Mar 242019
 


Edward Hopper New York movie 1938

 

Mueller – The Name That Ended All Mainstream Media Credibility (RT)
The Accountability That Must Follow Mueller’s Report (Solomon)
Russiagate Is WMD Times A Million (Matt Taibbi)
As Tory MPs Plot May’s Downfall, Her Last Allies Battle For Her Survival (G.)
Pro-Remain MPs Draw Up Plans To Vote On Revoking Article 50 (O.)
‘One Million’ Protesters Join Historic March For Second Referendum (Ind.)
The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)
UK Fracking Plan ‘Will Release Same CO2 As 300 Million New Cars’ (O.)
Greek Homes In Airbnb Fever (AFP)
Hunt For Bogus Asthma Cure Threatens Pangolins (O.)

 

 

I could gloat and congratulate myself for having resisted the anti-Trump Russiagate mania for 2-3 years. But I’m occupied by wondering where this will go from here. Same with Brexit: what will all this folly lead to?

Mueller – The Name That Ended All Mainstream Media Credibility (RT)

Important pundits and news networks have served up an impressive display of denials, evasions and on-air strokes after learning that Robert Mueller has ended his probe without issuing a single collusion-related indictment. The Special Counsel delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr for review on Friday, with the Justice Department confirming that there will be no further indictments related to the probe. The news dealt a devastating blow to the sensational prophesies of journalists, analysts and entire news networks, who for nearly two years reported ad nauseam that President Donald Trump and his inner circle were just days away from being carted off to prison for conspiring with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Some journalists and television anchors took to Twitter and the airwaves on Friday night to acknowledge that the media severely misreported Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, as well as what Mueller’s probe was likely to find. “How could they let Trump off the hook?” an inconsolable Chris Matthews asked NBC reporter Ken Dilanian during a segment on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’. Dilanian tried to comfort the MSNBC host with some of his signature punditry. “My only conclusion is that the president transmitted to Mueller that he would take the Fifth. He would never talk to him and therefore, Mueller decided it wasn’t worth the subpoena fight,” he expertly mused. Actually, there were several journalists who conjured up a reason why Mueller didn’t throw the book at Trump, even though the president is clearly a Putin puppet.

“It’s certainly possible that Trump may emerge from this better than many anticipated. However! Consensus has been that Mueller would follow DOJ rules and not indict a sitting president. I.e. it’s also possible his report could be very bad for Trump, despite ‘no more indictments,'” concluded Mark Follman, national affairs editor at Mother Jones, who presumably, and very sadly, was not being facetious. Revered news organizations were quick to artfully modify their expectations regarding Mueller’s findings. “What is collusion and why is Robert Mueller unlikely to mention it in his report on Trump and Russia?” a Newsweek headline asked following Friday’s announcement. Three months earlier, Newsweek had meticulously documented all the terrible “collusion” committed by Donald Trump and his inner circle.

The denials, evasions and bizarre hot takes are made even more poignant by the fact that just days ago, there was still serious talk about Trump’s entire family being hauled off to prison. “You can’t blame MSNBC viewers for being confused. They largely kept dissenters from their Trump/Russia spy tale off the air for 2 years. As recently as 2 weeks ago, they had @JohnBrennan strongly suggesting Mueller would indict Trump family members on collusion as his last act,” journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted. While the Mueller report has yet to be released to the public, the lack of indictments makes it clear that whatever was found, nothing came close to the vast criminal conspiracy alleged by virtually the entire American media establishment.

“You have been lied to for 2 years by the MSM. No Russian collusion by Trump or anyone else. Who lied? Head of the CIA, NSA,FBI,DOJ, every pundit every anchor. All lies,” wrote conservative activist Chuck Woolery. Kim Dotcom was more blunt, but said it all: “Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.”

Read more …

John Solomon start out saying Trump’s lawyers have been right in their approach to Mueller.

The Accountability That Must Follow Mueller’s Report (Solomon)

Now, Mueller’s investigations leave one major mission unfinished: meting out justice to the intelligence, congressional, FBI and DOJ officials who appear to have used a political dirty trick to falsely weave an unproven narrative of Russia collusion. Unverified political opposition research never should be treated as actionable intelligence or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) evidence, as it was in this case. Just hours before Mueller’s report arrived, new evidence emerged of just how egregious the FBI acted in the early days of the Russia probe.

Fox News’s brilliant reporter Catherine Herridge obtained new text messages Friday showing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and his chief lawyer, Lisa Page, were discussing credibility issues and “bias” about a key human source whose work was to support the FISA warrant used to first spy on the Trump campaign in October 2016. Those credibility issues likely were hidden from the judges who approved the warrant of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page). As I have reported, the FBI also possesses emails showing concerns with the evidence it was going to use to support the FISA warrant.

Likewise the bureau didn’t disclose to the court that: • the “Steele dossier” that was the main FISA evidence was paid for with funds from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party; • Christopher Steele, the dossier’s author, had told a senior DOJ official he was desperate to defeat Trump; • most of the dossier was not verified before it was used as evidence of alleged Trump-Russia collusion; and • agents collected statements from key defendants such as Papadopoulos and Carter Page during interactions with an FBI informant that strongly suggested their innocence. Such omissions are so glaring as to constitute defrauding a federal court. And each and every participant to those omissions needs to be brought to justice.

Read more …

Prediction: the media are going to dig in.

Russiagate Is WMD Times A Million (Matt Taibbi)

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media. As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no “presidency-wrecking” conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of “collusion” with Russia. With the caveat that even this news might somehow turn out to be botched, the key detail in the many stories about the end of the Mueller investigation was best expressed by the New York Times: “A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments.”

The Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. Nobody even pretended it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission, instead of an act of faith. The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.” The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an “endorsement” of the fineness of Mueller’s work:

“In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step.” Mueller, in other words, never stepped out of the bounds of his job description. But could the same be said for the news media?

Read more …

They should all go. Call elections, call off Brexit for now. This has become a threat to the UK itself.

As Tory MPs Plot May’s Downfall, Her Last Allies Battle For Her Survival (G.)

Tory insiders described the party’s atmosphere as “end of days”. May was in her Chequers retreat on Sunday, talking tactics to colleagues. She faces resignations from both wings of her cabinet should her Brexit deal be voted down this week, as expected. One of her team said they expected Brexit to come down to a “blunt choice between no deal or a customs union [with the EU]”. Pro-Remain ministers will not tolerate any endorsement of a no-deal Brexit. But some pro-Brexit ministers have said that May could not carry on in No 10 unless she backed a no-deal Brexit. “It is being said that the only way she could stay on as prime minister is if she backed no-deal,” said a cabinet source. “That is where the party is – anything else would cause a huge division.”

While accepting that May faces a terminal loss of support, some senior ministers are also warning that toppling her now would unleash a general election and a leadership fight that would be “toxic” for the Tories. “It is much better that one person is held responsible for all this mess,” said one senior minister.“If you get shot of her this week, you can almost guarantee an election and a whole set of problems.” There is no clear plan of what would happen should May stand down. Some assume that her de facto deputy, David Lidington, would take over. However, seen as a pro-Remain minister, he would also face serious challenges from Tory MPs if he attempted to engineer a soft Brexit. One minister said: “The idea that everyone would step back and allow David Lidington to deliver a soft Brexit is absurd.”

Read more …

A national government anyone?

Pro-Remain MPs Draw Up Plans To Vote On Revoking Article 50 (O.)

Pro-Remain MPs are drawing up plans for a vote on revoking article 50 as an emergency measure to stop Britain crashing out of the EU, after an online petition to cancel Brexit became the most popular ever. By Saturday night more than 4.6 million people had signed the petition on the parliament website, which states: “A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now”. Public discussion about halting Brexit was considered politically toxic until just days ago. But that shifted last week as the prospect of crashing out drew closer and the number of petition signatures rose dramatically. A cross-party group of parliamentarians is now examining the possibility of cancelling the Brexit process, following concerns that Theresa May could end up backing Tory MPs who favour a no-deal departure if her own withdrawal agreement is rejected again.

They are planning to table an amendment to Brexit legislation closer to the day of Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU. The European court of justice ruled late last year that Britain could unilaterally revoke article 50, although not just to buy time. Writing on theguardian.com, the Tory MP Phillip Lee said that the people had to be given an opportunity to reconsider Brexit and that one way of allowing this to happen would be to revoke article 50. “Mrs May should ensure that the UK has the time and the space to do this in a properly considered way – either by seeking a long extension of article 50, or by taking back control and revoking it altogether.”

Read more …

One time is not enough. They should be there again today, and tomorrow. Will they?

‘One Million’ Protesters Join Historic March For Second Referendum (Ind.)

An estimated 1 million people staged one of the biggest marches in British history to demand a second referendum on Brexit and for the public to have the Final Say on the gathering crisis. The streets of central London were clogged with protesters from across the country, urging politicians – faced with the country potentially crashing out of the EU in just three weeks’ time – to hand the decision back to the people. Aerial cameras captured the spectacular scenes of the vast throng winding its way to outside the Houses of Parliament to hear passionate speeches from MPs of all parties.

Perhaps the most dramatic picture was the unfurling of an enormous banner with the pre-referendum words of David Davis, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP: “If a democracy cannot change, it ceases to be a democracy.” Among the speakers were Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, who called out to Theresa May, saying: “Have a look out of the window prime minister. Open your curtains. Switch on your TV. Here are the people.” Some in the crowd cried out “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” – the Labour leader, who was later revealed to be campaigning for his party ahead of local elections in Lancashire. Michael Heseltine, the Conservative grandee, used his speech to express “contempt” for Brexiteers “wrapped in a Union Jack” who invoke Winston Churchill for their cause.

Read more …

Wolf Richter and an insane amount of graphs. Pretty scary.

The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)

US corporate debt, excluding debt by banks – so “nonfinancial” corporate debt – has surged in recent years by all measures and to such an extent that it was featured prominently in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report, in terms of what might trigger the next financial crisis. The Fed is counting total nonfinancial business debts, which include the debts of businesses that are not incorporated. It found about $17 trillion in debts.

A narrower measure is nonfinancial corporate debt, which amounts to $15 trillion. This is up a breath-taking 40% from the prior peak in 2008. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) uses this measure to compare how corporate debt stacks up in different countries. One of its measures is corporate debt denominated in local currency; and in order to determine the relative size of this debt, the BIS expresses it as a percent of nominal local-currency GDP. So Chinese debt in yuan as a percent of Chinese GDP in yuan. By this measure, the US nonfinancial corporate debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned to the highest ever: a stunning whopping 73.9% of GDP:

The BIS also converts local-currency debt to dollars, so that the total debts can be compared from one country to another. And the US corporate debt of $15 trillion pales compared to China’s corporate debt of $19.7 trillion. But that is down from the $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, at which point Chinese authorities got serious about deleveraging the corporate sector. The monstrous pileup of corporate debt in China happened in just 12 years:

China’s economy, while growing much faster than the US economy, is still quite a bit smaller than the US economy, when measured by GDP in US dollars. And so among the larger economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is unrivaled (though there are some small economies with special tax laws that blow right past China for other reasons, and we’ll get to those in a moment). The data for China goes back only to 2006. Note the effects of China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, with corporate debt-to-GDP ratio now down to 152.9%. But China is only in 7th Place by debt-to-GDP!

Read more …

But the profits!

UK Fracking Plan ‘Will Release Same CO2 As 300 Million New Cars’ (O.)

The government’s fracking proposals would release the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as almost 300 million new cars, fatally undermining ministers’ obligation to tackle the escalating climate crisis, according to new research. Analysis by the Labour party shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere if the government’s plans go ahead would be the same as the lifetime emissions of 286 million cars – or 29 new coal-fired power plants. The findings come as ministers’ efforts to kickstart their fracking proposals face growing resistance, with defeat in the courts, fierce local objections and opposition from Labour and Tory councils alike.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was in Lancashire on Saturday to join the anti-fracking campaign in the region, said a future Labour government would ban fracking “once and for all”. “The Conservatives’ fracking plans will damage our environment and fly in the face of community opposition,” he said. “There is a clear alternative to fracking. Clean, renewable energy is the future of our economy and will create more than 400,000 jobs as part of Labour’s green industrial revolution.” Concerns about drilling flared in the run-up to Christmas when energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached government safety limits.

Several local authorities – including London, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and York – have expressed opposition to fracking. There is also opposition from many Tories. In Westminster, almost two dozen Tory MPs are reported to be against fracking and willing to “destroy the government’s majority” if it tries to weaken planning laws.

Read more …

I’m seeing it happen around me here in Athens. I’m staying in Koukaki. Very destructive.

Greek Homes In Airbnb Fever (AFP)

For Dimitra Dionysopoulou, who lives in the shadow of the Acropolis, there is no mistaking the signs of the Airbnb takeover in her neighbourhood. “Renovation noise, debris disposal bins on every street, and rolling luggage,” said the 50-year-old Athenian mother. Dionysopoulou has lived her entire life in the middle-class district of Koukaki, now in the midst of a home-sharing frenzy. In 2016, it was named Airbnb’s fifth fastest growing neighbourhood globally with an 800-percent jump in activity. Its selling point? Walking distance from one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites, as well as the state-of-the-art Acropolis museum. Hundreds of apartments in Koukaki’s ageing concrete buildings are now on offer.

Rents have doubled and entire families of tenants have been pushed out by cash-hungry owners, said Dionysopoulou. “Three families I know have already left, and we are currently trying to find a home for a fourth,” she told AFP. [..] Dionysopoulou is not alone in feeling that the Airbnb phenomenon, as in other major cities, has run amok. Greek authorities this year belatedly introduced registration and tax rules for Airbnb homeowners. According to Angelos Skiadas, head of Greece’s tenant association, the home-sharing craze has even spread to far-off Athens suburbs with no tourist interest. “Homeowners think this is a cure-all that will solve their problems for life. Many use Airbnb as a threat (to raise the rent),” he said.

Read more …

More of my friends leave every single day.

Hunt For Bogus Asthma Cure Threatens Pangolins (O.)

One of nature’s most remarkable creatures, the pangolin, is being driven to extinction as hunting and trafficking have soared in recent years. Studies have discovered that hundreds of thousands of these distinctive, scaly animals are now being killed every year to satisfy markets in Asia, making it the most trafficked and poached mammal on Earth. The pangolin is hunted for its meat – and also for its scales, which are believed to have important medicinal properties as cures for poor circulation, skin complaints and asthma. Last January, authorities in Hong Kong seized 8.3 tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria bound for Vietnam.

It was one of the largest confiscation of the animal’s scales ever made and its weight suggests that around 13,800 animals died to make up the consignment. In addition, in February, Malaysian customs officers seized 1,800 boxes that contained 30 tonnes of frozen pangolins and pangolin parts. Ironically, the confiscation was made only a few days before World Pangolin Day was held on 16 February this year. “We simply do not know if pangolins can withstand this level of hunting,” said Daniel Ingram of University College London. “The problem is compounded by the fact we do not have reliable pangolin population estimates.” Ingram is lead author of a paper on pangolin trafficking that has just been published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

Read more …

Feb 282019
 


Leonardo da Vinci Ginevra de’ Benci 1474-78

 

Perhaps against better judgment, I just can’t keep silent about the Michael Cohen’s in da House show performed on February 27. I was watching it and increasingly fearing for the future of America. We had all been able to read his prepared statement before he opened the party with it, and therefore we all knew there was nothing there. So why did this thing take place, and why were all the cameras and reporters there? Do we live in split realities these days?

Both before and after the gruelling -for the viewer- session, words like ‘explosive’ and bombshell’ were all over, so I thought I’d watch, since I might have missed something, but no, there was nothing, there wasn’t even a there there. Apparently, US House members are by now immune to being revealed as nutcases frantically phishing for evidence of accusations they formerly made but could never prove.

A phishing expedition with a willing whale in the center who sort of volunteered to be harpooned, and still came up with absolutely nothing but blubber. And then like 4 hours of that. There’s never been a more convincing picture of what US politics and media have become. But they’re all entirely impervious to it. They’re discussing nothing for hours on end with millions watching, and they see it as normal.

Now, I’ve been following the decay of the American press ever since Trump entered politics stage right, and I’ve written a hundred thousand words about it, but it really hit home during the Cohen session. Tellingly, the Republican House members were exclusively focusing on Cohen credibility, since he had been caught lying to Congress before, and the Supreme Court just days ago disbarred him.

But this was not about the man’s credibility, and sure, I felt sorry for him too, it was about the fact that he had nothing at all to say, but Republicans had nothing on that. They instead joined the Dems in questioning him about nothing, pretending it was big and explosive and stuff. If anything has ever resembled the Emperor’s new clothes, it was that charade there yesterday.

 

If you insist, we can walk through a few of the topics. A nice example that was not in the prepared statement was that Cohen claimed he had never wanted a White House job, but even the CNN pundits were saying he had wanted one for a long time, and was very insulted when he didn’t get it. Poof! went the last shred of his credibility. Well, not for the House members, they have shorter memories even than CNN talking heads.

Second, the issue of a Trump Tower in Moscow, about which Cohen allegedly lied earlier on, in that the plans were shelved later than he had claimed. But the only thing that really interests the House, because even they understand that wanting to build a hotel in the city is not some criminal thing, is Russiagate, invented out of thin air but still popular stateside.

The one thing related to this that collusion ‘experts’ emphasize time and again, and it came up again in the Cohen thing, is that Trump supposedly planned to gift a penthouse apartment in a potential Trump hotel on Red Square to Vladimir Putin. Conveniently, not a single American appears to have wondered whether Putin would be interested in such a gift.

And I can assure you he wouldn’t. Putin can get -just about- any piece of real estate he wants on Red Square, besides he already has the Kremlin, and he can get anything built there which he might desire. Accepting a free dwelling from a US builder makes no sense. Why should he? Still, this is one of the main items Russiagaters keep coming up with. It makes no sense, and that’s fitting, because neither do they.

Second, pornstar pay-offs. Male politicians worldwide and through the ages have had affairs, and in modern times (re: JFK) there’s been an understanding that the media leave these things alone. On the one hand, it’s proof of virility, something voters like in their candidates, and on the other it shows infidelity, something they don’t. A battle no-one can win, hence the understanding.

In France, this all plays out a bit more openly, though never in the open, but in the US you can break the pact if you want. And since the initial story was that campaign funds had been used to pay Stormy Daniels, there was a potential criminal angle. But we now know that that angle was fake, so no there there either. Trump paid so it (true or not) didn’t become a big campaign story, and that he did so just before an election is irrelevant, because the whole topic is irrelevant. Unless you want to exhume JFK.

 

Third and what pisses me off more than anything, is that Cohen both volunteered, and was coaxed into, talking about Roger Stone’s alleged contacts with Julian Assange. Cohen talked about a conversation between Stone and Trump on July 18-19 2016, in which Stone allegedly said he had talked to Assange who told him WikiLeaks was going to release a big batch of Hillary-related mails.

The DNC convention was July 25-28, the WikiLeaks release July 22. Looks like a slam-dunk collusion story, right? Except that Assange had said 5 weeks earlier, on June 12 2016, that such a batch would be released. So even if Stone had talked to him, there was no news there. Moreover, both Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly denied the conversation ever took place. And of course Assange can’t defend himself against anything anyone says anymore.

And we can keep going: the assertion that the DNC mails were hacked has been refuted many times, and if they were stolen it was by someone inside the DNC. No story, no collusion, no there there. Only hour after tedious hour of Michael Cohen House testimony about nothing at all.

It felt a lot like a new low point in US political history, but you need to be careful with such classifications these days, since competition’s stiff and still picking up. I liked the following lines from an article in the Guardian this morning to appropriately describe the goings-on:

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years.

Here’s the best thing Cohen could do in the entire time wasted on the topic:

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.”

How does that not make you want to scream? No collusion, only “something odd”, and “so many dots”. A thorough analysis out of the mouth of an at least questionable character who worked closely with Trump for a decade. That’s all the US House of Representatives had to show for the show it put on. And that’s a really big problem, but there’s no-one in sight to address, let alone rectify, it.

There are a thousand things wrong with Donald Trump, but even though that would not necessarily disqualify him for the presidency, the Democrats and the mainstream press have opted to go all-in on the Russia collusion theme, which even two years and change of Mueller hasn’t been able to prove.

Whether this will be the winning ticket for the Democrats in a next election is very doubtful, and what the press hope to get other than a few more readers and viewers addicted to scandals is anyone’s guess. But more importantly: why do they do it? Why focus on all the made-up stories instead of going out and finding the real ones?

Even if the Cohen show not constitute a new low, it was certainly scraping the gutter of American political reality, and someone better do something, or entirely new and thus far unimaginable lows will be attained. Not a single national political system can survive on entirely trumped-up accusations for long, let alone that of the globe’s most powerful nation. Does anyone ever wonder what the Dems will do if Trump wins again in 2020? Where can they flee to?

I’ll leave you with a few Twitter voices who also see no there there. Note: the first one is dated July 7 2016, some two weeks before Stone -unverifiably- said he talked to Assange (who always denied it, but it wouldn’t matter even if he had) :

 

 

 

 

Aug 012016
 
 August 1, 2016  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Migratory agricultural worker family fixing tire along California highway US 99 1937

The IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) issued a report a few days ago entitled ‘The IMF and the Crises in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal’. It is so damning for managing director Christine Lagarde and her closest associates, that it’s hard to see, certainly at first blush, how they could all keep their jobs. But don’t be surprised if that is exactly what will happen.

Because organizations like the IMF don’t care much, if at all, about accountability. Their leaders think they are close to untouchable, at least as long as they have the ‘blessing’ of those whose interests they serve. Which in case of the IMF means the world’s major banks and the governments of the richest nations (who also serve the same banks’ interests). And if these don’t like the course set out, a scandal with a chambermaid is easily staged.

But the IEO doesn’t answer to Lagarde, it answers to the IMF’s board of executive directors. Still, despite multiple reports over the past few years out of the ‘inner layers’ of the Fund that were critical of, and showed far more comprehension of events than, Lagarde et al, the board never criticizes the former France finance minister in public. And maybe that should change; if the IMF is to hold on to the last shreds of its credibility, that is. But that brings us back to “Organizations like the IMF don’t care much, if at all, about accountability.”

What the IEO report makes very clear is that the IMF should never have agreed, as part of the Troika, to assist the EU in forcing austerity upon Greece without insisting on significant debt relief, in the shape of a haircut, or (a) debt writedown(s). The IMF’s long established policy is that both MUST happen together. But its Troika companion, the EU, is bound by the Lisbon Treaty, which stipulates: “The Union shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of central governments”. Also, the ECB can not “finance member states”.

If Lagarde and her minions had stayed true to their own ‘principles’, they should have refused to impose austerity on Greece if and when the EU refused debt relief (note: this has been playing out since at least 2010). They did not, however.

 

 

The IMF caved in (how willingly is hard to gauge), and the entire Troika agreed to waterboard Greece. The official excuse for bending the IMF’s own rules was the risk of ‘contagion’. But in a surefire sign that Lagarde et al were not acting with, let’s say, a “clear conscience”, they hid this decision from their own executive board.

Moreover, the IEO now says it was unable to obtain key records or assess the activities of secretive “ad-hoc task forces”. “Many documents were prepared outside the regular established channels; written documentation on some sensitive matters could not be located; [the IEO] has not been able to determine who made certain decisions or what information was available, nor has it been able to assess the relative roles of management and staff..”

One must wonder why the IMF has an executive board at all. Is it only to provide a facade of credibility and international coherence? When it becomes so clear, and -no less- through a report issued by one of its own offices, that its ‘boots on the ground’ care neither for its established policies nor for its board, isn’t it time for the board to interfere lest the Fund loses even more credibility?

The IMF’s main problem, which many insiders may ironically see as its main asset, is the lack of transparency, combined with the overwhelming power exerted by the US and Europe. And Europe’s grip on the IMF is exactly what the report is about, in that it accuses Lagarde et al of bowing to EU pressure, to the extent that it abandons its own guiding ‘laws’. It acted like it was the European Monetary Fund, not the international one.

So there’s no transparency, no accountability, and in the end that will lead to no credibility and no relevance. Well, that’s exactly how the EU lost Britain. And that shows where accountability and credibility are important even for non-democratic supra-national institutions, something these institutions are prone to neglect.

No, there will not be a vote put to the people, no referendum on the IMF. Though that would sure be interesting. What can happen, though, is that countries, even large ones like China and Russia, threaten to leave, perhaps start their own alternative fund. These things have already been widely discussed.

What is sure is that the US/Europe-centered character of the Fund will have to change. If Washington and Brussels try to appoint another European as managing director (an unwritten law thus far) they will face a rebellion.

 

 

That next appointment may come sooner than we think. Because Christine Lagarde is in trouble. It’s even a bit strange, and that’s putting it gently, that she’s still in her job. What’s hanging over her head is a 2008 case, in which she approved a payment of €403 million to businessman Bernard Tapie, for ‘losses’ he was to have suffered in 1993 when French bank Crédit Lyonnais supposedly undervalued his stake in Adidas.

Lagarde is accused of negligence in the case, in particular because she ignored advice from her own ministry (yeah, that does smack like the IMF thing) and let the Tapie case go to a special arbitration committee instead of the courts. That Tapie was a supporter of the Sarkozy government Lagarde served as finance minister at the time makes it juicier.

So does this: In 1993 Crédit Lyonnais was a private bank. But in 2008, it had been wound up and was run by a state-operated consortium. Therefore, the €403 million ‘awarded’ to Tapie out-of-court was all taxpayers money. Even juicier: in December 2015, a French appeal court overruled the compensation and ordered Tapie to repay the money, with interest.

What’s peculiar about Lagarde staying on at the IMF is that she is not merely under investigation or even ‘only’ accused of committing a crime. Instead, she has been ordered to stand trial, something she’s spent 8 years trying to avoid. Still, apparently nobody sees any problem in her continuing to act as Managing Director of the IMF.

That is quite something. And it directly affects the Fund’s credibility. If a president or prime minister of a country, any country, had been ordered to stand trial, the likely procedure would be to temporarily stand down and let someone else take care of government business pending the trial.

As it stands, however, Lagarde is allowed to sit pretty. And then? Borrowing from the Guardian: “A charge of negligence in the use of public money carries a one-year jail sentence and a €15,000 fine. The CJR is made up of six members of the French Assemblée Nationale, six members of the upper house, the Senate and three magistrates. No date has been set for the hearing.”

Ironically, negligence turns out to be a very light charge. Someone in Lagarde’s position could have given away or squandered trillions of euros and then be fined €15,000. But then, class justice is alive and well in France. What are the odds that she will be convicted? She’d have to be found with a chambermaid in Manhattan for that to happen…

 

 

That’s perhaps what the IMF board are thinking too. Whether that’s wise remains to be seen. Hubris rules all these institutions, sheltered as they are from the real world. But the real world is changing.

Ironically, many people think these changes will reinforce the IMF. Since the Fund can issue a sort of ‘super money’ in the shape/guise of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), and especially China would seem to like SDRs becoming the world’s reserve currency instead of the US dollar, the IMF in some people’s eyes holds a trump card.

There may well be an effort to hide private and public debt throughout the planet even more than it is hidden now, through SDRs. We’ll likely see governments and perhaps large corporations issue bonds denominated in SDRs. China seems to think that this could potentially halt much of its capital flight.

My trouble with this is that it’s either too unclear or too clear who would profit most from such schemes. Even if the next managing director of the IMF is not European, but Asian or African, the puppet masters of the Fund will still be the same western financial ‘cabal’. And I don’t see China or Russia signing up to that kind of control, and willingly expand it by making SDRs far more important.

Then again, there’s a sh*tload of debt that needs to be hidden, and the whole world is running out of carpet to sweep it under. Then again, Russia is not that indebted. It’ll be hard to get a consensus.

 

 

But all that won’t help Greece. Let’s get back to that. We left off where Lagarde conspired with the EU, under the guise of preventing contagion, to abandon the IMF’s own rules in order to waterboard the country. Of course, we know, though nobody writing on the IEO report mentions it, that the contagion they were trying to prevent was not so much between nations but between banks.

The bailout-related policies and actions that Lagarde hid from her own board (!) were designed to make French and German banks ‘whole’ at the cost of the Greek people. It became austerity, so severe as to make no sense whatsoever -certainly inside an alleged ‘Union’-, even if the IMF -not the world most charitable institution- has always banned this without being accompanied by strong debt relief.

Schäuble and Dijsselbloem saved Germany and Holland at the expense of Greece. This will end up being the undoing of the EU, even if nobody’s willing to acknowledge it despite the glaring evidence of the Brexit.

It will probably be the undoing of the IMF as well. And there I get back to what I’ve said 1000 times: centralization can only work in times of growth. There is no conceivable reason, other than dictatorship, why people would want to be part of a centralizing movement unless they get richer from it.

In today’s shrinking global economy, we have passed a point of no return in this regard. Everyone will want out of these institutions, and get back to making their own decisions about their own lives, instead of having these decisions being taken by some far away board with no accountability.

Let’s end with a few quotes about the IEO report. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was in fine form:

IMF Admits Disastrous Love Affair With The Euro and Apologises For The Immolation Of Greece

The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.

[..] In Greece, the IMF violated its own cardinal rule by signing off on a bailout in 2010 even though it could offer no assurance that the package would bring the country’s debts under control or clear the way for recovery, and many suspected from the start that it was doomed. The organisation got around this by slipping through a radical change in IMF rescue policy, allowing an exemption (since abolished) if there was a risk of systemic contagion. “The board was not consulted or informed,” it said. The directors discovered the bombshell “tucked into the text” of the Greek package, but by then it was a fait accompli.

[..] The injustice is that the cost of the bailouts was switched to ordinary Greek citizens – the least able to support the burden – and it was never acknowledged that the true motive of EU-IMF Troika policy was to protect monetary union. Indeed, the Greeks were repeatedly blamed for failures that stemmed from the policy itself. This unfairness – the root of so much bitterness in Greece – is finally recognised in the report. “If preventing international contagion was an essential concern, the cost of its prevention should have been borne – at least in part – by the international community as the prime beneficiary,” it said.

 

 

That would seem to leave the IMF just one option: to apologize profoundly to Greece, to demand from the EU that all unjust measures be reversed and annulled, and to set up a very large fund (how about €1 trillion) specifically to support the Greek people, including retribution of lost funds, repair of the health care system, reinstatement of a pension system that can actually keep people alive and so on and so forth.

And to top it off of course: debt writedowns as far as the eye can see. You f**k up, you pay the price. This makes me think of a remark by Angela Merkel a few weeks ago, she said ‘we have found the right mix when it comes to Greece’. Well, Angela, that is so completely bonkers it’s insulting, and the IMF’s own evaluation office says so.

I like this one from Bill Black as well:

It was only after forcing the Greek people into a pointless purgatory of a decade of disaster that the troika would consider providing debt relief…The only ‘debt relief’ they offer to discuss is a ‘long rescheduling of debt payments at low interest rates.’ This, under their own dogmas, will lock Greece into a long-term debt trap that will materially lower Greece’s growth rate for decades and leave it constantly vulnerable to recurrent financial crises. That is a recipe for disaster for Greece, Italy, and Spain (collectively, 100 million citizens) and for the EU. It is financial madness – and that ignores the political instability it will cause to force an EU member nation to twist slowly in the wind for 50 years.”

Got that one off of Yanis Varoufakis’ site, and he must be feeling very vindicated, even if not nearly enough people express it, by the IMF report. Because he’s said all along what they themselves are now admitting. But it ain’t much good if nothing changes, is it? Or, as Varoufakis put it:

[..] to complete this week’s drubbing of the troika, the report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) saw the light of day. It is a brutal assessment, leaving no room for doubt about the vulgar economics and the gunboat diplomacy employed by the troika. It puts the IMF, the ECB and the Commission in a tight spot: Either restore a modicum of legitimacy by owning up and firing the officials most responsible or do nothing, thus turbocharging the discontent that European citizens feel toward the EU, accelerating the EU’s deconstruction.

[..] The question now is: What next? What good is it to receive a mea culpa if the policies imposed on the Greek government are the same ones that the mea culpa was issued for? What good is it to have a mea culpa if those officials who imposed such disastrous, inhuman policies remain on board and are, in fact, promoted for their gross incompetence?

In sum, an urgent apology is due to the Greek people, not just by the IMF but also by the ECB and the Commission whose officials were egging the IMF on with the fiscal waterboarding of Greece. But an apology and a collective mea culpa from the troika is woefully inadequate. It needs to be followed up by the immediate dismissal of at least three functionaries.

First on the list is Mr Poul Thomsen – the original IMF Greek Mission Chief whose great failure (according to the IMF’s own reports never before had a mission chief presided over a greater macroeconomic disaster) led to his promotion to the IMF’s European Chief status. A close second spot in this list is Mr Thomas Wieser, the chair of the EuroWorkingGroup who has been part of every policy and every coup that resulted in Greece’s immolation and Europe’s ignominy, hopefully to be joined into retirement by Mr Declan Costello, whose fingerprints are all over the instruments of fiscal waterboarding. And, lastly, a gentleman that my Irish friends know only too well, Mr Klaus Masuch of the ECB.

You probably guessed by now that I would certainly and urgently add Christine Lagarde to that list of people to be fired. And not appoint another French citizen as managing director. Too risky. They do crazy things. The IMF must be reorganized, and thoroughly, or it no longer has a ‘raison d’être’.

I see no reason to doubt that those who call the shots are too blinded by hubris to execute such measures, so I’ll list these things one more time: transparency, accountability, credibility and if you don’t have those you will lose your relevance.

But it’s probably a bad idea to begin with to let an economy, if not a world, in decline, be governed by the same people who owe their positions to its rise. It would seem to take another kind of mindframe.

Sep 192015
 
 September 19, 2015  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Arthur Siegel Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards, Baltimore, MD May 1943

US Stocks Tumble As Fed Sows Fear And Confusion (MarketWatch)
The Fed Has To Deal With Its Own Zombie Apocalypse (CNBC)
A ‘Third Mandate’ For Fed As China Worries Take Hold (CNBC)
The Fed Is Trapped: The Naked Emperor’s New “Reaction Function” (Zero Hedge)
The Fed May Have Just Stoked A Currency War (CNBC)
Fed Is Riding The Tail Of A Dangerous Global Tiger (AEP)
Central Banks Fret Stimulus Efforts Are Falling Short (Reuters)
China Is Hoarding the World’s Oil (Bloomberg)
Occam’s Razor Says The Stock Market Is In A Downtrend (MarketWatch)
Three Reasons Why the US Government Should Default on Its Debt Today (Casey)
Treasury to Delay Enforcing Part of Tax Law That Curbs Offshore Tax Evasion (WSJ)
Moody’s Downgrades Credit Rating Of France (AP)
Negative Interest Rates ‘Necessary To Protect UK Economy’ – BOE (Telegraph)
The Orthodoxy Has Failed: Europe Needs A New Economic Settlement (Jeremy Corbyn)
Hungary Stops Train With 1,000 Asylum Seekers Escorted By 40 Croatian Police (RT)
We Are Double-Plus Unfree (Margaret Atwood)
Global Warming ‘Pause’ Theory Is Dead But Still Twitching (Phys Org)

As I wrote a few days ago: it’s all about credibility and confidence.

US Stocks Tumble As Fed Sows Fear And Confusion (MarketWatch)

U.S. stocks sank Friday, with the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down for the week, as Federal Reserve’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged fueled fears about global economic growth. The central bank cited concerns about the global economy and a lack of inflation growth in its Thursday decision to leave interest rates unchanged. “Many are confused by the outcome of the recent Fed meeting,” said Kent Engelke at Capitol Securities. “Markets hate confusion and lack of clarity.” The S&P 500 skidded 32.16 points, or 1.6%, to close at 1,958.08 for a weekly loss of 0.2%. All S&P 500 sectors finished lower, led by energy shares. The Dow Jones dropped 289.95 points, or 1.7%, to close at 16,384.79 with all 30 components in the red. The blue-chip index edged down 0.3% for the week.

The Nasdaq shed 66.72 points, or 1.4% to 4,827.23. The tech-heavy index is the only one of the three major stock barometers to finish out the week higher with gains of 0.1%. Trading volume was elevated, with 5.74 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, due to “quadruple witching,” which means the expiration of various stock-index futures, stock-index options, stock options and single-stock futures. Friday is the second highest volume day of the year. “By not raising the rates, the Fed is now fanning global growth fears,” said Steven Wieting, global chief investment strategist, at Citi Private Bank. “The key for future market action depends largely on whether or not the Fed had any good cause to worry about international developments,” Wieting said.

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Setback of easy money: “..the bottom of the ladder has gotten more crowded..”

The Fed Has To Deal With Its Own Zombie Apocalypse (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve is scared—of lots of things, some obvious, some not so much. Thursday’s Fed decision to delay yet again the long-awaited liftoff from zero rates gave rise to still more speculation about why the U.S. central bank seems so perpetually reticent to normalize monetary policy. There are all the usual suspects, such as low inflation, weak wage gains despite strong job growth and China plus the rest of the emerging global economy. One reason that hasn’t gotten much attention is the need for the Fed to keep rates low both for government debt and the corporations that now have $12.5 trillion in debt. Among the prime beneficiaries of zero interest rates have been low-rated companies that have been able to borrow money at rates often in the 5% to 6% range.

A move to higher rates, even a small one, could have outsized impacts on those bad balance sheet companies.That puts the Fed in a bit of a Faustian bargain with issuers and holders that has become hard to break. Not only has high-yield issuance exploded in the days of the central bank’s ultra-easy accommodation, but the bottom of the ladder has gotten more crowded as well. About a quarter of all debt issued now in the junk universe is held by companies rated B3 or lower, according to Moody’s. Credit standards have continued to loosen as well, with the ratings agency reporting that its covenant quality index—essentially a read on how strict the conditions are on corporate borrowers—is at record lows.

“Businesses as a whole in the U.S. are better placed now to absorb any shocks that might hit them,” Bodhi Ganguli, senior economist at Dun & Bradstreet, said in a phone interview. “However, there are pockets of greater weakness like these zombie companies. These pockets are likely to see some more turbulence than overall conditions. Some companies definitely will go out of business.” It isn’t just the zombies, though, that should worry about higher rates. Corporate America overall has been piling on the debt, which grew 8.3 percent in the second quarter, according to figures the Fed released Friday.

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Would love to see a legal challenge to this. Can the Fed create its own mandates?

A ‘Third Mandate’ For Fed As China Worries Take Hold (CNBC)

Has the U.S. Federal Reserve become the world’s economic guardian? The central bank’s decision not to lift interest rates this week because of weakening global growth and a recent surge in market volatility has sparked talk of a “third mandate.” Analysts say that explicit references by the Fed following its meeting on Thursday to the China slowdown and its impact mark a significant departure for the central bank, which is mandated to ensure job creation and price stability in the U.S. economy. “The Federal Reserve’s third mandate appears to be global financial stability,” Mark Haefele at UBS said.

“The U.S. central bank has backed away from its first rate rise in over nine years, saying that international economic and financial weakness could dampen activity in the U.S.,” he said. Economists had been split over whether the Fed would deliver a long-anticipated rate increase this week and market expectations for when rates will rise have been pushed back further following a dovish Fed statement. In fact, one reason for the scaling back of rate-hike speculation in recent weeks has been growing concern about weakness in China – the world’s second-largest economy after the U.S. – and a sharp sell-off in emerging and developed markets in August. According to Deutsche Bank, global stock markets lost $5 trillion of their value in six days in August.

“The argument that global market developments are playing second fiddle to U.S. economic developments is a tenuous one, especially if the epicentre of global economic weakness is China – which is very important to U.S. economy,” Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy told CNBC. “It’s clear that what’s happening in China, especially in recent months, is having a massive deflationary impact so it’s about time we heard the Fed was concerned about China,” he said. Beijing is targeting a full-year growth rate of around 7%, which would be the slowest rate in almost 25 years. And there are concerns that the target will be missed amid weak economic data and a rout in Chinese stock markets that threaten to undermine confidence further.

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“..the FOMC would have been tightening into a tightening..”

The Fed Is Trapped: The Naked Emperor’s New “Reaction Function” (Zero Hedge)

Despite all the ballyhooing about moving to a more market-based exchange rate, the PBoC actually did the opposite on August 11. As BNP’s Mole Hau put it “whereas the daily fix was previously used to fix the spot rate, the PBoC now seemingly fixes the spot rate to determine the daily fix, [thus] the role of the market in determining the exchange rate has, if anything, been reduced in the short term.” Obviously, a reduced role for the market, means a greater role for the PBoC, and that of course means intervention via FX reserve drawdowns (i.e. the liquidation of US paper). Of course no one believed that China’s deval was “one and done” which meant that the pressure on the yuan increased and before you knew it, the PBoC was intervening all over the place.

By mid-September, PBoC intervention had cost some $150 billion between onshore spot interventions and offshore spot and forward meddling. The problem – as everyone began to pick up on some 10 months after we announced the death of the petrodollar – is that when EMs start liquidating their reserves, it works at cross purposes with DM QE. That is, it offsets it. Once this became suddenly apparent to everyone at the end of last month, market participants simultaneously realized – to their collective horror – that the long-running slump in commodity prices and attendant pressure on commodity currencies as well as the defense of various dollar pegs meant that, as Deutsche Bank put it, the great EM reserve accumulation had actually begun to reverse itself months ago. China’s entry into the global currency wars merely kicked it into overdrive.

What the above implies is that the Fed, were it to have hiked on Thursday, would have been tightening into a market where the liquidation of USD assets by foreign central banks was already sapping global liquidity and exerting a tightening effect of its own. In other words, the FOMC would have been tightening into a tightening. But that’s not all. When China devalued the yuan it also confirmed what the EM world had long suspected but what EM currencies, equities, and bonds had only partially priced in. Namely that China’s economy was crashing. For quite a while, the fact that Beijing hadn’t devalued even as the yuan’s dollar peg caused the RMB’s REER to appreciate by 14% in just 12 months, was viewed by some as a sign that things in China might not be all that bad.

After all, if a country with an export-driven economy can withstand a double-digit currency appreciation without a competitive devaluation even as the global currency wars are being fought all around it, then the situation can’t be too dire. Put simply, the devaluation on August 11 shattered that theory and reports that China is “secretly” targeting a much larger devaluation in order to boost export growth haven’t helped. For emerging markets, this realization was devastating. Depressed demand from China had already led to a tremendous amount of pain across emerging economies and the message the devaluation sent was that China’s economy wasn’t set to rebound any time soon, meaning global demand and trade will likely remain subdued, as will commodity prices.

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All this and that too.

The Fed May Have Just Stoked A Currency War (CNBC)

A lack of activity by the U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday may not have been a surprise, but it’s left no doubt in analysts’ minds that other central banks will now look to ease policy further, a move that could send more shock waves across global currency markets. Valentin Marinov at Credit Agricole told CNBC Friday that he expects global “currency wars” to intensify from here. He predicts the Bank of Japan, the ECB and the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has now effectively been pushed into unveiling more stimulus. “The Fed inaction could spur other central banks into action,” he said. “It is currency wars.” The dollar skidded to a three-week low against a basket of major currencies after Thursday’s decision.

This comes after the greenback had been appreciating significantly since the middle of last year in anticipation of higher interest rates in the U.S. A higher interest rate can mean a higher yield on assets and investors in the U.S. have been busy bringing their dollars home, and thus out of high-yielding foreign investments. A weaker dollar in the short term could now leave other global economies frustrated and dent export-focused companies that favor a weak domestic currency. Manipulating reserve levels can be one way that a country’s central bank can intervene against currency fluctuations. Other measures include altering benchmark interest rates and quantitative easing. Central banks often stress that exchange rates are not a primary policy goal and can be seen more as a positive by-product of monetary easing.

There have been discussions in the last few years that countries are purposefully debasing their own currencies – a concern that was termed “currency wars” by Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega in September 2010. Credit Agricole’s Marinov highlighted that the ECB could be the next to act by ramping up its current bond-buying program, thus weakening the single currency – even though its only mandate is to manage inflation. Analysts at BNP Paribas also stated Friday that the Fed decision had increased their conviction that the ECB would increase its quantitative easing program. Marc Ostwald, strategist at ADM ISI, said in a note Friday that the ECB and the BoJ who will now face “even bigger challenges, given that the Fed is clearly not in any hurry to live up to its part of the ‘policy divergence’ grand bargain.”

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Ambrose is lost. He claims the China crash bottomed out in April, because more debt has been added since then.

Fed Is Riding The Tail Of A Dangerous Global Tiger (AEP)

The US Federal Reserve would have been mad to raise interest rates in the middle of a panic over China and an emerging market storm, and doubly so to do it against express warnings from the IMF and the World Bank. The Fed is the world’s superpower central bank. Having flooded the international system with cheap dollar liquidity during the era of quantitative easing, it cannot lightly walk away from its global responsibilities – both as a duty to all those countries that were destabilized by dollar credit, and in its own enlightened self-interest. Dollar debt outside the jurisdiction of the US has reached $9.6 trillion, on the latest data from the Bank for International Settlements. Dollar loans to emerging markets have doubled since the Lehman crisis to $3 trillion.

The world has never been so leveraged, and therefore so acutely sensitive to any shift in monetary signals. Nor has the global financial system ever been so tightly inter-linked, and therefore so sensitive to the Fed. The BIS says total debt in the rich countries has jumped by 36%age points to 265pc of GDP since the peak of the last cycle, and by 50 points to 167pc in developing Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. It is wishful thinking to suppose that the world can brush off a Fed rate rise on the grounds that most of the debt is in local currencies. BIS research shows that they will face a rate shock regardless. On average, a 100 point move in US rates leads to a 43 point move in local currency borrowing costs in EM and open developed economies.

Given that the Fed was forced to reverse course dramatically in 1998 when the East Asia crisis blew up – for fear it would take down the US financial system – it can hardly go ahead nonchalantly with rate rises into the teeth of the storm today when emerging markets are an order of magnitude larger and account for 50pc of global GDP. Even if you reject these arguments, Goldman Sachs says the strong dollar and the market rout in August already amount to 75 basis points of monetary tightening for the US economy itself. Headline CPI inflation in the US is just 0.2pc. Prices fell in August. East Asian is transmitting a deflationary shock to the West, and it is not yet clear whether the trade depression in the Far East is safely over.

The argument that zero rates are unhealthy and impure is to let Calvinist psychology intrude on the hard science of monetary management. The chorus of demands – and just from ‘internet-Austrians’ – that rates should be raised in order to build up reserve ammunition in case they need to be cut later, is a line of reasoning that borders on insanity. If acted on, it would risk tipping us all into the very deflationary trap that we are supposed to be protecting ourselves against, the Irving Fisher moment when a sailing boat rolls beyond the point of natural recovery, and capsizes altogether. So hats off to Janet Yellen for refusing to listen to such dangerous counsel. However, the Fed is damned if it does, and damned if it does not, for by recoiling yet again it may well be storing up a different kind of crisis next year.

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Only solution: moar?!

Central Banks Fret Stimulus Efforts Are Falling Short (Reuters)

The world’s leading central banks are facing the risk that their massive efforts to revive economic growth could be dragged down again, with some officials arguing for bold new ideas to counter the threat of slow growth for years to come. A day after the U.S. Federal Reserve kept interest rates at zero, citing risks in the global economy, the Bank of England’s chief economist said central banks had to accept that interest rates might get stuck at rock bottom. In Japan, where interest rates have been at zero for more than 20 years, policymakers are already tossing around ideas for overhauling the Bank of Japan’s huge monetary stimulus program as they worry that it will be unsustainable in the future, according to sources familiar with its thinking.

Separately a top ECB official said the ECB’s bond-buying program might need to be rethought if low inflation becomes entrenched. But he added monetary policy would not restore economic growth over the long term. More than eight years after the onset of the financial crisis, the economies of the United States and Britain are growing at a healthier pace, in contrast to those of Japan and in many euro zone countries. But the risk of a sharp slowdown in China and other emerging economies has prevented the Fed from starting to raise interest rates and is being watched closely by the Bank of England.

Investors mostly think that the Fed’s delay will be short-lived and that it could begin raising rates before the end of the year, followed a few months later by Britain’s central bank. But the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, who has long been gloomy about the chances of a sustainable recovery, said the world might in fact be sinking into a new phase of the financial crisis – this time caused by emerging markets.

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Paid for with monopoly money. Where would the oil price be without this?

China Is Hoarding the World’s Oil (Bloomberg)

Even after China’s slowing economy dragged crude to a six-year low, oil’s second-biggest consumer remains the main safeguard against a further price meltdown. While China’s surprise currency devaluation helped trigger Brent crude’s slump to about $42 a barrel last month, the nation’s stockpiling of oil can staunch further losses. In the first seven months of the year, China purchased about half a million barrels of crude in excess of its daily needs, the most for the period since 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. As the country gathers bargain barrels for its strategic petroleum reserve, the demand is cushioning an oversupplied market from a further crash, according to Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

“It throws a lifeline to the market” that safeguards against the risk of crude touching $20 a barrel, Jeff Currie at Goldman Sachs said. “That lifeline lasts through late 2016.” Other countries have emergency oil-supply buffers, and while the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve has been stable at about 700 million barrels for years, China is expanding its stockpiles rapidly. The Asian nation has accumulated about 200 million barrels of crude in its reserve so far and aims to have 500 million by the end of the decade, according to the International Energy Agency. It’s currently filling a 19 million-barrel facility at Huangdao and will add oil at six sites with a combined capacity of about 132 million barrels over the next 18 months, the Paris-based adviser on energy policy estimates.

“The fact that China is stockpiling crude for public strategic storage certainly offsets the weaker sentiment on China’s oil-product demand,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA in London. China’s demand growth is set to slow to an annual rate of 2.3% by the fourth quarter compared with 5.6% in the second quarter, a reflection of “weak car sales data, declines in industrial activity, plummeting property prices and fragile electricity output,” the IEA said in a report on Sept. 11.

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As in: you can’t taper a Ponzi scheme.

Occam’s Razor Says The Stock Market Is In A Downtrend (MarketWatch)

Investors can forget the “death cross,” “bearish divergences” and “symmetrical triangles,” and what the Federal Reserve says it will do about interest rates, and just focus on Occam’s razor: The S&P 500 abandoned its long-term uptrend in late August, meaning it is now in a downtrend. Occam’s razor is the philosophical principle that suggests, all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. One of the most elementary trading maxims on Wall Street is “the trend is your friend.” That’s basically what all the short-term technical patterns, economic data and earnings reports are used for, to determine which direction the longer-term trend is heading, and whether it’s about to change.

Once that trend is determined, a tenet of the century-old Dow Theory of market analysis says it is assumed to remain in effect, until it gives definite signals that it has reversed, according to the Market Technicians Associations knowledge base. In other words, the trend is your friend, until it isn’t. After cutting through all the noise, a trendline is probably the best chart pattern to determine the trend, as it is also the simplest. And the simplest way to tell if a trend has reversed, is if the trendline breaks. The S&P 500 had been riding a strong weekly uptrend, defined by the trendline connecting the bottom of the last correction in October 2011 with the bottom of the November 2012 pullback and the October 2014 low. The S&P 500 fell below that line in late August, meaning the uptrend flipped to a downtrend. Based on the Occam’s razor principle, the uptrend was the friend of investors for four years, but now it isn’t.

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And so should Greece?!

Three Reasons Why the US Government Should Default on Its Debt Today (Casey)

The overleveraging of the U.S. federal, state, and local governments, some corporations, and consumers is well known. This has long been the case, and most people are bored by the topic. If debt is a problem, it has been manageable for so long that it no longer seems like a problem. U.S. government debt has become an abstraction; it has no more meaning to the average investor than the prospect of a comet smacking into the earth in the next hundred millennia. Many financial commentators believe that debt doesn’t matter. We still hear ridiculous sound bites, like “We owe it to ourselves,” that trivialize the topic. Actually, some people owe it to other people. There will be big transfers of wealth depending on what happens.

More exactly, since Americans don’t save anymore, that dishonest phrase about how we owe it to ourselves isn’t even true in a manner of speaking; we owe most of it to the Chinese and Japanese. Another chestnut is “We’ll grow out of it.” That’s impossible unless real growth is greater than the interest on the debt, which is questionable. And at this point, government deficits are likely to balloon, not contract. Even with artificially low interest rates. One way of putting an annual deficit of, say, $700 billion into perspective is to compare it to the value of all publicly traded stocks in the U.S., which are worth roughly $20 trillion. The current U.S. government debt of $18 trillion is rapidly approaching the stock value of all public corporations – and that’s true even with stocks at bubble-like highs.

If the annual deficit continues at the $700 billion rate – in fact it is likely to accelerate – the government will borrow the equivalent of the entire equity capital base of the country, which has taken more than 200 years to accumulate, in only 29 years. You should keep all this in the context of the nature of debt; it can be insidious. The only way a society (or an individual) can grow in wealth is by producing more than it consumes; the difference is called “saving.” It creates capital, making possible future investments or future consumption. Conversely, “borrowing” involves consuming more than is produced; it’s the process of living out of capital or mortgaging future production.

Saving increases one’s future standard of living; debt reduces it. If you were to borrow a million dollars today, you could artificially enhance your standard of living for the next decade. But, when you have to repay that money, you will sustain a very real decline in your standard of living. Even worse, since the interest clock continues ticking, the decline will be greater than the earlier gain. If you don’t repay your debt, your creditor (and possibly his creditors, and theirs in turn) will suffer a similar drop. Until that moment comes, debt can look like the key to prosperity, even though it’s more commonly the forerunner of disaster.

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And why not…

Treasury to Delay Enforcing Part of Tax Law That Curbs Offshore Tax Evasion (WSJ)

The Treasury Department said Friday it would delay enforcement of one key part of a 2010 law that is aimed at curbing offshore tax evasion, in a regulatory victory for banks. The law, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, requires foreign banks to start handing over information about U.S.-owned accounts to the Internal Revenue Service. It also would force banks and other financial institutions around the world to withhold a share of many types of payments to other banks that aren’t complying with the law. In effect, the withholding amounts to a kind of U.S. tax penalty on noncompliant financial institutions. The latest move by Treasury will push back the start of withholding for many types of transactions—such as stock trades—from 2017 until 2019.

Withholding for some other types of payments has already begun. The change will give banks more time to come into compliance with FATCA, and governments and the financial industry more time to work out some of the difficult details involved in withholding on more-complex financial transactions. The withholding provision is “the really big stick” in FATCA, said Michael Plowgian, a former Treasury official who is now at KPMG LLP. “The problem with it is that it’s really complicated…So Treasury and IRS have essentially punted” and created more time to solve some of the sticky technical issues, he added.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a Wall Street trade group, applauded the move. Given some of the complexities involved, “the 2017 deadline didn’t seem to make sense,” added Payson Peabody, tax counsel for SIFMA. “They are giving themselves more time and giving everyone else a bit more time to comment” on some of the hard questions. Despite the delay in some withholding, experts say FATCA implementation continues to move ahead.

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First downgrade the country, then wax about how great France really is doing.

Moody’s Downgrades Credit Rating Of France (AP)

Moody’s Investors Service is downgrading the credit rating of France, saying the French economy will grow slowly for the rest of this decade while the country’s debt remains high. The firm lowered its rating to “Aa2” from “Aa1.” That means France has Moody’s third-highest possible rating. Moody’s said Friday the outlook for economic growth in France is weak, and it does not expect that to change soon. It says the high national debt burden probably will not be reduced in the next few years because of low growth and institutional and political constraints. Overall Moody’s says France’s creditworthiness is “extremely high” because of its large, wealthy, well-diversified economy, high per-capita income, good demographic trends, strong investor base and low financing costs. The outlook was raised to “stable” from “negative.”

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The only way to keep a system going that is drowning in ever more debt.

Negative Interest Rates ‘Necessary To Protect UK Economy’ – BOE (Telegraph)

The Bank of England may need to push its interest rates into negative territory to fight off the next recession, its chief economist has said. Andy Haldane, one of the Bank’s nine interest rate setters, made the case for the “radical” option of supporting the economy with negative interest rates, and even suggested that cash could have to be abolished. He said that the “the balance of risks to UK growth, and to UK inflation at the two-year horizon, is skewed squarely and significantly to the downside”. As a result, “there could be a need to loosen rather than tighten the monetary reins as a next step to support UK growth and return inflation to target”. Speaking at the Portadown Chamber of Commerce, Mr Haldane’s support for a possible cut in rates came as the Bank as a whole has signalled that the next move in rates would be up.

But recent volatility in financial markets, prompted by China, and a decision by the US Federal Reserve to delay rate hikes, have pushed back expectations of the Bank’s first rate rise to November 2016. Traditionally policymakers have resisted cutting rates below zero because when the returns on savings fall into negative territory, it encourages people to take their savings out of the bank and hoard them in cash. This could slow, rather than boost, the economy. It would be possible to get around the problem of hoarding by abolishing cash, Mr Haldane said, adding: “What I think is now reasonably clear is that the payment technology embodied in [digital currency] Bitcoin has real potential.” His remarks came as he made the case for raising the UK’s inflation target to 4pc from the current level of 2pc.

Mr Haldane said that a trend towards low interest rates across the globe has made it increasingly difficult to fight off recessions. In the past, central banks have helped stimulate economies by slashing interest rates. But with rates at rock bottom in many parts of the world, many have found their ammunition depleted. “Among the large advanced economies, official interest rates are effectively at zero,” Mr Haldane said. In the UK, the Bank’s interest rate has been stuck at 0.5pc for more than six years. One way to supply the Bank with more firepower would “be to revise upwards inflation targets”. The UK’s inflation target is currently 2pc, but this dates from an era when interest rates were closer to 6pc than 0.5pc. It might be necessary to double that target to 4pc, Mr Haldane argued.

Bank research has determined that slowing growth, ageing populations, weaker investment, rising inequality and a savings glut in emerging markets have all contributed to a generational decline in interest rates. Mr Haldane said: “These factors are not will-of-the-wisp. None is likely to reverse quickly. “That would mean there is materially less monetary policy room for manoeuvre than was the case a generation ago. Headroom of two%age points would potentially be insufficient.” However a hike in the inflation target to 4pc would provide extra “wiggle room”.

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The entire world does.

The Orthodoxy Has Failed: Europe Needs A New Economic Settlement (Jeremy Corbyn)

David Cameron is traversing Europe, apparently without much idea of what he wants to achieve in his much-feted renegotiation ahead of a referendum in 2016 or 2017. If the prime minister thinks he can weaken workers’ rights and expect goodwill towards Europe to keep us in the EU, he is making a great mistake. Mr Cameron’s support for a bill that would weaken the trade unions, and the cutting of tax credits this week, show that employment rights are under attack. One can imagine that the many rights we derive from European legislation, which underpins paid holidays, working time protection and improved maternity and paternity leave, are under threat too. There is a widely shared feeling that Europe is something of an exclusive club, rather than a democratic forum for social progress.

Tearing up our rights at work would strengthen that view. Labour will oppose any attempt by the Conservative government to undermine rights at work — whether in domestic or European legislation. Our shadow cabinet is also clear that the answer to any damaging changes that Mr Cameron brings back from his renegotiation is not to leave the EU but to pledge to reverse those changes with a Labour government elected in 2020. Workplace protections are vital to protect both migrant workers from being exploited and British workers from being undercut. Stronger employment rights also help good employers, who would otherwise face unfair competition from less scrupulous businesses. We will be in Europe to negotiate better protection for people and businesses, not to negotiate them away.

Too much of the referendum debate has been monopolised by xenophobes and the interests of corporate boardrooms. Left out of this debate are millions of ordinary British people who want a proper debate about our relationship with the EU. We cannot continue down this road of free-market deregulation, which seeks to privatise public services and dilute Europe’s social gains. Draft railway regulations that are now before the European Parliament could enforce the fragmented, privatised model that has so failed railways in the UK. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is being negotiated behind closed doors between the EU and the US, against which I have campaigned, is another example of this damaging approach.

There is no future for Europe if we engage in a race to the bottom. We need to invest in our future and harness the skills of Europe’s people. The treatment of Greece has appalled many who consider themselves pro-European internationalists. The Greek debt is simply not repayable, the terms are unsustainable and the insistence that the unpayable be paid extends the humanitarian crisis in Greece and the risks to all of Europe. The current orthodoxy has failed. We need a new economic settlement.

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Adding up: shame, insult, injury.

Hungary Stops Train With 1,000 Asylum Seekers Escorted By 40 Croatian Police (RT)

An unannounced train carrying over 1,000 asylum seekers, accompanied by around 40 Croatian police officers, has been intercepted by Hungarian authorities, who accused Zagreb of breaking international laws and intentionally participating in “human smuggling.” The train carrying up to 1,000 refugees was accompanied by some 40 Croatian police officers, who were reportedly detained and then sent back. Croatian police however refuted initial reports that officers accompanying the train were detained or disarmed, explaining that 36 officers “returned” to Croatia in the evening. “There was no disarming or arrests. It is not true,” Croatian police spokeswoman Jelena Bikic told Reuters, claiming that there was “an agreement about the escort between the police officers from the two sides in advance.”

Hungarian authorities said that the incident happened due to Croatia’s failure to coordinate train’s border crossing. According to the head of the Hungarian disaster unit, Gyorgy Bakondi, the Croatian train arrived at Magyarboly without any prior notice, bringing the number of unannounced arrivals to over 4,000 on Friday alone. Croatia’s FM Vesna Pusic claimed that the two countries had agreed “to provide a corridor” for refugees, Sky News reported. However Hungarian spokesman Zoltan Kovacs rejected the claim as a “lie.” “The Croatian system for handling migrants and refugees has collapsed basically in one day,” Kovacs added. “What we see today is the failure of the Croatian state to handle migration issues. What is more we see intentional, intentional, participation in human smuggling taking the migrants to the Hungarian border.”

After Hungary blocked off their border with Serbia this week with the aid of a metal fence and riot police, migrants flooded neighboring Croatia in search for an alternative route. More than 17,000 have arrived in the country since Wednesday morning. “We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a news conference. “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant ‘hotspot’. We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

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Driven by fear.

We Are Double-Plus Unfree (Margaret Atwood)

Governments know our desire for safety all too well, and like to play on our fears. How often have we been told that this or that new rule or law or snooping activity on the part of officialdom is to keep us “safe”? We aren’t safe, anyway: many of us die in weather events – tornados, floods, blizzards – but governments, in those cases, limit their roles to finger-pointing, blame-dodging, expressions of sympathy or a dribble of emergency aid. Many more of us die in car accidents or from slipping in the bathtub than are likely to be done in by enemy agents, but those kinds of deaths are not easy to leverage into panic. Cars and bathtubs are so recent in evolutionary terms that we’ve developed no deep mythology about them.

When coupled with human beings of ill intent they can be scary – being rammed in your car by a maniac or shot in your car by a mafioso carry a certain weight, and being slaughtered in the tub goes back to Agamemnon’s fate in Homer, with a shower-murder update courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock in his film, Psycho. But cars and tubs minus enraged wives or maniacs just sit there blankly. It’s the sudden, violent, unpredictable event we truly fear: the equivalent of an attack by a hungry tiger. Yesterday’s frightful tigerish threat was communists: in the 1950s, one lurked in every shrub, ran the message. Today, it’s terrorists. To protect us from these, all sorts of precautions must, we are told, be taken. Nor is this view without merit: such threats are real, up to a point.

Nonetheless we find ourselves asking whether the extreme remedies outweigh the disease. How much of our own freedom must we sacrifice in order to defend ourselves against the desire of others to limit that freedom by subjugating or killing us, one by one? And is that sacrifice an effective defence? Minus our freedom, we may find ourselves no safer; indeed we may be double-plus unfree, having handed the keys to those who promised to be our defenders but who have become, perforce, our jailers. A prison might be defined as any place you’ve been put into against your will and can’t get out of, and where you are entirely at the mercy of the authorities, whoever they may be. Are we turning our entire society into a prison? If so, who are the inmates and who are the guards? And who decides?

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“..there never was a hiatus, a pause or a slowdown..”

Global Warming ‘Pause’ Theory Is Dead But Still Twitching (Phys Org)

A study released Thursday is the second this year seeking to debunk a 1998-2013 “pause” in global warming, but other climate scientists insist the slowdown was real, even if not a game-changer. When evidence of the apparent hiatus first emerged, it was seized upon by sceptics as evidence that climate change was driven more by natural cycles that humans pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. “Our results clearly show that … there never was a hiatus, a pause or a slowdown,” Noah Diffenbaugh, the study’s main architect and a professor at Stanford University, said in a statement. The thermal time-out, his team found, resulted from “faulty statistical methods”.

In June, experts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came to the same conclusion, chalking up the alleged slowdown to a discrepancy in measurements involving ocean buoys used to log temperatures. Their results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Science. Beyond a strident public debate fuelled as much by ideology and facts, the “pause” issue has serious real-world implications. Scientifically, a discrepancy between climate projections and observations could suggest that science has overstated Earth’s sensitivity to the radiative force of the Sun. Politically, it could weaken the sense of urgency underlying troubled UN negotiations, tasked with crafting a global pact in December to beat back climate change.

At first, scientists sounding an alarm about the threat of greenhouse gases were stumped by the data, unable to explain the drop-off in the pace of warming. Even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—whose most recent 1,000-plus page report is the scientific benchmark for the UN talks—made note of “the hiatus”. Searching for explanations, the IPCC speculated on possible causes: minor volcano eruptions throwing radiation-blocking dust in the atmosphere, a decrease in solar activity, aerosols, regional weather patterns in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. To the general relief of the climate science community, the Stanford findings—a detailed review of statistical methodology—would appear to be the final word on the subject.

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