Jul 162020
 
 July 16, 2020  Posted by at 7:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Utagawa Yoshitoshi Ariko weeps as her boat drifts in the moonlight 1886

 

 

Sometimes I think I can only do this work properly if I’m angry all the time 24/7. But I don’t want to be angry all the time; what kind of life is that? Still, there are days when I just can’t help it. The British intelligence services (please let find another word for that, so as to not insult actually smart people) came out with a couple anti-Putin press releases today, and there we go again.

We can only guess at what they want this time, whether it to keep the UK’s own “RussiaRussia Putin is Hitler” flame alive, or are they seeking to help their US counterparts to rise from the ashes of their fully discredited years-long Orange Man Bad narratives, but boy, is this nauseating. What’s even worse is that people eat it up like candy.

Guys, this is your own highly paid snoops lying to you -along with your government(s)- like there’s no tomorrow, and you’re just sitting there worrying about wearing a face mask next time you go to a store. Know what that makes you? Sheep. I know y’all still know what those look like, and how they behave. So what’s the attraction?

Here’s BIGLY revelation no. 1 per the BBC. Do note the “almost certain” in both pieces, they need an easy way out if the story doesn’t stick. It also means that obviously they’re not at all certain, they’re just making it up.

Russian Hackers Target COVID19 Vaccine Research

Russian hackers are targeting organisations trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, a group of national security services has warned. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said the hackers “almost certainly” operated as “part of Russian intelligence services”. It said the group used malware to try and steal information relating to Covid-19 vaccine development. NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester said it was “despicable”. The hackers are part of a group called APT29, also known as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear”.

Some people will remember the name Cozy Bear from Robert Mueller’s failed $40 million “investigation”. Is that why the NCSC put it in? But to the point: Why would Russia hack the UK for vaccine info if and when the UK has no vaccine? Put it another way: what are the odds that UK “intelligence” is not at the same time trying to hack Russia for its own info? Think British scientists are smarter than Russian ones? How much money would you want to put on that?

Everyone is spying on everyone, always have, and today that may require some hacking skills. Big surprise. You leave your backdoor open, someone may try to have a look inside. Same for everyone. Not even the beginning of a newsworthy story; it happens all the time and everywhere. Next.

Next one is even flimsier. This one implies that since Jeremy Corbyn had some papers on the NHS in the last election, RussiaRussia gave them to him. And he’s an anti-semite too. So there. Can anyone explain why Russia would want to interfere in a UK election?

This seems to allege that Putin wanted to help Corbyn win. But is that for the same reason that he wanted to help Corbyn’s ideological twin Donald Trump win? Which we now know he didn’t? Or is it just that Putin the evil mastermind wants to confuse all parties? Given what I see and hear, he needn’t bother; they’re all already confused as can be.

 

UK Says Russia Sought To Interfere In 2019 Election

Dominic Raab’s statement is the first time ministers have admitted that the Kremlin has tried to distort the workings of British democracy – a practice the foreign secretary said was “completely unacceptable”. “On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents,” Raab said in a written statement.

Next. Only days ago, there was this from Britain about a court case concerning the infamous novichok “attack” in Salisbury, in which first former Russian GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and months later two other Brits, ostensibly came in contact with what was called the deadliest nerve agent in the world.

Neither Sergei Skripal nor his daughter Yulia have ever been seen again. There was a vague message from a niece, but that was it. But the story is alive and kicking. And can thus continue to be used. By the media-intelligence cartel.

 

Russian Agents May Have Deliberately Left Bottle Of Novichok In Salisbury

Russian agents may have deliberately discarded a bottle of the deadly nerve agent novichok, used in the assassination attempt of former spy Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury in a bid to undermine UK security, the High Court today heard. The claim was made during a legal challenge by the family of Dawn Sturgess, 44, who died in 2018 after coming into contact with novichok in a fake perfume bottle which her partner had found in a park. The family are embroiled in a High Court action in a bid to get ‘key questions’ asked at Ms Sturgess’ inquest.

[..] According to the Guardian, he also referenced then UK prime minister, Theresa May, in September 2018 in which she said: ‘This chemical weapons attack on our soil was part of a wider pattern of Russian behaviour that persistently seeks to undermine our security and that of our allies around the world.’

[..] ‘The use of novichok in Salisbury was the first aggressive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,’ said Mr Mansfield in a written case summary. ‘It put hundreds of members of the British public at risk and killed Ms Sturgess. ‘The issue of who was responsible for it is a matter of almost unparalleled public concern. ‘There is no realistic prospect that the two suspects will face a criminal trial in the UK or that the Russian state will carry out a comprehensive investigation, and no public inquiry into these events has been established.

This is the pattern: it’s nothing to do with UK security. The pattern is that both the US and UK use their lack of control over Russia as an excuse and reason to blame Russia for anything they feel like. As five-year old kids would. Robert Mueller, the liar and coward, having failed to produce one shred of evidence against Trump, left two things alive in his final report: empty accusations against Assange, who was muzzled, and against “13 Russians”, who he knew would never contest whatever he said.

And when he was challenged because Concord Management decided to show up with a lawyer, he lost that too. The official line was: “It is no longer in the best interests of justice or the country’s national security” to continue. What a bunch of losers.

And we’re not done. Assange smearer no. 1 and hidden intelligence agent Luke Harding, who invented more smear stories about Julian than anyone on the planet, had this three weeks ago. I kid you not, his point was that Russian intelligence is really really stupid. To prove it, he paints a shining portrait of … US/UK intelligence operation Bellingcat.

This is mainly about the Skripal case again, but of course we also remember their role in the never ever existing chemical attack in Syria by Assad on his own people. Yes, the one where they, the OPCW was involved too, planted the canisters and shot some grueling staged photographs.

 

A Chain Of Stupidity’: The Skripal Case And The Decline Of Russia’s Spy Agencies

Bellingcat revealed the identity of poisoner No 1 in a message on its website. Having unmasked one assassin, it seemed likely that Bellingcat would succeed in identifying Petrov, too. Sure enough, in late September I received an invitation to a press conference. It was to be held in an illustrious location: the Houses of Parliament, in an upstairs committee room, number nine. Its subject was Petrov’s real identity. By the time I arrived, the room was full. I spotted a reporter from the New York Times, Ellen Barry, together with leading representatives from the British and US media. It was hard to escape the conclusion that power in journalism was shifting.


It was moving away from established print titles and towards open-source innovators. The new hero of journalism was no longer a grizzled investigator burning shoe leather, à la All the President’s Men, but a pasty-looking kid in front of a MacBook Air. Higgins and Grozev were there, as well as a Conservative MP, Bob Seely. I found a spot on a bench and sat down. The mood was expectant. Seely set the scene. He described Bellingcat as a “truly remarkable group of digital detectives”. Their success was due to an explosion of digital technology and a rise in digital activism, he said.

Here’s Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett about Bellingcat:

Bellingcat & Atlantic Council Join To Award Exploited Syrian Child & American Mass Murderer

Is the Atlantic Council some benevolent organization handing out awards to do-gooding people? No. It’s a Washington DC-based think tank, which promulgates lies and propaganda to further imperialist wars and weapons sales, among other things. One of its Syria “experts” is none other than Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins, who recently took to social media to tell people to suck his “big balls,” making him more of a laughing stock than this backgrounder on the man with no qualifications to his title.


Some of the Atlantic Council’s funders include: the US State Department, oil and weapons manufacturing companies, banks, NATO, various nations’ ministries of defence, and the US Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy. Even just based on funding alone, and ignoring their pro-NATO policy papers, the Atlantic Council clearly exists to further the interests of those involved in weapons manufacturing, wars, and oil.

Of course the entire lying fanfare is a direct result of the west failing to capture Crimea from Russia. They lost that one too; they sure lose a lot when engaging with Russia, don’t they? All they end up with is stories. John McCain and Victoria Nuland thought they had it all in their hands, and then it slipped right through.

And from Maidan and Crimea it’s just a skip and a hop to MH17, plus more -and heavy- Bellingcat involvement. This made the news again a week ago.

 

MH17 Disaster: Dutch Take Russia To European Rights Court

Citizens of 10 different countries died on board the Boeing 777 airliner that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. More than two-thirds of the victims were Dutch nationals. In March, a trial opened in the Netherlands of three Russian and one Ukrainian citizens – still at large – for the murder of 298 people on board the plane. They are all linked to the pro-Moscow separatists. The trial, in a court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, is expected to last for months.


In a statement, the Dutch foreign ministry said the government “decided to bring Russia before the European Court of Human Rights for its role in the downing of Flight MH17”. It said that “by taking this course of action the government is offering maximum support” to individual cases already brought against Russia by victims’ families. “Achieving justice for 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” said Mr Blok. “By taking this step today… we are moving closer to this goal,” he added.

Now, I have some interest in this, because I was born in Holland and still have the passport. But from what I can see, this is just yet another western intelligence story. I don’t know what happened with MH17, but I’m pretty sure the Dutch government doesn’t know either, or if they do they’re not telling. And my skepticism isn’t even based on pieces like this from Eric Zuesse two weeks ago (but do read it!).

 

Netherlands ‘Justice’ Is Totally Corrupt: MH17 Case as Example

[..] when Ukraine’s Government authorized Holland’s Government to investigate and rule on what caused the MH17 to be shot down, Holland’s Government signed onto a secret agreement with Ukraine’s Government that included a provision allowing Ukraine’s Government to block and prevent any finding from being issued that would implicate Ukraine’s Government in having shot it down. Holland’s Government violates its own Freedom of Information law by refusing to make public what that secret agreement says.


However, at the time when the existence of the agreement slipped through into mention by a Ukrainian news-site on 8 August 2014, that news-report said “As part of the four-party agreement signed on August 8 between Ukraine, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia [all of which nations are allies of the United States and are cooperating with its new Cold War against Russia], information on the investigation into the disaster Malaysian ‘Boeing-777’ will not be disclosed.”

My skepticism is kind of linked to this, but it’s much older. When the plane was brought down, I noted that then-US VP Joe Biden, as well as the Ukrainian government of newly (US-)installed president Poroshenko, and also Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, who got a plush job in Brussels out of it, all three declared within hours that Russia “was what did it”.

None could know at the time they made the statement. But it was a few months after the west lost Crimea, and thereby the chance to rid Russia of its only warm water port. And some people didn’t like that one bit. Some people were very unhappy about being outsmarted by Putin. Nuland must have been livid. And Hillary Clinton, and McCain.

Then when the investigation started, something odd happened. 2/3 of all victims -298 in total- were from the Netherlands. Yet the Dutch got to lead the inquest. As I wrote at the time: have you ever seen a crime series, or a murder one, or a movie, where the main victim (afflicted party) gets to lead the investigation into what happened? No, what we always see is someone taking the aggrieved detective aside saying: sorry, you’re too close to this.

And then on top of that, Ukraine, certainly one of the main suspects, since it happened in their territory, got to be part of the investigation. And not just part, as you can see in Zuesse’s piece, they could veto both what would be investigated and what could be communicated about the results. While they could well be the perpetrator!

If you go back to the murder series metaphor, a producer or writer would say: no can do, it lacks all credibility. But they did it. And it was then that I knew no matter what the report would say, it would be literally incredible. It’s 6 years later, and it’s going to take many more years, of posturing, name-calling, threats, accusations, you name it. And nothing will be proven, there will be only claims of proof. Just like in all the other cases I mentioned above. It’s how these things are done.

MH17 has become just another tool in the hands of “intelligence”.

 

 

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Dec 242019
 
 December 24, 2019  Posted by at 10:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »


George N. Barnard Federal picket post near Atlanta, Georgia 1864

 

Impeachment Foot-Dragging Is Proof Dems Have Nothing On Trump (McCaughey)
‘Stop Playing Games’: Graham Warns Pelosi Senate May ‘Strike Back’ (ZH)
Hunter Biden Allegedly Linked To Multiple Criminal Probes (NYP)
US Govt Blew $3 Trillion On Afghanistan, Congress Adds Another Trillion (OP)
Christmas in Flyover Land (Kunstler)
Medical Opinion, Torture and Julian Assange (AIM)
Russia Ready To Share All Info Required By MH17 Crash Investigators (RT)
New Russia-Crimea Rail Link Condemned By EU (BBC)
World ‘Faces 80% Calorie Increase By End Of Century’ (BBC)
For Her Head Cold, Insurer Coughed Up $25,865 (NPR)
‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’ Goodies Hottest Holiday Merch This Xmas (NYP)

 

 

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

She has some intriguing arguments: “they are trying to strong-arm McConnell into calling witnesses. Yet they are forgetting that McConnell can’t negotiate away executive privilege. It’s not his to surrender.”

The discussion is far from over.

Impeachment Foot-Dragging Is Proof Dems Have Nothing On Trump (McCaughey)

McConnell is proposing that House Dems and then White House lawyers make their arguments to the senators. The trial could be wrapped up in a couple of weeks, unless senators ≠decide after hearing the arguments that they need to hear witnesses. But Schumer wants more witnesses guaranteed upfront. After 17 witnesses, 8,000 pages of testimony and legal arguments, 106 House staff members working full-time, six high-paid outside lawyers and millions of dollars spent to produce a party-line vote in the House to impeach, Senate Democrats are hankering for another long, drawn-out spectacle. They aren’t outsmarting anyone except themselves. The witnesses they are seeking are unlikely to show up, no matter what political tricks the Democrats try.

Meanwhile, national support for impeachment is steadily falling, and every day Democrats spend on impeachment lessens their chances of unseating Trump in November. Schumer wants four White House officials, including Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton, to testify. But Democrats lost their chance to bring in these witnesses by voting to impeach. Close advisers to any president are protected by executive privilege. That isn’t a Trump invention. Presidents, including George Washington, have said “no” when Congress demanded access to evidence of White House decision-making. President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, was especially aggressive about asserting privilege.

The Constitution creates three equal branches of government, and the president has a duty to protect his branch from congressional overreach. When these two branches clash, the federal courts are the referee. That’s true generally, but House Dems took a shortcut. When Trump refused to provide certain witnesses, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff balked at “a lengthy game of rope-a-dope with the courts.” It was a short-sighted move. Once House Dems voted to impeach, they lost any chance to have the federal courts order Trump’s advisers to appear. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that judges cannot interfere in impeachment trials, because the Senate has “the sole power” over them.

In fact, minutes after the vote, federal appeals judges asked Congress to show why its case to compel the testimony of former White House lawyer Don McGahn isn’t abruptly ended because “the articles of impeachment render the case moot.” With the courthouse doors slammed shut on impeachers, they are trying to strong-arm McConnell into calling witnesses. Yet they are forgetting that McConnell can’t negotiate away executive privilege. It’s not his to surrender.

Read more …

The only thing left for Pelosi appears to try and draw it out.

‘Stop Playing Games’: Graham Warns Pelosi Senate May ‘Strike Back’ (ZH)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Monday that the “Constitutional outrage” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “needs to end,” and that if it continues into 2020, “the Senate needs to strike back.” “The Senate will decide how we dispose of this sham created by the house,” Graham tweeted, referring to the impasse created by Pelosi – who is refusing to transmit two articles of impeachment against President Trump until the Senate agrees to her terms. President Trump also had words for Pelosi on Monday after the Speaker called for “fairness” in a Senate trial.

“Pelosi gives us the most unfair trial in the history of the U.S. Congress, and now she is crying for fairness in the Senate, and breaking all rules while doing so,” Trump tweeted, adding “She lost Congress once, she will do it again!” Pelosi says she will only transmit the impeachment articles to the Senate after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announces the process they will use for Trump’s trial. McConnell has advocated for a similar process to Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment, which included an initial agreement to first hear the case, followed by a vote on whether to call witnesses.

Speaking with “Fox and Friends” on Monday, McConnell said “we’re at an impasse” and “we can’t do anything until the speaker sends the papers over, so everybody enjoy the holidays.” McConnell blasted Pelosi for trying to “tell us how to run the trial.” “Look, what we need to do is to listen to the arguments, have a written questioning period, and then decide whether we need witnesses or not,” McConnell said, adding that some Republican senators “have said, ‘I am thinking of myself as a juror,'” while others believe “the case against President Trump is very thin.” -NBC News

Read more …

Either Joe drops Hunter or the Dems will drop Joe.

Hunter Biden Allegedly Linked To Multiple Criminal Probes (NYP)

Hunter Biden is the subject of multiple criminal investigations related to “fraud, money laundering and a counterfeiting scheme,” it’s claimed in court documents filed Monday in his Arkansas paternity case. The claims were put forward by a Florida-based private-eye firm, D&A Investigations, in Biden’s ongoing case against alleged baby mama Lunden Alexis Roberts, a former Washington, DC, stripper who went by “Dallas.” Soon after the claims were filed, a judge struck the allegations down because they were filed by an “intervener,” according to court papers. Biden filed a motion to strike down the claims, arguing “the notice is filed by a non-party simply to make scandalous allegations in the pending suit to gain some media attention.”

Biden, 49, “is the subject of more than one criminal investigation involving fraud, money laundering and a counterfeiting scheme,” the filing alleges. One of those purported investigations relates to Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company with which Biden held a lucrative board post while his father, Joe, was vice president — drawing allegations of impropriety from Republicans including President Trump. Biden and a group of business associates “established bank and financial accounts with Morgan Stanley … for Burisma Holdings Limited … for the money laundering scheme,” D&A claims, further alleging that the accounts showed an average account value of nearly $6.8 million between March 2014 and December 2015.

Biden and the others — including Devon Archer, John Galanis and Bevan Cooney — allegedly “utilized a counterfeiting scheme to conceal the Morgan Stanley et al Average Account Value,” D&A claims in the papers filed at the Circuit Court of Independence County, Arkansas. The filing additionally alleges that Biden had a hand in a plot including Galanis, Cooney and Archer to rip off Sioux Native Americans to the tune of $60 million through the shady sale of tribal bonds. Galanis, Archer and Cooney were found guilty for their roles in June 2018, following a lengthy trial in Manhattan federal court. In November, Archer’s conviction was overturned by a Manhattan federal judge.

Read more …

In case you were wondering who really rules the USA.

US Govt Blew $3 Trillion On Afghanistan, Congress Adds Another Trillion (OP)

It’s rare that I read something on the Washington Post that I don’t find highly biased, even repugnant. But with their recent article on the Afghanistan Papers, they truly knocked the ball out of the park. The facts they shared should have every American protesting in the streets. Trillions of dollars have been spent on a war that the Pentagon knew was unwinnable all along. More than 2300 American soldiers died there and more than 20,000 have been injured. More than 150,000 Afghanis were killed, many of them civilians, including women and children. And they lied to us constantly. Congress just proved that the truth doesn’t matter, though. A mere 22 hours after the release of this document, the new National Defense Authorization Act that breezed through the House and Senate was signed by the President.

That bill authorized $738 billion in military spending for 2020, actually increasing the budget by $22 billion over previous years. So, how is your representation in Washington, DC working out for you? [..] I know, I know – WaPo. But believe me when I tell you this is something all Americans need to see. This was an article that took three years of legal battles to bring to light. WaPo acquired the documents using the Freedom of Information Act and got more than 2000 pages of insider interviews with “people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.” These documents were originally part of a federal investigation into the “root failures” of the longest conflict in US history – more than 18 years now.

Three presidents, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, have been involved in this ongoing war. It turns out that officials knew the entire time this war was “unwinnable” yet they kept throwing American lives and American money at it.

Read more …

“Pottersville is way more appealing than 99 percent of America’s small towns today, dead as they are.”

Christmas in Flyover Land (Kunstler)

When you get down to it, the sickness at the heart of our nation these days is the result of countless bad choices, large and small, that we’ve made collectively over decades, including the ones made by our elected officialdom. The good news is that we could potentially move in the opposite direction and start making better choices. However deficient and unappetizing you think Mr. Trump is, and how crudely unorthodox his behavior, that equation is what got enough people to vote for him. The strenuous efforts to antagonize him, disable him, and get rid of him by any means necessary — including police-state tactics, bad faith inquisitions, and outright sedition — have prevented the nation as a whole from entertaining a realistic new consensus for making better choices. In fact, it has achieved just the opposite: a near civil war, edition 2.0.

All the people of America, including the flyovers, are responsible for the sad situation we’re in: this failure to reestablish a common culture of values most people can subscribe to and use it to rebuild our towns into places worth caring about. Main Street, as it has come to be, is the physical manifestation of that failure. The businesses that used to occupy the storefronts are gone, except for second-hand stores. Nobody in 1952 would have believed this could happen. And yet, there it is: the desolation is stark and heartbreaking. Even George Bailey’s “nightmare” scene in It’s a Wonderful Life depicts the supposedly evil Pottersville as a very lively place, only programmed for old-fashioned wickedness: gin mills and streetwalkers.

Watch the movie and see for yourself. Pottersville is way more appealing than 99 percent of America’s small towns today, dead as they are. The dynamics that led to this are not hard to understand. The concentration of retail commerce in a very few gigantic corporations was a swindle that the public fell for. Enthralled like little children by the dazzle and gigantism of the big boxes, and the free parking, we allowed ourselves to be played. The excuse was “bargain shopping,” which actually meant we have sent the factories to distant lands and eliminated your jobs, and all the meaning and purpose in your lives — and cheap stuff from Asia is your consolation prize. Enjoy…

Read more …

After Doctors For Assange, it’s high time for Lawyers For Assange. Take the governments involved to court in their own countries.

Medical Opinion, Torture and Julian Assange (AIM)

The medical degrading of Assange has assumed ever greater importance, suggesting unwavering state complicity. On November 22, over 65 notable medical doctors sent the UK Home Secretary a note based on Melzer’s November 1 findings and Assange’s state at the October 21 case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court. “It is our opinion that Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health. Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care).”

In a second open letter to the UK Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice dated December 4, the Doctors for Assange collective warned that the UK’s “refusal to take the required measures to protect Mr Assange’s rights, health and dignity appears [to] be reckless at best and deliberate at worst and, in both cases, unlawfully and unnecessarily exposes Mr Assange to potentially irreversible risks.” The same grounds were reiterated in a December 16 letter to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, with a curt reminder that she had “an undeniable legal obligation to protect your citizen against the abuse of his fundamental rights, stemming from US efforts to extradite Mr Assange for journalism and publishing that exposed US war crimes.” In the event that Payne took no action on the matter, “people would want to know what you […] did to prevent his death.”

In the addendum to the open letter, further to reiterating the precarious state of Assange’s health and medical status as a torture victim, the doctors elaborate on the circular cruelty facing the publisher. An individual deemed “a victim of psychological torture cannot be adequately medically treated while continuing to be held under the very conditions constituting psychological torture, as is currently the case for Julian Assange.” Appropriate medical treatment was hardly possible through a prison hospital ward. A lesson in understanding mental torture is also proffered. “Contrary to popular misconception, the injuries caused by psychological torture are real and extremely serious. The term psychological torture is not a synonym for mere hardship, suffering or distress.”

At Assange’s case management hearing on December 19, restrictions on medical opinion were again implemented; psychiatrist Marco Chiesa and psychologist David Morgan were prevented from attending. Both had been signatories to the spray of open letters. According to Morgan, he had hoped to “provide some observations about Julian Assange’s health, psychologically, and with my colleagues, physically.” Instead, it transpired that access was denied, according to psychologist Lissa Johnson, “despite members of the public offering to give up seats for them.”

Read more …

They have been for 5.5 years. But they have already been found guilty before any trial. The “investigators” went with Ukraine and Bellingcat instead, and are now so deeply invested they can’t get out anymore.

Russia Ready To Share All Info Required By MH17 Crash Investigators (RT)

Moscow is poised to give assistance in the investigation of the crash of flight MH17 in 2014, as it always has been, a Russian EU envoy has assured stakeholders, responding to a call for cooperation by the Dutch foreign minister. “We are ready to cooperate in clarifying all the circumstances of the incident,” Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, told media on Monday. In fact, Moscow has always been poised to do so, but its proposals were brushed aside, the diplomat recalled. Moscow is also prepared to hand over “the data we have” to its Dutch counterparts, ahead of a court trial that will look at the evidence collected by the Netherlands-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in March next year, Chizhov said.

The envoy spoke shortly after Stef Blok, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, said Russia’s contribution is needed to find some missing facts about the crash, which killed 298 passengers and crew. The Hague had “asked the Russian Federation to cooperate in a factual investigation into the closing of airspace above and around Ukraine,” Blok wrote to Dutch lawmakers on Sunday. Blok’s letter comes two months after Chris van Dam, spokesman for the MH17 probe, announced the inquiry will focus on why Ukraine’s airspace “was not closed” over Donetsk at the time of intense hostilities between the government military and rebel forces in the breakaway Donbass region.

Back in 2015, a report released by the Dutch Safety Board confirmed that, while it was hard to find out who was behind downing of flight MH17, the airspace over Ukraine should have been closed. Meanwhile, lawyers representing some victims of the crash maintain that it was Ukraine’s responsibility to ensure the safety of civilian air traffic during the fighting. [..] Moscow has consistently said that, despite not being included in the investigation team, it is still open to cooperation. Russia has already provided radar records, declassified military data on a missile thought to have downed the plane, and files proving that the projectile which downed the plane had been in Ukraine since the 1980s – but the data was persistently rejected as the probe proceeded.

Read more …

St Petersburg to Sevastopol: a 43-hour train ride.

New Russia-Crimea Rail Link Condemned By EU (BBC)

President Vladimir Putin has heralded the opening of a railway bridge to the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula by posing in the driver’s cab and praising construction workers. But opening of the railway was immediately condemned by the European Union as “another violation” by Russia of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory. Russia’s 19km (12-mile) bridge to Crimea first opened in May last year. President Putin marked that occasion by driving a lorry over it. On Monday he asserted that millions of cars had already crossed the bridge and said the rail link “was a big deal as well”, with plans to carry 14 million passengers and 13 million tonnes of freight in 2020. Until the bridge was built, Russia had to rely on sea and air to supply the peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in February 2014 before annexing it through a referendum rejected by the United Nations as invalid.


The $3.6bn (£2.8bn; €3.2bn) bridge was built by a close friend of the president, Arkady Rotenberg. Mr Rotenberg and several of his companies had EU and US sanctions imposed on them. Russia’s president said the Kerch Strait bridge, with its new rail link, would have an impact on Russia’s economy as a whole. In a tweet, the presidency declared the bridge open to railway traffic. Mr Putin boarded a three-carriage train in the Crimean city of Kerch, stood in the cab beside the driver and sounded the horn, before sitting with Mr Rotenberg as well as Russian and local officials as they travelled across the strait to Taman in southern Russia. Mr Putin told construction workers that there had only been three times in 145 years that the rail route from St Petersburg to Sevastopol in Crimea had been broken: during the Russian revolution, during World War Two and in 2014.

Read more …

Some things simply won’t happen because they can’t.

World ‘Faces 80% Calorie Increase By End Of Century’ (BBC)

The amount of food needed to feed the world’s population by the end of the century could increase by almost 80%, a study has suggested. Researchers from Germany said a trend of increasing Body Mass Index (BMI) is resulting in individuals requiring more calories. The authors warn that failure to meet the need for more calories could lead to greater global inequality. The findings have been published in the journal Plos One. The study, carried out by a team from the University of Gottingen, calculated that 60% of the calorie increase would be a result of the growing number of people in the world.


According to the UN World Population Prospects, the global population was estimated to increase from almost seven billion in 2010 to almost 11 billion in 2100. Yet, more that 18% of the increase in the calories from 2010 levels would come from a projected increase in height and weight figures in the global population. “The increase in the average daily required energy rises by 253 kcal per person between 2010 and 2100 in our estimations, assuming a rising BMI and height,” explained co-author Lutz Depenbusch from the World Vegetable Center. He told BBC News: “On a global scale, we calculate that the effect of the BMI and height increases in our model would lead to additional calorie requirements that match the 2010 requirements of India and Nigeria combined.”

Read more …

The system many people claim would be too expensive to repair or replace. Sounds like pretty straightforward fraud to me.

For Her Head Cold, Insurer Coughed Up $25,865 (NPR)

Alexa Kasdan had a cold and a sore throat. The 40-year-old public policy consultant from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn’t want her upcoming vacation trip ruined by strep throat. So after it had lingered for more than a week, she decided to get it checked out. Kasdan visited her primary care physician, Roya Fathollahi, at Manhattan Specialty Care, just off Park Avenue South and not far from tony Gramercy Park. The visit was quick. Kasdan got her throat swabbed, gave a tube of blood and was sent out the door with a prescription for antibiotics. She soon felt better, and the trip went off without a hitch. Then the bill came. The news was that her insurance company was mailing her family a check — for more than $25,000 — to cover some out-of-network lab tests.

The actual bill was $28,395.50, but the doctor’s office said it would waive her portion of the bill: $2,530.26. “I thought it was a mistake,” she says. “I thought maybe they meant $250. I couldn’t fathom in what universe I would go to a doctor for a strep throat culture and some antibiotics and I would end up with a $25,000 bill.” The doctor’s office kept assuring Kasdan by phone and by email that the tests and charges were perfectly normal. The office sent a courier to her house to pick up the check. How could a throat swab possibly cost that much? Let us count three reasons. First, the doctor sent Kasdan’s throat swab for a sophisticated smorgasbord of DNA tests looking for viruses and bacteria that might explain Kasdan’s cold symptoms.

Dr. Ranit Mishori, professor of family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says such scrutiny was unnecessary. “In my 20 years of being a doctor, I’ve never ordered any of these tests, let alone seen any of my colleagues, students and other physicians order anything like that in the outpatient setting,” she says. “I have no idea why they were ordered.” The tests might conceivably make sense for a patient in the intensive care unit or with a difficult case of pneumonia, Mishori says. The ones for influenza are potentially useful, since there are medicines that can help, but there’s a cheap rapid test that could have been used instead.

The second reason behind the high price is that the doctor sent the throat swab to an out-of-network lab for analysis. In-network labs settle on contract rates with insurers. But out-of-network labs can set their own prices for tests, and in this case the lab settled on list prices that are 20 times higher than average for other labs in the same ZIP code. In this case, if the doctor had sent the throat swab off to LabCorp -Kasdan’s in-network provider- it would have billed her insurance company about $653 for “all the ordered tests, or an equivalent,” LabCorp told NPR. The third reason for the high bill may be the connection between the lab and Kasdan’s doctor. Kasdan’s bill shows that the lab service was provided by Manhattan Gastroenterology, which has the same phone number and locations as her doctor’s office.

Read more …

A fitting end to the year.

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’ Goodies Hottest Holiday Merch This Xmas (NYP)

It’s the most controversial time of the year. Following the August death of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, a rash of sweaters, Christmas tree ornaments and other holiday goods have appeared on retail sites like Amazon and Etsy touting conspiracies that the 66-year-old was murdered. “Christmas lights are a lot like Epstein — they don’t hang themselves,” reads one $19.80 sweater on Amazon featuring the 66-year-old in a Santa hat. Plenty of ornaments also include the allegation, including this one, which also features a noose.

“During Christmas, an elf may sit on a shelf, but Epstein didn’t kill himself,” says another Amazon sweater, available starting at $29.99 in eight different colors.“Dasher & dancer & prancer & Epstein & didn’t & kill himself & Donner & Blitzen,” reads one $18.99 T-shirt. An almost-classic gingerbread-themed ornament has a naughty box, a nice box — and an “Epstein didn’t kill himself” box, which is checked. “Merry Christmas!” reads the cover of a $6.99 notebook, “Epstein didn’t kill himself.” A ransom-style note sweater with “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself,” is available in designs featuring Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Kim Jong-un.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Dec 082019
 
 December 8, 2019  Posted by at 9:04 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Saul Leiter 463 1956

 

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met in Geneva in 1985, in a summit specifically designed to allow them to discuss diplomatic relations and the -nuclear- arms race. At the time, the Soviet Union had started to crumble, but it was still very much the Soviet Union. They met again in 1986 in Reykjavik, in a summit set up to continue these talks. There, they came close to an agreement to dismantle both countries’ nuclear arsenals.

They met once again in Washington in 1987. That was the year Reagan made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech about the Berlin wall. Then they held a next summit in 1988 in Moscow, where they finalized the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) after the US Senate’s ratification of the treaty in May 1988.

Reagan’s successor George H.W. Bush met with Gorbachev first in December 1989 in Malta, and then the two met three times in 1990, among others in Washington where the Chemical Weapons Accord was signed, and in Paris where they signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. They met three more times in 1991, with one of their meetings, in Moscow, resulting in the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

One of the most interesting things agreed on during the Bush-Gorbachev meetings was that Russia would allow Germany to re-unite after the wall came down, in exchange for the promise that NATO would not try to expand eastward.

 

I’ve been re-researching this a bit because it feels like it’s high time that people should realize what US foreign policy was like not that long ago. Even as it involved Reagan and Bush sr., not exactly the peace-mongers of their times. The one thing that was clear to all parties involved is that it was crucial to keep meeting and talking. And talk they did. But look at us now. When was the last summit of a US president with Vladimir Putin?

This came to mind again when I read Elizabeth Warren’s piece in the Guardian today, which made me wonder if she’s for real, if she is really as ignorant as she appears to be when it comes to foreign policy, to Russia, to Trump and to NATO. It would seem that she is, and that makes her a hazard. Not that I see her as a serious candidate, mind you, but then again, I do not see any other one either.

In her article, which reads more than anything like some nostalgic longing for the good old times when she was young, just watch her get all warm and fuzzy over the success of NATO:

 

Donald Trump Has Destroyed American Leadership – I’ll Restore It

For seven decades, America’s strength, security and prosperity have been underpinned by our unmatched network of treaty alliances, cemented in shared democratic values and a recognition of our common security. But after three years of Donald Trump’s insults and antics, our alliances are under enormous strain. The damage done by the president’s hostility toward our closest partners was on full display at this week’s gathering of NATO leaders in London, which should have been an unequivocal celebration of the 70th anniversary of the most successful alliance in history.

The success of NATO was not inevitable, easy or obvious. It is a remarkable and hard-won accomplishment, and one based on a recognition that the United States does not become stronger by weakening our allies. But that is just what Trump has done, repeatedly and deliberately. He treats our partners as burdens while embracing autocrats from Moscow to Pyongyang. He has cast doubt on the US commitment to NATO at a moment when a resurgent Russia threatens our institutions and freedoms. He has blindsided our partners on the ground in Syria by ordering a precipitate and uncoordinated withdrawal.

[..] he has wrecked US credibility by unilaterally tearing up our international agreements on arms control, non-proliferation and climate change. This reckless disregard for the benefits of our alliances comes at a perilous moment, when we face common threats from powerful adversaries probing the weaknesses of our institutions and resolve. Longstanding allies in Asia are doubting our reliability and hedging their bets. Russia’s land grab in Ukraine has upended the post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace”. The chaotic Brexit process has consumed our closest partners, while sluggish growth and rising xenophobia fuel extremist politics and threaten to fracture the European Union.

 

To start with that last point, no. That “post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” was destroyed by NATO’s eastward expansion, executed in spite of US, EU and NATO promises that it wouldn’t. Moreover, you can talk about a resurgent Russia, but the country has hardly recovered economically from the 1980’s and 90’s today, and it has no designs on countries to its west.

Just look at the military budgets of the respective countries, where Russia has maybe 10% of the expenditure of the US, let alone the rest of NATO, and you get the picture. Is Russia getting more bang for its buck, because it doesn’t have to maintain a long running Pentagon-Boeing/Raytheon link? Yes, it does. But a 10 to 1 difference is still way out there. It’s not as if they spend half of what the US does, they spend just 10%.

This is because not only Russia doesn’t have to satisfy the desires and needs of Pentagon-Boeing/Raytheon, it’s also because they have no desire to conquer any territory that is not at present Russian.

Russia “annexed” Crimea through fair elections, and it knew that “we” knew that it would never let go of its only warm water port, Sevastopol. When “We” tried to take it away regardless, it did the only thing it could do. And it did it very intelligently. As for Eastern Ukraine, everyone there is Russian, whether by blood or by passport. And there are a lot of strong ties between them and Russians in Russia proper.

If Putin would have volunteered to let these Donbass Russians be shot to bits by the Ukraine neo-nazis that helped the US and EU in the Maidan coup, he would have had either a civil war in Russia, or an all-out war in the Donbass, with perhaps millions of casualties. Putin did what he could to prevent both. Back to Warren:

 

A mounting list of global challenges demand US leadership and collective action. As president, I will recommit to our alliances – diplomatically, militarily and economically. I will take immediate action to rebuild our partnerships and renew American strategic and moral leadership, including by rejoining the Paris climate accord, the United Nations compact on migration, and reaffirming our rock-solid commitment to NATO’s Article 5 provisions.


But we must do more than repair what Trump has broken. Instead we need to update our alliances and our international efforts to tackle the great challenges of our age, from climate change and resurgent authoritarianism to dark money flows, a weakening international arms control regime and the worst human displacement crisis in modern history.

 

Wait, what exactly has Trump broken in the foreign policy field? There have been dozens at the very least who have called for NATO to be disbanded, Ron Paul et al, because its sole purpose was to counter the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. In fact, when Emmanuel Macron labeled NATO “brain-dead” last week, it was Trump who defended the alliance.

And sorry, Elizabeth, but to hold Trump responsible for “the worst human displacement crisis in modern history” is just not right. That started way before he arrived at the scene. Obama and Hillary carry the burden and blame for that, along with Bush jr. and Dick Cheney. They shot the crap out of Iraq, Lybia etc. Trump only dumped a few bombs in a desert. He didn’t invade any country, he didn’t go “We Came, We Saw, He Died”. That was not Trump.

And before we forget, the military aid for Ukraine Trump allegedly held back for a few weeks had been refused by Obama for years. I’ve been wondering for ages now why the Democrats are so eager to make things up while ignoring simple facts, but I think at least it’s time to start pointing out these issues.

This is not to make Trump look better in any sense, but to try and make people understand that he did not start this thing. Though yeah, I know, it’s like talking to a wall by now. The political divide has turned into such a broad and yawning one, you can’t not wonder how it could ever be broached.

But, you know, it might help if people like Elizabeth Warren don’t ONLY talk about Trump like he’s the antichrist, or a Putin tool, if they engage with him in conversation. But sadly, it feels like we’re past that point. Like if she would even try, and I don’t know if she would want to, her party would spit her out just for trying to build a single bridge. Like Tulsi Gabbard seems to have tried; and look at how the DNC treats her.

 

This means revitalizing our state department and charging our diplomats to develop creative solutions for ever more urgent challenges. It means working with like-minded partners to promote our shared interest in sustained, inclusive global economic growth and an international trade system that protects workers and the environment, not just corporate profits. And it means reducing wasteful defense spending and refocusing on the areas most critical to our security in years to come.

 

Well, apart from the fact that we’ve seen some of those diplomats in the Schiff hearings, and they seemed like the least likely people to develop anything “creative” -other than their opinions-, and the boondoggle of “sustained, inclusive global economic growth”, it’s probably best to forget about that entire paragraph. It’s nicer to Warren too.

 

Alliances are not charities, and it’s fair to ask our partners to do their share. I will build on what President Obama started by insisting on increased contributions to NATO operations and common investments in collective military capabilities. But I will also recognize the varied and significant ways that European states contribute to global security – deploying troops to shared missions, receiving refugees, and providing development assistance at some of the highest per capita rates in the world.

 

The problem appears to be that the partners don’t increase their contributions. Just this March, Germany refused to do just that. And if Berlin refuses, why would other countries spend more?

 

The next president must tackle our common problems using the lessons of common defense. Together, we can counter terrorism and proliferation. We can make common cause in constructing new norms and rules to govern cyberspace. We can dismantle the corruption, monopolies and inequality that limit opportunity around the world and take on the increasingly grave threats to our environment. We can and will protect ourselves and each other – our countries, our citizens and our democracies.

 

Now we’re getting into entirely nonsensical territory, with words and sentences designed only to make people feel good about things that have no substance whatsoever. Anyone can go there, anyone can do that.

In the meantime, the neverending investigations into Trump, Russia, Ukraine, taxes, have had one major effect: he hasn’t had a chance to have a summit with Putin. And that, to go back to how I started out this essay, is the worst idea out there. If Reagan and Bush sr. did those summits all the time, then why do we now think such summits are the work of the devil?

And yeah, we get it, we got it again last week from alleged law expert Pamela Karlan in the House, who let ‘er rip on the dangers Putin poses to all of humanity, and of course she would never trust Trump to hold any such summit because he’s Putin’s puppet.

What Pamela, and all the MSM, and the Dems, and the FBI/CIA, appear to refuse to see, though, is that Trump was democratically elected by the American people to be the only one who can have any such conversation. Karlan again talked about how Russia would attempt to attack American soil unless “we” keep them from doing that.

Now I can say that is absolute bollocks, and it is, but how many -potential- Democratic voters will recognize that at this point? They’ve been trained to believe it. That Russia wants one US presidential candidate over another, or one UK one, or fill in your country, and therefore they want to invade the US, UK, etc. In reality, Russia has plenty problems of its own, and it’s slowly trying to solve them.

The two countries need to start talking to each other again, and the sooner the better. That it will happen under Elizabeth Warren, however, is very unlikely. First because she has her mind made up about Russia, and second because the likelihood of her becoming president is very low. What do you think, is that a good thing?

If for some reason -who can tell- she would end up winning 11 months from now, do you think she’s likely to establish a peace treaty with Russia? You know, given what she wrote here? And if not, why would you vote for her? Don’t you want peace? Do you think antagonizing Putin forever is a good idea? While Russia continues to outperform America in arms development, and in just about any field? While Russia only wants peace?

Good questions, ain’t they, as we move into 2020?!

 

 

 

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Jun 202019
 


Caravaggio I musici 1595-96

 

The investigation into the crash of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines plane in East Ukraine was always compromised, right from the start. The crash on July 17 2014 came shortly after the “Euromaidan revolution” in Kiev – which first began in November 2013 and culminated in the ousting of elected president Yanukovich on 23 February 2014, happily helped along by John McCain, Victoria Nuland and then-US ambassador to Ukraine (now ambassador to Greece) Geoffrey Pyatt for the USA, as well as various EU actors.

Russia reacted by “annexing” Crimea – a large majority of whose people had voted for Yanukovich, thereby safeguarding its access to its only warm water port. Not a shot was fired there, but it was very different in East Ukraine (Donbass), where people -of Russian origin- also didn’t want to be subjected to a new regime under Nuland’s puppet Yatsenyuk -and later Poroshenko. They started a civil war which continues to this day.

It was in that heated political climate that the MH17 came down, killing all its 298 passengers, 196 of whom had the Dutch nationality. 3 weeks later, on August 8, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed, which was to be led by Holland, and to also include representatives from Australia, Belgium and Ukraine. Which is odd, since at that time, Ukraine certainly was a potential perpetrator of the downing.

Malaysia joined only in December, allegedly because only then did it finally agree to allow Ukraine, a nation that was a suspect, a veto over any conclusions that the team would publish. Malaysia had already been handed the black boxes by pro-Russian rebels in the area, and passed them on to the team in August. Summarized, the way the JIT was formed was highly curious. The countries even signed a secret agreement.

 

Immediately after the crash, people like then-US VP Joe Biden, as well as Frans Timmermans, then-Dutch Foreign Minister and today candidate for the EU top job, pointed the finger at Russia as the party responsible for shooting down the plane. Also curious, since there had been no investigation and the plane crashed in a civil war zone where access was almost impossible. There was talk at the time of the US having satellite images, but none have ever been produced.

In that atmosphere, the JIT yesterday, June 19 2019, held another press conference, in which it accused four men, three from Russia and one from Ukraine, of being “involved” in shooting down the plane. But again, almost 5 years after the incident, the team produced no evidence for its accusations, saying it will only be presented 9 months from now when a trial will start in the Netherlands.

It also again accused Russia of refusing to cooperate, though Russia has offered its help ever since the MH17 came down. It’s just not the help the people want who have accused the Russians since before there was any hint of evidence it was involved. And there still is no evidence. Russia has filed long and detailed reports on the incident despite being ignored, but these reports have been … ignored.

 

The trial will take place starting March 9 2020 without the accused, since Russia doesn’t extradite its citizens, and neither does Ukraine. Moreover, the one Ukrainian who is accused is thought to be in the Donbass, where the government has no access.

So this will be a show trial. And one must wonder why it is staged. What’s the use of a trial where defendants don’t defend themselves? Sure, the official line is they would love to have the men provide a defense, but that smells a bit too much like what has happened to Julian Assange. What are the odds of a fair trial when so many conclusions have been drawn at such early times?

There is not a soul in Europe west of the Russian border who doesn’t believe the Russians did it. The media take care of that. Nor is there in the US. But the Malaysian PM himself yesterday, again, said the team has proven nothing, and only provided hearsay. I kid you not, I read a piece on the BBC today that asked if the 93-year-old who lost 43 of his countrymen only said that because he wanted to sell palm oil to Russia.

And in the meantime, the evidence is not there, and won’t be for another 9 months, if ever, and the EU today added another year to its Russia sanctions over Crimea, and 4 men can deny their involvement all they want, but they can make their case only in March 2020, and only at a show trial, with international search warrants hanging over their heads.

 

The four men in question, by the way, are not accused of firing the BUK missile that supposedly downed the MH17. They are only accused of facilitating the transport of the missile and launcher from Russia to Ukraine -and back. The JIT Ukrainian team bases the entire story of that transport on serial numbers it says it has found.

On September 17 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense in a YouTube response to a May 24 2018 JIT exhibition, said it had tracked down those serial numbers, 8868720, and 1318869032, and 9M38, and said both the launcher and missile corresponding to the numbers were purchased by Ukraine from Russia as far back as 1986, transferred there, and had never left the country since.

I get that information from a lengthy, deep-digging and highly recommended essay by Eric Zuesse, from December 2018, MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven, which I’ve been reading the past few days, in which Eric says: “…if the JIT’s supplied evidence is authentic — which the Ukrainian team asserts it to be — then it outright convicts Ukraine. This is an evidentiary checkmate, against the Ukrainian side.”

Zuesse also details, in that article, contentions from multiple sources that, while the MH17 may have been hit with a BUK missile, it certainly wasn’t the only thing that hit it. There was at least one fighter jet seen close to the plane before it came down, as multiple eye-witness reports claim, and it is alleged that they fired on the cockpit for sure and perhaps other parts of the plane. It is an excellent article that is very well researched and chock-full of links to prove its points.

 

There are many things wrong with the MH17 investigation. Having the PM of one of your member investigative countries complain that after 5 years you produce only hearsay and no evidence may be the least of the worries. The Netherlands, as main victim, leading the investigation, is strange. How neutral could they be? Their Foreign Minister blamed Russia way before any investigating was done. And Holland was a main sponsor in the “Euromaidan revolution”, i.e. the ousting of an elected president.

Still, Ukraine’s position in all this must be the biggest warning sign. They stood a lot to gain from committing atrocities and then blaming Russia for them. Plus, Yatsenyuk and Nuland and the US and the EU were mightily angry that Russia had outsmarted them all over Crimea.

But instead of keeping Ukraine out of the investigation, they became a major contributor, and were even given veto rights on anything that came out of it, as far as we know the only party with such rights. If you present a crime novel or movie with ingredients like that, nobody would believe you. Such things don’t happen in real life.

 

 

 

 

Nov 272018
 
 November 27, 2018  Posted by at 4:33 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  22 Responses »


Berthe Morisot The old track to Auvers 1863

 

Our politicians and media are not going to allow us to see Russia, and any incidents the country can be linked to, in any other way than black and white, in which we are the good party and they are the black, evil and guilty ones. So we’ll have to do that ourselves.

More than enough has been said about why NATO should have been dismantled when the reason for its existence, the Soviet Union, was dissolved, but nobody listened and NATO has kept expanding eastward and demanding more money, more members, more weapons.

NATO demands an enemy, and their chosen enemy is Russia. This has nothing to do with anything Russia has done or is doing at the moment. We can only hope that people are willing to accept that simple fact. And not passively go along with the flow of badmouthing and smear that decides what our picture of the country is.

Russia ‘invaded’ Crimea? Russia ‘downed’ MH17? Russia sent two hapless and inept blokes to kill the Skripals? Russia launched an unprovoked attack on three Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov? Russia colluded with the Trump campaign against Hillary Clinton? And collaborated with Julian Assange to make that happen?

What all these allegations have in common is that there is no evidence any of them are true. Oh, and that nobody’s really trying to prove them anymore. Because you’ve already accepted them as gospel.

 

90% or so of Crimeans voted to be part of Russia, after the west had tried their hand at regime change in Kiev, with John McCain and Victoria Nuland opening the gates for various neo-nazi groups to enter government.

The MH17 investigation is led by the Netherlands, the main victim. As I told Jim Kunstler in our recent podcast, you try and find a detective story where the main victim leads the investigation. Aided by Ukraine, one of the suspects, but not Russia, the designated suspect from the get-go. We’re over 4.5 years later and there is no proof -not that that keeps anyone from assigning blame.

The Skripals were allegedly attacked with the most deadly nerve gas ever, and allegedly survived. They simply haven’t been heard from anymore. There are images of two alleged Russian spies who went out of their way to be filmed and photographed in Salisbury, but their ineptitude doesn’t rhyme with Russian secret service in any way, shape or form. The west tries to make it sound like Comedy Capers, and that just gives the west away.

As for the ‘attacks’ the other day, the Guardian of all outlets explains: “Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation..”

Sure, you can claim that Russia has no right to ask Ukraine to ask for permission to the Sea of Azov, but then Kiev should have protested that demand, not send three armed vessels to ignore the demand and sail through anyway. That is called provocation.

And Ukraine provoking Russia is a bad idea. Unless you’re NATO, and you want Ukraine as a member. And unless you’re the chocolate billionaire who took over the government and now has an approval rating in the single digits with elections coming up in March. Question: how much chocolate do Ukrainians eat?

For Ukraine to enter NATO would be the most flagrant violation against the deal the west made with Gorbachev just prior to the dissolution of the Soviet union to date. And there have been plenty such violations in the past almost 30 years; little wonder that Moscow draws a line.

It’s just that nobody in the west is aware there is such a line. The media have helped politicians, NATO and arms manufacturers in painting a picture of Russia as the evil bogeymen in the east, and there is no counterweight to that picture anywhere in what people read and watch. It doesn’t matter whether the ‘news’ is accurate, because journalists don’t do their jobs to go out and check the facts.

 

As for the Muller’s unending investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, we know for a fact that there’s no evidence of any such thing, since Mueller would have been forced to go public with it because it’s such a serious issue; you can’t let treason lie for months or years. And sure, Mueller today fingered Manafort for lying, but that has nothing to do with collusion.

As for Mueller’s Julian Assange allegations, he should be ashamed of himself for accusing someone he knows is barred from defending himself. Mueller can say anything he likes about Assange, and does, and it has no value, Julian has been silenced to an extent that shames us all, but Mueller first.

The problem with Robert Mueller when he uses such tactics is that he loses his credibility, or rather, what he had left after solemnly testifying that Iraq possessed WMD when he was FBI head. The man is incessantly portrayed as America’s straightest arrow, but that just makes you lament the state the country is in. The odds that Trump is the straightest arrow are much higher, and even the Donald himself wouldn’t buy into that one.

As we’re worried about fake news and Facebook and election meddling and what have you, we need to be clear on what that really is. Which is, the worst and most fake news you see every single day comes from those sources that you trust most. This is not just deliberate, it’s highly profitable too. As long as you are gullible enough to keep buying into it. So far, you are.

Whenever you read anything at all about Trump, Russia/Putin and Assange in the major news outlets, chances that it is not objective or properly due diligence researched are far higher than that it is. You have to start out with the idea that what you’re about to read or watch is not true, for the simple reason that the vast majority of it is not; it only exists to serve an agenda and a narrative.

And because reporting what is not accurate makes ‘news sources’ much more money than reporting the truth. In the meantime, though, NATO, US/UK/EU intelligence and the military-industrial complex may be happy, but you should not be. Because you’ve landed somewhere in the middle between Orwell, Huxley and the Matrix. And that’s not going to end up doing you any good. Let alone your kids.

Shake it off, guys. You’re sinking. Information dissemination has become like walking into quicksand. Walking into a pre-processed narrative that deprives you of your ability to think. Not something we should wish upon anyone. But take this from me: you’re already in it, and you need to get out. It’s no longer about trying not to get in, those days are long gone. You’re already there.

 

 

May 152018
 


Henri Matisse Odalisque couchée aux magnolias 1923

 

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)
America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)
Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)
Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay (R.)
Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)
China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)
No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)
Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)
Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)
Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply –
Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)
Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

 

 

Bonds yield more than stocks.

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)

For almost a decade, it’s been extremely difficult to lose money in the U.S. stock market. Over the next decade, it could be hard to do anything but, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. The outlook for market returns has precipitously worsened in recent months, with analysts and investors growing increasingly confident that the lengthy bull market that began in the wake of the financial crisis could be, if not coming to a close, petering out. More market participants view the economy as being in the late stage of its cycle, and a recession is widely expected in the next few years. All of that could result in an equity-market environment that’s a mirror image of recent years, where gains were pretty much uninterrupted, and volatility was subdued.

“2018 is seeing multiple tailwinds of the last nine years abate,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a report to clients that was entitled “The End of Easy,” in reference to the investing environment. “Decelerating growth, rising inflation and tightening policy leave us with below-consensus 12-month return forecasts for most risk assets. After nine years of markets outperforming the real economy, we think the opposite now applies as policy tightens.” As part of its call, Morgan Stanley reduced its view on global equities to equal weight, saying they were “in a range-trading regime with limited 12-month upside.” It raised its exposure to cash, following Goldman Sachs, which last week upgraded its view on the asset class on a short-term basis.

U.S. GDP grew at an annualized 2.3% in the first quarter, below the 3% average of the previous three quarters, as consumer spending hit its weakest level in five years. While slowing growth isn’t the same as a contraction, the data added to concerns that a period of synchronized global growth was coming to a close. According to a BofA Merrill Lynch Global survey of fund managers in April, just 5% of respondents expect faster global growth over the coming 12 months, compared with the roughly 40% that did at the start of the year.

[..] Howard Wang, the co-founder of Convoy Investments, called the Fed’s ballooning balance sheet “the fundamental driver of asset prices over the last decade.” He provided the chart below, which compares the growth in the U.S. money supply against the long-term return of all assets, including global equities, bond categories, real estate, and gold. “I believe the trend of shrinking money supply in the system will continue for some time to come,” Wang wrote. “This adjustment is a painful but necessary process for healthier markets and economies.”

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$52,000 per second.

America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)

On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history. It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone. And over that time the country had been through a revolution, civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, the nuclear arms race… plus dozens of other wars, financial panics, and economic crises. Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago. This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.

That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND. But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years. It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt. That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second. Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year. And there is no end in sight.

At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.) Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades. The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that. They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.

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I’ll let Caitlin do the talking. The damage done to America yesterday will be felt for a long time.

Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)

1. I hate writing about Israel. The accusations of anti-semitism which necessarily go along with literally any criticism of that nation are gross enough, but even worse are the assholes who take my criticisms of the Israeli government as an invitation to actually be anti-semitic. They really do hate Jews, they really do think that every problem in the world is because of Jews and they post Jewish caricature memes and calls for genocide in the comments section on social media and it’s incredibly gross and I hate it. It feels exactly as intrusive, jarring and violating as receiving an unsolicited dick pic. But the Israeli government keeps committing war provocations and massacring Palestinians, so it’s something I’ve got to talk about.

2. Anti-semitism (or whatever word you prefer to use for the pernicious mind virus which makes people think it’s okay to promote hatred against Jewish people) is a very real thing that does exist, and I denounce it to the furthest possible extent. Anti-semitism is also a label that is used to bully the world into accepting war crimes, apartheid, oppression, and mass murder. Both of those things are true.

3. There were dozens of Palestinians killed and well above a thousand injured in the Gaza protests over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. I haven’t found any report of so much as a single Israeli injury. The only way to spin this as the fault of the Palestinians is to dehumanize them, to attribute behaviors and motives to them that we all know are contrary to human nature. To paint them as subhuman orc-like creatures who are so crazy and evil that they will keep throwing themselves at a hail of bullets risking life and limb just to have some extremely remote chance of harming a Jewish person for no reason. This is clearly absurd. A little clear thinking and empathy goes a long way.

6. Any position on Israel that is determined by words made up by dead men thousands of years ago is intrinsically invalid. Saying the Jewish people are more entitled to Israel than those who were living there seven decades ago because of some superstitious voodoo written in obsolete religious texts is not an argument. Religious freedom is important, and it’s important to be able to believe whatever you like, but your beliefs do not legitimize your actions upon other people. If you murder someone in the name of Allah, you have murdered someone. If you kill 58 people because you feel some ancient scripture entitles you to a particular section of dirt, you have killed 58 people. Your internal beliefs do not give you a free pass for your egregious actions upon others.

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Betcha it’s true. Making people pay to be spied upon.

Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay For It (R.)

Google is under investigation in Australia following claims that it collects data from millions of Android smartphones users, who unwittingly pay their telecom service providers for gigabytes consumed during the harvesting, regulators said on Tuesday. Responding to the latest privacy concerns surrounding Google, a spokesman for the U.S. based search engine operator said the company has users’ permission to collect data. The Australian investigations stem from allegations made by Oracle Corp in a report provided as part of an Australian review into the impact that Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, and Facebook have on the advertising market. Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the country’s Privacy Commissioner said they were reviewing the report’s findings.

“The ACCC met with Oracle and is considering information it has provided about Google services,” said Geesche Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the competition regulator. “We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner.” Oracle, according to The Australian newspaper, said Alphabet receives detailed information about people’s internet searches and user locations if they have a phone that carries Android – the mobile operating system developed by Google. Transferring that information to Google means using up gigabytes of data that consumers have paid for under data packages purchased from local telecom service providers, according to the Oracle report.

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As I’ve said for a long time, this is the Belt and Road scheme.

Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)

China’s “debtbook diplomacy” uses strategic debts to gain political leverage with economically vulnerable countries across the Asia-Pacific region, the US state department has been warned in an independent report. The academic report, from graduate students of the Harvard Kennedy school of policy analysis, was independently prepared for the state department to view and assessed the impact of China’s strategy on the influence of the US in the region. The paper identifies 16 “targets” of China’s tactic of extending hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to countries that can’t afford to pay them, and then strategically leveraging the debt.

It said while Chinese infrastructure investment in developing countries wasn’t “inherently” against US or global interests, it became problematic when China’s use of its leverage ran counter to US interests, or if the US had strategic interests in a country which had its domestic stability undermined by unsustainable debt. The academics identified the most concerning countries, naming Pakistan and Sri Lanka as states where the process was “advanced”, with deepening debt and where the government had already ceded a key port or military base, as well places including Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where China had not yet used its amassed debt leverage.

Papua New Guinea, which “has historically been in Australia’s orbit”, was also accepting unaffordable Chinese loans. While this wasn’t a significant concern yet, the report said, the country offered a “strategic location” for China, as well as large resource deposits. While there was a lack of “individual diplomatic clout” in Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines, Chinese debt could give China a “proxy veto” in Asean, the academics said.

[..] China’s methods were “remarkably consistent”, the report said, beginning with infrastructure investments under its $1tn belt and road initiative, and offering longer term loans with extended grace periods, which was appealing to countries with weaker economies and governance. Construction projects, which the report said had a reputation for running over budget and yielding underwhelming returns, make debt repayments for the host nations more difficult. “The final phase is debt collection,” it said. “When countries prove unable to pay back their debts, China has already and is likely to continue to offer debt-forgiveness in exchange for both political influence and strategic equities.”

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That’s been obvious for many years.

China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)

Millions of Americans who lost manufacturing jobs during the 2000s have long ”known” China was to blame, not robots. And many helped elect Donald Trump as president because of his insistence that China was at fault. Evidently many academics who’ve studied the issue are finally drawing the same conclusion. For years economists have viewed the increased role of automation in the computer age as the chief culprit for some 6 million lost jobs from 1999 to 2010 — one-third of all U.S. manufacturing employment. Firms adopted new technologies to boost production, the thinking goes, and put workers out of the job in the process. Plants could make more stuff with fewer people.

In the past several years fresh thinking by economists such as David Autor of MIT has challenged that view. The latest research to poke holes in the theory of automation-is-to-blame is from Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute. Academic research tends to be dry and complicated, but Houseman’s findings boil down to this: The government for decades has vastly overestimated the growth of productivity in the American manufacturing sector. It’s been growing no faster, really, than the rest of the economy. What that means is, the adoption of technology is not the chief reason why millions of working-class Americans lost their jobs in a vast region stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi river to the shores of the Great Lakes. Nor was it inevitable.

Autor and now Houseman contend the introduction of China into the global trading system is root cause of the job losses. Put another way, President Bill Clinton and political leaders who succeeded him accepted the risk that the U.S. would suffer short-term economic harm from opening the U.S. to Chinese exports in hopes of long-run gains of a more stable China. No longer needing to worry about U.S. tariffs, the Chinese took full advantage. Low Chinese wages and a cheap Chinese currency — at a time when the dollar was strong — gave China several huge advantages. Companies shuttered operations in the U.S., moved to China and eventually set up research hubs overseas in another blow to the America’s economic leadership. The cost to the U.S. is still being tallied up.

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Gee, what a surprise.

No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)

EU27 ministers met on Monday with the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss the state of talks so far. “Mr Barnier informed us that since 23 March no significant progress has been made on the three pillars that we work on: withdrawal, future framework, and Ireland,” Ekaterina Zakharieva, the Bulgarian foreign minister chairing the council, told journalists at an official press conference following the meeting. The renewed deadlock in Brussels comes as Theresa May’s cabinet repeatedly fails to agree with itself on what customs arrangement it wants with the EU after Brexit, despite publishing two options in August of last year. Both those options were dismissed as “magical thinking” by the EU at the time.

Speaking at a separate event in Brussels on Monday evening, Mr Barnier himself said that full talks on the future relationship had not even started in earnest despite getting the green light at a summit in March. “There is still a lot of uncertainty. Negotiations on the future with the UK have not started yet. We have had first exploratory discussions,” he said. Ms Zakharieva said the EU27 countries wanted more “intensive engagement by the UK government in the coming weeks”, warning that the October deadline was “only five months from now”. Ms May will next meet EU leaders in Brussels at the end of June for a meeting of the European Council.

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If you can’t see the material used to accuse you, what rights do you have?

Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)

A Russian company accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of funding a propaganda operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is asking a federal judge for access to secret information reviewed by a grand jury before it indicted the firm. In a court filing on Monday, lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting LLC said Mueller had wrongfully accused the company of a “make-believe crime,” in a political effort by the special counsel to “justify his own existence” by indicting “a Russian-any Russian.” They asked the judge for approval to review the instructions provided to the grand jury, saying they believed the case was deficient because Mueller lacked requisite evidence to show the company knowingly and “willfully” violated American laws.

Concord is one of three entities and 13 Russian individuals charged earlier this year by Mueller’s office, in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to meddle in the U.S. race, boost then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord was controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. Prigozhin, also personally charged by Mueller, has been dubbed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior political figures. He has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. government. Concord is facing charges of conspiring to defraud the United States, and is accused of controlling funding, recommending personnel and overseeing the activities of the propaganda campaign.

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“..more than half a year ahead of schedule..” Try that at home.

Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)

The bridge across the Kerch Strait, which will connect the Crimean Peninsula and Krasnodar Region is set to open on Tuesday. Construction of the bridge, the longest in Russia with a span of 19 kilometers, has been carried out since February 2016, and it is opening for cars more than half a year ahead of schedule. The bridge capacity is 40,000 cars and 47 pairs of trains per day, 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year. The railway section is scheduled to open in early 2019, the bridge will be opened for trucks starting from October of this year.

The link became vital after Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, as the peninsula’s only land border is with Ukraine. Before the opening, regular passenger and cargo deliveries were organized by direct flights and ferries from ports in southern Russia. Each pillar of the bridge needs about 400 tons of metal structures, which means that all pillars need as much iron as 32 Eiffel towers. The bridge’s piles are installed at least 90 meters under water.

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It’s very easy to just ban the stuff. That your governments haven’t simply done that says a lot.

Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply – WHO (G.)

Trans fats used in snack foods, baked foods and fried foods are responsible for half a million deaths worldwide each year and must be eliminated from the global food supply, the World Health Organization says today. Most of western Europe has already acted to reduce industrially made trans fats from factory-made foods. Denmark, like New York, which followed its lead, has an outright ban. Big food companies elsewhere have been under intense pressure to use substitutes. In the UK, the latest national diet and nutrition survey shows average intake of trans fats is well below the recommended upper limit of 2% of food energy, at 0.5-0.7%. Although companies manufacturing processed food in the UK do not use trans fats any more, the fats are in some cheap foods imported from other countries.

The WHO is calling on all governments to take action, including passing laws or regulations to rid their food supply of industrial trans fats. Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said eliminating trans fats would “represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease”. The WHO is targeting industrially made trans fats, but trans fats are also contained in milk, butter and cheese derived from ruminants, mainly cows and sheep. Dr Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO, said the amounts we eat in dairy products are unlikely to breach the health guidelines. “We are saying that trans fats contained in those products have the same effect as industrial trans fats – we are not able to tell the difference,” he said. “But the amount contained in dairy products is much less.”

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How about money NOT to build roads?

Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)

The Bank of England should print money for the government to invest in the low-carbon economy to combat climate change, according to a new report. The BoE must also offload fossil fuel assets and use its existing powers more effectively to promote green projects, the campaign and research group Positive Money says. The report argues that the bank’s mandate to secure financial stability “looks incoherent over time unless it considers the long-term viability of the economy”. That viability will be undermined unless the threat of climate change is tackled soon, the researchers say. “The nature of climate change is such that either physical damage from weather or radical changes in technology and policy will occur in some combination, so action is needed now,” the report says.

It challenges the bank’s record on climate change and says its programme of, in effect, printing billions of pounds to prop up the economy has disproportionately helped carbon-intensive companies that are choking the planet. Under quantitative easing (QE), the bank has bought billions of pounds of debt from companies and the government. This is supposed to increase demand for debt, which in turn lowers interest rates. Cheaper borrowing means more borrowing which is supposed to be used to fund economic activity. But the researchers argue that QE has been actively harmful to efforts to combat climate change because the bank’s own criteria have been skewed towards buying debt from high-carbon sectors like manufacturing and utilities.

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The only solution left.

Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

Wildlife poachers in Kenya will face the death penalty, the country’s tourism and wildlife minister has reportedly announced. Najib Balala warned the tough new measure would be fast-tracked into law. Existing deterrents against killing wild animals in the east African nation are insufficient, Mr Balala said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. So in an effort to conserve Kenya’s wildlife populations, poachers will reportedly face capital punishment once the new law is passed. Kenya is home to a wide variety of treasured species in national parks and reserves, including lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffe and zebra.

Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 – and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed. “We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Mr Balala reportedly said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”

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Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 3:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s

 

Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.

 

 

There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.

Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.

Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).

Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.

Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.

 

It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.

This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.

Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.

Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.

 

None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.

And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.

Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.

And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.

Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”

“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”

 

Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.

Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.

At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.

Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”

People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.

Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.

 

 

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


Times Square New York City, 1958

 

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

 

 

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

The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn (BBG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Silly idea. The New Cold War.

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

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

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Shadow banking resurgence? It was never gone.

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

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

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

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Yeah, well, it does nothing of the kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why bubbles are blown.

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

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

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

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

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Maintenance is far less sexy than building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 162015
 
 March 16, 2015  Posted by at 7:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


NPC People’s Drug Store, 11th & G streets, Washington DC 1920

After Six Years, U.S. Stocks are Back to Normal: Chaos (Bloomberg)
Indeed This Time Is Different: Because It’s Far Worse (Mark St.Cyr)
It’s Time For A Criminal Probe Into Tim Geithner’s Leaks As Fed Vice Chair (ZH)
Germany And Greece Should Look To Goethe To Resolve Their Standoff (Guardian)
Greek Currency Crisis Calls For Controlled Exit (Münchau)
If Greece Leaves Eurozone, Spain And Italy Would Be Next – Minister (ToM)
Greece To Use Nazi Army Archives For Reparation Claim (AFP)
Varoufakis: Greece Has Things Under Control (Deutsche Welle)
Germans Tired of Greek Demands Want Country to Exit Euro (Bloomberg)
Russia Was Ready for Crimea Nuclear Standoff, Putin Says (Bloomberg)
More Than a Million Hit Brazil Streets to Protest Rousseff (Bloomberg)
Beware the $300 Billion Shift Into Treasuries Coming From Japan (Bloomberg)
The Austrian Black Swan Claims Its First Foreign Casualty (Zero Hedge)
The Full Explanation Of How The ECB Broke Europe’s Bond Market (Zero Hedge)
Krugman Is Told to Read More, Write Less, by Swedish Riksbanker (Bloomberg)
A Green Light for the American Empire (Ron Paul)
How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 that Doesn’t Fly (Fiscal Times)

Anyone who still calls himself an investor doesn’t understand what goes on.

After Six Years, U.S. Stocks are Back to Normal: Chaos (Bloomberg)

Nobody said waking up from six years of Federal Reserve-induced slumber would be easy In stocks, volatility is back. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which never went more than three days without a gain in 2014, has twice fallen five straight times since January. Daily equity moves exceeding 1% have jumped 50% from last year and shares tumbled 3% or more over four different stretches in the first quarter. What seems like chaos is a return to normalcy for 70-year-old investor Chris Bertelsen, who says the end of Fed stimulus is long overdue in a market that has tripled since 2009. Volatility indicators bear a resemblance to 2007, the final year of the previous bull market – which this one now exceeds by 12 months.

“We are so skewed by the readily available quantitative easing and that was the abnormal,” said Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial. “For many investors, particularly those that haven’t seen a period of time like this, it does create queasiness.” The market hasn’t been this turbulent since the European debt crisis three years ago as volatility in currency and energy markets spill over to equities and Fed policy makers signal a rate increase by mid-year.

Less than three months into 2015, the market has seen 15 days when the S&P 500 rose or fell 1% or more, compared with 10 days a quarter in 2014. While the index is little changed for the year and has gone 41 months without a 10% tumble, it’s had more retreats of at least 3% than any time since 2011, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After swinging 0.53% a day in 2014 in the calmest year since 2006, the S&P 500’s daily move has widened to 0.71%, versus the average of 0.76% since 1928. “What we’re seeing in the market today is a preview that this is going to a more volatile year and investors should be positioned,” said Jim McDonald at Northern Trust.

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Amen, brother.

Indeed This Time Is Different: Because It’s Far Worse (Mark St.Cyr)

Suddenly the narrative that “everything is awesome” is showing to not be as “awesome” as it was first proclaimed. Merely a few months have passed since the ending of QE and praises of awesomeness everywhere are morphing into questions more akin to “Oh no: not again!” And with that we are now watching those who pushed, pulled, and levitated that narrative scramble desperately to push another narrative back onto the stage that worked so many times before: “Every sell off over the last 6 years has shown to be a profitable buying opportunity.” i.e., Just buy the dip (JBTFD). Yet it would seem these dips; are far different.

Just for context, over the past week, if you were one of the few remaining “home-gamers” still watching CNBC™, you would have been delighted to see once again their host Jim Cramer go through great pains to explain why he discounts the idea that we’re in a bubble to once again like ringing a bell (he uses buzzers and gongs I believe) the indexes sell off in dramatic fashion bringing back memories of Bear Sterns. As of today any gains for the year have been quelled. But not too worry, for he also contends you should have “dry powder” at the ready. i.e., Be ready to “JBTFD.” My thoughts? “Investing” isn’t going to be so easy this time. Why? Let me be so bold to use the same meme touted by the likes of those who sold it: Because, it truly is – different this time. Without QE, not only is there no one buying.

What’s far, far, far, (did I say far?) worse is: There’s no one to sell too! Effectively through the interventionist policies over the last 6 years via the QE program what the Fed. has accomplished, whether intentionally, or merely complicit in the results were: to systematically exterminate the dreaded “Short sellers.” Today everybody is currently on one side of the market. And that side is: long. The dreaded “Bears” that would even out the markets taking positions on the other side are all about gone. Every empirical statistics, every indicator measured whether it be Investor Intelligence™ data and the like shows, historically – they’ve never been so lopsided. Ever! But that’s only the beginning.

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Great rundown.

It’s Time For A Criminal Probe Into Tim Geithner’s Leaks As Fed Vice Chair (ZH)

Back in January 2013, when looking at the Fed’s 2007 transcripts we stumbled upon something which in a non-banana republic would be the basis of a criminal investigation. What happened, in a nutshell, is that at precisely 8:00 am on August 17, shortly after the infamous Goldman (and other) quant fund blow ups of the summer of 2007 shook the markets, in an attempt to halt the panic selloff in stocks, the Fed announced the following:

To promote the restoration of orderly conditions in financial markets, the Federal Reserve Board approved temporary changes to its primary credit discount window facility. The Board approved a 50 basis point reduction in the primary credit rate to 5-3/4%, to narrow the spread between the primary credit rate and the Federal Open Market Committee’s target federal funds rate to 50 basis points. The Board is also announcing a change to the Reserve Banks’ usual practices to allow the provision of term financing for as long as 30 days, renewable by the borrower. These changes will remain in place until the Federal Reserve determines that market liquidity has improved materially. These changes are designed to provide depositories with greater assurance about the cost and availability of funding. The Federal Reserve will continue to accept a broad range of collateral for discount window loans, including home mortgages and related assets. Existing collateral margins will be maintained. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and San Francisco.

Why was this abnormal, and why should it be the basis for a criminal inquiry? Simple. As we also wrote previously, hours before the Fed officially announced its primary credit rate cut, the market soared by a whopping 40 points just after 2 pm without any actual public news crossing the tape.

In other words, someone leaked the Fed’s decision to a select few just around 2 pm on Thursday, August 16, which can be further confirmed by the continuation of the market’s exuberance in the moments following the Fed’s announcement. This is a bold accusation, and one we wouldn’t make if none other than the Fed subsequently had confirmed that a member of the FOMC had indeed leaked the news of the upcoming rate cut. The leaker in question: the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and then-head of the NY Fed, Tim Geithner himself. From the August 16, 2007 transcript (page 13 of 37) of the conference call preceding this announcement:

MR. LACKER. If I could just follow up on that, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Yes, go ahead.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, did you say that [the banks] are unaware of what we’re considering or what we might be doing with the discount rate?
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Yes.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, I spoke with Ken Lewis, President and CEO of Bank of America, this afternoon, and he said that he appreciated what Tim Geithner was arranging by way of changes in the discount facility. So my information is different from that.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Okay. Thank you. Go ahead, Vice Chairman Geithner.
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Well, I cannot speak for Ken Lewis, but I think they have sought to see whether they could understand a little more clearly the scope of their rights and our current policy with respect to the window. The only thing I’ve done is to try to help them understand—and I’m sure that’s been true across the System—what the scope of that is because these people generally don’t use the window and they don’t really understand in some sense what it’s about.

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“..the words “our boys didn’t die on the beaches of Normandy for this” have been used in conversations between the State Department and the German foreign ministry.”

Germany And Greece Should Look To Goethe To Resolve Their Standoff (Guardian)

The Greek rebellion against Turkish rule, which began in 1821, threatened to upset the entire diplomatic balance of the western world. It flew in the face of the treaty signed by the so-called Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria and Prussia) to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe. Plus it violated the German enlightenment’s ideal of freedom, which was understood as deriving from the rule of law. Under the influence of the philosopher Kant, the Germans who built central Berlin as an off-white replica of Athens believed all freedom came from obeying authority.

The Greeks fighting the Turks in a dirty war, revelling in their image as brigands and urging revolt across Europe, were seen in the Germany of the 1820s much as the German electorate views hordes of radical Greek youth punching the air and singing Katyusha – with distaste. So Goethe, initially, opposed the Greek revolt. He feared Russian power would fill the vacuum if the Turks were beaten. And beyond that he feared it would spark further outbreak of revolution in Europe. What changed Goethe’s mind was the death of Lord Byron, fighing on the Greek side in 1824. In a sudden surge of creativity Goethe set to work on his unfinished drama Faust, modelling the central character now on Byron himself, and turning the second half of the work into a meditation on the nature of freedom.

His U-turn reframed the Greek “rulebreaking” problem within a broader set of rules: the Christian west versus the Ottoman Empire. Goethe declared his support for the Greeks, in opposition to the will of his political masters in Germany. Today, there are a growing number of diplomats in the Anglo-Saxon world who wish Angela Merkel would do a similar volte-face. The Germans’ intransigence on the Greek debt crisis is rooted in the same philosophical stance that initially guided Goethe’s generation: namely, that freedom derives from conformity to authority and the rules. But there was always another idea of freedom in the west – the one espoused by republican France, radical Britain and revolutionary America: that freedom exists in opposition to authority, and that the ultimate human right is to destroy the established order.

It’s strange to see a 200-year-old philosophical debate played out in the diplomatic backchannels of Nato, but that’s what is happening. If Germany’s cultural centre in Athens does end up draped in the banners of the anarchist left, then – in a way – it will be a fine testimony to the relevance of Goethe himself. And yet another example of the troubled psyche of this place called Europe.

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“The conclusion is inevitable: the best way to avoid a Grexident is to prepare for a Grexit.”

Greek Currency Crisis Calls For Controlled Exit (Münchau)

When German economic illiteracy meets with Greek diplomatic illiteracy, nothing good will come of it. Last week, a Greek minister threatened to swamp Germany with Islamic refugees. The Germans are again debating an accidental Greek exit from the eurozone: Grexident. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, linked a claim about Second World War reparation payments against Germany to present discussions on the extension of a loan agreement. The reparations claim itself is not frivolous. There are even German lawyers who believe Athens has a case. But it is politically mad to link the two. What we are hearing is not the usual noise: there is a loss of trust. The conclusion I draw from this is that the odds of a Greek exit from the eurozone have shortened dramatically in the past two weeks.

The two sides may tone down their rhetoric in the coming days but I cannot see the creditor countries relenting on the conditions of last month’s debt rollover agreement. Nor can I see the Greek government fulfilling them. Since nobody knows how many days or weeks Athens is from insolvency, the risk of a sudden exit is clear and present. Grexit may never happen – but it is time to get ready. Grexit is not an outcome any rational person would wish for. It will undermine the EU’s geostrategic influence. Economically, it will unmask a hidden truth: that the monetary union is just a beefed-up fixed-exchange system. A large number of financial contracts would instantly default. It is unclear how the global financial system would cope. The eurozone’s fledgling economic recovery would be at risk.

For Greece, an exit may well work in the long run if it is well managed, but it will bring economic misery in the short term. The country is still running a current account deficit, meaning it is reliant on external funding to support domestic consumption. That funding may disappear from one day to the next, should Greece default on its creditors. A preparation for Grexit is not about a Plan B in the top drawer. It means a pre-agreed sequence of actions ready to be implemented. A changeover of a currency regime within a short period of time constitutes an organisational and logistical challenge that goes beyond anything normal states ever do. I would advise against a cold turkey switch into a new currency regime – one that would replace the euro with a new drachma. I doubt this is logically feasible or economically desirable. I would opt for a transitory regime, a smoke-and-mirrors version where nobody knows precisely whether Greece is in or out.

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Crystal clear.

If Greece Leaves Eurozone, Spain And Italy Would Be Next – Minister (ToM)

If Greece were to leave the eurozone, Spain and Italy would also end up quitting the common currency bloc, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told German newspaper Bild in an interview published yesterday. “If Greece explodes, Spain and Italy will be next and then at some point, Germany. We therefore need to find a way within the eurozone, but this way cannot be that the Greeks keep on having to pay,” he said, according to an advance extract of the broad-ranging interview. He also said Greece did not need a third bailout but rather “a haircut like the one Germany also got in 1953 at the London debt conference”. Athens and Berlin have become engaged in a war of words and Greece has submitted a formal protest to the German Foreign Ministry, accusing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of having insulted his Greek counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis.

Schaeuble denies having called Varoufakis “foolishly naive”, as reported by some Greek media. On Schaeuble, Kammenos was quoted as saying: “I don’t understand why he turns against Greece every day in new statements. It’s like a psychological war and Schaeuble is poisoning the relationship between the two countries through that.” The relationship has already been strained by Berlin’s tough stance on Greece’s debt crisis. Kammenos said Schaeuble needed to put up with the new Greek government because it had been elected by the Greek people. He accused Berlin of interfering in Greek domestic affairs, adding: “I get the feeling that the German government is out to get us and some really want to push us out of the eurozone.”

Last week Greece renewed its campaign to seek compensation for the Nazis’ brutal occupation in World War II, an issue Berlin says was settled decades ago. Kammenos called for reparations in the interview, saying, “The gold that the Nazis took to Berlin from Athens was worth a lot of money. We expect compensation for that and also for the forced loan and the destruction of archaeological statues.” Kammenos also suggested Greece would stop taking refugees in the case of a “forced” Greek exit from the eurozone. “Then no agreements would be valid anymore, no treaties, nothing. We would no longer be obliged to take in refugees as a country of arrival. Whoever wants to push us out of the eurozone should know that.”

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Quite a find.

Greece To Use Nazi Army Archives For Reparation Claim (AFP)

Greece will use a trove of Nazi army papers to press its claim for German reparation payments, the defence ministry said on Friday. “This archive contains over 400,000 pages…it will be used toward supporting Greek demands over German obligations in 1941-1944,” the ministry said. “These documents do not just substantiate a historic truth – they are the documents of the Wehrmacht itself, the occupation forces,” said junior defence minister Kostas Isichos. The ministry said it had obtained the papers from US archives. “They are diaries, reports by officers to their superiors…these were not written for publicity, they were mainly secret documents,” he said.

Facing resistance from EU paymaster Germany to its claims for a renegotiation to its bailout, the new radical Greek government has stepped up pressure on Berlin over the controversial issue of war reparations. The Greek justice minister this week said he would activate a 15-year-old Greek Supreme Court ruling allowing the seizure of German assets to pay for war damages. Greece’s parliament also approved a motion to reactivate a special committee to look into war reparations, reimbursement of a forced war loan and the return of archaeological relics seized by German occupation forces.

Berlin argues that the issue of reparations to Greece was settled in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments. Isichos said Athens hoped the Wehrmact papers would shed further light on aspects of the occupation period, such as illegal archaeological excavation and looting, “in order to strengthen, not poison” Greek-German relations. “German universities, intellectuals and the German people are invited to join us in discovering this historic treasure…and close this open wound,” he said.

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“Small, insignificant problems of liquidity should not divide Europe..”

Varoufakis: Greece Has Things Under Control (Deutsche Welle)

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told ARD presenter Günther Jauch that Greece would repay its debts while still managing to cover civic needs, social security and a public workforce. In March, Greece is expected to pay €900 million to the IMF. “Small, insignificant problems of liquidity should not divide Europe,” Varoufakis told Jauch. Varoufakis said creditors did not have the right to interfere in Greece’s affairs. The finance minister also repeated a call for Germany to pay 11 billion euros in reparations for Nazi atrocities to Greece. German officials have said that the matter is settled. Varoufakis also addressed a recent video in which he appears to be showing his middle finger at hypothetical German officials at a 2013 speech in Zagreb, two years before he became finance minister. He called it a fake.

Earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also said his country was not facing a cash shortage. The denial came as Greece prepares to issue €1 billion in three-month treasury bills on Wednesday to meet debt repayments. “There is absolutely no problem with liquidity,” Tsipras told reporters after meeting with Varoufakis. Negotiations are continuing with creditors on a revised reform plan for Greece. On Sunday, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that, with €6 billion in debt bills in March overall on Greece’s books, civil servants should brace themselves for downsized salaries and pensions this month. “Tsipras urgently needs money,” said European Parliament President Martin Schulz in the article. The German parliamentarian, who met Tsipras last week, said Greece would have to convince eurozone nations and the ECB of its determination to carry out reforms.

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Stuffed with propaganda. Not a great idea in Germany.

Germans Tired of Greek Demands Want Country to Exit Euro (Bloomberg)

Berlin cabdriver Jens Mueller says he’s had it with the Greek government and he doesn’t want Germany to send any more of his tax money to be squandered in Athens. “They’ve got a lot of hubris and arrogance, being in the situation they’re in and making all these demands,” said Mueller, 49, waiting for fares near the Brandenburg Gate. “Maybe it’s better for Greece to just leave the euro.” Mueller’s sentiment is shared by a majority of Germans. A poll published March 13 by public broadcaster ZDF found 52% of his countrymen no longer want Greece to remain in Europe’s common currency, up from 41% last month. The shift is due to a view held by 80% of Germans that Greece’s government “isn’t behaving seriously toward its European partners.”

The hardening of German opinion is significant because the country is the biggest contributor to Greece’s €240 billion twin bailouts and the chief proponent of budget cuts and reforms in return for aid. Tensions have been escalating between the two governments since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took office in January, promising to end an austerity drive that he blames on Chancellor Angela Merkel. The shift in sentiment comes as Greece, at risk of running out of cash this month, battles with European officials over the release of more bailout funds. Tspipras has also stepped up calls for war reparations from Germany for the Nazi occupation during World War II and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been locked in a war of words with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Last week, the Greek government officially complained about Schaeuble’s conduct, to which Schaeuble replied that the whole matter was “absurd.” “The way the Greeks have been behaving has been impossible. Now they’re making their own demands with these reparations,” said Dorli Schneider, an interpreter waiting for a train at Munich’s central station. “Greece should pay back what they owe. We can’t forever give them more money.” German voters’ growing umbrage may make it harder for Merkel to sell any possible deal down the road to the German public and Budestag, which would have to vote on it. She also has to be wary of the anti-euro AfD party trying to peel off her voters, said Juergen Falter, a political scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.

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That’s not what he said.

Russia Was Ready for Crimea Nuclear Standoff, Putin Says (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to put his country’s nuclear forces on alert when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year in case of intervention by the U.S. and its allies. “We were ready to do that,” Putin said when asked in a documentary film about Russia’s takeover of Crimea aired Sunday on state television if the Kremlin had been prepared to place its nuclear forces on alert. The Russian leader said he warned the U.S. and Europe not to get involved, accusing them of engineering the ouster of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. “That’s why I think no one wanted to start a world conflict.”

In the film, called “Crimea: the Road to the Motherland,” broadcast by Rossiya-1, Putin said he sent military intelligence and elite navy marines to spearhead the disarmament of 20,000 Ukrainian troops in the territory. No date was given for the Putin interview. The film was made over eight months. Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March last year provoked the worst geo-political confrontation with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War. Tensions have escalated during a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine that’s killed more than 6,000 people over the past year. Despite a European-brokered cease-fire, the U.S. is considering arming Ukrainian forces.

Putin, 62, whose country has been hit by U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped to drive the Russian economy toward recession, branded President Barack Obama’s administration as “puppet-masters.” He said the U.S. directed the months of mass protests that overthrew Yanukovych in February last year. The Russian president said he decided to seize Crimea after a crisis all-night meeting with security chiefs from Feb. 22-23 to save the majority-ethnic Russian territory from the “nationalists” in Kiev who would have killed Yanukovych if Russia hadn’t given him refuge. He said the annexation of Crimea wasn’t planned before the overthrow of Yanukovych.

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She needs to go.

More Than a Million Hit Brazil Streets to Protest Rousseff (Bloomberg)

More than 1 million Brazilians, some of them calling for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, took to the nation’s streets Sunday to protest a government beset by scandal and the rising cost of living. The largest protest occurred in Sao Paulo, with 1 million people as of 3:40 p.m. local time, according to its military police. Protests occurred in cites of 16 states and the federal capital, according to O Globo website. Its TV network reported 100,000 protesters in Porto Alegre and 45,000 in Brasilia, citing the military police of those cities. While no violence or vandalism was reported, Sao Paulo police apprehended firework rockets from a group of attendees. Higher taxes and increased prices for government-regulated items like gasoline are rankling Brazilians as the biggest corruption scandal in the nation’s history ensnares elected and appointed officials.

The approval rating of Rousseff’s government has plummeted since she won a close re-election last October. Today’s protests may be bigger than the June 2013 demonstrations in which more than a million people decried deficient public services and demanded an end to corruption. Today’s protest will force the government to present anti-corruption legislation it has already prepared, according to Thiago de Aragao at Arko Advice, a political risk company. Doing so will allow the government to deflect some fire and argue that protests targeted corruption rather than Rousseff or her party, he said. “The government needs to make some response and since, because of the magnitude, they can’t disqualify the size and pressure of the protest, they have to address one of the issues,” De Aragao said by phone.

“The anti-corruption package will be more fluff than anything real, but at this moment it’s one of the main things that the government has to respond with. They don’t have much more than that.” [..] Today marks the 30th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy after a 21-year military dictatorship. March 15 will henceforth be remembered as the Day of Democracy, Aecio Neves, who Rousseff bested in the election last year, said in a video posted on his Facebook page, showing him wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national soccer squad. “I’m here to protest against corruption,” said Eliana Batista do Norte, a 55-year-old publicist who marched in Sao Paulo. “It’s not just about throwing the Workers’ Party out. We have to get rid of all the corrupt people. There is already enough information to remove Dilma.”

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They want to buy $300 billion worth of US Treasuries AND purchase all of their own bonds? Wow…

Beware the $300 Billion Shift Into Treasuries Coming From Japan (Bloomberg)

Back in the 1980s, the billions of dollars that the Japanese plowed into U.S. government debt reflected the Asian nation’s burgeoning economic might. Now, they’re at it again, only this time it’s to eke out any return they can. Yields on Japanese debt have been pinned near zero ever since the Bank of Japan embarked on its latest attempt, in April 2013, to end the two decades of stagnation that followed those go-go years. Europe isn’t much of an option, as yields turned negative this year on the region’s own quantitative easing. So why the U.S.? For one, with the Federal Reserve poised to raise interest rates, Treasuries offer the highest yields among debt from the world’s most-industrialized economies.

Then there’s the dollar, whose meteoric rise against virtually every currency has made U.S. assets even more appealing. HSBC says Japanese investors may funnel $300 billion into Treasuries over the next two to three years, double the pace of the nation’s purchases since 2012. “The BOJ is crowding out private investors,” said Yusuke Ito at Mizuho. “They have to find alternatives.” Mizuho’s overseas bond unit, which stepped up buying of Treasuries in mid-2014, has signed up more clients looking for higher-yielding alternatives to Japanese debt, he said. Japan first began to exert its influence in the U.S. government bond market more than three decades ago, when its booming export-driven economy produced trade surpluses that it then plowed into Treasuries year after year.

Japan has since built a stake of $1.23 trillion, making it America’s second-largest overseas creditor, just behind China’s $1.24 trillion. For the U.S. government, maintaining Japanese demand in the $12.6 trillion market for Treasuries is more important than ever, particularly after China pared its own holdings last year by the most on record and as the Fed prepares to raise rates. The good news is that Japanese purchases are poised to accelerate. Of the $500 billion that investors will pull from Japan’s debt market to put abroad through 2017, about 60% will flow into Treasuries, said Andre de Silva, HSBC’s Hong Kong-based head of global emerging-markets rates research.

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“..if a 1.5% write down in the assets of a supposedly well-capitalized German bank can lead to almost overnight insolvency, one can almost imagine what will happen when the Austrian black swan wave reaches Europe’s actually “undercapitalized” banks…”

The Austrian Black Swan Claims Its First Foreign Casualty (Zero Hedge)

Precisely one week ago in “A Black Swan Lands In Southern Austria: The Ripple Effects Of “Mini-Greece Going Off In The Heartland Of Europe”, when analyzing the consequences of the collapse of Austria’s bad bank, we noted perhaps the biggest paradox of Europe’s emergency preparedness response to the Greek collapse and imminent expulsion from the Eurozone: namely that the biggest threat to German banks was no longer in some Mediterranean nation, but in its very own back yard. To wit:

Irony #2, and the biggest one of all: while German banks had spent the past 3 years preparing for the inevitable Grexit and offloading all their exposure to the now insolvent Greek state, it was a waterfall chain of events which started in Germany’s own “back yard”, courtesy of auditors who decided it was unnecessary to mark losses to market until it was far too late, and the immediate outcome is that one ninth of until recently Aaa/AAA-rated Austria is now also insolvent. And that is just the beginning. One can only imagine how many such other “0% risk-weighted” Pandora boxes lie in wait across what are otherwise considered Europe’s safest banks, provinces and nations.

Indeed, it was just the beginning, and moments ago we got confirmation that the next domino has tipped over, following a Reuters report that Germany’s deposit protection fund will take over the property lender Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank AG (DuesselHyp), which has “run into problems” due to its exposure to Austrian lender Hypo Alpe Adria’s “bad bank” Heta. And while in the US FDIC Failure Fridays works like a well-greased machine, Germany has yet to get the hang of the whole “save the bad news for Friday after market close” thing and has for now has stopped on “Shocker Sundays.” Then again, this being Europe, denial persists even after the moment of failure, and according to Reuters, “the German banking association BdB, which runs the fund, is, however, not planning to wind down the bank, but wants to continue its operations.”

“The deposit protection fund is granting a guarantee for the Heta bonds to eliminate the immediate risks. The goal is a complete takeover of Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank,” the BdB said in a statement on Sunday.

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It’s starting to feel like the last gasps of a fatally distorted system.

The Full Explanation Of How The ECB Broke Europe’s Bond Market (Zero Hedge)

[..]..it is not just the topic of swapping one asset with a higher collateral velocity for another with a far lower, if not zero, velocity, but also the issue of effective supply. As JPM notes, “another important aspect in Coeuré’s speech regarding market liquidity was the notion of “effective supply”. What matters more for market liquidity and depth is indeed not the overall stock or supply of euro government bonds, but the size of the effective supply as some asset holders may not be willing to sell. And it is effective supply that would determine whether the Eurosystem be able to meet its quantitative targets. While it is inherently difficult to calculate effective supply we believe we can make some reasonable assumptions to proxy it.” But before JPM’s analysis of effective supply in Europe (or lack thereof), it takes one more swipe at just how clueless the Goldman-advised ECB has become:

… we disagree with Coeuré’s view that, similar to their Japanese counterparts, “euro area banks will be more willing to sell euro government bonds to the ECB as they will receive central bank reserves, which in the current low interest rate environment can be viewed by banks as close substitutes for government bonds, and which count towards fulfilling e.g. the required liquidity ratios”. The problem with this argument, in our view, is that the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets for commercial banks remains low for European banks vs. those in the US or Japan. Euro area and UK banks, in particular, have a ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets of 7% vs. 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts.

If Euro area banks sell no bonds at all to the ECB and at the same time the ECB injects €1.1tr into the Euro area banking system, the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets would rise to 11%. This will still be well below the 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts. In addition, as we argued above, government bonds are worth more to banks from a collateral point of view given rehypothecation. And this is perhaps one of the reasons that banks are currently willing to hold euro government bonds with yields that are below -20bp. In all, we continue to believe that banks in the Euro area could end up selling bonds to the ECB, but to a much smaller extent than their Japanese counterparts given their much higher need for liquid assets.

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He doesn’t get paid to read…

Krugman Is Told to Read More, Write Less, by Swedish Riksbanker (Bloomberg)

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is way off when he accuses the Swedish central bank of being guilty of “sadomonetarism,” according to the target of his criticism. Deputy Governor Per Jansson says the U.S. economist’s analysis suggests he hasn’t read enough about Sweden. Krugman has criticized the bank for raising rates at the height of Europe’s debt crisis in 2010 and 2011, and then for not cutting fast enough to fight disinflation. The moves made sense at the time, Jansson said, given a consensus among forecasters that prices were rebounding and as the economy was expanding faster than much of Europe, driving up credit growth and house prices.

“When he described Sweden as sort of a deflationary economy, and makes these parallels to Japan, you wonder, has he ever had a look at the data?” Jansson said in a March 12 interview in Stockholm. “Has he seen how Swedish GDP recovered over these crisis years? It completely outperformed the euro area, of course, but even the U.K. It’s close to the U.S.’s performance.” Krugman and other critics say the Riksbank’s policies drove Sweden into a deflationary trap that could have been avoided. The Riksbank, which in the mid-1990s became one of the first to target inflation, last reached its 2% target in 2011. Annual consumer prices have fallen for 11 of the past 14 months.

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“Unfortunately history has shown that even using humanitarian rhetoric as a justification for telling others what to do has never worked.”

A Green Light for the American Empire (Ron Paul)

The American Empire has been long in the making. A green light was given in 1990 to finalize that goal. Dramatic events occurred that year that allowed the promoters of the American Empire to cheer. It also ushered in the current 25-year war to solidify the power necessary to manage a world empire. Most people in the world now recognize this fact and assume that the empire is here to stay for a long time. That remains to be seen. Empires come and go. Some pop up quickly and disappear in the same manner. Others take many years to develop and sometimes many years to totally disintegrate. The old empires, like the Greek, Roman, Spanish and many others took many years to build and many years to disappear. The Soviet Empire was one that came rather quickly and dissipated swiftly after a relatively short period of time. The communist ideology took many decades to foment the agitation necessary for the people to tolerate that system.

Since 1990 the United States has had to fight many battles to convince the world that it was the only military and economic force to contend with. Most people are now convinced and are easily intimidated by our domination worldwide with the use of military force and economic sanctions on which we generously rely. Though on the short term this seems to many, and especially for the neoconservatives, that our power cannot be challenged. What is so often forgotten is that while most countries will yield to our threats and intimidation, along the way many enemies were created.

The seeds of the American Empire were sown early in our history. Natural resources, river transportation, and geographic location all lent itself to the development of an empire. An attitude of “Manifest Destiny” was something most Americans had no trouble accepting. Although in our early history there were those who believed in a powerful central government, with central banking and foreign intervention, these views were nothing like they are today as a consequence of many years of formalizing the power and determination necessary for us to be the policeman of the world and justify violence as a means for spreading a particular message. Many now endorse the idea that using force to spread American exceptionalism is moral and a force for good. Unfortunately history has shown that even using humanitarian rhetoric as a justification for telling others what to do has never worked.

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Why do I keep thinking this is no accident?

How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 that Doesn’t Fly (Fiscal Times)

The Pentagon’s embattled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues to be plagued with so many problems that it can’t even pass the most basic requirements needed to fly in combat, despite soaring roughly $170 billion over budget. As the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history, the $400 billion and counting F-35 is supposed to be unlike any other fighter jet—with high-tech computer capabilities that can identify a combatant plane at warp speed. However, major design flaws and test failures have placed the program under serious scrutiny for years–with auditors constantly questioning whether the jet will ever actually get off the ground, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Last year, military officials faulted contractors for all of the mistakes.

Contractors claimed they had corrected the issues and that there wouldn’t be more costly problems down the road. During an interview on 60 Minutes, Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is in charge of the program said, “Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistake. Lockheed Martin doesn’t get paid their profit unless each and every airplane meets each station on time with the right quality.” However, a new progress report from the Defense Department casts serious doubts on the progress of the program. The DoD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation cites everything from computer system malfunctions to flaws with its basic design—it even found that the jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of the way it’s built.

A separate report from Military.com unearthed another embarrassing issue with the jet that suggests it won’t take off on time. The “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet, according to Military.com. On top of that, the software needed to operate the top close-air support bomb won’t even be operational until 2022, inspectors said. The Defense Department’s report also suggested that the program’s office isn’t accurately recording the jet’s problems. “Not all failures are counted in the calculation of mean flight hours between reliability events, but all flight hours are counted, and hence component and aircraft reliability are reported higher than if all of the failures were counted,” the report said.

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Feb 172015
 
 February 17, 2015  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Byron On the streets after a New York blizzard 1899

How Central Banks Have Lost Control Of The World (Telegraph)
Draghi QE Plan Seen Challenged by Hoarders Amassing Bonds (Bloomberg)
Athens Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Eurozone Demands (Guardian)
Greece Rejects Eurozone’s ‘Absurd’ Offer As Time Runs Out On Talks (Telegraph)
Greece Defies Creditors, Seeking Credit But No Bailout (Reuters)
Brussels’ Blunt Bargaining Presents Austerity As Greece’s Only Option (Guardian)
Greek Brussels Defiance Means Hope at Home Tinged With Anxiety (Bloomberg)
Greek Talks With Euro-Area Finance Ministers Break Up (Bloomberg)
How a Liquidity Squeeze Could Push Greece Out of the Euro (Bloomberg)
UK Chancellor George Osborne Says It’s Crunch Time For The Eurozone
No Time for Games in Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)
Varoufakis: ‘Austerity Has Done Nothing to Solve Greece’s Problems’ (Spiegel)
Germany’s Schaeuble “Very Sceptical” About Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)
Chinese Home Prices Fall For Ninth Month (BBC)
China New Home Prices Drop At Record Pace (CNBC)
Russian Researchers Expose Breakthrough US Spying Program (Reuters)
EU Places New Sanctions On Ukrainians, Russians (CNBC)
Putin Heads Off a US-Russia War (Margolis)
France Should Recognize Crimea As Part Of Russia – Le Pen (RT)
How Many More Wars? (Ron Paul)

“Competitive easing”

How Central Banks Have Lost Control Of The World (Telegraph)

The world’s oldest central bank has ventured into uncharted territory. Last week, Sweden’s Riksbank slashed its main policy rate into negative territory. In doing so, it became the 14th central bank to ease monetary policy so far this year, but the first to actually take its “repo rate” below zero to -0.1pc. This means Sweden is actually charging its banks to lend money. In Britain, the same interest rate currently stands at a historic low of 0.5pc, but could well be cut further if Mark Carney is to be believed. Switzerland and Denmark have already sent their deposit rates to -0.75pc to prevent currency appreciation and defeat deflation.

Faced with the twins threats of deflation and economic stagnation, monetary policymakers are reaching for their interest rate levers and digital money-printing tools in a bid to stave off recessions and debt deflationary dynamics. In energy exporting nations such as Russia, the collapse in oil prices has led to a flight of capital forcing central banks into massive foreign exchange intervention and dramatic rate hikes to prop up the value of their currencies. Loose monetary policy, coupled with the much anticipated tightening from the world’s largest economy later this year, is provoking fears that central banks are losing their grip on the global economy. Here’s a breakdown of the consequences that could emerge from their actions. “Competitive easing” among central banks has stoked fears of a return of international currency wars.

The announcement of unprecedented monetary stimulus from the ECB and the Bank of Japan has led to the respective weakening of their exchange rates and prompted dramatic responses from the smaller central bank players. In Europe, the Swiss, Danish and Swedish authorities have all moved to impose punitive negative interest rates in a bid to prevent their currencies from rocketing in value. The Swiss kicked off this round of devaluation with a shock decision to abandon its de facto peg with the euro in January. The Riksbank has gone further and will begin its own round of bond-buying in response to the ECB’s moves. Denmark meanwhile, has been forced to lower rates four times in three weeks and purchase €32bn in foreign exchange to prevent the krone from developing into a safe haven for investors. This co-ordinated central bank action is reviving the “ghosts of the 1930s”, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.

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“If it becomes at all clear that the ECB is struggling to buy a sufficient quantity of bonds, it makes it even less likely that anybody will want to sell..”

Draghi QE Plan Seen Challenged by Hoarders Amassing Bonds (Bloomberg)

As if Mario Draghi doesn’t have enough problems already. Europe is trying to avert a crippling bout of deflation. Germany wants austerity and less stimulus. And Greece is demanding to renegotiate the terms of its bailout, a move that has revived the risk of the euro area splintering. Now, there’s yet another: the European Central Bank president’s unprecedented plan to jolt the euro zone out of its economic malaise by buying €1.1 trillion of bonds may be hamstrung, even before it starts. The reason? A dearth of new supply and a lack of willing sellers. Morgan Stanley estimates net issuance from governments will be negative for the first time, once the ECB’s plan is taken into account.

The resulting scarcity makes hoarding of the safest euro-area securities by banks, insurers and pension funds all but inevitable, hindering ECB efforts to buy in 19 months roughly the same proportion of those bonds as the Federal Reserve accumulated in almost six years of Treasuries purchases. “If it becomes at all clear that the ECB is struggling to buy a sufficient quantity of bonds, it makes it even less likely that anybody will want to sell,” said Michael Riddell at M&G, who also said he’d been telling clients the ECB may have difficulty with its purchases. “This would scupper their attempts to boost inflation,” he said. The program has been carefully calibrated to take account of the size of different markets, an ECB spokesman said by e-mail on Monday.

The central bank is not at all worried about its success, and operational details will be regularly reassessed, the spokesman said. While the ECB faces economic risks akin to those in the U.S. when the Fed started quantitative easing, global debt trading has evolved. A tighter balance between supply and demand has pushed up prices, helping send rates in Europe to record lows and leaving €1.2 trillion of the region’s sovereign bonds yielding less than zero. That may make holders of the securities more reluctant to sell. “We have institutional investors, which are desperately looking for yield,” said Franck Dixmier at Allianz Global, a unit of Europe’s biggest insurer. “They will not sell. Because what really matters for a pension fund or an insurance company is the yield at the time you purchase the bond – and there’s the question of reinvestment for those investors.”

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Dirty tricks.

Athens Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Eurozone Demands (Guardian)

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, heightening concerns that the country is edging closer to a disruptive exit from the eurozone. The breakdown of discussions in Brussels over the Greek bailout programme appeared to leave both sides as far apart as ever, although eurozone finance ministers said a last-ditch summit could be held on Friday. However, the Greek delegation was told in no uncertain terms that talks would recommence only if the country was willing to extend its bailout package, which carries a list of austerity measures that the new left-wing government in Athens has vowed to pare back. Effectively presenting Greece with an ultimatum, the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers said Athens had until Friday to agree to maintain the current bailout under the auspices of the Troika – something that Greece has said is unacceptable.

Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, made it clear in the acrimonious discussions in Brussels on Monday that Greece would not accept prolonging the bail out for six months unless the other 18 members of the eurozone agreed to water down the austerity conditions attached to the deal. Varoufakis insisted that an “honourable agreement” was within reach for Greece, despite voicing strong criticism of unspecified advocates of Greece’s current bailout, who were playing “games with the future of Europe”. “We are going to meet half way during the next couple of days,” he said. “Europe will do the usual trick, it will pull a good agreement, an honourable agreement, out of what appears to be an impasse.”

The Syriza-led coalition in Athens is convinced that, despite the tough language used by Germany, it can secure more favourable terms by holding out until closer to the 28 February deadline when its current €172bn bailout expires. But it ran the risk on Monday night of infuriating other eurozone members through its negotiating stance and by leaking the details of a draft agreement while the meeting was going on. A Greek official described the draft agreement as “unacceptable” because it restated that Greece must continue in its current bailout programme. “The Greek authorities have indicated that they intend to successfully conclude the programme, taking into account the new government’s plans,” stated a phrase in the rejected communique, which had been crossed out.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the eurogroup, said there had been disappointment about the failure to find common ground. But he insisted that the Greek government had to make the next move by asking to continue in the bailout programme. “The next step has to come from the Greek authorities; they have to make up their mind.” He said eurozone ministers were likely to meet on Friday, but this would be the last chance to get an agreement.

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“..carrying out the bailout programme was off the table at the summit. Those who bring this back are wasting their time.”

Greece Rejects Eurozone’s ‘Absurd’ Offer As Time Runs Out On Talks (Telegraph)

The latest meeting between Greece and its international lenders over the debt-stricken country’s €172bn bailout ended in disarray on Monday, as the eurozone’s offer was rejected as “absurd” and “unacceptable”. Greece has demanded an end to the EU and IMF’s “adjustment” programme of economic reforms and austerity agreed three years ago in return for a bailout. Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday hoping to reach a compromise before the bailout expires on February 28. However, Greek politicians reacted with anger to a draft statement tabled by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers. The communique committed Greece’s far-Left Syriza government to “successfully conclude” the EU-IMF programme.

“The Greek authorities gave their firm commitment to refrain from unilateral action and will work in close agreement with its European and international partners, especially in the field of tax policy, privatisation, labour market reforms, financial sector and pensions,” the draft stated. “The Greek authorities committed to ensure appropriate primary fiscal surpluses and financing in order to guarantee debt sustainability in line wit the targets agreed on the November 2012 Eurogroup statement. Moreover, any new measures should be funded, and not endanger financial stability. “On this basis the Greek authorities expressed their intention to request a six-month technical extension of the current programme as an interemediate step. This would bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the eurogroup to work on a follow up arrangement.”

Greece’s government blasted the document, with one source telling Reuters that “carrying out the bailout programme was off the table at the summit. Those who bring this back are wasting their time.” To replace the bailout, Greece is seeking a “bridging arrangement”, worth up to €21bn, that would allow the government in Athens breathing space to implement radical economic reforms. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, accused the Greek government of “behaving irresponsibly” by threatening to tear up agreements made with the eurozone in return for access to the loans which are all that stand between Greece and financial collapse. “It seems like we have no results so far. I’m quite sceptical. The Greek government has not moved, apparently,” he said.

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“He cited what he called a “splendid” proposal from the European Commission by which Greece would get four to six months credit in return for a freeze on its anti-austerity policies..”

Greece Defies Creditors, Seeking Credit But No Bailout (Reuters)

Talks between Greece and euro zone finance ministers over the country’s debt crisis broke down on Monday when Athens rejected a proposal to request a six-month extension of its international bailout package as “unacceptable”. The unexpectedly rapid collapse raised doubts about Greece’s future in the single currency area after a new leftist-led government vowed to scrap the €240 billion bailout, reverse austerity policies and end cooperation with EU/IMF inspectors. Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chaired the meeting, said Athens had until Friday to request an extension, otherwise the bailout would expire at the end of the month. The Greek state and its banks would then face a looming cash crunch. How long Greece can keep itself afloat without foreign support is uncertain.

The euro fell against the dollar after the talks broke up but with Wall Street closed for a holiday, the full force of any market reaction may only be felt on Tuesday. The European Central Bank will decide on Wednesday whether to maintain emergency lending to Greek banks that are bleeding deposits at an estimated rate of €2 billion a week. The state faces some heavy loan repayments in March. Seemingly determined not to be browbeaten by a chorus of EU ministers intoning that he needed to swallow Greek pride and come back to ask for the extension, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a left-wing academic economist, voiced confidence that a deal on different terms was within reach within days.

“I have no doubt that, within the next 48 hours Europe, is going to come together and we shall find the phrasing that is necessary so that we can submit it and move on to do the real work that is necessary,” Varoufakis told a news conference, warning that the language of ultimatum never worked in Europe. He cited what he called a “splendid” proposal from the European Commission by which Greece would get four to six months credit in return for a freeze on its anti-austerity policies. He said he had been ready to sign that – but that Dijsselbloem had then presented a different, and “highly problematic”, deal. A draft of what Dijsselbloem proposed, swiftly leaked by furious Greek officials, spoke of Athens extending and abiding by its “current programme” – anathema to a government which, as Varoufakis said, was elected last month to scrap the package.

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“In the corridors of the European commission, officials will tell anyone interested that Greece long ago relinquished its autonomy.”

Brussels’ Blunt Bargaining Presents Austerity As Greece’s Only Option (Guardian)

Rarely have European finance ministers given such a clear statement. To the request from Greece to scrap its toxic austerity programme, the answer was no. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, is not the worst when it comes to convoluted euro-speak. Still, he has rarely delivered such a pithy response. Two weeks of shuttle diplomacy is the blink of an eye in Brussels. But that is all it took for Athens to be told its demand for an alternative bailout, with more relaxed rules, was a dream. The eurogroup said the troika programme must continue. As a concession it agreed the programme could be extended, and it would also allow for some elements to be up for discussion. But an extension must bring with it a commitment to carry through the majority of the reforms attached to the programme.

And any dropping of certain measures – such as a squeeze on public sector employment – must be matched by an agreement to add other elements of austerity. In other words, the abandonment of one public sector cut simply brings with it an equally tough one in a different guise. Dijsselbloem gave Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras until Thursday to buckle, with a view to holding an emergency eurogroup meeting on Friday to discuss surrender terms. Without a call from Tsipras, Dijsselbloem said the bailout would end on 28 February. From 1 March a new bailout could be debated, but the hint was clear – the terms would be just as tough. And let’s face it, the terms are for a full and total surrender.

Not only will Tsipras give up his economic project, he will effectively be telling the Greek people something many have felt since the first bailout in 2010 – that they are governed from Brussels, and how they vote is irrelevant. In the corridors of the European commission, officials will tell anyone interested that Greece long ago relinquished its autonomy. Such was the severity of its financial crash and the dysfunction in its economy, being run from Brussels was the only answer. For Tsipras to have other ideas was wholly naive. And when last week, after the first eurogroup meeting, he told finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to keep pushing for more and the dapper economics professor went public again with accusations of financial waterboarding, the Eurogroup was left with no alternative but to say no.

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“The rallies show how exhausted Greek society is, how it’s a society on the brink.”

Greek Brussels Defiance Means Hope at Home Tinged With Anxiety (Bloomberg)

Christina Zografou wasn’t among the thousands of Athenians who gathered in Syntagma square on Sunday to support Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. That’s not because the 21-year-old university student doesn’t support the efforts of his three-week-old government. Rather it’s because Zografou is more anxious than hopeful about what Tsipras will achieve. On Monday night, talks between Greece and its European creditors foundered after Tsipras’s government said the euro area’s proposal to extend existing bailout commitments was “absurd” and “unacceptable.” “I’m not optimistic this government won’t end up like the others; they aren’t prepared,” Zografou said. “The rallies show how exhausted Greek society is, how it’s a society on the brink.”

While opinion polls in Greece point to unprecedented support for the new government, they also show an undercurrent of concern. A Kapa survey of 1,015 Greeks published the day of the rally showed that hope was the overwhelming feeling chosen to describe Tsipras’s handling of the crisis since his election. The most prevalent feeling after that was anxiety. The rallies “place an even greater burden on the government to deliver a ’new deal’ for Greece,” said Spyros Economides, a professor at the London School of Economics. “If they don’t deliver, the goodwill generated among the electorate up to now could quickly be eroded.” Greece’s new anti-austerity government wants to exit the current bailout program, which it blames for the country’s economic hardships, and replace it with a new plan while obtaining bridge financing to avoid defaulting on its international debt.

The plan, which would include raising wages and reinstating government workers, is not getting much support from the country’s creditors. Germany, as the biggest country contributor to Greece’s €240 billion bailouts and the chief proponent of economic reform and budget cuts in return, insists that Tsipras’s government commit to an extension of its current rescue program, which expires Feb. 28. Without a deal, Greece could run out of money, forcing Tsipras to consider abandoning his promises to the electorate to prevent the country from leaving the single currency. In the weeks since Tsipras came to power and as European officials bear down on the new premier, the focus of conversations in Athens’s cafes, bars and sidewalks is all about what needs to be done and what can be done.

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“Varoufakis said his government had been “happy” with a “splendid,” separate draft communique that was produced by European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici before the meeting.”

Greek Talks With Euro-Area Finance Ministers Break Up (Bloomberg)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 11th-hour effort to strike a deal with Greece on Monday was parried by euro-area finance ministers who sought to extend an austerity program in exchange for financial support. Talks in Brussels ended abruptly and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claimed a bait-and-switch, saying Juncker’s commission offered a path forward that finance ministers then refused to put on the table. Instead, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem offered a different statement tying Greece to its current agreement. Varoufakis rejected that proposal out of hand, and the euro weakened on the impasse. Time is running out: The current aid agreement expires at the end of February.

Failure to reach an accord could see Greece stumble out of the euro, and while Europe’s defenses are stronger than when the country flirted with exit from the single currency three years ago, a departure could ultimately trigger a flight from risk, bank runs and a downturn in European demand. According to seven European officials with direct knowledge of the talks, the meeting quickly unraveled, sending the euro lower. Dijsselbloem, who leads the finance ministers’ group, eventually halted the proceedings, saying ministers could reconvene on Friday if there’s a breakthrough. “The next step has to come from the Greek authorities,” Dijsselbloem told reporters. “They have to make up their minds whether they will ask for an extension.”

Varoufakis said Greece had no choice but to refuse the statement on offer. “In the history of the European Union nothing good has ever come out of ultimatum,” he told reporters after the meeting. Greece is willing to extend the current aid program as long it’s done on the right terms, Varoufakis said. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government will now return to the bargaining table and “we are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to reach an honorable agreement over the next two days,” he said. [..] Varoufakis said his government had been “happy” with a “splendid,” separate draft communique that was produced by European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici before the meeting.

Moscovici, speaking after the meeting, called on euro-area finance ministers to be “logical, not ideological” as negotiations continue. He urged Greece to request an extension and said concessions so far leave ample room for a deal. “We both agreed that it could be possible to keep 70% of the current program and to replace measures, but which have to be fully financed, up to 30%” of current requirements, Moscovici said. “30% is not a minor room for politics.”

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“With no access to any source of financing, the insolvent state and its banks would have to start using a new currency, or a currency equivalent, as no economy can survive without cash.”

How a Liquidity Squeeze Could Push Greece Out of the Euro (Bloomberg)

The standoff between Greece and its creditors on how to proceed on its bailout program risks triggering a simultaneous cash and credit crunch, which could drive the country out of the euro area. Here’s how a worst-case scenario could unfold: The Greek government, companies and lenders have all effectively lost access to international markets, due to the uncertainty over the country’s future. The current sources of liquidity are bailout funds from the euro-area nations, the currency bloc’s crisis fund, the IMF and the ECB’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance. Failure to strike a compromise means that these payments would cease. This means that the state would be unable to service its debt obligations, which stand at €22 billion this year, excluding treasury bills, according to the 2015 budget.

Greek aid talks in Brussels ended abruptly Monday. “If the ECB considers the talks to have stalled, there is a risk that it will suspend ELA, perhaps leaving Greece with no choice but to exit the euro zone,” Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics said. Lack of access to bailout funds would also mean that the Greek state wouldn’t be able to repay its €15 billion outstanding of short-term debt held by the country’s lenders. At present, Greek banks continuously roll over bills, helping the government stay afloat. The ECB decision not to accept Greek bills as collateral for financing operations and accelerating deposit outflows are limiting the ability of banks to buy new bills.

With no access to any source of financing, the insolvent state and its banks would have to start using a new currency, or a currency equivalent, as no economy can survive without cash. This would be the start of a de-facto exit from the euro area, caused by Greece’s inability to deal with a stripping of liquidity worth as much as 96 billion euros, according to Bloomberg calculations below.

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Britain gets nervous. It should offer to act as mediator.

UK Chancellor George Osborne Says It’s Crunch Time For The Eurozone

The UK chancellor, George Osborne, has warned that Britain’s economic stability would be rocked if a deal cannot be reached on Greece’s bailout. Speaking on his way into the European Union ministers’ meeting on Tuesday morning, Osborne said: “We are reaching crunch time for Greece and the eurozone, and I’m here to urge all sides to reach an agreement, because the consequence of not having an agreement would be very severe for economic and financial stability.” He added: “What Britain really needs to see is competence not chaos.”

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, after Athens rejected a plan to prolong its bailout for six months. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of eurozone finance ministers, said on Tuesday morning that eurozone ministers were ready to work with Greece to break the deadlock but insisted that the next move had to come from Athens. “I hope [Greece] will ask for an extension to the programme, and once they do that we can allow flexibility, they can put in their political priorities,” Dijsselbloem said as he arrived for the meeting. Analysts at Commerzbank said the chances of Greece leaving the eurozone were now as high as 50%.

After the eurozone finance ministers again failed to reach an agreement with Greece today, the euro membership of the country hangs in the balance.” Before yesterday’s failed meeting, Commerzbank rated the chances of Greece leaving the currency bloc at 25%.”

Greece is not on the official agenda of the meeting, but a further round of talks between Athens and its eurozone creditors is expected to be getting underway. Dijsselbloem has laid down a deadline of Friday for Greece to ask for an extension to its current bailout deal, which is due to expire on 28 February.

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Truth to power. “I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country’s creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation..”

No Time for Games in Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)

I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country’s creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation, and even prove a turning point for Europe’s unfolding experiment with monetary union. Game theorists analyze negotiations as if they were split-a-pie games involving selfish players. Because I spent many years during my previous life as an academic researching game theory, some commentators rushed to presume that as Greece’s new finance minister I was busily devising bluffs, stratagems and outside options, struggling to improve upon a weak hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, my game-theory background convinced me that it would be pure folly to think of the current deliberations between Greece and our partners as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffs and tactical subterfuge.

The trouble with game theory, as I used to tell my students, is that it takes for granted the players’ motives. In poker or blackjack this assumption is unproblematic. But in the current deliberations between our European partners and Greece’s new government, the whole point is to forge new motives. To fashion a fresh mind-set that transcends national divides, dissolves the creditor-debtor distinction in favor of a pan-European perspective, and places the common European good above petty politics, dogma that proves toxic if universalized, and an us-versus-them mind-set.

As finance minister of a small, fiscally stressed nation lacking its own central bank and seen by many of our partners as a problem debtor, I am convinced that we have one option only: to shun any temptation to treat this pivotal moment as an experiment in strategizing and, instead, to present honestly the facts concerning Greece’s social economy, table our proposals for regrowing Greece, explain why these are in Europe’s interest, and reveal the red lines beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going. The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners’ trust. We are also determined not to be treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must.

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“Our country is literally being pushed under water. Just before we suffer an actual cardiac arrest, we are granted a momentary respite. Then we’re pushed back under water, and the whole thing starts again. My aim is to end this permanent terror of asphyxiation.”

Varoufakis: ‘Austerity Has Done Nothing to Solve Greece’s Problems’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Varoufakis, you have referred to the European Union’s bailout policy for Greece as “fiscal waterboarding.” What exactly do you mean by that?
Varoufakis: For the past five years, Greece has been subjected to austerity measures that it cannot, under any circumstances, meet. Our country is literally being pushed under water. Just before we suffer an actual cardiac arrest, we are granted a momentary respite. Then we’re pushed back under water, and the whole thing starts again. My aim is to end this permanent terror of asphyxiation.

SPIEGEL: Do you really think “waterboarding” is an appropriate metaphor for a rescue package?
Varoufakis: Well, it managed to get your attention, didn’t it? So it worked.

SPIEGEL: You are comparing a rescue package with a form of torture the CIA used on prisoners. But Greece was showered with money, not water.
Varoufakis: That money was used to bail out banks, especially banks in Germany and in France, to prevent them from taking losses.

SPIEGEL: Greece would have become insolvent long ago if it hadn’t received help.
Varoufakis: The truth of the matter is that 90% of that money never arrived in Greece.

SPIEGEL: Going back to your metaphor, who is the torturer that keeps pushing Greece under water?
Varoufakis: The troika of technocrats sent periodically to Greece to enforce an unenforceable program, technocrats representing the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I have nothing against these three institutions as such. However, they sent a cabal of technocrats to Greece to implement and monitor an entirely destructive program.

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The parallel universe: “The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time..” And built soupkitchens with all that money?

Germany’s Schaeuble “Very Sceptical” About Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)

Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a radio interview on Monday that he was not very optimistic that Greece and its euro zone partners would reach a debt agreement at a meeting in Brussels later in the day. Asked if the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers would find a solution for Greece’s debt problems, Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk: “From what I’ve heard about the technical talks over the weekend, I’m very sceptical, but we will get a report today and then we’ll see.” Schaeuble said Germany did not want Greece ot leave the euro zone, but that the new government in Athens had to fulfil the core conditions of its bailout programme and that it was not about finding a compromise deal “just for the sake of a compromise”.

“The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time and that nobody wants to give Greece money anymore without guarantees,” Schaeuble said, noting that Athens had to stick to agreed reforms to become competitive. Schaeuble added that the new Greek government was behaving “quite irresponsibly” right now and that it was no help to insult others who have supported the country in the past. A Greek leftist newspaper close to the ruling party in Athens published a cartoon last week which showed Schaeuble in a Nazi uniform. He is quoted saying “we insist on soap from your fat” and “we are discussing fertilizer from your ashes”, references to the fate of Jews in Nazi death camps. In a separate interview with German broadcaster ZDF, Austria’s finance minister Hans-Joerg Schelling said the new Greek government still appeared to be in “election mode not working mode”.

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Bad to worse.

Chinese Home Prices Fall For Ninth Month (BBC)

The average price of new homes in China’s 70 major cities fell 0.4% in January from a month ago, marking the ninth consecutive decline. Government data showed that prices in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai also fell more last month than they did in December on an annual basis. China’s once red-hot real estate market has been facing headwinds from a slowing economy and oversupply issues. Investors have been turning away from the market and investing in stocks. Home prices fell in 64 of the 70 cities tracked by the National Bureau of Statistics. On an annual basis, prices fell 5.1% in January – marking the fifth consecutive month that prices fell from a year ago.

The continuing slump comes despite a surprise interest rate cut by China’s central bank in November in an attempt to boost growth in the flagging economy. The world’s second-largest economy grew at its slowest pace in 24 years last year, missing its official target and putting pressure on the government to take measures to avoid a sharper downturn. Earlier this month, China’s central bank surprised markets once again by lowering banks’ reserve requirements to boost lending, which is expected to help the property sector. The rate cut was the first since May 2012, although there have been cuts for select small lenders.

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“New home prices fell in 69 of 70 cities by from the year-ago period..”

China New Home Prices Drop At Record Pace (CNBC)

New home prices fell in 69 of 70 cities by an average of 5.1% from the year-ago period, according to Reuters calculations based on fresh data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Tuesday. The pace pips the 4.3% decline in December, which was the largest drop since the current data series began in 2011, according to the FT. Both Beijing and Shanghai clocked in steeper on-year price falls, of 3.2% and 4.2%, respectively, in January compared with the 2.7% and 3.7% respective declines seen in December. The People’s Bank of China slashed the reserve requirements of major banks – or the minimum amount of cash banks need to hold back from lending – last month. The move follows the central bank’s surprise interest rate cut in November.

After skyrocketing in recent years, China’s property prices have been cooling amid a glut of supply and as economic growth moderated. The housing sector contributes to about 15% of China’s economy. The world’s second-biggest economy slowed to 7.4% in 2014, the slowest rate in 24 years. “Since the beginning of last year we are already seeing a steady drop in housing prices across the board,” said David Ji, head of research, Greater China, at Knight Frank. “The problem that we have now is that the developers have two to five years of stock to clear. So until that has been cleared, prices aren’t going up any time soon,” he added.

The pain in the sector is being felt by property developers like Kaisa, which on Tuesday said its assets frozen by courts to protect its creditors have risen to more than $2 billion, sending its shares down nearly 10% in Hong Kong. The troubled developer said Monday its debts now exceed $10 billion, of which it may have to repay more than half this year, and that it was in discussions with creditors to restructure its borrowings urgently. Kaisa’s problems underscores the role the informal – or shadow – banking sector plays in the slumping property market. These nontraditional Chinese lenders, or investment vehicles known as trusts, have lent massive amounts to the sector following the Global Financial Crisis, resulting in the accumulation of ballooning debt.

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This could cost US tech firms a fortune.

Russian Researchers Expose Breakthrough US Spying Program (Reuters)

The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives. That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations. Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria.

The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said. The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States. A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

Kaspersky published the technical details of its research on Monday, which should help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001. The disclosure could further hurt the NSA’s surveillance abilities, already damaged by massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s revelations have hurt the United States’ relations with some allies and slowed the sales of U.S. technology products abroad. The exposure of these new spying tools could lead to greater backlash against Western technology, particularly in countries such as China, which is already drafting regulations that would require most bank technology suppliers to proffer copies of their software code for inspection.

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Can it get any crazier?

EU Places New Sanctions On Ukrainians, Russians (CNBC)

The European Union placed more Ukrainians and Russians under sanctions on Monday, accusing them of “undermining or threatening” Ukraine’s independence. The new list places “restrictive measures” on 28 people or organizations, including Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Defense, Arkady Bakhin. Also on the list was Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov and Andrei Kartapolov, the deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces. The sanctions are due to come into effect immediately. The new penalties are part of an ongoing program by the European Union, but come just days after a cease-fire was announced in Ukraine. Military conflict with Russian separatists has been one of the biggest factors weighing on markets in recent months, but despite the cease-fire some of the rebels have not observed the truce, according to reports.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would “adequately” respond to the sanctions, according to Reuters. It added that the measures contradicted common sense and would not result in a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine was thrown into turmoil at the start of last year, after protests between anti-government and pro-EU demonstrators led to a change of leadership. Tensions on the streets of Kiev turned into military conflicts on the eastern border, with Moscow accused of aiding pro-Kremlin rebels in the region. Moscow continues to deny the involvement of Russian troops in the conflict.

Despite these denials, the tensions have hit Russia’s economy hard. It is expected to fall into a recession in the coming year on the back of international economic sanctions from both the U.S. and Europe, combined with a dramatic fall in oil prices. The Russian ruble fell sharply against the dollar after the news of more sanctions Monday, despite appreciating much of the morning session. The economic sanctions now mean Western asset freezes and travel bans for yet more Ukrainians and Russians. As well as commanders of armed separatist group in the region, the list also includes Iosif Kobzon, a Russian singer, who the EU has accused of making statements supporting separatists and voting in favor of the annexation of Crimea.

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“Along came that unlikely man of peace, Russia’s Vlad Putin, who charted a diplomatic course out of the Syria mess for the bumbling White House which had talked itself into corner.”

Putin Heads Off a US-Russia War (Margolis)

Has Russia’s Vladimir Putin pulled Barack Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire for a second time? Will the shaky cease-fire in Ukraine that began this weekend hold up and end a conflict that was threatening a nuclear war between the United States and Russia? The answer to the first question is yes. Remember back in 2013 when the Obama White House was threatening to attack Syria over allegations it was using poison gas? As it turned out, the UN found it was the US-backed Syrian rebels who were likely to have used chemical weapons rather than the Damascus regime. Noble Peace Prize Winner Obama and his lady strategists almost got the US into a war in Syria that could have led to direct clashes with Russia, which was backing the Damascus government.

Along came that unlikely man of peace, Russia’s Vlad Putin, who charted a diplomatic course out of the Syria mess for the bumbling White House which had talked itself into corner. Now, it seems the much-reviled Russian leader is doing it again. The cease-fire agreement forged in Minsk late last week may end or at least de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine that was drawing the US and Russia into a direct confrontation. Whether the cease-fire/truce holds up is uncertain but the absolute necessity of a negotiated settlement over the Ukraine crisis could not be more clear. Nuclear-armed powers must never, ever clash militarily. President Putin proposed the solution over a year ago: autonomy in a federal state and the right to speak Russian for eastern Ukraine.

Most important, Ukraine would never join NATO. Doing so would have put Russia’s vital naval base at Sevastopol under NATO control – as unthinkable for Moscow as for the US to see Norfolk, Virginia or Houston under Russian or Chinese control. Ukraine’s fierce nationalists and their US backers rejected Putin’s plan and set about trying to impose Kiev’s total control by military force. It’s ironic that the US has given total support to Kiev’s war against what it calls “rebels” and “terrorists” while arming and financing Syria’s Sunni rebels whom Damascus brands “rebels” and “terrorists.”

A peace deal comes not an hour too soon. A full battalion of US Army troops is scheduled to arrive in western Ukraine to “train” government troops and lead them into battle. This hare-brained scheme has a potential clash with Russia written all over it. Imagine if Russian troops arrived outside Montreal to train Canadian forces. The US has no strategic interests in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union/Russia until 1991. The whole crazy scheme was promoted by neocons as a way of undermining Russia and putting Ukraine into their ideological orbit.

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“Russia is a great country, a great people, with which Europe has many common strategic interests. We need to talk with Russia..”

France Should Recognize Crimea As Part Of Russia – Le Pen (RT)

The leader of the French National Front Party, Marine Le Pen has urged the French government to recognize Crimea as part of Russia’s territory and to restore ties with Moscow, a “natural ally of Europe.” There is no alternative, but to recognize the legality of Crimea’s ascension into the Russian Federation, Le Pen told the Polish Do Rzeczy in an interview. The French politician says that Paris must accept Crimea’s choice, as it became part of Russia in the time of lawlessness following an orchestrated “coup” last year, when “Neo-Nazi militants organized a revolution in Ukraine.” Le Pen says the Peninsula had no other choice as “power in Kiev was illegal,” at that time. “The authorities [in Kiev] started to make decisions that would lead to civil war,” she added. The leader of the French National Front emphasized that “Russia is a natural ally of Europe.”

“We are pawns in the game of influence between the United States and Russia. Russia is a great country, a great people, with which Europe has many common strategic interests. We need to talk with Russia,” she said. Le Pen has been a strong critic of EU policies towards Russia and US influence in European geopolitics from the very beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. In March, speaking about the results of the referendum in Crimea, Le Pen said that on the peninsula, the people’s choice was to be expected. “This was to be expected,” Le Pen said. “And the people [of Crimea], who lived in fear, rushed into the arms of the country where they were from: as you know it, Crimea is part of Ukraine only for 60 years.”

Earlier this month, Le Pen voiced her disapproval of Washington’s stake in Europe. Regarding Ukraine, we behave like American lackeys,” she said, before warning that “the aim of the Americans is to start a war in Europe to push NATO to the Russian border.” She went on to accuse European leaders of turning a blind eye to the Ukrainian government’s “bombing of civilians,” adding that both those in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine believed the country should be federalized. Equally critical of the EU role in Ukraine, in September, she told Le Monde that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is “all the European Union’s fault,” saying Brussels had “blackmailed the country to choose between Europe and Russia.” To resolve the conflict, Le Pen has more than once called on necessity to conduct negotiations on federalization and constitutional reforms to decentralize the power, rather than to try solve the issue by military means.

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“Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the US military.”

How Many More Wars? (Ron Paul)

Last week President Obama sent Congress legislation to authorize him to use force against ISIS “and associated persons and forces” anywhere in the world for the next three years. This is a blank check for the president to start as many new wars as he wishes, and it appears Congress will go along with this dangerous and costly scheme. Already the military budget for next year is equal to all but the very peak spending levels during the Vietnam war and the Reagan military build-up, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives. Does anyone want to guess how much will be added to military spending as a result of this new war authorization? The US has already spent nearly $2 billion fighting ISIS since this summer, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. A new worldwide war on ISIS will likely just serve as a recruiting tool for jihadists.

We learned last week that our bombing has led to 20,000 new foreign fighters signing up to join ISIS. How many more will decide to join each time a new US bomb falls on a village or a wedding party? The media makes a big deal about the so-called limitations on the president’s ability to use combat troops in this legislation, but in reality there is nothing that would add specific limits. The prohibition on troops for “enduring” or “offensive” ground combat operations is vague enough to be meaningless. Who gets to determine what “enduring” means? And how difficult is it to claim that any ground operation is “defensive” by saying it is meant to “defend” the US?

Even the three year limit is just propaganda: who believes a renewal would not be all but automatic if the president comes back to Congress with the US embroiled in numerous new wars? If this new request is not bad enough, the president has announced that he would be sending 600 troops into Ukraine next month, supposedly to help train that country’s military. Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the US military. The ceasefire agreement signed last week includes a demand that all foreign military forces leave Ukraine. I think that is a good idea and will go a long way to reduce the tensions. But why does Obama think that restriction does not apply to us?

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