The western world is mired in a mile-deep political crisis and nary a soul seems to notice, or rather: everyone just sees their own little preferred echochamber tidbits of it. Which is not a good thing, because that crisis is bound to trigger other bigger crises that are much more damaging. And I’m sorry to say it, but Donald Trump is not your main problem. Not even close.
The main problem is the collapse of western political systems. While that is what brought Trump to power in the first place, he didn’t cause the collapse. The collapse is also what ‘gave you’ Brexit, and Trump didn’t cause that either. Moreover, in the next step, on the far end of all this, Trump may well be the only thing standing between you and CIA warfare. I know, who wants to hear that, right?! Who’s ready for that next step?
But it’s not that crazy. Trump was the one who stopped the CIA from arming Syrian ‘rebels’, which are just a bunch of extremists gathered by that same CIA in its attempts to unseat Assad, and who Trump saw laughingly beheading a child. And who was it that had previously, and enthusiastically, decided to support these crazies? The US Republican and Democratic parties, in unison, while Obama was president and Hillary slash Joe Biden was Secretary of State. Remember the Chelsea Manning footage of videogame-like drone killings? What did Obama do about that?
Still, that’s not where the core of the demise of our political systems lies. Though it does gave us a flavor of their priorities. The core can be found in economic issues. In both president Bush II and president Obama bailing out banks while letting people’s incomes and wealth tank, and not sueing any banker for anything at all. Obviously, the same scenario played out in Britain as well. And in many other nations.
Now look at the parties themselves. Trump is not a Republican, but he took over the party with hardly any opposition. The only people the GOP could come up with to run against Trump were a full dozen full-blown yokels. And today, they still have no credible leadership. The healthcare vote last week, if we look at it separate from its merits, showed us that the same yokeldom is still in charge. Embarrassing doesn’t cover the feeling.
The Democrats are in the same conundrum. They have no credible candidates either. It’s Hillary or nothing. Which adds up to nothing. And then there’s a whole slew of suspicious ‘operatives’, Rice, Wasserman-Schultz et al, who make the picture even worse, and may soon find themselves on the wrong end of an investigation. Who’s going to vote for that bunch?
Yes, there’s Bernie Sanders, but he will never be allowed near the top as long as these other folk are there (and sorry, but he’s too old too). And there’s the core of the problem: both parties have been run by the same clique for ages, and you can only be part of it if you vote and agree with them (the made men model). Which in turn is why they don’t get the votes. And why Trump could become president. Who pledged to limit their terms and shut the revolving doors but still hasn’t.
That, too, is reflected one on one in Britain. If Theresa May is the best you can come up with as a leader, you have a queen-size problem. And Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has a long way to go anywhere at all yet, especially since he refuses to change his anti-EU stance and all the media are against what the people voted for. Though as far as I can see, the problem with Brexit is not so much the issue itself, but the utter incompetence with which it’s being handled. Which is staggering. You feel like asking for these people’s IDs to check their age.
The only thing I ever see discussed is how much Brexit is going to cost. As if voting for Brexit was always about money only. But the EU is about a lot more. Steve Keen presented it the other day in a much different way. He said that -paraphrased- the UK was the country perhaps hardest hit of all by neoliberalism, and that’s why people voted Brexit. And that Brexit could be its way out of the whole neoliberal austerity nightmare, if used well. Let’s talk about that instead.
But the Tories are not going to interpret Brexit that way. They will instead use it for more austerity, and more neoliberal policies. What they do at the moment is they try and push through as many of those policies as they can, and to cement them in laws and deals with the EU, who will love that. That way when May is voted out of office, Corbyn or whoever will be faced with a whole parade of things (s)he can no longer change or adapt. Fait accompli.
What everyone who is sick of these people, and of the policies, should do, is what Emmanuel Macron did in France: start a new party. Because France suffers from the same disease: the old guard doesn’t represent anyone but themselves anymore. Not that Macron is necessarily such a great alternative, but he has pointed the way to go, the way out of the staleness and the stalemate.
When you look at the US, all these senators and congresspeople talk more to lobbyists than they talk to anyone else. They’re all so beholden to financial backers and campaign funding, they have nothing left for their voters. They get votes, the ones they do still get, through tens of millions worth of slick TV ads in which they promise things they will never deliver. They paint shiny pictures and regurgitate lofty narratives. But they’ve been found out. Enter Trump stage left.
This happens all over the place. Japan PM Shinzo Abe is the latest trophy to be added, and to join Holland, Italy, France, the US etc., in the list of ‘traditional’ parties and politicians being voted, if not out, then certainly down, way down. You can’t run a country in the midst of a crisis like that. The old guard has a solution for that too: they deny the crisis, and their respective housing bubbles, and claim their countries are in a recovery. Which, wouldn’t you know, they claim to have, themselves, cleverly engineered for their people.
All that’s needed in both the UK and US are credible alternatives, and for the ruling classes to be cut down to size. But all we see are voices that derive their identity from pointing out what’s wrong with ‘the others’, be it Trump or Hillary, May or Corbyn. And in the case of Trump, anyone he’s ever talked to.
But now that even the WaPo has declared the Russian collusion story bogus, albeit without identifying its own role in developing that story, maybe it’s time for more pressing matters. Maybe brighter people on all sides of all spectrums can now build their identities on actual policies. And then discuss them, in all due respect, with others who do the same from their point of view.
Because make no mistake about it, with countries essentially ungovernable, as many are, as the US and UK are these days, risks of things like wars emerging ‘out of nowhere’ increase exponentially. If Trump must spend half his time talking about one story after another about someone maybe having met someone who may or may not be not 100% on the up and up, he doesn’t have enough time left to talk to Putin or Xi.
And really, that’s what the American president, any American president, should be doing right now. That alone would be a full-time day-job. Because alphabet soup ingredients like the CIA have created potential mayhem in so many locations around the globe, any one of them might blow anytime now.
Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, it’s a list that is impossible to complete. How about Bolivia, where Evo Morales once again has called for independence from the IMF and World Bank. The two-party, two pronged, two forked-tongued US political class, and its CIA handlers, don’t like that sort of thing. Not one bit.
Sure, you can argue that perhaps it’s Trump who’s most likely to start a war, but the evidence so far doesn’t point to that. The evidence points to all sorts of Shakespearean antics in the Oval Office, I told you!, plenty of Scaramouches, but not that one, not trigger-happiness. That’s all the other guys and gals, lest you forget. The evidence points to a two-party war machine, which hopes to be able to do its thing while you wallow in your self-righteous attitudes about Trump and Priebus and Scaramucci and Don Jr.
You want war? Denounce Trump. You don’t? Think again.
The risk of all this is that Da Donald will see no other way to stay in the White House than to start a war, somewhere, anywhere. Even the New York Times will declare him the greatest president since the last one who went to battle.
The risk embedded within that risk is that neither he nor anyone else will have any idea where it may lead. The risk is that the CIA, perhaps more than ever, will decide US -foreign- policy. And believe you me, that’s not what we should want. None of us.
What do the economists at the IMF see when they look at the U.S.? An economy in the midst of a long expansion (“its third longest expansion since 1850”), with “persistently strong” job growth, “subdued” inflation and something close to “full employment.” But also this: For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the U.S. with other advanced economies. The IMF then goes on to compare the U.S. with 23 other advanced economies in the OECD in this chart:
[..] the overall point is that the U.S. has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the U.S. hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the U.S. – the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita – is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go. This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. Another IMF report released last week, an update to its World Economic Outlook that downgraded short-term growth forecasts for the U.S. and U.K., got a lot more attention. But the consultation report is more interesting.
With Libor shut down to prevent revelations of involvement in manipulation by ‘higher-ups’, what will these same ‘higher-ups’ opt to use instead? Who has the political clout to make the decisions?
They better hurry: “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”
In an unexpected announcement, earlier this week the U.K.’s top regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority which is tasked with overseeing Libor, announced that the world’s most important, and manipulated, benchmark rate will be phased out by 2021, catching countless FX, credit, derivative, and other traders by surprise because while much attention had been given to possible LIBOR alternatives across the globe (in a time when the credibility of the Libor was non-existent) this was the first time an end date had been suggested for the global benchmark, which as we explained on Thursday, had died from disuse over the past 5 years.
Commenting on the decision, NatWest Markets’ Blake Gwinn told Bloomberg that the decision was largely inevitable: “There had never been an answer as to how you get market participants to adopt a new benchmark. It was clear at some point authorities were going to force them. The FCA can compel people to participate in Libor. What can ICE do if they’ve lost the ability to get banks to submit Libor rates?” And while the rationale for replacing Libor is well understood (for those unfamiliar, read David Enrich’s “The Spider Network”), there are still no clear alternatives. Ultimately, as Bank of America calculates, “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”
And with nearly half a quadrillion dollar in securities referncing a benchmark that is set to expire in under 5 years, the biggest problem is one of continuity: as Bloomberg calculated last week, in addition to the hundreds of trillion in referencing securities, there is also currently an open interest of 170,000 eurodollar futures contracts expiring in 2022 and beyond – contracts that settle into a benchmark that will no longer exist. “What are existing contract holders and market makers supposed to do?” Then there is the question of succession: with over $300 trillion in derivative trades, and countless billions in floating debt contracts, referening Libor, the pressing question is what will replace it, and how will the transition be implemented seamlessly?
As Amazon flirts with a $500 billion market cap, letting Jeff Bezos try on the title of world’s richest man on for size if only for a few hours, for Amazon’s competitors it’s “everything must go” day everyday, as the bad news in the retail sector continue to pile up with the latest Fitch report that the default rate for distressed retailers spiked again in July. According to the rating agency, the trailing 12-month high-yield default rate among U.S. retailers rose to 2.9% in mid-July from 1.8% at the end of June, after J. Crew completed a $566 million distressed-debt exchange. Meanwhile, with the shale sector flooded with Wall Street’s easy money, the overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt – mostly in the energy sector – rolled out of the default universe.
In a note, Fitch levfin sr. director Eric Rosenthal, said that “even with energy prices languishing in the mid $40s, a likely iHeart bankruptcy and retail remaining the sector of concern, the broader default environment remains benign.” He’s right: after the energy sector dominated bankruptcies in the first half of 2016, accounting for 21% of Chapter 11 cases, in H1 2017 the worst two sectors for bankruptcies are financials and consumer discretionary. And if recent trends are an indication, the latter will only get worse as Fitch expects Claire’s, Sears Holdings and Nine West all to default by the end of the year, pushing the default rate to 9%. “The timing on Sears and Claire’s is more uncertain, and our retail forecast would end the year at 5% absent these filings,” Rosenthal wrote. Putting the retail sector woes in context, Reorg First Day has calculated that retail bankruptcies soared 110% in the first half from the year-earlier period, accounting for $6 billion in debt.
Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone. “By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.” While the consensus of Wall Street forecasters is still for low rates to persist, Greenspan isn’t alone in warning they will break higher quickly as the era of global central-bank monetary accommodation ends.
Deutsche Bank’s Binky Chadha says real Treasury yields sit far below where actual growth levels suggest they should be. Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, says it’s only a matter of time before inflationary pressures hit the bond market. “The real problem is that when the bond-market bubble collapses, long-term interest rates will rise,” Greenspan said. “We are moving into a different phase of the economy – to a stagflation not seen since the 1970s. That is not good for asset prices.” Stocks, in particular, will suffer with bonds, as surging real interest rates will challenge one of the few remaining valuation cases that looks more gently upon U.S. equity prices, Greenspan argues. While hardly universally accepted, the theory underpinning his view, known as the Fed Model, holds that as long as bonds are rallying faster than stocks, investors are justified in sticking with the less-inflated asset.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program. The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.
Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether. On July 19, the Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s decision: “a move long sought by Russia,” the paper’s headline blared. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly howled in protest, claiming that Trump’s decision was a surrender to Vladimir Putin.
Most of the Donald’s tweets amount to street brawling with his political enemies, but occasionally one of them slices through Imperial Washington’s sanctimonious cant. Indeed, Monday evening’s 140 characters of solid cut right to the bone: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..” Needless to say, we are referencing not the dig at the empire of Bezos, but the characterization of Washington’s anti-Assad policy as “massive, dangerous and wasteful”. No stouter blow to the neocon/Deep State “regime change” folly has ever been issued by an elected public official. Yet there it is – the self-composed words of the man in the Oval Office. It makes you even want to buy some Twitter stock! Predictably, the chief proponent of illegal, covert, cowardly attacks on foreign governments via proxies, mercenaries, drones and special forces, Senator McWar of Arizona, fairly leapt out of his hospital bed to denounce the President’s action: “If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”
That’s just plain pathetic because the issue is the gross stupidity and massive harm that has been done by McCain’s personally inspired and directed war on Assad – not Putin and not Russia’s historic role as an ally of the Syrian regime. Since 2011, Senator McCain has been to the region countless times. There he has made it his business to strut about in the manner of an imperial proconsul – advising, organizing and directing a CIA recruited, trained and supplied army of rebels dedicated to the overthrow of Syria’s constitutionally legitimate government. At length, several billions were spent on training and arms, thereby turning a fleeting popular uprising against the despotic Assad regime during the 2011 “Arab spring” into the most vicious, destructive civil war of modern times, if ever. That is, without the massive outside assistance of Washington, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Syrian uprising would have been snuffed out as fast as it was in Egypt and Bahrain by dictators which had Washington’s approval and arms.
As it has happened, however, Syria’s great historic cities of Aleppo and Damascus have been virtually destroyed – along with its lesser towns and villages and nearly the entirety of its economy. There are 400,000 dead and 11 million internal and external refugees from an original population of hardly 18 million. The human toll of death, displacement, disease and disorder which has been inflicted on this hapless land staggers the imagination. Yet at bottom this crime against humanity – there is no other word for it – is not mainly Assad’s or Putin’s doing. It can be properly described as “McCain’s War” in the manner in which (Congressman) Charlie Wilson’s War in Afghanistan during the 1980’s created the monster which became Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.
The WSJ reports that, in what appears to be the next gambit by the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex (or “deep state” for those so inclined) to force Trump to “prove” that he did not, in fact, collude or have any ties with Russia or Vladimir Putin, Pentagon and State Department officials have devised plans to hit Russia where it hurts the most, and supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry, and are now seeking White House approval at a time when ties between Moscow and Washington are as bad as during any point under the Obama administration. American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government.
The question of course is, “why now?” Since the start of the Crimean conflict, which in turn was the byproduct of a State Department-facilitiated presidential coup in Ukraine, the US has been supporting Russian-speaking insurgents in the country’s east however Washington, wary of escalating the conflict, has largely limited its support for Kiev’s military to so-called non-lethal aid and training. So one attempt at “why now”, is because with Trump reeling, and having already caved on the latest Congressional anti-Russia bill, why not push the president to escalate the Russia conflict to a point where not even his predecessor dared to take it. For now, Trump is unaware of the plan: “A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known.”
There is something eerily fascinating about cold-blooded murderers – a staple of Hollywood thrillers and crime dramas—killing without emotion or remorse. Ordinary humans, afflicted with guilt for minor, not even criminal transgressions, can’t conceive of pulling the trigger and then sitting down for dinner. In real life, the number of people who can is glancingly small. Even for those few, actions have consequences. The blood never washes away. “Live and let live,” is, in American mythology, a benevolent and almost uniquely American attitude. We destroyed Japan and Germany in World War II and then helped rebuild them. Live and let live goes down well with the living, the winners. However, it’s often nothing more than balm for an uneasy conscience, hand sanitizer for bloodstained hands.
A century and a half later, many Southerners lack this “unique” American attitude towards their conquerers in the War of Northern Aggression. The war on terror has laid waste to large swaths of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Cities, towns, and villages have been reduced to smoking, bombed-out rubble, chaos reigns, the carnage is ubiquitous. The US military keeps count of its own personnel wounded and killed, a number in the thousands. Civilian casualties —or collateral damage as the military calls it—across Chaostan (Richard Maybury’s apt coinage) are in the millions, as are the number of people displaced (an estimated 11 million in Syria alone).
Imagine the American fury and media sensationalism if a small US town was carpet-bombed by a foreign power. YouTube’s servers would melt from the overflow of viewers watching videos of parents pulling their dead children from collapsed homes. The war on terror’s refugee flows threaten to upend civic order and submerge the cultures of the countries receiving them. It’s a vicious act of intellectual corruption to maintain that the war on terror does not create terrorists, that those killed, wounded, or displaced have no friends or family who will exact what they consider justified vengeance. The terrorism we see now is lava trickling from a volcano of hatred that has boiled, bubbled, and occasionally erupted for centuries, and will continue to do so. There will be no live and let live. Blood will have blood, not banalities.
The abrupt dismissal of White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci less than two weeks after his appointment may be linked to the outspoken financier’s China dealings. The firing has been widely attributed to Scaramucci’s verbal tirade to a reporter in addition to orders from new chief of staff John F. Kelly. But there’s a third issue that may have played into the decision, Jim Rickards, editor of investment newsletter Strategic Intelligence, told CNBC. The sale of Scaramucci’s hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, to HNA Capital, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, was a red flag for Washington, according to Rickards. The acquisition, which was finalized in January and reportedly values SkyBridge at around $200 million, is currently pending approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – or CFIUS – a government panel that reviews foreign purchases of American companies for national security risks.
Officially chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, CFIUS involves multiple U.S. agencies, including the defense, commerce and state departments. Rickards, who previously worked with intelligence officials on CFIUS regarding foreign acquisitions of U.S. financial services firms, said he believes the Skybridge deal was “a sleeper story waiting to come back to haunt the White House.” HNA’s purchase is likely to get rejected amid concerns of Chinese control over U.S. hedge funds and investment banks — a decision that wouldn’t bode well for President Donald Trump’s administration, he said. “My recommendation would have been for CFIUS to turn the deal down…we had always warned ‘don’t let our adversaries such as China or Russia get plugged into the U.S. financial system’…When I was involved, this deal would have not gone through,” he said.
“In some ways, the White House is probably relieved to get rid of Scaramucci because now, no matter what happens to that deal, that burden won’t be with the White House,” Rickards continued. “Using the [New Yorker] interview was great cover to get rid of Scaramucci before the hedge fund deal and national security review blew up in his face.”
The financial watchdog has announced fresh measures to protect consumers from spiralling debt as official data showed that borrowing through credit cards, overdrafts and car loans has topped £200bn for the first time since the global financial crisis. The Financial Conduct Authority said it was cracking down on the high cost of overdrafts and reviewing the booming car loan market. The regulator’s latest intervention came as credit ratings agency Moody’s also warned about the growing household debt mountain, saying that some borrowers would struggle to repay their debt as the economy weakened and inflation ate into their salaries. Unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and overdrafts, peaked in the autumn of 2008 – just as the banking crisis was taking hold.
It fell in subsequent years, but has been rising again since 2014 and is now in touching distance of the pre-crisis lending boom. Data from the Bank of England on Monday showed that it grew by 10% in the year to June, to almost £201bn. The last time outstanding debt was above £200bn was December 2008. In a paper published on Monday, the FCA said that one in six people with debt on credit cards, personal lending and car loans – 2.2 million – were in financial distress. They are more likely to be younger, have children, be unemployed and less educated than others. As households grapple with rising living costs, charities and policymakers have raised concerns that consumers are increasingly turning to loans amid worrying signs of a return to reckless lending by the banks.
A credit rating agency has warned that soaring levels of household debt could leave Britain’s lower-income families dangerously exposed amid signs of an economic downturn linked to Brexit. Moody’s said the UK’s weak economic climate meant it had to downgrade four of the five consumer finance sectors to negative. The agency’s warning over credit came as the Bank of England revealed that the amount borrowed by UK consumers through credit cards, loans and overdrafts had reached £200bn for the first time since the financial crash of 2008. Inflation, triggered by the low pound, is now rising faster than wage growth and has put growing pressure on households, squeezing budgets and causing credit card spending to increase and savings to fall.
In this context, the Bank of England has expressed concerns over surging levels of unsecured consumer borrowing on credit cards, which is going up by more than 10 per cent a year and outstripping income. Moody’s analyst Greg Davies said: “Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed. “An additional challenge is that households’ capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished.” The credit rating agency has also warned in recent weeks of the potential economic damage if the UK fails to secure an exit trade deal with the EU.
“Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.”
Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence engine after developers discovered that the AI had created its own unique language that humans can’t understand. Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) found that the chatbots had deviated from the script and were communicating in a new language developed without human input. It is as concerning as it is amazing – simultaneously a glimpse of both the awesome and horrifying potential of AI. Artificial Intelligence is not sentient—at least not yet. It may be someday, though – or it may approach something close enough to be dangerous. Ray Kurzweil warned years ago about the technological singularity. The Oxford dictionary defines “the singularity” as, “A hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.”
To be clear, we aren’t really talking about whether or not Alexa is eavesdropping on your conversations, or whether Siri knows too much about your calendar and location data. There is a massive difference between a voice-enabled digital assistant and an artificial intelligence. These digital assistant platforms are just glorified web search and basic voice interaction tools. The level of “intelligence” is minimal compared to a true machine learning artificial intelligence. Siri and Alexa can’t hold a candle to IBM’s Watson. Scientists and tech luminaries, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak have warned that AI could lead to tragic unforeseen consequences. Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned in 2014 that AI could mean the end of the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
Why is this scary? Think SKYNET from Terminator, or WOPR from War Games. Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.
The American polity is not thriving. It has been incrementally failing to meet its needs for quite a while now, playing games with itself to pretend that it is okay while its institutional organs and economic operations decay. It turns this way and that way ever more desperately, over-steering like a drunk on the highway. It is drunk on the untruths it tells itself in the service of playing games to avoid meeting its real needs. Narratives are not truths. Here is a primary question we might ask ourselves: do we want to live in a healthy society? Do we want to thrive? If so, what are the narratives standing in the way of turning us in the direction? Let’s start with health care, so called, since the failure to do anything about the current disastrous system is so fresh. What’s the narrative there?
That “providers” (doctors and hospitals) can team up with banking operations called “insurance companies” to fairly allocate “services” to the broad population with a little help from the government. No, that’s actually not how it works. The three “players” actually engage in a massive racketeering matrix — that is, they extract enormous sums of money dishonestly from the public they pretend to serve and they do it twice: once by extortionary fees and again by taxes paid to subsidize mitigating the effects of the racketeering. The public has its own narrative, which is that there is no connection between their medical problems and the way they live. The fact is that they eat too much poisonous food because it’s tasty and fun, and they do that because the habits-of-life that they have complicitly allowed to ev0lve in this country offers them paltry rewards otherwise.
They dwell in ugly, punishing surroundings, spend too much time and waste too much money driving cars around it in isolation, and have gone along with every effort to dismantle the armatures of common social exchange that afford what might be called a human dimension of everyday living. So, the medical racket ends up being nearly 20 percent of the economy, while the public gets fatter, sicker, and more anxiously depressed. And there is no sign that we want to disrupt the narratives.
Five aid groups that operate migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean have refused to sign up to the Italian government’s code of conduct, the Interior Ministry said, but three others backed the new rules. Charity boats have become increasingly important in rescue operations, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year against less than one percent in 2014, according to the Italian coastguard. Italy, fearing that the groups were facilitating people smuggling from North Africa and encouraging migrants to make the perilous passage to Europe, proposed a code containing around a dozen points for the charities. Those who refused to sign the document had put themselves “outside the organised system of sea rescues, with all the concrete consequences that can have”, the ministry said.
Italy had previously threatened to shut its ports to NGOs that did not sign up, but an source within the Interior Ministry said that in reality those groups would face more checks from Italian authorities. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has taken part in many of the rescues of the 95,000 migrants brought to Italy this year, attended a meeting at the Interior Ministry but refused to sign the code. MSF objected most strongly to a requirement that aid boats must take migrants to a safe port themselves, rather than transferring people to other vessels, which allows smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues. “Our vessels are often overwhelmed by the high number of [migrant] boats … and life and death at sea is a question of minutes,” MSF Italy’s director, Gabriele Eminente, wrote in a letter to the interior minister, Marco Minniti.
“The code of conduct puts at risk this fragile equation of collaboration between different boats,” he continued, adding that MSF still wanted to work with the ministry to improve sea rescues. [..] “For us, the most controversial point … was the commitment to help the Italian police with their investigations and possibly take armed police officers on board,” Jugend Rettet coordinator Titus Molkenbur said. “That is antithetical to the humanitarian principles of neutrality that we adhere to, and we cannot be seen as being part of the conflict.”
The Trump administration has decided to halt the CIA’s covert program to equip and train certain rebel groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two U.S. officials said, a move sought by Assad ally Russia. The U.S. decision, said one of the officials, is part of an effort by the administration to improve relations with Russia, which along with Iranian-supported groups has largely succeeded in preserving Assad’s government in the six-year-civil war. The CIA program began in 2013 as part of efforts by the administration of then-President Barack Obama to overthrow Assad, but produced little success, said the officials, both of whom are familiar with the program and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The decision was made with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo after they consulted with lower ranking officials and before Trump’s July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany. It was not part of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria, the two officials said. One of the officials said the United States was not making a major concession, given Assad’s grip on power, although not on all of Syria, “but it’s a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.” A downside of the CIA program, one of the officials said, is that some armed and trained rebels defected to Islamic State and other radical groups, and some members of the previous administration favored abandoning the program.
Before assuming office in January, Trump suggested he could end support for Free Syrian Army groups and give priority to the fight against Islamic State. A separate effort by the U.S. military effort to train, arm and support other Syrian rebel groups with air strikes and other actions will continue, the officials said.
Oh the irony: EU capitals are trying to attract the very institutions that caused some of the worst financial scandals of the last ten years.
In a sign of growing desperation, the City of London Corporation, the enigmatic city within the city that serves as the ultimate bastion of privilege in the UK, is now trying to appeal to brute populist sentiment to defend its position as the world’s most important financial center. In a memo to the British Treasury, MPs, and financial institutions, the City’s Brexit envoy to the EU, Jeremy Browne, bemoaned that the French are pushing for the most damaging Brexit possible, even if France doesn’t directly benefit. The memo was duly leaked to one of the UK’s most anti-EU newspapers, The Daily Mail: “Browne’s recent meeting at the Banque de France was the worst he had had “anywhere in the EU”. The French, he said, “are crystal clear about their objectives: the weakening of Britain and the ongoing degradation of the City of London” and plotting to “actively disrupt and destroy” the UK’s financial sector when Britain leaves the EU.
France isn’t the only country aggressively trying to poach business from the City of London; so too are Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and even Italy. But France differs from the rest in one key aspect, says Browne: it “sees Britain and the City of London as adversaries, not partners.” The recent election as president of Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque, has merely intensified this dynamic. Paris has promised to unfurl the red carpet for the City of London’s highest paid bankers by offering low tax rates and bank-friendly legislation, including scrapping a proposed financial transaction tax, while also seeking to grow as a clearing center. Clearing is a huge business for the City of London. The U.K. is estimated to handle 75% of all euro-denominated derivatives transactions, equivalent to around €930 billion of trades per day.
It’s also home to roughly 90% of US dollar domestic interest-rate swaps. The world’s largest clearinghouse for interest rate swaps, LCH, is based there and is majority-owned by London Stock Exchange Group Plc. LCH functions as a middle man collecting collateral and standing between derivatives and swaps traders to prevent a default from spiraling out of control. As Bloomberg reports, the role of clearing houses like LCH in global finance has become far more entrenched since the 2008 Financial Crisis and the inexorable expansion of derivatives trading. For years the French government, together with the European Central Bank, has wanted a piece of the action. Ironically, it was the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — the same court whose jurisdiction the UK government is now determined to elude — that, in 2015, stopped that from happening on the grounds that the ECB cannot discriminate against an EU member. But if the UK leaves the EU, and thus the ECJ’s jurisdiction, that ruling will no longer be applicable.
Thanks to a pair of defections from more GOP senators late yesterday, the Republican plan to repeal and replace or simply repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead — for now. But the health care status quo is far from popular, with 57% of Americans telling Gallup pollsters in March that they “personally worry” a “great deal” about health care costs. Many health care activists are now pushing to adopt what is called a “single payer” health care system, where one public health insurance program would cover everyone. The U.S. currently has one federal program like that: Medicare. Expanding it polls very well. One of the activists pushing for such an expansion is Max Fine, someone who is intimately familiar with the program — because he helped create it.
Fine is the last surviving member of President Kennedy’s Medicare Task Force, and he was also President Johnson’s designated debunker against the health insurance industry. Fine, now 91, wrote to The Intercept recently to explain that Medicare was never intended to cover only the elderly population, and that expanding it to everyone was a goal that its architects long campaigned for. “Three years after the enactment of Medicare, in Dec. 1968, a Committee of 100 leading Americans was formed to campaign for single payer National Heath Insurance. The campaign leaders were UAW pres. Walter Reuther, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Nat. Urban League Pres Whitney Young and Mary Lasker, a leader in the formation and funding of NIH,” he wrote.
”The NY Times and other newspapers gave front page play to the announcement of the campaign for ‘Medicare for All’ but the Committee gained even more attention when, shortly before xmas, pres-elect Nixon, emerging from his doctor’s office in San Diego, denounced us as socialists who were trying to create a problem when none existed.” Fine noted that this movement towards single payer has “risen and fallen over the years,” reaching a high point in the early 70s when former Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s bill covering all Americans with government health insurance had 36 co-sponsors. But the Democratic Party decided to go a different direction, turning instead to private insurance to cover Americans.
Fine said he met with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in the early 1990’s, and advised them to incrementally expand Medicare, starting first with children and then lowering the age for the elderly. “They had the money but not the interest in the idea,” he lamented, “instead spending a year developing a complex bill that was DOA on [Capitol] Hill.”
Executives inside Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump’s personal bankers, are expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. A person close to the matter who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity said that Mueller’s team and the bank have already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation. Deutsche’s relationship with Trump and questions about hundreds of millions in loans have dogged the German bank and the White House for months. They have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among some Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have demanded the bank turn over detailed information about the president’s accounts.
The requests for information from Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House financial services committee, have focused on whether any Russian entities may have provided financial guarantees for the loans that were made to the president or his immediate family members. The Guardian reported in February that the bank launched a review of Trump’s account earlier this year in order to gauge whether there were any suspicious connections to Russia and did not discover anything suspicious. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser in the White House; her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a presidential adviser; and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Stadtmauer, are all clients of Deutsche Bank.
US media outlets have reported that Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign will include a close examination of the president’s finances and businesses. While Deutsche Bank did engage in banking transactions with Russian banks as late as 2005, including some loan activity, a person familiar with the matter said the activity was not related to Trump’s accounts or his family.
The much-discussed boom in coal-fired power in south-east Asia is being bankrolled by foreign governments and banks, with the vast majority of projects apparently too risky for the private sector. Environmental analysts at activist group Market Forces examined 22 deals involving 13.1 gigawatts of coal-fired power in Indonesia and found that 91% of the projects had the backing of foreign governments through export credit agencies or development banks. Export credit agencies, which provide subsidised loans to overseas projects to assist export industries in their home countries, were involved in 64% of the deals and provided 45% of the total lending. The majority of the money was coming from Japan and China, with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) involved in five deals and the Export-Import Bank of China (Cexim) involved in seven deals.
All the deals closed between January 2010 and March 2017. The China Development Bank was the biggest development bank lending to the projects, imparting $3bn, with a further $300,000 in development funds coming from Korea’s Korea Development Bank. The lending comes despite the world’s biggest development bank – the World Bank – warning last year that plans to build more coal-fired power plants in Asia would be a “disaster for the planet” and overwhelm the deal forged at Paris to fight climate change. “Right now, several key countries supporting the Paris climate change agreement are actively undermining it by trying to expand the polluting coal-power sector in other countries,” said Julien Vincent, executive director of Market Forces.
The upside down logic of the First American Financial Corporation. They need people to buy and sell, or their business is dead. Your home is a prison if you don’t sell it. But the supply shortage illusion is really gone, guys.
In most markets, the seller, or supplier, makes their decision about adding supply to the market independent of the buyer, or source of demand, and their decision to buy. In the housing market, the seller and the buyer are, in many cases, actually the same economic actor. In order to buy a new home, you have to sell the home you already own. So, in a market with rising prices and strong demand, what’s preventing existing homeowners from putting their homes on the market? The housing market has experienced a long-run decline in mortgage rates from a high of 18% for the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in 1981 to a low of almost 3% in 2012. Today, five years later, mortgage rates remain just a stone’s throw away from that historic low point.
This long-run decline in rates encouraged existing homeowners to both move more often and to refinance more often, in many cases refinancing multiple times between each move. It’s widely expected that mortgage rates will rise further. This is more important than we may even realize because the housing market has not experienced a rising rate environment in almost three decades! No longer is there a financial incentive to refinance for most homeowners, and there’s more to consider when moving. Why move when it will cost more each month to borrow the same amount from the bank? A homeowner can re-extend the mortgage term another 30 years to increase the amount one can borrow at the higher rate, but the mortgage has to be paid off at some point.
Hopefully before or soon after retirement. Existing homeowners are increasingly financially imprisoned in their own home by their historically low mortgage rate. It makes choosing a kitchen renovation seem more appealing than moving.” There is one more possibility caused by the fact that the existing-home owner is both seller and buyer. In today’s market, sellers face a prisoner’s dilemma, a situation in which individuals don’t cooperate with each other, even though it is seemingly in their best interest to do so. Consider two existing homeowners. They both want to buy a new house and move, but are unable to communicate with each other. If they both choose to sell, they both benefit because they increase the inventory of homes available, and collectively alleviate the supply shortage.
However, if one chooses to sell and the other doesn’t, the seller must buy a new home in a market with a shortage of supply, bidding wars and escalating prices. Because of this risk, neither homeowner sells (non-cooperation) and neither get what they wanted in the first place – a move to a new, more desirable home. Imagine this scenario playing out across an entire market. If everyone sells there will be plenty of supply. But, the risk of selling when others don’t convinces everyone not to sell and produces the non-cooperative outcome. Rising mortgage rates and the fear of not being able to find something affordable to buy is imprisoning homeowners and causing the inventory shortages that are seen in practically every market across the country. So, what gives in a market short of supply relative to demand? Prices. According to the First American Real House Price Index, the fast pace of house price growth, combined with rising rates, has had a material impact on affordability.
The four Arab nations leading a boycott of Qatar are no longer insisting it comply with a list of 13 specific demands they tabled last month. Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt told reporters at the UN they now wanted it to accept six broad principles. These include commitments to combat terrorism and extremism and to end acts of provocation and incitement. There was no immediate comment from Qatar, which denies aiding terrorists. It has refused to agree to any measures that threaten its sovereignty or violate international law, and denounced the “siege” imposed by its neighbours. The restrictions put in place six weeks ago have forced the gas-rich emirate to import food by sea and air to meet the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.
At a briefing for a group of UN correspondents in New York on Tuesday, diplomats from the four countries said they wanted to resolve the crisis amicably. Saudi permanent representative Abdullah al-Mouallimi said their foreign ministers had agreed the six principles at a meeting in Cairo on 5 July and that they “should be easy for the Qataris to accept”. This latest development does, on the surface, hint at a possible way out of the current standoff between Qatar and its neighbours. But it is unlikely to provide a permanent solution. The problem comes down to how countries choose to interpret “extremism and terrorism”. Qatar has long prided itself on giving voice to alternative views to the edited, government-approved ones aired by its conservative neighbours. Hence one of the reasons why Qatar’s Al Jazeera network has been such a thorn in their sides. However, the charge levelled against Qatar is that those alternative voices include people committed to the overthrow of governments in the region.
A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards. Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. “I thought they were talking about an escalator,” Astl told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, says the stairs have already been a big help to people who routinely take that route through the park. “I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.” Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year. “To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” Astl said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.” City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. However, Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.
Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city estimate sounds “completely out of whack with reality” on Wednesday. However, he says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. “I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” he said on Wednesday. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”
Since the days of the wild west frontier, the popular image of American farming has been of cowboys rounding up steers on wide open ranches, to whoops, whips and hollers. Today, the cowboys on their ranches under wide open skies have been replaced by vast sheds, hulking over the plains, housing tens of thousands of animals each, with the noises and smells spreading far beyond their fences. The US has led the world in large-scale farming, pioneering the use of intensive livestock rearing in hog farms, cattle sheds and sheep pens. There are now more than 50,000 facilities in the US classified as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), with another quarter of a million industrial-scale facilities below that threshold. Around the world, developing countries in particular were quick to catch up.
Intensive farming of livestock offers many advantages over traditional open ranges, not least economies of cost and scale, more efficient healthcare for the herds and flocks, and ultimately cheaper food. According to the UN, globally CAFOs account for 72% of poultry, 42% of egg, and 55% of pork production. In 2000, there were an estimated 15 billion livestock in the world, according to the Worldwatch Institute. By last year, that had risen to about 24 billion, with the majority of eggs, chicken meat and pork produced on intensive farms. Ranching was never an option in the UK, but most people still expect farms to consist of green fields rather than vast industrial-scale sheds. The reality is an increasing number of livestock are “zero graze”, spending all or almost all of their time indoors in large warehouse-type facilities.
[..] at least 789 megafarms, meeting the US definition of CAFOs, now operate around the UK, with every region of the country hosting several such operations, many of them owned by foreign multinationals. These are the biggest in a wave of intensive farms that has increased by more than a quarter in six years. [..] Emma Slawinski, director of campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said the problems of mega farms around the world included over-medication, where animals are given antibiotics whether they are needed or not. “Factory-farmed animals are regularly given antibiotics in their feed or water, because of the higher risk of disease when large numbers of animals are kept in these overcrowded conditions. There is strong evidence that this overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming is contributing to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.
Australia was colonised about 20,000 years before humans first arrived in Europe, according to new research. The discovery of the world’s oldest stone axes with ground edges, ochre used to make “spectacular rock art” and other artefacts in northern Australia pushes back the earliest known presence of humans to 65,000 years ago. Despite the relative closeness of Europe to Africa, where modern humans first evolved about 200,000 to 3000,000 years ago, the first concrete signs of Europeans are about 45,000 years old. In addition to their sophisticated axes, the people who first arrived on Australia’s shores may also have been armed with spears. The objects were found at Madjedbebe within the traditional lands of the Mirarr clan, an area of land that was excluded from the surrounding Kakadu National Park after a lease to mine uranium in the area was granted in 1982.
Representatives of the Mirarr said the research showed the “universal importance” of the area and called for it to receive the “highest level of conservation and protection”. Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers said: “The settlement of Madjedbebe around 65,000 years ago … sets a new minimum age for the human colonisation of Australia and the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across south Asia. “The final stages of this journey took place at a time of lower sea level, when northern Australia was cooler and wetter. “Our chronology … extends the period of overlap of modern humans and Homo floresiensis [the hominin species better known as hobbits] in eastern Indonesia to at least 15,000 years and, potentially, with other archaic hominins – such as Homo erectus – in southeast Asia and Australasia.”
In addition to changing the story of our species’ expansion across the globe, the new much older date challenges theories that Australia’s astonishing megafauna – a two-tonne wombat, giant kangaroos that were so big they couldn’t hop and a two-metre-tall bird – were quickly wiped out by humans. “Our chronology places people in Australia more than 20,000 years before continent-wide extinction of the megafauna,” the Nature paper said.
Unaccompanied child refugees are being wrongly identified as adults by Greek authorities and denied vital care in squalid camps, a new report has found. Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed children as young as 15, who said they had been denied special protections required under international law. The group found Greece’s legal age assessment procedure was not being “followed in practice” on the island of Lesbos, which has been at the epicentre of the Aegean refugee crisis. [..] Under Greek law, the government is supposed to appoint a guardian for each child to represent them in legal proceedings, hear their views and act in their best interests, separating minors into designated areas of “hotspot” processing centres.
The Greek Reception and Identification Service (RIS) is responsible for identifying unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups, with support from the UN, Frontex border agency and EU, and referring them to social services and information. But HRW said the authority was “failing to meet its responsibilities” and sometimes “arbitrarily” recording ages above those given, sometimes using controversial dental examinations without any other evidence. Those classified as adults are left to fend for themselves at heightened risk of exploitation, trafficking and other abuse, including prostitution, aid workers have warned. “They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education,” HRW said.
[..] When there is no space in safe shelters for unaccompanied children, authorities frequently detain them in police stations, immigration detention facilities and asylum processing centres, with 1,149 unaccompanied minors currently awaiting places. The uncertainty and distress provoked by the process is worsening an ongoing mental health crisis in Greek camps, aid workers said, having already warned of increasing rates of suicide and self-harm. [..] Greek officials told HRW that a thorough procedure is followed to establish the ages of asylum claimants [..] The group called on authorities in Greece to bring age assessments in line with international best practice, so proper accommodation, care, education, counselling and legal aid can be given to those who need it.
Home Office ministers have tried to deflect cross-party anger as it emerged that not a single extra lone child refugee has been brought to Britain from Europe under the “Dubs amendment” this year. The immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, met accusations that the government was “dragging its feet” by disclosing he will visit Italy and Greece next week to follow up the invitation to refer eligible children to be brought to Britain. But during an urgent Commons question raised by the outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, he faced cross-party criticism that it was taking too long to process eligible refugee children in Europe to bring them to Britain. Home Office ministers have confirmed in written answers that only 200 children were transferred under Dubs in 2016 after the closure of the Calais camp and 280 local authority places remain to be filled.
The Dubs amendment, known as section 67, was passed in April 2016 amid a campaign to bring 3,000 lone refugee children stuck in camps in Europe to Britain. Ministers initially estimated local authority capacity at 350 but extended it to 480 in April after saying there had been “an administrative error” in the initial figure. Lily Caprani, of Unicef UK, said: “It’s unacceptable that we have seen no children brought under the Dubs scheme this year. As a nation we showed our compassion and our principles when we helped refugee children stranded in Calais, but we were told this was not the end of the story. We are seeing too many children still having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety.”
In the Commons, Farron said it was hard to see the government’s response as anything more than lip service and demanded to know when the “measly commitment” of 480 would be met. “I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere – something neither the home secretary nor the prime minister have done. I have met these children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives paused as ministers have chosen to ignore them,” said the Lib Dem leader. “Has the UK government even signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to get these transfers under way? I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under Dubs over a year ago. They are still stuck in Greece.”
More than 9 billion tons of plastic have been made since the 1950s, and the vast majority of it has been thrown in the trash, says a new study. The paper says it is the first attempt to measure the total amount of plastic produced since the beginning of mass plastic production in the middle of the 20th century. A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, say that although plastic materials such as Bakelite were in use in the early 20th century, the material’s popularity began to rapidly rise after World War II, making it one of the most commonly used man-made materials. For example, the researchers estimated that the amount of plastic in use now is 30% of all the plastic ever produced.
While that has brought its benefits, such as lower-cost materials or capabilities like water resistance, our love of plastic has also produced a lot of trash. About 7 billion tons of it, by their estimate. And as of 2015, only 9% of the plastic waste produced ended up recycled, and another 12% was incinerated, the researchers found in their report. The remaining 79% has built up in landfills or ended up elsewhere in the environment. The team published their results in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. To make their estimates, the researchers cobbled together datasets on global plastic production, such as global annual pure polymer (resin) production data from 1950 to 2015, published by the Plastics Europe Market Research Group, and global annual plastic fiber production data from 1970 to 2015 published by The Fiber Year and Tecnon OrbiChem.
Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there’s enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash, according to a new cradle-to-grave global study. Plastics don’t break down like other man-made materials, so three-quarters of the stuff ends up as waste in landfills, littered on land and floating in oceans, lakes and rivers, according to the research reported in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances . “At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet,” said study lead author Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It is something we need to pay attention to.” The plastics boom started after World War II, and now plastics are everywhere. They are used in packaging like plastic bottles and consumer goods like cellphones and refrigerators.
They are in pipes and other construction material. They are in cars and clothing, usually as polyester. Study co-author Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia said the world first needs to know how much plastic waste there is worldwide before it can tackle the problem. They calculated that of the 9.1 billion tons made, nearly 7 billion tons are no longer used. Only 9% got recycled and another 12% was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land and in water. Using the plastics industry own data, Geyer, Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law found that the amount of plastics made and thrown out is accelerating. In 2015, the world created 448 million tons of plastic — more than twice as much as made in 1998.
Crazy. In America it is still considered OK to kill people for profit. Has been for ages.
But look at what’s not even being said: talking about Saudi Arabia without mentioning its support for Salafi religion and terrorism paints only part of the picture. To make a buck, and to create more chaos, the US supports the very terrorists it claims to be fighting.
President Trump’s newly announced arms agreement with Saudi Arabia ratifies an Obama administration policy that has drawn criticism from a voluble, bipartisan minority of senators. Saudi Arabia, armed with American weapons, fought a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, where the government was overthrown by a rebel group tied to the Iranians. Allegations that Saudi Arabia has bombed civilians and committed other human rights abuses compromised what would otherwise tend to be unanimous U.S. support for the conflict. A $1.15 billion arms deal last year turned controversial, but that pact is dwarfed by the $110 billion pact signed Saturday. “[M]any of the armaments we’re providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it’s important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters following meetings in Riyadh.
But Saudi Arabia has attacked civilians intentionally, according to Senate critics of such agreements, rather than by mistakes borne of imprecise airstrike technology. “[T]he country is on the brink of famine in part because the Saudis have intentionally destroyed transit hubs and key bridges, and blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a piece published by the Huffington Post. “By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.”
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wanted Tillerson to make a series of demands on the Saudis designed to ease civilian suffering in Yemen, such as ending delays on humanitarian aid at a port city held by the rebels. “First, renounce any intention to conduct a military operation against the Port of Hudaydah,” Young, a former Marine who sits with Murphy on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week during a colloquy on the Senate floor with the Connecticut Democrat. “Second, redouble efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. Third, end any delays to the delivery of humanitarian aid caused by the Saudi-led coalition. And, fourth, permit the delivery of much-needed U.S.-funded cranes to the Port of Hudaydah that would permit the quicker delivery of food and medicine. I said it before, with more than 10 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance there is no time to waste.”
There was some good news and some not so good news in the Fed’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. First the good news. The report, based on the Board’s fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking conducted in October 2016, presents a “picture of improving financial well-being among Americans”, at least according to the report (read on to see if this is merited). Overall, 70% of the more than 6,600 respondents said they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” up 1% from 2015 and up 8% from the first survey results in 2013. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage, or 92%, of those who responded they were “living comfortably” was among the group with more than $100,000 in family income.
For Americans making less than $40,000 the breakdown was almost evenly split with 49% saying they are “just getting by.” According to the same study, 28% of respondents said that their income in the last 12 months was less than $25,000, and 40% report that their income was less than the key $40,000 cutoff, which suggests that roughly 4 in 10 Americans are “finding it difficult to get by.” The improvements in well-being as reported by the survey respondents were concentrated among high-income adults, with at least some college education, and prompted the WSJ to write that “U.S Household financial health improved in recent years.” Even so, most of the changes reported in the survey were relatively modest, “reflecting a slowly improving economy and an unemployment level at or below 5% throughout 2016.”
Now, the not so good news. Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. Troubling as this statistic remains, the overall share of adults who would struggle to come up with $400 in a pinch has declined by 2% from the last survey conducted in 2015, and down 6% since 2013. Of the group that could not pay in cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay off the expense over time. while a quarter would borrow from friends of family, and another 27% just couldn’t pay the expense. Others would turn to selling items or using a payday loan.
The breakdown was largely by education attainment: 79% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree said they would still be able to pay all of their other bills in full if hit with a $400 charge. Just 52% of those with no more than a high school diploma said the same. Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.
The U.K. will quit Brexit talks unless the EU drops its demands of a divorce payment of €100 billion ($112 billion), Brexit Secretary David Davis said. Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU would otherwise be plunged into “chaos,” and even a £1 billion settlement would be “a lot of money,” Davis said in an interview published in the Sunday Times. The size of Britain’s exit bill, and which types of negotiations can begin before it has been agreed, has been a source of debate for weeks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the U.K. will have to pay about £50 billion, while Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has signaled a figure between €40 billion and €60 billion. The Financial Times estimated the cost could balloon to €100 billion, while a study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales put the cost at as little as £5 billion ($6.5 billion).
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has said it will meet its commitments to the EU, but has questioned how the EU’s preliminary estimates have been reached. “We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away,” Davis said. “Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it.” In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, May said that “money paid in the past” by the U.K. into joint EU projects and the European Investment Bank ought to be taken account in the final divorce bill. “There is much debate about what the U.K.’s obligations might be or indeed what our rights might be,” she said. “We make it clear that we would look at those both rights and obligations.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of boosting her parliamentary majority suffered a blow on Saturday, as Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party edged closer in the polls and Conservatives faced a backlash over proposed changes to social care. Labour cut the Tories’ lead in the latest Opinium Research survey to 13 points from 15 points a week earlier, and a new YouGov survey in the Sunday Times put Corbyn’s party nine points behind. The last time Labour managed a single-digit deficit in the YouGov series was in September. The tightening polls mark a setback for May as she seeks to strengthen her position ahead of upcoming Brexit negotiations. In another blow, 47% of respondents in a Survation poll said they opposed May’s plan to require people to tap into assets above £100,000 ($130,000), excluding the value of their homes, to pay for the costs of their old-age care.
Attacking May’s social care pledge and manifesto promises to pensioners, a demographic that traditionally votes Conservative, Corbyn labeled the Tories a “nasty” party in a speech in Birmingham on Saturday. He reiterated the accusation in an emailed statement and set out five pledges for how his party would help older voters. “Theresa May and the Conservatives won’t stand up for pensioners,” Corbyn said in the statement. “Their only concern is their billionaire friends.” Labour’s pledges to older voters include preserving a so-called triple lock on pension payments for five years, under which the government guarantees pensions will rise annually by whichever is greatest: the rate of inflation, the rise in earnings, or 2.5%. The Tories say they’ll drop the 2.5% provision starting in 2020.
Corbyn’s party also says it will guarantee winter fuel subsidies for all pensioners, and will not raise the state pension age beyond 66. The Conservative manifesto, unveiled by May on Thursday, would scrap the fuel payments for well-off pensioners, and said the state pension age should reflect increases in life expectancy. In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, May warned that a lot is “at stake” in the election and said the U.K. has “great challenges,” including the need to provide “security for older people while being fair to the young”. “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election, and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of Europe,” May wrote. Labour’s leader would “bring chaos to Britain,” she said.
About 900,000 children from struggling families will lose their right to free school lunches under a cut unveiled in the Conservative manifesto. The total includes more than 600,000 young children recently defined as coming from “ordinary working families”, according to analysis for the Observer by the Education Policy Institute. It means that the surprise measure risks undermining Theresa May’s pledge to prioritise families that are “just about managing” – those who are in work, but struggling to make ends meet. May opted to end universal free school lunches for infants, introduced under the coalition government, and replace them with free breakfasts. The money saved will be used to see off a looming Tory rebellion over school funding.
The move risks punishing exactly the kind of families the prime minister has promised to help and will cost families about £440 for every child hit by the cut. It is likely to save about £650m a year. However, the Conservatives pointed to recent evidence that free breakfasts were more cost-effective, adding that the poorest children would still receive a free lunch. After a week in which the parties released their election manifestos, more Tory candidates expressed private reservations about their party’s plan to make people pay for their old-age home care through their estates.
With the large Tory poll lead closing slightly in recent days, some nervous candidates are urging the leadership to make another attempt to explain the policy to voters, while others are planning to lobby for concessions after the election. May has insisted it is a fair measure that ensures only those with estates worth more than £100,000 will pay. Jeremy Corbyn attempted to exploit the row by accusing the Tories of provoking a “war between generations”. He accused May of drawing up an “anti-pensioner package” that weakened protections for the state pension, removed the winter fuel allowance from many and forced thousands to pay huge amounts for home care. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said May’s social care policy would “go down as her poll tax”.
“Interestingly, this policy puts the Tories in direct conflict with Prince William, who has been a vocal supporter of a total ban on ivory sales. Will we see the Duke of Cambridge campaigning for Labour – which has pledged to introduce the total ban the Prince has been lobbying for?”
After heavy lobbying from wealthy antiques dealers, Theresa May has sneakily dropped the proposed outright ban on elephant ivory sales from the Tories’ 2017 manifesto. Following bans in both the US and China, David Cameron had pledged in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to put a complete ban on all ivory trading. However, after huge pressure from rich and powerful antiques dealers, Theresa May has conveniently decided to completely scrap the plans altogether. The Tories did not decide to implement the ban during the two years after it was announced by David Cameron, and even their staunch supporters in the British press were writing negative pieces about the Tories reticence in pushing through the much-needed legislation.
A quote from a Daily Mail article written in March entitled “Tories’ shame over blood ivory”, said: “A much more likely reason (for the Tories dropping the ivory ban) is that they are being swayed by the powerful antiques industry, which fears it will lose millions of pounds if antique ivory sales are stopped, and whose figurehead happens to be Victoria Borwick, Conservative MP for Kensington, and president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association.” The most powerful UK antique traders association is The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, and their President, Lady Victoria Borwick (also the Conservative MP for Kensington) can be seen shaking hands with Theresa May in the image above.
The only mention of the subject in the Conservative Party’s latest 2017 manifesto is a general pledge to work with international organisations to protect endangered species and the marine environment. Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto has specifically pledged to introduce a “total ban on ivory trading”. An elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes on average, and their numbers have fallen by almost a third in Africa since 2007. So as well as being in favour of bringing back fox hunting, Theresa May also couldn’t really care about elephants being killed either. Are you seriously going to vote for a woman who bows to lobbyists over a practice as disgusting as elephant poaching?
Clearly disappointed to have been left out of the headline heroics from Friday night (courtesy of The Washington Post and The New York Times), CNN has decided that anon-sourced perspectives on officials’ feelings now warrants reportage. The latest in the sad sage of mainstream media’s downward spiral, as The Hill reports, is that former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify that he believes President Trump was deliberately trying to meddle in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a report late Friday. Despite swearing under oath that he “had never” been influenced during an investigation, and further that if he had he would have reported it immediately… CNN now reports that, according to a source, Comey has come to believe the president intended to influence him…
Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question. “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day, the panel’s leaders announced Friday. The central question at that blockbuster hearing will be whether Comey believed the President was trying to interfere with his investigation.
Sources say Comey had reached no conclusion about the President’s intent before he was fired. But Comey did immediately recognize that the new President was not following normal protocols during their interactions. So to clarify, a disgruntled fired employee, who previously said no effort to influence was undertaken, has now changed his mind, according to sources, and thinks his former boss was trying to influence him (according to sources).
We entered the monument to the siege of Leningrad from the back. There is a large semi-circle with eternal flame torches at intervals and embedded sculptures of Lenin’s face, and other symbols of the Soviet era. The monument was built in the post-war period so the Soviet iconography is understandable. In the middle is a sculpture of a soldier, a half-naked woman looking forlorn into the distance, and another woman collapsed on the ground with a dead boy in her arms. There are several concentric steps that follow the semi-circle and I sat down on one of them and took in the feel of the area. Classical style music played in the background with a woman’s haunting voice singing in Russian. It was explained to me that it was a semi-circle instead of a full-circle to represent the fact the city was not completely surrounded and ultimately not defeated.
I finally got up and went through the opening in the semi-circle and came out to the front where a tall column with 1941 and 1945 on it stood with a large statue of two soldiers in front of it. There are several statues on either side of the front part of the monument of figures, from soldiers to civilians, who labored to assist in alleviating the suffering of the siege and defending the city. Soldiers and civilians helped to put out fires, retrieve un-exploded ordnance from buildings, repair damage, and built the road of life over a frozen body of water to evacuate civilians and transport supplies. The siege lasted 872 days (Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944), resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths, mostly from starvation and freezing, and some from bombing and illness.
Most were buried in mass graves, the largest of which was Piskarevskoye Cemetery, which received around 500,000 bodies. An accurate accounting of deaths is complicated by the fact that many unregistered refugees had fled to Leningrad before the siege to escape the advancing Nazi army. According to Wikipedia, by the end of the siege: “Only 700,000 people were left alive of a 3.5 million pre-war population. Among them were soldiers, workers, surviving children and women. Of the 700,000 survivors, about 300,000 were soldiers who came from other parts of the country to help in the besieged city.”
sculpture commemorating the defense of Leningrad during World War II. (courtesy of saint-petersburg.com.)
I told Mike that I didn’t think the average American could even begin to fathom this level of suffering. With the exception of a very small percentage of the population sent to fight our myriad and senseless conflicts, war is something that happens to other people somewhere else. It’s an abstraction – or worse yet, fodder for entertainment. [..] it all made me ponder how spoiled Americans have been in this respect, with a vast ocean on either side and weak or friendly neighbors to the north and south. We have not experienced a war on our soil since the 1860’s and have not suffered an invasion since 1812. I can’t help but think that this, along with our youth, goes a long way toward explaining our lack of perspective and humility as a nation. Only those without wisdom would characterize themselves as “exceptional” and “indispensable.”
You know what they say about biting the hand that feeds. The NYT just dropped its latest deep-state scoop, and boy is it a doozy. But instead of using the information as more leverage to attack President Trump, the leaks reveal allegedly extreme incompetence at the highest levels of the CIA, what NYT’s “current and former government sources” characterized as the worst intelligence breach in decades. These officials revealed that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.”
The sheer number of U.S. assets lost rivaled those lost to the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen during the 1980s and 1990s, the NYT noted. The timing of the scoop is also curious: Instead of dropping it during the market day, standard practice for anti-Trump revelations from WaPo, NYT and CNN, this story appeared at noon on a Saturday, when global markets were shuttered – almost guaranteeing it won’t dominate the cable-news cycle, which will likely be laser-focused on Trump’s first trip abroad. One possible reason: the head of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 was Mike Morell, an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, who in August of 2016 penned “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”
That is explainable: after all Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time when, as we now learn, China was killing CIA spies. Beginning in 2010, CIA operatives meant to collect information on the innerworkings of the Communist Party started disappearing. The NYT reports that between the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources. According to three sources, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building – a grisly killing meant to send a message to any others who might have been working for U.S. intelligence. Still others were imprisoned. All told, the Communist Party killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the CIA’s sources.
Prominent jurist and head of Julian Assange’s legal team Baltasar Garzon told RT that the US has been secretly conducting an investigation into his client and WikiLeaks, arguing that those implicated in crimes should face legal action instead. Garzon, a renowned human rights judge who sat on Spain’s central criminal court and once indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said in an interview to RT Spanish that while Sweden dropping charges against the WikiLeaks co-founder is a welcome step, the main threat to his freedom comes from Washington. “He [Assange] is satisfied, but, in his own words, the war only begins now. We understood that Sweden was merely a tool in the fight against the freedom of speech. This [role] is the main occupation of the US,” Garzon said.
Assange’s legal team has been preparing to use all means available to gain the upper hand in a possible legal battle, including UN resolutions and international law “in the hopes that this country, despite all its power, admits that neither Julian Assange, nor WikiLeaks, nor freedom of speech advocates are to blame for its woes,” Garzon said. Those who should be held accountable are not whistleblowers and their sources, he argued, but those “ham-fisted leaders who neglected their responsibility to protect freedom and security in the society.” The ones who should be “investigated and persecuted” are “those who were exposed by WikiLeaks,” he said.
Not much is known about the clandestine proceedings allegedly underway in Virginia, Garzon said, noting that all the scant data they managed to obtain was received through information leaks and that they continue to be in the dark about the status of the proceedings. “Since 2010, the US has been carrying out a secret investigation against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for revealing secret materials, for the fight for the freedom of speech and information,” Garzon said, adding that as far as he is aware, no charges have been brought against his client at this point.
As for the UK police warning that Assange would be arrested for failing to surrender to the British courts back in June 2012, Garzon believes it only serves as a pretext to limit his freedom of movement, barring him from leaving the embassy. “I believe that it is against the law, because he did not breach any pre-trial restrictions. He was on the embassy’s territory, because he was granted political asylum. He obtained refugee status. That is to say, this situation goes against the law,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the British police failed to inform Assange that this sort of proceedings had been opened against him during his five-year stay in the embassy.
Forget all the claims and protestations about “families of nations” and a “new Europe” and “the European project.” The European Union, and especially the eurozone, is a German empire. The new capital of Europe is not Brussels — let alone Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament — but Berlin. The ultimate power of the EU is not the president of the European Commission, but the chancellor of Germany. That’s the takeaway from “Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment,” the sensational memoir by the ill-fated, but colorful, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. His account of his role in the Greek debt crisis of early 2015 is the talk of the town in London, where it has just been published. And it has been tossed into the middle of the Brexit war of words with the EU, and the British election, like a grenade.
Varoufakis gives a detailed and candid account of the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes as he tried, and failed, to prevent the Greek debt crisis from bringing the country to its knees. He doesn’t spare himself, and he comes across — to his own admission — as politically naive and diplomatically inept. It’s a staggering tale of endemic lying in Brussels and corruption in Athens. But what is most fascinating is how, in the end, all roads lead to Berlin. When a roadblock is thrown up to a Greek debt deal, even in a meeting in Brussels or London or elsewhere, it almost always turns out to be the work of Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s hard-line finance minister.
[..] Most astonishingly, and outrageously, Varoufakis reveals that Berlin actually went behind the scenes to scupper a rescue deal struck between Athens and Beijing. The Germans didn’t want to let the Greeks off the hook. It was late March 2015. Greece was on the rack. It had just days left before literally running out of money and shutting the banks. And then, miraculously, Beijing stepped in with the offer of help. The Chinese wanted to get their exports to the heart of Europe faster. So they were offering to make major investments in the Athenian Port of Piraeus, and in Greek railways, as part of a “new Silk Road,” or commercial route. And along with the deal, they were willing to buy short-term Greek paper to keep the country afloat.
The Chinese were awash with surplus euros and dollars that needed a home, and Greece’s entire budget shortfall was chicken feed to them anyway. But days after agreeing to the deal, they suddenly, and mysteriously, pulled back. Varoufakis was shocked when they virtually sat out two auctions of short-term Greek government debt. He then discovered that the Chinese ambassador was also surprised, and this was a decision taken secretly at the highest levels in Beijing. Varoufakis recalls: “I told Alexis [Tsipras, the prime minister] what had happened and suggested strongly that he contact the Chinese prime minister. “The next day Alexis relayed the news from Beijing. Someone had apparently called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: Stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.”
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has reduced the number of asylum-seeker family members allowed into the country from Greece to 70 a month, German news group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland reported on Friday. The group of local papers said the information was provided by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government following a request from the Left Party. In its response, the Interior Ministry said the decrease in numbers had to do with “limited support and accommodation capacities,” as well as the “considerable logistical coordination effort by state and federal authorities.” Left lawmaker Ulla Jelpke described the explanation as a “miserable excuse,” and accused the government of shirking its responsibilities under the EU’s Dublin regulation.
The law stipulates that separated refugee and asylum-seeking families are entitled to a legal reunion once an immediate relative arrives in a country covered by the Dublin rule. “The federal government is trampling all over EU law and child welfare,” Jelpke said, adding that the cap should be removed because there was a need for as many as 400 refugee family members per month to be reunited with their loved ones in Germany. The EU took in some 1.6 million refugees and migrants – most of them from Syria – between 2014 and 2016. The majority arrived in Germany via frontline states like Italy and Greece. But the scale of the influx prompted many countries to introduce extra controls and to close their borders, blocking the so-called Balkan route and leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in Greece’s refugee camps.
According to information published by Greek newspaper “Efimerida ton Synakton”, around 2,000 refugees are waiting in Greece to be reunited with their families in Germany. It reported that Germany received only 70 Dublin transfers from Greece in April under the new cap, compared to 540 in March and 370 in February.
“At the present time, Germany will not accept any Greek debt reduction,” said a spokesperson for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking to Bild. The German official also told the German newspaper that Berlin will not accept extending the debt repayment period, neither will accept that the European Stability Mechanism acquires the International Monetary Fund loans to Greece. The representative of Schaeuble said that on Monday the euro zone finance ministers would examine in detail what the Greek government has voted. “We welcome the ratification of the measures, it is an important step. At the Eurogroup on Monday we will look in every detail of what the Greek government has voted on. The goal is to close the second evaluation, but we can not prejudge the outcome of a comprehensive agreement,=” the German official said.
Greece’s central government debt went up in 2017, from €326,258 billion in December to €326,528 billion in March, according to data released on Friday by the Public Debt Management Agency. The Greek government cash reserves stood at €2,908 billion at the end of March, compared with 2,791 billion at the end of December. Two thirds (67.6%) of the total debt has a variable interest rate. The Greek government wants to “lock” that at a fixed interest rate, in view of the new debt settlement. In this case, it will be protected in the long run from the risk of rising interest rates, but in the short term there will be a burden in relation to the very low variable rate of 1% of the bailout loans. Of the total soverign debt, €56.6 billion is in state bonds and 14.9 billion in short-term securities.
To these, must be added another €13.6 billion from public authorities’ repos. Repos increased by €2.3 billion in three months, a trend that shows that the Greek government is pumping from every source of liquidity in the public sector, but with a rather costly interest rate. A total €254.9 billion are loans, mainly from the European Stability Mechanism, received under the country’s economic rescue plans. The average duration of the Greek debt is 18.19 years, but the government seeks to restructure the debt and extend maturities. In 2017, payments for loans and bonds amount to about €8.5-9 billion. According to the medium term debt repayment plan, in 2017 and 2018 the public debt should be reduced to €319-320 billion.
U.S. President Donald Trump ignited a political firestorm on Tuesday by firing FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the election outcome. The Republican president said he fired Comey, the top U.S. law enforcement official, over his handling of an election-year email scandal involving then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The move stunned Washington and raised suspicions among Democrats and others that the White House was trying to blunt the FBI probe involving Russia. Some Democrats compared Trump’s move to the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
White House officials denied allegations that there was any political motive in the move by Trump, who took office on Jan. 20. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he spoke to Trump and told him he was “making a very big mistake” in firing Comey, adding the president did not “really answer” in response. An independent investigation into Moscow’s role in the election “is now the only way to go to restore the American people’s faith,” Schumer said. Though many Democrats have criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email probe, they said they were troubled by the timing of Trump’s firing of him.
[..] Pushing back against critics of the move, White House officials said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a career prosecutor who took office on April 25, assessed the situation at the FBI and concluded that Comey had lost his confidence. Rosenstein sent his recommendation to Sessions, who concurred and they forwarded their recommendation to Trump, who accepted it on Tuesday, they said. The White House released a memo in which Rosenstein wrote: “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
Not to defend retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for his suspect judgment, but it should be noted that his case represents a disturbing example of how electronic surveillance and politicized law enforcement can destroy an American citizen’s life in today’s New McCarthyism. The testimony on Monday by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offered no evidence of Flynn’s wrongdoing – those facts were deemed “classified” – yet the pair thoroughly destroyed Flynn’s reputation, portraying him as both a liar and a potential traitor. That Senate Democrats, in particular, saw nothing troubling about this smearing of the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, briefly, President Trump’s national security adviser was itself troubling. Republicans were a bit more skeptical but no one, it seemed, wanted to be labeled as soft on Russia.
So, there was no skepticism toward Yates’s curious assertion that Flynn’s supposed lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the details of a phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak somehow opened Flynn to Russian blackmail – her core explanation for why she rushed to Trump’s White House with warnings of this allegedly grave danger. Yates also talked ominously about “underlying” information that raised further questions about Flynn’s patriotism, but that evidence, too, couldn’t be shared with the American people; it was classified, leaving it to your imagination the depth of Flynn’s perfidy. Despite the thinness of Yates’s charges – and the echoes of Sen. Joe McCarthy with his secret lists of communists that he wouldn’t release – the mainstream U.S. news media has bestowed on Yates a hero status without any concern that she might be exaggerating the highly unlikely possibility that the Russians would have blackmailed Flynn.
Her supposition was that since Vice President Mike Pence’s account of the Kislyak-Flynn conversation deviated somewhat from the details of what was actually said, the Russians would seize on the discrepancy to coerce Flynn to do their bidding. But that really makes no sense, in part, because even if the Russians did pick up the discrepancy, they would assume correctly that U.S. intelligence had its own transcript of the conversation, so there would be no basis for blackmail. Yates’s supposed alarm might make for a good spy novel but it has little or no basis in the real world. But it is hard for Americans to assess her claims because all the key facts are classified.
In Donald Trump’s eyes, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was actually the head of an alliance that history had made superfluous. The new American president made clear during his election campaign that he considered NATO to be a Cold War relic – cumbersome, expensive and useless. But when Stoltenberg appeared at a joint press conference during a visit to the new U.S. leader in the White House, nary a word indicated any resentment over NATO. “I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete,” Trump said in a spectacular turnaround. So what happened? Stoltenberg chuckles at the question before fastening his seat belt. The Belgian air force passenger jet taxis onto the runway at the airport in Rome as it prepares to take off for Brussels. “We learn something new every day,” he says.
“Donald Trump and I discussed how NATO must further develop because the world has changed.” Above all, change means that the Europeans will have to increase their defense spending in the future – both Republican Trump and Social Democrat Stoltenberg are in agreement on the issue. In recent weeks, an alliance has formed between the two, very different men. The blustering U.S. president, who has little foreign policy experience, and the measured secretary-general from Norway are now pulling together, with both desiring more money for the alliance. Stoltenberg, 58, is now paying visits to European capitals in order to drum up the necessary funds. In two weeks, Trump plans to travel to Europe for the first time as U.S. president, and it is no coincidence that one of his first stops on May 25 will be to the massive new NATO headquarters in Brussels.
In addition to his demand for more money from other alliance members, Trump is also hoping NATO will take on a greater role in the fight against Islamic State (IS). He would like to see NATO join the U.S.-led coalition against the terrorist organization. Stoltenberg has long been of the opinion that the era of peace dividends has passed, particularly given Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the IS establishment of a “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. But it was only with Trump’s election that his demands have gained significant momentum. Ironically, the very man who until recently considered NATO to be superfluous is now one of Stoltenberg’s closest allies.
Two U.S. defense officials tell NBC News that President Donald Trump has approved a plan to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia — an important U.S. ally in Syria in the fight against ISIS. One of the officials said the move is significant because it supports the notion that the Syrian Democratic Force is the fighting force that will eventually go in to Raqqa, a city in Syria’s center which has been under ISIS control since 2014. The move also reinforces the idea that the entire Syrian Democratic Force, Syrian Kurds (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Coalition, has the backing of the U.S. Trump and members of the Cabinet spoke about it during a meeting late yesterday at the White House with Secretary of Defense James Mattis joining by video teleconference.
The order has been signed and that “allows the process to begin to function,” one official said. Once the order comes to the Pentagon, the U.S. can begin providing the Syrian Kurds with arms and equipment fairly quickly since some equipment is pre-positioned. [..] The Turks will be notified about the decision soon and the officials expect a strong reaction from them. In March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sees the YPG as terrorists.
Turkey hopes the United States will end its policy of supporting the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara could not accept its NATO ally backing the group. Canikli’s comments are among the first official responses after U.S. officials said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to the YPG to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State. Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey and Europe. The United States sees the YPG as a valuable partner in the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria.
“We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state,” Canikli said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber. “We hope the U.S. administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it. Such a policy will not be beneficial, you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations.” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to meet Trump in Washington next week. Erdogan has repeatedly castigated the United States for its support for the YPG, saying its NATO ally should support it fully in the fight against terrorism. The Pentagon has sought to stress that it saw arming the Kurdish forces as necessary to ensure a victory in Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria and a hub for planning the group’s attacks against the West.
Mr Assange, declared by the Donald Trump administration as US public enemy number one, was speaking ahead of a live Spanish television interview. He told current affairs show When It’s Gone: “The CIA is basically useless. They are extremely incompetent as an organisation. “It is the organisation that gave us the end of democracy in Iran, Pinochet, the destruction of Libya, the rise of ISIS within Libya, al-Qaeda, the Syrian disaster and the Iraq war. “It is one of the most useless organisations in the world.” US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the hack, and used Wikileaks to harm the chances of Mrs Clinton and favour Mr Trump. Mr Assange said the release was not intended to affect the election.
[..] “There will be panic in the financial markets. This is not priced in. The market isn’t expecting anything. I think it will cause some very difficult times.” The interviewer then asked what his expectations on a government shutdown would look like with Trump.” [..] “I doubt he’ll go for a shutdown by choice. The leadership is not going to stand for it. They have a false idea that Republicans can govern by keeping the Washington Monument open even if we’re bankrupting the country by piling spending. I don’t think they’re going to elect to have a shutdown. What I think is going to happen instead is they’re going to run out of borrowing authority with the debt ceiling, it is now frozen on March 15. We’re locked in at $19.8 trillion so when they run out of cash in a few months, they’ll need a majority in both houses to vote through a multi-trillion bill in both houses. They won’t have the votes.”
[..] “The market is pricing itself for perfection for all of eternity. This is crazy. We’ve got headwinds everywhere. The auto industry is now starting to roll over. The red ponzi in China has only a matter of time before it explodes. We now have debt for the household sector above where it was for the 2008 crisis. I think the market could easily drop to 1,300-1,600 by 30% or more once the fantasy ends. The government will show its true colors. We are headed for a fiscal bloodbath.” Stockman voiced his concern for clarity remarking, “This crazy notion that there is going to be a Trump tax cut and fiscal stimulus must be put to rest once and for all. It’s not going to happen. They can’t pass a tax cut that big without a budget resolution that incorporates $10 or $15 trillion of debt over the next decade. Week by week, slowly the market is beginning to figure this out.
What it means is, all of the corporate insiders are selling stock like there is no tomorrow… where institutional sales of stock have been going up since the election and what we have is the usual end of the cycle. This is the greatest suckers rally we’ve ever seen.” When asked what he would recommend to protect yourself he urged, “The main thing is, get out of the markets. These markets are unstable. They’re rigged and unsustainable… there is no reason to own stocks at this point in the game. It is so overvalued that maybe you can get another two or three out but you’re facing a 30% or 40% down. The risk versus reward is horrible. The bond market is one giant bubble because the central bank’s have been buying bonds worldwide. They’re buying a trillion and still buying a trillion or so on an annual basis. All of that is coming to a halt.”
U.S. shale explorers are boosting drilling budgets 10 times faster than the rest of the world to harvest fields that register fat profits even with the recent drop in oil prices. Flush with cash from a short-lived OPEC-led crude rally, North American drillers plan to lift their 2017 outlays by 32% to $84 billion, compared with just 3% for international projects, according to analysts at Barclays. Much of the increase in spending is flowing into the Permian Basin, a sprawling, mile-thick accumulation of crude beneath Texas and New Mexico, where producers have been reaping double-digit returns even with oil commanding less than half what it did in 2014. That’s bad news for OPEC and its partners in a global campaign to crimp supplies and elevate prices. Wood Mackenzie estimates that new spending will add 800,000 barrels of North American crude this year, equivalent to 44% of the reductions announced by the Saudi- and Russia-led group.
“The specter of American supply is real,” Roy Martin, a Wood Mackenzie research analyst in Houston, said in a telephone interview. “The level of capital budget increases really surprised us.” Drilling budgets around the world collapsed in 2016 as the worst crude market collapse in a generation erased cash flows, forcing explorers to cancel expansion projects, cut jobs and sell oil and natural gas fields to raise cash. The pain also swept across OPEC, which in November relented by agreeing with several non-OPEC nations to curb output by 1.8 million barrels a day. Oil prices that initially popped above $55 in the weeks after the cut was announced have since dipped to around $46, reflecting pessimism that the OPEC-led deal can withstand the onslaught of U.S. shale.
[..] EOG, the second-largest U.S. explorer that doesn’t own refineries, plans to boost spending by 44% this year to between $3.7 billion and $4.1 billion. Pioneer is eyeing a 33% increase to $2.8 billion. The sub-group that includes North American shale drillers like EOG and Pioneer is collectively targeting $53 billion in spending this year, up from $35 billion in 2016, according to the Barclays analysts. U.S. oil production is already swelling, even though output from the new wells being drilled won’t materialize above ground for months. The Energy Department’s statistics arm raised its full-year 2017 supply estimate to 9.31 million barrels a day on Tuesday, a 1% increase from the April forecast. Next year, U.S. fields will pump 9.96 million barrels a day, 0.6% more than the department estimated last month.
Dozens of Conservative MPs expect to learn shortly whether they will be charged with fraud in relation to their spending at the last election, as deadlines for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision approaches. MPs and their agents have been under investigation by 14 police forces for more than a year over their spending declarations at the 2015 election. They are now likely to learn their fates before the general election, possibly as soon as Wednesday as the various time limits for bringing charges are coming to an end. If it happens on Wednesday, this could be in time for Theresa May to jettison any candidates facing prosecution before the deadline for final nominations at 4pm on Thursday, but the timeline for replacements would be extremely tight.
Any decision to prosecute them would be an explosive twist in the general election with more than 20 MPs in the last parliament potentially facing charges under the Representation of the People Act. But the bar for prosecution is considered to be high, with the police having to prove intent to submit wrongful expenditure claims. Tory MPs maintain they recorded their spending as directed by the national party. The allegations centre around the declaration of spending on Conservative battle bus tour in 2015, which took activists to dozens of marginal seats before the election. This was declared as national campaign spending, with the Tories some millions below their official limit. But it emerged that the activists had been campaigning on behalf of specific Conservative MPs, rather than the party generally, leading to claims that the spending should have been record as local expenditure.
The infamous hacktivist group Anonymous has released a chilling new video — urging people across the globe to “prepare” for World War 3 – as the US and North Korea continue to move “strategic pieces into place” for battle. “All the signs of a looming war on the Korean peninsula are surfacing,” the group says in the ominous six-minute clip, posted on YouTube over the weekend. Using their signature Guy Fawkes character, the hackers make several claims about recent military movements in the region — and alleged warnings made by Japan and South Korea about imminent nuclear attacks from the North — as they deliver their frightening prophecy. “Watching as each country moves strategic pieces into place,” the organization says, in its notorious robotic voice. “But unlike past world wars, although there will be ground troops, the battle is likely to be fierce, brutal and quick. It will also be globally devastating, both on environmental and economical levels.”
According to Anonymous, President Trump’s test of the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile last week — coupled with a recent warning from Japanese officials to citizens, telling them to make preparations for a possible nuclear attack — are ultimately proof that all signs are pointing to a major conflict between the US and North Korea. In addition, China reportedly has urged its citizens in the Hermit Kingdom to return home as tensions continue to escalate over their nuclear weapons program. “This is a real war with real global consequences,” the group explains. “With three superpowers drawn into the mix, other nations will be coerced into choosing sides, so what do the chess pieces look like so far?”
Marine Le Pen’s defeat, if the vote count was honest, indicates that the French are even more insouciant than Americans. The week before the election the Russian high command announced that Washington had convinced the Russian military that Washington intended a preemptive nuclear first strike against Russia. No European leader saw danger in this annoucement except Le Pen. No European leader, and no one in Washington, has stepped forward to reassure the Russians. In the US apparently only my readers even know of the Russian conclusion. Simply nothing is said in the Western media about the extraordinary risk of convincing Russia that the US is preparing a first strike against Russia. Nothing in the 20th century Cold War comes close to this. Le Pen, as Trump did prior to his castration by the military/security complex, understands that military conflict with Russia means death for humanity.
Why were the French voters unconcerned with what may be their impending deaths? The answer is that the French have been brainwashed into believing that to stand for France, as Marine Le Pen does, is to place patriotism and nationalism above diversity and is fascist. All of Europe, except for the majority of the British, has been brainwashed into the belief that it is Hitler-like or fascist to stand up for your country. For a French man or woman to escape the fascist designation, he or she must be Europeans, not French, German, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese. Brainwashed as the French are that it is fascist to stand up for France, the French voted for the international bankers and for the EU. The French election was a disaster for Europeans, but it was a huge victory for the American neoconservatives who will now be able to push Russia to war without European opposition.
So in the end the West was saved by the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France: relief in Brussels, a buoyant eurozone, rallies in Asian markets. That was always a no-brainer. After all, Macron was endorsed by the EU, Goddess of the Market, and Barack Obama. And he was fully backed by the French ruling class. This was a referendum on the EU – and the EU, in its current set-up, won. Cyberwar had to be part of the picture. No one knows where the MacronLeaks came from – a last minute, massive online dump of Macron campaign hacked emails. WikiLeaks certified the documents it had time to review as legitimate. That did not stop the Macron galaxy from immediately blaming it on Russia. Le Monde, a once-great paper now owned by three influential Macron backers, faithfully mirrored his campaign’s denunciation of RT and Sputnik, information technology attacks and, in general, the interference of Russia in the elections.
The Macron Russophobia in the French media-sphere also happens to include Liberation, once the paper of Jean-Paul Sartre. Edouard de Rothschild, the previous head of Rothschild & Cie Banque, bought a 37% controlling stake in the paper in 2005. Three years later, an unknown Emmanuel Macron started to rise in the mergers and acquisitions department, soon acquiring a reputation as “the Mozart of finance.” After a brief stint at the Ministry of Finance, a movement, En Marche! was set up for him by a network of powerful players and think tanks. Now, the presidency. Welcome to the revolving door, Moet & Chandon-style. In the last TV face-off with Marine Le Pen, Macron did not shy from displaying condescending/rude streaks and even raked some extra%age points by hammering “Marine” as a misinformed, corrupt, “hate-filled” nationalist liar who “feeds off France’s misery” and would precipitate “civil war.”
That may in fact come back to haunt him. Macron is bound to be a carrier of France’s internal devaluation; a champion of wage “rigor,” whose counterpoint will be a boom of under-employment; and a champion of increasing precariousness on the road to boost competitiveness. Big Business lauds his idea of cutting corporate tax from 33% to 25% (the European average). But overall, what Macron has sold is a recipe for a “see you on the barricades” scenario: severe cuts in health spending, unemployment benefits and local government budgets; at least 120,000 layoffs from the public sector; and abrogation of some key workers’ rights. He wants to advance the “reform” of the French work code – opposed by 67% of French voters – ruling by decree.
First mistake: Emmanuel Macron’s handlers played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” instead of the French national anthem at the winner’s election rally. Well, at least they didn’t play “Deutschland Über Alles.” The tensions in the Euroland situation remain: the 20%-plus youth unemployment, the papered-over insolvency of the European banks, and the implacable contraction of economic activity, especially at the southern rim of the EU. The clash of civilizations brought on by the EU’s self-induced refugee glut still hangs over the continent like a hijab. That there was no Islamic terror violence around the election should not be reassuring. The interests of the jihadists probably lie in the continued squishiness of the status quo, with its sentimental multiculture fantasies — can’t we all just get along? — so En Marche was their best bet. LePen might have pushed back hard. Macron looks to bathe France’s Islamic antagonists in a nutrient-medium of Hollandaise lite.
The sclerosis of Europe is assured for now. But events are in charge, not elected officials so much, and Europe’s economic fate may be determined by forces far away and beyond its power to control, namely in China, where the phony-baloney banking system is likely to be the first to implode in a global daisy-chain of financial uncontrolled demolition. Much of that depends on the continuing stability of currencies. The trouble is they are all pegged to fatally unrealistic expectations of economic expansion. Without it, the repayment of interest on monumental outstanding debt becomes an impossibility. And the game of issuing more new debt to pay the interest on the old debt completely falls apart. Once again, the dynamic relationship between real capital creation and the quandaries of the oil industry lurks behind these failures of economy.
In a crisis of debt repayment, governments will not know what else to do except “print” more money, and this time they are liable to destroy faith in the value of “money” the world over. I put “money” in quotation marks because the dollars, euros, yuan, and yen are only worth what people believe them to be, subject to measurement against increasingly fictional indexes of value, such as interest rates, stock and bond markets, government-issued employment and GDP stats, and other benchmarks so egregiously gamed by the issuing authorities that Ole Karl Marx’s hoary warning finally comes to pass and everything solid melts into air.
Revolving credit seemed like a good idea through the 20th century, and it sure worked to build an economic matrix based on cheap energy, which is, alas, no more. What remains is the wishful pretense that the old familiar protocols can still work their magic. The disappointment will be epic, and the result next time may be political figures even worse than LePen and Trump. Consider, though, that what you take for the drumbeat of nationalism is actually just a stair-step down on a much-longer journey out of the globally financialized economy. Because the ultimate destination down this stairway is a form of local autarky that the current mandarins of the status quo can’t even imagine.
The Bavarian Minister of Finance, Markus Soeder (CSU), a fierce Grexit supporter of Merkel’s CDU sister party apparently has moved away from his demand for a Greek euro exit. During a visit to Athens, Soeder said that the problems around Britain’s exit from the EU showed how difficult a Grexit would be. In addition, the Brexit already causes enough uncertainty. and Germany wants neither problems, nor uncertainty that could harm its profits especially before the parliamentary elections in autumn 2017. As Grexit is out of question, Greece should use gold reserves and real estate as collateral if the IMF stays out of the Greek program. However, Markus Soeder brought back an older idea of his, an idea he openly formulated in February 2017: that Greece pledges Gold, cash and real estate in order to get the bailout tranches, the loans by the European creditors, who love to call them financial aid.
“Soeder did not give up serious demands on Greece wile he was in Athens,” German magazine Der Spiegel writes. If the IMF does not participate in the Greek program, “new money can only be provided against collateral such as cash or real estate,” Soeder said. Soeder referred to Finland that participated in the second aid package for Greece only in 2012 and only after then Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos signed a bilateral agreement on colateral. “This worked,” the CSU politician said about the deal. Soeder’s demand is, however, amply theoretical, since he continues to regard an IMF participation as indispensable. He has the same problem as Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU): He strongly rejects further debt relief, as the IMF makes it a condition. “I have made it quite clear that a debt cut is out of question for Germany, as it the idea about issuing Eurobonds or similar.”
The Plenary of the State Audit Council has ruled that the cuts to main and supplementary pensions that the government and its creditors have agreed on contravene the European Convention of Human Rights, sources said on Tuesday night. The council also decided that the fiscal bill containing the cuts, to be implemented from 2019, contravenes Greek legislation as it has been tabled to the audit council without an actuarial study. A bill, outlining the pension cuts and other measures agreed with creditors is due to go to a vote in Parliament next week.
1. EU Court of Auditors found “overcrowded” camps, migrants “sleeping rough”, and “scant access to basic services” According to the Court of Auditors, hotspots are seriously overcrowded, particularly on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos. People are fleeing from the camps, because they don’t have sufficient access to water and there are too few doctors to provide adequate health care. People also didn’t feel safe in the hotspots since fights often break out in the camps. Many of these people ended up sleeping on the streets outside the hotspots. The appalling situation in hotspots is also documented by NGOs, who have reported that people in the hotspots have been exposed to degrading conditions and had their rights denied. More than 2,000 people were forced to sleep in barely heated tents during the freezing winter.
2. Children held for months in “inappropriate conditions” against international laws and standards, the auditors say The auditors raised serious concerns about the situation of unaccompanied children in hotspots. In most hotspots children were confined either to fenced areas, or accommodated without protection from adults, exposing them to the risk of abuse. Children were held for three months or more closed in behind fences in the Moria hotspot after it was converted to a de-facto detention centre. In some hotspots, girls and boys were held together, against standard practice. NGOs have been raising concerns about this situation for months. Now the Court of Auditors has confirmed that the welfare of the children in Moria was put at risk.
3. ‘‘No framework for remedying bottlenecks or sharing lessons learnt”, the Court found Overall, the ‘hotspot approach’ has been disorganised and inconsistent, the EU auditors found. The absence of consistent guidelines for the way hotspots should be managed means that responsibilities between the various actors are not clearly defined. Conditions and services are far worse in some hotspots than in others. The unfairness of this inconsistency has been criticised by NGOs, who have also highlighted the lack of oversight over decisions and accountability for human rights violations.
Furthermore, it is difficult to track the situation of people in the hotspots and how the management of the camps affects them – because key data is not shared between authorities. Neither the length of time migrants spend in hotspots while waiting to register and complete their asylum application in Greece, nor the total number of migrants identified, registered, or receiving return orders in Italy was shared. The Court of Auditor’s recommendations to better define the roles of the different agencies involved and to appoint a manager for each hotspot exposes that management is currently lacking.
4. The auditors highlight that the “functioning of hotspots is affected by bottle-necks in the follow-up procedures” The hotspots were meant to be just a first step in the EU’s migration response. Member states should then have stepped in to facilitate the relocation and integration of these people across Europe, or facilitate their safe and dignified return. That has not happened. The set-up of the hotspots is a completely new way for national governments to cooperate with EU institutions and agencies within a member state’s territory. If follow up continues to falter, the pressure on the hotspots will only grow. This could lead to people living in the hotspots being exposed to even more suffering, and the risk that authorities will abandon acceptable legal and living standards increases. This has been evident since December, if not earlier.
5. The EU-Turkey deal “had a major impact on the functioning of hotspots” and on detentions, the auditors say The EU-Turkey deal of March 2016 had a great impact on the functioning of the hotspots, as becomes evident when we look at the details of the auditors’ report. When the deal with Turkey was announced, hotspots turned into de-facto detention centres, provoking criticism from many NGOs. But the current European approach only attempts to increase the use of detention for asylum seekers even further. The auditors have detailed the hotspots procedures in the annex to their report, and reading this makes clear how difficult it is not to be detained in the process they record.
The findings of the European Court of Auditors suggest that hotspots are being made to work at the expense of people, for the sake of fulfilling policy objectives. It is vital that safeguards are in place to ensure that people are not forced to stay in the hotspots under the conditions the EU auditors and NGOs have found to be degrading. Very close scrutiny is needed to protect the rights of those who arrive looking for safety on Europe’s shores.
Citigroup’s crack trio of credit analysts, Matt King, Stephen Antczak, and Hans Lorenzen, best known for their relentless, Austrian, at times “Zero Hedge-esque” attacks on the Fed, and persistent accusations central banks distort markets, all summarized best in the following Citi chart… have come out of hibernation, to dicuss what comes next for various asset classes in the context of the upcoming paradigm shift in central bank posture. In a note released by the group’s credit team on March 27, Lorenzen writes that credit’s “infatuation with equities is coming to an end.” “What do credit traders look at when they mark their books? Well, these days it is fair to say that they have more than one eye on the equity market.”
Understandable: after all, as the FOMC Minutes revealed last week, even the Fed now openly admits its policy is directly in response to stock prices. As the credit economist points out, “statistically, over the last couple of years both markets have been influencing (“Granger causing”) each other. But considering the relative size, depth and liquidity of (not to mention the resources dedicated to) the equity market, we’d argue that more often than not, the asset class taking the passenger seat is credit. Yet the relationship was not always so cosy. Over the long run, the correlation in recent years is actually unusual. In the two decades before the Great Financial Crisis, three-month correlations between US credit returns and the S&P 500 returns tended to oscillate sharply and only barely managed to stay positive over the long run..
Rudolf E. [email protected]
Replying to @zerohedge
Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.
The housing sector is therefore picking up the slack, and as far as the Westpac chair can discern the underlying demand is real. “That’s why I believe there is no bubble — there is huge demand from local and offshore buyers,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at things like the capacity to pay interest and repay principal, so we don’t have any issues with the measures announced (on March 31). “APRA has its mandate; we have ours. But we have no interest in lending to people who can’t repay.” That’s the reasoned analysis from Norris and Maxsted, and Henry mostly concurs. If you’re after the full Catherine wheel experience, try taking the alternative position as a market-leading fund manager or economist and warning the public about an inflating property bubble. Legendary US investor Jeremy Grantham did just that, vowing in 2012 he would never do it again. “Tell a European you think there’s a housing bubble and you’ll have a reasonable discussion,” Grantham said. “Tell an Australian and you’ll have World War III. Been there, done that!”
Local economist Steve Keen entered the fray in 2009, likening the experience to “having my genitals cut off”, while hedge fund managers have lost so much money short-selling Australian banks because they expected the bubble to pop that it’s been called the “widow maker’s” trade. True to his word, Grantham failed to respond to an email inviting him to trigger World War III. Keen, who has relocated to Britain but was in Australia this week, has no such hesitation, saying it is abundantly clear that we’re in a debt-fuelled housing bubble that has only a year or two to run before it pops. “We’re in hock to the banks and we depend on endless rising levels of credit,” the economics professor says. “Credit can continue rising but eventually you reach a peak and the gas runs out.”
Denmark, according to Keen, reached its world-record peak in 2010 at a household debt-to-GDP ratio of 139 per cent. While Australia is currently at 123 per cent, the country has some headroom because the corporate sector has deleveraged and the RBA still has some policy ammunition with the 1.5 per cent cash rate. Keen reckons we have two years, at most, before unravelling in a similar, catastrophic way to Ireland in the financial crisis. However Phil Ruthven, the experienced forecaster and founder of IBISWorld, says low interest rates mean that debt servicing is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. “But we do need to increase supply, and we do need to warn home buyers of the dangers of going too deep into debt when interest rates are rising,” Ruthven says.
Eight years into Greece’s ordeal to escape bankruptcy, thousands of Communist party sympathisers packed into Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday to protest at the latest concessions made by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government to keep the country afloat. Massed before parliament in the fading light of day, they did what they had come to do: rail against the cuts that loom in return for further disbursement of the emergency aid now needed to avert economic collapse. The serial drama of Greece’s debt repayments will reach a climax again when loans of €7.5bn mature in July. That communist-aligned unionists can still muster such protests is testament to the party’s zealous determination to make itself heard. Most Greeks gave up demonstrating long ago.
Two years short of a decade in freefall, and with little prospect of recovery, the nation has succumbed to protest fatigue. With the exception of pensioners – the great losers in Greece’s assault by austerity – anger has been replaced by malaise, the lassitude that strikes when loss becomes commonplace. Friday’s protest, one of more than 60 nationwide, came within hours of Europe escaping another dose of Greek drama after eurozone finance ministers announced that bailout talks – stalled as Athens bickered over the terms of its latest compliance review with lenders – could finally resume. International auditors representing the bodies behind the three bailout packages the country has received since May 2010 are expected to return to Greece on Monday. Once technical issues are addressed, the delayed bailout payment will be disbursed, ensuring default is averted in July.
In exchange, the once fiercely anti-austerity Tsipras has signed up to further reforms worth €3.6bn, the equivalent of 2% of GDP, to be put into effect once the current programme ends next year. “It is in the nature of every agreement for there to be compromises,” said Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who faces the thankless task of having to sell the prospect of more pension cuts and tax rises to sceptical leftists in the ruling Syriza party when it convenes on Sunday. “There are things that will upset … the Greek people.” After more than a year of hard talk and bluster – the review was meant to have been concluded in February 2016 – the government once again conceded on its own red lines, reflecting Athens’s overarching policy of keeping Greece in the heart of the eurozone. Tsipras, who fought hard to ensure countermeasures can also be taken to offset losses if economic indicators are better than expected, was quick to sound optimistic. “The Greek economy,” he announced, “is ready to leave the crisis behind it.”
But the breakthrough falls far short of the all-inclusive package the government was hoping for. Once again, promises of reducing the country’s staggering debt pile – at 180% of GDP, the biggest impediment to real economic recovery – will have to wait. [..] Unemployment has increased from 23.2% to 23.5%, with investors – the only guarantee of soaking up such an oversupply of labour – staying away. In a repeat of the chaos that beset the country’s financial system at the height of the crisis in 2015, an estimated €2.5bn of deposits left Greek banks in January and February. Consumption is also down. “The 37% of Greeks at risk of poverty and social exclusion really cannot make ends meet,” said Aliki Mouriki, a leading Greek sociologist. “They no longer have the means to meet basic needs, with consumption of milk and bread right down and payment of electricity bills at an all-time low.”
Economics has a foundation in hard numbers – employment, inflation, spending – that has largely allowed it to sidestep the competing partisan narratives that have afflicted American politics and culture. But not anymore. Since Donald J. Trump’s victory in November, consumer sentiment has diverged in an unprecedented way, with Republicans convinced that a boom is at hand, and Democrats foreseeing an imminent recession. “We’ve never recorded this before,” said Richard Curtin, who directs the University of Michigan’s monthly survey of consumer sentiment. Although the outlook has occasionally varied by political party since the survey began in 1946, “the partisan divide has never had as large an impact on consumers’ economic expectations,” he said.
At the same time, familiar economic data points have become Rorschach tests. That was evident after the government’s monthly jobs report on Friday; Republicans’ talking points centered on a 10-year low in the unemployment rate, while Democrats focused on a sharp decline in job creation. “I find it stunning, to be honest. It’s unreal,” said Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Things that were less politicized in the past, like how you feel about the economy, have become more politicized now.” Indeed, the night-and-day views underscore yet another front on which Americans remain polarized five months after the election, and with President Trump nearing his 100th day in office.
[..] The University of Michigan researchers have their own way of measuring the gulf between the two viewpoints and how quickly it has flipped. Among Republicans, the Michigan consumer expectations index was at 61.1 in October, the kind of reading typically reported in the depths of a recession. Confident that Mrs. Clinton would win, Democrats registered a 95.4 reading, close to the highs reached when her husband was in office in the late 1990s and the economy was soaring. By March, the positions were reversed, with an even more extreme split. Republicans’ expectations had soared to 122.5, equivalent to levels registered in boom times. As for Democrats, they were even more pessimistic than Republicans had been in October.
As at the voting booth, the split in perceptions could have real-world consequences. If behavior tracks the recession-era sentiment among Democrats, who account for 32% of respondents in the survey, prophecies could quickly become self-fulfilling by affecting spending and investing decisions. “If one-third of the population cut their consumer spending by 5%, you get a recession,” said Alan Blinder, a Princeton economist who served in the Clinton administration and advised Al Gore and Hillary Clinton on economic policy during their Democratic presidential campaigns. “I don’t think it will happen, but it’s not beyond the realm of the possible.”
To be sure, even if Democratic consumers pulled back, that wouldn’t necessarily bring on a recession. A burst of spending by bullish Republicans, who equal 27% of those polled by the Michigan researchers, could counteract much of that drag. And independents, who are the largest cohort in the survey, at 41%, remain fairly optimistic about future growth. It is rare for “rising optimism to coexist with increasing uncertainty,” said Mr. Curtin, the Michigan expert. “The current level of optimism clearly indicates that no economywide spending retrenchment is underway, but the prevailing level of uncertainty will limit growth in discretionary spending.”
Michael Hudson: If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. So the fact is that the debts aren’t owed to the “we” – the 99%. The debts are owed to the 1%. 1% of the population has 75% of the financial assets. All their growth has occurred since 1980. So the question is, who are you going to save? The economy or the banks? If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. When President Obama came in, he promised that he was going to write down the debts – especially the junk mortgages – to the actual real value of the homes that the junk mortgage people had taken out.
Or and set the debt service – the money you have to pay every month to pay the mortgage, amortization, and principal, and interest to what the normal rental value of this would be. Well, as soon as he was elected, he dropped it all. He invited the bankers to the White House and said, boys, I’m the only guy standing between you and the pitchforks out there. Don’t worry, I can deliver my constituency to you. So, basically, the Democratic Party broke its voters into a black constituency, a women’s constituency, a LGBTQ constituency, and they’re all for Wall Street. Instead of saving the economy, Obama bailed out and saved the banks by keeping the debts in place. And once you have to pay that, it’s curtains. In the end, everybody’s going to end up in Greece. Greece is where you’re going, if you don’t.
“I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.”
“People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict..”
On Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with a “high degree of confidence” that the Syrian government had dropped a poison gas bomb on civilians in Idlib province. But a number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid. One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek “regime change” in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.
The source said the Trump national security team split between the President’s close personal advisers, such as nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on one side and old-line neocons who have regrouped under National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army general who was a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus. In this telling, the earlier ouster of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and this week’s removal of Bannon from the National Security Council were key steps in the reassertion of neocon influence inside the Trump presidency. The strange personalities and ideological extremism of Flynn and Bannon made their ousters easier, but they were obstacles that the neocons wanted removed.
[..] Alarm within the U.S. intelligence community about Trump’s hasty decision to attack Syria reverberated from the Middle East back to Washington, where former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reported hearing from his intelligence contacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poison-gas story was being distorted by Trump and the mainstream U.S. news media. Giraldi told Scott Horton’s Webcast: “I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.” Giraldi said his sources were more in line with an analysis postulating an accidental release of the poison gas after an Al Qaeda arms depot was hit by a Russian airstrike.
“The intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving … which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear.” Giraldi said the anger within the intelligence community over the distortion of intelligence to justify Trump’s military retaliation was so great that some covert officers were considering going public. “People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict,” Giraldi said before Thursday night’s missile strike. “They are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the U.S. media.”
Donald Trump’s decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened.
• The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation.
• The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.
• The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.
• There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.
• We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.
• There are members of the U.S. military who were aware this strike would occur and it was recorded. There is a film record. At least the Defense Intelligence Agency knows that this was not a chemical weapon attack. In fact, Syrian military chemical weapons were destroyed with the help of Russia.
This is Gulf of Tonkin 2. How ironic. Donald Trump correctly castigated George W. Bush for launching an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Iraq in 2003. Now we have President Donald Trump doing the same damn thing. Worse in fact. Because the intelligence community had information showing that there was no chemical weapon launched by the Syrian Air Force. Here’s the good news. The Russians and Syrians were informed, or at least were aware, that the attack was coming. They were able to remove a large number of their assets. The base the United States hit was something of a backwater. Donald Trump gets to pretend that he is a tough guy. He is not. He is a fool.
The cost of war is profound. I’m opposed to the escalation of the counterproductive regime change war in Syria because it will lead to the deaths of more innocent men, women and children. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, the strongest forces on the ground in Syria, will continue to increase their strength and influence over the region in the vacuum of a central government.
Could Marine Le Pen become France’s next president? A quick look at polling trends suggests that at first blush at least, the answer is “no.” [..] But for Serge Galam, a French physicist who predicted Donald Trump’s election in the United States, polls are missing out on an important factor: abstention — and specifically, how it affects voter turnout for different candidates. He argues that abstention, which a poll by CEVIPOF showed could be as high as 30%, is likely to be decisive in a “dirty” campaign dominated by scandals. “Obviously, nothing is done yet but her election is becoming very likely,” said Galam, a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research who also studies public opinion at the CEVIPOF political science institute. “I’m taking a scientific view of this — she needs a turnout differential of about 20% to win.”
[..] If Le Pen is projected to lose the runoff by 41 to 59%, for example, Galam argues that Le Pen could still win if the turnout rate for her voters is 90% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout rate of 79%. In other words, the National Front leader could benefit because a substantial number of people who say they will vote for her rival may not actually go to the polls. Equally, if Le Pen is projected to lose by 45 to 55% in the runoff, she could win if turnout for her is 85% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout of 77%. If overall turnout is 76%, then Le Pen would need a turnout of 90% versus 65% for her rival, and so on.
Some polls have Le Pen lagging behind Macron or Fillon by more than 30 percentage points, which would make her victory near impossible. But others show her within striking distance, with a lag of less than 20 points. If she can shrink the gap, then the challenge for Le Pen will be to mobilize a greater proportion of her supporters than her rivals. In this regard, Galam argues that Le Pen has a shot. For different reasons, he says, both Macron and Fillon aroused intense feelings of “aversion” among some voters, with a large proportion of Macron voters saying they could change their mind on election day. Negative or ambivalent feelings could translate into weaker turnout for them on election day.
WikiLeaks release of the latest cache of confidential C.I.A. documents as part of an ongoing “Vault 7” operation exposed some of the U.S. government’s hacking and digital espionage capabilities—this time having to do with iPhones and other smart devices used by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. But cyber security experts and computers scientists are raising concerns over the C.I.A.’s disregard of safety measures put in place for discovering these dangerous flaws in smart gadgets. The federal agency has kept its discovery of many exploits (software tools targeting flaws in products, typically used for malicious hacking purposes) a secret, “stockpiling” that information rather than reporting it to multinational corporations, throwing millions of Americans into the crosshairs of a dangerous, intergovernmental spying game in the process.
“What’s critical to understand is that these vulnerabilities can be exploited not just by our government but by foreign governments and cyber criminals around the world, and that’s deeply troubling,” said Ashley Gorski, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney working on the civil rights group’s national security project. “Our government should be working to help the companies patch vulnerabilities when they are discovered, not stockpiling them.” The C.I.A. knew its own classified documents had been floating around the dark web for at least a year and was well aware the hacking capabilities it was using to break into everyday tech could also have been employed by hostile foreign networks. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin reportedly orchestrated a sprawling governmental operation in an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which featured several cyber attacks on email servers and devices used by members of the Democratic Party.
The government enacted the Vulnerabilities Equities Process to reduce the unnecessary stockpiling of exploits. The procedure was meant to provide guidelines for agencies like the C.I.A. for notifying companies when dangerous issues are discovered in their devices. The measure was put in place during the Obama administration to prevent cyber attacks from terrorist networks and foreign governments, including Russia and China. But the C.I.A. completely ignored the Vulnerabilities Equity Process, instead exploring ways to use exploits for their own purposes, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group that reviewed a copy of the practice after filing a Freedom of Information Act request. “It appears the CIA didn’t even use the [Vulnerabilities Equity Process],” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That’s worrisome, because we know these agencies overvalue their offensive capabilities and undervalue the risk to the rest of us.”
The rains brought torrents, pouring into basements and malls, the water swiftly rising a foot and a half. The city of Dongguan, a manufacturing center here in the world’s most dynamic industrial region, was hit especially hard by the downpour in May 2014. More than 100 factories and shops were inundated. Water climbed knee-high in 20 minutes, wiping out inventory for dozens of businesses. Next door in Guangzhou, an ancient, mammoth port city of 13 million, helicopters and a fleet of 80 boats had to be sent to rescue trapped residents. Tens of thousands lost their homes, and 53 square miles of nearby farmland were ruined. The cost of repairs topped $100 million. Chen Rongbo, who lived in the city, saw the flood coming. He tried to scramble to safety on the second floor of his house, carrying his 6-year-old granddaughter. He slipped. The flood swept both of them away.
Flooding has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta. So even the rains that May, the worst in the area in years, soon drifted from the headlines. People complained and made jokes on social media about wading through streets that had become canals and riding on half-submerged buses through lakes that used to be streets. But there was no official hand-wringing about what caused the floods or how climate change might bring more extreme storms and make the problems worse. A generation ago, this was mostly farmland. Three vital rivers leading to the South China Sea, along with a spider’s web of crisscrossing tributaries, made the low-lying delta a fertile plain, famous for rice. Guangzhou, formerly Canton, had more than a million people, but by the 1980s, China set out to transform the whole region, capitalizing on its proximity to water, the energy of its people, and the money and port infrastructure of neighboring Hong Kong.
Rushing to catch up after decades of stagnation, China built a gargantuan collection of cities the size of nations with barely a pause to consider their toll on the environment, much less the future impact of global warming. Today, the region is a goliath of industry with a population exceeding 42 million. But while prosperity reshaped the social and cultural geography of the delta, it didn’t fundamentally alter the topography. Here, as elsewhere, breakneck development comes up against the growing threat of climate change. Economically, Guangzhou now has more to lose from climate change than any other city on the planet, according to a World Bank report. Nearby Shenzhen, another booming metropolis, ranked 10th on that World Bank list, which measured risk as a percentage of GDP.
Shenzhen was transformed in a few decades from a small fishing village into a city of millions.
President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.
CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.
If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.
For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.
In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.
[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.
Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”
Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.
Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.
[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”
Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.
“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.
Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.
China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.
Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.
In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.
In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.
“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.
For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.
The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.
As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.
[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”
Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”
Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.
Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”
Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.
Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.
Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.
Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”
European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.
More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.
“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”
Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.
The head of the US central bank is busy preparing America, its new president, and indeed the world, for rising interest rates – and for a new economic era. The story of US interest rates this decade is simple to the point of tedium. The key fed funds rate has been dragging along just above zero ever since the banking crash. In December 2015, it was nudged up by a quarter of a%age point by Ms Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve. A whole year later, they nudged it up again, which means that seven years after the notional end of the US recession it stands at mere 0.75%. That is set to change. Over the past few weeks, rate setters at the Fed have dropped broader and broader hints that interest rates will go up as soon as next Wednesday – and will keep going up.
Last Friday was the turn of Ms Yellen. Speaking in Chicago, she said: “We currently judge that it will be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate if the economic data continue to come in about as we expect.” That is about as straightforward as you get in central-bank speak. Nor is that likely to be the end of the rises: according to the Fed’s charts, committee members now forecast three interest-rate rises this year alone, and more in 2018. There are geopolitical reasons to hold off making too early a move. Next month, France’s presidential election, in which rightwing, anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen is leading the polls, kicks off. Last year, the Fed held off in June before the Brexit vote. While the timing is still moot, there are few betting that rates won’t rise.
Considering this, three observations can be made. First, even while all this briefing has been going on, US asset markets have remained remarkably buoyant. That is very different from the nerves exhibited by investors in US Treasury bonds in 2013, when Ms Yellen’s predecessor, Ben Bernanke, dared to suggest he might turn off the tap marked “easy money”. Even with a much more volatile figure in the White House, financial markets seem far more confident on the prospects for the US. Second, by raising rates now the Fed is giving itself vital room for manoeuvre ahead of the next downturn. The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years – which would mean, going by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that the next bust is not far away.
Make no mistake. Unlike most in the markets, I remain a secular bond bull and do not think this 35 year long bull bond market is over. I believe the US Fed has created another massive credit bubble that will, when it bursts, lay the global economy very low indeed. Combine this with the problems of a Chinese economy dependent on increasingly ineffective injections of credit to produce increasingly pedestrian GDP growth and you have a right global mess. The 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis will look like a soft-landing when the Fed blows this sucker sky high. The seeds for that debacle have already been sown with the Fed having presided over one of the biggest corporate credit bubbles in US history. All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.
Accelerated Fed rate hikes will cause tremors in the Treasury bond markets, forcing rates up, most especially in the 2 year – just like 1994. But as yet another central bank-inspired global recession unfolds, I believe US 10y bond yields will ultimately converge with Japanese and European yields well below zero – in other words, buy 10y bonds on weakness! [..] For those few of us in the markets of a certain age, Orange County conjures up only one thing: 1994 goes down in infamy as one of the biggest ever bond market bloodbaths in history culminating at the end of the year with Orange County in California going bankrupt (younger clients in their late 20s will only know the OC as the mid-2000s teen programme based in Newport Beach, which I watched religiously with my then teenage son and daughter).
I remember the 1994 period as if it were yesterday (unlike yesterday itself). Despite the Fed telegraphing the series of rate hikes and market participants forecasting multiple hikes, it was most curious how the market went into total convulsion. I was chatting to my ‘similarly young’ colleague Kit Juckes about this and he reminded me that the whole yield curve gapped up some 50bp immediately! It was a bloodbath, especially for 2y paper.
Remember Nicole talking about multiple claims to underlying real wealth: “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
Bill Gross has never been one to mince words – and his March investment outlook is no anomaly in his oeuvre of outspoken manifestos. In his latest investor letter, out Thursday morning, Janus Capital’s billionaire bond guru warns against putting too much faith in the market exuberance inspired by President Trump and his agenda. “‘Don’t lose it’ is my first and most important conceptual lesson for [my kids] despite the Trump bull market and the current ‘animal spirits’ that encourage risk, as opposed to the preservation of capital,” Gross writes. (Though more a matter of coincidence, the reference to animal spirits is a canny turn of phrase: JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon said in an interview Thursday morning that business and consumer confidence has “skyrocketed” because Trump has “woken up the animal spirits.”)
Gross goes on: “Don’t be allured by the Trump mirage of 3-4% growth and the magical benefits of tax cuts and deregulation. The U.S. and indeed the global economy is walking a fine line due to increasing leverage and the potential for too high (or too low) interest rates to wreak havoc on an increasingly stressed financial system. Be more concerned about the return of your money than the return on your money in 2017 and beyond.” This not the first time Gross has gone after Trump: he levied criticism in November (“I write in amazed, almost amused bewilderment at what American voters have done to themselves,” he said at the time) and again in December (“investors must consider the negatives of Trump’s anti-globalization ideas”). But the rationale in his latest investor letter is different from his prior notes, centering less on Trump’s policies and more on the global credit situation.
The world economy, Gross says, currently holds more credit relative to GDP than it did at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. In the U.S., credit is 350% of annual GDP, “and the ratio is rising,” he says. In China, that ratio sits close to 300%. Gross acknowledges that capitalism depends on credit expansion, but says that credit creation has its limits, and interest rates must be carefully monitored so that borrowers can repay their debts. But if rates are too low, “the system breaks down,” because savers and pension funds can’t earn a high enough rate of return to service those debts. “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
The US cognitive linguist George Lakoff characterises politics as a clash between two opposing models of parenting. Rightwingers subscribe to the strict, responsible parent with a firm grip on the purse strings, while leftwingers prefer the nurturing, providing version. Everyone is currently in thrall to the strict-parent model. Politicians and supposedly impartial broadcasters are constantly noting that, of course, “times are tight”. The beneficent state is a luxury we can no longer afford. “We can’t go back to 1945,” government ministers intone wearily, as if explaining to a child, before blithely announcing a return to other mid-century relics – such as grammar schools. Despite being thoroughly discredited by economists, and despite Theresa May’s promised investment programme, the zombie creed of austerity staggers on.
On what basis, exactly, do we live in straitened times? Yes, there’s the cost and uncertainty of Brexit. But a year or two ago, it was something else – the fallout from the recession, or turbulence in the eurozone. This is opportunistic shock doctrine stuff, where any bungling failure or general sense of global adversity can lend partisan political choices the air of necessity. The annual ritual of the budget reanimates the pernicious myth that the economy is like a household budget. Since we have our own currency, we actually enjoy capacious fiscal elasticity. The “strict” parent is really a mean parent. The “fairer funding formula”, by which the government is proposing to take money from some schools to give to supposedly more deserving ones, is a pointless zero-sum game. Instead of making children fight over measly slivers of cake, why not just bake a bigger one?
There are extraordinary funds in private hands, if only we conceived of them as part of our common wealth. A report last week by property consultants Knight Frank predicted that the number of UK-based ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with more than £24m in assets) will rise by 30% over the next decade. There is more than £10trn squirrelled away in the UK. The NHS costs £110bn a year; total government spending on education is £85bn a year. We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance, with luxury housing developments springing up in plain sight across the capital. If you question the basis on which we deem these evident riches untouchable, you are dismissed as hopelessly naive. There’s something doubly infantilising about this reaction: aren’t you aware that belts need to be tightened? And don’t you know the difference between public and private money?
The U.S. government must get a grip on the massive opening that the CIA, through its misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance, has created. If Tuesday’s WikiLeaks document dump is authentic, as it appears to be, then the agency left open electronic gateways that make all Americans vulnerable to spying, eavesdropping and technological manipulation that could bring genuine harm. That the CIA has reached into the lives of all Americans through its wholesale gathering of the nation’s “haystack” of information has already been reported. It is bad enough that the government spies on its own people. It is equally bad that the CIA, through its incompetence, has opened the cyberdoor to anyone with the technological skills and connections to spy on anyone else.
The constant erosion of privacy at the hands of the government and corporations has annihilated the concept of a “right to privacy,” which is embedded in the rationale of the First, Third, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are sliding down the slippery slope toward totalitarianism, where private lives do not exist. We have entered a condition of constitutional crisis that requires a full-throated response from the American people. I have repeatedly warned about the dangers of the Patriot Act and its successive iterations, the execrable national security letters that turn every FBI agent into a star chamberlain, the dangers of fear-based security policies eroding our republic. We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world, and it’s time we tell the government and the corporations who have intruded to stop it.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them. “This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said. “It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said. Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012. He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.
“We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out. “Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring,” he added. [..] WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors. “The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It’s quite possible numerous people already might have it,” Assange said.
China expressed concern on Thursday over revelations in a trove of data released by Wikileaks purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization’s revelations, although some said they needed more details of what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to. Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and Taiwan supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China expressed concern about the reports and reiterated its opposition to all forms of hacking. “We urge the U.S. side to stop listening in, monitoring, stealing secrets and internet hacking against China and other countries,” Geng told a daily news briefing. China is frequently accused by the United States and other countries of hacking attacks, which it always denies. The Chinese government has its own sophisticated domestic surveillance program and keeps tight control of the internet at home, saying such measures are needed to protect national security and maintain stability.
Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that Truman came to see the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” at work, which posits that all organizations – particularly government bureaucracies – eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:
Truman: I think [creation of the CIA] was a mistake. And if I’d know what was going to happen, I never would have done it. [..] But it got out of hand. The fella … the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they’ve got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I’ve told you, one Pentagon is one too many. Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don’t just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there’s nobody to keep track of what they’re up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on. They’ve become … it’s become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.
That’s a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it’s got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there’s got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don’t care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things. And when you can’t do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we’re on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn’t have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
“..by the time he was assassinated, Kennedy was at full war against the U.S. national-security establishment. He was challenging all of their Cold War assumptions. He was proposing peaceful coexistence with what the CIA and the military had said was an implacable foe that was determined to take over America. And he was doing the unthinkable — making friends with the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Cuba, and the communist world.”
Kennedy came into office as a standard cold warrior. That is, like most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he had bought into the notion that had been inculcated into the American people since the end of World War II — that America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), was coming to get us and subject the American people to communism. To combat what was billed as an international communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Americans were told, it would be necessary to adopt the same type of governmental structure that existed in Russia — a national-security apparatus grafted onto America’s original limited-government structure that had been established by the Constitution. That apparatus included a giant, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, or what President Eisenhower would later call “the military-industrial complex.”
It also consisted of a secretive agency called the CIA, which would come to wield omnipotent powers within what continued to be billed as a “limited government.” Such powers would include assassination, regime-change operations, foreign coups, kidnapping, torture, rendition, involuntary medical experimentation (e.g., MKULTRA), spying and surveillance of Americans — the types of things that characterized the KGB and even the Hitler’s Gestapo. Kennedy believed in this apparatus. Even though it had been adopted without a constitutional amendment, he believed it was necessary to keep America free and safe from the Reds, who, it was said, were coming to get us. He experienced his first dose of reality a few months after being sworn into office, when the CIA presented its secret plan to invade Cuba and effect regime change there.
The plan called for using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to do the invading, with the U.S. government denying any role in the operation. Kennedy’s job, under the CIA plan, would be to lie about U.S. involvement in the invasion, thereby making him America’s liar-in-chief (and indirectly subjecting him to blackmail by the CIA). The CIA assured Kennedy that the invasion could succeed without U.S. air support, and JFK made it clear that no air support would be furnished. The CIA lied. In fact, they knew that there was no way that the operation could succeed without air support. But they figured that once the invasion got underway, Kennedy would have no effective choice but to change his mind and provide the needed air support. It was a classic CIA set up of a newly elected president.
When the invasion started to fail, the CIA urged the president to change his mind. He refused to do so, and the invasion force was easily defeated. The CIA considered Kennedy’s action to be a grave betrayal of America and the CIA’s Cuban “freedom fighters.” Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the debacle but privately he was outraged. He knew that the CIA had set him up, with the aim of maneuvering him into intervening with air support. He fired the much-revered and much-respected CIA Director Allen Dulles (who, in a classic conflict of interest, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission). Reflecting his disdain for the CIA, Kennedy promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
China lashed out at the United States for its “terrible human rights problems” in a report on Thursday, adding to recent international criticism of Washington on issues ranging from violence inflicted on minorities to U.S. immigration policies. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on rights in nearly 200 countries last week accused China of torture, executions without due process, repression of political rights and persecution of ethnic minorities, among other issues. In an annual Chinese response to the U.S. report, China’s State Council, or cabinet, said the United States suffered from rampant gun violence and high levels of incarceration. U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria had caused thousands of civilian deaths, according to the report, which was carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the State Council said. “The United States repeatedly trampled on human rights in other countries and wilfully slaughtered innocent victims,” it said, referring to deaths in U.S. drone strikes. On Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about migrants, Mexicans and Muslims were “harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses” and that his immigration policies could lead to breaches of international law. Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Muslim ideologies, though the president has disavowed their support.
One way to gauge China’s longer term intentions is to assess what Chinese leaders are saying today. President Xi Jinping has articulated a vision for China over the next few decades. This vision has been termed the “Chinese Dream” or the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” These slogans capture goals, milestones, and timelines. In terms of timeframe, the Chinese refer to the “two one hundreds”: i) the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021; and ii) the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. By 2021 China hopes to become what the Chinese call a “moderately well-off society.” By mid-century China hopes to be on par with other developed countries.
Most measures for tracking China’s progress are socio-economic in nature: disposable income, socioeconomic equality, access to higher education, access to healthcare and so forth. To achieve these objectives, China still hews to the basic principle laid out by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, namely, peace and development. The concept of peace and development derives from the notion that China needs a peaceful external environment to develop economically. But there are also external components to China’s long term goals, particularly China’s relations with the rest of the world. President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system. This is code for a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world.
As China rises, China envisions the emergence of a new global configuration in which China is a great power among other coequal great powers, including the European Union, India, and Russia, in the international system. This aligns with the “rise of the rest” hypothesis. As China gets very strong, it would also seek to amend the rules that have governed the current international order in ways that accommodates China’s interests as a great power. China’s rise thus raises a series of important questions about the implications for Asia. What does China want in East Asia as it rises? Would China seek to become the dominant power in East Asia? Would it seek a dramatically reduced role for the United States? More troubling, would China seek a Sino-centric regional order in which many of its neighbors, including Japan, must acquiesce to its strategic prerogatives?
“..German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009 [..] January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.”
Germany is often described as the “powerhouse” of Europe, but the health of the world’s fourth largest economy is not as rosy as most people think, according to one economist. “The crack in Germany’s economy has become most evident in consumer spending. Retail sales volumes have slowed consistently since growth rates peaked in mid-2015. They have crashed in the last six monthly reports,” Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note earlier this week. Hard data shows that Germany’s economy has been facing problems for at least the past six months, despite an uptick in growth at the end of last year. At the same time, income has been slowing dramatically and the reasons behind this are far from clear.
“As domestic demand is imploding, so is foreign demand,” Weinberg added. “Exports are flat year-on-year. This is not to say that net exports are not rising. However, the flat gross exports mean industrial output to make goods for export is not growing.” “Without growth of either exports or domestic consumer spending, industrial production has stalled,” Weinberg said. On Tuesday, data showed German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009. According to Reuters, a breakdown of the January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.
In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy discuss why neoliberalism didn’t make us richer. In the second half, Max interviews professor Steve Keen about Quantitative easing (QE) and its role in financial crisis.
Home prices in 31% of the U.K.’s local authority districts have risen more than the total average take-home pay of workers in the area over the past two years, according to Halifax. While homeowners would have to sell their houses to realize those gains, it illustrates how quickly prices have risen, as well as how hard it is for new buyers to get on the property ladder. Rising house prices have helped underpin consumption, the backbone of Britain’s economy, even as wage increases have been more modest. Still, the distribution of gains highlight regional disparities. More than 90% of the areas were in London, the South and East of England, the report published Friday said.
The biggest gap was in Haringey, a borough in the north of the capital city, where house prices increased by an average of 139,803 pounds ($169,805), exceeding average take-home earnings by 91,450 pounds or 3,810 pounds per month. “While it’s no longer unusual for houses to ‘earn’ more than the people living in them in some places, there are clearly local impacts,” said economist Martin Ellis. “Homeowners in these areas can build up large levels of equity quickly, but for potential buyers whose wages have failed to keep pace, the cost of buying a home has become more unaffordable.” The only areas where earnings exceeded house price increases were the North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU. The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury. “We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.
Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration. News of his re-election was broken by Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, who tweeted his congratulations less than two hours after the meeting had started. In a rare formal vote, 27 of the EU’s 28 governments supported Tusk. The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, confirmed that Poland would retaliate by blocking the EU summit communique, a statement summarising EU policy on economic growth, migration and the western Balkans. But the document can still be approved in a different procedure, a manoeuvre likely to deepen the wedge between Warsaw and other EU capitals.
Around one in six U.K. households had “great difficulty” or “difficulty” in making ends meet in 2015, according to Eurostat. While that’s below the estimated average of 26% across the European Union, it’s more than triple the proportion of struggling Swedes and about double the%age in Germany. With inflation forecast to accelerate this year and grocers such as Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc warning price increases will soon hit, British consumers look set to face a further squeeze on living standards this year.
Obviously, like hopefully many people, I’ve been following the WikiLeaks CIA revelations, and closely. It’s too early for too many conclusions, if only because WikiLeaks has announced much more will flow from that same pipeline. But one thing is already clear: the CIA is -still- a club that sees enemies behind every tree, and behind every TV set too. Which is not as obvious a world view as it may seem; it’s just something we’ve become used to.
Moreover, as we see time and again, organizations like the CIA and NATO have no qualms about ‘creating’ enemies if they are in short supply. The flavor du jour has now been, for years, Russia, but don’t be surprised if another one is cultivated alongside it. ISIS, China, North Korea, plenty of options, and plenty of media more than willing to aid the cultivation process. It’s a well-oiled machine geared towards making something out of nothing, a machine very adept at making you believe anything it wants you to.
In this way, our friends can become our enemies, and our enemies our friends. What gets lost in translation is that this way in reality we become our own worst enemies. While the upper and most secretive layers of society, filled with folk of questionable psychological constitution -sociopaths and psychopaths-, get to chase their dreams of wealth and power, those who try to live normal decent lives are, for that very purpose, increasingly subjected to poverty, misery and fear. As our economies decline further, this will only get worse.
Who needs your -conscious- vote or voice if these can be easily manipulated? Or do you not think you’re being manipulated? How many of you, American or European, think Russia is an actual threat to you? I’m afraid by now there’s a majority on each continent who perceive Putin as an evil force. The president of a country that spends one-tenth on its military of what the US does. Trump’s announced military spending increase alone is almost as much as Russia spends in a whole year.
If Putin is really the threat he’s made out to be, to both Europe and the US, he must be extremely smart; merely devious wouldn’t do it. A man who can be an active threat to two entire continents and almost a billion people while spending a fraction on building that threat of what those he threatens do, must be a genius. Or the victim of media-politico manipulation.
But we don’t stop there. As the CIA spying and hacking files once again make abundantly clear, America increasingly seeks its enemies at home. This may be presented in the shape of Donald Trump, or terrorists on US soil, imported or not, but claiming that we can still tell a real threat from an invented one is no longer credible. We are led along on a propaganda leash 24/7, and the best thing about it is we believe we are not. That’s why it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what WikiLeaks is telling us.
The most extreme example of the political machinery turning our friends into enemies is probably right there, in the WikiLeaks and whistleblower corner of society. Earlier today I wrote:
The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.
Then later I saw I wasn’t the only one who had thought of this:
Edward Snowden and Kim Dotcom and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are ‘the enemy’, so say our ‘leaders’. They have received this honorable label for exposing secrets these same leaders were trying to hide from us. Secrets most of us, if we think it over, would say should not be kept from us. The NSA spying on the American people, or the CIA turning your phones and TVs and cars into objects that can be used against you, these are things that don’t belong in our societies.
Still, as I’ve always said, if they can do it -from a technical point of view-, they will, damn the law. So we will have to make very sure the laws keep up with these developments, or we’re defenseless. The Obama administration hasn’t been much help with this, and the rest of Washington won’t be either, they’re not just part of the machine, they are the engine that drives the machine. Obama allegedly gave in to the CIA for fear of ending up like JFK and the rest, along with the press, is under control too.
So perhaps Trump is our best chance at putting a stop to this coup, this deep state, from taking over. If we still can. And for that we might well need Snowden and Dotcom and Assange, who are not the enemies they are made out to be, they are the smartest among us, or at least they belong right up there. And they are not only the smartest, they are the bravest too. Locking them up would be a huge disservice to our societies, it would be much better to ask them to help us figure out what game the hell is being played.
One thing the WikiLeaks files accomplished is they made and and all accusations of Russian hacking, and of links between Trump and Russia, utterly meaningless in one fell swoop. Because the CIA has acquired the capability, both through hacking Russian files and through coding, to leave ‘footprints’ that make it look like the Russians left them. And the only ‘proof’ there ever was for all these accusations was based on these footprints. That’s one narrative that must now be restarted from scratch -just one of many.
All we need now is for Trump to figure out who his enemies are, and who his friends. He already knows the CIA is not his friend, but has he figured out yet that the whistleblowers are not his enemy? And has his crew? Kim Dotcom is right, Trump is in real danger, he’s been watched, and being watched, 24/7. Whether Obama ordered that or not is not very relevant. There are more urgent matters at hand.
And somewhere along the way he’s going to have to figure out that chasing women and children around the country and out of it is not just ugly, it’ll cost him too much sympathy too. But so far all protests come from the Democrats and their supporters, who have all been left voiceless and shapeless by the election and now see their Russian conspiracy narratives blown to smithereens too, so why wouldn’t he please his own voters for a bit longer?
Well, for one thing, because he has to start to realize he’s going to need very broad support, and soon, be a president for all Americans so to speak, to fend off the CIA et al, and in what may be the hardest thing to do, he needs to invoke transparency, explain to people exactly what he does, and why, to drain the deep swamp.
If he fails in all this, and for now the odds point in that direction, those who protest him today will feel validated, right, and winners. They will be tragically wrong. Because if Trump loses this, the CIA wins. And then we will all live in 1984 for as far into the future as we can see.
I know there’s a lot that’s not to like about Trump and Bannon and all those guys. However, look at it this way: they are the only ones who can keep the doors of the vault from slamming shut for the rest of our lives, leaving time for y’all to wake up and find a president who doesn’t seek to turn your friends into your enemies. At least you’ll still have that choice.
With present-day Washington, Democrat or Republican, there’s no such choice. They’re CIA, as are the media. Kim Dotcom tweeted this too today:
It’s obvious there is only one story today, which ironically(?!) blows the whole Trump-Russia accusation narrative to bits, even though of course Russia gets the blame for this too in all sorts of corners. But the files are reported to have been ‘out there’ for a while, in the hands of hackers and possible foreign agencies. The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.
And this is just the first part. Wikileaks has announced more from where this came from.
A total of 8,761 documents have been published as part of ‘Year Zero’, the first in a series of leaks the whistleblower organization has dubbed ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said that ‘Year Zero’ revealed details of the CIA’s “global covert hacking program,” including “weaponized exploits” used against company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”
WikiLeaks tweeted the leak, which it claims came from a network inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia.
Among the more notable disclosures which, if confirmed, “would rock the technology world“, the CIA had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”
Another profound revelation is that the CIA can engage in “false flag” cyberattacks which portray Russia as the assailant. Discussing the CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group, Wikileaks’ source notes that it “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.
“With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from. UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.”
As Kim Dotcom summarizes this finding, “CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state. It turns DNC/Russia hack allegation by CIA into a JOKE“
CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state. It turns DNC/Russia hack allegation by CIA into a JOKE
But perhaps what is most notable is the purported emergence of another Snowden-type whistleblower: the source of the information told WikiLeaks in a statement that they wish to initiate a public debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.” Policy questions that should be debated in public include “whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency,” WikiLeaks claims the source said.
The FAQ section of the release, shown below, provides further details on the extent of the leak, which was “obtained recently and covers through 2016”. The time period covered in the latest leak is between the years 2013 and 2016, according to the CIA timestamps on the documents themselves. Secondly, WikiLeaks has asserted that it has not mined the entire leak and has only verified it, asking that journalists and activists do the leg work.
Among the various techniques profiled by WikiLeaks is “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.
As Kim Dotcom chimed in on Twitter, “CIA turns Smart TVs, iPhones, gaming consoles and many other consumer gadgets into open microphones” and added ” CIA turned every Microsoft Windows PC in the world into spyware. Can activate backdoors on demand, including via Windows update”
BREAKING: CIA turns Smart TVs, iPhones, gaming consoles and many other consumer gadgets into open microphones. #Vault7
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of “Year Zero” goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”
While it has been superficially covered by much of the press – and one can make the argument that what Julian Assange has revealed is more relevant to the US population, than constant and so far unconfirmed speculation that Trump is a puppet of Putin – the fallout from the Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release this morning of thousands of documents demonstrating the extent to which the CIA uses backdoors to hack smartphones, computer operating systems, messenger applications and internet-connected televisions, will be profound. As evidence of this, the WSJ cites an intelligence source who said that “the revelations were far more significant than the leaks of Edward Snowden.”
Mr. Snowden’s leaks revealed names of programs, companies that assist the NSA in surveillance and in some cases the targets of American spying. But the recent leak purports to contain highly technical details about how surveillance is carried out. That would make them far more revealing and useful to an adversary, this person said. In one sense, Mr. Snowden provided a briefing book on U.S. surveillance, but the CIA leaks could provide the blueprints. Speaking of Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, who now appears to have a “parallel whisteblower” deep inside the “Deep State”, i.e., the source of the Wikileaks data – also had some thoughts on today’s CIA dump.
In a series of tweets, Snowden notes that “what @Wikileaks has here is genuinely a big deal”, and makes the following key observations “If you’re writing about the [email protected] story, here’s the big deal: first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe” and adds that “the CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.” He then asks rhetorically “Why is this dangerous?” and explains “Because until closed, any hacker can use the security hole the CIA left open to break into any iPhone in the world.” His conclusion, one which many of the so-called conspiratorial bent would say was well-known long ago: “Evidence mounts showing CIA & FBI knew about catastrophic weaknesses in the most-used smartphones in America, but kept them open – to spy.”
“..WikiLeaks, which has sometimes been accused of recklessly leaking information that could do harm, said it had redacted names and other identifying information from the collection. It said it was not releasing the computer code for actual, usable weapons “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published.”
In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers. A program called Wrecking Crew explains how to crash a targeted computer, and another tells how to steal passwords using the autocomplete function on Internet Explorer. Other programs were called CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.
The document dump was the latest coup for the antisecrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which uses its hacking abilities to carry out espionage against foreign targets. The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first installment in a larger collection of secret C.I.A. material, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, many of them partly redacted by WikiLeaks editors to avoid disclosing the actual code for cyberweapons. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, the group claimed. In one revelation that may especially trouble the tech world if confirmed, WikiLeaks said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services have managed to compromise both Apple and Android smartphones, allowing their officers to bypass the encryption on popular services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate smartphones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”
Unlike the National Security Agency documents Edward J. Snowden gave to journalists in 2013, they do not include examples of how the tools have been used against actual foreign targets. That could limit the damage of the leak to national security. But the breach was highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy. Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at the University of Texas at Austin, likened the C.I.A. trove to National Security Agency hacking tools disclosed last year by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. “If this is true, it says that N.S.A. isn’t the only one with an advanced, persistent problem with operational security for these tools,” Mr. Chesney said. “We’re getting bit time and again.”
According to a Wikileaks press release, the 8,761 newly published files came from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Langley, Virginia. The release says that the UMBRAGE group, a subdivision of the center’s Remote Development Branch (RDB), has been collecting and maintaining a “substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states, including the Russian Federation.” As Wikileaks notes, the UMBRAGE group and its related projects allow the CIA to misdirect the attribution of cyber attacks by “leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the very groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”
In other words, the CIA’s sophisticated hacking tools all have a “signature” marking them as originating from the agency. In order to avoid arousing suspicion as to the true extent of its covert cyber operations, the CIA has employed UMBRAGE’s techniques in order to create signatures that allow multiple attacks to be attributed to various entities – instead of the real point of origin at the CIA – while also increasing its total number of attack types. Other parts of the release similarly focus on avoiding the attribution of cyberattacks or malware infestations to the CIA during forensic reviews of such attacks. In a document titled “Development Tradecraft DOs and DON’Ts,” hackers and code writers are warned “DO NOT leave data in a binary file that demonstrates CIA, U.S. [government] or its witting partner companies’ involvement in the creation or use of the binary/tool.” It then states that “attribution of binary/tool/etc. by an adversary can cause irreversible impacts to past, present and future U.S. [government] operations and equities.”
While a major motivating factor in the CIA’s use of UMBRAGE is to cover it tracks, events over the past few months suggest that UMBRAGE may have been used for other, more nefarious purposes. After the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shocked many within the U.S. political establishment and corporate-owned media, the CIA emerged claiming that Russia mounted a “covert intelligence operation” to help Donald Trump edge out his rival Hillary Clinton.[..] the U.S. intelligence community’s assertions that Russia used cyber-attacks to interfere with the election overshadowed reports that the U.S. government had actually been responsible for several hacking attempts that targeted state election systems.
For instance, the state of Georgia reported numerous hacking attempts on its election agencies’ networks, nearly all of which were traced back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now that the CIA has been shown to not only have the capability but also the express intention of replacing the “fingerprint” of cyber-attacks it conducts with those of another state actor, the CIA’s alleged evidence that Russia hacked the U.S. election – or anything else for that matter – is immediately suspect. There is no longer any way to determine if the CIA’s proof of Russian hacks on U.S. infrastructure is legitimate, as it could very well be a “false flag” attack.
“..we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom.”
Everything that Wikileaks has revealed over the past year has hurt both the integrity and honor of the United States. The question you have to grapple with, is it well deserved? After all, living inside of a vast and powerful empire has its benefits. As the empire expands, so does the wealth of its citizens. But it hasn’t worked out that way, has it? The CIA deep staters have turned their guns on the people they serve – using third world banana republic tactics to silence opposition, take down regimes not beholden to their world view, using advanced technology to both spy and monitor on American citizens – infringing on our civil rights like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The reason for the populist uprising and the lack of equanimity amongst those traditionally supportive of the CIA lies in the improper distribution of the spoils of war. There aren’t any.
All the average American has received from $10 trillion in Obama inspired deficit spending is American casualties of war, jobs lost to cheaper labor overseas, expensive oil prices, expensive healthcare, and run away education costs – along with a sundry of social disturbances that have people fed up. While the elite flaunt hedonistic lifestyles, eschewing basic decency for the perverse, normies get more of the same old bullshit. After electing a true agent of change in Donald Trump, the people are laughed at and impugned by the elitist media. Their President is set upon by ‘permanent government’ officials in the intelligence agencies – whose only goal is to derail and destroy his term before it even begins.
Then we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom. Here’s Fox News reporting on the latest scandal to hit the wires, #VAULT7 Fox New sources inside the CIA said the agency was running around like headless chickens, saying ‘there is heavy shit coming down.’
The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a near five-year high in January as cell phones and rising oil prices helped to push up the import bill, suggesting trade would again weigh on economic growth in the first quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 9.6% to $48.5 billion, the highest level since March 2012. The deficit was in line with economists forecasts. December’s trade shortfall was unrevised at $44.3 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit rose to $65.3 billion from $62.0 billion in December. Both the inflation-adjusted exports and imports were the highest on record in January.
The wider trade gap added to weak data such as housing starts, consumer and construction spending in suggesting the economy struggled to regain momentum early in the first quarter after growth slowed to a 1.9% annualized rate in the final three months of 2016. The economy grew at a 3.5% pace in the third quarter. Trade cut 1.7 percentage points from GDP in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP rising at a 1.8% rate in the first quarter. The dollar was trading marginally higher, while prices for U.S. government bonds were little changed. U.S. stock index futures were slightly lower. The Trump administration is eyeing trade as it seeks 4% annual GDP growth. President Donald Trump has vowed sweeping changes to U.S. trade policy, starting with pulling out of the 12-nation TPP.
[..] The bulk of the increase in the trade-weighted value of the greenback occurred in the final months of 2016 and will probably take a while to reflect in the trade data. Exports to Germany tumbled 10.7%. A Trump trade adviser has accused Germany of unfairly benefiting from a weak euro. Shipments of goods to China, also singled out by the Trump administration, dropped 13.4%. The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit increased 12.8% to $31.3 billion in January, while the trade gap with Germany fell 8.0% to $4.9 billion. The United States also saw its trade deficit with Mexico shrink 10.1% to its lowest level since July 2015.
China unexpectedly posted a rare trade deficit in February as imports surged far more than expected to feed a months-long construction boom, driven by commodities from iron ore and copper to crude oil and coal. Imports in yuan-denominated terms surged 44.7 percent from a year earlier, while exports rose 4.2 percent, official data showed on Wednesday. That left the country with a trade deficit of 60.63 billion yuan ($8.79 billion) for the month, the General Administration of Customs said. Customs has not yet published dollar-denominated trade figures, on which most economists and investors base their forecasts and analysis. Apart from currency fluctuations, higher commodity prices and the timing of the long Lunar New year holidays early in the year also may have distorted the data.
Most of China’s commodity imports grew strongly in volume terms from a year earlier, but dipped from January. Still, economists say the upbeat readings reinforced a growing view that economic activity in China and globally picked up in the first two months of the year. That could give China’s policymakers more confidence to press ahead with oft-delayed and painful structural reforms such as tackling a mountain of debt. Containing the risks from years of debt-fueled stimulus and heavy spending has been a major focus at the annual meeting of China’s parliament which began on Sunday.
Europe’s smaller central banks are loading up on foreign currencies at rates usually associated with periods of intense global stress, highlighting the fragile underpinnings of the global economic recovery despite the recent upbeat mood in financial markets. Switzerland’s holdings of foreign assets jumped last month at their fastest pace in over two years as its central bank fought the strong franc, which weakens exports and inflation. The Czech central bank intervened in January on a massive scale to maintain its currency target against the euro. Denmark has also stepped up its foreign-currency purchases to keep the krone from strengthening too much. These central banks are showing crisis-like behavior to protect their currencies even in the absence of obvious trouble. This exposes them to losses if their currencies fail to weaken on their own.
It also raises doubts as to how long they can keep this up in an era when economic and political uncertainties appear to be a lasting feature of the world economy. “There is a little bit of survivor behavior,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank. “They’ve been protecting their currencies so long and it’s hard to give up that defensive position.” The Swiss National Bank said Tuesday its foreign exchange reserves swelled nearly 25 billion Swiss francs ($24.63 billion) last month to 668 billion francs, the biggest rise since December 2014, the month before the Swiss abandoned a cap on the franc’s value. The pile of foreign reserves is greater than Switzerland’s entire gross domestic product. “It’s quite bizarre. You’d think at some time you’d run out of surprises,” said Stefan Gerlach, chief economist at BSI Bank in Zurich and a former deputy governor at Ireland’s central bank.
[..] Central banks accumulate foreign reserves when they purchase assets denominated in other currencies, using freshly created money. They do this to weaken their currencies, protecting exports and giving a boost to inflation. Foreign reserves can waver slightly due to changes in currency values, but big increases like Switzerland’s signal aggressive intervention. This tool has gained traction in recent years as official rates have turned negative in Denmark and Switzerland and are near zero in the Czech Republic.
There are two economic myths that fail the interests of women. The first is the fallacy that government budgets conform to “the household analogy”: that, as with family budgets, a state’s outgoings cannot exceed its income. The second is that “there is no money” for the services women use and need. On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.
To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.
Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers). Both nurses and construction workers will return a large part of their incomes into the economy through spending, benefitting the private sector. Thanks to the multiplier effect, that spending will generate VAT and corporation tax revenues – for repaying government debt. George Osborne believed that government spending cuts would be offset by a rise in private sector confidence, inspired by a government “getting its house in order”. But that did not happen.
As many of us predicted, government spending cuts contracted the economy further. Economic activity (investment, sales, employment) was weaker than expected. Even when employment revived, lower wages and insecure, part-time work meant that income and corporate taxes were lower than expected. So government borrowing did not fall. As a result, public debt as a share of GDP was higher than expected. In the meantime, massive harm had been done to public sector services and those employed in the sector – while the economy endured the slowest post-crisis recovery in history. And it was women who largely paid the price.
One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.” Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package” aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers.
Women are massively more affected by budget cuts than men, says the Labour peer. They are more likely to be single parents, earn less and work part time than their male counterparts. She argues the government must replace ‘gender-neutral’ budgeting with economic policies that put women first.
The first day of the Russian revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Propsekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear. The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland”, read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace”. The crowds of demonstrators were varied. The city’s governor, AP Balk, said they consisted of “ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with earlier demonstrations, not many workers”. The revolution was begun by women, not male workers.
In the afternoon the mood began to change as female textile workers from the Vyborg side of the city came out on strike in protest against shortages of bread. Joined by their menfolk, they swelled the crowds on the Nevsky, where there were calls for “Bread!” and “Down with the tsar!” By the end of the afternoon, 100,000 workers had come out on strike, and there were clashes with police as the workers tried to cross the Liteiny bridge, connecting the Vyborg side with the city centre. Most were dispersed by the police but several thousand crossed the ice-packed river Neva (a risky thing to do at -5C) and some, angered by the fighting, began to loot the shops on their way to the Nevsky. Balk’s Cossacks struggled to clear the crowds on the Nevsky. They would ride up the demonstrators, only to stop short and retreat. Later it emerged that they were mostly young reservists who had no experience of dealing with crowds.
Runaway real estate speculation has been filling global capitals with vacant homes, creating artificial shortages in the world’s most sought after cities. The “shortage” has made local home owners wealthy overnight, but it comes at the cost of turning lively cities into empty shells. The city of Paris has decided it’s had enough, and implemented a tax in 2015. They didn’t quite get the results they wanted, so they’re now tripling the tax to 60%. Paris has been trying to deal with vacant property owners for some time. Despite warnings that the city will have to take action, the number of vacant homes is growing. There’s now 107,000 vacant homes, representing 7.5% of all residential dwellings in the city according to France’s INSEE. Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat told Le Monde that 40,000 of those vacant homes aren’t even connected to the electrical grid.
Local developers have argued that more new construction is the solution. However Brossat argues “In a city as dense as Paris, where it is very difficult to build, controlling the occupancy of housing is strategic.” It appears the city believes they have 107,000 reasons more construction is not the solution. Paris implemented a tax recently, but it didn’t quite produce the desired outcome. Starting in 2015 the city elected to tax vacant homes the equivalent of 20% of the fair market value of rent. On January 30 this year, they decided to triple that amount to 60%. The idea isn’t to punish those fortunate enough to own a second (or twelfth) home. They’re trying to discourage speculation and promote a healthy rental market.
Paris’ 107,000 empty homes might seem like a lot, but it’s becoming strangely normal around the world. New York City had a whopping 318,831 vacant units in 2015. It’s a hot topic in Sydney, where 118,499 vacant units were counted in 2013. Heck, London considers it a critical issue, and they “only” have 22,000 empty homes. There’s a massive numbers of vacant homes across the globe, but only Paris has decided to take aggressive action to tackle it. Growing populations have barely put a dent in the vacant homes in global real estate capitals. The amount of speculation has been scaling with demand, which is a curious paradox. This signifies an issue that’s more complex than just a basic supply and demand problem.
Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities don’t necessarily mean the country is in the grip of a housing bubble, according to the heads of the nation’s biggest banks. Testifying before a parliamentary committee, the chief executives of National Australia, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia all said that while they are worried about elements of the housing market, prices aren’t over-inflated. “I would draw the distinction between a speculative bubble in prices and prices beyond what fundamentals would justify,” Westpac’s Brian Hartzer told the committee in Canberra Wednesday. A bubble isn’t occurring in Sydney or Melbourne, where house prices have risen the most, he said.
“There are increasing risks, but I still believe the answer is no,” National Australia Bank’s Andrew Thorburn said when asked if houses in Sydney and Melbourne are overpriced. Commonwealth Bank, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, is “lending at levels we are comfortable with” across Australia, CEO Ian Narev told the committee when he testified Tuesday. The bank chiefs were appearing in front of the committee, which was set up by the government to ward off calls for a more far-reaching inquiry into the financial industry, for the second time within six months. The banks have been under pressure from opposition parties after a series of scandals in their insurance and wealth divisions and concern they failed to pass on the full benefits of central bank interest-rate cuts to borrowers.
In the thrall of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing a debt-financed housing bubble. In our two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the housing markets are out of control due to the rapid acceleration of debt enabled by lenders issuing remarkable amounts of mortgages. Household debt to income ratios for the states of NSW and VIC suggest this to be the case. Australian lenders are handing out mortgages like confetti – why? It demonstrates banks and non-bank lenders are quite willing to issue risky mortgages to applicants who will not have the long-term financial capability to repay. Lenders are indeed taking on these excessive risks. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink is today the common approach governments take to ensure housing prices continually rise given their fear of the political and economic damage caused by falling prices.
Governments engaged in co-buying and co-owning housing with FHBs stimulates debt accumulation and hence prices. The VIC government, for instance, is attempting to provide a large gift to current residential land owners and lenders at the cost of FHBs acquiring mortgages they cannot afford to service over the long-run. This is done through the proposed shared equity model whereby the government acquires 25% of the home price. To make matters worse, the VIC government is also cutting stamp duty for FHBs and doubling the FHOB (for new properties in regional areas); both in theory have the effect of boosting housing prices. The VIC government cannot allow housing prices in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria decline significantly because it will suffer the same adverse impact that Dublin and Ireland experienced last decade.
The problems are the same and the end result will be the same. Unfortunately, just like the federal government, the VIC government is stuck. Implementing policies on the demand and supply sides to reduce land prices will cause a great deal of pain to all stakeholders: governments, lenders, homeowners, investors, including employees – many may lose their jobs if debt growth craters and removes a considerable portion of demand from the economy. Government has dug itself into a hole but instead of assessing a way out, it simply continues to dig, hoping to kick the can down the road long enough for the next party in power to deal with the problems. Both the LNP and ALP at the federal and state levels have refused to deal with the issues at hand, and prefer to enslave a generation of Aussies to the most profitable and high-risk banking system in the western world.
The latest GDP figures for Greece, relating to Q4 of 2016, are disastrous. For Greece first and foremost, but also for the credibility of the EU and IMF’s failed harsh austerity (but on the EU side no-debt-cancellation) policy. Far from evidencing the long-promised recovery, they show a new decline in GDP – both on the previous quarter (after seasonal adjustment) and year on year. In fact, the economy has been broadly stagnant at a low level since 2013. In constant volume terms, GDP fell by over 27% from (peak) Q2 2007 to Q4 2013, and in Q4 2016 it was 0.3% smaller than in Q4 2013. In Q4 it was only marginally higher than the post-crisis record low to date, Q3 2015. This chart from Elstat (the Greek Statistical Office) shows the development of GDP over the last decade:
What is more extraordinary is that current price (i.e. nominal) GDP has fallen even further than real GDP over the decade – by 28.5% From 2008 to 2016, GDP fell quarter-on-quarter in no fewer than 27 out of 36 quarters, of which two in 2016. [..] there has been some modest improvement, with unemployment in November 2016 about 66,000 lower than a year before, and employment up by about 50,000. But employment is still 200,000 below its 2011 level. The unemployment rate remains a disastrous 23%, which reminds one of chronic European levels in the 1920s and 1930s:
The Financial Times’ Mehreen Khan yesterday (6 March) described the current state of negotiations towards the absurd requirement of a contractionary 3.5% of GDP budget surplus (i.e. after interest): “Progress on the country’s €86bn rescue deal has stuttered this year following a standoff between the EU and IMF over the level of austerity, reforms and debt relief baked into Greece’s three-year programme. Bailout monitors however returned to Athens last week to ensure the left-wing Greek government was making steps towards legislating for around €2bn in tax and pension measures that will help the country meet a surplus target of 3.5 per cent of GDP from 2018. Approval of the second review would unlock around €6bn in rescue cash for the economy.”
And ah yes, as Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chair of the Eurogroup finance ministers, put it on 20th February, in an interview with CNBC (h/t Professor Helen Thompson ): “…anyone who wants to talk about crisis can talk to someone else because the Greek economy is gradually recovering and what we need to do is to strengthen that and give that more opportunity and that is what I’m trying to do.” Alas, Mr Dijsselbloem comes from the Dutch Labour Party, not the conservatives, and here symbolizes all that is so profoundly wrong with the Eurozone’s economic policy and ideology. It’s high time he looked again at that table of unemployment in the 1930s – and the terrible ordeal imposed on the Dutch working class.
When Maria’s employer, a large communications company in Athens, gave her additional tasks at one of its new units, it told her she wouldn’t be paid for the work in euros. “I was informed that this extra payment of 150 euros per month would be in coupons that I can use in supermarkets,” said the 45-year-old, declining to provide her last name for fear of losing her job. Payments in kind are among practices companies are using in Greece as they seek to cap payroll costs, undermining efforts to balance the books of the country’s cash-strapped social security system. As creditors push the government to boost its budget surplus, companies avoiding payroll charges and effectively expanding the shadow economy are making the task harder. By some estimates, the so-called black market already accounts for as much as a quarter of Greece’s economy.
“Such practices help companies to avoid social contributions, but the burden for the economy is huge,” said Panos Tsakloglou, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Less contributions for pensions means more budget transfers to them which then leads to more austerity measures to meet fiscal targets, measures that will probably hit pensioners.” Greek officials have been meeting in Athens with representatives of the euro area and IMF to set out the policies the country must undertake to unlock more bailout loans. The government foresees an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home. Greece has agreed to target for a budget surplus before interest payments equal to 3.5% of GDP for 2018, which could mean more belt-tightening.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it tries to appease creditors while avoiding mass protests. After an anemic recovery, the Greek economy shrank again in the fourth quarter, raising the specter of growing tensions at home even as European creditors and the IMF push for more austerity. With an economy that has shrunk by more than a quarter in the last seven years, Greece has an unemployment rate of 23%, close to a historic high. Creditors, meanwhile, are demanding greater labor-market flexibility that would make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. They want the threshold of collective dismissals to be doubled to 10% and demand that Athens not revoke any of the measures legislated during the crisis.
[..] For overtaxed Greek companies, dodging social security contributions through payments in kind has become a way to make ends meet. According to the latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average single worker in Greece faced a tax wedge of 39.3% compared with an average of 35.9% among developed economies. About half of the burden falls upon employers. “We do not have the exact picture,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, an official in Greece’s Labor Ministry. “But it is clear that it is not legal to replace payments with coupons. It is only permitted to give coupons as an extra bonus. Companies are seeking to gain from lower social contributions and also from not paying for extra working hours.”
It was a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia. Installed in the White House was a president who had never before held elected office. A moderately successful businessman, he promised American jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent. He wore his hair parted down the middle, rather than elaborately piled on top, and his name was Herbert Hoover, not Donald Trump. But in the late 1920s and early 1930s, under the president’s watch, a wave of illegal and unconstitutional raids and deportations would alter the lives of as many as 1.8 million men, women and children—a threat that would seem to loom just as large in 2017 as it did back in 1929.
What became colloquially known as the “Mexican repatriation” efforts of 1929 to 1936 are a shameful and profoundly illustrative chapter in American history, yet they remain largely unknown—despite their broad and devastating impact. So much so that today, a different president is edging towards similar solutions, with none of the hesitation or concern that basic consciousness would seem to require. [..] Back in Hoover’s era, as America hung on the precipice of economic calamity—the Great Depression—the president was under enormous pressure to offer a solution for increasing unemployment, and to devise an emergency plan for the strained social safety net. Though he understood the pressing need to aid a crashing economy, Hoover resisted federal intervention, instead preferring a patchwork of piecemeal solutions, including the targeting of outsiders.
According to former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, who in 2004 began an investigation into the Hoover-era deportations, “the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.” “Getting rid of” America’s Mexican population was a random, brutal effort. “For participating cities and counties, they would go through public employee rolls and look for Mexican-sounding names and then go and arrest and deport those people,” said Dunn. “And then there was a job opening!” “We weren’t rounding up people who were Canadian,” he added. “It was an absolutely racially-motivated program to create jobs by getting rid of people.”
[..] The so-called repatriation effort was, in large part, a misnomer, given the fact that as many as sixty percent of those sent to “home” Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border. (Dunn noted, “I don’t know how you can repatriate someone to a country they’ve not been born or raised in.”) “Individuals who left at 5, 6 and 7 years old found themselves in Mexico dealing with process of socialization, of learning the language, but they maintained an American identity,” said Balderrama. “And still had the dream to come back to ‘my country.’”