Dec 112018
 
 December 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wilhelm Trübner A Gorgon‘s head 1891

 

The news still isn’t the news, and I’m getting afraid it never will be again, because not the news just simply sells so much better than plain old real events. Maria Butina suddenly popped back into the public eye, because she was either charged with something or confessed to it. And I’m thinking, excuse me, but that poor girl has been kept in isolation for how long now? And for what reason exactly?

I vividly remember thinking that when she first became ‘news’ for ‘infiltrating’ the NRA, for which there were plenty cute pictures taken, I remember thinking she would have been 22 or 23 years old when as a super- devious Russian redhead she allegedly penetrated the trillion dollar NRA, and the trillion dollar Republican Party, and the Trump campaign, which according to some people is now worth negative $1 trillion.

If any of said organizations allow for a 22-year old to take all of their most secret and damning secrets and send them to her alleged puppet master Vladimir Vladimirovich, I say they deserve everything they’re getting. But it IS the sort of thing that if you want to report it like it’s actual news, you sure need to be convincing, you need proof, that sort of thing, not the anti-Putin innuendo US media rely on as their main standard today. Butina with no proof is just a nice by now 30-year old girl who happens to be Russian.

As for the Trump campaign having a negative $1 trillion value, I derive that from all the people who’ve once again, after a handful Mueller tidbits, started saying the Donald will be impeached any moment now, and many around him will go to jail for decades. You know, I can read too, and that’s not what I see. Much of what I see comes down to the reasoning that Trump has not yet been impeached as President because .. he is the President.

Yes, that is pretty funny, but it’s not humor beyond my abilities, and I’m not a comedian by trade. We’re still, even after those Mueller bits, stuck with Papadopoulos who’s been framed and went to jail for 2 weeks for it (shame on Mueller for that, deep deep shame!), there’s Cohen who lost his tracks in between lying for Trump and lying about Trump, and Manafort, a thirteenth wheel on a wagon of which there are dozens in DC, fixers and handlers.

You tell me why Manafort faces years in jail while Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. But if you’d actually want to explain, I suggest you prepare well, maybe talk to a few lawyers in the process. Washington attracts shady characters like dung beetles to horse shit and honey bees to Mountain Dew, and only a special counsel would ever think of picking them off one by one if he can’t find any of the actual crimes that he was appointed for to find. Cue: Rahm Emanuel.

 

Meantime my pal in arms Jim Kunstler thinks Michael Flynn is laying low as Mueller whoops his ass because he can, only to hit back at Mueller as soon as he’s freed from what are at best shaky allegations. Talking to a Russian is not a crime, not even, or even especially, when you’re the security adviser to the next president.

Michael Flynn’s real suspicious job was advising Turkey on security issues, but then that’s not what Mueller targeted him for. So yeah, let Flynn rise. And once again, don’t let’s forget that he said when the whole circus began, that he saw no way he could defend himself against anything Mueller might have thrown at him, that his entire family was on the verge of bankruptcy.

“But you talked to a Russian!” say the news media. Cue mushroom clouds in the remote background. But don’t you see, Trump is a criminal with decades of crimes under his belt, and all of his family are too! Look, I don’t know these people, and I’m fine not knowing them, not my cup of tea, but how much time did any of them spend behind bars so far?

And now they would have to go to jail just because Donald was elected president and the DOJ appointed a friendly ex-FBI head special counsel on the basis of a dossier paid for by his political opponents? To what extent does that spell justice to you? Yes, feel free to cue Rahm Emanuel again.

See, if certain people can be sent to jail because they rise too high in certain circles that don’t want them to disturb the power inherent in their sphere, while other operatives from the exact same mold though perhaps another political affiliation, are nominated to lofty and lucrative careers and positions, isn’t there something awry?

Are any of them perfectly innocent? Hell no, but then if they were, they wouldn’t be in the positions they’re in, the very positions that allow Robert Mueller to target them. From that point of view, it obvious it’s just a little power game played out in front of your eyes, you who have nothing to do with it but think you’re supposed to have an opinion on it.

Is Donald Trump a worse and bigger criminal than George H.W. Bush was? One half of America can answer that in no time flat. The other is thinking they wouldn’t be so sure. How many people has the Donald condemned to death so far? And he’s already about half way through the time Bush41 spent in the White House.

Perhaps it’s not about who’s a criminal, but about who’s the prosecutor. And with Mueller’s role in the sordid Whitey Bulger tale, and his even more sordid testimony in the Iraq WMD fantasies that led to millions of legalized murders celebrated as victory by both Washington and the US media, which kettle is blaming which pot here?

 

But hey, I’m ready to be corrected. And it’s by no means just the US that feels twisted these days, either. How about French president Emmanuel Macron, who hadn’t addressed his people live for 10-12 days as the Yellow Vests protests just got worse and more violent by the day, and then yesterday decided to make his long awaited response to them through a pre-recorded video? Honestly, how far removed from reality can one be?

The only answer Macron has to the thousands of people who want him out, and who have been willing to express that opinion in 4 consecutive weekends, is money. He thinks if he gives them €100 a month extra, and some tax breaks, they’ll let them continue on his little Napoleon trip. Well, if they do, we’ll know who they are. But are they? I don’t think Macron counts on that.

And then, as Macron increasingly retreats into his little palace(s), cue Marie Antoinette, only to communicate with the unwashed masses who want him gone through pre-scripted and recorded promises of crumbs off his table in exchange for no power at all, British PM Theresa May reacts to her latest and ostensibly worst -though it’s hard to keep track- defeat by … fleeing the country.

That’s how its ‘leaders’ rule Europe these days. Angela Merkel says she’s gone, though she wants to be Chancellor until 2021 (that way no-one can hold her responsible for anything), Theresa May hops on a plane to Europe to grovel some hopelessly more in her already defeated stance.

And Macron has his servants shove crumbs off his table, a gesture that still costs him more than everything Salvini and Di Maio wanted to do in Italy which got them whistled down by Brussels. C’mon, who still believes in the EU? Everyone’s running away from it.

If Macron must hide from his own French people, how can he reform the EU? If May must flee the UK and go to the EU to get a Brexit deal, what’s her authority back home where 50% voted against that same EU?

And if Merkel can only remain in charge by relinquishing her power, who exactly’s going to run Europe? It’s kind of like the same question as for the US. Who’s going to run it? Not Trump, if Mueller and the Democrats have any say although they lost the election. Not Hillary, says about everyone else.

 

We all tend to think that these things are normal and eternal. Just politics. But all the usual suspects appear to be under siege. In Europe, France, UK, Germany are shaking heavily. Italy’s already overboard. That’s the biggest 4 EU members. That’s the EU. No certainties, no future, though the EU itself will never admit it, and instead just push for more EU.

And what’s certain politically in the US anymore? Trump has eviscerated the entire GOP, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The Democrats killed off Bernie Sanders to allow Hillary to continue her dead before arrival power grab. She came she saw she lost.

My point, I think, is that political strongholds are being defeated everywhere at the same time. And when that happens, there’s always a reason for it. I think that reason can be found in the fact that the global economy is rumbling and crumbling as we speak, with politics and economics acting as precursors for one and other.

Like, Macron can only save his political ass by violating the EU budget terms he just chided Italy for. Merkel can only save her legacy by creating a situation she’s no longer responsible for. And Theresa May would be well advised, now that she’s on the continent, to simply stay there and let Britain figure things out without her.

The US won’t and can’t be so lucky. We’re still up for much more, marathon more, of Trump vs Mueller, and there will be many more courts and judges who have to speak on all of it before there’s anything even remotely resembling a conclusion. Because the whole Mueller circus -reluctantly- threatens to open up a Pandora swamp that’s been DC’s lifeblood forever.

Yeah, you got your Flynn and Manafort, but you also got your Podesta brothers. Yeah, there’s the Trump Foundation, but there’s also the Clinton Foundation, and Uranium One. Who’s worse? Good one!

Both things should be investigated, it shouldn’t just be Trump and Mueller, Hillary and the DNC and Comey etc etc also must be under the microscope. Or America will forever lose its faith in democracy. Not that there’s much of it left, mind you, but hey, at the very least it’s the thought that counts.

Bottom line: it all appears to be about local, domestic, national politics, but don’t be deceived: the global economy is tanking, and all of the political mayhem on all these levels is just a derivative of that. The dinosaurs want to live another day.

None of which is going to make your situation any better, but who knows, you just might feel better about it for a bit. Until you don’t.

 

 

Nov 152018
 
 November 15, 2018  Posted by at 3:31 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Max Ernst Ubu Imperator 1923

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 3 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here, part 2 is here.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Human Development

 

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.”
– David Suzuki

 

As human minds first started to emerge from the ocean and step onto the shores of Africa, they increasingly began to respond to their own presence. Hominids co-evolved through the complex social structures generated through the ecosystem engineering of tool using communities, forming a kind of “multicellular” cognition. The unique features of human cognitive evolution emerged from the dense feedback between brains, bodies, and their environments. As humans learn to engage with the material world around us we transform our collective developmental processes. “The structure of the brain reflects its history: as an evolving dynamic system, in which one part evolves out of another”. (20)

Tools made available whole new energetic niches for early hominins while sharing and cooperation increased group resiliency. This stimulated the growth of new neural structures capable of mediating the growing complexity of hominin interaction with the world. It is from these socio-cognitive ecologies that the phenomena we call history has emerged. What is clear from our deep past is that cooperative behaviour is overwhelmingly the dominant evolutionary characteristic of our species. Early Hominins that shared and reciprocated effectively created a broader distribution of resources that safeguarded against ecological change, thereby producing significant advantages in the face of adversity. In this sense, cooperative behaviour can be understood as a form of counteractive niche construction in which other members of the species provide a form of ecological storage to buffer against environmental variability.

The active structuring of relationships within a species creates unique adaptive landscapes that produce powerful and often novel forms of evolutionary feedback. Through interaction and cooperation, the social “body” itself becomes part of the ecological inheritance in which the organism develops. The greater the selective advantage afforded to cooperative behaviour the more complex the adaptive landscape becomes through collective behaviours and group size. Effective cooperation can help to ensure against the monopolisation of and exclusion from resources, enabling a more efficient circulation and distribution of resources through the social system.

Thus, the effectiveness of this strategy provides an advantage to those individuals more willing to engage in cooperative behaviour. What is critical about this is that it illuminates the idea that social organisation in of itself can be understood as a form of niche construction. Through socially structuring the material and energetic flows of their environments hominins created powerful feedback loops between social cognition and organisation. The ecological benefits of cooperative behaviours fuel their own expansion.

Human beings have developed such intense feedback between their environments, brains and bodies that we can engineer ecosystems and construct niches with very little impact upon our underlying genetics beyond what amounts to fine tuning. Nonetheless, human systems are still subject to the fundamental patterns from which they have emerged. In essence, humans “internalised” the logic of co-evolutionary ecologies, analogous to the way mammals localised thermal regulation. Our capacity to manipulate environmental structures and collectively adapt has led to unparalleled growth in organizational complexity throughout the course of human existence.

“The cultural transmission of knowledge and practices resulting from individual lifetime learning, when combined with the physical persistence of artefacts, yields yet another source of selection impacting feedback.” (21) In other words, the products of human activity become ecological entities shaping flows of energy, matter, and information in the environment. Our minds emerged in the wild, but over millennia we have engineered socio-technical ecosystems to shaping our development, our ways of knowing and being in the world. It is through the active structuring of energy-matter flows in our environment that we create the medium through which we think and act.

This interplay between material structure and flows of energy shape human engagement by encouraging and constraining interactive possibilities, and making new forms of meaning possible. It is in this sense that the most significant feature of human cognitive evolution is the feedback generated between the plasticity of the brain and the plasticity of the material environment. “Constant transformation of what is out there to be perceived facilitates further projections [that] over time… may construct a creative ecology of recursiveness and metacognition.” (22) Material culture allows us to engineer our ecosystems, forming “cognitive ecologies” that structure the contexts and possibilities of human development and interaction. (23) We grow from the world we help to create.

 

 

It is in these regards that the seeds of the next system must be sown in the dynamics of human development, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The environments that we expose or subject ourselves to, shape how we think, relate and what we are capable of becoming. We must learn how to create healthy environments that support and empower human development in ways that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Critical to this are intergenerational communities that allow us to observe and learn from the broad arc of human development, individual and collective. We also need educational processes that are truly dynamic. Experimental learning communities that are integrated into their societies are necessary. Yet, the most fundamental truth is that it will be co-operation that will be the single most critical trait that will lead to success. The more effective we are at sharing resources in mutual aid the more likely our systems will survive.

From Palaeolithic bands to the first city states and the contemporary global system, humans transform their environments, tapping new energetic resources and creating unique developmental pressures. As human social ecologies reach the limits of their growth or encounter novel conditions, people transform their energetic systems and their development. Human beings have gone from isolated bands to vast entanglements that dominate global ecology. Like atoms aggregating into stars and cells forming into bodies, minds have condensed into novel and dense relationships such as kinship networks, polities, religious communities, states and transnational empires. Diverse forms of human sociality have grown and withered countless times as unique cognitive ecologies,. The cosmos of identity and meaning that shaped our ancestors as they flourished, now erode in the elements, their ideas, knowledge and art forming the strata beneath our feet and the basis of our own understanding in the world.

Since the emergence of agriculture, elite groups have become extremely adept at dominating bottlenecks in the flows of complex systems, enabling them to reorganize social institutions around powerful monopolies and thereby establishing persistent, stratified political economies. Early states formed as identity cults with monopolies over specific behaviours and resources. In a sense, they were entropy-gathering mechanisms, domesticating and discipling human bodies in order to harness their energy and concentrate it in powerful cores. These hierarchical systems are effective at creating durable structures, yet their ability to create inertia also increases their fragility. The linear, overly centralised energy-matter flows of vertical control systems mean that they are only stable over a limited range of conditions as complexity increases. Not only do they often fail to adapt, but they are also powerful enough in the short term to fend off systemic changes, increasing the pressures upon the system as more energy is consumed to maintain stability.

This dynamic of inertia is where we stand at the end of the petroleum era with global institutions that developed around an immense energetic scaffolding of fossil fuels. These energetic throughputs have created powerful dominance hierarchies far beyond the scope of any previous social systems. The current “global” culture that has emerged from these processes comprises a unique way of understanding the world through developmental scaffolding afforded by industrial systems. “The assembling of ‘the economy’ [came] with the transition from a coal based energy system to a predominantly oil-base one… [a concept that] depended upon abundant and low-cost energy supplies, making post war Keynesian economics a form of ‘petroknowledge.’” (24)

Those at the core of the current system will resist changes because it is central to their very understanding of what the world is and how it functions. It is difficult for all humans to challenge and change the fundamental assumptions and logics of the systems in which we develop and create meaning, this all the more the case for the extremely privileged. Elites are at the centre of extremely dense and potent energetic flows that have developed into very powerful belief systems. It will doubtlessly require a great deal of energy and destruction to convince them of new possibilities. Such is the nature of all Ancien Régimes.

 

If we wish to create a new system, a healthier system for humanity, we must find ways of re-organising energetic flows from the ground up. There is no simple schema that can be imposed in such a process. Ecological design must emerge from its local context. The nature of sustainability will not be interchangeable across the globe. One of the critical things necessary for new, healthier systems to develop effectively is the decentralisation of production and consumption into locally stable configurations. There is no central authority with the sophistication necessary to impose a model or engineer a solution.

Down that path lay the horrors of the twentieth century. Rather, a new kind of society must emerge through negotiating the great diversity of human communities and their environments at multiple scales. What these social ecologies should share is a fundamental logic of co-evolutionary feedback, dynamic relational structures shaped by the flow and form of their environment. It is from those fundamental parameters that we can begin to organise new institutions. This requires engaging with the dynamics of the local environment and designing systems that harness and circulate energetic and material flows effectively.

The basis of our energetic systems is food production. It is critical that we begin to integrate our consumption with our ecosystems. There are many sophisticated techniques for bio intensive farming that have emerged over recent decades such as permaculture, hügelkultur, aquaponics and other experimental designs as well as extremely robust traditional practices across the world. Rethinking our systems from the ground up and engineering stable energetic feedback in our environments will allow us to reduce bottlenecks and increase local autonomy and resiliency. The more local the production of energy flows and their effective distribution in communities, the more they can create healthy developmental conditions as well as rapidly adapt to changing contexts.

This also can function as a way of creating counter power. Dominants (individual or institutional) will be less capable of creating differential access to resources and therefore dependency and power. Communities that harness their energy dynamics efficiently and effectively will have greater independence for they will be less susceptible to systemic coercion. Power, in a technical sense, is the expression of energetic capacity. The greater the autonomy of a community’s energetic capacity, the more power they can express in relation to the broader system. It is the counterbalance of power that creates stable feedback. Food autonomy is the cornerstone of this, from that foundation we must work to build counter economies, shaping new institutions around these energetic flows.

We must produce as much of our material needs from our immediate environment as possible. Recycle, reuse, repair while sustainably maintaining and harvesting local resources and reaching out to our broader communities for support in measured and considered ways. There are already many models and tools with which we can begin to design the institutions of a counter economy. DIY and maker spaces, cooperatives, social collectives, small businesses, sustainably powered micro-factories, all provide potential avenues for new networks of production and consumption. The point is to link up as many of these processes within our communities so that their synergy can start producing self-sustaining feedback.

Tools such as the P2P Foundation, Loomio, Opensource Ecology and countless other resources made available through digital culture allow us to design, implement and share in ways that can rapidly scale between local, regional and global, communities. Indeed, such resources opens the space for new forms of politics through consensus practices and highly refined, dynamically responsive voting structures. Through practice and participation we will learn how to create the next system as it emerges, co-evolving with it, creating it as it creates us. It is also critical that we do as much as possible to limit bottlenecks in informational networks.

 

 

It is only through communication and considered negotiation that we will be able to collectively adapt to the challenges that face us. The creation of alternative communication networks such as meshnets are extremely important, structurally distributed information flows ensure greater adaptability and coordination. This does not mean that we should not intersect with older or more traditional institutions. We should engage with those pre-existing structures that truly benefit our communities and learn how to transform and integrate them into new social configurations. We should also discover how to divert as many of the old systems energetic flows into new relationships, as long as such actions do not compromise our local systems.

Money is a powerful social technology by which we are undeniably dominated. Money mimics the dynamics of energy, acting as a kind of “fly-wheel” that facilitates the flow and storage of energetic capacity. “The flow of energy makes possible the circulation of money and the manipulation of money can control the flow of energy.” (25) In key ways, money is a cognitive artefact that humans use to store and express energetic capacity. Ultimately, it seems that if we want to have a materially grounded system of accountancy we should peg our currencies to measurable energetic flows. The creation of counter currencies, digital, local or otherwise, is one potentially fruitful avenue.

However, in our present circumstances, divestment from major banks into credit unions and other cooperative structures will help to ensure more democratic and local control over community wealth. Furthermore, the use of money to develop sustainable and shared resources is incredibly important. Investment into micro-grids, sustainable housing, community farms, consumer and producer cooperatives, tool libraries, time banks, transition towns and more, will all help to increase local resiliency. We must work to create configurations between such institutions that produce self-reinforcing dynamics. However, this does not mean that local communities will ever be fully disentangled from global flows of energy, only more resilient in the face of their disruption.

These dynamics must be mediated at local, regional and global scales. Indeed it would seem that one of the most potentially fruitful avenues for institutional frameworks would be to mimic the relational structure of the environment from ecosystems to biomes, ecotones and the biosphere. The communities and tools through which these processes are developing are far too numerous to detail. We should take heart that across the world communities are already developing solutions. Through observation, experimentation and communication we can begin to design feedback processes, positive and negative, that empower resilience and flexibility. The next system will emerge through communities working with the ecological flows in which they are embedded, developing new ways of articulating between the various scales of these processes. It will be a diverse kind of “Protestantism” rejecting and reorienting away from the demands of the current system as humanity searches for salvation.

 

Utopia and all that Jazz

 

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

It was a song that encouraged soldiers to lay down their weapons and cross the lines on Christmas eve of 1914. Of all the things humans create, it is music that most closely resembles the reality of our universe, the dynamic symmetry of patterns in time. A tension between becoming and unbecoming shaping movement. Crescendo and dissolution, trough and peak. It has been over a century since that silent night, in which a fragile utopia emerged amidst the freshly dug trenches for Europe’s impending self-immolation.

What will we choose to sacrifice and create as the last of the industrial empires enter terminal decline? Across the globe connections are breaking and new spaces are being created, often with great violence. The demands of the old system exceed the Earth’s capacity and with every passing year, more and more people will be searching for new solutions. We must discover new ways to sing to one another and build our utopias not as end goals but as practices through which we can learn how to better take care of one another. We must create it together, in all our diversity, to give new meanings to the way we live.

It is our historical moment to be such a generation, to live amidst such immense forces of change. The high priests of our system fiercely deny this and demand ever more blood sacrifice from us to end the eclipse of their infinitely growing future. The very logic of their organization precipitates their extinction. However, if we embrace our position, balanced between destruction and creation, we can begin to create harmony amidst the crescendo of the old world. We live amongst dinosaurs. The meteor is coming. We must learn to be warm blooded, how to flower. Will our successional ecology be a golden age or a toxic one? The choice will be ours.

We must try to imagine and prefigure societies where human needs are met by systems of production sustainably embedded within ecological and thermodynamic processes. Imagine a world where children dive and play amongst the reefs formed by our submerged cities, their communities growing like gardens surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness, connected to new global networks. Perhaps they will ply the seas in ships that cast their sails into the stratosphere, transmit radio waves into space and still listen to the classic musicians of our times. Think of institutions where education and learning are free from linear economic narratives and embraced as one of the great joys and passions of the human mind.

A world where Art, Philosophy and Science are acts of joy and play, where generations are conscientiously integrated into community learning environments. Vibrant and diverse cultures that grow from sustainably designed communities powered with solar steam engines, eco-farms, cooperative institutions and more. It is beyond our knowing. All that we are certain of is that it is our generation, our actions that will create the possibilities of the future. The next system must emerge as a dynamic scaffolding of energy, matter and minds through which we can nurture new institutions. The ultimate outcome is beyond our comprehension, however the old world is reaching a crescendo and it’s denouement will be in the hands of those with the sense of vision and endeavour necessary to create something truly revolutionary.

Imagine…

The Industrials came from the ancient imperial-merchant cultures of Eurasia. Even today their ingenuity and technical prowess is astonishing. Their sciences still form much of the foundations of our knowledge, their stories continue to shape our identities. They were complex and contradictory peoples, capable of breath taking beauty and savage cruelty. Often one is left baffled at what they seemed unable to comprehend in themselves and their world, creating their own tragedies and traumas as if by compulsion. Yet, inexorably, the world changed. It would have been hard to see then, the seemingly disconnected and separate events that have only crystallised into history over the centuries.

There were signs of the gathering transformations at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Though the violence and trauma of the period was extreme, developments such as the Global Justice Movement, Chiapas, Occupy, Rojava, Nuit Debout, Standing Rock, and countless other innovations great and small were part of a gathering wave of transformation and reconfiguration. It was not a seamless and smooth process and over time it would create unanticipated problems that they and their descendants were forced to negotiate. Yet we owe much to those last generations of the industrial age.

Amidst all their challenges and shortcomings, they learned to create something new, an inheritance they have bequeathed us all. It must have often been terrifying and difficult during those final days of empire. Yet, as their world began to fall apart they started to produce whole new forms of art and philosophy, new systems of meaning and relationship, reshaping their communities and setting in motion the birth of the world we know today. Despite the horrors of their age, they still managed to create something beautiful. It is their redemption. They worked to build a renaissance rather than flee an apocalypse…

 

“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

20) Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 255.
21) Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press 2008), 259.
22) Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement, (Cambridge: MIT Press 2013), 193.
23) Edwin Hutchins, ‘Cognitive Ecology’. Topics in Cognitive Science 2, no. 4 (October 2010): 705-15.
24) Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. (London: Verso 2013), 139.
25) Howard T Odum, Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy, (New York: Columbia University Press 2007), 41.

 

 

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Mitchell, Timothy. Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. London: Verso, 2013.
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Odum, Howard T. Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2000.
Russell, Edmund, James Allison, Thomas Finger, John K. Brown, Brian Balogh, and W. Bernard Carlson. ‘The Nature of Power: Synthesizing the History of Technology and Environmental History’. Technology and Culture 52, no. 2 (2011): 246–59.
Schneider, Eric D., and Dorion Sagan. Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Scott, James C. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008.
Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle, eds. Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Stotz, Karola. ‘Human Nature and Cognitive–developmental Niche Construction.’ 
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 4 (December 2010): 483–501.
Suzuki, David T. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, Updated & Expanded. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2007.
Tainter, Joseph A. The Collapse of Complex Societies. 23. print. New Studies in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011.
Taylor, Paul D. Extinctions in the History of Life. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Tuchman, Barbara W., and Robert K. Massie. The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
Watts, Alan. The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, 1989.
Wilde, Oscar, and Linda C. Dowling. The Soul of Man under Socialism and Selected Critical Prose. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin Books, 2001.
 

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 112018
 
 November 11, 2018  Posted by at 3:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hannah Höch Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany 1919

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 2 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Energy, Ecology and Ecosystems

 

Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

The concept of energy is essentially an accounting process we have devised for describing the relationships of flow and transformation observed in the fundamental structure of the universe. It is an elegant concept, whether discussing the life of stars, the feeding of bodies or the intensity of industries, the movement of energy is remarkably consistent. In other words, it is very hard to lie about. It has one key characteristic in its movement through systems, the creation of feedback between material structures. Matter congeals from energy, planets and the basic chemical elements of life originate in novae, bronze is forged with fire and earth.

Positive feedback structures the growth of energetic systems and negative feedback shapes their stability. Stars and atmospheres remain balanced between gravity and the void, bodies respire, species co-evolve, ecological cycles persist. A self-similar pattern begins to becomes apparent in the flows of energy and matter through our universe. Cascading from singularity to the stars, flowing from hydrogen and radiated upon oceans; denser and denser, energy whirls and eddies into myriad forms, binding them together in increasingly complex configurations. Defined as the capacity to do work, there is a deceptive simplicity to our description of energy.

A universality that encompasses all activity, almost undermining the value of the concept due to the complexity of what it describes. Part of this problem is an epistemological one; our language renders a world of interacting objects. In this discourse, there is a tendency to think of “energy” as an entity, one more “object” in a milieu of discrete, bounded things. However, energy is not so much a “thing” as it is a way that “things” happen. Energy is process; indeed, it is the ability for process to exist.

Exchanges of energy are what create causal change over time due to the fundamental characteristic of entropy, the spontaneous, intrinsic characteristic of energy to move from an organized state to a disorganized one.. “It illuminates why anything – anything from the cooling of hot matter to the formulation of thought – happens at all.” (12) Process and change over time are “hardwired” into the universe. Yet this leaves us with one of the most profound questions of modern science. How, if the universe is wired for disorder, does a complex phenomenon arise that seems to run counter to entropy? (13)

The very existence of pattern is counterintuitive to a universe dominated by the processes of entropy, something made even more paradoxical by the observation that this entropic universe has, thus far, manifested increasingly complex forms of organization. As we look through deep time we repeatedly see the emergence of relatively rapid and powerful bursts of complexity, from the formation of stars to the emergence of life, the human brain, agriculture and industry. The general feature of this pattern of emergence is the energetic binding of material structures into new ecological relationships, shaped by positive and negative feedback.

Negative feedback ensures structural stability while positive feedback generates the disequilibria necessary for both growth and destruction. Unstable structures such as supernovae die out, creating not only space for more stable structures to form but also the materials that provide the structural components of new energetic relationships. Given enough time and space, energy density and material complexity would logically result from the repetition of such processes.

Systems help to stall the process of entropy by circulating energy flows before they dissipate. The more efficiently this is done the more stable the system. Efficiency in this sense is the way in which a system taps available energetic resource, how effectively a system circulates energy before dissipation, and the ratio of waste to energy consumed over time. All systems are bound together by a constant throughput of energy. Without these required energetic inputs systems will break down into the most stable configurations available. It is in this light that we begin to see how entropy, complexity and emergence are woven together.

 

 

Energy bonds together the constituent elements of a system into a process of relational development that orders a systems overall behaviour. Likewise, changes to the way energy flows through a system will produce new patterns of organization. More specifically, the greater the density of energetic feedback in a system the more complex its organization and intense its environmental influence becomes. “New configurations emerge quite suddenly as once independent entities are drawn into new and more ordered patterns, held together by an increasing throughput of free energy.” (14) New systems create new sources of energy and thus new differentials and gradients along which further complexity can develop.

Systems emerge through processes of positive feedback; the amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process which gives rise to it. A clear example of this is seen in the formation of a star. The gravitational pull from slightly denser clusters of hydrogen draw surrounding atoms into concentrated areas. The gravity created by this increasing mass causes more atoms to coalesce until the density of atoms is so great that nuclear fusion ignites. If the positive feedback is not checked the star will continue to accrete mass until it either goes nova or collapses into a black hole.

However, the star will stabilize into a durable system capable of regulating the energy flows if it forms a negative feedback loop by which the function of the system counterbalances itself in such a way as reduces change. In the case of a star, the heat and pressure caused by the gravitational compression of hydrogen causes its mass to expand. However, the expansion of the star into the vacuum of space causes its surface area to cool and compress thereby increasing heat and pressure. In a sense, stable stars respire, heating and cooling, expanding and compressing in space. The elements of complex systems are bound together by the energy flows from which they are constituted and changes to the way energy flows through systems can lead to reconfiguration, dissolution and novel emergences.

Earth’s ecosystems are its primary way of storing and circulating energetic capacity. Energetic flows bind organisms into the dynamic co-evolutionary relationships we call ecologies, or the complex adaptive systems that self-organize through the mutually reinforcing interactions between their constituent species. In other words, the presence of life reshapes and changes the conditions in which it arose, forcing it to continually adapt to its own presence. In a sense, evolution is the dynamic continuity of an organism transforming and mutating in the changing currents of energy over the course of billions of years.

Organisms greatly increase available energy by excreting metabolic waste (such as when anaerobic organisms oxygenated the biosphere), as energy dense packets for predation, or simply by decomposing. By increasing available energy in their surroundings they fuel the emergence of new forms of complexity. “Ecosystems converge in the way they handle energy” suggesting that “ecosystems and organisms organize similarly under energy flow” and the “expansion of the complex system is thermodynamically mandated.” (15) These complex adaptive systems are predicated upon the way energy flows through their biotic communities.

Due to the logic of selection through adaptive cycles, they tend to expand in complexity over time as the individual elements of the system compete and cooperate for better access to resources. The more effective a species is at harnessing available energy the more it shapes environmental and evolutionary dynamics in its surroundings. This in turn creates selective pressure amongst other organisms to adapt to these changing patterns resulting in co-evolutionary feedback. All organisms are “ecosystem engineers” to some degree or another, altering the flows of energy within ecosystems to meet their needs and shaping broader environmental pressures and relationships. (16)

For example, when beaver dams gather silt until they burst, flooding the lands downstream to create fertile meadows. In these regards, organisms are also niche constructors to varying degrees of intensity, shaping their environments as a form of “ecological inheritance.” (17) Selection is understood as a reciprocal process in which the creation of developmental ecologies selects for developmental plasticity. Persistent environmental alterations have downstream effects on the organisation of energy and matter in the environment, and therefore the evolutionary dynamics experienced by a host of organisms.

In other words, the organism, and the others that it impacts, become dependent upon constructing behaviours and engineered environments for survival. In these regards, humans can be understood as ecosystem engineers and niche constructors without parallel on Earth. However, humanity’s unique evolutionary dynamics lead us to create what might be termed “cognitive-developmental niches” or the, “problem solving resource and scaffold for individual development and lifetime learning.” (18) Through understanding the co-evolutionary feedback created between human cognition and the environments it is possible begin to design more sustainable and healthier processes.

Systems, cosmic, ecological, cognitive and social, all function through the dynamic feedback between matter and energy, something that we measure as information. When the growth of a complex systems begins to reach its energetic limits, it must either find a dynamic equilibrium between negative and positive feedback, intensify, or collapse. Understanding the dynamics of energetic feedback are key to designing effective solutions. The greatest transformations in the history of our societies are marked by the intensity with which humans have extracted and put energy to use. From hunting to farming, slavery to steam; like all organisms, human beings are shaped by the way in which they harness energy from their environments.

 

The greater the density of energetic flows, the more complex the human systems that emerge. Indeed, our history and “our relationship to the ecosystems we and our ancestors have inhabited is marked by scalar leaps in extractive capacity.” (19) Undeniably, the two most intensive reconfigurations and emergent dynamics yet experienced by the human species are the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Indeed, the magnitude of transformation that we face finds its closest parallel in these events. The human species must begin to reorganise the way in which energy is produced, stored and dissipated through their socio-technical ecosystems.

If such a reorganisation can be accomplished it will lead to a transformation of human developmental environments in what might thought of as kind of “eco” revolution, a move towards a more symbiotic integration with the energy-matter flows of the planet. Such a transformation can only be accomplished by observing the ecological dynamics of our environments and designing our institutions around them. In this way, we can design interventions that create feedback within diverse ecologies of humans, non-humans, technologies and institutions. In other words, we need to learn how to manage both growth and stability through feedback across a multitude of scales ranging from individuals to planetary ecology.

This means assessing the energetic and material flows that are available to our communities and their broader ecosystems in terms of efficient, sustainable use and distribution. Ecologies are the way in which the energetic capacity of the planet is organised and circulated through organic life. Their health and stability are the fundamental scaffolding upon which our societies are built. The idea of ecology is fundamentally one of relational and developmental systems. It has done much to breakdown our clockwork, factory inspired models and metaphors with their linear production processes.

It allows us to understand ourselves as caught up in complex predicaments, as opposed to merely complicated problems. Industrial societies have made this reality abundantly clear through the incomprehensibly vast changes they have wrought in their environments. Should humanity succeed, it will still be centuries before we will have ameliorated the damage to our global ecosystems. However, in creating stable feedback between environments, communities, institutions and technologies as part of an interdependent system, we can begin the process of such a recovery. It is through redesigning our developmental environments for dynamic equilibrium that the next system will coevolve with the planet.

 

 

12) P. W. Atkins, The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), xii.
13) “That’s the beauty of the system with the four fundamental forces chucked in, 1) gravity (for matter to coalesce), 2) electromagnetism (for light to be transmitted), 3) strong nuclear (for a nucleus to form from protons and neutrons, which then form atoms because electrons are needed to balance the charge) and 4) weak nuclear (which results in radioactive decay and various other interactions which lead to the chemical order we see today).” Personal correspondence from Dr. Vincent Hare
14) Christian, p. 45
15) Schneider and Sagan, p. 152
16) Alan Hastings, James E. Byers, Jeffrey A. Crooks, Kim Cuddington, Clive G. Jones, John G. Lambrinos, Theresa S. Talley, and William G. Wilson ‘Ecosystem Engineering in Space and Time.’ Ecology Letters 10, no. 2 (2007): 153-64.
17) Kevin N. Laland and Michael J. O’Brien. ‘Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 17, no. 4 (2010): 303-22.
18) Karola Stotz, ‘Human Nature and Cognitive-developmental Niche Construction.’ Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 4 (2010): 483
19) Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle, eds. (Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 247.

 

 

Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 092018
 
 November 9, 2018  Posted by at 3:41 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marcel Duchamp Nude descending a staircase 1912

 

 

Ilargi: Much to my surprise, I received a mail from an old friend. Alexander Aston last wrote for the Automatic Earth in 2014. But he hasn’t been idle. Alexander is presently finishing his doctorate in archeology at Oxford, after prior degrees in philosophy and history. And for this article, he’s been thinking about how upheaval and collapse tend to lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. A view that’s -too- rarely contemplated. It’s so long I cut it into three parts. Please don’t miss any of them.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Introduction

 

This paper is not about Quantum, Jazz and Dada per se, but rather a meditation on those radical bursts of human creativity that occur during historically destructive moments. Ultimately, my thesis is quite simple. Barring the possibility of extinction, humans are on the precipice of the most radical social reorganizations in the history of the species. In navigating this process of transformation, if we wish to create a world worth living in, it is necessary to understand the interactions between energy, ecosystems, cognitive development and social organization.

Without a grasp on the interdependence of these relationships there is no hope for shaping our world in a healthier manner. What is historically unquestionable is that periods of radical upheaval result in drastic reconfigurations of belief, meaning and knowledge. In the contemporary world, metaphysical and theoretical assumptions about the division of mind and matter, culture and nature, humans and environment all stem from a philosophical and scientific heritage that has divided form and flow. If we are to create something better out of the ongoing destruction of the current system we must radically rethink our understanding of energy, matter and the interdependence of humanity and the Earth.

 

Collapse Ain’t Nuthin New

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Industrial Empires and their world order collapsed, imploding into a cataclysm of brutality and desperation that persisted for decades. Czars and Kaisers, empires and vassals dissolved in the onslaught of history. The old order was left rotting in the trenches. Muddy altars to the gods of empire and industry that demanded a blood sacrifice beyond comprehension. In the wake of the destruction, new imperial orders and secular religions emerged in the search for control and stability, dominating and traumatising those that survived the slaughter. It is impossible to grasp fully the horror and devastation of the period.

The wars, depressions, epidemics, famines, revolutions and authoritarian regimes have become so normalised in our narratives that it is hard to grasp the magnitude of these events. It was a cascading systems failure of a scale and intensity without historical parallel in terms of the global scope and the speed at which it unfolded. There are few words for the early twentieth century collapse other than horrific. Yet, even as the tragedy unfolded, a profoundly creative dynamism emerged from the ashes. Like a successional ecology following a wildfire, scientific, artistic and social practices began to transform.

In the ruins physicists began to undermine radically the common pre-war belief that physics was an essentially complete science. Artists began to deconstruct the meaning of cultural institutions that could not account for such technological savagery, leading to the advent of post-modernism. As the global system reoriented it was the descendants of slaves, at the beating heart of American suffering, that catalysed the greatest musical renaissance in world history. Despite the tragedy, there is a kind of beautiful symmetry in the flourishing of Quantum, Jazz and Dada amidst the rubble and devastation of the war.

Destruction is part of the fecundity of life, the dynamism that creates the possibility for growth. Disruption and disintegration break the equilibrium of our systems and feed a creative evolution for more effective, resilient practices and forms of organisation. Peak and trough, complexity and entropy are bound together like a wave to the ocean. Life flourishes amongst dead and decomposing stars, extinctions produce radiations, ovulation leads to menstruation, death and renaissance produce one another. It is in this dynamic symmetry of creation and destruction that uncertainty produces physics, chaos creates art, and the persecuted compose music.

Much like our ancestors at the dawn of the twentieth century, we are on the precipice of immense changes. Indeed, we are already caught in the momentum of this wave. The complexity of the current system has begun to hit hard energetic boundaries, fracturing economic, political and social stability. For the first time in human evolution the species is confronting not only global resource limits but its own behaviour as a geological force. The energetic structure of the global system that has emerged over the past five centuries has begun to radically reorganise.

We are experiencing negative and positive feedback on a planetary scale and facing an ecological, evolutionary and geological transformation of an intensity that is unique in the existence of the biosphere. Extinctions, natural disasters, imperial wars, refugees, financial crises, Arab springs and Syrian deserts, all are systemically entangled with the transforming energy dynamics of our planetary system.

At one pole, we are experiencing the ecological effects of a thermodynamic expansion that has dispersed the fossilised energy of entire geologic ages into the atmosphere in mere centuries. We have amplified the thermal energy retained by the planet and the principle of entropy requires it to be dissipated. Energy that flows through storms, glaciers, and oceans. At the opposite pole, we confront resource depletion and contamination as we feed the energetic demands of the global economy. It is why we claw tar out of the earth in Alberta and drill into the earth miles off the coast of Brazil.

 

 

 

Certainly, no conceptual system can be imposed from the top down. To enforce such abstractions and simplifications on a dynamic reality would require overwhelming violence, as indeed it already does. One of the key insights of modern science is that complex systems are inherently non-linear. In other words, their interactions and emergent properties cannot be determined from initial conditions or inputs. “Our world is governed not only by nonlinear dynamics, which makes detailed prediction and control impossible, but also by nonlinear combinatorics, which implies that the number of possible mixtures of meshwork and hierarchy, of command and market, of centralisation and decentralisation, are immense and that we simply cannot predict what the emergent properties of the myriad combinations will be.” (1) The very nature of “complex adaptive systems” means that we cannot simply engineer solutions with determinate results. (2) This is humbling, it forces us to recognise the limits of our abilities to conceptualise and design systems.

It tells us that whatever comes next, whether for good or ill, is beyond our imaginations. We are akin to medieval peasants attempting to contemplate railroads and telegraphs. The only thing that we are assured of is our current system is undergoing a process of intense reorganisation. It is our burden and privilege to participate in this process. The coming years will take radical creativity and courage if we are to find new ways of living in this world that are balanced and humane. No genius, greater leader or collection thereof can solve this predicament. They cannot scale up to the task, the problems are too intricate, their instruments too blunt and their vision too limited. What we need is not some new ideology or five-year plan but an ethics of practice derived from the organisational dynamics of our world.

It should not be our goal to design and implement a system from the top down but rather to participate in a collective process of reconfiguration through applied practices and the distribution of knowledge, skills and resources. We can only discover how to do this through observation, experimentation and participatory engagement to create new learning environments and social relationships. The next system will not so much be designed as it will be cultivated by individuals, communities and societies seeking resilience and stability. However, our sciences do illuminate fundamental patterns that provide a guide to how we might create the conditions from which new, healthier systems can emerge.

To this end we must engage with three fundamental and interrelated dynamics; energy, ecology, and human development. In other words, we must consider how we produce the fundamental energetic capacity to create and maintain our systems and the ways in which they are integrated within their environments. In turn these elements must be understood in relation to how effectively they distribute available resources in terms of the physiological, psychological and social needs of human beings. In these regards, we must work with human developmental processes in order to create new learning environments that equip people to better articulate and shape these dynamics. Communities and institutions that successfully organise around these relationships will be the steam engines of the twenty-first century.

 

Entropy and Complexity

 

“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”
– Alan Watts

 

The “next system” will not develop in a context of expansion and growth, at least not initially, but through contraction and disruption. We must consider the dynamics of collapse or disentanglement and transformation that occur in complex adaptive systems so that we might effectively engage with these processes. The universe is an intricate dance of creation and destruction, a fractal of entropy and complexity. Complex adaptive systems emerge through the self-organising dynamics of energy and matter flows in a material and spatial medium.

Think of a murmuration of starlings and one can begin to conceptualise the patterning of relationships in space and time. The process we call history clearly reveals the self-organisation of human communities across multiple, emergent scales. The question is not if humans form complex adaptive systems but how? Ultimately, it is a question of social cognition and how it is that humans understand and understand with each other so as to form relationships that radically alter their ecosystems.

Complex Adaptive Systems are formed of interdependent relationships between “dynamic structures in which faster, smaller processes nest inside and interact with larger, slower ones.” (3) Organisms, ecosystems, and the biosphere interact, aligning and diverging, shaping one another through ongoing developmental processes. The stability and coherence of any self-organising dynamic can be understood emerge through a tension between resilience (the ability to “withstand disturbances and still continue to function”) and connectedness (the ability “within a system to moderate the influences of the outside world”). (4) A highly connected system may be less influenced by external variables; however, the rigidity of its connections only allows it to operate within a limited range of conditions.

Ultimately, the organisation of any system makes trade-offs between forms of high entropy coherence, and low entropy stability. The very nature of entropy ensures that all such systems transform over time, and these processes of change can be schematised into adaptive cycles of rapid growth, conservation, disruption and regeneration. During the conservation phase of a system the “growth rate slows as connectedness increases to the point of rigidity and resilience declines. The cost of efficiency is a loss of flexibility. Increasing dependence on existing structures… such a system is stable, but over a decreasing range of conditions.”

However, it is moments of cascading transformation that are the most dramatic. “The surprise is caused by cross-scale interactions or suites of novelty that ricochet through the system as it reorganizes around alternate sets of mutually reinforcing processes.” (5) Our global system is currently exiting a period of conservation and entering a period of systemic disruption in which “a disturbance that exceeds the systems’ resilience breaks apart its web of reinforcing interactions.” (6)

Such fractal adaptive cycles can be observed repeatedly throughout history, the Neolithic emerges as Pleistocene ecologies begin to break down, the Iron Age emerges from the Bronze Age collapse, the Iroquois Confederacy consolidates out of European epidemics. The examples are numerous beyond recounting; it is an ecological pattern fundamental to the organisation of complex systems. Indeed, it is the breakdown and reorganisation of systems that appears to be one of the key motors of complexity.

Consider for a moment the broad arc of “western” history since Rome. The Roman Imperial system materialized through the resources and slaves extracted from conquered territories. As the empire expanded it required increasing amounts of energy to ensure stability and coherence between the cores and peripheries. Overtime, the cost of maintaining the imperial infrastructure exceeded the energetic returns from further expansion. It is the law of diminishing returns. The growth required to fuel the Empire stalled, sending it into a long, tumultuous process of contraction and decline.

Halting and grinding across the centuries like a receding glacier, the system broke apart, shattering across the Mediterranean world. The very language of the empire fractured, and composed anew as people congregated around the villas and farms that germinated the manorial systems of the Middle Ages. As the crises deepened and intensified a Jewish cult of ostensibly twelve families at the outset, flourished in the cities, providing sustenance and basic care as a result of their cosmology. As plagues, famines and warfare swept through Roman communities in the Third Century AD, patriarchs and patricians fled to their country estates, leaving civil administrations immobilized.

 

As the old patronage systems broke down, the religion spread among the most marginal and vulnerable communities, providing stability by reorienting the basic organization and distribution of social resources around new spiritual practices. Christianity was born within a dying Rome, preserving its bones in the liturgies and communication networks that flowed along the old roads and into the agricultural fortresses of Feudalism. By the time of the High Middle Ages a robust, fractal like system in the throes of a wind and water powered industrial revolution had emerged. With the end of the Medieval Warm Period, famines, schism and conflicts began to erupt in Europe as the Mongols brought the greater part of Eurasia into a single imperial system.

The riders from the Steppe likely helped spread the plague that sent the European Middle Ages into terminal decline. The system initially reoriented around the Italian City States. Those communities that were the gateway of the epidemic also created the first quarantines and effective civil responses while church and aristocracy lay paralysed. As the epidemic burned out, these merchant powers could offer high wages for the scarce labour that survived, drawing people off the manors and into the cities. In turn, the Renaissance transformed into the holocausts of the Reformation and conquests of the Atlantic Empires which in turn produced the Enlightenment and industrialisation, leading to an age of revolutions that would ultimately founder in the trenches.

Breakdown and reorganisation is a critical dynamic driving the evolution of complex systems. Transformations that reconfigure energy-matter flows create ecological bottlenecks as well as new niches to occupy. The biosphere is a “complex thermodynamic system” in which selection occurs around access to available energy gradients. (7) Organisms seek out those sources of energy that sustain their biological function. It is, along with reproduction, the most intense arena of competition amongst biotic communities. The logic of evolution dictates that selective advantage will be conferred to any organism that is more effective at harnessing and sustaining energy flows within its ecology.

In these regards, “selection” can understood “in terms of increasing energy flow through autocatalytic matter-energy loops. Selective advantage will go to those autocatalytic systems that best increase energy flow through their system, those that do so better than their competitors.” (8) Those forms of organisation that are the most flexible and efficient with their use of available resources are the most likely to adapt and succeed. One of the most dramatic examples of such processes are mass extinctions “because they remove incumbents… and unleash a scramble for post-extinction opportunities that can produce bursts of evolutionary novelty.” (9)

Periods of collapse reward forms of organisation that are the most adaptive to radically altering energy-matter flows. “After each mass extinction, the recovery included new species living off new gradients and new habitats. Here we can see a crucial pattern in which complexity declines after a major stress or disturbance and recovers, and often intensifies, during successional processes.

This dynamic of disruption and regeneration holds true across scales such as biosphere and ecosystem evolution. After a perturbation or stress, an “ecosystem rebuilds itself from the remaining species and their genetic material.” (10) These adaptive cycles algorithmically fuel the growth of complexity by selecting energetically efficient and resilient structures that form the baseline of future evolution. A perfect illustration of this is the radiation of endothermic mammals and broad-leafed angiosperms following the extinction of the dinosaurs. Endotherms have greater energetic density than exotherms.

However, though their energy requirements are higher, this was initially offset by the size of early mammals. Their internally self-regulating metabolisms allowed them to better survive in the reduced warmth of the post-meteorite environment. Similarly, with flowers and deciduous trees, their broad thin leaves allowed them to better photosynthesize in the reduced light of the nuclear winter, radiating as the coniferous canopies began to clear. A picture begins to emerge in which energy flows are organized into systems that undergo selection processes shaped by adaptive cycles.

The breakdown and reorganization of those systems has thus far resulted in the emergence of growing complexity, creating increasingly energy dense feedback in ecosystems over time in which “the level of complexity achieved by a living organism can be measured, roughly but quite objectively, by estimating the density of energy flows.” (11) It is why the energy density of ecosystems are far greater than that of stars, and why human brains far exceed both. To light, our world is dominated by institutional dinosaurs caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of resource depletion and climate change.

The future belongs to the “mammals”, those forms of organisation that can most effectively and efficiently harness the energy available in our transforming ecosystems. It is in the cycles of this process that growth occurs, the breakdown or disentanglement of systems create the possibility for new configurations and provides the raw materials from which new complexity emerges. This is how we must approach the next system, the creation of a new and resilient energetic ecology from the ground up as the old-world crumbles.

 

 

1) Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 273.
2) Neil F. Johnson. Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009).
3) Lance H. Gunderson, and C. S Holling, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002), 22.
4) Ibid., p. 17-19
5) Ibid., p. 47
6) Ibid., p. 6-8
7) Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan, Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 152.
8) Ibid., p. 254
9) David Jablonski and Paul D.Taylor, ed., Extinctions in the History of Life: The Evolutionary Role of Mass Extinction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 173.
10) Schneider and Sagan, p. 253
11) David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 80.

 

 

Part 2 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Order and chaos 1950

 

Donald Trump is Right About the Fed (Whalen)
Stocks Could Fall 40% To 50% To Reach Fair Value – Yusko (CNBC)
4 Pillars of Debt in Danger of Collapse (Nomi Prins)
The Dollar and its Discontents (Eichengreen)
China September Exports Surge, Creating Record Surplus With US (R.)
Facebook, Twitter Purge More Dissident Media Pages (CJ)
Italian Parliament Approves Controversial New Spending Targets (AP)
Turks Had Saudi Consulate Bugged With Audio (ZH)
Journalist’s Disappearance Hardens Congress Stance On Saudi Arms Deals (R.)
More Than A Million UK Residents Live In ‘Food Deserts’ (G.)

 

 

Chris Whalen on the absence of price discovery.

Donald Trump is Right About the Fed (Whalen)

President Donald Trump has been criticizing the Federal Open Market Committee for raising interest rates. The reaction of the US equity markets is self explanatory. But while the economist love cult in the Big Media may take umbrage at President Trump’s critique of the central bank, in fact Trump is dead right. First, the Fed’s actions in terms of buying $4 trillion in Treasury debt and mortgage paper has badly crippled the value of the fixed income market as a measure of risk. The Treasury yield curve no longer accurately describes the term structure of interest rates or risk premiums. This means that the Treasury yield curve is useless as an indicator of or guide for policy. Nobody at the Federal Reserve Board understands this issue or cares.

Second, Operation Twist further manipulated and distorted the Treasury market. By selling short-term paper and buying long dated securities, the Fed suppressed long-term interest rates, again making indicators like the 10-year Treasury bond useless as an measure of risk. Without QE 2-3 and Operation Twist, the 10-Year Treasury would be well over 4% by now. Instead it is 3% and change and will probably rally to test 3% between now and year end. Third is the real issuing bothering President Trump, even if he cannot find the precise words, namely liquidity. We have the illusion of liquidity in the financial markets today. Sell Side firms are prohibited by Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule from deploying capital in the cash equity and debt markets. All bank portfolios are now passive. No trading, no market making. There is nobody to catch the falling knife.

The only credit being extended today in the short-term markets is with collateral. There is no longer any unsecured lending between banks and, especially, non-banks. As we noted in The Institutional Risk Analyst earlier this week, there are scores of nonbank lenders in mortgages, autos and consumer unsecured lending that are ready to go belly up. Half of the non-bank mortgage lenders in the US are in default on their bank credit lines. As in 2007, the model builders at the Fed in Washington have no idea nor do they care to hear outside opinions. If you understand that the Fed’s previous “extraordinary” policy actions have the effect of understating LT interest rates by at least a percentage point, then you know why President Trump is howling like a wounded hound. Nobody understands the danger of leverage better than a real estate developer.

Read more …

But nobody says it’ll take 70-80%. Why?

Stocks Could Fall 40% To 50% To Reach Fair Value – Yusko (CNBC)

Investors should brace themselves for a significant stock market correction, as well as a recession in the first half of next year, investor Mark Yusko warned on Thursday. In fact, he says, fair value for equities would be down about 40 percent to 50 percent. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the stock market will have to go to fair value, Yusko said. “If interest rates keep normalizing, if liquidity keeps falling, if earnings go to where I think they are going to go, which is lower, I think we are going to have a meaningful correction,” the founder and chief investment officer at Morgan Creek Capital said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”

Yusko, a noted stock picker who took first place in Portfolios with Purpose’s fantasy stock-picking contest in 2016, predicts a recession in the first or second quarter of 2019. “Things are paying out now just like they did in 2000, 2001, 2002,” he said. In the back part of 2000, the stock market went down, 2001 brought a recession, and in 2002 the stock market took a big turn down. “It’s just going to be painful for a while to adjust this overvaluation,” Yusko added. [..] Yusko also questioned whether the economy is really strong. “We had one good quarter. We’ve been sub 2 percent [economic growth] for six years,” he said. Plus, forecasts are that GDP is going to be lower than expectations in the third quarter and even lower in the fourth quarter, and there are bad demographics and bad debt, he added.

Read more …

“..there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.”

4 Pillars of Debt in Danger of Collapse (Nomi Prins)

Last month I was in a series of high-level meetings with members of Congress and the Senate in Washington. While there’s been major news about the Supreme Court, my discussions were on something that both sides of the aisle are coming to consensus over. You see, issues that impact your own bottom line are way more about economics than they are about politics. On Capitol Hill, leaders know that. They also know that voters react to what impacts their money. That’s why, behind the scenes, I’ve been discussing issues focused on protecting the economy. Behind closed doors, we’ve been working on how to shield the economy from Too Big to Fail banks and how the U.S. can better fund infrastructure projects. These are initiatives that all politicians should care about.

Underneath the surface of the economy is a financial system that is heavily influenced by the Federal Reserve. That’s why political figures and the media alike have all tried to understand what direction the system is headed. Also last week I joined Fox Business at their headquarters to discuss the economy, the Fed and what they all mean for the markets. On camera, we discussed this week’s Federal Reserve meeting and the likely outcomes. Off camera, we jumped into a similar discussion that those in DC have pressed me on. Charles Payne, the Fox host, asked me what I thought of new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, in general. Payne knew that I view the entire central bank system as a massive artificial bank and market stimulant.

What I told him is that Powell actually has a good sense of balance in terms of what he does with rates, and the size of the Fed’s book. He understands the repercussion that moving rates too much, too quickly, or selling off the assets, could have on the global economy and the markets. Savvy investors know that if the U.S. economy falters, because everything is connected, it could reverberate on the world. That’s why I could forecast that the Fed would raise rates by 25 basis points last week ahead of time. And they did. However, there’s now even less reason to believe the Fed will raise rates at the next meeting in December.

Read more …

Could USD lose its position in just 5-10 years?

The Dollar and its Discontents (Eichengreen)

It is worth recalling how the dollar gained international prominence in the first place. Before 1914, it played essentially no international role. But a geopolitical shock, together with an institutional change, transformed the dollar’s status. The geopolitical shock was World War I, which made it hard for neutral countries to transact with British banks and settle their accounts using sterling. The institutional change was the Federal Reserve Act, which created an entity that enhanced the liquidity of markets in dollar-denominated credits and allowed US banks to operate abroad for the first time. By the early 1920s the dollar had matched and, on some dimensions, surpassed sterling as the principal vehicle for international transactions.

This precedent suggests that 5-10 years is a plausible time frame over which the US could lose what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then France’s finance minister, famously called the “exorbitant privilege” afforded it by issuing the world’s main international currency. This doesn’t mean that foreign banks and companies will shun the dollar entirely. US financial markets are large and liquid and are likely to remain so. US banks operate globally. In particular, foreign companies will continue to use dollars in transactions with the US itself.

But in an era of US unilateralism, they will want to hedge their bets. If the geopolitical shock of Trump’s unilateralism spurs an institutional innovation that makes it easier for European banks and companies to make payments in euros, then the transformation could be swift (as it were). If Iran receives euros rather than dollars for its oil exports, it will use those euros to pay for merchandise imports. With companies elsewhere earning euros rather than dollars, there will be less reason for central banks to hold dollars in order to intervene in the foreign exchange market and stabilize the local currency against the greenback. At this point, there would be no going back.

Read more …

Before more tariffs kick in.

China September Exports Surge, Creating Record Surplus With US (R.)

China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record trade surplus with the United States, which could exacerbate an already-heated dispute between Beijing and Washington. September exports rose 14.5 percent from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed. That blew past forecasts for an 8.9 percent increase in a Reuters poll and was well above August’s 9.8 percent gain. Growth in imports for September instead showed a moderate slowdown to 14.3 percent from 19.9 percent in August, slightly missing analysts’ forecast of a 15.0 percent growth.

China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record in September despite wider application of U.S. tariffs, an outcome that could push President Donald Trump to turn up the heat on Beijing in their trade dispute. The politically-sensitive surplus was $34.13 billion in September, surpassing the record of $31.05 billion in August. China’s export data has been surprisingly resilient to tariffs, possibly because companies ramped up shipments before broader and stiffer U.S. duties went into effect.

Read more …

Is it election time?

Facebook, Twitter Purge More Dissident Media Pages (CJ)

Facebook has purged more dissident political media pages today, this time under the pretense of protecting its users from “inauthentic activity”. In a statement co-authored by Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher (who also happens to be the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy), the massive social media platform explained that it has removed “559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

This “inauthentic behavior”, according to Facebook, consists of using “sensational political content -regardless of its political slant- to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites,” which is the same as saying they write about controversial things, and posting those political articles “in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.” In other words, the pages were removed for publishing controversial political content and trying to get people to read it. Not for writing “fake news”, but for doing what they could to get legitimate indie media news stories viewed by people who might want to view it.

[..] Two of the most high-profile pages which were shut down have probably been seen at some point by any political dissident who uses Facebook; the Free Thought Project, which had 3.1 million followers, and Anti-Media, which had 2.1 million. [..] As if that wasn’t creepy enough, some of the accounts purged by Facebook appear to be getting censored on Twitter as well, bringing back memories of the August cross-platform coordinated silencing of Alex Jones. The aforementioned Anti-Media has now been suspended from Twitter just hours after tweeting about being removed from Facebook, along with one of its top writers Carey Wedler, and a Unicorn Riot activist named Patti Beers who had more than 30,000 Twitter followers has just been removed from both sites as well.

Read more …

“EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program”..

Italian Parliament Approves Controversial New Spending Targets (AP)

Italy’s parliament approved on Thursday deficit-raising spending targets, defying markets and Italy’s eurozone partners who had been pressing for changes. The parliamentary vote clears the proposals to be forwarded to the European Commission for review. But the document already has been criticized as unrealistic by the parliament’s own budget office and the Bank of Italy. The new spending targets are set to raise Italy’s deficit to 2.4 per cent of GDP next year. In a slight softening, Italy’s leaders pledged to lower the deficit in the subsequent two years. But that has done little to assuage concern over the boost in spending to meet a raft of campaign promises made by the two populist parties that formed the governing coalition, and the impact it will have on Italy’s high public debt.

Also on Thursday, five senior sources told Reuters that the European Central Bank won’t come to Italy’s rescue if its governments or bank sector run out of cash unless the country secures a bailout from the European Union. Italy has seen its borrowing costs surge on financial markets since its new government unveiled plans to increase its budget deficit, defying EU rules and reawakening concerns about its huge pile of public debt. The sources, attending an economic summit in Indonesia, said Italy could still avoid a debt crisis if its government changed course but should not count on the central bank to tame investors or prop up its banks.

This is because EU rules do not allow the ECB to help a country unless this has already agreed on a rescue “program” – political jargon for a bailout in exchange for belt-tightening and painful economic reforms, an option the Italian government has firmly rejected. Any attempt to circumvent those rules would damage the ECB’s credibility beyond repair and undermine acceptance of the monetary union in creditor countries, such as Germany, the sources said. “It’s a test-case to show Europe and its mechanisms work,” said one of the sources on the sidelines of the IMF’s annual meetings in the Indonesian resort town of Nusa Dua.

Read more …

You don’t need 15 guys to kill someone.

Turks Had Saudi Consulate Bugged With Audio (ZH)

The Washington Post has provided further details on its prior reporting that US intelligence knew full well that Saudi Arabia was seeking to lure the now disappeared and allegedly murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to its embassy in Istanbul in order detain or kill him. In an interesting new revelation the Post speculates based on intel sources that the whole October 2nd incident may have been an attempted “rendition” gone wrong. As more damning evidence emerges showing a Saudi “hit team” of 15 military and intelligence individuals murdered Khashoggi and chopped up his body to carry out of the country, there now appears a strong consensus that the order may have come straight from the top, most likely from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) himself.

Middle East Eye, for example, concludes based on WaPo’s prior report, “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, ordered an operation targeting journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi… citing US intelligence intercepts.” What’s more is that NBC now reports that the Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged with listening devices before the disappearance and what now appears to be gruesome murder — which suggests Turkey is currently in possession of an audio recording of the alleged killing.

Read more …

Yeah, right..

Journalist’s Disappearance Hardens Congress Stance On Saudi Arms Deals (R.)

The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has hardened resistance in the U.S. Congress to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, already a sore point for many lawmakers concerned about the humanitarian crisis created by Yemen’s civil war. Even before Turkish reports said Khashoggi was killed at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Democratic U.S. lawmakers had placed “holds” on at least four military equipment deals, largely because of Saudi attacks that have killed Yemeni civilians. President Donald Trump was wary of halting arms sales over the case, saying on Thursday the kingdom would just move its money into Russia and China.

[..] An informal U.S. review process lets the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees stall major foreign arms deals if they have concerns such as whether weapons would be used to kill civilians. Corker said he recently told a defense contractor not to push for a deal with the Saudis, even before the Khashoggi case. “I shared with him before this happened, please do not push to have any arms sales brought up right now because they will not pass. It will not happen. With this, I can assure it won’t happen for a while,” Corker said. While details of all the blocked Saudi deals were not immediately available, one was the planned sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Read more …

“She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal..”

More Than A Million UK Residents Live In ‘Food Deserts’ (G.)

More than a million people in the UK live in “food deserts” – neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets severely limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, a study has claimed. Nearly one in 10 of the country’s most economically deprived areas are food deserts, it says – typically large out-of-town housing estates and deprived inner-city wards served by a handful of small, relatively expensive corner shops. Public health experts are concerned that these neighbourhoods – which are often also “food swamps” with high densities of fast-food outlets – are helping to fuel a rise in diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes, as well as driving food insecurity.

The most deprived areas include Marfleet in Hull, Hartcliffe in Bristol, Hattersley in Greater Manchester, Everton in Liverpool and Sparkbrook in Birmingham. Eight of Scotland’s 10 most deprived food deserts are in Glasgow, and three of Wales’s nine worst are in Cardiff. The study, by the Social Market Foundation thinktank and food company Kellogg’s, says poor, elderly and disabled people are disproportionately affected, as they cannot afford or are physically unable to travel to large supermarkets.

Food deserts are defined by the report as neighbourhoods of between 5,000-15,000 people served by two or fewer big supermarkets. In “normal” areas of this size there are typically between three and seven large food stores, it says. Small shops are less likely to sell fresh or healthy food. The report cites Lisa Cauchi, a mother of eight in Salford, in the north-west of England, who said the nearest reliable source of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables was a big supermarket half an hour’s walk away. She occasionally gets a taxi but finds that depletes her food budget. “A taxi is a meal,” she said.

Read more …

Aug 122018
 
 August 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse View of Nôtre Dame 1914

 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. His AKP party had won a major election victory in 2002, but Erdogan was banned from political office until his predecessor Gül annulled the ban. Which he had gotten in 1997 for reciting an old poem to which he had added the lines “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….”

The Turkish courts of the time saw this as “an incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred..” and sentenced him to ten months in prison (of which he served four in 1999). The courts saw Erdogan as a threat to the secular Turkish state as defined by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in the 1920’s. Erdogan is trying to both turn the nation towards Islam and at the same time not appearing to insult Ataturk.

The reality is that many Turks today lean towards a religion-based society, and no longer understand why Ataturk insisted on a secular(ist) state. Which he did after many years of wars and conflicts as a result of religious -and other- struggles. Seeing how Turkey lies in the middle between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, it is not difficult to fathom why the ‘father’ of the country saw secularism as the best if not only option. But that was 90 years ago.

And it doesn’t serve Erdogan’s purposes. If he can appeal to the ‘silent’ religious crowd and gather their support, he has the power. To wit. In 2003, one of his first acts as prime minister was to have Turkey enter George W.’s coalition of the willing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a reward for that, negotiations for Turkey to join the EU started. These are officially still happening, but unofficially they’re dead.

In 2014 Erdogan finally got his dream job: president. Ironically, in order to get the job, Erdogan depended heavily on the movement of scholar and imam Fethullah Gülen, who, despite moving to Pennsylvania in 1999, still had (has?) considerable influence in Turkish society. Two years after becoming president, Erdogan accused Gülen of being the mastermind behind a ‘failed coup’ in 2016, after which tens of thousands of alleged Gülenists were arrested, fired, etc.

 

Fast forward to the past week. Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Turkey, ostensibly because Erdogan refuses to free an American pastor. The result was a god-almighty drop in the Turkish lira. Analysts at Goldman Sachs said if it reached 7:1 vs the USD, it would be game over for Turkish banks. It got to 6.8:1 before falling back to 6.4:1. And without support from China or the IMF, it would indeed appear the game’s up.

With a stronger dollar, investors’ urge to have their money in emerging markets fades away. And with Turkey being the ugliest horse in the EM factory (perhaps after Argentina, but that’s a whole different story), it’s only logical it would be the first emerging market to see foreign investment disappear. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and It looks something like this:

Here, Turkey’s the main outlier. Tyler Durden’s comment: “as JPMorgan showed 2 months ago, Turkey faces a secondary threat in addition to its gaping current account deficit: a massive and growing debt load. If foreign buyers of Turkish debt go on strike, or if Turkey is unable to rollover near-term maturities, watch how quickly the currency crisis transforms into a broad economic collapse.”

 

 

This next graph from the IIF shows how much debt Turkey has, and in which sectors. Not much household debt, which is positive, but a monster non-financial corporate debt, which is definitely not. NOTE: Hungary is no. 2 on this one, but look at the graph above, and you see that while Turkey has a current account DEFICIT and RISING external debt, Hungary has a current account SURPLUS and FALLING external debt. Don’t do the apples and oranges thing! Also note that Argentina’s debt is almost all government (bonds)

Along that same line, I saw Tom Luongo today compare Turkey anno now to Russia in 2014/15, but Moscow’s USD and EUR debt is about 25%, while Turkey’s is at 70%. it’s a very bad comparison. Russia has had sanctions for ages, and it’s and plenty time to adapt its economy to them. They have to hold some USD and Treasury’s, but they’re largely fine. Turkey is not.

 

 

The third graph is useful because it depicts what currencies countries’ non-financial sectors have borrowed in. Again, Turkey is an outlier, this time in its USD exposure.

 

 

And unsurprisingly, we have EU banks exposed to Turkey. What’s wrong with BBVA? What’s wrong with Draghi?

 

 

But this is easy stuff. We know all this, or we could have. Turkey has been splurging on debt at least ever since Erdogan became PM 15 years ago. He bought his popularity to a large extent with large scale infrastructure projects, without letting on the country -and its corporate sector- were financing the projects with money borrowed from abroad (he built a $100 million, 1000-room palace for himself as well).

Where I think it gets really interesting, and I’ve been keeping away a bit from what others have written the past few days, is in what Erdogan knows about this, and how long he’s known how dire the situation is, and what he’s planning to do next. Because if he knows how bad things are, and he has it for a while, he may well have orchestrated the recent fall-out with Trump et al, to use it as a political tool.

What Erdogan needs is someone to blame for his collapsing economy. And also, if he can get it, a bail-out from somewhere anywhere. Problem with the bail-out thing is, no matter what option might be available, and it’s only might be, he will be forced to relinquish a lot of the central control he’s carefully built up through constitution amendments etc.

His -maybe- options are the IMF, Russia and China. The IMF equals America, and even if they feel a loan to Istanbul is better than an outright collapse, they will take his control over the central bank away, and probably much more – austerity on steroids.

Russia might want to assist, if only to get Turkey away from NATO, which Putin sees as a growing threat now it keeps approaching his borders ever more. Greece is presently in an angry spat with Moscow because the latter is trying to frustrate the Macedonia name deal that the US has been encouraging, which would lead to Macedonia NATO membership, and even more NATO troops right on Russian borders.

But Putin hasn’t forgotten Erdogan shooting down a Russian jet fighter in 2015, and you can bet he will avenge that ‘incident’. He’s at best ambivalent about supporting Erdogan, but he recognizes the potential advantages. Then again, he also recognizes the pluses of letting Turkey slide into a position where Erdogan will be forced out and the secular state reinstated. Russia doesn’t want more Muslim states on its borders anymore than it wants more NATO. Suffice it to say Putin’s watching closely. And he’s got his moves ready.

China sees things differently; it can of course appreciate the potential of Turkey as a strategic gem, if only for its Belt and Road Initiative, but Beijing can also see the potential problems. It’s easier -and much cheaper- to buy up Greek assets for that same purpose -and for pennies on the dollar- now that the EU and US have forced the country’s economy to slide into third world territory. Still if Erdogan gets desperate enough, XI may yet jump in. But Erdogan will not be an independent actor anymore, in his own country. Xi does not dole out Christmas gifts.

 

On Saturday, Erdogan -again- summoned Turks to bring home their foreign funds and to change all dollars and euros and bonds for lira. That may seem strange -and it probably is- because the first reaction is for people to do the exact opposite as long as the lira is plunging. But it appeals to that same religious sentiment that he has founded his entire political power on. Without it, he’s done anyway.

His approach now is to blame someone else for Turkey’s economic problems. Which is nonsense for anyone who has the valid details, but remember, his gutting of the press after the alleged ‘coup’ two years ago has left precious little information available to the Turkish people.

Erdogan has said he will look for other friends than the US. As detailed above, that will not be easy unless he’s prepared to give up substantial amounts of his power. He’s not prepared for that. It’s much easier for him, let alone advantageous, to claim there’s an economic war against Turkey being leveled. And he wouldn’t even be 100% wrong.

Thing is, to prevent the latest escalation, all he would have had to do was to release an American pastor. The fact that he didn’t is perhaps more telling than anything in all this. He’s looking for someone, come country, some organization perhaps, to present as an enemy to the Turkish people.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time in Athens in the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey, whose jetfighters’ violations of Greek air space have become so routine not even the Greek press tries to keep track, would invade, and claim ownership of, some Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, even if they’re just some uninhabited rocks, to whip up nationalist sentiment back home.

Recep Tayyip has long seen this coming. His economy is collapsing, his currency is collapsing, so he’ll focus on what’s left: Turkey’s strategic position on the map, its NATO membership, the negotiations for EU membership, and most of all the support of the Muslim contingent in Turkey that solidifies his power.

I don’t really want to make any historical comparisons, they appear obvious enough. Suffice it to say this ain’t over by a long shot, and it could lead to big trouble.

And don’t let’s forget that Turkey presently hosts millions of Syrian refugees. Erdogan can just buy a bunch of dinghies (he can still afford that) and cause absolute chaos in Greece and the EU.

Who’s going to be buying lira’s on Monday?

 

 

Jul 102018
 
 July 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Swope Trees in fog (Chile) 1939

 

Leveraged-Loan Risks Are Piling Up (WS)
UK House Prices Should Be Frozen For Five Years – Think Tank (Ind.)
24 Hours of Brexit Mayhem (Ind.)
Britain Has Gone To Huge Trouble To Humiliate Itself (Fintan O’Toole)
Novichok In Wiltshire Death ‘Highly Likely’ From Batch Used On Skripals (G.)
Nissan Says Emissions And Fuel Economy Tests Were Falsified (R.)
Trump Slams Pfizer After July 1 Drug Price Hikes (R.)
Judge Rejects Trump Request For Long-Term Detention Of Immigrant Children (R.)
Egypt Rejects Europe’s Intent To Set Up ‘Regional Disembarkation Centres’ (AW)
If You Love Greece, Help Us Get Rid Of Alexis Tsipras And His Zombie Party (G.)
When Collapse Goes Kinetic (Kunstler)
As Trial Opens, Man Dying Of Cancer Blames Monsanto’s Roundup (AFP)

 

 

Not learned a single thing in the past 10 years.

Leveraged-Loan Risks Are Piling Up (WS)

US junk-bond issuance in June plunged 31% from a year ago to just $14.5 billion, the lowest of any June in five years, according to LCD of S&P Global Market Intelligence. During the first half of the year, junk bond issuance dropped 23% from a year ago to $110.6 billion. Is investor appetite for risky debt drying up? Have investors given up chasing yield? On the contrary! They’re chasing harder than before, but they’re chasing elsewhere in the junk-rated credit spectrum: leveraged loans. Leveraged loans are another way by which junk-rated companies can raise money. These loans are arranged by banks and sold either as loans or as Collateralized Loan Obligation (CLOs) to other investors, such as pension funds or loan funds.

They’re a $1 trillion market and trade like securities. But the SEC, which regulates securities, considers them loans and doesn’t regulate them. No one regulates them. In the first half, companies issued $274 billion of non-amortizing leveraged loans, and $97 billion in revolving and amortizing leveraged loans, according to LCD, for a total of $371 billion, on par with the record set in the first half last year. This is well over triple the amount of junk bonds issued in same period ($110 billion). Many of these loans have floating interest rates, typically pegged to the dollar-Libor. And in an investment environment where the Fed has been trying to push up interest rates, Libor has surged, and floating-rate loans, whose interest payments increase as Libor ratchets higher, are very appealing to investors – despite the additional risks these higher interest payments pose for the companies that are already struggling with negative cash flows.

[..] Leveraged loans come with covenants that are supposed to protect investors during the term of the loan and in case of default. With strong covenants and good collateral, leveraged loans tend to be less risky than junk bonds issued by the same company. Alas, investors have the hots for this debt, and companies are taking advantage of it by weakening covenants, giving investors fewer protections and the company more leeway – such as paying interest with more debt rather than cash if it runs out of cash (payment-in-kind or PIK); normally, not being able to pay interest would constitute a default, but not with these “covenant lite” or “cov-lite” loans. The boom in cov-lite has started years ago and has surged to massive record proportions. When these loans default, investors are exposed to much greater losses.

Read more …

Interesting idea. Decades too late though.

UK House Prices Should Be Frozen For Five Years – Think Tank (Ind.)

UK house prices should be frozen for five years to help prevent another financial crisis, the think tank IPPR has said. The group has urged the Bank of England to freeze property prices under a separate new inflation target and said this could lead to house prices falling by around 10 per cent in real terms as other prices and wages continue to rise, making homes more affordable. Under the IPPR’s proposals, house prices would be allowed to increase “only after expectations of constantly rising house prices have been ‘reset’”. The think tank also said prices would be allowed to grow “no faster than the general consumer price inflation target of 2 per cent, meaning no further growth in the real value of people’s homes”.

The IPPR said its recommendations were part of a wider plan to “rebalance the UK economy away from finance” so as to avoid another financial crisis. According to the IPPR, the financial sector’s “dominance” since the 1980s has contributed to a strong pound, which has hurt exporters, and has attracted surplus money from other countries, which has been channelled into loans for speculative investors, including mortgage lending. This speculation over house prices, the think tank said, has helped drive up prices and at the same time made the economy more vulnerable to a crisis, because it has reduced funds available for more productive investment, created regional inequalities with disproportionate growth in London and the South East, and “concentrated market power into the hands of a small number of large banks”.

[..] Grace Blakeley, IPPR research fellow, said: “Since the 1980s, the UK’s business model has rested on attracting capital from the rest of the world, which it has channelled into debt for UK consumers. The 2008 crisis proved that this is unsustainable. “We need to move towards a more sustainable growth model, one built on production and investment rather than debt and speculation. To do this, we must break the cycle of ever-rising house prices driving property speculation, crowding out investment in the real economy.”

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A confidence vote looks inevitable.

24 Hours of Brexit Mayhem (Ind.)

Theresa May is clinging on to power following the dramatic resignation of Boris Johnson and a bruising 24 hours of conflict with Tory Brexiteers. Mr Johnson became the third minister to quit in the space of a day, accusing Ms May of pursuing a Brexit that would lock Britain into “the status of colony”. In a scathing letter, he said her plans for negotiating with Europe decided at Chequers last week equated to going into battle with “white flags fluttering”. But despite the resignations and the looming threat of a “vote of no confidence”, Ms May survived the day and finished it with a swipe at Mr Johnson, in which she appeared to question his motives for quitting.

After David Davis left his job as Brexit secretary just before midnight on Sunday, speculation grew as to whether there would be a slew of resignations, bringing down the government. He had been followed by fellow Brexit minister Steve Baker, but it was not until 3pm on Monday, when it emerged that Mr Johnson was walking, that Ms May looked at her most precarious. It was claimed that Downing Street leaked news of his resignation before he could write his letter, which the prime minister’ aides guessed would be wounding. When it came it said: “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward looking global economy. “The dream is dying, suffocated by needles doubt.”

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“Instead of the Star Trek vision of boldly going where no imperial nostalgic society had gone before, this Brexit would not have enough thrust to get the UK out of the gravitational pull of the European Union”

Britain Has Gone To Huge Trouble To Humiliate Itself (Fintan O’Toole)

The best headline about British prime minister Theresa May’s short-lived triumph over the hard Brexiteers last Friday was undoubtedly the one on Pádraig Collins’s report in the Guardian: “Possum rescued after getting head stuck in Nutella jar”. Admittedly, Collins was actually reporting, not from Chequers, but from Brisbane, Australia. Yet the accompanying photograph was the perfect image of what May is trying to do. It showed the furry creature all curled up and immobilised with its head completely encased in a glass jar streaked with visible residues of sticky brown stuff. As a spokesman for the Australian RSPCA explained, the dumb animal “managed to get his head in the jar, but obviously couldn’t get it out”.

The rescuer put “towels around the possum so she could get him out of the jar without getting scratched by his claws”. The story saves me the trouble of thinking up a metaphor. The Brexiteers have their heads stuck in a jar of sticky brown stuff that seemed so sweet and enticing. May’s compromise deal and the White Paper she is still expected to publish this week are the towels wrapped round the Brexiteers’ claws so that their heads can be pulled out of the jar without her premiership getting scratched to death.

The only problem is that David Davis and Boris Johnson, having been successfully extracted, decided to bare their claws again. As any possum or two-year-old child will tell you, sticking your head inside a glass jar is quite a thrill. You get to see the world through a distorting lens that creates a comforting distance between you and reality. You can’t hear unwanted voices raising awkward questions. Brexit has so far been conducted through a glass darkly. It has been seen through glorious fantasies of imperial revival and layers of self-pity about imaginary oppression. What May has been attempting, very late in the day, is to force her more deluded colleagues to get their heads out of the jar and look directly at Brexit.

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The story is the two have been exposed to high dose of novichok. That is not possible; they would have died in instants.

Novichok In Wiltshire Death ‘Highly Likely’ From Batch Used On Skripals (G.)

Britain’s counter-terrorism chief has said it is highly likely the novichok that killed Dawn Sturgess in Wiltshire came from the same batch used four months earlier to attack a former Russian spy and his daughter at their Salisbury home. The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu also said the substance that led to Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley falling ill on Saturday was in a vessel or container when the couple came across it. Police have opened a murder investigation after Sturgess died in hospital on Sunday at 8.26pm. Basu said: “It is both shocking and utterly appalling that a British citizen has died having being exposed to a Novichok nerve agent.

“But make no mistake, we’re determined to find out how Dawn and her partner, Charlie Rowley, came into contact with such a deadly substance; and we will do everything we possibly can to bring those responsible to justice.” Basu said Sturgess and Rowley got a high dose of novichok after handling a container containing the nerve agent. It was most likely that the container police are hunting for was linked to the attack four months earlier on the Skripals. [..] “In the four months since the Skripals and Nick Bailey were poisoned, no other people besides Dawn and Charlie have presented with symptoms. Their reaction is so severe it resulted in Dawn’s death and Charlie being critically ill. This means they must have got a high dose. Our hypothesis is they must have handled the container we are now seeking.”

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“The carmaker blamed staffing shortages for the scandal..”

Nissan Says Emissions And Fuel Economy Tests Were Falsified (R.)

Nissan has said it has found evidence of misconduct relating to exhaust emissions and fuel economy measurements for 19 models sold in Japan. The Japanese carmaker said on Monday it had discovered the testing environments for emissions and fuel economy in final vehicle inspections at most of its factories in Japan were not in line with requirements, and inspection reports were based on altered measurements. “A full and comprehensive investigation of the facts … including the causes and background of the misconduct, is under way,” Nissan said. The problems were found during voluntary compliance checks following an improper vehicle inspection scandal last year.

In October, a recall of 1.2m vehicles was triggered after Nissan said uncertified inspectors had signed off on final checks for cars sold in Japan. The carmaker blamed staffing shortages for the scandal, which caused annual operating profit to slide. Nissan said the latest misconduct did not compromise the safety of the affected models, and mileage readings were in line with levels presented in product catalogues. It was in the process of compiling data for the GT-R sports car to confirm it satisfied safety standards. The carmaker said it would take appropriate action to prevent similar problems in future.

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Time to keep promises.

Trump Slams Pfizer After July 1 Drug Price Hikes (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday took aim at Pfizer Inc and other U.S. drugmakers after they raised prices on some of their medicines on July 1, saying his administration would act in response. “Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason.” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter on Monday. “We will respond!” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar followed up with his own tweet saying that drugmakers who have raised prices have created a tipping point in U.S. drug pricing policy. “Change is coming to drug pricing, whether painful or not for pharmaceutical companies,” Azar wrote. Neither Trump nor Azar detailed what policy changes would be implemented to decrease prices.

Trump had said in May that some drug companies would soon announce “voluntary, massive” cuts in prices, but none have materialized yet. During his presidential campaign, he promised lower U.S. drug costs. Pfizer raised list prices on around 40 medicines earlier this month. Those include Viagra, cholesterol drug Lipitor and arthritis treatment Xeljanz, according to Wells Fargo. List prices do not include rebates and discounts drugmakers may offer. “The list price remains unchanged for the majority of our medicines. Our portfolio includes more than 400 medicines and vaccines. We are modifying prices for approximately 10 percent of these, including some instances where we’re decreasing the price,” Pfizer spokeswoman Sally Beatty told Reuters.

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Enough of this already. Stop it.

Judge Rejects Trump Request For Long-Term Detention Of Immigrant Children (R.)

A U.S. federal judge on Monday rejected the Trump administration’s request to allow long-term detention of illegal immigrant children, a legal setback for President Donald Trump’s push to detain immigrant families taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border. Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee dismissed as “dubious” and “unconvincing” the U.S. Justice Department’s proposal to modify a 1997 settlement known as the Flores Agreement, which says that children cannot be held in detention for long periods. The government made its request in June after public outcry over its policy of separating children from parents who entered the United States illegally.

A judge in a different case in San Diego ordered the government last month to reunite the families it had separated. The government asserted in its Flores filing that the San Diego ruling would necessitate longer-term detention of children, since that would be the only way to both reunite them with their parents and keep the parents incarcerated during their immigration proceedings. Gee rejected that argument. “Defendants advance a tortured interpretation of the Flores Agreement in an attempt to show that the … injunction permits them to suspend the Flores release and licensure provisions,” she wrote.

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“The solution to the problem will be to resettle these refugees in their countries..” “This can only happen when the conflicts raging in these countries are settled.”

Egypt Rejects Europe’s Intent To Set Up ‘Regional Disembarkation Centres’ (AW)

Egypt’s opposition to establishing camps for screening migrants heading to Europe has made the European Union’s “regional disembarkation centres” proposal seem even more implausible. Cairo’s stand has underscored the deep worries in the Egyptian administration about the country’s increasing refugee responsibilities, analysts said. “This is a burden Egypt shoulders alone, without any support from the international community,” said MP Ghada Agamy, a member of the Egyptian parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Egypt said it would not be able to accommodate “regional disembarkation centres” for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe just hours after European leaders reached a controversial migration deal that included refugee centres in North Africa and “controlled centres” in European countries. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have rejected the idea of regional disembarkation centres. The Egyptian government said establishing refugee camps would violate the Egyptian constitution. Refugees, Egyptian parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al said, can live wherever they want in Egypt. “We do not establish camps here,” he said. Egyptian officials are concerned about Cairo’s ability to shoulder refugee-related burdens, analysts said, particularly at a time of economic transition.

[..] Instead of asking economically struggling countries to act as refugee hosts, European leaders need to solve the problems that cause these refugees to leave their countries in the first place, particularly the unrest that has engulfed many countries, Egyptian specialists said. “The solution to the problem will be to resettle these refugees in their countries,” said Youssef al-Metany, a refugee lawyer at local NGO Egyptian Network for International Law. “This can only happen when the conflicts raging in these countries are settled.”

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Zoe Konstantopoulou is the former president of the Hellenic parliament.

If You Love Greece, Help Us Get Rid Of Alexis Tsipras And His Zombie Party (G.)

Last week was the third anniversary of the 2015 referendum, in which the Greek people voted no to more austerity, and no to the violation of democracy by the creditors. The week before Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister who betrayed the brave no of the Greek people, visited London to present his capitulation to the troika of the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as an achievement.

Imagine how the British people would view a prime minister elected to end privatisation, and who instead privatised almost every piece of public property; who was elected to serve peace, and who instead facilitated military action against targets in Syria and agreed to sell weapons to countries accused of committing international crimes; who was elected to protect people’s homes, and who stood by while banks seized them, leaving people homeless; who was elected to serve democracy and the independence of his country, and who instead turned it over to the EU, the IMF and the ECB. This is what Tsipras did to the Greek people.

I was a Syriza MP and president of the Greek parliament during the seven months of the first Syriza government. When Tsipras signed the toxic third memorandum in 2015, I fought hard to protect our parliamentary procedures that he and the troika violated. In spite of continuous pressure, I refused to bend our democratic rules and accept more illegal debt for our people. Together with dozens of other Syriza MPs, I voted against the monstrous agreement. Tsipras then dissolved parliament prematurely to get rid of me and the dissenting MPs.

Three years on, his capitulation to the troika has proved the disaster many of us predicted. People’s lives have become unbearable. Youth unemployment has become the norm and an estimated 8% of the population has left in search of work. The minimum salary doesn’t pay the bills, and hundreds of thousands of families go without electricity for extended periods of time. This tragedy began in 2010, but Tsipras’s so-called left government has done everything to prove that it can implement austerity better than its predecessors. It even brags about exceeding the troika’s cruel targets in cuts and taxes.

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“..the landscape as demolition derby..”

When Collapse Goes Kinetic (Kunstler)

I suppose many who think about the prospect of economic collapse imagine something like a Death Star implosion that simply obliterates the normal doings of daily life overnight, leaving everybody in a short, nasty, brutish, Hobbesian free-for-all that dumps the survivors in a replay of the Stone Age — without the consolation of golden ages yet to come that we had the first time around. The collapse of our techno-industrial set-up has actually been going on for some time, insidiously and corrosively, without shattering the scaffolds of seeming normality, just stealthily undermining them. I’d date the onset of it to about 2005 when the world unknowingly crossed an invisible border into the terra incognito of peak oil, by which, of course, I mean oil that societies could no longer afford to pull out of the ground.

It’s one thing to have an abundance of really cheap energy, like oil was in 1955. But when the supply starts to get sketchy, and what’s left can only be obtained at an economic loss, the system goes quietly insane. In the event, popular beliefs and behavior have turned really strange. We do things that are patently self-destructive, rationalize them with doctrines and policies that don’t add up, and then garnish them with wishful fantasies that offer hypothetical happy endings to plot lines that do not really tend in a rosy direction. The techno-narcissistic nonsense reverberating through the echo-chambers of business, media, and government aims to furnish that nostrum called “hope” to a nation that simply won’t admit darker outcomes to the terrible limits facing humanity.

Thus, we have the Tesla saga of electric motoring to save the day for our vaunted way of life (i.e. the landscape as demolition derby), the absurd proposals to colonize distant, arid, frigid, and airless Mars as a cure for ruining this watery blue planet ideally suited for our life-form, and the inane “singularity” narratives that propose to replace grubby material human life with a crypto-gnostic data cloud of never-ending cosmic orgasm. The psychological desperation is obvious. Apparently, there are moments in history when flying up your own butt-hole is the most comforting available option.

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But how do you prove it?

As Trial Opens, Man Dying Of Cancer Blames Monsanto’s Roundup (AFP)

A lawyer for a California groundskeeper dying of cancer took aim at Monsanto Monday as a jury began hearing the lawsuit accusing the chemical giant of ignoring health risks of its top-selling weed killer Roundup. “For the past 40 years, Monsanto has known the primary ingredient in Roundup can produce tumors in lab animals,” attorney Brent Wisner told a California state court. A jury is hearing the case brought by Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father of two. Diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects white blood cells, Johnson used a Monsanto generic version of Roundup called “Ranger Pro” repeatedly in his job at a school in Benicia, California, after being promoted to groundskeeper in 2012.

In his opening statement, Wisner said Monsanto opted against warning consumers of the risks and that instead “they have fought science” by playing down the suspected link between the chemical herbicide and cancer. “Monsanto has gone out of its way to bully scientists and fight researchers,” he told the jury. The case in California Superior Court is the first trial in which Roundup is said to have caused cancer, a claim repeatedly denied by the chemical company. If Monsanto loses, the case could open the door to hundreds of additional lawsuits against the company recently acquired by German-based pharmaceutical and chemical group Bayer.

Johnson had little warning about the risks of Roundup, his lawyer said. “He was told you could drink it, it was completely non toxic,” Wisner said with his client sitting in the San Francisco courtroom. “You will hear testimony from him that he got drenched in it, repeatedly.” The lawyer said Johnson, who is between rounds of chemotherapy, “is actually on borrowed time, he is not supposed to be alive today.” A key to Johnson’s case will be convincing jurors that Monsanto’s pesticide — whose main ingredient is glyphosate — is responsible for the illness. Wisner contended glyphosate combined with an ingredient intended to help it spread over leaves in a cancer-causing “synergy.”

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Jun 042018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1964

 

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)
If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)
The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)
Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)
Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)
Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)
Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)
Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)
Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)
Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)
Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)
Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

“.. If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages..”

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)

“The ECB (European Central Bank) just had its 20th birthday. But there is really nothing to celebrate. The EU is in a total mess and the Euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999, is a failed currency. Every president of the ECB has had to deal with fires that had very little to do with price stability but were more a question of survival. Most of these fires were a lot more serious than the candles in the Euro cake above which Draghi is trying to blow out. During the Frenchman Trichet’s watch, he had to deal with the Great Financial Crisis that started in 2006…

[..] The EU now has major economic and/or political problems in many countries. Italy’s new coalition government is a protest against the EU and Euro. With debt to GDP already the highest in Europe, the new regime will exacerbate the problems. Lower taxes and higher spending will guarantee that. As the chart below shows, Italian debt to GDP is already 140%. By 2050 this is projected to grow to 210%. As interest rates go up, servicing the growing debt will soon absorb all tax revenue. Italy will be bankrupt long before 2050 and default on all its debt.

Between now and 2050, the Italian working age population is forecast to decline by 1/3, from 36 million to 24 million. There will be a lot less people to pay for a much higher debt.

The consequences of massive debt, economic stagnation and population decline will be a much lower GDP, which is expected to decline 35% by 2050.

If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages. I must stress here that I find it so sad that this glorious country is suffering so much already and will suffer a lot more. Personally I love Italy — the people, the food, the architecture, the history and the Giola di Vivere (joie de vivre) of the Italians. It will be so tragic to see all of this disintegrate. Hopefully it will take a long time, although, sadly, the crisis might actually be around the corner.

But Italy is just one of many countries which will collapse in coming years. Spain is in a similar situation and the prime minister has just been kicked out. Greece’s problems have never been resolved and this fine country is also bankrupt and so are the Greek banks. I could go on with Portugal, France, Ireland, the UK and many others. Most of these countries have insoluble problems. It is only a matter of degree and time when the EU/Eurozone house of cards comes down.

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To make tariffs threats credible.

If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)

[..] to maintain leverage in negotiations, the Administration must convince trading partners that the US intends to impose trade restrictions. However, and this is the key part, “it is unlikely that the White House can convince trading partners that tariff threats are credible without also convincing financial markets.” In other words, for Trump’s trade negotiations to be successful, and for US trade partners to take a flip-flopping Trump credibly, the market has to crash. Incidentally, this makes sense when one considers that when Trump officially launched the trade war with China in early April, the president explicitly warned that stocks “may take a hit”, and told investors to prepare for “pain” in the market, a statement which promptly became a self-fulfilling prophecy and sent the market sharply lower.

The other consequence is that markets may tumble not as an effect, but as a cause of the trade war: after all Trump needs to be taken seriously, and that could mean another slide in the S&P. Goldman agrees as much: “… we do not expect trade policy risks to fade anytime soon. While we think that financial market sentiment around trade issues is unlikely to become as negative again as it was in early April, when the President floated the possibility of tariffs on another $100 billion in imports from China, we do not expect markets to become entirely comfortable with the outlook for trade policy, either.”

The punchline: “The challenge that the White House faces is that, to maintain leverage in negotiations, trading partners must believe that the US intends to follow through with proposed actions like tariffs. However, repeated threats begin to lose credibility unless they are followed up with action.” In short, just as China said earlier, the US can’t have its cake and eat it too: Trump can’t have trade war, or the threat thereof, and record high stocks.

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It’s going to be public. But can the Fed afford to damage Deutsche?

Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)

Deutsche Bank AG will face another challenge this month when the Federal Reserve publishes the results of a “stress test” on the bulk of its U.S. operations for the first time. Germany’s largest lender is already facing challenges with U.S. bank regulators and in financial markets, with its stock price falling to historic lows on Thursday. Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating to BBB+ from A- on Friday. The downgrade came after reports earlier in the week that the Fed designated one of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. businesses as “troubled” last year, something a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Reuters on Friday. The Fed’s stress test results, expected to be released sometime this month, will be the next big public barometer of Deutsche Bank’s financial strength.

It could be difficult for a bank with a subsidiary on the “troubled” list to pass the scenarios, according to a person familiar with the tests who was not authorized to speak publicly. That is because the capital, liquidity and risk management failures that would land a bank on the list are similar to those that lead banks to flunk the stress test, the person said. The Fed has been examining how the biggest U.S. banks would handle a range of adverse economic and market scenarios since 2009, requiring many to shore up their capital buffers and risk management controls. But this is the first year it will publicly release results of six foreign lenders, including Deutsche Bank, after requiring them to create consolidated U.S. holding companies with ring-fenced capital. The Fed tested those new entities last year in a trial run, the results of which are confidential.

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Austerity eats people.

The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)

Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services. Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.

Millions of tonnes of explosives were used during the mining boom to build more than 100 new mines, but it wasn’t just prime farmland that was blasted away in the boom, it was access to the middle class. At the same time that Gina Rinehart was becoming the world’s richest woman on the back of rising iron-ore prices, those on the minimum wage were falling further and further behind their fellow Australians. Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or ’80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.

Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them.

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Relax capital controls when nobody has any money left to get out of the bank.

Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)

Greece is to take a substantial step towards easing capital controls – restrictions associated with the worst days of economic crisis – as it prepares to exit its current bailout programme. Signalling that confidence is gradually returning to the country’s banking system, the leftist-led government has doubled the amount depositors will be able to withdraw from their accounts as of Monday. “As is usually the case with the economy, this is about psychology,” said a senior official at the Bank of Greece. “The relaxation is as much about boosting confidence among investors and savers as showing banks can now afford to work under normal conditions.” Barely three months before its third international bailout programme expires, the country once at the epicentre of the euro crisis is keen to prove its financial turmoil is over.

Under the new rules, the limit on cash withdrawals from local banks will be raised from €2,300 to €5,000 per month. Business transactions will also be facilitated, with cash transfers abroad being doubled to €40,000 a month. The Greek finance ministry said it had similarly decided to increase the amount depositors can take abroad, in euros or foreign currency, from €2,300 to €3,000 per trip. From 1 July, banks will be allowed to accept customer orders for money transfers overseas for up to €4,000 bi-monthly. In a statement the finance ministry said the aim was to fully lift restrictions “as soon as possible” while ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability.

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“serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times…”

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)

The Commonwealth Bank Monday agreed to the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history to settle claims it breached anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Aus$700 million (US$530 million) fine – which is subject to court approval – comes after mediation between the nation’s biggest lender and the country’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. It follows the bank being taken to court last August for “serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times, with AUSTRAC filing 100 further claims in December. CBA was also accused of failing to adequately monitor suspected terrorist financiers.

“While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made,” said CBA chief executive Matt Comyn in a statement. “Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step towards moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologise to the community for letting them down.” The bank, which in the fallout has replaced senior leadership overseeing financial crimes and pumped millions of dollars into improving its systems, also agreed to pay AUSTRAC’s Aus$2.5 million legal fees.

After slumping more than 10 percent over the past month, during which it admitted losing financial records for almost 20 million customers, CBA’s share price rallied 1.44 percent on the settlement to close at Aus$69.69. The scandal is only the latest issue to damage the reputation of Australian banks, which have been under intense scrutiny amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud, and rigging benchmark interest rates. Last week, ANZ Bank was accused of “cartel arrangements” over a multi-billion-dollar capital raising, along with its advisers Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. They face potential criminal charges.

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Germany blows up the EU in slow motion.

Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)

The causal link between Germany’s two political headaches has an economic basis. Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.

To see the link, recall the “fiscal compact” to eliminate structural budget deficits that Germany insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to bailout loans for distressed governments and banks. Then note that this pan-European austerity drive took place against the backdrop of massive excess savings over investment. Finally, note that large excess savings and balanced government budgets necessarily mean large trade surpluses – and thus the increasing reliance of Germany, and Europe, on massive net exports to the United States and Asia. In other words, the same incompetent policies that gave rise to the xenophobic, anti-Europeanist Italian government also bolstered Trump’s power over Merkel.

Europe’s inability to get its own house in order has engendered a new Italian majority that is planning to expel a half-million migrants, blowing fresh winds into the sails of militant racists in Hungary, Poland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany itself. Meanwhile, with Europe too enfeebled to tame Trump, the US will aim to force China to deregulate its financial and tech sectors. If it succeeds, at least 15% of China’s national income will gush out of the country, adding to the deflationary forces that are breeding political monsters in Europe and in the US.

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And still no UN emergency meeting. The shame will not wash away.

Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)

At least 47 people died and 68 others were rescued after their migrant boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast, according to the country’s defence ministry. Authorities said about 180 people, of both Tunisian and other nationalities, were hemmed in onboard the vessel. A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it hit trouble in order to escape arrest. “I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours,” he told Reuters from a hospital in the city of Sfax where people were arriving in search of relatives and friends. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned on Twitter that the final number of missing was still not known.

Tunisia has recently seen growing use of its coasts by human traffickers ferrying migrants from Africa to Europe, as Libyan authorities have cracked down on similar activity on their own shores. Tunisia has been suffering from an economic crisis since the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as president in 2011, which led to rocketing unemployment and inflation. In a separate incident, nine people including six children were killed off the coast of Turkey on Sunday after their speedboat sank, the Turkish coast guard said. By 30 May, the IOM had recorded 32,080 people as having reached Europe by boat in 2018 and around 660 as having died or gone missing in the attempt.

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And there’s always more.

Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)

Nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, state media reports said. The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey’s Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added. Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives, it said. The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear. The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear. Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. [..] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM. As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.

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Bayer wants to get rid of the bad name Monsanto has. Let’s give Bayer an even worse name.

Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)

Germany’s Bayer will wrap up the $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto on Thursday this week and also retire the name of the U.S. seeds maker, it said on Monday. The German drugmaker had received all required approvals from regulatory authorities, it said in a statement. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio,” it said. Bayer launched a 6 billion euro ($7 billion) rights issue on Sunday, a cornerstone of the financing package for the deal.

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Yeah. We need more air travel. Without counting the externalities.

Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)

Governments need to urgently tackle a capacity crisis facing airports as demand for international travel grows, but they should be cautious about private sector involvement, airline industry group IATA warned Monday. With passenger levels projected to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036, infrastructure such as airports and air traffic control systems were not keeping pace, the International Air Transport Association said. Major airports have sought to address the crisis by managing slots — giving airlines specific operating rights at particular times. But there was still a need for new airports, IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac said at the body’s annual meeting in Sydney.

“We are in a capacity crisis. And we don’t see the required airport infrastructure investment to solve it,” he said, adding that cash-strapped governments were increasingly turning to private firms to increase airport capacity. But he cautioned against privatised airports, warning that they have “not lived up to airline expectations” with many carriers having “far too many bitter experiences”. [..] IATA Monday projected global air passenger traffic to rise by 6.5 percent this year to 4.36 billion, after increases of 7.0 and 7.3 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

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Not sure it’s wise to blame this on climate change. The extinction stories come too fast. How about blaming Monsanto and booming air travel?

Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)

Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs.

The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low. One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds. “In the past, Sumburgh Head was brimming with birds, and the air was thick with the smell of guano. The place was covered with colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and guillemots,” said Helen Moncrieff, manager of RSPB Scotland’s office in Shetland.

“There were thousands and thousands of birds and visitors were guaranteed a sight of puffins. Today they have to be very patient. At the same time, guillemots have halved in numbers. It is utterly tragic.” This grim description is backed by figures that reveal the staggering decreases in seabird numbers in Shetland, the most northerly part of the British Isles. In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season. Similarly, Shetland’s kittiwake population plummeted from over 55,000 in 1981 to 5,000 in 2011, and observers believe those numbers have declined even further in the past few years.

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Absolutely wonderful from Jim.

Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

I was interviewing a couple of homesteaders on an island north of Seattle at twilight last night when they noticed that the twelve-year-old family dog, name of Lacy, had not come home for dinner as ever and always at that hour. A search ensued and they soon found her dead in the meadow a hundred feet behind the house with two big puncture wounds in her body. Nobody had heard a gunshot. We’d just been talking inside and a nearby window was open. They suspect the dog met up with a black-tailed deer buck out there and was gored to death. We hadn’t heard a yelp, or anything. A week ago, an eagle got one of their geese, and some land-based monster got its companion just the other day.

Nature is what it is, of course, and it’s natural for human beings to think of its random operations as malevolent. That aspersion probably inclines us to think of ourselves as beings apart from nature (some of us, anyway). We at least recognize the tragic side of this condition we’re immersed in, and would wish that encounters between its denizens might end differently — like maybe that two sovereign creatures meeting up by sheer chance on a mild spring evening would exchange pleasantries, ask what each was up to, and go on their ways.

Malevolent nature visited me the night before, back home in upstate New York. Something slit the screened window of my henhouse, got inside, and slaughtered two of my birds. Big Red was missing altogether except for a drift of orange feathers. I found Little Blue just outside in a drift of her own feathers, half-eaten. I suspect a raccoon got them, slitting the window screen cleverly with its dexterous hand-like paws — yes, so much like our own clever hands. (In classic after-the-fact human style, I fortified the window with steel hardware cloth the next day.)

It’s the time of year when the wild critters of field and woodland are birthing their young and anxious to procure food for them. Who can blame them for that. Chicken is an excellent dish. I eat it myself, though never my own hens. I actually rescued Little Blue from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk last year as the hawk struggled to get airborne with her and let go as I screeched at it. Blue recovered from the talon punctures and had a good year — one good year on this earth with all its menace, when it is not busy being beautiful.

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May 072018
 


John French Sloan Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair 1912

 

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)
Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)
WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)
Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)
In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Mueller Investigation is In Jeopardy (ZH)
Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)
Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)
Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)
A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)
Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)
Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)
Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

 

 

Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Brazil in a bit. The list will grow. As the dollar rises, emerging countries need more dollars to pay their debt, pushing the dollar up even more. And investors pull their money out of these countries. Vicious circles everywhere.

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)

Argentina even issued a one-hundred-year bond at a spectacularly low rate (8.25%) with a very high demand, more than 3.5 times bid-to-cover. That $ 2.5 billion issuance seemed crazy. A one-hundred-year bond from a nation that has defaulted at least six times in the previous hundred years! Worse of all, those funds were used to finance current expenditure in local currency. The extraordinary demand for bonds and other assets in Argentina or Turkey was justified by expectations of reforms and a change that, as time passed, simply did not happen. Countries failed to control inflation, deliver lower than expected growth and imbalances soared just as the U.S. started to see some inflation, rates started to rise.

Suddenly, the yield spread between the U.S. 10-year bond and emerging markets debt was unattractive, and liquidity dried up faster than the speed of light even with a modest decrease of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Liquidity disappears because of extremely leveraged bets on one single trade – a weaker dollar, higher global growth- unwind. However, another problem exacerbates the reaction. An aggressive increase in the monetary base by the Argentine central bank made inflation rise above 23%. With an increase in the monetary base of 28% per year, and seeking to finance excess spending by printing money and raising debt to “buy time”, the seeds of the disaster were planted. Excess liquidity and the US dollar weakness stopped. Local currencies and external funding face risk of collapse.

The Sudden Stop. When most of the emerging economies entered into twin deficits -trade and fiscal deficits- and consensus praised “synchronized growth”, they were sealing their destiny: When the US dollar regains some strength, US rates rise due to an increase in inflation, the flow of cheap money to emerging markets is reversed. Synchronized indebted growth created the risk of synchronized collapse.

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Is this really the end of cheap debt? It’s dangerous too: if Turkey gets into real trouble, Erdogan will seek a scapegoat.

Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)

A resurgent dollar and higher borrowing costs are smashing through Argentina and Turkey’s currencies like a wrecking ball and raising the likelihood more broadly that emerging markets’ three-year long interest rate cutting cycle is at an end. Emerging markets came into the year flying, riding on the back of a healthy global economy and rising commodity prices alongside tame inflation and a weak dollar. It looked more than likely that a wave of rate cuts would keep rolling, allowing a bond rally to continue. From Brazil and Russia to Armenia and Zambia, developing countries, big and small, have been on a rate cutting spree. With hundreds of rate cuts since Jan. 2015, the average emerging market borrowing cost fell under 6% earlier this year from over 7% at the time.

Fund managers’ profits too have soared in this time, with emerging local currency debt among the best performing asset classes, with dollar-based returns of 14% last year. Even in the first quarter of 2018, returns were a buoyant 4.3% Now though, almost exactly five years since the so-called taper tantrum shook an emerging market rally, these gains appear to be on the cusp of reversal. Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40% in response to a rout in its peso currency, while Turkey was also forced into a rate rise as its lira hit record lows against the dollar. Indonesia, after heavy interventions to stem rupiah bleeding, has also said it could resort to policy tightening.

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Déja vu.

WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)

If you’re watching Argentina’s economy, it hasn’t been a banner week. This week, Argentina had to raise its key interest rate three times to keep the Argentine peso from losing even more value against the dollar. Three interest rate hikes in one week is a lot – it implies the first two didn’t work, and the Central Bank is not in control. The interest rate currently sits at 40%. That means the Central Bank pays 40% per year on peso-denominated debt, which can imply that they expect the value of the peso to fall somewhere in the ballpark of 40% over a one year period. A year ago in April, the rate was closer to 26%. Yikes. And the exchange rate kicked off the week at around 20.5 ARS/USD. It jumped almost to 23 ARS/USD, and is currently hovering around 21.8 ARS/USD.

[..] When the US dollar increases in value, emerging market currencies decrease, meaning in Argentina’s case it will take increasingly more pesos to buy dollars. This then amplifies the risk that emerging markets will be unable to make payments on dollar denominated debt, causing investors to sell their emerging market investments, further amplifying the currency stress. The timing specifically in the case of Argentina is uncannily bad. Until this week, non-residents investing in Argentina were exempt from paying the equivalent of capital gains taxes across the board, including local-currency peso-denominated central bank notes, or LEBACs. This Tuesday, this exemption on LEBACs officially no longer applied, meaning foreign holders of these notes now incur a tax equal to 5% on profits.

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“Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy..”

Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)

Remedies the Trump administration is prescribing for U.S. trade problems won’t work, and forays in trade disputes with China will harm the United States, a veteran China expert with decades of experience in bilateral relations said [in Silicon Valley] on Saturday. “I believe that Washington has misdiagnosed our trade problems, that its remedies for them won’t work, and that what it is doing will harm the United States and other countries as much or more than it does China,” said Chas Freeman, senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, when addressing the annual conference of a prominent Chinese American group, the Committee of 100 (C100).

“The United States and China are each too globalized and dynamic to contain, too big and influential to ignore, and too successful and entangled with each other to divorce without bankrupting ourselves and all associated with us,” Freeman, also former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said in an opening keynote speech. Pointing out that there are many reasons for the United States to seek cooperative relations with a rising China, Freeman added that the Trump administration has decided “to pick a fight — to confront China both militarily and economically.” “The fact that we Americans consume more than we save means that we import more than we produce. That creates an overall trade deficit. Ironically, the Trump administration has just taken steps guaranteed to increase this deficit,” he said.

“It has reduced tax revenues and boosted deficit spending, mostly on military research, development, and procurement. These actions take the national savings rate even lower while inflating domestic demand for goods and services. They cause imports to surge,” he added. “Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy explains why China’s trade surplus with the United States is again rising even as its surplus with the rest of the world falls,” he said. “Unless Americans boost our national savings rate by hiking taxes or cut our consumption by falling into recession, our overall trade deficit is sure to bloat,” he said.

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The Market Will Plummet if Global Central Banks Pull Plug

“..the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors..”

In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with two-time, best-selling author Nomi Prins, who just released “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World.” Will the next crash be worse than the last one? Prins says, “Yes, it will because we will be falling from a higher height. The idea here is you are sinking on the Titanic as opposed to sinking on a canoe somewhere. All of this artificial conjured money is puffing up the system, along with money that is borrowed cheaply is also puffing up the system and creating asset bubbles everywhere. So, when things pop, there is more leakage to happen. The air in all these bubbles has created larger bubbles than we have had before.”

How does the common man protect himself? Prins says, “They have to own things, and by that I mean real assets, hard assets like silver and gold. That’s not as liquid, so taking cash out of banks and sort of keeping it in real things and keeping it on site . . . keeping cash physically. You need to extract it from the system because the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors. . . . Also, basically try to decrease your debt.”

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Did Flynn plead guilty because he couldn’t pay the legal bills?

How much longer until Mueller is whistled back by his superiors? Can Rosenstein keep silent as one judge after another slams the Special Counsel?

Mueller Investigation In Jeopardy (ZH)

A funny thing happened on the way to impeaching Donald Trump. After two-years of investigations by a highly politicized FBI and a Special Counsel stacked with Clinton supporters, Robert Mueller’s probe has resulted in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the arrests of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the indictment of 13 Russian nationals on allegations of hacking the 2016 election – along with the raid of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The nation has been on the edge of insanity waiting for that much-promised and long awaited link tying President Trump to Vladimir Putin we were all promised, only to find out that there is no link, the deck appears to have been heavily stacked against Donald Trump by bad actors operating at the highest levels of the FBI, DOJ, Obama admin and Clinton camp, and the real Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election was the participation of high level Kremlin sources used in the anti-Trump dossier that Hillary Clinton paid for. Now, as the out-of-control investigation moves from the headlines and into court, the all-encompassing “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, may be in serious jeopardy.

As of Friday, three separate Judges have rendered harsh setbacks to the Mueller investigation – demanding, if you can believe it, facts and evidence to back up the Special Counsel’s claims – in unredacted format as one Judge demands, or risk having the cases tossed out altogether. [..] And as we noted yesterday, some have suggested that Flynn pleaded guilty due to the fact that federal investigations tend to bankrupt people who aren’t filthy rich – as was the case with former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee “God damn you to hell” after having to sell his home due to mounting legal fees over the inquiry. “Your investigation and others into the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia are costing my family a great deal of money — more than $125,000 — and making a visceral impact on my children.”

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Quite strong for the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust.”

Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)

Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy – resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”

Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific – potentially very revealing – demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.

Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?

We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.

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And debt pooling. So much for closer integration.

Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)

Leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to pass a resolution at a meeting this week to reject any pooling of debts in Europe and any fiscal policy without national parliamentary controls, Handelsblatt reported. The daily business newspaper, citing sources from the conservative bloc’s parliamentary leadership, said the senior politicians also oppose European Commission plans for a European finance minister. The group includes the parliamentary leaders of the conservative bloc in the Bundestag, the European Parliament as well as from Germany’s 16 states, Handelsblatt reported.

Merkel will join them on Monday for a meeting in Frankfurt. The report highlights the resistance among Merkel’s conservatives to any euro zone reforms that could see more German taxpayers’ money being used to fund other member states. The conservatives are nervous about European Union reform after bleeding support to the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at national elections last September. Last month, Merkel called for a spirit of compromise on reforming the euro zone at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed for solidarity among members of the currency union.

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No smooth sailing.

Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)

German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped for the third month running in March due to weak foreign demand, data showed on Monday, suggesting factories in Europe’s largest economy are shifting into a lower gear. Contracts for German goods fell 0.9% after a downwardly revised drop of 0.2% the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had on average predicted a 0.5% rise in orders. “The economy is slowing down, that’s the sure take-away from today’s industrial orders data,” VP Bank Group analyst Thomas Gitzel said, adding that some growth forecasts would soon have to be revised down.

The government last month cut its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3% from 2.4% and expressed concern about international trade tensions. “The debate about tariffs has probably created great uncertainty in Europe’s export-driven industry,” Gitzel added. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. In the run-up to a June 1 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Berlin is urging its European partners to be flexible and pursue a broad deal that benefits both sides. The drop in industrial orders was led by foreign orders which fell by 2.6%, while domestic orders rose 1.5%, the data showed.

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But the government says there a million LESS people in poverty.

A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)

The number of children growing up in poverty in working households will be a million higher than in 2010, a new study has found. Research for the TUC estimates that 3.1 million children with working parents will be below the official breadline this year. About 600,000 children with working parents have been pushed into poverty because of the government’s benefit cuts and public sector pay restrictions, according to the report by the consultancy Landman Economics. The east Midlands will have the biggest increase in child poverty among working families, followed by the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, the research found. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said child poverty in working households had shot up since 2010.

“Years of falling incomes and benefit cuts have had a terrible human cost. Millions of parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids,” she said. “The government is in denial about how many working families just can’t make ends meet. We need ministers to boost the minimum wage now, and use the social security system to make sure no child grows up in a family struggling to get by.” [..] A government spokeswoman said it did not recognise the TUC’s figures. She said: “The reality is there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children. “We want every child to get the very best chances in life. We know the best route out of poverty is through work, which is why it’s really encouraging that both the employment rate and household incomes have never been higher.”

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Shares down 13% this morning.

Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)

The survival of strike-hit Air France is in the balance, according to the country’s economy minister. Bruno Le Maire’s warning that Air France could “disappear” comes as staff begin another round of industrial action over a pay dispute. Despite the French state owning 14.3% of the Air France-KLM parent group, the loss-making airline would not be bailed out, he said. On Friday Air France-KLM’s chief executive quit over the crisis. Air France-KLM is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, but has seen a series of strikes in recent weeks. Monday’s walk-out is the 14th day of action, as staff press for a 5.1% salary increase this year. The government’s response is seen as a test of labour reforms launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. There have also been strikes at the state-owned SNCF rail company.

On Sunday, Mr Le Maire told French news channel BFM: “I call on everyone to be responsible: crew, ground staff, and pilots who are asking for unjustified pay hikes. “The survival of Air France is in the balance,” he said, adding that the state would not serve as a backstop for the airline’s debts. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he warned. Despite the strike, the airline insisted that it would be able to maintain 99% of long-haul flights on Monday, 80% of medium-haul services and 87% of short-haul flights. On Friday, Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, resigned after staff rejected a final pay offer from him, which would have raised wages by 7% over four years.

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That’s about 1 in 20: “From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more..”

Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)

For salaried workers to bring home 1,500 euros per month net on a 12-month basis, or 18,000 euros per year not including holiday bonuses, their employers need to pay 2,610 euros a month or over 31,300 euros a year, given Greece’s particularly high taxes and social security contributions. For a self-employed professional to pocket the same amount , about 18,000 euros per annum, he or she would have to earn at least 50,000 euros on a yearly basis so as to cover professional expenses, taxes and contributions. As for new pensioners, a net income of 1,500 euros/month or 18,000 euros/year can only be achieved if they worked without pause for 40 years at an average monthly salary of 2,400 euros over that entire period.

The framework that has emerged in the last three years with tax and contribution hikes, in particular, as well as the new way pensions are being calculated are drastically reducing the chances of any worker or pensioner to have a decent monthly salary or pension. Official figures already highlight the shrinking of the so-called middle class: From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more, down from 840,000 in 2010. The shrinking trend of the middle class is expected to continue both for taxation and for practical reasons.

An employer will face the same cost hiring five or six part-timers offering a total of 20-24 working hours per day as in hiring one full-timer offering eight hours of work. Particularly in sectors where there is no need for highly skilled workers, such as retail commerce or tourism, the trend to replace well paid positions has already become dominant. Among the self-employed, overtaxation is this year anticipated to reduce the number of those declaring a taxable income of over 30,000 euros per year. As for pensioners, already the first pensions issues on the basis of the new system of calculation prove that the chances for anyone to secure a benefit of 1,500 euros after retirement are next to zero, and will shrink further in the years to come.

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Curious. Bonaire and St. Eustatius are part of the Dutch Kingdom. Conoco can’t move without their permission.

Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips has moved to take Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award over a decade-oil nationalization of its projects in the South American country, according to two sources familiar with its actions. The U.S. firm targeted Caribbean facilities on the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius that play critical roles in PDVSA’s oil exports, the country’s main source of revenue. PDVSA relies on the terminals to process, store and blend its oil. “We will work with the community and local authorities to address issues that may arise as a result of enforcement actions,” ConocoPhillips said in a statement to Reuters.

Read more …

May 012018
 
 May 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Théodore Géricault Prancing Grey Horse 1812

 

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)
The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)
Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)
St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)
US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)
Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)
South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)
Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)
First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)
That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)
Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)
Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

 

 

“..spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth..”

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt after his department said it borrowed a record amount for the first quarter. “It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday. “But I think the market can easily handle it.” Earlier on Monday the Treasury said net borrowing totaled $488 billion from January through March, a record for that period and about $47 billion more than it had previously estimated, according to a statement released in Washington. The end-of-March cash balance was $290 billion, compared with an initial estimate of $210 billion.

“By definition supply and demand will equate,” Mnuchin said. “I’m not concerned about that. I think that there are still a lot of buyers for U.S. Treasuries,” he said when asked about the risks of reduced demand for Treasuries and increased supply. The Treasury’s debt-management plans were complicated earlier this year by a political fight that was resolved when lawmakers agreed to suspend the federal debt limit in a two-year budget agreement in February. The U.S.’s need to issue more Treasuries is expected to grow as the fiscal picture deteriorates. The budget deficit widened to $600 billion halfway through the fiscal year, as spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth in the October-to-March period, according to Treasury figures released earlier this month.

Tax and spending measures approved by Congress and President Donald Trump are expected to push the budget gap to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In an accompanying statement about the state of the economy, the Treasury said Monday that tax changes are “poised to underpin near-term consumption and investment” and “the stage is set for a pick-up in growth over the near term.”

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The debt keeps the economy going.

The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)

China has developed a craving for consumer goods, the more luxurious, the better. Along with most other countries, China’s credit boom and spending spree are being followed by out-of-control debt. While household debt is spiraling, the Chinese government is pushing to double the size of the economy by 2020 (setting this goal in 2010). This ambitious project will almost certainly entail more lending and increased debts. There is a question as to exactly how much more debt China can handle. China’s debt has been rising steadily, from 141 percent of GDP in 2008 to 256 percent of GDP in 2017. This type of rapidly-increasing debt level has frequently been the precursor of a hard economic fall, and the world is watching China carefully.

While countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. also have large debt-to-GDP ratios, the difference is that both are high-income countries, while China has only reached middle-income status, with only $15,400 in household purchasing power. This is a quarter of the household purchasing power of the US. Getting out of debt on China’s low level of income will be far more difficult than in higher-income nations. [..] China’s economic growth has encouraged widespread home buying and mortgage debts as property prices soar. Mortgage debt has increased by 25 percent in two years. People who have bought during the economic boom are now facing monthly mortgage payments that equal up to half of their monthly income.

Household budgets are stretching to the breaking point. This has forced many to curtail spending elsewhere and putting off other necessary big purchase items. This at a time when the government is encouraging greater consumer consumption.

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“Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.”

Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)

Politicians like to describe government as like a household. When you’ve borrowed too much, you cut your spending so you can pay off debt, don’t you? You might be able to get a better-paid job, which helps you to pay it off faster. But you still budget to reduce your debt over time. Going on a spending spree means tightening your belt later. Similarly, if government borrows too much, there must be austerity to pay it down. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? People understand this reasoning. It is politically popular, especially when times are hard. In March 2009, when the U.S. was in the deepest recession since the 1930s, John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said on CBS News that “it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get it.’”

“Government is like a household” can even win elections. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, David Cameron, then leader of the U.K.’s Conservative party, wrote this in the (now defunct) News of the World: “This [Labour] government has maxed out our nation’s credit card—and they want to keep on spending by getting another. We believe we need to get a grip, be responsible and help families now in a way that doesn’t cost us our future.” He became the U.K.’s Prime Minister in May 2010. Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman argue that instead of trying to reduce public deficits in a recession, government should increase spending, helping businesses to grow and providing employment. Government debt will rise, of course, but the government can run fiscal surpluses to pay it down when growth returns. Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.

But this message has not been heard. In the name of “living within our means,” “balancing the books” and “paying down the debt,” governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pursued austerity policies ever since the Great Recession. The terrible story of Greece shows us that harsh austerity is the wrong medicine for a poorly-performing, highly indebted economy. But Greece is merely the worst example. Many Western countries have suffered deep and lasting damage, both from the Great Recession itself and from premature attempts to reduce public deficits.

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“..bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.”

St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has provided some high-profile validation for a core premise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. A blog post this week based on an earlier Fed research paper said that “bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but added that currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.” The post, titled “Three Ways Bitcoin is Like Regular Currency,” doesn’t precisely endorse Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. In another recent report, the St. Louis Fed was critical of Bitcoin’s inefficiency. Cryptocurrency has also become rife with scams since its surge in value last year, and may constitute a global risk because it enables clandestine money laundering, capital flight, and tax evasion.

But the St. Louis Fed has provided a credible rebuttal to one of the most widespread and misguided criticisms of cryptocurrency: That, because it isn’t tied to a particular real-world commodity, it should have a monetary value of zero. As Fed researchers point out, since decoupling from the gold standard in the early 1970s, almost all global reserve currencies rely on nothing but trust to function as a media of value exchange. In the case of the dollar, that’s mostly trust in the U.S. government and economy. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s trust in computer code and, at least to some extent, developers.

Surprisingly, the Fed’s new statement also echoes one of the predominant arguments that cryptocurrency fans use to disparage government-backed currency – though in a rather roundabout way. The post argues in part that “there’s a limited supply” of both cash and Bitcoin. The libertarian boosters at the heart of the crytpocurrency movement have often argued that Bitcoin is better than government currency because central banks can devalue national currencies through inflation, while Bitcoin has a strictly fixed supply. Though the Fed’s post points out that it doesn’t actually print cash – in the sense of physical notes – it acknowledges its ability to expand the money supply.

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Concessions will be forthcoming.

US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)

The May 1 deadline for steel and aluminum tariff exemptions for U.S. allies has been extended, the White House said. Instead, the White House has decided to postpone the decision on some allies, including the European Union, for 30 days to allow further discussions. Those extensions will affect the EU, Canada and Mexico. As for Argentina, Australia and Brazil, a senior White House official said agreements have been reached in principle, and they will also receive a 30-day extension so details can be finalized. South Korea’s exemption from tariffs is permanent because it agreed to quotas as part of a new trade deal. Administration officials have asked other countries what level of quotas they would agree to.

One person briefed by the administration told CNBC: “Quotas are an active part of the discussion with every country on the exemption list.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the process for country exemptions, except for the European Union, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is leading. The Department of Commerce is also spearheading the process for product exemptions. The National Security Council is overseeing the entire process. The May 1 deadline on the tariff exemptions was set in a presidential memorandum on the topic.

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UK says they have a solution, but not what that is.

Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that talks are at risk if the UK does not soften its red line on the Irish border issue. Speaking to reporters on his third visit to Ireland since the referendum, Michel Barnier said he was “not optimistic” and “not pessimistic” but “determined” that the two sides can break the current impasse on talks. He repeated recent declarations that unless Britain came up with fresh thinking on how to avoid a hard border by the June EU council summit, further talks were in danger of collapsing. “Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop [solution], and we are ready for any proposal … there is a risk, a real risk,” he said.

But he hinted that the UK would not have to come up with the final deal for Ireland, describing the June summit as “a stepping stone” to the October deadline for the wider Brexit deal to be completed. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said Britain’s “approach to negotiations will need to change in some way” if there is to be agreement over the issue. Appearing alongside Varadkar and his deputy, Simon Coveney, Barnier said the EU was “absolutely united” on the Irish question but wanted to work with the UK to find a practical solution. Coveney warned that there would be “difficulties” at the next EU council summit in June in progressing to wider Brexit talks unless the UK commited to wording for a “backstop” solution for the Irish border.

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It would be fun.

South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said U.S. President Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said on Monday. “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to a presidential Blue House official who briefed media. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday pledged at a summit to end hostilities between their countries and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Trump is preparing for his own summit with Kim, which he said would take place in the next three to four weeks.

The Trump administration has led a global effort to impose ever stricter sanctions on North Korea and the U.S. president exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. In January, Moon said Trump “deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure”. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency, an award many thought was premature, given that he had little to show for his peace efforts beyond rhetoric.

Even Obama said he was surprised and by the time he collected the prize in Oslo at the end of that year, he had ordered the tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. As well as Obama, three U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. Moon’s Nobel Prize comment came in response to a congratulatory message from Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, in which she said Moon deserved to win the prize, the Blue House official said. Moon responded by saying Trump should get it.

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Nothing leaks like Washington.

Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the US election, wants to ask Donald Trump about contact between his former election campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia, the New York Times reported on Monday. The paper said it had obtained a list of nearly 50 questions that Mueller, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, wants to put to the US president. More than half relate to potential obstruction of justice. “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” is one of the more dramatic questions published by the Times.

The pointed reference to Manafort breaks tantalising new ground, since there was no previous evidence linking him to outreach to Moscow. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, tweeted: “This is very interesting – strong evidence that there are still collusion threads that are not yet public.” Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty last October to a 12-count indictment accusing them of conspiring to defraud the US by laundering $30m from their work for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. a dramatic insight into the special counsel’s mind and make clear that Trump is a subject, not a mere witness, in the investigation. It is not yet known whether the president will agree to be interviewed.

One batch of questions relates to alleged coordination between the Trump election campaign and Moscow. Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about rival Hillary Clinton is naturally under scrutiny. Mueller wants to ask when Trump became aware of the meeting; Trump Jr claimed his father did not know about it in advance.

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Set up a program to bring peace to Central America. Kick out the CIA. They will stop coming.

First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)

The first eight members of a “caravan” of Central American migrants entered U.S. territory to seek asylum on Monday, after a month-long journey through Mexico that drew the wrath of President Donald Trump. The eight women and children walked through a door into the San Ysidro port of entry on the bidding of a customs and border patrol officer, a Reuters witness said, hours after Vice President Mike Pence promised they would be processed in line with U.S. law. About three quarters of claims by Central American asylum seekers are ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in detention and deportation.

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Medium or well-done?

That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)

I had a fellow on my latest podcast, released Sunday, who insists that the world population will crash 90-plus percent from the current 7.6 billion to 600 million by the end of this century. Jack Alpert heads an outfit called the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab (SKIL) which he started at Stanford University in 1978 and now runs as a private research foundation. Alpert is primarily an engineer. At 600 million, the living standard in the USA would be on a level with the post-Roman peasantry of Fifth century Europe, but without the charm, since many of the planet’s linked systems — soils, oceans, climate, mineral resources — will be in much greater disarray than was the case 1,500 years ago.

Anyway, that state-of-life may be a way-station to something more dire. Alpert’s optimal case would be a world human population of 50 million, deployed in three “city-states,” in the Pacific Northwest, the Uruguay / Paraguay border region, and China, that could support something close to today’s living standards for a tiny population, along with science and advanced technology, run on hydropower. The rest of world, he says, would just go back to nature, or what’s left of it. Alpert’s project aims to engineer a path to that optimal outcome. I hadn’t encountered quite such an extreme view of the future before, except for some fictional exercises like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. (Alpert, too, sees cannibalism as one likely byproduct of the journey ahead.)

Obviously, my own venture into the fictionalized future of the World Made by Hand books depicted a much kinder and gentler re-set to life at the circa-1800 level of living, at least in the USA. Apparently, I’m a sentimental softie. Both of us are at odds with the more generic techno-optimists who are waiting patiently for miracle rescue remedies like cold fusion while enjoying re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. (Alpert doesn’t completely rule out as-yet-undeveloped energy sources, though he acknowledges that they’re a low-percentage prospect.) We do agree with basic premise that the energy supply is mainly what supports the way we live now, and that it shows every evidence of entering a deep and destabilizing decline that will halt the activities necessary to keep our networks of dynamic systems running.

A question of interest to many readers is how soon or how rapid the unraveling of these systems might be. When civilizations crumble, it tends to fast-track. The Roman empire seems to be an exception, but in many ways it was far more resilient than ours, being a sort of advanced Flintstones economy, with even its giant-scale activities (e.g. building the Coliseum) being accomplished by human-powered work.

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Never again.

Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)

In May, tough new privacy laws are being introduced across Europe, offering EU consumers far greater control over their data and large fines for firms which break the rules. It is worth pausing to think about how we got to this point. To begin to understand, we must remember that data can easily be copied, shared and collected from multiple sources. Whenever we use digital devices – everything from web browsers, to phones, loyalty cards and CCTV cameras – we create data that allows advertisers, insurers, the police and others to understand aspects of our lives. Only its availability and the ingenuity of its handler limits what it can tell us. This is very different to a traditional commodity that can be bought and sold: a house, for example.

If you sell your house, the buyer might come to understand something of your personality, perhaps through a taste for high-spec kitchens and red carpets. Beyond that, the potential insight into your life is limited – your diaries and photo albums will have moved with you. With data, it is more complicated. Once you sign up for an online service, constant and often seamless data collection starts. Minimal understanding and agreement are often sufficient for this collection to begin: clicking “I agree” to terms and conditions you may or may not have read can be enough. It’s as if, rather than handing over a clean and tidy house, you have invited the buyer to move in with you and start taking notes: how you behave, whom you talk to, who visits you and who spends the night.

Many people never have a clear understanding of how the data they produce is shared, collected and interpreted. It can be combined with data from other sources, and investigated in unpredictable and unforeseen ways to gain in-depth knowledge about our lives, preferences, and likely future behaviours. This knowledge can be used to influence us in subtle but powerful ways. The advertisements, news, and friends we encounter online are often the result of this nudging. And, unlike a house, the data can be copied again and again at little to no cost, reaching an unlimited number of people. It is clear that the risks to privacy with data are substantial. Recognising this, additional safeguards are being introduced.

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The damage being done to Britain is unbelievable.

Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” Over the past few years, as austerity has deepened, more schools and individual teachers are bailing out disadvantaged families because they simply can’t say no. The latest government figures show 100,000 more children propelled into poverty in just 12 months.

There are 4.1 million children – nearly a third of the entire child population – living in households on less than 60% of the average income. At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left. Williams says it is not so much that poverty is more severe, but that it has spread. “It’s everybody. Your average family is like that now.” The core group of those needing support in her school is three times larger than when she became a head 10 years ago.

Evidence of hungry children is clear, say teachers. “You notice kids borrowing money from friends to buy food, kids falling asleep, kids saying they’ve got a tummy ache, and they didn’t have breakfast because Mummy didn’t have anything in,” says Morton. She has also seen children taking scraps from the school bins. Heads in poor catchments notice a difference when they attend meetings at other schools. “If you go and see kids in two different areas, they’ll be noticeably different heights,” says Morton.

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