Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 5:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walter Hege Caryatid overlooking the city of Athens 1930

 

Christmas is the time when the western world makes a doomed attempt to remember a story whose meaning it has long forgotten, and still claim the story as its own every single time, every single year, claim it as its foundation, the foundation of the principles that guide its societies, its politics and its religion.

Western countries, whether they’re predominantly Catholic or Protestant, label themselves Christian, after Jesus Christ, a man their holy scriptures say is/was the Son of their God, and after his teachings, his sermons and the example his own life is supposed to have been for all his followers. Turn the other cheek, help those in need, don’t judge.

But as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at the time of winter solstice, and we acknowledge that he and his parents, Joseph and Maria, were refugees driven into exile, and the only place the birth could take place was a manger far away from their home, we lose out on the connection to our savior from the very first moment.

Because we sit in our warm and cosy homes, surrounded by meals worthy of kings, and presents worthy of princes and princesses, while frail forms and emaciated children are fainting at our doors. While we are quite aware that whatever Jesus meant to say 2000 years ago, and some of that may have been lost over time, one thing we do know is that he didn’t mean this.

There’s no way he meant for us to, two millennia down the road, to look at present day refugees driven into exile far away from home, just like he and his parents were, and not lift a finger to help them. So when politicians like UK PM Theresa May say in their Christmas messages to their nations that they should “take pride in their Christian heritage”, that’s not just empty rhetoric, it’s hollow.

But as long as religion still sells, and there are many countries where it does, perhaps nowhere more than the US, politicians will quote Jesus and do the opposite of what he actually said according to the bible, and all without blinking once. The thirst for power over others does strange things to people, and our societies are still fully unprepared for that, and we still hear them say one thing and do another, and we still believe what they say. We’re suckers for snake oil.

 

Actual clergymen and other people of real faith may be somewhat different from politicians and their flocks, but as long as the Vatican remains opulently rich and clad in gold while Catholics and others around the world live in die in misery, perhaps we should question the link between Jesus and the church, the very link the latter base their entire authority on.

Perhaps, as well, we should question any and all claims of being ‘God’s own country’ made by any and all nations who send their best and bravest to go and kill the best and bravest of other nations for the sake of religion, resources or empire. Nothing of that has anything to do with Jesus.

And perhaps we should look for Jesus not in the people who talk about him, but in those who act like him, and like he told his contemporaries to act. And yeah, that takes me to Greece, and the Automatic Earth for Athens fund.

 

Not in any kind of presumptuous way, mind you, certainly not when it comes to me, but I have met quite a few people who seem to understand Jesus much better than most politicians and church leaders do, they just don’t talk about it, they do it. That much must have become clear through the past 2,5 years and 13-14 articles (for links, see bottom of this article) that I’ve written about them.

The reason I haven’t written much on the topic over the past 9 months or so comes down pretty much to growing pains, for lack of a better term. In my view, my friend Konstantinos and his social kitchen project, O Allos Anthropos (the Other Human), had become too dependent on Automatic Earth readers for donations, which is not a healthy situation for anyone involved.

I didn’t want to continually ask our readers for more money, and O Allos Anthropos needed to find other sources for fund-raising. The problem is that is easier said than done, for multiple reasons. If you have no experience when it comes to fund-raising, it’s hard to know where to start, and it’s hard to organize yourselves to do it. And then you end up broke, as O Allos Anthropos is right now.

Still, I think they could have tried a bit harder, but then, it’s not about me. It’s about the people we help, the refugees and homeless. If you follow my essays at the Automatic Earth a little, you will know that the situation for both groups (and sometimes they’re the same people) is still deteriorating at a rapid pace. And as much as the Greek people are willing to help, most of them are getting poorer fast as well.

Between ever more and higher taxes on the one hand, and ever more cuts to wages and pensions on the other, a recovery of the Greek economy slips further away and out of view by the day, taking people’s ability to take care of the very poorest out with it. And in this case, too, politicians are not going to lend a helping hand unless they see political gain in it.

 

Greek Minister for Migration Yiannis Mouzalas recently said he could not exclude the possibility that refugees would die on the Greek islands this winter. He’s had two years to do just that, though. That’s enough time to run out of excuses to blame the situation on anyone else. But he’s right: people will probably die there this winter.

There are thousands living in summer tents with no heating, surrounded by wet mud and sheer misery, and with sanitation facilities that provide no privacy and are dirtier than many a manger in a stable could be. If anything, they make one think of Joseph and Mary all over again; just worse, probably. The EU reportedly has spent $1.4 billion on the situation so far, and this is the result.

Mouzalas was nominated for the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, and it was no big surprise he didn’t get the job. Though with the example of Saudi Arabia chosen to head a key UN human rights panel, anything is possible.

 

There is no way that it’s impossible to build adequate facilities for some 20,000 refugees and migrants with $1.4 billion. If that doesn’t work, and it hasn’t, one can only conclude that various parties involved, the EU, the Greek government, and the alphabet soup of NGOs operating in Greece, don’t see these facilities as their no. 1 priority. Thing is, who’s going to call them on it, and what good would that do?

The only priority the EU has when it comes to refugees is to keep them out; the politicians in power in member states read the polls and see their voters don’t want refugees in their countries. So they fund armies and detention camps in Libya etc., where people are sold for $400 or so in open slave markets. And then they talk about Christian values.

Greece has been completely swamped and torn apart by the issue, granted, but that doesn’t mean Mouzalas and Tsipras et al couldn’t have done -and do- a lot more to guarantee at least minimal human dignity to those stuck, if not incarcerated, on the islands. There are hundreds if not thousands of underage children, women, sick people, elderly, stuck in conditions not even the ass and the oxen were in 2,000 years ago.

There’s no way that’s the best we can do. It’s an utter disgrace that shames any and all Christian values, and the man they were named after.

O Allos Anthropos cannot solve these issues, all it can so is help where it can. First, feed the homeless Greeks and refugees in the cities, especially Athens. Then, make life more bearable for those hardest hit by both their circumstances and the way the political classes and the humanitarian-industrial complex deal with them.

And in the end that’s perhaps the only thing we can do: not try and launch huge movements and sweep away a status quo, but work on a small scale, a human scale, human-to-human. Work on a Jesus scale, rather than a Church scale. I know, there are many churches that do help where they can, but that too is most effective where the scale is smallest.

 

 

Konstantinos has taken O Allos Anthropos to Bodrum in Turkey this summer, a place where many thousands of Syrians and other refugees are now held up instead of sailing to the Greek islands. These people have nowhere to go, Greece is largely off limits – though the numbers crossing are increasing again- while in the countries they fled, the west is fighting for prominence instead of helping them rebuild.

We will not solve this problem, or at least it will take many years, and the needs of the worst-off, both Greeks and refugees, are immediate. The only way we have to save the world, or make it a better place, is one person at a time. Everyone who tries to do anything on a larger scale fails miserably.

So that’s what we’ll do. Konstantinos and I, and all the other people involved. One person at a time. We can only do that with your help tough. So once again, please be generous this Christmas. Do that spirit honor. Let’s make 2018 a good year for everyone who needs help to make it one.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jules Bastien-LePage The annunciation to the shepherds 1875

 

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)
Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)
Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)
Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)
Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)
China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)
US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)
Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)
How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)
Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

 

 

Santa = faith in the good of mankind. As is Jesus. Still, hard to rhyme with copious dinners while others starve in the dark and cold, and $900 spent on gifts on average per American. That can’t be it.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps

THE EDITORIAL
DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Read more …

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)

Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless. According to official figures collated by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the number of homeless households in England identified by councils as priority cases because they contain someone who is classed as vulnerable because of their mental illness, has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to 5,470 this year. Over the same period, the number of families with dependent children – another priority homeless group identified by councils – has increased from 22,950 to 40,130.

The number of homeless households with a family member who has a physical disability has increased from 2,480 to 4,370. After a week in which the prime minister has come under renewed attack over homelessness, housing charities have called on the government to urgently build more affordable housing and reverse a squeeze on benefits which has left vulnerable people unable to pay their rents. “With homelessness soaring, it is no surprise that the number of vulnerable groups – including families with children – who are having to turn to their council for help is on the rise,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter.

“As wages stagnate, rents continue to rise and welfare is cut, many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head. Eviction is now the number one cause of homelessness. “Our services across the country are seeing an increase in the number of people with multiple and complex needs, and we think this may be because other services are failing to provide the help that people need. The solution to our housing crisis must be to urgently build more affordable homes and, in the short term, end the freeze on housing benefit that is increasingly pushing people over the precipice into homelessness.”

Read more …

Shaking the tree.

Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)

Everyone says the blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is going to change EVERYTHING. And yet, after years of tireless effort and billions of dollars invested, nobody has actually come up with a use for the blockchain – besides currency speculation and illegal transactions. Each purported use case – from payments to legal documents, from escrow to voting systems – amounts to a set of contortions to add a distributed, encrypted, anonymous ledger where none was needed. What if there isn’t actually any use for a distributed ledger at all? What if, ten years after it was invented, the reason nobody has adopted a distributed ledger at scale is because nobody wants it?

The original intended use of the blockchain was to power currencies like bitcoin – a way to store and exchange value much like any other currency. Visa and MasterCard were dinosaurs, everyone proclaimed, because there was now a costless, instant way to exchange value without the middleman taking a cut. A revolution in banking was just the start& governments, unable to issue currency by fiat anymore, would take a back seat as individual citizens transacted freely outside any national system. It didn’t take long for that dream to fall apart. For one thing, there’s already a costless, instant way to exchange value without a middleman: cash. Bitcoins substitute for dollars, but Visa and MasterCard actually sit on top of dollar-based banking transactions, providing a set of value-added services like enabling banks to track fraud disputes, and verifying the identity of the buyer and seller.

It turns out that for the person paying for a product, the key feature of a new payment system – think of PayPal in its early days – is the confidence that if the goods aren’t as described you’ll get your money back. And for the person accepting payment, basically the key feature is that their customer has it, and is willing to use it. Add in points, credit lines, and a free checked bag on any United flight and you have something that consumers choose and merchants accept. Nobody actually wants to pay with bitcoin, which is why it hasn’t taken off.

Read more …

Crypto vs democracy: “To Varoufakis, money is inherently political. The decisions regarding whether money is produced or not, how it is distributed and who receives it, all have significant political consequences, benefiting certain social groups over others.”

Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)

While acknowledging the limitations of bitcoin and other technical solutions to political problems, Varoufakis does see potential in blockchain technologies. For him, “the algorithm that operates behind bitcoin, caught my attention right from the beginning. I consider this to be a remarkable technology. As early as 2012, Varoufakis was toying with ideas for using blockchain to help solve Europe’s financial woes. By the time he was appointed Finance Minister of Greece in 2015, within days his anti-austerity programme was met with the direct threat from the Troika to close Greece’s banks. With no banking system, the country would grind to a halt. To counter this threat, Varoufakis devised an audacious plan to keep Greece’s financial system operating. Effectively Varoufakis proposed creating an alternative, peer-to-peer payments system based on the blockchain.

This would disintermediate the financing they were receiving from the Troika and from the money markets. But with no money coming from the Troika, Varoufakis would need to create a parallel payments system, that would leverage the tax that all citizens and companies of Greece need to pay, as a new form of money. This is what he would eventually brand, “fiscal money.” To understand how fiscal money works, imagine that a pharmaceutical company in Greece is owed money by the state. Due to the constraints of the crisis, it may take years to pay the company in normal central bank euros. However what if there was an alternative option? What if the Greek State created a reserve account for the company under its tax file number, in which it placed tax credits of one million euros? This IOU could then also be used by the company to pay other organisations and individuals within the country.

One of the most disruptive aspects of this unrealised plan, was to enable the state to borrow directly from citizens and vice versa. In effect, Varoufakis was attempting to use new digital technologies, such as blockchain, to cut out the European lending authorities and build new lending relationships between citizens, companies and the state. The risk this system faced was the threat of corruption and the subsequent decline in public trust of authorities, something that Varoufakis admits is “in very limited supply” in a country like Greece. For example, what if Greek authorities abused these tax credits and began to distribute this new fiscal money to close allies and friends? This is where Varoufakis saw blockchain’s potential. “If the payments system was based on the blockchain, this would allow the combination of anonymity but perfect transparency, regarding the total aggregate size of the transactions of the currency….blockchain would overcome the trust problem as we know it.”

Read more …

Japan and China suffer the same fate: aging populations.

Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)

Back in 2013 we asked “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” And while that might sound like nothing more than a clever headline intended for The Onion, it was prompted by a very serious survey conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association which found that 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 and 25% of men were “not interested in or despise sexual contact”…a growing trend that has revealed itself via the nation’s persistently declining birth rates. In fact, “celibacy syndrome” has become of such great concern for the Japanese government that it is considered a bit of a looming national catastrophe….a catastrophe that seems to be getting worse at an accelerating rate. According to data released today by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, child births in Japan will drop to just 941,000 in 2017, the lowest since data first started being recorded in 1899, and nearly 65% below the peak birth rate from the late 1940’s.

Read more …

China is building “..a housing bubble for a population that is never coming..”

China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)

China’s working age population is clearly defined as those aged 16 to 50 years old for females (55 for “white collar” females) and 16 to 60 years old for males. China mandates retirement at these outer age limits. Perhaps of some interest should be that this working age population peaked in 2011 and has been declining since. This decline will continue indefinitely as China has a collapsing childbearing population (detailed HERE), net emigration (outflow), and a still decidedly negative birthrate. There is no evidence to believe the working age declines will abate any decade soon. As the chart below shows, China’s potential workforce will be shrinking indefinitely…and by 2030 China’s potential workforce will be over 100 million fewer than the 2011 peak (an 11% decline)…and only further down from there..

China has one of the youngest average retirement ages in the developed world. On average, according to a recent study (HERE), Chinese leave the work force by age 55 compared to age 63 in the US (Norway has the latest average departure at age 67). So, perhaps China will be raising the retirement age to curb the ballooning 60+yr/old population entering retirement (chart below…chart shows retirement population, 55+ females and 60+ males)? More on that later..

Comparing the working age population versus the 60+yr/old population (chart below…again, showing the 55+ females, 60+ males). A shrinking potential workforce since peaking in 2011 and a rapidly growing elderly population.

[..] While China’s GDP and energy consumption have led the world, they have not responded in kind to China’s debt explosion and exponentially more will be necessary to continue to show “growth”. Over a third and perhaps half of all the debt has been mal-invested in a housing bubble for a population that is never coming. What comes next isn’t going to be good for China nor the rest of the world as China looks to flood a depopulating nation with new debt only creating more housing overcapacity…China will look to beat the Japanese at the debt game.

Read more …

Outflows are by no means over.

US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)

Seven was the line in the sand. But the Chinese yuan never crossed that line vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar. It only crept up to 6.96 yuan per dollar on Dec. 16, 2016, before starting an impressive comeback, down to 6.5 in the middle of this year. Last year was a bad one for the Chinese economy. Growth was slow, and the world was worried China would finally land the hard way, as many have been predicting for years. And more than GDP growth or any other metric, the Chinese currency was the barometer of whether China could keep things stable – stability is the mantra of the ruling communist regime – or suffer a crisis of debt deflation. If it declined in value, it meant citizens and companies were moving money out of the country in droves because they didn’t believe in the Chinese dream anymore. So another measure of how bad things had gotten in the second-largest economy of the world was capital outflows.

According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a record $725 billion left China in 2016, putting pressure on the currency and the Chinese interbank market. All these factors have changed in favor of the dollar in the last quarter, and it’s going to be hard for China to compete. Trying to stem the tide, the central bank sold record amounts of foreign currency. Chinese foreign exchange reserves, $4 trillion at the peak in 2014, went down to $3 trillion, and analysts started to question whether this was enough to finance the world’s largest trading economy. Then, miraculously in time for the 2017 National Congress of the Communist Party, all of this stopped. The yuan never went above 7, the exchange reserves never went below 3 trillion, and capital outflows subsided thanks to draconian regulations making it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of the country.

Read more …

Beppe all the way.

Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)

Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD), hit by internal divisions and a banking scandal, is continuing to slide in opinion polls, with a new survey on Saturday putting it more than six points behind the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. The survey by the Ixe agency, commissioned by Huffington Post Italia, comes just days before parliament is expected to be dissolved to make way for elections in March. It gives the center-left PD just 22.8% of voter support, down almost five points in the last two months, compared with 29.0% for 5-Star, which has gained almost two points in the same period. Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) is given 16.2%, with its right-wing allies the Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 12.1% and 5.0% respectively.

This bloc is expected to win most seats at the election but not enough for an absolute majority, resulting in a hung parliament. With the PD’s support eroding in virtually all opinion polls, several political commentators have speculated that its leader Matteo Renzi may choose or be forced to announce he will not be the party’s candidate for prime minister at the election. Renzi has given no indication so far he will take this step. The PD has split under his leadership, with critics complaining he has dragged the traditionally center-left party to the right. Breakaway groups united this month to form a new left-wing party called Free and Equal (LeU), which now has 7.3% of support, according to Ixe. The PD’s popularity seems to have also been hurt by a parliamentary commission looking into the collapse of 10 Italian banks in the past two years.

Read more …

What kills faith in mankind.

How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)

A fleet of Japanese ships is currently hunting minke whales in the Southern Ocean. It is a politically incendiary practice: the waters around Antarctica were long ago declared a whale sanctuary, but the designation has not halted Japan’s whalers, who are continuing a tradition of catching whales “for scientific research” in the region. In the past, conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd have mounted campaigns of harassment and successfully blocked Japan’s ships from killing whales. But not this year. Despite previous successes, Sea Shepherd says it can no longer frustrate Japan’s whalers because their boats now carry hardware supplied from military sources, making the fleet highly elusive and almost impossible to track. As a result the whalers are – for the first time – being given a free run to kill minke in the Southern Ocean.

“We have prevented thousands of whales from being killed in the past and we have helped ensure that the quota of minkes that Japan can take now is much lower than in the past,” said Peter Hammarstedt, a Sea Shepherd captain. “But they have put such resources into this year’s whaling that we cannot hope to find their fleet and stop them. It is simply a matter of us not wasting our own resources. We have other battles to fight.” Japan is not the only nation to hunt whales. Norway has a commercial operation in its own waters, for example. But what infuriates conservationists is that Japan is hunting and killing whales in a conservation zone, the Southern Ocean whaling sanctuary, that surrounds Antarctica. Japan claims that it does so only for scientific purposes.

“Essentially, they are exploiting a loophole in the rules – introduced in the 80s – that govern the banning of commercial whaling,” said Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd. Originally Japan set out to catch more than 900 minkes every year, as well as 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales. However, its fleet was rarely able to reach these quotas because of actions by groups like Sea Shepherd. “We physically got in between the whalers and the whales and stopped the latter being killed,” said Hammarstedt. “One year we stopped Japan getting all but 10% of its quota. Their ships were nearly empty when they got back home.”

Read more …

The further north the larger the differences.

Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

Lapland occupies a happy space in the popular imagination as a winter wonderland, occupied by reindeer, elves and Father Christmas. The real life Lapland, however, is increasingly facing up to the grim reality of global warming. Besides being the name of Swedish and Finnish provinces, Lapland is the English name for a region largely above the Arctic Circle that stretches across the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Research has revealed the disproportionate impact of climate change in the Arctic, where temperatures are currently rising at double the rate of the global average. The far north is bearing the brunt of global warming, and, as much of Lapland’s population relies on its polar climate for their livelihoods, the effects are starting to be felt.

Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of the Finnish province of Lapland, has done a good job of capitalising on the region’s Christmas-themed reputation. It is the self-proclaimed “Official Hometown of Santa Claus”, where the man himself can be visited 365 days a year. However, with his official residence there only constructed in 1950, Santa Claus is a relative newcomer to Lapland. The wider region is the ancient home of the indigenous Sami people, who refer to it as Sapmi. Owing to its remote location and freezing temperatures, much of Lapland remains relatively pristine wilderness, and it is this wilderness that provides the Sami with space to practise their ancient tradition of reindeer herding. As temperatures rise and begin to disrupt the unspoiled environment, the future prosperity of all Lapland’s inhabitants – from the Sami to Santa Claus – is at risk.

Dr Stephanie Lefrere first came to Finnish Lapland 18 years ago to study reindeer behaviour. Since then, she has observed dramatic changes in the region’s weather patterns, and subsequent effects on its wildlife. “In my very first fieldwork, 300km (186 miles) above the Arctic Circle, it was 20°C below zero on 31 October – really the Arctic feeling by the end of October,” she said. “We don’t have that any more. “Recently there have been ‘black Christmases’ with no snow at all in the southern part of Finland.” Decades of work in the region have cemented her view that climate change is having far-reaching effects on Lapland’s environment, affecting animal migratory routes, habitats and behaviour. “I became worried as a scientist, and also as an individual who is fascinated by the Arctic,” said Dr Lefrere.


Sami culture is based around reindeer, but only a fraction still keep their animals due to environmental change (Getty)

Read more …

Dec 222017
 
 December 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Bill Watterson is God

 

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)
Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)
Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)
Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)
What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)
Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)
The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)
Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)
China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)
China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)
Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)
UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)
Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)
New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

 

 

Got to love this angle.

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)

As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way. In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In ‘…And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption’ (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular. “The Christianity we know today is not the Christianity of Jesus,” says Professor Hudson. Indeed the Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism of Jesus either. The economist told Renegade the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins even as we forgive all who are indebted to us’, refers specifically to debt.

“Most religious leaders say that Christianity is all about sin, not debt,” he says. “But actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language.” “‘Schuld’, in German, means ‘debt’ as well as ‘offense’ or, ‘sin’. It’s ‘devoir’ in French. It had the same duality in meaning in the Babylonian language of Akkadian.” Professor Michael Hudson has achieved near complete consensus with the assyriologists & biblical scholars that the Bible is preoccupied with debt, not sin. The idea harks back to the concept of ‘wergeld’, which existed in parts of Europe and Babylonia, and set the value of a human life based on their rank, paid as compensation to the family of someone who has been injured or killed. “The payment – the Schuld or obligation – expiates you of the injury caused by the offense,” Dr Hudson said.

People tend to think of the Commandment ‘do not covet your neighbour’s wife’ in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt. “This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium,” he said. Similarly, the Commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing. The economist says Jesus was crucified for his views on debt. Crucifixion being a punishment reserved especially for political dissidents. “To understand the crucifixion of Jesus is to understand it was his punishment for his economic views,” says Professor Hudson. “He was a threat to the creditors.”

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That’s still some serious losses.

Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)

Bitcoin sank as much as 21% on Friday, extending its loss from its intraday high this month toward 40%. The digital currency dropped to as low as $12,191.80 before trading at $12,601.75 as of 3:29 p.m. in Hong Kong. Bitcoin, which is down 38% from its peak of $19,511, is still up more than 1,100% this year. Investors are having a “reality check,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda. “At the heart of the matter was a frenzied demand for coins with limited supply has now led to unsophisticated investors holding the bag at the top.” Bitcoin’s drop comes amid concern that an offshoot is becoming a stronger rival to the more well-known cryptocurrency. Bitcoin cash, which emerged earlier this year amid a split between factions over proposed software upgrades, was added to Coinbase offerings this week.


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Zero Hedge overnight. It’s hard to keep up.

Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)

The carnage across cyrptocurrencies has escalated with Bitcoin back to a $13K handle, Ethereum back below $700, and Bitcoin Cash below $2,600… Bitcoin is now almost $6,000 off its record high…

ETH and BCH in trouble too…

The question is – which happens first – Bitcoin $10,000 or Gold $1,300?

[..] renowned analyst Peter Schiff issued a foreboding warning to investors buying Bitcoin at current prices. Even with a shaky week, Bitcoin is hovering around the $15,000 mark, after a two-month bull run that saw the price rise by more than 200%. Schiff says those trying to ride the bubble are too late: “People who got it years ago, even people who got it at the beginning of the year have the opportunity to cash out and make a lot of money. But people who are buying it at these prices or higher prices are going to lose practically everything.” The old adage, “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” seems to be the perfect way to sum up Schiff’s sentiments: “These currencies are going to trade to zero or pretty close to it when the bubble pops. Right now, the only reason why people are buying Bitcoin is because the price is going up. When it turns around, they are not going to sell it for the same reason.”

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Fed flying blind.

Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)

Record high stock and bond prices are flashing danger signs to former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman. Stockman contends, “I don’t think we are going to have a liquidity crisis. I think it’s going to be a value reset. I think there is going to be a jarring downward price adjustment both in the stock market and in the bond market. This phantom or phony wealth that has been created since the last crisis is going to basically evaporate.” So, what asset is safe? Stockman says gold and goes onto explain, “I think the time to buy (gold and silver) is ideal. Gold is the ultimate and only real money. Gold is the only safe asset when push comes to shove. They tell you to buy the government bond, that’s a safe asset. It’s not a safe asset at its current price. I am not saying the federal government is going to default in the next two or three years.

I am saying the yield on a 10-year bond of 2.4% is way below of where it’s going to end up. So, the only safe asset left is gold. This crazy Bitcoin mania has drained off what would otherwise be a demand for gold. . . . When Bitcoin collapses, spectacularly, which it will because it’s sheer mania in the markets right now. When it collapses, I think a lot of that demand will come back into gold, as well as people fleeing the standard stock and bond markets for the first time in 9 or 10 years.” What about the so-called Trump tax cuts? Stockman predicts, “I think it’s going to be a fiscal calamity of Biblical proportions. I want to be clear. I am always for tax cuts and shrinking the size of government, but you have to earn it. You have to cut spending and entitlements and this massive defense budget. Obviously, they didn’t do that.

If you look at honest accounting . . this bill will add $2.5 trillion to the public debt which, and this is a key point, is already going to rise by $10 trillion over the next decade based on the current law and taxes that is still in.” “More importantly,” Stockman says, “The central banks realize they cannot keep printing money at these crazy rates, and by that I mean the bond buying. Now, they are going to begin to normalize and shrink their balance sheet . . By the fall (of 2018), they (the Federal Reserve) will be shrinking their balance sheet by $600 billion a year. What that means in plain simple English is that they (the Fed) are dumping $600 billion a year of existing bonds into the market just as Uncle Sam will be attempting to borrow $1.25 trillion more. Now, if you don’t think that is a financial collision waiting to happen, then I am not sure what would be.

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The tax bill is not one-dimensional.

What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)

The new tax law is larded with goodies for Corporate America, but there is one shift – a much needed shift – in this debt-obsessed world that will punish over-indebted companies, discourage companies from taking on too much leverage, and perhaps, just maybe, make these companies less risky: The new law sharply limits the deductibility of corporate interest expense. Starting in 2018, a company can only deduct interest expense of up to 30% of its Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Any amount in interest expense beyond it will no longer be deductible. This will tighten further in 2022, when the deductibility of corporate debt will be capped at 30% of earnings before interest and taxes but after depreciation and amortization expenses.

This is a much smaller number than Ebitda. And interest expense deduction is capped at 30% of that much smaller amount. This will raise the tax bill further. Most impacted will be highly indebted companies, which often have a junk credit rating. And due to this junk credit rating, they also pay higher interest rates. This made the interest expense deduction very valuable. But now it is getting partially gutted. Businesses have long been incentivized to borrow, not only by the extraordinarily low interest rates even for junk-rated companies, but also by the full deductibility of interest expense. And thus encouraged by the tax code, corporate debt has surged. Mergers & acquisitions, share buybacks, leveraged buyouts, and dividends have often been funded at least partially with debt. And over the years, companies have piled on an enormous amount of debt.

According to estimates by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, cited by The Wall Street Journal, the first phase of curtailing interest-expense deductibility – the phase that kicks in next year – would raise $171 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. The second phase that commences in 2022 would raise $307 billion over 10 years. This would be the billions of dollars that highly indebted companies would pay more in taxes because they’re losing the deductible of some of their debts. It will be a significant hit to their after-tax income. It won’t kill them, but it will lower the incentive to borrow.

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It’ll get messier than subprime housing.

Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)

Private-equity firms that plunged headlong into subprime auto lending are discovering just how hard it might be to get out. A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits. In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit.

At rates of 11% or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition – and the lax underwriting standards it fostered – are taking a toll on profits. Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford. “The PE guys sailed into this thing with stars in their eyes. Some of the businesses have done fine and some haven’t,” said Chris Gillock at Colonnade Advisors, a boutique investment bank. But right now, “it’s about as out-of-favor a sector as I can think of.”

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Two more years to go? I don’t know about that. But then, I didn’t predict the ’29 crash either.

The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)

While the metrics noted above can accurately indicate the peak of an equities bubbles several months in advance, they cannot tell us anything years ahead of time. For this, we must turn to the research of the original wizard of Wall Street, W.D. Gann. He was a finance trader who developed technical analysis tools and forecasting methods based on geometry, astronomy, astrology and ancient mathematics. He was a successful and wealthy speculator, spending decades investigating patterns in equities markets. He concluded that equities exhibited a cyclical trend over decades and thus prices could be predicted long in advance. In 1908, Gann constructed his financial timetable, which tabulated the booms and busts, peaks and troughs of the US equities market.

Just like the Geoist land market cycle, there is a repeating 18-year average between every major cycle. Gann managed to predict the crash of 1929 years in advance. He realised that the timetable would have to be recalibrated on the 25th December 1989. The updated timetable is amazingly accurate from that date onward, predicting the Dot-Com bubble peak in 2000 and its collapse. The GFC peak was off by one year; 2007 instead of one year earlier in 2006. The trough was in 2009, followed by a minor panic in 2015, when the S&P500 dipped but has since boomed. According to the timetable, 2020 will be the peak of the equities bubble, followed by a major crash similar to that of the Dot-Com bubble.

To the economists we’ve spoken to, the peak could range between 2019M09 to 2020M03. Given how large the S&P500 bubble has become, it is worth treading very carefully during this period for those exposed to US equities. Gann is famous for saying: “Every movement in the market is the result of a natural law and of a Cause which exists long before the effect takes place and can be determined years in advance. The future is but a repetition of the past, as the Bible plainly states…”

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How hard will they come down on Catalunya this time? Neither Rajoy nor Brussels can afford to lose face.

Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)

Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.

The unexpected result sets the stage for the return to power of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who campaigned from self-exile in Brussels. State prosecutors accuse him of sedition, and he faces arrest if he were to return home. “Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,” Puigdemont, said in a televised speech. He was flanked by four former cabinet members that fled with him. At jubilant pro-independence rallies around Barcelona, supporters chanted “President Puigdemont” and unfurled giant red-and-yellow Catalan flags as the results came in. Puigdemont’s spokesman told Reuters in a text message: “We are the comeback kids.” The result unnerved global markets, contributing to a softer euro and subdued sentiment in stock markets.

Opinion polls had predicted secessionists to fall short of a majority. More than 3,100 firms have moved their legal headquarters outside Catalonia, concerned that the indebted region, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, could split from Spain and tumble out of the EU and the euro zone by default. Spain has trimmed its growth forecasts for next year, and official data shows foreign direct investment in Catalonia fell 75% in the third quarter from a year earlier, dragging down national investment. The EU’s major powers, Germany and France, have backed Rajoy’s stance despite some criticism of his methods at times.

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China exports Ponzi and overcapacity.

China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)

Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will. As Sri Lanka’s handover of the strategic Hambantota port shows, states caught in debt bondage to the new imperial giant risk losing both natural assets and their very sovereignty. This month, Sri Lanka, unable to pay the onerous debt to China it has accumulated, formally handed over its strategically located Hambantota port to the Asian giant. It was a major acquisition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century” – and proof of just how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy can be.

Unlike International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending, Chinese loans are collateralized by strategically important natural assets with high long-term value (even if they lack short-term commercial viability). Hambantota, for example, straddles Indian Ocean trade routes linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. In exchange for financing and building the infrastructure that poorer countries need, China demands favorable access to their natural assets, from mineral resources to ports. Moreover, as Sri Lanka’s experience starkly illustrates, Chinese financing can shackle its “partner” countries. Rather than offering grants or concessionary loans, China provides huge project-related loans at market-based rates, without transparency, much less environmental- or social-impact assessments.

As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it recently, with the BRI, China is aiming to define “its own rules and norms.” To strengthen its position further, China has encouraged its companies to bid for outright purchase of strategic ports, where possible. The Mediterranean port of Piraeus, which a Chinese firm acquired for $436 million from cash-strapped Greece last year, will serve as the BRI’s “dragon head” in Europe. By wielding its financial clout in this manner, China seeks to kill two birds with one stone. First, it wants to address overcapacity at home by boosting exports. And, second, it hopes to advance its strategic interests, including expanding its diplomatic influence, securing natural resources, promoting the international use of its currency, and gaining a relative advantage over other powers.

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Same story. I’ve said a thousand times that China is buying the world with Monopoly money. It is.

China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)

China’s continents-spanning Belt and Road network threatens to “shackle” partner countries and deprive them of valuable natural assets, according to one critic. Beijing is financing and executing massive infrastructure projects across the 68 nations participating in the ambitious scheme, which snakes along Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These recipient countries, many of them emerging economies in dire need of investment, obtain funding in various forms such as sovereign loans from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration and credit from Chinese state-owned banks. But concerns of developing countries taking on unrealistic financial obligations have sparked allegations of what’s being called ‘dept-trap diplomacy.’

Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration released a statement warning of unsustainable debt burdens being created by Belt and Road. “Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will,” according to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, who described Beijing’s policies as “creditor imperialism.” In a stinging editorial published on Project Syndicate, Chellaney — a former adviser to India’s National Security Council — pointed to Sri Lanka as an example. The South Asian state, unable to pay back onerous bills to China, recently handed over its Hambantota port to state owned China Merchants Port Holdings in a $1.1 billion deal that was widely viewed as an erosion of sovereignty.

“As Hambantota shows, China is now establishing its own Hong Kong-style neocolonial arrangements,” Chellaney said. “Like the opium the British exported to China, the easy loans China offers are addictive. And, because China chooses its projects according to their long-term strategic value, they may yield short-term returns that are insufficient for countries to repay their debts,” he explained. As a result, the world’s second-largest economy holds political leverage over governments and can “force borrowers to swap debt for equity, thereby expanding China’s global footprint by trapping a growing number of countries in debt servitude.”

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The government in charge of the bubble.

Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)

Since the US government nationalized the two GSEs in 2008 in a $187 billion bailout of the mortgage giants, there have been consistent calls for them to be wound down and for the private sector to fill the void. As we discussed, this view is, or was, shared by new Fed Chairman, Jay Powell. Mr. Powell has called on Congress to overhaul the housing finance system, saying he’d like to see the country’s two large mortgage-finance firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, move out from under government conservatorship. More private capital in those firms would reduce the risk of a taxpayer-funded bailout in the event of a downturn, he said in a speech in July. Although the Fed isn’t responsible for housing finance, it supervises some of the country’s largest lenders who frequently sell their loan to the two agencies. “No single housing finance institution should be too big to fail,” he said.

In August this year, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), published the results of its latest annual stress tests on the two GSE’s. The FHFA outlined a “severely adverse” scenario in which US real GDP decline 6.5%, the unemployment rate rises to 10.0%, equity prices decline almost 50%, home prices decline 25% and commercial real estate prices by 35%. Under these conditions, it estimates Fannie and Freddie would need a bailout of up to $100 billion in the form of a draw on the Treasury (depending on how they treat assets to offset tax). Sadly, after almost a decade of federal ownership, the hope that Fannie and Freddie could be wound down has evaporated. Senators on both sides of the political divide have concluded that they are too big and too risky to replace. Proposed legislation in 2018 will see them retained at the centre of the US mortgage industry, rather than replacing them as a previous senate proposal tried and failed four years ago.


Mortgages guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie amount to about $4 trillion and account for about 40% of the total US market.

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The incompetence is painful.

UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)

For months, journalists tried to get their hands on government papers setting out how leaving the European Union will affect different parts of the British economy. They contained, according to Brexit Secretary David Davis, “excruciating detail.” But despite boasting about their contents, ministers were reluctant to let anyone else see the documents. In November, after being forced to give way by a vote in Parliament, the government allowed lawmakers to read them under controlled conditions. Their phones were confiscated, and they were only permitted to make notes with pen and paper, lest too much information leak into the public domain. “These documents in aggregate represent the most comprehensive picture of our economy on this issue to date,” Davis wrote this month, explaining why he was being cautious about publication.

On Thursday, the documents were released online. There was detail, as promised. “The parts of an aircraft can be simplistically split into three areas,” began the first, on aerospace. It was explained what the industry makes: “structures which include the nose, fuselage, wings, engine nacelles (which encase the engines) and tail; propulsion system which includes engines and propellers, or fan blades; and systems which include the electronics used in the flight system.” It went on to reveal that there are two companies in the world that make large passenger aircraft. Now that the documents are public, these firms can be named as Boeing and Airbus. The paper covering the insurance and pensions sector, which employs one in every 100 British workers, is 2,732 words long. “Insurance business operates by firms writing insurance policies for clients, intermediated by brokers,” it reveals.

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You sure that you want to victimize the victims?

Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)

Greek supermarkets were forced to withdraw several food and beverage products from their shelves this week, after a group threatened to contaminate them with acid as part of an environmentally influenced protest of Christmas consumerism. Authorities urged residents in Athens and the city of Thessaloniki not to buy or consume certain types of Coca-Cola, a Greek milk brand and packages of meat. Thessaloniki and Athens combined have about 1 million residents who were affected by the precautionary measures. The “Blackgreen Arsonists” — whose name suggests an eco-anarchist outlook — threatened to inject the products with hydrochloric acid, a powerful, colorless corrosive used in research and industry.

They said it was because the thousands of people doing their Christmas shopping meant “the sacrifice of millions of living creatures, slaughtered and drained to the last drop to satisfy consumers’ needs.” To protest this need every year for people to fill their empty lives with “consumer garbage with beautiful and glittering wrappings,” the sabotaged products would be placed on supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas. Authorities said they have no information on the identities of the group members. Similar threats have emerged in the past and nothing has happened, though in this case the group included photos of its members injecting something into the products as part of their online threat.

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Real values.

New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

Mount Taranaki in New Zealand is to be granted the same legal rights as a person, becoming the third geographic feature in the country to be granted a “legal personality”. Eight local Maori tribes and the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain on the east coast of the North Island, in a long-awaited acknowledgement of the indigenous people’s relationship to the mountain, who view it as an ancestor and whanau, or family member. The new status of the mountain means if someone abuses or harms it, it is the same legally as harming the tribe. In the record of understanding signed this week, Mount Taranaki will become “a legal personality, in its own right”, said the minister for treaty negotiations, Andrew Little, gaining similar rights to the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood earlier this year.

Little said the agreement offered the best possible protection for the landmark, which is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction after Lonely Planet named the Taranaki region the second best place to visit in the world last year. “As a New Plymouth local I grew up under the gaze of the maunga [mountain] so I’m particularly pleased with the respect accorded to local tangata whenua [local people] and the legal protection and personality given to the mountain,” Little said. “Today’s agreements are a major milestone in acknowledging the grievances and hurt from the past as the Taranaki iwi experienced some of the worst examples of Crown behaviour in the 19th century.” As part of the agreement the New Zealand government will apologise to local Maori for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi against the mountain, although local tribes will receive no financial or commercial redress.

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Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Balthus Therèse dreaming 1938

 

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)
Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)
Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)
Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)
‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)
Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)
Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)
Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)
Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)
Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)
Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)
US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)
Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

 

 

From a larger article by Lance, This is Nuts. A 40% crash is starting to sound like a lowball.

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)

Just how big could the next correction be? As stated above, just a correction back to the initial “critical support” set at the 2016 lows would equate to a 29.1% decline. However, the risk, as noted above, is that a correction of that magnitude would begin to trigger margin calls, junk bond defaults, blow up the “VIX” short-carry and trigger a wave of automated selling as the algorithms begin to sell in tandem. Such a combination of events could conceivably push markets to either strong support at the previous two bull market peaks or to support at the 2011 peak which coincides with the topping formations of 2000 and 2007. Such a correction would entail either a 41.1% to 49.2% decline.

I won’t even mention the remote, but real, possibility of a nearly 75% retracement to the previous lows of the last two “bear markets.” That can’t happen you say? It wouldn’t even match the decline following the 1929 crash of 85%. Furthermore, as technical analyst J. Brett Freeze, CFA, recently noted: “The Wave Principle suggests that the S&P 500 Index is completing a 60-year, five-wave motive structure. If this analysis is correct, it also suggests that a multi-year, three-wave corrective structure is immediately ahead. We do not make explicit price forecasts, but the Wave Principle proposes to us that, at a minimum, the lows of 2009 will be surpassed as the corrective structure completes.” Anything is possible.

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Behing every bubble there is fraud.

Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)

Back in April/May, Canada’s biggest mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, crashed its way into the headlines, coming clean over its balance sheet-full of liar loans, suffered a bank run, and was forced to take emergency liquidty from taxpaying pensioners, and was eventually bailed out by good old Warren Buffett. “Probably nothing…”

Well just when everyone though that crisis was over, a second cockroach in the Canadian mortgage bubble fiasco just emerged… Laurentian Bank of Canada fell the most in almost nine years after reporting it found customer misrepresentations on some mortgage loans it sold to another firm.

Echoing problems that almost sunk Home Capital Group, Bloomberg reports that: An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages from its B2B Bank unit that were sold to a third-party firm, the lender said Tuesday in its annual report. Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9% of such loans sold to the firm. It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter. Just as we saw with Home Capital, the CEO initially shrugged it off as immaterial: “This is largely a documentation and securitization-eligibility issue,” Chief Executive Officer Francois Desjardins said in a call with analysts. “It is not material for the bank, its operations, its funding nor its capital. We have worked to change processes to ensure that this issue is resolved.”

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Pop.

Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)

Canada’s largest housing market continues to see prices fall amid a widening pool of homes for sale, though there are signs the correction is beginning to lure in some new buyers. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s benchmark home price index fell for the sixth consecutive month, down another 0.4% from October. The index has fallen 8.8% since May – the largest six-month decline in the history of data back to 2000. For the first time since 2009, the average price of a home sold in Toronto – at C$761,757 ($600,991) in November – failed to surpass levels from a year earlier.

Toronto’s housing market, dubbed one of the riskiest housing bubble cities by UBS, has slumped over the past few months amid government rules and harsher mortgage guidelines aimed at curbing demand. That’s coincided with a sharp increase in supply with new listings up 37% from a year earlier. [..] Toronto realtors sold 7,374 units in November. While that’s down 13% from a year earlier, the number is one of the highest readings for the month over the past decade. The correction in Toronto’s housing market has been primarily in Toronto’s detached market, where average prices surpassed C$1.2 million earlier this year. The price index for single family detached homes is down 12% since May. The condominium price index is little changed from record levels earlier this year.

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“..the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government..”

Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)

I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress. It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics. The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One%, or more precisely a fraction of the One% wallowing in billions of dollars. Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government. The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%. This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.

The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950. A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651. 33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible. In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation. The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%. Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages. This is absolute total nonsense. The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies. After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America? The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

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“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg..”

‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)

Theresa May has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open the way to trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process. EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week. “The show is now in London,” said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. “We stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.” While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said. “We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.” For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government. “We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

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Cats in a sack.

Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep U.K. regulations aligned with the European Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her hopes of breaking the deadlock in negotiations. Efforts to rescue Brexit talks from an embarrassing breakdown on Monday prompted fresh divisions in the U.K. Cabinet on Tuesday, as leading Brexit-backers challenged the prime minister just days before a key deadline in talks. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split, a move that could have helped unblock talks that broke down over the issue of the Irish border.

Keeping the whole U.K. close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The prospect of a border within the U.K. is a red line for the Northern Irish party that keeps Theresa May in power in London. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter. The ministers believe the proposals threaten to dilute Brexit and Johnson raised his fears during a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday. Part of the Brexit narrative in the last 18 months has been that the split will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.

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“What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure.”

Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)

British voters increasingly think Brexit is being mishandled. But that doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on the idea of abandoning the EU – just on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government. A report by the National Centre For Social Research published Wednesday found that 52% of people believe the country will get a bad deal, compared to 37% in February, a month before May began divorce proceedings. Even before this week’s embarrassing breakdown, only one in five Brits said the government was handling the talks well. Among those supporting Brexit, 61% thought May was conducting talks badly. The survey of 2,200 people was completed in October, before reports that May was increasing the amount of money she was willing to pay to leave and also before the recent dramatic turn of events that has May at the mercy of a Northern Irish ally.

The findings speak to the sense of disconnect between how the population feels about a process they triggered with the 2016 referendum – and the political realities of a fragile government riven with divisions and bogged down in increasingly technical negotiations. The survey found little change in people’s attitude to Brexit itself. [..] this suggests that rather than regretting their vote, Leave supporters are coming to see it as a good idea badly implemented, something that could help Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party. While Britons wonder what is going on – and perhaps even why leaving needs to be so complicated – the EU gave May until the end of the week to deliver a solution to an intractable problem – how to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Northern Ireland leaves the bloc along with the rest of the U.K.

Britain needs to provide an answer that satisfies all sides to move on to trade. What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure. She set the clock for Britain’s exit in March 2019 and was relying on a summit next week to get EU leaders to allow discussions to begin on commerce, as well as a grace period to give businesses time to adapt.

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Merkel blinking will have far reaching repercussions. But Europeans don’t want more centralization.

Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker never lets others outshine him if he spots an opportunity to give the European project a boost. And that goes for friends and enemies alike. Indeed, the European Commission president has now come up with a project that not only transgressions the mandate given him by the leaders of the European Union member states, but also pits him against all the Eurozone finance ministers as well. Juncker was supposed to reach an agreement with finance ministers from the common currency area on proposals for deepening European integration he will present at the forthcoming EU summit later this month. Plans for greater EU integration are currently in vogue, a trend started by French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his ideas for a better Europe two days after the German election in late September.

But instead of getting the finance ministers on board, Juncker has embarked on an ego trip. On Wednesday, the Commission is to present its plan without any input from the finance ministers whatsoever. The Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday and on Tuesday it was the turn of Ecofin, which represents the EU finance ministers, but officially neither group was consulted on the Commission’s plans. “The entire approach is a disaster,” one participant complained. And because the national experts had no input, it’s unlikely that EU heads of state and government will do more than simply take note of Juncker’s proposals. The timing is an expression of rivalry between the Commission and the EU member states when it comes to questions relating to theeconomic and currency union. And the finance ministers aren’t likely to be impressed with the content, either. After all, the Commission’s proposals are designed to increase its own influence at the expense of the member states.

But there is more at stake than just a few bruised Brussels egos. The clash over competencies between European institutions risks torpedoing the French president’s drive for reform. For the first time in years, the French have seized the opportunity to once again set the tone in the EU. Yet, their call to arms is being met with hardly any response. Germany is preoccupied with forming a new government – and nothing much happens in Brussels without Chancellor Angela Merkel. Juncker, though, does not want to stand accused of wasting the chance to implement reforms. His central idea is to turn the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, into an EU institution.

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How much longer for Mueller now the WSJ has called for his head?

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

“Contact with Russians.” Grown men and women, doubling and re-doubling down on a political fantasy, repeat this prayer hour after hour on the cable channels and Web waves as if trying to exorcise a nation possessed by the unholy hosts of Hell. But such vicars of the news as Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, and Dean Baquet (of The New York Times) only shove the country closer to a cliff of constitutional crisis. To a certain class of people — a class that includes a lot of Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots, as Nassim Taleb has dubbed them — President Donald Trump is a figure of supernatural malignity who must be ousted at all costs. I did not vote for Donald Trump and I do not admire him; but I rather resent the dishonesty that is being marshaled against him, especially the mis-use of judicial procedure and the mendacious propagandizing of the nation in service to that end.

This is what it comes down to: General Mike Flynn, designated National Security Advisor, conferred with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 election about two pressing matters: a vote in the UN orchestrated against Israel, and sanctions imposed against Russia by outgoing President Obama on December 28, two weeks before the inauguration. Both these matters could be viewed as bits of mischief designed deliberately to create foreign policy problems for the incoming administration. Flynn’s discussions with Ambassador Kislyak amounted to what are called “back channel talks.” These informal, probing communications occur all the time and everywhere in American foreign policy, especially the transitional months every four or eight years when a new president comes in. They are necessarily secret because they concern issues of high sensitivity.

Every incoming presidential staff in my lifetime (going back to Dwight Eisenhower) has conducted back-channel talks with foreign diplomats in order to directly assess where things stand, minus public posturing and bloviating. And so that is what Mike Flynn did, as incoming National Security Advisor, after an eight-year run of worsening relations with Russia under Obama that Trump publicly pledged to improve. And now he’s been charged with lying to the FBI about it. Which raises some enormous and troubling questions well beyond the simple charge, questions that suggest a US government at war against itself.

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What’s America without grizzlies?

The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears. If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat. Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups [..] Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context. Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears? Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

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But politicians talk of growth.

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

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A few hundred have been moved, but thousands more must be.

Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming emergency on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the day after residents converged on Athens in protest at policies that have seen thousands of migrants and refugees marooned in reception centres. A surge in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey has seen numbers soar with officials speaking of a four-fold increase in men, women and children seeking asylum on Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos. Conditions are deteriorating in the vastly overcrowded camps in a situation that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday warned was “beyond desperate”. “In Lesbos, entire families who recently arrived from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are packed into small summer tents, under the rain and in low temperatures struggling to keep dry and warm,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s project coordinator on the island.

“In our mental health clinic we have received an average of 10 patients with acute mental distress every day, including many who tried to kill themselves or self-harm. The situation on the island was already terrible. Now it’s beyond desperate.” Demonstrators – led by delegations of officials from Chios, Lesbos and Samos – gathered in the Athens sunshine on Tuesday to demand that the government move people out of camps. “Action has to be taken now, before it is too late,” said Panos Pitsios, president of the town council of Mytilene, Lesbos’s capital. “We are heading towards an eruption, a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.”

The strategy of stranding migrants and refugees in remote camps where tensions have also mounted between rival ethnicities has also been condemned by human rights groups. Organisations increasingly fear that unless asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland where facilities are less crowded and better equipped, thousands could be left out in the cold as winter approaches.

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Biblical proportions.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)

The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe. Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya. More than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to a classified German government report leaked to Bild. The report said that one million people are waiting in Libya; another one million are waiting in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia, and 50,000 in Morocco.

More than three million others who are waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing into Europe by the EU’s migrant deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as a million migrants from countries across Africa are already on the way to Libya and Europe. The EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard was “too little and too late,” he said. “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.” The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.

In an interview with Il Messagero, Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop” if Europe failed to confront the problem now: “Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave. “When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years. “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”

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Recovery.

US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study. The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year. It suggests that despite a fizzy stock market and a burgeoning gross domestic product, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. “The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which produced the report, said in a statement: “This is not a federal problem – it’s everybody’s problem.” Advocates who have witnessed the homelessness crisis unfold since it emerged in the early 1980s are grimly astonished by its persistence. “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who began working in Los Angeles in 1984. The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing. The tally is considered a crucial indicator of broad trends, but owing to the difficulties involved it is also widely regarded as an undercount.

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There is neither a valid reason nor a justification for this. It’s simply a lack of basic values.

Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

Nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high, new research shows. The number of youngsters who will be spending the festive period in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels – often with a single room for the whole family and no kitchen – is up 7% on last year, amounting to an additional 8,000 children, according to a report by charity Shelter. Interviews carried out by the charity reveal a quarter of families in temporary accommodation have no access to a kitchen, with many having to eat meals on the bed or floor of their room. The vast majority live in a single room, with more than a third of parents saying they have to share a bed with their children.

An analysis of government figures by Shelter shows that one in every 111 children is currently homeless in the UK, with at least 140 families becoming homeless every day. In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit. The report also lays bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, with three-quarters of parents saying their children’s mental health had been badly affected by living in such settings.

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


Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

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

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

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

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

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another way to push up prices?

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

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

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

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Democracy in 2017.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

The UN should be all over this.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Nov 292016
 
 November 29, 2016  Posted by at 7:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Andrea Bonetti Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

 

To anyone who reads this, please send it to as many of your friends and family and others as you can. Tweet and retweet, post and share on Facebook, do whatever you can to make Christmas a better time and place for the poorest Greeks and refugees. And, of course, please donate!

 

 

It’s 4 weeks before Christmas and it’s time. Time for me to go back to the basics, the streets, the people of Athens – the people of Greece as a whole. Back to my friends at the O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) Social Kitchen who by now serve 5,000 meals a day every day spread over a dozen+ locations on -less than- a shoestring, to the poorest Greeks and to refugees. To my dear friend Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the little engine that could, and does, drive the entire ‘intervention’.

It’s time also to announce a Christmas/New Year’s fund raiser for these people here at the Automatic Earth, to coincide with our usual annual fundraiser for the Automatic Earth itself. As always, please donate through the Automatic Earth’s Paypal widget at the top left hand side of our pages. If you don’t fancy Paypal, there’s an address for checks and money orders on our Store and Donations page.

Donations that end in $0.99 or $0.37 all go straight to O Allos Anthropos. In fact, I will deliver them in person, something that is necessary because of continuing capital controls in Greece. And no, don’t worry, I don’t pay my travel and stay in Athens from the donations for O Allos Anthropos. Every donated penny goes where it belongs. Guaranteed.

 

I never intended to get involved in aid, I have as many reservations about institutionalized aid as so many people tell me they have. All I wanted to do initially was to donate a few dollars when I first visited Greece in June 2015. But things have taken off from there, both because of Automatic Earth readers’ generosity (over $30,000!) , and because I found what I have come to regard as the perfect vehicle to deliver aid.

O Allos Anthropos is that vehicle, because it does not fit the mold the ‘aid industry’ has built. The flipside of this is that it has a hard time getting funded. It’s mighty ironic that the one ‘organization’ that is by far the most efficient in delivering aid, should also be the one that has by far the hardest time getting support to do that.

‘The Other Human’ Social Kitchen does not rely on government contacts and contracts, as the established aid industry does. It also doesn’t pay hefty salaries (no salaries at all) or have huge overhead. It’s a loosely organized group of dedicated poor Greeks, often homeless themselves, caring for and feeding other poor Greeks and refugees, helping where they can as far as the funding allows.

It’s the difference between top down and bottom up. And yes, it’s crazy that such a difference should exist even in delivering basic needs to the most needy among us, but it’s there.

 


From Human-The Movie, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

 

There is a list of about a dozen articles with links at the bottom of this page that I’ve written about my visits to Athens over the past 15 months. And there are 4 new videos of Konstantinos and the O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ inserted in the article. Do watch them, together they paint a great picture.

But first, please allow me to explain why I support the Greek people the way I do. There are several reasons.

 

Number one is the state of the Greek economy. The effects of austerity policies on Greek society were front page news a year and a half ago, but since then, the world has largely left the country alone (15 minutes of fame only) while things have gotten worse fast, and an additional issue, that of the refugees, was added.

The treatment of Greece by its creditors continues to be scandalous, the EU, ECB and IMF behave like a nest of boa constrictors. In a nutshell, it has intentionally been made impossible for the Greek economy to recover. No matter what else you may read, it is a cruel joke to even suggest that an economy and society in which 25% of adults, and over 50% of young people, have been unemployed for years on end, could ‘recover’. If you read headlines like ‘Greece Edges Out Of Recession’, you’re being played.

Add to the mix that consumer spending makes up some 60% of GDP in Greece, but many of those who do have jobs work for €100-€400 a month, and pensions have been cut to less than €700 for 60% of pensioners (basic pension is about €380), and 52% of households -must- live off pensions of elderly family members because most unemployed get nothing. 7 out of 10 jobless are long time unemployed, and get nada. Close to half of pensioners live below the poverty line. Never ending tax raises have put the cost of living beyond reach for millions.

Moreover, tens of thousands of the best educated young Greeks (and 1000 doctors a year) have left the country because there are no jobs and no prospects. The education system was once as highly touted globally as the health care system, but both have been gutted so dramatically now it’s hard to see how either could ever be rebuilt. 15 months ago I donated some money to social clinics, now I receive long and detailed lists of medicine that is simply no longer available. With a cry for help.

Under these circumstances, spending can only go down, and that means GDP growth is mathematically impossible. Nor has a bottom been reached; the situation will deteriorate until conditions allow for spending to rise, and no such thing is in sight. The Troika parties keep hammering on more ‘reforms’ -advertized as an investment in the future-, which invariably make matters worse, while they keep quarreling about, and delaying, debt relief. Boa constrictor. Slow strangulation. In the latest talks, the creditors are demanding additional austerity measures for 2019-2020… That is the reality for Greece.

 


From Destination: Utopia

 

Number two is the refugee situation. When I first got to Athens, refugees were not yet a major concern, the Greeks themselves were. Much has changed since then. After the initial large wave, most of which ended up in Germany and other countries, borders were shut and Greece was left to deal with those who remained. Promises to ‘fairly’ resettle refugees in the rest of the EU were largely ignored. There are presently about 60,000 refugees in Greece, and they’re stuck where they don’t want to be, in a country that doesn’t have the means to take care of them.

Brussels refuses for Greece to move the refugees stuck in camps on the islands, to the mainland, for fear they will try and travel north. Still, 60,000 should never be the problem that it is. However, the EU never sent the personnel it once promised to deal with asylum applications. Greek Immigration Minister Mouzalas said last week: “We had an agreement for 400 staffers. Just 35 have arrived. We had a new agreement for another 100 and are still waiting..”. Of course, when the applications are delayed, so is the need for Brussels to resettle the refugees. Convenient when there are elections coming in Holland, France and Germany.

But it is Greece that gets the blame for this; Athens should move faster, is the word. And because it doesn’t, Brussels doesn’t send the humanitarian funds it makes available, to the Greek government; it sends them to international NGOs instead. Which leads us to:

 


From Chris Gal

 

Number three is the reality of humanitarian aid. First, let me say I don’t mean to sound -overly- negative about this. But at the same time I feel obliged to explain to you why I’m asking for your support despite the aid that’s already flowing through ‘official’ channels. To put it mildly: things don’t work the way they could. There is aid that reaches the target groups, and there are many well-intentioned people involved, but the overall efficiency with which that happens leaves much to be desired.

Many people are reluctant to donate to large (i)NGOs because they are suspicious of their culture(s). I am not an expert on this, but from what I have heard and seen over the past while, that suspicion does not look so crazy. What it comes down to is that humanitarian aid has become an industry. In the Greek situation, this means that the about €300 million (reported numbers vary) dispersed by the EU so far (€700 over 3 years) to assist Greece and Italy with their refugee influx, has by and large been divided over some 150 NGOs and other aid organizations.

But the stories about underfed, poorly housed and overall miserable refugees and migrants keep rolling in. And more often than not, the Greek government gets the blame. However, if €300 million is not enough for NGOs and aid organizations to make sure 60,000 are properly fed and in general taken care of, what is?

What I had heard and observed on the ground was confirmed in September – in one of these ‘glad it’s not just me’ moments – by a series in the Guardian called Secret Aid Worker. An anonymous aid worker with experience in multiple countries wrote this:

Secret Aid Worker: Greece Has Exposed The Aid Community’s Failures

At the time of writing, the number of refugees in Greece is approximately 60,000. The problem is not overwhelming. This time we are in an EU country. I feel safe wherever I am – this means I can conduct a visit to monitor the impact of a programme or ensure I am consulting refugees about what they want. But I don’t, because it is something we have talked about but not done for many years, and there is little pressure to change.

The disconnect between the sector’s standards and the reality on the ground is more stark here than in any other mission I’ve been involved in. We have historically been unaccountable, failing to sufficiently consult and engage affected communities. In Greece we are continuing to operate in the same ways as before, but without the traditional excuses to rely on.

When we have enabling infrastructure, a socio-political context that is easy to operate in, access to Wi-Fi, technology and adequate funds, and yet are failing to meet the refugees’ basic needs (even for something as simple as safe accommodation), reduce serious threats (such as the prevalence of sexual violence), or to be accountable or innovative, it suggests we are disinterested or incompetent. Perhaps both.

In Greece the aid community is being exposed. Our exposure is further compounded when we are unfavourably compared to organised and efficient groups of volunteers who work with less and achieve more. In comparison INGOs and the UNHCR seem money-orientated, bloated, bureaucratic and inefficient.

Across Greece there are volunteers working both independently and as organised groups, meeting needs and filling gaps. They take over abandoned buildings to ensure refugees have somewhere to sleep, provide additional nutrition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, organise and manage informal education programmes, including setting up schools inside camps.

All of this while INGO staff sip their cappuccinos in countless coordination meetings – for cash distribution, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, food distribution and child-protection. Often to avoid engaging meaningfully in the discussions, we furiously take notes. If any response has called into question whether the humanitarian sector is still fit for purpose, it’s the response to the refugee crisis in Greece.

A good example of this is that it was O Allos Anthropos that was asked last year by the lady who ran the Moria refugee facilities on Lesbos, to run the food supply (the kitchen still operates). The NGOs and their millions in funding failed to do it. Konstantinos did, after he organized food donations by the people living on the island, and after I gave him some of your donations, so he could pay for transport etc. needed to make it possible.

O Allos Anthropos doesn’t fit the model developed by the industry that aid has become. In many aspects, that’s a good thing. But it also means it’s a daily struggle to do even the most basic good. And yes, we need to try and change that. But breaking the aid industry mold will not be easy. And in the meantime, the need will continue to be there, and it will keep growing, and Konstantinos will keep trying to fill it.

 


From Solidarity Networks 1: the mini doc series

 

One thing that struck me about the aid industry was reading that British politician David Milliband makes $600,000 a year as head of IRC, the International Refugee Committee. And when he makes that kind of money, so do others involved in the ‘industry’.

And then there are people like Konstantinos, who doesn’t make a penny, who has devoted his entire life to helping people in need, and the contrast is so big it borders on insane. Of course Konstantinos is not alone in this; there are many people who work to aid others without asking for anything in return.

Konstantinos doesn’t want to try and fit O Allos Anthropos into the established -international- aid mold. He doesn’t want to fill out paperwork on a constant basis, and rely on permissions, approval or validation from governments and other ‘high-up’ bodies. He wants by the people for the people. But he has come to realize since we met that if he wants to address the ever growing demands made on him, he can’t do it with no money at all.

Recently, he was invited, and traveled to Perugia, Italy, where people want to start their own version of O Allos Anthropos. This week, he is in Barcelona, where the same questions have been asked. And unless he starts saying No to ever more people, he will need funding.

I mentioned a long list of drugs and medical paraphernalia that social pharmacies are asking him for help in acquiring. People die in Greece, they suffer pain, they tumble into misery, from afflictions that just a few years ago were easy to treat. That’s how bad things have gotten. Earlier this year, Konstantinos told me he had an idea to set up a service to deliver food and drugs to old people in villages in the Greek countryside, in the mountains, remote villages that today often house only older people because the young have all left. A great idea, but how is he going to pay for it?

On December 4, O Allos Anthropos will have a party to celebrate its 5th anniversary, and 2 million meals served. By far most of those were served after the Automatic Earth got involved and your donations made it possible to expand the Social Kitchen to the 17 or so locations across the country, and the islands, where aid is delivered under the O Allos Anthropos banner.

In the first few years, it all operated by people donating food directly. But food donations have fallen by 50% or more this year, because ever fewer Greeks can afford to donate. It is time for the rest of the world to step in. And that doesn’t have to cost millions. The $30,000 you have donated over the past 15 months have achieved miracles already.

In an ideal scenario, I would like to be able to collect $50,000 a year for Konstantinos to do his work. More than $100,000 would not be needed, unless things take a dramatic turn for the worse. Talking of which, any of you who work in the medical field and would like to help alleviate the medicine shortages, drop me a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com, and I’ll tell you what’s most needed.

 

Please, those of you who have been involved on location or otherwise in delivering aid, understand that I don’t mean to insult you. Most of you come with the best intentions, and many do great work, often against the grain. But I think the account of the Secret Aid Worker above cannot sound entirely unfamiliar to you. So much goes wrong that it must be plain for most of you to see.

And it’s perhaps good to wonder whether international volunteers are the best option to deliver aid in countries where locals are available, and willing, to do the same work. The difference is one gets funding and the other does not. Maybe that, more than anything, should change.

But for now, because it’ll soon be Christmas and because we want to give Konstantinos and his people a wonderful Yuletide and a positive start to the new year, please help us by donating generously.

Because whatever economic and/or political and/or election issues you may have gotten worked up about lately, in the end, and certainly at Christmas time, it is about people. Indeed, it is about helping strangers.

 

 

For donations to Kostantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos.

Please give generously.

 

 

I made a list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 


Jodi Graphics What Greece lost in one year, 2014

 

 

Sep 042016
 
 September 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 4 2016


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Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)
6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)
Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)
Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)
Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)
Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)
Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

 

 

It’s nice to be able to agree with Ambrose once in a while.

Dollar Hegemony Endures As Share Of Global Transactions Keeps Rising (AEP)

The US dollar is tightening its grip on the global financial system at the expense of the euro, entrenching American hegemony and rendering the US Federal Reserve more powerful than at any time in history. Newly-released data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show that the dollar’s share of the $5.1 trillion in foreign exchange trades each day has continued rising to 87.6pc of all transactions. It is the latest evidence confirming the extraordinary resilience of the dollar-based international order, confounding expectations of US financial decline a decade ago. Roughly 60pc of the global economy is either in the dollar zone or closely tied to it through currency pegs or ‘dirty floats’, and the level of debt issued in dollars outside US jurisdiction has soared to $9 trillion.

This has profound implications for monetary policy. The Fed has become the world’s central bank whether it likes it or not, setting borrowing costs for much of the global system. The BIS data shows that the volume of transactions in which the euro was on one side of the trade has slipped to 31.3pc from 37pc in 2007. The dollar share has ratcheted up to 87.6pc over the same period. It is much the same picture for the foreign exchange reserves of central banks, a good barometer of global trust. The dollar share has recovered to 63.6pc, roughly where it was a decade ago. The euro share has tumbled over the last eight years from 28pc to 20.4pc, and is barely above Deutsche Mark share in the early 1990s.

“There are no foreseeable rivals to the dollar as a viable reserve currency,” said Eswar Prasad from Cornell University, author of “The Dollar Trap: How the US Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance”. “The US is hard to beat. The US has deep financial markets, a powerful central bank and legal framework the rest of the world has a great deal of trust in,” he said. The eurozone is crippled by the lack of a unified EU treasury, joint bond issuance, and a genuine banking union to back up the currency. It would require a change in the German constitution to open the way for fiscal union, an unthinkable prospect in the current political climate.

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Many years ago I dubbed it the ‘Bulgaria Model’.

US Has 9.93 Million More Government Workers Than Manufacturing Workers (CI)

The August jobs report was filled with some interest factoids, like there are now 9.93 million government workers than there are manufacturing workers. That is a ratio of 1.81 government workers for every manufacturing worker. Such was not always the case. But a variety of factors such as labor cost differentials, EPA regulations and taxes had led to manufacturing jobs to be sent overseas. Now a 1.81 government to manufacturing employment ratio is called OVERHEAD. And you wonder why high paying manufacturing jobs are fleeing to other countries?

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“German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin..”

German Budget Surpluses Are Bad For The Global Economy (Economist)

On August 24th Germans received news to warm any Teutonic heart. Figures revealed a larger-than-expected budget surplus in the first half of 2016, and put Germany on track for its third year in a row in the black. To many such excess seems harmless enough—admirable even. Were Greece half as fiscally responsible as Germany, it might not be facing its eighth year of economic contraction in a decade. Yet German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin. Seemingly prudent budgeting in economies like Germany’s produce dangerous strains globally. The pressure may yet be the undoing of the euro area. German frugality and economic woes elsewhere are linked through global trade and capital flows.

In recent years, as Germany’s budget balance flipped from red to black, its current-account surplus—which reflects net cross-border flows of goods, services and investment—has soared, to nearly 9% of German GDP this year. The connection between budgets and current accounts might not be immediately obvious. But in a series of papers published in 2011 IMF economists found evidence that cutting budget deficits is associated with reduced investment, greater saving and a shift in the current account from deficit toward surplus. Two IMF economists, John Bluedorn and Daniel Leigh, reckoned that a fiscal consolidation of one percentage point of GDP led to an improvement in the ratio of the current-account balance to GDP of 0.6 percentage points.

On that reckoning, the German government’s thriftiness accounts for a small but meaningful share of its growing current-account surplus; perhaps as much as three percentage points of GDP over the past five years.

That has helped to resurrect an old problem. Global imbalances were a scourge of the world economy before the financial crisis of 2007-08. Back then, China and oil-exporting economies accounted for the surplus side of the world’s trade ledger, which reached nearly 3% of the world’s GDP on the eve of the crisis. Other countries, notably America, ran correspondingly large current-account deficits, financed in part by flows of investment from surplus countries that flooded into the country’s overheating housing market. A similar dynamic played out in miniature within the euro area, as core economies like Germany ran current-account surpluses and peripheral countries like Spain ran deficits.

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Taking away their powers is the only solution. But … that’s not going to happen.

ECB’s Mersch: Central Banking Based On “Mathematical Models”, Not Reality (ZH)

At first (literally the day the Fed announced QE1) it was just “tinfoil fringe blogs” who predicted the failure of the central bank’s attempt to boost the economy by printing money, instead warning that all the Fed would do is unleash an unprecedented income and wealth divide that may culminate in civil war and hyperinflation. Then, gradually, analysts, pundits and even the mainstream press admitted the truth, i.e., that tin-foilers were right all along, until recently even the Fed’s own mouthpiece, Jon Hilsenrath, one day before the Jackson Hole meeting wrote that “Years of Fed Missteps Fueled Disillusion With the Economy and Washington”, an article which set the stage for the pivot to the US issuance of much more debt, because apparently $9 trillion in new debt under Obama is not considered enough “fiscal stimulus.”

However, with virtually everyone else now slamming central banks for fooling the world for the past 7 years that they knew what they were doing, now that even Yellen admitted she has no idea what will happen in just the next 3 years projecting a 70% confidence interval of the Fed Funds rate of between 0% and 5% by the end of 2018 (we wonder what a 100% confidence would look like)…

.. overnight central bankers themselves attacked central bank policies, when ECB board member Yves Mersch warned on Saturday against using “extreme [policy] measures [with] unacceptable side effects” to shore up the eurozone’s weak economy, which he said could undermine trust in the single currency, a warning aimed squarely at Mario Draghi. Mersch’s comments come amid a growing debate over whether central banks in Europe and Japan should bolster economic growth by turning to even more tools such as “helicopter money.” Even more ludicrous, as we reported yesterday, Reuters already lobbed a tentative trial balloon, hinting that the ECB may be “forced” to buy ETFs and equities having virtually run out of bonds to monetize. Still, despite all ongoing ECB deflationary counter-measures, eurozone inflation was just 0.2% in August, far below the ECB’s near-2% target. Investors are increasingly concerned that the central bank is running out of tools.

Surprisingly, at this point Mersch joined the Weidmann bandwagon, and cautioned against “academic proposals [that] seem to prefer sophisticated models to social psychology.” Or in other words, for the first time, a central banker has suggested that broken (which is a far more accurate definition that sophisticated) financial models should be ignored when dealing with reality. “We cannot fulfill our mandate with mathematical equations, but only with instruments that maintain trust in the currency,” Mersch said at an annual economic forum on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. Expanding his tongue in cheek criticism of Mario Draghi’s relentless crusade to hurt the euro and reflate asset prices at all costs, Mersch then said that “extreme measures or legal violations of our mandate aren’t among those instruments.”

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Restructure. Only way. And again, not going to happen.

Europe’s Broken Banks Need the Urge to Merge (BBG)

The recent flurry of excitement at the idea that Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank contemplated a merger reinforces the view that the European finance industry is ripe for consolidation. Banking leaders themselves talk about the need for mergers in an overbanked market, but no one among the bigger banks seems to want to go first. If something doesn’t change soon, Europe won’t have a banking industry worthy of the name. The relentless collapse in bank share prices this year may speak to difficult market conditions, but they also suggest that Europe’s banking model is broken, amid a deadly combination of negative interest rates, anemic economic growth and a lack of clarity about the future regulatory outlook (albeit in large part because European banks have fought every line of every proposed rule change).

The region’s banks have lost almost a quarter of their value this year, according to the Stoxx 600 Banks index. As Germany has by far the least consolidated banking sector in the euro zone, it’s no surprise that both Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank have done even worse. Merger talk sparked a bit of a rally in the two German banks in recent days, even though the discussions, reported to have taken place over two weeks this summer, have been abandoned. With both banks embarking on major cost-cutting and restructuring projects, it may have been too early to talk of a merger.

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It’s all in the choice of terminology: populism, protectionism, they sound very negative, so they are what you read. But it makes no difference: without growth, centralization withers away all by itself.

Economic Czars Warn G-20 of Risk From Populist Backlash on Trade (BBG)

The heads of three world economic bodies warned of the risk to trade from the protectionist headwinds sweeping many developed nations as global leaders met in Hangzhou, China. In a panel session Saturday ahead of the Group of 20 summit, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, urged business chiefs to lobby governments to help keep trade flows up as she issued a warning about the outlook for growth into 2017. Her views were echoed by Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the WTO. “Trade is way too low and has been way too low for a long time,” Lagarde said. “There is at the moment an undercurrent of anti-trade movement. It’s at the political level. It’s at the public opinion level” and also being reflected in policy, she added.

“If there is no international trade, if there is no cross-border investment, if services, capital, people and goods do not cross borders, then it’s less activity for you, it’s less jobs in whichever country you are headquartered,” she said. Lagarde’s comments come as momentum for ratifying the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link 12 nations making up about 40% of the world economy, falters in the final months of U.S. President Barack Obama’s term. Both presidential candidates have spoken against the deal, which does not include China, while progress on a U.S.-EU trade and investment deal, known as TTIP, has also stalled.

France’s trade minister Matthias Fekl said late last month that the U.S. hasn’t offered anything substantial in negotiations with the EU on the free-trade deal and that talks should come to an end. His comments followed those of German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said discussions on the TTIP “have de-facto broken down, even if no one wants to say so.” Many Western nations are grappling with a mood of protectionism that is leading to calls for caution on free trade, and on foreign investment in things like property and utilities. Chinese companies recently were dealt a blow on prospective projects in both the U.K. and Australia.

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Let’s see: more debt AND more cars. It’s a win-win! Happy days!

Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)

Chinese households, traditional savers with an aversion to debt, are rapidly warming to the idea of borrowing to buy a car, as automakers push financing deals to boost sales and margins in an increasingly competitive market. Nearly 30% of Chinese car buyers bought on credit last year, up from 18% in 2013, according to analysts from Sanford C. Bernstein and Deloitte, helping a rebound in the car market after a sticky 2015. That is welcome news to China’s government, which wants consumers to borrow and spend more to shift its slowing economy away from heavy industry and investment-led growth. Beijing resident Wang Danian said he planned to buy his first car on credit, saying it was the smart move.

“I can use my cash to do other things,” the 28-year-old said. “If I use all my savings at once to buy a car, and then something happens, I can’t manage the risk.” Six consumers interviewed by Reuters said they would all consider loans, lured by low-fee and interest-free deals, with half saying they’d prefer to buy on credit and save cash for other items. “I’d estimate after the manufacturer came out with the low-interest deal that about 30% of potential cash buyers switched to buying on credit,” said a salesman at a Volkswagen dealership in eastern China’s Jiangsu province who gave his name as Mr. Zhao. That is still a far cry from the more than 80% of cars bought on loans in the United States, but Deloitte predicts China will reach 50% by 2020.

[..] China’s auto market struggled last year thanks to the slowest economic growth in 25 years and a stock market rout, but rebounded in October when the government cut sales tax on smaller cars. By July, vehicle sales were rising at their fastest monthly rate in three and a half years. “While the government’s tax reduction was the most obvious explanation for the rebound in Chinese car sales at the end of 2015, soaring auto financing penetration represented another, lesser noticed, driver of the boom,” Bernstein said in April.

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Excellent thread from The Property Pin. A lot more under the link.

6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)

1. Making the Intellectual Property (IP). Let’s say that Apple US spent $200m (validly) developing iOS (it’s iPhone operating system). What Apple does next is to “sell” a non-US version of iOS to an Apple Ireland entity (generic name), for c $500m. Apple US will then pay full US taxes on this gain of $300m. Easy so far. The US IRS is already starting to probe these “internal” sales.

2. Stepping up the IP value (when the “magic” happens). Specialist IP corporate finances (why Dublin accountancy firms have big corporate finance practices) make two discoveries. First, if the Apple device has no iOS software, it can’t function. iOS is the “secret sauce” (like a drug patent). They then show Apple Ireland that it has done an amazing deal at the expense of its parent, Apple US. They show that if the non-US version of iOS is converted in to 200 different languages (and local network formats), then Apple Ireland can sell devices all over the world (fancy that). The global commercial value is over €50bn (why many MNC jobs in Ireland are “localisation”, or language translation, jobs). Apple has the tax equivalent of “Alchemy”.

3. Avoiding tax on the IP step-up. A €50bn gain in Apple Ireland is going to incur tax (both Irish and US), and would distort Ireland’s National Accounts (our 2014 GDP was only €200bn). Apple, and the Irish State, worked a scheme to have Apple Ireland both resident in Ireland (essential so Apple Ireland can avail of EU TP (Transfer Pricing) rules; you can’t do EU TP from Cayman, or worse, “Stateless” locations), and non-resident in Ireland (to avoid Irish tax). The EU’s Apple report, proves the recent 26% increase in Irish GDP (“leprechaun economics”) was all Apple, forced to unwind it’s “dual” status (as EU report drew near). Apple paid a once-off tax on the transfer (€500m vs. €50bn gain), which increased our EU GDP levies by 380m. Per Annum.

4. Executing the TP of this IP into Europe. Before step 3., if Apple Ireland sold an iPhone in Germany for €500, Apple Germany would offset valid incurred cash costs (Apple China/Foxconn manufacturing costs of about €150, and Apple Germany marketing costs of about €50) giving a German profit of €300 on that iPhone. German Revenue would take €100 of this in German taxes, and €200 can go back to Ireland. EU TP rules allow EU resident companies, like Apple Ireland, to charge Apple Germany a share of their €50bn IP value, expressed as a royalty charge. Charging this royalty to Apple Germany wipes out all Apple’s German profits. Apple Germany pays no German taxes, and the full €300 goes back to Apple Ireland tax-free.

5. The Cherry on Top. EU challenged step 4. in 2011 (we will get to CCCTB), but the UK Veto stopped it (Osborne was turning Britain into an even bigger EU tax-haven than Ireland). Despite Ireland having the “golden ticket” of being INSIDE the EU’s TP system (why Apple Ireland had to be legally resident in Ireland), AND having the lowest EU corporate tax rate, that was not enough. In 2010, Apple Ireland’s tax rate collapsed from a tiny 0.5% to effectively 0%. Apple Ireland’s profits quadrupled (and doubled every year after). The Irish State had perfected a “straw” for Apple, stuck into the EU, allowing Apple to suck all its EU profits (Germany, France, Italy etc.), via Ireland, to offshore locations, free of EU, Irish and US taxes.

6. Locking it in. US tax law requires US MNCs to remit non-US profits back to the US for final taxing. US tax rate is high at 35% (even by EU standards). The Double Tax Treaty system allows the MNCs to get a credit for taxes paid in the countries in which the profits were made. If Apple pays 35% on German profits, no further US taxes apply. The US IRS allows MNCs to leave non-US profits outside of the US if these non-US profits are going to be re-invested in the non-US location. Apple claimed this right in their US 10K Returns (Margrethe showed how Apple violate this). That is how Apple built the largest offshore cash hoard of modern economic history. Profits from the EU, on which they have never paid EU, Irish or US taxes. Period.

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In France, as in UK and US and many other places, voters vote against someone, not for.

Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)

In the picturesque hamlet of Brachay, in scorching late summer heat, Marine Le Pen was preaching to the politically converted. “Marine, président”, they chanted. “On va gagner” (we’re going to win). A banner stretching the length of one of the stone buildings overlooking the village square read: “Marine: Save France.” Le Pen’s stump speech was the most closely watched and significant campaign launch of la rentrée, the national return to work after the long summer holidays, and the leader of France’s far-right Front National was welcomed like a conquering hero. Le Pen has been largely absent from the political scene for several weeks and has refrained from adding her 10 cents’ worth to the raging polemic over the burkini and rows about security following deadly attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, both fertile ground for her party.

In the meantime, the country’s governing Socialists and centre-right opposition Les Républicains have engaged in what one FN heavyweight described with schadenfreude as a “bloodbath, left and right”. The Parti Socialiste is bitterly split and in turmoil over whether François Hollande, with his calamitous popularity ratings will, or indeed should, stand for a second term. The alternative, to stand down, would be unprecedented for a serving leader. Emmanuel Macron, the finance minister who resigned last week, might be the rabbit that the party pulls out of the hat, but he is disliked by the PS’s leftwing, which is fielding its own candidates. In any case, Macron has not said whether he will even throw his hat into the presidential ring.

On the right, things are scarcely more harmonious. The deadline for Les Républicains candidates is Friday, and already former president Nicolas Sarkozy, mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé and former prime minister François Fillon have either announced they are standing or are expected to do so. Amid this political free-for-all, Le Pen is trying to throw off the party’s divisive reputation and market herself as a politician above and beyond the fray of the same-old-same-old French elite: a new, unifying, patriotic force who will break the shackles of Europe, end “mass immigration” and give France back to the French. Her slogan is La France apaisée – a soothed France.

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So if people have to spend more to buy the same stuff, that’s good for the economy, right?

Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)

Summer is not yet over but Christmas could be about to get more expensive as millions of gifts including TVs and electrical gadgets could be stranded at sea for months. Retailers have been thrown into turmoil after one of the world’s largest shipping companies collapsed into bankruptcy. South Korean company Hanjin’s vessels have been seized at Chinese ports, while others have been banned from docking until unpaid fees are received. As a result, the cost of transporting goods from Asia to the US and Europe has jumped by more than half, threatening margins as retailers begin stocking up for Christmas. September marks the start of the busiest period of the year for transporting goods.

The US National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, wrote to Penny Pritzker, secretary of commerce, on Thursday, urging them to work with the South Korean government, ports and others to prevent disruptions. The bankruptcy is having “a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain” that could cause significant harm to both consumers and the economy, the association wrote. “Retailers’ main concern is that there (are) millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise that needs to be on store shelves that could be impacted by this,” said Jonathan Gold, the group’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

“Some of it is sitting in Asia waiting to be loaded on ships, some is already aboard ships out on the ocean and some is sitting on US docks waiting to be picked up. It is understandable that port terminal operators, railroads, trucking companies and others don’t want to do work for Hanjin if they are concerned they won’t get paid.” With an estimated half a million 40-foot containers full of goods stuck at sea or in ports there appears to be little hope of a quick resolution to the issue. September marks the start of the busiest time of the year for transporting goods, but a Korean court on Thursday set a deadline of 25 November to submit a plan to resolve the dispute.

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Hilarious!

Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)

A Chinese official confronted U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security adviser on the tarmac on Saturday prompting the Secret Service to intervene, an unusual altercation as China implements strict controls ahead of a big summit. The stakes are high for China to pull off a trouble-free G20 summit of the world’s top economies, its highest profile event of the year, as it looks to cement its global standing and avoid acrimony over a long list of tensions with Washington. Shortly after Obama’s plane landed in the eastern city of Hangzhou, a Chinese official attempted to prevent his national security adviser Susan Rice from walking to the motorcade as she crossed a media rope line, speaking angrily to her before a Secret Service agent stepped between the two.

Rice responded but her comments were inaudible to reporters standing underneath the wing of Air Force One. It was unclear if the official, whose name was not immediately clear, knew that Rice was a senior official and not a reporter. The same official shouted at a White House press aide who was instructing foreign reporters on where to stand as they recorded Obama disembarking from the plane. “This is our country. This is our airport,” the official said in English, pointing and speaking angrily with the aide. The U.S. aide insisted that the journalists be allowed to stand behind a rope line, and they were able to record the interaction and Obama’s arrival uninterrupted, typical practice for U.S. press traveling with the president.

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“.. the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly..”

Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)

China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou ahead of the start of the G20. Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime pinister Narendra Modi, Russian president Vladimir Putin, South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Brazil’s president Michel Temer and British prime minister Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning. But the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly after no rolling staircase was provided when he landed in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday afternoon.

When Obama did find his way onto a red carpet on the tarmac below there were heated altercations between US and Chinese officials, with one Chinese official caught on video shouting: “This is our country! This is our airport!” “The reception that President Obama and his staff got when they arrived here Saturday afternoon was bruising, even by Chinese standards,” the New York Times reported. Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s former ambassador to China, said he was convinced Obama’s treatment was part of a calculated snub. “These things do not happen by mistake. Not with the Chinese,” Guajardo, who hosted presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón during his time in Beijing, told the Guardian.

“I’ve dealt with the Chinese for six years. I’ve done these visits. I took Xi Jinping to Mexico. I received two Mexican presidents in China. I know exactly how these things get worked out. It’s down to the last detail in everything. It’s not a mistake. It’s not.” Guajardo added: “It’s a snub. It’s a way of saying: ‘You know, you’re not that special to us.’ It’s part of the new Chinese arrogance. It’s part of stirring up Chinese nationalism. It’s part of saying: ‘China stands up to the superpower.’ It’s part of saying: ‘And by the way, you’re just someone else to us.’ It works very well with the local audience. “Why [did it happen]?” the former diplomat, who was ambassador from 2007 until 2013, added. “I guess it is part of Xi Jinping playing the nationalist card. That’s my guess.”

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I am not optimistic.

Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

Humanity should start saving nature and switch to 80% renewables by 2030, otherwise the Earth will keep losing species, and within 33 years around 800,000 forms of life will be gone, conservation biologist Reese Halter told RT’s News with Ed. Humans have changed the Earth so much that some scientists think we have entered a new geological age. According to a report in the Science Magazine, the Earth is now in the anthropocene epoch. Millions of years from now our impact on Earth will be found in rocks just like we see fossils of plants and animals which lived years ago – except this time scientists of the future will find radioactive elements from nuclear bombs and fossilized plastic.

RT: Tell us about this new age.
Reese Halter: Yes. There are three things that come to mind. First of all, imagine you’re back on the football field. Each year in America – America alone – we throw away the equivalent of one football field, a 100 miles deep. That is the first thing. The second thing, we’ve entered the age of climate instability. That means from burning subsidized climate altering fossil fuels our food security is in jeopardy. The third thing that is striking is we’re losing species a thousand times faster than in the last 65 million years. At this rate within 33 years, by midcentury – that means 800,000 forms of life, or half of everything we know will be gone. The only way we can reverse this is to two things: save nature now, our life support system, and we do this by switching to 80% renewables by 2030. It is a WWIII mentality. In America we have the technology; we have the blueprint. We lack the political will just right now. But in the next short while we will, because it is a matter of survival.

RT: We’ve just gone through the hottest month on record. There is plenty of data out there to suggest that we truly are entering something our world has never seen in our lifetime. To brand it as a new geological age, what impact is that going to have? RH: It’s got the impact that humans are here. As I said earlier, we’re talking a 160% more than mother Earth can sustain 7.4 billion people. The way to do it is to pull it back to 90%. If we were a big bathtub the ring will read: toxicity, toxicity, toxicity. We’ve got to peal that back, because what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

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Dec 262015
 
 December 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle Dec 1942

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)
China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year
US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)
Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)
Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)
Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)
The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)
Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)
Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)
Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)
Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Because of Pax Americana. Long expose by Stockman.

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. I have elaborated more fully on this proposition in “The Epochal Consequences Of Woodrow Wilson’s War“, but the seminal point cannot be gainsaid. The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 25 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.

In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony. So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.

So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1990 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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With numbers like those, statements like these are ludicrous: “The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year..”

China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)

Profits at China’s state firms dipped 9.5% in the first 11 months of 2015 from a year earlier, after a 9.8% drop in the first 10 months, the Ministry of Finance said on Friday. Combined profits of state-owned enterprises totaled 2.04 trillion yuan ($315.18 billion) in the January-November period, the ministry said in a statement on its website. “The downward pressure on economic operations remains relatively big, although there are signs of warming up in some indicators,” the ministry said.

Excluding financial firms, combined revenues of state-owned firms fell 6.1% in the first 11 months from a year earlier to 40.66 trillion yuan, the ministry said. Companies in transportation, chemical and power sectors reported a rise in profit in the January-November period, while firms in oil, petrochemicals and building materials saw a drop in earnings. Firms in steel, coal and non-ferrous metal sectors continued to suffer losses. The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year, which would be the weakest pace in a quarter of a century.

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A foreign policy success is not the same as a financial success.

China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has been formally established and is expected to be operational early next year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday. The bank’s establishment came after 17 funding members of the AIIB, which account for just over 50% of its share capital, ratified an agreement on the bank, state television quoted Finance Minister Lou Jiwei as saying. The bank will hold its opening ceremony in mid-January and formally elect its president, state television said. The bank will initially focus on financing projects in power, transportation, and urban infrastructure in Asia, the television quoted the bank’s president-elect, Jin Liqun, as saying. First proposed by President Xi Jinping less than two years ago, the bank has become one of China’s biggest foreign policy successes. Despite the opposition of Washington, major U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Philippines and South Korea have joined.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet. On January 1, all previous bets are off.

US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)

Bankruptcies among oil and gas companies have reached quarterly levels last seen in the Great Recession, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. At least nine U.S. oil and gas companies that accounted for more than $2 billion in debt have filed for bankruptcy in the fourth quarter, the bank said Wednesday in its energy economic update for the final three months of the year. “Lower oil prices have taken a significant financial toll on U.S. oil and gas producers, in part because many face higher costs of production than their international counterparts do,” according to the note written by Navi Dhaliwal, a research assistant, and Martin Stuermer, a research economist. “If bankruptcies continue at this rate, more may follow in 2016.” Since peaking in October 2014, U.S. oil and gas employment has fallen by 70,000 jobs, the analysts wrote in the report.

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Bit confusing at the start on differences between people’s QE and basic income. And the entire topic already confuses people with all the varying definitions. But it’s good to get the discussion going. And Steve’s Modern Debt Jubilee is still the most sensible thing out there.

Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)

In this special Winter Why Not? episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert talk to Professor Steve Keen about solutions to our unpayable debts, including: basic income, a People’s Quantitative Easing and a global debt jubilee. Professor Keen explains why a modern debt jubilee could please both debtors and creditors, savers and spenders.

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Deals with deals that are almost a decade old.

Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)

Commerzbank has sued four banks in the United States, claiming that they failed to properly monitor billions of dollars in toxic mortgage-backed securities acquired by the German lender before the 2008 financial crisis. Bank of New York Mellon and units of Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and HSBC were named in the lawsuits filed on Wednesday and Thursday in Manhattan federal court. BNY Mellon was the trustee for over $1 billion in mortgage-backed securities bought by Commerzbank and $1.3 billion of investments tied to a collateralized debt obligation, Millstone II CDO, court documents showed. BNY Mellon “abandoned its obligations to protect the rights of investors” and did nothing to protect the collateral underlying the CDO, Commerzbank said, noting that it suffered $750 million in losses. Commerzbank made similar claims involving mortgage-backed securities of $640 million in the Deutsche Bank case; $290 million for Wells Fargo; and $204 million for HSBC.

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Ghost town.

Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)

The number of people selling up and moving out of London rose by two-thirds in 2015, figures showed on Saturday, as homeowners cashed in on the capital’s high house prices or escaped to more affordable parts of the country. More Londoners bought homes outside the capital than at any point since 2007, according to the property firm Hamptons International, purchasing 63,000 properties during the year. Almost nine out of 10 bought elsewhere in the south of England, but the Midlands saw a 165% increase in the number of Londoners moving into the area. Throughout 2014 house price growth in London outstripped that in other parts of the country, and although it has been less rapid this year, the gap between prices in the capital and outside is wider than ever. Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International, said homeowners were taking advantage of this.

“As the gap between prices in London and the south-east has grown, so has the temptation for Londoners to cash in on record house prices and move out of the capital,” he said. “With expectations of future house price growth in London easing, many have chosen 2015 to make their move out of London.” High costs in London where, according to the Office for National Statistics, the average price of a home is now above half a million pounds, have also forced first-time buyers and those looking for more space to move out. The Hamptons research, based on figures from the UK’s largest estate agency, Countrywide, which it owns, found that the number of people moving out to buy their first home was up by 70%, or 11,000, over 2014’s figure. The most recent data from Nationwide building society on first-time buyer affordability shows that relative to earnings a home in London is at a record 9.6 times average pay.

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“Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism.”

The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)

Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is the author of a new paper, “The Cyclically Adjusted Budget: History and Exegesis of a Fateful Estimate,” which exposes the fascinating — and disturbing — history of how a budget approach cloaked in a scientific and technical aura became a tool to manipulate public opinion and serve the interests of the powerful. In the following conversation, she reveals how austerity has been sold to the public through a process that damages the lives of ordinary people, consolidates knowledge and power at the top, and compromises democracy. As economic inequality reaches new heights and austerity programs are debated around the world (most recently, in Spain and Portugal), understanding how a lie becomes political and economic “truth” has never been more critical.

Lynn Parramore: Your recent work deals with something called the “cyclically adjusted budget.” What is it and what does it mean in the lives of ordinary people?

Orsola Costantini: The Cyclically Adjusted Budget (CAB) is a statistical estimate that aids government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much they’re going to tax you. It is mostly federal governments that use it, but also international institutions like the IMF. Economists will tell you this tool is imprecise. Yet national and international institutions still rely on it to justify important decisions about government spending and taxation. But there’s something the experts aren’t telling you: the cyclically adjusted budget can be easily maneuvered depending on which way the political winds are blowing. And it appears technical and obscure enough so that regular people tend to look at it as objective and undisputable. That’s where the trouble comes in.

Politicians and government officials using the CAB can limit the range of political choices that appear viable to a community. Policymakers can avoid the hassle of taking political responsibility for these choices, too. We had to do it! The budget says so! Look at what happened all over Europe in 2008: It’s one thing to say to students in the streets that their education and economic wellbeing are not a priority for the government while saving banks is. It’s quite another to say that politics has nothing to do with it and the economy requires taking certain actions, sometimes painful.

LP: You indicate that this approach to budgeting was invented as a way of making the New Deal acceptable to the business community. How did that work? Over time, who has benefitted from it? Who has lost?

OC: Back in the 1940s, workers were fighting for their rights, class struggle was heating up, and soldiers would soon be returning from the fronts. At that point, a new business organization, the Committee for Economic Development (CED), came together. Led by Beardsley Ruml and other influential business figures, the CED played a crucial role in developing a conservative approach to Keynesian economics that helped make policies that would help put all Americans to work acceptable to the business community.
The idea was that more consumers would translate into more profits — which is good for business. After all, the economic experts and budget technicians said so, not just the politicians. And the business leaders were told that economic growth and price stability would go along with this, which they liked.

But things changed progressively over the 1970s and early 1980s. Firms went global. They became financialized. The balance of power between workers and owners started to shift more towards the owners, the capitalists. People were told they needed to sacrifice, to accept cuts to social spending and fewer rights and benefits on the job — all in the name of economic science and capitalism. The CAB was turned into a tool for preventing excessive spending — or justifying selected cuts. Middle class folks were afraid that inflation would erode their savings, so they were more keen to approve draconian measures to cut wages and reduce public budgets. People on the lower rungs of the economic ladder felt the pain first. But eventually the middle class fell on the wrong side of the fence, too. Most of them became relatively poorer. I suppose this shows the limits of democracy when information, knowledge, and ultimately power are unequally distributed.

LP: You’re really talking about birth of austerity and the way lies about public spending and budgets have been sold to the public. Why is austerity such a powerful idea and why do politicians still win elections promoting it?

OC: Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism. People stop joining forces and the political status quo gets locked down. Even the name of this tool, the “cyclically adjusted budget,” carries an aura of respect. It diverts our attention. We don’t question it. It creates a barrier between the individual and the political realm: it undermines democratic participation itself. This obscure theory validates, with its authority, a big economic mistake that sounds like common sense but is actually snake oil — the notion that the federal government budget is like a household budget. Actually, it isn’t. Your household doesn’t collect taxes. It doesn’t print money. It works very differently, yet the nonsense that it should behave exactly like a household budget gets repeated by politicians and policymakers who really just want to squeeze ordinary people.

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Beijing has closed down thousands of companies. But how long can it do that for?

Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)

Beijing issued an alert for severe air pollution Friday, warning children and the elderly to avoid outdoor activities as limited visibility from the thick smog forced the airport to cancel 227 departures. Officials in the capital raised their air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest on the city’s four-grade scale. The concentration of PM2.5 – the particles that pose the greatest health risks – was 503 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square at 2 p.m. after reaching 647 in the morning, according to the municipal air-monitoring website. The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 over 24-hours.

Beijing Capital International Airport, the world’s second-busiest by passengers, reported the cancellations on its website Friday and said another 12 departures were delayed as of 4 p.m. local time because of poor visibility. The canceled flights accounted for about 12% of scheduled departures Friday, according to the site. The chronic air pollution has renewed calls for the government to make better forecasts and act faster to help clear the skies over the city of 21.5 million. Beijing this year has imposed two red alerts, the highest on the scale, prompting measures including school closures, traffic restrictions and factory operation limits. The latest ended Tuesday. Smog also blanketed China’s eastern and central regions Friday.

PM2.5 levels were as high as 260 micrograms per cubic meter in Zibo and 322 in Jinan of Shandong province, data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center showed. The readings were 277 in Wuhan and 255 in Huanggang of Hubei province. Shanghai issued a yellow alert for air pollution, the third-highest of four levels. Children and the elderly were warned to avoid outdoor activities, with the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center reporting PM2.5 levels of 154 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2 p.m. About 50 cities in northern and eastern China have issued air pollution alerts, the China Daily reported on Friday. Smog across the eastern, northern and central parts of the country will weaken or disperse from north to south from Saturday, the China Meteorological Administration said.

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If “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil..”, are we off the hook?

Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East. Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks. Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.

Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month. At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”. The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”. He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”.

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“..the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.”

Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)

As your social media contacts must have reminded you by now, Christmas truly is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. Recent forensic research suggests that Jesus looked very much like the men that so many in the predominantly Christian Western world are frightened to let into their countries. Even in photos of the refugees, there are striking echoes of biblical iconography. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is at the very core of Christian values: love your neighbor as yourself—and as your god.

And yet Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers. Perhaps instead we can show mercy for mothers breastfeeding their children on a cold beach, for men who nearly drown trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere. These people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human. Let us recognize them as such. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.

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Contradictory reports in the media. Some say everyone swam, or that Ceuta is an island.

Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Two migrants drowned and 12 others were injured Friday when they tried to enter into the tiny Spanish territory of Ceuta in North Africa by swimming from Morocco or scaling a barbed-wire fence, officials in both nations said. Just before 4:00 am (0300 GMT) a group of over 300 migrants tried to get into the Spanish city which borders Morocco and is located across the Strait of Gibraltar from mainland Spain, the Spanish government authority in Ceuta said in a statement. Moroccan forces intercepted over 120 migrants but 182 others managed to get into Ceuta by climbing over the fence or swimming into the territory, it said. “Three of them needed to be reanimated by Spanish police officers who rescued them from the sea.”

Twelve migrants were taken to hospital by the Red Cross to be treated for various injuries, it added. Two people were recovering from near-drowning, one had an open leg fracture and the rest had deep cuts, some requiring stitches, the Red Cross said. Morocco recovered two bodies in the waters near the border post, local officials told Moroccan state news service MAP. The would-be migrants threw stones and used sticks against police, injuring several officers, they added. The Spanish Red Cross said it gave clothes and shoes to the migrants before they were taken to a temporary detention centre in Ceuta. It published photos of Red Cross volunteers helping and feeding migrants, many of them covered in blankets.

Ceuta along with Melilla to the east are two Spanish territories on the northern coast of Morocco that together form the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. Spain fortified fences in the two territories last year in response to a rise in the number of migrants trying to jump over the barriers from neighbouring Morocco. Last year 15 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean after dozens tried to enter Ceuta by swimming from a nearby beach. Human rights groups and migrants said the Spanish police tried to keep them from crossing into Spanish territory by firing rubber bullets and spraying them with tear gas. Madrid has since said that its guards are now banned from using rubber bullets to repel migrants.

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