Harris&Ewing “Congressional baseball game. President and Mrs. Wilson.” 1917
“Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the biggest U.S. producer, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday [..] It was valued at $7.3 billion in 2008.”
The destructive force of a collapse in world coal prices has been underscored by the sale of a mine valued at A$860 million ($631 million) three years ago for just a dollar. Brazilian miner Vale and Japan’s Sumitomo sold the Isaac Plains coking-coal mine in Australia to Stanmore Coal Ltd., the Brisbane-based company said Thursday in a statement. Sumitomo bought a half stake for A$430 million in 2012. A slump in the price of coking coal, used to make steel, to a decade low is forcing mines to close across the world and bankrupting some producers. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the biggest U.S. producer, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter. It was valued at $7.3 billion in 2008.
Isaac Plains in Queensland “was one of the most exciting coal projects in Australia,” Investec Plc analysts said in a note to investors on Friday. The site has a resource of 30 million metric tons, according to Stanmore. “The outlook for coal is still very difficult,” Roger Downey, Vale’s executive director for fertilizers and coal, said on Thursday after Stanmore announced the sale. “We see even in Australia mines that are still in the red and at some point that has to change. We have quite adverse and challenging markets.” Coal’s demise is just part of a broader slump in commodity prices, which fell to the lowest in 13 years this month. The benchmark price for coking coal exported from Australia has slumped 24% this year to $85.40 a ton on Friday, according to prices from Steel Business Briefing. The quarterly benchmark price peaked at $330 a ton in 2011.
More Poof! Now you see it….
Three years after private-equity giant Carlyle Group touted its purchase of a hedge-fund firm, a rout in raw materials has helped drive down holdings in its flagship fund from about $2 billion to less than $50 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The firm, Vermillion Asset Management, suffered steep losses and a wave of client redemptions in its commodity fund after a string of bad bets, including one tied to the price of shipping of dry goods, such as iron ore, coal or grains. At one point, two of Carlyle’s co-founders, David Rubenstein and William Conway, put tens of millions of dollars of their own money in the fund and left it in amid the losses and redemptions, according to people familiar with the matter.
Vermillion is in the midst of a restructuring, its co-founders left at the end of June, and it is pulling back from trading in several markets. A collapsing market for raw materials is spreading pain well beyond commodities specialists to some of the heaviest hitters on Wall Street. This week alone, commodity-trading firms Armajaro Asset Management and Black River Asset Managemen, a unit of agricultural conglomerate Cargill, said they are closing funds. Several other firms that managed billions of dollars already have closed their doors, including London-based Clive Capital and BlueGold Capital Management. Large money managers including Brevan Howard Asset Management and Fortress Investment Group have wound down commodity strategies.
Assets under management at commodity hedge funds have fallen 15%, to $24.1 billion, since their peak in 2012, and nearly 30 firms out of 250 have shut down since that year, according to industry consultant HFR Inc. Commodity firms lost money for three years in a row before 2014, HFR said. Commodities are one of the most challenging markets to invest in, because of their complexities and penchant for volatility. Some of the biggest hedge-fund blowups have involved commodity trading, such as the 2006 collapse of Amaranth Advisors after sustaining more than $5 billion in losses on natural-gas trades.
As the US economy weakens, the USD will come home, leaving the rest of the world a lot poorer.
Former hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus Raoul Pal isn’t one to shy away from making bold predictions. Back in November 2014, Pal, who is currently the publisher of the Global Macro Investor newsletter and the founder of Real Vision TV, said the U.S. dollar index was poised to make a move the likes of which hadn’t been seen in “many, many years.” Now, after the dollar index surged 10%, Pal is out with a new prediction, and it could spell trouble for global equities. “I think the dollar will go up for another few years from here, so I’m expecting to see, by the end of this year, the dollar up maybe 20%,” said Pal on CNBC’s “Fast Money” this week. “So we’ve got another 10-12% or so to go this year alone, and then next year something similar,” he added.
If true, those predictions could have dire consequences for the global market. According to Pal, a rapidly accelerating bull market for the dollar could lead oil prices to “come back down into the 20s” in the not-so-distant future. “As the dollar gets stronger, global growth is falling and global export growth is falling, and that means generally that commodity prices should fall as well,” he explained. Pal said the slowdown in global growth, spurred by an ever-strengthening dollar, could have deleterious effects on one country in particular. “Germany is the big exporting nation of Europe, and I see them slowing down,” he said. Pal explained that a weaker U.S. economy will bleed into Europe and further impact German growth.
“The first half of this year is the weakest first half since the recession” for the United States, he said. “Europe lags the U.S, so I think that won’t help Germany at all because obviously the U.S. is buying less goods from Germany.” By Pal’s logic, a slowdown in Germany could eventually put all of Europe in harm’s way. “I think Germany is at risk of leading Europe into a recession, which is against everybody else’s opinion.”
Circle jerk keeps brokers alive.
An astonishing $32 trillion in securities changes hands every year with no net positive impact for investors, charges Vanguard Group Founder John Bogle. Meanwhile, corporate finance — the reason Wall Street exists — is just a tiny slice of the total business. The nation’s big investment banks probably could work for less than a week and take the rest of the year off with no real effect on the economy. “The job of finance is to provide capital to companies. We do it to the tune of $250 billion a year in IPOs and secondary offerings,” Bogle told Time in an interview. “What else do we do? We encourage investors to trade about $32 trillion a year. So the way I calculate it, 99% of what we do in this industry is people trading with one another, with a gain only to the middleman. It’s a waste of resources.”
It’s a lot of money, $32 trillion. Nearly double the entire U.S. economy moving from one pocket to another, with a toll-taker in the middle. Most people refer to them as “stock brokers,” but let’s call them what they are — toll-takers and rent-seekers. Rent-seeking as an occupation is as old as the hills. In exchange for working to build up credentials and relative fluency in the arcane rules of an industry, one gets to stand back from actual work and just collect money. Ostensibly, the job of a financial adviser is to provide advice. Do you actually get that from your broker? It is worth anything? Research shows, over and over, that stock brokers can’t do much of anything demonstrably valuable. They don’t know which stocks will go up or down and when.
They don’t know which asset classes will outperform this year or next. Nobody knows. That’s the point. If you’re among that small cadre of extremely high-level traders who can throw loads of cash at a short-term fluke, fantastic. If you have a mind for numbers like Warren Buffett that allows you to buy companies on the cheap and hold them forever, excellent. If you’re a normal retirement investor trying to get from A to B and retire on time, well, you have a really big problem to face: The toll-taker wants your money.
When OPEC started a price war last November, driving oil down to its current $65 a barrel, U.S. shale drillers looked doomed. Six months later, it’s the world’s largest oil companies that are emerging as the unexpected casualties. The reason: the multibillion-dollar projects at the heart of the oil majors’ strategy need prices closer to $100 to make them economically feasible. “Big Oil is today squeezed by two low-cost producers: OPEC and U.S. shale,” said Michele Della Vigna at Goldman Sachs. “Big Oil needs to re-invent itself.” The new period of cheap oil and ample supplies raises a prospect unthinkable as recently as a few months ago – that the world no longer needs all the big, expensive projects planned by companies such as Shell, Chevron. and Total.
Rising supplies from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and perhaps Iran combined with a more efficient shale industry could deliver the bulk of new production. Big Oil will continue to play a significant role, particularly as field developments sanctioned in the era of $100 a barrel come to fruition – but new projects will suffer. Only six months ago, the industry’s thinking was very different. The view then was that shale firms could only survive with $100 oil. The expected wave of bankruptcies never came about, however, and shale output has continued growing as drillers cut costs in response to low prices. Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, said in Vienna on Wednesday that the industry now accepted that the U.S. shale drillers were far more resilient than expected. “They are reducing the cost and restoring the margins that we enjoy at $80 to $90 to get those at $60 to $70,” Lance said in an interview. “That is how resilient the opportunity set is.”
“Our moral compass informs us that bailouts shouldn’t work to the benefit of the reckless and irresponsible. Reality teaches us a very different lesson.”
I always find it amusing whenever someone expresses surprise that the financial bailouts for Greece haven’t benefitted Greek citizens. “Bailout Money Goes to Greece, Only to Flow Out Again” in the New York Times is just the latest example. “The cash exodus is a small piece of a bigger puzzle over why – despite two major international bailouts — the Greek economy is in worse shape and more deeply in debt.” Unfortunately, this is a feature of bailout, not a bug. A plethora of financial rescues during the past decades has proven quite convincingly that this isn’t an aberration. Follow the money instead of following the headlines. That’s how you learn who profits from a bailout.
Look around the world – Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, the U.S. and now Greece to learn who is and isn’t helped by these enormous government-backed bailouts. No, it isn’t the Greek people, nor even their banks. They never were the intended beneficiaries of the bailouts, nor were Irish citizens in that bailout. Indeed, homeowners in the U.S. were little more that incidental recipients of aid as a%age of total rescue spending. You probably learned the phrase “moral hazard” during the financial crisis. In short, what it means is that the bailouts rescued leveraged, reckless speculators from the results of their unwise professional folly and gave them an incentive to do it all over again. They were and the intended rescuees.
Do you think I am exaggerating? Consider the U.S. bailout in its manifold forms, from TARP to ZIRP to QE. How many bondholders suffered losses from their poor investment decisions? With the exception of holders of Lehman Brothers’ debt and a handful of banks that weren’t deemed too big to fail, just about every other bondholder was made whole, 100 cents on the dollar. Thanks to rescue plans such as the Trouble Asset Relief Program, holders of bonds from a diverse assortment of failed and failing companies suffered literally no losses. AIG? Zero losses. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Zero losses. Citigroup and Bank of America? Zero losses. Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns? Zero losses.
History teaches us that when companies fail, they file either a reorganization or liquidation in a bankruptcy court. The exceptions are when well-placed executives are friendly with Congress (Chrysler 1980) or members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lockheed 1972) or Treasury secretaries (all of Wall Street except Dick Fuld in 2008-09). Having well-connected corporate executives on your board or in senior management sure comes in handy during an emergency.
[..] In the case of Greece, the money flows in large part from European governments and the IMF through Greece, and then to various private-sector lenders. We all call it a Greek bailout, because if it were called the “Rescue of German bankers from the results of their Athenian lending folly,” who would support it? Our moral compass informs us that bailouts shouldn’t work to the benefit of the reckless and irresponsible. Reality teaches us a very different lesson.
Pierre Werner was appointed by the EU Council of Ministers on 6 March 1970, to chair a committee of experts to design a monetary system for the EU. The key elements of his committee’s recommendations was to be developed subsequently by the Delors Committee of twelve central bankers, which reported in 1989. Both sets of proposals – the Werner Report and the Delors Report – replicated the financial architecture of the nineteenth century gold standard. The parallels between the two systems include the abandonment by governments of control over exchange rates; the loss of a central bank accountable to the state; the initial euphoria as an over-valued exchanged rate cheapens imports & capital mobility encourages reckless lending; subsequent deflationary pressures; the absence of a co-ordinating body to check imbalances across the zone, and finally growing political resistance to the monetary system.
However it is important to note also just how much the two systems differ. The genius of those who designed the European Monetary Union (EMU) was this: unlike the architects of the gold standard, which attempted to remove central bank and state control over the exchange rate – Delors’s bankers simply abolished all European currencies, and replaced them with a new, shared currency, the euro – well beyond the reach of any state. That currency – the euro – not only acts as a store of value and facilitates financial transactions across borders – it also acts as a powerful symbol of European unity.
So in addition to serving the interests of Luxembourg bankers and European financiers – the euro was in part created, and heavily sold to citizens, as a perceived way and a symbol for bringing Europe and Europeans together. Like gold under the gold standard, the currency acquired the status of a fetish for many, both amongst the European elites in Brussels and Frankfurt, but also amongst those in periphery countries.
Tsipras needs the discord. Apparently that is hard to fathom.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras staved off an immediate challenge to his premiership, though failure to appease his party’s hard-left fringe brought early elections into view. After 12 hours of talks, the central committee of the anti-austerity Syriza party decided in the early hours of Friday to hold an emergency congress in September, in which Tsipras’ move to accept a strings-attached rescue program from international creditors will be put to the vote. Leaders of the party’s Left Platform protested that will be too late to stop the bailout, but failed in their bid to force a party congress this weekend. “We opted for a difficult compromise and a recessionary program, we admit it”
With the government vulnerable, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos meets representatives from international creditors on Friday to discuss the austerity measures his party has long opposed. The quarrel within Syriza, in power since January, means that Tsipras will have to rely on opposition parties’ support to approve measures attached to Greece’s emergency loans, a situation he has said isn’t sustainable. “Tsipras might call an early election as a way to reinforce his mandate,” Roubini analysts wrote in a note to clients. “It cannot yet be known if a new government – or Tsipras’s second mandate – would lead to stronger compliance with the creditors’ terms or would merely be a sign of Tsipras’s intention to push for better terms, including debt reduction.”
Former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads the Left Platform, opposed the September confidence vote, arguing the government will have signed a new bailout with creditors by then, and it will be all but impossible to annul bilateral agreements ratified by parliament. Lafazanis led a revolt of more than 30 Syriza lawmakers this month against the upfront actions demanded by European states and the IMF, effectively stripping Tsipras of his parliamentary majority. The central committee’s decision to hold a congress in September, approving a motion by Tsipras, “is a parody,” the Platform said in a statement. In a separate statement posted on the website of government-affiliated Avgi newspaper, 17 members of the central committee said they are resigning from the body, protesting the “transformation” of Syriza into a pro-austerity party.
“If our partners and lenders had prepared a Grexit plan, shouldn’t we as a government have prepared our defense?”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged on Friday that his government had made covert contingency plans in case Greece was forced out of the euro, but rejected accusations that he had plotted a return to the drachma. Tsipras was forced to respond to the issue in parliament after former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis this week revealed efforts to hack into citizens’ tax codes to create a parallel payment system, prompting shock and outrage in Greece. The disclosure heaped new pressure on Tsipras, who is also battling a rebellion within his Syriza party and starting tough talks with the European Union and International Monetary Fund to seal a third bailout program in less than three weeks.
“We didn’t design or have a plan to pull the country out of the euro, but we did have emergency plans,” Tsipras told parliament. “If our partners and lenders had prepared a Grexit plan, shouldn’t we as a government have prepared our defense?” He compared the plan to a country preparing its defenses ahead of war, saying it was the obligation of a responsible government to have contingency arrangements in place. He did not directly refer to Varoufakis’ disclosure of plans to hack into his ministry’s software to obtain tax codes. But Tspiras said the idea of a database giving Greeks passwords to make payments to settle arrears was hardly “a covert and satanic plan to take the country out of the euro”.
Tsipras also defended his embattled former finance minister, who has continued to create headaches for the government since being ousted earlier this month. “Mr. Varoufakis might have made mistakes, as all of us have … You can blame him as much as you want for his political plan, his statements, for his taste in shirts, for vacations in Aegina,” Tsipras said. “But you cannot accuse him of stealing the money of Greek people or having a covert plan to take Greece to the precipice.”
What about this is not clear?
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras launched a staunch defence of his embattled former finance minister on Friday, as he spoke for the first time about the secret “Plan B” he ordered from Yanis Varoufakis. Following almost a week of silence, Mr Tsipras told his parliament he had authorised preparations for a system of “parallel liquidity” should the ECB pull the plug on the Greek banking system. “I personally gave the order to prepare a team to prepare a defence plan in case of emergency,” said Mr Tsipras, who compared Greece’s situation with being on a war footing. “If our creditors were preparing a Grexit plan, should we not have prepared our defences?” But the prime minister said he “did not have, and never prepared, plans to take the country out of the euro”.
Since the airing of the “Plan B” talks, in a recorded conversation between Mr Varoufakis and city investors, two private lawsuits have been brought against the divisive politician, raising the prospect of a criminal prosecution over charges relating to treason. Opposition parties in Greece have also called for the former Essex University economist to have his parliamentary immunity from criminal charges revoked over his role in the clandestine plans. However, the prime minister rejected accusations from some that the blueprint amounted to a “coup d’etat” against his government. “You can blame him as much as you want for his political plan, his statements, for his taste in shirts, for vacations in Aegina.” “But you cannot accuse him of stealing the money of Greek people or having a covert plan to take Greece to the precipice”, said Mr Tsipras.
The four main heads of Greece’s creditor powers met with current finance minister Euclid Tskalatos on Friday, as both sides race to secure an agreement by the second week of August. Greece’s institutions are said to be demanding the government scrap a “solidarity tax” of 8pc on incomes of more than €500,000, a levy which only affects 350 people but which lenders want to abolish to deter tax evasion. They also want Athens’ Leftist government to scrap fuel subsidies and liberalise professions such as ship-building before an agreement for a new €86bn bail-out can proceed. Progress on securing a third international bail-out for Greece hit the rocks on Wednesday night after the IMF said it was unwilling to consider providing any more money until the reforms were agreed and Europe finally granted a programme of debt relief to Greece.
The Athens stock exchange will reopen Monday, more than a month after Greece’s financial crisis forced the authorities to suspend all trading. But there will be some restrictions for local investors, the Greek finance ministry said, to prevent more money flooding out of the banking system. They will only be allowed to buy shares with existing holdings of cash, and won’t be able to draw on their Greek bank accounts. Greece’s banks were bleeding cash at a furious pace on fears the country’s debt crisis would force it to abandon the euro. Capital controls were introduced on June 29, including the closure of banks and financial markets. ATM withdrawals were limited to €60 per day.
The banks reopened on July 20, after Europe agreed in principle to a new bailout, but withdrawals remain limited to €420 a week. Some capital controls have been relaxed, so Greek companies could make payments abroad. Shares in the biggest Greek banks were tanking before the market closure – Piraeus Bank lost 57% this year, while Alpha Bank is down 29%. The benchmark Athens index has dropped 32% over the last 12 months. The European Central Bank has approved the reopening of the exchange. The ECB doesn’t control the stock market, but its opinion is crucial because it is keeping the Greek banking system afloat with regular injections of cash.
Getting more undone by the minute.
Yesterday everyone learned what those who had been watching closely had realised for some time: the IMF won’t (at least for now) be offering a third loan to Greece. The IMF believes that Greece has not sufficiently stuck to the conditions of previous loans and that its debts after a third bailout would be unsustainably high. That means an IMF loan would not enable Greece to return to financial markets to fund itself (a normal requirement for an IMF loan). It might be added that the IMF would not be confident, either, that Greece could obtain further financing from alternative sources – ie its Eurozone partners, whose patience is clearly spent.
Given that Greece defaulted on an IMF payment only a few weeks ago – an action which placed it in a not-so-elite group of international pariah states that had ever done so – the IMF not wanting to lend to it again should hardly be a surprise. Many commentators appear to assume the Eurozone will simply shrug off IMF non-involvement and cover the difference themselves. After all, back in 2009/2010 when the first Greek bailout was initially mooted, many EU Member States and institutions would have preferred the IMF not to be involved. But the country that was most adamant the IMF had to be in was Germany. And again for the current discussions about a third bailout to be given authority to proceed, the German government promised the Bundestag that the IMF would be in.
So now we have the following stand-off. The Germans insist the IMF must be part of a third bailout; the IMF says it cannot be in unless Greece’s debts are forgiven on a scale that would make them sustainable; the Germans refuse even to contemplate debt forgiveness whilst Greece remains in the euro. Could this derail the whole deal? Yes. Indeed I would assume that this scenario was so obviously likely that some parties to the mid-July talks probably only ever agreed to what they did because they expected it to fall apart in just this way.
Bless you: “The center is a response to intolerance, to the “migrants go home” attitude..”
Next-door neighbor Katerina comes over to the house almost every day to have a coffee in the garden and bring a “little something for the kids.” The Hospitality Center for Unaccompanied Minors in the Athenian neighborhood of Ano Petralona, which went into operation in late May, is currently home to 18 children aged 13-17, and is a hub of social activity. The hostel for young migrants who crossed Greek borders without a guardian is run by the nongovernmental organization Praksis, which took on the responsibility of housing dozens of young refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan who were being held at migrant detention centers such as Amygdaleza, north of Athens.
The detention centers were closed down by the then new government as one of its first orders of business, citing “inhuman” living conditions. However, one of the first issues then to rise was what was to happen to the minors. The government was short of cash, prompting Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou to reach out to the Latsis Foundation for help. “Surprisingly fast for a public organization,” says Latsis Foundation Executive Board secretary Dimitris Afendoulis, the ministry and the foundation created the hostel, which can take in 24 guests at a time, in a house in Ano Petralona within just a few months. There are currently 99 minors still waiting to be placed in similar facilities, while authorities estimate that some 2,500 children make their way through Greece alone every year.
“This center may provide just a small amount of relief for the thousands of children waiting to find shelter in this country but on a symbolic level it is an amazing initiative, particularly as it happened thanks to funding from a private foundation,” says Christodoulopoulou. “We have a funding gap as far as European Union funds are concerned and such initiatives contribute to social solidarity and awareness.” “Caring for and protecting unaccompanied minors brings together all those people who have the capability to contribute,” says Afendoulis, adding that the foundation has also undertaken to cover the hostel’s operating costs until EU funding becomes available.
The center is a response to intolerance, to the “migrants go home” attitude, says Antypas Tzanetos, president of the Praksis board. “It is a response with actions, not words,” he adds.
Lagarde list years later.
“I wish we had ten Papastavrou!” It was former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who had praised the morals of his close aide Stavros Papastravou, a lawyer consultant at the Prime Ministry, during a speech in the Greek Parliament. Now, one of the ‘ten’ the real Stavros Papastavrou has been summoned by an Athens financial crimes prosecutor to give explanation about €5.5 million in his accounts at the HSBC Geneva branch. Papastavrou’s name was one of more than 2,000 Greek names on the so-called Lagarde list of wealthy Greek depositors with accounts at HSBC Geneva branch that was ‘stolen’ by former bank employee Herve Falciani in 2009. The Lagarde-List has been in the hands of the Greek authorities since 2010.
“Prosecutor Yiannis Dragatsis called lawyer Stavros Papastavrou to answer questions regarding his suspected involvement in tax evasion and money laundering through an account containing 5.5 million euros that was among hundreds on a list submitted to the Greek authorities in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, currently managing director of the IMF. Papastavrou’s legal counsel requested an extension so that the former prime minister’s adviser can prepare his defense. A new date will be set for his deposition after the August 15th break.” (ekathimerini)
According to several Greek media, Papastavrou claims that the money does not belong to him but to Israeli businessman Sabi Mioni. Papastavrou is reportedly co-holder of the account together with his mother and his father who deceased some years ago. Papastavrou had alleged that he was just managing the bank account. The former aide has to prove through documents that he is telling the truth, but also Mioni has to testify in the case. In his testimony in 2013, Mioni had claimed that he had given access to one of his corporate bank accounts to Papastavrou.
Italy’s jobless rate unexpectedly rose in June as businesses continue to dimiss workers amid concerns that the country’s exit from recession may not be sustainable. Youth unemployment jumped to a record-high 44.2%. Unemployment increased to 12.7% from a revised 12.5% in May, statistics agency Istat said in a preliminary report in Rome on Friday. The median estimate in a survey of nine analysts called for a rate of 12.3%. Youth unemployment in June rose to the highest rate since the series began in 2004, from 42.4% in May. Employment dropped for a second month in a row, with about 22,000 jobs lost in June alone, according to the report.
Joblessness in the euro area’s third-largest economy has been at 12% or above for more than two years as the record slump deepened before GDP started to rise again at the end of 2014. On Monday, the IMF said in a report that “without a significant pick-up in growth,” it would take Italy “nearly 20 years to reduce the unemployment rate to pre-crisis” levels of about half the current one. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s changes to Italy’s labor code showed early results as the number of open-ended contracts taking effect in the first half increased, the government said. Still, executives’ confidence declined this month amid doubts on the outlook for economic recovery and employment.
Bad idea to focus on smuggling. The refugees need the attention.
One of the most distressing elements of the worldwide migrant crisis is that people who have risked all for a better life should be held to ransom by smugglers. The lines between migration and human trafficking all too easily converge. While migration implies a level of individual choice, migrants are sometimes detained and even tortured by the people they pay to lead them across borders. Following the cash across borders – through a network of kingpins, spotters, drivers and enforcers – is central to understanding how this opaque and complex business works. Everyone agrees there is not enough data. No one knows how many migrants are smuggled. However, enough is known about the money paid – by Eritreans, Syrians, Rohingya, and Afghans, among others – to demonstrate it is a multimillion-dollar business.
As Europe debates measures ranging from military attacks to destroying smugglers’ boats to increasing asylum places, what more can be done to prosecute those profiting at the crossroads of dreams and despair? How much do migrants pay? The cost varies depending on the distance, destination, level of difficulty, method of transport (air travel is dearer and requires fake documents) and whether the migrant has personal links to the smugglers, or decides to work for them. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says journeys in Asia can cost from a few hundred dollars up to $10,000 (£6,422) or more. For Mexicans wanting to enter the US, fees can run to $3,500, while Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean can pay up to $1,000, and Syrians up to $2,500.
Abu Hamada, 62, a Syrian-Palestinian refugee, reckons he has earned about £1.5m ($2.3m) over six months by smuggling people across the Mediterranean from Egypt. A place on a boat from Turkey to Greece costs between €1,000 and €1,200(£700 and £840), say migrants. Afghans pay between €10,000 and €11,000 to get to Hungary, which includes help from smugglers. The UNODC says smugglers operating from Africa to Europe earn about $150m annually, while those from Latin America to North America are believed to earn roughly $6.6bn a year. Money is often paid in instalments as a migrant moves from one group of smugglers to the next. For example, migrants from Afghanistan often use informal remittance systems, such as hawala. Funds are deposited with a hawaladar in Afghanistan, and on each stage of the journey the migrant will contact that person to release money to other hawaladars in transit countries.
Extra sniffer dogs and fencing will be sent to France to help deal with the Calais migrant crisis, and Ministry of Defence land will be used to ease congestion on the UK side of the Channel tunnel, David Cameron has said. Speaking in Downing Street after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, the prime minister said the situation was “unacceptable” and that he would be speaking to the French president, François Hollande, later on Friday. Cameron said: “This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer. “I will have a team of senior ministers who will be working to deal with it, and we rule nothing out in taking action to deal with this very serious problem. “We are absolutely on it. We know it needs more work.”
The Cobra meeting came after another night during which police in France blocked people from reaching the Channel tunnel. About 3,000 people from countries including Syria and Eritrea are camping out in Calais and trying to cross into Britain illegally by climbing on board lorries and trains. France bolstered its police presence. The tunnel was temporarily closed on Friday morning while officials carried out an inspection after more migrants attempted to enter overnight at the entrance in Coquelles. French police attempted to form a ring of steel around the tunnel on Thursday night, prompting an evening of scuffles and standoffs with migrants attempting to breach the terminal in Calais. Up to a hundred migrants attempted to overrun police lines at a petrol station near the Eurostar terminal but were held back by baton-wielding gendarmes and riot vans.
It’ll take a long time and a lot of deaths before people accept this.
Rarely since 1558, when Queen Mary lost the town to the French, can Calais have ruffled as many British feathers as it has this July. British lorry-drivers, British holidaymakers, and British booze-runners – they’ve all had their journeys wrecked by a recent rise in refugees attempting to break into the Calais end of the Channel tunnel. Without wanting to entirely dismiss their experiences, it is nevertheless useful to remember that the Calais crisis is just a tiny part of a wider one. Of the nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean this year, only 3,000 have made their way to Calais. This means that the migrants at Calais constitute between 1% and 2% of the total number of arrivals in Italy and Greece in 2015.
Far from the UK being a primary target for refugees, the country is much less sought-after than several of its northern European neighbours, notably Sweden and Germany. And while the chaos at Calais may seem unique, many more migrants arrive every week on the shores of Italy and Greece than will reach northern France all year. Debunking this Anglo-centrism is not an academic exercise. It is crucial to understanding how the Calais crisis can be better managed. Britain’s responses to the phenomenon are based on the assumption that it is a local problem. They include building more fences (Theresa May’s proposed recourse), sending in the army (Nigel Farage’s), or clearing the camp entirely (the default reaction in years gone by).
Such solutions presuppose that the crisis is a one-off event peculiar to the British-French border, and that these migrants – once cordoned-off and forgotten about – won’t come back and try again. But such short-termism ignores a vital fact: the migrants at Calais are merely the crest of the biggest global wave of mass migration since the second world war. Others will keep coming in their wake, whether we like it or not. Previous camp clearances over the past decade have ultimately not stopped the flow at Calais. Why would they work now?
[..] For many, the implications of this will be hard to swallow. But the reality is clear: the only logical, long-term response to the Calais crisis is to create a legal means for vast numbers of refugees to reach Europe in safety. This may sound counter-intuitive. But at the current rate, whether we like it or not, 1 million refugees will arrive on European shores within the next four or five years. Whether they set up camps at Calais depends on how orderly we make that process of resettlement.
Time to act?!
While the world mourned Cecil, the 13-year-old lion that was allegedly shot by an American hunter in Zimbabwe, an even more devastating poaching incident was quietly carried out in Kenya. Poachers killed five elephants in Tsavo West National Park on Monday night. The carcasses were recovered by rangers on Tuesday morning — what appeared to be an adult female and her four offspring, their tusks hacked off. While the killing of the lion in Zimbabwe has attracted the world’s attention, the death of the five elephants has received almost no coverage, even though elephants are under a far greater threat from poachers than lions. Their tusks can be sold in Asia for more than $1,000 per pound.
“It’s just devastating,” said Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service. “It took us completely by surprise.” Kenyan investigators say the poachers crossed the border from neighboring Tanzania, slaughtered the elephants and then quickly returned to their base, making them difficult to track. Tsavo stretches along the border for more than 50 miles. Rangers heard gunshots ring out on Monday evening. They searched all night through the vast park and discovered the carnage the next morning. There was blood and loose skin where the tusks were cut off. Kenyan authorities say the poachers escaped on motorcycles, carrying their loot.
“..sea surface temperatures haven’t been warming fast as marine air temperatures, so this comparison introduces a bias that makes the observations look cooler than the model simulations.”
Global climate models aren’t given nearly enough credit for their accurate global temperature change projections. As the 2014 IPCC report showed, observed global surface temperature changes have been within the range of climate model simulations. Now a new study shows that the models were even more accurate than previously thought. In previous evaluations like the one done by the IPCC, climate model simulations of global surface air temperature were compared to global surface temperature observational records like HadCRUT4. However, over the oceans, HadCRUT4 uses sea surface temperatures rather than air temperatures. Thus looking at modeled air temperatures and HadCRUT4 observations isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison for the oceans.
As it turns out, sea surface temperatures haven’t been warming fast as marine air temperatures, so this comparison introduces a bias that makes the observations look cooler than the model simulations. In reality, the comparisons weren’t quite correct. As lead author Kevin Cowtan told me,
“We have highlighted the fact that the planet does not warm uniformly. Air temperatures warm faster than the oceans, air temperatures over land warm faster than global air temperatures. When you put a number on global warming, that number always depends on what you are measuring. And when you do a comparison, you need to ensure you are comparing the same things.
The model projections have generally reported global air temperatures. That’s quite helpful, because we generally live in the air rather than the water. The observations, by mixing air and water temperatures, are expected to slightly underestimate the warming of the atmosphere.
The new study addresses this problem by instead blending the modeled air temperatures over land with the modeled sea surface temperatures to allow for an apples-to-apples comparison. The authors also identified another challenging issue for these model-data comparisons in the Arctic. Over sea ice, surface air temperature measurements are used, but for open ocean, sea surface temperatures are used. As co-author Michael Mann notes, as Arctic sea ice continues to melt away, this is another factor that accurate model-data comparisons must account for.