Aug 302019


Of course the notion of addressing Hong Kong has been in my mind for a while, but it’s a bit of a moving target: things change all the time, and seemingly on the fly. However, with today’s fresh developments, it seems silly to wait any longer. Hong Kong Civic party lawmaker Dennis Kwok yesterday expressed the reason way better than I could:

As I said time and again, the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong, and I would warn against any such move on the part of the central people’s government.”

He said that before today’s arrests -and subsequent release on bail- of a handful of alleged protest leaders Joshua Wong, Andy Chan, and Agnes Chow. Who, if you read between the lines, didn’t lead much of anything; they may be figure-heads, but that’s not the same thing. The protests are either lacking leaders or everyone’s a leader, depending on who you ask. So why arrest them to begin with? You tell me.

What I did find enlightening was Reuters’ report yesterday on Beijing having rejected Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (how is CEO a political function?) proposal to communicate with the protesters and perhaps allow some concessions to their demands. I know it’s only one source, but it appears quite feasible.

Carrie Lam is between a rock and a hard place, and she admits it -at least according to the Reuters piece-, though not to the protesters. Beijing is in exactly such a spot, but won’t admit it, ever. And that right there is Hong Kong’s main issue.


China Rejected Hong Kong Plan To Appease Protesters

Earlier this summer, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory.

The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.

Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest. The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.”

Why the extradition bill, which would have allowed for people to be extradited from Hong Kong to the mainland was ever proposed, g-d only knows. Remember, the transfer of control over the city to China is still 28 years away. Why do it now? It was obvious all along it would meet with fierce resistance.

Blindness or blinders in the Politburo? Quite possible, it’s not as if those guys typically get out much. It’s just that they’re taking a giant risk, because as Dennis Kwok says, “the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong”. What he means, and Beijing surely understands, is the end of Hong Kong’s status as a trade and finance center.

Not a trifle matter for sure. Hong Kong has built that status over a long period -that happens in fields where trust is so crucial-, much like the City of London and Wall Street. You can break that down in no time, but you can’t rebuild the trust elsewhere in anywhere near that timeframe, it takes many years.

China has major plans to ‘move’ and/or ‘share’ Hong Kong’s financial and trade ‘qualities’ to/with neighboring Macau and Shenzhen, but it’s nowhere near ready to make that transition. Remember, Hong Kong has its own dollar, the HKD. That’s not going to move to the mainland, not even in 2047. China only have the yuan, which is quite useless for international trade and FX.



Alors, what are we going to do about it, guys? On the one side, you have Beijing, which tried to push through the extradition bill and got it thrown back in its face with interest. But Beijing is allergic to losing face. On the other side you have the protesters, who realize this is now or never, that if they give in now, their freedom(s) will never come back.

Two immovable entities, but Beijing seems to think they can move this, that they have the upper hand. Do they, though? 7.5 million people live in Hong Kong, a fair amount of whom are below the age of 10 or above the age of 75. So the 1.5 million that were already out on the streets in some of this year’s protests added up to a quarter of the population. That’s a lot of people.

Sending in troops would hurt China’s economy something real bad, because it would mean the end of the Hong Kong trade hub (corporations, banks, rich people would leave). And most of the population understand the now-or-never notion. I read somewhere that though 92% of the people are ‘Chinese’, only 11% call themselves that.

The vast majority ‘identifies’ as Hong Kongers. And (perceived) freedom is a big part of that. Many of those Hong Kongers are young and highly educated, salaries are high (finance sector), they can travel freely, study abroad. Those who are older are often the parents of these young people, who’ve worked very hard to give their kids these options.

There have been -and will be again- protests from groups of doctors, lawyers, finance professionals, you name it. They don’t want to run the risk of being picked off the streets by mainland Chinese soldiers OR by Hong Kong police forces instructed by Beijing.

When/If things get down to the wire, Hong Kongers will prove very much to be an immovable force. They have too much to lose not to be. They have, in their own view, everything to lose (which some people would translate as nothing to lose, but meaning the same). And they’re up against a Politburo that reacts to them like it’s never left the early 1900s.

This does not bode well for anyone, and if g-d forbid it comes down to serious fighting in the streets, it will bode ill for the entire world. Not only China depends on Hong Kong for much of its trade, the US and EU do, too, for their trade with China, from which they procure much of what is sold in their stores.


High time for everyone to sit down and talk. If there’s still time. The mass protest scheduled for tomorrow, August 31, may have been ‘officially’ called off, but there’s no proof Hong Kongers will stay home because of that. There IS proof of more military movements just across the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen, however.

Pre-emptively arresting and releasing a pair of 22-year-old kids may not do the job anymore for Beijing. But the Communist Party CCP thinks they cannot possibly lose. They may be wrong. 1.3 billion people is a mighty potential force, but it’s not always only about numbers. Sometimes it’s about now or never.

To me, personally, it feels like what is needed is for the CCP to modernize. But its very structure is set against that. It appears to be this inertia-laden colossus attempting to rule the 21st century with 100-year-old ideas. And yes, they’re talking about shutting down the internet in Hong Kong.

But that would mean shutting down the banks and trading houses too. As would sending in the tanks. According to the 1990s transition treaty signed with the UK, Beijing has until 2047 to fully incorporate Hong Kong. It may not go down smoothly then either, granted, but why push it today?

The West, the EU, UK, US -Putin even?!- can easily come up with a proposal for meetings on Hong Kong to be held over the next 28 years until 2047 that would allow Beijing to save face today. Let’s get it done, soon, win everyone involved some time, they all need it. We need it. And 28 years is plenty time. Before we inadvertently land in another Boxer War or Opium War or WWIII.






Oct 052018

Paul Gauguin Contes barbares 1902


Economy on Sugar High Before Trade War Worsens (DDMB)
Gundlach Says Treasury Market Is Witnessing A ‘Game Changer’ (MW)
Republicans Aim To Confirm Kavanaugh On Weekend; Protesters Arrested (R.)
Explosive Report Details Chinese Infiltration Of Apple, Amazon And The CIA (ZH)
Mattis Says Russian GRU Caught Red-Handed Hacking OPCW (ZH)
String Of Own Goals By Russian Spies Exposes A Strange Sloppiness (G.)
Elon Musk Mocks SEC as ‘Shortseller Enrichment Commission’ (CNBC)
Elon Musk Accuses BlackRock Of Helping Short Sellers (CNBC)
EU Tells UK To Stop ‘Wasting Time’, Find Irish Border Solution (Ind.)
The Outsized Power Of The City Of London Makes Britain Poorer (G.)
Huge Rise In US Plastic Waste Shipments To Poor Countries After China Ban (G.)



Later today: Nobel Peace Prize. US jobs numbers. And more Kavanaugh, no doubt.

But first: Stockpiling before tariffs set in.

Economy on Sugar High Before Trade War Worsens (DDMB)

Across the U.S., companies are hitting the panic button. The Trump administration has levied 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, a charge that is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2019. This tops the tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods that were imposed in August, and is an effective tax on U.S. consumers, who will soon be paying more for everything from cosmetics to clothing to cars if they aren’t already. Against that backdrop, it’s becoming clear that many companies are rushing to secure products and materials before prices rise regardless of current demand. You could say they are in panic-buying mode.

The upside is that this behavior bolsters economic growth in the short term. The downside is that there is likely to be a nasty hangover. The noise in the economic data will be amplified by the rebuilding from Hurricane Florence. The estimates of the storm’s damage span from $20 billion to $50 billion. Evidence that panic buying has set in was seen in the September Chicago Purchasing Managers Index report, which is a bellwether for the broader national manufacturing sector. While the results “disappointed,” with the index falling from 63.6 to a still high 60.4 and the new orders component sinking to a six-month low, the inventory component surged above the 60 mark. (In these diffusion indexes, readings above 50 denote expansion.)

To put the stockpiling in context, inventories have only breached 60 twice this year. Such nosebleed readings are so rare that they rank in the 97th percentile over the last 30 years. As per the Chicago PMI: “Firms continued to add to their stock levels, building on August’s marked rise. The scarce availability of inputs continued to encourage stockpiling while forecasts of higher future demand also contributed to the rise in inventories.”

Read more …

Large sums of money are moving.

Gundlach Says Treasury Market Is Witnessing A ‘Game Changer’ (MW)

For investors looking for an inflection point in the bond market, this is it. Jeff Gundlach, chief executive of Doubleline Capital, on Thursday projected that U.S. Treasury yields are likely to rise further and investors should adjust accordingly. The so-called bond king said in an interview with CNN that the 10-year yield could rise to 3.5% and the 30-year could climb to 4%, which are likely to hurt companies sensitive to higher rates, such as auto makers. In a tweet last month, Gundlach had forecast that the 30-year Treasury yield closing above 3.25% two days in a row will signify a “game changer,” a view he reiterated Thursday.

His prophecy has been fulfilled. The 30-year Treasury yield ended at 3.357% on Thursday after rising to 3.316% on Wednesday, according to FactSet. The 30-year yield has “definitively broken above a multiyear base that should, over time, carry us to significantly higher yields,” Gundlach told Reuters. “Also, the curve is steepening a little in this breakout, which is another sign that the situation has changed.” Yields rose sharply this week on the back of strong economic data that supported the widespread belief that the Federal Reserve will maintain its hawkish bias to forestall a possible overheating of the economy.

Read more …

Ugliness assured.

Republicans Aim To Confirm Kavanaugh On Weekend; Protesters Arrested (R.)

President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans gained confidence on Thursday that his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could win Senate confirmation after two wavering lawmakers responded positively to an FBI report on accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge. The report, sent by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the middle of the night, was denounced by Democrats as a whitewash that was too narrow in scope and ignored critical witnesses. Thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court and entered a Senate office building, holding signs such as “Believe Survivors” and “Kava-Nope.”

Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, including actress Amy Schumer. But Republicans moved forward with plans for a key procedural vote on Friday and a final vote on Saturday on confirming the conservative federal appeals judge for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court. The timing of the vote could be complicated by Republican Senator Steve Daines, whose office said on Thursday he planned to attend his daughter’s wedding in Montana on Saturday, making him unavailable to cast his vote.

Read more …

Was reading this yesterday. What a story.

Explosive Report Details Chinese Infiltration Of Apple, Amazon And The CIA (ZH)

The story begins with a Silicon Valley startup called Elemental. Founded in 2006 by three engineers who brilliantly anticipated that broadcasters would soon be searching for a way to adapt their programming for streaming over the Internet, and on mobile devices like smartphones, Elemental went about building a “dream team” of coders who designed software to adapt the super-fast graphics chips being designed for video gaming to stream video instead. The company then loaded this software on to special, custom-built servers emblazoned with its logo. These servers then sold for as much as $100,000 a pop – a markup of roughly 70%. In 2009, the company received its first contract with US defense and intelligence contractors, and even received an investment from a CIA-backed venture fund.

Elemental also started working with American spy agencies. In 2009 the company announced a development partnership with In-Q-Tel Inc., the CIA’s investment arm, a deal that paved the way for Elemental servers to be used in national security missions across the U.S. government. Public documents, including the company’s own promotional materials, show that the servers have been used inside Department of Defense data centers to process drone and surveillance-camera footage, on Navy warships to transmit feeds of airborne missions, and inside government buildings to enable secure videoconferencing. NASA, both houses of Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security have also been customers. This portfolio made Elemental a target for foreign adversaries.

Like many other companies, Elementals’ servers utilized motherboards built by Supermicro, which dominates the market for motherboards used in special-purpose computers. It was here, at Supermicro, where the government believes – according to Bloomberg’s sources – that the infiltration began. Before it came to dominate the global market for computer motherboards, Supermicro had humble beginnings. A Taiwanese engineer and his wife founded the company in 1993, at a time when Silicon Valley was embracing outsourcing. It attracted clients early on with the promise of infinite customization, employing a massive team of engineers to make sure it could accommodate its clients’ every need.

Customers also appreciated that, while Supermicro’s motherboards were assembled in China or Taiwan, its engineers were based in Silicon Valley. But the company’s workforce featured one characteristic that made it uniquely attractive to China: A sizable portion of its engineers were native Mandarin speakers. One of Bloomberg’s sources said the government is still investigating whether spies were embedded within Supermicro or other US companies).

Read more …

Hard to believe. Holland has been targeting Russia for years, can’t trust them when it comes to these stories.

Mattis Says Russian GRU Caught Red-Handed Hacking OPCW (ZH)

Russia is facing new multiple wide-ranging charges of hacking as Western officials on Wednesday alleged its intelligence agencies conducted four high profile cyber attacks, including an attempt to spy on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is the independent body responsible for investigating chemical attacks in Syria and in the UK. The OPCW is headquartered the Netherlands, and according to breaking reports a group that the Dutch government has alleged are Russian operatives may have been caught red-handed in the act. Moscow has dismissed the charges as but more “Western spy mania” while leveling its own accusations that the Pentagon is conducting an illegal and dangerous germ and bio-weapons research program near Russia’s borders.

The BBC reports based on Dutch government statements: “The four suspects identified by Dutch officials had diplomatic passports and included two IT experts and two support agents, officials said. They hired a car and parked it in the car park of the Marriot hotel in The Hague, which is next to the OPCW office, to hack into the OPCW’s wifi network, Major General Onno Eichelsheim from the Dutch MIVD intelligence service said.” Authorities were quick to release photographs of the group’s alleged hacking equipment and computers in the trunk of a car. Police say they are GRU operatives (also known as the Main Intelligence Directorate – the intelligence arm of the Russian military) who planned to intercept login passwords to gain access to OPCW internal files (in what appears to have been a low security environment, given wifi use to store sensitive files).

The Dutch government released the above photo which it says proves Russian spies tried to hack OPCW headquarters

But strangely the four men, identified as spies, were immediately escorted out of the Netherlands as opposed to being detained for further questioning and possible trial. Meanwhile the UK government further accused the GRU of conducting cyber-attacks on private firms in Ukraine and Russia, the US Democratic Party, as well as a small TV network in Britain. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, addressing the charges on Thursday after a two-day meeting in Brussels, said Russia must be held accountable for its attempts to hack the OPCW office.

Read more …

Not only are Russians mean people, they are dumb too. Who believes that?

String Of Own Goals By Russian Spies Exposes A Strange Sloppiness (G.)

It must go down as one of the most embarrassing months ever for Russia’s military intelligence. In the 30 days since Theresa May revealed the cover identities of the Salisbury poison suspects, the secretive GRU (now GU) has been publicly exposed by rival intelligence agencies and online sleuths, with an assist from Russia’s own president. Despite attempts to stonewall public inquiry, the GRU’s dissection has been clinical. The agency has always had a reputation for daring, bolstered by its affiliation with special forces commando units and agents who have seen live combat.

But in dispatching agents to the Netherlands who could, just using Google, be easily exposed as graduates of an elite GRU academy, the agency appears reckless and absurdly sloppy. One of the suspected agents, tipped as a “human intelligence source” by Dutch investigators, had registered five vehicles at a north-western Moscow address better known as the Aquarium, the GRU finishing school for military attaches and elite spies. According to online listings, which are not official but are publicly available to anyone on Google, he drove a Honda Civic, then moved on to an Alfa Romeo. In case the address did not tip investigators off, he also listed the base number of the Military-Diplomatic Academy.

Read more …

A judge just oredred Musk and the SEC to explain their settlement.

Elon Musk Mocks SEC as ‘Shortseller Enrichment Commission’ (CNBC)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk mocked the Securities and Exchange Commission in a tweet Thursday, calling the agency the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission,” days after settling fraud charges brought against him by the agency. The tweet, which is missing a word and appears to take a sarcastic tone, says “the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work” and commends the SEC on a name change that did not occur. Musk doubled down on the remark when another Twitter user said Musk needs a “a social team that can get attention without typos and without enraging the Shortseller Enrichment Committee.” The Tesla CEO asked, “Why would they be upset about their mission? It’s what they do.”

Read more …

Hardly ever a useful idea to go after short sellers.

Elon Musk Accuses BlackRock Of Helping Short Sellers (CNBC)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has accused large fund managers such as BlackRock for fueling short sellers, a group of investors he has been criticizing on his Twitter account. In a series of Twitter posts on Thursday night, Musk alleged that BlackRock and other financial firms pocket “excessive profit” from lending shares they hold to short sellers because “they’re suffering a net loss.” Short sellers are investors who bet on the decline of a security, such as a stock. They make money by selling the shares they borrow, and hope the price falls so they can buy them back at a lower price and make profits from it.

Musk also said those funds were “pretending to charge low rates” for their passive “index tracking” products. Fund managers have lowered management fees on certain products due to increased competition in the space. Fidelity Investments said last month it was launching two no-fee index funds, while Vanguard announced in July that investors using its online brokerage platform could trade exchange-traded funds without commission. At the same time, fund managers have been growing their business in securities lending — which is the process of temporarily transferring ownership of shares or bonds to another party, such as short sellers.

The companies earn a fee in return for loaning out their holdings. Securities lending is a lucrative business, according to an opinion piece by Financial Times in April. The newspaper, which cited a regulatory filing, said BlackRock made $597 million in revenue last year from lending securities. Musk hit out at that practice, saying “there is no rational basis” for long-term shareholders to engage in that business. He claimed that doing so “dilutes the shareholder base” while giving short sellers “a strong incentive to attack the company by whatever means possible.”

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The EU should not let Tusk do these things, he’s too easy a target. Let Barnier do the talking.

EU Tells UK To Stop ‘Wasting Time’, Find Irish Border Solution (Ind.)

The EU has told the UK to stop “wasting time” and find a solution to the Irish border row, with just two weeks until the next showdown summit over Brexit. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, turned his fire on Jeremy Hunt for likening the EU to the Soviet Union – accusing ministers of rousing the Tory faithful, instead of striving to reach an agreement. “Unacceptable remarks that raise the temperature will achieve nothing except wasting more time,” Mr Tusk said. “I was a party leader myself for 15 years, so I know what the rules of party politics are. But now, once the Tory conference is over, we should get down to business.”

Speaking alongside Leo Varadkar, the Irish president, Mr Tusk made clear the EU remained “united behind Ireland” in its determination to prevent a return to border posts and checks. But he also made clear his anger at the delay to Theresa May’s promised fresh border proposals – linking it to a reluctance to risk a backlash at the Tory conference. In Birmingham, Mr Hunt, the foreign secretary, triggered fury across the EU by accusing it of trying to keep the UK in a “prison” with behaviour similar to the Soviet Union. After the Salzburg summit, the prime minister accused Mr Tusk of showing disrespect, but he tuned that accusation on the UK, saying: “In respecting our partners, we expect the same in return.

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It sucks too many resources from the ’periphery’. Re: Rome.

The Outsized Power Of The City Of London Makes Britain Poorer (G.)

To argue that the City hurts Britain’s economy might seem crazy. But research increasingly shows that all the money swirling around our oversized financial sector may actually be making us collectively poorer. As Britain’s economy has steadily become re-engineered towards serving finance, other parts of the economy have struggled to survive in its shadow, like seedlings starved of light and water under the canopy of a giant, deep-rooted and invasive tree. Generations of leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair to Theresa May have believed that the City is the goose that lays Britain’s golden eggs, to be prioritised, pampered and protected. But the finance curse analysis shows an oversized City to be a different bird: a cuckoo in the nest, crowding out other sectors.

[..] A growing body of economic research confirms that once a financial sector grows above an optimal size and beyond its useful roles, it begins to harm the country that hosts it. The most obvious source of damage comes in the form of financial crises – including the one we are still recovering from a decade after the fact. But the problem is in fact older, and bigger. Long ago, our oversized financial sector began turning away from supporting the creation of wealth, and towards extracting it from other parts of the economy. To achieve this, it shapes laws, rules, thinktanks and even our culture so that they support it. The outcomes include lower economic growth, steeper inequality, distorted markets, spreading crime, deeper corruption, the hollowing-out of alternative economic sectors and more.

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Stop producing the stuff. It’s not hard. Stop using it.

Huge Rise In US Plastic Waste Shipments To Poor Countries After China Ban (G.)

Exports of plastic waste from the US to developing countries have surged following China’s crackdown on foreign waste imports, new research has shown. Nearly half of plastic waste exported from the US for recycling in the first six months of 2018 was shipped to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, according to analysis of US census bureau data by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative arm. The previous year, the US sent more than 70% to China and Hong Kong. This year’s ban on foreign waste imports by China, previously the world’s biggest importer of plastic waste for recycling, has left western countries scrambling to offload its extra plastic waste. The US, along with Britain, Germany, Japan and Mexico, is among the biggest exporters of scrap plastic to China.

Campaigners said the analysis, which Unearthed shared with the Guardian, shows the US is exploiting developing countries where there is no regulatory framework to ensure plastic waste is processed in an environmentally friendly way. “Instead of taking responsibility for their own waste, US companies are exploiting developing countries that lack the regulation to protect themselves,” said John Hocevar, Oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA. The waste, some of which consists of household recycling produced in the US, includes single-use plastic bottles, plastic bags and food wrappings, said Hocevar. It can, however, contain toxic materials. “It’s a problem for the US and other developed countries to produce, often, toxic material which they can’t or won’t take care of themselves.”

Read more …

Sep 092014
 September 9, 2014  Posted by at 9:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  14 Responses »

Matson Photo Service Palmyra (Tadmur, Syria). The Turkish castle. Kala’at Ibn Na’an 1935

Got a mail from a friend in Scotland late last night that got me thinking. “Unfortunately, using Ireland as a model of fracture, we may start blowing up each other.” I’ve been reading a lot lately, in between all the other things, about Scotland, as should be obvious from my essay (Jim Kunstler tells me I can use that word) yesterday, Please Scotland, Blow Up The EU, and sometime today a thought crept up on me that has me wondering how ugly this thing is going to get. I think it can get very bad.

What I get from it all is that if anything is going to win this for the independence side, it must be the arrogance the London government has exhibited. That alone could seal the deal. But now of course London has belatedly woken up. Even David Cameron is scheduled to – finally – visit Scotland in the course of the contest. And if push comes to shove, they’ll throw in a royal baby. Or a Queen. Mark my words.

Cameron’s visit is funny in that he never thought it necessary until now because he thought he would win no matter what until a few days ago, and also funny because he must easily be the least popular person in all of Scotland, so a visit is a substantial risk. He had his bellboy Alistair King do a TV debate recently, and King flunked that thing so badly he may have single-handedly propelled the Yes side into the lead.

The knifes are being sharpened and soon they will be drawn – there’s only 9 days left. Question is, who will end up hurt? Bank of England Governor Mark Carney picked today of all days, 9 days before the referendum, to at last get more specific about his rate hike plan: it’s going to be early 2015. Because the UK economy is doing so great…

Only, wages will have to rise, and that will have to happen through British workers ‘earning’ pay hikes by ‘boosting their productivity and skills’. These workers have about 6 months to do that. You’re pulling my leg here, right, Mark? In any case, it seems obvious that Canadian Carney will be used as a tool against the Scottish independence movement. That’s just more arrogance.

Carney also spoke out directly on Scotland, saying there can’t be a currency union between the Scots and the Brits. Oh yeah, that should scare ’em!

The pound sterling is falling, but that doesn’t mean much. What does is that the entire financial world, of which the City is a large part, was caught on the wrong foot as much as the UK government. And both will now, until September 18, pull all the stops to cover their – potential – losses. With all means at their disposition. Some of which will be brutal, or at least appear to be.

Billions of dollars have already been lost in just a few days, since everybody realized the UK may actually split up. Many more billions will be lost in the coming week, as measures of volatility go through the roof. Neither the Yes side nor the No side have gone into this thing terribly prepared; there are a zillion questions surrounding the independence issue that won’t be solved before the vote takes place. Passports, currencies, central banks, monetary unions, there’s too much even to mention.

Somewhere, emanating from the old crypts and burrows in which Britain was founded, I fear a hideous force may emerge to crush the Scottish people’s desire for self-determination, if only because that desire is a major threat to some very rich and powerful entities who found themselves as unprepared as Downing Street 10.

I don’t know if, as my friend fears (though he’s much closer to the action than I am, so who am I to speak), it will lead to people blowing up each other, but then also, who am I to rule that out? The UN charter on self-determination looks good on paper and in theory, but when reality comes knocking, there’s mostly not much left of the lofty ideals and intentions, or is that just me, Catalunya?

Still, there’s an added dimension in Scotland: the fact that the City of London is the number 1,2 or 3 (take your pick) most important finance center on the planet. If and when anybody rattles that kind of cage, other forces come into play. It’s no longer about politics, but about money (and no, I’m not too think to see how the two are linked).

So I hold my breath and my prayers for both my Scottish and my British friends – and I happen to have lots of them – and I hope this is not going to get completely out of hand. The reasons I think it may get out of hand regardless is that 1) there is not one side that was ever prepared for the situation in which they find themselves today and 2) there is an enormous supra-national interest that resides in the UK financial world which is in a semi panic mode about how much money can be lost not just because of a UK break-up, but because of the uncertainty surrounding that potential break-up.

And there’s something in all of that which is definitely scary. London, and the Queen, will do all they can not to lose part of their ’empire’. The City of London will do even more not to lose a substantial part of their wealth. And this time around I don’t think they properly hedged their bets: the surge of the Yes side is as close to a black swan as we, and the City of London, have seen.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney Signals Spring Rate Rise (WSJ)

The Bank of England will likely meet its inflation and jobs goals if it starts to raise its benchmark interest rate early next year, Gov. Mark Carney said Tuesday in his clearest statement yet on the probable timing of a first move toward unwinding crisis-era stimulus. In a speech to labor union members in Liverpool, Mr. Carney said the rate at which wages rise over coming months will be key to the exact timing of the first move, and repeated his assurance that a rise in the benchmark rate will be “gradual and limited.” Mr. Carney said the U.K.’s economic recovery has “exceeded all expectations” and “has momentum.” Against that background he said the time for interest rates to “normalize” is nearing, and that in recent months the decision on whether to raise or leave policy unchanged “has become more balanced.” Most investors expect the BOE to raise its benchmark interest rate from a 320-year low of 0.5% in the first quarter of 2015, and Mr. Carney appeared to validate that expectation.

“Our latest forecasts show that, if interest rates were to follow the path expected by markets—that is, beginning to increase by the Spring and thereafter rising very gradually—inflation would settle at around 2% by the end of the forecast and a further 1.2 million jobs would have been created,” he said. “In other words, we would achieve our mandate.” Should it raise its benchmark interest rate early next year, the BOE would likely become the first major central bank to start to remove the unprecedented levels of stimulus provided to the economy since the financial crisis struck in late 2008. The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to start to raise its key rate later in the year, while the European Central Bank Thursday provided additional stimulus in the form of rate cuts and new bond buying programs. With the Japanese economy struggling to recover from an April hike in the sales tax, the Bank of Japan may yet provide more stimulus.

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And counting.

Billions Of Pounds Wiped Off Value Of Scottish-Linked Firms (Guardian)

Billions of pounds were wiped off the value of companies with Scottish links and the pound was pummelled as markets took fright at the increasing prospect of Scotland voting next week to break away from the United Kingdom. Investors on Monday dumped companies with exposure to Scotland, including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Bank of Scotland. They also ditched sterling, which at one point fell to its lowest level against the dollar for 10 months. “Be afraid, be very afraid,” Deutsche Bank analysts warned its clients after the Sunday Times YouGov poll had showed a small lead for the yes campaign.

American Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman echoed the analysts’ view, warning Scotland it was unsafe to vote yes while uncertainty about the country’s currency remained. “If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled,” Krugman wrote in the New York Times. “The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.” Elsewhere, a leading City banking expert warned that companies and individuals were likely to withdraw their cash from banks if the vote was in favour of a split from the union, while another economist warned independence could “easily derail the UK recovery”.

Initially almost £4.8bn was wiped off the stock-market value of companies with exposure to Scotland. As well as RBS and Lloyds, companies to be hit included engineering group Weir, insurer Standard Life, fund manager Aberdeen Asset Management and energy company SSE. By the end of trading the losses had been pared back to £2.6bn after RBS kickstarted the sale of its US arm. The taxpayer remains heavily exposed to Lloyds and RBS, which are both registered in Scotland, following the 2008 bailouts. The mood among City professionals has changed markedly in recent days: the FTSE 100 hit a 14-year high last week and until recently there had been concerns about a strong pound hurting exports. The blue chip index slipped back to 6,834 on Monday while the currency is weakening.

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Ex-Chief Economist Stark: ECB Is Turning Into European ‘Bad Bank’ (Reuters)

The European Central Bank is turning into a European “bad bank” by loading up on bundled-up loans, and its record-low interest rates will not do anything to promote lending in the euro zone, former ECB chief economist Juergen Stark said. Stark, a former ECB executive board member and an arch-hawk, quit the bank in 2011 to protest its policies. Now he says the September rates cut would be “ridiculous, if the matter was not so serious”. The ECB cut its main interest rate to 0.05 percent on Thursday and pledged to buy asset-backed securities (ABS) on top of its four-year loan offer, or TLTROs, in a fresh attempt to ward off deflation and stimulate the euro zone economy. “The ECB is taking enormous risks onto its balance sheet with the purchases of ABS – of whatever quality – and is turning itself into a European bad bank,” Stark wrote in a guest column for the German newspaper Handelsblatt, which is to be published on Tuesday.

He said the rate cut could be seen as a “symbolic” move, if it had not been driven for the first time by a pursuit of an exchange rate target. Its goal was a targeted weakening of the euro exchange rate, he said, which had been demanded repeatedly by French and Italian politicians. “Zero-interest-rates will, however, not produce a single euro in additional lending, and this inefficiency will in the long term among other things further undermine the ECB reputation,” Stark wrote in his piece. The ECB has said many times that it does not have an exchange rate policy target but aims only for price stability. His comments come after an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a rare public attack, criticised the ECB’s ABS programme, saying it would scare Germans.

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In lieu of QE.

Germany, France Push $400 Billion EU Investment Program (Bloomberg)

Germany and France are poised to take the first step toward a European investment program, as the euro area’s two biggest economies seek to resolve differences and spur growth without resorting to stimulus spending, government officials said. The proposals, which enlist the European Investment Bank for loans to companies, aim to pave the way for a €300 billion ($388 billion) investment plan outlined in July, according to three euro-area government officials who asked not to be named because the document is in draft form. Germany and France plan to present the initiative at a meeting of European finance ministers in Milan, Italy on Sept. 12. Germany’s emerging endorsement marks an attempt to shift the debate away from austerity and acknowledge the European Central Bank’s efforts to prod governments into action to combat low inflation and a weak economic outlook.

It’s also intended to deter ECB President Mario Draghi from resorting to purchases of sovereign bonds and asset-backed securities to increase bank lending, a move viewed with anxiety in Germany. Draghi “threw the kitchen sink” at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an interview after the ECB’s policy decisions on Sept. 4. “Draghi’s message was plain: my back’s to the wall — do something to push fiscal stimulus now or watch me buy bonds.” With Merkel opposed to fiscal stimulus, German backing requires avoiding pledges of cash and any suggestion that pressure on France and Italy to make their economies more competitive is easing, one official said.

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And that took 8 weeks?!

MH17 Broke Up In Mid-air Due To External Damage – Dutch Prelim. Report (RT)

The MH17 crash was a result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that struck the Boeing from the outside, the preliminary report into the Malaysia Airlines disaster in Ukraine said. “Flight MH17 with a Boeing 777-200 operated by Malaysia Airlines broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside,” the Dutch Safety Board said in its preliminary report. Dutch investigators added that “there are no indications” that the tragedy was triggered “by a technical fault or by actions of the crew.” [..] The plane was “split into pieces during flight,” the investigators said, based on the analysis of the pattern of wreckage on the ground.

The Dutch investigators said that “available images show that the pieces of wreckage were pierced in numerous places.” The report emphasizes that investigators haven’t yet had the chance to recover the components for forensic investigation. However, the photos taken from the wreckage “indicated that the material around the holes was deformed in a manner consistent with being punctured by high-energy objects,” the report said. “The characteristics of the material deformation around the puncture holes appear to indicate that the objects originated from the outside the fuselage.” The fact that the plane was damaged from the outside “also explains the abrupt end to the data registration on the recorders, the simultaneous loss of contact with air traffic control and the aircraft’s disappearance from radar,” the report says.

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So why not blame Kiev for spreading lies?

Hagel ‘Not Aware’ Of Secret Deal To Supply Kiev With Lethal Weapons (RT)

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was not aware of a secret deal to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons. His words contradict earlier statements by an aide to President Petro Poroshenko that the US is backing Kiev’s military with arms. “I’m not aware of any kind of a secret deal that was made in Wales about supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainians,” Hagel told journalists on a visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara. Earlier, Poroshenko aide Yury Lutsenko wrote on his Facebook page that the US, along with France, Italy, Poland and Norway, will supply modern weapons to Ukraine. The agreements were reached at the Sept. 4-5 NATO summit in Wales, Lutsenko wrote, adding that the West will also send military advisers to Ukraine. However, Hagel later denied the report Sunday, saying that Washington has not made an offer of “lethal assistance” to Ukraine.

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Brussels is a pool of fools.

Here’s Why Europe Launched The ‘Nuclear Option’ Against Russia (Zero Hedge)

Europe’s leaders, we assume under pressure from Washington, appear to be making a big weather-related bet with their taxpayers’ lives this winter. As they unleash funding sanctions on Russia’s big energy producers, Europe has pumped a record volume of natural gas into underground inventories in an effort to ‘outlast’ Russia and mitigate any Napoleonic “Winter War” scenario. The plan appears to be to starve Russian energy firms of cashflow – as flows to Europe are already plunging – and remove their funding ability, potentially forcing severe hardship on Russia’s key economic drivers. As Bloomberg reports,

Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas shipments via Ukraine is declining after the region pumped a record volume of the fuel into underground inventories, minimizing the risk of shortages during the coming winter. [..] Natural gas flows from Russia to the EU haven’t been affected in the current crisis. Storage sites in Slovakia, which had to seek emergency imports after its supplies were cut in 2009, were 92 percent full on Sept. 4, according to Gas Infrastructure Europe.

So Europe is stocking-up – which makes perfect sense – just in case Russia pulls the plug… but has now taken the situation to “11” on the Spinal Tap amplifier of escalating tensions by planning sanctions on Russia’s energy providers.

The plan appears clear:
• stock-up now (to survive the winter)…
• starve Russian firms of cashflow (thanks to stockpiles)…
• cut off their funding source (sanctions)…
• force Putin’s economy into a tailspin…
• Putin folds and it all ends happily ever after

There appear to be 3 problems with this plan…

1) What if the weather is considerably colder than normal this winter? (i.e. they need more supply)
2) Russia has already committed to supporting the sanctioned firms (and we would hardly be shocked if China chipped in)
3) What happens in Spring? German industrials need energy?

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Finland Wants EU to Go Slow on Russia Sanctions (WSJ)

Finland thinks the European Union should wait in implementing its new economic sanctions against Russia, Finland’s prime minister said Monday. The EU launched on Monday the process to adopt formally a set of new measures that will slightly stiffen the EU’s response to Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The new sanctions were adopted by the EU members including Finland on Monday, but the actual timing for their implementation was left to be decided later, Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb told Finnish media at a press briefing in Helsinki shortly after 1900 local time (1600 GMT).

“Finland in general isn’t of the opinion that now is the right time [for the sanctions],” Mr. Stubb said, adding that EU diplomats were negotiating in Brussels on Monday night over when the sanctions would actually be put into force. To come into force the sanctions have to be entered in the EU’s official journal, “but there are still discussions at which stage [the sanctions] will be published in the official journal,” Mr. Stubb said. Mr. Stubb said the schedule for implementing the new sanctions has been “fast and challenging” because Russia and Ukraine have made progress in their negotiations aimed at putting a stop on fighting in eastern Ukraine. Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer land border with Russia and has profited from tourism and trade with its huge eastern neighbor. In the past during the Ukraine crisis Finland has been among the EU members that have had reservations about ramping up economic pressure on Russia.

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Stand down Shinzo, stand down please …

The Wrath of Abenomics Crushes Japanese Consumers (WolfStreet)

Abenomics soothsayers and apologists are worried: the August debacle is hard to explain away, even for them. It just sits there, a nagging, dark reality. In April, after the broad-based consumption-tax hike from 5% to 8% had taken effect, retail sales collapsed 20% from March. Total vehicle sales collapsed 56% to the worst level since December 2012, and December is usually the worst month of the year in Japan. April was terrible. It was much worse than feared by the Abenomics soothsayers and apologists. But the shock didn’t last long, and soon the soothsayers and apologists were at it again. In May, car sales were worse than a year earlier, but not much worse (-1.2%); and in June, car sales were actually a smidgen better (+0.4%) than a year earlier, and hopes were being propagated that this would all somehow work out.

But in July sales dropped 2.5% year over year, and other data points were going to heck as well. Then August happened. In August, vehicle sales as measured by registrations swooned, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. All categories were down: sales of new cars, including minis (cars with tiny 500cc engines) plunged 9.4% year over year to 281,326 units; sales of new trucks of all sizes, including minis dropped 7.2% to 51,165 units. And total vehicles sales, retail and commercial, cars, trucks, and buses plunged 9% to 333,471 units. It was worse even than that terrible April, though in recent years, August had been better than April. It was worse even than December 2012. It was the lowest level since August 2011, the time when the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that had killed over 19,000 people were still paralyzing Japanese commerce, and when countless aftershocks were still rattling buildings and nerves on a daily basis.

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Line of the day: ” … the Fed’s policies have rewarded financial engineering at the expense of job creation … ”

There Are Still 1.4 Million Fewer Full-Time US Jobs Than In 2008 (Lee Adler)

Let’s cut to the chase: There were 1,446,000 fewer people working full time in August 2014 than in August 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey (CPS). That’s after an increase of 210,000 full-time jobs in August. That’s the actual count, not the seasonally adjusted abstraction. So we have to compare that with past Augusts to get an idea if its any good or not. August is a swing month, sometimes up, sometimes down. The average change over the prior 10 years, which included a couple of ugly years in the recession, was -63,000. So this number wasn’t bad. It was slightly better than August of last year and 2012, but come on…. It’s still 1.4 million below 2008? In 2008, the economy was in full collapse mode. The Fed has expanded its balance sheet by $3.7 trillion since August 2008 and there are fewer full-time jobs now than then? Remind me again what that $3.7 trillion has bought! Since August 2009, near the bottom of the recession, the US economy has added 6.25 million full-time jobs, a 5.5% increase.

That amounts to $588,000 in Fed QE per added full time job. But that’s ok. It’s been great for bankers, securities brokers, and hedge funds. While the number of full time jobs increased 5.5%, stock prices soared 175%. It’s all good! Or not. I have argued for a long time that the Fed’s policies have rewarded financial engineering at the expense of job creation. The Fed has made it profitable for corporations to borrow free money to buy back the stock options that they issue to their executives rather than investing in expanding their businesses and creating jobs. The Fed’s policies have enabled corporate executives and their financial enablers to conduct a massive skimming of the US economy and wealth transfer at the expense of everybody else. By promoting this behavior, not only has Fed policy been ineffective in stimulating real growth, it has been a moral outrage, decimating the middle class and robbing the elderly of their life savings as they’re forced to consume principal.

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Stand down François, stand down please.

Hollande Hits Rock Bottom In Poll : 85% of French Oppose 2nd Term (RT)

A poll in France has revealed 85% of the population does not want President Francois Hollande to seek a second term in 2017. His approval ratings have hit an all-time low, with just 13% of those asked saying he is doing a good job. The survey was conducted by IFOP for the French weekly La Journal Du Dimanche and it made uncomfortable reading for Hollande. Fifty% of those polled did not think that the French president was delivering on his promises. Unemployment is approaching a record high and is currently over 10%. However, the under fire president has no plans to quit, saying at the recent NATO summit in Cardiff that he will not step down and will stay in office until his term runs out in 2017. His approval rating of just 13% makes him the most unpopular French president since the Second World War, in another poll conducted by TNS-Sofres. Lambasted for his failure to get the economy up and running, his misery was compounded when a former partner published a tell-all book.

Valerie Trierweiler described the 60 year-old as being dismissive of the poor, which contradicts his status as a socialist president. “With the release of every new poll, I watched him disintegrate,” Trierweiler wrote. “He needs to find someone to blame for the drop. It could never be him, so it had to be others and me.” Hollande has lost many of his core supporters from the left of the political spectrum, and has also suffered from discontent within his own cabinet. In late August, the French government was dissolved despite having being formed just 4 months earlier. They quit after ministers slammed President Francois Hollande’s plans for taxation and cuts, while also being critical of Germany’s austerity program. Led by former economics minister, Arnaud Montebourg, they chastised Hollande for being fixed on high taxes and spending cuts, who they say should have be looking to cut taxes so as to increase spending power and help revive the economy.

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The miracle is gone.

Brazil’s ‘New Middle Class’ Turns On President Rousseff (Reuters)

The streets of Jardim São Luis, a poor and violent neighborhood near the edge of São Paulo, have not been this quiet in years. And that is exactly why Valeria Rocha is so worried. Arms folded, she scans the racks of baby clothes in her small store before flicking a glance towards the empty sidewalk. “Just a year ago this area used to be packed with shoppers but nowadays it’s all empty, my store included,” she said. After a decade of economic growth and welfare policies that lifted more than 30 million Brazilians out of poverty, Jardim São Luis and other tough neighborhoods across Brazil had high hopes for the future. But a faltering economy and mounting frustration over poor public services are dimming the outlook for Brazil’s “new middle class.”

As that happens, leftist President Dilma Rousseff is watching a once-loyal base – and her chances of re-election next month – slip away. Her main rival, environmentalist Marina Silva, has surged in the polls and is favored to win a likely second-round runoff against Rousseff. Last month, 13 of 14 people interviewed in Jardim São Luis said they were sure they would not vote for Rousseff, but could not point to a clear alternative. Just a week later, after the first televised debate between the candidates, 8 of 10 people interviewed said they had already decided to vote for Silva or would strongly consider it. The other two were still unsure. Silva, who grew up poor on a rubber plantation, has emerged as the anti-establishment candidate in this campaign. Within three weeks of entering the race late following the death of her party’s original candidate, she is in striking distance of becoming the first Afro-Brazilian woman to lead Brazil.

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FX Traders Said to Be Surprised by Scope of BOE Probe (Bloomberg)

Foreign-exchange traders interviewed as part of the Bank of England’s probe into whether its staff knew of currency-rate rigging have expressed surprise at the narrow scope of the questioning focused on one meeting, according to people with knowledge of the inquiry. The U.K. central bank called for an investigation after a senior trader turned over notes of an April 2012 meeting in which BOE officials were said to have told dealers it wasn’t improper to share impending customer orders with counterparts at other firms, a practice at the heart of a global probe into alleged manipulation. The BOE said at the time its review would be broader than that one meeting and examine whether staff knew of wrongdoing between July 2005 and December 2013.

Anthony Grabiner, the lawyer leading the probe, has questioned at least two traders in recent weeks, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. His questions were largely confined to what they recalled of the April 2012 meeting, they said. The people said the traders agreed to appear voluntarily, thinking they could discuss how they and other dealers operated without risking self-incrimination. Both said they were taken aback at how narrow Grabiner’s questions were and had prepared for a broader discussion of the rigging allegations. Grabiner, 69, didn’t give any indication whether the traders would be called back or who else would be interviewed, they said.

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‘Default The Only Solution For The Greek Debt Crisis’ (RT)

Default is highly possible in Greece because it is impossible for the country to repay all its debts, Aris Chatzistefanou, “Debtocracy” filmmaker, told RT. The Greek debt crisis erupted in 2009 and the economy is still struggling to generate growth and reduce high levels of unemployment. Long-term unemployment in Greece will reach almost 27% in 2015, according to an OECD report published on Wednesday. Greece has also seen one of the biggest drops in real wages since the beginning of the crisis, the OECD data shows.

RT: Greece’s debt ratio is much higher that before the crisis began. What is the situation in the country at the moment and how do citizens deal with the crisis?

Aris Chatzistefanou: Greece has become the best example of a country that was invaded by financial institutions of the Central European countries mainly Germany and France. And what they managed to do by imposing strict austerity measures for almost five years now was to increase the debt, not only as a%age of GDP but also as an absolute value. So in 2009 we started with a debt of 115% of GDP and right now just a few days ago we learned that our debt had skyrocketed to 175% of GDP. So it was a nightmare for the Greek people who were bailing out banks from France and Germany while at the same time they were the victims of the huge social genocide. Just to let you know, that in that so-called salvation period, we have lost almost 25% of GDP. And if you ask any historian he will tell you that there is no precedent in time of peace that a country can lose 25%. We are now the champions of unemployment with 30% and almost 60% for the younger people. The average family has lost almost 35% of its purchasing power. It is a real nightmare for the people in Greece.

RT: Is there any possibility of default in Greece in the current situation?

AC: It is highly possible because it is impossible for Greece to repay these debts. As long as they talk about haircuts and renegotiating the debt the problem remains, and that might be a cause for a domino effect in the eurozone. In my opinion default at the moment is the only solution for the debt crisis in Greece. We have seen positive examples in other parts of Europe like Iceland, even Russia, or in Latin America with Ecuador and Argentina where even when they had some problems it was a success story in comparison with what happened in Greece.

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G20 Handed Gloomy Jobs Market Report (Guardian)

There is another gloomy assessment of the world’s jobs market On Tuesday. The International Labour Organisation, the World Bank, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have produced a labour market update for the G20 employment and labour ministers’ meeting in Melbourne. It highlights “large employment gaps remain in most G20 countries”, the grouping of the world’s biggest developed and emerging market economies. The authors also say that “the quality of employment remains a concern” and that “the deep global financial and economic crisis and slow recovery in many G20 countries has resulted not only in higher unemployment but also in slow and fragile wage gains for G20 workers.” The paper concludes: “Seven years after the onset of the global financial and economic crisis, the economic recovery may be strengthening but remains weak and fragile.

The employment challenges across most G20 countries are still very sizeable both in terms of a persistently large jobs gap and low quality of many available jobs. “The current growth trajectory, if unchanged, will not create enough quality jobs – giving rise to the risk that the jobs gap will remain substantial, underemployment and informal employment will rise, and sluggish growth in wages and incomes will continue to place downward pressure on consumption, living standards and global aggregate demand. Underlining these challenges is the fact that income inequality continues to widen across the G20 countries. “The G20 commitment to boost GDP by more than 2% by 2018 over and above the baseline projections is certainly a welcome step, although it will be important to ensure that this additional growth is job-rich and inclusive.”

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Down the Memory Hole (Jim Kunstler)

The memory hole is working overtime in the USA zeitgeist these days. Shit happens and a week or so later, it unhappens — at least it seems that way as manifested by the front page of The New York Times or the flapping of Anderson Cooper’s gums on CNN. Anyone remember that Malaysian airlines plane that went down in July in Ukraine killing 283 persons? US government officials were jumping up and down trying strenuously to blame Russian Donbass separatists. The trouble was, they had no evidence whatsoever and their exertions were looking ridiculous (making the USA look ridiculous, of course). Last thing we heard, there were questions about two Ukrainian air force jets chasing it, and photos of entry and exit cannon holes in the pilot’s cabin. Recorded communications between the crew and traffic controllers were shoved into storage bin in the Netherlands, never to be made public.

The whole story vanished from the news media like the legendary D.B. Cooper — anyone remember him? — and hasn’t resurfaced since. Anyone remember the outbreak of World War Three in Ukraine two weeks ago? The USA was trying — again, strenuously — to promote the idea of a Russian invasion — minus any evidence of the actual Russian troops, you understand. That didn’t go over so well. All this was occurring, remember, because the USA was determined to make Ukraine a NATO member, contrary to explicit agreements reached with Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union to not expand NATO eastward. Anyway, there was no Russian invasion and the US State Department and the White House were left holding a pig in a poke that nobody wanted to buy. End of story, as Tony Soprano liked to say.

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Australia Gives Up on Australia as Investment Dwindles (Bloomberg)

Australia’s biggest companies are giving up on growth. Investment by businesses in the benchmark stock index will probably slip below rising dividend payouts within two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Wesfarmers Ltd., the country’s biggest private-sector employer with operations spanning retail, mining and manufacturing, returned a record A$2.75 billion ($2.58 billion) to shareholders last year. Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens, who slashed borrowing costs to a record low, is relying on companies to recover their “animal spirits” and take risks to reignite the economy. Yet firms grappling with an overvalued currency and high costs that leave them unable to compete in export markets are opting to play it safe.

“Only a large real depreciation of the Australian dollar will change this reality,” said Ross Garnaut, a professor of economics at Melbourne University and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke. “Capital spending in the traded goods and services industries is catastrophically weak because few investments look profitable in the current cost and exchange rate environment.” The pattern is repeated across industries, slowing growth in an economy where the unemployment rate exceeded the U.S. level in July for the first time since 2007, and company profits dropped in the second quarter by the most in five years. Australia, which has expanded for 23 years, is losing its developed-world-beating status as the mining investment boom that powered it through the global financial crisis wanes.

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Ongoing story.

Drillers Piling Up More Debt Than Oil Hunting Fortunes in Shale (Bloomberg)

A decade into a shale boom that has made fracking a household word and Wilson a rich man, drillers are propping up the dream of U.S. energy independence with a mountain of debt. As oil production hits a 28-year high, investors and politicians are buying into the vision of a domestic energy renaissance. Companies are paying a steep price for the gains. Like Halcon, most are spending money faster than they make it, an average of $1.17 for every dollar earned in the 12 months ended on June 30. Only seven of the U.S.-listed firms in Bloomberg Intelligence’s E&P index made more money in that time than it cost them to keep drilling. (Results for two companies included only the first six months of 2014.) These companies are plugging cash shortfalls with junk-rated debt. They owed $190.2 billion at the end of June, up from $140.2 billion at the end of 2011. (Six of the 60 companies that didn’t have records available for the full period weren’t included.)

Standard & Poor’s rates the debt of 41 of the companies, including Halcon’s, below investment grade, meaning some pension funds and insurance companies aren’t allowed to invest in them. S&P grades Halcon’s bonds CCC+, which the rating company describes as vulnerable to nonpayment. Money manager Tim Gramatovich sees disaster looming in the industry. “I have lent money to nobody in this space, and I don’t plan to. This thing is absolutely going to blow sky-high,” says Gramatovich, chief investment officer of Peritus Asset Management LLC in Santa Barbara, California. The firm manages investments of about $1 billion, including the debt and equity of oil and gas companies that aren’t drilling shale. Halcon’s recent lousy run shows how quickly a bright future can dim. Like many of its peers, Halcon uses two sets of numbers to describe its outlook. To the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company reports what’s known as proved reserves.

The SEC requires an annual tally and limits these calculations to what the firm is reasonably certain it can extract from existing wells and other properties scheduled to be drilled within five years, based on factors such as geology, engineering and historical production. To investors and lenders, Halcon also highlights a much higher figure that it calls resource potential. These estimates, while loosely defined by industry guidelines, don’t follow the SEC rule or timeline. In fact, as Halcon notes, the SEC forbids companies from making resource-potential claims in official reserve reports. The agency doesn’t regulate what companies say at investor conferences, in press releases or on their websites. No one does. Discrepancies between proved reserves and resource potential are common in the industry, and investors can get duped, says Ed Hirs, a managing director at Hillhouse Resources. “There’s a lot of ways to make money in the oil and gas business, and not all of them involve drilling for oil,” he says. “You just drill investors’ pocketbooks. When investors are willing to throw money at you, you can just make money on that. It’s a time-honored tradition.”

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Exponentially is not a good word when it comes to epidemics.

Ebola ‘Spreads Exponentially’ In Liberia, 1000s More Cases Expected (Reuters)

Liberia, the country worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, should see thousands of new cases in coming weeks as the virus spreads exponentially, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday. The epidemic, the worst since the disease was discovered in 1976, has killed some 2,100 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria and has also spread to Senegal. The WHO believes it will take six to nine months to contain and may infect up to 20,000 people. In Liberia, the disease has already killed 1,089 people – more than half of all deaths reported since March in this regional epidemic. “Transmission of the Ebola virus in Liberia is already intense and the number of new cases is increasing exponentially,” the U.N. agency said in a statement. “The number of new cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them in Ebola-specific treatment centers.”

Fourteen of Liberia’s 15 counties have reported confirmed cases. As soon as a new Ebola treatment center is opened, it immediately overflows with patients. “In Monrovia, taxis filled with entire families, of whom some members are thought to be infected with the Ebola virus, crisscross the city, searching for a treatment bed. There are none,” it said. In Montserrado County, which includes the capital Monrovia and is home to more than one million people, a WHO investigative team estimated that 1,000 beds are urgently needed for Ebola patients, the statement said. Motorbike-taxis and regular taxis have become “a hot source” of Ebola transmission. Liberia’s government announced on Monday it was extending a nationwide nighttime curfew imposed last month to curb the spread of the disease. Sierra Leone last week ordered a four-day countrywide “lockdown” starting Sept. 18 as part of tougher efforts to halt the spread of Ebola.

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“20% of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater”

Lake Baikal, World’s Deepest Body Of Freshwater, Turning Into Swamp (RT)

The world’s oldest and deepest body of freshwater, Lake Baikal, is turning into a swamp, Russian ecologists warn. They say that tons of liquid waste from tourist camps and water transport vehicles is being dumped into the UNESCO-protected lake. One of the natural wonders and the pearl of Russia’s Siberia, Lake Baikal has recently been a source of alarming news, due to an increased number of alien water plants which have formed in the lake waterlogging it, ecologists said at a roundtable discussion recently held in the city of Irkutsk. A recent scientific expedition discovered that 160 tons of liquid waste are produced every season in Baikal’s Chivyrkui Bay, said the head of Baikal Environmental Wave, one of Russia’s first environmental NGOs, according to SIA media outlet. Locals have complained to ecologists that the waste easily drains into the lake, SIA reported. The growing number of tourist camps in the area are unwillingly contributing to the pollution.

The report elaborates that the camps pass on waste to special organizations, but disposal vehicles often don’t reach the facilities and instead end up dumping the waste into Baikal or rivers that flow into the lake. The waste dumped into the lake sparked the growth of water plants such as Spirogyra and Elodea Canadensis, which have never grown there before. Researchers found a significant accumulation of water plants and dead lake mollusks on the northern coast of Lake Baikal, according to report. They monitored the coastline from the mouth of the River Tia to Senogda Bay, finding rotting water plants down the coast. An increased level of pollution was also discovered in Listvenichesky Bay.

(Baikal is a rift lake in the south of Siberia which contains roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater – the greatest in the world by volume. It is 1,642 meters deep and among the clearest of all lakes. At 25 million years old, it is also thought to be the world’s oldest lake. In addition, a large contributing factor to the contamination of the lake is water transport vehicles. Ships, boats, yachts, and other vessels produce 25,000 tons of liquid waste annually, but only 1,600 of them end up at the proper disposal facilities, according to the head of Baikal Environmental Wave.)

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‘Unparalleled acceleration’ …

Greenhouse Gas Levels Rising At Fastest Rate Since 1984 (BBC)

A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that it highlights the need for a global climate treaty. But the UK’s energy secretary Ed Davey said that any such agreement might not contain legally binding emissions cuts, as has been previously envisaged. The WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin doesn’t measure emissions from power station smokestacks but instead records how much of the warming gases remain in the atmosphere after the complex interactions that take place between the air, the land and the oceans. It could be that the biosphere is at its limit but we cannot tell that at the moment” About half of all emissions are taken up by the seas, trees and living things.

According to the bulletin, the globally averaged amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, an increase of almost 3ppm over the previous year. “The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the WMO. Atmospheric CO2 is now at 142% of the levels in 1750, before the start of the industrial revolution. However, global average temperatures have not risen in concert with the sustained growth in CO2, leading to many voices claiming that global warming has paused. “The climate system is not linear, it is not straightforward. It is not necessarily reflected in the temperature in the atmosphere, but if you look at the temperature profile in the ocean, the heat is going in the oceans,” said Oksana Tarasova, chief of the atmospheric research division at the WMO.

The bulletin suggests that in 2013, the increase in CO2 was due not only to increased emissions but also to a reduced carbon uptake by the Earth’s biosphere. The scientists at the WMO are puzzled by this development. That last time there was a reduction in the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon was 1998, when there was extensive burning of biomass worldwide, coupled with El Nino conditions.

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But who cares about birds, right?

Climate Change Puts Half of North American Birds at Extinction Risk (NatGeo)

Climate change could force more than 300 North American bird species out of most of their current ranges by the end of the century, according to a new study from the National Audubon Society. “Half of the birds of North America are at risk of extinction,” says Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist. That estimate is based on the 314 bird species, out of 588 studied, that could lose more than half of their current geographic range. Nearly 200 of these threatened species may find hospitable conditions elsewhere, but for 126 species there will be nowhere else to go, Audubon estimates in a report released on Monday. Scientists have known for some time that species of all kinds will have to move—and in some cases are already moving—to adapt to the changes wrought by a warming planet. “What’s important about this particular study,” says Joshua Lawler, an ecologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study, “is that it’s built with a really solid data set.”

Audubon did not examine all of the more than 800 bird species that can be found in North America, but focused on those for which reliable data were available. The new study combines 30 years of citizen science—bird observations across North America in winter and breeding seasons—with projections of future climate to see where suitable ranges might shift for different species. The citizen science comes from Audubon’s own Christmas Bird Count and the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey; the climate models are from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The results are “deeply worrying,” says Stuart Butchart, head of science for BirdLife International. “They add to a body of studies elsewhere in the world showing that climate change is going to have major impacts. Species are going to have to shift their ranges, and many overall are going to suffer range contraction.”

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