After Student Debtors (Bloomberg)

Student loans have eclipsed credit cards to become the second-largest source of outstanding debt in the U.S., after mortgages. Since 2007 the federal student loan balance has more than doubled, to almost $1.2 trillion from $516 billion. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that students, former students, and their parents owe an additional $150 billion in loans from banks and other private lenders. With defaults climbing, lenders have turned to the courts to collect. Many of their suits are marred by missing documents and procedural errors, say consumer advocates and lawyers defending debtors. “Our office is seeing an uptick in abusive loan debt-collection tactics that leave no room for relief,” wrote Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The paperwork problems echo the “robosigning” scandals that followed the housing bust. Like mortgages, student loans were bundled into packages and sold to investors. “This is robosigning 2.0 with student loans,” says Robyn Smith, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group. “You have securitized loans in these large pools; you have the sloppy record keeping,” as in the mortgage crisis.

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“.. it might as well propose taxing churches to pay for sex reassignment surgeries on a moon base.”

Bernie Sanders: Let’s Spend $5.5 Billion to Employ 1 Million Young People (BBG)

The Employ Young Americans Now Act is the sort of legislation that would have struggled even in a Democratic Congress. In a Capitol controlled by Republicans, it might as well propose taxing churches to pay for sex reassignment surgeries on a moon base. The legislation, introduced by Michigan Representative John Conyers, would create a $5.5 billion fund, $4 billion earmarked for the employment of people between 16 and 24, $1.5 billion for job training grants. There are no pay-fors. It would ask a Congress that is dead-set against “big government” to employ people, with the help of big government.

Yet the bill’s Senate sponsor is Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. That matters quite a lot in June 2015. On Thursday morning, Sanders joined Conyers on a visit to the H.O.P.E. Project in southeast Washington. The presidential candidate toured a small but busy office, located above a strip mall, that had successfully trained 375 people in the IT field, and seen 315 of those people get jobs that paid an average of $42,000—far above the median income locally. Ninety-three% of graduates were African-American, and when Sanders entered a computer room—pausing to greet every student—the only white faces belonged to journalists and staffers. The room was crowded with TV cameras and iPhones, some pointed at four words on the wall: “HARVARD OF THE HOOD.”

“In America now we spend nearly $200 billion on public safety, including $70 billion on correctional facilities each and every year,” said Sanders from the front of the room. “So, let me be very clear: in my view it makes a lot more sense to invest in jobs, in job training, and in education than spending incredible amounts of money on jails and law enforcement.”

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And the rating agencies.

Housing Bubble Was Built By JP Morgan, Barclays (MarketWatch)

If I had to depend on Wall Street or Washington for an explanation of what ails the U.S. financial economy, I’d probably pick neither one. My choice would be John Griffin, a cowboy boots-wearing University of Texas financial professor, who has been on something of a roll. Six years before Standard & Poor’s agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle state and federal government lawsuits alleging it inflated credit ratings on securitized mortgage debt, Griffin revealed—with mathematical precision—how S&P degraded its own analytical model to issue puffed-up grades. Seven months before J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion to resolve state and federal claims that it misled investors on toxic mortgage securities—the largest financial settlement with a single entity in U.S. history—Griffin showed how the bank had originated a disproportionate share of securitized mortgages flawed by undisclosed second liens (among other reporting problems).

Today, Griffin is advancing a new argument: that housing prices were more inflated—and the crash even more violent—in markets where lenders who misreported mortgages held concentrated market shares. He concludes that big banks with bad practices drove the credit bubble, and the misreporting deepened it. “I just want to know the truth,” says Griffin, 45, who grew up playing high school football in Texas and today delivers some of his hardest hits on Wall Street. In his latest forensic work, Griffin and co-author Gonzalo Maturana, an assistant professor of finance at Emory University in Atlanta, combed through 3.1 million mortgages originated between 2002 and the end of 2007. More than one-quarter of these loans subsequently defaulted.

While looking for inconsistencies in appraisal values and owner-occupancy status, the most interesting part of the investigation exposes how some mortgage securities were riddled with undisclosed second liens. These hidden debts reduced the borrowers’ incentive to repay their obligations. Griffin and Maturana found the gaps by comparing bank securities documents to county courthouse records. No fewer than 10.2% of the securitized mortgages in their sample contained an undisclosed second lien. Some lenders, such as Barclays and J.P. Morgan, produced nearly double the overall number of missing debts. This is startling for two reasons: first, loans with an unreported lien were 97% more likely to become seriously delinquent than were correctly reported loans; and second, the same lender originated both liens more than two-thirds of the time.

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Minsky.

The Real Reason Why There Is No Bond Market Liquidity Left (Zero Hedge)

Back in the summer of 2013, we first commented on what we called “Phantom Markets” – displayed quotes and prices, in not only equities, FX and commodities but increasingly in government bonds, without any underlying liquidity. The problem, which we first addressed in 2012, had gotten so bad, even the all important Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee to the US Treasury had just sounded an alarm on the topic. Since then we have sat back and watched as our prediction was borne out, as bond market liquidity slowly devolved then sharply and dramatically collapsed recently to a level that is so unprecedented, not even we though possible, leading first to the October 15 bond flash crash and countless “VaR shock” events ever since.

And while we urge those few carbon-based life forms who still trade for a living to catch up on our numerous posts on market “liquidity” and lack thereof, here is a quick and dirty primer on just why there is virtually no bond market left, courtesy of the man who, weeks ahead of the Lehman collapse when nobody had any idea what is going on, laid out precisely what happens in 2008 and onward in his seminal note “Are the Brokers Broken?”, Citigroup’s Matt King. Here is the gist of his recent note on the liquidity paradox which is a must read for everyone who trades anything and certainly bonds, while for the TL/DR crowd here is the 5 word summary: blame central bankers and HFTs.

The more liquidity central banks add, the less there is in markets
• Water, water, everywhere — On many metrics, liquidity across markets seems abundant. Bid-offers are tight, if not always back to pre-crisis levels. Notional traded volumes in credit and rates have reached all-time highs. The rise of e-trading is helping to match buyers and sellers of securities more efficiently than ever before.
• Nor any drop to drink — And yet almost every institutional investor, in almost every market, seems worried about liquidity. Even if it’s here today, they fear it will be gone tomorrow. They say that e-trading contributes much volume, but little depth for those who need to trade in size. The growing frequency of “flash crashes” and “air pockets” – often without obvious cause – adds weight to their fears.
• Yes, street regulation has played a role — The most frequently cited explanation is that increased regulation has driven up the cost of balance sheet and reduced the street’s appetite for risk, and hence ability to act as a warehouser between buyers and sellers.
• But so too have the central banks — And yet this fails to explain why even markets like FX and equities, which do not consume dealers’ balance sheets, have been subject to problems. We argue that in addition to regulations, central banks’ distortion of markets has reduced the heterogeneity of the investor base, forcing them to be the “same way round” over the past four years to a greater extent than ever previously. This creates markets which trend strongly, but are then prone to sudden corrections. It also leaves investors more focused on central banks than ever before – and is liable to make it impossible for the central banks to make a smooth exit.

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Record low productivity.

US Workers Ask: Where’s My Raise? (WSJ)

The unemployment rate in metropolitan regions across the U.S. is below where it was when the financial crisis blew a hole in the U.S. economy in 2008. Now, many American workers are asking: Where’s my raise? Questions about the slow pace of wage growth aren’t only stumping workers, but also economists and policy makers at the Federal Reserve—with the answers weighing on households and the larger U.S. economy. When U.S. unemployment rates fall, conventional notions of supply and demand predict wages will go up as firms bid for increasingly scarce workers, and there are signs of that, for example, in building trades and restaurants.

“Basic economics hasn’t gone out the window,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview. “When employment grows, wages will start to grow.” But a Wall Street Journal analysis of Labor Department data points to persistent constraints on worker pay, even as the economy approaches full employment. The Journal found 33 U.S. metropolitan areas—from the small to the sizable—where unemployment rates and nonfarm payrolls last year returned to prerecession levels. In two-thirds of those cities—including Columbus; Houston; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; and Topeka, Kan.—wage growth trailed the prerecession pace. Among the reasons:

• Companies tapping pools of workers who have disappeared from the U.S. unemployment tallies, creating what economists describe as hidden slack in the economy. Until this invisible labor supply is spent, these men and women, including part-timers, temporary workers and discouraged labor-market dropouts, could hold wages down.

• The blunt force of overseas competition makes companies reluctant to raise pay over fears they will lose sales to cheaper-priced foreign firms.

• Lingering psychological scars of a recession long past. Robert Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, said his research found that wages and inflation were subject to inertia. That means unemployment could drop well below 5.5% for years before wages go up much.

• Meager growth in productivity, which limits the incentive of companies to offer raises.

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What the recovery looks like.

Levels Of UK Household Debt At Record High (Independent)

Levels of household debt have soared to record highs and a new way of lending aimed at the poor is needed, according to a new released report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The right wing think tank, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, warns that household debt has risen by more than £34 billion in less than three years and is £1.47 trillion – the highest ever. Some 8.8 million people are “over-indebted.” And borrowing on credit cards, bank overdrafts, and pay day loans amounts to more than £170 billion – the highest in four years. Fifteen million Britons are going into debt just to cover their bills, says the report – based on research commissioned by JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

It argues that those on low incomes should have financial services and products specifically aimed at their needs. Writing in the preface, Dr Alex Burghart, policy director at the CSJ, says: “Without access to financial services that meet their needs, families are forced to take out expensive loans that they then struggle to pay off.” He argues that while more needs to be done to create jobs and improve pay, “there is also a need for financial services that serve the needs of low-income families.” Dr Burghart adds: “By helping to develop a new marketplace for socially responsible Alternative Financial Institutions (AFIs) we can build a new generation of financial services specifically tailored to meet the needs of low-income families.”

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So the foreigners come in just as the facade topples over?!

There’s a Big Decision Looming for Chinese Stocks (Bloomberg)

A New York-based company is getting ready to make a call on China that will determine whether billions of dollars flow into the nation’s world-beating stock market. The June 9 decision by MSCI Inc. on the possible inclusion of China’s locally traded shares in the index-provider’s equity benchmarks comes after a year of consultation with banks and funds. MSCI is faced with a situation where it’s getting harder to ignore the Chinese equity market, already the world’s second-largest with a total value of more than $9 trillion. Yet for most international investors, mainland-listed stocks remain out of reach due to limitations on their tradability.

Foreigners own only 5.9% of the yuan-denominated A shares because of regulatory restrictions even as the government moves to open up access to the exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen. MSCI, whose emerging-market gauge is tracked by $1.7 trillion of funds, could help change that. “It’s a big deal,” Sebastien Lieblich, Global Head of Index Management Research at MSCI, said by phone from Geneva. China’s market is “relatively untapped,” and an inclusion would suggest it be “elevated to be part of the major radar screen of international institutional investors,” he said. Being added to MSCI’s indexes would mark the integration of China’s locally traded stocks into the world’s financial markets after being largely off limits to foreigners until recently.

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Patrick Smith and truth to power.

We Are The Propagandists: US Turns Truth In Ukraine On Its Head (Salon)

A couple of weeks ago, this column guardedly suggested that John Kerry’s day-long talks in Sochi with Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, looked like a break in the clouds on numerous questions, primarily the Ukraine crisis. I saw no evidence that President Obama’s secretary of state had suddenly developed a sensible, post-imperium foreign strategy consonant with a new era. It was force of circumstance. It was the 21st century doing its work. This work will get done, cleanly and peaceably or otherwise. Sochi, an unexpected development, suggested the prospect of cleanliness and peace. But events since suggest that otherwise is more likely to prove the case. It is hard to say because it is hard to see, but our policy cliques may be gradually wading into very deep water in Ukraine.

Ever since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, reality itself has come to seem up for grabs. Karl Rove, a diabolically competent political infighter but of no discernible intellectual weight, may have been prescient when he told us to forget our pedestrian notions of reality—real live reality. Empires create their own, he said, and we’re an empire now. The Ukraine crisis reminds us that the pathology is not limited to the peculiar dreamers who made policy during the Bush II administration, whose idea of reality was idealist beyond all logic. It is a late-imperial phenomenon that extends across the board. “Unprecedented” is considered a dangerous word in journalism, but it may describe the Obama administration’s furious efforts to manufacture a Ukraine narrative and our media’s incessant reproduction of all its fallacies.

At this point it is only sensible to turn everything that is said or shown in our media upside down and consider it a second time. Who could want to live in a world this much like Orwell’s or Huxley’s—the one obliterating reality by destroying language, the other by making historical reference a transgression? Language and history: As argued several times in this space, these are the weapons we are not supposed to have. Ukraine now gives us two fearsome examples of what I mean by inverted reason. One, it has been raining reports of Russia’s renewed military presence in eastern Ukraine lately. One puts them down and asks, What does Washington have on the story board now, an escalation of American military involvement? A covert op? Let us watch.

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And we all pretend this is normal.

Kiev Allows Foreign Armed Forces, ‘Potential Carriers Of Nukes’ In Ukraine (RT)

The Ukrainian parliament has adopted amendments to state law allowing “admission of the armed forces of other states on the territory of Ukraine.” The possible hosting of foreign weapons of mass destruction is also mentioned in the documents. Amendments to Ukrainian law were adopted on Thursday by the Verkhovna Rada, receiving a majority of 240 votes (the required minimum being 226). The bill was submitted to the parliament in May by PM Arseny Yatsenyuk. It focuses on the provision of “international peacekeeping and security” assistance to Ukraine at its request. Peacekeeping missions are to be deployed “on the basis of decision of the UN and/or the EU,” the bill published on the parliament’s official website says.

Previously, the presence of any international military forces on the territory of Ukraine not specifically sanctioned by state law was only possible by adopting a special law initiated by the president. Implementation of the new amendments “will create necessary conditions for deployment on the territory of Ukraine international peacekeeping and security” missions without the need for additional legal authorization, the explanatory note to the draft bill said. The presence of such armed forces in Ukraine “should ensure an early normalization of situation” in Donbass, the note added, saying that they would help “restore law and order and life, constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens” in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

In a comparative table, published among the accompanying documents to the bill, “potential carriers of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction are permitted under international agreement with Ukraine for short-term accommodation,” with Kiev providing proper control during the period that such forces were stationed there.

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US MO.

US Knowingly Conceals Ceasefire Violations By Kiev (RT)

The US and its Western allies are well aware of all the ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine but, deliberately turn a blind eye to Kiev’s actions, hackers said after obtaining the emails of top Ukrainian official overseeing the truce. The anti-Kiev hacktivist group, CyberBerkut, claims to have hacked the emails of Major-General Andrey Taran, Chief of the Joint Centre for Ceasefire Control and Coordination in Ukraine. The correspondence contained satellite images proving multiple violations of the Minsk peace agreements between Kiev and the rebels by the Ukrainian military, they said. The pictures, dating March, April and May 2015, showed Kiev’s heavy artillery stationed in the immediate vicinity of the borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Ukrainian 100-millimeter field artillery guns, 122-millimeter D-30 and 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers, 152-millimeter Hyacinth-S howitzers and Grad multiple rocket launchers were placed less than 20 kilometers away from the contact line, CyberBerkut said. According to the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed in February, both sides were to pull-out of all heavy weapons and create a security zone from 50 to 140 kilometers, depending on the range of the guns. The hacktivists stressed that Washington knew of the violations by Kiev as the hacked emails came from a staff member of the US Embassy in Ukraine, Tetyana Podobinska-Shtyk.

“[I am] sending you pictures which can become a serious problem for you! Think about how you can explain them, if the [OSCE] monitoring mission obtains them. Consult the team leader and think about a possible action plan, how you can justify them or present them as fake,” Podobinska-Shtyk wrote in a hacked email.

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The end of EU quota slams New Zealand. Which shouldn’t have all those cows to begin with.

Global Dairy Costs Drop to 5-Year Low on Record Milk Output (Bloomberg)

An abundance of milk from New Zealand to Europe is driving global dairy costs to the lowest in five years. Prices have plunged almost 40% from a record in February 2014 as farmers ramped up production and Chinese demand slowed, according to a United Nations measure of dairy products. Global production of milk, cheese and butter will rise to records this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. European farmers are increasing output after the government ended production limits in April, while supply from New Zealand, the biggest milk powder exporter, has been better-than-expected during a drought, according to INTL FCStone, a commodities brokerage.

Average prices on New Zealand’s GlobalDairyTrade auction, the global benchmark, fell to $2,412 a metric ton on Tuesday, the lowest since August 2009. “Supply is relatively strong,” John Lancaster, a dairy analyst at FCStone in Dublin, said by phone Thursday. “With the quotas gone, there’s no restriction on farmers.” At the same time, there are signs of weaker demand. China may reduce purchases of whole milk powder this year, while imports of non-fat milk powder will grow at a slower rate than previous years, according to the USDA. China, which uses milk powder in infant formula, has been a driver of global demand in the past. The EU is also exporting less whole milk powder and cheese after Russia banned food imports from the region in retaliation for sanctions related to its policies in Ukraine.

Milk was 20% cheaper in April than a year ago, according to data released last week from the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, known as LTO. The FAO’s gauge of global dairy costs fell to 167.5 points in May, the lowest since October 2009. Milk futures in Chicago have dropped 22% in the past 12 months. Lower prices may pinch farmer profits, leading to less production later this year, Lancaster said. While they’ve benefited from lower feed costs, adverse weather, such as too much or too little rain, would hurt pasture growth and result in less milk production, he said. “If milk prices come down further in Europe, we’d expect to see some kind of a response from production side,” he said. “We could see more culling from herds, depending on how low prices go and potential cash flow issues.”

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What a waste it would be if they don’t seize the opportunity to start growing their own food instead.

Californians Urged To Rip Out Their Lawns (Guardian)

Would you rather give up your lawn or your shower habit? Can you deal with spray-painting your parched garden green? Can you see the beauty in a front yard filled with cacti and rocks? Low-flushing lavatories and recycled wastewater may not be subject matters you would usually associate with a generally more glamorous and decisively sexier California, but as the reality of drought hits urban areas, these are the questions millions of Californians are having to ask. On 1 April, following the announcement of a fourth year of drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order demanding a 25% reduction of water usage in urban areas statewide beginning 1 June. That meant that from Monday, around 90% of Californians were faced with reducing their water consumption by a quarter compared to 2013 levels.

In high-consumption areas, water companies have been given targets as high as 36%. Customers have been told they must reconsider their entire way of life. But how to achieve such a feat? Rules have been devised by local water boards, ranging from carrots (discounts on high-efficiency lavatories and washing machines) to sticks (fines for watering your lawn more than twice a week, or for watering the pavement). Residents have taken to drought-shaming one another, reporting water wasters to the authorities or on social media. In places like Sacramento, such finger-pointing has been encouraged – to great effect. But above all else, there is pressure to take things one step further and turn to lawns. More precisely, to the ripping out of them.

In his executive order, Brown called for the replacement of 50m sq ft of lawns with “drought-tolerant landscapes”, a goal to be achieved with the help of local subsidies and partial funding from the state’s water department. “Over 50% of household water usage is outdoors,” said Stephanie Pincetl, a professor and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at University of California, Los Angeles.

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Nice Monbiot-supported plan, but what difference will it make?

The Rewilding Plan That Would Return Britain To Nature (BBC)

Britain once looked very different. In place of sheep-strewn fields and treeless uplands, there were vast natural forests, glades and wild spaces. Within them, wolves, bears and lynx roamed the land. The first Britons lived alongside woolly mammoths, great auks and wild cows called aurochs. All that is now gone. Humans chopped down the trees to make space for farms, and hunted the large animals to extinction, leaving plant-eaters to decimate the country’s flora. Britain is now one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have top predators. No matter how much we may think England’s green and pleasant countryside is “natural”, it is a pale shadow of what once was – and what could be again. If some conservationists have their way, parts of the UK could be restored to a truly wild state.

This “rewilding” would bring back animals and plants that have been lost, and allow them to roam freely. In these new wild spaces, people could reconnect with animals and plants in a way no park or zoo could ever manage. But it’s also a hugely controversial idea. There are various interpretations of rewilding. The word was coined in 1990 by an American environmentalist named Dave Foreman, who went on to found the Rewilding Institute. Then in 1998, Michael Soulé and Reed Noss set out the core ideas in an article for Wild Earth magazine. The key to rewilding is creating large protected areas in which animals and plants are left to their own devices. The new wildernesses have to be large to support top predators like wolves, which need space and lots of prey.

The top predators are crucial, because they keep down the populations of their prey. These are normally plant-eating animals like deer, which would otherwise run riot and decimate trees and other plant life – and in turn destroy the habitats for many other animals. By keeping plant-eaters in check, top predators allow many more species to flourish. These ripple effects are called “trophic cascades”. Soulé and Noss argued that ecosystems cannot function as they should without top predators or carnivores.

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It’ll take horrible disasters for Brussels to act.

Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500% (Vice)

The number of migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece has increased by 500% since last year, according to European border control agency Frontex. In comparison, the number of migrants attempting the perilous journey across of the Mediterranean to Italy has gone up just 5%, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said Wednesday. “When you close off a migration route, another one opens up elsewhere,” Thibaut Jaulin, a research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po in Paris, told VICE News. European authorities have beefed up surveillance along the Libya-Italy migrant route in an effort to prevent the recurring tragedies in the Mediterranean.

In April, naval border monitoring operation Triton saw its budget tripled from €3 million to €9 million a month. The European Council is also considering launching a military operation in Libyan waters to destroy boats used by Libyan people smugglers. The EU is due to vote on the issue on June 22. The move will also need to be approved by Libya or by the UN Security Council. According to Frontex, the “Eastern Mediterranean Route” – described as “the passage used by migrants crossing through Turkey to the European Union via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus” – is not a new path for migrants. Since 2008, the route has become the second biggest “migratory hot spot” in the EU, and it was Europe’s “second largest area for detections of illegal border-crossings” in 2014.

Leggeri told French daily Les Échos on Wednesday that some 37,000 migrants had arrived on Europe’s shores through Italy since the beginning of 2015, versus 40,000 through Greece.

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Feb 122015
 
 February 12, 2015  Posted by at 11:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Byron In Chinatown, Pell Street, New York 1900

Eurogroup Fails to Agree to Next Greek Bailout Steps (Bloomberg)
Rejected Eurogroup Draft Spoke Of “Extending” Greek Bailout (Reuters)
Greece And Eurozone In Stalemate Over Debt Burden (Guardian)
Greece Said to Offer Euro Area Four Principles for Talks (Bloomberg)
Germany Faces Impossible Choice As Greek Austerity Revolt Spreads (AEP)
Eurozone Leaders Believe Syriza Must Fail And Be Seen To Fail (Telegraph)
If The Greek Olive Branch Is Rejected, Europe May Fall (Pablo Iglesias)
86 Names Missing from Greek ‘Lagarde List’ (Greek Reporter)
Ukraine Gets IMF-Led $40 Billion Aid Accord to Avert Default (Bloomberg)
Ukrainian Cease-Fire Sealed After All-Night Minsk Peace Summit (Bloomberg)
Putin Top Advisor: US Eyes Ukraine for Regime Change in Russia (Zero Hedge)
Oil Firms ‘Need Fresh Strategies’ To Operate in Future of $50 Oil (BBC)
Global Oil Layoffs Exceed 100,000 (Bloomberg)
Goldman: Why Oil Crashed—and Why Lower Prices Are Here to Stay (Bloomberg)
Have Banks Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation? (Bloomberg)
Audit The Fed – And Shackle It, Too (David Stockman)
‘No Solution To Brazil’s Crisis’ (CNBC)
Sweden’s Riksbank Cuts Key Rate to Negative (Bloomberg)
Mediterranean Sinking ‘Kills 300 Migrants Bound For Europe (BBC)
New Ebola Cases Rise For Second Week In A Row (BBC)
Australia On Brink Of ‘Extinction Calamity’ (BBC)

The idea was always to stretch the meeting till Monday.

Eurogroup Fails to Agree to Next Greek Bailout Steps (Bloomberg)

Euro-area governments left tough decisions on the future of Greece’s bailout for next week, after talks failed to bridge differences over the aid program that the Greek government blames for economic hardship. With Greece’s current bailout expiring at the end of February, finance ministers met for six hours in Brussels without signing off on any conclusions on the way forward for the region’s most-indebted nation. That leaves open how Greece can avoid running out of cash and avert a possible exit from the 19-nation currency union. Attention now shifts to a summit of European Union leaders on Thursday in Brussels, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande traveled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Merkel had left bargaining with Greece to the finance ministers. “We understand each other much, much better now than we did this morning,” Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told reporters after the finance chiefs broke up without a deal early Thursday in Brussels. “Europe manages to find agreements even if it’s at the last moment.” The euro fell as much as 0.3% to $1.1303 after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the euro group’s talks, said ministers couldn’t agree on a common approach. The euro briefly spiked to as high as 1.1352 earlier, when officials suggested an accord on steps forward was within reach.

“We covered a lot of ground but didn’t actually reach a joint conclusion on how to take the next steps,” Dijsselbloem said at a press conference. “There has to be a political agreement on the way forward.” Finance chiefs will return to Brussels on Feb. 16 to try to break the deadlock after Greek negotiators were said to have wavered on a commitment to extending the country’s existing bailout from the Troika. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s campaign pledge to end the bailout — and its austerity mandates — hung over the talks. Agreed language on a bailout extension was within reach, only to be rejected later by Greek negotiators who said they had to consult with superiors in Athens, German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.

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There will be no extension. Syriza has said that 1000 times.

Rejected Eurogroup Draft Spoke Of “Extending” Greek Bailout (Reuters)

A draft statement by euro zone finance ministers on how to handle Greece’s finances spoke of “extending” its current bailout deal as a “bridge” to a new package, according to a copy of the draft that was rejected by Athens. The new Greek government, elected on a mandate to end deeply unpopular international bailout terms, has insisted there can be no “extension” once that deal expires at the end of the month. But EU partners fear financial chaos without such an accord. A draft of the planned Eurogroup statement, seen by Reuters, read: “Today the Eurogroup took stock of the current situation in Greece and the state of the current adjustment programme. In this context, the Eurogroup has engaged in an intensive dialogue with the new Greek authorities.

“The Greek authorities have expressed their commitment to a broader and stronger reform process aimed at durably improving growth prospects”. At the same time, the Greek authorities reiterated their unequivocal commitment to the financial obligations to all their creditors. “On this basis, we will now start technical work on the further assessment of Greece’s reform plans. The Greek authorities have agreed to work closely and constructively with the institutions to explore the possibilities for extending and successfully concluding the present programme taking into account the new government’s plans. If this is successful this will bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the Eurogroup to work on possible new contractual arrangements. We will continue our discussions at our next meeting on Monday 16 February.”

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Mexican standoff.

Greece And Eurozone In Stalemate Over Debt Burden (Guardian)

The Greek government’s confrontation with its eurozone creditors over its campaign to relieve its staggering debt burden while relaxing the terms of five years of austerity resulted in stalemate late on Wednesday. The first proper negotiations between Greece and eurozone finance ministers failed to make any progress or result in a joint statement. While no immediate agreement had been expected, the emergency meeting had been tipped to produce a framework for talks to be finessed over the next few days before another meeting next Monday. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the Brussels meeting, announced that this aim was not met. It appeared that the new leftwing government in Athens was isolated in seeking to extract better terms from Europe.

Alexis Tsipras, the new Greek prime minister, seems to have ordered his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to stand firm against the pressure to make any concessions. Tsipras is due in Brussels on Thursday for his debut on the European stage at an EU summit. Following 10 days of touring Europe in a failed attempt to woo Berlin, Frankfurt and other key capitals to alter the terms of trade between Athens and the eurozone, Varoufakis went into negotiations with the other finance ministers at a specially convened session in Brussels. Entering and leaving the meeting, he was uncharacteristically taciturn.

The stalemate could see Greece running out of cash next month, unilaterally defaulting on the bailout programme with the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF, and being forced to leave the single currency. That prospect is viewed as a disaster fraught with risks in Brussels, Paris and Rome. But Berlin, whose voice matters more than most in the negotiations, is reliably said to be “extremely relaxed” about the Greek crisis and opposed to tearing up the agreements that Greece is formally bound to under the bailout terms.

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“..popular protests “across Greece and Europe” are “the source of our strength.”

Greece Said to Offer Euro Area Four Principles for Talks (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis presented his European counterparts with four principles for a new financing deal, according to two euro-area officials, as Greece battles to stave off a cash crunch and stay in the currency bloc. Greece wants a deal that provides for financial stability, financial sustainability and debt restructuring, while addressing Greece’s humanitarian crisis, Varoufakis said during talks Wednesday in Brussels without offering details, according to the officials, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Finance ministers of the 19 euro nations met on Wednesday after Germany and Greece took clashing positions heading into negotiations that will continue Feb. 16 in the Belgian capital.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the meetings, said the ministers wanted to hear Greece’s proposals. “I don’t expect an outcome today,” Dijsselbloem told reporters in Brussels before the talks. Extra money “is not on the table right now” and Greece needs to stick to its reform path, he said. Greece’s bailout package will expire this month if the euro area’s most-indebted nation can’t reach a deal with its creditors. Asked by a reporter before the meeting whether Greece’s exit from the euro area is on the table, Varoufakis said: “Of course not.” In Athens, thousands rallied in front of the Greek parliament in support of the government’s anti-austerity stance. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras posted a photo of the rally on his Twitter account, saying popular protests “across Greece and Europe” are “the source of our strength.”

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“You can defend EMU policies, or you can defend your political base, but you cannot do both.”

Germany Faces Impossible Choice As Greek Austerity Revolt Spreads (AEP)

The political centre across southern Europe is disintegrating. Establishment parties of centre-left and centre-right – La Casta, as they say in Spain – have successively immolated themselves enforcing EMU debt-deflation. Spain’s neo-Bolivarian Podemos party refuses to fade. It has endured crippling internal rifts. It has shrugged off hostile press coverage over financial ties to Venezuela. Nothing sticks. The insurrectionists who came from nowhere last year – with Trotskyist roots and more radical views than those of Syriza in Greece – are pulling further ahead in the polls. The latest Metroscopia survey gave Podemos 28pc. The ruling conservatives have dropped to 21pc. The once-great PSOE – Spanish Workers Socialist Party – has fallen to 18pc and risks fading away like the Dutch Labour Party, or the French Socialists, or Greece’s Pasok.

You can defend EMU policies, or you can defend your political base, but you cannot do both. As matters stand, Podemos is on track to win the Spanish elections in November on a platform calling for the cancellation of “unjust debt”, a reversal of labour reforms, public control over energy, the banks, and the commanding heights of the economy, and withdrawal from Nato. Europe’s policy elites can rail angrily at the folly of these plans if they wish, but they must answer why ex-Trotskyists threatening to dismantle market capitalism are taking a major EMU state by storm. It is what happens when 5.46m people lack jobs, when 2m households still have no earned income, and when youth unemployment is still running at 51.4pc, and home prices are down 42pc, six years into a depression.

It is pointless protesting that Spain’s economy is turning the corner, a contested claim in any case. There comes a point when a society breaks and stops believing anything its leaders say. The EU elites themselves have run their currency experiment into the ground by imposing synchronized monetary, fiscal, and banking contraction on the southern half of EMU, in defiance of known economic science and the lessons of the 1930s. It is they who pushed the eurozone into deflation, and thereby pushed the debtor states into accelerating compound-interest traps. It is they who deployed the EMU policy machinery to uphold the interest of creditors, refusing to acknowledge that the root cause of Europe’s crisis was a flood excess capital flows into vulnerable economies.

It is they who prevented a US-style recovery from the financial crisis, and they should not be surprised that such historic errors are coming back to haunt. The revolt in Italy has different contours but is just as dangerous for Brussels. Italians may not wish to leave the euro but political consent for the project but broken down. All three opposition parties are now anti-euro in one way or another. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement – with 108 seats in parliament – is openly calling for a return to the lira. Mr Grillo proclaims that Syriza is carrying the torch for all the long-suffering peoples of southern Europe, as it is in a sense. “What’s happening to Greece today, will be happening to Italy tomorrow. Sooner or later, default is coming,” he said.

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How the right wing sees things.

Eurozone Leaders Believe Syriza Must Fail And Be Seen To Fail (Telegraph)

In current discussions of what Greece might or might not get in the way of concessions from the Eurozone, there has so far been relatively little appreciation of one basic political reality: as far as the governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, probably Italy and perhaps even France are concerned, Syriza must fail and must be seen to fail. Why? The reasons differ slightly between countries. The easiest case to see is perhaps Spain. In Spain, the governing party is the centre-right Partido Popular led by Mariano Rajoy. It is currently facing pressure from a far-left party, Podemos, allied to Syriza. Indeed the Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias even campaigned in partnership with Syriza and, following Syriza’s victory, at his own party’s rally he proclaimed: “Syriza, Podemos – we will win [venceremos]!”

Podemos is currently leading in the polls, ahead of an election later this year. The very last thing Rajoy can afford is for Syriza’s approach to be seen to succeed, emboldening and vindicating Podemos. As for Portugal and Ireland, where the governments stuck to bailout conditions despite the domestic pain, how would they sell concessions to Syriza to their own voters? Suppose they go back and say: “We were suckers. We shouldn’t have made all those cuts. Instead, what we really should have done was to raise the minimum wage, hire back the public sector staff that had been fired, say we weren’t going to pay our debts to our eurozone partners, cosy up to the Russians and tell the Germans they didn’t feel nearly guilty enough about World War II. Then everyone would have said we were ‘rock stars’ and and forgiven our debts.” Do you reckon that would go down well?

As for the Italians, the Syriza leaders are terribly keen to claim that Greece and Italy are in much the same position and that there should therefore be a general debt amnesty across the eurozone. The Italians, on the other hand, are less keen on this comparison. Over the weekend, the Greek finance minister stated: “Let’s face it, Italy’s debt situation is unsustainable”. The Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan replied on Twitter that his Greek counterpart’s remarks were “out of place” and that Italy’s debt is “solid and sustainable”. If the Italians, at any point, seek any relaxation of the fiscal strictures their eurozone partners have placed upon them, you can rest assured they will not be claiming that they are just like Greece or that anything that happens in Greece sets a precedent for them.

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Letter from Spain’s oppostion leader: “..the diktats of those who still appear to be running things in Europe have failed, and the victims of this inefficiency and irresponsibility are Europe’s citizens.”

If The Greek Olive Branch Is Rejected, Europe May Fall (Pablo Iglesias)

During his swearing-in speech as Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras was clear: “Our aim is to achieve a solution that is mutually beneficial for both Greece and our partners. Greece wants to pay its debt.” The European Central Bank’s (ECB) response to the Greek government’s desire to be conciliatory and responsible, was also very clear: negative. Either the Greek government abandons the programme on which it was elected, and continues to do the very thing that has been disastrous for Greece, or the ECB will stop supporting Greek debt. The ECB’s calculation is not only arrogant, it is incoherent. The same central bank that recognised its mistakes a few weeks ago and began to buy government debt is now denying financing to the very states that have been arguing for years that the role of a central bank should be to back up governments in protecting their citizens rather than to rescue the financial bodies that caused the crisis.

Now, instead of acknowledging that Greece deserves at least the same treatment as any other EU member state, the ECB has decided to shoot the messenger. Excesses of arrogance and political short-sightedness cost dear. The new despots who are trying to persuade us that Europe’s problem is Greece are putting the European project itself at risk. Europe’s problem is not that the Greeks voted for a different option from the one that led them to disaster; that is simply democratic normality. Europe’s threefold problem is inequality, unemployment and debt – and this is neither new nor exclusively Greek. Nobody can deny that austerity has not solved this problem, but rather has exacerbated the crisis.

Let’s spell it out: the diktats of those who still appear to be running things in Europe have failed, and the victims of this inefficiency and irresponsibility are Europe’s citizens. It is for this precise reason that trust in the old political elites has collapsed; it is why Syriza won in Greece and why Podemos – the party I lead – can win in Spain. But not all the alternatives to these failed policies are as committed as Syriza and Podemos are to Europe and to European democracy and values. The Greeks have been pushed to the point of disaster, yet the Greek government has reached out and shown great willingness to cooperate. It has requested a bridge agreement that would give both sides until June to deal with what is little short of a national emergency for the majority of the Greek population.

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Interesting to see how hard Syriza will go after these guys.

86 Names Missing from Greek ‘Lagarde List’ (Greek Reporter)

The notorious “Lagarde List” should include a total of 2,148 names and not the 2,062 that are listed so far, according to a report in Ta Nea newspaper. The Lagarde List is a spreadsheet containing over 2,000 names of possible Greek tax evaders with undeclared deposits at Swiss HSBC bank’s Geneva branch. It is named after former French finance minister Christine Lagarde who passed it to the Greek government in October 2010 to help them tackle tax evasion. Lagarde is now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. The list was hidden by Greek officials and it became known two years later when it was exposed by investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis.

The newspaper report says that after research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, there are 86 new names of Greeks who have undeclared deposits in the Swiss bank. They are all natives of Greece, but have declared residency in other countries, thereby not listed on the original list. Also, the investigation shows that there are another 41 names who are linked to the accounts of potential tax evaders already on the list. So far, very few names on the list have been audited. Former finance minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou is accused of distorting the spreadsheet and erasing names of his relatives on the list and will be referred to the Special Court.

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Even deeper into debt slavery.

Ukraine Gets IMF-Led $40 Billion Aid Accord to Avert Default (Bloomberg)

Ukraine reached a preliminary accord to expand an International Monetary Fund-led bailout to $40 billion to avert a default as the 10-month conflict in the nation’s east damages the economy and drains resources. An IMF team, which has been in the Ukrainian capital since Jan. 8, will recommend the Washington-based lender’s board sign off on the package, Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Thursday in Brussels. The package includes contributions from other sources, including the EU, Lagarde told reporters. Ukraine, rocked by a pro-Russia insurgency in its industrial heartland, is struggling with the deepest recession since 2009, foreign reserves at an 11-year low and the world’s worst-performing currency.

The country’s fiscal and economic condition will help determine whether it remains oriented toward the U.S. and EU or is drawn into Russia’s orbit amid the worst standoff since the end of the Cold War. “It’s an ambitious program, it’s a tough program and it’s not without risk,” Lagarde told reporters. “But it’s also realistic.” Ukraine’s April 2023 Eurobond was little changed at 53.19 cents on the dollar at 10:23 a.m. in Kiev, lowering the yield two basis points to 19%. The government of Ukraine faces debt repayments of $11 billion this year and has said it will approach foreign bondholders over easier terms once IMF financing is in place. The accord still needs IMF board approval. Ukraine’s allies stepped in with funding pledges in the run-up to the IMF talks being completed.

The U.S. promised as much as $2 billion in loan guarantees, while the European Union said it would disburse €1.8 billion euros. Leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting in Minsk, Belarus on Thursday to reach a peace deal in the conflict that has killed at least 5,400 people, the United Nation estimates. The U.S., EU and Ukraine blame Russia for aiding the rebels. President Vladimir Putin denies the charges. “The hope will be to send a signal to Putin and to Ukrainians that the West stands behind Ukraine and will not let it fail financially,” Timothy Ash at Standard Bank said.

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Meaningless?!

Ukrainian Cease-Fire Sealed After All-Night Minsk Peace Summit (Bloomberg)

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agreed on a cease-fire to stem the conflict that’s devastated eastern Ukraine and triggered the worst crisis in more than 20 years between Russia and its former Cold War foes. The deal envisages a truce starting Feb. 15 and reaffirms some commitments from a failed September bid to end the conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. The accord was struck early Thursday after all-night talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

The collapse of previous cease-fires has stoked skepticism as to whether this one will hold. Ten months of fighting have killed more than 5,000 people, ravaged Ukraine’s economy and propelled Russia toward recession through U.S. and European sanctions. Raising pressure to deliver a settlement, the run-up to the summit was accompanied by escalating violence and calls for the U.S. to supply weapons to Ukraine’s struggling army. “The conflict will continue, even with this agreement,” Joerg Forbrig, a senior program director at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, said by phone. “Eastern Ukraine is now basically lost to central government control.”

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“The situation in Ukraine is being used as a pretext for the active ‘repression’ of our country..”

Putin Top Advisor: US Uses Ukraine To Get Regime Change in Russia (Zero Hedge)

Following the humiliation of tonight’s much anticipated Eurogroup meeting in which for the first time ever the ensuing disarray was so profound the panicked European finance ministers couldn’t even find a quorum consensus to produce even the tersest of official statements, there was some hope that the second round of negotiations currently taking place in Minsk to find a solution to the Ukraine civil war would at least partially redeem Europe’s faltering negotiating reputation. Alas, as of this moment, that does not appear to be the case, and as Reuters reports citing a Kiev presidential aide, that Minsk talks on Ukraine crisis could last six more hours. “We’ve got another 5-6 hours of work. At least. But we should not leave here without an agreement on an unconditional ceasefire. There’s a battle of nerves underway,” aide Valeriy Chaly said in a Facebook post.

Well, if it is indeed a “battle of nerves”, something tells who the victor will be, considering all his peers are just a little more preoccupied with the potential collapse of their artificial monetary and political union. Yet, just like the previous Minsk “agreement”, even if by some miracle there is a solution this time around, the probability peace will be maintained is slim to none. The reason is not simply because the Ukraine civil war will go on until there is a terminal partition between the pro-western West part of the country, and the pro-Russian eastern regions. The real reason may be what one of Vladimir Putin’s top security advisors, the secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev said earlier today, when he told a Russian state newspaper that the U.S. was orchestrating events in Ukraine in a bid to overthrow Mr. Putin’s government.

He also expressed certainty that the West’s financial aid for Kiev would only bring the Ukrainian economy to a “dead end.” “The situation in Ukraine is being used as a pretext for the active ‘repression’ of our country,” Mr. Patrushev, who ran Russia’s Federal Security Service during Mr. Putin’s first eight years as president, said in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published Wednesday. And, if accurate, Patrushev’s assessment is that the US will not stop short of what effectively will be world war: “The Americans are trying to involve the Russian Federation in an interstate military conflict, cause regime change [in Russia] and ultimately dismember our country via events in Ukraine,” he said.

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Most won’t be able to.

Oil Firms ‘Need Fresh Strategies’ To Operate in Future of $50 Oil (BBC)

Many oil and gas firms will need to transform the way they operate in order to grasp future opportunities in the sector, according to a report. PwC said companies should be looking to deploy fresh strategies, following a sustained fall in the price of oil. It suggested they should look to reduce costs “in a sustainable manner” and find efficiencies by keeping tax costs in control. Other suggestions included divesting non-core parts of their business. PwC argued that firms might also want to identify and invest in strategic acquisitions to secure market position in key areas. The report’s authors said the UK oil and gas sector would have been in a much better place “to weather the oil price maelstrom”, had it heeded 30%-40% cost reduction warnings which surfaced 12-18 months ago.

The report said there was still time for firms to “learn the harsh lessons of past languor” by adopting fresh strategies. But it also warned that to achieve that, they needed to get away from “short term knee-jerk reactions” seen in previous downturns – or risk damaging the long term future of the industry. PwC cited significant downsizing undertaken during the downturn of 1999-2000, arguing that the industry had struggled since then with talent retention. It said “aggressive price negotiation” and contract revisions with the oil services sector would also do little to create a collaborative environment. The report argued that companies must answer “hard questions” about whether they can continue to invest in the sector, or if they should instead “move on”.

But it stressed the need for the industry to take a long-term view, adding that “intelligent and strategic cost-cutting” could “position players well through this turmoil”. Brian Campbell, oil and gas capital projects director at PwC and co-author of the report, said: “With economists predicting low oil prices throughout 2015, UK oil and gas firms are not out of the woods by any means. “They are still at risk of an economic triple-whammy: as the falling oil price reduces income, incremental investment may no longer be economic with a risk that field life diminishes and decommissioning is accelerated. “The stark reality is that firms need to be able to operate in an environment where oil averages at $50 per barrel – only then can it be truly fit for the future.”

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Just starting.

Global Oil Layoffs Exceed 100,000 (Bloomberg)

The promise of plentiful jobs and salaries as high as a quarter-million dollars a year lured Colombia native Clara Correa Zappa and her British husband to Perth, Australia, at the height of the continent’s oil and gas frenzy. Engineers were in high demand in 2012, when oil prices exceeded $100 a barrel, making the move across the world a no-brainer. Within two years, though, oil plunged to less than half the 2012 price and Zappa lost her job as a safety analyst. Now she’s worried her husband, who also works in the commodities industry, could also lose his job. Such anxieties are rising at a time when the number of energy jobs cut globally have climbed well above 100,000 as once-bustling oil hubs in Scotland, Australia and Brazil, among other countries, empty out, according to Swift Worldwide Resources, a staffing firm with offices across the world.

“It’s shocking,” Zappa, 29, said in a telephone interview. There is “so much pressure for him to keep his job and even work extra.” Her concerns mirror those of tens of thousands of workers who migrated to oil and gas boomtowns worldwide in the years of $100-a-barrel crude, according to Tobias Read, Swift’s chief executive officer. While much of the focus on layoffs has centered on the U.S., where the shale fields that created the glut have seen the steepest cutbacks, workers in oil-related businesses across the globe are suffering, he said. “The issue is one of uncertainty, of whether there’s a job out there,” Read said in a phone interview. “For seven years, there was a shortage of staff. Now for the first time, there’s a surplus. Currently almost no one is hiring.”

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“The idea is that the stock market is a pretty good indicator of economic demand.” Really? Nothing to do with QE?

Goldman: Why Oil Crashed—and Why Lower Prices Are Here to Stay (Bloomberg)

Oil prices have gotten crushed for the last six months. The extent to which that was caused by an excess of supply or by a slowdown in demand has big implications for where prices will head next. People wishing for a big rebound may not want to read farther. Goldman Sachs released an intriguing analysis on Wednesday that shows what many already suspected: The big culprit in the oil crash has been an abundance of oil flooding the market. A massive supply shock in the second half of last year accounted for most of the decline. In December and January, slowing demand contributed to the continued sell-off. Goldman was able to quantify these effects.

Goldman’s model is simple on its face, looking at just two variables over time: the price of oil and the value of U.S. stocks (as measured by the S&P 500). The idea is that the stock market is a pretty good indicator of economic demand. So when stocks move in tandem with oil prices, demand is in the driver’s seat. When the price of oil moves in the opposite direction of stocks, the shock is coming from supply.

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“The message is clear that Warren’s attacks on the industry have made even moderate Democrats skittish to stand up for banks..”

Have Banks Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation? (Bloomberg)

The financial industry is finding that winning in Washington comes at a cost. Wall Street lobbied aggressively and succeeded late last year in persuading lawmakers to roll back rules for the $700 trillion derivatives market. Instead of generating momentum for further changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, the victory sparked a populist uprising among Democrats that’s had wide-ranging consequences, including stymieing less controversial requests from regional banks like Capital One Financial Corp. “A short while ago there was bipartisan agreement on a number of common sense improvements,” said Rob Nichols, president of the Financial Services Forum that represents the chief executives of Wall Street’s biggest banks. “Unfortunately, that bipartisan agreement is gone.”

Financial companies and their employees spent $169 million on the November elections and had expectations that their bid to loosen regulations would get easier with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate. Now, there is second-guessing that banks overplayed their hand, according to lobbyists. The December win on swaps rules has become a rallying cry for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of Wall Street, and spurred repeated White House vows to defend Dodd-Frank. The fallout has frustrated banks, which hope it’s temporary. Democrats who previously said they wanted to revise the law now won’t even discuss it. Republicans are altering their strategy for attacking Dodd-Frank. And lobbyists have been hindered in their efforts to persuade Senate Democrats to champion changes to financial rules.

A sign of the political headwinds has been regional banks’ difficulty winning bipartisan support for a bill that would free them from stringent oversight imposed on lenders with at least $50 billion of assets. Capital One considers getting the threshold increased a top legislative goal this year, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company’s inability to persuade Democrats to lead the charge in the Senate, particularly home state Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, has reverberated through the ranks of financial lobbyists, according to two people involved in the talks. The message is clear that Warren’s attacks on the industry have made even moderate Democrats skittish to stand up for banks, the people said. Capital One’s discussions with Warner aren’t unique, said company spokeswoman Tatiana Stead. “We have had identical and multiple discussions with his Senate colleagues and other elected officials,” she said.

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“..this whole chorus of Fed governors – yesterday’s lineup included Richard Fisher and Charles Plossner – defending the sacred “independence” of the Federal Reserve is downright Kafkaesque.”

Audit The Fed – And Shackle It, Too (David Stockman)

The reason to be fearful about the economic and financial future is that we are in the thrall of a mainstream consensus that is downright meretricious. In attacking Rand Paul’s audit legislation, for instance, one of the time-servers on the Fed Board of Governors, Jerome H. Powell, let loose the following gem: “As recent U.S. history has shown, elected officials have often pushed for easier policies that serve short-term political interests…..” Perhaps Mr. Powell is a descendent of Rip Van Winkle – and missed the last 20 years of history while doing LBOs at the Carlyle Group and helping Congress improve upon its enviable record of fiscal management while at the Bipartisan Policy Center. But whatever he was doing—snoozing or otherwise distracted – it most assuredly was not gathering evidence that “elected officials” were putting undue pressure on the Fed for “easier policies”.

For crying out loud there is exactly zero evidence that “politicians” had anything to do with zero interest rates. And ZIRP defines the ultimate level of “ease” according to Bernanke himself, who famously described his policies as positioned at the “zero bound”. Indeed, given the very earliest expected date for “lift-off” in June, the Fed will have pinned the money market rate at zero for 80 months running. This unprecedented tsunami of “easy money”, of course, happened with nary a Congressman or Senator darkening the door at the Eccles Building. Folks, this whole chorus of Fed governors – yesterday’s lineup included Richard Fisher and Charles Plossner – defending the sacred “independence” of the Federal Reserve is downright Kafkaesque.

Rather than protecting the Fed from meddling politicians, it is the American public that desperately needs protection from the depredations of an unelected monetary politburo that runs the entire financial system. Let’s say you have saved a quarter million bucks over a lifetime of working and scrimping, but wish to keep it safe and liquid in your retirement years. Well thank you “independent” governors of the Fed for the privilege of owning a bank CD that generates 40 bps or the grand sum $2.75 per day. That’s one visit to Starbucks each morning, but forget the cappuccino. It’s just black coffee for you!

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When will this bomb burst?

‘No Solution To Brazil’s Crisis’ (CNBC)

Brazil’s central bank won’t be able to save the country with monetary policy, economists warned, after downgrading their 2015 growth outlook to zero as stagflation drags the once vibrant economy. “There is no near-term solution to deepening stagflation,” said Dev Ashish, Latin America economist at Societe Generale in a note on Wednesday. “Fiscal and monetary orthodoxy is not expected to yield any fruit in the near to medium term.” Annual inflation shot up to a twelve-year high of 7.1% in January, according to official data on Friday, well above the central bank’s 4.5% target range. With inflation widely expected to remain elevated, analysts in Brazil revised their 2015 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast to zero, according to a central bank survey this week.

South America’s largest nation is estimated to have grown less than 1% last year. Brazil’s central bank – the Banco Central do Brasil (BCP) – engaged in an aggressive tightening cycle last year to combat inflation. It pushed the benchmark short-term interest rate, the Selic, to its current multi-year high of 12.25%. Markets widely expect more rate hikes in the coming months. Analysts don’t have faith in the central bank’s toolbox. Rate hikes dampen economic growth, so the success of additional monetary tightening depends on how effectively the government manages its finances, but that depends on economic growth, SocGen said. The bank expects public debt to rise nearly 70% over the next two years on the back of weak GDP.

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Panic.

Sweden’s Riksbank Cuts Key Rate to Negative (Bloomberg)

Sweden’s central bank cut its main interest rate below zero and unexpectedly unveiled plans to start buying government bonds to jolt the largest Nordic economy out of a deflationary spiral. The Riksbank lowered its repo rate to minus 0.10% from zero. A cut had been predicted by six of the 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, while the remainder forecast no change. Policy will “soon” be made “more expansionary” by buying 10 billion kronor ($1.2 billion) in government bonds with maturities of one to five years, the Stockholm-based bank said. It pledged to keep the repo rate negative until underlying inflation is close to 2%, which the bank predicts will happen in the second half of 2016. Policy makers will take further steps if necessary, the bank said.

“To ensure that inflation rises toward the target, the Riksbank is prepared to quickly make monetary policy more expansionary, even between the ordinary monetary policy meetings, should the need arise,” it said. Policy makers are delving deeper into their toolbox, joining the European Central Bank in unleashing unconventional measures as deflation risks becoming entrenched. The bank, led by Governor Stefan Ingves, last year reversed course and scrapped a policy of keeping rates up to guard against a build-up in household debt. The reluctance to ease in the face of slowing inflation and high unemployment was characterized as “sadomonetarist” by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.

The krona slumped as much as 2.1%, and was down 1.4% at 9.62 per euro as of 10:33 a.m. in Stockholm. The yield on Sweden’s benchmark five-year note fell 10 basis points to 0.8%. Two-year yields slid to minus 0.24%. “We didn’t expect the Riksbank to buy government bonds as early as now, but rather that they would wait and see if this would be needed,” said Olle Holmgren, an analyst at SEB. “They are also maybe even clearer in signaling willingness to do even more if needed. This is softer than we thought.”

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Europe’s biggest disgrace is still not being tackled.

Mediterranean Sinking ‘Kills 300 Migrants Bound For Europe (BBC)

At least 300 migrants are feared dead after the boats carrying them from the North African coast sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the UN says. UNHCR regional director Vincent Cochetel called the incident a “tragedy on an enormous scale”. Nine survivors who were brought to Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard are believed to be from West Africa. Initial reports on Monday suggested that at least 29 migrants had died after their dinghy overturned. The UNHCR said the migrants had departed from Libya on Saturday in four dinghies. Mr Cochetel said, “Europe cannot afford to do too little too late”, and called the tragedy, “a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea.” In November, Italy ended a year-long operation aimed at rescuing seaborne migrants.

Known as Mare Nostrum, it was launched in October 2013 in response to a tragedy off Lampedusa in which 366 people died. The aim of the mission was to look for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble off the Libyan coast. There is no way of knowing for sure whether these men, women, and children would have been saved if the former Italian search-and-rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum was still running. But having spent a week on board an Italian navy frigate, I can be sure they would have done their utmost to save as many lives as possible. The EU’s Triton border patrol is not designed to do that. It cannot pre-empt trouble in international waters – it can only act when lives are immediately at risk. The Italian operation was set up differently. The naval crews knew they had one single purpose – to prevent death.

Some time back, EU leaders pledged that not a single life would again be lost as a result of these large scale tragedies at sea. The EU now runs a border control operation, called Triton, with fewer ships and a much smaller area of operations. The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014, making it the world’s most dangerous sea crossing for migrants. More than 200,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean during the same period, many under the Mare Nostrum mission prior to its abolition, and the UNHCR expects the figure to remain high in 2015. In a speech before the European Parliament in November, Pope Francis called for a “united response to the question of migration”, warning that the Mediterranean could not be allowed to become a “vast cemetery”.

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“In another development, US President Barack Obama has said he will withdraw nearly all US troops helping to combat the disease in Liberia.”

New Ebola Cases Rise For Second Week In A Row (BBC)

The number of new cases of Ebola has risen in all of West Africa’s worst-hit countries for the second week in a row, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. This is the second weekly increase in confirmed cases in 2015, ending a series of encouraging declines. The WHO said on Wednesday that Sierra Leone had registered 76 of the 144 new cases, Guinea 65 and Liberia three. More than 9,000 people have died from Ebola since December 2013. The WHO said that the increase highlights the “considerable challenges” that must still be overcome to end the outbreak. “Despite improvements in case finding and management, burial practices, and community engagement, the decline in case incidence has stalled,” the UN health agency said in a statement. In another development, US President Barack Obama has said he will withdraw nearly all US troops helping to combat the disease in Liberia.

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“No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates..”

Australia On Brink Of ‘Extinction Calamity’ (BBC)

Australia has lost one in ten of its native mammals species over the last 200 years in what conservationists describe as an “extinction calamity”. No other nation has had such a high rate of loss of land mammals over this time period, according to scientists at Charles Darwin University, Australia. The decline is mainly due to predation by the feral cat and the red fox, which were introduced from Europe, they say. Large scale fires to manage land are also having an impact. As an affluent nation with a small population, Australia’s wildlife should be relatively secure from threats such as habitat loss. But a new survey of Australia’s native mammals, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the scale of the problem is more serious than anticipated.

Since 1788, 11% of 273 native mammals living on land have died out, 21% are threatened and 15% are near threatened, the study found. Marine mammals are faring better. “No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates,” said conservation biologist John Woinarski, who led the research. “A further 56 Australian land mammals are now threatened, indicating that this extremely high rate of biodiversity loss is likely to continue unless substantial changes are made. “The extent of the problem has been largely unappreciated until recently because much of the loss involves small, nocturnal, shy species with [little] public profile – few Australians know of these species, let alone have seen them, so their loss has been largely unappreciated by the community.”

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Sep 062014
 
 September 6, 2014  Posted by at 7:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Arnold Genthe Manhattan 1932

It’s exceedingly safe to assume that the main reason the Kiev government agreed to a ceasefire on Friday was that the Ukraine army was losing on just about all fronts. Which they blame on Russian troops and weaponry being involved in increasing numbers, but there’s still to this day no proof for that.

The ‘rebels’ suspect that Kiev will use the ceasefire only to regroup, send in more men and guns, and fortify its positions. Moreover, the same ‘rebels’, who in the western press are increasingly awarded the “pro-Russian” label, even though they have no intention of joining Russia, have accused Kiev of having already violated the ceasefire within hours of it being announced.

Does anyone truly believe the US/EU/NATO coalition, which has spent billions on their Ukraine regime change project, are going to leave it at this? That they’re willing to admit defeat and will now retreat to their original positions, minus East Ukraine? If so, please have a look at the Brooklyn Bridge I have up for sale on Ebay. It has an absolutely lovely weathered look, literally tons of patina, and a history to die for.

I still haven’t seen one single western journalist take an in-depth look at the role of Victoria Nuland, Geoffrey Pyatt and their EU accomplices. Nobody seems interested in what these people have done over the past years that led up to Yanukovych’ ouster in February, and the subsequent civil war Kiev unleashed upon its own people. Not one single western journalist. And it’s not as if there’s no story there.

Meanwhile, the demonization of Vladimir Putin by those same journalists continues unabated. I saw something pass by just now about a Ukrainian priest claiming Putin is obsessed by Satan, no less. That’s the sort of thing that is duly reported in the west. Not Victoria Nuland.

And western politicians too play the same grossly over the top game like they were born for it. US officials have announced they will ‘degrade’ Islamist State (Obama) and chase them into Hell where they belong (Joe Biden). That’s the kind of language that ‘earns’ them applause.

As if there’s nothing wrong with using the images of an American being decapitated for hollow political gain. As if honor has nothing to do with it. In the exact same way that using 298 deaths on flight MH17 didn’t keep anyone from assigning blame, in graphical terms and without any evidence. I guess this is welcome to the age of communication. The more there is, the more is hidden. Perhaps there comes a point where communication equates to propaganda, where information can’t help turning into spin.

But so, yes, I don’t see the west giving up on Ukraine anytime soon. But I don’t see either the Donbass people, or those who support them, doing so either. And the more bases and attack and defense systems, and rapid deployment troops, NATO positions ever close to Russia’s borders, the more Moscow will feel obliged to counter-act.

It’s a stupid way to deal with things when you have two heavily militarized forces opposite each other. But it’s what we see develop as we’re watching. And it looks as if the media war in the west has been won by the west, to the extent that nothing that can be said from here on in will ever be able to wipe the completely invented anti-Putin allegations from our cumulative unconsciousness.

Even if Tuesday’s preliminary MH17 report by the Dutch Safety Board, for which reportedly so many detectives were engaged that no other crimes were solved at all the past two months or so, points not to Putin or Donbass rebels as the guilty party or parties, the allegations against them will still be left in everyone’s unconscience.

Not that I think there’s much chance of that; My guess is the preliminary report will leave so many questions open that there’ll be plenty room to keep the suspicions against Russia and the Donbass alive. The full report won’t be concluded until next summer, so the artificially induced bad taste can simmer and fester for another year.

But I’m still curious to see the report. As I am to see the Russian Union of Engineers’ report which we will present here at the Automatic Earth shortly.

To get back to why I started writing this, I don’t see a truce or ceasefire holding for long. The ‘rebels’ have a lot of reasons to keep fighting: first off, there were winning, and second, they were on their way to establish a land bridge to the Crimea, which would lift their isolation.

And as I said, I don’t see the west give up on their expansionist project. They can now make all of their people believe it was Putin who violated the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act (not that anyone has any idea what that is), that NATO is right to expand eastward, even if it’s obvious that Russia can only respond by countering that expansion with force.

The west will find a reason to blame the other side, rebels or imagined Russians, for violating the ceasefire, and use it to increase its military power. Americans and Europeans alike have so far taken all the ‘news’ they were served hook line and sinker, and why should that change? In other words, US/EU/NATO are free to do whatever they want, as long as they can spin a somewhat credible anti-Putin line in their media. And just about any line is credible by now.

But the ceasefire will truly stop when conditions are laid upon the table. Kiev will never ever again rule over the Donbass, the sole region to make Ukraine an economically viable entity. The gory and bloody attempts over the past 6 months to subdue the east Ukraine population have failed, and there won’t be a second chance.

What’s left of the Donbass after the shelling by its own official government will not agree to be governed by that same government. Ukraine as we draw it on the map today has ceased to exist. But that doesn’t mean the west won’t be willing to give it another try.

No matter how awry this goes, the likes of Obama and Barroso and Juncker still think they’ll win because they have bigger dicks a.k.a. guns. And the guys behind the curtains are laughing out loud. They have the ‘bigger’ view.

US Jobs Bombshell Raises Questions Of New Weakness (CNBC)

August’s nonfarm payrolls growth of just 142,000 raises concerns that the economy is healing unevenly, but economists say the stunningly weak jobs report could be just a temporary setback in a stronger trend. The soft employment data, however, is also questionable enough to add fuel to the debate about labor slack when the Fed meets later in the month, though economists don’t see any change in Fed policy. The total August payrolls growth is the first below 200,000 in seven months, and included revisions that cut a combined 28,000 jobs from June and July. The jobless rate fell to 6.1 from 6.2 but it accompanied a drop in labor force participation to 62.8% from 62.9%. “I think it’s just a clunker. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it. It is disturbing .We had six months of 200,000 and now we have a clunker,” said John Canally, market strategist and economist at LPL Financial. Canally said August payroll data have been below expectations 17 of the last 18 years.

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The ECB Is Blowing Smoke In Our Eyes (AEP)

Mario Draghi has played a weak hand with skill, as always. He is a superb actor. Yet the package of measures unveiled by the ECB yesterday is pitifully small and mostly window dressing, an effort to buy time with a mix of vague gestures and outright gimmicks, a substitute for decisive action “This is a classic ECB play of the kind we have seen so many times over the last three years,” said Andrew Roberts, credit chief at RBS. “There is huge smoke and mirrors at the time of the announcement, but when you go through the figures 24 hours later you realise it is nothing like what you thought.” The delirious reaction of market traders is interesting, but essentially just noise. What the ECB did will not move the macroeconomic dial by one iota. As Christian Schulz from Berenberg Bank puts it, the latest rate cuts are a screen to “paper over divisions”. The ECB could not secure German political consent for genuine reflation, so it put on a pantomime instead.

The new measures add little to what was already on the table in June. Some are marginally helpful, some trivial, with a shocking lack of detail about the one point that really matters The ECB has had years to plan asset purchases (QE Lite), yet Mr Draghi dodged all questions about the scale. You might conclude that there is still no real agreement on the course of action. Little wonder since Germany’s member of the ECB board – Sabine Lautenschlaeger – said only two months ago that QE is unthinkable except in an “emergency”, and no such emergency exists By default, the ECB is making the same mistake as the Bank of Japan in its dog days, trying to buy time with half measures, hoping that global recovery will lift Europe off the reefs without anything being done. They may get away with this, but there is a very high risk that Europe will instead remain trapped in mass unemployment, with ever rising debt ratios. [..]

If the brilliant Mr Draghi were running a real central bank, he would simply carry out old-fashion open-market operations – with an eight hundred year history – and keep buying assets on whatever scale is needed to meet the ECB’s 2pc inflation target. Instead he running a zoo. He is forced by abominable circumstances to blow smoke in our eyes. He is good at it though.

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East Ukraine Calm After Ceasefire, But Residents Doubt It Will Last (Reuters)

A ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine appeared to be holding on Friday evening, despite some initial shelling in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. However, many residents and combatants were skeptical that the ceasefire could last long or turn into a basis for a durable peace settlement after six months of conflict. The two sides remain far apart on the future of the region. The ceasefire was approved by envoys from Ukraine, the separatist leadership, Russia and Europe’s OSCE security watchdog meeting in Minsk as part of a peace road map that also includes an exchange of prisoners and the creation of a humanitarian corridor for refugees and aid. Minutes after the ceasefire began at 1500 GMT, three blasts were heard north of Donetsk, followed by scattered mortar and artillery fire, but this later fell quiet.

Fighting had raged for much of the day in two flashpoints in eastern Ukraine – near the strategic port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and further north in Donetsk, mostly around the city’s airport which remains in government hands. Kiev says its forces have been trying to repel a big offensive by the rebels to take Mariupol, whose port is crucial to Ukraine’s steel exports. It stands about halfway between Russia and the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian commanders denied separatist claims that separatist forces had entered Mariupol on Friday.

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Kiev Forces Continue Shelling Despite Ceasefire: Donetsk Militia (RIA)

Ukrainian special forces continued shelling towns and militia positions in the Donetsk region late Friday despite the ceasefire established hours before, the militia forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said Saturday. “The people’s militia’s subdivisions in Horlivka and Makiivka fell under mortar shelling in the Donetsk direction at 20 hours 15 minutes [17:15 GMT],” said in the DPR headquarters. Some 1.5 hours later, the Ukrainian forces attacked the city of Yasynuvata, and at 10:30 p.m. (19:30 GMT), the positions of the militia forces’ at the Donetsk airport, according to militia. “Along the whole contact line with the enemy, [militia forces] adhered to the commander’s order not to fire back,” the DPR representatives said.

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Russia ‘Will React’ If EU Implements New Sanctions (Reuters)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry vowed on Saturday to react if the European Union implements new sanctions against Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis. The EU announced the additional measures late on Friday but said they could be suspended if Moscow withdraws its troops from Ukraine and observes a newly agreed ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. The new sanctions include adding a further 24 people to a list of people barred from entry to the 28-nation bloc and whose assets are frozen. They are due to be implemented on Monday. “If they (new sanctions) are implemented of course there will be a reaction from our side,” the ministry said in a statement.

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Russia Lashes Out Over NATO Spearhead Force In Eastern Europe (RT)

Moscow has accused NATO of using the Ukrainian crisis as a “pretext” to “push its military presence closer to Russia’s borders,” and says that plans for a new rapid response force will sabotage the peace process in eastern Ukraine. “The [expansion] plans have been harbored by NATO for a long time, and recent events have served as a pretext to put them into action,” said a statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, following the wrapping up of the NATO summit in Wales. “Together with the rhetoric at the summit, and the planned military exercises before the end of the year, this will increase tension, destabilization the nascent peace process, and further widen the division in Ukraine,” the ministry’s statement said.

“The above is also testament to NATO’s unconditional support for the extremists and neo-fascists in Kiev, including the Right Sector political movement,” it stressed. During the two-day summit, the 28 NATO member states instituted the creation of a rapid response unit numbering at least 4,000. It could be deployed in Eastern Europe – where it will be based – in less than 48 hours. The primary stated reason for the initiative is “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.” Russia’s NATO envoy, Aleksandr Grushko, also denounced NATO’s policy, suggesting that the alliance was engaged in “Cold War thinking,” and risked undermining the landmark 1997 treaty in which Moscow and Brussels officially proclaimed that they were no longer “adversaries.”

In a TV interview, Grushko said that NATO was “flexing its muscles,” and pointed out that an increased presence of NATO vessels in the Baltic and Black Sea would destroy the recently built-up level of trust in what were once the potential flashpoints in the standoff. Grushko also called the planned NATO-Ukraine exercises a “provocation” because “foreign troops will appear in a country that is fighting its own people.” “NATO must play no role in the Ukrainian conflict,” the official told Rossiya-24 network. He also accused the US of “trying to unload the financial burden of maintaining NATO onto its allies.”

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Word.

‘The People On Wall Street Aren’t Seeing What Really Goes On In America’ (ZH)

Today’s jobs data was almost 5 standard deviations below Wall Street’s best-and-brightest’s estimate and has already been dismissed by many as an ‘anomaly’ or ‘unbelievable’. Despite the fact that the National Retail Foundation noted over 17,000 layoffs in August “calling into question how much momentum the economy really has,” one member of the public was able to #NailTheNumber on CNBC’s great payroll-guessing game. Ronnie Squires explains to a silenced CNBC anchor the real state of America…

Apologies for audio quality…

The uncomfortable truth…

“I do a lot of traveling around the country and there’s still a lot of folks who say ‘there’s no jobs out there’.

I watch [CNBC] every day and I just don’t see it.

I don’t know if the people on Wall Street are not really getting out and seeing what’s really going on [in America].

When you go to small towns, like I do, and talk to people – people don’t have much confidence in the numbers you hear.

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Central banks print money to keep the S&P 500 at record levels.

What’s The Point Of Hiding It Any Longer? (Zero Hedge)

Compare and contrast.

From the Chicago Mercantile Exchange 2012 10-K:

Customer Base: Our customer base includes professional traders, financial institutions, institutional and individual investors, major corporations, manufacturers, producers and governments.

And from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange 2013 10-K:

Customer Base: Our customer base includes professional traders, financial institutions, institutional and individual investors, major corporations, manufacturers, producers, governments and central banks.

And there you have it At this point why even pretend there is a “market”? The “market”, and by “market” we mean stocks – it has long been known that central banks actively trade bonds, FX and commodities – is whatever central banks say it is. Finally, if central banks are going to be rigging the market as they now conclusively are on a daily basis, perhaps they can disclose ahead of the trading day start to everyone, and not just the primary dealers, what the closing S&P 500 price for any given day is.

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And they still all think tomorrow’s going to be better.

The American Family Makes $200 More A Year Than It Did In 1989 (MarketWatch)

As of a year ago, typical U.S. households still hadn’t recovered all of the wealth they lost in the Great Recession of 2008-09, according to the latest Survey of Consumer Finances released by the Federal Reserve on Thursday. Median net worth fell 2% (inflation-adjusted) between 2010 and 2013 to $81,200 per family, down about 40% from the $135,400 they had in 2007, just before home prices and stock prices plunged, the Fed reported. (The median means that half of families had more wealth, and half had less. Net worth is the value of all assets minus the value of all liabilities or debts.) The Survey of Consumer Finances is considered one of the most comprehensive studies on income, wealth and debt. Unfortunately, it’s only produced every third year, and it’s published about 18 months after the survey. A lot can change in that 18 months, including a 14% increase in home prices and a 30% gain in the stock market.

If the typical family thinks the Great Recession never ended, here’s a good explanation: Median incomes have dropped about 12% in real terms since 2007, just before the recession began. In inflation-adjusted terms, the typical family makes only about $200 more a year than it did in 1989. There was some steady progress in median incomes from 1992 to 2004, but that’s all been wiped away. Some groups have done better than others: Incomes of the top 10% have risen about 18% in real terms since 1989. But those in the 60th to 80th%ile — the once-prosperous middle class — have seen their incomes rise just 4% in 24 years.

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Oh, sweet recovery.

Millions Struggle To Get Enough To Eat Despite Jobs Returning (NPR)

The number of U.S. families that struggled to get enough to eat last year was essentially unchanged from the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest report on “food security.” The agency says that about 17.5 million families — or 1 in 7 — were food insecure last year. That means that at some point during the year, the household had trouble feeding all of its members. In 2012, the number was 17.6 million. The number of households experiencing what the government calls “very low food security” — which means people actually miss meals or cut back their intake because they don’t have enough money for food — was also essentially unchanged last year at 6.8 million households. Anti-hunger groups say the fact that so many families are still struggling to put enough food on the table, even as the economy improves, is a sign that more needs to be done to help them out.

“These startling numbers prove there has been no true economic recovery for tens of millions of struggling U.S. families,” Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said in a statement. “It is clearer than ever that we need a massive new government jobs program, a significant increase in the minimum wage and a robust increase in the federal nutrition safety net program.” USDA sociologist Alisha Coleman-Jensen, an author of the report, says the numbers have not declined as much as one might expect with a drop in unemployment, because higher food prices and inflation last year offset the benefits of a brighter job market. She notes that over a two-year period, the drop in the%age of struggling families was statistically significant — from 14.9% in 2011 to 14.3% last year. Still, the level of food insecurity remains much higher than it was before the recession. In 2007, about 11% of households struggled to get enough to eat.

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“Student loans issued from 2007 to 2012 are on target to produce $66 billion in profit for the United States government.”

Elizabeth Warren: The Market Is Broken (CNN)

Senator Elizabeth Warren says she picked up a lot of her feistiness from reading Nancy Drew novels as a kid. Today she believes the most important mystery to solve is how to get the American economy working for someone other than billionaires. It’s a message she’s been taking all over the country, and she isn’t afraid to call banks, credit card companies and some employers cheats and tricksters. “The biggest financial institutions figured out they could make a lot of money by cheating people on mortgages, credit cards and payday loans,” she told a packed auditorium at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she spoke alongside New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The Democrat from Massachusetts even said the market is broken in many regards. “This is about getting markets to work for real people,” she said. The biggest applause of the night was on three issues that come up frequently in Warren’s speeches.

1) Financial regulation: Warren was the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the 2008 financial crisis. The agency has returned billions of dollars to Americans who were wronged. “Traffic works better with traffic lights,” she explained. In her eyes, a true capitalist system would have transparency so consumers could make informed choices. But in a world of “mice type” with pages and pages of fine print that no one reads or understands, the market breaks down.

2) Reducing student loans: Last summer Warren made headlines for arguing that student loans should have the same interest rates that banks get when they borrow money from the Federal Reserve. This year she’s pushing to allow people to re-finance their student loans at the historically low rates currently in place. As she likes to remind people, “Student loans issued from 2007 to 2012 are on target to produce $66 billion in profit for the United States government.”

3) Raising the minimum wage: “No one should work full time and still live in poverty,” Warren said. She uses her own family story to illustrate how critical it is for workers to make a living wage. Her father had a heart attack when she was 12, and her mother had to go back to work in retail at Sears to support the family.

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And, let’s guess, 2/3 of them don’t make enough money?!

Freelance Nation: One-Third Of US Workers Are Freelancers (Yahoo)

When the Labor Department releases its latest jobs report on Friday, it will likely show that the economy added about 200,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate remained near 6.2%. What it won’t show is the extent to which many workers are no longer on payroll but self-employed as freelancers. The Freelancers Union, a national organization, released a survey today showing that 53 million Americans, or 34% of the country’s workforce, are freelancers. The trend started “decades ago, then accelerated,” says Sara Horowitz, the group’s founder and executive director. “Freelancing is everywhere.” She calls it a “new normal.”

Some say the freelance trend is not the worker’s friend and is a result of layoffs, forcing many to find work any way they can. But Horowitz says freelance work is “meaningful independence” — a “new way” of work that people like because “they can really organize their time [and] have flexibility.” Freelancing gives people a sense of control over their work lives, Horowitz tells Yahoo Finance in the video above. “Workers are saying ‘if I’m not going to have an employer that’s going to have loyalty to me and if I don’t have expenses that are so high, I can actually start to control my life by working freelance in these different ways,'” says Horowitz. It’s particularly popular among millennials, according to the survey which found that 38% of them are freelancing.

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Yeah, right, not enough credit=debt is being created…

When The Next Housing Bust Hits, Blame The Bankers (MarketWatch)

The U.S. economic recovery is being endangered by a slowing housing market, as prospective homeowners with lower incomes and credit scores are finding it nearly impossible to get a mortgage. Six years after the collapse of home prices, the mortgage-lending industry is going through an upheaval. Wells Fargo has the largest share of the mortgage market, but CEO John Stumpf in an interview with the Financial Times last week said his company would be unwilling to lend to lower-income borrowers and those with relatively low credit scores. That is, unless regulators made it more difficult for investors to force banks to repurchase securitized loans. “If you guys want to stick with this program of ‘putting back’ any time, any way, whatever, that’s fine, we’re just not going to make those loans and there’s going to be a whole bunch of Americans that are underserved in the mortgage market,” Stumpf said.

He was referring to loan-repurchase demands by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and private investors. J.P. Morgan CEO James Dimon, during a July conference call, said the bank’s volume of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration was “way down,” and that the bank had “lost a tremendous sum of money on the FHA,” which had disputed roughly a third of all insurance claims. “We want to help the consumers there, but we can’t do it at great risk to J.P. Morgan, so until they come up with some kind of safe harbors or something, we’re going to be very, very cautious in that line of business,” Dimon said. Even Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said in June: “It is difficult for any homeowner who doesn’t have pristine credit these days to get a mortgage,” which was one of the causes of the limp housing recovery.

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Big report by Glenn Greenwald.

The US Government’s Secret Plans To Spy For American Corporations (Greenwald)

Throughout the last year, the U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that it does not engage in economic and industrial espionage, in an effort to distinguish its own spying from China’s infiltrations of Google, Nortel, and other corporate targets. So critical is this denial to the U.S. government that last August, an NSA spokesperson emailed The Washington Post to say (emphasis in original): “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” After that categorical statement to the Post, the NSA was caught spying on plainly financial targets such as the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras; economic summits; international credit card and banking systems; the EU antitrust commissioner investigating Google, Microsoft, and Intel; and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In response, the U.S. modified its denial to acknowledge that it does engage in economic spying, but unlike China, the spying is never done to benefit American corporations.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for instance, responded to the Petrobras revelations by claiming: “It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters…. What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of—or give intelligence we collect to—U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

But a secret 2009 report issued by Clapper’s own office explicitly contemplates doing exactly that. The document, the 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review—provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—is a fascinating window into the mindset of America’s spies as they identify future threats to the U.S. and lay out the actions the U.S. intelligence community should take in response. It anticipates a series of potential scenarios the U.S. may face in 2025, from a “China/Russia/India/Iran centered bloc [that] challenges U.S. supremacy” to a world in which “identity-based groups supplant nation-states,” and games out how the U.S. intelligence community should operate in those alternative futures—the idea being to assess “the most challenging issues [the U.S.] could face beyond the standard planning cycle.”

One of the principal threats raised in the report is a scenario “in which the United States’ technological and innovative edge slips”— in particular, “that the technological capacity of foreign multinational corporations could outstrip that of U.S. corporations.” Such a development, the report says “could put the United States at a growing—and potentially permanent—disadvantage in crucial areas such as energy, nanotechnology, medicine, and information technology.” How could U.S. intelligence agencies solve that problem? The report recommends “a multi-pronged, systematic effort to gather open source and proprietary information through overt means, clandestine penetration (through physical and cyber means), and counterintelligence” (emphasis added). In particular, the DNI’s report envisions “cyber operations” to penetrate “covert centers of innovation” such as R&D facilities.

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The fight that keeps on taking.

Argentina Senate Passes Debt Swap Plan In Defiance Of US Courts (Reuters)

Argentina’s Senate on Thursday passed a bill aimed at circumventing U.S. court decisions regarding its defaulted debt by changing payment jurisdiction, sending the proposal to the lower house Chamber of Deputies for final approval. The chamber, like the Senate, is controlled by government allies who are expected to vote the bill into law. Debate in the lower chamber is set to start next week. The Senate vote approving the measure was 39 to 27. President Cristina Fernandez wants to resume servicing sovereign bonds that were restructured after Argentina’s previous default in 2002. Her government missed a coupon payment on its restructured bonds in July, thrusting the South American country into default.

The proposed law, which says that foreign debt can be paid through intermediaries outside the United States, is Fernandez’s attempt at getting back on a paying basis by putting government debt out of reach of U.S. courts that have jurisdiction over some of the original bond contracts. The bill would replace Bank of New York Mellon with state-controlled bank Banco Nacion as the trustee for bond payments. It would also allow holders of restructured bonds governed by foreign law to swap them for paper governed by Argentine law. Both moves would be in violation of U.S. court orders. [..] “Sometimes there are court decisions that cannot be followed,” said Miguel Angel Pichetto, head of the government’s Frente para la Victoria coalition in the Senate. “To pay the vulture funds would be very dangerous.” The bill is expected to become law before Sept. 30, when the next payment on Argentina’s restructured bonds is due.

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Italy Economy In ‘Acute Emergency’: Ex-PM Monti (CNBC)

Italy is still embroiled in a financial crisis—but one that is insufficiently severe to convince the public that reforms are urgently needed, the country’s former prime minister told CNBC on Friday. “The acute emergency that we now have in the real economy, and in the employment situation, is there. It bites deeply into society,” Mario Monti, the economist who led an Italian technocrat government between 2011 and 2013, told CNBC from the annual economic Ambrosetti Forum in Italy. “But of course, it is not so visible as an emergency that brings the whole of public opinion to rally around a tough political project to introduce the structural reforms that are needed to slowly go out of that crisis.”

The Italian economy is seen shrinking again this year, after contracting 0.2% in the second-quarter. Unemployment remains above both the euro zone and the Europe-wide average, hitting 12.6% in July. The country needs to create 2.5 million new jobs to meet the European Union target of 75% employment by 2020, according to Ambrosetti economists. Despite this, both Monti and his successor Matteo Renzi have struggled to free up Italy’s high restrictive labor market. Firms currently lack flexibility in hiring and firing and are inhibited by the practice of nationwide collective bargaining.

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Limits to Growth has always been right. Other than in little details, but it was never about details.

Limits to Growth Was Right. New Models Show We’re Nearing Collapse (Guardian)

The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”. It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon. Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge. The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution.

They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario. The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash. So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.

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Not going to happen. They don’t have anywhere near enough control.

UN Aims To Stop Ebola Transmission In Six To Nine Months (Reuters)

The United Nations plans to set up an Ebola crisis center to coordinate the response to the deadly virus and to strive to halt its spread in West African countries in six to nine months, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday. Ban called on the international community to provide $600 million needed for supplies in West Africa, where more than 3,500 confirmed or probable cases of the hemorrhagic fever have been reported and more than 1,900 people have died since March. “The number of cases is rising exponentially. The disease is spreading far faster than the response. People are increasingly frustrated that it is not being controlled,” Ban told reporters.

“The goal is to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months, and to prevent the international spread of the virus,” he said. “This can be done only if the urgent and necessary mobilization is done both in the affected countries and by the international community.” Countries affected by the epidemic include Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. An outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unrelated to and independent of the West African epidemic, the World Health Organization has said. It is the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO has said casualty figures may be up to four times higher than reported, and that up to 20,000 people may be affected before the outbreak ends.

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