Jan 102018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Giorgione The Tempest 1508

 

Happy belated new year. Belatedly. Thought I’d sit out a few days, since there wasn’t much news to be expected. And it did pan out that way, other than Trump bogarting the limelight; but then, that isn’t really news either. Anything he says or does triggers the expansive anti-Donald echo chamber into a daily frenzy. And frankly, guys, it’s not just boring, but you’re also continuously providing him with free publicity. At least make him work for some of it.

Then, however, the big microprocessor (chip) security ‘flaw’ was exposed. And that’s sort of interesting, because it concerns the basic architecture of basically every microchip produced in the past 20 years, even well before smartphones. Now, the first thing you have to realize is that we’re not actually talking about a flaw here, but about a feature. We use that line a lot in a half-jokingly version, but in this case it’s very much true. As Bloomberg succinctly put it:

All modern microprocessors, including those that run smartphones, are built to essentially guess what functions they’re likely to be asked to run next. By queuing up possible executions in advance, they’re able to crunch data and run software much faster. The problem in this case is that this predictive loading of instructions allows access to data that’s normally cordoned off securely..

And:

Spectre fools the processor into running speculative operations – ones it wouldn’t normally perform – and then uses information about how long the hardware takes to retrieve the data to infer the details of that information. Meltdown exposes data directly by undermining the way information in different applications is kept separate by what’s known as a kernel, the key software at the core of every computer.

As I said: feature, not flaw (or two really, Spectre and Meltdown). And that makes one wonder: fixing a flaw is one thing, but how do you fix a feature? Several quotes claim that software patches would mean the performance speed of affected chips (that would be all of them) would go down by 25-30% or so. Which is bad enough, but the problem is not -limited to- software. And patching up hardware/firmware issues with software can’t be easy, if even viable.

That would make one suspect that even if a software patch can suppress this feature, as long as the architecture doesn’t change, it can still function as a backdoor. Apple may say there are no known exploits of it, but would they tell if for instance intelligence services used it? Or other parties that cannot be labeled ‘hackers’?

 

All that ties in seemingly seamlessly with Apple shareholders expressing their worries about the effect of their investments. Though you might want to wonder if their worries would be the same if Apple shares plummeted tomorrow.

 

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children

..activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health.

There are a few things off with this. First, there’s the risk of these kids’ iPhones being hacked through the flaw, feature, backdoor mentioned above. That’s potentially a lot worse for them. Then, there’s the obvious fact that parents can simply take their children’s phones away, there’s no better way to restrict access. Why should that be Apple’s responsibility?

But most of all, children are addicted to their phones because of the content, and Apple, though they would wish it were different, are not the major content providers. That role is played by Alphabet/Google/YouTube and Facebook/Instagram, and to a lesser extent Snapchat and Twitter. And they are a much bigger threat than Apple is.

 

There has been a lot of talk about hate speech, fake news and election interference over the past year and change -and it won’t stop anytime soon, because it’s political gold dust. Germany, France, the UK, US and a whole slew of smaller nations have all tried to implicate Russia in all of these issues, and for good measure opposition parties to incumbent governments have been fingered too.

There are perhaps very obvious examples of all three topics, but the issue as a whole is far from clear. In Germany, Twitter accounts of the Alternative für Deutschland party have been blocked, but given that they now have seats in parliament, that is a tricky problem. Likewise, much of what the US MSM has been writing about Trump and his organization has proven unsubstantiated, and could therefore be labeled fake news. It isn’t to date, other than by the president himself, but who draws the line where?

The US election interference narrative is shaky, since it largely appears to rely on $100k or so in Facebook ads bought by some mysterious party, ads that are supposed to have been much more effective than many billions of dollars in campaign funding. The kind of thing that makes you think: if the Russians are so much better at this than we are, we might as well hand it all over to them right now.

The main problem with the election interference stories is that none of it has ever been proven. Not even the $100k+ in Facebook ads; they might just as well have originated in Langley and we only have Langley’s word for any alternative claims. Overall, defining what is hate speech and what is fake news seems to come down far too much to opinions rather than facts, and that has us sliding down a supremely slippery slope, not exactly a place to build solid policy on.

So how and why can Facebook and Google be trusted to provide objective assessments on what is fake news and hate speech vs what is not? That is what they are being tasked with at present. They hires tens of thousands of people to do that ‘job’. But what are these people’s qualifications? How do these companies make sure political bias is kept out of the process? Do they even want to keep it out, or do Zuckerberg, Brin, Schmidt want to confirm their own bias?

It’s hard to see how the decision making process, fake vs real news, hate speech, political meddling, will not inevitably become one guided and goaded by intelligence services, because they are the ones who claim to have both the knowledge and the evidence upon which these decisions must be based. But US intelligence is not politically neutral, and they don’t share the sources of their ‘evidence’.

 

 

Still, none of that is the main problem here either. Though we’re getting closer.

Over the holidays, I saw a movie in which there was a teachers’ Christmas party at some highschool. All the teachers were bored and sat or stood in silence looking at nothing. And I realized that kind of scene no longer exists today. Though the movie was just 10-15 years old, there have been some profound changes. At a party like that, or at a busstop, in a bus or train, a waiting room or even a family dinner, everyone is now glued to their smartphone. Even people walking down the street are. And those driving down the street.

What all these people seem to do most is look at their Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat etc. accounts. And apart from the profound changes to human interaction in public spaces, there are other things that deserve attention. Like for instance that while you think you’re having private conversations with your friends and family, there’s nothing private about it. Everything you tell your ‘friends’ de facto becomes property of the owners of the app you’re sharing it on.

When your friends read what you just wrote, they see not only that but also ads that the app displays alongside it. That means Facebook makes money from your friends’ attention for your words. Since Facebook reached 2 billion active users in 2017, that adds up. And they don’t have to do anything for that, other than keep the channels open.

But that is not the worst part. Facebook not only makes money off your contact with family and friends, something most people would probably find comparatively innocent, it also ‘spies’ on you. At the very least, its algorithms actively scour its databases to suggest possible additional friends, and/or people you might know. That can lead to unexpected and potentially undesirable results:

 

Facebook Figured Out My Family Secrets, And It Won’t Tell Me How

Rebecca Porter and I were strangers, as far as I knew. Facebook, however, thought we might be connected. Her name popped up this winter on my list of “People You May Know”, the social network’s roster of potential new online friends for me. The People You May Know feature is notorious for its uncanny ability to recognise who you associate with in real life. It has mystified and disconcerted Facebook users by showing them an old boss, a one-night-stand, or someone they just ran into on the street.

These friend suggestions go far beyond mundane linking of schoolmates or colleagues. Over the years, I’d been told many weird stories about them, such as when a psychiatrist told me that her patients were being recommended to one another, indirectly outing their medical issues.

What makes the results so unsettling is the range of data sources – location information, activity on other apps, facial recognition on photographs – that Facebook has at its disposal to cross-check its users against one another [..] . People are generally aware that Facebook is keeping tabs on who they are and how they use the network, but the depth and persistence of that monitoring is hard to grasp. And People You May Know, or “PYMK” in the company’s internal shorthand, is a black box.

To try to get a look into that black box – and the unknown and apparently aggressive data collection that feeds it – I began downloading and saving the list of people Facebook recommended to me, to see who came up, and what patterns might emerge. On any given day, it tended to recommend about 160 people, some of them over and over again; over the course of the winter, it suggested more than 1400 different people to me. About 200, or 15% of them, were, in fact, people I knew, but the rest appeared to be strangers.

And then there was Rebecca Porter. She showed up on the list after about a month: An older woman, living in Ohio, with whom I had no Facebook friends in common. I did not recognise her, but her last name was familiar. My biological grandfather is a man I’ve never met, with the last name Porter, who abandoned my father when he was a baby. My father was adopted by a man whose last name was Hill, and he didn’t find out about his biological father until adulthood.

The gist of the tale is clear: Someone being introduced by Facebook to someone (s)he never knew, and may not have wanted to know, or know about him/her.

But we’re still skirting the real problems. Though by now you may want to give it all another thought. The real problem is that by giving out the information on Facebook, even if it all seems completely harmless and innocent to you, you have become Big Brother.

That may sound over the top, and I wouldn’t want to go into popular innuendo that the NSA has started either Facebook or Bitcoin, but it’s obvious that when Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms can dig up so much information on people and the links between them, the intelligence community wants a piece of that. Google/Alphabet’s CEO (he’s leaving that post soon) Eric Schmidt is the head of DOD’s Defense Innovation Board for a reason, and he has been close to the Democratic Party core for years.

It all fits too well to be discarded. It’s inevitable that the NSA, the CIA have recognized the potential of Big Tech for spying on Americans -and everyone else- for a while now. What you write on Facebook may seem harmless, but the algorithms can do more with it than -quite literally- is ‘dreamt of in your philosophy’.

And so Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde is accurate in recognizing the symptoms, but not in diagnosing the underlying affliction. Mark Zuckerberg is not the dictator, and Trump is not in control of the data. They are mere conduits, and the buck stops elsewhere. We’ve centralized all our data to Big Brother.

 

We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg

“Everything has gone wrong. That’s the thing, it’s not about what will happen in the future it’s about what’s going on right now. We’ve centralized all of our data to a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, who’s basically the biggest dictator in the world as he wasn’t elected by anyone. Trump is basically in control over this data that Zuckerberg has, so I think we’re already there. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and I don’t think there’s a way for us to stop it.”

One of the most important things to realize is that the problem isn’t a technological one. “The internet was made to be decentralized,” says Sunde, “but we keep centralizing everything on top of the internet.” To support this, Sunde points out that in the last 10 years, almost every up-and-coming tech company or website has been bought by the big five: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. The ones that manage to escape the reach of the giants, often end up adding to the centralization.

We don’t create things anymore, instead we just have virtual things. Uber, Alibaba and Airbnb, for example, do they have products? No. We went from this product-based model, to virtual product, to virtually no product what so ever. This is the centralization process going on. Although we should be aware that the current effects of centralization, we shouldn’t overlook that it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of upcoming tech-based services that are at risk of becoming centralized, which could have a huge impact on our daily lives.

[..] Feeling a bit optimistic, I asked Sunde whether we could still fight for decentralization and bring the power back to the people. His answer was simple. “No. We lost this fight a long time ago. The only way we can do any difference is by limiting the powers of these companies – by governments stepping in – but unfortunately the EU or the US don’t seem to have any interest in doing this.”

The model is absolutely perfect, and it’s not even one that was built on purpose. When Facebook started, Zuckerberg et al were not thinking about 2 billion active users. Nor were they aiming for algorithms that could so pervasively document people’s lives and their connections to others across space and time, or that these people themselves would provide them with the information that can be used to build files on them that can at some point in their lives be used against them, if that is deemed necessary.

And this is just early innings. This is before artificial intelligence and virtual -and/or augmented- reality have really taken off. But when AI is truly unleashed upon the internet, everyone’s seemingly innocent everyday stories as told to family and friends will be a treasure trove when it comes to building the pictures of their lives that are useful to governments and their intelligence agencies.

These platforms are labeled social media, and we might want to think about that label. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people who are not where you find yourself at a given point in time, but there’s a price to pay for that; actually, multiple prices. We’ve likely all found ourselves in situations by now where people act less, not more sociable precisely because of social media; they’re just communicating with their phones, not their immediate surroundings.

Somehow at times that feels a whole new -big- step for mankind: you’re together but you’re not. We are social animals but we attempt to transfer our social lives across space and time to moments and places we’re not at. And we have a gadget that does that for us. That is a puzzling development, and from where I’m sitting a worrying one as well. Somewhere along the same lines as being able to watch ever better photography from ever more remote nature scenes as that nature is being destroyed.

 

Still, few of us would have imagined that when 1984 finally happened, we would ourselves turn out to be Big Brother, but that’s what we are. Or if you want you can insist we’re merely feeding the monster. Same difference. But maybe that too is just a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. Just like the never before seen quality footage of animals about to go extinct.

Who is anyone of us to judge any of it? It’s confusing, it throws us off everything we were taught is normal and lasting, and that’s only when we pay attention, and it all happens at lightning speed.

One thing we can say though: none of this is innocent. Whatever it is mankind is leaping into, we left innocence behind for good.

 

 

Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.

Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:

 

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:

 

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.

 

How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health – and Democracy

The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.

Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.

The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.

Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.

By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.

Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.

Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.

And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.

 

Early Facebook Investor Compares The Social Network To Nazi Propaganda

Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.

And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’

He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.

As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.

“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.

The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.

 

How Economics Failed the Economy

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.

If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.

Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.

The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.

And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.

[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?

[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.

Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.

For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.

For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.

For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.

YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.

 

The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.

As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.

Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.

The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.

In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.

When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.

 

 

Oct 272017
 
 October 27, 2017  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Salvator Rosa Lucrezia as poetry 1640-41

 

The World’s Witnessing A New Gilded Age (G.)
ECB Sees Option for Ending QE With Short Taper in 2018 (BBG)
The Fed Balance Sheet Unwind Myth (Roberts)
Alarm Sounds Over State Of UK High Street As Sales Crash (G.)
75% of UK MPs Don’t Know Where Money Comes From (CityAM)
China’s Minsky Moment (Muir)
Catalonia’s Leader Rules Out Snap Election, Crisis Deepens (R.)
Catalan Companies Face Boycott Over Independence Push (AFP)
New JFK Files Reveal FBI Warning On Oswald And Soviets’ Missile Fears (G.)
Australian Court Rules Deputy PM Ineligible For Parliament (R.)
‘I Want The Government … To Bring Kindness Back’ (RNZ)

 

 

A hundred years ago.

The World’s Witnessing A New Gilded Age (G.)

The world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes. Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn – more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS/PwC Billionaires report. Josef Stadler, the lead author of the report and UBS’s head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients were concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”. “We’re at an inflection point,” Stadler said. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about.

The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” Stadler added: “We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age.” He said the “$1bn question” was how society would react to the concentration of so much money in the hands of so few. Anger at so-called robber barron families who built up vast fortunes from monopolies in US rail, oil, steel and banking in the late 19th century, an era of rapid industrialisation and growing inequality in America that became known as the Gilded Age, led to President Roosevelt breaking up companies and trusts and increasing taxes on the wealthy in the early 1900s. “Will there be similarities in the way society reacts to this gilded age?,” Stadler asked. “Will the second age end or will it proceed?”

Read more …

We’re doing so well we need to keep throwing money at bankers.

ECB Sees Option for Ending QE With Short Taper in 2018 (BBG)

European Central Bank policy makers implicitly assume their newly-extended bond-buying program will be tapered to a halt by the end of next year so long as the inflation outlook improves, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. The Governing Council, which met on Thursday, focused on the first nine months of next year for its quantitative-easing program and didn’t formally debate options for what to do after that, said the people, asking not to be named because the talks are private. While tapering would be possible, extending the program without changing the pace of purchases is also a credible option if inflation doesn’t show sufficient progress, one of them said. Whether to set a firm end-date on the bond-buying program has been a key sticking point for some officials.

The council agreed to cut monthly purchases in half, to €30 billion ($35 billion), and President Mario Draghi said that a “large majority” backed the decision to include a pledge to extend again if needed. He added that “it’s never been our view that things should stop suddenly.” The meeting came after governors were presented with several scenarios at a seminar on Wednesday, according to the people. Those included a reduction to 40 billion euros a month through June, and a 12-month tapering through December, similar to the Federal Reserve’s exit from its own program. The latter scenario wasn’t considered a realistic policy option, one of the people said. Governors also looked at a three-month scenario that would see buying after September tapered in monthly steps to 20 billion euros, 10 billion euros and 5 billion euros, another official said.

Read more …

“..In fact, just last week the Fed increased their balance sheet by over $13.5 billion dollars. No wonder the stock market shot higher.”

The Fed Balance Sheet Unwind Myth (Roberts)

Since the beginning of the year, the Federal Reserve has been heavily discussing, warning rather, they were going to begin to “unwind” their gargantuan balance sheet. As Michael Lebowitz recently penned in his subscription-only article “Draining The Punchbowl:” “Since QE was first introduced, the S&P 500 has gained 1,546 points. All but 355 points were achieved during periods of QE. Of those remaining 355 points, over 80% occurred after Trump’s victory.” That is a pretty amazing set of stats. I have previously noted the high correlation of the financial markets relative to the ongoing liquidity operations of the Federal Reserve. I have updated that analysis to show the reduction in the balance according to the Fed’s proposed schedule.

While the market stumbled following the end of QE in the United States, global QE, as shown in the charts of the major global Central Banks picked up the slack.

But now, the ECB has already begun discussing their plans to begin cutting the amount of their QE program by half in the coming year. The hope, of course, by Central Bank officials is that global economies are now humming along at a pace strong enough to withstand the reduction of “emergency measures.” Of course, the real question is whether the Central Bank’s “measures” of economic strength are accurate. While there are certainly indicators such as GDP growth, production, and employment measures which suggests that global economies are indeed on a cyclical upswing, there are also numerous measures which suggest the opposite.

With the Fed trying to raise interest rates, and reduce the balance sheet simultaneously, the “tightening of monetary policy” is a drag on economic growth and ultimately the stock market. But as I stated above, while the Fed is currently “discussing” the reduction of their balance sheet beginning in October, they actually haven’t. In fact, just last week the Fed increased their balance sheet by over $13.5 billion dollars. No wonder the stock market shot higher.

Read more …

It’s the weather. Too warm to shop.

Alarm Sounds Over State Of UK High Street As Sales Crash (G.)

The fastest monthly fall in high street sales since the height of the recession in 2009 has raised fears for the retail sector ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period. A survey by the the CBI found that 50% of retailers suffered declining sales in October while only 15% benefited from an increase, leaving a rounded balance of -36%, the lowest since March 2009. The business lobby group said the survey showed retailers were “feeling the pinch” from rising inflation, which has eaten into consumer incomes and squeezed profit margins. Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the UK’s Brexit negotiations has also preyed on consumer confidence, which has declined sharply over the past 18 months and depressed spending. Figures estimating GDP growth in the third quarter showed the services sector holding up despite recent declines in wages adjusted for inflation.

However, the construction sector fell into recession. Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI chief economist, said: “While retail sales can be volatile from month to month, the steep drop in sales in October echoes other recent data pointing to a marked softening in consumer demand.” The gloomy CBI survey came as Debenhams warned of an “uncertain” environment on the high street in the run up to Christmas after suffering a 44% dive in profits. [..] Warm autumn weather and low consumer confidence in the wake of the Brexit vote have also combined to deliver a “grim” October, according to the John Lewis boss, Paula Nickolds, who revealed last week that shoppers are continuing to put off expensive household purchases. That comes after the UK retail sector recorded its lowest growth rate in four years for the three months to the end of September, according to official data.

Read more …

Maube the Bank of England should send them their reports?

75% of UK MPs Don’t Know Where Money Comes From (CityAM)

Only 15% of MPs surveyed answered correctly when asked a true/false question on whether banks create money when they make loans. Almost two-thirds of the 50 MPs surveyed by Dods for campaign group Positive Money wrongly thought banks can’t create money, while a quarter admitted they didn’t know. In a far from stellar field Conservative MPs outperformed slightly “in this regard”, with 19% answering correctly, compared to only one in 20 Labour MPs. More than three-quarters of the MPs surveyed incorrectly believed that only the government has the ability to create new money. Some 23% knew this to be false, with Labour performing better than the Conservatives. The Bank of England has previously intervened to point out that most money in the UK begins as a bank loan.

In a 2014 article the Bank pointed out that “whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.” The perception of money creation has been complicated further by the unorthodox use of quantitative easing, in which the government creates money electronically, which is then used to buy financial assets. Fran Boait, executive director of Positive Money, said: “Despite their confidence in telling the public that there is ‘no magic money tree’ to pay for vital services, politicians themselves are shockingly ignorant of where money actually comes from. “There is in fact a ‘magic money tree’, but it’s in the hands of commercial banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and RBS, who create money whenever they make loans.”

Read more …

The difference between short and long term.

China’s Minsky Moment (Muir)

Sometimes you have to love the naivety of the markets. At this week’s Communist Party Congress meeting in Beijing, the governor of the PBoC (People’s Bank of China) said the following; “If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.” Yet instead of focusing on this dire warning, markets are busy trying to discount the chance of a Powell Fed or a Republican tax cut. Although both of these developments would be important, China is the tail that wags the dog. Full stop. Figure out China, and all the other financial market forecasts become that much easier. Some might argue this “Minsky moment” warning is nothing more than a Central Bank whistling in the wind.

Didn’t Greenspan caution about a similar concern with his “irrational exuberance” speech? And didn’t that end up being a complete non-event? Yet I would argue that China is not the same as other countries. Although there are market elements to their economy, to a large degree, China is still a command economy. If Chinese leadership wants a particular outcome, they can just demand it, and it will happen. So when the head of the PBoC warns about a “Minsky moment”, it’s probably not a good idea to load up on financial assets. For the longest time, China exported goods and imported developed nation debt and other financial assets. They had already started down the road of re-balancing their economy away from this export driven model, but this recent development confirms that the old playbook should be thrown out the window.

The global financial system is changing, and China is leading the way. Their moves will reverberate for years in the future. The Chinese authorities have just put up the warning flag, and you would be foolish to not believe it. This long term warning coincides with my belief that over the short term, the risks are all to the downside. I have been banging the drum on the fact that the Chinese government have done everything in their power to keep markets stabilized through their Communist Party Congress. They haven’t even hidden this fact. From the big sign above the Shenzhen Securities Exchange building that read “Use every effort to protect the stability of stock market for 20 days,” to the recent release that the Chinese government has asked firms to delay bad result during Congress, the message is clear.

Read more …

Too many last minute turnarounds. But still explosive.

Catalonia’s Leader Rules Out Snap Election, Crisis Deepens (R.)

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday said he would not hold a new regional election to break the deadlock between Madrid and separatists wanting to split from Spain, sharpening a political crisis that could turn into direct confrontation. Puigdemont had been expected to announce an election to head off moves by Madrid to take direct control of the autonomous region in the next few days. But, speaking in the courtyard of the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Puigdemont said the central government had not provided sufficient guarantees that holding an election would prevent the imposition of direct rule. “I was ready to call an election if guarantees were given. There is no guarantee that justifies calling an election today,” Puigdemont said.

He said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to move forward with a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum that took place on Oct. 1 – a vote which Madrid had declared illegal and tried to stop. Some independence supporters are pushing him to unilaterally declare independence. Late on Thursday, the regional government’s business head resigned over his opposition to a unilateral declaration, a sign of growing division in the separatist movement. Puigdemont’s stand sets the stage for the Spanish Senate on Friday to approve the take-over of Catalonia’s institutions and police, and give the government in Madrid the power to remove the Catalan president.

But this could spark confrontation on the streets as some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, speaking in a Senate committee, said: “The independence leaders have shown their true face – they have promised a dream but are performing tricks.” The aim of Article 155 – the constitutional trigger for direct rule – was to permit any election to take place in a normal and neutral situation, she said. The Spanish government has said it would call such a vote within six months of taking over Catalonia.

Read more …

Sad.

Catalan Companies Face Boycott Over Independence Push (AFP)

Calls for a boycott of Catalan food, cars and other goods, to punish the region for its separatist push, are worrying businesses who fear the economy will suffer. “You have to hit them where it hurts the most: the wallet,” a Twitter user wrote under the hashtag #boycottcatalanproducts. “We Spaniards who do not want Spain to be broken up… we can take action by adopting dissuasive steps of an economic nature,” reads a Facebook page calling for consumers to snub Catalan products. Appeals for a boycott have become more urgent since Catalonia’s separatist regional government held a banned independence referendum on October 1 in defiance of Spain’s central government and courts. The campaign targets Catalonia’s key agriculture and food sectors, with consumers urged to shun cava, a sparkling wine, Estrella Damm beer, as well as Vichy Catalan and Font Vella bottled water.

Medicines are also on the list to hurt Catalonia’s important pharmaceutical sector, as well as cars made by Seat, German carmaker Volkswagen’s Spanish unit in the region. Products made by foreign multinationals in Catalonia, including Nestle and Unilever, have also been swept up in the campaign. Mobile phone applications help consumers identify which products come from the rebel region. The impact of the boycott campaign is hard to measure to date. “We have had some clients who have bought less,” especially in Madrid, Rosa Rebula, a manager at cava producer Rosell i Formosa, told AFP. But she said the company will only be able to confirm the trend in November — a peak period for sales of cava ahead of the Christmas holiday season.

Read more …

CIA/FBI got to Trump? They’ve had 50 years to redact docs, but need 6 months more? Best comment I read: A whole generation knows where they were when Kennedy was shot, except George HW Bush. Turns out he was in Dallas.

New JFK Files Reveal FBI Warning On Oswald And Soviets’ Missile Fears (G.)

The US government released 2,800 documents on Thursday, but President Donald Trump delayed the release of others, saying he had “no choice” but to consider “national security, law enforcement and foreign affairs concerns” raised mostly by the FBI and CIA. One of the first interesting documents to be unearthed, as journalists, scholars and the public pored over them, was a memo written by director J Edgar Hoover that said the FBI had warning of a potential death threat to Oswald, who was then in police custody. “There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” Hoover wrote on 24 November 1963. “Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.

[..] The files comprise almost the final 1% of records held by the federal government and their publication follows a release in July when the record-keepers, the National Archives, posted 3,801 documents online, mostly formerly released documents with previously redacted portions. An administration official told reporters on Thursday that the files that remain secret have information that “remains sensitive depending on its context”. Trump ordered the agencies to review those redactions over the course of six months, the official said, to ensure more documents reach the public. The next deadline for documents is 26 April 2018. According to the National Archives, 88% of records related to Kennedy’s murder were already fully open and another 11% released but partially redacted. In total, that makes for about 5m pages.

The newly released documents also reveal that Soviet Union leaders considered Oswald a “neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else”, according to an FBI memo documenting reactions in the USSR to the assassination. The Soviet officials feared a conspiracy was behind the death of Kennedy, perhaps organised by a rightwing coup or JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson. They also feared a war in the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, according to the memo: “Our source further stated that Soviet officials were fearful that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”

Read more …

How many more?

Australian Court Rules Deputy PM Ineligible For Parliament (R.)

Australia’s High Court ruled on Friday that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is ineligible to remain in parliament, a stunning decision that cost the government its one-seat parliamentary majority and forced a by-election. The Australian dollar fell a quarter of a U.S. cent after the unexpected decision. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he accepted the court’s ruling, even though it was “clearly not the outcome we were hoping for”. Turnbull did not name a new deputy leader during a short news conference in Canberra soon after the court’s ruling. The Australian leader had been scheduled to travel to Israel on Saturday for a week-long visit but a spokesman for Turnbull told Reuters his departure has now been delayed. The spokesman said the new travel arrangements are still be finalised.

Turnbull’s center-right coalition is now in a precarious position. His Liberal Party is the senior party in a coalition with the smaller National Party, which Joyce led. He must now win the support of one of three independent lawmakers to keep his minority government afloat, with two sitting weeks of parliament left until it recesses for the year. At least two independent lawmakers have promised their support. Independent MP Bob Katter told Reuters he would support the government, but he may reconsider that if the coalition tried to block renewed efforts for a sweeping investigation into the scandal-ridden financial system. “I think we have the numbers for a commission into the banks and, if the government tries to block that, then I think we will get into murky waters,” Katter said. The opposition Labor Party immediately went on the attack and threatened to launch a legal challenge to every decision made by Joyce since last year’s election.

Read more …

Great intentions. But she has to talk to Trump, Xi et al.

‘I Want The Government … To Bring Kindness Back’ (RNZ)

Shortly before she was sworn in as the new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern spoke to Checkpoint with John Campbell as she was on her way to Government House in a Crown car. She said she wants the new government to “feel different”, to be empathetic and kind. There was a significant part of her that was focused on the work that needed to be done, she said. “Once you’re there, get on with it.” She said she wanted the government to feel different. “I want it to feel like we are a government that’s truly focused on everybody. Perhaps I’m more acutely aware of that sense having now led a set of negotiations in our government that brings together a range of parties.

“I know I need to transcend politics in the way that I govern for this next term of Parliament but I also want this government to feel different, I want people to feel that it’s open, that it’s listening and that it’s going to bring kindness back. “I know that will sound curious but to me if people see they have an empathetic government I think they’ll truly understand that when we’re making hard calls that we’re doing it with the right focus in mind.” She said there were tough times during the coalition negotiations. “It’s not about just preserving people’s political careers. It’s not about power. It’s about being in a position to make a difference to people who need it most. “This will be a government that works with others. “There is a lot to do.” Asked if there was a central tenet to her approach to the new role, she said it was empathy.

Read more …

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

Read more …

How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

Read more …

Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

Read more …

“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

Read more …

“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

Read more …

Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

Read more …

Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

Read more …

Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

Read more …

Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

Read more …

It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

Read more …

Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

Read more …

Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

Read more …

It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

Read more …

The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

Read more …

Aug 012017
 
 August 1, 2017  Posted by at 6:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Jackson Pollock The Deep 1943

 

 

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.

 

 

Aug 012017
 
 August 1, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Paul Cézanne Young Italian Woman at a Table c1900

 

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)
With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)
Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)
No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)
Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)
The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)
Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)
Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)
Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)
Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)
Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)
Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)
Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)
Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

 

 

I blame Darwin.

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)

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.

Read more …

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.”

With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)

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?

Read more …

Tech monopolies are devastating economies.

Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)

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.

Read more …

Oracle dementia.

No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)

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.

Read more …

How on earth can Obama and Hillary have supported this?

Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)

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.

Read more …

I said it before: Stockman’s had enough.

The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)

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.

Read more …

And of course they just go on.

Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)

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.”

Read more …

“The blood never washes away.”

Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)

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.

Read more …

A different perspective.

Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)

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.”

Read more …

Oh well, someone will always say it’s because of confidence…

Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)

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.

Read more …

… but in reality it’s not confidence, but poverty that rules Britannia.

Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)

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.

Read more …

“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 AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)

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.

Read more …

Racketeering.

Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)

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.

Read more …

Well, they got the NGOs fighting each other now. Mission accomplished.

Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

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.”

Read more …

Jul 202017
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Margaret Bourke-White Breadline, Kentucky 1937

 

Trump Ends CIA Arms Support For Anti-Assad Syria Rebels (R.)
Did the City of London Just Press the Panic Button on Brexit?
Single Payer Is The Only Real Answer, Says Medicare Architect (IC)
Deutsche Bank Expects Subpoenas Over Trump-Russia Investigation (G.)
Asia’s Coal-Fired Power Boom ‘Bankrolled By Foreign Governments And Banks’ (G.)
When Does a Home Become a Prison? (FAFC)
Saudi-Led Bloc Drops List Of Demands For Qatar (BBC)
Toronto Man Builds Park Stairs For $550, Irking City After $65,000 Estimate (CTV)
US-Style Mega Farms Invade The World (G.)
Australia Was Colonized By Humans 20,000 Years Before Europe (Ind.)
Child Refugees Denied Care Amid Suicide And Abuse In Greek Camps (Ind.)
UK Has Not Taken In Any Child Refugees Under Dubs Scheme This Year (G.)
The World Has Made More Than 9 Billion Tons of Plastic (CNBC)
World’s Plastic Waste Could Bury Manhattan 2 Miles Deep (AP)

 

 

The CIA will not like this. The press just can’t mention Putin enough. But a good decision.

Trump Ends CIA Arms Support For Anti-Assad Syria Rebels (R.)

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.

Read more …

The real Macron.

Did the City of London Just Press the Panic Button on Brexit?

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.

Read more …

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.”

Single Payer Is The Only Real Answer, Says Medicare Architect (IC)

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.”

Read more …

Deutsche already did a review and reported nothing suspicious. Does that make them suspect?

Deutsche Bank Expects Subpoenas Over Trump-Russia Investigation (G.)

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.

Read more …

What a surprise. The same ones that signed on to the Paris Accord, by any chance?

Asia’s Coal-Fired Power Boom ‘Bankrolled By Foreign Governments And Banks’ (G.)

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.

Read more …

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.

When Does a Home Become a Prison? (FAFC)

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.

Read more …

A weird turnaround in an already weird file. Tillerson?

Saudi-Led Bloc Drops List Of Demands For Qatar (BBC)

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.

Read more …

Please pay $64.450 to comply with bylaws.

Toronto Man Builds Park Stairs For $550, Irking City After $65,000 Estimate (CTV)

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.”

Read more …

Result: reisistant superbugs.

US-Style Mega Farms Invade The World (G.)

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.

Read more …

How is this new information?

Australia Was Colonized By Humans 20,000 Years Before Europe (Ind.)

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.

Read more …

Deterrent is still the favorite approach for Greece as well as the EU. Cowards.

Child Refugees Denied Care Amid Suicide And Abuse In Greek Camps (Ind.)

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.

Read more …

Scandalous. But at least something UK and EU can agree on: let ’em rot.

UK Has Not Taken In Any Child Refugees Under Dubs Scheme This Year (G.)

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.”

Read more …

Bringing carbon to the surface.

The World Has Made More Than 9 Billion Tons of Plastic (CNBC)

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.

Read more …

Production is not just growing, growth is still accelerating.

World’s Plastic Waste Could Bury Manhattan 2 Miles Deep (AP)

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.

Read more …

May 212017
 
 May 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 21 2017
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Alfred Buckham Tower of London and Tower Bridge c1920

 

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)
A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)
U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)
Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)
May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)
Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)
Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)
The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)
CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)
Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)
Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)
Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)
Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)
Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

 

 

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.

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)

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.”

Read more …

Reports of poverty in America won’t stop coming in.

A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)

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.

Read more …

Election talk.

U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)

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.”

Read more …

Is there enough time left for May to alienate enough people? She certainly tries.

Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)

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.

Read more …

It’s plenty bad enough that it’s needed. And then scrap it? Scrapping it merely confirms that Britain is a third world country run by a cynical elite. Good thing there’s an election right ahead.

May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)

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”.

Read more …

“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?”

Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)

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?

Read more …

Should be quite the event, that Senate testimony of his.

Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)

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).

Read more …

The west has rewritten WWII history from the start.

The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)

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.”

Read more …

Under Obama and Clinton.

CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)

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.

Read more …

Every country is willing to break every law, domestic or international, if it suits them.

Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)

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.

Read more …

A ‘secret’ I’ve only mentioned 1000 times.

Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)

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.”

Read more …

Germany wants chaos in Greece. Breaking laws and treaties won’t stop one second.

Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)

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.

Read more …

This will not stop. It’s a feature of German and therefore Troika behavior.

Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)

“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.

Read more …

After years of ever more severe austerity, the debt only keeps going up. How is that possible? What’s the way out? The Troika makes sure there’s no way out. All exits are blocked.

Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

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.

Read more …

May 102017
 
 May 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 10 2017
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Dresden February 1945

 

Trump Fires FBI Director Comey, Setting Off US Political Storm (R.)
Turning Gen. Flynn into Road Kill (Robert Parry)
NATO Chief Finds a New Friend in Trump (Spiegel)
Trump Approves Plan to Arm Syrian Kurds (NBC)
Turkey Hopes US Will End Support Of Syrian Kurdish YPG (R.)
Assange: ‘CIA Is Basically Useless, Incompetent’ (Exp.)
Stockman: There Is No Reason To Own Stocks At This Point In The Game (DR)
Shale Drillers Are Outspending the World With $84 Billion Spree (BBG)
UK Tory MPs Could Learn Fate Of Electoral Spending Inquiry By Wednesday (G.)
Anonymous Warns World To ‘Prepare’ For World War 3 (NYP)
French Election A Catastrophe For World Peace (Paul Craig Roberts)
Emmanuel Clinton and the Revolt of the Elites (Escobar)
Paris Afterparty (Jim Kunstler)
Germany: Greek Gold, Real Estate As Collateral If IMF Out Of Program (KTG)
Greek Court Finds New Pension Cuts Illegal Under Greek, European Law (K.)
Damning Findings From EU Audit Of Greek & Italian Refugee “Hotspots” (Oxfam)

 

 

The most striking thing about this is how utterly impossible it has become to find an objective discussion of it. I’ll go with Reuters.

Trump Fires FBI Director Comey, Setting Off US Political Storm (R.)

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.”

Read more …

The facts are classified.

Turning Gen. Flynn into Road Kill (Robert Parry)

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.

Read more …

NATO has become an anti-ISIS vehicle. Wonder if they realize this. Turkey is a member.

NATO Chief Finds a New Friend in Trump (Spiegel)

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.

Read more …

And this flies straight in the face of Turkey’s NATO membership.

Trump Approves Plan to Arm Syrian Kurds (NBC)

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.

Read more …

Erdogan is not amused. And his recent attack on Israel won’t help.

Turkey Hopes US Will End Support Of Syrian Kurdish YPG (R.)

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.

Read more …

Extremely incompetent. But the CIA doesn’t have to be competent, all it has to do is be secretive.

Assange: ‘CIA Is Basically Useless, Incompetent’ (Exp.)

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.

Read more …

“This is the greatest suckers rally we’ve ever seen.”

Stockman: There Is No Reason To Own Stocks At This Point In The Game (DR)

[..] “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.”

Read more …

Credit is still cheap. Even, or especially, depending on how you look at it, for zombies.

Shale Drillers Are Outspending the World With $84 Billion Spree (BBG)

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.

Read more …

What are the odds anyone will be charged that May wants to keep on?

UK Tory MPs Could Learn Fate Of Electoral Spending Inquiry By Wednesday (G.)

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.

Read more …

Bit of an oddity for now. But events could change that, fast.

Anonymous Warns World To ‘Prepare’ For World War 3 (NYP)

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?”

Read more …

Macron as evil incarnate.

French Election A Catastrophe For World Peace (Paul Craig Roberts)

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.

Read more …

Macron as a hologram.

Emmanuel Clinton and the Revolt of the Elites (Escobar)

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.

Read more …

Macron as a greater fool.

Paris Afterparty (Jim Kunstler)

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.

Read more …

They want it all, all of Greece. Beware.

Germany: Greek Gold, Real Estate As Collateral If IMF Out Of Program (KTG)

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.”

Read more …

Brussels pisses on Greek courts.

Greek Court Finds New Pension Cuts Illegal Under Greek, European Law (K.)

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.

Read more …

Nothing new here. WIll anything change now that an EU body finds the same many others have before them?

Damning Findings From EU Audit Of Greek & Italian Refugee “Hotspots” (Oxfam)

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.

Read more …

Apr 092017
 
 April 9, 2017  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Paul Gauguin Avenue de Clichy 1889

 

Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)
‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)
Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)
The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)
Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)
Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)
Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)
How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)
Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)
Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

 

 

“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.”

Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)

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.

Read more …

“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…”

‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)

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.

Read more …

“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.”

Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)

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.”

Read more …

That’s what you get for publishing made-up reports all the time, NYT.

The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)

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.”

Read more …

Great conversation between two great economists. Very much worth a full read.

Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)

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.

Read more …

“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..”

Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)

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.”

Read more …

The picture is pretty clear by now.

Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)

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.

Read more …

Tulsi is being drowned out by the trigger happy Democrats. But she actually served in the Middle East.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)

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.

Read more …

The French detest their political system even more than Americans do theirs. It’s very possible abstentions will decide the elections. And Le Pen voters WILL go to the ballot box.

How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)

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.

Read more …

Newsweek wakes up to a 2 week old report from IBT.

Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)

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.”

Read more …

There is so much wrong in China’s urbanization it’s hard to decide where to start.

Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

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.

Read more …