Dec 012018
 
 December 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1887

 

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)
America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)
Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)
US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)
Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)
US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)
Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)
The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)
Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

 

 

There was just 7 years of age difference between both Jack Kennedy and George Bush. Not enough to be modern anything. Call them the lesser Kennedys. Over-ambitious sociopath dads. And two military careers.

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)

George Bush Snr’s death underlines that while the Kennedys still remain the premier US political dynasty, the Bush family can also stake a claim to be up there on the top table. With a grandfather who served in the US Senate, a father and son as former occupants of the White House, and a third member a former state governor, the Republicans have a family to match the Democratic Party. George Herbert Walker Bush was born into a wealthy family, the grandson of a steel industrialist, Samuel Prescott Bush, who was named to a national commission on the economy by President Herbert Hoover.

His father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a successful investment banker who became partner at his Wall Street firm, and became the first family member to enter politics. He was elected to the Senate in 1952, where he was a staunch supporter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Prescott’s connections and wealth helped his son, George H W Bush, make a fortune in the oil industry before he entered politics in the 1960s and eventually became the 41st president.

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Thought I’d include this to show you that the Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the editors. They are sort of careful in that they say: what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump? That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

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Ok, more Guardian. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June that year, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, Cohen admitted. Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he briefed Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Trump’s family, had direct contact with Kremlin representatives and considered traveling to Moscow to discuss it. Trump condemned Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, he acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”

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Comey hopes to make it to 2019 without having that hearing. As Jim Kunstler also figured out, in an open setting Comey could plead something about national security. In a closed setting he could not.

US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)

A federal judge on Friday delayed a decision on whether to block U.S. House Republicans from compelling former FBI Director James Comey to testify next week in secret about his actions on investigations leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump, said he wanted to review the case over the weekend before making a ruling and scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday at 10 a.m. He also told Comey’s attorney, David Kelley, to submit a follow-up brief to help inform his opinion by Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s hearing came about after Comey’s lawyers this week asked the court to quash a Nov. 21 congressional subpoena ordering him to appear before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for a closed-door deposition and stay the congressional proceedings. Comey’s lawyer argued his client will only agree to appear if his testimony is public, and on Friday Kelley accused the committee of trying to keep the testimony secret so lawmakers could selectively leak it to peddle partisan narratives. “They want to have unfettered access in a closed session,” Kelley said Friday. “They don’t want all the other members asking questions. They want to zero in and gang up.” Republicans had initially ordered Comey to appear on Monday, but Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the House, said Friday that Comey’s deposition is now being pushed back to Tuesday.

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“If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security.”

Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)

My guess is that this stuff amounts to a potent weapon against his adversaries and he will wait until Mr. Mueller releases a final report before declassifying it. Then, we’ll have a fine constitutional crisis as the two sides vie for some sort of adjudication. Who, for instance, will adjudicate the monkey business that is already on-the-record involving misdeeds in the Department of Justice itself? Will the DOJ split into two contesting camps, each charging the other? How might that work? Does the Acting Attorney General Mr. Whitaker seek indictments against figures such as Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, et al. Will he also rope in intel cowboys John Brennan and James Clapper?

Might Hillary find herself in jeopardy — all the while on the other side Mr. Mueller pursues his targets, characters like Mr. Manafort, Michael Cohen, and the hapless Carter Page? Or might Mr. Mueller, and others, possibly find themselves in trouble, as spearheads of a bad-faith campaign to weaponize government agencies against a sitting president? That might sound outlandish, but the evidence is adding up. In fact the evidence of a Deep State gone rogue is far more compelling than any charges Mr. Mueller has so far produced on Trump-Russia “collusion.” An example of bad faith is former FBI Director James Comey’s current campaign to avoid testifying in closed session before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees — he filed a motion just before Thanksgiving.

Mr. Comey is pretending that an open session would be “transparent.” His claim is mendacious. If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security. He could make no such claims in a closed session. The truth is, his attorneys are trying to run out the clock on the current composition of the house committees, which will come under a Democrat majority in January, so that Mr. Comey can avoid testifying altogether.

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This could last for years.

US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

The U.S. and China could be in the early stages of a Cold War, veteran economist Stephen Roach told CNBC Friday, warning the global trade dispute is likely last for a “long, long time.” His comments come ahead of a high-stakes meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping this week, as world leaders gather at the G-20 summit in Argentina. Simmering trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies are expected to dominate the summit’s agenda, with financial markets closely monitoring the prospect of a potential breakthrough.

“I think the end game is that this is a clash between two systems. And the U.S. is objecting to a state-sponsored ‘market-based socialist system’ that uses the largess of the state to subsidize industrial policy,” Roach, senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC Friday. “Even though, America has had industrial policy for decades but implements it through the military industrial complex orchestrated by the Pentagon. Japan does it, Germany does it, we are making it sound like China is the only one that does it,” he added. “What Mike Pence said is that these are going to be longstanding issues and that raises the possibility — echoed by a speech that (Former U.S. Treasury Secretary) Hank Paulson gave a couple of weeks ago — that we could be entering a Cold War with China that would last for a long, long time,” Roach said Friday.

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Covering all bases.

Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)

Wall Street is convinced a ‘deal’ of sorts will be announced after President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday night to discuss the trade war that is creating issues for both nations’ economies. But the potential outcome could be very different than the truce and ceasefire envisioned by many investors. A desirable deal for stocks would be one where all further tariffs are put on hold while the two sides negotiate an agreement. The best case would be if there is even a roll back of some existing tariffs. International stocks would get the biggest boost, especially those traded in China, the rest of Asia, Australia and Germany, where the DAX index is down almost 13 percent this year, said Peter Boockvar, the chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. Shares of product makers like Apple could also benefit.

“While the U.S. market hopefully will benefit, especially the industrial stocks, it’s goods producing stocks that should benefit the most. That would be Apple, specifically,” Boockvar said. “But I think there’s a potential for overseas markets to benefit most since their economies have softened with these tariffs.” Earlier Friday, there was more negative news for the economy in China, where Shanghai stocks are down about 22 percent year-to-date. China reported factory activity slowed in November to a two-year low. Manufacturing PMI was reported at 50, considered neutral, while a number below 50 shows contraction. Analysts see a range of outcomes this weekend — the trigger for either an “explosion to the upside” or a “bear market.” It could also determine whether the stock market ends the year higher or in the red.

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Too much attention for Powell, it’s what you get when you have no markets.

Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell would be wrong to copy the playbook of his predecessor Alan Greenspan, according to a Yale lecturer and former Morgan Stanley executive. Powell has been criticized by some market players, as well as by Donald Trump, who believe the central banker risks triggering a U.S. economic contraction by enforcing multiple rate rises next year. In the 1990s, then Fed-chair Greenspan took a watch-and-wait policy, keeping rates low to see if inflation would materialize in the face of a growing economy. At the Federal Reserve’s annual retreat to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August, Powell praised Greenspan’s do-nothing stance as sound risk management.

But Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC on Friday that Powell would do well to learn from Greenspan’s mistakes. “The Greenspan ‘put’ supported markets a lot, but he also gave us lots of bubbles and crises that were spawned by those bubbles which I think history does not treat kindly at all,” he said. The veteran economist added that it was not “such a bad thing that Jay Powell is not a clone of Alan Greenspan.” Roach said the change in tone from the Fed chair was not an example of Powell bending to markets, or becoming more like Greenspan, but was more indicative that he was doing a real-time assessment of inflation risks. The economist added that should a trade war slow U.S. or global growth, he would expect the Fed to be far less aggressive on raising rates.

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Well, technically speaking, the Senate would force the Senate’s hand. They were there when Yeman started under Obama, Trump was not. And now they demand he clean up the mess they made?

Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)

The U.S. Senate voted 63 to 37 on Wednesday to clear the way for a debate and final vote on a resolution to end American military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It’s the first time that an anti-war resolution has advanced in Congress since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in early 2015. The vote, with an unexpectedly wide margin in a Senate typically gridlocked along partisan lines, underscores growing anger over American involvement in a war that is currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the vote, in which 14 Republicans joined all 49 Senate Democrats, was also a rebuke to President Donald Trump for doubling down on his support for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after Saudi agents murdered the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Despite the initial Senate vote, the resolution may not ultimately be approved in its current form. Senators could demand amendments or change their minds before a final vote, and Trump has threatened a veto. Saudi Arabia and its allies are also poised to lobby behind the scenes to curtail the measure. And even if the United States ultimately withdraws its support, the Saudi coalition could continue the war for some time. But the vote was a setback for both Trump and Saudi leaders, who are trying to contain the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder.

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Wonder if Erdogan has more drips up his sleeve.

The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)

Yes, as Pepe Escobar, lately was being told in Istanbul: “The Erdogan machine has sensed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [i.e. l’affaire Khashoggi], to simultaneously bury the House of Saud’s shaky Islamic credibility, while solidifying Turkish neo-Ottomanism, but with an Ikhwan [i.e. with a Muslim Brotherhood – style] framework”. This is heady stuff – maybe the Arab world is not so anxious to welcome back, with open arms, either the Ottomans or the Muslim Brotherhood. But nonetheless, with the Gulf so discredited in terms of its legitimacy, Erdogan is probably right to think that he is pushing at an ‘open door’.

And strategic interests are giving Erdogan a strong tail-wind in his bid. Erdogan has secured – as part of the package to try to get Turkey to ‘lay-off’ with its Khashoggi drip-drip leaks – an end to the Saudi siege on Qatar. It is possible too, as part of the deal, that the Qatari Emir (we are told) might visit Riyadh in the near future, and that some sort of cold – very frigid – reconciliation will be conducted with MbS. The point is that Qatar is greatly beholden to Erdogan for ending the siege (and for the earlier stationing of Turkish troops in the Emirate, to protect it, against any Saudi attack), and like Turkey, the Emir is a generous Muslim Brotherhood patron.

Turkey also enjoys a close strategic relationship with Iran (though they have their differences over Syria). The two states have a strong shared interest in seeing an end to American forces occupying parts of Syria, and putting a stop to the Israeli-sponsored Kurdish ‘project’ in the region. And again the Muslim Brotherhood enters into this equation — the latter’s flirtation with Saudi Arabia is finished, and parts of the movement (it is still fractured from the Gulf-led war against it) are returning to old comrades: Hizbullah and Iran (the Muslim Brotherhood never parted from Turkey). In short, the Muslim Brotherhood seem destined to become Turkey’s Arab foot-soldiers in the battle to take the mantle of Islamic leadership away from Saudi Arabia.

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Break ’em up. Ram through the FBI and CIA and save your democracy.

Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

Several Google employees considered manipulating search results to muzzle right-wing voices, calling them a problem that “can and should be fixed,” according to internal conversations obtained by the Daily Caller. Googlers discussed how they could prevent a repeat of Trump’s 2016 victory in the future, weighing the risks and benefits of various forms of censorship. “Let’s make sure that we reverse things in four years – demographics will be on our side,” read one post by engineer Scott Byer. “How many times did you see the Election now card with items from opinion blogs (Breitbart, Daily Caller) elevated next to legitimate news organizations? That’s something that can and should be fixed.”

Google has tried to turn the embarrassing revelation to its benefit, claiming it only proves the company’s impartiality. “This post shows that far from suppressing Breitbart and Daily Caller, we surfaced these sites regularly in our products,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email, seemingly lacking any sense of irony. “Furthermore, it shows that we value providing people with the full view on stories from a variety of sources.” Indeed, not all Google employees were comfortable with outright manipulation of search results. Another engineer and self-proclaimed Clinton supporter, Uri Dekel, feared that “by ranking ‘legitimacy’ you’ll just introduce more conspiracy theories.”

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Oct 072018
 
 October 7, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Autumn landscape 1885

 

Turkish Police Suspect Saudi Journalist Khashoggi Was Killed At Consulate (MME)
Interpol Asks China For Information On Its Missing President (CBS/AP)
Brett Kavanaugh Sworn In As 114th Supreme Court Justice (ZH)
Hot Jobs Market, Trade Tensions May Be Lethal Combo – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Former Fed Governor Warns Of “Several Decade Cold War” With China (ZH)
China Pumps $109bn Into Economy As Trade War Bites (G.)
Theresa May Bids For Centre Ground With Appeal To Labour Voters (O.)
Italy Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, Showdown with EU Intensifies (DQ)
Migrants Fight To Save Italian Mayor Who Gave Them A New Home (G.)
Major Climate Report Will Slam The Door On Wishful Thinking (Vox)

 

 

Tureky will issue statement(s) later. If this is true, it should lead to very strong condemnation of Saudi.

“Khashoggi had been “brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces. Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country”.

Turkish Police Suspect Saudi Journalist Khashoggi Was Killed At Consulate (MME)

Turkish authorities suspect that missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared four days ago after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, was killed inside the consulate, two Turkish sources told Reuters on Saturday. “The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” one of the sources, a Turkish official, said. A senior Turkish police source told MEE that Khashoggi had been “brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces. Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country”.

Khashoggi’s disappearance is likely to further deepen divisions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Reuters said. Relations were already strained after Turkey sent troops to the Gulf state of Qatar last year in a show of support after its Gulf neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, imposed an embargo on Doha. Police said about 15 Saudis, including officials, came to Istanbul on two private flights on Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as the journalist. They left again the same day, according to AFP. Their diplomatic bags could not be opened, a security ource told MEE, but Turkish intelligence was sure that Khashoggi’s remains were not in them.

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“The newspaper said that upon landing last week Meng was “taken away” for questioning by what it said were “discipline authorities.”

Interpol Asks China For Information On Its Missing President (CBS/AP)

Interpol has made a formal request to China for information about its missing Chinese president who seemingly vanished on a trip home. The agency said in a statement it “looks forward to an official response from China’s authorities to address concerns over the president’s well-being.” Interpol said it used law enforcement channels to submit its request about the status of Meng Hongwei. Meng’s wife says she hasn’t heard from him since he left Lyon at the end of September. French authorities say he boarded a plane and arrived in China, but the 64-year-old’s subsequent whereabouts are unknown. France has launched its own investigation.

“France is puzzled about the situation of Interpol’s president and concerned about the threats made to his wife,” its foreign ministry said, without providing any details. Meng is also a vice minister for public security in China, which has yet to comment. Previously, Interpol had said that reports about Meng’s disappearance were “a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China.” The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, has suggested that Meng may have been the latest target of an ongoing campaign against corruption in China.

The newspaper said that upon landing last week Meng was “taken away” for questioning by what it said were “discipline authorities.” The term usually describes investigators in the ruling Communist Party who probe graft and political disloyalty. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s secretive internal investigation agency, had no announcements on its website about Meng and couldn’t be reached for comment. Meng is the first from his country to serve as Interpol’s president, a post that is largely symbolic but powerful in status. Because Interpol’s secretary general is responsible for the day-to-day running of the agency’s operations, Meng’s absence may have little operational effect.

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Need a new way to select Supreme Court judges. The Court must be perceived as neutral, or it loses credibility.

Brett Kavanaugh Sworn In As 114th Supreme Court Justice (ZH)

The drama of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court finally ended on Saturday afternoon, when without any last-minute surprises, the US Senate voted Kavanaugh to become the 114th Justice to the US Supreme Court in a major victory for both the Republican party and President Trump. Kavanaugh was confirmed as expected in a 50-48 vote, the narrowest margin for any justice since the 19th century. In a rare move, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican senator to oppose Kavanaugh on Saturday, but she formally voted “present” to offset the absence of GOP Sen. Steve Daines who left Washington, D.C., on Friday to fly to Montana for his daughter’s wedding.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is up for reelection in a state Trump won by more than 40 points in 2016, was the only Democratic senator to support Kavanaugh’s nomination. As The Hill reports, republicans used Manchin’s support to tout Kavanaugh’s nomination as “bipartisan,” but the razor-thin vote margin marks the closest successful Supreme Court vote since Stanley Matthews was confirmed in a 24-23 vote in 1881. In the ends, it doesn’t matter how they got there: Kavanaugh’s confirmation will be a crowning victory for Trump and McConnell, fulfilling a top campaign promise for the president and a critical priority for the Kentucky Republican. Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court will ensure a conservative majority for decades to come, an outcome that McConnell especially has focused on during his long tenure as the top Senate Republican.

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Roach knows China. He doesn’t think they’ll give in.

Hot Jobs Market, Trade Tensions May Be Lethal Combo – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

There’s a growing risk that trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies may converge with other factors to disrupt the global economy — and knock the historic U.S. stock market rally off its stride, according to one of the world’s leading authorities on Asia. Yale University senior fellow Stephen Roach is worried the US-China trade war is putting sand in the gears of global supply chains, which has been playing a vital force in keeping price pressures in check. Roach referred to the threat as one of the “more destructive” layers of the trade war for stocks.

“You’ve got potentially a lethal combination between a hot labor market in an unwinding of the supply chain effects on the global front which could give you a surprising surge in inflation that the Fed is not positioned to really address with its still very, very low federal funds rate,” he warned Friday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” He added: “For every point of slack in advanced economies, the value chains hold down overall inflation by about 9/10s of a point.”

Roach, who served as Morgan Stanley Asia chairman for five years, believes Wall Street and policy makers are largely underestimating the impact of the trade tensions. Despite the new deal to replace the North America Free Trade Agreement, Roach isn’t optimistic the U.S. is any closer to a resolution with China. “The whole hope from the Trump administration is that China will be quickly beaten into submission as they did with supposedly Mexico and Canada,” said Roach. “The odds of a long disruption are high.”

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Economic cold war.

Former Fed Governor Warns Of “Several Decade Cold War” With China (ZH)

Former Fed governor Kevin Warsh warned on Thursday that the US-China relationship is “probably as poor as” it has ever been since former President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger developed strategic relations between both countries in the early 1970s. “We’re at the risk of a real cold war” between the world’s two largest economies, said Warsh who had been on President Trump’s list for Fed chairman before Jerome Powell was chosen. “The last 30 years we’ve been living and breathing globalization as if it’s an inevitable force,” but now, it seems the six-decade-long bubble has finally popped.

Bank of Americas says trade wars and deteriorating relations with China have been some of the reasons for the decline in globalism. Especially, US tariff duties collected, % of total imports have surged under the Trump administration. “Protectionism has cross-party support in the US, and nationalist parties continue to gain in Europe. Further action on China ($200bn), autos ($350bn), NAFTA ($690bn) could raise US tariff revenue as % total imports to levels not seen since 1946,” said BofA. During the CNBC interview, Wash used the term “cold war” to describe the economic standoff, not the decades-long “mutually assured destruction” nuclear stalemate with Russia. “We are probably on the precipice of a brand new relationship with the Chinese,” Warsh told CNBC. He asked: “Could we be at the beginning of a 10- or 20-year cold war?” If so, an economic cold war between the countries could have major implications for the global economy like causing a global growth scare and repricing risk assets.

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Fourth reserve requirement ratio cut this year. That’s not a game they can play forever.

China Pumps $109bn Into Economy As Trade War Bites (G.)

China has slashed the amount of cash some of its banks must hold in reserve as Beijing’s leadership seeks to bolster a flagging economy. As higher US interest rates and fears of a trade war piles pressure on economies around the world, China’s central bank said on Sunday that it was cutting the reserve requirement ratios (RRRs) by 1% from 15 October to lower financing costs and spur growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. The reserve cut, the fourth by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) this year, came after Beijing pledged to speed up plans to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects as the economy shows signs of cooling further.

Investment growth has slowed to a record low and net exports have been a drag on growth in the first half of ther year. China releases a snapshot of its services sector on Monday, which will be closely watched for signs of slower growth. The injection of cash into the economy, which will be 750bn yuan ($109.2 billion), will also boost hopes that the negative impact of higher US tariffs on Chinese exports can be eased. The cut, which was announced on the last day of China’s week-long national day holiday, showed the central bank was probably worried about the impact of “external shocks” to markets such as a speech last week by US vice president Mike Pence criticising Beijing, said Zhang Yi, chief economist at Zhonghai Shengrong Capital Management.

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This will get ugly. Trying to split Labour. Anti-semitism accusations have been prepared.

Theresa May Bids For Centre Ground With Appeal To Labour Voters (O.)

Theresa May today delivers an extraordinary appeal to wavering Labour supporters to switch to the Conservatives as she attempts to portray her party as the only option for moderate and patriotic voters. Writing exclusively in today’s Observer the prime minister says that if people who have previously backed Labour look again at her government’s programme, including pledges to increase house building and manage markets where necessary, they will find that it is not driven by ideology, but by beliefs and values that the vast majority could support. Seeking to reclaim the One Nation mantle for the Tories, May writes: “I want voters who may previously have thought of themselves as Labour supporters to look at my government afresh. They will find a decent, moderate and patriotic programme that is worthy of their support.”

She argues that in an era in which traditional political allegiances count for less, the Tories now have a responsibility “on our shoulders” to offer a home to millions of former Labour voters who are unhappy with the party’s move left under Jeremy Corbyn. May’s pitch for the centre ground will enrage many Labour supporters who see her as a supporter of eight years of Tory austerity and the architect of the hostile environment for immigrants. It comes amid rumours in Westminster that disgruntled groups of Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs could try to form a new party on the centre ground to appeal to voters who regard the Tories as too pro-Brexit and right wing, and dislike the leftwing agenda of Corbyn.

[..] Reacting to her initial pitch for centre ground voters in her conference speech last Wednesday, former Labour home secretary David Blunkett said May was clearly laying a trap for his party. “This is a well tried tactic, attempting to achieve two things at the same time,” Blunkett said. “The first is to appear to move sufficiently on to Labour territory to seem reasonable and moderate while at the same time trying to push Labour further from the mainstream. We must avoid this trap, because it is a trap. “We need to be much more sure-footed in demonstrating where the Conservatives have stolen our clothes. And we need to reassure people that we won’t allow these blatant Conservative tactics to push Labour into adopting policies even more extreme and outside the mainstream.”

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The ECB buys Italian bonds like crazy. What will they do?

Italy Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, Showdown with EU Intensifies (DQ)

As tensions between Rome and Brussels escalate, and uncertainty grows about Italy’s economic future, investors are dumping Italian debt, causing bond values to fall and yields to rise. That, in turn, is hitting banks’ funding costs and their capital cushions. On average, banks are estimated to already have lost 40 basis points of their core capital in the second quarter and another 8 bps in the third.As their capital base shrinks, banks are less able to write down bad loans — of which there are still frighteningly many — or issue new loans. According to analysts at Morgan Stanley, Banco BPM SpA, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) SpA and UBI Banca SpA are the most vulnerable of Italy’s largest lenders due to the size of their holdings of government debt.

It is this outsized exposure of Italian banks to Italian debt that makes any sudden deterioration in the value of Italian bonds so dangerous. The banking sector hold around 18% of all of the nation’s public debt. It’s the reason why, as investors abandon Italian bonds en masse, the shares of Italy’s banks are also nose-diving, with the stock of recently rescued Monte dei Paschi di Siena leading the way down having lost more than half its value year-to-date. The chart below shows how the FTSE Italy Banks Index has plunged 29% since early May (black line), while the Italian government 10-year yield (red line) has nearly doubled from 1.8% to 3.4%, practically in tandem:

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Always put people first, no matter what your politics.

Migrants Fight To Save Italian Mayor Who Gave Them A New Home (G.)

In 2009, shortly after his re-election as mayor and several years after he embarked on a policy of welcoming migrants as a means of reversing depopulation in his town, Domenico Lucano was shot at through the window of a restaurant where he was eating with friends. As if to ram home their opposition to his plans, the local mafia also poisoned two of his dogs. Unperturbed, Lucano responded by installing a billboard at the entrance of the town, saying: “Riace – a town of hospitality.” The sign remains today, as does one on the main square that lists the 20 countries people have come from – Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, to name a few. Riace, a tiny hilltop town in Italy’s southern Calabria region, has become famous for its much-lauded model of integration, which began in the late 1990s and continues to this day.

But last week, Lucano, the man credited with changing the lives of Italians and foreigners through an initiative that breathed new life into a dying economy, was put under house arrest for allegedly abetting illegal immigration. On Saturday, lending their support to a man dismissed by far-right politician Matteo Salvini as worth “zero”, hundreds of people turned out in support of the mayor and his leadership. Invariably described as altruistic and honest, they struggle to comprehend how Lucano, 60, can have his liberty stripped from him while people belonging to the mafia, a scourge of Italy’s south, roam free. “Mafiosi kill, yet a mayor who does good is arrested? It doesn’t make any sense,” said Elisabetta, who asked for her surname not to be used.

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The worst wishful thinking is that we will replace fossil fuels with some other form of energy and go on growing the way we have. Fewer emissions is useful, fewer expectations is essential.

Major Climate Report Will Slam The Door On Wishful Thinking (Vox)

The leading international body of climate change researchers is preparing to release a major report Sunday night on the impacts of global warming and what it would take to cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels, a goal that looks increasingly unlikely. The report is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international consortium of hundreds of climate researchers convened by the United Nations. Authors are meeting this week in Incheon, South Korea, to finalize their findings, but Climate Home News obtained an early leaked draft.

Why examine the prospects for limiting global warming to 1.5°C? Because under the Paris agreement, countries agreed that the goal should be to limit warming to below 2°C by 2100, with a nice-to-have target of capping warming at 1.5°C. According to the drafts, the report finds that it would take a massive global effort, far more aggressive than any we’ve seen to date, to keep warming in line with 1.5°C — in part because we are already en route to 3°C of warming. And even if we hit the 1.5°C goal, the planet will still face massive, devastating changes. So it’s pretty grim. But this is also a thunderous call to action, laying out what tools we have at our disposal (we have plenty) to mitigate global warming and to accelerate the turn toward cleaner energy. Let’s walk through the basics.

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Jul 182018
 
 July 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Van Gogh painting sunflowers 1888

 

Russia Dumped Most/All Of Its US Treasury Holdings, Disappeared from List (WS)
Japan, EU Sign Trade Deal To Eliminate Nearly All Tariffs (AP)
Going, Going Gone For Australia’s House Price Boom (R.)
Australia’s Expensive Real Estate Problem Remains A Dirty Little Secret (D.)
Right Now, We Are In A New Cold War – Stephen Cohen (Fox)
Is President Trump A Traitor Because He Wants Peace With Russia? (PCR)
A Walk On The Wild Side As Trump Meets Putin At Finland Station (Escobar)
Trump Haters Don’t Get the “Art of the Deal” (Jim Rickards)
Twelve Ham Sandwiches with Russian Dressing (Kunstler)
The EU’s New Data Protection Rules Are Already Hurting Europeans (Mises)
Dear Europe, Follow Ireland, Not France (Lacalle)
Balding Out (Christopher Balding)

 

 

Russia goes for gold.

Russia Dumped Most/All Of Its US Treasury Holdings, Disappeared from List (WS)

It’s a good thing Russia never held as many US Treasury securities as China and Japan. The scenario would have been different. The “grand total” of US Treasury bonds, notes, and bills held by official foreign investors (central banks, governments, etc.) and non-official foreign investors rose by $44.6 billion to $6.17 trillion at the end of May, according to the Treasury Department’s TIC data released Tuesday afternoon. This is in the middle of the range of the past 12 months. But Russia stands out by its sudden absence.

Russia was never a large holder of US Treasuries, compared to China and Japan. In March it was in 16th place with $96.1 billion in Treasury holdings. In April, it liquidated $47.4 billion of its holdings, and ended the month with $48.7 billion. That was down 69% from May 2013 ($153 billion). It knocked Russia into 22nd place behind the UAE and Thailand. And in May, Russia liquidated more of its holdings and disappeared entirely from the TIC’s list of the 33 largest foreign holders of Treasuries. The smallest one on the list was Chile, with $30.2 billion. Russia’s holdings must have fallen below that amount, and I can imagine to zero:

If there was a message in Russia’s liquidation of US Treasuries, it was a pitch in the water: The 10-year Treasury sell-off that had started last September peaked with the 10-year yield at 3.11% on May 17. Since then, the 10-year Treasury has rallied under heavy demand, and the yield has fallen – hence the handwringing about the inverted yield curve. The largest holder of US Treasuries is China, a position it had lost briefly during its era of peak capital-flight from October 2016 through March 2017. Its holdings in May ticked up by $1.2 billion to $1.183 trillion. Its holdings have remained within the same range since August 2017, despite escalating threats of a “trade war.” Japan had been systematically reducing its Treasury holdings. In April its holdings had dropped to $1.031 trillion, the lowest since October 2011. But in May, it increased its holdings by $17.6 billion to $1.049 trillion:

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99% of tariffs to be lifted.

Japan, EU Sign Trade Deal To Eliminate Nearly All Tariffs (AP)

The European Union and Japan signed a landmark deal on Tuesday that will eliminate nearly all tariffs on products they trade. The ambitious pact signed in Tokyo runs counter to President Donald Trump’s moves to hike tariffs on imports from many U.S. trading partners. It covers a third of the global economy and markets of more than 600 million people. “The EU and Japan showed an undeterred determination to lead the world as flag-bearers for free trade,” Abe said at a joint news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tusk praised the deal as “the largest bilateral trade deal ever.” He said the partnership is being strengthened in various other areas, including defense, climate change and human exchange, and is “sending a clear message” against protectionism. The leaders did not mention Trump by name, but they did little to mask what was on their minds — highlighting how Europe and Japan have been pushed closer by Trump’s actions. [..] The deal eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods sold to the EU. About 94 percent of the tariffs on European exports to Japan will be lifted, rising to 99 percent in the future. The difference reflects exceptions on such products as rice, which enjoys strong political protection from imports in Japan.

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China’s clampdown.

Going, Going Gone For Australia’s House Price Boom (R.)

It’s a winter weekend in Sydney’s bustling northern suburb of Chatswood and a three-bedroom family house sporting an endless garden is up for auction. It’s priced to sell at A$1.88 million ($1.4 million) but no buyers bite and the sale is abandoned. On the same day, in the heart of the harbor-hugging city a two-bedroom apartment with panoramic views fails to sell as no bidders turn up. Auctions are a bellwether of demand in property-obsessed Australia, where attending sales is almost a national pastime. It is therefore telling that only just over half were successful the weekend last month a Reuters reporter visited some of Sydney’s auctions, compared to more than two-thirds for all of last year.

And while that week was the worst since 2012, it wasn’t a one off. Auction clearance rates have averaged in the mid-to-low 50 percent range for each of the past nine weeks. The recent weakness in the Australian housing market, which has been one of the drivers of an economy that has now grown for 27 years without a downturn, has some economists warning of heightened risks of a recession and even a financial crisis. In anticipation, some hedge funds are shorting the nation’s financial assets and some significant investors are heavily underweight Australia compared to regional benchmarks.

The slack has been partly engineered by the authorities. Curbs on lending to foreigners, foreign buyer taxes and a clampdown on capital flows by Beijing have hurt bubbling demand from Chinese investors, who have been important contributors to the housing boom of recent years. There are signs of a similar fall in Chinese investment in Vancouver, Canada – which has also been a red hot market in recent years and where the authorities have also intervened by raising taxes on foreign buyers. But a decline in Vancouver’s sales is yet to translate into price declines.

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Laundromat.

Australia’s Expensive Real Estate Problem Remains A Dirty Little Secret (D.)

Nobody knows how many billions of dollars in dirty money is pouring into Australia’s housing market, but global authorities describe local real estate as a prime target for money laundering – and you may have paid more for your house because of it. The likelihood of cashed up crooks increasing house prices is much greater than many people realise, given the hidden nature of the problem, a lack of regulation in the Australian real estate industry and the staggering sums involved. AMP chief economist Shane Oliver says criminals willing to pay extra to wash illicit funds have probably already had an impact on the high end of the housing market. “Even one transaction can have a huge effect that pulls the whole lot up.”

Real estate agents say corrupt money can also influence average house prices, because criminals paying more than market value for one house are likely to encourage higher asking prices for similar properties in the same street. “To the extent that money laundering may well have played a role in making houses unaffordable to the average Australian, even if it’s marginal, there’s a case to investigate that,” Mr Oliver says. Estimates vary, however an International Monetary Fund calculation converted to local currency shows up to $5 trillion in corrupt money – more than three times Australia’s GDP – flowing into global financial systems last year. Only 0.2 per cent of the illegal transfers were likely to be seized or frozen, according to a UN report.

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I know, I know, it’s Fox and Tucker Carlson. But this is Stephen Cohen.

Right Now, We Are In A New Cold War – Stephen Cohen (Fox)

NYU Russian studies Professor Emeritus Stephen Cohen says President Trump had no choice but to meet with Putin, blasts ‘pornography passing as analysis’ in the news coverage of Trump.

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“Russian weapons are so superior to the junk produced by the waste-filled US military/security complex that lives high off the hog on the insouciant American taxpayer that it is questionable if the US is even a second class military power.”

Is President Trump A Traitor Because He Wants Peace With Russia? (PCR)

The US Democratic Party is determined to take the world to thermo-nuclear war rather than to admit that Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election fair and square. The Democratic Party was totally corrupted by the Clinton Regime, and now it is totally insane. Leaders of the Democratic Party, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, my former co-author in the New York Times, have responded in a non-Democratic way to the first step President Trump has taken to reduce the extremely dangerous tensions with Russia that the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama regimes created between the two superpowers.

Yes, Russia is a superpower. Russian weapons are so superior to the junk produced by the waste-filled US military/security complex that lives high off the hog on the insouciant American taxpayer that it is questionable if the US is even a second class military power. If the insane neoconservatives, such as Max Boot, William Kristol, and the rest of the neocon scum get their way, the US, the UK, and Europe will be a radioactive ruin for thousands of years.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, declared that out of fear of some undefined retribution from Putin, a dossier on Trump perhaps, the President of the United States sold out the American people to Russia because he wants to make peace: “It begs the question, what does Vladimir Putin, what do the Russians have on Donald Trump—personally, politically and financially that he should behave in such a manner?” The “such a manner” Pelosi is speaking about is making peace instead of war.

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“Russophobia is a 24/7 industry..”

A Walk On The Wild Side As Trump Meets Putin At Finland Station (Escobar)

“The Cold War is a thing of the past.” By the time President Putin said as much during preliminary remarks at his joint press conference with President Trump in Helsinki, it was clear this would not stand. Not after so much investment by American conservatives in Cold War 2.0. Russophobia is a 24/7 industry, and all concerned, including its media vassals, remain absolutely livid with the “disgraceful” Trump-Putin presser. Trump has “colluded with Russia.” How could the President of the United States promote “moral equivalence” with a “world-class thug”? Multiple opportunities for apoplectic outrage were in order. Trump: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed. As of about four hours ago.”

Putin: “The United States could be more decisive in nudging Ukrainian leadership.” Trump: “There was no collusion… I beat Hillary Clinton easily.” Putin: “We should be guided by facts. Can you name a single fact that would definitively prove collusion? This is nonsense.” Then, the clincher: the Russian president calls [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller’s ‘bluff’, offering to interrogate the Russians indicted for alleged election meddling in the US if Mueller makes an official request to Moscow. But in exchange, Russia would expect the US to question Americans on whether Moscow should face charges for illegal actions. Trump hits it out of the park when asked whether he believes US intelligence, which concluded that Russia did meddle in the election, or Putin, who strongly denies it. “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

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How it works.

Trump Haters Don’t Get the “Art of the Deal” (Jim Rickards)

I’m continually amazed at the legions of politicos, pundits and so-called “experts” who don’t understand President Trump or how he conducts policy. These elites have a mental model of how a president is supposed to behave and how the policymaking process is supposed to be carried out. Obviously, Trump does not fit their model. Instead of trying to grasp the model that Trump does use, they continually berate and disparage Trump for not living up to their expectations. A more thoughtful group would say, “Well, he’s different, so why don’t we try to understand the differences and analyze the new model?” Really, these people need to get out of Washington, New York and Hollywood more and get away from their screens.

If they knew more everyday Americans, they would come a lot closer to understanding how Trump gets things done. It’s not chaos; it’s just a little different and more down to earth. This is because of Trump’s “art of the deal” style described in his best-selling book by that name. Bush 43 and Obama were totally process-driven. You could see events coming a mile away as they wound their way through the West Wing and Capitol Hill deliberative processes. All you had to do was understand the process and you could forecast big developments in a relatively straightforward way. With Trump, there is a process, but it does not adhere to a timeline or existing template. Trump seems to be the only process participant most of the time.

Here’s the Trump process: 1) Identify a big goal (tax cuts, balanced trade, the wall, etc.). 2) Identify your leverage points versus anyone who stands in your way (elections, tariffs, jobs, etc.). 3) Announce some extreme threat against your opponent that uses your leverage. 4) If the opponent backs down, mitigate the threat, declare victory and go home with a win. 5) If the opponent fires back, double down. If Trump declares tariffs on $50 billion of good from China,and China shoots back with tariffs on $50 billion of goods from the U.S., Trump doubles down with tariffs on $100 billion of goods, etc. Trump will keep escalating until he wins. 6) Eventually, the escalation process can lead to negotiations with at least the perception of a victory for Trump (North Korea) — even if the victory is more visual than real.

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“..the entire exercise is a joke and a fraud..”

Twelve Ham Sandwiches with Russian Dressing (Kunstler)

After two years of Trump-inspired hysteria, it’s pretty obvious what went on in the bungled Obama-Hillary power handoff of 2016 and afterward: the indictable shenanigans of candidate Hillary and her captive DNC prompted a campaign of agit-prop by the US Intel “community” to gaslight the public with a Russian meddling story that morphed uncontrollably into a crusade to make it impossible for Mr. Trump to govern. And what’s followed for many months is an equally bungled effort to conceal, deceive, and confuse the issues in the case by Democratic Party partisans still in high places. It was very likely begun with the tacit knowledge of President Obama, though he remained protected by a shield of plausible deniability.

And it was carried out by high-ranking officials who turned out to be shockingly unprofessional, and whose activities have been disclosed through an electronic data evidence trail. Mr. Trump’s visit to confer with Russian President Putin in Helsinki seems to have provoked a kind of last-gasp effort to keep the increasingly idiotic Russian election meddling story alive — with Robert Mueller’s ballyhooed indictment of twelve “Russian intel agents” alleged to have “hacked” emails and computer files of the DNC and Hillary’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The gaping holes in that part of the tale have long been unearthed so I’ll summarize as briefly as possible:

1) the bandwidth required to transfer the files has been proven to be greater than an internet hack might have conceivably managed in the time allowed and points rather to a direct download into a flash drive device. 2) the DNC computer hard drives, said to be the source of the alleged hacking, disappeared while in the custody of the US Intel Community (including the FBI). 3) the authenticity of the purloined emails by Mr. Podesta and others has never been disputed, and they revealed a lot of potentially criminal behavior by them. 4) Mr. Mueller must know he will never get twelve Russian intel agents into a US courtroom, so the entire exercise is a joke and a fraud. In effect, he’s indicted twelve ham sandwiches with Russian dressing.

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When anti-spam leads to more spam.

The EU’s New Data Protection Rules Are Already Hurting Europeans (Mises)

It’s finally over: the flood of e-mails that every single human being who possesses an inbox has received in the last few weeks thanks to the new data protection rules by the EU. These rules, called GDPR, have caused havoc even before becoming effective on May 25, and have probably caused the greatest spam wave of all time – all in the name of fighting against spam of course. The GDPR rules were designed to protect European consumers from data violations by big tech companies (Brussels thinks that Facebook, Google and Co. are abusing the rights of its people), and include – just as a best of – a “right to be forgotten” (meaning that Europeans can ask companies to delete all their data), “consent” (meaning that the data being processed by a company has to be consented to by the individual – though what “consent” means is still disputed), an obligation to hire a data protection officer if you are a bigger company, and above all else, hefty fines for infringements.

Those infringements shall “be subject to administrative fines up to €20,000,000, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 percent of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.” What has been the result of these data protection rules after a little over a month? Summing it up in one word would probably be: chaos. As the trillions of e-mails that were sent around the globe showed, no one really understands what the rules are all about – or what to do about it.

On the day the rules came into effect, several US pages panickingly switched off their platforms in EU countries, among them the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and Orlando Sentinel. But not only newspapers have blocked Europeans ever since: the list also includesShoes.com,Instapaper, and the History Channel. Meanwhile, ad companies, being hit the most by the new rules, have pulled out of the EU altogether, including Drawbridge and Verve , citing the GDPR as the reason that they can’t continue their business on the Continent anymore. Those staying have had to incur gigantic costs: British companies have reportedly sunk 1.1 billion dollars, and Americans 7.8 billion in preparation for GDPR.

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There’s always some miracle nation in the EU.

Dear Europe, Follow Ireland, Not France (Lacalle)

Whenever we talk about tax cuts and growth-oriented tax programs in Europe, many tell us that it is not possible and that the European Union does not allow it. However, it is false. Attractive, growth-oriented tax systems are not only possible in the European Union, but those countries that implement them have higher economic growth rates, less unemployment, and a first-class welfare state. To deceive us, we are forced to ignore Ireland, The Netherlands or Luxembourg as well as most of the technology and job creation leaders. Lower taxes and greater liberalization than in the rest of the Eurozone means higher growth, better wealth and greater social welfare. The economic miracle of Ireland is not statism.

Its secret is to put budgetary stability, investment attraction, private initiative and maximize disposable income of citizens as the pillars of its economic policy. Ireland has a corporate tax of 12.5% and a rate of 6.25% on income from patents and intellectual property, a key factor to attract technology companies. Its minimum salary is almost double that of Spain, Portugal and other Eurozone countries, the average pension is higher as well and its health and education systems are of the highest quality, with nine universities among the best in the world according to the Best Global Universities Ranking 2018. Ireland’s debt to GDP is 73%, unemployment is 5.1% (youth unemployment at 11.4%), public deficit is just 0.7% of GDP.

Only a few years ago, Ireland was close to the edge financially, and its 10-year bond yield rose to 14%. Ireland was considered one of the highest risk of default countries with Spain, Portugal, Greece or Italy. Since then, low taxes, budget control and reforms oriented at attracting capital have made Ireland become the fastest-growing European economy, with an unemployment rate that is less than half that of Spain, for example. Deficits have been slashed, debt is under control, the economy is expected to grow 5.1% in 2018, and the economy is expected to reach full employment in 2019.

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Economist Christopher Balding is leaving China after 9 years. Great farewell.

Balding Out (Christopher Balding)

One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.

I leave China profoundly worried about the future of China and US China relations. Most attention here has focused on the Thucydides Trap where conflict results from an established and a rising power. This leaves out probably the most important variable not just the distinction between an established and a rising power but the values inherent within each state and the system they want to project defining relations between states and the citizenry to the state.

The United States under Trump and the GOP is facing a significant test and re-evaluation of its principles. However, I remain decidedly confident in the US to handle those tests. The self correction nature of democracy is on clear display. The best case scenario for the Trump administration is to minimize congressional losses with the very real possibility of losing control of the house. President Trump has lost more in the courts than he has won and is under investigations by law enforcement headed by registered Republicans. His own party has been unable to pass consequential legislation except for a tax cut. While none of this confronts the international challenges facing the United States, it speaks to the evolutionary, self corrective nature of US democracy.

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May 222018
 
 May 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) 1937

 

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)
Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)
Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)
Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)
Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)
Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)
The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)
US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)
Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)
You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)
Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

 

 

“The era of the US making decisions for the rest of the world is over”. That’s what Russia and China think, too.

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the world would “not accept” US unilateralism just hours after Washington laid out a series of tough demands to be included in a potential new nuclear treaty with Iran. In remarks carried by Iran’s ILNA news agency on Monday, Rouhani said the era of the United States making decisions for the rest of the world was “over”. “Countries are independent … We will continue our path with the support of our nation,” Rouhani said. “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?”

[..] In announcing the new US strategy towards Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned that Washington “will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime” unless it complied with a list of 12 conditions, which must be met before any new deal can be reached. The demands include giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the country’s former nuclear military programme, withdrawing its forces from Syria and ending what Pompeo described as Iran’s “threatening behaviour” towards its neighbours.

Also responding to Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the US of a “regression to old habits”, saying Washington’s diplomatic efforts were a “sham”. “It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions,” Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.

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Regime change always leads to chaos.

Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)

The 8 May US Presidential declaration (on exiting JCPOA) requires of us fundamentally to revise our understanding of Trumpism. At the outset to his term of office, Trumpism was widely understood to be based on three key pillars: That the costs incurred by the US in upholding the full panoply of Empire (i.e. policing the American, rules-based, global order) were just too onerous and unfair (especially in the provision of the defence umbrella) – and that others must be coerced into sharing its cost. Secondly, that American jobs had been, as it were, stolen from America, and would have to be recovered through forced changes to the terms of trade. And thirdly, that these changes would be effected, through applying the tactics of the Art of the Deal.

That seemed, at least, to be clear, (if not necessarily a wholly feasible blueprint). But mostly we thought that the Art of the Deal was about threatening, blustering, and hiking leverage on ‘whatever the counterparty’ – raising tensions to explosive levels – before, at the very eleventh hour, at the very climax of crisis, offering ‘the deal’. And that was the point (then): Yes, Trump would toss verbal grenades intended to upend conventional expectations, take actions to force an issue – but the objective (as generally understood), was to get a deal: One that would tilt towards America’s mercantile and political interests, but a deal, nonetheless.

Maybe we misread Trump’s build-up of America’s already super-sized military. It seemed that it was about potential leverage: something to be offered (in terms of an umbrella to compliant states), or withdrawn from those who would not put their hand in their pocket deeply enough. But everything changed with Trump’s 8 May statement. It was not just an American ‘exit’ that was mooted, it was full court financial war that was declared against Iran (with ‘terms of surrender’ couched in terms of regime change, and total submission to the US). But this is no longer about how to reach a ‘fairer’, better deal for the US; how to make it more money. Rather the financial system was to be leveraged to destroy another state’s currency and economy. The US military are being super-sized further, to be used: to be able to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on non-compliant states.

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Sweden is no longer an independent country.

Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)

Sweden will send out instructions to its citizens next week on how to cope with an outbreak of war, as the country faces an assertive Russia across the Baltic Sea. The 20-page pamphlet titled “If Crisis or War Comes” gives advice on getting clean water, spotting propaganda and finding a bomb shelter, in the first public awareness campaign of its kind since the days of the Cold War. It also tells Swedes they have a duty to act if their country is threatened. “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the booklet says. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.” The leaflet’s publisher, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, did not spell out where an attack might come from.

“Even if Sweden is safer than most countries, threats do exist,” agency head Dan Eliasson told journalists. But Sweden and other countries in the region have been on high alert since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, 2014. They have also accused Russia of repeated violations of their airspace – assertions that Moscow has either dismissed or not responded to. The Kremlin has in the past insisted that it does not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries and has accused Western powers of stoking “Russophobia”. Stockholm has repeatedly cited Russian aggression as the reason for a series of security measures including the reintroduction of conscription this year and the stationing of troops on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The Swedish government decided to start increasing military spending from 2016, reversing years of declines. The booklet on its way to Sweden’s 4.8 million households warns that supplies of food, medicine and gasoline could run short during a crisis. It also lists oat milk, tins of Bolognese sauce and salmon balls as examples of food that people should store in case of an emergency along with tortillas and sardines. The publication describes what an air raid warning sounds like in the first such publication handed out since 1961. Sweden has not been at war with anyone for more than 200 years, not since its war with Norway in 1814. It was officially neutral during World War Two.

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NATO.

Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)

The foreign ministers (FMs) of the Baltic states have wound up their May 16-18 visit to Washington. They asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to reinforce the NATO battalions that have been deployed to their countries with air and naval units. They also want their air-defense capability enhanced. Lithuanian FM Linas Linkevicius emphasized that it’s not just the numbers that are important, but also training exercises, visits, the distribution of equipment, and the establishment of new military facilities. [..] NATO is ratcheting up tensions by holding an increasing number of large-scale exercises right on Russia’s borders. This greatly elevates the risk of inadvertent escalation. For instance, three major exercises are scheduled to be held in the Baltic region this summer.

On June 3-15, the Saber Strike exercise organized by the US Army Europe will encompass the three Baltic states and Poland, involving over 18,000 troops from 19 countries. About 3,000 American soldiers and over 1,500 combat vehicles will travel from Germany to Latvia and Lithuania. Public roads will be used to move heavy equipment. On June 12-13, the soldiers of the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment will construct a bridge in order to cross the Neman River in Lithuania (in the Kaunas district). Their main mission is to ensure that the forces are ready to rapidly advance, not to merely defend their positions. Eight thousand American airborne troops will land in Latvia during the Swift Response exercise, in order to train alongside Lithuanian and Polish troops.

Namejs 2018 will be held from August 20 to September 2 and will involve over 9,200 Latvian forces, including the military, police, border guards, volunteer reservists, and other state institutions. They will be joined by 650 troops from the US, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. All these large-scale intensive training activities will take place in the background of the planning for Trident Juncture 2018, the largest NATO exercise involving about 40,000 troops, 70 ships, and about 130 aircraft from over 30 nations, which will be deployed to central and northern Norway in October for the live portion of the event. A command post phase will be conducted in Italy. Norway does not have a shoreline in the Baltic Sea but it is a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

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“..while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game…”

Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)

It may be time to move on from rising Treasury yields and trade wars. An Italian-led euro crisis is on the verge of becoming the dominant theme for markets. It turns out that the euro break-up trade isn’t dead — it’s just been hibernating and is likely to return with a vengeance in the months ahead if the populists get their way. Their proposed economic policies make no attempt at debt sustainability. Italy already has the largest absolute debt pile in the EU and the second-largest, after Greece, as a percentage of GDP, at 132%. The coalition’s plan sends the signal that it has no intention of ever paying back its debt. Things could spiral quickly because its fiscal promises will send BTP yields much higher, adding to refinancing costs and making the budgetary situation worse.

That creates a dilemma for the EU. Either fund Italy’s largesse at the expense of every other member country, or kick Italy out of the euro. The first option isn’t sustainable. This isn’t a relatively containable problem like Greece. Italy’s economy is almost ten times the size of Greece’s and the third-largest in the euro zone. The PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — were only ever a problem as a group because of concerns that the contagion would infect Italy. And this isn’t just a sovereign debt problem. Italy’s banks have by far the most non-performing loans in the euro zone, more than a quarter of the total. A section of the plan makes it harder for banks to repossess collateral, further deteriorating the value of those loans.

So while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game. Fortunately, the Italian constitution forbids an excessive budget deficit, so may act as a limiting force. However, the concern is whether they can circumvent those restrictions by selecting favorable economic projections. The proposal already seems to be stealthily planning for euro departure with a plan to issue short-term debt contracts to pay back arrears. As my colleague Ferdinando Giugliano suggested on Friday, that’s the first step toward a parallel currency. So Italy’s prospective rulers seem to be fully aware of the end-game and are already planning for it. Investors will soon need to catch up.

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“..debt could equal GDP within a decade..”

Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)

The fiscal outlook for the United States “is not good,” according to Goldman Sachs, and could pose a threat to the country’s economic security during the next recession. According to forecasts from the bank’s chief economist, the federal deficit will increase from $825 billion (or 4.1% of GDP) to $1.25 trillion (5.5% of GDP) by 2021. And by 2028, the bank expects the number to balloon to $2.05 trillion (7% of GDP). “An expanding deficit and debt level is likely to put upward pressure on interest rates, expanding the deficit further,” Jan Hatzius — Goldman’s chief economist — wrote Sunday. “While we do not believe that the U.S. faces a risk to its ability to borrow or repay, the rising debt level could nevertheless have three consequences long before debt sustainability becomes a major obstacle.”

Legislators passed a package of corporate and individual tax cuts in December, a two-year budget deal in February and a massive spending bill in March that boosted government expenditures on both domestic and military programs. In light of the big spending and easier tax burden, the Congressional Budget Office – Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan financial scorekeeper – in April projected that debt could equal GDP within a decade if Congress extends the tax cuts, a level not seen since World War II. Economic growth should jump above 3% in 2018 thanks to the stimuli, the CBO said, but the acceleration will likely prove brief, and debt held by the public will soar to $28.7 trillion by the end of fiscal 2028.

That could create a precarious situation for Congress if the economy faces an economic downturn in the near term, Hatzius wrote, hampering legislators’ ability provide additional fiscal stimulus. “Lawmakers might hesitate to approve fiscal stimulus in the next downturn in light of the already substantial budget deficit,” the economist said. “While we would expect some additional loosening of fiscal policy during the next downturn, there is a good chance in our view that it would be less aggressive than it was in the last few recessions.”

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“Is the Federal Reserve playing politics?”

The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)

Do you feel as if you’re drowning in debt? It’s worse than you think. The U.S. government reached a new milestone when our country’s debt topped $21 trillion for the first time. The national debt grows by an average of $17,000 every second – more than some people earn in an entire year. That’s only an average, and During the past eight months, the national debt grew by $52,000 per second. And the trend toward bigger and higher spending is only getting worse. The ratio of national debt to GDP is at 105%, larger than the economy as a whole. In 1981, the national debt comprised a mere 31% of GDP. We are not moving in the right direction. The Treasury Department has plans to borrow $1 trillion this year, an 84% jump from last year.

When individuals borrow, they can use the money wisely to increase their wealth. That’s what happens when people make good investments. What does the government do with all this money? While some of it may be put to good use, the National Science Foundation’s spending $856,000 on having mountain lions run on treadmills can’t be termed prudent spending. Nor can the $2 billion spent on former President Obama’s healthcare website. In 2017, Brooklyn, NY spent $2 million on a 400 square feet restroom in a public park. Flushing money down the toilet?

Why is the government raising interest rates at a time consumer prices and wages are rising only marginally? During Obama’s administration, prices rose 14.6%, and the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. Inflation is up by a mere 2.2% since Trump took office, and interests rates keep rising. Is the Federal Reserve playing politics? While the rate of inflation was somewhat higher during the Obama years, the Federal Reserve didn’t get aggressive in handling the problem until Trump came to office. If it’s politics, what game is being played?

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“Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt.”

US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)

Americans are in a borrowing mood, and their total tab for consumer debt could reach a record $4 trillion by the end of 2018. That’s according to LendingTree, a loan comparison website, which analyzed data from the Federal Reserve on nonmortgage debts including credit cards, and auto, personal and student loans. Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt. That’s up from 22% in 2010. It’s also higher than debt levels during the mid-2000s when credit availability soared.

Debts on auto loans and credit cards are climbing by more than 7% annually, while housing debt is rising at a little more than 2%. Consumer credit has been rising by 5% to 6% for about two years. LendingTree projects total consumer debt will top $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

That kind of growth is not surprising, according to LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze, and is in keeping with the growth of consumer debt that has been happening since 2012. At these levels, consumers are spending about 10% of their income paying these debts each month, Kapfidze said. From 2000 to 2008, that averaged about 12% to 13%, he said. Still, credit card delinquency rates, which are at 2.4%, are low.

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We’ve seen this movie before.

Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)

One of the most pervasive myths about the United States is that the federal government has never defaulted on its debts. Every time the debt ceiling is debated in Congress, politicians and journalists dust off a common trope: the US doesn’t stiff its creditors. There’s just one problem: it’s not true. There was a time, decades ago, when the US behaved more like a “banana republic” than an advanced economy, restructuring debts unilaterally and retroactively. And, while few people remember this critical period in economic history, it holds valuable lessons for leaders today.

In April 1933, in an effort to help the US escape the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt announced plans to take the US off the gold standard and devalue the dollar. But this would not be as easy as FDR calculated. Most debt contracts at the time included a “gold clause,” which stated that the debtor must pay in “gold coin” or “gold equivalent.” These clauses were introduced during the Civil War as a way to protect investors against a possible inflationary surge. For FDR, however, the gold clause was an obstacle to devaluation. If the currency were devalued without addressing the contractual issue, the dollar value of debts would automatically increase to offset the weaker exchange rate, resulting in massive bankruptcies and huge increases in public debt.

To solve this problem, Congress passed a joint resolution on June 5, 1933, annulling all gold clauses in past and future contracts. The door was opened for devaluation – and for a political fight. Republicans were dismayed that the country’s reputation was being put at risk, while the Roosevelt administration argued that the resolution didn’t amount to “a repudiation of contracts.” On January 30, 1934, the dollar was officially devalued. The price of gold went from $20.67 an ounce – a price in effect since 1834 – to $35 an ounce. Not surprisingly, those holding securities protected by the gold clause claimed that the abrogation was unconstitutional. Lawsuits were filed, and four of them eventually reached the Supreme Court; in January 1935, justices heard two cases that referred to private debts, and two concerning government obligations.

The underlying question in each case was essentially the same: did Congress have the authority to alter contracts retroactively? On February 18, 1935, the Supreme Court announced its decisions. In each case, justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the government – and against investors seeking compensation. According to the majority opinion, the Roosevelt administration could invoke “necessity” as a justification for annulling contracts if it would help free the economy from the Great Depression.

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“..a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy..”

You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)

Is it possible that we Americans only pretend not to notice the conditions that produce an epidemic of school shootings, or is the public just too dumbed-down to connect the dots? Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers and rules while the few adults on the scene are regarded as impotent clowns representing a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy that has nothing to offer young people except a lifetime of debt and “bullshit jobs” — to borrow a phrase from David Graeber.

The world of teens has been exquisitely engineered to steal every opportunity for colonizing the chemical reward centers of their brains to provoke endorphin hits, especially the cell-phone realm of social media, which is almost entirely about status competition, much of which revolves around the wild hormonal promptings of teen sexual development — at the same time they are bombarded with commercial messages designed to prey on their fantasies, longings, and perceived inadequacies. All of this produces immersive and incessant melodrama along with untold grievance, envy, frustration, confusion, and rage. And, of course, where the cell-phone universe leaves off, the world of video games begins, so that boys (especially) get to act-out in “play” the extermination of their competitors and foes.

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The planet is dying.

Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

[..] The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe. The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

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Jan 212018
 
 January 21, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francisco Goya The Dog 1819-23

 

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)
Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)
Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)
China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)
China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)
Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)
Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)
Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)
In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)
Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)
Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)
15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

 

 

Let it go down; why maintain the illusion that the system functions?

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)

The US Senate is due back in session to try to end a budget impasse before the start of the working week when the shutdown of many federal services will be felt around the country. Hundreds of thousands of federal staff face the prospect of unpaid leave. On Saturday, recriminations flew around over the Senate’s failure to pass a new budget and prevent the shutdown. A bill to fund the federal government for the coming weeks did not receive the required 60 votes by Friday. The Republican leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said there will be a vote at 01:00 in the early hours of Monday (06:00 GMT) on a bill to fund the government until 8 February. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

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No gloating.

Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)

Donald Trump was set to be the first U.S. president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in nearly two decades, but the government shutdown might have scrambled those plans. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that Trump’s plans to travel to Davos next week are up in the air while Congress scrambles to strike a deal to fund the federal government. “We’re taking Davos, from the president’s perspective and the Cabinet’s perspective, on a day-by-day basis,” Mulvaney told reporters during an impromptu briefing. The government shut down at midnight Friday, after congressional negotiators failed to pass a budget.

Earlier in the day, Trump cancelled a planned trip to Florida, where he was scheduled to host a party at his private Mar-a-Lago club to mark the one year anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets for the Mar-a-Lago party begin at $100,000 per couple, and proceeds will benefit the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. On Saturday, RNC staffers were busy setting up TV screens in the private club, so Trump could address the guests via satellite, according to CNN. The budget impasse showed no signs of letting up on Saturday, as both Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in, and each party blamed the other. The president is scheduled to depart for Switzerland on Wednesday, along with a delegation of more than a dozen Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top White House aides.

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They have to release it, no choice.

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues. We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election.

This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material. The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.” This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.” Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself.

The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

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Don’t worry, the shadow banks will.

China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)

The People’s Bank of China has ordered financial institutions to stop providing banking or funding to any activity related to cryptocurrencies, further tightening the noose since its shutdown of crypto exchanges last September sent digital currency enthusiasts fleeing overseas. “Every bank and branch must carry out self-inspection and rectification, starting from today,” according to a document issued by the central bank on Wednesday. “Service for cryptocurrency trading is strictly prohibited. Effective measures should be adopted to prevent payment channels from being used for cryptocurrency settlement.” The Chinese-language document, as seen by the South China Morning Post, was distributed as an internal document among banks, and not published on the central bank’s official website.

“Banks should enhance their daily transaction monitoring, and the timely shut down of the payment channel once they discover any suspected trading of cryptocurrencies,” the document said, adding that the deadline for disclosing the measures is on January 20. The emphasis was on handling any capital settlement to avoid any financial losses by cryptocurrency investors from escalating into public protests – known as “group events” in China – and preserve social stability, the central bank said. [..] Chinese cryptocurrency traders, who once dominated 90 per cent of the world’s trading volume of bitcoin, the most popular and oldest form of cryptocurrency, have moved to the underground market, or overseas to Japan. Bitcoin is considered legal tender in Japan.

“Most of the trading is taking place via US dollar now, as some big accounts active in digital currency trading are already on China’s official watch list and payment channel already blocked,” said Zhao Dong, an individual bitcoin investor who spends most of his time in Japan now. “This move by the PBOC is further pushing capital and innovation out of China.” Still, a person no less than Zhou Xiaochuan, the longest-serving governor in the Chinese central bank, has himself announced that the People’s Bank of China itself is studying the feasibility of developing its own digital currency.

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As does Russia.

China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)

China’s National Defense Ministry said the U.S. should abandon a “Cold War” mindset and view Chinese national security and military efforts “rationally and objectively.” The instigators of militarization of the South China Sea are “other countries” that don’t seem to want to see peace in the region and are using the banner of “navigational freedom” to undertake military activities in a tyrannical manner, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement released late Saturday. The statement was in response to a U.S. Defense Department strategy report, released last week, that singled out China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to U.S. power.

China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the contested waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year, to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. The National Defence ministry’s statement on Saturday came shortly after China’s Foreign Ministry vowed to take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty after a U.S. warship entered waters surrounding the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. China’s activities in the South China Sea is “a matter within China’s sovereign rights,” Ren said, adding that the country is committed to a path of peaceful development and a harmonious world order.

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A good point not particularly well made.

Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)

Brexit, at its heart, is a recognition that Britain has become steadily weaker since it spent much of its empire wealth fighting two world wars – too feeble in the years before the 2016 referendum to sustain an exchange rate of $1.60 and €1.40, just as it was too poor to cope with $4 to the pound in the 1950s and $2 to the pound in 1992. Manufacturers were unable to make things cheaply, reliably or efficiently enough against the headwind of a high-value currency, forcing many to give up. An economy that boasted 20% of its income coming from manufacturing in the 1980s found it was the source of barely 10% at the beginning of this decade.

Surges in GDP growth in the 70 years since the war can be attributed (and this short list makes the point crudely) to periods when there were cheap raw materials and energy costs; or a growing population; or foreign ownership and management of key industries; or the offloading of vast amounts of state and mutually owned assets; or cheap borrowing. Without these in operation to improve the UK’s performance, a lower exchange rate became inevitable. Some Brexit campaigners made a cheaper currency their explicit aim, arguing that while Britain’s wealth and standing in the world would be diminished in the short term, the breathing space given to manufacturers would allow them to sell abroad at cheaper prices, then use the funds to invest and gain the efficiencies needed to cope with a return to a higher exchange rate sometime in the next decade.

There is a good deal of logic to the argument, but it rests, like so many revolutionary aims, on the many and competing forces in the economy doing exactly what its proponents want them to. For instance, manufacturers, with a few honourable exceptions, have refused to invest more than the bare minimum for decades, even when the exchange rate has helped them. There are windfall profits to be made when currencies fall: but these windfalls have been trousered by shareholders, not invested.

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Little emperor.

Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has said it would be possible for Britain to secure a bespoke trade deal but only if the UK accepts certain “preconditions”. The French president said that while a special solution could be secured, full access to the single market without accepting its rules was “not feasible”. The comments were made during an interview recorded for BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Macron has been in the UK for his first visit since taking office. On Thursday, at the end of a joint press conference with Theresa May at Sandhurst military training college, he rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector. Macron said full access to EU markets would not be possible unless the UK paid into the EU budget and accepted all its rules.

In the interview with Marr, he said there was “a competition between different countries” to attract financial services companies in the future and that France wanted “to attract the maximum activity”. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said he is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, based on the EU-Canada trade treaty, but with additional access for services. However, EU negotiators have stressed that Britain would not be allowed to “cherry-pick” sectors. Pressed on whether there would be a bespoke special solution for the UK, Macron said: “Sure, but … this special way should be consistent with the preservation of the single market and our collective interests. “And you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don’t tick the box.” He added: “So it’s something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement.”

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It’s starting to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.

Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s progress in enforcing economic reforms, decide whether to disburse 6.7 billion euros in bailout loans and, Athens hopes, signal talks on debt relief. It was unclear if the loan tranche would be disbursed in its entirety, as some prior actions are pending. However, Greek officials sounded upbeat following a decision late on Friday by Standard & Poor’s to raise Greece’s sovereign credit rating from B- to B with a positive outlook. “Greece’s growth and fiscal outlooks have improved alongside a labor market recovery and amid a period of relative policy certainty,” S&P said.

“These positive developments boost the sense that the trust of the markets and investors in the Greek economy is being restored with steady steps,” the Finance Ministry said on Saturday. “With the conclusion of the program in August 2018 and the securing of steady access to the markets, the Greek economy is definitely moving away from a long period of crisis.” Despite the upbeat rhetoric, there are divisions within SYRIZA over government policies, particularly in the radical Group of 53 faction. In comments to SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos conceded that there are “many short-term problems” and underlined two major risks. “One is the banks and the other is the IMF,” he said.

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Nice. Kiwis believe in fairy tales.

In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)

Ask Tourism New Zealand what 100% Pure means and they’ll tell you: it’s not a ‘clean, green’ campaign, but a campaign that delivers a “100% Pure New Zealand experience”. What it is is 100% pure advertising, and a slogan fit to replace the fertiliser used in the country’s intensive farming. But while Kiwis do seem to be realising there’s something murky about our clean-green image, there is one area we are still fooling ourselves about – the state of our native creatures. Stuff has just wrapped up its Forgotten Species series, a five-part series looking at a handful of the estimated 3700 native species which are either approaching extinction or at risk. Despite having one of the highest proportions of threatened or endangered species of anywhere on the planet, 70% of the public feel the state of our country’s natives is adequate or doing well, according to a recent Lincoln University study.

Ask study co-author Ross Cullen and he will tell you – 70% of the public is “totally wrong”. All countries advertise, and everyone accepts it with a pinch of salt. If we didn’t we would all be jetting off to England expecting a village in the Cotswolds and end up at a sleazy pub in Plumstead, east London. Advertising is advertising, and good advertising brings in tourism money. However, when the public believes its own advertising, it’s no longer advertising, it’s propaganda –and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because if the populace think something’s going well, they ignore it, the political hot-potato cools, and the decline continues. Case in point – the National Government’s Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry, paraded the new Threatened Species Strategy in front of voters just as the 2017 general election was heating up.

It promised to increase the number of at-risk species directly managed by 40%. On the face of it, this seems great, but when the Budget was released a couple of weeks later, almost all of DOC’s extra funding was ring-fenced for upgrading tourism infrastructure and developing new Great Walks. It was a great ad delivered by a great ex-garden show host. Kiwis might have kicked up a fuss – if the majority didn’t think we were doing a bang up job on protecting native species already. I remember a telling moment after ex-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s launched her report finding 80% of native birds were threatened. I was present to hear why Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts didn’t fancy this was a problem. “The people come here for our scenery, not our wildlife,” he said. Roberts didn’t disagree with any of the report’s findings, he just thought a visitor levy would do more harm to the country than the rapid die-off of our native birds.

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Depression zone. I went from Athens to Amsterdam 5 weeks ago, lost 2 hours of daylight to begin with, and been dead tired ever since. Vitamin D doesn’t do it either.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)

Sunshine is in short supply across a swathe of north-west Europe, shrouded in heavy cloud from a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems since late November and suffering one of its darkest winters since records began. If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January. “Sound the alarm and announce the disappearance,” read a despairing headline in photon-deprived northern France’s regional paper, La Voix du Nord. “A star has been kidnapped. We still have no sign of life from the sun.”

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has declared December 2017 “the second darkest month since 1887”, when it began measuring, after the 10.5 hours of sun recorded at its Uccle weather station last month were beaten only by a bare 9.3 hours in 1934. France’s northern Hauts-de-France region did better with 26 hours of sunshine in December, but that was against a norm of 48. But Météo France described the paltry 2.7 hours of sun recorded from 1 to 13 January in Lille, the region’s biggest city, as “exceptional”. The January average stands at 61.4 hours, according to the agency – meaning Lille and its unfortunate residents were deprived of perhaps 30 hours’ worth of rays in the first part of the month.

[..] Even southern French sun-traps such as Bordeaux and Marseille fell a very long way short of their usual ray quota in the first half of the month, basking in just 10.3 and 26.9 hours respectively against monthly averages of 96 and 92.5. Health experts say a shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression, whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. “Exposure to morning light inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” Matthieu Hein, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, said. In the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder”. Florent Durand, who runs a massage studio in Lille, told France 3 TV that his €39 light therapy sessions were booked out.

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As Turkey bombs US supported Kurds, Erdogan feels like a god.

Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to curb human trafficking across the Aegean appears to be in jeopardy again after a top Turkish official warned that a current impasse with the EU gives Ankara no reason to honor the deal. A collapse of the deal would put more pressure on Greek islands where thousands of migrants are cooped up in overcrowded reception centers. The comments on Friday by Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, essentially rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a partnership rather than full EU membership for Turkey. “A privileged partnership or similar approaches, we don’t take any of these seriously. Turkey cannot be offered such a thing,” Celik told Reuters.

Celik said the EU was not fully honoring its part of the migration deal, noting that financial aid was “not working well” and that no new chapters have been opened in Turkey’s EU accession bid. “Technically there’s no reason for Turkey to maintain this deal,” he said. The minister’s words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, during a landmark visit to Greece in December, hit out at the EU for giving Turkey just a portion of the aid it had pledged as part of the 2016 migrant deal. During Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed that Turkey take back migrants from facilities on the Greek mainland to free up space for migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands. Erdogan did not publicly respond to the suggestion.

After Celik’s comments on Friday, a spokesman for the Greek Migration Ministry said the government’s position, that all sides must honor the Turkey-EU deal, remained “fixed and firm.” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Lesvos on Friday, together with Valentin Radev, the interior minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mouzalas reassured local residents, who had gathered at the Moria facility, that measures would be taken to ensure that migrants alleged to have been involved in thefts or other offenses will no longer be allowed to leave the premises. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said the minister was not doing enough to adequately inform residents and was shifting the blame for the situation on the islands on to local authorities.

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New year, same old lack of humanity.

15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

Fifteen Syrian refugees – some of them children – have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm. Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa. Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers. Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself. The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home. Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011. The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

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Feb 152017
 
 February 15, 2017  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 15 2017


Times Square New York City, 1958

 

The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn (BBG)
Kucinich Pins Flynn Leak on Intel Community, Warns of Another Cold War (Fox)
America’s Spies Anonymously Took Down Flynn. That Is Deeply Worrying (Week)
Russian Foreign Ministry Says Crimea Will Not Be Returned To Ukraine (R.)
China Credit Surging to Record Underscores PBOC Shift to Tighten (BBG)
China Should Prudently Manage Deleveraging Process – PBOC (R.)
Nigel Farage – You’re In For a Bigger Shock in 2017 (TNTV)
Germany’s Burden: The Euro Is The Most Crisis-Ridden Currency (MW)
Greece Defies Creditors Over More Cuts As Economy Shrinks Unexpectedly (G.)
‘Fed Up’ Exposes The Elite Rot Inside The Federal Reserve (MW)
Why “Everyone Wins” When Housing Is More Expensive (AS)
Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails? (McMaken)
The Technosphere: You Are Not In Control (Dmitry Orlov)
Greece’s Frozen Children: What Will Happen To Young Refugees? (NS)

 

 

So many diffferent angles. This one from Eli Lake is bearable. “Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”

The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn (BBG)

Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern.” Nunes said he was going to bring this up with the FBI, and ask the agency to investigate the leak and find out whether Flynn himself is a target of a law enforcement investigation. The Washington Post reported last month that Flynn was not the target of an FBI probe.

The background here is important. Three people once affiliated with Trump’s presidential campaign – Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – are being investigated by the FBI and the intelligence community for their contacts with the Russian government. This is part of a wider inquiry into Russia’s role in hacking and distributing emails of leading Democrats before the election. Flynn himself traveled in 2015 to Russia to attend a conference put on by the country’s propaganda network, RT. He has acknowledged he was paid through his speaker’s bureau for his appearance. That doesn’t look good, but it’s also not illegal in and of itself. All of this is to say there are many unanswered questions about Trump’s and his administration’s ties to Russia. But that’s all these allegations are at this point: unanswered questions.

It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals. He was also a fat target for Democrats. Remember Flynn’s breakout national moment last summer was when he joined the crowd at the Republican National Convention from the dais calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed.

In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama’s incoming national security adviser and Iran’s foreign minister leaked to the press before the nuclear negotiations began? The howls of indignation would be deafening. In the end, it was Trump’s decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.

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Interesting 8-minute, very clear take from Kucinich: “This is like the electronic version of Mad magazine; Spy vs Spy..”

Kucinich Pins Flynn Leak on Intel Community, Warns of Another Cold War (Fox)

During an interview on the FOX Business Network’s Mornings with Maria, former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said the intelligence community was responsible for leaking information that Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, had secretly discussed sanctions with Russian officials before the inauguration and argued their goal was to spoil the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. “What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” Kucinich said.

And in his opinion, there is a big money motive behind it. “And I tell you there’s a marching band and Chowder Society out there. There’s gold in them there hills,” he said. “There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so that this military industrial intel axis can cash in.” Kucinich added the intelligence community could start a war to succeed. “There’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those who want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War,” he said.

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Many on both the left and the right have these worries.

America’s Spies Anonymously Took Down Flynn. That Is Deeply Worrying (Week)

The United States is much better off without Michael Flynn serving as national security adviser. But no one should be cheering the way he was brought down. The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America’s democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function. Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result.

“Finally,” they say, “someone took a stand to expose collusion between the Russians and a senior aide to the president!” It is indeed important that someone took such a stand. But it matters greatly who that someone is and how they take their stand. Members of the unelected, unaccountable intelligence community are not the right someone, especially when they target a senior aide to the president by leaking anonymously to newspapers the content of classified phone intercepts, where the unverified, unsubstantiated information can inflict politically fatal damage almost instantaneously.

President Trump was roundly mocked among liberals for that tweet. But he is, in many ways, correct. These leaks are an enormous problem. And in a less polarized context, they would be recognized immediately for what they clearly are: an effort to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin. This doesn’t mean the outcome was wrong. I have no interest in defending Flynn, who appears to be an atrocious manager prone to favoring absurd conspiracy theories over more traditional forms of intelligence. He is just about the last person who should be giving the president advice about foreign policy. And for all I know, Flynn did exactly what the anonymous intelligence community leakers allege — promised the Russian ambassador during the transition that the incoming Trump administration would back off on sanctions proposed by the outgoing Obama administration.

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Silly idea. The New Cold War.

Russian Foreign Ministry Says Crimea Will Not Be Returned To Ukraine (R.)

Russia will not hand back control of Crimea to Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, responding to comments from the White House that the United States expected the Black Sea peninsula to be returned. “We don’t give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing. On Tuesday, the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had made it clear that he expects Russia to relinquish control of the territory. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia, plunging Western relations with the Kremlin to their worst level since the end of the Cold War.

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Shadow banking resurgence? It was never gone.

China Credit Surging to Record Underscores PBOC Shift to Tighten (BBG)

China added more credit last month than the equivalent of Swedish or Polish economic output, revving up growth and supporting prices but also fueling concerns about the sustainability of such a spree. Aggregate financing, the broadest measure of new credit, climbed to a record 3.74 trillion yuan ($545 billion) in January, exceeding the median estimate of 3 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey. New yuan loans rose to a one-year high of 2.03 trillion yuan, less than the 2.44 trillion yuan estimate. The credit surge highlights the challenges facing Chinese policy makers as they seek to balance ensuring steady growth with curbing excess leverage in the financial system. The PBOC recently moved to tighten monetary policy by raising the interest rates it charges in open-market operations and on funds lent via its Standing Lending Facility.

“China is learning what other central banks realized decades ago: trying to control monetary aggregates in a modern financial system is next to impossible,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney. “I expect the PBOC will focus more on interest rates and prudential regulation and supervision going forward.” China’s major state-backed banks tend to splurge at the start of the year as they seek to maximize their profits on lending. The main categories of shadow finance all increased significantly. Bankers acceptances – a bank-backed guarantee for future payment – soared to 613.1 billion yuan from 158.9 billion yuan the prior month. “The PBOC is restraining loans but allowing private credit to flow through shadow banks,” said Andrew Collier, an independent analyst and former president of Bank of China International USA. “This is not a policy designed to conquer China’s debt burden.”

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Yeah, well, it does nothing of the kind.

China Should Prudently Manage Deleveraging Process – PBOC (R.)

China should prudently manage the country’s debt deleveraging process and seek to avoid a liquidity crisis and asset bubbles, according to a central bank working paper published on Wednesday. While overall debt ratios in the world’s second-largest economy were still not high relative to many other countries, the pace of increase has been rapid in recent years, the paper said. China’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs, UBS analysts said in a recent note.

China’s top leaders have pledged to focus on addressing rising financial risks and asset bubbles this year. The People’s Bank of China has moved to a moderate tightening bias, raising some key primary money rates this year, which analysts said was part of a bid to control risks from rising leverage. The working paper said China should avoid the negative consequences of both increases in leverage and rapid deleveraging. China should let market forces play a decisive role in the deleveraging process, including allowing defaults, the paper published on the People’s Bank of China website said.

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h/t Mish. “The people want less Europe. We see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership. But something more fundamental is going on out there.”

Nigel Farage – You’re In For a Bigger Shock in 2017 (TNTV)

I feel like I am attending a meeting of a religious sect here this morning. It’s as if the global revolution of 2016, Brexit, Trump, the Italian rejection of the referendum, has completely bypassed you. You can’t face up to the fact that this bandwagon is going to roll across Europe in these elections in 2017. A lot of citizens now recognize this form of centralized government simply doesn’t work. … At the heart of it is a fundamental point: Mr. Verhofstadt this morning said, the people want more Europe. They don’t. The people want less Europe. We see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership. But something more fundamental is going on out there. ….

No doubt, many of you here will probably despise your own voters for what I am about to say because just last week, Chatham House, the reputable group, published a massive survey from 10 Europen states, and only 20% of people want immigration from Muslim countries to continue. Just 20%. … Which means your voters have a harder line position on this than Donald Trump, or myself, or frankly any party sitting in this Parliament. I simply cannot believe you are blind to the fact that even Mrs. Merkel has now made a u-turn and wants to send people back. Even Mr. Schulz thinks it is a good idea. And the fact is, the Europen Union has no future at all in its current form. And I suspect you are in for as big a shock in 2017 as you were in 2016.

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Throw this into the German election campaign and see what happens.

Germany’s Burden: The Euro Is The Most Crisis-Ridden Currency (MW)

Target-2 occupies a central place. According to latest Bundesbank figures, the German central bank’s claims under the system rose to €796 billion at the end of January, from €754 billion at the end of December, well above the previous record €751 billion in August 2012. The Bundesbank’s ECB claims make up more than half of Germany’s net foreign assets of €1.5 trillion, which have themselves increased enormously since the euro was launched in 1999. If the eurozone broke up, or euro members redenominated their liabilities in a new, lower valued currency, Germany would relinquish a large part of these assets — a loss of German savings that would rival the country’s forced write-downs after the first and second world wars.

Both the ECB and the Bundesbank are playing down the renewed Target-2 increase, saying it reflects technical reasons linked to cross-border payments stemming from the ECB’s asset purchase program. On the one hand, these facts would argue for Germany keeping the system going. On the other, they would suggest that the Germans should try to renegotiate the Target-2 arrangements. At the present rate of increase, the Target-2 balances could be close to €1 trillion by the German elections in seven months. Target was developed during the 1990s as a technical transfer mechanism for facilitating payments within the eurozone. The innocuous name — Trans-European automated real-time gross settlement express transfer — signals its original arcane purpose.

According to Helmut Schlesinger, former Bundesbank president, the system was expected to advance credit simply for overnight settlement. Two decades later, as Schlesinger explains, it has become an overdraft system under which Germany, through its central bank, extends interest-free credit without any repayment date and without economic conditions to the central banks of heavily indebted nations.

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Paradox: BECAUSE the economy shrinks, more cuts ‘reforms’ will be demanded. The IMF wants more pension cuts. But that’s what half the population lives on.

Greece Defies Creditors Over More Cuts As Economy Shrinks Unexpectedly (G.)

The standoff between Greece and its creditors has escalated, with the embattled Athens government vowing it will not give in to demands for further cuts as data showed the country’s economy unexpectedly contracting. As thousands of protesting farmers rallied in Athens over spiralling costs and unpopular reforms, the Hellenic statistical authority revealed that Greek GDP shrank by 0.4% in the last three months of 2016. After growth of 0.9% in the previous three-month period the fall was steep and unforeseen. On Monday the European commission announced that the eurozone’s weakest member was on course to achieving a surplus on its budget of 2.3% after exceeding its 2016 fiscal targets “significantly”.

The setback came as prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ lefist-led coalition said it would not consent to additional austerity beyond the cuts the country had already agreed to administer under its third, EU-led bailout programme. Speaking on state TV, the digital policy minister Nikos Pappas, Tsipras’ closest confidant, insisted that ongoing differences between the EU and IMF over how to put the debt-stricken state back on the road to recovery were squarely to blame for the failure to conclude a compliance review at the heart of the standoff. The IMF has argued vigorously that extra measures worth 2% of GDP will have to be enforced with immediate effect if Greece is to achieve a high post-programme primary surplus of more than 1.5%. “The negotiations should have ended. Greece has done everything that it was asked to do,” he said and added there would be “no more measures”.

The future of the €86bn financial aid programme is contingent on Athens implementing agreed economic reforms. The IMF has repeatedly said it will not sign up to the programme unless the crisis-plagued country is given more generous debt relief in the form of a substantial write-down. With Greece facing a €7bn debt repayment to the ECB in July, fears of a Greek default have once again hit markets with shares falling and interest rates on Greek debt rising. But Tsipras is also under pressure from back-benchers in his fragile two-party administration. After seven years of adopting grueling austerity in return for emergency bailout aid many are openly questioning the wisdom of applying yet more measures that have already put Greece in a permanent debt deflationary cycle.

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Yellen was “oblivious as the housing market in her region imploded on multiple fronts.”

‘Fed Up’ Exposes The Elite Rot Inside The Federal Reserve (MW)

She came armed with an M.B.A., not a Ph.D., which made her suspect in the eyes of staff economists as she gradually worked her way up to Class I Clearance, with access to all policy-related material and briefings. In her columns, DiMartino Booth had warned about lax mortgage-lending standards, a housing bubble and escalating systemic risk. Once ensconced at the Fed, she was left to wonder why so many “highly educated and well-paid economists” were “oblivious as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was about to break over their heads.” (One of the main reasons is the Fed’s reliance on econometric models that don’t include anything related to the financial system, such as debt or credit.) It wasn’t just the staff economists who were blind to what was going on in the real world.

Neither former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, who can boast of two bubbles on his watch, nor his successor Ben Bernanke saw the train wreck coming. Greenspan said a national housing bubble was “unlikely” while Bernanke expected any fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis to be “contained.” Janet Yellen, the current Fed chairwoman, is subject to withering criticism in the book. From 2004-2010, Yellen was president of the San Francisco Fed, whose district encompasses nine Western states and was ground zero for the housing bubble and subsequent bust. DiMartino Booth portrays Yellen as an uber-dove and devout Keynesian, someone who was “oblivious as the housing market in her region imploded on multiple fronts.”

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Why bubbles are blown.

Why “Everyone Wins” When Housing Is More Expensive (AS)

The perceived creditworthiness of a nation is largely dependent on market sentiment of that nation insofar as that the volume and indeed the acceleration of capital flow from that nation towards traditionally hedge instruments is indicative of their realisation of mania and is often known as the Minsky moment. Human nature inherently creates inefficiencies in markets as the incentives for those involved continue to grow, and it is that immutable fact that creates opportunities for those that see the market as being overwhelmingly influenced by self interest. The housing market is a fantastic example of this incentivised self interest. There are layers of self interest that largely go ignored as driving factors for housing price growth and poor risk modelling.

On the lowest level, buyers see property as a safe investment, and most of the time they seek to either make a return on their investment either through rental that exceeds the cost of the mortgage repayments (positive gearing) or to make money by a perceived increase in market value of the property that they can realise once they resell the property, or in many cases a combination of both. There are also people who seek to reduce their tax payment by charging less for rent than they pay in mortgage repayments, however these losses are eventually passed on to tax payers as the government thinks this is a suitable method for reducing rental costs for low income earners and that it reduces overall rental costs. The next level up from this is a combination of brokers, people employed to undertake property valuations and real estate agents, all of whom receive commission as a percentage of the sale price of the property.

There exists such a thing as home equity loans wherein banks and borrowers agree upon a valuation of the property which allows mortgagees or property owners to take on debt based on the perceived value of the property, which extends further credit than the initial loan. This feature of home equity lends itself to false market valuations by appraisers, real estate agents and brokers, in particular because it means that they are incentivised to originate additional loans that then pay commissions based on the appreciation of the previous property investment. Even if the current broker, appraiser or real estate agent is not used by the borrower for financing further property purchases, the industry wide practice almost certainly means that these people will continue to receive additional income as a direct result of the availability of credit in the form of home equity for property purchases.

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Maintenance is far less sexy than building.

Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails? (McMaken)

While everyone likes to see a shiny new dam or railroad or bridge, the problem with infrastructure projects is that they require maintenance. Unfortunately, while it’s fun to build new dams and promise cheap water to many voters and powerful special interests, maintaining those projects is less exciting. As The Mercury News has reported, 12 years ago, both California and federal officials refused to consider a demand that California heighten precautions and maintenance standards at the Oroville Dam. In response to the demands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the dam’s emergency features were perfectly fine and that the emergency spillway “was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown.”

But, in a development reminiscent of the Army Corp of Engineers’ failure in New Orleans, state officials began ordering evacuations when flows over the spillway reached a mere “6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second” or “5% of the rate that FERC said was safe.” Basically, thanks to poorly maintained spillways — and perhaps other oversights — the dam itself is being eroded away, and may soon face total failure. If it does fail, the dam will have failed less than 50 years after its initial — and very, very expensive — construction. The “experts” assure us that this sort of thing has never happened before, of course, and it’s the fault of global warming or it’s just a fluke. But, it’s not as if the dam has never been under strain before. As Reisner recounted in 1987:

“In February of 1980, in the midst of a long spell of wet Pacific fronts, Oroville Reservoir, despite its capacity of something like a trillion gallons, was full, and the dam was spilling — 70,000 cubic feet per second, the Hudson River in full flood, roaring down the spillway at forty miles per hour, sending a plume of mist a thousand feet in the air.” At the time, the dam was only 12 years old. Today, the now-49-year old dam isn’t looking nearly as robust.

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Excellent Dmitry: “..there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it?”

The Technosphere: You Are Not In Control (Dmitry Orlov)

A good example of how the technosphere controls our tastes is the personal automobile. Many people regard it as a symbol of freedom and see their car as an extension of their personalities. The freedom to be car-free is not generally regarded as important, while the freedoms bestowed by car ownership are rather questionable. It is the freedom to make car payments, pay for repairs, insurance, parking, towing and gasoline. It is the freedom to pay tolls, traffic tickets, title fees and excise taxes. It is the freedom to spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams and to suffer injuries in car accidents. It is the freedom to bring up neurologically damaged children by subjecting them to unsafe carbon monoxide levels (you are encouraged to have a CO detector in your house, but not in your car—because it would be going off all the time). It is the freedom to suffer indignities when pulled over by police, especially if you’ve been drinking. In terms of a harm/benefit analysis, private car ownership makes no sense at all.

It is often argued that a car is a necessity, although the facts tell a different story. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road. The population of the planet is over 7 billion. Therefore, there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it? In fact, owning a car becomes necessary only in a certain specific set of circumstances. Here are some of the key ingredients: a landscape that is impassable except by motor vehicle, single-use zoning that segregates land by residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial uses, a lifestyle that requires a daily commute, and a deficit of public transportation. In turn, widespread private car ownership is what enables these key ingredients: without it, situations in which private car ownership becomes a necessity simply would not arise.

Now, moving people about the landscape is not a productive activity: it is a waste of time and energy. If you can live, send your children to school, shop and work all without leaving the confines of a small neighborhood, you are bound to be more efficient than someone who has to drive between these four locations on a daily basis. But the technosphere is rational to a fault and is all about achieving efficiencies. And so, an obvious question to ask is, What is it about the car-dependent living arrangement, and the landscape it enables, that the technosphere finds to be efficient? The surprising answer is that the technosphere strives to optimize the burning of gasoline; everything else is just a byproduct of this optimization.

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Not the strongest effort, but at the same time, children should always receive our protection.

Greece’s Frozen Children: What Will Happen To Young Refugees? (NS)

The snow-covered tents were an ugly spectacle around the island of Lesbos as this harsh winter gripped Greece. It was in this same area that an accident involving a gas heater had killed a mother and child in late November, when their tent – and others near it – went up in flames. It was pure luck that there weren’t more victims. The incident served as a stark reminder that there are numerous children living in these miserable conditions and that sometimes they die as a result. I had visited the camp just days earlier, hoping to talk to some of the approximately 80 unaccompanied minors who live there. Facilities for refugees around Greece can look anything from decent to shabby, but none resembles a prison as much as the Moria camp on Lesbos. It looks the last place you would host vulnerable children, some of whom are as young as 13.

Yet more than 5,000 children have arrived in Greece without their parents and, like everyone else, they have to be sorted through “hot spots” such as Moria. About 2,500 are still in Greece, and some of them have to live in places like this. While adults and children accompanied by their parents can leave the camp, unaccompanied children, who are placed formally under the guardianship of the district attorney, cannot. The facility, guarded by police in full riot gear and surrounded by concrete walls topped with barbed wire, is both home and prison. It takes nine months on average for an unaccompanied child to be reunited with family in another country – if indeed the child has one. The alternative is that they remain in Greece until they turn 18, when they can try to claim asylum. If a child’s application is rejected, he is then deported back to the country he left years earlier as a child.

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Jan 132017
 
 January 13, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas Dancers in Blue 1895

Assange Agrees To Extradition If US Releases Chelsea Manning (AFP)
China Posts Worst Export Fall Since 2009 As Fears Of US Trade War Loom (R.)
Fiat Chrysler Shares Plunge 13% After EPA Cheat Software Accusation (CNBC)
Wages For Lowest-Paid UK Men Have Been Stagnant For Two Decades (Ind.)
Abolish Central Banks And Slay The Zombies (Planet Ponzi)
WHO Warns Of Outbreak Of Virulent New ‘Economic Reality’ Virus (Steve Keen)
The Utter Stupidity Of The New Cold War (SCF)
Obama’s “Farewell To Arms” As War Presidency Ends (SCF)
Massive Security Preparations Under Way For Inauguration (Fox)
Germany’s Schaeuble Urges ECB To Start Unwinding Stimulus This Year (CNBC)
Germany To Return New Asylum Seekers To Greece From March (AFP)
Greece’s Healthcare System: Train Wreck In Slow Motion (Occupy)
Weitergeleiteter Spendenaufruf für Griechenland (Das Gelbe Forum)

 

 

What does it say about us if our best and brightest feel compelled to sacrifice themselves? Where is this going to leave us? Where would we be without Assange, Snowden and Manning? Certainly not in a better place.

Assange Agrees To Extradition If US Releases Chelsea Manning (AFP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will agree to be extradited to the United States if President Barack Obama grants clemency to the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking documents, the company said on Thursday. “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ (US Department of Justice) case,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter. Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. The Australian former computer hacker said he fears Stockholm will in turn extradite him to the US, where he angered Washington over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents leaked by former US soldier Manning.

Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing over the 700,000 sensitive documents from the US State Department. Supporters of the transgender soldier are putting their hopes in a pardon by Obama before he leaves office later this month, although the White House has said the president will not be granting her clemency. Manning has already made two suicide attempts and currently has an appeal pending before a military court. Washington has maintained the threat of prosecuting Assange over the 2010 leak, though no charges have been filed. WikiLeaks’ post on Twitter was accompanied by a letter addressed to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in which Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack argues there is no legitimate basis for continuing the investigation into the WikiLeaks founder.

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“The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend..”

China Posts Worst Export Fall Since 2009 As Fears Of US Trade War Loom (R.)

China’s massive export engine sputtered for the second year in a row in 2016, with shipments falling in the face of persistently weak global demand and officials voicing fears of a trade war with the United States that is clouding the outlook for 2017. In one week, China’s leaders will see if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and starts to follow up on a threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if the Trump administration takes no concrete action immediately, analysts say the specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade and political ties is likely to weigh on the confidence of exporters and investors worldwide.

The world’s largest trading nation posted gloomy data on Friday, with 2016 exports falling 7.7% and imports down 5.5%. The export drop was the second annual decline in a row and the worst since the depths of the global crisis in 2009. It will be tough for foreign trade to improve this year, especially if the inauguration of Trump and other major political changes limit the growth of China’s exports due to greater protectionist measures, the country’s customs agency said on Friday. “The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend,” customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters. “We will pay close attention to foreign trade policy after Trump is inaugurated president,” Huang said.

China’s trade surplus with the United States was $366 billion in 2015, according to U.S. customs data, which Trump could seize on in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table to press for concessions, economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note. A sustained trade surplus of more than $20 billion against the United States is one of three criteria used by the U.S. Treasury to designate another country as a currency manipulator. China is likely to point out that its own data showed the surplus fell to $250.79 billion in 2016 from $260.91 billion in 2015, but that may get short shrift in Washington. “Our worry is that Trump’s stance towards China’s trade could bring about long-term structural weakness in China’s exports,” economists at ANZ said in a note.

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And now for the rest…

Fiat Chrysler Shares Plunge 13% After EPA Cheat Software Accusation (CNBC)

Shares of Fiat Chrysler fell Thursday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused the automaker of using software that allowed excess diesel emissions in about 104,000 vehicles. The U.S.-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler plunged as much as 19% Thursday after Reuters first reported the news. The automaker’s stock was briefly halted after the EPA made the announcement. The stock later recovered some of those losses and ended the day about 10% lower. The agency alleged Fiat Chrysler violated the Clean Air Act by installing and failing to disclose “engine management software in light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the United States.”

The undisclosed software results increased nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles, the EPA said. The Justice Department is reportedly working with the EPA on this issue. The company could be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged violations, the EPA said. It said it is also investigating whether the auxiliary emission control devices constitute “defeat devices,” which are illegal. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement he was deeply troubled by the evidence the EPA presented. “My office was proud to take a leading role in the multi-state investigation of Volkswagen that uncovered flagrant abuses of New York’s environmental laws and, in the case of VW, a culture of corruption that enabled blatantly illegal conduct to persist over many years,” he said.

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Huge move towards part-time work.

Wages For Lowest-Paid UK Men Have Been Stagnant For Two Decades (Ind.)

Pay for the poorest fifth of men has been flat for twenty years, according to a new report for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. At the same time the proportion of this low-paid group working part time, rather than full time, has shot up from 10% to 25% over the same period. The research helps explain what has become something of an inequality puzzle in the UK, in which official headline gauges have shown flat-lining income inequality since the early 1990s and yet there is simultaneously a widespread impression that inequality has been rising strongly.

The IFS research shows that average inflation-adjusted annualised weekly pay growth for the lowest fifth of the male income distribution was zero or less between 1994-95 and 2014-15, while for men further up the income distribution real weekly pay has grown. And while part-time work among the lowest paid men has ballooned, rates have not changed for better paid men. This all means that among working men wage inequality has increased over the past two decades. “The rise in household earnings inequality has been the product of a complex set of interactions between trends in hours and wages for men and women, but it is largely due to a rise in male earnings inequality,” said the IFS report.

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Mitch with the obvious.

Abolish Central Banks And Slay The Zombies (Planet Ponzi)

Have the [BOE]-enabled grotesque bubbles in the bond, stock and property markets or the eight years of “temporary emergency measures” and zero-interest-rate policies created infrastructure investment? Job creation? Savings? No, no and no. It has killed savers, students and seniors while generating record bonuses for chief executives. While earnings may have peaked almost 18 months ago, stock prices keep bubbling and wealth inequality continues to surge to record highs — along with homelessness and underemployment. Will Carney blame Brexit, Putin or Trump for the upcoming problems? Why not? Certainly, extreme valuations enabled by the Bank recklessly allowing debt, credit and leverage to skyrocket out of this universe had nothing to do with the coming collapse — nothing to see here, look away.

It is not only the UK but also global central bank policies that have broken our financial system beyond repair. The world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472, is now an insolvent zombie bank thanks to the handiwork of JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Nomura. They sold Monte billions of dollars of derivative trades it did not understand. These predictably exploded, leaving the bank bust. JPMorgan, Deutsche and Nomura made a fortune — and Monte’s shareholders and depositors, and EU taxpayers, will get slammed with the massive bailout tab. The new normal is apparently a world of financial fraud where the only rules which apply are too big to fail, bail or jail and too connected to prosecute —steal all you can, while you can, with impunity.

After the financial crisis, I wrote extensively exposing the toxic “culture of fraud” at Deutsche, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, RBS, Lloyds and Barclays. So what was done? Can you guess the number of staff at these banks jailed for the numerous frauds committed during the Great Financial Crises? Zero. That’s not capitalism! Capitalism doesn’t have zero accountability or zero transparency. This is ethically, financially and socially wrong. Much of it is also, in my opinion, illegal and should be punished by long jail terms. No need for new regulation — we need to enforce existing rules rather than repeatedly turning a blind eye.

Market manipulation by central banks has destroyed price discovery in every asset class and market. This has crushed the basic concept of capitalism. Central banks now pick winners and losers rather than letting free markets decide. The Swiss National Bank holds $140 billion in stocks, including shares in Apple, Google and Amazon. Valuations, growth projections and normal business cycles are all unnecessary. The central banking bubble factory forces investors to chase yields resulting in zombie corporations and zombie banks that inhibit growth, infrastructure spending and the creation of productive assets.

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‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’.

WHO Warns Of Outbreak Of Virulent New ‘Economic Reality’ Virus (Steve Keen)

The WHO today warned of a virulent new virus affecting vulnerable groups in the Mid-West and Eastern USA. The outbreak, which began in the Mid-West’s extensive Great Lakes ‘Freshwater’ river system, has recently jumped the ‘Saltwater’ barrier, meaning that the entire population of its target species – ‘Mainstream’ economists – is now at risk. Speaking on behalf of the WHO, Dr Cahuc explained that the virus works by turning off the one genetic marker that distinguishes this species from the rest of its genus, the Human Race. This is the so-called ‘Milton’ gene (Friedman 1953), which goes dormant in other Humans as they pass through puberty. Its inactivity reduces their imaginative capacity, making it impossible for them to continue believing in such endearing infantile fantasies as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. While regrettable, this drop in imagination is necessary to prepare Humans for the adult phase of their existence.

‘Professor Milton Friedman found a way to re-activate this gene during PhD training, using his “as if” gene splicing technique’, Dr Zylberberg elaborated. ‘This enabled a wonderful outpouring of imaginative beliefs by Mainstream Economists, which gave birth to concepts like NAIRU, Money Neutrality, Rational Expectations, and eventually even DSGE models. This wealth of imagination was regarded by Mainstream Economists as a more than sufficient compensation for returning to the child-like phase of the Human species.’ The Milton gene conferred other advantages on Mainstream Economists, which have been highly important to their success in competition against their rival species, the Heterodox Economists. ‘Being endowed with a child-like nature, the arguments of Mainstream Economists were treated with the low level of critical evaluation that adult humans normally reserve for conversations with their infant stage’, said Dr Cahuc.

‘This made their policy recommendations much more likely to be adopted, instead of the more complicated proposals put forward by their niche rivals’, he said. The new virus – named ‘Reality’ – de-activates the Milton gene once more. ‘Consequently’, Dr Cahuc warned, ‘the very beliefs that define this unique species are at risk. Unless we are very careful, it may become extinct!’. Unfortunately, there is as yet no known cure to this virus. ‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’, Dr Cahuc concluded. However, this strategy is made extremely difficult by one cunning characteristic of the Reality virus: after an initial phase of disorientation and distress, its sufferers begin to experience pleasure, and actually want to pass the virus on to others. ‘Its transmission mechanism is a particularly insidious aspect of this disease’, Dr Cahuc lamented.

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Amen.

The Utter Stupidity Of The New Cold War (SCF)

It seems so strange, twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to be living through a new Cold War with (as it happens, capitalist) Russia. The Russian president is attacked by the U.S. political class and media as they never attacked Soviet leaders; he is personally vilified as a corrupt, venal dictator, who arrests or assassinates political opponents and dissident journalists, and is hell-bent on the restoration of the USSR. (The latter claim rests largely on Vladimir Putin’s comment that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a “catastrophe” and “tragedy” – which in many respects it was. The press chooses to ignore his comment that “Anyone who does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, while anyone who wants to restore it has no brain.” It conflicts with the simple talking-point that Putin misses the imperial Russia of the tsars if not the commissars and, burning with resentment over the west’s triumph in the Cold War, plans to exact revenge through wars of aggression and territorial expansion.)

The U.S. media following its State Department script depicts Russia as an expansionist power. That it can do so, so successfully, such that even rather progressive people—such as those appalled by Trump’s victory who feel inclined to blame it on an external force—believe it, is testimony to the lingering power and utility of the Cold War mindset. The military brass keep reminding us: We are up against an existential threat! One wants to say that this — obviously — makes no sense! Russia is twice the size of the U.S. with half its population. Its foreign bases can be counted on two hands. The U.S. has 800 or so bases abroad. Russia’s military budget is 14% of the U.S. figure. It does not claim to be the exceptional nation appointed by God to preserve “security” on its terms anywhere on the globe.

Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. has waged war (sometimes creating new client-states) in Bosnia (1994-5), Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001- ), Iraq (2003- ), Libya (2011), and Syria (2014- ), while raining down drone strikes from Pakistan to Yemen to North Africa. These wars-based-on-lies have produced hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and general ongoing catastrophe throughout the “Greater Middle East.” There is no understating their evil. The U.S. heads an expanding military alliance formed in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union and global communism in general. Its raison d’être has been dead for many years. Yet it has expanded from 16 to 28 members since 1999, and new members Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia. (Imagine the Warsaw Pact expanding to include Mexico. But no, the Warsaw Pact of the USSR and six European allies was dissolved 26 years ago in the idealistic expectation that NATO would follow in a new era of cooperation and peace.)

And this NATO alliance, in theory designed to defend the North Atlantic, was only first deployed after the long (and peaceful) first Cold War, in what had been neutral Yugoslavia (never a member of either the Warsaw Pact nor NATO), Afghanistan (over 3000 miles from the North Atlantic), and the North African country of Libya. Last summer NATO held its most massive military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving 31,000 troops in Poland, rehearsing war with Russia. (The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually criticized this exercise as “warmongering.”)

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it’s time to let this sink in. Tearful goodbyes or not.

Obama’s “Farewell To Arms” As War Presidency Ends (SCF)

Eight straight years of warmongering come to an end as US President Barack Obama bows out with his «farewell to the nation» speech this week, as fawning American media dubbed his valediction. In reality, Obama’s outgoing address should have been billed as a «farewell to arms» made by arguably one of the most belligerent presidents to ever have occupied the White House. Only in exceptionally delusional America could such a pernicious paradox be presented as something honorable and sentimental. Obama, the 44th US president, may have been the first black president and winner of a Nobel peace prize during his first year in office in 2009. But apart from those dubious accolades – championed by supposedly liberal Hollywood celebrities and media pundits – his actual record in office is one of blood-soaked disgrace.

Instead of ending American overseas wars as he had promised back in 2008, Obama expanded on his predecessor George W Bush’s criminal foreign interventions. At least seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia – have been routinely bombed under Obama’s watch as the US Commander-in-Chief. That’s one repugnant record. Last year alone, the US military reportedly dropped over 26,000 bombs around the world killing countless thousands of people, the exact number buried under official secrecy and American mainstream media indifference. At that rate, American anti-war campaigner Medea Benjamin estimates that US forces deployed three bombs every hour of every day for the whole of 2016. This death from the skies included Obama’s personal ordering of drone assassinations during his weekly Terror Tuesday briefings from Pentagon chiefs, the use of which increased 10-fold under his command, killing thousands of innocent civilians as «collateral damage».

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Could be quite the party.

Massive Security Preparations Under Way For Inauguration (Fox)

The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. “Security is my greatest concern,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, recently said. “No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world.” He suggested the city could have as many as 750,000 demonstrators alone.

More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Essentially everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls. The Joint Task Force – National Capital Region – 58th Presidential Inauguration has held several “table top” sessions in which agencies plot strategy over a large-scale, three-dimensional map.

“It’s a rehearsal, but in the military we call it a drill,” Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, the group’s spokesman, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing for this since the last inauguration. We’re focused to protecting and honoring a new commander in chief.” The task force and its Capitol Hill counterpart are holding a “dress rehearsal” this weekend for the swearings-in, the Presidential Review of troops and the parade along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. Several protest groups planning large-scale demonstrations have permits in place and have already held organizational meetings, among them the collaborative DisruptJ20. “We’re planning a series of massive, direct actions that will shut down the inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations,” the group says. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city.”

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“Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties..” No, it’s Schaeuble who fuels that support.

Germany’s Schaeuble Urges ECB To Start Unwinding Stimulus This Year (CNBC)

The ECB should start unwinding its ultra-loose monetary policy this year, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview to be published on Friday, adding that it would not be easy. “The ECB will have the tough task of getting out of the ultra-expansionary monetary policy,” Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It would presumably be right if the ECB dared to exit this year”. Schaeuble added it was “possible and necessary” for the next government to lower taxes after Germany’s general election in September. He said forecasts that inflation could reach 3% in Germany this year would exacerbate concerns about current low interest rates. While admitting he was no fan of the ECB’s monetary policy, he added, “The ECB has a mandate for the eurozone, and it carries it out well.”

Schaeuble said the core issue was that a number of eurozone countries had not been able to boost competitiveness as required. “The problem is the weakness of the other countries, not Germany’s strength,” he said. The conservative minister said it would take a great effort to convince German citizens that the common currency provided more employment, social and business benefits than risks and negative consequences. To help Germany make the argument, he said it was essential that Italy and other countries stuck to the agreed rules. Schaeuble’s deputy Jens Spahn told Reuters last week that a “prudent start to the exit” of the ECB’s expansive monetary policy was desirable. The ECB aims for inflation of just under 2%, but it has undershot its target for years. To fight off deflation, the central bank has cut interest rates to zero and launched a massive but controversial bond-buying programme. Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties if it does not change course soon.

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There are new lows to be achieved out there. But go ahead, this too will make the EU crumble.

Germany To Return New Asylum Seekers To Greece From March (AFP)

Germany will begin returning asylum seekers to Greece from mid-March, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP on Thursday, essentially lifting a five-year suspension on such transfers because of poor conditions there. Under the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member-state of the bloc they enter, often the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Italy. If asylum seekers have travelled on to other EU nations, they are to be returned to their first port of call. But that requirement had been halted for Greece, which together with Italy has been the main point of entry for the more than one million immigrants who have entered the bloc since 2015 fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

A German interior ministry spokesman told AFP that Germany would reinstate the Dublin rule in two months’ time and return newly arrived asylum seekers to their first EU port of call. “In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15th,” said the spokesman, Tobias Plate. The EU recommended on December 8th that member states resume sending asylum seekers back to Greece from March next year, after such transfers were halted since 2011. Athens has criticized the EU’s assessment, with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas saying the current legal framework was “unable to respond to the historic migration flows and leaves the burden to the member states that migrants first arrive in”.

German refugee relief group Pro Asyl has also raised concerns, warning that the measure would put the asylum system in Greece, a country still recovering from a deep debt and economic crisis, under further pressure. Photos of refugees living in tents amid heavy snowfall in Greece caused outrage recently, and the European Commission on Monday called such conditions “untenable”.

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This is just too sad.

Greece’s Healthcare System: Train Wreck In Slow Motion (Occupy)

In 2014, the Greek health department cut off its cancer screening prevention program, despite a number of warnings issued by professionals both within the country and abroad that such an action would lead to an explosion in otherwise preventable cases turning serious. According to a statement by Evgenia Thanou, general manager for Doctors of the World, “There are people with tumors who can’t afford the cost of chemotherapy, which costs €2,500 for a single dose. As a result there are people who have died because they have not been able to get the correct treatment from the point of diagnosis.” The rationale was that the budget cutbacks, in the range of 55%, would only take place on a short term basis, just long enough to allow for the country to recuperate from recently imposed austerity measures.

Charges for outpatient visits were also increased by 50% per visit, and almost 200 medicines were de-stocked by pharmacies. A further consequence was the artificial drug shortage, caused by companies like Novo Nordisk, which halted insulin shipments to Greece unless the retail prices were raised in a supposed effort to curb hoarding and black market export by professionals. Almost three years later, this policy is still in effect. The result was the gradual closure of 850 medical clinics, both in the capital Athens as well as in the countryside. Ten thousand beds have been shut down across the country, and 30,000 healthcare professionals removed from frontline positions. Those who remained saw their wages cut by at least 50%.

Among 11 hospitals that have shut down, three are psychiatric while the rest include rural clinics in remote parts of the country, leaving locals without access to a professional in the event of an emergency. The crisis led to the creation of numerous volunteer healthcare organizations in 2015, but their contributions couldn’t put a dent in the number of patients unable to afford any healthcare options. That same year saw the mass migration of thousands of recently graduated or established Greek healthcare professionals across Europe, with almost 4,000 headed for Germany and the Nordic countries seeking steadier employment in a more welcoming professional environment. The results of the brain drain haven’t yet been entirely felt, but experts agree the long-term effects could cripple the country’s prospects for decades to come.

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Taking my Automatic Earth for Athens fund directly to Germany.

Weitergeleiteter Spendenaufruf für Griechenland (Das Gelbe Forum)

Raul Ilargi Meijer von The Automatic Earth ist wieder in Athen und versucht, die schwierigen Bedingungen zu erleichtern, die in Griechenland bestehen. Die Aufmerksamkeit der Medien und der Welt ist abgelenkt, obwohl sich selbst diese Bedingungen zunehmend verschlechtern. Akute Probleme ziehen kollektive Aufmerksamkeit an, chronische aber leider nicht. Griechenland steckt tief in volkswirtschaftlicher Depression mit ausgewachsenem Liquiditätsengpass, Kapitalkontrollen, Massenarbeitslosigkeit, fehlender medizinischer Versorgung, Hungerepidemien und vielen anderen Schwierigkeiten.

Die von außen bereitgestellten Resourcen fließen zum größten Teil durch offizielle Kanäle, aber die Körperschaften, die mit der Auslieferung der Hilfen beauftragt sind, sind oft zu groß um zu erkennen, wo die wahren Bedürfnisse liegen, um dann rechtzeitig darauf zu reagieren, oder um die Mittel effektiv und effizient einzusetzen. Einfach gesagt neigen große Organisationen dazu, bürokratisch zu sein, und einen großen administrativen Wasserkopf zu haben, der viele Resourcen intern verschlingt. Als Außenseiter fehlen ihnen auch oft die kulturellen Verbindungen, welche notwendig sind um informelle Brücken zu bauen und Hilfmittelverteilung zu lenken. Die Regeln, welche die intitutionalisierte Hilfsindustrie befolgen muß, zum Beispiel die Bedingung für Hungernde, sich auszuweisen, bevor man berechtig ist, Lebensmittel zu erhalten, kann zu großen Hindernissen führen.

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Dec 172016
 
 December 17, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Country filling station, Granville County, NC 1939

Debt Nation: The Problem, the Solutions (Valentin Schmid)
American Credit Card Debt Nears All Time Highs (BI)
It’s Been A Nightmare Year For Australian Retail (News.com.au)
Italy Prepares To Pump €15 Billion Into Ailing Banks (R.)
Euro Parity With Dollar ‘Only A Matter Of Time’ – ING (CNBC)
The Fed Is Pushing China Into A Messy Catch-22 (CNBC)
China Vows To Contain Asset Bubbles, Avert Financial Risk In 2017 (R.)
Cold War Hysteria vs. US National Security (Stephen F. Cohen)
Obama Says Russia Is A Smaller, Weaker Country Than The US (CNBC)
Obama Goes Off the Clinton Script (WSJ)
Schaeuble Could Destroy Eurozone, Not Just Greece (EUO)
Greek PM Tells Merkel ‘Wounds Of Crisis’ Must Be Healed (R.)

 

 

Excellent overview of debt-related issues. Steve’s Debt Jubilee warrants serious discussion at high levels. But it’s not happening.

Debt Nation: The Problem, the Solutions (Valentin Schmid)

There are only two ways to wipe out debt if it cannot be repaid by increases in output. The worst for the economy, even though it may be the fairest, is bankruptcy and debt deflation or destruction. A company or an individual—and sometimes a government—just says it can’t repay its debt. The lender takes control of the assets, if there are any, and tries to recover as much of the loan as possible, making up for the shortfall with its capital provision. This is exactly what happened during the Great Depression, when companies and individuals defaulted in droves, driving thousands of banks into bankruptcy as well. “If you borrowed money to buy a house or a machine, you couldn’t repay the debt, no matter how productive you were. Deflation penalized producers who misjudged the value of their assets at the time,” said Oliver.

Private debt declined 20% from 1930 to 1933 but GDP declined 38%, so the debt-to-GDP ratio actually increased from 175 to 225%, according to data from Debt Economics. “Deflation can increase the level of private debt to GDP, because GDP falls faster than private debt. Paying down the debt, withdrawing money from circulation and reducing its velocity, reduces GDP more than the decline in the debt,” said Keen. So this exercise is best avoided, which is precisely what central banks did during the 2008 crisis with their QE programs and bank bailouts. They managed to avoid a second Great Depression, but they didn’t get rid of the private debt. Despite the evident flaws in a system that has provided incentives for borrowers and lenders to indulge in too much debt for their own good, there are creative ways to reset the system and at least get the economy growing again.

“Every debt collapse in history has had a combination of debt forgiveness and inflation. That is how debt problems are dealt with historically,” said Oliver. Western central banks have tried to create inflation through their QE programs but weren’t successful because of deflationary pressures: overcapacity in China, technological innovation, and the fact that their money printing ended up in the hands of financial actors, who bought a lot of stocks, rather than real people, who would repay debt and buy goods and services. Many economists, including Keen, therefore call for QE for the private sector, rather than the banks, a concept dubbed “helicopter money.” “The creative way to get around it, is use the government’s capacity to create money. You use the same power the central banks did with QE but pay it into private sector accounts rather than commercial bank accounts. Households and companies can use it to pay down debt and those who don’t have debt, can get a cash injection,” he said.

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“..America’s putative economic strength might be a mirage [..] the economy may in fact be a lot weaker than all the happy indicators are leading people to believe.”

American Credit Card Debt Nears All Time Highs (BI)

By most accounts, the American economy seems to be humming along very nicely. Unemployment just hit a nine-year low, the stock market this month climbed to all-time highs, and consumer confidence is as chipper as its been in two years. But at least one indicator suggests that much of the US is actually struggling financially: Americans are piling on credit card debt at record levels that we haven’t seen since the financial crisis. Households added $21.9 billion in credit card debt in the third quarter — the largest increase for that period since 2007 — bringing the amount of outstanding credit card debt to $927.1 billion, according to the latest study from WalletHub. That matches the mark in 2007 before the recession began, and it’s the highest tally since the end of 2008, when the global economy was experiencing a full-on implosion.

Racking up credit card debt isn’t inherently bad, so long as it’s being paid back. And so far, Americans are defaulting on their credit card debt at near historically low levels. Charge-off rates – the percentage of credit card debt that the companies are unable to collect on — are only at 2.86%, compared with 3.95% in 2007 the quarter before the Great Recession began and in excess of 10% in the years following the crisis, according to WalletHub. But holding a balance is a lousy move from a personal finance perspective — a sign of financial fragility. The fact that the average household with debt now owes $7,941 to credit card companies, according to WalletHub, suggests that America’s putative economic strength might be a mirage – that the economy may in fact be a lot weaker than all the happy indicators are leading people to believe.

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Something’s off.

It’s Been A Nightmare Year For Australian Retail (News.com.au)

It’s been a nightmare year for Australian retail, with a parade of the nation’s best-known brands decimated one after another. And experts say things will only get worse if business leaders and governments do not pick up their game. First it was Dick Smith Electronics, then the Woolworths-owned Masters home improvement chain that went under. Now, thousands more workers will be jobless at Christmas after a fresh slew of corporate collapses rounded out 2016. Payless Shoes this week announced plans to close its doors by the end of February, hot on the heels of Howards Storage World’s demise, and that of children’s fashion label Pumpkin Patch.

While Treasurer Scott Morrison seized on the latest bad news to bolster the Coalition’s tax reform agenda, market watchers say there is far more that needs to be done. Retail analyst Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus said neither corporate leaders nor government had acknowledged what he called “an attitudinal recession” that was restraining businesses. While the nation was yet to tip into an official recession – despite having just marked its worst quarterly performance since the global financial crisis – Australians remained apprehensive about their futures, he said. And any business that failed to respond to this by recapturing the public imagination with a compelling, value-driven offering would simply fall by the wayside.

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JPMorgan’s role is interesting. So is Beppe Grillo’s view of that role: “Italy’s opposition 5-Star Movement has called for JPMorgan’s fees to be voided if taxpayers have to come to the rescue..”

Italy Prepares To Pump €15 Billion Into Ailing Banks (R.)

Italy’s government is ready to pump €15 billion into Monte dei Paschi di Siena and other ailing banks, sources said, as the country’s third-largest lender pushes ahead with a private rescue plan that is widely expected to fail. The world’s oldest bank has until Dec. 31 to raise €5 billion in equity or face being wound down by the European Central Bank, potentially triggering a wider banking and political crisis in Italy. If needed, the government will pump €15 billion into the Siena-based lender and several other smaller banks to prevent that, two sources close to the matter said on Thursday. One source said unlisted regional banks Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which were rescued this year by a state-backed fund, would also get support from the state.

The government would make the €15 billion available in a decree on Dec. 22, La Repubblica newspaper said on Thursday, adding that Banca Carige could also benefit. Italy’s banking sector is saddled with €356 billion of bad loans, around a third of the euro zone’s total and a legacy of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis when, unlike Spain or Ireland, Italy did not act to help its banks. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, advised by investment banks JPMorgan and Mediobanca, plans to raise equity to remove €28 billion in bad loans from its books. Italy’s opposition 5-Star Movement has called for JPMorgan’s fees to be voided if taxpayers have to come to the rescue. “We would have never done a deal like that with JPMorgan. In any case we would not pay the commissions (if the bank had to be nationalized,” Alessio Villarosa, a 5-Star lawmaker, said.

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It’s not going to stop at parity.

Euro Parity With Dollar ‘Only A Matter Of Time’ – ING (CNBC)

Divergence in monetary policy between the United States and Europe will bring parity between the value of the euro and dollar, according to ING. On Thursday the euro hit a low of 1.0364 against the dollar, the lowest level since August 2003 when it traded as low as 1.0357. Dollar strength is the key driver as investors believe the Federal Reserve will adopt a higher rate rise path in 2017 as the U.S. economy gathers momentum. Conversely, the ECB has just announced it will inject a further €540 billion of QE stimulus into the stuttering EU economy.

Analysts at ING wrote Friday that with European inflation struggling to edge higher and yesterday’s dip in to the 1.03 handle, euro/dollar parity is now firmly in view. “With the U.S. economy close to reaching escape velocity (and sustainable 2% inflation), it will only reinforce the downside risks to EUR/USD.” “Expect some consolidation around the 1.0450-1.0500 area, but this week’s fresh EUR/USD low means that the move down to parity is now only a matter of time,” the note reads.

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“..either hike the interest rate (as) the U.S. does, or they give up the exchange rate..”

The Fed Is Pushing China Into A Messy Catch-22 (CNBC)

An interest rate decision in the United States is causing a dilemma for Beijing. The U.S. dollar index surged to a near 14-year high after the Fed’s rate hike on Wednesday and its surprise forecast for three more increases — instead of the two that were expected previously — to come in 2017. Higher interest rates in the United States make it tempting for China to raise its own rates, because Beijing doesn’t want more money to flee the country into higher-yielding U.S. bonds. That flight also hurts China’s currency, the yuan. But Beijing could get its economy into trouble by hiking rates, since its continued economic growth is very heavily driven by borrowing. “You had this pressure that was already building, and the Fed has basically complicated and added to that with a more hawkish message,” said Logan Wright at Rhodium Group.

China’s yuan subsequently fell to its lowest level since 2008, and the country’s 10-year bond yield jumped to its highest level in more than a year. Declines in five-year and 10-year Chinese bond futures were reportedly so drastic Thursday that trade was halted due to a market trading limit. “The bond market itself, it’s raising a lot of attention, and it’s likely reflecting [that] policymakers in China are facing a difficult choice right now,” said Kai Yan, an economist at the IMF. He noted that “the speculation in the market is high because the central bank wants to stand in front of currency pressure to prevent capital outflow.” Chinese policymakers must “either hike the interest rate (as) the U.S. does, or they give up the exchange rate,” Yan said. “It is likely they will do a combination of the two.”

[..] China’s financial and economic challenges have been on the back burner for U.S. markets for much of the past year. The yuan’s depreciation versus the dollar has been largely ignored by global markets, as economic updates out of China have held up thanks largely to a flood of debt that’s propping up the country’s economy. Earlier this year, the Fed was seen as giving China some breathing room to stabilize its currency and economic growth. The U.S. central bank cited international concerns in avoiding a rate hike in the fall of 2015 and reducing its expectations for 2016 rate increases. Those decisions from the Fed helped keep the dollar steady, allowing China to avoid a significant depreciation of its currency. Now, however, some say the Fed may be less concerned about China since the U.S. economy is on firmer footing and can expect big domestic government spending from President-elect Donald Trump’s proposals.

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“Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate..” Sounds nice, but real estate has been a major contributor to China’s economy and GDP.

China Vows To Contain Asset Bubbles, Avert Financial Risk In 2017 (R.)

China will stem the growth of asset bubbles in 2017 and place greater importance on the prevention of financial risk, while keeping the economy on a path of stable and healthy growth, media said, citing leaders at an economic planning meeting. China has seen growth stabilize this year, but corporate leverage and credit continue to expand, increasing risks to the world’s second-largest economy as it looks to push forward structural reforms. The annual meeting is attended by China’s top leaders and is closely watched by investors for clues on policy priorities and main economic targets for the year ahead. Monetary policy will be kept “prudent and neutral” in 2017, leaders attending the Central Economic Work Conference said in a statement, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency on Friday.

“Monetary policy will be kept prudent and neutral, adapt to new changes in money supply … and strive to smooth monetary policy transmission channels and improve mechanism to help maintain liquidity basically stable,” they said. The People’s Bank of China has maintained a prudent monetary policy since 2011, raising or cutting interest rates in line with shifts in the economy. The pro-active fiscal policy has been in place since the depths of the global crisis. The property market will be a focus of risk control, as authorities will restrain property bubbles and prevent price volatility, they said. The leaders called for a strict limit on credit flowing into speculative buying in the property market and for a boost in the supply of land for cities where housing prices face stiff upward pressure. “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate,” Xinhua said, citing the statement.

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Cohen of course is America’s no. 1 expert on Russia.

Cold War Hysteria vs. US National Security (Stephen F. Cohen)

Thus far, no actual facts or other evidence have been made publicly to support allegations that the hacking was carried out on the orders of the Russian leadership, that Russian hackers then gave the damaging materials to WikiLeaks, or that the revelations affected the electoral outcome. Nor are Russian President Putin’s alleged motives credible. Why would a leader whose mission has been to rebuild Russia with economic and other partnerships with the West seek to undermine the political systems of those countries, not only in America but also in Europe, as is charged? Judging by the public debate among Russian policy intellectuals close to the Kremlin, nor is it clear that the Kremlin so favored the largely unknown and unpredictable Trump.

But even if Putin was presented with such a possibility, he certainly would have understood that such Russian interference in the US election would become known and thus work in favor of Clinton, not Trump. (Indeed, a major tactic of the Clinton campaign was to allege that Trump was a “Putin puppet,” which seems not to have helped her campaign with voters.) Still worse, since the election these allegations have inspired a growing Cold War hysteria in the American bipartisan political-media establishment, still without any actual evidence to support them. One result is more neo-McCarthyite slurring of people who dissent from this narrative. Thus a New York Times editorial (December 12) alleges that Trump had “surrounded himself with Kremlin lackeys.” And Senator John McCain ominously warned that anyone who disagreed with his political jihadist vendetta against Putin “is lying.”

A kind of witch hunt may be unfolding, not only of the kind The Washington Post tried to instigate with its bogus “report” of scores of American websites said to be “fronts for Russian propaganda,” but at the highest level. Thus, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state is said to be “a friend of Putin” as a result of striking a deal for Exxon-Mobil for Russian oil reserves, something he was obliged to do as the company’s CEO. Several motives seem to be behind this bipartisan American campaign against the President-elect, who is being equated with Russian misdeeds. One is to reverse the Electoral College vote. Another is to exonerate the Clinton campaign from its electoral defeat by blaming that instead on Putin and thereby maintaining the Clinton wing’s grip on the Democratic Party. Yet another is to delegitimate Trump even before he is inaugurated. And certainly no less important, to prevent the détente with Russia that Trump seems to seek.

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Obama sounds smaller and weaker here.

Obama Says Russia Is A Smaller, Weaker Country Than The US (CNBC)

In his final news conference of the year, President Barack Obama emphasized that Russia cannot change or significantly weaken the U.S., adding that Russia is a smaller and weaker country. He said Russia’s economy “doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy,” except oil, gas and arms. The only way Russia can affect the U.S., he said, is “if we lose track of who we are” and “abandon our values.” “Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents or discriminate against people,” he said. When asked if he would specifically name Russian President Vladimir Putin as directly responsible for the election hacking, Obama said he wanted to give the intelligence community a chance to gather the information necessary.

He added, however, that “not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” reaffirming that the hacking happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. “This is a pretty hierarchical operation,” he said. “Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.” Obama reaffirmed his message of political unity and bipartisanship, urging the country to reunite across party lines to defend itself against Russia and others. “Our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is,” he said. “That’s the thing that makes us vulnerable.”

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“His main complaint is that “I don’t think she was treated fairly” by the press corps and the Russian hacks became “an obsession that dominated the news coverage.”

Obama Goes Off the Clinton Script (WSJ)

Hillary Clinton told her donor base at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel on Thursday that Russian cyber attacks were both “a personal beef against me” and meant to undermine “the integrity of our democracy,” and Democrats fanned out this week to spread this Kremlin-hacked-the-election narrative. President Obama was asked about all this in his year-end Friday press conference, but even he couldn’t square the contradictions. As liberals assailed the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s victory, Mr. Obama defended “the integrity of our election system,” noting that there is no evidence that ballots weren’t counted fairly. So much for those Jill Stein, Clinton-endorsed recounts, or the conspiracies about compromised voting machines. The President also explained that the emails stolen from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee were “not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme.”

He said intelligence and law enforcement were “playing this thing straight” and disclosed sufficient information about the hacks for “the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.” Mr. Obama conceded that some of the leaked content was “embarrassing or uncomfortable” but all in all “pretty routine stuff.” His main complaint is that “I don’t think she was treated fairly” by the press corps and the Russian hacks became “an obsession that dominated the news coverage.” Really? The Podesta and DNC emails mostly revealed that the Clinton apparat don’t much like conservative Catholics or Bernie Sanders. Mr. Trump’s offenses against beauty queen Alicia Machado in the 1990s and his Billy Bush video were far bigger stories. The emails that really harmed Mrs. Clinton were those she stored on a personal server as Secretary of State, because the arrangement was potentially criminal and underscored doubts about her political character and judgment.

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Not could, will. Curious that Dijsselbloem’s solo act in deciding to halt Greek debt relief doesn’t get more attention.

Schaeuble Could Destroy Eurozone, Not Just Greece (EUO)

The sudden suspension of Greece’s short-term debt relief measures on Wednesday evening (14 December) has sparked fierce criticism by a number of EU officials. EU commissioner Pierre Moscovici, European Parliament president Martin Schultz, French president Hollande and finance minister Michel Sapin, along with many MEPs from the GUE/NGL, S&D and the Greens groups, have echoed support for Greece and prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to give a one-time relief package to low-income pensioners. In essence, there has been no official decision taken by the Eurogroup, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), or the European Council. Instead, there’s been unilateral action from the head of the Eurogroup without prior coordination with his colleagues.

Creditors should respect their own part of the deal and conclude the second review of the bailout programme, and acknowledge that there are open issues that need be addressed. The Greek government is fully implementing the bailout deal, moving on to needed reforms, providing safety nets for the vulnerable social groups. It’s possible Tsipras’s announcement was brought about by German finance minister Schaeuble and other circles pushing Greece to the limit. But in truth, we need not investigate who has taken the decision but instead focus on substantial issues. These issues include lowering primary surplus targets after 2018 and loosening tax rates so that the economy can become stable and growth can reach sustainable levels.

Even with such strict deadlines, the Greek government has achieved all fiscal targets for 2016, increasing public income and reaching a higher primary surplus than expected. This positive development prompted Tsipras, a few days ago, to announce a one-time relief package for low-income pensioners; a substantive decision after 12 consecutive pension cuts between 2010 and 2014, a loss of more than 30% of national GDP, during the same period, with a considerable part of the population facing poverty and social exclusion. The Greek government’s urgent measures are the least this government can do to temporarily do something for the worse off.

Dimitrios Papadimoulis is vice president of the European Parliament and head of the Syriza party delegation.

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Merkel sides with Schaeuble.

Greek PM Tells Merkel ‘Wounds Of Crisis’ Must Be Healed (R.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday his country was set for strong economic growth and this would help to “heal the wounds of crisis” after years of austerity imposed under international bailouts. On a visit to Berlin, Tsipras was keen to emphasise Greek progress on reforms demanded by Germany as the EU’s most powerful economy and paymaster – a situation that has made Merkel a hate figure for some Greeks. The trip’s timing was also significant, as Greece wrangles with its creditors over terms for its current bailout, the latest of three. On Thursday it snubbed its lenders by passing legislation to give pensioners a one-off Christmas bonus.

Tsipras told reporters before meeting Merkel that he would inform the chancellor of the positive momentum of the Greek economy and his government’s “spectacular overachievement” of revenue targets. “The projections for the Greek economy are extremely positive for next year,” Tsipras said, adding authorities expected 2.7% growth in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018. But Greece’s economic development should not simply be confined to statistics and numbers, he added. “We want it to heal the wounds of crisis and to alleviate all those who have over these difficult years made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe,” Tsipras said.

Merkel showed little willingness to take a position on the disputed question of whether the pre-Christmas payout to pensioners was compatible with bailout obligations. Standing next to Tsipras, she said decisions lay in the hands of the Troika institutions handling negotiations with Greece but “the Greek prime minister’s assessment of the situation will certainly play a role in our discussions.” A German Finance Ministry spokesman said the institutions involved in Greece’s aid programme were critical of Athens in a preliminary report assessing the unilaterally announced measure. “To make the aid programme a success, it’s essential that measures are not decided unilaterally or are not taken back without advance notice,” said spokesman Dennis Kolberg.

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Sep 162016
 
 September 16, 2016  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Maumee River waterfront, Toledo, OH 1910

Many Presidential Swing States Lag Behind in Income Gains (WSJ)
Mediocre Fundamentals Mean Meteoric Markets Are 70% Overvalued (GMO)
US Seeks $14 Billion From Deutsche Bank Over Mortgage Securities Fraud (AFP)
Deutsche Bank Shares Plunge After Rebuffing $14 Billion US Fine (BBG)
Observations About US Corporate Debt (ZH/Kestel)
This is How You Will Bail Out Municipal Pension Funds (WS)
The Next Bubble: China’s Housing Gets Scarily Expensive (Balding)
Europe, Japan Banking Sectors Threaten Revolt Over Basel Rules (BBG)
It’s A Long Way Down In Australia’s Looming Apartment Fall (Aus.com.au)
EU Leaders Search For Way Out Of ‘Existential Crisis’ (R.)
Greece Raids Home Of Central Bank Head (ZH)
Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’ (NYT)
Les Déplorables (WSJ)
The Cold War Is Over (Hitchens)

 

 

This is it. This will decide the US elections the same way it did Brexit, and many European elections over the next 2 years and change.

Many Presidential Swing States Lag Behind in Income Gains (WSJ)

Key swing states such as Nevada, North Carolina and Florida have seen some of the weakest income growth in the country since the last non-incumbent presidential contest in 2008, new census figures show. A Wall Street Journal analysis of state-by-state income data set for release on Thursday shows that more than half of the 13 states where the presidential race appears closely contested have seen below-average income growth since 2008. Among the eight laggards, three states saw the lowest wage growth in the U.S. during that time—Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. The new data show how America’s uneven economic recovery is adding another layer of unpredictability to an already volatile electoral map.

The traditional realm of battleground states has expanded, putting into play states such as Arizona and Georgia, which haven’t gone to a Democratic presidential candidate in at least 20 years. The Census Bureau also said income inequality across the country increased in 2015. The recovery’s income gains have been concentrated in central cities, with suburbs and rural areas largely lagging behind for years. “You actually see the bottom and the top pulling apart a little bit more in some of these keys states,” said David Damore, professor of political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. On a national basis, most states still haven’t seen income recover to pre-recession levels. Americans’ median household income in 2015 was 2.6% lower than in 2008, census figures show.

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“Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.”

Mediocre Fundamentals Mean Meteoric Markets Are 70% Overvalued (GMO)

While all eyes were on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in Jackson Hole, we were watching something else. In August, the Shiller P/E, a well-regarded metric for measuring the valuation of U.S. equities, breached 27. Given that its normal range is something a bit above 16, valuations are looking rather stretched. Further, the last time the Shiller P/E was above 27 was in October … 2007. And we all know how that movie ended. While nobody here at GMO is saying that a crash is imminent (and there’s no law that says stocks cannot become even more expensive), we continue to maintain our bias against U.S. stocks. We will also take this end-of-summer moment to point out the yawning disconnect between fundamentals (of the U.S. economy and even corporate America) and their stocks. It really is a tale of two cities, one of mediocre fundamentals versus a meteoric rise in markets (see the chart below).

We pulled together some meaningful metrics on the health of the economy and some top-line/bottom-line numbers on the S&P 500 Index: GDP growth, productivity, and household income, as well as a few others, including revenue and earnings for U.S. stocks, for good measure. It is a tale of mediocrity, at best. Then, we contrasted those with the actual market returns of the S&P 500 Index over the past five years. Truly meteoric. (As an aside, we at GMO have always been leery of drawing too many investment conclusions from staring at economic data—we are more valuation-oriented, after all—but even we are struck by the divergence.) Which brings us back to the Shiller P/E. Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.

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“Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited..” “..the bank is aiming for an amount between $2 billion and $3 billion..”

US Seeks $14 Billion From Deutsche Bank Over Mortgage Securities Fraud (AFP)

Authorities in the US are seeking as much as $14 billion from Deutsche Bank to resolve allegations stemming from the sale of mortgage securities in the 2008 crisis, the German financial giant confirmed Thursday. The payout would be the largest ever inflicted on a foreign bank in the United States, easily surpassing the $8.9 billion that French bank BNP Paribas paid in 2014 for sanctions violations. But in a quick reaction, Deutsche Bank rejected the $14 billion figure, which the bank said was an opening proposal in settlement talks with US prosecutors. “Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the statement said. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.”

The US investment bank Goldman Sachs in April agreed to pay more than $5 billion to settle similar allegations. US authorities have accused major banks of misleading investors about the values and quality of complex mortgage-backed securities sold before the 2008 financial crisis. Much of the underlying lending was worthless or fraudulent, delivering billions of dollars in losses to holders of the mortgage bonds when the housing market collapsed, bringing down numerous banks and touching off the country’s worst recession since the 1930s. According to securities filings, Deutsche Bank as of June 30 had set aside $5.5 billion to resolve pending legal matters. In the mortgage-backed securities matter, the bank is aiming for an amount between $2 billion and $3 billion, according to knowledgeable sources.

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“They have declined about 46% this year.”

Deutsche Bank Shares Plunge After Rebuffing $14 Billion US Fine (BBG)

Deutsche Bank shares slumped after receiving a $14 billion claim from the U.S. Justice Department to settle an investigation into the firm’s sale of residential mortgage-backed securities, a figure the German lender said it won’t pay. “Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the company said in a statement early Friday in Frankfurt. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.” Bank of America paid $17 billion to reach a settlement in a similar case in 2014, the biggest such accord to date.

Goldman Sachs agreed to a $5.1 billion settlement with the U.S. earlier this year, including a $2.4 billion civil penalty and $875 million in cash payments, to resolve U.S. allegations that it failed to properly vet mortgage-backed securities before selling them to investors as high-quality debt. The settlement included an admission of wrongdoing. “Overall it’s very negative for the share price if you look at the Justice Department figure but you don’t know where it will end up,” said Andreas Plaesier at Warburg Research with a hold recommendation on the shares. “If you come down to the Goldman amount they may not need to do much in terms of reserves.” The shares dropped as much as 8.2% and were down 7.8% at 12.08 euros at 9:04 a.m. in Frankfurt. They have declined about 46% this year.

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“..we project global corporate credit demand (flow) of $62 trillion over 2016-2020, with new debt representing two-fifths and refinancing the rest.”

Observations About US Corporate Debt (ZH/Kestel)

Extraordinary low interest rates around the world have delivered a monumental blow to many investors. Falling interest rates have translated into rising liabilities for (defined benefit) pension plans and, secondly, millions of retirees, who depend on income from savings to take them through retirement, are struggling to make a decent living. Consequently, investors take risks that they weren’t previously prepared to take. Take US corporate high yield bonds. The prevailing view seems to be that US corporates (ex. energy) are in very good shape with loads of cash on their balance sheet, and that they therefore offer a relatively attractive, and a comparatively safe, investment opportunity. I beg to disagree. Firstly, we are late in the economic cycle, and it is usually a bad idea to buy corporate high yield bonds late in an economic upturn. Secondly, let me share some facts with you that undermine the perception outlined above:

  1. The 1% most cash-rich of all US companies control over 50% of all US corporate cash.
  2. The five most cash-rich US companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle) control 30% of all US corporate cash.
  3. Total US corporate debt (the other side of the balance sheet) was $5.03 trillion at the end of 2015- up from $2.62 trillion at the end of 2007.
  4. Net debt (i.e. debt ex. cash) amongst US corporates was $3.39 trillion at the end of 2015 vs. $1.88 trillion at the end of 2007.
  5. US corporate debt has risen by $2.8 trillion over the last five years, while corporate cash has only risen by $600 billion.
  6. If you back out the top 1% referred to in (1) above, the cash holdings of the remaining 99% fell 6% in 2015 to stand at just $900 billion by the end of December vs. $6.6 trillion of debt.

Based on those numbers, I think it is fair to say that, with the exception of a few extremely cash-rich companies, corporate America is increasingly indebted and not at all as cash-rich as widely perceived. This also explains why corporate investments in the US are at a 60-year low.

Governments globally are persisting with monetary expansion to support economic growth and prop up inflation, to the detriment of credit quality, particularly for over-indebted Chinese corporates and U.S.leveraged borrowers. In our base-case scenario, we project global corporate credit demand (flow) of $62 trillion over 2016-2020, with new debt representing two-fifths and refinancing the rest. Outstanding debt would expand by half to $75 trillion, with China’s share rising to 43% from 35%.

We estimate that two-fifths (43%) to half (47%) of nonfinancial corporates (unrated and rated) are highly leveraged-of which 2% to 5% face negative earnings or cash flows, based on a sample of about 14,400 corporates. With weakened borrower credit quality, a credit correction is inevitable. Our base case is for an orderly credit slowdown stretching over several years (‘slow burn’ scenario), but a series of major economic or political shocks, such as the recent Brexit vote in the U.K., could trigger a more system-wide credit contraction (‘Crexit’ scenario).

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I see big protests in the offing as public pensions get bailed out by taxpayers who see their private plans left to die.

This is How You Will Bail Out Municipal Pension Funds (WS)

[..] the beneficiaries are voters and employees of the government, and politicians of all stripes bought their votes with promises of low contributions and rising benefits. They got away with it for decades because no one cares about “underfunded pensions.” Even the term makes people’s eyes glaze over. But someone is going to pay. And it’s not going to be the politicians. This is how they will pay for it in Chicago – the city whose credit rating Moody’s cut by two notches to junk in April last year, and whose interest payments, despite historically low interest rates, have continued to skyrocket as it borrows more and skids deeper into the sinkhole of its own making.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s scheme to bail out its largest and worst-off pension fund, the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit fund, which would otherwise be insolvent within ten years – and a lot quicker if markets have a hissy fit. Despite seven years of rampant asset price inflation, and asset bubbles nearly everywhere, the fund’s obligations are only 20% funded. It forms part of Chicago’s $34 billion in retirement debt, accumulated over the decades by politicians making promises to buy votes and support from special interest groups. But neither the beneficiaries nor taxpayers via the city contributed enough to pay for those promises.

To save this one pension fund out of its four pension funds from insolvency, the city is jacking up water and sewer levies by 33%, phased in over a few years. Property owners in Chicago will pay, one way or the other, $3 billion into the fund by 2022, up from $1 billion under the prior scheme. Despite these billions of dollars involved, the fund covers only 77,000 workers and retirees.

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“A 100-city index compiled by SouFun surged by a worrisome 14% in the last year.”

The Next Bubble: China’s Housing Gets Scarily Expensive (Balding)

For many years, China’s authorities took a Goldilocks approach to housing prices: They wanted a market that was neither too hot nor too cold, and took measures as needed to control prices. Although an explicit asset-price target was never announced, it was widely assumed that the government wanted home prices to grow in line with the rate of economic growth. To accomplish this, technocrats in Beijing deployed a combination of monetary stimulus and regulatory measures. When prices overheated, they put the brakes on credit growth, required higher down payments for mortgages and placed administrative restrictions on who could buy in which cities. When prices started to drop, they tried loosening credit and boosting the number of units people could own.

But in the past few years, with economic growth sluggish, the planners became much more tolerant of rising prices, even as signs of a bubble emerged. Official data shows the price-to income-ratio hitting 9.2 at the end of 2015; housing prices have continued to rise significantly since. All this has led to some widespread distortions. China’s homeowners have come to see near double-digit real-estate returns as a birthright, a bet on par with death and taxes. According to one study, more than 70% of Chinese household wealth is in housing. Investors believe there’s an implicit guarantee that the government won’t let home prices drop, even as many buildings sit empty.

Meanwhile, banks have gone on a lending spree: Total outstanding mortgage loans rose more than 30% and new mortgage growth clocked in at 111% in the past year. Since June 2012, outstanding mortgage loans have grown at an annualized rate of 30%. Predictably, that’s pushed prices higher and higher. In urban China, the average price per square foot of a home has risen to $171, compared to $132 in the U.S. In first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen, prices have increased by about 25% in the past year. A 100-city index compiled by SouFun surged by a worrisome 14% in the last year. Developers are buying up land in some prime areas that would need to sell for $15,000 per square meter just to break even.

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Break their power!

Europe, Japan Banking Sectors Threaten Revolt Over Basel Rules (BBG)

Europeans told the world’s top banking regulator that they’ve had enough. In two heated meetings in the past week, regulators from countries including Germany and Italy told the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision that proposed changes to how banks assess credit, market and operational risks must be scaled back and slowed down, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Some European officials went so far as to say they wouldn’t adopt the proposals on the table, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations were private. If the EU – home to nearly half of the world’s most systemically important banks – balks at implementing the Basel Committee’s rules, it could undermine the global regulator’s authority and contribute to fragmentation of the industry.

The Basel Committee is racing to finish work on the post-crisis capital framework known as Basel III by the end of the year, and it’s under instructions not to increase capital requirements significantly in the process. The debate in Basel pits bank regulators from Tokyo to Frankfurt against a U.S.-backed push for stiffer standards, which take effect when they’re implemented by national governments. The industry says the proposed revisions to risk-assessment rules and limits on banks’ use of their own models to make these calculations would send capital requirements spiraling. Key policy makers have heeded their message. German FinMin Schaeuble last week insisted that the Basel Committee not only keep any overall increase in capital requirements to a minimum, but also ensure the rules have no “particularly negative consequences for specific regions,” such as Europe.

Shunsuke Shirakawa, vice commissioner for international affairs at Japan’s Financial Services Agency, has said the regulator needs to “make adjustments” to bring the new rules in on target. The Basel Committee’s members include Japan’s FSA, Germany’s Bundesbank and the U.S. Federal Reserve. Large European banks may be more vulnerable than their global peers to the changes under discussion. The biggest European banks had an average common equity Tier 1 capital ratio – a key measure of financial strength – higher than their global peers at end-2015, according to data from the European Banking Authority and the Basel Committee.

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“..mass failure of many Chinese buyers to settle on apartment contracts..”

It’s A Long Way Down In Australia’s Looming Apartment Fall (Aus.com.au)

While Australia debates its interest rate policy, the mass failure of many Chinese buyers to settle on apartment contracts is looming as a much bigger catastrophe than markets are expecting. This emerged from the comments of a reader to my commentary yesterday on the Sydney and Melbourne apartment markets. One of my readers who did not allow his full name to be published but used the name “James” complained that I had grossly understated the problem. James revealed that he owned and ran a debt and equity funding business that is on the frontline of the apartment settlement problem. His business deals with the developers of the apartment complexes rather than rather than the investors. James describes what is ahead this way:

“The problem is much worse than what you have described. Our analysis of every development in the country suggests that settlement failures will be between $1 billion and $1.5bn every month for the next 12 months. This is from the Chinese alone, but when settlement prices start coming more than 10% under purchase prices, we will also start to see local buyers attempting to walk away from settling. As Julius Caesar famously said: ‘the die is cast.’” To understand the implication of what James’ analysis reveals we need to step back and see how the apartment boom was funded. Most developers of apartments in Australia collect their Chinese off-the-plan deposits and then use them to gain security for a bank loan. Those bank loans can constitute 40, 50 or even 60% of the cost of the apartment complex.

The developers obtain the rest of their funding from businesses like those operated by James. This is an area of finance which we know very little about because it is hidden from public view. The banks feel they are safe in their loans to developers because there is a big difference between their loans and the cost of the buildings. But the banks are often funding other players in the apartment development. Apart from the developer, the people at risk include unsecured suppliers and the enterprises that are providing the second mortgage funding. If the Chinese fail to settle on the scale that Harry Triguboff is warning about, then there will be a deep problem. But if James’ study is correct that deep problem will develop into an economic catastrophe.

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It’s over. Wind it down peacefully please.

EU Leaders Search For Way Out Of ‘Existential Crisis’ (R.)

Shaken by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the leaders of its other 27 countries meet on Friday to try to inject new momentum into their ailing communal project amid deep-seated divisions over migration and economic policy. The Brexit vote in June ended more than half a century of EU enlargement and closer integration. Long seen as a guarantor of peace and prosperity, the bloc is now struggling to convince its citizens that it remains a force for good. Years of economic and financial crisis have pushed up unemployment in many member states, while a spate of attacks by Islamist militants and a record influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa have unsettled voters, who are turning increasingly to populist, anti-EU parties.

“After the vote in the UK the only thing that makes sense is to have a sober and brutally honest assessment of the situation,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters in Bratislava on the eve of the meeting. “We must not let this crisis go to waste.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this week the EU was in an “existential crisis”. Despite the pressure to lay out a new vision, leaders have played down expectations of real breakthroughs in the Slovak capital, in part because of intractable differences on the biggest issues, notably how to handle the influx of migrants.

Instead they are expected to focus on areas where there is common ground, pledging closer defence cooperation, bolstering security at the EU’s external borders and boosting the capacity of an EU investment fund meant to generate growth and jobs. The aim is to present more concrete proposals at a summit in March of next year that coincides with the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding Rome Treaty. But some officials admit in private that major initiatives may not be possible until elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are out of the way by late 2017.

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Many Greeks accuse Stournaras of exaggerating deficits in order to bring in the Troika.

Greece Raids Home Of Central Bank Head (ZH)

While the US the media lashes out at Trump every time he dares to tell the truth that the central bank is a biased, engaged, political member of the decision-making landscape, other “developed” countries are happily willing to demonstrate just how apolitical the central bank truly is. Take Greece, for example, where today the chief prosecutor ordered a raid of the home of the governor of the Greek central bank, Yannis Stournaras and the company office of his wife, Lina. The searches were part of a probe conducted by the Financial Police in connection to the alleged mismanagement of more than €1 million in state funding by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, KEELPNO.

The investigation related to funds that KEELPNO allegedly received through a company owned by Nikolopoulou as well as complaints regarding the disappearance of documents tied to the case. According to the WSJ, the raid was part of a continuing investigation into business Stournaras’ wife has done with a state entity, officials said, in a probe that may heighten tension between the top bank official and the left-wing government. Lina Nikolopoulou-Stournaras, the wife of central bank Governor Yannis Stournaras and owner of an communications company specializing in the medical sector, is under investigation from Greek authorities for business she has done with the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or Keelpno.

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Any and all wars declared on nouns are epic fails. But follow the money.

Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’ (NYT)

This short film, narrated by Jay Z (Shawn Carter) and featuring the artwork of Molly Crabapple, is part history lesson about the war on drugs and part vision statement. As Ms. Crabapple’s haunting images flash by, the film takes us from the Nixon administration and the Rockefeller drug laws – the draconian 1973 statutes enacted in New York that exploded the state’s prison population and ushered in a period of similar sentencing schemes for other states – through the extraordinary growth in our nation’s prison population to the emerging aboveground marijuana market of today. We learn how African-Americans can make up around 13% of the United States population – yet 31% of those arrested for drug law violations, even though they use and sell drugs at the same rate as whites.

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Quite a statement for the Wall Street Journal to publish.

Les Déplorables (WSJ)

To repeat: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.” Those are all potent words. Or once were. The racism of the Jim Crow era was ugly, physically cruel and murderous. Today, progressives output these words as reflexively as a burp. What’s more, the left enjoys calling people Islamophobic or homophobic. It’s bullying without personal risk. Donald Trump’s appeal, in part, is that he cracks back at progressive cultural condescension in utterly crude terms. Nativists exist, and the sky is still blue. But the overwhelming majority of these people aren’t phobic about a modernizing America. They’re fed up with the relentless, moral superciliousness of Hillary, the Obamas, progressive pundits and 19-year-old campus activists.

Evangelicals at last week’s Values Voter Summit said they’d look past Mr. Trump’s personal résumé. This is the reason. It’s not about him. The moral clarity that drove the original civil-rights movement or the women’s movement has degenerated into a confused moral narcissism. One wonders if even some of the people in Mrs. Clinton’s Streisandian audience didn’t feel discomfort at the ease with which the presidential candidate slapped isms and phobias on so many people. Presidential politics has become hyper-focused on individual personalities because the media rubs them in our face nonstop. It is a mistake, though, to blame Hillary alone for that derisive remark. It’s not just her.

Hillary Clinton is the logical result of the Democratic Party’s new, progressive algorithm—a set of strict social rules that drives politics and the culture to one point of view. A Clinton victory would enable and entrench the forces her comment represents. Her supporters say it’s Donald Trump’s rhetoric that is “divisive.” Just so. But it’s rich to hear them claim that their words and politics are “inclusive.” So is the town dump. They have chopped American society into so many offendable identities that only a Yale freshman can name them all. If the Democrats lose behind Hillary Clinton, it will be in part because America’s les déplorables decided enough of this is enough.

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Lovely piece.

The Cold War Is Over (Hitchens)

Perhaps we would understand Russia’s situation better if we imagined that NATO has been dissolved and that the Confederate States and the territories conquered in the Mexican-American War have declared independence. The U.S. retains a precarious hold on the naval station at San Diego, sharing it with the Mexican Navy on an expensive lease that Mexico regularly threatens to cancel. Americans still living in San Diego are compelled to adopt Spanish names on their drivers’ licenses, and movie theaters are instructed to show films only in Spanish. Schools teach anti-American history. Quebec has seceded from Canada, and is being wooed by a Russo-Chinese economic union, with a pact including military and political clauses.

Russian politicians are in the streets of Montreal, urging on a violent anti-American mob, which eventually succeeds in overthrowing Quebec’s pro-American president and replacing him with a pro-Russian one—violating Quebec’s constitution in the process. This brings military forces aligned with Russia right up to the border with New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In such a case, I cannot see the U.S. sitting about doing nothing, especially if it had repeatedly warned in major diplomatic forums against this expansion of Russian power on its frontiers, and been repeatedly ignored over fifteen years or so. If a Marxist takeover in Grenada was considered good enough reason for military action, what would these circumstances provoke?

Mikhail Gorbachev’s feline spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov, once teased suspicious Western correspondents by sneering at them in the early days of the great perestroika and glasnost experiment, “We have done the cruelest thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy.” He was laughing at us, but he was dead right. The Cold War was a period of moral clarity when the other side really was an evil empire, and when armed resolve for once succeeded in defeating the expansion of evil in the world. It allowed my own poor country to feel more important than it really was, and it suppressed the seething impulses and rivalries of the European continent.

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Feb 142015
 
 February 14, 2015  Posted by at 10:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson Camp wagon on a Texas roundup 1901

Nuclear Specter Redux: ‘Threat of War Is Higher than in the Cold War’ (Spiegel)
Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rejects Peace Deal, Vows ‘To Continue War’ (RT)
Yes, Yellen Can Have It All as She Gets Ready to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)
One Hundred Years of Austerity (Bloomberg)
Greek Government Doesn’t Hold Out Much Hope For A Deal On Monday (Kathimerini)
Hopes Of Greek Debt Deal Rise (Guardian)
Dijsselbloem ‘Pessimistic’ About A Quick Deal With Greece (AFP)
GDP Growth Masks A Broken Eurozone (Guardian)
White House Warns Europe On Greek Showdown (AEP)
Don’t Make Us Do It: ECB Wants a Political Deal on Greece (Bloomberg)
Rising Deposit Outflows Behind Extra Greek Bank ELA Access (Reuters)
Most Of Greek Deposit Outflows To Return If A Deal Is Made (Kathimerini)
Band-Aids for Greece, Ukraine and Global Economy (El-Erian)
Inside The Germans’ Debt Psyche – What Makes Them Tick? (BBC)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I Weren’t Scared, I’d Be Awfully Dangerous’ (Guardian)
Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Bailout Foe (BBC)
US Will Not Become Energy Independent: Total CEO (CNBC)
Russian Gas To Europe Can Be 35% Cheaper: Ministry (RT)
Falling Oil Prices Don’t Scare Russian Energy Firms (CNBC)
German Coal Imports From Russia Highest Since 2006 (RT)
Argentina President Fernandez Charged in Probe of Alleged Cover-Up (Bloomberg)
Farmland Values in Parts of Midwest Fall for First Time in Decades (WSJ)
The Super-Rich Don’t Care About Us. It Will Be Their Downfall (Guardian)

Trust has been eroded to the point of almost being destroyed,” said Nunn. “You got a war going on right in the middle of Europe.”

Nuclear Specter Redux: ‘Threat of War Is Higher than in the Cold War’ (Spiegel)

Deep mistrust has developed between the West and Russia, and it is having a massive effect on cooperation on security matters. In November 2014, the Russians announced that they would boycott the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in the United States. In December, the US Congress voted, for the first time in 25 years, not to approve funding to safeguard nuclear materials in the Russian Federation. A few days later, the Russians terminated cooperation in almost all aspects of nuclear security. The two sides had cooperated successfully for almost two decades. But that is now a thing of the past. Instead, Russia and the United States are investing giant sums of money to modernize their nuclear arsenals, and NATO recently announced that it was rethinking its nuclear strategy.

At the same time, risky encounters between Eastern and Western troops, especially in the air, are becoming more and more common, a report by the European Leadership Network (ELN) recently concluded. “Civilian pilots don’t know how to deal with this,” explains ELN Chair Des Browne, a former British defense minister. “One of these incidents could easily escalate. We need to find a mechanism in which we can talk at the highest level.” Brown, together with Ivanov and former US Senator Sam Nunn, the grandfather of international disarmament policy, published an analysis last week. The trio recommends “that reliable communication channels exist in the event of serious incidents.” In other words, these channels currently do not exist.

Recently Philip Breedlove, the head of NATO Allied Command Operations in Europe, even called for a new “red telephone,” alluding to the direct teletype connection established in 1963 between the United States and the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis. A direct line had been set up between NATO and the Russian military’s general staff in February 2013, but it was cut as a result of the Ukraine crisis. “Trust has been eroded to the point of almost being destroyed,” said Nunn. “You got a war going on right in the middle of Europe. You got a breakdown of the conventional forces treaty, you got the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty under great strain, you got tactical nuclear weapons all over Europe. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

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The narrative that will allow Kiev to keep fighting despote the ceasefire deal. And then claim innocence.

Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rejects Peace Deal, Vows ‘To Continue War’ (RT)

Ukraine’s Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said his radical movement rejects the Minsk peace deal and that their paramilitary units in eastern Ukraine will continue “active fighting” according to their “own plans.” The notorious ultranationalist leader published a statement on his Facebook page Friday, saying that his radical Right Sector movement doesn’t recognize the peace deal, signed by the so-called ‘contact group’ on Thursday and agreed upon by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia after epic 16-hour talks. Yarosh claimed that any agreement with the eastern militia, whom he calls “terrorists,” has no legal force. In his statement, Yarosh claimed that that the Minsk deal is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, so Ukrainian citizens are not obliged to abide by it.

Thus if the army receives orders to cease military activity and withdraw heavy weaponry from the eastern regions, the Right Sector paramilitaries, who are also fighting there “reserve the right” to continue the war, he said. The Right Sector paramilitary organization continues to deploy its combat and reserve units, to train and logistically support personnel, while coordinating its activities with the military command of the Ukrainian army, paramilitary units of the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry, he said. The breakthrough Minsk agreement was reached on Thursday following marathon overnight negotiations between Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia, and offer hope the fighting in Eastern Ukraine may come to an end. The talks were part of a Franco-German initiative. President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel visited Kiev and Moscow before meeting the Russian and Ukrainian leaders at the negotiating table in Minsk.

Bluntly rejecting the German and French initiative, Yarosh said President Petro Poroshenko should have turned to the US or UK which “observe a consistent anti-Kremlin policy.” “This could be devastating for the whole agreement,” Lode Vanoost, a former OSCE security consultant, told RT. “It could destroy it before it even starts. Now the fact that they announced it already one day ahead could of course mean that they sort of tried to force some kind of provocation so that the other side would react giving them an excuse to go on. But nevertheless this is indeed a very dangerous situation, yes.” [..] In July last year Interpol put Right Sector leader Yarosh on its wanted list.

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Anyone still thinking she won’t do it?

Yes, Yellen Can Have It All as She Gets Ready to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)

As the job market gains steam, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen faces a massive challenge to adjust her monetary levers just right: She wants to keep the recovery going without stoking a bubble or spurring inflation. It’s a delicate balance that has bedeviled many central bank chiefs in the past. A dramatic drop in U.S. bond yields over the past year might be just what Yellen needs to strike that balance, according to two International Monetary Fund economists. “Having long-term rates at relatively low levels may actually give the Fed more degrees of freedom,” Nigel Chalk and Jarkko Turunen wrote in a blog post Thursday. That’s because low long-term government bond yields would act as a cushion to the Fed raising short-term rates (specifically, by supporting the housing sector). In other words, Yellen would be able to start tightening without having to worry as much about hobbling the economic recovery.

The IMF economists’ point runs counter to some of the prevailing wisdom. The depression of long-term yields was a well-known source of concern for former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who called it a “conundrum” in testimony to Congress in 2005. Many say borrowing costs got too low in the mid-2000s, prompting people and businesses to take on too much debt. That all came crashing down in the form of the 2008 global financial meltdown. Credit is, once again, strikingly cheap. By the end of January, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes had fallen to the lowest since May 2013 (since the end of last month, the gauge has ticked slightly ticked back up). It’s strange because the U.S. economy has regained its status as the main engine of the world economy and analysts expect the Fed to soon start raising rates. The IMF economists note that the so-called term premium – the extra yield investors demand for holding long-term debt over short-term paper – has actually turned negative.

What’s driving this demand for long-term bonds? Chalk and Turunen offer several explanations. It’s possible that low inflation expectations are causing bondholders to require less compensation in the form of higher yields. With major risks ranging from instability in Ukraine to Greece and the Middle East, investors might be running to the safety of U.S. debt. Other reasons could include the recent strength of the U.S. dollar, according to the authors. The real risk is what happens when long-term yields head in the other direction – as occurred in 2013, when then-Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke mused about ending bond purchases sooner than investors expected. The resulting surge in mortgage rates and capital flight from emerging markets came to be known as the “taper tantrum.” “What we should be watching out for is the economic and financial stability fallout that could unfold if U.S. yields snap back upwards in a sudden and unexpected manner,” according to the IMF staff members.

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“”If every similar state saves at the same time by cutting spending, the result is the shrinkage of everyone’s economy since they are one another’s trading partners..”

One Hundred Years of Austerity (Bloomberg)

People have been preaching austerity for a very long time. Ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus’s disciples, Benjamin Franklin—they’re all part of a chorus of voices over the centuries who’ve warned us against the dangers of debt and profligate spending. Fiscal austerity, though, is a modern invention. It wasn’t until after World War I that governments started making serious efforts to address debt and other problems by cutting their spending. One reason is that, until the early 20th century, most countries had such small budgets that there wasn’t much to cut. (The U.S. federal budget on the eve of World War I equalled about 2.5% of the national economy; now, it’s around 20%, and that in turn is much lower than the figure in some other countries.)

Nowadays, fiscal austerity is often associated with the IMF, which has required budget cutting as a condition for bailouts in scores of troubled economies. In other cases, though, governments have embraced austerity for reasons of their own, such as fighting inflation or repaying foreign debt. Some of these efforts—such as Germany’s and Japan’s in the 1930s and Romania’s in the 1980s—were catastrophic failures. Elsewhere, the record has been less clear-cut. The British are still debating the impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s budget cuts in the early 1980s. Some countries have recovered fairly quickly after taking IMF-prescribed austerity medicine, while others suffered prolonged economic misery.

Muddying the picture still further, the IMF usually requires structural economic reforms, such as deregulating industries and labor markets, in addition to budget austerity. That, along with such other factors as interest-rate changes and currency devaluations, makes it harder to gauge the effect of austerity. The euro zone debt crisis adds a new wrinkle to the story. Countries pursuing austerity programs frequently have devalued their currencies, which can help spur growth as exports become more competitive. But Greece and other bailed-out European economies can’t devalue, because they’re part of a shared currency.

Mark Blyth, a Brown University professor who has written a book on the history of austerity, warns that it is a “dangerous idea.” The biggest danger, he writes, comes “when everyone tries it at once,” as happened when Japan and Germany cut spending during a global depression. Europe’s recent debt crisis is another example, Blyth contends. “If every similar state saves at the same time by cutting spending, the result is the shrinkage of everyone’s economy since they are one another’s trading partners and sources of income. Perversely, their debt goes up, not down, relative to their shrinking GDP.”

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“Some members, such as Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have been adamant that the government should stick to its pre-election pledges.”

Greek Government Doesn’t Hold Out Much Hope For A Deal On Monday (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chaired a meeting of his cabinet on Friday night to brief ministers on the state of talks with the eurozone but also to assess his own room for maneuver ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup. With the possibility of the government having to make a compromise with the eurozone over the way forward in the next few days, Tsipras was eager to assess the mood of his cabinet. Some members, such as Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have been adamant that the government should stick to its pre-election pledges. Overall, the government is not holding out much hope for a solution in Brussels on Monday.

“There have been some positive steps but there is a lot of ground that has to be covered,” said a government source. Sources also insisted that the Greek government would not be willing to back down from its position on certain issues such as labor regulations, privatizations and the lowering of the primary surplus target. Athens believes that the two sides can find common ground on issues like public administration reform, improving tax collection and tackling corruption.

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I don’t think so.

Hopes Of Greek Debt Deal Rise (Guardian)

Greek stock markets have rallied on growing confidence that Athens will reach a deal with its international creditors next week. In the runup to a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday, the new Greek prime minister’s office vowed to do “whatever we can” to come to an agreement over a new support programme for the bailed-out country. Talks between eurozone ministers this week failed to make progress in resolving a standoff over the desire by Greece’s new leftist government to ditch the strict terms of its €240bn bailout programme and the insistence from other eurozone countries, most notably Germany, that the old framework should continue. But on Friday, the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appeared to soften his stance. He agreed that Greek officials would meet representatives of the troika of lenders who supplied the bailout money and imposed and policed the terms that came with it.

Previously, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said the new government would refuse to engage with representatives of troika, made up of the ECB, the EC and the IMF. A government spokesman said Greece was straining to get the pieces in place for a deal on Monday, but he also sought to play down fears time was running out to avert a fresh crisis in the eurozone that would see Greece defaulting on the bailout programme and being forced to leave the single currency. “We will do whatever we can so that a deal is found on Monday,” Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greece’s Skai TV. “If we don’t have an agreement on Monday, we believe that there is always time so that there won’t be a problem.”

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Dijsselbloem has been the worst factor in all this. Expect him to be ousted soon.

Dijsselbloem ‘Pessimistic’ About A Quick Deal With Greece (AFP)

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Friday he was pessimistic about making progress on resolving a bitter row over extending Greeces bailout at an upcoming meeting of eurozone finance ministers. “At this stage I’m very pessimistic about it,” Dijsselbloem told the NOS public broadcaster when asked whether he thought concrete steps will be taken on Monday at the talks between Greece and its fellow single currency countries in the Eurogroup. “The Greeks have sky-high ambitions. The possibilities, given the state of the Greek economy, are limited,” said Dijsselbloem, who is the Dutch finance minister, ahead of a cabinet meeting on Friday. “I don’t know if we’ll get there by Monday.” Dijsselbloem and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras agreed on Thursday to renew efforts to find a solution on extending Greeces current bailout after talks overnight Wednesday collapsed acrimoniously.

An agreement however was reached to ask “institutions to engage with Greek authorities to start work on a technical assessment of the common ground between the current programme and the Greek government’s plans,” Dijsselbloem tweeted after the meeting. The agreement was made to help discussions set to take place Monday, seen by many as the last chance to seal a deal before Greeces current bailout programme expires at the end of the month. Dijsselbloem however on Friday blasted Greece, saying Athens “for a number of months now has received no loans from Europe, because nothing’s happening.” “We only lend out money when theres real progress and when new reforms are being carried through. For months this has not been the case,” Dijsselbloem said.

“It really is up to the Greek government to take the firsts steps,” he said. Failure to reach a deal on an extension of the bailout or a credit line for Greece by the end of the month means Athens would quickly default and almost inevitably crash out of the eurozone. European sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Wednesday’s eurozone ministers’ meeting had descended into a “total mess”, making a reconciliation between Dijsselbloem and Tsipras necessary to prepare the talks for Monday. Dijsselbloem said: “The Greek government has made it clear that they don’t want to carry on with the programme as it currently stands.” “The Eurogroup has made it clear that there are only possibilities for change as long as the programme remains on the rails.”

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Too much difference between Gernamy and Greece: “Look beyond the figures and the chatter of ivory tower policymakers..”

GDP Growth Masks A Broken Eurozone (Guardian)

Frankfurt’s stock market has reached a new high, topping 11,000 for the first time. According to the latest eurozone GDP figures, Germany enjoyed strong GDP growth in the last three months of the year and helped push expansion across the currency bloc to 0.3% for the quarter and 0.9% for the year. In Portugal and Spain, the headline growth figures improved. Even Italy beat analysts’ expectations after it avoided a decline. So the recovery is real. In fact, say the eurozone’s top policymakers, it’s all going so well the new Greek government should open its eyes and see the warm, golden glow of sunshine appearing on the horizon. Jens Weidmann, the head of the German central bank, was in London on Thursday evening and joined the chorus of top officials bemoaning those who believe the eurozone is entering a long period of Japan-like stagnation.

He urged the Greeks to stop opposing the austerity measures imposed by Brussels and accept wage cuts that have already brought an increase in competitiveness. No doubt the 0.2% fall in Greek GDP in the fourth quarter will be cast as a temporary blip and a lesson that political uncertainty has unhelpful economic consequences. Investors also believe the upbeat story, hence the soaring Frankfurt stock market. The promise of a huge stimulus package from the ECB (which Weidmann believes is unnecessary, such is his confidence) and the fall in value of the euro it has precipitated, when combined with the vast European bailouts funds now available, have convinced global investment funds that Europe is a one-way bet. Look beyond the figures and the chatter of ivory tower policymakers and you will find the story is radically different. Yes, Spain is growing. But its GDP growth in 2014 has made up only around half of its losses in 2013.

It is still an economy in need of major investment to get back on its feet. Unemployment remains at disturbingly high levels and the state is held in contempt in many quarters. Why else would the radical anti-austerity Podemos party be polling ahead of all the established parties at the moment, and its leader be writing in praise of Tsipras (and the Catalonia independence movement still be in full swing)? Weidmann said the policies of austerity he supported would work slowly but staying the course was important. To him, a lost generation of young workers, who were denied skilled training and out of work for several years, is a matter for individual countries. He cannot see that sovereign states under the current arrangements are denied the funds to invest and improve productivity over the longer term. He cannot see that austerity, if only for this reason, is self-defeating.

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“They have asymmetric rules. They need to make it socially fairer..”

White House Warns Europe On Greek Showdown (AEP)

Washington blames Europe for the lack of global recovery and is losing its patience with EMU creditor states that fail to pull their weight The Obama administration has leapt to the defence of Greece, warning Germany and Europe’s creditor powers that they must meet Athens half-way to avert a potentially dangerous rupture and a euro break-up. Caroline Atkinson, the US deputy-national security adviser, said the eurozone authorities had imposed the main burden of adjustment on the weaker deficit states and should do more to accept their share of responsibility for the euro crisis. “They have asymmetric rules. They need to make it socially fairer,” she said. “It is important for creditors to take into account that Greece has had a very sharp drop in incomes, real wages, and output as well as a big rise in unemployment,” she told a gathering at Chatham House in London.

“Greece has moved into primary surplus. How much more fiscal consolidation is necessary?” she said. The comment will be music to the ears of Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who wants a cut in the EU-IMF Troika target for the primary surplus to 1.5pc of GDP from 3pc this year and 4.5pc next year. Mrs Atkinson said the White House is relieved that “both sides” are starting to pull back from the brink, a clear warning that Washington is just as exasperated with the high-handed approach of eurozone creditors as it is with the leftist Syriza government in Athens. “We believe it is strongly in the interests of the Greek people and Europe more generally that Greece and its creditors work out a compromise for Greece to stay in the euro and thrive in the euro,” she said.

The two sides have toned down the rhetoric slightly and agreed to start technical talks but each is in a different cognitive universe on the core dispute over austerity and debt relief. The US administration does not share the widespread view in Europe that there is little risk of contagion if the European Central Bank cuts off liquidity support for the Greek banking system and forces the country out of the euro. President Barack Obama has seized on the Greek crisis to push for a broader reflation strategy in Europe. “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression. At some point there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts,” he said earlier this month.

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Draghi doesn’t like being accused of taking political decisions. Even though he’s taken many already.

Don’t Make Us Do It: ECB Wants a Political Deal on Greece (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank is sending a message to the euro-area’s leaders: don’t make us pull the trigger on Greece’s banks. After the Frankfurt-based ECB blessed the expansion of so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance to the debt-stricken country’s lenders by about €5 billion euros on Thursday, officials are insisting that continued support is contingent on political talks over Greece’s bailout. Greek stocks and bonds rallied Friday, after PM Alexis Tsipras hinted at progress. The ECB does not want to be pushed into a position where it is making decisions on the future of the Greek banking system – and the country’s membership of the euro – without political cover from European capitals.

If talks on a “bridge” financing deal for Greece break down again, ECB President Mario Draghi will have to weigh whether to ration funds further or threaten a veto, just as he did in Cyprus two years ago. “Ending ELA would be a very last-resort type of intervention, paramount to a nuclear option,” said Henrik Enderlein at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “The ECB would never really want to use it, as it is basically the same as pushing Greece out of the euro area.” ELA is funding provided by national central banks at their own risk, and is extended against lower-quality collateral than the ECB itself will accept.

Greece’s lenders now have access to about €65 billion in such funds, according to a euro-area central bank official. The expansion from €60 billion euros was reported Thursday by German newspaper FAZ. Tsipras said yesterday that his government aims to reach a six-month bridge agreement leading to a “new contract” with international creditors. In 2012, as Greece stumbled toward its second international rescue and a debt-writedown, banks ran up a tab of as much as €158 billion euros in local central bank and ECB funding. That suggests the ECB will allow a much greater extension of the emergency line, as long as politicians are seen as being on the path to agreement.

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More political decisions by an allegedly ‘neutral’ central bank. First cut them off, then feed them bite-sized carrots.

Rising Deposit Outflows Behind Extra Greek Bank ELA Access (Reuters)

The ECB allowed Greek banks access to extra emergency financing from the Bank of Greece because deposit outflows have picked up and to make sure they have liquidity while tense talks take place in Brussels next week, Greek banking sources said on Friday. The ECB on Thursday raised the cap on what Greek banks can get from the Bank of Greece through the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) window by about €5 billion to €65 billion. The extension will run until Feb. 18 when the ECB Governing Council will reappraise the situation. One banking source said that there was a mix of reasons for the action. “Some banks likely needed to tap more ELA,” said the senior banker at one of the country’s four top banks. “(But) I believe the ECB wanted to allow some headroom, liquidity comfort until Feb. 18.”

He said recent daily outflows were in the region of €300 million to €500 million on average. Another executive at a big bank cited a similar figure. “Outflows continued this week, the situation showed a deterioration in the last days,” he said. “When you see €400-500 million of outflows a day, this shows a developing trend.” He added that outflows may have gone as high €1 billion on some days. Euro zone finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday in an attempt to forge a deal which will allow for Greek funding over a period in which Greece’s large debt will be renegotiated. Failure to reach a deal before the end of February, when Greece’s current bailout ends, could lead to Greece being ejected from the euro zone – hence the nervousness of Greek banks and depositors.

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The outflow problem isn’t all that bad.

Most Of Greek Deposit Outflows To Return If A Deal Is Made (Kathimerini)

The bulk of deposits withdrawn from Greek bank accounts in the last two-and-a-half months due to political and financial uncertainty has stayed inside the country, stashed away in safe deposit boxes, mattresses and investment products. Banks estimate that only a small part, about 20%, of the funds that came out of depositors’ accounts has been sent to banks abroad. As banks sources have stressed, if the government agrees terms with its creditors next week, confirming the European course of the country and putting an end to uncertainty, most of the €20 billion that has left local banks since end-November could return, and quickly.

Bankers believe that some 50% of the deposit outflows, i.e. some €10 billion, has stayed in the country in the form of disposable cash and can be found in safe deposit boxes, mattresses etc, as many households have chosen to keep their cash at hand due to the ongoing uncertainty. Another 30%, or €6 billion, has been deposited in investment products. The 20% of deposit outflows that has gone abroad, amounting to some €4 billion, mostly concerns corporate funds and some of it has gone to subsidiaries of Greek banks in other countries, such as in Cyprus, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Malta, etc.

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The purpose behind all this is more centralization, and that will cause ever stronger reactions.

Band-Aids for Greece, Ukraine and Global Economy (El-Erian)

This week, three sets of meetings sought to defuse three distinct threats to the global economy. All of the gatherings featured suspenseful atmospheres, dramatic posturing and some public tantrums. And their outcomes were similar, too: The participants ended up just buying time, without doing much, if anything, to begin to address the underlying causes of the unfolding crises. In the first instance, President Francois Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany traveled to Minsk on Wednesday to compel the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to stem the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed about 5,000 lives. After a tough all-night negotiation session, they agreed Thursday to a cease-fire to take effect this weekend.

Earlier Wednesday, the finance ministers of the euro zone countries gathered in Brussels to try to find common ground on Greece. After seven hours of discussions, they weren’t even able to settle on a road map for future negotiations. But with both their finance ministers playing tough and signaling seemingly unbridgeable negotiating positions, Merkel and the newly elected prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, were subsequently able to show leadership and be “presidential.” On Thursday, both declared themselves willing to compromise, providing much needed political cover for the finance ministers’ negotiations that are set to resume Monday (preceded by technical preparations starting today).

Earlier in the week, some of those ministers had joined their central bank colleagues in Istanbul for a meeting of the Group of 20. The agenda included policy actions to strengthen a global economy that, with the exception of the U.S., has been losing steam. In their communiques, they reaffirmed prior commitments and renewed their encouragement of central banks to continue pursuing unconventional monetary policies. Yes, some progress was made in all three meetings, but they mainly just kicked the can down the road. At best, they were holding operations that risk resulting in failure if they aren’t quickly supplemented by more comprehensive agreements.

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It’s not the 1920’s.

Inside The Germans’ Debt Psyche – What Makes Them Tick? (BBC)

Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy, the beating heart of the eurozone and guardian of financial discipline. So when it comes to money – and especially debt – what makes Germans tick? The election of Greece’s left-wing government on a promise to reduce the country’s mountain of debt has created a standoff with Europe’s economic powerhouse. And it has thrown Germany’s ultra-conservative attitude to debt into sharp focus. Germany’s extreme debt aversion is even rooted in the German language itself, says Prof Marcel Fratzscher, head of Germany’s leading Economic Research Institute. “The German word for debt – ‘schuld’ – is the same as the German word for ‘guilt’,” he explains. “To get into debt you have done something bad and that describes the German people’s attitude quite well.”

The German way is to “save now, have later” rather than “have now, pay later” – and that is not just the older generation talking. On the streets of Berlin young Germans told us what they would do if they won a million euros. A new car, a holiday, a new outfit? “I would save it for when I need it,” came a typical reply. That habit of saving money is the key to understanding another characteristic of Germans – fear of inflation. Popular wisdom says that this is due to the scars left by hyperinflation in the 1920s, when the exchange rate escalated out of control. One US dollar went from being worth four Deutschmarks to four trillion. There may be some residual echoes of that period but it is nearly 90 years ago now and Germans have moved on. The real reason is to be found in the German love of saving.

Inflation is the enemy of savers. So for a nation full of them, the idea of lowering interest rates and printing money holds a double threat – it reduces the rate you get on your savings, while any potential future inflation would mean that those same savings allow you to buy less. The good news for Germany is that inflation hasn’t arrived and, although interest rates are low, the related weakness of the euro has kept German exports like cars and machinery competitively priced. Indeed education, engineering and exporting success is the source of considerable German pride. Economists credit the post-war economic miracle – or “Wirtschaftswunder” – to a set of crucial, interlocking principles[..]

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“We constantly hear, ‘if you don’t sign on the dotted line there is going to be Armageddon’. My answer is ‘let it happen!’

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I Weren’t Scared, I’d Be Awfully Dangerous’ (Guardian)

In the space of three short weeks, he’s been christened Europe’s man of the moment, compared to heroes great and small, likened to a rock star, hailed as a sex icon, feted by fashionistas, and in Germany, no less, portrayed as the greatest action man to bestride planet earth since Bruce Willis set Hollywood alight in Die Hard 6. Few have had their demeanour and dress code so dissected; when he posed with George Osborne in Downing Street, his tieless, leather-jacketed look standing in stark contrast to the Chancellor’s, the press was as breathless as if a supermodel had blown in. “Britain,” declared no less venerable an authority than the Daily Telegraph, “is crying out for a politician who looks like Yanis Varoufakis. It’s quite a change in lifestyle. Has it gone to his head? The response is immediate. “I can assure you, Helena, I did not engineer it in any way. I am not promoting it. They go on about me riding a bike, but I have been riding a bike since I was 15. I just am who I am.” [..]

Even by the standards of those who have occupied the sixth floor of the finance ministry before, Varoufakis’ tenure comes at an unusually onerous time. With the country’s €240bn bailout – the biggest in global history – set to expire at the end of February, and the Greek electorate having overwhelmingly rejected austerity, Greece is at a crossroads. In a climate of high-octane pressure – though her language was more emollient, the German chancellor Angela Merkel showed little sign this week of giving in anytime soon – the possibility of political blunder, or accident, grows with each day. Athens owes some €25bn in repayments, this year alone, and what is certain is that it does not have that kind of money. When I ask Varoufakis if he has a plan B, for all negotiators surely have a credible alternative, he looks at me wide-eyed. “We constantly hear, ‘if you don’t sign on the dotted line there is going to be Armageddon’. My answer is ‘let it happen!’ There is no fall-back plan. That is my plan B. ”

What if it does happen, I ask, as images of the chaos bankruptcy would surely entail flicker across my mind. “Well, that is like asking me what happens if a comet strikes planet Earth. I have no idea. None!” he shoots back. Varoufakis is the first to say that no one should grow too fond of power. He has no desire to be on the sixth floor of the finance ministry longer than necessary. He has dispensed with the policemen assigned to protect him, the army of advisers that come with the job (let go to make way for the rehiring of the ministry’s sacked women cleaners), and each of the three cars deployed to him. If he lost the job, he says, he wouldn’t mind. “When interlocutors threaten me with the fall of this government, because they do, I say: ‘Make my day,’” he smiles. “I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

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“Simple logic dictates that if you cannot even conceive the possibility of leaving a negotiation, then it is preferable never to enter one..”

Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Bailout Foe (BBC)

Greece’s left-wing Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is leading the offensive to persuade the nation’s creditors to end austerity and forgive part of its debt. Mr Varoufakis, 53, is not only a well-respected political economist, but a charismatic man and natural charmer. A few weeks after his appointment, he has become something of a global celebrity. That is hardly surprising for Greeks – after all, Mr Varoufakis got more votes than any other candidate in the 25 January general election that swept the leftist Syriza party into power. In the wake of victory he immediately embarked on a European tour that took him to London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. The sight of a shaven-headed, athletic minister refusing to tuck his shirt into his trousers or wear a tie – even while visiting 11 Downing Street – fascinated business reporters, fashion editors and gossip columnists.

Even the German media – among Greece’s sternest critics – seemed impressed. ZDF television anchor Marietta Slomka said “he is someone you could imagine starring in a film like Die Hard 6”, and conservative daily Die Welt ran the headline “What makes Yanis Varoufakis a sex icon”. In his home country, a new word was coined – “Varoufitses” – to describe women who idolise Mr Varoufakis. At the time of writing, Mr Varoufakis had 128,000 Twitter followers, a number of devoted fan pages on Facebook, and he has inspired a video game “Syrizaman Vs Troika”. His eurozone colleagues may not find him quite so charming. In his first meeting with them on 11 February he refused to approve a common statement by the Eurogroup that implied Athens would seek an extension of its bailout. “Simple logic dictates that if you cannot even conceive the possibility of leaving a negotiation, then it is preferable never to enter one,” he wrote in a blog entry back in May 2010.

Mr Varoufakis showed signs of defiance and non-conformism from a very early age. That includes deliberately misspelling his name Yanis, writing it with only one “n” since elementary school. “I had an aesthetic problem with the double “n”,” he said. “So I decided to write my name with one. My teacher gave me a bad grade, which made me very angry and I’ve kept writing my name with one “n” ever since.” Mr Varoufakis was born on 24 March 1961 in Athens. He is a graduate of the Moraitis private school, which has nurtured many members of Greece’s political and economic elite. His father, 89-year-old Giorgos Varoufakis, is chairman of Halyvourgiki, a Greek industrial giant. This background of relative privilege did not prevent Mr Varoufakis from becoming a libertarian Marxist, who has said that “Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day”.

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So let’s put that myth to rest.

US Will Not Become Energy Independent: Total CEO (CNBC)

Despite the so-called U.S. shale revolution and American aspirations for energy independence, the CEO of major oil giant Total told CNBC he was not convinced it would happen any time soon. “The U.S. is still relying on oil from the Middle East. It is not true the U.S. will be independent in oil – they continue to import,” Patrick Pouyanne, the new chief executive of French oil giant Total, told CNBC this week. He stressed that the U.S. “will not get” energy independence because it still consumes far more oil than it produces. “For me, the world today is interdependent. This idea that you could be (energy) independent – especially when you are the U.S., where you have many world companies; a country that is probably benefiting the most from the globalization of the world – is just something that is strange to me, I don’t believe in that,” Pouyanne added.

Oil prices have fallen dramatically in recent months – and at one point were down around 60% from highs in June 2014, on the back of a glut in supply and lack of global demand. Brent crude is currently trading around $59 a barrel and U.S. crude is at $51. OPEC has been blamed for the volatility in prices after it refused to cut production to support the cost of oil. Many saw its inaction as a bid to retain market share in the face of increased competition from U.S. shale oil producers. American oil production has grown steadily from 5 million barrels per day in 2005 to 8.6 million last year, according to the U.S. Energy information Administration.

If OPEC was hoping a low oil price would put the brakes on U.S. oil production, it might have worked. Some 87 rigs were deactivated in the week ending February 6, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes, after a drop of 90 rigs over the previous seven days. It marks the largest absolute reduction in a single week since Baker Hughes started keeping records in 1987. But Pouyanne said that, despite anger from some at OPEC’s “game of chicken,” the U.S. was still a major oil importer and its economy was benefitting from a lower oil price.

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“The average price of Russian gas supplied abroad will be $222 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2015. It could mean a 35% price cut for Gazprom supplied gas to Europe..”

Russian Gas To Europe Can Be 35% Cheaper: Ministry (RT)

The average price of Russian gas supplied abroad will be $222 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2015. It could mean a 35% price cut for Gazprom supplied gas to Europe, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development has forecast. The price for Russian gas started to decline last year, as the contract price for Gazprom supplies are directly linked to falling oil prices, according to Vedomosti. Gas prices respond to the dynamics of oil prices with a lag of 6-9 months. In summer 2014 the company expected $350 per 1,000 cubic meters, in the end the average turned out to be $341, while the price of Brent in the second half of 2014 lost more than 50%. Next week, the management of Gazprom plans to present to the board of directors stress tests of a financial plan with an oil price of $40 and $50 per barrel based on the Ministry’s forecast.

Gazprom is expected to increase supplies to Europe to 160 billion cubic meters compared to 146.6 billion in 2015. At the same time revenue will decrease by $14.3 billion to $35.5 billion if the ministry’s prediction comes true. However, the figures may change in a planned outlook revision in April and September; Vedomosti say citing the ministry. Gazprom’s sales to Europe accounted for almost 70% of company revenues in 2014. In recent years, the average price in the EU, according to calculations by Vedomosti, was 5 to 14% higher than the overall average sales price. However, $222 per 1,000 cubic meters may be unprofitable for Gazprom in view of growing production costs, said Michael Krutikhin a partner at RusEnergy, as quoted by Vedomosti.

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“..at $110 oil and 33 rubles to the U.S. dollar, Russian upstream free cash flow for the companies his group covered was roughly the same as now, with oil near $60 and 60 rubles per U.S. dollar.”

Falling Oil Prices Don’t Scare Russian Energy Firms (CNBC)

Low oil prices are hurting the Russian state as tax revenue tumbles along with crude. But Russia’s energy firms aren’t feeling the same pain, and they may in fact weather the cheap oil storm better than their international peers. Experts point to two major factors helping the companies in a low-price environment: Moscow’s tax rate on producers shifts lower as the price of oil falls (meaning the cost is mostly borne by the state), and most of the oil companies’ expenses are denominated in rubles. Together, those factors largely offset any negative impact from oil prices, Goldman Sachs energy analyst Geydar Mamedov wrote in a recent note.

The currency point is key: Russian energy companies’ expenditures are largely conducted in rubles because there is a strong local oilfield services sector, and their revenues are dollar-denominated. So as the Russian currency has fallen against the dollar, the firms have been nearly totally insulated from oil’s price decline. “In the short term, there is definitely a natural buffer built into the system through the ruble,” Ildar Davletshin, Renaissance Capital oil and gas analyst, told CNBC. “The ruble has halved over the past 12 months; that’s a natural hedge against weak oil prices.” Mamedov noted that at $110 oil and 33 rubles to the U.S. dollar, Russian upstream free cash flow for the companies his group covered was roughly the same as now, with oil near $60 and 60 rubles per U.S. dollar.

Meanwhile, while many international oil companies outside Russia are cutting back on production, Mamedov wrote that he does not expect to see a slowdown in Russian upstream activity. (Russian refiners, on the other hand, could take a hit because of how the tax scheme works). In fact, Goldman predicts that Russian production will increase to 532 million tonnes in 2015 from 527 million tonnes in 2014. Despite those short-term positives, Davletshin said he “wouldn’t be too optimistic” in the medium or long term. Local costs may catch up with the currency differentials as inflation accelerates, and sanctions are hurting the companies by depriving them of international technology-sharing opportunities, he explained. “I’m not saying Russia cannot move on its own, but it will take longer,” he said.

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Germany only plays green.

German Coal Imports From Russia Highest Since 2006 (RT)

Germany imported more than 12 million tons of coal from Russia in 2014 – the biggest volume in 9 years, despite calls for energy independence and a switch to renewables. Coal imports from Russia increased 6.6% in 2014, at 12.6 million metric tons, Germany’s Federal Statistics Office reported Friday. This is about a third of the country s total coal imports. At a time when geopolitical relations between the two countries are strained, Germany continues to pump money into a country that the US and other European countries are bent on economically isolating. Poland, also a Moscow naysayer, is Russia’s second biggest coal importer in the EU. Another country that had sworn off Russian coal, but ended up buying the cheap energy to heat homes and factories, was Ukraine. Kiev bought some 50,000 metric tons in December.

Russian coal has become even more attractive to Europeans since the ruble depreciated more than 50%, which means importers spend less dollars and euro. The devaluation of the ruble and the decline in oil prices has placed Russian thermal coal exporters among the most competitive suppliers to both the Atlantic and Pacific markets, says Diana Bacila, a coal analyst at Oslo-based Nena, an independent energy analysis firm. About 50% of German electricity comes from coal, with the rest coming from natural gas and nuclear energy. Germany is also Russia’s biggest gas client, importing over 25 billion cubic meters per year. The recently completed Nord Stream pipeline, which feeds directly from Russia to Germany, has a capacity to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

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This is serious.

Argentina President Fernandez Charged in Probe of Alleged Cover-Up (Bloomberg)

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was formally accused by a prosecutor of trying to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish center that killed 85 people. In a document filed to a federal court, Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita said Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, lawmaker Andres Larroque and other government supporters tried to remove Iranian officials from Interpol lists in exchange for trade preferences with the Islamic republic. Pollicita’s 62-page statement was posted on the prosecutor general’s website. The charges will overshadow Fernandez’s last 10 months in office as she struggles to revive growth in South America’s second-biggest economy and repair relations with investors after last year’s default.

The accusations come one month after former prosecutor in the case, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment with a bullet to the head. Investigators have yet to determine if it was suicide or murder. “This could be a seismic change for Argentina’s political environment,” said Carl Meacham, Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You have an economic crisis on the horizon and you marry that with a political crisis, it could be a disaster for Argentina.” Fernandez, 61, has denied the accusations against her and said last month that Nisman may have been murdered in order to sully the image of her government.

Judge Daniel Rafecas must now decide whether the evidence of a cover-up is admissible and whether to pursue the case, said Hernan Munilla Lacasa, a professor in criminal law at the Universidad Catolica Argentina in Buenos Aires. Fernandez can be called on to testify, though as president she has the right to do so in writing and not in person. Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich early Friday said the accusations and a march planned for Feb. 18 to commemorate Nisman’s death were part of a “judicial coup” against the president. “The Argentine people should know that we’re talking about a vulgar lie, of an enormous media operation, of a strategy of political destabilization and the biggest judicial coup d’etat in the history of Argentina to cover up for the real perpetrators of the crime,” Capitanich said at his daily press conference.

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Asset prices cannot hold.

Farmland Values in Parts of Midwest Fall for First Time in Decades (WSJ)

Farmland values declined in parts of the Midwest for the first time in decades last year, reflecting a cooling in the market driven by two years of bumper crops and sharply lower grain prices, according to Federal Reserve reports on Thursday. The average price of farmland in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s district, which includes Illinois, Iowa and other big farm states, fell 3% in 2014, marking the first annual decline since 1986, the Chicago Fed said. Prices for cropland during the fourth quarter remained steady compared with the previous quarter, according to the bank’s survey of agricultural lenders, though half of all respondents said they expect farmland values to decline further in the current quarter.

In the St. Louis Fed’s district, which includes parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas, prices for “quality” farmland gained 0.8% in the fourth quarter compared with year-ago levels, despite lower crop prices and farm incomes in the region. A majority of lenders in the district expect values to cool in the current quarter compared with the first quarter of last year, reflecting reduced demand for land amid tighter profit margins for farmers. The reports spotlight an overall slowdown in the U.S. farm economy and in the appreciation of farmland prices. Crop prices had soared for much of the past decade, fueled by drought and rising demand for corn from ethanol processors and foreign importers. The gains pushed agricultural land values so high that some analysts warned of a bubble.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected net U.S. farm income this year would fall to $73.6 billion, the lowest since 2009, from $108 billion in 2014. Prices for corn, the biggest U.S. crop by value, have tumbled more than 50% since the summer of 2012, when they soared to record highs amid a severe U.S. drought. Growers produced the nation’s largest corn and soybeans harvests ever last autumn, helped by nearly flawless weather over much of the growing season. In the Chicago Fed district, farmland values in the latest quarter dropped in major corn-producing states like Illinois, Iowa and Indiana compared with year-ago levels, while land values in Wisconsin increased slightly and were unchanged in Michigan.

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Marie Antoinette all over again.

The Super-Rich Don’t Care About Us. It Will Be Their Downfall (Guardian)

The news this week that a bank helped wealthy customers to dodge taxes should not come as a surprise to many. The super-rich have long held some profoundly distorted ideas about the world. They are more than averagely likely to believe their achievements are the product of their superior brains and hard work. They may believe the Selfish Gene rhetoric that those with the best genes rise to the top of the pond, and at the bottom is genetic sludge. They are oblivious to any evidence to the contrary. They have no idea that had they been born on a sink estate they too would have sunk. This is partly because the super-rich are no longer exposed to data and experiences that contradict their worldview. Flitting between their various homes around the world, they know nothing of our lives.

They have never, ever had to sit on the phone waiting for the next available customer support agent – “your call really matters to us” – to not fix their phone/internet/energy bill issue. Of particular concern is that they only consume media that support their worldview. Recently, an Oxbridge-educated CEO in all seriousness told me that there has been no increase in inequality in this country. My jaw was slack with amazement when another told me that “inner London secondary pupils have the best exam results of any in the world”. They are living in the la-la land that Polly Toynbee and David Walker painstakingly exposed in their book Unjust Rewards. Consider your response to the following information. About 15,700 under-two-year-olds live in a family that is classed as homeless, according to a new report.

Homelessness adversely affects parental responsiveness, and early responsiveness has been proved to affect the capacity of the brain to process positive experiences. My response to this would be: “Since early care profoundly affects the size and content of our brains and subsequent mental health, government should act to eradicate involuntary homelessness. If Thatcher had not sold off the council housing stock this problem would be far less. A Labour government should reverse that policy.” When I put that to a super-rich man whom I know, he said: “It’s a shame there are so many babies with homeless parents but it is not the role of the state to house them. My charity does not directly address this issue but I am sure there are others that do. The role of government is to leave people like me free to create jobs which will enable those parents to earn enough to pay rent and live in decent accommodation.”

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