Oct 272015
 
 October 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina 1941

What’s Happened To International Bank Lending? (WEF)
Greek Creditors Refuse To Make Next Loan Payment (Zero Hedge)
‘Giant Wave of Money’ Headed for Sweden Creates Policy Nightmare (Bloomberg)
Oil Supply Hits 85-Year High in US (Bloomberg)
Bakken Oil Companies Declare Bankruptcy (BT)
Economists Prove That Capitalism Is Unnecessary (Steve Keen)
Keen vs. Keen: Will the Real Steve Keen Please Stand Up? (Mish)
Bernanke’s Bogus Contra-Factual, 1: The Myth Of Great Depression 2.0 (Stockman)
Something Happened (Jim Kunstler)
Rajoy Calls Election for Spain Against Backdrop of Party Unrest (Bloomberg)
Portugal’s Constitutional Crisis Threatens All European Democracies (Telegraph)
Goldman Sachs Banker Likely To Face Jail Amid Rare Criminal Charges (Guardian)
EC Approves Aid As Greece Prepares To Host More Migrants (Kath.)
Slovenia To Hire Private Security Firms To Manage Migrant Flows (Reuters)
Italy Says EU’s Response ‘Inadequate’ as Refugee Numbers Surge (Bloomberg)
Using The Refugee Crisis (Boukalas)
Big-Game Hunters Are Killing African Lions In Record Numbers (Bloomberg)
Indonesia’s Forest Fires Labelled A ‘Crime Against Humanity’

Deflation.

What’s Happened To International Bank Lending? (WEF)

The Bank of International Settlements has just released its latest international banking statistics, which run until the end of June 2015, and they make for some pretty horrible reading. Cross-border lending fell by $910 billion (£589 billion), an enormous slump, and the largest since the fourth quarter of 2008, the worst bit of the global financial crisis. BIS is often referred to as the central bank of central banks, collating information on financial flows around the world and trying to make sense of what’s happening on a global scale. According to today’s data, cross-bank lending retreated at the fastest pace in more than six years. The period between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015 was the strongest run since the crash, with a (very small) contraction recorded in only one quarter, and decent growth in the others. Then it fell off a cliff:

There’s a precise definition of cross-border lending from BIS, which the crucial definition being “when the ultimate obligor or guarantor resides in a country that is different from the residency of the reporting institution.” During the worst quarter of the financial crisis, Q4 2008, cross-border lending shrank more than twice as quickly, plunging by more than $2 trillion, and making Q2 2015’s decline look decidedly less dramatic:

The longer timeframe also offers some perspective on the post-crisis period generally, showing how small the increases in cross-border lending have been, when it’s increased at all. That’s in stark contrast to the years leading up to the crisis, when lending across borders exploded: 10 of the 16 quarters from 2004 to the end of 2007 saw stronger growth than any single quarter since. Taking a look even further back, to 1978, three more things become clear — firstly, cross-border lending has exploded in size over the last 40 years. Secondly, the figures show just how strange the period since the crisis is, interrupting decades of growth (with some interruptions in the early 1990s). And finally, it shows that Q2 2015 was the worst quarter ever, other than Q4 2008. Take a look:

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Not surprised.

Greek Creditors Refuse To Make Next Loan Payment (Zero Hedge)

At first it was cute: when Greece got its first “dramatic” bailout in 2010 sending the global markets and the EUR first plunging then soaring, it was a melodrama of sorts – people still cared. Then, by the time the second and third bailouts rolled around, especially in the aftermath of the most ridiculous referendum in modern history, where a majority of Greeks voted for one thing only to get the other, it became a tragicomedy in what everyone hoped would be its final, “German colonial” season. It wasn’t. Moments ago, Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that just two (or is it three, this past summer is one big blur) months after Greece voted through its third bailout, one which will raise its debt/GDP to over 200% on a fleeting promise that someone, somewhere just may grant Greece a debt extension (which will do absolutely nothing about the nominal amount of debt), its creditors have already grown tired with the game and are refusing to pay the next Greek loan tranche of €2 billion.

Specifically, the payment of the first €2b tranche of €3b is now sait to be delayed because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras failed to implement reforms on schedule, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports, citing unidentified senior EU official. Wait, you mean the Greeks (over)promised and never delivered? Who could have possibly seen this coming? Not the unidentified EU official who blasts Athens as having implemented only a third of the required projects. As a result, the tranfer probably will only take place in November, if then, since only 14 of the 48 “milestones” linked to payments have been decided on. The report goes on to tell us what we already knew: talks between the government in Athens and the Troika + the ESM (or Quadriga, or whatever it’s called) ended last week without success.

SZ goes into the unpleasant details, noting that there are inconsistencies in how the banks deal with bad loans, estimated that 320,000 apartment owners have mortgage payments in arrears, threatened with foreclosures, evictions, and so on. In other words, the Greek holiday from being held accountable for anything which started in July and lasted until October is over. Yet, there is still hope: in a separate report, Germany’s Bild tabloid cites Deutsche Bank analysts as anticipating a debt reduction for Greece of €200 billion by year-end, and amount which Bild conveniently calculates corresponds to €700 per inhabitant of the Eurozone. It adds that, as noted above, Greek debt would total €340b by year-end, or 200% of Greek GDP, some 140% higher than allowed by European treaties. It concludes by citing Lueder Gerken, Chairman of the Centre for European Policy, as saying that a Greek “haircut is economically inevitable, as well as a fourth rescue package.”

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It’s all in the housing market.

‘Giant Wave of Money’ Headed for Sweden Creates Policy Nightmare (Bloomberg)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said boo last week and the krona jumped. With the ECB signaling a new wave of stimulus to prop up the euro zone, the question is how Sweden’s central bank can fight the monetary expansion coming from the south with its own, much smaller toolbox as it tries to stop the krona appreciating. “The nightmare for the Riksbank board is maybe something like this: they are gathered in the south of Sweden, looking out over the Baltic Sea, when they see a giant wave of money coming in from the euro zone and try to fight it with a hose,” Robert Bergqvist, chief economist at SEB in Stockholm and a former researcher at the Riksbank, said by phone. The Riksbank is due to announce its next rate decision on Oct. 28.

Most economists surveyed by Bloomberg see the bank keeping its repo rate at minus 0.35%, though there’s speculation policy makers will need to expand their quantitative easing program. Failure to do so would lead to the krona strengthening “markedly,” Nordea Bank says. Draghi’s stimulus measures to date have already forced his Swedish counterpart, Stefan Ingves, to resort to unprecedented measures to drive up consumer prices in Scandinavia’s largest economy. He cut Sweden’s main rate below zero for the first time in February and started buying bonds, expanding the QE program several times since. Underlying price growth has stayed below the Riksbank’s 2% target since the beginning of 2011.

The stimulus program marks a departure from the cautious approach Ingves had adopted earlier, as he argued that excessively low rates risked overheating Sweden’s already hot property market. Now, there’s a growing chorus of voices from bank executives to analysts warning of unsustainable housing price developments. But Ingves can’t afford to take his attention away from consumer prices. “The Riksbank is fully focused on the inflation target,” Pierre Carlsson, an analyst at Handelsbanken, said by phone. “They’ve let go of the housing market, at least officially, and it’s not something that should keep them from further action. But they’re hardly happy.”

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Consumption vs supply.

Oil Supply Hits 85-Year High in US (Bloomberg)

Hedge funds placed the most bets on falling oil prices since July as rising piles of crude dashed hopes of a near-term recovery. Money managers’ short position in West Texas Intermediate crude jumped by 18% in the week ended Oct. 20, the largest surge since July 21, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That pulled their net-long position down by more than 16,000 contracts of futures and options. Crude stockpiles in the U.S. rose 22.6 million barrels in the past four weeks to the highest October level since 1930, even as producers have idled more than half their drilling rigs in the past year. A global surplus of crude could last through 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. “The decline in U.S. drilling and production is not enough to rebalance even the U.S. market, let alone the global market,” said Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective.

“How much do you really want to pay for the next million barrels of inventory you don’t need?” WTI fell 2.4% in the report week to $45.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The front-month contract dropped 1.4% to settle at $43.98 a barrel on Monday. Oil inventories in the U.S. have risen 5% in the past four weeks to 477 million barrels, the highest seasonal in 85 years, when massive production in east Texas caused the state to empower its Railroad Commission to regulate output. Supplies have risen as refineries have slowed processing to perform seasonal maintenance. U.S. plants ran at 86.4% of capacity last week, compared with 96.1% at the end of July. “We’re in the middle of refinery maintenance season. Utilization is low, imports are up, and we’re building crude,” said David Pursell at investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, said in a phone interview. “The middle of October is an easy time to be bearish on crude.”

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“..the most recent operator in the state to declare bankruptcy, filing in mid-September in hopes of clearing more than $3.25 billion in debt.”

Bakken Oil Companies Declare Bankruptcy (BT)

As crude oil prices hang low, about $43 per barrel Monday, some North Dakota operators are trying to divest interests in the Bakken. Two debt-heavy operators in the state, Tulsa, Okla.-based Samson Resources and Denver-based American Eagle Energy, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, planning to sell off Bakken assets to pay back what they owe. Samson, with production acres in the Three Forks and Middle Bakken plays, has not yet succeeded in selling off acreage, spokesman Brian Maddox said. “We have not currently entered into agreements to divest other larger packages, including our Bakken, Wamsutter, San Juan and non-core Mid-Con assets, because we perceived the value offered was less than the value of retaining those properties when economic factors and the impact to our credit position were considered,” the company said in first-quarter 2015 filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Even if we are successful at reducing our costs and increasing our liquidity through asset sales, we do not expect to have sufficient liquidity to satisfy our debt service obligations, meet other financial obligations and comply with restrictive covenants contained in our various credit facilities.” The company is the most recent operator in the state to declare bankruptcy, filing in mid-September in hopes of clearing more than $3.25 billion in debt. As part of the company’s restructuring agreement, second lien lenders own all of the equity of the reorganized company in exchange for providing at least $450 million of new capital to increase liquidity.

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Stevo!!

Economists Prove That Capitalism Is Unnecessary (Steve Keen)

Actually they’ve done no such thing. But they do effectively assume that it’s unnecessary all the time. This transcendental truth became apparent to me in the reactions I have had from mainstream economists to a lecture I gave to my Kingston students this month. In it I explained that, at a very basic level, the original “Neoclassical” mathematical model of a market economy is mathematically unstable: it doesn’t converge to a stable pattern of relative prices and a stable growth path for the economy, as its developer Leon Walras thought it did. Mainstream economists reacted to my lecture by saying that, while the argument, which was first made in the 1960s by Jorgenson (who was applying a mathematical theorem from the early 1900s) was mathematically correct, all one had to do was assume that “economic agents” would then notice the instability and change their behavior. The model would then converge to equilibrium—problem solved.

And how would “economic agents” notice this instability? They would realize that a pattern of relative prices that had occurred once before in the past happened again. Hmmm. O.K.A.Y… I’ve read this sort of nonsense in dozens of mainstream academic papers over the years, and railed against it in an academic sort of way. But maybe because I’d just been reading and teaching Hayek to the same class, the true absurdity of this standard mainstream riposte stood out clearly to me. It’s an assumption that individuals in a market economy are so all-knowing that, in effect, they don’t need markets at all: they can just work it all out in their heads. Yet if anything defines a capitalist economy, it’s the dominance of markets. So effectively the mainstream reaction to anything which disturbs their preferred way of modeling a market economy is to make assumptions that, if they were true, would make a market economy itself unnecessary in the first place.

I know I’m not being original in saying this, by the way: this is the same point that Hayek made, in many different ways, when pointing out that the strength of a market economy was how it let people combine fragmented and incomplete knowledge in a way that no centralized system could do. As he put it:

“The fact that much more knowledge contributes to form the order of a market economy than can be known to any one mind … is the decisive reason why a market economy is more effective than any known type of economic order”.

Hayek’s main target here were socialists who believed that a complex economy could be centrally planned—thus doing away with markets institutionally. But he also criticized his mainstream rivals for assuming the existence of all-seeing, all-knowing “economic agents” to overcome mathematical problems in their equilibrium-obsessed models of the economy. Here he was actually in agreement with his great rival Keynes, since they both said that the only way equilibrium could be achieved would be if people’s expectations about the future were both shared and correct. Quoting Hayek:

“It appears that the concept of equilibrium merely means that the foresight of the different members of the society is in a special sense correct.”

And quoting Keynes:

“I accuse the classical economic theory of being itself one of these pretty, polite techniques which tries to deal with the present by abstracting from the fact that we know very little about the future.”

If the mainstream fantasies about the knowledge levels of individual agents were to be taken seriously, they’d need a convincing model to explain how such a state of mutual wisdom might come about. But as Hayek noted, rather than doing so, mainstream economists simply assumed that everyone was Nostradamus:

“instead of showing what bits of information the different persons must possess in order to bring about that result, we fall in effect back on the assumption that everybody knows everything and so evade any real solution of the problem.”

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Mish’s reaction to Steve’s piece above.

Keen vs. Keen: Will the Real Steve Keen Please Stand Up? (Mish)

In his Debtwatch Manifesto Keen proposes three mechanisms for dealing with the debt crisis. The first is a debt jubilee. The second is a mechanism that would act to restrict share prices. In his third proposal, Keen states “Lenders would only be able to lend up to a fixed multiple of the income-earning capacity of the property being purchased—regardless of the income of the borrower. A useful multiple would be 10, so that if a property rented for $30,000 p.a., the maximum amount of money that could be borrowed to purchase it would be $300,000.”

Hmm. How can Keen, me, or anyone else discern the correct “useful multiple”? Shouldn’t this be left to the free market? Keen also discusses full reserve proposals, one by Irving Fisher, the other HR2990 a bill Proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich in 2011.

Keen: Technically, both these [full reserve] proposals would work. I won’t go into great detail on them here, other than to note my reservation about them, which is that I don’t see the banking system’s capacity to create money as the causa causans of crises, so much as the uses to which that money is put. The problem comes when that money is created instead for Ponzi Finance reasons, and inflates asset prices rather than enabling the creation of new assets.

Mish: I propose, the system’s capacity to create money at will is the very problem. The fact of the matter is central banks can create money but not dictate where it goes. Curiously, Keen is willing to let bureaucrats decide what constitutes Ponzi financing, even though history shows government bodies and central banks have a 100% failure rate at identifying bubbles. Keen is concerned about “where the money goes”, yet is willing to trust bureaucrats more than the free market. To quote Keen directly … “And how would economic agents notice this instability? They would realize that a pattern of relative prices that had occurred once before in the past happened again. Hmmm. O.K.A.Y.”

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“..what better excuse to override every principle of free market economics, financial discipline and public policy fairness than stopping a reenactment of the 1930s – putative soup-lines and all?”

Bernanke’s Bogus Contra-Factual, 1: The Myth Of Great Depression 2.0 (Stockman)

It took no “courage” whatsoever to inflate the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $2.3 trillion during just 17 weeks in September-December 2008. What it actually took was an epochal con job by a naïve Keynesian academic whose single idea about economics was primitive, self-serving, borrowed and wrong. The claim that the Great Depression was caused by the Fed’s failure to go on a bond buying spree in 1930-1933 was Milton Friedman’s monumental error. Professor Bernanke’s scholarship amounted to little more than xeroxing Friedman’s flawed work, and then shouting loudly in the Eccles Building boardroom at the time of the Lehman bankruptcy that Great Depression 2.0 was lurking just around the corner. That was just plain hysterical malarkey.

But at the time, it served the interests of the Wall Street/Washington Corridor perfectly. As Wall Street’s decade long spree of leveraged speculation was being liquidated in September 2008, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and their posse of hedge fund speculators desperately needed rescue from their own reckless gambles – especially their funding of giant balance sheets swollen by long-dated, illiquid, risky assets with cheap hot funds in the wholesale money market. So what better excuse to override every principle of free market economics, financial discipline and public policy fairness than stopping a reenactment of the 1930s – putative soup-lines and all? At the same time, beltway politicians and fiscal authorities were tickled pink.

They would be able to unleash a monumental $800 billion potpourri of K-street pork and tax and entitlement giveaways to “fight” the recession, knowing that Bernanke & Co would finance it with an eruption of public debt monetization that was theretofore unimaginable. In short, no public official has ever committed an economic folly greater than the horrific misdeed of Ben S. Bernanke when he provided the Great Depression 2.0 cover story for the lunatic outbreak of central bank money printing shown below. It destroyed the last vestige of Wall Street discipline in a financialized economy that had already been bloated and deformed by two decades of Greenspan era Bubble Finance.

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Bernanke on tour.

Something Happened (Jim Kunstler)

Ben Bernanke’s memoir is out and the chatter about it inevitably turns to the sickening moments in September 2008 when “the world economy came very close to collapse.” Easy to say, but how many people know what that means? It’s every bit as opaque as the operations of the Federal Reserve itself. There were many ugly facets to the problem but they all boiled down to global insolvency — too many promises to pay that could not be met. The promises, of course, were quite hollow. They accumulated over the decades-long process, largely self-organized and emergent, of the so-called global economy arranging itself. All the financial arrangements depended on trust and good faith, especially of the authorities who managed the world’s “reserve currency,” the US dollar.

By the fall of 2008, it was clear that these authorities, in particular the US Federal Reserve, had failed spectacularly in regulating the operations of capital markets. With events such as the collapse of Lehman and the rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it also became clear that much of the collateral ostensibly backing up the US banking system was worthless, especially instruments based on mortgages. Hence, the trust and good faith vested in the issuer of the world’s reserve currency was revealed as worthless. The great triumph of Ben Bernanke was to engineer a fix that rendered trust and good faith irrelevant.

That was largely accomplished, in concert with the executive branch of the government, by failing to prosecute banking crime, in particular the issuance of fraudulent securities built out of worthless mortgages. In effect, Mr. Bernanke (and Barack Obama’s Department of Justice), decided that the rule of law was no longer needed for the system to operate. In fact, the rule of law only hampered it. Mr. Bernanke now says he “regrets” that nobody went to jail. That’s interesting. More to the point perhaps he might explain why the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission did not make any criminal referrals to the US Attorney General in such cases as, for instance, Goldman Sachs (and others) peddling bonds deliberately constructed to fail, on which they had placed bets favoring that very failure.

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“Rajoy’s party has the support of about 27% of voters compared with almost 45% in the previous general election..”

Rajoy Calls Election for Spain Against Backdrop of Party Unrest (Bloomberg)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a general election for Dec. 20, insisting he is the best candidate to win the ballot despite unrest within his party. Speaking in Madrid, the 60-year-old premier said his government has turned the economy around and honored its pledge to bring down unemployment after it reached a record high on his watch. Rajoy urged Spaniards to vote for continuity and stability, arguing that he’s best placed to safeguard the recovery and create more jobs. “If I didn’t think I was the best candidate I wouldn’t be running,” he said at a televised press conference Monday. Asked about potential coalitions, Rajoy avoided going into detail about what his preferred options would be, but insisted that he wouldn’t try to form a government if his party didn’t win the most votes.

He batted away speculation that he would be prepared to step down to facilitate a coalition government if a junior partner “called for his head.” “My head is well placed and I’m not letting anyone change that place,” he said. Rajoy’s party has the support of about 27% of voters compared with almost 45% in the previous general election, when it secured its best result ever. With the prime minister’s party dogged by corruption allegations, many of its traditional voters have been drawn to pro-market party Ciudadanos, led by 35-year-old former lawyer Albert Rivera. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing. For a party that prides itself on internal discipline, Rajoy has had to suffer a raft of dissent in recent weeks. His predecessor Jose Maria Aznar criticized the party’s performance, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro launched an attack on his cabinet colleagues and lawmaker Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo announced in a newspaper column that she wouldn’t run again on a list led by the prime minister.

Spaniards will go to the polls with the economy growing at the fastest pace since 2007 and unemployment at the lowest in almost four years. Still, opinion polls suggest about 40% of PP voters are considering other options. “The economic recovery is helping Rajoy recover moderate voters,” said Narciso Michavila, chairman of pollster GAD3. “The question is whether that’s enough.” The PP is outpacing Socialists, the other Spanish incumbent party, by about four%age points, according to the average of 10 polls publicly released since Oct. 5. Ciudadanos is running third with an average support of 18.2%, while Syriza’s ally Podemos is on 13.6%.

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Lots of different views on this, coup or no coup. Wonder how it’ll play out. President plays strange role, but he’s out in January.

Portugal’s Constitutional Crisis Threatens All European Democracies (Telegraph)

On October 4, the ruling conservative coalition that has governed Portugal for four years lost its parliamentary majority. The centre-right alliance, led by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, had overseen the implementation of one of the toughest austerity packages in the euro following a €78bn bail-out in 2011. The incumbents still emerged as the biggest party with 36.8pc of the vote share, but lost 17 seats and their parliamentary majority in the process. In second place was the main opposition Socialists (PS) led by Antonio Costa. Mr Costa – a moderate who supports Portugal’s euro membership – gained 32.4pc of the vote share. The result was disappointing but not catastrophic for the former mayor of Lisbon, who had been narrowly leading the polls in the electoral run up. But Portugal’s more stridently anti-austerity, eurosceptic parties on the Left – the radical Left Bloc and the anti-euro Communists, saw a surprising surge in support.

Combined, they gained 18.5pc of the vote. Despite the inconclusive result, the election indicated an overall dissatisfaction with Portugal’s dominant pro-austerity, pro-bail-out forces (including the Socialists). The electoral result pointed to the likely continuation of a minority centre-right government led by Mr Passos Coelho. However, for any new government to carry out painful economic reforms demanded by the EU, the PM would require opposition support in parliament. Mr Costa, however, vowed never to back the conservatives. Instead, after a few weeks of political horsetrading, he brokered a historic coalition deal with the radical Left Bloc and Communists in order to clump together a workable political majority of just under 51pc.

Hailed as a “Berlin Wall moment” for the country, the three main parties on the Left managed to put aside internecine squabbles to present themselves as the only government that could secure political stability for Portugal. Despite getting into bed with hardened eurosceptic Communists, Mr Costa promised not to jettison his pro-European principles and to notionally abide by the stringent fiscal targets imposed by Portugal’s former creditors in Brussels. However, the Leftist alliance is of a decidedly anti-austerity bent. Its policies would likely jeopardise the fiscal consolidation of the centre-right, and poison Portugal’s relationship with Brussels, say analysts. “The minimum wage would probably be raised, further tweaks to the social security system would probably be off the table, as would a further liberalisation of the labour market, or a reduction in the tax-burden,” notes Federico Santi at Eurasia Group.

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Goat.

Goldman Sachs Banker Likely To Face Jail Amid Rare Criminal Charges (Guardian)

A Goldman Sachs banker is expected to be jailed over the leaking of confidential information from the New York Fed, the investment banker’s former employer. Federal prosecutors are preparing to this week announce criminal charges against the banker, Rohit Bansal, and an employee of the regulator, according to the New York Times. Lawyers for the men, who were both fired in the wake of the leak, are said to be hammering out a deal with prosecutors. Even if they agree on the plea deal, they are likely to face up to a year in jail. It is rare for criminal charges to be brought directly against bankers in the US, but the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has set out new guidelines designed to ensure that more executives, bankers and other businesspeople are held personally accountable for their actions.

Under the planned deal, Goldman would not face criminal charges but would pay a fine of as much as $50m and would be forced to admit that it failed to properly supervise Bansal. A spokesman for Goldman said: “Upon discovering that a new junior employee had obtained confidential supervisory information from his former employer, the New York Fed, we immediately began an investigation and notified the appropriate regulators, including the Fed. “That employee and a more senior employee who failed to escalate the issue, were terminated shortly thereafter. We have zero tolerance for improper handling of confidential information. We have reviewed our policies regarding hiring from governmental institutions and have implemented changes to make them appropriately robust.” The case highlights the dangers of a revolving door between banks and regulators. Bansal had spent seven years at the New York Fed before joining Goldman, where he advised one of the same banks he had previously regulated.

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It’s completely unclear to me what, if any, funds the EU has sent to date to Athens to deal with the refugee crisis. Can’t find a single report on the topic. This, too, has been approved, but not paid yet.

EC Approves Aid As Greece Prepares To Host More Migrants (Kath.)

A day after a crisis summit on the refugee problem, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to increase Greece’s reception capacity for migrants to 50,000 by the end of the year, the European Commission approved the release of emergency aid to Athens. Confirming the approval of €5.9 million to help Greece cope with the large numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in the country daily from Turkey, European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Monday that the aid was aimed at enabling authorities to “cover the transportation costs for a significant number of these persons from the eastern Aegean islands to reception centers in mainland Greece once they have been properly registered, identified and fingerprinted.” A statement issued by the EC indicated that the sum was aimed at paying for the transport of 60,000 people. It remained unclear, however, where those people would stay as Greek authorities are still seeking venues.

Sources in Brussels indicated that Tsipras came under huge pressure at the Sunday summit to set up a large facility for migrants in Athens. In comments after the meeting, Tsipras said the creation of such a facility, “the size of a small city,” was among a series of “unacceptable demands” that he rejected. On Monday, government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili also presented the outcome of the summit as a minor victory for Greece. “What was asked of us, to place 20,000 people in a giant camp, was rejected,” she said, adding that “there will be no concentration camps in our country.” She added that authorities were preparing a housing program to help up to 20,000 migrants, indicating that this too would require European funding.

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Blackwater looms.

Slovenia To Hire Private Security Firms To Manage Migrant Flows (Reuters)

Slovenia is planning to employ private security firms to help manage the flow of thousands of migrants and refugees travelling through the country toward northern Europe, a senior official has said. Bostjan Sefic, state secretary at the interior ministry, said 50-60 private security guards would assist the police where necessary. More than 76,000 people have arrived in Slovenia from Croatia in the past 10 days. More than 9,000 were in Slovenia on Monday, hoping to reach Austria by the end of the day, while many more were on their way to Slovenia from Croatia and Serbia. The emergency measure was announced by the prime minister, who described the migrant crisis as the biggest challenge yet to the EU.

If a joint solution is not found, [the trade bloc] will start breaking up, Miro Cerar warned. About 2,000 migrants waited in a field in Rigonce on the Croatian border on Monday for buses to take them to a nearby camp to be registered before they are allowed to proceed north. [..] Slovenia, the smallest country on the Balkan migration route, has brought in the army to help police. Other EU states have pledged to send a total of 400 police officers this week to help manage the flow of people. Over the past 24 hours, 8,000 people arrived in Serbia en route to northern Europe, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said.

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“The idea that EU border countries should solve 80% of the problem is completely out of touch with reality.”

Italy Says EU’s Response ‘Inadequate’ as Refugee Numbers Surge (Bloomberg)

European Union agreements on the free movement of people may be at risk of collapse unless the bloc eases the burden for border countries forced to handle asylum-seekers, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said. Gentiloni, whose country has borne the brunt of the influx from Africa and the Middle East, said that common policies to share the burden would leave the EU much better placed to help people fleeing conflict. He also called for clear criteria to define so-called safe countries that migrants could be sent back to. “Europe – with hundreds of millions of people – can accept hundreds of thousands of migrants” so long as there is a common policy, Gentiloni said. “The idea that EU border countries should solve 80% of the problem is completely out of touch with reality.”

Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II intensified at the end of summer after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there could be no limit on granting asylum to those who legitimately met the criteria. Migrants also began shifting from a route that once led mainly through Libya to southern Europe to one winding from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, and then further north. With winter approaching and more than a million migrants set to reach the EU this year, the bloc’s leaders are struggling to present a united front as national authorities have tightened their borders and waved asylum seekers through to neighboring countries. Slovenia said at a Sunday meeting in Brussels that Croatia is causing chaos by sending migrants across its frontier with little warning.

In yet another sign of the divisions, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Monday said it was a concern that Poland wasn’t accepting more refugees. “Poland is taking only a limited number of people and I find that disturbing,” he said at an event in The Hague. “Poland gets a lot of subsidies. We help to build Poland – they should take up asylum seekers in return.” Gentiloni’s warning came as the United Nations said the influx on the region’s southeastern fringe is growing. As many as 49,000 migrants entered the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which isn’t an EU member, last week, Mirjana Milenkovski of the UNHCR, said on Monday. The daily average number of people entering Serbia increased to 7,000 from 5,000 a week earlier, she said. “Nothing has been done really adequately,” Gentiloni said. “We are still perhaps not adequate to the dimension and the perspective of these flows.”

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“They are using the refugee crisis as another way to apply pressure on Athens, to demand even more asphyxiating measures. Is this opportunism? Cynicism? Crudeness? Whatever term we choose, none is a synonym for solidarity.”

Using The Refugee Crisis (Boukalas)

Splitting the refugee crisis into three or more parts does not make any political sense nor is it morally acceptable. You can’t say that it’s a Balkan problem or an Italian problem or a French problem. The alliance of 28 states is still called the European Union even though it is blatantly dominated by Germany and even though we see countries expecting to better serve their own interests by gravitating toward Berlin. Therefore, a summit on the refugee crisis organized by the EU is from the onset incomplete when it does not include Italy and France, if, of course, the objective is to find a way to help the refugees and not to solve the refugee “problem” challenging individual states and leaders.

Yet even if we were to accept that the priority is to meet the challenges faced by the so-called Balkan corridor, then it is incomprehensible why Turkey was not invited to attend, given its key role in this avenue of arrival into the European Union. Of course, it is also very understandable given that Angela Merkel’s recent visit to Turkey was as the head of the EU rather than the chancellor of Germany. She’s already taken care of business so discussions with and the participation of the other parties involved, even those which are at the vanguard, is unnecessary. Greece’s position is particularly delicate. There have been many times in history when being at the crossroads of three continents was a problem rather than advantage.

The reality of the refugee crisis in this country is symbolized by a recent photograph showing a girl on the island of Lesvos giving a doll to another little girl, a refugee in her father’s arms, and in the father’s smile, which is full of gratitude and trust. Because of the crisis, which has thrown the welfare state and all of its institutions into complete disarray, what Greece can offer these people is about as much as that offered by the Lesvos girl: a gesture of kindness and whatever has been scraped together. So far, Greece has managed to do this, mainly thanks to the excellent work and dedication of volunteers, both Greek and foreign. Of course there is no shortage of scumbags who charge refugees €20 for access to a plug to charge their cell phones or €5 for a piece of plastic to keep the rain off.

The contribution of the European Union to Greece’s refugee management is extremely small and in many respects restricted to promises. It is also becoming clearer that the problems Greece faces in dealing with the influx does not constitute an important reason for foreign creditors to relax their control of finances but an opportunity to become even stricter. They are using the refugee crisis as another way to apply pressure on Athens, to demand even more asphyxiating measures. Is this opportunism? Cynicism? Crudeness? Whatever term we choose, none is a synonym for solidarity.

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Death penalty.

Big-Game Hunters Are Killing African Lions In Record Numbers (Bloomberg)

Big-game hunters are killing African lions in record numbers as U.S. regulators threaten to curtail one of world’s most exclusive, expensive and controversial pursuits. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an Oct. 29 deadline to make a final determination on the status of the African lion, which it has proposed to list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has also recommended requiring a special permit to import lion trophies. Those findings could curtail the number of slain lions entering the U.S., while also driving up safari costs that are often more than $100,000.

That’s leading to a rush of Americans taking their guns to Africa in pursuit of the king of the jungle. Last year, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies, up 70% since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000, according to data from the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Guys fearing that I’ll never get my opportunity to get a lion, they’re getting it while the getting’s good,” said Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado whose exploits, including lion hunts, are featured on a Sportsman Channel television show. “The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, ‘Man, get it now.”’

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Palm oil.

Indonesia’s Forest Fires Labelled A ‘Crime Against Humanity’

Raging forest fires across Indonesia are thought to be responsible for up to half a million cases of respiratory infections, with the resultant haze covering parts of Malaysia and Singapore now being described as a “crime against humanity”. Tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been alight for more than two months as a result of slash and burn – the fastest and quickest way to clear land for new plantations. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and fires are frequently intentionally lit to clear the land with the resulting haze an annual headache. But this year a prolonged dry season and the impact of El Niño have made the situation far worse, with one estimate that daily emissions from the fires have surpassed the average daily emissions of the entire US economy.

The fires have caused the air to turn a toxic sepia colour in the worst hit areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where levels of the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) have pushed toward 2,000. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous. Endangered wildlife such as orangutans have also been forced to flee the forests because of the fires. Six Indonesian provinces have declared a state of emergency. Across the region Indonesia’s haze crisis has been causing havoc – schools in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia have been shut down, flights have been grounded, events cancelled and Indonesian products boycotted, as millions try to avoid the intense smoke. In the worst affected parts, on Sumatra and Kalimantan, ten people have died from haze-related illnesses and more than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported since July 1.

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Jul 022015
 
 July 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson New Orleans, “Canal Street from the Clay monument” 1890

Varoufakis Says He Won’t Be Finance Minister After a ‘Yes’ Vote
Why We Recommend A NO In The Referendum – In 6 Short Bullet Points (Varoufakis)
Juncker, Draghi and Lagarde Should Hang Their Heads In Shame (Davis)
Syriza Can’t Just Cave In. Europe’s Elites Want Regime Change In Greece (Milne)
“US Should Have Stopped IMF From Sending Redlined Document To Greece” (HuffPo)
US Sen. Bernie Sanders Blasts Greece’s Creditors (HuffPo)
Europe Wants to Punish Greece With Exit (Crook)
Democracy And Monetary Union: How Not To Do It (Janssen)
Europe Has Suffered A Reputational Catastrophe In Greece (AEP)
Tsipras Refuses To Bow To Threats To Greek Banking System (Telegraph)
In Greek Crisis, Germany Should Learn From Its Fiscal Past (WaPo, Jan 28)
In Athens, Scavenging From Bins Has Become A Way To Survive (Telegraph)
The Hard Line on Greece (Sorkin)
Fear-Mongering Is The Enemy Of Democracy (Suzanne Moore)
How Varoufakis Saw The “Worst Case Scenario” Over A Year Ago (Zero Hedge)
Berlin Accuses Tsipras Of Seeking Scapegoats Outside Own Ranks (Guardian)
Greek Tourism Bookings Are Nosediving (Kathimerini)
China Eases Margin Lending Rules to Support Flagging Stock Market (FT)
China’s Fix for a Margin-Debt Boom Roiling Stocks? More Leverage (Bloomberg)
Normal Banks Are Helping Shadow Banks Grow, a Lot (Bloomberg)
Reaganomics Won’t Save Japan (Pesek)
Belgium Adopts Law Against ‘Vulture Funds’ (AFP)
China’s May Thermal Coal Imports Collapse 41% On-Year (HSN)

How and why could this surprise people? Of course he steps down. Fantastic interview on Bloomberg. Said he’d cut his arm off before signing a deal without debt restructuring.

Varoufakis Says He Won’t Be Finance Minister After a ‘Yes’ Vote

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he would resign if Greece votes to accept European Union bailout proposals. In the event of a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum, “I will not” be finance minister on Monday evening, Varoufakis said in an interview in Athens with Bloomberg Television. “But I will help whoever is.” Varoufakis said that he expects Greeks to reject the bailout proposals.

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Straightforward. No use getting scared now.

Why We Recommend A NO In The Referendum – In 6 Short Bullet Points (Varoufakis)

1) Negotiations have stalled because Greece’s creditors (a) refused to reduce our un-payable public debt and (b) insisted that it should be repaid ‘parametrically’ by the weakest members of our society, their children and their grandchildren

2) The IMF, the United States’ government, many other governments around the globe, and most independent economists believe — along with us — that the debt must be restructured.

3) The Eurogroup had previously (November 2012) conceded that the debt ought to be restructured but is refusing to commit to a debt restructure

4) Since the announcement of the referendum, official Europe has sent signals that they are ready to discuss debt restructuring. These signals show that official Europe too would vote NO on its own ‘final’ offer.

5) Greece will stay in the euro. Deposits in Greece’s banks are safe. Creditors have chosen the strategy of blackmail based on bank closures. The current impasse is due to this choice by the creditors and not by the Greek government discontinuing the negotiations or any Greek thoughts of Grexit and devaluation. Greece’s place in the Eurozone and in the European Union is non-negotiable.

6) The future demands a proud Greece within the Eurozone and at the heart of Europe. This future demands that Greeks say a big NO on Sunday, that we stay in the Euro Area, and that, with the power vested upon us by that NO, we renegotiate Greece’s public debt as well as the distribution of burdens between the haves and the have nots.

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And this is from the Conservative side in the US..

Juncker, Draghi and Lagarde Should Hang Their Heads In Shame (Davis)

The Euro-clique that is the Troika should be ashamed of itself. This organisation, comprising the European Commission, the ECB, and the IMF run by yet another member of the cold-hearted Euro-elite, Christine Lagarde, is inflicting on the Greek people a policy that is little short of barbarism. They have only themselves to blame if the Greeks reject their latest demands in the upcoming referendum. Not only is unemployment running at 25%, and at nearly 60% amongst the under 25s, but the Greek lower middle class, the traders that make any economy run, has been decimated. Suicide is up 45%. 30% of the Greek people are living in poverty. Nearly one in five of the population does not have enough to eat, with food purchases having fallen by 28.5%.

Pensioners, now the bread-winners in many households (pensions are now the main – and often only – source of income for almost half of Greek families), have seen a 61% fall in their pension payments. Greek pensions were, pre-crisis, extremely generous, sometimes ridiculously so. In some sectors pensions could be more than 100% of final salaries, with some public sector workers taking retirement in their early 50’. Coupled with an aging population – 20% of Greeks are over age 65, one of the highest%ages in the Eurozone – this was a major factor in Greece’s problems. But Greek pensions are no longer so generous. On top of the cut to monthly payments, the standard retirement age for men is being lifted to 67, one of the highest in Europe.

Almost half of pensioners live on less than the poverty line of €665 per month. Food poverty is worsening people’s health. The stillbirth rate is up by 21% and infant mortality rose by 40% between 2008 and 2011. TB rates have doubled. HIV infection is up. Malaria has re-emerged after nearly half a century. Health care is funded by insurance, so when people lose their jobs they lose their health care. Along with cuts in state funding and the subsequent hospital closures, the economy of the health service is being destroyed. Thousands of doctors have left the country. Those that remain work for about €12,000 a year. Some clinics now depend upon volunteers and doctors who work for nothing.

This destruction is repeated throughout Greece’s public sector. There is little doubt that it needed reform. It was rotten, with overpaid jobs and excessive pensions allocated by rousfeti (political patronage) and the distribution of its services often lubricated by fakelaki (bribes). But what was needed was modernising rationalisation, not the fit of devastation that has left much of Greece dependent on soup kitchens and charity clinics.

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“This is, after all, a system where unelected institutions and other states have the power to override elected governments..”

Syriza Can’t Just Cave In. Europe’s Elites Want Regime Change In Greece (Milne)

It’s now clear that Germany and Europe’s powers that be don’t just want the Greek government to bend the knee. They want regime change. Not by military force, of course – this operation is being directed from Berlin and Brussels, rather than Washington. But that the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the troika of Greece’s European and IMF creditors are out to remove the elected government in Athens now seems beyond serious doubt. Everything they have done in recent weeks in relation to the leftist Syriza administraton, elected to turn the tide of austerity, appears designed to divide or discredit Alexis Tsipras’s government. They were at it again today, when Tsipras offered what looked like almost complete acceptance of the austerity package he had called a referendum on this Sunday.

There could be no talks, Merkel responded, until the ballot had taken place. There’s no suggestion of genuine compromise. The aim is apparently to humiliate Tsipras and his government in preparation for its early replacement with a more pliable administration. We know from the IMF documents prepared for last week’s “final proposals” and reported in the Guardian that the creditors were fully aware they meant unsustainable levels of debt and self-defeating austerity for Greece until at least 2030, even on the most fancifully optimistic scenario. That’s because, just as the earlier bailouts went to the banks not the country, and troika-imposed austerity has brought penury and a debt explosion, these demands are really about power, not money.

If they are successful in forcing Tsipras out of office, a slightly less destructive package could then be offered to a more house-trained Greek leader who replaced him. Hence the ECB’s decision to switch off emergency funding of Greece’s banks after Tsipras called the referendum on an austerity scheme he had described as blackmail. That was what triggered the bank closures and capital controls, which have taken Greece’s crisis to a new level this week as it became the first developed country to default on an IMF loan. The EU authorities have a deep aversion to referendums, and countries are routinely persuaded to hold them again if they give the wrong answer. The vote planned in Greece is no exception. A barrage of threats and scaremongering was unleashed as soon as it was called.[..]

This is, after all, a system where unelected institutions and other states have the power to override elected governments – in fact to impose not only policies but effectively governments too, as we may be about to see in Greece. Anti-democratic firewalls are built into Europe’s institutions.

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Great angle. Nobody talks about Obama’s silence.

“US Should Have Stopped IMF From Sending Redlined Document To Greece” (HuffPo)

The United States should have intervened a week ago when the latest talks between Greece and its creditors began to fall apart, a former senior IMF official told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. Appeals for compromise over the Greek debt crisis come too late now, economist Peter Doyle said. [..] To really help the situation, Doyle, the former IMF senior manager, said the U.S. needed to step into the negotiations between Greece and its creditors at a crucial moment a week ago. As the largest single contributor to the IMF, the U.S. has the greatest say over its policies. Specifically, Doyle argues that the U.S. should have stopped the creditors from sending back Greece’s latest proposal covered with redlined changes on June 24 and then leaking it to the media.

The way the counterproposal was made was widely seen as humiliating to Greece. Moreover, it did not offer any new concessions on debt relief, pension reforms or increases in the value-added tax. Greece reacted furiously to the counterproposal, beginning a downward turn that culminated Saturday in Greece’s withdrawal from the talks and announcement of the referendum. “I was truly amazed that the U.S. allowed the IMF to send back to Greece that redlined document,” Doyle said. “It must have slipped through the cracks in the White House,” he added. “That redlined document was completely humiliating, and it says nothing about debt relief.”

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If Obama won’t speak, someone else will have to do it.

Bernie Sanders Blasts Greece’s Creditors (HuffPo)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attacked the IMF and European authorities on Wednesday for imposing what he called excessive austerity measures on Greece in negotiations over the country’s debt payments. “It is unacceptable that the IMF and European policymakers have refused to work with the Greek government on a sensible plan to improve its economy and pay back its debt,” Sanders said in an exclusive statement to The Huffington Post. “At a time of grotesque wealth inequality, the pensions of the people in Greece should not be cut even further to pay back some of the largest banks and wealthiest financiers in the world.”

Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and veteran progressive lawmaker, called the loans-for-austerity policies that the IMF and eurozone nations have imposed on Greece an “abysmal failure,” and demanded that the United States and other world powers grant Greece new debt-repayment terms that would allow its economy to recover from the damage it has sustained since 2008. “Instead of trying to force the Greek government and its people into even more economic pain and suffering, international leaders throughout the world, including the United States, should enable Greece to enact pro-growth policies that improve the lives of all of its people, not just the wealthy few,” Sanders said.

Sanders appeared to single out the IMF, the creditor over which the United States has the most direct influence. The U.S. controls more votes in IMF decisions than any other nation. “If Greece’s economy is going to succeed, these austerity policies must end,” Sanders said. “The IMF must give the Greek government the flexibility and time that it needs to grow its economy in a fair way.”[..]

It’s not clear what impact, if any, Sanders’ statement will have on the Greek crisis, since the United States – notwithstanding its controlling votes at the IMF – has remained largely on the sidelines during the current impasse. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been in close consultation with his eurozone and Greek counterparts throughout negotiations, but he’s refrained from specific prescriptions, instead making broad appeals for both sides to compromise. Peter Doyle, a former senior manager at the IMF, criticized the approach in an interview with HuffPost on Wednesday, arguing that the Obama administration should have vetoed a redlined document the creditors presented to Greece on June 26 that was viewed as especially humiliating.

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There’s more to this.

Europe Wants to Punish Greece With Exit (Crook)

In my more than 30 years writing about politics and economics, I have never before witnessed such an episode of sustained, self-righteous, ruinous and dissembling incompetence –and I’m not talking about Alexis Tsipras and Syriza. As the damage mounts, the effort to rewrite the history of the European Union’s abject failure over Greece is already underway. Pending a fuller postmortem, a little clarity on the immediate issues is in order. On Monday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a news conference that he’d been betrayed by the Greek government. The creditor institutions, he said, had shown flexibility and sought compromise. Their most recent offer involved no wage cuts, he emphasized, and no pension cuts; it was a package that created “more social fairness.”

Tsipras had misled Greeks about what the creditors were asking. The talks were getting somewhere. Agreement on this package could have been reached “easily” if Tsipras hadn’t collapsed the process early Saturday by calling a referendum. What an outrageous passel of distortion. Since these talks began five months ago, both sides have budged, but Tsipras has given vastly more ground than the creditors. In particular, he was ready to accede to more fiscal austerity — a huge climbdown on his part. True, the last offer requires a slightly milder profile of primary budget surpluses than the creditors initially demanded; nonetheless, it still calls for severely (and irrationally) tight fiscal policy. In contrast, the creditors have refused to climb down on the question of including debt relief in the current talks, absurdly insisting that this is an issue for later.

On Tuesday, Tsipras made his most desperate attempt yet to bring the issue forward. Far from expressing any desire to compromise, dominant voices among the creditors – notably German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who often seemed to be calling the shots – have maintained throughout that there is nothing to discuss. The program already in place had to be completed, and that was that. Yes, the program had failed. No, it wouldn’t achieve debt sustainability. Absolutely, it was pointlessly grinding down Greek living standards even further. What did that have to do with it? Juncker says the last offer made no demand for wage cuts. Really? The offer says the “wage grid” should be modernized, including “decompressing the [public sector] wage distribution.”

On the face of it, decompressing involves cuts. If the creditors were calling for public-sector wages to be decompressed upward perhaps they should have made this clear. Regardless, the increases in value-added taxes demanded by the creditors mean lower real wages, public and private alike. As for no pension cuts, the creditors called for phasing out new early-retirement penalties and the so-called social solidarity payment for the poorest pensioners. Those are cuts. The creditors called for a lot else, too. Remember that the Greek economy is on its knees. Living standards have collapsed and the unemployment rate is 25%. Now read the offer document, and see if you think the advance in “social fairness” that Juncker stressed at his news conference shines through.

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“..democracies are already well under way to be made “market conforming..”

Democracy And Monetary Union: How Not To Do It (Janssen)

There is not a shadow of a doubt that EMU is incomplete. The key problem is that sovereign debt of individual euro area member states is no longer backed by a central bank of their own. Indeed, when adopting the single currency, member states not only become members of EMU, they are also divorcing in some way from their national central bank. The Banca d’ Espana (just to name one) continues to exist but with its competence on monetary policy transferred to Frankfurt, the government in Madrid can no longer call upon the assistance of a money-creating institution in case of emergency. This peculiar combination of one supranational central bank together with 19 different sovereign debt stocks has made euro area member states extremely vulnerable in the event of a run on the bond market for their sovereign debt.

No longer able to resort to their own national central bank as a lender of last resort, governments inside EMU have no other choice but to adopt brutal austerity – or else default – in dealing with any liquidity crisis. In a sense, Eurozone member states can be compared to emerging economies that are issuing debt in a (foreign) currency they have no control over and get into serious trouble when market momentum changes and access to finance is completely cut off. Until 2010, this gap in the construction of monetary union in Europe went completely unnoticed. However, when the crisis in Greek public finances erupted back in 2009 and with central bankers openly declaring their increasing unwillingness to accept Greek debt as collateral, the fault-line in monetary union became painfully clear.

Financial markets reacted in a predictable way, by panicking and staging a self-fulfilling prophecy. Realising that, in the absence of the ECB backing up Spanish, Italian, French, or Belgium sovereign debt, a run on these bonds could trigger default, markets started running for the exit by massively dumping them. The rest of the story is well-known. Euro Area Member states, trying to calm down markets, embarked on the experiment of highly pro-cyclical austerity and topped this up with wage devaluation. Their hopes soon turned out to be vain as austerity and internal devaluation triggered a double dip recession, thus even stoking markets’ worst fears of default and/or the break-up of monetary union.

This vicious circle was only broken some years later (2012) when the ECB’s president, Mario Draghi, finally addressed market concerns about the absence of a lender of last resort by orally promising to do “anything it takes” to save the single currency. Europe has paid a high price for this. The price does not simply come in the form of economic stagnation, record high unemployment and rising inequalities. An even more worrying issue is that the principle of democracy is being hollowed out. Elected governments have repeatedly found themselves confronted with little choice but to abide by what the markets seem to be demanding or, alternatively, to obey the detailed “diktats” prescribed by the ECB in – not so – secret letters. [..]

A couple of years ago, at the height of the euro crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly stated that democracies in Europe needed to “conform to the markets”. With monetary policy in the hands of a supranational central bank, with fiscal policy enchained by the Stability Pact and the Fiscal Compact with its Fiscal Councils, democracies are already well under way to be made “market conforming” under the tutelage of these gatherings of independent professionals. The next step seems to be to also bring wages and wage bargaining under the discipline of experts’ councils and to do this on the basis of rules forcing workers across the Euro Area to compete with each other in poaching each other’s jobs. It is not a prospect that augurs well for a democratic Europe.

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“If you were of a suspicious mind, you might wonder whether Mr Tsipras has not in fact lured European leaders and officials into a legal trap..”

Europe Has Suffered A Reputational Catastrophe In Greece (AEP)

Oxi Day has totemic significance in Greece. It commemorates the defiant Greek “No” to Mussolini’s ultimatum in October 1940, and the heroic acceptance of war against a vastly bigger military machine. It is the same word that will top the ballot sheet when Greeks vote in a snap referendum this Sunday on creditor demands, and prime minister Alexis Tsipras is not shy in evoking the same spirit of wartime resistance. His speech to the nation on Wednesday night was peppered with talk of ultimata. He accused “extreme Right-wing circles” of forcing the closure of the Greek banks and the imposition of capital controls through liquidity asphyxiation. He lashed out at “authoritarians” in charge of the IMF and EU institutions. He spoke of attempts to blackmail the Greek people.

And he vowed to campaign against the creditor package – which, strictly speaking, is no longer on offer – deeming it the “destruction of Europe”. Where this will take him, and take Greece, is anybody’s guess. The latest Efimerida ton Syntakton poll shows the “No” side leading by 54pc against 33pc for “yes”. But that lead – if it really exists – may evaporate as the ghastly consequences of financial collapse become clearer by the day. Distraught pensioners have been gathering in small, tense crowds outside banks trying to withdraw their weekly allowance of €120 (£85). Many have not been paid. A throng of veterans protested outside the finance ministry on Wednesday morning, denouncing EU “dictatorship” and Mr Tsipras with equal fury.

Ambulances in parts of northern Greece have run out of fuel. The Greek Chamber of Commerce warns of “serious shortages” of basic goods and pharmaceutical supplies within days. The radical-Left Syriza government is skating on very thin ice. If Europe’s creditor powers have succeeded in bringing Greece to its knees, they have paid a fearful price themselves. As Pyrrhus said after the battle of Asculum: “Another such victory, and we will be utterly ruined.” We can already see that the EU itself has suffered a reputational catastrophe on several fronts. This is of far greater importance in the sweep of events than daily twists and turns in Athens. It has brought about a state of affairs where a member of its own eurozone family has become the first developed country in history to default to the IMF.

Let us be clear what this means. The currency union itself is delinquent. The rich countries of northern Europe are refusing to pay African, Asian and Latin American states. Blaming it on Greece alone does not wash. The eurozone has shown itself unable to manage its basic moral responsibilities. Russian president Vladimir Putin could hardly resist his own wicked dig, professing “great concern” over the EU’s vanishing credibility. This default is doubly shameful given that the original IMF-Troika loan in 2010 was not intended to save Greece. The extra debt was imposed on an already bankrupt Greek state to buy time for the euro, against Greek interests.

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And all the other stuff yesterday was just gossip.

Tsipras Refuses To Bow To Threats To Greek Banking System (Telegraph)

Greece’s embattled prime minister has refused to back down over a referendum on the country’s bail-out future, despite being threatened with imminent financial ruin and a banking collapse as early as Monday if he chooses to press ahead with the vote. In his third address on national television in the past five days, a defiant Alexis Tsipras vowed to let the Greek people have their say on the austerity terms they will need to sign up to in order to retain their 14-year membership of the single currency. Mr Tsipras is backing a “No” vote, a move that has drawn opprobrium from across the continent and been described as “dumb” by a senior ally of Germany’s Angela Merkel. “Come Monday, the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum, with better terms for the Greek people,” said Mr Tsipras.

Wednesday was the first day in five years that Greece has not been subject to a bail-out programme, freezing the bankrupt country out of €15bn in rescue funds. The government has been forced to impose draconian controls on cash withdrawals and shut down the banks for more than a week to prevent a devastating bank run. Branches are due to open again on July 7 after the referendum vote is held. But creditor powers are now threatening the country with the threat of an imminent financial collapse unless Mr Tsipras calls off the plebiscite. Slovakia’s finance minister, Peter Kazimir, made clear the ultimatum that was now facing Athens: “I’m afraid that Greece’s banks might not reopen with the euro as the currency in case the referendum on Sunday ends with a No,” he said.

The ECB decided to maintain the current €89bn cap on emergency funding that it is providing to keep the banking system afloat. The show of bullish resistance from Mr Tsipras is likely to further anger European leaders, who spent their third consecutive day refusing any dialogue with his government, pushing the country to the brink of a disorderly ejection from the eurozone. “We see no grounds for further talks at this point,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers. Greece became the first country since Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to default to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday night. The non-payment now places the country’s future in the hands of its creditors.

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Stunning how little intellectual progress has been made in 5 months. We leave it all up to the nutcases in charge: “The world will be a better place when Germans know their history – all of it.”

In Greek Crisis, Germany Should Learn From Its Fiscal Past (WaPo, Jan 28)

If you made a list of countries you hope have learned from their past hundred years of mistakes, Germany would have to be at the top. Happily, the staunch opposition to a nativist fringe that the nation’s government and citizenry have shown in recent weeks makes it clear, again, that Germany understands the costs of bigotry and the virtues of tolerance. Unhappily, it has not learned the costs of a mad adherence to fiscal orthodoxy, despite the fact that its prosperity is rooted in the decision of its World War II adversaries to allow West Germany’s postwar government to write off half of its debts. Indeed, the policies that Angela Merkel’s government have inflicted on the nations of Southern Europe could not be more different from those that European leaders and the United States devised in the early 1950s to enable West Germany to rebuild its damaged economy.

Since the crash of 2008, Germany, as Europe’s dominant economy and leading creditor, has compelled Mediterranean Europe, and Greece in particular, to sack their own economies to repay their debts. Germany’s insistence has reduced Greece to a condition like that of the United States at the bottom of the Great Depression. Unemployment has soared to 25%, and youth unemployment to more than 50% ; the economy has shrunk by 26% and consumption by 40%. Debt has risen to 175% of the nation’s gross domestic product. And the funds from the loans that Germany and other nations have extended to Greece have gone almost entirely either to cover interest payments or repay past loans; only 11% has actually gone to Greece’s government.

Stuck on a treadmill of debt repayment and anemic economic activity, Greece, as the Financial Times noted, has been reduced to a “quasi-slave economy” run “purely for the benefit of foreign creditors.”Not surprisingly, when Greek voters went to the polls Sunday, they elected a new government that is demanding a renegotiation of its debt. German and European Union officials have responded with adamant opposition to any such changes.

Fortunately for Germany, its own creditors took quite a different stance after World War II. In the London Debt Agreement of 1953, the 20 nations — including Greece — that had loaned money to Germany during the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic and in the years since 1945 agreed to reduce West Germany’s debts by half. Moreover, they agreed that its repayments could not come out of the government’s spending but only and explicitly from export income. They further agreed to undervalue the German mark, so that German export income could grow. By the consent of all parties, the London Agreement, and subsequent modifications, were crafted in proceedings that made West Germany an equal party to its creditors: It could, and sometimes did, reject the creditors’ terms and insist on new negotiations.

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The morally bankrput union.

In Athens, Scavenging From Bins Has Become A Way To Survive (Telegraph)

Piled high with rubbish congealing in the summer heat, municipal dustbin R21 on Athens’ Sofokleous Street does not look or smell like a treasure trove. But for Greece’s growing army of dustbin scavengers, its deposits of rubbish from nearby stores and grocery shops make it a regular point of call. “Sometimes I’ll find scrap metal that I can sell, although if I see something that looks reasonably safe to eat, I’ll take it,” said Nikos Polonos, 55, as he sifted through R21’s contents on Tuesday morning. “Other times you might find paper, cans, and bottles that you can get money for if you take them back to the shops for recycling.” One reason for R21’s popularity is because it is just down the road from a church soup kitchen, where the drug-addicted, the poor and homeless queue up for meals three times daily.

But many of those who now forage in such dustbins each day are simply ordinary working people – or were, at least, until Greece’s economic meltdown shot unemployment up to 25%. Mr Polonos, a quietly spoken man of 55, is typical of the new class of respectably destitute. He lost his job as a construction worker three years ago, when Greece’s building boom dried up, and in the current climate, cannot see himself finding paid work in the foreseeable future. Yet he dresses as smartly as he can in second-hand trousers and shirt, and does not see himself as any kind of vagrant. “I don’t want to ever look like him,” he said, gesturing to a tousle-haired drug addict slumped in a doorway near the soup kitchen.

“I never believed I would end up like this, but as long as Greece is in this terrible situation, my construction skills are not in demand. A lot of my friends are doing what I do now, and some people I know are even worse off. They have turned to drugs and have no hope at all.” The exact numbers of people who now scrape a living by rummaging through Athens’ bins is hard to estimate, since many only operate at night when their friends and neighbours will not see them. But according to Panos Karamanlikis, a volunteer at the soup kitchen, the numbers have increased by two or three times since 2011 alone. “A lot of them are normal people from normal homes,” said Mr Karamanlikis, who lost his job himself back in 2006 when the insurance company he worked for shed 60% of its work force. “They will go out and look for cigarette stubs on the streets, tin cans to recycle, anything.”

Stephen Graham, an anti-austerity campaigner from England who has spent the last three months travelling through Greece to study its economic problems, said that well-to-do scavengers were a common sight in the Athens suburb where he lived. “These are people who still have trappings of their old way of life, who still have clothes for work and smartphone contracts they can’t get out of,” he said. “They go to different neighbourhoods to scavenge so that people they know don’t see them. Seeing them is something I’ll never forget.”

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Schäuble’s been preparing this for years.

The Hard Line on Greece (Sorkin)

In July 2012, Timothy F. Geithner, the United States Treasury secretary at the time, traveled to Sylt, an island off Germany in the North Sea. Mr. Geithner was there for a meeting with Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, who would spend his summers at his vacation home on the tiny island. The topic was Greece. In the home’s library, the two men spoke about Greece’s prospects and begun discussing ways for the European Union to keep the country in the eurozone. To Mr. Geithner’s dismay, however, Mr. Schäuble took the conversation in a different direction. “He told me there were many in Europe who still thought kicking the Greeks out of the eurozone was a plausible — even desirable — strategy,” Mr. Geithner later recounted in his memoir, “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.”

“The idea was that with Greece out, Germany would be more likely to provide the financial support the eurozone needed because the German people would no longer perceive aid to Europe as a bailout for the Greeks,” he says in the memoir. “At the same time, a Grexit would be traumatic enough that it would help scare the rest of Europe into giving up more sovereignty to a stronger banking and fiscal union,” Mr. Geithner wrote. “The argument was that letting Greece burn would make it easier to build a stronger Europe with a more credible firewall.” Fast-forward three years. What Mr. Schäuble articulated that summer afternoon to Mr. Geithner is finally taking shape.

Greece is in a harrowing last-minute standoff with the European Union over whether it will remain part of the eurozone, and Greek citizens are set to make the decision in a referendum vote on Sunday. That vote is happening against a backdrop of bank runs; citizens are camped outside of banks, where capital controls now restrict the amount of money that can be removed. Politicians and investors have been trying to “war game” the outcome. Who is bluffing? The Greeks or the European Union. The conversation between Mr. Geithner and Mr. Schäuble gives a strong indication. As Mr. Geithner said of another conversation he had with Mr. Schäuble: “He has a clear view: Greece had binged, so it needed to go on a strict diet.” [..]

It may seem counterintuitive, but rather than make a Greece exit easy and seamless to avoid dislocations in financial markets, the E.C.B. has the perverse incentive to make it messy and difficult to deter others.

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“Though Germany was allowed to grow its way out of recession in 1953, it will not let Greece do this, because it would set “a bad example””

Fear-Mongering Is The Enemy Of Democracy (Suzanne Moore)

Project Fear stalks Europe. In suits and ties and chaffeur-driven cars, in hurried meetings, in corridors blaring with strip lights, around the cabinet tables, in meetings where strategy is scrawled on whiteboards, in advertising agencies where earnest young people compete to unsettle us in the most effective ways. Perhaps I am too old and dreamy to think that politics was ever about anything other than fear; that hope is a necessity not a luxury. Surely I know, really, that when you want someone to vote a certain way you have to frighten them into thinking that any alternative is worse. We may not know what we like, but we sure as hell as know what we don’t like. Project Fear is not a paranoid delusion of mine. This phrase was used by the Conservatives in the last election and the pro-UK Better Together campaign. [..]

Of course, Project Fear reaches its apotheosis in Greece. If there is a referendum, the Greek people will be asked to vote for a hell they already know or one they can only imagine. They will continue to be lectured on profligacy and infantilised as lazy children, while their hospitals are running out of supplies, people are sleeping on the streets and unemployment soars. Those who stand in ATM queues are fearful, and who wouldn’t be? But from my last couple of visits to Greece, I would say that when a crisis is everyday, when you live on the brink, a strange calm sets in, a resilience that I can only compare to what I have seen in war zones, in that the need to get on with living overrides fear. No one can panic 24/7. “We will grow potatoes,” one man said to me. “We all watch out for each other,” said a woman.

For the thing about Project Fear is that when it becomes the weather, one learns to ignore it. As the Eurocrats huddle and speak of Greece, and then Spain and Italy, as some kind of totemic ethnic “other”, we should be disturbed. Does this huge south need to be dealt with differently? Is this all a place of unpaid tax and bribery and siestas? Be fearful of this. “They will take what is ours” is the subtext here. There is no respect for seasonal economies like Greece’s, but the fear is myopic. How can we not see that all of Europe will lose, too, if it continues to impoverish these places?

With migrants arriving in Kos and hordes of the dispossessed massing in Libya, why would we want to alienate a nation just one country away from Isis? Greece spends a lot on defence, this is true. Can we not see why? But the troika are the agents of Project Fear. Though Germany was allowed to grow its way out of recession in 1953, it will not let Greece do this, because it would set “a bad example”. The aim of all these dealings becomes clearer. It is to remove the democratic challenge of Syriza to these huge, undemocratic institutions of the EU and IMF. Even many rightwing economists argue that the conditional loans given to Greece have only enriched the financial intuitions. The aim is not growth but punishment.

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Berlin turns out to be even crazier than he thought.

How Varoufakis Saw The “Worst Case Scenario” Over A Year Ago (Zero Hedge)

Over a year ago, and long before he became the mascot for fraught negotiations between Greece and its creditors, Yanis Varoufakis penned a lengthy essay on what might happen should the Greek government decide to stand firm in the face of pressure from Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin. Earlier today we learned that in fact, Greece will stick to its negotiating position even in default and will remain defiant to the end, or at least until the voters who swept PM Tsipras and Varoufakis into office indicate at the ballot box that concedeing the Syriza campaign mandate is an acceptable outcome. With the government urging Greeks to vote “no”, the Tsipras and Varoufakis’ gambit will be put to the test next week, or perhaps even as early as this afternoon when the ECB could decide to effectively bring the Greek banking sector to its knees.

In this context, we bring you Yanis Varoufakis’ vision of the endgame, straight from the embattled FinMin himself:

That Greece has the right and the opportunity to deploy these bargaining cards there is no doubt. The important question is this: What if Berlin and Frankfurt do not budge? What if they tell Athens to ‘go jump of the tallest cliff’? The Greek government currently claims that it has a budget surplus. While I strongly doubt this claim, I suspect that a small primary surplus can be concocted through some additional cost cutting and a leximin squeeze of top public sector incomes downwards (without affecting the lowest incomes, pensions and benefits). That should suffice to allow the Athens government to meet its needs during any medium term standoff with Berlin and Frankfurt, as the Greek state will need no financing either from the official sector or from the money markets. In short, the answer to a German “Go jump” can be: “We shall not jump but we shall stay rock solid within the Eurozone and behind our demand for a debt conference. Just watch us.”

Berlin and Frankfurt will, undoubtedly, be furious. They will issue a variety of threats, including the suspension of structural fund flows from Brussels. But the real battleground will be the banks. As they did with Cyprus, where they threatened the government with an immediate suspension of the island nation’s ELA, so too in the case of Greece they will threaten to pull the plug on the Greek banks. Two points need to be made here. First, the Greek banks no longer hold any Greek government debt, which means that their collateral with the European System of Central Banks cannot be downgraded legally. Secondly, Frankfurt will have to think twice before it issues the threat of bending its own rules to close down Greek banks – since doing this would threaten to engulf the whole of the Periphery’s banking system into another cascading panic.

Confronted with such a reality, I have good cause to hope that Berlin will prefer to accommodate the Greek government and to look with a great deal more ‘kindness’ the ‘request’ for a debt relief conference. And if it does not, and wishes to bring the Eurozone down with it, let it do its worst, I say.

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What’s creeping into the discussion is a sense that it’s normal and legit for Berlin to move for regime change in a sovereign nation. That’s scary.

Berlin Accuses Tsipras Of Seeking Scapegoats Outside Own Ranks (Guardian)

Berlin has delivered a blistering attack on Greece’s beleaguered radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of lying to his own people and seeking scapegoats for the country’s misery everywhere but in his own ranks. The German government dismissed desperate attempts by Athens to salvage some form of bailout, prompting Tsipras to hit back, accusing the country’s creditors of trying to “blackmail” Greek voters with dire warnings that a vote against austerity in this weekend’s referendum would be a vote to leave the euro. Tsipras referred to leaders of other eurozone nations as “extremist conservative forces” and blamed them for the capital controls that have forced the banks to shut down and ration cash.

With relations between Greece and Germany now at their lowest point in the crisis, divisions have also opened up among the main EU powers over what to do about Greece after five years of bailout closed down on Tuesday and the country became the EU’s first to default on loans to the IMF. The trenchant criticism of Tsipras from Berlin reinforced the view that the German government might refuse to negotiate with the leftwing Syriza administration on any new rescue package after Sunday’s referendum in Greece – which Berlin insists is a vote on whether to stay in the euro. The validity of the vote is now also being questioned. The Council of Europe said one week’s notice fell short of international standards and the wording was unclear, while Greece’s highest court has been asked to cancel the plebiscite on constitutional grounds.

A judgement will not be made until Friday. Syriza’s allies in the German parliament – die Linke, or the Left – accused the chancellor, Angela Merkel, of seeking to topple the Greek prime minister. It is an open secret in Berlin that Merkel, and especially her hawkish finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, would be happy to see Tsipras fall as a consequence of Sunday’s vote. At the very least, German government sources say privately, Berlin wants Greece’s flamboyant finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, replaced. The rising tension over the Greek debacle surfaced at the very top of the EU on Wednesday when Schäuble rejected the latest Tsipras letter to his creditors accepting most of the austerity terms that last Saturday he had described as “humiliation” and “extortion”, while arguing for much more generous rescue funding over two years and including debt relief.

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Insult and injury.

Greek Tourism Bookings Are Nosediving (Kathimerini)

The government’s decision to call a referendum, shut banks and default on its payment to the International Monetary Fund are taking a toll on Greek tourism, professionals warned on Wednesday. Andreas Andreadis, the head of the Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises (SETE), said that hotel bookings are down 50,000 a day due to the recent developments in the country. Given that last-minute bookings account for 20% of the year’s tourism traffic, the blow is expected to be severe for Greek tourism, with knock-on effects on employment if those bookings are lost for good. Furthermore, there is a growing wave of cancellations at Athens hotels, while bookings from Greeks have dropped to almost zero.

Andreadis said the activation of Target 2 – an interbank payment system for the real-time processing of cross-border transfers throughout the EU – would be vital as it would facilitate transactions with other countries and allow for essential imports, meaning that catering facilities at accommodation units would be able to operate. He went on to warn that food and drink stocks will only suffice to cover hotels’ needs for one more week. Data released on Wednesday by the Travelplanet 24 and Airtickets websites showed that air ticket bookings by Greek travelers for the July-September period showed a decline of up to 50%. Air ticket cancellations rose from an average rate of 1.05% to 7.2% in the period from June 27 to yesterday. This peaked on Monday, when the cancellation rate amounted to 22%.

Similarly, ferry ticket bookings had posted an annual increase of 10% up until June 25, but since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum there has been a dip of 60%. Meanwhile, SETE informed the US Embassy in Athens that a major US-based tour operator had told the association that it had received orders to withhold money owed to Greek hoteliers from bookings last month. The embassy is investigating the claims, while the IMF yesterday issued a statement denying that it had given any such order.

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Use your home as collateral to buy hugely leveraged stocks. Yeah, that sounds good…

China Eases Margin Lending Rules to Support Flagging Stock Market (FT)

China’s securities regulator has moved to curb downward pressure on the country’s tumbling stock market by relaxing collateral rules on margin loans, in a bid to prevent a vicious cycle of price falls and forced selling. Margin finance has been a major driver of the rally that propelled China’s main stock index to a seven-year high on June 12, but the market has since tumbled more than 20% due in part to worries about a clampdown on leveraged bets. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said late on Wednesday that brokerages are free to set their own rules for demanding more collateral from clients when stocks bought with borrowed money fall in value. Previous rules required clients to add assets to their accounts when their collateral ratio dropped below 130%, or else liquidate their positions.

“The new CSRC rules to stop forced liquidation have hit the nail on the head and will calm the market for now,” Hao Hong, research director at Bocom International, wrote in a note. Nevertheless, the Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.9% in early trading on Thursday, deepening Wednesday’s 5.3% decline. Shenzhen was down 1.5%. Stock exchange data show that after surging to a high of Rmb2.27tn ($366bn) on June 18 — from Rmb401bn a year earlier — outstanding margin loans have fallen Rmb236bn. But Mr Hao also warned that the relaxation may sow the seeds for a future crisis.

“Beyond the short term, we believe margin call is a necessary risk management mechanism for brokers. The premise of margin trades is that asset prices will rise perpetually. It simply cannot be true,” he said. In addition to loosening collateral requirements, the new rules allow margin loans to be extended for longer than the previous six-month limit, and eliminate the requirement that margin clients must have assets in their securities account worth at least Rmb500,000. The CSRC first proposed the changes on June 12 in the form of draft rules open for a month-long public comment period. But in its statement on Wednesday the regulator said that “because the situation is special” the rules would now take effect immediately.

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Please borrow more!

China’s Fix for a Margin-Debt Boom Roiling Stocks? More Leverage (Bloomberg)

As China’s stock-market slump spurs margin traders to unwind record bullish bets, authorities have responded with a policy that analysts say could exacerbate the problem: make it easier to take on even more leverage. Hours after a one-day tumble of 5.2% in the Shanghai Composite Index, China’s securities regulator eased collateral requirements for leveraged investors and allowed brokerages to securitize margin loans – a move that frees up room to extend credit after a nine-fold surge in outstanding margin debt in two years. Brokerages have leeway to boost lending by about $300 billion, based on regulatory caps announced Wednesday.

While a surge in leverage helped fuel the longest-ever bull market in Chinese stocks, traders have been closing out those positions for a record eight straight days as the Shanghai Composite tumbled more than 20% from this year’s high. Even if relaxed rules help prevent a free-fall in share prices, the risk is that more leverage will expose amateur investors to even greater losses later and spur bigger price swings in the world’s most-volatile market. “Beyond the short term, risk taking with leverage underwritten by the state plants seeds for even greater market peril in the future,” Hao Hong, a China strategist at Bocom International, wrote in an e-mailed note.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission will allow brokerages to accept new forms of collateral, including real estate, from clients with insufficient value in their stock accounts. The regulator, which cut short a public consultation on the rules due to “market conditions,” said investors no longer need to supply extra collateral within two days when it falls below 1.3 times the amount of borrowed money. The new guidelines let brokerages give six-month extensions to clients’ margin trading and short selling contracts, instead of liquidating the positions.

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At home as in China.

Normal Banks Are Helping Shadow Banks Grow, a Lot (Bloomberg)

It’s no secret that financial companies without government-backed deposits—often dubbed shadow banks—have been growing as a result of post-financial crisis regulations imposed on actual banks. But what’s often overlooked is just how much the “normal” kind of banks are helping to power that growth. U.S. banks’ loans to nondepository financial companies, or shadow banks, have jumped more than 230% over the past three years, according to the semiannual risk perspective report released by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Tuesday. They were the fifth-largest category of commercial-loan holdings at banks at the end of last year, up from the 11th spot at the end of 2011.

To be sure, banks being involved with shadow banks isn’t new. During the crisis, loans to subprime mortgage lenders, managers of collateralized debt obligations, and hedge funds created all sorts of trouble for banks, along with the sort of softer relationships they had with such things as the mortgage-backed securities they issued and SIVs. Yet banks never really backed away from being a key cog in the shadow-banking system, as Bloomberg News reporter Donal Griffin laid out in an article in 2012 about how Citigroup was involved with collateralized loan obligations, money-market funds, and mortgage real estate investment trusts, even as the bank’s then-chief executive officer, Vikram Pandit, was vocally criticizing how regulations were shifting risk toward exactly such things.

It’s not just banks that are offering nonbanks a helping hand. Another report released Tuesday, from the overseer of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, shows that those companies may also be playing a role, as they increase the fees they charge lenders to guarantee mortgages. Over the past two years, the mortgage giants have been charging small lenders less (on a risk-adjusted basis) to guarantee loans than they charge large ones, in a switch from the past, according to the report. And many of those small lenders are nonbanks.

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Abe should go.

Reaganomics Won’t Save Japan (Pesek)

Can Ronald Reagan save Japan from a debt crisis? We’re about to find out as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bets the remaining years of his mandate on the former U.S. president’s economic philosophy. Abe’s new plan to curb Japan’s debt burden, the world’s heaviest at almost 250% of GDP, doesn’t mention Reagan. But it’s impossible not to notice the influence of his widely-touted theory that healthy government finances require, above all, a thriving corporate sector. That should worry investors, credit rating companies and the Japanese people alike. Abe did announce some vague intentions to cap spending and reach a budget surplus in fiscal 2020. But the heart of his strategy for dealing with government debt is stoking broader economic growth.

It’s a questionable strategy, one that’s even more dubious because of where Abe expects this debt-erasing output to come from: giant companies profiting from a weaker yen and a “productivity revolution.” Unfortunately, Abe’s plan is based on the discredited notion that more money for companies and the wealthy will mean more money for government coffers. Japanese companies have been earning more money since at least 2012, when the yen began dropping to the benefit of exports. But instead of sharing the wealth by fattening paychecks, executives hoarded it. The amount of cash and deposits corporate Japan has on hand jumped 3.6% in March to a record $1.96 trillion. In 26 of the 30 months Abe has been in office, CEOs have chosen to save extra cash rather than deploy it.

Abe shouldn’t expect much growth to trickle down from productivity gains either. Japan’s insular and outdated business practices have long made it a laggard among developed nations. That was less problematic before China’s ascendance in the region. Japan is now an aging, inefficient and wildly expensive property in a cheap neighborhood. In order to sustain its living standards, Japan needs to innovate and develop new job-creating industries (think renewable energy, not cars and televisions). But as Georges Desvaux of McKinsey argues in a recent report, Abe has done very little since taking office to invest in Japan’s vast human capital. [..] The bottom line is that there’s little “new” about a plan that relies on growth to pay down debt. Reagan never managed to pull it off in the 1980s – U.S. debt actually rose, belying the theory that tax cuts pay for themselves.

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All of Europe should.

Belgium Adopts Law Against ‘Vulture Funds’ (AFP)

Belgium has passed a law to cap how much so-called “vulture funds” can recoup from government debt bought at rock-bottom prices from countries teetering on the brink of default. Under the new law, approved overwhelmingly by the country’s main political parties, if a Belgian judge determines a fund is acting as a “vulture,” then it cannot claim more than the discounted price paid for the bonds, rather than their face value. The move comes after Belgium was dragged into a more than decade-long battle between a group of US hedge funds led by NML Capital Management and Argentina over some $1.3 billion of defaulted debt. In May, NML demanded Argentinian accounts be frozen in Brussels – a move no longer allowed under the new law, which means a Belgian judge can refuse legal decisions made in other countries.

The decision is particularly important as Belgium is home to giant clearing house Euroclear, which processes vast numbers of global financial transactions. In March, a US judge ordered Euroclear to block any payments concerning Argentine bonds and notify the hedge funds that are claiming the debt. Ahmed Laaouej, the Socialist MP who first put forward the law, hailed its passing as a “victory over the vultures of finance” that came about “despite strong pressure from several national and international lobby groups”. “These pressures came from representatives of American finance and law firms operating in Europe and defending the interests of some clients, in this case vulture funds,” he said to AFP. “This law is a strong signal to unscrupulous investment funds which speculate in a shameful manner on the back of people in difficulty,” he added.

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Not for environmental reasons.

China’s May Thermal Coal Imports Collapse 41% On-Year (HSN)

China’s thermal coal imports, including bituminous and sub-bituminous coal, dropped 41% on the year and were down 26% on the month in May at 6.48 million mt, according to the latest data from Beijing’s General Administration of Customs (GAC). Australia exported 3.8 million mt of bituminous and sub-bituminous coal to China in May, down 18% on month, and down 21% on the year. China’s imports of Indonesian thermal coal fell 40% from April and were down also 40% from a year ago at 1.84 million mt in May. Thermal coal imports from Russia slumped 52% on year and down 16% on month at 0.78 million mt last month.

Over January-May, China imported a total of 36.14 million mt of bituminous and sub-bituminous coal and down 44% from the corresponding five-month period last year, data showed. Top supplier Australia exported a total 18.61 million mt of thermal coal to China during January-May this year, down 22% from the year before. Meanwhile, total imports of lignite dropped 32% from the previous year to 20.85 million mt during the same period, with May imports decreasing 29% on month to 3.54 million mt. Imports from China’s top lignite coal supplier — Indonesia — stood at 19.48 million mt between January and May, down 32% on year.

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Jun 092015
 
 June 9, 2015  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Tracy, California. Tank truck delivering gasoline to a filling station 1942

The Warren Buffet Economy: Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 1 (David Stockman)
Robert Prechter Is Warning Of A ‘Sharp Collapse’ In Stocks (MarketWatch)
Iceland Warns Hedge Funds Not to Sue as it Seeks Billions in Taxes (Bloomberg)
Greece, Creditors Discuss Extending Bailout in Bid to Break Deadlock (WSJ)
Grexit Would Be “Start Of The End For The Eurozone,” Says Tsipras (DW)
Greek PM Tsipras Says Accord Possible If Pensions Are Not Cut (Reuters)
Greece Lashes Out at Creditor Demands (Bloomberg)
Greece Is Not Ireland – And It’s Not Just About The Economics (Mason)
Merkel-Schaeuble Differences Over Greece Approach Said to Widen (Bloomberg)
BRICs Hit a Wall, Drag Down Rest of the World (Pesek)
Billionaire Cartier Owner Sees Wealth Gap Fueling Social Warfare (Bloomberg)
Auto Title Lenders Are Snagging Unwary Borrowers In Cycle Of Debt (LA Times)
At Least Two More Illinois Cities Poised for Bankruptcy (Mish)
Who’s The Real Culprit Behind Australia’s Housing Bubble? (ABC.au)
Washington’s Great Game and Why It’s Failing (Alfred McCoy)
The New World Order – A Faustian Bargain (Jeff Thomas)
Pentagon Report Proves US Complicity In ISIS (Nafeez Ahmed)
Richard Branson Peddles Technohappy ‘Remedies’ For Climate Change (Bloomberg)
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Will Harass Thousands Of Whales And Seals (Guardian)
Influx Of Migrants To Greek Islands From Turkey Up Sixfold (Kathimerini)

‘Nice’ overview.

The Warren Buffet Economy: Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 1 (David Stockman)

During the 27 years after Alan Greenspan became Fed chairman in August 1987, the balance sheet of the Fed exploded from $200 billion to $4.5 trillion. Call it 23X.

Let’s see what else happened over that 27 year span. Well, according to Forbes, Warren Buffet’s net worth was $2.1 billion back in 1987 and it is now $73 billion. Call that 35X.

During those same years, the value of non-financial corporate equities rose from $2.6 trillion to $36.6 trillion. That’s on the hefty side, too—- about 14X.

Corporate Equities and GDP - Click to enlarge

Corporate Equities and GDP – Click to enlarge

When we move to the underlying economy that purportedly gave rise to these fabulous gains, the X-factor is not so generous. As shown above, nominal GDP rose from $5.0 trillion to $17.7 trillion during the same 27-year period. But that was only 3.5X

Next we have wage and salary compensation, which rose from $2.5 trillion to $7.5 trillion over the period. Make that 3.0X.

Then comes the median nominal income of US households. That measurement increased from $26K to $54K over the period. Call it 2.0X.

Digging deeper, we have the sum of aggregate labor hours supplied to the nonfarm economy. That metric of real work by real people rose from 185 billion to 235 billion during those same 27 years. Call it 1.27X.

Further down the Greenspan era rabbit hole, we have the average weekly wage of full-time workers in inflation adjusted dollars. That was $330 per week in 1987 and is currently $340 (1982=100). Call that 1.03X

Finally, we have real median family income. Call it a round trip to nowhere over nearly three decades!

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“..those looking to buy have already done so, leaving fewer buyers to step in if the market starts slipping.”

Robert Prechter Is Warning Of A ‘Sharp Collapse’ In Stocks (MarketWatch)

The president of Elliott Wave International, Rovert Prechter may not be a household name on Main Street, but he’s widely known on Wall Street as the foremost authority on the Elliott Wave principle, a forecasting methodology used by generations of technical analysts that is based on the belief that financial markets trend in five waves, and retrace in three waves. Prechter is also the executive director of the Socionomics Institute, founded to study how those same wave patterns define changes in social mood and govern social events. “If the cycle is still operating, the stock market is at high risk of a sharp collapse. Near term, we’re prepared to see the Dow make one more high. But it doesn’t have to happen.”

Elliott Wave analysis, which was devised by Ralph Nelson Elliott in the 1930s, is much more than a bunch of numbers and letters placed on a chart to denote which wave, or degree of waves, the market is traversing. Those who fully embrace it say it is the only form of technical analysis that can incorporate and explain all the other techniques used by chart watchers. Walter Zimmerman at energy research firm United-ICAP, calls it the “grand unified field theory of chart pattern analysis.” Head-and-shoulders reversals, technical divergences, candlestick charts—they can all be explained within the framework of the Elliott Wave principle, Zimmerman said.

Based on Prechter’s analysis of where the stock market is positioned within its wave structure, he believes the bull market is in a “precarious position.” For one, he said the sentiment indicators he follows have reflected extreme optimism for over two years. That is often viewed as a contrarian signal, because it suggests those looking to buy have already done so, leaving fewer buyers to step in if the market starts slipping. In addition, Prechter said a number of momentum indicators have been revealing a “dramatic lessening” in the number of stocks and indexes that have participated in the rally in recent months.

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A daring plan indeed.

Iceland Warns Hedge Funds Not to Sue as it Seeks Billions in Taxes (Bloomberg)

The prime minister of Iceland said any hedge fund planning to challenge the legal basis of a planned tax on failed bank assets should think again. “If they wanted to make some kind of an example out of Iceland, to threaten people, then this wouldn’t be a good case for them,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said in an interview in Reykjavik on Monday. “This is founded on solid legal ground.” Iceland has tried to ensure its treatment of creditors caught in an $85 billion banking default won’t drag the island through an Argentine-like period of litigation. The island’s 2008 financial meltdown wiped out its three biggest banks after the government said the $15 billion economy didn’t have the means to save them.

The economic collapse that followed forced Iceland to impose capital controls to stop investors from fleeing its markets. The island’s approach to addressing the crisis won praise from Nobel laureates including Paul Krugman and institutions led by the International Monetary Fund. Iceland’s central bank estimates gross domestic product will grow 4.5% this year, well above the 1.5% the European Commission sees the euro zone expanding. Gunnlaugsson’s administration on Monday unveiled an historic piece of legislation to unwind capital controls in place for almost seven years. But to make sure the measures don’t result in a capital exodus led by hedge funds, the island also imposed a one-time so-called stability tax of 39%.

Only winding-up committees that are able to reach a composition agreement approved by the central bank and finance ministry will be exempt. They have until the end of the year to do so, under the new legislation. Whether hedge funds end up paying the tax or see their claims whittled down through a composition process may end up being largely moot. The government has indicated it expects to get as much as $5.1 billion from creditors in the failed banks before they exit the island. Efforts to defend Iceland’s financial stability mean bank creditors probably need to leave at least 500 billion kronur ($3.8 billion) in the economy, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said in a separate interview on Monday. He says it’s likely that “the actual stability payment will be lower than the levied stability tax.”

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An easy way out?

Greece, Creditors Discuss Extending Bailout in Bid to Break Deadlock (WSJ)

Greece and its creditors are discussing an extension of the country’s bailout program through March 2016, people familiar with the talks said, an offer aimed at breaking a protracted standoff over the terms for fresh aid and averting a Greek default. The proposal, first presented last week, is part of European officials’ efforts to prod the government in Athens to agree to painful concessions in exchange for rescue funds. But continued disagreements over the economic overhauls and austerity measures demanded by Greece’s lenders risk undermining the plan, people familiar with the plans say. The eurozone’s portion of Greece’s €245 billion rescue program runs out at the end of June, raising questions over how Athens will pay off its debt beyond this month and remain in Europe’s currency union.

With a debt load close to 180% of its gross domestic product and an economy back in recession, Greece is unable to raise money from international bond markets and has been depending on rescue loans from the eurozone and IMF for more than five years. A nine-month extension would help carry Athens over its current funding gap. It would also give both Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his country’s creditors—the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund—more time to chart a new path for Greece’s economy. But it leaves open questions over whether the government would, indeed, be able to finance itself beyond March, or need even more support.

To help keep Greece solvent over the proposed bailout extension, Greece would receive financing from some €10.9 billion in aid money that had originally been set aside to prop up Greek banks, three people familiar with the negotiations said. The measures, they said, were discussed at a meeting between Mr. Tsipras and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, on Wednesday. “What we offered would mean that Greece is fully financed until March 2016,” one of the people said.

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“Europe and international institutions must recognize that austerity has failed..”

Grexit Would Be “Start Of The End For The Eurozone,” Says Tsipras (DW)

In the interview in the Tuesday edition of Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Tsipras said that if Greece were forced out of the eurozone after failing to make a deal on managing its debt, Spain or Italy could soon follow, precipitating the collapse of the currency bloc. “It would be the start of the end for the eurozone,” Tsipras said. “If Europe’s political leadership cannot handle a problem like Greece, which represents 2 percent of its economy, how will the markets react to countries that are facing much bigger problems, like Spain or Italy that has a 2 billion euro public debt?” he said. “If Greece goes bankrupt, the markets will immediately look for the next victim.

If negotiations fail, the cost for European taxpayers will be enormous,” he warned. Tsipras also reiterated comments made in the past few days in which he rejected demands by Greece’s international creditors to cut pensions and other social spending in return for access to the last tranche of a multi-billion-euro bailout. Tsipras feels Greece is being unfairly targeted with harsh austerity measures. But he said Greece could reach a deal if these demands for austerity were dropped. “Europe and international institutions must recognize that austerity has failed,” he said.

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But that is the one point the troika won’t let go of.

Greek PM Tsipras Says Accord Possible If Pensions Are Not Cut (Reuters)

Greece could reach a deal with its international creditors if they dropped demands including cuts to pensions, PM Alexis Tsipras said in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Tuesday. Reflecting the more conciliatory tone Athens has adopted in recent days, he said the two sides could find a compromise on key elements in any deal, including the size of a primary budget surplus. But he showed no signs of accepting creditor demands for cuts to pensions or other social spending, repeating comments he has made over recent days. “I think we’re very close to an agreement on the primary surplus for the next few years,” he told the newspaper. “There just needs to be a positive attitude on alternative proposals to cuts to pensions or the imposition of recessionary measures.”

The comments came as Greece’s international partners, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Central Bank officials, have warned that time is rapidly running out. Tsipras is due to meet Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday to try to break the impasse that has raised fears Greece could be forced out of the euro zone, with unforeseeable consequences for the single currency and the wider world economy. After dismissing the latest proposal from the EU and IMF as “absurd” last week, the leftwing government in Athens has signaled it is willing to compromise but continues to reject what it sees as unfairly punishing austerity measures. “We cannot continue with a program that has clearly failed,” Tsipras said.

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Varoufakis: “We need to avert an accident that won’t be an accident..”

Greece Lashes Out at Creditor Demands (Bloomberg)

The EU’s frustration with Greece is mounting. While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is looking to nail down when Greece is going to receive more financial aid, the country’s creditors are still focused on the policy measures required to qualify for support. German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded urgent action from the Greek government on Monday after U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his concerns about the standoff at a summit of Group of Seven leaders. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said Greece is not doing enough to overcome differences with the euro area. “I am still waiting for the Greek part of the bridge,” Juncker said in an interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk. “One can’t endlessly lengthen the EU or Eurogroup part of the bridge.”

Creditors are growing increasingly exasperated with Tsipras’s negotiating tactics after he rejected the terms of an aid package again last week. Tsipras’s government then used a technicality to postpone a payment of about €300 million to the IMF. Tsipras will travel to Brussels on Wednesday for an European Union summit with South American leaders which Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will also attend. “Europe and institutions must understand that austerity has failed,” Tsipras said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera on Tuesday. “Tomorrow we will enter into a discussion on the merits of progress made so far. We will define a clear timeframe for the deal.”

Greek Minister of State Nikos Pappas and Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will hold meetings with creditors in Brussels on Tuesday after sitting down with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici on Monday. A solution to the negotiations could be reached before June 14 but further high-level meetings will only happen if there is a chance of a deal, a French government official told reporters on the condition of anonymity. Relations between Greece and its creditors have soured since last week’s talks between Tsipras and Juncker spurred optimism that a deal might be within reach. The aftermath of that meeting has been marked by mutual recriminations, with Tsipras calling the creditors’ proposal absurd, and Juncker saying the Greek leader had misrepresented the creditors’ position.

In response to the entreaties from Merkel and Juncker, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis questioned the good faith of his country’s creditors. Varoufakis said in Berlin late Monday that aid could be released overnight if euro-area officials took the negotiations seriously. “We need to avert an accident that won’t be an accident,” he said at an event that followed a meeting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. “We have a historic duty not to allow this to happen.”

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Mason is learning.

Greece Is Not Ireland – And It’s Not Just About The Economics (Mason)

Why did Greece collapse and Ireland survive? It’s a question that perplexes international policymakers, and the answers are not to be found solely in economics. First, because the Irish crisis was a banking crisis: its banks were bust, the state bailed them out and took on debts it could not sustain. Austerity was harsh – but the economy was globalised. Even as Irish banks went bust, the Irish banking sector – an unofficial conduit of money from London to the tax havens, and full of US investment banks – was still recruiting. Then there’s agribusiness. Irish agriculture, from a country of 3 million people, produces enough to feed 50m worldwide and growing. If you look at the the profile of imports and exports from Ireland to Britain, it’s much the same via mix and per-capita GDP as the trade between the north and south of Britain.

In other words – hugely controversial to say politically – Britain and Ireland are close to being a single economy with two currencies. Ireland, in short, had the English language, an established role to play with the City of London and Frankfurt, and a modern, high-scale agriculture business. That is not to say austerity was popular: even now the water protests are boosting the same kind of radical left party we see ruling Greece, and boosting Sinn Fein, which has aligned itself internationally with Syriza. But in Ireland the kind of austerity enacted did not tank production by 25% and family incomes by 40%. It did not cause ordinary middle class people to vote for a party whose flags are red and methodology Marxist. And there was no mass fascist movement in Ireland.

The difference is: Greece is an unmodernised capitalism where you can’t impose austerity at this level and hope to modernise at the same time. I’ve become an unwilling expert, for example, on its pharmacy regulations. Sure, the law saying pharmacies can’t open within a certain short distance of each other has been repealed, but there is still a rule that says one pharmacy per 1,000 people, one owner for each pharmacy, one pharmacy for each pharmacist. Walgreens, Superdrug and Boots, in other words, are locked out of this sector, whose opening hours are not generous. There is even a massive fight over whether newsagents are allowed to sell aspirin in Greece. To somebody who needs aspirin during pharmacy closing hours this can appear a no brainer: liberalise everything.

It is exactly what the IMF has been arguing for in the Brussels Group talks, even this month: liberalise the pharmacies and bakeries or we withhold 7bn of aid and your country goes bankrupt. The problem is, the deep structures of Greek capitalism mean you can only modernise by unpicking things carefully and with consent. A population used to being seen personally by a pharmacist, to getting their drugs on informal credit when they can’t pay, just will not transform itself overnight into a midwest American consumer group. It’s the same with taxes. Hiking VAT sounds like a no-brainer in a country that needs to raise taxes. When Varoufakis proposed instead to set a low 16% top rate of VAT, on the grounds that it would undermine the culture of evasion, the IMF’s economists reportedly said yes. Somewhere along the line it got hiked to 23%. If the IMF’s negotiators wanted to give the impression their aim is to destroy most of the small businesses that keep Greek capitalism alive, and with it, consent for democracy, they are doing a brilliant job.

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She would do well to throw him out. But his right wing support is strong. How strong does Angela feel?

Merkel-Schaeuble Differences Over Greece Approach Said to Widen (Bloomberg)

A split between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is widening over Greece as the funding standoff goes down to the wire, said people familiar with the matter. Merkel is ready to make concessions to keep Greece in the euro because of geopolitical concerns, while Schaeuble is willing to let the country exit the euro unless its government takes measures to ensure the country’s long-term survival in the monetary union, said the people, who asked not be identified speaking about internal party discussions. That divide is also reflected in Merkel’s parliamentary caucus, which is increasingly uneasy with letting the 41-member budget committee decide on disbursing any aid to Greece and is looking instead at a vote of the lower house of parliament on a deal that includes changes to previous agreements, they said.

Greece is deadlocked with creditors over the conclusion of a multi-year bailout program expiring at the end of the month, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling the latest offer “a bad negotiating trick” in talks that place “clearly unrealistic” demands on the euro region’s most indebted member. While Merkel has repeatedly said she’ll keep working to allow Greece to stay in the euro area, Schaeuble has emphasized that the contagion risk from the country possibly exiting the bloc is “marginal.” Many lawmakers in Merkel’s 311-strong caucus made up of the Christian Democratic Union and Bavarian Christian Social Union are finding it difficult to support the chancellor’s position and would side with Schaeuble if forced to choose, the people said.

Some within her caucus are discussing whether Merkel would need to tie any decision on the bailout program to a confidence vote to rally lawmakers behind her, one of the people said. Any agreement that doesn’t spell out binding reform obligations wouldn’t be accepted even among those siding with Merkel, the people said. Lawmakers from all coalition parties, which also includes the Social Democrats, object to a possible last-minute vote in Germany’s lower house of parliament at the end of the month, the last week the Bundestag is in session before the summer break, one person said. Lawmakers want time to scrutinize any proposal put before them and not be pressured to make a hasty decision, the person said.

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“..emerging markets have accumulated debts in U.S. currency totaling almost $6 trillion.”

BRICs Hit a Wall, Drag Down Rest of the World (Pesek)

Fourteen years ago, Goldman Sachs presented a thesis that quickly gained traction among investors and policy makers: Brazil, Russia, India and China, the bank claimed, would increasingly drive global growth, filling a void left by the West. Today, the opposite case seems far more plausible. The so-called BRIC nations are now threatening to drag down the rest of the world. China’s exports declined in May for the third straight month, while imports slumped for the seventh month in a row. Asia’s biggest economy, in other words, is being hit in two directions: weak demand abroad and a sluggish economy at home. Not to mention the epic stock bubble that is sucking oxygen from its financial system. It’s not just China, though, as Gabriel Stein of Oxford Economics recently told me in Tokyo.

A new report from Oxford’s research team points out that imports are currently declining in Brazil, India and especially Russia. The BRICs are responsible for a drop in annual world trade by about 1.3%age points, the most pronounced deceleration since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. And these trends extend far beyond the four emerging giants. For the 13 non-BRIC developing economies that Oxford tracks, imports of goods grew by only about 1.5% in the first quarter year-over-year (the long-term average for these countries has been about 8%). And what’s most worrying is that this slowdown is taking place even before the Federal Reserve begins its announced interest rate hikes. (Emerging-market stocks fell for an 11th straight day yesterday, the longest such streak in 24 years, amid concerns about Fed policy.)

Emerging nations have certainly hit a wall before, including Southeast Asia in 1997, Russia a year later and Argentina more times than we can count. But there are good reasons to believe today’s threat could be far more severe and lasting, including emerging markets’ higher debt levels and relatively modest growth in advanced economies. Even with the recent pickup in job creation, today’s 2.7% U.S. growth is about half the pace of the late 1990s, while the euro zone’s 1% pace is only a third of its output back then. And while Japan’s economy expanded 3.9% in the first quarter, the 30% devaluation of the yen is dampening growth prospects across Asia.

The stakes are also higher now than ever before, because emerging economies are more central to the global economy. In 1999, they accounted for roughly 23% of world gross domestic product and 38% on a purchasing-power-parity basis. Today, those shares are 35% and over 50%, respectively. The BRICs alone account for about 20% of world GDP, not much different than America’s 24% in 2007, just before the global crisis. Meanwhile, developed nations are more financially exposed to emerging markets than ever before. In December, the Bank for International Settlements said emerging markets have accumulated debts in U.S. currency totaling almost $6 trillion.

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“We’re in for a huge change in society,” he said Monday. “Get used to it. And be prepared.”

Billionaire Cartier Owner Sees Wealth Gap Fueling Social Warfare (Bloomberg)

Johann Rupert, the South African who has made billions peddling Cartier jewelry and Chloe fashion, said tension between the rich and poor is set to escalate as robots and artificial intelligence fuel mass unemployment. “We cannot have 0.1% of 0.1% taking all the spoils,” said Rupert, who has a fortune worth $7.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It’s unfair and it is not sustainable.” The founder and chairman of Richemont, whose 20 brands also include Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc, said he expects advances in technology to lead to job losses after having read books on the subject recently. Conflicts between social classes will make selling luxury goods more tricky as the rich will want to conceal their wealth, Rupert said in a speech Monday at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit in Monaco.

“How is society going to cope with structural unemployment and the envy, hatred and the social warfare?” he said. “We are destroying the middle classes at this stage and it will affect us. It’s unfair. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.” Rupert, a university dropout whose father made a fortune setting up Rembrandt Tobacco Corp. and selling it off, has in the past made other social critiques. Nicknamed ‘Rupert the Bear’ for his pessimistic views on the economy, the 65-year-old refers to himself as a “reformed prostitute,” having spent a decade as an investment banker. He said in 2008 that the collateral damage from the financial crisis was yet to come. “We’re in for a huge change in society,” he said Monday. “Get used to it. And be prepared.”

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“What they want to do is get you into a loan where you just keep paying, paying, paying, and at the end of the day, they take your car.”

Auto Title Lenders Are Snagging Unwary Borrowers In Cycle Of Debt (LA Times)

Cash-strapped consumers are being shown a new place to find money: their driveways. Short-term lenders, seeking a detour around newly toughened restrictions on payday and other small loans, are pushing Americans to borrow more money than they often need by using their debt-free autos as collateral. So-called auto title loans — the motor vehicle version of a home equity loan — are growing rapidly in California and 24 other states where lax regulations have allowed them to flourish in recent years. Their hefty principal and high interest rates are creating another avenue that traps unwary consumers in a cycle of debt. For about 1 out of 9 borrowers, the loan ends with their vehicles being repossessed.

“I look at title lending as legalized car thievery,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento advocacy group. “What they want to do is get you into a loan where you just keep paying, paying, paying, and at the end of the day, they take your car.” Jennifer Jordan in the Central Valley town of Lemoore, Calif., lived that financial nightmare, though a legal glitch later rescued her. Jordan, 58, said she needed about $400 to help her pay bills for cable TV and other expenses that had been piling up after her mother died. She turned to one of a proliferating number of storefront title lenders, Allied Cash Advance, which promises to help “get the cash you need now.” But Jordan said it wouldn’t make a loan that small.

Instead, it would lend her $2,600 at what she later would learn was the equivalent of 153% annual interest — as long as she put up her 2005 Buick Rendezvous sport utility vehicle as collateral. Why would the company want to lend her much more money than she needed? The key reason is that California has no limit on interest rates for consumer loans of more than $2,500, and it otherwise doesn’t regulate auto title loans. “She never said anything about the interest or nothing,” Jordan said of the employee who made the loan in 2012. Six months later, unable to keep up with the loan payments, Jordan said, she was awakened at 5 a.m. “My neighbor came pounding on my door and said, ‘They’re taking your car!'” she recalled.

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Coming to a town near you soon.

At Least Two More Illinois Cities Poised for Bankruptcy (Mish)

On May 29, citing a report mentioned in Bond Buyer, I noted ‘Five Chicago Suburbs Headed for Bankruptcy (More Illinois Cities Will Follow)’. The cities are Maywood, Sauk Village, Blue Island, Country Clubs Hills, and Dolton. The village of Dolton strongly disagrees with the report. The others did not comment. The Bond Buyer report was based on an analysis of state comptroller’s local government Finance Warehouse by Marc Joffe at CivicPartner, a municipal finance research firm. I have since been in contact with Joffe and asked for an opinion of several cities I believe to be seriously troubled. My top two choices were Harvey and Robbins. Joffe responded …

“Hello Mish. Your intuition was correct about both. Harvey and Robbins are at least as bad as the five I listed in the original report. The last publicly available audited Financial Report for the City of Harvey covers the year ended April 30, 2009. In that year, the City reported an unrestricted net position of -$17.6 million and a general fund balance of -$10.4 million. The negative fund balance was equivalent to over half the city’s annual revenue. The city has provided incomplete, unaudited reports for subsequent years. The latest available report, for the year ended April 30, 2013, shows a further deterioration in the general fund balance to -$19.3 million – about 85% of annual revenues.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the city’s 2014 budget also included a deficit, suggesting that Harvey’s fiscal imbalance is even worse today. Harvey’s late reporting and accumulated general fund deficit led Fitch to downgrade the city from BBB- to B in February 2010 and then to withdraw its ratings entirely in November of that year. The city has now been unrated for more than four years.

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“.. if it is illegal to take more than $US50,000 out of China, why are so many Chinese nationals capable of splurging millions of dollars on individual properties?”

Who’s The Real Culprit Behind Australia’s Housing Bubble? (ABC.au)

No one, it seems, has had any interest in reining in the runaway housing market, a point hammered home by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week when he expressed a desire for prices to keep on rising, despite a blunt warning from new Treasury head John Fraser. The following day, as he ramped up the notion into a political fight – Bill Shorten wants your house to decrease in value – Hockey attempted to argue that soaring house prices and affordability were separate issues. What seems to have eluded our political masters is that market adage – the bigger the boom, the more painful the bust. Then of course there is the constant moan from the business lobby; Australia is too costly, wages are too high. There is a reason for that. It’s called real estate.

For the past 15 years, rents have dictated wages. Not the other way around. No matter how you measure it, Sydney and Melbourne real estate is in dangerous territory, fuelled by a heady mixture of cheap cash from foreign and domestic investors. When it unravels, the pain will reverberate through the banking system, causing enormous damage to the real economy. A major reason for the official inaction is that this is a bubble that has been deliberately contrived. In 2012, when the Reserve Bank began its easing bias, it was determined to create a housing boom – so residential construction could fill the gap created by the decline in resource project construction. But as investors, rather than owner occupiers, plunged in almost from day one, APRA and the RBA should have taken action.

Instead, they were happy to watch the bubble inflate and now, rather than admit a mistake, reluctantly are playing catch-up. A large portion of the investor action emanated from self-funded retirees, taking advantage of changes to superannuation rules that allowed them to gear up their super funds. While as a nation we boast about the extent of our national savings pool, little attention has been devoted to the fact that a significant amount of that pool is now exposed. As the Storm Financial collapse graphically illustrated, the capital losses on a property market bust will be magnified by debt. That could wipe out a significant number of super balances and put more pressure on the federal budget.

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Impressive exposé.

Washington’s Great Game and Why It’s Failing (Alfred McCoy)

For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years. Consequently, they have missed the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are in the process of undermining the grand strategy for world dominion that Washington has pursued these past seven decades. A glance at what passes for insider “wisdom” in Washington these days reveals a worldview of stunning insularity. Take Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, Jr., known for his concept of “soft power,” as an example. Offering a simple list of ways in which he believes U.S. military, economic, and cultural power remains singular and superior, he recently argued that there was no force, internal or global, capable of eclipsing America’s future as the world’s premier power.

For those pointing to Beijing’s surging economy and proclaiming this “the Chinese century,” Nye offered up a roster of negatives: China’s per capita income “will take decades to catch up (if ever)” with America’s; it has myopically “focused its policies primarily on its region”; and it has “not developed any significant capabilities for global force projection.” Above all, Nye claimed, China suffers “geopolitical disadvantages in the internal Asian balance of power, compared to America.” Or put it this way (and in this Nye is typical of a whole world of Washington thinking): with more allies, ships, fighters, missiles, money, patents, and blockbuster movies than any other power, Washington wins hands down.

If Professor Nye paints power by the numbers, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s latest tome, modestly titled World Order and hailed in reviews as nothing less than a revelation, adopts a Nietzschean perspective. The ageless Kissinger portrays global politics as plastic and so highly susceptible to shaping by great leaders with a will to power. By this measure, in the tradition of master European diplomats Charles de Talleyrand and Prince Metternich, President Theodore Roosevelt was a bold visionary who launched “an American role in managing the Asia-Pacific equilibrium.” On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic dream of national self-determination rendered him geopolitically inept and Franklin Roosevelt was blind to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s steely “global strategy.” Harry Truman, in contrast, overcame national ambivalence to commit “America to the shaping of a new international order,” a policy wisely followed by the next 12 presidents.

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A topic that warrants much more scrutiny. You don’t need a master plan for things to go horribly awry.

The New World Order – A Faustian Bargain (Jeff Thomas)

The push-and-pull of sociopathic leaders is unending. Their very makeup dictates that each one individually will always be vying for more. In order to achieve that, they will form subversive subgroups that will agree on a separate direction from what has been agreed by the primary group, and along the way, each one, in his lack of conscience and loyalty, might betray both the primary group and the subgroup. In the end, there’s no question that there are those who consider themselves to be part of a New World Order, as so many have publicly stated so themselves, for generations. Also, there can be little doubt that each member expects to come out of the deal as a ruler, not as one of the ruled. Further, the effort is ongoing and growing, and will result in great damage for the average person who, in most cases, simply wishes to be left alone to run his own life.

It has been postulated by many that those who see themselves as an Elite are nearing the completion of what they perceive as world dominance. However, should they succeed, they will betray their partners the very next day, as it’s their nature to do so. Their behaviour would likely be that of a group of cats with their tails tied together. So, what might we take away from this discussion? First, that there most assuredly are extremely domineering forces (regardless of how closely associated they might be), which, in the near future, will do immense damage to the cause of freedom in the world, particularly in those countries where they are most dominant, or will become most dominant. Second, the situation does appear to be reaching a head.

The two greatest uncertainties will be how much damage will be done before the dust has settled, and how protracted the period of destruction and struggle for dominance might be. Ultimately, for the reasons stated above, I don’t believe the New World Order concept can fully prevail, but it can and will do damage of unprecedented proportions in the attempt to implement it. Those involved will not be swayed from their individual or collective objectives (consider Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin). The best that can be done is to work at placing ourselves as far outside of their sphere of influence as possible.

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This has been obvious for a while.

Pentagon Report Proves US Complicity In ISIS (Nafeez Ahmed)

According to leading American and British intelligence experts, a declassified Pentagon report confirms that the West accelerated support to extremist rebels in Syria, despite knowing full well the strategy would pave the way for the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS). The experts who have spoken out include renowned government whistleblowers such as the Pentagon’s Daniel Ellsberg, the NSA’s Thomas Drake, and the FBI’s Coleen Rowley, among others. Their remarks demonstrate the fraudulent nature of claims by two other former officials, the CIA s Michael Morell and the NSA s John Schindler, both of whom attempt to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the policy failures exposed by the DIA documents.

As I reported on May 22nd, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information confirms that the US intelligence community foresaw the rise of ISIS three years ago, as a direct consequence of the support to extremist rebels in Syria. The August 2012′ Information Intelligence Report’ (IIR) reveals that the overwhelming core of the Syrian insurgency at that time was dominated by a range of Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It warned that the supporting powers to the insurgency – identified in the document as the West, Gulf states, and Turkey – wanted to see the emergence of a Salafist Principality in eastern Syria to isolate the Assad regime.

The document also provided an extraordinarily prescient prediction that such an Islamist quasi-statelet, backed by the region s Sunni states, would amplify the risk of the declaration of an Islamic State across Iraq and Syria. The DIA report even anticipated the fall of Mosul and Ramadi. Last week, legendary whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the former career Pentagon officer and US military analyst who leaked Pentagon papers exposing White House lies about the Vietnam War, described my Insurge report on the DIA document as a very important story.

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How to make a bad thing worse.

Richard Branson Peddles Technohappy ‘Remedies’ For Climate Change (Bloomberg)

As talks aimed at slowing global warming drag on, researchers are pushing new ideas that some are calling last-ditch attempts to avert the worst effects of climate change. Some proposals are uncontroversial, such as using charcoal to lock carbon dioxide into soil or scattering carbon-absorbing gemstones. Richard Branson, the billionaire chairman of Virgin, has offered a $25 million prize for the best solution in the field known as geoengineering. Other ideas to cool the planet have scientists worried about unintended consequences. There are proposals, untested at scale and with uncertain costs, to block the sun’s rays with airborne particles or seed the oceans with carbon-absorbing iron. That they’re even being considered reveals both frustration over government inaction and skepticism that policy alone will solve the problem.

“For the last 20 to 30 years, governments, at the back of their minds, have assumed that mitigation is the main way forward,” said Mark Maslin, a fellow at the U.K.’s Royal Geographical Society. Researchers now realize that the planet needs “other urgent ways of dealing with CO2.” Interest in geoengineering comes after two decades of United Nations talks that have yet to produce a global climate-change agreement. Envoys from about 200 nations will meet December in Paris, where they’re expected to finalize a pact to curb carbon emissions. There is a sense of urgency. Researchers are seeking to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times. “To achieve that we will have to actually do some sort of geoengineering,” Maslin said.

Global surface temperatures have already risen about 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880, according to a 2014 UN report. The researchers found that while the unintended consequences of manipulating the climate may be significant, “some basic inquiry does seem appropriate.” A National Academy of Sciences panel echoed those concerns. In a February report, it found little evidence that researchers will be able to deploy geoengineering anytime soon. It also concluded that the U.S. should study the technologies as a “last-ditch” tool. Tinkering with the planet’s climate may carry more risk than efforts to reduce carbon emissions, said David Titley, a professor in Pennsylvania State University’s department of meteorology. “Climate intervention involves techniques that are of high and unknown risk,” he said. “The risks for mitigation and adaptation are understood and manageable.”

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Which is of course flatly denied.

Shell’s Arctic Drilling Will Harass Thousands Of Whales And Seals (Guardian)

Royal Dutch Shell’s plans for exploratory drilling in the US Arctic this summer will involve the harassment of whales and seals by the thousands, an application document filed by Shell to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reveals. Most notably, Shell estimates its Arctic activities will expose more than 2,500 bowhead whales, more than 2,500 gray whales and more than 50,000 ringed seals to continuous sounds and pulsed sounds, deemed damaging enough to constitute harassment. The bowhead whale is listed under the US Endangered Species Act. By Shell’s own estimate, 13% of the overall population of bowhead whales still alive are potentially harassed .

The number of gray whales potentially harassed also constitutes 13% of the overall population, while the number of ringed seals potentially harassed amounts to 16%. Under the ESA, the ringed seal is classified as threatened. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the government may allow for the “taking” or “harassment” of marine mammals, so long as the number taken is small and the impact on the species negligible. But environmental groups argue the numbers affected by the Shell plans are not small, nor will the impact on species be negligible. “The authorisation that they [Shell] are seeking is a request to be able to harass that amount of animals. Shell has asked the government to authorize the taking of that amount of animals,” said Christopher Krenz, a scientist and Arctic campaign manager with Oceana.

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Turning into a tsunami.

Influx Of Migrants To Greek Islands From Turkey Up Sixfold (Kathimerini)

The influx of undocumented immigrants into Greece from neighboring Turkey has increased dramatically, growing sixfold in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2014, according to new figures released by the coast guard on Monday. A total of 40,297 immigrants and refugees were intercepted in the Aegean, particularly on the islands of the eastern Aegean, between January 1 and May 31 as compared to 6,500 in the same period last year, according to coast guard figures. The influx is continuing, and is expected to intensify as the weather improves. Coast guard officers detained 4,046 migrants over the weekend (including Friday). The problem is more intense on some islands, such as Lesvos, which received 18,371 immigrants in the first five months of the year.

On Monday alone two boatloads carrying a total of 78 would-be migrants arrived on the island’s shores. The situation on Chios, Kalymnos and Kos is said to be just as bad. A total of 7,317 migrants arrived on Chios from January to June. The island’s mayor, Manolis Vournous, said authorities have set up a makeshift camp outside the main police precinct as temporary accommodation for hundreds of migrants. Similar stopgap solutions have been sought on other islands. On Lesvos, a drivers’ education center has been transformed into a temporary settlement for migrants. The islands of Samos and Kos, which are popular summer tourist destinations, have also been struggling, having received 4,658 and 4,625 immigrants respectively in the first five months of the year.

Works are under way to repair an abandoned hotel on Kos that suffered serious damage in a recent fire. It will be able to accommodate around 400 migrants once works are complete, local authorities said. A spokesman for the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini that 80% of the incoming migrants are refugees from Syria, adding that Greek Police has boosted personnel and equipment to accelerate the identification process. Last Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said it is boosting its staff presence on several islands in the Aegean.

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Jun 042015
 
 June 4, 2015  Posted by at 10:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain Political museums, Union Square, New York 1909

It’s Wealth Inequality That Drags Down The Economy (WaPo)
US Companies Owe $1.267 For Every Dollar Of Earnings (Bloomberg)
BofA Explains How the Bond Rout Could Turn Into a Bloodbath (Bloomberg)
Bond Rout Wipes Out 2015 Gain as Traders Fret Even Leaving Desks (Bloomberg)
Bond Slump Deepens as Europe Shares Slide With Metals, Oil (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Sounds Bond Warning as Holdings Shift Sparks Concern (Bloomberg)
Syriza Could Split, And What Could Europe Have To Deal With Next? (Guardian)
Greek Groundhog Day Drags On As Tsipras Rejects Creditors’ Proposals (Bloomberg)
Europe Has No Choice – It Has To Save Greece (AEP)
Tsipras Turns to Party Hand Tsakalotos to End Talks Impasse (Bloomberg)
Greek Exports Ex-Fuel Products Soar 14% (Kathimerini)
Athens Concerned Over Exclusion From TurkStream Pipeline (Kathimerini)
Here’s What Defaults Did to Other Countries as Greece Teeters (Bloomberg)
A Member Of The Middle Class Responds To Jon Hilsenrath (Zero Hedge)
German And French Ministers Call For Radical Integration Of Eurozone (Guardian)
European Dream Just a Fairy Tale to New Breed of Eastern Leaders (Bloomberg)
EU Home To Widespread Labor Exploitation (RT)
Who Cares About China’s Economy When Stocks Are Rising This Much? (Bloomberg)
Oliver Stone: Wall Street Culture “Horribly Worse” Than Gordon Gekko (SMH)
Elizabeth Warren Blasts Mary Jo White’s SEC Leadership (MarketWatch)
Kim Dotcom Thwarts Huge US Government Asset Grab (TorrentFreak)
WikiLeaks Reveals New Australia Trade Secrets (SMH)
The Big Global Food Game (Beppe Grillo’s blog)
Replanting America: 90% of What We Eat Could Come From Local Farms (Nosowitz)

“Now we’ve reached the bottom 40% of Americans, but guess what? We’ve run out of stuff. Sorry guys, you get nothing.”

It’s Wealth Inequality That Drags Down The Economy (WaPo)

Let’s imagine that there are just 100 people in the United States. The richest guy – and, yes, he’s probably a guy – owns more than one-third of the total wealth in this country. He’s got a third of all the property, a third of the stock market and a third of anything else that can be owned. Not bad. The next-richest four people together own 28% of all the stuff. Divvied up four ways that’s still not too shabby. The next five people together own 14% of all the things, and the next 10 own another 12%. We’ve accounted for just 20% of the people, but nearly 90% of the total wealth. 90%! You can probably tell where this is going. The next 20% of people have only nine% of the wealth to split among them. Not great, but they’re still doing a lot better than the 60% of people below them.

The next 20% – the middle wealth quintile – only have 3% of the wealth to split 20 ways. Now we’ve reached the bottom 40% of Americans, but guess what? We’ve run out of stuff. Sorry guys, you get nothing. In fact, Wolff calculates that this bottom 40% actually has an overall negative net worth, which means that they owe more money than they own – and they probably owe that money to somebody in that top 5% or 10%. You’re not necessarily living in squalor if you have a negative net worth. For instance, some student loans and a brand-new mortgage will probably put you in that category. But if you’ve got a bachelor’s degree, a job and a house to show for it, you’re probably doing okay.

But plenty of folks will be stuck in that bottom 40% category forever. And as the OECD report points out, this is a big problem for everyone — even the top 1%. Their data shows that more inequality equals less economic growth: Between 1985 and 2005, the OECD estimates that increasing inequality has knocked nearly 5 percentage points off growth in OECD countries. If you’re one of the fortunate ones with money in the bank, you can think of this as a five% smaller return on your investment over that period, simply because the less fortunate aren’t able to contribute to the economy as much as they could otherwise.

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Much of it used to buy their own stock. The snake-eats-tail economy.

US Companies Owe $1.267 For Every Dollar Of Earnings (Bloomberg)

A dark shadow is lurking behind the happy façade of rising stock prices. U.S. companies are borrowing money faster than they’re earning it – and they’re doing it at the quickest pace since the aftermath of the financial crisis. Instead of deploying the debt to build factories, hire new workers or expand product lines, companies are funneling more of their money to shareholders or using it to fund deals. Stock buybacks reached an all-time high last year and the volume of global mergers and acquisitions announced so far this year would make it the second-busiest ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The debt undermines future growth and could dent company income when borrowing costs rise. Higher interest rates will make already indebted companies less desirable to lend to.

The consequence: profitability, buoyed by cheap money since rates went to near-zero in 2008, will sink. “Companies have said, ‘We don’t have an ability to grow organically, so we can distract shareholders instead,’” according to Jody Lurie, a credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, which manages $63 billion. “When they buy back shares, all it does is optically make earnings per share look better.” As recently as last year, companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had the lowest net-debt-to-earnings ratio in at least 24 years. Examining a slightly different universe – companies, excluding financial firms, with top credit ratings who’ve issued debt – the median net leverage in the first quarter of 1.267 was the highest since 2010 and up from 0.927 in the first quarter of 2014.

The leverage figure means companies owe $1.267 for every dollar of earnings after subtracting cash on hand. Companies reacted to the Federal Reserve’s rumblings about raising interest rates by going on a borrowing spree. “There are a lot of pressures on management to lever up to improve returns,” said Charles Peabody of Portales Partners. “They’ve taken on more leverage because the cost of transactions is very low. If that changes because rates go up, it’s going to be hard to sustain that gain.” Investment-grade non-financial companies issued $366 billion in bonds in the past two quarters. The $194.6 billion they sold in the first quarter was the most in history, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Yield chasing.

BofA Explains How the Bond Rout Could Turn Into a Bloodbath (Bloomberg)

The good news is investors are finally shaking off fears of economic stagnation worldwide. The bad news is this is brutal for credit markets. Prices on U.S. investment-grade bonds have fallen 1.1% in the first two days of June, a pace so fast it’s reminiscent of the notes’ 5% selloff in two months in 2013 when speculation emerged that the Federal Reserve was poised to scale back its bond buying. Bank of America strategists see the pain deepening from here. The reason? Investors who like these bonds tend to prize safety and reliable returns above all. They plowed into corporate bonds, often instead of more-creditworthy notes such as U.S. Treasuries, for higher yields as the Fed purchased debt and held interest rates at record lows to ignite growth.

These buyers, in particular, don’t like to see losses on their monthly mutual-fund statements. When the prospects for their debt look shaky, they’ve often responded by yanking their money. And that’s what they’ll likely do now, according to Bank of America analysts. “We expect high-grade fund flows to turn generally negative in line with the initial experience during the Taper Tantrum,” Hans Mikkelsen, a strategist in New York, wrote “Corporate bond prices are declining at a pace eerily similar to what we saw” during that selloff of 2013. That year, U.S. bond funds reported record withdrawals as investors girded for a period of steadily rising debt yields – or, in other words, losses. Investors pulled more than $70 billion from bond mutual funds in 2013, according to TrimTabs.

Of course, the exodus proved premature. Top-rated corporate bonds have returned 7.6% since the end of 2013 as oil prices plunged and ECB stimulus sent yields down globally. Now, however, there are signs that the American economy is finally improving enough for the Fed to raise rates as soon as this year. Yields on 10-year Treasuries are approaching the highest since November, making them a more attractive alternative to corporate debt for buyers looking for the safest source of income.

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“You want to shove rates down to zero, people are going to make big bets because they don’t think it can last; Every move becomes a massive short squeeze or an epic collapse..”

Bond Rout Wipes Out 2015 Gain as Traders Fret Even Leaving Desks (Bloomberg)

The global bond market selloff has erased all of this year’s gains as historic market moves from Germany to the U.S. and Japan whipsaw traders. After being up as much as 2.3% as of mid-April, the BoAML Global Broad Market Index of bonds with a total face value of $41 trillion is now down 0.4% for the year. Bond traders have been caught off guard by signs the worldwide economy is likely to avoid mass deflation and by improvement in the euro zone’s economy, leaving little incentive to own debt securities with yields that in some cases are below zero. The latest leg lower in bonds came Wednesday, when ECBPresident Mario Draghi said investors should get used to the heightened volatility they’ve seen in recent weeks.

“This is sheer panic in the market from the standpoint of what’s been happening in Europe,” said Thomas di Galoma at ED&F Man Capital Markets in New York. “Most of Wall Street is guarded here as far as taking on new positions.” Like many of his peers around the world, di Galoma said he has had to cancel meetings as yields rose ever higher through key levels that many thought would attract demand, but didn’t. Take the yield on the benchmark 10-year German bund: it soared to as high as 0.94% Thursday as of 7:18 a.m. in London from as low as 0.049% on April 17. During the same period, the yield on similar maturity Treasuries surged to as high as 2.39% from 1.84%. The U.S. yield was little changed at 2.38% in London trading.

At a conference in Cambridge, Mass., Michael Lorizio said he couldn’t keep his eyes away from his phone, where price alerts were announcing a crash in German bond prices. He said he skipped out early from the networking session, and headed back to his office in Boston. “I couldn’t pay attention to any of the content, I was just watching the price action,” said Lorizio, at Manulife. “You’ve had to be a little more decisive because prices are moving very quickly.” At a news conference in Frankfurt Wednesday after an ECB policy meeting, where it didn’t even change rates, Draghi suggested several reasons for the rout in bonds. He cited including an improving economic and inflation outlook in the euro area, heavier issuance, volatility, poor market liquidity and an absence of certain investors.

Draghi, the architect of a €1 trillion bond-buying program, is an unlikely foe of the bond market. Quantitative easing provides an almost endless source of demand for bonds and should keep yields low. Instead, it’s made investors overly sensitive, said Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research LLC in Chicago. “You want to shove rates down to zero, people are going to make big bets because they don’t think it can last,” Bianco said. “Every move becomes a massive short squeeze or an epic collapse – which is what we seem to be in the middle of right now.”

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“There’s a huge selloff all over the world..”

Bond Slump Deepens as Europe Shares Slide With Metals, Oil (Bloomberg)

The global bond rout gathered pace, with Japanese notes and German bunds slipping a fourth day after Mario Draghi forecast faster euro-area inflation and continued market volatility. European shares slid with oil and metals as the Aussie declined. Yields on 10-year German government bonds climbed 2 basis points to 0.9% by 8:13 a.m. in London. The Japanese rate rose 3 basis points to 0.49% and Australia’s topped 3% for the first time in three weeks. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.4% and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index lost 0.5% as U.S. index futures slipped 0.2%. U.S. oil held below $60 before Friday’s OPEC meeting.

This year’s gains in global bonds evaporated as the ECB chief inflamed a selloff in German bunds, saying price growth in the region would pick up further. Greece’s premier claimed to be near agreement with creditors, adding there was no need to worry about an IMF payment due Friday. The U.S. reports jobless claims Thursday, before payrolls data at the end of the week. “There’s a huge selloff all over the world,” said Kim Youngsung at South Korea’s Government Employees Pension Service in Seoul. “The European economy is back on track. The U.S. economy is stable. Suddenly we’re worried about inflation.”

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Index of notes with a total face value of $41 trillion is down 0.4% for the year, after being up as much as 2.3% in mid-April. Ten-year German bund yields have soared by 41 basis points this week to the highest level since October. Rates on Australian government debt due in a decade jumped 15 basis points to 3%. Yields on similar-maturity New Zealand and Singaporean notes climbed at least four basis points. Ten-year South Korean sovereign yields rose 3 basis points to 2.48%. Benchmark Treasury notes held losses, with 10-year rates little changed at 2.36%.

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Talking their books.

Wall Street Sounds Bond Warning as Holdings Shift Sparks Concern (Bloomberg)

More Wall Street executives are sounding alarms about the bond market. The latest to warn were Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs and Anshu Jain, co-CEO of Deutsche Bank. The concern is bond investors looking to buy, or especially to sell, will face wide prices swings and higher costs to get a transaction done. “The problem is on the days when you need liquidity, it probably won’t be there,” said Cohn at a Deutsche Bank investor conference on Tuesday. Large Wall Street banks, or dealers, are carrying a smaller share of bonds on their books, as regulations restrict the capital they can hold on their balance sheets. Money managers, meanwhile, are holding a lot more of them.

Dealer inventories dropped by 27% between 2007 and early 2015 while assets held by bond mutual funds and exchange-traded funds almost doubled. Federal Reserve officials have also taken notice. They discussed changes in the structure of bond markets at recent meetings, and said those changes may be a risk to financial stability. Deutsche Bank’s Jain said at the Tuesday conference that he didn’t have a “dire warning” about the growing gap between the dealers’ holdings and bond funds’ assets. “But I would certainly say as one of the larger market makers in the system, we very much have an eye on this growing imbalance,” Jain said.

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“Europe must also consider what it says to the world if, at a dangerous time, it proves unable to fix its own problems.”

Syriza Could Split, And What Could Europe Have To Deal With Next? (Guardian)

Another crisis of solvency, and Greece is – once again – described as confronting a fork in the road. Athens must finally choose, runs the argument of its creditors, whether it is ready to face up to its responsibilities, or whether instead it prefers to wish away the stack of red final-reminder bills piling up from the IMF, demanding €1.5bn this month. If Greece plumps for denial, however, it should not assume that it can rely on the flow of finance from the north, which is all that is keeping Greek cash dispensers going. Instead, Greeks will have to prepare to slip out of a euro they overwhelmingly wish to keep. There is something in the creditors’ account of events, and yet much is omitted. It neglects to mention how austerity has steadily smothered day-to-day life.

Greece has not merely suffered a recession but a full-blown Grapes of Wrath-style depression, with social and political convulsions to match. The unemployment rate has been 25%-plus for years, with a similar proportion knocked off national income. The “medicine” swallowed so far has proved to be poison. The “Greece must grow up” story also glosses over something else: the frightful choice confronting the rest of Europe. For Greece there is a real dilemma, albeit between two unappealing options. A new drachma would be a leap in the dark, with the disruption of contracts certain and a wipeout of savings likely, even if devaluation could also offer a possible path back to recovery by pricing Greece back into tourism and other markets.

Who is to say whether this mix of the ugly, the bad and the good is worse than the dismal certainties of more stagnation? For the wider eurozone, by contrast, the costs of Greek exit far exceed the costs of preventing it. Yes, bold debt forgiveness may provoke pesky requests for similar help from others in future, but the alternative would mean having to defend for the rest of time a supposedly permanent currency which had proved liable to crumble. Europe must also consider what it says to the world if, at a dangerous time, it proves unable to fix its own problems. The EU confronts Russian chauvinism to its east, terror in the Middle East, and a humanitarian crisis on its Mediterranean shore. Greece stands at the junction. A euro exit would throw the ideal of “ever closer union” – which is soon to be further tested by the UK referendum – into an unprecedented reverse.

This week it was reported that the creditors would offer Greece access to €7.2bn in aid in return for extreme prudence in the longer term, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Before risking a “leave it”, they need to ask themselves who it is they want to deal with. An iron law of modern European history runs thus: extreme economics leads to extremist politics. A line can be drawn from the Versailles treaty to the breakdown of the Weimar Republic. Eighty years on, a similar phenomenon is at work. In the course of its depression, Greece has lurched from a social-democrat government to a centre-right one to Syriza – a coalition of leftist parties ranging from Keynesian to Marxist. As the troika crashed Greece again and again, Syriza shot from nowhere to lead a government. Brussels’ strategy, then, has been politically counterproductive in the extreme.

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Kudos to Tsipras.

Greek Groundhog Day Drags On As Tsipras Rejects Creditors’ Proposals (Bloomberg)

Another round of top-level talks failed to resolve the standoff between Greece and its international creditors as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected proposals that would unlock bailout funds necessary to avert a default. After a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, Tsipras said the basis for any accord must be a Greek proposal meant to avoid spending cuts and tax increases, rather than a plan drafted in recent days by creditors. “The realistic proposals on the table are the proposals of the Greek government,” Tsipras told reporters early Thursday in the Belgian capital. We can’t “make the same mistakes, the mistakes of the past,” he said.

The commission said in a statement that “intense work” will continue and “progress was made in understanding each other’s positions on the basis of various proposals.” Months of antagonism and missed deadlines have given way to a greater urgency to decide the fate of Greece. Without access to capital markets, the country has to meet four payments totaling more than €1.5 billion to the IMF in June, while its euro-area-backed bailout also expires this month. Tsipras signaled that Greece will meet its first June IMF payment, which is due Friday. “Don’t worry,” he said. Tsipras said demands by the euro area and the IMF for cuts in the income of poor pensioners and increases in value-added tax on power are unacceptable, highlighting what have been “red lines” in Greece’s stance since his anti-austerity Syriza party swept to power in snap elections in January.

“Ideas like cutting benefits for low-income pensioners, or raising the VAT rate for electricity by 10 percentage points, can’t be a basis for discussion,” he said. The premier sought to paint the commission, the EU’s executive arm, as more favorable to his proposals than are other creditor representatives deemed by Greece to be taking a harder line in the aid deliberations. “There was a constructive will from the EC to reach a common understanding,” he said. The Tsipras government has looked to the commission for support to dilute the austerity-first formula that’s underpinned two Greek rescues totaling €240 billion since 2010. This has led to clashes with creditors who say such bailout conditions have worked for other countries such as Ireland now out of aid programs and Greece should get no special treatment.

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Really, Ambrose? “..under existential threat from a revanchiste Russia”?

Europe Has No Choice – It Has To Save Greece (AEP)

Greece has been through the trauma of default and currency collapse before. It went horribly wrong. The sequence of events in the inter-war years have a haunting relevance today. In 1932, Greece turned to the League of Nations and British bankers in a last-ditch effort to defend the drachma under the Gold Standard as reserves drained away. The creditors dithered for three months but ultimately said “no”. Greece devalued and imposed a 70pc haircut on loans. Debt service costs fell by two-thirds at a stroke. It seemed like a liberation at first. The economy was growing briskly again – at more than 5pc – within a year. Then the sugar-rush faded. The credit system remained broken. Greek industry was too backward to exploit a cheaper exchange rate, unlike Japanese industry under Takahashi Korekiyo at the same time. .

The government never regained its credibility. There were four attempted coups d’etat, ending in the military dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. Political parties were abolished. Trade union leaders were killed or imprisoned. Greece fell to Balkan fascism. The cautionary episode is dissected in a seminal paper by the University of Athens. “The 1930s should perhaps be given more attention by those currently advocating the ‘Grexit scenario’,” it said. Nobody should underestimate the political hurricane that will follow if Europe proves incapable of holding monetary union together, and Greece spins out of control. The post-war order is already under existential threat from a revanchiste Russia. State authority has collapsed along an arc of slaughter through the Middle East and North Africa, while an authoritarian neo-Ottoman Turkey is slipping from of the Western camp.

To lose Greece in these circumstances – and to lose it badly – would be an earthquake. Yet that is exactly what Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras evoked in a blistering outburst in Le Monde, more or less threatening an economic and strategic rejection of the West if the creditor powers continue to make “absurd demands”. Yet as a matter of strict economics, nobody knows if Greece would thrive or fail outside the euro. None of the previous break-up scenarios – ruble, Yugoslav dinar or Austro-Hungarian crown – tells us much. The chorus of warnings from EMU leaders that Grexit would be ruinous for the Greeks is a negotiating ploy, or mere cant. Each of the sweeping claims made by EMU propagandists over the last twenty years has turned out to be untrue.

The euro did not enhance growth, or bring about convergence, or displace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, or bind EMU states together in spirit, and refuseniks such Britain, Sweden, and Denmark did not pay a price for staying out. To the extent that they believe their mantra on Greece, they risk misjudging the political mood in Athens. It leads them to suppose that Syriza must be bluffing. Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP and an economics professor at London University, thinks the new drachma would plunge by 50pc against the euro before rebounding and stabilising at 20pc below current levels. The trauma would be over within six months. “Greece would be growing at a 5pc rate in a year and it would continue for five years,” he said.

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“..the Syriza government did not come to power supporting 70% of the Memorandum..”

Tsipras Turns to Party Hand Tsakalotos to End Talks Impasse (Bloomberg)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras heads into talks to break a stalemate over a financial lifeline in Brussels on Wednesday surrounded by trusted party hands, chief among them Euclid Tsakalotos. The Oxford-educated economist and Greek deputy foreign minister was asked in April to step into the shoes of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in day-to-day debt negotiations as Tsipras moved to defuse the acrimony building up with creditors. As sparring and missed deadlines to decide the fate of Greece enter a fifth month, Tsipras needs someone by his side who’s as acceptable to creditors as he is to party hardliners because the next stage of the battle to avoid financial collapse will likely be fought in Athens. “Tsakalotos is now, at least on paper, the guy in charge of the negotiations with the creditors,” said Wolfango Piccoli at Teneo Intelligence in London.

“It’s also useful for the prime minister to have him in Brussels in relation to the next big challenge: selling the deal to the party.” Tsipras said he will press creditors to be realistic about what his country can accept. After European leaders and the head of the IMF huddled late into the night in Berlin on Monday, creditors agreed on a new document designed to avert a default. Greece has four payments due to the IMF in June while its existing bailout expires this month. Tsipras, who put forward his own plan, is slated to meet EC President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday evening. “I will explain to Juncker that today, more than ever, it’s necessary that the institutions and the political leadership of Europe move forward to realism,” Tsipras said before traveling to Brussels.

The latest twists put the onus on Tsipras’s anti-austerity government to shelve some election promises or jeopardize the country’s euro status. Sticking points in the talks have included budget measures, pension reforms and changes to Greece’s labor laws, with Tsipras’s Syriza party talking about red lines. Some members of the party have been critical of the backtracking on promises that brought Tsipras to power. John Milios, a member of the Syriza central committee, wrote and tweeted a few days ago that “the Syriza government did not come to power supporting 70% of the Memorandum. If Syriza had pledged so, it would probably not be included in the parliamentary map today, playing the key role.”

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Some things are going well.

Greek Exports Ex-Fuel Products Soar 14% (Kathimerini)

The increase in olive oil exports and the decline in exports of fuel products were the main factors that affected the course of external trade in the first quarter of the year, according to official data. There was also a significant shift in the main exporting products as well as the markets they head to. The total value of exports in the January-March period this year amounted to €6.27 billion, down 1.8% from the same period in 2014. However, when fuel products are exempted, there was a €549.1million increase, amounting to 14% year-on-year.

The European Commission recently revised its forecast regarding the course of Greek exports, reducing their expected growth to 4.1% on annual basis from a previous estimate of 5.6%. Most Greek exports (52.4%) head to fellow European Union member-states and their value climbed by 14.5% in Q1. However, exports to North America soared 45.8%, on the more favorable exchange rate of the euro with the dollar, making the US the sixth most important market for Greece’s exports, from tenth a year earlier.

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The pipeline itself needs EC approval, with the US dead set against it.

Athens Concerned Over Exclusion From TurkStream Pipeline (Kathimerini)

As a spokesman for the TurkStream pipeline said Wednesday that construction of the Gazprom-backed project will start by the end of the month, diplomatic sources in Athens suggested the Greek government was concerned that Moscow was mulling alternative routes which could potentially exclude Greece from the plans. During a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on Tuesday, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico put forward a plan that would see his country, plus another three European states, connected to the Russia-Turkey pipeline that will carry gas all the way to the Greek-Turkish border.

According to Fico’s plan, the pipeline would not cross Greek territory but transfer gas to Central Europe through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Fico’s proposal also appeared to be welcomed by Hungary despite the fact that Budapest recently signed a declaration of intent stating that the pipeline will pass through Greece. The declaration was also signed by Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Diplomatic sources on Wednesday said that Moscow will decide on the exact route only after it has the go-ahead from the European Commission.

The same sources described comments by Greek officials over an imminent deal with Moscow as overoptimistic. On Wednesday, an unnamed official attending an international gas conference in Paris told AFP that a deal signed in May with the Saipem construction company would allow work on the first of four sections to begin by the end of the month. At the same event, it was made known that Turkish Stream had been renamed TurkStream. The project was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin late last year in a bid to replace the ditched South Stream pipeline. Analysts have called attention to a Washington warning against the construction of a pipeline bypassing Ukraine, a strategic US ally.

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The advantages of having one’s own currency.

Here’s What Defaults Did to Other Countries as Greece Teeters (Bloomberg)

By Friday, we may know whether Greece has reached a debt deal with its creditors. A failure could trigger a default and raise the prospect that it becomes the first country to leave the euro currency union. The history of previous economic cataclysms suggests that changes in currency values can work as escape valves that quickly, though not painlessly, relieve pressure on an economy. Massive depreciations allow countries to become more competitive internationally, enabling them to draw back from the brink more quickly. The charts below compare changes in exchange rates before and after four other disruptions that riled markets: Russia’s default in 1998, Argentina’s in 2001, the U.S. during and after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and Greece’s debt restructuring in 2012. For Russia and Argentina, defaults punished their currencies.

For the U.S. dollar, the result was more mixed. Greece is part of the euro zone, and the 2012 impact on that currency was also mixed. The next charts show what happened to gross domestic product. Turns out the Argentine and Russian defaults were boons in those countries, with growth rebounding sharply. Upturns came much more slowly in the U.S. – which while home to the biggest-ever corporate bankruptcy didn’t default on its sovereign debt – and in Greece.

Unemployment rates in Argentina and Russia also showed clear inflection points for the better, while workers in the U.S. and Greece had to suffer through delayed improvement.What separates Greece’s from Argentina and Russia is the Greeks’ membership in the currency union (whereas Argentina and Russia have their own exchange rates). That means the country can’t enjoy the benefits of a massively cheaper currency before exiting the euro first, something that officials across the region have ruled out.

“The problem with Greece is that defaulting on the debt without the followup of a devaluation may buy time but won’t resolve its growth problems,” said George Magnus, senior economic adviser to UBS in London. “If Greece chose to default and stayed inside the euro zone, the option of a devaluation would not exist so it’s not clear why Greece should experience a growth rebound.”This dance that’s happening at the moment could go on for quite some time,” he said.

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“Arbeit macht frei” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning these days for whole bunch of us out here.”

A Member Of The Middle Class Responds To Jon Hilsenrath (Zero Hedge)

Dear Mr Hilsenrath and your Central Bank Team, This is Joe from the disappearing Middle Class in America. You asked me the other day to drop you a note if I felt that something was wrong. What I’m having trouble with is “why” you’re asking me if anything is wrong!? So let me explain. Regarding the weather, as you stated, the sun shined in April. It was also overcast some days some places, rained a few spots here and there, was nice quite a few days and even got dark on time, most evenings. And the Commerce Department is spot on that my spending didn’t increase any adjusted for the inflation that you all keep telling me isn’t there. Have you tried to buy some hamburger recently or do you just eat out on a corporate credit card? The price of a pack of spaghetti has doubled over the past 3 years.

Me and Mrs. J along with the kids kinda like spaghetti now and then and the Mrs. even made a great Bolognese sauce, but the hamburger got too expensive as has the spaghetti, so we had to cut back. So you’re right, we did sit at home and watch Dancing with the Stars a lot. It’s what we can afford. So, I really don’t get what you guys mean by those “winter doldrums” because things have gotten worse independent of the weather. The weather’s had nothing at all to do with it. And talking about worse, you’re right. I did get fired in late 2008 from a high paying salaried job with benefits when the economy dumped due to the Lehman Brothers shock.

Since then I’ve been holding down a part time greeters job at Home Depot with no benefits. I even took on a second part time job with no benefits at another place because I was getting bored watching television all day. Plus, we could use the extra money as our savings has been depleted. And we’re very worried about our health and the cost of healthcare is skyrocketing. But I guess you probably have a health care plan paid for by the Wall Street Journal. Why, feeling particularly liberated, Mrs. Joe’s even picked up a couple of part time jobs, as well. “Arbeit macht frei” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning these days for whole bunch of us out here.

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Surefire road to failure.

German And French Ministers Call For Radical Integration Of Eurozone (Guardian)

German and French politicians are calling for a quantum leap in how the EU’s single currency is run, proposing an embryo eurozone treasury equipped with a eurozone finance chief, single budget, tax-raising powers, pooled debt liabilities, a common monetary fund, and separate organisation and representation within the European parliament. They also propose that all teenagers in the EU be given the chance to spend a subsidised six months in another European country. In an article published in European newspapers, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s social democratic leader and vice-chancellor in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, and Emmanuel Macron, France’s young reformist economics minister, advocate a radical shift in integration of the eurozone, following five years of single currency crisis that have come close to tearing the EU apart.

They call for the setting up of “an embryo euro area budget”, “a fiscal capacity over and above national budgets”, and harmonised corporate taxes across the bloc. The eurozone would be able to borrow on the markets against its budget, which would be financed from a kind of Tobin tax on financial transactions and also from part of the revenue from the new business tax regime. The eurozone’s current bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which is made up of national contributions under a deal between governments, would be made a common eurozone instrument and converted into a European Monetary Fund. The entire new regime would come under the authority of a new post of euro commissioner who would be answerable to eurozone MEPs who, in turn, would need to have a separate sub-chamber in the European parliament.

In reference to the Greek crisis currently moving towards some form of denouement, the two leading figures say the new regime they are proposing should also establish “a legal framework for orderly and legitimate sovereign debt restructurings, should they become necessary as a last resort. This would prevent both inappropriate use of crisis lending and self-defeating bouts of austerity when countries face unsustainable debts.” Germany and France are the two biggest countries in the eurozone. Gabriel and Macron are both seen as youngish leaders of reformist social democracy in an EU, however, dominated by the centre-right, suggesting that their ideas might struggle to find traction.

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The crumbling union.

European Dream Just a Fairy Tale to New Breed of Eastern Leaders (Bloomberg)

Natalia Krzywicka wasn’t alive when Poland shrugged off the shackles of communism in 1989. When it joined the European Union 15 years later, she was only eight. Now, the 19-year-old student is ready for her country to stop acting like a newcomer to the EU and start doing something for its voters, including her. She helped unseat the government-backed incumbent in a May 24 presidential runoff, eastern Europe’s fifth such upset since 2013. “I know that economic indicators quoted in the mainstream media show Poland is in good shape, but that’s just propaganda,” Krzywicka said in front of Warsaw’s Wilanow Palace, a sprawling 17th-century estate. “Poland’s policy makers need to refocus on defending the country’s interests, like everyone else.”

Krzywicka is among voters in the EU’s east who are shaking up politics after more than two decades of tolerating the fiscal and economic measures needed to qualify for membership in the bloc. After years of their governments focusing on selling state assets, luring foreign investment, overhauling communist-era bureaucracy and trying to meet EU budget and competition rules, they’re now demanding action on bread-and-butter issues including pensions and health care. In Poland, opposition-backed Andrzej Duda defeated President Bronislaw Komorowski by pledging to overturn a government-imposed increase in the pension age and to pull the country of 38 million away from the “European mainstream.” His victory followed presidential upsets against ruling party candidates in Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic over the last two years.

Betting that incomes of the 100 million people in the eastern economies would approach the level of their western neighbors, investors plowed billions into the region even before the EU’s first wave of enlargement in 2004. Since then, they’ve been rewarded by outsized returns. Hungary’s local-currency government bonds have returned 169%, the most among 26 indexes tracked by the European Federation of Financial Analysts Societies. Polish notes have handed investors 107% and Czech securities 77%, compared with an EU average of 71%. Yet there are growing signs that the change from centrally planned to market-driven economies is mostly over.

While the region’s governments sold off most of their state-owned manufacturers, banks and utilities last decade, now governments in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary are criticizing foreign-owned power companies for high prices. The latter two have imposed special taxes, mostly on lenders, to shore up their budgets, a plan Duda wants to emulate in Poland. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has gone the farthest in the region in expanding state control, buying the local businesses of foreign companies including EON and GE Capital. “I expect the efforts to push through structural reform will decrease,” said Peter Schottmueller at Deka Investment in Frankfurt. “This is a major problem every government in Europe has to tackle: wage growth, youth unemployment. We haven’t found a solution.”

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Count me not surprised.

EU Home To Widespread Labor Exploitation (RT)

The European Union is home to widespread employment abuses, according to a new study. Both EU and non-EU citizens have fallen victim to labor exploitation, despite laws which allegedly protect workers. The study, conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), is the first of its kind to thoroughly explore all criminal forms of labor exploitation in the EU. The agency compiled around 600 interviews with representatives of trade unions, police forces and supervisory authorities, finding that employment abuses are prevalent across the EU. “Labor exploitation is a reality in the EU,” FRA spokesperson Bianca Tapia said, as quoted by Deutsche Welle. She added that it is becoming extremely commonplace in some sectors of the economy.

According to the findings, criminal labor exploitation is prominent in a number of industries – particularly construction, agriculture, hotel and catering, domestic work and manufacturing. The FRA said that one in five inspectors dealing with the issue came across severe cases of exploitation at least twice a week. “What these workers in different geographical locations and sectors of the economy often have in common is a combination of factors: being paid 1 euro or much less per hour, working 12 hours or more a day for six or seven days a week, being housed in harsh conditions, and not being allowed to go on holiday or take sick leave,” Tapia said in the report.

While the study stressed that both EU and non-EU citizens face such conditions, Tapia did note that “foreign workforces are at serious risk of being exploited in the EU.” Many migrant workers have their passports taken off of them and are cut off from the outside world by employers, the agency said. The Vienna-based rights group compiled over 200 case studies. Among those were Lithuanians working on British farms and living in sheds with little access to hygiene facilities. A case of Bulgarians harvesting fruit and vegetables in France for 15 hours a day – but being paid for just five of the 22 weeks they worked – was also cited.

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What do you mean, a bubble?

Who Cares About China’s Economy When Stocks Are Rising This Much? (Bloomberg)

When Sean Taylor looks at China’s soaring stock prices, he sees a market more disconnected from economic fundamentals than at any other time in a two-decade career. His advice to investors? Keep buying. The London-based head of emerging markets at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, whose developing-nation equity fund has outperformed 94% of peers tracked by Bloomberg this year, says what matters most in China right now is that policy makers have the motivation and firepower to keep the world-beating rally going. Rising stock prices not only help Chinese companies reduce debt levels by selling new shares, they also make it easier for the government to boost budget revenue and push forward on privatization plans through stake sales.

One way policy makers can support further gains is through further monetary stimulus: banks’ reserve requirement ratios are almost 6 percentage points higher than the 15-year average, even after two cuts this year. “The government wants a strong stock market, to privatize more companies and do more IPOs,” Taylor, whose firm oversees about $1.3 trillion, said in an interview in Hong Kong. He has an overweight position in Chinese shares. The Shanghai Composite has gained 141% in the past 12 months, the most among major global benchmark indexes. The gauge closed little changed today. The following charts underscore the disconnect between Chinese stocks and the economy.

• Shanghai Composite performance: The index rose last week to its highest level in seven years, while Bloomberg’s monthly gross domestic product tracker for China is near the lowest since 2009.

• Financial stocks: The CSI 300 Index’s gauge of banks, property developers and brokers climbed to its highest level since January 2008 last week. Data on May 13 showed the M2 measure of broad money supply grew 10.1% in April from a year earlier, the smallest expansion on record.

• Retail stocks: The consumer discretionary index has rallied 75% this year to a record. Retail sales grew 10% in April, the slowest pace since 2006.

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“Markets might recover, but often people do not.”

Oliver Stone: Wall Street Culture “Horribly Worse” Than Gordon Gekko (SMH)

The culture on Wall Street is “horribly worse” than it was in the 1980s, and America’s regulatory culture is lost, according to Hollywood director Oliver Stone. Mr Stone, who was in Melbourne speaking at the Game Changers event held by superannuation firm Sunsuper, said he made the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010 to address the problem with the culture he exposed in his iconic 1987 film Wall Street. “Gordon Gekko was an immoral character that became worshipped for the wrong reasons… the banks became a version of him, speculating for themselves. To hell with the investor,” he told Fairfax Media.

Gekko’s legacy may be alive and kicking in the finance mecca. A new study of US finance executives found that 47% said they it was likely their competitors had engaged in illegal or unethical conduct to gain a market advantage. A separate study found one third of Wall Street financiers who earned more than $500,000 had witnessed wrongdoing. Mr Stone’s comments came after two of Australia’s top regulators signalled a clampdown on a “rotten culture” that exists within the Australian finance industry. Australian Securities Investment Commission chairman Greg Medcraft said last week the way banks and brokers structured incentives was a driver of white collar crime. ASIC has said it is investigating three investment banks in Australia.

Mr Stone said while money had “polluted politics” in the US, he believed Australia’s regulation was stronger, which helped it avoid the full impact of the global financial crisis. But he was suprised to be told of the financial planning scandal enveloping the big four banks and the subsequent Financial System Inquiry. “You can always make money with banks, the problem is you have to self-discipline so you don’t screw the investors,” he said. Mr Stone said it was the nature of capitalism to bubble and burst. “You can never find a moderate balance. You need supervisroy intelligence to balance the excesses of market, and that is the lesson that [US President Franklin D.] Roosevelt taught us in the 1930s, but that seems to have been forgotten,” he said.

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Posterchild for regulatory failure.

Elizabeth Warren Blasts Mary Jo White’s SEC Leadership (MarketWatch)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday blasted the leadership of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White, calling it “extremely disappointing.” It’s the most aggressive critique yet from the Massachusetts Democrat, who has often criticized regulators over their perceived lax stance against Wall Street firms. In a 13-page letter sent to White on Tuesday, Warren cites four main complaints with White’s two-year tenure:

•The SEC’s failure to finalize Dodd-Frank rules regarding disclosure of CEO pay to median workers.

• White’s failure to curb the use of waivers for companies that violate securities laws. Several firms received a waiver after pleading guilty to Justice Department charges of manipulating the foreign exchange market.

• SEC settlements that don’t require an admission of guilt.

• Numerous SEC enforcement cases that require recusals by White because of conflicts from her prior law firm employment and her husband’s current law practice. Warren even suggests companies may deliberately hire her husband, John White, to lead to a recusal and a 2-to-2 deadlock of remaining commissioners.

White was aggressive in her response, saying the senator mischaracterized her comments. “I am very proud of the agency’s achievements under my leadership, including our record year in enforcement and the Commission’s efforts in advancing more than 30 congressionally mandated rulemakings and other transformative policy initiatives to protect investors and strengthen our markets,” White said in a statement. “Senator Warren’s mischaracterization of my statements and the agency’s accomplishments is unfortunate, but it will not detract from the work we have done, and will continue to do, on behalf of investors.”

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Looks like the US may be losing.

Kim Dotcom Thwarts Huge US Government Asset Grab (TorrentFreak)

Kim Dotcom has booked a significant victory in his battle against U.S. efforts to seize assets worth millions of dollars. In a decision handed down this morning, Justice Ellis granted Dotcom interim relief from having a $67m forfeiture ordered recognized in New Zealand. Dotcom informs TF that the victory gives his legal team new momentum. In the long-running case of the U.S. Government versus Kim Dotcom, almost every court decision achieved by one side is contested by the other. A big victory for the U.S. back in March 2015 is no exception. After claiming that assets seized during the 2012 raid on Megaupload were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, last July the U.S. government asked the court to forfeit bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions connected to the site’s operators.

Dotcom and his co-defendants protested, but the Government deemed them fugitives and therefore disentitled to seek relief from the court. As a result District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ordered a default judgment in favor of the U.S. Government against assets worth an estimated $67m. Following a subsequent request from the U.S., New Zealand’s Commissioner of Police moved to have the U.S. forfeiture orders registered locally, meaning that the seized property would become the property of the Crown. Authorization from the Deputy Solicitor-General was granted April 9, 2015 and an application for registration was made shortly after.

In response, Kim Dotcom and co-defendant Bram Van der Kolk requested a judicial review of the decision and sought interim orders that would prevent the Commissioner from progressing the registration application, pending a review. The Commissioner responded with an application to stop the judicial review. In a lengthy decision handed down this morning, Justice Ellis denied the application of the Commissioner while handing a significant interim victory to Kim Dotcom. Noting that the “fugitive disentitlement” doctrine forms no part of New Zealand common law, Justice Ellis highlighted the predicament faced by those seeking to defend themselves while under its constraints.

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“..an “extreme deregulatory agenda” on the part of both the United States and Australia’s negotiators with “serious implications for all service sectors, perhaps human services especially”.

WikiLeaks Reveals New Australia Trade Secrets (SMH)

Highly sensitive details of the negotiations over the little-known Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA) published by WikiLeaks reveals Australia is pushing for extensive international financial deregulation while other proposals could see Australians’ personal and financial data freely transferred overseas. The secret trade documents also show Australia could allow an influx of foreign professional workers and see a sharp wind back in the ability of government to regulate qualifications, licensing and technical standards including in relation to health, environment and transport services.

In its largest disclosure yet relating to the TiSA negotiations, WikiLeaks has published seventeen documents including draft treaty chapters, memoranda and other texts setting out the overall state of negotiations and individual country positions in a secret bargaining on banking and finance, telecommunications and e-commerce, health, as well as maritime and air transport. The leaked documents were to be kept secret until at least five years after the completion of the TiSA negotiations and entry into force of the trade agreement. Dr Patricia Ranald, research associate at the University of Sydney and convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said WikiLeaks’ publication revealed an “extreme deregulatory agenda” on the part of both the United States and Australia’s negotiators with “serious implications for all service sectors, perhaps human services especially”.

The leaked draft TiSA financial services chapter shows a continuing strong push by the United States, Australia and other countries for deregulation of international financial services, an approach strongly supported by Australian banks keen to increase their business in Asian markets. However Financial Sector Union secretary Fiona Jordan said there was a need to strengthen not weaken financial and banking regulation. “The issue has to be about Australia maintaining the tight regulations it has – and perhaps even adding to these,” Ms Jordan said.

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Global markets for basic necessities is always a bad idea. They can only lead to hunger.

The Big Global Food Game (Beppe Grillo’s blog)

The world’s population continues to grow and as the eating habits of people in developing countries like China and Brazil are changing rapidly, they are beginning to include more meat and cereals in their diets. Land for cultivating crops and raising livestock is a finite resource and the race to get hold of pieces of land, water and animals is already in full swing, with China grabbing the lion’s share. The big food game is already going full speed ahead and anyone who is left out at this stage is lost. In his book entitled Pappa Mundi, Francesco Galietti talks about how food is becoming one of the main issues in International relations. We interviewed him to find out more.

“A big hello to all the friends of Grillo’s Blog. Since we’re dealing with a market here, as always it is dictated by two factors, namely supply and demand, both of which are constantly changing. As far as demand is concerned, obviously the big daddy of all topics of debate on this issue is China, the Chinese Dragon. It’s not that the country’s population is increasing disproportionately, but what is changing, and very fast too, is the ratio of its very fast growing middle class to its total population. This means that there is now a whole range of new prerogatives, including tastes, fashions, desires and wants, all of which have very serious repercussions on foods. For these people, meat used to be something that only the privileged could enjoy in the exclusive restaurants but now that they can afford it too, they also want it.

For example, SmithField is the largest global piggery. It is an American company that breeds and raises pigs and just recently it was bought out by the Chinese. This acquisition came to the attention of the American Military, who were absolutely incredulous and couldn’t understand why on earth Chinese investors would come to America to buy pork. They were equally incredulous when they discovered that China has a specific doctrine in this regard, so much so that they have come up with the so-called Strategic Pork Reserve, in other words a way of making sure that China always maintains a certain stock of pork. Then there is also another component, namely the food anxiety that Middle-East investors have. Notwithstanding its great variety, the Middle-East is and remains little more than a huge sandbox.

This means that the petrol sheiks are looking for that which they don’t have, and they go looking for it all over the world. They have created such a huge expanse of rice paddies that Saudi-Arabia has now become the world’s sixth largest rice producer! There is a general fear of finding ourselves without any food for our people, above all the working people who are most often the disadvantaged ones that come from Pakistan and ’Asia, so I the case of the Middle-East, the search is on for what they don’t have. The third important component in the big food game is the use of food as a weapon of war. Putin has decided to counter western sanctions with counter-sanctions on food, which is a real tragedy for us Italians because it means bye-bye to our significant exports of Grana Padano to Russia, as well as other goodies for the oligarchy’s palates.

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It’s a shame that this focuses on emissions. There are much better reasons to eat local food.

Replanting America: 90% of What We Eat Could Come From Local Farms (Nosowitz)

Eating a local diet—restricting your sources of food to those within, say, 100 miles—seems enviable but near impossible to many, thanks to lack of availability, lack of farmland, and sometimes short growing seasons. Now, a study from the University of California, Merced, indicates that it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. “Although we find that local food potential has declined over time, our results also demonstrate an unexpectedly large current potential for meeting as much as 90% of the national food demand,” write the study’s authors. 90%! What?

Researchers J. Elliott Campbell and Andrew Zumkehr looked at every acre of active farmland in the U.S., regardless of what it’s used for, and imagined that instead of growing soybeans or corn for animal feed or syrup, it was used to grow vegetables. (Currently, only about 2% of American farmland is used to grow fruits or vegetables). And not just any vegetables: They used the USDA’s recommendations to imagine that all of those acres of land were designed to feed people within 100 miles a balanced diet, supplying enough from each food group. Converting the real yields (say, an acre of hay or corn) to imaginary yields (tomatoes, legumes, greens) is tricky, but using existing yield data from farms, along with a helpful model created by a team at Cornell University, gave them a pretty realistic figure.

Still, the study involves quite a few major leaps of faith because it seeks not to demonstrate what is possible for a given American right now but to lay out a basic overview of the ability of local food to feed all Americans. It’s not just projecting yields for vegetables grown on land that is today dominated by corn and soy. The biggest leap of faith is perhaps an unexpected one and is surprisingly underreported: Why do we even want to adjust our food supply to be local in the first place?

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May 282015
 
 May 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop fronts” 1936

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)
You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)
40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)
Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)
The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)
China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)
Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)
US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)
Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)
Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)
Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)
Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)
Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)
US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)
You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)
Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)
The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)
US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)
Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)
A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)
The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

Behold: an economy broken to the bone. No investement in manufacturing capacity equals no confidence in the future.

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)

U.S. businesses, feeling heat from activist investors, are slashing long-term spending and returning billions of dollars to shareholders, a fundamental shift in the way they are deploying capital. Data show a broad array of companies have been plowing more cash into dividends and stock buybacks, while spending less on investments such as new factories and research and development. Activist investors have been pushing for such changes, but it isn’t just their target companies that are shifting gears. More businesses sitting on large piles of extra cash are deciding to satisfy investors by giving some of it back. Rock-bottom interest rates have made it cheap to borrow to buy back shares, which can boost a company’s stock price. And technology-driven productivity gains are enabling some businesses to do more with less.

As the trend picks up steam, so too has debate about whether activist investors—who take sizable stakes in companies, then agitate for changes they think will boost share prices—have caused companies to tilt too far toward short-term rewards. Laurence Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, argued as much in a March 31 letter to S&P 500 CEOs. “More and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

An analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by S&P Capital IQ shows that companies in the S&P 500 index sharply increased their spending on dividends and buybacks to a median 36% of operating cash flow in 2013, from 18% in 2003. Over that same decade, those companies cut spending on plants and equipment to 29% of operating cash flow, from 33% in 2003. At S&P 500 companies targeted by activists, the spending cuts were more dramatic. Targeted companies reduced capital expenditures in the five years after activists bought their shares to 29% of operating cash flow, from 42% the year before, the Capital IQ analysis shows. Those companies boosted spending on dividends and buybacks to 37% of operating cash flow in the first year after being approached, from 22% in the year before.

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Rent seeking.

You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)

Conventional thinking holds that wealth should be invested and, through investment, put to productive use, with those investments creating job opportunities and higher wages. Alternatively, if few productive investment opportunities are available, the return on invested wealth should start falling. It ought to be a self-correcting cycle in which wealth cannot outpace incomes for long. But the return from capital remains high, and wages are stagnating. Something’s gone wrong. The problem, Stiglitz and his co-authors write, is that the rise in wealth isn’t coming from productive investments. It’s coming from what economists call rents — a metaphorical extension of the 18th-century practice of small farmers paying rent to landlords for the right to use the total inert asset of land.

Stiglitz and his co-authors extend the idea to include a wider and more modern array of rents. A patent or a copyright, for example, can be a valuable financial commodity to own, even without being productive in the way a factory or tractor is. To see the distinction, imagine you have $300 million and can either invest it in a startup or use it to buy the rights to the Beatles’ songs. In the former case, you’re providing money that a company can then use to hire people, produce goods, and generally create wealth in the world. In the latter, you’re producing nothing; you’re just grabbing something that someone else produced and claiming the proceeds from it. “Rent-seeking,” as economists call it, is generally viewed as economically counterproductive. It’s especially counterproductive when it becomes so lucrative as to provide a more attractive outlet for people’s money than real investments.

The report’s authors argue that’s exactly what’s happening with Wall Street. Its growth has fueled a big rise in credit — credit that tends to go to those who already have wealth, often in the form of rents, exacerbating existing rent-based problems. Financiers have also identified novel ways to rent-seek. “Too big to fail” status, for example, can count as a rent. It increases the value of firms like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase not by making them more productive, but by providing an implicit government subsidy. Trading mortgage-backed securities for profit, similarly, does little to actually increase wealth but a lot to redirect it. That makes it attractive as a business activity for banks and hedge funds, redirecting their energies from profitable activities that create wealth.

Many of these rents are explicitly created by government policies. “Too big to fail” is an obvious example, but financial deregulation more broadly has made speculation vastly more profitable in recent decades, encouraging rent-seeking on the part of financial firms. Stiglitz and his co-authors also finger tax cuts for the wealthy as a culprit. [..] countries that slashed their top marginal tax rates the most in recent decades also saw the biggest increases in inequality before taxes. That might make sense if the tax cuts boosted growth, but that wasn’t really what happened. [..] the tax cuts gave top earners bigger incentive to extract rents for themselves, to bargain hard to increase their share of the company’s wages. In the 1950s, when the top marginal tax rate in the US was 91%, getting an extra $1 in income through rents only yielded $0.09 after taxes. Today, it means getting $0.60. That’s a sixfold increase — a huge increase in the incentive to find rents for oneself.

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All the job protection our (grand-)parents fought for are gone.

40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)

Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. General Accounting Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs. There is currently a lot of debate about how contingent workers should be defined. To arrive at the 40.4 %, which the workforce reached in 2010, the report counts the following types of workers as having the alternative work arrangements considered contingent. (The government did some rounding to arrive at its final number, so the numbers below add up to 40.2%).

Agency temps: (1.3%); On-call workers (people called to work when needed): (3.5%); Contract company workers (3.0%); Independent contractors who provide a product or service and find their own customers (12.9%); Self-employed workers such as shop and restaurant owners, etc. (3.3%); Standard part-time workers (16.2%). In contrast, in 2005, 30.6% of workers were contingent. The biggest growth has been among people with part time jobs. They made up just 11.9% of the labor force in 2005. That means there was a 36% increase in just five years. The report uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It begs an important question: Are traditional jobs—the foundation of our consumer economy–running their course and going the way of the typewriter and eight-track tape? And if so, what do we do about it?

This report is important because it’s the first time since the Great Recession that the U.S. government has taken stock of how many people are working without the protections that come with traditional, full-time W-2 jobs. It reinforces estimates of the independent workforce that have come from observers ranging from the Freelancers Union to Faith Popcorn and are in a similar ballpark. Many people in this workforce are struggling economically. In a note issued with the report, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) write, “Because contingent work can be unstable, or may afford fewer protections depending on a worker’s particular employment arrangement, it tends to lead to lower earnings, fewer benefits, and a greater reliance on public assistance than standard work.”

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Sorry, technodreamers, but we will never power anything like our present economy on renewables. Ambrose has no clue.

Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)

The political noose is tightening on the global fossil fuel industry. It is a fair bet that world leaders will agree this year to impose a draconian “tax” on carbon emissions that entirely changes the financial calculus for coal, oil, and gas, and may ultimately devalue much of their asset base to zero. The IMF has let off the first thunder-clap. An astonishing report – blandly titled “How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies” – alleges that the fossil nexus enjoys hidden support worth 6.5pc of world GDP. This will amount to $5.7 trillion in 2015, mostly due to environmental costs and damage to health, and mostly stemming from coal. The World Health Organisation – also on cue – has sharply revised up its estimates of early deaths from fine particulates and sulphur dioxide from coal plants.

The killer point is that this architecture of subsidy is a “drag on economic growth” as well as being a transfer from poor to rich. It pushes up tax rates and crowds out more productive investment. The world would be richer – and more dynamic – if the burning of fossils was priced properly. This is a deeply-threatening line of attack for those accustomed to arguing that solar or wind are a prohibitive luxury, while coal, oil, and gas remain the only realistic way to power the world economy. The annual subsidy bill for renewables is just $77bn, trivial by comparison. The British electricity group SSE is already adapting to the new mood. It will close its Ferrybridge coal-powered plant next year, citing the emerging political consensus that coal “has a limited role in the future”.

The IMF bases its analysis on the work Arthur Pigou, the early 20th Century economist who advocated taxes to ensure to stop investors keeping all the profit while dumping bad side-effects on the rest of society. The Fund has set off a storm of protest. Subsidies are not quite the same as costs. Oil veterans retort that they have been paying punitive taxes into the common welfare pool for a long time. But whether or not you agree with the IMF’s forensic accounting the publication of such claims by the world’s premier financial body is itself a striking fact. The IMF is political to its fingertips. It rarely deviates far from the thinking of the US Treasury.

It is becoming clearer last year’s sweeping deal on climate change between the US and China was an historical inflexion point, the beginning of the end for a century of fossil dominance. At a single stroke it defused the ‘North-South’ conflict that has bedevilled climate policy and that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, said the chemistry is radically different today as sherpas prepare for the COPS 21 summit in Paris this December. “The two 800-pound gorillas are working together,” he said.

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Glut.

The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)

Four months into oil’s rebound from a six-year low, the tanker market is sending a clear signal that the rally is under threat. A sudden surge in demand for supertankers drove benchmark charter rates 57% higher in the two weeks through May 20. OPEC will have almost half a billion barrels of oil in transit to buyers at the start of June, the most this year, while analysts say about 20 million barrels is being stored on ships in another indication the glut has yet to dissipate. OPEC is pumping the most oil in more than two years, determined to defend market share rather than prices. A record cut to the number of active U.S. drilling rigs and billions of dollars of spending reductions by companies since last year’s price plunge has yet to translate into a slump in barrels produced.

The world is producing about 1.9 million barrels a day more crude than it needs, according to Goldman Sachs “Supply of oil continues to build,” said Paddy Rodgers of Euronav, whose supertanker fleet can haul 56 million barrels of crude. “All of this oil needs to go somewhere,” he wrote in an e-mail May 19. Daily rates for supertankers on the industry’s benchmark route reached $83,412 on May 20, from $52,987 on May 6, according to the Baltic Exchange in London. While rates since retreated to $69,594, they’re still the highest for this time of year since at least 2008.

OPEC’s 12 members have will have 485 million barrels of oil in transit to buyers in the four weeks to June 6, the most since November, Roy Mason, founder of Oil Movements, monitoring the flows, said by e-mail Wednesday. Iraq, the group’s second-largest producer, plans to boost exports to a record 3.75 million barrels a day next month, according to shipping programs. Spare tanker capacity in the Middle East has seldom been tighter. The combined excess of ships competing for the region’s exports stood at 6% last week, the lowest for the time of year in Bloomberg surveys of shipbrokers that started in 2009. While that expanded to 12% this week, the monthly average was still the lowest on record for May.

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Expect many, and bigger, swings.

China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)

It was a sea of red in China, with the key Shanghai Composite ending down 6.5% at a near one-week low, marking its biggest one-day loss since January 19 and breaking an eight-session winning streak. The CSI 300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen tumbled 6.7%, while the start-up board ChiNext sank 5.4%. News that more Chinese brokerages are tightening margin lending rules seem to be the main cause of concern among retail investors, experts say. According to IG market strategist Bernard Aw, Guosen Securities increased the margin requirement for 908 counters while Southwest Securities reduced the amount of margin financing that traders can receive using collateral.

Separately, the Shanghai Securities News also reported that regulators have recently urged banks to submit data regarding money flows into the stock market, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Hong Kong shares tracked their mainland peers to recede more than 2%, hitting a two-week low. Shares of Hong Kong-listed Evergrande Real Estate Group inched up 0.1% after announcing plans to raise around $600 million in a Hong Kong share offering. Sunac China Holdings plunged nearly 6% following news that it is terminating a takeover deal for troubled Chinese developer Kaisa.

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“Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.”

Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)

The yen fell to a 12-year low versus the dollar as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates, sharpening the contrast with the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary stimulus. Japan’s currency led declines among 16 major peers this week as signs of U.S. economy strengthening revived the greenback’s rally. The yen’s 30% drop since 2012 is driving record profits at Japan’s biggest companies, helping the nation’s stocks toward their longest rally since 1988. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda repeated this week that he’ll adjust monetary policy if needed to meet his inflation target.

“The dollar will appreciate relative to the yen because Japanese government policy is to depreciate the yen,” Daniel Fuss at Loomis Sayles said in an interview in Tokyo Wednesday. “Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.” The Japanese currency has depreciated by 2.1% versus the greenback since May 21, the day before Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she expects to raise interest rates this year for the first time since 2006. Until last week, the yen had been trading in a range of just two yen around 120 per dollar this quarter. The yen’s weakness came as the BOJ pursued policies including unprecedented debt purchases, seeking to revive an economy that spent more than a decade battling deflation.

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The fine print: the original Guardian headline is: “US to urge Greece to end brinkmanship with creditors at G7 meeting”, accusing Greece of brinkmanship. But that’s not what Lew said, even in the article.

US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)

The US Treasury secretary has said he will use the G7 finance ministers’ meeting to press Greece and its European creditors to end their brinkmanship and forge a rescue deal. With the Syriza-led coalition scrambling to secure an agreement, which will release the final €7.2bn (£5.1bn) tranche of bailout cash and prevent it defaulting on a looming payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jack Lew urged both sides in the ongoing Greek debt crisis to “treat every deadline as the last”. Washington has looked on with varying degrees of frustration and alarm throughout the long-running saga, which has seen Greece bailed out twice by a total of €240bn.

On a day when share prices soared on rumours of a breakthrough in the debt talks, before German officials scotched talk of “progress”, Lew warned both sides against complacency. Speaking to students at the London School of Economics before flying to Dresden for the G7 summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday, he said: “No one should have a false sense of confidence that they know what the result of a crisis in Greece would be.” He stressed that he believed all parties were negotiating in good faith, with neither deliberately aiming at a Greek default. However, Lew said he feared an “accident”, with the high-stakes negotiations ending in crisis. “It is profoundly in the interests of the US and European economies for the accident to be avoided,” Lew said, speaking to students at the London School of Economics. “Brinksmanship is a dangerous thing”.

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Dangerous. The troika could stop this, but won’t.

Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)

Greek banks, forced into a central bank liquidity lifeline, are poised to report sustained losses as they grapple with record deposit outflows and an economy that plunged into double-dip recession. National Bank of Greece, the country’s biggest lender by assets, and Alpha Bank report first-quarter earnings Thursday. Piraeus Bank on Wednesday said its first-quarter loss was €69 million, as deposits shrank by 15% to €46.5 billion, with a further €1.9 billion of private deposit outflows through mid-May. “We expect the Greek banks to remain loss-making this quarter” on more expensive funding from the ECB and higher provisions for souring loans, Euroxx Securities analyst Maria Kanellopoulou said.

The prolonged uncertainty on Greece’s support program “will inevitably weigh on banks’ asset quality, with a fresh rise in new non-performing loans.” Greek lenders have lost access to capital markets and the ECB’s normal financing operations amid a standoff between the country’s anti-austerity coalition and its creditors over the terms of the current bailout. Lenders rely on more than €80 billion of Emergency Liquidity Assistance extended by the Bank of Greece to stay afloat, a more expensive source of funding, while they are forced to participate in liquidity-draining auctions of government treasury bills rather than let the country default.

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“Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Wednesday that a deal with creditors was “close” and government officials said an agreement was being drafted but representatives of the country’s creditors made it quite clear that they do not share such optimism. In comments after a meeting at the Finance Ministry, Tsipras said a deal with creditors was “close” and that “very soon we will be able to present more details.” He stressed the need for “calm and determination,” noting that Greece would come under additional pressure in the final stretch of negotiations. He also referred to “conflicting views between institutions” and to “countries with different approaches.” Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

According to sources, Tsipras was advised to make the statement by aides fearing that jitters were creeping back into the markets and could prompt a new wave of deposit outflows. Tsipras chose to make the statement flanked by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to underline the government’s backing for the latter, who has come under fire over his confusing statements about the content of a potential deal. Earlier in the day, the ECB decided not to raise the ceiling on emergency liquidity to Greece. A Greek government official commented that the Bank of Greece had not requested an increase to emergency liquidity as the current ceiling of €80.2 billion is regarded as adequate “following a stabilization of deposit outflows.”

In an interview with Die Zeit on Wednesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it was down to Greece to decide on whether to introduce capital controls. He defended the decision by Greece’s creditors to link loans to further reforms, despite the country’s tightening liquidity problems. “That is the philosophy of the rescue program. The new government is saying: we want to keep the euro but we don’t want the program any more. That doesn’t fit together,” he said. Earlier, on a stopover in London on his way to a meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers in Dresden, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called on Greece’s creditors “show enough flexibility so if the Greeks are prepared to take the kind of steps they need to take, they find a pathway to resolving this without there being an unnecessary crisis.”

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It’s easy to forget that all Syriza has been able and allowed to do so far is to negotiate with creditors, and that everything else has been forced onto the backburner.

Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)

Before the elections, there was a considerable number of people who totally disagreed with the ideas and program put forward by SYRIZA, but they expected that the leftist party would, at least, provide a breath of fresh air as it climbed to power. They believed that SYRIZA would do away with the highly partisan tactics of its socialist and conservative predecessors and move on to adopt more meritocratic practices. They expected that SYRIZA would install young, independent people in key government posts, making use of the best talents that the country has to offer. They hoped that SYRIZA officials would man the state apparatus after poring over the CVs of thousands of job-seekers in the private sector. And they anticipated a growth-oriented strategy that would enable people to try their luck without running into unnecessary or artificial obstacles, and without having to pay bribes here and there.

It was only natural that a large section of voters would expect all that. Because, regretably, and despite the crisis, the old political system failed to change the way things work in this country. Unfortunately, the expectations of all those voters with romantic notions of what to expect have not been fulfilled. The state mechanism has mostly been manned by friends and political cronies of the ruling party. Key posts have been entrusted to well-connected representatives of the good old system. The way SYRIZA has dealt with the so-called oligarchs seems very selective. It does not seem to have allowed the domestic institutions to carry out their work in a fair and transparent manner. In fact, it smacks of an attempt to install a new oligarchy – only, this time, one that is pro-SYRIZA.

So, no breath of fresh air. The question, of course, is why? The answer is that SYRIZA has strong ties with groups that depend exclusively on the state for their survival. The healthy private sector which does not rely on the generosity of the state for its well-being has no political representation in Alexis Tsipras’s party. The truth is, even the country’s conservative parties have failed in that respect. It’s hard to say how long SYRIZA will manage to stay in power. Any prediction would be risky these days. That said, those who looked forward to some creative big bang, as it were, spawned by SYRIZA’s victory are beginning to feel disappointed. That does not mean to say that the party will not be able to consolidate itself as the dominant political player. It does mean, however, that the dreamers will have to wait. Or move to a more cynical, same-old view of things.

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A moment of clarity from Ye Olde Paul.

Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)

We just had another electoral earthquake in the euro area: Podemos-backed candidates have won local elections in Madrid and Barcelona. And I hope that the IFKAT — the institutions formerly known as the troika — are paying attention. The essence of the Greek situation is that the actual parameters of a short-run deal are clear and unavoidable: Greece can’t run a primary budget deficit, because nobody will lend it new money, and it won’t (and basically can’t) run a large primary surplus, because you can’t squeeze even more blood from that stone. So you would think that an agreement for Greece to run a modest primary surplus over the next few years would be easy to reach — that is what will happen, so why not make it official?

But now the IMF is playing bad cop, declaring that it cannot release funds until Syriza toes the line on pensions and labor market reform. The latter is dubious economics — the IMF’s own research doesn’t support enthusiasm about structural reforms, especially in the labor market. The former probably recognizes a real problem — Greece probably can’t deliver what it has promised pensioners — but why should this be an issue over and above the general question of the primary surplus. What I would urge everyone to do is ask what happens if Greece is in fact pushed out of the euro. (Yes, Grexit — ugly word, but we’re stuck with it.) It would surely be ugly in Greece, at least at first.

Right now the core euro countries believe that the rest of the euro area can handle it, which might be true. Bear in mind, however, that the supposed firewall of ECB support has never actually been tested. If markets lose faith and the time for ECB purchases of Spanish or Italian bonds arises, will it really happen? But the bigger question is what happens a year or two after Grexit, where the real risk to the euro is not that Greece will fail but that it will succeed. Suppose that a greatly devalued new drachma brings a flood of British beer-drinkers to the Ionian Sea, and Greece starts to recover. This would greatly encourage challengers to austerity and internal devaluation elsewhere.

Think about it. Just the other day the Very Serious Europeans were hailing Spain as a great success story, a vindication of the whole program. Evidently the Spanish people don’t agree. And if the anti-establishment forces have a recovering Greece to point to, the discrediting of the establishment will accelerate. One conclusion, I guess, is that Germany should try to sabotage Greece post-exit. But I hope that will be considered unacceptable. So think about it, IFKATs: are you really sure you want to start going down this road?

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Has been for years. The plunge will be historic.

Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)

The stage is set for Australian property to finally feel the pain so evident across other sectors of the economy. A series of headwinds – combined with tighter lending standards – ensures that the investor property boom is now on borrowed time. Yesterday, Westpac decided to cut the lucrative interest rate discounts offered to new housing investors – following similar action from its major rivals last week – as regulatory pressure from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority begins to take effect. The implication of this shift in regulatory policy will be modest at first but could soon snowball into a much weaker period for Australian property. Rarely can a housing downturn be so easily identified.

Nevertheless, right now, prices continue to rise at a rapid pace in Sydney and to a lesser extent Melbourne. By comparison, conditions in the other capitals remain more modest. Real dwelling prices – that is prices adjusted for inflation – have increased by 30% since the beginning of 2013 in Sydney and by 15% in Melbourne. In the other capitals, price growth has better reflected income growth. But the tide is clearly turning and the outlook for the property sector needs to be viewed against the broader economic backdrop. The Reserve Bank, for example, was recently forced to cut their economic outlook for the fourth time in the past five quarters. We are currently stuck in the middle of an ‘income recession’ due to the sharp fall in commodity prices.

In the next few years, higher taxes will hit the market at the very top – since high income earners obviously purchase expensive housing – but also towards the bottom – since investors often favour cheap rental properties. Alternatively, higher taxes could make negative gearing more attractive. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has taken clear and decisive steps to reign in foreign investment in established property, while maintaining the existing arrangements for new construction. We also cannot ignore the possibility that the Western Australia economic bust has significant spill over effects for the broader economy and financial system.

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But will it stick? Does RICO apply to FIFA?

US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the U.S., there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the U.S. acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-U.S. citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And more to the point, why is this legal? It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sports. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organizations.

Roughly speaking, the law works by allowing the government to prove that a defendant participated in a criminal organization and also committed at least two criminal acts under other specified laws, including bribery and wire fraud. If the government can prove that, the defendant is guilty of racketeering, and qualifies for stiff sentences, the seizure of assets and potential civil-liability lawsuits. The first and most obvious problem raised by the FIFA arrests is whether the RICO law applies outside the U.S., or “extraterritorially” as lawyers like to say. Generally, as the Supreme Court has recently emphasized, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the U.S. unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond U.S. borders. So you’d think that RICO can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if and only if the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts,” violated statutes that themselves apply outside U.S. borders. The court gave as an example the law that criminalizes killing an American national outside the U.S. That law clearly applies abroad, the court pointed out. And it may function to define one of the predicate offenses under RICO. Thus, RICO can apply abroad. To convict the FIFA defendants, therefore, the Department of Justice will have to prove either that they committed crimes within the U.S. or that they committed predicate crimes covered by RICO that reach beyond U.S. borders.

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Bet you didn’t know.

You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)

If you consume much of your daily news diet online, you’re probably already acquainted with the work of “robot journalists”, you just don’t know it yet. We’re not talking here about Wall-E running around with a reporter’s notebook chasing stories on Amal Clooney (well, not yet), but about the algorithms used by organisations such as Forbes, AP and Fortune to produce millions of stories AP relies on a content generation package called Wordsmith to produce some of its quarterly-earnings business stories and will soon be using it for sports coverage too. You’ve never heard of Wordsmith but you’re probably familiar with its work: it produced 300 million stories last year and is aiming for one billion this year. A rival company, Narrative Science, provides content to Forbes, Fortune and others.

“We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” Robbie Allen, creator of Wordsmith told the New York Times. “Instead of one story with a million page views, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.” The cheerleaders for this new technology – who includes some journalists (New York magazine declared that “the stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway”) – claim that it will free journalists up to do more meaningful pieces, while algorithms churn out rewrites of press releases, mine longer texts for insights, or produce entirely personalised packages of content tailored for individuals. That’s nonsense. As always, “freeing people up” invariably means “liberating them of their jobs”.

But leaving aside the prospect of fewer people in employment, the notion that algorithms may end up taking over even the quotidian aspects of content production is depressing, and not just for journalists. [..] it’s you, the reader, who will suffer. Algorithms may be good at crunching numbers and putting them in some kind of context, but journalists are good at noticing things no one else has. They’re good at asking annoying questions. They’re nosy and persistent and willing to challenge authority to dig out a story. They’re good at provoking irritation, devastation, laughter or controversy. Wildly efficient robot journalists may offer hope to an industry beset by falling advertising rates and disappearing readers. The world will have fewer human journalists as a result, which may not be altogether a bad thing. But the question is: does it really need a billion more pieces of McJournalism?

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Go to site to watch video.

Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)

As negotiations continue, WikiLeaks has published leaked chapters of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries. The TPP would cover 40% of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. A recently disclosed “Investment Chapter” highlights the intent of U.S.-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company’s claimed future profits. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns the plan could chill the adoption of health and environmental regulations.

Julian Assange: ..it’s the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet—Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.

And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in U.S. law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means—with 14 countries involved, means it’s very, very hard to overturn. So if there’s a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path—for example, to introduce more public transport—then you can’t easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved. Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there’s a private hospital, has been erected nearby?

Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected—the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there’s desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.

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But that’s against our life philosophy?!

The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)

Santa Clara County is perhaps best known as the home of Silicon Valley. It also has one of the country’s highest rates of homelessness and its third largest chronically homeless population. An extensive new study of the county’s homelessness crisis, published yesterday, finds that the most cost-effective way to address the problem is to provide people with homes. Those findings echo a similar approach that’s been successfully adopted in Utah, the subject of Mother Jones’ April/May cover story. The study was conducted by county officials who teamed up with Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy research organization, and Destination: Home, an agency that works to house the homeless.

Researchers dug into 25 million records to create a detailed picture of the demographics and needs of the more than 104,000 people who were homeless in the county between 2007 and 2012. They found that much of the public costs of homelessness stemmed from a small segment of this population who were persistently homeless, around 2,800 people. Close to half of all county expenditures were spent on just five% of the homeless population, who came into frequent contact with police, hospitals, and other service agencies, racking up an average of $100,000 in costs per person annually. Those costs quickly add up—overall, Santa Clara communities spend $520 million in homeless services every year.

The study also highlights solutions. The researchers examined Destination: Home’s program, which has housed more than 800 people in the past five years. The study looked at more than 400 of these housing recipients, a fifth of whom were part of the most expensive cohort. Before receiving housing, they each averaged nearly $62,500 in public costs annually. Housing them cost less than $20,000 per person—an annual savings of more than $42,000.

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Fifty shades of dry.

US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook is out, and this summer is going to be a dry one. The massive drought consuming the West will likely continue and even intensify in most places (sorry Nevada, that forecast covers the entire Silver State.) But it won’t be alone: The upper Midwest and Northeast will be parched, too. As for the lower Midwest, a few states could get some relief, but…I wouldn’t let those green lawns go to your head. Scientific models predict that as the climate warms, we’ll see more droughts, and according to the video below, they’ll also last longer than in the past. So Americans, start swinging your partner round and round, shaking your moneymaker, or electric-sliding (if you must)—because we may need to come up with a national rain dance.

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History revised: no asteroid.

Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years. The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land. What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explainthis extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means.

This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

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Blackberry founder decides Artic ownership?

A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)

Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of Research In Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry, believes rituals are scenes we perform so our lives might take the shape we need them to take. It’s a symbolic act, and symbols matter to him. Directly beneath the hole in the ice, visible on the seafloor, is the biggest symbol of all: the HMS Erebus, one of two British navy ships lost during Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 quest to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. The whereabouts of the Erebus frustrated hundreds of searchers for more than 150 years, costing several their lives. Balsillie helped finance and coordinate the successful hunt for the ship, rediscovered in September 2014.

On a personal level, the search for the Erebus was a way for him to take more control over his life after his unceremonious exit from RIM, which left him angry, drained, and disoriented. But it’s much more than an archeological artifact. It represents an opportunity for Canada to take more control of the Arctic. Exploring the Erebus, Balsillie hopes, will draw the collective attention of Canadians northward to a neglected region with billions in potential resources. And by conducting a complex operation in the waters, Canadian military and civilian officials say they are demonstrating their sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. The Queen Maud Gulf, where the Erebus sits, is part of the southern branch of the Northwest Passage.

The route is a fabled link between the Atlantic and Pacific that for centuries proved a dangerous magnet for seekers of knowledge, fortune, and glory. Since 2007, as a result of climate change, the passage has become navigable by smaller ships for a couple of months during most summers. An open route can cut thousands of miles off of trips between the west coast of the Americas and Europe. The two alternative routes are the Panama Canal and the Northern Sea Route, which runs from the Bering Strait and over the Russian Arctic. In 2013 the MS Nordic Orion, a Norwegian freighter, made the first cargo transit of the Northwest Passage. That trip, which carried coal from Vancouver to Norway, hasn’t been repeated. But it raised an unanswered question in maritime law: Who really controls the waters of the route and the rest of Canada’s Arctic archipelago, which consists of more than 30,000 islands?

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She’s a beauty.

The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

In theory, I support the tiny-house lifestyle. I would enjoy the opportunity to live on a lonesome plain somewhere, with only the stars and many insects for company. I’m sure I could find a way to de-clutter my life such that the floor of my room/house was not always covered by 100 pairs of yoga pants. I would emerge from the experience a stronger, more reflective person who, if tiny house documentaries are to be believed, is also an expert in knitting and roof repair. The problem would lie in the construction of said house. If I were in charge of hooking up my own water lines, for example, I would be dead of dysentery by now.

Enter the Ecocapsule, a new kind of micro-house powered entirely by solar and wind energy. The capsule, made by a Slovakian company called Nice Architects, comes pre-made and ready to house two adults. Its kitchenette spouts running water, the toilet flushes, and the shower flows hot. It is 14.6 feet long and 7.4 feet wide. Nice Architects will start taking pre-orders in the fall of this year, and it expects to start delivering the first units in the beginning of 2016. They’re unveiling the Ecocapsule publicly for the first time this week at the Pioneers festival in Vienna. The company suggest the Ecocapsule can be used as a portable hotel, a research station, or even a charging hub for electric vehicles.

The designers, for whom English is not a first language, also write in the release that the “capsule can be used as a urban dwelling for singles in the high-rent, high-income areas like NY or Silicone valley. It can be placed on the rooftop or vacant parking lot.” (Hear that, Google employees? Enjoy dealing with your new, pod-dwelling roof squatters!) Okay, so maybe that last one is wishful thinking. But if it works as described, the capsule might just be the perfect tiny house for those who yearn to live on the edge of an ethereal cliff but don’t want to learn how to build a composting toilet.

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May 272015
 
 May 27, 2015  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Shoeshine stand, Southeastern US 1936

China Blows Its Debt Bubble Bigger (Pesek)
Bernanke: No Risk Of Hard Landing In China (Reuters)
Greece May Delay IMF Payments Till The End Of June (Guardian)
Greece’s Creditors Must ‘Get Their Act Together’, Says Varoufakis (AFP)
Steve Keen: Varoufakis Battles ‘Divorce Lawyer’ Style Austerity Talks (CNBC)
Juncker Questions Varoufakis, Tsipras (Kathimerini)
Greek Default, European Bankruptcy (Jacques Sapir)
A Parallel Currency For Greece: Part I (VoxEU)
Half Of Greeks Cover Their Needs From Their Deposits (Kathimerini)
EU Funds At Risk Due To Project Payment Freeze By Athens (Kathimerini)
Target Of Greek Scorn Shapes Nation’s Fate As IMF’s Storm Chaser (Bloomberg)
Landlords Enjoy £14 Billion Tax Breaks In UK Buy-To-Let Expansion (Guardian)
Corruptionomics in Italy (Alessio Terzi)
Robert Mundell, Evil Genius Of The Euro (Greg Palast, 2012)
In EU, Reform Means Different Things To Member Countries (Guardian)
Big Oil Bosses’ Bonuses Linked To $1 Trillion Spending on Drilling (Guardian)
Why Finance Is Too Much Of A Good Thing (Martin Wolf)
Canada’s Economy Out Of The Woods? Think Again (CNBC)
FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to US (NY Times)
Can Organic Farming Counteract Carbon Emissions? (WSJ)

“Even among China’s many questionable credit vehicles, local-government financing vehicles are a standout.”

China Blows Its Debt Bubble Bigger (Pesek)

There are plenty of reasons one could argue China isn’t on the verge of a debt crisis: The country has $3.7 trillion in currency reserves, a closed financial system and ambitious leaders who claim to be on the case. And doesn’t the biggest rally in Chinese stocks since 2008 count for anything? But like Japan and other highly-indebted countries that have struggled to deleverage, China isn’t showing the requisite tolerance for pain. A case in point was the government’s May 15 decision to order banks to prop up the same local-government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, that it claimed to be reining in. Then the People’s Bank of China decided this week to guide the three-month Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate to its lowest level since 2008.

By manipulating “shibor” in this way, the People’s Bank of China is helping regional leaders accelerate their unsustainable borrowing. Neither of these steps will help China avoid a Japan-like crisis. Rather, they are likely to ensure a belated financial reckoning in the years ahead with the potential to shake the global economy. The encouragement of local government borrowing is especially alarming. Even among China’s many questionable credit vehicles, LGFVs are a standout. They allow provincial governments to use state-owned resources and assets, like land, to borrow from banks. LGFVs have become a potent symbol of the country’s post-2008 overindulgence in debt, with local government obligations now exceeding the entire German economy.

The Chinese government has also been urging banks to increase lending to borrowers with liquidity troubles, relaxing rules for companies to conduct off-balance-sheet borrowing and prodding the PBOC to do whatever it takes to cap local-government bond yields. Meanwhile, by allowing local government to shift their LGFV debt to fresh bonds, the Chinese government has eliminated any remaining semblance of transparency in those markets. Entrepreneurial government officials who want to raise some cash to fund dubious projects now have a license to do so without leaving a paper trail.

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Meet the expert.

Bernanke: No Risk Of Hard Landing In China (Reuters)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that China’s economic slowdown should not worry markets as there was no risk of a hard landing, and emphasized that a move to raise U.S. rates should be viewed as a positive sign for the world’s largest economy. Bernanke, who participated in an open interview at a private-sector forum in Seoul on Wednesday, said the expected U.S. rate hike would be “anticlimactic” when it happens and that there would only be minor negative impact on South Korea. “There may be some volatility. Countries like Korea are very well placed because it has very good policy, good institutions. It’s not weak or underdeveloped and doesn’t know how to handle capital flows.”

A Fed rate hike, expected by markets before the end of this year, would be something to cheer about, said Bernanke, who now works at the Brookings Institution, bond giant Pimco and hedge fund Citadel. “I don’t know when (the rate hike will come), but when that begins, that’s good news, not bad news because it means the U.S. economy is strong enough.” Bernanke also said the economic slowdown in China is necessary as it needs to change its growth model to be more sustainable in the long term. “China was growing 10% a year. And it was doing that through heavy capital investment, steel plants and so on. Very export oriented,” he said. “As the country gets more rich and sophisticated that kind of growth is no longer successful.”

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First move in a while? Promptly denied in Athens.

Greece May Delay IMF Payments Till The End Of June (Guardian)

Greece could secure vital weeks to negotiate a rescue deal with its creditors if Athens is able to delay repayments worth €1.6bn to the IMF, as critical deadlines approach. The proposal to combine four IMF repayments due in June and delay payment until the end of the month would win more time for vital debt talks that resumed on Tuesday. Greece must repay €300m on 5 June, the first of four instalments due next month. The IMF, its biggest creditor after the European Union, often waits a month before receiving funds from debtor countries. A senior eurozone official close to the talks with Athens told Reuters: “There is the possibility of putting together several payments that Greece would need to make to the IMF in the course of June and then just make one payment.”

The news agency said a second official close to the talks also acknowledged that a payment delay was a possibility. The first official said: “That’s basically a technical treasury exercise and they could tell the IMF that this is how they want to do it and the IMF would probably have to be OK with that.” Shut out of international markets, Athens has conceded that it will miss the 5 June payment without new loans from the EU, which is demanding reforms that will make the country’s debt sustainable. Last week, the interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, a longstanding ally of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said the country needed to strike a deal with its European partners within the next couple of weeks or it would default on its IMF repayments. In remarks that heightened the possibility of a default, he said: “This money will not be given and is not there to be given.”

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“It’s about time the institutions, in particular the IMF, get their act together..”

Greece’s Creditors Must ‘Get Their Act Together’, Says Varoufakis (AFP)

Greece’s creditors must “get their act together” and help produce a new loan deal for the cash-strapped country, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Tuesday. “It’s about time the institutions, in particular the IMF, get their act together, and come to an agreement with us,” the outspoken Varoufakis told CNN. Greece’s radical left government in recent days has sent conflicting messages on its finances as the state is gradually running out of money. The cash crunch has been caused by the government’s inability to agree with its international creditors on reforms that would unlock some €7.2 billion in promised bailout cash.

Over the weekend, a cabinet minister said Greece had “no money” to make a series of repayments to the IMF from June 5. “The instalments for the IMF in June are (overall) €1.6 billion. This money will not be given. There isn’t any to be given. This is a known fact,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said on Sunday. A day later, a government spokesman insisted the country would keep up with its payments for as long as it could. “To the extent that we are able to pay, we will keep on repaying these obligations,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters. Varoufakis on Tuesday denied that Greece is about to run out of money. “Our state, as a result of huge sacrifices by the Greek people, has managed to live within its means,” he said.

“We will make the payment because I have no doubt that we will have an agreement,” he added. Talks in Brussels over the Greek reform list are to resume on Tuesday. According to Athens, the two sides are still apart on tax issues, social insurance, labour rights and the size of Greece’s budget surplus. The government hopes to secure an agreement by early June at the latest.

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“Mainly his frustration, the fact that the one thing that he can’t discuss with the finance ministers of Europe is economics..”

Steve Keen: Varoufakis Battles ‘Divorce Lawyer’ Style Austerity Talks (CNBC)

Greece’s controversial finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has blamed the euro zone’s insistence on greater austerity measures as the real reason why talks with lenders are stalling, and not any lack of willingness on Greece’s part to implement reforms. In a blog post published Monday, Varoufakis said the Greek government’s negotiations with its creditors have been entirely misrepresented as “unwilling” by the world’s media when Athens is actually very keen to put economic reforms in place. “The problem is simple: Greece’s creditors insist on even greater austerity for this year and beyond – an approach that would impede recovery, obstruct growth, worsen the debt-deflationary cycle, and, in the end, erode Greeks’ willingness and ability to see through the reform agenda that the country so desperately needs,” Varoufakis said in a Project Syndicate blog post, published on Monday.

“Our government cannot – and will not – accept a cure that has proven itself over five long years to be worse than the disease,” he added. At the same time, former colleague, fellow economist and close friend of Varoufakis, Steve Keen said the finance minister was frustrated with the progress of Greece’s talks with the euro zone, adding Varoufakis had compared the talks to dealing with “divorce lawyers”. Keen, chief economist of the Institute of Dynamic Economic Analysis (IDEA) who is credited with forecasting the economic crisis from as early as 2005, said the finance ministers of Europe refused to discuss certain euro policies, according to Varoufakis.

Keen, who also heads up the school of economics, history and politics at Kingston University in London, first met Varoufakis when they both worked as lecturers at Sydney University in the late 1980s. When asked what they mainly discuss at the moment, Keen said, “Mainly his frustration, the fact that the one thing that he can’t discuss with the finance ministers of Europe is economics,” he told CNBC. “He goes inside, he is expected to be discussing what the economic impact of the policies of the euro are and how to get a better set of policies, living within the confines of the euro and the entire European Union system, and he said they simply won’t discuss it. He said it is like walking into a bunch of divorce lawyers, it is not anything like what you think finance ministers should be talking about,” Keen said, adding that he thought current austerity reforms being suggested by the euro zone were a “fantasy”.

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Way beyond his mandate. Still wondering how that became so accepted in Europe.

Juncker Questions Varoufakis, Tsipras (Kathimerini)

As Greece’s negotiations with its creditors enter the most critical phase, the country’s finance minister created fresh confusion on Tuesday with statements regarding possible tax reforms which were almost immediately revoked. Meanwhile, fuelling speculation about how much longer Varoufakis can stay in the crucial post of finance minister, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that he was “not helping the process.” “Mr Varoufakis is the finance minister of a country that has to confront huge problems and he doesn’t give the feeling that he knows that,” Juncker told the MNI news agency. Asked by the MNI reporter whether he trusted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Juncker took 14 seconds to answer “yes” but said Tsipras was becoming “increasingly responsible.”

In the interview Juncker also presented his opinions on what concessions should be made from each side in the tough negotiations while saying it was imperative to achieve a deal that includes the International Monetary Fund, which is awaiting a €300 million repayment from Greece next week. Referring to proposed changes to the Greek value-added tax system that are under discussion, Juncker said these reforms must yield €1.8 billion, or 1% of gross domestic product, in order to narrow a fiscal gap. He said pension reform was also crucial, pointing to the large proportion of early retirements in Greece in particular, while suggesting that labor reforms – another sticking point – could be postponed until the fall.

The Brussels Group negotiations resume on Wednesday with a Euro Working Group teleconference expected to take place on Thursday. In Athens, government sources said they expected a deal by the weekend so an emergency Eurogroup can be held next Tuesday. But confusion about the details such a deal would entail was deepened by Varoufakis. The minister told a press conference the government was considering introducing a “small” levy on ATM withdrawals. Two hours after the statement, his ministry said that the idea of taxing bank transactions had been proposed during negotiations but was withdrawn following “objections by the Finance Ministry.”

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“..one can see a preference emerging for an austerity which sweeps everything away wherever it passes.”

Greek Default, European Bankruptcy (Jacques Sapir)

The negotiations with Greece have been lead against any good sense or, more exactly, against any democratic good sense (which we are forced to agree is not quite the same thing). There have been attempts to discredit, to threaten, even to corrupt the Greek negotiators. These negotiations are actually being held in the greatest of obscurity. We do not have at disposal the minutes of the declarations of the participants, and one leaves it over to the press the produce “leaks“ the content of which is uncontrollable, precisely because of the lack of minutes. Yannis Varoufakis has expressed this quite well on his blog, admitting that he taped the negotiations so that one day we will know what to make out of the behavior of all parties involved.

“And maybe that we should question the European institutions, where decisions of fundamental importance are being taken, in the name of the European citizens, but minutes of which are neither taken down nor published. Secrecy and a credulous press are not good harbingers for European democracy.” Considering that Varoufakis is in reality a defender of the European project, one must understand, and measure the amplitude and the reach of his criticism. In effect, it is European democracy, not so much as a principle (already badly harmed since the 2005 refusal to take into account the referendums in France and in the Netherlands) but as a system of operational rules, with the purpose of ensuring the responsibility of actors for their acts, which is absent today. We know quite well that without responsibility there is democracy no longer.

What Varoufakis is saying, is that the European Union is no longer, in its day to day functioning, a democratic system. But the failure also concerns the aims of the European Union. In the case of Greece, one pretends officially wanting to keep the country in the Eurozone. But, in fact, and for various reasons, one can see a preference emerging for an austerity which sweeps everything away wherever it passes. Greece’s position has received the support of many economists and even the IMF has considered that on a number of points, the Greek government was right. But, nothing doing. It is all happening as if the German government, it must be said with the help of the French government which is behaving – alas – in this instance as the most eager of vassal, as the lowest of lackeys, were seeking to impose at any price upon ALL the countries of the Eurozone the death-bringing austerity which is its policy.

And one can understand that concessions to Greece would immediately entail demands emanating from Spain. In this latter country, Podemos, the party coming out of the movement of the indignés has carried away on this Sunday, May 24, a few beautiful victories which are rendering the position of the Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy, ever more fragile. But this is true also of Portugal and Italy. Concessions to Greece would signal the beginning of a wholesale putting into question of austerity, something the German government doesn’t want to happen under any pretext. For ideological reasons, but also for some very material ones.

What is profiling itself on the horizon is not a Greek default, or more exactly, not only a Greek default. We are witnessing the bankruptcy of the Europeist ideology, and of the European Union as well. Through the Greek default, we will be witnessing a defaulting of the politics of the European Union, taken hostage by Germany. So that this default will be a European default, as it will signal the end of a certain idea of the European Union and will open a deep and durable crisis within Europe. European institutions will be affected in their legitimacy. This default will be the basis of the coming revolution.

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A useful overview that includes Cochrane, Parenteau and Varoufakis’ ideas.

A Parallel Currency For Greece: Part I (VoxEU)

Absent a deal with creditors, very soon, short of cash, the Greek government might default on its debt. To prevent this from happening, and to avoid taking new extra doses of useless and painful austerity, Athens could be bound to resort to the introduction of some kind of new domestic currency – in parallel to the euro – for the government to be able to make payments to public employees and pensioners while freeing up the euros needed to pay out its creditors. The ECB has not denied this possibility. Recently, ECB sources have unofficially discussed the issue with the media in some detail (albeit anonymously), and executive board member Yves Mersch has referred to a parallel currency for Greece as one of “the exceptional tools that any government can consider if it has no other options,” noting that all these tools bear high costs.

Is this really so? Is it really the case that a parallel currency would be worse than the current medicine Greece is taking (and is set to be taking for an indefinite future)? A parallel currency per se would neither prevent the risk of Greece’s disorderly default nor automatically help it out of depression. But not all parallel currencies are born equal, and there are various ways to design a parallel currency, each bearing significantly different implications. Below we compare the proposals currently on the table and discuss how a parallel (quasi) currency could be designed to promote Greece’s economic recovery. The issue is relevant for all countries suffering a weak economic activity, with no autonomous monetary policy, and limited fiscal space.

John Cochrane (2015) considers the possibility that the Greek government issues small cuts, zero-coupon bonds as promises to repay the bearer an equivalent amount of euros at some future date (IOUs). These IOUs could take the form of paper securities or electronic book entries in bank accounts, and the government could roll them over every year, just as for any type of debt obligation. The IOUs could be used to pay public salaries, pensions, and social transfers as well as to recapitalise or lend to banks. The IOUs would trade at a discount, but if the government accepted them at face value for tax payments, the discount might not be large. Mostly, the discount would reflect the risk that Greece either reneges on its commitment to accept its own debt for tax payments or suspends the roll over, thereby defaulting on the new debt. As Cochrane notices, introducing the IOUs would amount to creating a separate or dual currency that would allow Greece not to leave the Eurozone.

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The other half doesn’t have any…

Half Of Greeks Cover Their Needs From Their Deposits (Kathimerini)

Greek salaried workers cannot buy what they want but, rather, have to limit themselves to what they can afford on their reduced disposable income, a survey by the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the Association of Working Consumers of Greece (EEKE) showed on Tuesday. Crucially, 47% of consumers surveyed said they have relied on their savings to cover their needs in the past few months, while 16% were forced to borrow to spend, as the reduction of incomes continued in 2015 for more than half of Greece’s wage-earners (53%), the survey conducted in mid-February revealed – though this is markedly better than the 70% rate recorded last September.

In terms of expectations for the current quarter, consumers (who responded just three or four weeks after the change in government) said that things could not get much worse: Three in four (75%) said incomes would remain stable (from 57% in September), 16% expected a decline (from 40% five months earlier) and 9% even expected to see their incomes rise.

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To be filed under ‘irony’?!

EU Funds At Risk Due To Project Payment Freeze By Athens (Kathimerini)

Greece runs the immediate risk of missing out on €1 billion worth of EU subsidies this year from the previous support framework, which expires on December 31, as a payment freeze by the state has blocked the proper implementation of projects that will have to finish by the end of the year. Although the subsidy absorption rate had improved considerably in recent years, reaching a level of 85%, failure to stick to that rate this year – the last of the extended 2007-2013 program – would hamper Greece’s capacity to utilize the EU funds. At greater risk are not only the highway and environmental projects but also investment plans that are being implemented by the private sector. Economic uncertainty has suspended any resolve for investing, resulting in an extensive inability to absorb the funds Brussels has set aside for Greece.

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Hit man.

Target Of Greek Scorn Shapes Nation’s Fate As IMF’s Storm Chaser (Bloomberg)

When the IMF’s point man on Greece, Poul Thomsen, rebuffed the nation’s proposal in December to unlock more bailout funding, he wound up making his job even tougher. The Greek government’s failure then to secure an agreement with its creditors helped pave the way for its defeat in January by the anti-austerity Syriza party. Instead of negotiating with Greece’s establishment, Thomsen finds himself facing a novice group whose leaders have likened the lenders’ conditions to “fiscal waterboarding.” Now the 60-year-old Danish economist is holding his ground against Syriza economic plans that fail to meet IMF criteria for putting Greece’s debt on a sustainable path.

And this time, the nation’s membership in the euro and the IMF’s credibility hang in the balance as Greece runs low on cash and European leaders look to the fund’s blessing before disbursing more bailout money. The situation has Thomsen, whose thesis adviser was an architect of the euro, in the role of helping decide the currency’s fate. Thomsen has been closely involved with the Greek bailout since its inception in 2010, and often represents the fund at meetings of euro-area finance ministers, where officials from the European Commission and ECB also typically attend. Those two institutions and the IMF form the so-called troika of Greek creditors.

“That deal in December was a hugely missed opportunity,” said Martin Edwards, an international-relations professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, who has researched IMF lending programs. “They moved from having a moderately cooperative government to one that wasn’t going to be in their corner. This is a problem of their own devising.”

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“A fraction of this amount would go a long way towards fixing our housing shortage, and giving millions of priced-out families and young people the chance of a stable home.”

Landlords Enjoy £14 Billion Tax Breaks In UK Buy-To-Let Expansion (Guardian)

Landlords enjoyed a record £14bn in tax breaks in 2013, according to figures revealing the expansion of the UK’s buy-to-let market in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Some £6.3bn was declared against the cost of mortgage interest alone in the 2012-13 financial year, according to information obtained by the Guardian from HMRC through a freedom of information request. The figures also reveal that the number of landlords has increased by more than one-third over the past six years. In the 2012-13 financial year, 2.1 million taxpayers declared income from property, up from 1.5 million in 2007-08.

The anti-homelessness charity Shelter has called for the government to conduct an urgent review of the tax treatment of landlords, who can also deduct the cost of insurance, maintenance and repairs, utility bills, legal fees and other expenses from their income. Owner-occupiers are not entitled to the same privileges. In response to the figures, Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “In the context of looming welfare cuts and a dramatic shortage of homes, all those struggling to keep up with sky-high housing costs will be shocked to hear that a massive £14bn has been given in tax breaks for landlords in just a year.

“A fraction of this amount would go a long way towards fixing our housing shortage, and giving millions of priced-out families and young people the chance of a stable home. “In the Queen’s speech the new government must start to set out a comprehensive plan that will finally build the homes this country desperately needs, and an urgent review of these huge tax breaks must be part of this.”

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Masters of corruption.

Corruptionomics in Italy (Alessio Terzi)

In line with its National Reform Programme for the period 2015-16, Matteo Renzi’s government obtained parliament’s approval on a new anti-corruption law on May 21. We document the sheer size of corruption in Italy and argue that tackling it is not only a matter of fairness, but also crucial to boost the country’s potential output after three years of recession and almost two decades of stagnation. Experience from past success cases suggests that only forceful and comprehensive actions will succeed in bringing corruption under control.

The problem of corruption in Italy is real and large. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the most widely used indicator of corruption, shows how Italy occupies the last place in Europe and 69th in the world, on par with Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. This picture is confirmed by other organisations. The World Bank’s indicator for Control of Corruption ranks Italy 95th out of 215 countries, again neck and neck with Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria. The WEF ranks Italy 102nd out of 144 countries on indicators related to ethics and corruption.

The economic consequences of corruption can be dissected in two classes: static and dynamic. Statically, corruption leads to the creation of deadweight losses, as it drives prices above their marginal cost of production. This implies a loss for both the public (e.g. in the form of investment projects being more expensive) and the private sector (e.g. in a bureaucratic procedure costing more to execute). The Italian Court of Auditors estimates these direct costs of corruption to be in the order of magnitude of €60bn per year, equivalent to roughly 4% of the country’s GDP.

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A timely reminder: “..when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.”

Robert Mundell, Evil Genius Of The Euro (Greg Palast, 2012)

The idea that the euro has “failed” is dangerously naive. The euro is doing exactly what its progenitor – and the wealthy 1%-ers who adopted it – predicted and planned for it to do. That progenitor is former University of Chicago economist Robert Mundell. The architect of “supply-side economics” is now a professor at Columbia University, but I knew him through his connection to my Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, back before Mundell’s research on currencies and exchange rates had produced the blueprint for European monetary union and a common European currency. Mundell, then, was more concerned with his bathroom arrangements. Professor Mundell, who has both a Nobel Prize and an ancient villa in Tuscany, told me, incensed:

“They won’t even let me have a toilet. They’ve got rules that tell me I can’t have a toilet in this room! Can you imagine?” As it happens, I can’t. But I don’t have an Italian villa, so I can’t imagine the frustrations of bylaws governing commode placement. But Mundell, a can-do Canadian-American, intended to do something about it: come up with a weapon that would blow away government rules and labor regulations. (He really hated the union plumbers who charged a bundle to move his throne.) “It’s very hard to fire workers in Europe,” he complained. His answer: the euro. The euro would really do its work when crises hit, Mundell explained. Removing a government’s control over currency would prevent nasty little elected officials from using Keynesian monetary and fiscal juice to pull a nation out of recession.

“It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians,” he said. “[And] without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” He cited labor laws, environmental regulations and, of course, taxes. All would be flushed away by the euro. Democracy would not be allowed to interfere with the marketplace – or the plumbing. [..] The supply-side economics pioneered by Mundell became the theoretical template for Reaganomics – or as George Bush the Elder called it, “voodoo economics”: the magical belief in free-market nostrums that also inspired the policies of Mrs Thatcher. Mundell explained to me that, in fact, the euro is of a piece with Reaganomics: “Monetary discipline forces fiscal discipline on the politicians as well.” And when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.

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Which is why the EU has no future.

In EU, Reform Means Different Things To Member Countries (Guardian)

The most over-used word in Brussels is “reform”. There is not a leader in the EU who does not urge reform of the union. The trouble is they all mean different things when they declaim the r-word. A German leader urges reform and means belt-tightening, structural change, balanced budgets in the push for global competitiveness. If you’re a French or Italian leader, reform means less austerity, more public spending, policies geared to growth not contraction, to jobs and not more unemployment. And David Cameron, who couches his referendum campaign in the need to reform the EU, of course, means a new deal for Britain.

Reform means concessions to UK exceptionalism in the EU, with 27 countries recognising and adjusting to Britain’s uniqueness in Europe. In the arguments about the looming renegotiation of Britain’s position in the EU, the emphasis until now has been on form rather than substance, the shape that a deal might take rather than what it might bring. This has focused on the calls for reopening the EU treaties, changing the terms of British EU membership, conferring a new legal order on that status. It is still not clear what might happen because Cameron has been deliberately vague about what he wants, exploring what the others – by the other 27 leaders, Cameron usually means Angela Merkel – might be prepared to give.

Cameron’s argument is that treaty change is necessary because of the impact of the euro crisis, that the eurozone needs a radical shift towards greater political and fiscal integration to shore up the single currency. Of course, Cameron speaks with a forked tongue because his argument is aimed at exploiting that renegotiation to rewrite the terms of British membership. Treaty change in any major way will not happen. It is too difficult. It will take too long. And eurozone leaders are also intensely irritated by the lecturing from Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, about how to put their house in order.

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Ain’t we smart?

Big Oil Bosses’ Bonuses Linked To $1 Trillion Spending on Drilling (Guardian)

Bosses at the world’s big five oil companies have been showered with bonus payouts linked to a $1tn crescendo of spending on fossil fuel exploration and extraction over nine years, according to Guardian analysis of company reports. The unprecedented push to bring untapped reserves into production, and to exploit new and undiscovered fields, involves some of the most complex feats of engineering ever attempted. It also reflects how confident Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP are that demand will remain high for decades to come.

The big oil groups are pressing ahead with investments despite the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimating that two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground to prevent the earth from warming 2C above pre-industrial levels – a proposed temperature limit beyond which scientists warn of spiralling and irreversible climate change. Multi-billion-dollar capital projects amount to huge, long-term bets by the big five that exorbitant costs associated with unlocking hydrocarbon reserves in some of the most inaccessible locations on the planet can eventually be recouped and converted into profits. Bonuses for chief executives at all five firms are tied to the achievement of delivery milestones in the construction and deployment of such projects.

Shell’s Ben van Beurden, for example, last year received a pay deal worth $32.2m, including bonuses linked to delivering “a high proportion of flagship projects on time and on budget”. These are thought to include four platforms floating 1,000 metres or more above deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Guinea and South China Sea. Similarly, BP’s Bob Dudley was awarded a pay deal worth $15.3m, with bonuses linked to seven “major projects”, thought to include Sunrise, a tar sands joint venture in Canada, as well as projects in Angola, Azerbaijan, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea.

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“The first is direct damage: an unsustainable credit-fuelled boom, say. Another is indirect damage that results from a breakdown in trust in a financial arrangements..”

Why Finance Is Too Much Of A Good Thing (Martin Wolf)

An organised society offers two ways of becoming rich. The normal way has been to exercise monopoly power. Historically, monopoly control over land, usually seized by force, has been the main route to wealth. A competitive market economy offers a socially more desirable alternative: invention and production of goods and services. Alas, it is also possible to extract rents in markets. The financial sector with its complexity and implicit subsidies is in an excellent position to do so. But such practices do not only shift money from a large number of poorer people to a smaller number of richer ones. It may also gravely damage the economy.

This is the argument of Luigi Zingales of Chicago Booth School, a strong believer in free markets, in his presidential address to the American Finance Association. The harm takes two forms. The first is direct damage: an unsustainable credit-fuelled boom, say. Another is indirect damage that results from a breakdown in trust in a financial arrangements, due to crises, pervasive “duping”, or both. Prof Zingales emphasises the indirect costs. He argues that a vicious circle may emerge between public outrage, rent extraction and back to yet more outrage. When outrage is high, it is difficult to maintain prompt and unbiased settlement of contracts. Without public support, financiers must seek political protection. But only those who enjoy large rents can afford the lobbying.

Thus, in the face of public resentment, only rent-extracting finance – above all, the mightiest banks – survive. Inevitably, this further fuels the outrage. None of this is to deny that finance is essential to any civilised and prosperous society. On the contrary, it is the very importance of finance that makes the abuses so dangerous. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that a rise in credit relative to gross domestic product initially raises economic growth. But this relationship appears to reverse once credit exceeds about 100% of GDP. Other researchers have shown that rapid credit growth is a significant predictor of a crisis.

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Beware housedold debt, hiding behind the housing bubble.

Canada’s Economy Out Of The Woods? Think Again (CNBC)

The state of Canada’s finances is back in focus this week with economists questioning whether the country has managed to combat a worrying rise in private debt. An independent policy think tank, called the Fraser Institute, made headlines last Wednesday when it described concerns as “overblown,” adding that there was little evidence that Canadian households were irresponsibly borrowing too much. However, that argument is now being challenged by David Madani, an economist focused on the north American nation at Capital Economics. He called the research “misleading” as it only showed the payments on debt interest, not the principal repayments which reduce the original loan amount.

“Principal repayments often represent a large portion of debt obligations, especially when it comes to housing mortgage debt,” he said in a note released on Monday. “Should market interest rates rise over the next several years, as we anticipate, household debt obligations will become much more onerous.” Canada’s economy has seen house prices and debt levels continue to climb despite the global financial crash of 2008. Former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, warned of elevated household debt levels on several occasions during his tenure.

New statistics in March showed that Canadian households held roughly C$1.63 ($1.32) of credit market debt for every dollar of disposable income in the fourth quarter of 2014 – a record high, according to Statistics Canada who published the data. The country has also had to deal with a dramatic fall in the price of oil with its economy very much reliant on the commodity. The central bank delivered a rate cut in January and market participants are gearing up for another policy meeting this week. The current governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, said last week that this policy was “working” and that the cut would benefit households with a mortgage.

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Question: how did the NY times know where and when the arrests were going to take place?

FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to US (NY Times)

Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges. As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. They went to the front desk to get keys and proceeded upstairs to the rooms. The arrests were carried out peacefully, with at least two men being ushered out of the hotel without handcuffs. One FIFA official, Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, was led by the authorities from his room to a side-door exit of the hotel. He was allowed to bring his luggage, which was adorned with FIFA logos.

The charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, which wields enormous power and does its business largely in secret. The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give him a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday. Prosecutors planned to unseal an indictment against more than 10 officials, not all of whom are in Zurich, law enforcement officials said. Among them are Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, a vice president of the executive committee; Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who is also an executive committee vice president and until recently was the president of South America’s soccer association; and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former member of the executive committee who has been accused of numerous ethical violations.

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It can produce enough food for everyone, while at the same time cutting CO2 and toxicity in our food. It can not generate gigantic profits fro Big Ag and the chemical industry, though.

Can Organic Farming Counteract Carbon Emissions? (WSJ)

Organic practices could counteract the world’s yearly carbon dioxide output while producing the same amount of food as conventional farming, a new study suggests. The white paper by the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for the use of organic practices, says that using “regenerative organic agriculture,” such as low or no-tillage, cover crops and crop rotation, will keep photosynthesized carbon dioxide in the soil instead of returning it to the atmosphere. Citing 75 studies from peer-reviewed journals, including its own 33-year Farm Systems Trial, Rodale Institute concluded that if all cropland were converted to the regenerative model it would sequester 40% of annual CO2 emissions; changing global pastures to that model would add another 71%, effectively overcompensating for the world’s yearly carbon dioxide emissions.

Michel Cavigelli, a research soil scientist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, which has a slightly different 19-year side-by side study, says his research also shows that organic soil has higher carbon content than conventional but warns that the devil is in the details. For example, the USDA study tills the organic plot and that might cause the manure’s carbon to stay deeper in the soil. But the question organic farming always comes back to is whether farming without synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms is really a viable way to feed the planet. Rodale Institute believes it can do that and better. In the longest-running study of its kind, Rodale’s Farming Systems Trial compares organic farming with conventional farming, by farming neighboring plots just as organic farmers and traditional farmers would.

That means its organic farming plot utilizes techniques like crop rotation and cover crops while the conventional plot uses common synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Both organic and conventional fields were divided into tilled and no-till areas to reflect that farmers use both practices. The findings show that organic farming yields are lower than conventional in the first few years, while conventional crops do better in the first years than they do later on. Over time the production equals out and with organic outperforming conventional farming production in years of drought (organic corn yields 31% more than conventional corn during drought).

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May 112015
 
 May 11, 2015  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Wharf, Federal artillery, and schooners, City Point, Virginia 1865

ECB’s Nowotny: Greece Much More Political Than Economic Question (Reuters)
Greece’s ‘War Cabinet’ Prepares To Battle EU Creditors As Anger Mounts (AEP)
IMF and ECB Loom Large Over Greece’s Debt Talks (NY Times)
How The ECB Became The Real Villain Of Greece’s Debt Drama (Telegraph)
No Solution In Sight For Greek Crisis – Tsipras’ Impossible Dilemma (Guardian)
EU’s Unraveling Plans For Greek Debt Risks Split Among Creditors (Bloomberg)
IMF Works With Greece’s Neighbors to Contain Default Risks (WSJ)
It’s Not Just Greece, China’s Retreat Threatens European Bonds (Bloomberg)
Farewell To The United Kingdom- Let It Bleed (Tariq Ali)
Cameron Must Accept SNP’s Anti-Austerity Mandate, Or The UK Is Finished (IBT)
Sturgeon Says SNP Is Real Opposition in Commons Amid Labour Woes (Bloomberg)
Anti-Austerity Group Plans Major Protest Outside Bank Of England (Guardian)
The Economist’s Racist Headline Must be Retracted Immediately (Bill Black)
Goldilocks Unemployment: A Disgusting Bowl Of Porridge (Mark St.Cyr)
Italy Must Become A Civilised Country With A Citizen’s Income (Grillo)
The Killing of Osama bin Laden (Seymour Hersh)
Inequality: How Rich Countries Can Make A Difference (Ken Rogoff)
EU Plans Refugee Quotas Forcing States To ‘Share’ Burden (Guardian)

It was always just politics.

ECB’s Nowotny: Greece More Political Than Economic Question (Reuters)

Any solution to Greece’s financial woes is much more of a political than an economic question, European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny said on Monday, as eurozone finance ministers meet to continue Greek debt talks. Top officials have voiced little optimism about a breakthrough at the meeting. Nowotny declined to suggest a way out of the impasse, reiterating that the ECB’s role was to ensure price and financial stability. Referring to Monday’s Eurogroup meeting he said: “It would be premature to give any details.”

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“We have agreed on a tougher strategy to stop making compromises. We were unified and we have a spring our step once again..”

Greece’s ‘War Cabinet’ Prepares To Battle EU Creditors As Anger Mounts (AEP)

Greece’s “war cabinet” has resolved to defy the European creditor powers after a nine-hour meeting on Sunday, ensuring a crescendo of brinkmanship as the increasingly bitter fight comes to a head this month. Premier Alexis Tsipras and the leading figures of his Syriza movement agreed to defend their “red lines” on pensions and collective bargaining and prepare for battle whatever the consequences, deeming the olive-branch policy of recent weeks to have reached a dead end. “We have agreed on a tougher strategy to stop making compromises. We were unified and we have a spring our step once again,” said one participant. The Syriza government knows that this an extremely high-risk strategy. The Greek treasury is already empty and emergency funds seized from local authorities and state entities will soon run out.

Greece’s mayors warned over the weekend that they would not release any more funds to the central government. The Greek finance ministry must pay the International Monetary Fund €750m (£544m) on Tuesday, the first of an escalating set of deadlines running into August. “We have enough money to pay the IMF this week but not enough to get through to the end of the month. We all know that,” said one minister, speaking to The Telegraph immediately after the emotional conclave. The war council came a day before Greece’s three-headed team – deputy premier Giannis Dragasakis, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and deputy foreign minister Euclid Tsakalotos – are due to go to Brussels for a crucial meeting with Eurogroup ministers Time is running out for a deal opening the way for the disbursement of €7.2bn under an interim agreement, due to expire in June.

It is even harder to see how the two sides can narrow their enormous differences on a new bail-out programme, which must be intricately negotiated and then approved by the parliaments of the creditor states. German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said over the weekend that Greece risked spinning into default unless there was a breakthrough soon. “Such processes also have irrational elements. Experiences elsewhere in the world have shown that a country can suddenly slide into insolvency,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine.
Greek officials retort that this is a conceptual misunderstanding by the German and North European authorities. Syriza officials say they may trigger the biggest sovereign default deliberately if pushed too far, concluding that it is a better outcome than national humiliation and the betrayal of their electoral vows to the Greek people.

“If it comes to the crunch, Greece must default and go its way,” said Costas Lapavitzas, a Syriza MP and member of the party’s standing committee. “There is no point raiding pension funds to buy time. We just exhaust ourselves for no purpose.” “We went up and down Greece in the elections urging the voters to throw out the old government. The question now is whether we mean what we say, and whether we have the courage of our convictions.”

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“At some point, you have to give up this orthodoxy of saying, ‘This is the right way of doing things.’ This is an unusual case.”

IMF and ECB Loom Large Over Greece’s Debt Talks (NY Times)

Greek leaders have fought fiercely in recent months with politicians from other European countries over relief on Greece’s vast debt load. Yet the power to decide the fate of Greece lies not just in the hands of these national governments, but also with unelected officials at two powerful institutions: the ECB and the IMF. Each is a creditor to Greece, and each is expecting the country to repay it billions of dollars of debt in the coming weeks. The influence of the ECB and the IMF will be felt behind the scenes on Monday, when finance ministers from Greece and other European nations meet in their latest effort to break an impasse that is paralyzing the Greek economy and frightening global markets. Greece is expected to repay €750 million to the monetary fund on Tuesday as scheduled.

For the rest of the year, however, its debt repayments to the fund and the central bank total nearly €12 billion. The politicians at the meeting are racing against the clock to forge a deal that would give Greece enough money to repay both this summer. In theory, both institutions could greatly ease the situation by agreeing to delay repayment, or even forgiving some of their Greek debt. But they see themselves as a special class of creditors — so-called lenders of last resort — that should not write off the money they lend. Still, some sovereign debt specialists say that there is a case for the monetary fund to take a hit on its Greek loans. The institution, they assert, backed the policies that deflated Greece’s economy, making it harder for Greece to service its debt.

“There is no question in my mind that the I.M.F. needs to be part of the debt forgiveness,” said Ashoka Mody, a visiting professor at Princeton and formerly a senior official at the fund. “At some point, you have to give up this orthodoxy of saying, ‘This is the right way of doing things.’ This is an unusual case.” Debt forgiveness from the central bank has even broader support from outside investors and economists because the bank avoided taking a loss on €27 billion worth of Greek bonds in its portfolio while private sector investors lost more than half of their money in the 2012 Greek debt restructuring. Still, there has been no sign that either institution is considering yielding on its payment schedule.

If there are no concrete signs of progress in the talks Monday, a majority of the central bank’s governing council would be in favor of placing additional restrictions on lending to Greek banks as early as this week, people briefed on the council’s discussions said. “Their interest is to get their money back,” said Zsolt Darvas, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels. Greek officials, meanwhile, have contemplated steps that would test the institutions’ hard-line stance. Discussions in the Greek government have included assessing the pros and cons of not paying the central bank and the monetary fund. In such a case, which was described as a last-ditch option and not a plan for action, Greece would keep paying debts owed to private sector bondholders and other European governments.

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“In their attempt to respect their duties, the ECB’s policymakers have made themselves political..”

How The ECB Became The Real Villain Of Greece’s Debt Drama (Telegraph)

When a rogue protester scaled the platform occupied by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at his monthly press conference in April, the usually unruffled Italian could be forgiven for being paralysed by fear. Confronted with female activist shouting “end the ECB dictatorship”, Mr Draghi was showered with pamphlets bearing a list of inchoate threats, accusing the central bank of “autocratic hegemony” and Mr Draghi of being an evil “master of the universe”. As she was swiftly whisked away by ECB henchman, the Twittersphere was soon abuzz with rumours of the identity and possible motivation behind Mr Draghi’s “confetti-bomber.” As it turned out, 21-year old German Josephine Witt, was not a disgruntled Greek citizen demanding answers from the ECB chief.

But the feminist agitator was a stark reminder that technocratic central bankers are not immune from public anger over eurozone economic policy. In the last three months, the Frankfurt-based ECB has become the target of vociferous criticism for its handling of the Greek crisis. Weeks before the confetti attack, Mr Draghi was heckled by a Greek journalist at a press conference in Nicosia. Before that, he was the subject of a tirade from a Greek MEP during an address at the European Parliament. On both occasions, the Italian was shouted down as he was forced to defend his institution’s role in Greece’s debt drama. “In their attempt to respect their duties, the ECB’s policymakers have made themselves political,” Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told an audience of academics and economists in Paris last month.

The refrain strikes at the heart of his government’s complaints against the notionally independent ECB. As one of Greece’s three main creditors – alongside the IMF and the European Commission – the central bank is unique in wielding the power that can ultimately force the country out of the single currency. Despite not officially being party to the political negotiations over extending Greece’s bail-out, the ECB has made a number of discretionary moves since the Syriza government was elected just over 100 days ago. When he first swept into power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appealed to Mr Draghi to provide some form of bridging finance to keep the country afloat as he sought to re-write the terms of Greece’s rescue programme. It soon became clear the Italian would not be playing ball. Not only has the ECB rebuffed requests for temporary financial relief, but its disciplinarian stance has led to accusations that it is acting ‘ultra vires’ – taking politically motivated action outside of its legal remit to ensure financial stability in the eurozone.

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“It’s not in anyone’s interests to have a crisis now..”

No Solution In Sight For Greek Crisis – Tsipras’ Impossible Dilemma (Guardian)

“Nothing will change this week,” said Aris Karnachoritis confidently as the waitress handed out bottles of beer and frosted glasses to him and his friends. Constantinos Neocleous, sitting beside him at a table on the beach at Vouliagmeni near Athens, nodded in agreement. “It’s not in anyone’s interests to have a crisis now,” he said. Beyond the beach lay shallow waters of radiant turquoise. Children paddled. Teenagers romped. And from nearby, where a group of young men were playing beach tennis, came the comforting “plock-plock” sound of bat on ball. The talks between Alexis Tsipras’s government and its creditors have dragged on for so long that it has become hard to believe there will ever be a decisive make-or-break juncture.

And never has that been harder to believe than now, with the arrival of summer and the entrancing distractions it brings to a country like Greece. There is a striking disconnection in Athens between the blithe lack of concern that the government evinces, and which it has successfully communicated to much of the public, and the objective seriousness of Greece’s plight. This week Greece and the eurozone face a week of fresh nail-biting uncertainty as the single currency area’s finance ministers prepare to report on progress towards an agreement with Tsipras’s government. On Tuesday Greece is due to repay €770m (£560m) to the IMF. A deal with its creditors on moves to liberalise the economy would give it access to the remaining €7.2bn from a €240bn bailout.

But it has refused to budge on two “red-line” demands – for pension cuts and looser rules on hiring and firing – and hopes of reaching an agreement in time for a meeting of the finance ministers on Monday have gradually seeped away. On Thursday Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, promised that the IMF would nevertheless get its money. Armageddon – a Greek default on its borrowings followed in all likelihood by exit from the eurozone – may once again have been postponed. But for how long?

Beyond the IMF deadline loom far bigger repayments the government has to make to the ECB in the summer. Yet it is already so desperately short of funds that it has ordered local authorities and public bodies to turn over their cash reserves to the central bank. “We have only the money to pay for this month,” conceded Karnachoritis, a young civil engineer, as he sipped his beer. “But that has been the situation for the past two months.” Like his companions, he thought it would take several more months to reach an agreement. “I don’t believe anything will happen before September,” he said.

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“The uneasy relationship with the Eurogroup, which wanted IMF rigor in bailout reviews but not its debt sustainability and financing criteria, is looking increasingly unsustainable..” “Just like the Greek debt.”

EU’s Unraveling Plans For Greek Debt Risks Split Among Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece’s ballooning debt load is casting doubt over the IMF’s role in future bailouts. The IMF typically needs debt to be sustainable to provide more funds and, with the economy faltering, Greece is heading in the wrong direction. Creditors preparing for talks on Greece this week have just one positive scenario and three negative ones, the most extreme of which is that the government starts paying employees in IOUs, German newspaper Die Welt reported. The European Commission forecast last week that the country’s debt will be 174% of gross domestic product next year, 15 percentage points above the level projected in February. And even that assumes Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reaches a deal to get previously agreed aid flowing.

The projection means that if there’s an agreement, the Greek leader is still going to hit bureaucratic and political resistance to longer-term support. While the euro area has denied debt relief to Greece and insisted Tsipras observe the terms of the existing bailout, the IMF has signaled its concern over the deterioration in the country’s finances. “The uneasy relationship with the Eurogroup, which wanted IMF rigor in bailout reviews but not its debt sustainability and financing criteria, is looking increasingly unsustainable,” said Michael Michaelides a rates strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc. “Just like the Greek debt.” Asked about the implications of the Commission’s forecasts for Greece, IMF spokeswoman Angela Gaviria referred to a November 2012 statement in which Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Greece’s debt was expected to decrease to 124% of GDP by 2020.

As Greece’s chances of hitting the target recede, it makes it more difficult for the IMF to justify extending additional funds because the Washington-based lender is prohibited by its own rules from lending to countries with unsustainable debts. If the euro area concedes that the debt burden is not sustainable, that would add weight to Greece’s appeal for more debt relief, an offer that its creditors have dangled since 2012 as an incentive to make good on the terms of its bailout. Greece could win a cut in its interest payment and an extension of its repayment period if it sticks to the deal and delivers a primary budget surplus.

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How the IMF grabs more control.

IMF Works With Greece’s Neighbors to Contain Default Risks (WSJ)

The IMF is working with national authorities in southeastern Europe on contingency plans for a Greek default, a senior fund official said—a rare public admission that regulators are preparing for the potential failure to agree on continued aid for Athens. Greek banks are big players in some of its neighbors’ financial systems. In Bulgaria, subsidiaries of National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Piraeus Bank and Eurobank Ergasias own around 22% of banking assets, roughly the same as Greek banks own in Macedonia. Greek banks are also active in Romania, Albania and Serbia. “We are in a dialogue with all of these countries,” said Jörg Decressin, deputy director of the IMF’s Europe department. “We are talking with them about the contingency plans they have, what measures they can take.”

As part of the discussions, the IMF has asked national supervisors to ensure that subsidiaries of Greek banks have enough assets that they can exchange for emergency financing at their own central banks—in case financing from their parent institutions is suddenly cut off—and that deposit-insurance funds are at sufficient levels, he said. Negotiations between Greece and its international creditors—the other eurozone countries and the IMF—have been advancing slowly, despite warnings from Greek officials that the government is close to running out of money. “It would be foolish for anyone in the policy world not to be worried at this stage,” Mr. Decressin said.

European officials expect no breakthroughs at a meeting of the currency union’s finance ministers on Monday. That means Greek lenders will remain under pressure, dependent on relatively expensive liquidity from the Greek central bank and at risk of bank runs in case doubts emerge over their ability to pay out deposits. Overall, the IMF believes that subsidiaries of Greek banks in southeastern Europe should be able to withstand the failure of their parent companies. “Our assessment of the Greek banks in that region is that they are fairly liquid; we have not seen major deposit outflow,” Mr. Decressin said. Because they are subsidiaries, rather than branches, the lenders have to hold their own capital buffers and can refinance themselves at national central banks. That would make it easier to split them off from their parent banks if necessary.

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Elephant, meet room.

It’s Not Just Greece, China’s Retreat Threatens European Bonds (Bloomberg)

European policy makers will be focused on Greek aid talks in Brussels on Monday. Investors may need to look further afield to fully explain the sell-off in the continent’s sovereign debt market. China’s foreign currency reserves had their biggest quarterly drop on record in the first three months of the year and the yuan is trading at the closest to fair value since 2010, according to Goldman Sachs. That means less demand for assets in dollars and euros from the world’s biggest creditor. The Chinese central bank has amassed $3.73 trillion in currency reserves over the past decade in a bid to hold down the value of the yuan and underpin the competitiveness of its exporters.

As the government in Beijing changes gear, cultivating domestic demand to sustain economic growth, it may affect European bond markets just as much as the Greek efforts to win better terms from creditors. “It’s quite clear that China’s foreign exchange reserves can’t grow like before,” said Li Jie, head of the foreign-exchange reserve research center at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing. “There will be fewer and fewer funds available from China for European treasury bonds.” The People’s Bank of China said Sunday it will reduce the one-year lending rate by a quarter of a%age point to 5.1%, in a further sign of the shift in focus.

Germany’s 10-year borrowing costs almost quadrupled over the past three weeks as investors turned against negative yields and those on Italian and Spanish securities breached 2% for the first time this year on May 7. Bonds fell even as the European Central Bank pressed ahead with its €1.1 trillion program of government debt purchases. Euro-area finance ministers are meeting in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s plans to meet the terms of its bailout and obtain the aid it needs to stave off a default.

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View from the left.

Farewell To The United Kingdom- Let It Bleed (Tariq Ali)

In England the third party in terms of number of votes cast is UKIP. It gained votes from both Labour and Conservatives, but its 4 million votes (12.6%) obtained just a single seat in Parliament. The Greens with over a million also have a single MP. The absurdity of an electoral system that gives the Conservatives an overall majority (331 seats) with 36.9% of the votes cast, Labour (232 seats) with 30.4% reducing the other English parties to nothingness is clearly long past its sell by date. A serious campaign for a proportional system is needed. The first-past-the-post, winner-takes all system is a malignant cancer that needs to be extracted from the body politic.

What of English radicalism? It’s not a pure accident that a right-wing party like UKIP has become the third force. The effective collaboration between the major trades unions and the Labour leadership meant that building social movements to challenge privatizations and demanding public ownership for utilities, more public housing, local democracy, and the renationalization of the railways fell by the wayside. No other force was capable of organizing an extra-parliamentary base for a rejection and reversal of extreme centre policies. This is the challenge that now confronts all those who want a strategic break with the Thatcher-Blair consensus in England. Not an easy task. Possibilities, however, exist but they require forces on the ground to help create a new movement that speaks for the oppressed and exploited.

The Labour leadership contest is a no-hoper for the Left. The names being touted are worse than useless. What would help a great deal is if early in the new parliament, the handful of left MPs effectively broke from Labour and established a new, radical caucus to link up with forces outside. I doubt that they will and here the Bennite tradition is, to put it at its mildest, unhelpful. Its attachment to Labour at a time when the party broke with its own social-democratic past and opted for a full-blown capitalism was wrong-headed and led to an impasse.

We need an alliance of all radical forces to build an anti-capitalist movement in England. A movement that is both new but also prepared to search the past for help: the Grand Remonstrance of the 17th century, the Chartist rebellions of the 19th century, the more recent developments in South America, Greece and Spain also offer a way forward. As for the Labour Party, I think we should let it bleed. Here the Scottish route offers hope.

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More or less what I was saying yesterday.

Cameron Must Accept SNP’s Anti-Austerity Mandate, Or The UK Is Finished (IBT)

The electoral divergence between Scotland and England is, of course, even more extreme this time. The Tory government has just one seat in Scotland, compared to the 10 Thatcher was left with after the 1987 rout. The other seats are not dominated by a Labour party content to bide its time until it can build a UK-wide majority, but by a pro-independence party that will not accept the legitimacy of Tory rule unless the “vow” which secured the No vote in last year’s referendum is implemented in full. That perhaps wouldn’t pose such a problem for Cameron if the policies that he has received a clear English mandate to implement weren’t so utterly irreconcilable with the policies that the SNP have won an even clearer (in fact much, much clearer) Scottish mandate for.

In Scotland, the democratic will is for an end for austerity, in England it is for swingeing cuts. The ‘One Nation’ rule that Cameron rather oddly promises is almost a contradiction in terms when the nation in question has just spoken with two distinct voices. If London rule is to be maintained, the only way of respecting the Scottish people’s wishes is to exempt them from the austerity imposed on everyone else. That is surely inconceivable. Ironically, a compromise to cover the whole UK probably could have been reached if a Labour minority government had taken office with the support of the SNP.

Cameron chose to whip up irrational fear about that possibility in England, and now he must live with the consequences. In the light of Thursday’s result, the circle can only be squared by constitutional change. Any previous distinction between Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for an end to austerity and for more powers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament has suddenly vanished, because under a Tory majority government the first is literally impossible without the second.

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But can she speak for all Britons?

Sturgeon Says SNP Is Real Opposition in Commons Amid Labour Woes (Bloomberg)

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon staked a claim for her nationalists to be seen as the effective opposition to David Cameron’s Tories in the U.K. Parliament as Labour seeks a new leader in the wake of its election defeat. “Given that Labour are entering a period of introspection, questioning their very purpose in life, the SNP is going to be the principal opposition to the Conservatives,” Sturgeon said on BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show” Sunday. “There are people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who will be as disappointed as people in Scotland that we’re looking at a majority Conservative government. We can be a voice for them.”

Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party took 50% of the vote and 56 of the 59 House of Commons seats in Scotland in Thursday’s election, in which the Tories unexpectedly won a parliamentary majority. Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned after the party’s defeat, which saw it lose 40 seats in Scotland. SNP support surged after the failure to achieve a majority for independence from the U.K. in September’s referendum. Cameron “cannot act now as if it’s business as usual in Scotland” and will have to offer the semi-autonomous Scottish government and the Parliament in Edinburgh more additional powers than have already been promised in the wake of the referendum, Sturgeon said.

The prime minister said in a victory speech on Friday that he intends to implement his devolution plans for Scotland as quickly as possible, “to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world with important powers over taxation.” “Scotland voted overwhelmingly for change and I think that has to be heeded,” she said, repeating calls for “priority devolution of powers over business taxes, employment, the minimum wage, welfare.” Another independence referendum is not “on the immediate horizon,” Sturgeon said. “What we have to do now is make sure we get the best deal for Scotland within the Westminster system.”

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The Guardian conveniently focuses on ‘disorder’.

Anti-Austerity Group Plans Major Protest Outside Bank Of England (Guardian)

The anti-austerity group behind a protest that escalated into violent clashes with riot police outside Downing Street on Saturday is planning another demonstration outside the Bank of England next month. The People’s Assembly has told campaigners to assemble “right on the doorstep of the very people who created the crisis in the first place” in central London on 20 June, sparking what could become a summer of anti-austerity protests across the UK. Hundreds of people attended the group’s impromptu demonstration outside Downing Street on Saturday after David Cameron was returned to No 10 with a Conservative majority. The protest quickly turned ugly, with green smoke bombs and tomato ketchup thrown at riot police officers in clashes that led to 15 arrests for violent disorder or assaulting police.[..]

In a Facebook post announcing its 20 June march, the People’s Assembly said it was arranging travel for supporters from across the country to the Bank of England for a demonstration that would be “bigger and bolder than ever we have done before”. More than 32,000 people on Facebook have said they will attend the rally, which would draw significant resources from both City of London police and the Metropolitan police if it is on the same scale as a 50,000-strong protest organised by the group last summer. The group says in its invitation to supporters: “With the Tories going it alone in government we know exactly what to expect. More nasty, destructive cuts to the things ordinary people care about – the NHS, the welfare state, education and public services.

“We’ll be assembling the demonstration in the heart of the City of London right on the doorstep of the very people who created the crisis in the first place, the banks and their friends in Westminster. We demand that the bankers and elite should pay for the crisis and not the vast majority who had nothing to do with it. “Now is the time to get organizing, to mobilize our communities, to prepare transport and spread the word. We need to do all that we can to make this demonstration bigger and bolder than ever we have done before.”

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English media exposed as bigots.

The Economist’s Racist Headline Must be Retracted Immediately (Bill Black)

It took exactly one day for the Tory election victory in the UK to produce the confidence among the Conservatives only remaining media organ with even a semblance of journalistic professionalism to reveal its true racism against the Scots. The Economist felt empowered to headline its article about the other electoral triumph, by the Scots, as “Ajockalypse now.” Wow, that is such a clever title. One can only imagine the back-slapping among the staff in the magazine’s halls at the ability to go full-racist given the election results. (The English have historically treated the Celts as separate “races.”) Here is a translation of the headline for a non-UK audience. “Jock” is defined in the Urban Dictionary (with a helpful example of usage after the definition):

A term used by English people to generally describe Scottish people in a derogatory fashion (was once a common male nickname within Scotland). It is now considered to verge on racism when used by a non-Scot. The Scottish equivalent for the Irish “Paddy” or “Bog-trotter”. “Those bloody Jocks are at it again with their whinging over the Barnett Formula and North Sea oil revenues.” Another major dictionary’s definition is similar. British Informal: a Scottish soldier or a soldier in a Scottish regiment. Usually Offensive. a term used to refer to or address a Scot”. The Oxford Dictionary agrees. “noun, informal , chiefly derogatory A Scotsman (often as a form of address).”

So the “cleverness” is that the once-respected magazine managed to use an ethnic slur and add an ending to it suggesting that the rise of the Scots as a political power in the House of Commons represents an “apocalypse” – a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Such fun! Let’s see what analogous fun we can have using slurs about other ethnic groups that the English have long despised. Jews, blacks, Catholics, Muslims, and Asians all have such endearing slurs that rhyme with so many words and allow “clever” word play in headlines. Oh, except if the Economist chose any of those groups it would result within the day in a retraction and apology. Celts, however, are fair game and the Scots are the Celtic target of choice today for the Tories. Indeed, Prime Minister Cameron’s paramount election strategy was demonizing the Scots as a “threat” to the English – a fact that the Economist chose to omit in favor of the myth that the Scots were on the “warpath” against the English.

The English papers were littered with other forms of “clever” ethnic slurs in the run-up to the election. “Sweaty sock” rhymes with “jock” and insults Scots as “sweaty” because they are more likely to be industrial laborers. The deliberately doubly offensive “Jockestan” – insulting the Scots and Muslims simultaneously – is a favorite of one of the UK’s prominent “journalists.” A Tory media troll whose claim to “fame” was not being chosen by the Donald as his “Apprentice” uses these slurs. She attacks the SNP leader as a “terrorist” and denounces her because she has red hair. Yes, red hair. Calling someone with red hair “ginger” is a common ad hominem insult in the UK. [..] I confess to a wicked wish that the Donald had picked her as his “Apprentice” – they richly deserve each other.

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“We now have the lowest participation rate since 1977 [..] I will tell you this: one of the words never bandied about during that period when it came to describe any jobs or employment report was “Goldilocks.”

Goldilocks Unemployment: A Disgusting Bowl Of Porridge (Mark St.Cyr)

It’s no wonder we find ourselves in this collective business environment of malaise and atrophy when people who are supposed to be informed, or anything else relating to business, use terms to describe the most recent jobs report as a “Goldilocks” print: i.e., “Not too bad – Not too good.” This term was the moniker de jure of Friday’s cadre of financial media economists, analysts, and next in rotation fund manager. Nothing more than cheerleaders to stagflation is what they’ve all proven themselves to be in my opinion than anything else. The actual print was that the economy created 223K new jobs vs expectations of 228K. Where the overall jobless rate now stands at 5.4 vs 5.5. The kicker? Not in the labor force: 93,194,000 up from 93,175,000. Let that last number sink in a moment.

We currently have over 93 Million able-bodied people without jobs – and growing. This is why it’s near incomprehensible, as well as outright disgusting to me that such a dismal showing in both the headline number as well as the onerous implications of such a downward revision to the month prior, coupled with the outright fallacy of suggesting the rate of unemployment has moved closer still to statistical “full employment” came with near giddiness and if not outright back slapping. i.e., “This is a Goldilocks print. Not too hot – not too cold. With a report like this – The Federal Reserve won’t dare raise rates and might actually have to contemplate instituting another round of QE if not outright QE4ever!” And yes; that was the reaction paraphrased across the financial media outlets. Again, personally – I found it all repulsive.

We now have the lowest participation rate since 1977 when Jimmy Carter was president. Although I was young during that period, I was around and working. (and when I wasn’t working, I was out looking daily) I will tell you this: one of the words never bandied about during that period when it came to describe any jobs or employment report was “Goldilocks.” As a matter of fact it was during that period of time the term “stagflation” came into prominence. The difference? It was used to describe an abysmal economy while hoping at some point the winds would change and we could regain our bearings to move out from under such stifling economic conditions. Today?

As these conditions have once again reared their ugly head the difference is today: these conditions are celebrated by the so-called “smart crowd” as reason to JBTFD! (just buy the dip) For this malaise sends the “right” signals to the Federal Reserve they should dare not raise interest rates off the zero bound anytime soon, and instead prolong this economic atrophy with the possible infusion of yet another round of QE. After all with economic malaise like this – NASDAQ™ 10K here we come!

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All EU countries except Italy, Greece and Hungary have one.

Italy Must Become A Civilised Country With A Citizen’s Income (Grillo)

“There are those that have said that it cannot be done, that the money’s not there, that it’s a gift to lazy people. And yet it’s enough to go round all the European capital cities to see that that’s not true. The Citizen’s Income exists in 25 of the 28 European countries (everywhere except in Italy, Greece and Hungary), even in countries with a GDP that’s just a tenth of what we have in Italy. In Spain the citizen’s income came into existence in 2008, right in the middle of the economic crisis, and it provides €532 a month to anyone with an income less than €5,000 a year. In the Netherlands people get €1,400 a month. In Ireland and Romania there’s no time limit and it keeps going until the person finds a job. In Estonia the law says that the national parliament must adjust the sum each year to allow for alterations in the cost of living.

In Finland the amount is doubled for families. In Lithuania as well as the Citizen’s Income people get their heating costs paid back by the State. In France anyone getting the Citizen’s Income has to sign an agreement that they will cooperate with the social services. In Denmark the citizen’s income is also given to those people under the age of 30 who are living with their parents. In all these countries, anyone who is underhand or who is working without declaring it, is severely punished. In Europe, the laws differ in their content. The requirements and the duration vary from country to country, but the lowest common denominator is there and it’s called the Citizen’s Income. The economic crisis has created a sea of desperation. In Italy, with the bonds brought in by Tremonti and Monti, the world of politics saved the banks, and they gave the financiers shields to protect them against the weapons that they themselves had created. The citizens were abandoned and left to their own devices.

In Europe there’s no such thing as “exited” people because they would have the Citizen’s Income. In Europe, fathers separated from their wives are not sleeping in their cars because they would have the Citizen’s Income. In Europe there are no “bamboccioni” {adult men living off their parents} because, thanks to the Citizen’s Income, they can shop for themselves without waiting for pocket money from mother. In Europe, unemployed people are not committing suicide, because after unemployment benefit ends, they get the Citizen’s Income. Are graduates sending off thousands of CVs to get their first job? While waiting for a response, those in Europe have the Citizen’s Income.

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Great, as Hersh always is.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden (Seymour Hersh)

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said. [..]

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death.

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Rogoff sounds confused here.

Inequality: How Rich Countries Can Make A Difference (Ken Rogoff)

Europe’s migration crisis exposes a fundamental flaw, if not towering hypocrisy, in the ongoing debate about economic inequality. Wouldn’t a true progressive support equal opportunity for all people on the planet, rather than just for those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised in rich countries? Many thought leaders in advanced economies advocate an entitlement mentality. But the entitlement stops at the border: though they regard greater redistribution within individual countries as an absolute imperative, people who live in emerging markets or developing countries are left out. If current concerns about inequality were cast entirely in political terms, this inward-looking focus would be understandable; after all, citizens of poor countries cannot vote in rich ones.

But the rhetoric of the inequality debate in rich countries betrays a moral certitude that conveniently ignores the billions of people elsewhere who are far worse off. One must not forget that even after a period of stagnation, the middle class in rich countries remains an upper class from a global perspective. Only about 15% of the world’s population lives in developed economies. Yet advanced countries still account for more than 40% of global consumption and resource depletion. Yes, higher taxes on the wealthy make sense as a way to alleviate inequality within a country. But that will not solve the problem of deep poverty in the developing world. Nor will it do to appeal to moral superiority to justify why someone born in the west enjoys so many advantages.

Yes, sound political and social institutions are the bedrock of sustained economic growth; indeed, they are the sine qua non of all cases of successful development. But Europe’s long history of exploitative colonialism makes it hard to guess how Asian and African institutions would have evolved in a parallel universe where Europeans came only to trade, not to conquer. Many broad policy issues are distorted when viewed through a lens that focuses only on domestic inequality and ignores global inequality. Thomas Piketty’s Marxian claim that capitalism is failing because domestic inequality is rising has it exactly backwards. When one weights all of the world’s citizens equally, things look very different. In particular, the same forces of globalization that have contributed to stagnant middle-class wages in rich countries have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty elsewhere.

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The media still talk about migrants, whereas Brussels says: “The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states.”

EU Plans Refugee Quotas Forcing States To ‘Share’ Burden (Guardian)

The EU’s executive body is to unveil radical new proposals on immigration, imposing migrant quotas on the 28 countries of the union under a distribution “key” system set by Brussels. The plan, which is supported by Germany and will be fiercely resisted by the new Conservative government, will be launched by the European commission on Wednesday in response to migrant boat crisis in the Mediterranean. The bold move by Brussels comes as the EU draws up plans for military attacks in Libya to try to curb the flow of people across the Mediterranean by targeting the trafficking networks. The EU’s top diplomat is to unveil an attempt on Monday to secure a UN mandate for armed action in Libya’s territorial waters.

Britain is drafting the UN security council resolution that would authorise the mission, senior officials in Brussels said. It would come under Italian command, have the participation of about 10 EU countries – including Britain, France, Spain and Italy – and could also drag in Nato, although there are no plans for the initial involvement of the alliance. While there is broad support within the EU for the military plans, the proposals for sharing the immigration burden are highly controversial and divisive. On Sunday night the Home Office said the plans were unacceptable to the UK, putting Cameron on a collision course with German chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders as he begins attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels ahead of a promised in/out referendum in 2017.

“The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most, but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer. We will oppose any EU commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota,” a spokesman said. The policy document, obtained by the Guardian, demands new and binding rules establishing a quota system of sharing refugees among the member states. The migration agenda declares: “The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states.” By the end of the year, Brussels is to table new legislation “for a mandatory and automatically triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU when a mass influx emerges”.

The proposals will lay bare deep divisions between national governments over immigration, with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, backing the scheme and Britain leading the resistance. Germany and Sweden between them take almost half the asylum seekers in the EU, and Berlin is predicting that the numbers this year could almost double to about 400,000 in Germany, two-thirds of the total number in the EU last year.

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