Jun 252020
 
 June 25, 2020  Posted by at 6:36 pm Finance Tagged with: , ,  16 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Tahitian scene 1892

 

 

 

This is another piece I received today from Bruce Wilds, a US Midwest business owner I earlier featured an article from two months ago. There are plenty issues I have issues with here, but I’m not going to stand in the way of the US midwest being heard as it hurts the way it does. I mean, I’m in Athens Greece. The US Midwesterners are definitely not. I am most willing to cede the stage.

Update: I see Bruce has gotten this piece on ZeroHedge too. Which happened only because I published his piece 2 months ago. So be it. I’m still supportive. The US midwest will resemble a warzone. And, you know, it lends an extra dimension to “the importance of where and what”, which in Bruce’s original headline read “The Importance Of Where And What Consumers Buy”. Headlins, they ain’t kids’ play.

 

 

Bruce Wilds: How people spend their money has more impact on the economy than most people realize. What consumers buy matters a great deal. When looking at the policies flowing out of Washington it is clear many politicians seem to have no idea that all consumer spending and purchases are not created equal. Certain purchases result in money bouncing around a community sparking future economic growth which enriches everyone. Other purchases simply give the money wings allowing it to exit not only the community but often the country.

Many economists point to the consumer as being the lynch-pin to our economy.  Given that retail sales make up roughly 40% of personal consumption expenditures which in turn comprise roughly 70% of our GDP, their impact on the economy is important. These numbers, however, only tell a small part of the story. Sadly, because of economic laziness or ignorance, this is where the link between how and where money is spent gets lost in the noise. Ironically while President Trump decries our trade deficit he seems unable to put one and one together and understand it is shortsighted consumers driving the deficit.

A detailed breakdown of how people receiving a stimulus check would provide a great deal of information about the finances of individual Americans. It would also be very interesting to randomly delve deep into the finances of a few hundred Americans and learn the truth about where we stand. By deep, I mean looking at where they get their income, debt, total obligations, savings, retirement plans, net worth, the whole caboodle. This kind of deep economic discovery has never been done to my knowledge but instead, we tend to garner our information from superficial polls. 

An article by Lance Roberts that appeared on Real Investment Advice took a shot at explaining the bounce we just saw in retail sales at a time many consumers are tapped out. Robert wrote you should “never count the consumer out,” as they always find a way to go further into debt because psychologically, consumers are “trained” to “shop till they drop.” He claims that as long as individuals have a paycheck; they will spend it. Give them a tax refund; they will spend it. Issue them a credit card; they will max it out. Give them a government stimulus check; they will spend it as well. Don’t believe me, then why is consumer debt at record levels?

The fact is, consumers should take a long look at how their purchases will impact the economy over time. Robert makes the point that most consumers will spend if they have or can borrow the money. Taking this to the next level, few people realize what is registered as growth does not necessarily transfer into economic strength. This point is something that has been covered time and time again on this blog in articles such as, Healthcare Spending Wrongly Feeds Our GDP, and Economic Growth Does Not Equal Economic Strength.

The following examples highlight this matter. Just for fun imagine the money allowing for these purchases is flowing from the recent 2.3 trillion dollar CARES Act.

  • Consumer one decides to put a new roof put on his home. This includes tear off and re-shingling. This labor-intense job pays a lot of local workers from those delivering and hauling away the old roof to those selling the shingles, those installing them, and even some folks at the local landfill. As a bonus, the shingles are made here in America. Putting even more ceiling on the cake is that it improves not only his property but raises values in his neighborhood enriching those living nearby.
  • Consumer two uses their money as a down payment on a new Hyundai. The Hyundai Motor Company is a South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer headquartered in Seoul. Hyundai builds the vast majority of its vehicles at its plant in Ulsan, South Korea. It also operates plants all over the world with one in Mexico and a plant in Alabama. When I tried to research how likely the car was to be made here I hit a wall. One thing for certain is that it is packed full of South Korean parts and with each sale a bunch of dollars heads overseas.
  • In the final example consumer three slaps, small businesses, brick and mortar retailers, and the 30 million-plus Americans recently unemployed in the face. His online purchase from Amazon of products made in China and shipped from a facility located in another state. Just like in the case of consumer two a bunch of the money heads overseas but real disaster for the community is absolutely none of the money stays there. This sets the area up for a new wave of store closings, prolonged unemployment, and declining real estate prices.
And It’s Gone!

 

 

Many of our economic problems stem from the many consumers out there making poor decisions. This includes things such as paying too much for a car they cannot afford or maintain.These automobiles generally do not last long and often get put on a hook. The least responsible consumers tend not to fulfill obligations due but to take on new debt and squander every penny they can lay their hands on. Online shopping and companies such as Amazon are like heroin to an addict when it comes to promoting spending that destroys real economic strength.

Those people that have chosen to skip paying the essentials such as home mortgages and rent will most likely come to regret it as they are hit with penalties and their actions come back to haunt them. The elephant in the room when it comes to growing the economy is how “the broken window theory” is spun and interpreted. The gist of this theory is that if a hooligan breaks the window of a bakery, the subsequent repair expenditures by the baker will have no net benefits for the economy. Interestingly, it is not uncommon to see destruction touted as a good thing because it promotes spending. The idea destruction is good based on this reasoning discounts several facts.

One has to do with where the money is coming from but whether it is from an insurance company or the baker it still means the money is diverted from being used on another purchase. Repairing a broken window is maintenance spending which doesn’t improve growth because it doesn’t improve productivity; it would have occurred anyway. The only thing a broken window does is it makes the maintenance spending occur earlier, lowering the use life of the window. While maintenance spending may keep the economy going it doesn’t provide a boost. Instead, it is better to invest the money in something which creates wealth by increasing productivity.

Many people and even economists have real misconceptions as to how the economy works. Where money flows and who it enriches is a key component of economics, the failure to consider this is a blind spot many people have. After years of being told everything revolves around spending, this diminishes the important role savings plays in the scheme of a balanced economy. Fans of Keynesian economics that encourage government spending to stabilize the economy during a downturn tend to discount the importance that where and how money is spent matters a great deal.

 

 

 

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Jun 202020
 


Howard Hollem Assembly and Repairs Department Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi 1942

 

Several US States See Coronavirus Infection Spikes (R.)
Mainland China Reports 27 New Coronavirus Cases, Including 22 In Beijing (R.)
US Attorney Berman Refuses To ‘Step Down’ After Barr Asks For Resignation (ZH)
Coronavirus Was Already In Italy By December, Waste Water Study Finds (BBC)
Trump Admin To Name Most Recipients Of Bailout Loans (ZH)
The Crisis Goes Up A Gear (Macleod)
House GOP Leader: Democratic Party Should Change Its Name (JTN)

 

 

I am definitely not in my normal morning rhythm today (hence only 7 articles in today’s aggregator). Part of that may be due to meeting up with some friends in Athens yesterday, but that’s certainly not the whole story. Athens is still mainly deserted, by the way, which is kind of nice and refreshing, but also very obviously hurtful to many people’s incomes.

But what really bumped me off my rhythm is reading the stories, and reactions to them, about AG Barr asking US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geffrey Berman to resign, and the latter refusing to comply. Reading through all the related articles had one notion, one fear, creep up on me: that the US is at a serious risk of becoming ungovernable. And I mean: serious.

Whoever wins on November 4, Trump or Biden(?!), may well be unacceptable and unaccepted by half the country. And what happens then? Are we going to have a civil war? I’ll get back to that soon. It’s not like this is the first time it ever occurred to me, but it has gained a lot of weight -and risk- lately.

 

 

I thought maybe I had erred yesterday when my count of new cases was so much higher than Worldometer. Instead, they are even higher.

Worldometer reports new cases for June 19 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 181,005.

My count 6AM EDT to 6AM EDT based on Worldometer numbers is 184,233. Have we entered a new phase?

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 30,810
• Brazil + 54,771
• Russia + 7,790
• India + 14,721
• Pakistan +8,466
• Mexico + 5,662

 

 

Brazil was scary:

 

 

Cases 8,786,592 (+ 184,233 from yesterday’s 8,602,359)

Deaths 463,156 (+ 6,354 from yesterday’s 456,802)

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

I forgot to take a screen shot last night.

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pandemic in the US is very far from over. Forget about that trip to Europe.

Several US States See Coronavirus Infection Spikes (R.)

Troubling spikes in coronavirus infection rates were reported on Friday in several U.S. states, mainly in the South and West, a day before President Donald Trump was due to preside over an Oklahoma campaign rally that will be America’s largest indoor gathering in months. Wall Street jitters over a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as states moved to reopen long-stifled commerce and ease social-distancing measures helped drive down major U.S. stock indexes, reversing earlier gains. Experts say expanded diagnostic testing accounts for some, but not all, of the growth in cases – numbering at least 2.23 million nationwide on Friday – and that the mounting volume of infections was elevating hospitalizations in some places.

“Clearly the cases are rising rapidly. It’s not just a matter of testing more,” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency room physician at Arizona hospitals, noting the lag time between a positive test and severe illness or death. “The real concern is what is coming up for us in the next week or two.” He said the latest wave of cases has put Arizona’s major hospitals at or near capacity, and placed the Southwestern state on track to surpass New York at its peak on a per-capita basis. More than 119,000 Americans have perished from COVID-19 to date, according to Reuters’ running tally. Particularly alarming has been the upward trends several states are reporting in the percentage of positive tests among individuals who are screened, a metric experts refer to as the positivity rate.

The World Health Organization considers positivity rates above 5% to be especially concerning, and widely watched data from Johns Hopkins University shows 16 states with average rates over the past week exceeding that level and climbing.

Read more …

Still don’t really understand how they missed this for so long.

Mainland China Reports 27 New Coronavirus Cases, Including 22 In Beijing (R.)

Mainland China reported 27 new coronavirus cases as of the end of June 19, 22 of which were reported in the capital Beijing, China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday. This compared with 32 confirmed cases a day earlier, 25 of which were in Beijing, where local authorities are working to contain a new outbreak at a food wholesale market. Another seven asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, those who are infected with the coronavirus but show no symptoms, were also reported as of June 19 compared with five a day earlier. China does not count these patients as confirmed cases.

Read more …

Berman is a Republican who contributed to the Trump campaign. And, like Bolton, the DNC and MSM’s best new friend.

US Attorney Berman Refuses To ‘Step Down’ After Barr Asks For Resignation (ZH)

Geffrey Berman is refusing to step down as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York after Attorney General William Barr asked him to resign, according to Bloomberg. “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney,” said Berman, adding “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. “I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate… …Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.” Reacting to the news, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said “This late Friday night dismissal reeks of potential corruption of the legal process.”

[..] A Republican who contributed to Trump’s campaign, Berman was considered a highly qualified pick to succeed Preet Bharara, the previous occupant of his Berman’s soon-to-be-former office, which also features heavily in the TV show “Billions” (it’s the position held by the show’s antagonist, a corrupt federal prosecutor). AG Barr didn’t offer much in the way of an explanation, and Berman hasn’t said much either. Then again, we’re only just finding out about this, and it’s 10pmET on a holiday Friday. But even more surprising than the news of Berman’s sudden departure is the news of who will take his place. Following a brief interlude, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton will become the next US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

For those who aren’t familiar, Clayton is the same man who almost allowed Hertz and its creditors to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of stock to unsuspecting Robinhood day traders trying to flip their stimulus checks for quick cash with nary a word from the SEC. But even more extraordinary than his handling of the Hertz situation is Clayton’s decision to allow Tesla CEO Elon Musk walk away from a dispute with the SEC in which the CEO flagrantly and blithely violated basic securities regulations involving disclosures of material information to the public (remember “funding secured?” and the tedious legal melodrama that ensued in which Musk, in full blown tantrum mode, was repeatedly appeased by government regulators seemingly robbed of all willingness to hold him accountable).

Read more …

How many countries are doing similar studies? Could be revealing.

Coronavirus Was Already In Italy By December, Waste Water Study Finds (BBC)

Italian scientists say sewage water from two cities contained coronavirus traces in December, long before the country’s first confirmed cases. The National Institute of Health (ISS) said water from Milan and Turin showed genetic virus traces on 18 December. It adds to evidence from other countries that the virus may have been circulating much earlier than thought. Chinese officials confirmed the first cases at the end of December. Italy’s first case was in mid-February. In May French scientists said tests on samples showed a patient treated for suspected pneumonia near Paris on 27 December actually had the coronavirus.


Meanwhile in Spain a study found virus traces in waste water collected in mid-January in Barcelona, some 40 days before the first local case was discovered. In their study, ISS scientists examined 40 sewage samples collected from wastewater treatment plants in northern Italy between last October and February. Samples from October and November came back negative, showing that the virus had not yet arrived, ISS water quality expert Giuseppina La Rosa said. Waste water from Bologna began showing traces of the virus in January. The findings could help scientists understand how the virus began spreading in Italy, Ms La Rosa said. However she said the research did not “automatically imply that the main transmission chains that led to the development of the epidemic in our country originated from these very first cases”.

Read more …

Go Tyler!

Gee, Barry Ritholtz has no clothes on.

Trump Admin To Name Most Recipients Of Bailout Loans (ZH)

When the government said it would give out thousands of dollars in bailout loans grants under the Paycheck Protection Program, every eligible business – which was most small and medium businesses (that had no access to capital markets) with up to 500 employees, signed up. And why not: it was free money from a government that had launched helicopter money, and was seeking to ram the newly created money into the economy. There was no downside – the grants would be forgiven if used to pay wages or rent, and – at least according to widespread speculation – the loans would remain a secret. Which is why it was so surprising when it emerged that some “asset managers” such as Ritholtz Asset Management, led by Josh Brown and Barry Ritholtz, had also accepted bailout grants to stay in business. In retrospect, Ritholtz is the author of Bailout Nation so it probably should not have been a surprise.

What should have been a surprise is that an asset manager – i.e., a professional collecting generous fees to predict the future and entrusted with billions in capital not only failed to do that, but himself needed a bailout. It just goes to show how important it is to pick very calm and patient clients. Of course, we can’t blame them: like most other recipients, Ritholtz probably expected that his name would never see the light of day, even though technically he used taxpayer money to prop up his company. And since it is taxpayer money, everyone has a right to know how it would be used. Only in the case of just over half a trillion dollars in PPP grants that wasn’t the case, because for nearly 3 months after the PPP program was launched, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin persisted in keeping the names of all recipients secret, much to the growing anger of those who effectively funded the loans.

That all changed late on Friday, when Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration said it would disclose details about companies that received loans of $150,000 or more from a coronavirus relief program for small businesses, following a backlash against its earlier refusal to release data about which firms got billions of dollars in government aid. Eleven news organizations had sued to make details about PPP loan recipients public. Which is bad news for all those “financial advisors” like Ritholtz who will soon be revealed as getting paid to “predict” the future, yet not having the sense to even budget for a short-term crisis, let along have hedges in place for a downside scenario. As for the rest, it’s unclear how willing most small businesses would have been had they known that the very act of requesting a bailout would open them up to eventual public shaming.

Read more …

It has become useless to discuss the Fed at the same time you discuss markets. The former killed the latter.

The Crisis Goes Up A Gear (Macleod)

The early morning of Monday, 23 March was a significant time, marking the top of the dollar’s trade-weighted index. At the same time, gold, silver and copper prices, having fallen in the weeks before turned sharply higher. And while oil initially followed, it was a month before it resumed its uptrend — delayed by the delivery hiatus in the futures markets which briefly drove the price negative. The S&P 500 rallied the following day, ending a near 30% decline before recovering all of it, and then some. Something had changed. Either markets decided that economic growth, both in the US and the rest of the world was going to continue following lockdowns, and growing demand for key commodities was going to be resumed. Or, as the decline in the dollar’s TWI indicated, the purchasing power of the dollar was going to decline, and commodity prices were reflecting an accelerating downtrend for the dollar’s purchasing power.

The performance of the S&P 500 since 23 March, being unhinged from any business conditions, gives us a clue: the flood of money emanating from the Fed is fuelling stock prices. It is also fuelling prices of all other financial assets. The turnaround in silver is a more subtle story, shown in the chart as the reciprocal of the more usual gold/silver ratio. Silver had been ignored, classed solely as an industrial metal. Gold was seen by the financial community as the only metallic hedge against uncertainty in the financial system. That changed on 23 March when the gold/silver ratio peaked at 125 on the previous business day. It is now beginning to outperform gold with the gold/silver ratio currently down to 98. We might look back and pinpoint this time as marking the beginning of a return to some moneyness in silver.

The weeks before had seen the Fed ease monetary policy. On 3 March, the Fed cut its funds rate from 1,5% to 1%. In the accompanying announcement the Fed said that the fundamentals of the economy remained strong, but the coronavirus posed evolving risks to the economy. On 15 March, the Fed cut its funds rate again, this time to zero, but the statement now said the coronavirus had harmed communities and disrupted economic activity in many countries, including the US. On a twelve-month basis, overall price inflation and price increases for other than food and energy were running at below 2%. The Fed announced renewed quantitative easing of at least $500bn of Treasury purchases and $200bn of mortgage-backed securities “in the coming months”. It was “prepared to use its full range of tools to support the flow of credit to households and businesses and thereby promote its maximum employment and price stability goals.”

Read more …

How many people know the history behind the Democratic Party?

House GOP Leader: Democratic Party Should Change Its Name (JTN)

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy suggested Thursday that the Democratic Party change its name, considering its ties to the Confederacy and segregation laws. The comments by McCarthy, the chamber’s top Republican, follow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying she wants to remove Confederate-era statues from the Capitol, most of which honor registered Democrats. Pelosi, a California Democrat, on Thursday announced the removal of four portraits of former House speakers – three Democrats and one a Whig who later registered as a Democratic. “The speaker has the power to do that,” McCarthy said when asked about the portrait removal.


“If the speaker is concerned about that, should she also start talking about changing the name of her party and actually changing the nominee?” The California Republican also said that Pelosi should be “really concerned about the history of her party and what her party has done so shouldn’t they change the name if they’re going to be different?” McCarthy went further and said the Democrats should consider changing Joe Biden as their 2020 presidential nominee, given his remarks at the funeral of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), a former member of the KKK who later denounced the group. Biden referred to Byrd as a “mentor” and “dear friend” at his funeral when he was vice president. McCarthy called on Pelosi to apply the “same standards” for the portrait removals to the name of her party and its 2020 nominee. “Shouldn’t they change the nominee if they want to be different?” McCarthy asked.

Read more …

 

 

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Word is Biden is close to picking Rice.

 

 

Steve Keen

 

 

Bob Dylan released his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, yesterday. This is where the title comes from.

And these are some of the lyrics of the song Mother of Muses:

4 famous US generals – plus Georgi Zhukov, who led the Soviet Red Army’s assault on Nazi Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mar 232020
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Man in Oriental Costume (The Noble Slav) 1632

 

It’s been two weeks since I last wrote an original article. That’s a long time. Then again, that article was The Virus is a Time Machine, which was – and still is, pardon the pun, deadly accurate. All my time between then and now has gone into the daily Debt Rattles, which have increasingly become almost exclusively Virus Rattles. A lot of it has been numbers, not because of the numbers themselves, but because they are what reveal the trends, the trajectory, the dynamics to us.

When I first saw in the numbers a few days ago that US cases and deaths were both up some 45% over 24 hours, that frightened me. Because it told me a story. Without the numbers, that story is not there. That is also why I think it’s absolutely no use to look at these numbers and compare them to other ones, like those of regular flu, or traffic deaths, or whatever people come up with.

The coronavirus is new, it’s very young, even in virus time. You can’t compare it to other viruses. I have this image in my mind of Arnold Schwarzenegger peering into Jesus’s manger and saying: “what’s the problem, I can take that guy”. Don Ciccio had a better idea when he chased down 9-year-old Vito Andolini at the start of Godfather II: “when he grows up, he’ll come after me”.

 

The people responsible for the corona crisis getting so out of hand where you live are your “leaders”, the same ones who are now telling you to stay home 24/7 in order to solve the crisis they caused, not you. I’m not saying that to start a revolt, because now they’re the only people standing between you and anarchy, but please stop praising them. I see so many instances of people saying their leaders looked so reassuring on TV last night etc. I get that, I get why, but they are all abject failures.

If you’re in charge of a country’s government, you have at your disposal a State Department or some equivalent, you have dozens of people following world news in depth, and you have direct access to whatever the WHO says. Put all that together and you have no excuse for sitting on your hands 2+ months only to see the situation having gone way out of hand. And it makes no difference if all your peers have been as negligent as you are, it’s your job.

Last week the Hong Kong Free Press ran an article saying that China could have cut 95% of cases if its measures to contain the outbreak had begun three weeks earlier. The same is true where you live. China screwed up royally, and so did and do your respective “leaders”.

 

 

In a way, it’s good to see that more people and more news outlets have now woken up to what’s going on, and then some lately, but it’s also weird to see so many “sources” act as if they own the topic, and invented it, who never knew what it was until like ten days ago, while the Automatic Earth have been on top of it for over 2 months. Which is why, inevitably, they, the overnight experts, get most of it wrong. Just like the governments and politicians who have all of a sudden awakened from their slumber, and are now ordering people to do whatever their “leaders” think of next.

The problem with that, with relying on coming up with things without having a solid background like the Automatic Earth could have provided them with, is the same problem that caused them, both media and political systems, to be so awfully late in the first place. I first covered that in The Party and the Virus a full 7 weeks ago.

That was back when it appeared to be all about China, but it’s just as applicable in the west. The way we select our politicians, and our media, doesn’t allow for them to risk crying wolf. They will always wait to see what their peers do, who therefore also wait. Safety first for them, but -well, obviously- not for you.

That’s what we’re looking at today. The age-old excuse of “nobody knew, and nobody could have known”, just look at my peers, look at all other PM’s and presidents and governments. There is no behavior more typical for modern day politicians, whether they’re Chinese party officials or western cabinet ministers. But it’s all BS; they could have known, and therefore should have, because it’s their job. But they were fast asleep.

Trump and Boris Johnson may be taking the denial phase to a whole new level, and Bolsonaro too, but they really only fit a pattern. And ironically even they see their popularity rise, because people are scared and seek security and solace and protection, no matter how poorly dressed up.

Saying that Donald and Boris are terrible, no matter how justified, only serves to hide the failures of all other politicians, no matter how inclined you are to believe their messages. The simple fact is they are all terrible, they were all 12 weeks or more late in their (re-)actions.

Not that they should have ordered a billion dollars in respirators at the end of December, but when the first victims died in China, and the WHO was notified, they should have taken inventory of the state of their countries’ health systems, their response systems, the whole set-up. In order to be at the helm IF disaster struck.

They never did, or not till much later. That’s why medical supplies of all applicable shapes and forms are woefully short today in Italy, and will be soon in dozens of other countries. Please stop praising these people. They all failed horribly at their jobs. Their collective failure has already caused thousands of deaths, and that may well become millions.

 

 

The WHO is praised too, but it is just as guilty of deadly neglect as all the politicians. The organization and its directors get paid large sums of money to protect the world from events exactly like this. And they did not; they are not only useless, they are harmful.

On December 30 2019, several people, among whom Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who died of the disease mere days later, talked on social media like WeChat about the outbreak. On December 31, Li Wenliang was called in for questioning, Wuhan health officials confirmed 27 cases of the new illness -a “pneumonia of unclear cause”-, and China, which now figured denial was no longer an option,”officially” told the WHO about the outbreak.

On January 14, the WHO said Chinese authorities had seen “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.” On January 15, the first confirmed US case left Wuhan and arrived in the US with the virus. On January 20, 6 days after the WHO statement, top Chinese doctor Zhong Nanshan announced the virus CAN be passed between people. He would later state that the outbreak would be over by early February.

On January 21 the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the United States. Then came Lunar New Year and 100s of millions of Chinese traveled to their families. By then the WHO should obviously long have sounded a big fat five alarm. They didn’t.

Instead, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly heaped praise on China. He did this on January 28, then again on February 12, (when China still refused to let a WHO team enter the country):

On January 28, Tedros met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Following the meeting, Tedros commended China for “setting a new standard for outbreak control” and praised the country’s top leadership for its “openness to sharing information” with the WHO and other countries.

… and many times after. On January 23, the WHO’s emergency committee couldn’t decide whether to declare a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC). Tedros, who held the decisive vote, despite admitting that “this is an emergency in China.”, declined. A week later, he did declare a PHEIC. What’s much worse, along those same lines, the WHO declared a pandemic only on March 11.

 

 

Meanwhile, the US is well on its way to become the worst hit country of all. Someday we (if we survive) will look at those spring break kids on Florida’s beaches and wonder how crazy people can get. Two weeks ago when I wrote The Virus is a Time Machine, the US reported 409 cases. As we speak the tally stands at 40,841, and it will rise further before the day is done.

Please be good and safe. Follow the instructions about safe distance and stuff. In Britain, stay 2 meters away from people, in Holland, 1.5 meters. Must be the air density. But just do what they say for now. It’ll get more bizarre later, plenty time to resist and protest.

Follow those “directions” for now, but whatever you do, please never ever praise the very people who dropped the ball so humongously to cause so much suffering, only to take unprecedented control over your lives, and telling you it’s for your own good.

It’s not that they planned this all, there are too many conspiracy notions out there about that too. People have through history hugely underestimated the power of incompetence, and history rhymes so much it hurts.

Get through this thing, it won’t last forever, people will force an end to lockdowns before the summer’s over, simply because people are social animals; can’t keep us apart.

Next up: the same clowns in charge of “fixing” the economy broken by the negligence and the incompetence of, yes, the same clowns. Better start preparing right now. If you think this virus thing is bad, wait till you see what they have on offer next.

 

 

Much as I don’t want to, I must ask for your support. Readership is up a lot, but ad revenue only keeps dropping. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

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Jan 302019
 


Jan van Eyck Madonna and Child at the Fountain 1439 (height: 7.4“, 19 cm)

 

It’s educational and even somewhat entertaining to observe the role of the western press in the ongoing erosion and demise of democracy in Europe. But while it’s entertaining, it also means their readers and viewers don’t get informed on what is actually happening. The media paints a picture that pleases the political world. And it it doesn’t please politicians to lift a veil here and there, too bad for the public.

The Shakespearian comedy that was performed last night in the UK House of Commons is a lovely case in point. Basically, MPs voted whether or not to allow PM Theresa May to change the Brexit deal she had told them about a hundred times couldn’t possibly be changed. Brexit has turned full-blown Groucho by now: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It was exactly two weeks ago last night that lawmakers voted by a historic 432 to 202 count to reject May’s Brexit deal. And now they voted to a) let her change it and b) go talk to the EU about changing it though Brussels has said as often as May herself that it cannot be changed. Remember: the UK is set to leave the EU 59 days from now, and counting.

It’s like in a game of chess that has long turned into a stalemate or threefold repetition situation: you stop playing. No such luck in British politics. The only way the parliament could find ‘unity’ (in a narrow vote) was to agree to ditch the Irish backstop that is an integral part of why the EU accepted May’s deal to begin with.

There are/are even serious voices saying Ireland should leave the EU along with the UK, to make it easier for the latter to do what the former absolutely doesn’t want. That’s also part of the kind of mindset in which this plays out. Brexit has turned into a complete delusion, in which bickering and blame-games have been more important than practical solutions, for all sides.

A hard Brexit is used as some ultimate deterrent, and 59 days before the big moment it may actually turn into the disaster some Project Fear or another has been talking about for over 2.5 years. If that time has been used the way it should have, adapting deals, agreements, contracts, laws, all might have been fine(r).

What the role of May’s opposition in all this consists of is ever more confusing. It certainly never was to profile itself or come up with original ideas. In the process, Jeremy Corbyn appears to have hurt his reputation as much, if not more, than May. Quite the achievement. And now May says Corbyn “has no plan for Brexit”, but she does: only, it was voted down in the largest defeat in modern parliamentary history.

And then all of a sudden, as everyone is busy doing something else, Britain finds itself in a huge crisis of democracy.

 

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties

More than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by the main political parties, according to a new report on the divisions caused by Brexit. Research by campaign group Hope Not Hate found that the disconnect had increased from 60% to 67% over the last six months as Theresa May negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement.

The poll of nearly 33,000 people and results from focus groups also revealed that many felt they were being left in the dark or were “overwhelmingly bored” by the process. It has also seen an increase in the proportion of the public feeling pessimistic about the future – with very few believing that Brexit will address the frustrations and inequalities that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

More people also believe that Brexit is feeding prejudice and division and taking the UK “backwards”, up from 57% in July 2018 to 62% last month. Just 20% of people said they could trust the government to deliver a “good Brexit”. Almost as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (75%) said they do not trust the government to deliver a Brexit that works for them.

None of the options being considered by parliament have consensus support across the UK, according to the report, and 42% of people think that it would be sensible to delay leaving the EU by a few months so we can agree a better deal with the EU or hold a Final Say vote.

Perhaps that is the topic that should have been discussed yesterday in the House of Commons. But the MPS far preferred to regurgitate long discredited useless stalemate ‘moves’. That’s how much they all care for their own voters. They go from one election to the next, and why would they care about the time in between, what could possibly happen to them?

Well, for one thing, pitchforks could happen. Which methinks is a clean poetic link to another European country that finds itself in deep crisis and distress but refuses to recognize it. France.

 

The interwebs are full of video’s and photos of police brutality perpetrated during the by now 11 Saturdays the Yellow Vests have protested president Macron and their people’s overall situations. It didn’t start out with all that violence, and sure, part of it may have been in response to protests, but what’s gone on in the last few Saturdays is something else.

And the media once again are silent, or mostly. Macron gets more coverage for telling Venezuela’s Maduro to resign than for his own regime’s cruelty towards its own people. But the French people do watch those videos, social media trump traditional ones in these cases, so there’s something good about them after all.

And the Yellow Vests, though the people don’t like the violence, still very much have their sympathy. Seeing Macron’s police beating them up the way they have will only increase the resolve. People losing their eyes, their hands, hundreds if not thousands with less severe but still serious injuries, it’s all being added to Macron’s tally.

 

French Police Weapons Under Scrutiny After Gilets Jaunes Injuries

The French government is under growing pressure to review police use of explosive weapons against civilians after serious injuries were reported during gilets jaunes street demonstrations, including people alleged to have lost eyes and to have had their hands and feet mutilated.

France’s legal advisory body, the council of state, will on Wednesday examine an urgent request by the French Human Rights League and the CGT trade union to ban police from using a form of rubber-bullet launcher in which ball-shaped projectiles are shot out of specialised handheld launchers. France’s rights ombudsman has long warned they are dangerous and carry “disproportionate risk”.

Lawyers have also petitioned the government to ban so-called “sting-ball” grenades, which contain 25g of TNT high-explosive. France is the only European country where crowd-control police use such powerful grenades, which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls that creates a stinging effect as well as launching an additional load of teargas.

The grenades create a deafening effect that has been likened to the sound of an aircraft taking off. France’s centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing renewed calls to ban such weapons after Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators was hit in the eye on Saturday in Paris. He is said by his lawyer to have been disabled for life.

Rights groups say Rodrigues’s case is the tip of the iceberg. Lawyers estimate that as many as 17 people have lost an eye because of the police’s use of such weapons since the start of the street demonstrations, while at least three have lost their hands and others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated. Injuries have happened at demonstrations in Paris and other cities, including Bordeaux and Nantes.

The whole thing is utterly insane, but the craziest thing may well be the European Court of Human Rights rejecting a temporary ban on flash-balls last month. Go ahead, Emmanuel, we won’t tell a soul! Flash-balls being an improved -and ‘home-grown’- form of rubber bullets, which in turn have been ‘improved’ upon.

 

French ‘Flash-Ball’ Row Over Riot-Gun Injuries

Appalling injuries caused by French police riot guns during the yellow-vest protests have triggered anger and calls for the weapon to be banned. The LBD launchers known by protesters as “flash-balls” have left 40 people severely wounded, reports say. France’s human rights chief has called for the weapon’s use to be halted, but the government insists it is deployed only under very strict conditions.

Since the “gilets-jaunes” protests began in November, 3,000 people have been injured or even maimed and thousands more arrested. The LBD40 is described as a non-lethal weapon which in fact replaced the old “flash-ball” in France. But the old name is still widely used. It shoots 40mm (1.6in) rubber or foam pellets at a speed of up to 100m per second and is not meant to break the skin. However, some of the accounts of people hit by flash-balls have been shocking.

Volunteer firefighter Olivier Béziade, 47, was shot in the temple by a riot gun during a protest on 12 January in Bordeaux. Video at the time caught him running from police and then collapsing in the street, his face covered in blood. He was taken to hospital, treated for a brain haemorrhage and left in an artificial coma, from which he emerged on Friday. He was one of five seriously wounded on that day alone.

Many of those wounded have been young. One teenager called Lilian Lepage was hit in the face in Strasbourg on Saturday and suffered a broken jaw. His mother said he had been shopping in the city centre when a policeman fired at him. Two schoolboys were badly wounded by flash-ball pellets in separate protests last month. Campaigners say a dozen people have lost an eye ..

A lawyer for some of the victims, Étienne Noël, said many had been maimed. He said police did not have sufficient training in use of the riot guns and many victims had been hit in the head. Earlier this week police made clear the riot gun would be used only where security forces faced violence or if they had no other means of defence. Only the torso and upper or lower limbs could be targeted.

Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez told the French Senate on Thursday that the use of force by police was always proportionate and under very strict and controlled conditions. “If the police hadn’t used these means of defence perhaps some of them would have been lynched,” he said. The European Court of Human Rights rejected a temporary ban on flash-balls last month, in a case brought by several people who said they had been hit by flash-balls.

There is also a grenade version of the flash-ball, named the sting-ball. Throw it into a crowd and everyone around gets hit by rubber balls at high speed.

But of course it’s not the weapons that cause the injuries and deaths, it’s the people deploying them. And the people deploying these people. The instructions to use excessive violence because the government feels threatened by its own citizens. And after that the pitchforks and guillotines, real or not. Yanis Varoufakis was right a few weeks ago, Macron is a spent force.

Only a blind fool would use these things against his own people. Or a dictator with absolute power, but Macron doesn’t have that.. By the way, when is Brussels going to condemn Macron for his use of violence?

And this is all before the European elections, and Merkel’s goodbye that will throw Germany into chaos, and and and. Europe, we never knew ya.

 

 

Dec 122018
 


Joseph Mallord William Turner Sunrise over Plain, with Figures 1830

 

Tory MPs Trigger Vote Of No Confidence In Theresa May Today (G.)
1000s Remain In Custody In France After Preventive Arrests (RT)
Macron’s Multi-Billion Giveaways Could Cost France Dearly (CNBC)
Yellen Warns Of Another Financial Crisis: Gigantic Holes In The System (CNBC)
IMF Warns Storm Clouds Are Gathering For Next Financial Crisis (G.)
Trump Says Fed Shouldn’t Hike Rates, But Calls Powell ‘A Good Man’ (R.)
Greece Scraps Pension Cuts (R.)
‘Forced Tech Transfer’ Must Stop Or Be Regulated – EU Envoy To China (CNBC)
Ocasio-Cortez Already Reveals The Inner Workings Of Congress (CNBC)
Faking Moon Landing More Difficult Than Doing It (RT)

 

 

May could well be out by the end of the day.

Listening to May’s speech on this topic this morning was weird. Despite her government having gutted so much of Britain’s social systems, think NHS, think child poverty, she talks about a future in which she will be leaving nobody behind. But she already did just that, in spades. It’s Orwell.

Also worth enjoying: a few hours before the Tories triggered their vote, there was this headline: Labour Keeps Open Possibility Of December No-Confidence Vote. Boy, did they miss the boat there or what? Doesn’t exactly spell having your finger on the pulse, does it? Makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a man fast asleep. Amid all the chaos, they’re still being pre-empted by the people they should have long replaced.

Tory MPs Trigger Vote Of No Confidence In Theresa May Today (G.)

Conservative MPs have triggered a vote of no confidence in Theresa May, plunging the Brexit process into chaos as Tory colleagues indicated they no longer had faith in the prime minister to deliver the deal. Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, has received at least 48 letters from Conservative MPs calling for a vote of no confidence in May. Under party rules, a contest is triggered if 15% of Conservative MPs write to the chair of the committee of Tory backbenchers. A ballot will be held on Wednesday evening between 6pm and 8pm, Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”.

In a press release, he said: “The threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.” The prime minister will now need the backing of at least 158 Tory MPs to see off the Brexiters’ challenge, and her position would then be safe for 12 months. However, the prime minister could decide to resign if votes against her were below the threshold to topple her, but significant enough in number.

Read more …

Orwell reigns supreme. 4,500+ arrested. 4,000+ still behind bars. And here’s what the Macron government has to say about it: “..there were in fact no preventive arrests but only “preventive control” measures.”

1000s Remain In Custody In France After Preventive Arrests (RT)

The number of people arrested since the beginning of the massive popular protests that have gripped France for weeks has surpassed a staggering 4,500, with critics calling the actions of the authorities crackdown on democracy. The French police have detained a total of 4,523 people in connection to the so-called Yellow Vests protests that united tens of thousands of people across the country discontent with taxes polices and fuel prices hikes. Of those almost 4,100 still remain in police custody, the French BFM TV broadcaster reported, citing police sources. Earlier, the French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed that more than 1,900 people were arrested in connection to the protests in just one day – on Saturday, December 8.

More than 1,700 of them were taken into custody. However, the French media later reported that the number of those arrested on that day might in fact have reached 2,000 people. Part of those arrests seemed to be a preventive measure as they occurred before the protests. And the practice alarmed many. “When we [see] 1,000 people [detained] and 540 of them released two days later, it is obvious that there were at least 540 absolutely unjustified arrests,” a Paris lawyer, Raphael Kempf, told BFM, commenting on the issue. “Being locked up for 48 hours, they were deprived of their right to join a demonstration and this is shocking for a democratic country,” he added. The government, however, justified its approach by saying that there were in fact no preventive arrests but only “preventive control” measures.


Macron declaring his solidarity with the peuple from behind a gold desk.

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Napoleon is an emperor. He’s bigger than Brussels.

Macron’s Multi-Billion Giveaways Could Cost France Dearly (CNBC)

French President Emmanuel Macron announced tax cuts and wage rises on Monday in a bid to placate anti-government protesters, but the move will increase France’s budget deficit and is likely to create tensions with the European Commission. Macron promised on Monday to raise the minimum wage by 100 euros ($114) a month and that overtime will not be taxed or subject to social welfare charges. He also said the tax hike on pensions will be reversed for anyone with an income of below 2,000 euros a month, and encouraged companies to pay a tax-free end-of-year bonus.

[..] Macron’s promises might be a balm to some protesters, but economists note that they come at a cost. France’s borrowing costs rose on Tuesday with the spread between France and German ten-year bonds – seen as an indicator of risk sentiment – the widest since May 2017. The yield on France’s 10-year bond rose five basis points to 0.756 percent Tuesday before declining to 0.726 percent. Macron’s pledges are likely to get France into trouble with the European Commission for raising its budget deficit, the amount by which its spending exceeds its revenues, above the permitted limit of 2 percent of GDP. Macron’s announcement could also be a gift to Italy, given its own wrangling with the Commission over its spending plans for 2019.

“Macron’s sweeteners are coming at a cost,” Berenberg Economists Kallum Pickering and Florian Hense said in a research note Tuesday. “They add up to 10 billion euros or slightly more, equivalent to 0.4 percent of GDP. On top of the already announced 4 billion to cancel the fuel tax hike, this could push the 2019 deficit from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent of GDP unless offset by savings, which will be difficult to find,” they noted. France’s debt-to-GDP will likely rise beyond 100 percent as a result of the concessions too.

Read more …

More Orwell: Yellen’s “The tools that are available to deal with emerging problems are not great in the United States.” Should be:“The tools that are available to deal with the problems I caused are not great in the United States.”

Yellen Warns Of Another Financial Crisis: Gigantic Holes In The System (CNBC)

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told a New York audience she fears there could be another financial crisis because banking regulators have seen reductions in their authority to address panics and because of the current push to deregulate. “I think things have improved, but then I think there are gigantic holes in the system,” Yellen said Monday night in a discussion moderated by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman at CUNY. “The tools that are available to deal with emerging problems are not great in the United States.” Yellen cited leverage loans as an area of concern, something also mentioned by the current Fed leadership. She said regulators can only address such problems at individual banks not throughout the financial system.

The former fed chair, now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said there remains an agenda of unfinished regulation. “I’m not sure we’re working on those things in the way we should, and then there remain holes, and then there’s regulatory pushback. So I do worry that we could have another financial crisis.” In the wake of the financial crisis, some agency regulatory powers were vastly expanded, but others, for example, the ability of the Fed to lend to an individual company in a crisis, were curtailed. Current Fed officials have pushed back against criticism that their reforms are making the system riskier, saying they are making the system more efficient. Speaking in London in June 2017, shortly after leaving office, Yellen had said she did not believe there would be another financial crisis in our lifetimes because of financial reforms.

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What goes for Yellen and the Fed, also applies to the IMF: they apparently remain convinced that crises happen not because of, but despite them.

IMF Warns Storm Clouds Are Gathering For Next Financial Crisis (G.)

The storm clouds of the next global financial crisis are gathering despite the world financial system being unprepared for another downturn, the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, said that “crisis prevention is incomplete” more than a decade on from the last meltdown in the global banking system. “As we have put it, ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’. But, like many of you, I see storm clouds building and fear the work on crisis prevention is incomplete.” Lipton said individual nation states alone would lack the firepower to combat the next recession, while calling on governments to work together to tackle the issues that could spark another crash.

“We ought to be concerned about the potency of monetary policy,” he said of the ability of the US Federal Reserve and other central banks to cut interest rates to boost the economy in the event of another downturn, while also warning that high levels of borrowing by governments constrained their scope for cutting taxes and raising spending. Lipton said the IMF went into the last crash under-resourced before it was handed a war chest worth $1tn from governments around the world, while adding that it was important that national leaders had agreed to complete a review of the fund’s financial firepower next year. “One lesson from that crisis was the IMF went into it under-resourced; we should try to avoid that next time.”

[..] Against a backdrop of Donald Trump engaging in a bitter trade dispute with Beijing, he said China needed to lower trade barriers, while also impose tougher rules to protect intellectual property – a key complaint of the US president. Lipton suggested that Chinese trade policies that were once considered acceptable when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 as a $1tn economy may now be inappropriate as it had become a $16tn international superpower. However, he did warn that the US should not take an overly heavy-handed approach to reform, adding: “China has many reforms that it could carry out that would be in its own interest and in the interest of countries around the globe. But China feels they can’t take those steps, as they put it, with a gun to their head, in the midst of trade tensions.”

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“I think we are a rocket ship going up.”

Trump Says Fed Shouldn’t Hike Rates, But Calls Powell ‘A Good Man’ (R.)

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday it would be a mistake if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates when it meets next week, as it is expected to do, continuing his criticism of the U.S. central bank. “I think that would be foolish, but what can I say?” Trump told Reuters in an interview. Trump said he needed the flexibility of lower interest rates to support the broader U.S. economy as he fights a growing trade battle against China, and potentially other countries. “You have to understand, we’re fighting some trade battles and we’re winning. But I need accommodation too,” he said.

Trump named Jerome Powell as Fed chairman, but has repeatedly railed against him since he took over as head of the U.S. central bank last February. Trump in August told Reuters that he was not “thrilled” with Powell’s raising interest rates. Trump was more conciliatory in his comments about Powell on Tuesday, but still criticized the policies of the man he chose for the top Fed job. “I think he’s a good man. I think he’s trying to do what he thinks is best. I disagree with him,” Trump said. “I think he’s being too aggressive, far too aggressive, actually far too aggressive.” [..] “Are we heading for a recession?” Trump said. “In my opinion, we are doing really well. Our companies are doing really well. If the Fed is going to act reasonably and rationally, I think we’ll go – I think we are a rocket ship going up.”

Read more …

Round 14 of pension cuts is reversed. The rest remains.

Greece Scraps Pension Cuts (R.)

Greece’s Parliament on Tuesday voted to scrap plans to cut state pensions, in a motion led by the left-led governing coalition hoping to shore up its flagging support ahead of a general election next year. Eventually the bailout, worth up to 86 billion euros, expired in August without IMF assistance, and Athens has said better-than-expected public finances enable it to rescind the planned cutbacks. The European Commission has approved the government’s decision. “The time has come for people to be rewarded for their sacrifices,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers ahead of the vote, calling the step a “necessary breath for the people of labour … who saw their pensions and their dignity hurt.”

Pensioners, who are in many households the only people with an income due to the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, have seen earnings shrink by up to 40 percent since Greece toppled into crisis in late 2009. Tsipras’s term ends in 2019. His SYRIZA party is trailing the conservative New Democracy by about 10 points in opinion polls. Since 2010, Greece has signed up to three international bailouts totalling almost 290 billion euros, and will remain heavily indebted for years to come. The country is monitored by its eurozone partners and the IMF to ensure it does not veer off post-bailout targets aimed at maintaining high budget surpluses in coming years.

New Democracy (ND) accused the government of increasing taxes and handing out benefits from budget revenues to win votes. “You are wearing the mask of the philanthropist just to tip people from their own savings,” ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Tsipras in parliament.

Read more …

“We believe in an open economy, we believe in globalization, but we need to make sure that these investments are conducive to growth.”
-Nicolas Chapuis, EU ambassador to China

Really?! Ask the people if they ‘believe’ in globalization. Ask the yellow vests.

‘Forced Tech Transfer’ Must Stop Or Be Regulated – EU Envoy To China (CNBC)

The European Union has a vested interest in promoting technology exchanges with China, but any transfers should be regulated, said the trade bloc’s ambassador to China on Wednesday. “For the last 40 years, EU companies have provided most of the foreign tech that is in China, about 50 percent of what is today in China,” said Nicolas Chapuis, ambassador of the EU delegation to China. However, the diplomat expressed concerns about China trading market access for technology. Beijing sometimes forces foreign companies to hand over their technological know-how in exchange for access to its massive domestic market.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that China cease forced tech transfers, which have become a flashpoint in the U.S.-China trade war. “This has to stop or to be regulated,” Chapuis told CNBC at the European Chamber Annual Conference 2018 in Beijing. “Of course if a company wants to open its tech books to a Chinese company — all right, that’s not an issue, but it has to be regulated so that there is no so-called ‘forced tech transfer,'” Chapuis said. Beijing has claimed it will step up protection of intellectual property rights, but experts point out that the country still wields its state-controlled legal system to take whatever trade secrets it wants for its own companies.

Read more …

Anything better than Hillary and Schumer, I guess.

Ocasio-Cortez Already Reveals The Inner Workings Of Congress (CNBC)

Although her first day on the job is still weeks away, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the Capitol. The New York Democrat, along with other incoming freshman lawmakers, is trying to usher in a culture of openness that is enabled by a vast social media following. With nearly 3 million followers combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez has used the platforms to involve her supporters during the transition period before she takes office. Her enthusiastic and often pugnacious transparency campaign has earned her praise from inside and outside the Beltway. Yet it has also drawn criticism from several corners, including from President Donald Trump’s eldest son.

In a series of pictures and videos on Instagram dubbed “Congress Camp,” she gave an inside look into new-member orientation, from choosing an office to voting for House leadership, while also showcasing the unique quirks of life on Capitol Hill. “Guys, there are secret underground tunnels between all of these government buildings!” she whispers in one video. In another post, she polls her followers on whether she should choose an office with more space or one “close to our friends.” But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t just focusing on the novelty of her experience. Last week, she tweeted sharp criticism of an orientation for new members of Congress hosted by Harvard. The event featured corporate CEOs but no labor representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t given any indication that she will let up, however. “Our ‘bipartisan’ Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance,” she tweeted. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?” Fellow freshman member Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., echoed her criticisms. Tlaib said that Gary Cohn, former chief economic advisor to President Donald Trump and former Goldman Sachs executive, told the new members at orientation that they don’t “know how the game is played.” “No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits,” Tlaib tweeted.

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Checking it twice.

Faking Moon Landing More Difficult Than Doing It (RT)

The head of the Russian space agency may joke about ‘verifying’ if the Americans landed on the moon, but there are no doubts for one Russian scientist, who weighed in on the decades-long conspiracy debate. The claim that NASA never landed astronauts on the moon and that evidence to the contrary was fabricated is among the most pervasive in popular culture and has been a point of fierce debates. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s space chief, even recently joked that Russia’s future lunar missions will give the country an opportunity to check whether Neil Armstrong’s footprints are actually out there.

That aside, people who actually study the moon for a living believe there is no need to launch spaceships just to prove the success of the Apollo program. Fabricating a lunar landing would probably be technologically impossible and anyway economically unnecessary, told RIA Novosti Yury Kostitsyn. The man heads the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, which is directly involved in developing sensors for space and was part of the Soviet robotic study of the moon. “Faking the landing of the American astronauts to the Moon would have been more complex and expensive than actually doing it,” the scientist assured. The key piece of evidence in his own field of knowledge is the moon soil, which the Americans said to have retrieved. It was studied in labs of many countries, including the USSR, and it’s definitely not from this planet.

“Falsifying moon soil is impossible. The Americans brought back to Earth about 300 kilos of it, most of it basalt,” he explained. “We have basalts on Earth too, but they are significantly different from the lunar ones in their chemical composition, properties, and structure. There are no rock formations older than 3.7 billion years, and what the Americans brought is over 4 billion years old, comparable to the age of the solar system.” (NB. There are actually rocks of earth origin dated over 4bn years, but the ones brought from the Moon are still older.) “There is nothing to argue about Americans landing on the moon between 1969 and 1972,” Kostitsyn stressed. “You won’t hear a single cosmonaut say they didn’t.”

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Sep 132018
 
 September 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Henri Matisse Landscape with a bench 1918

 

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)
Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)
UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)
EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)
Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)
Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)
Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)
John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)
US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)
No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)
Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)
Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

 

 

The mother of all debt loads.

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)

Dr. Hyman Minsky points out that stability leads to instability. The more comfortable we get with a given condition or trend, the longer it will persist. And then when the trend fails, the more dramatic the correction. Long-term stability produces unstable financial arrangements. If we believe that tomorrow will be the same as last week, we are more willing to add debt or postpone savings in favor of current consumption. Thus, says Minsky, the longer the period of stability, the higher the potential risk for even greater instability when market participants must change their behavior.

[..] I think the mother of all Minsky moments is building. It will not be an instant sandpile collapse, but instead take years because we have $500 trillion of debt to work through. Remember, that debt just can’t be pooped away. It is both money somebody owes and an asset on somebody else’s balance sheet. We can’t just take that away without huge consequences to culture and society.

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All these people responsible for the last crisis are now advising on what to do with the next one.

Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)

“It is very difficult to say what will trigger it [the next crisis] but we are at the latter end of the economic cycle where people take greater risks. There are problems in emerging markets.” Brown said one area of concern should be heavy commercial and industrial lending by lightly or unregulated shadow banks at a time when US interest rates are rising. “It could arise in Asia because of the amount of lending through the shadow banking system.” He added: “In an interconnected world there is an escalation of risks. We have had a decade of stagnation and we are now about to have a decade of vulnerability.”

Recalling the freezing up of the financial markets a decade ago, Brown said governments had sought to compensate for the lack of trust between banks by cooperating more closely. “In the next crisis a breakdown of trust in the financial sector would be mirrored by breakdown in trust between governments. There wouldn’t be the same willingness to cooperate but rather a tendency to blame each other for what’s gone wrong.

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Waking up at last?

UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)

The U.K. government is set to meet Thursday morning for three-hours to discuss the eventuality of a “no-deal” Brexit. The meeting takes place at a time when the government is also releasing more than 20 documents, outlining some more preparations in case the U.K. leaves the European Union in March 2019 without a deal. This is not the first set of papers outlining what will happen in case the U.K. and the EU do not reach a deal. In late August, the U.K. government said that businesses should prepare for higher barriers to trade, more red tape and potentially higher costs too, if Brexit talks collapse.

All these steps are part of a wider attempt to step up works for the worst-case scenario. The EU has also strengthened its preparations in case the U.K. leaves the bloc abruptly. The U.K.’s Brexit chief, Dominic Raab, warned on Wednesday that the U.K. will not pay the so-called divorce bill, if there is no final deal over Brexit. Raab wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the £39 billion ($50.82 billion) the U.K. owes to the EU, due to previous policy agreements, will not be repaid if there is no deal.

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We know.

EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has given his clearest signal yet that the EU will not accept Theresa May’s plan to keep Britain in the single market for goods after Brexit. In his annual state of the union address in Strasbourg, the European Commission president said parts of the single market could “certainly not” be jettisoned for countries outside the bloc. But he said the Chequers proposals could be a “starting point” for the future relationship and that Britain would “never be an ordinary” country for the EU. “We respect the British decision to leave our union, even though we continue to regret it deeply,” he told MEPs. “But we also ask the British government to understand that someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged position as a member state.

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Bigger is better?!

Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)

In his state of the union speech, titled The Hour of European Sovereignty, the European commission president appealed to MEPs and heads of government to give the EU the powers and characteristics traditionally restricted to states. Explaining his expansive vision, Juncker said the EU should aim to surpass the dominance of the dollar in the world economy and challenge China in its attempts to become the ascendant influence in Africa. The EU should be “a global player” as well as a “global payer”, Juncker said, with foreign policy decisions made on the basis of a qualified majority vote in which the will of 55% of member states would win the day.

Through trade deals, the EU’s standards and labour conditions were being exported across the world, he said, and it was time for the continent to further use its “clout” to mould the future. “The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” Juncker told the European parliament in Strasbourg. “It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit – the capacity to play a role, as a union, in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.”

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A crumbling fortress.

Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)

Poland, the biggest former communist country in the European Union, said it will oppose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary, accused of floating EU rules on democracy. “Every country has its sovereign right to make internal reforms it deems appropriate,” Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday. “Actions aimed against member states serve only deepening divides in the EU, increasing citizens’ current lack of confidence to European institutions.” The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to sanction Hungary for neglecting norms on democracy, civil rights and corruption in a first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty’s Article 7.

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AI to save their day?

Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)

Days after Google was exposed trying to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election, a leaked “internal only” video published by Breitbart Senior Tech correspondent Allum Bokhari reveals a panel of Google executives who are absolutely beside themselves following Hillary Clinton’s historic loss. The video is a full recording of Google’s first all-hands meeting following the 2016 election (these weekly meetings are known inside the company as “TGIF” or “Thank God It’s Friday” meetings). Sent to Breitbart News by an anonymous source, it features co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, VPs Kent Walker and Eileen Naughton, CFO Ruth Porat, and CEO Sundar Pichai. -Breitbart

In the video, Brin can be heard comparing Trump supporters to fascists and extremists – arguing that like other extremists, Trump voters suffered from “boredom” which has, he claims, historically led to fascism and communism. He then asks his company what they can do to ensure a “better quality of governance and decision-making.” And according to Kent Walker, VP for Global Affairs, those who support populist causes like the MAGA movement are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred and a desire for answers that may or may not be there.” He later says that Google needs to fight to ensure that populist movements around the world are merely a “blip” and a “hiccup” in the arc of history that “bends towards progress.”

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A dark-grey area at best.

John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)

Though he previously denied it when allegations first surfaced last Spring, former Secretary of State John Kerry has now disclosed he’s personally had semi-frequent face to face contact with top Iranian officials to discuss US-Iran relations since Trump entered office. Kerry confirmed and explained in detail his recent meetings with Iranian Former Minister Javad Zarif in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt to promote his new memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

During the interview Kerry disclosed that he met with Zarif “three or four times” and discussed political issues and challenges between the United States and Iran in what could constitute a significant and clear violation of the Logan Act. Though it’s almost never been enforced, the 1799 Logan Act states that unauthorized diplomacy with foreign powers by private American citizens is a crime. Notably, two Trump-connected individuals that prominent Liberals and editorials demanded be prosecuted under the Logan Act include former national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

When asked point blank during the radio show about his rumored meetings with top Iran officials, Kerry admitted, “I think I’ve seen him three or four times,” but attempted to claim he was not trying to “coach” Iran on how to navigate President Trump’s pullout of the Iran nuclear deal. Kerry is of course now a private citizen out of government but holds significant clout and influence with the Iran FM as the two hammered out the details of the JCPOA brokered under President Obama in the first place.

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I wouldn’t be too sure Russia will back down again.

US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)

With the arrival of another guided missile destroyer to the Mediterranean, the US may have 200 ‘Tomahawks’ ready for a strike on Syria, as Russia warns that jihadist groups in Idlib are planning a fake chemical attack. The USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported citing international maritime monitoring data. A Gibraltar-watcher confirmed the destroyer’s transit on September 12.

With the arrival of the Bulkeley, the US forces in the region have up to 200 ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so, Interfax reported. Last week, the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrived in the Mediterranean as well. Last week, Russia conducted massive naval maneuvers off the Syrian coast, culminating in marine landing drills and missile launches. The presence of Russian ships in the area was seen as a possible deterrent to further US military action against Syria.

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If a tree falls in a forest…

No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)

Thousands of migrants risk dying at sea because of a clampdown on NGO rescue ships, aid agencies have warned, in what has been their longest period of absence from the central Mediterranean since they began operating in late 2015. Since 26 August, no NGO rescue vessel has operated on the main migration routes between north Africa and southern Europe. Anti-immigration policies by the Maltese and Italian governments, which have closed their ports to the vessels, have driven the sharp decrease in rescue missions. People seeking asylum are still attempting the risky crossing – but without the boats, shipwrecks are likely to rise dramatically.

The last time the Mediterranean was without NGO rescue boats was from 28 June to 8 July 2018, and in those days more than 300 migrants died at sea. The death toll has fallen in the past year, but the number of those drowning as a proportion of arrivals in Italy has risen sharply in the past few months, with the possibility of dying during the crossing now three times higher.

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When we create truly lasting legacies.

Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)

Much attention has focus on the plastic floating on the surface, but this accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total plastic thought to be in ocean. To trace the likely fate of the remaining 99 per cent, scientists at Newcastle University used computer models and identified two likely locations for accumulation zones that had previously slipped under the radar. The Gulf of Guinea region and the East Siberian Sea may be hosting large quantities of plastic that cannot be easily viewed from the water surface, as up to 70 per cent of plastic debris is thought to sink and remain on the sea floor.

“There’s a need to find the unaccounted for plastic in the ocean mainly because if we don’t know the extent of the problem, then there’s no way of knowing the potential implications it has,” explained Alethea Mountford, a PhD Student at Newcastle University who led the study. “Once the plastics reach the water column, the greatest impact would be on marine organisms through ingestion and entanglement,” she said.

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A lot of storms. Mangkhut is about to hit the Philippines.

Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

Hurricane Florence continues to expand in size. Hurricane-force winds now extend outward up to 80 miles the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles from the center. This expansion in size only increases the hurricane’s energy and potential for significant storm surge. The National Hurricane Center noted Wednesday evening that while Florence has weakened some, “the wind field of the hurricane continues to grow in size. This evolution will produce storm surges similar to that of a more intense, but smaller, hurricane, and thus the storm surge values seen in the previous advisory are still valid.” Previous large Category 2 hurricanes have done enormous amounts of damage along the U.S. coast.

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Sarah Kendzior tweets:

The best workaround I’ve found to Twitter’s horrible new algorithm is putting this in the search bar:

filter:follows -filter:replies include:nativeretweets

You will get your old chronological timeline back with no “likes” and with retweets from people you actually follow.

Jul 032018
 


Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909

 

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

 

 

And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

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“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

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Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

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“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

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Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

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I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

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Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

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Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.


Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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May 272018
 


Edvard Munch Separation 1896

 

The ECB Is Preventing An Italian Rerun Of The Euro Crisis – For Now (MW)
Italy President Under Pressure To Accept Eurosceptic Minister (R.)
We’re Engaging In Self-Deception And Unsupported Hopefulness (Ron Paul)
Putin Warns “US Sanctions Hurt Trust In Dollar As Reserve Currency” (ZH)
Erdogan Calls On Turks To Convert Dollar, Euros Into Lira (R.)
Spain’s Ciudadanos Party Open To Alternative Candidate To Oust PM Rajoy (R.)
Daimler Threatened With Recall Of Over 600,000 Diesel Models (R.)
British Arms Exports To Israel Reach Record Level (G.)
Koreas Discuss Non-Aggression Pledge, Peace Treaty Ahead Of Summit (R.)
How Did The Swedish Matter End? (Justice4Assange)

 

 

Draghi must save Italy. Even if he doesn’t like its government.

The ECB Is Preventing An Italian Rerun Of The Euro Crisis – For Now (MW)

As a result of the ECB’s purchases, only 32% of Italian government bonds are still held by foreign investors, Solveen noted, and only a third of those are held outside the eurozone. That compares with more than 40% before the sovereign debt crisis. [..] The ECB’s deposit rate stands at negative 0.4%, while its key lending rate stands at 0%. Rates wont’ rise soon, Solveen notes, and that’s curbing the rise of short-term bond yields. It also means Italy will be able to issue new bonds with low coupons, at least in the two-to-three-year maturity range, he said, which should also anchor long-end yields.

And since the average duration of Italian bonds has risen significantly in recent years, Italy’s Treasury can shift its issuance back toward shorter-dater maturities if needed. But it’s weakness at the short end of the yield curve—the line plotting yields across all debt maturities—that might be most troubling for investors right now. “Strong selling pressure at the short end is noteworthy…, while there have been a few other such episodes since the start of QE, this is the strongest one,” said Luca Cazzulani, deputy head of fixed income at UniCredit, in Milan (see chart below).

An important near-term test looms Monday when the Treasury is due to sell 2-year zero-coupon notes and inflation-indexed BTPs. The auction round “will be closely watched and results are likely to drive BTPs more than usual,” Cazzulani said, in a note. “Considering the still fragile market environment, pressure ahead of the auction should not come as a surprise.” Both auctions are smaller than usual, which should help keep supply pressures low, he said. Solveen said that while the new government’s policies are unlikely to trigger a new sovereign debt crisis, the situation underlines the fundamental differences in economic policy thinking within the eurozone.

“The ECB’s very expansionary monetary policy and the resulting cyclical economic recovery can conceal this fact to some extent but, at the next recession at the latest, the difference could become very apparent again and prove a real test for the monetary union,” he said.

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Power games. The establishment protests.

Italy President Under Pressure To Accept Eurosceptic Minister (R.)

Italy’s would-be coalition parties turned up the pressure on President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday to endorse their eurosceptic pick as economy minister, saying the only other option may be a new election. Mattarella has held up formation of a government, which would end more than 80 days of political deadlock, over concern about the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement’s desire to make the 81-year-old economist Paolo Savona economy minister. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the European Union, but he has distinguished credentials, including in a former role as an industry minister. Formally, Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte presents his cabinet to the president, who must endorse it.

Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experiences, met the president on Friday without resolving the deadlock. “I hope no one has already decided ‘no’,” League leader Matteo Salvini shouted to supporters in northern Italy. “Either the government gets off the ground and starts working in the coming hours, or we might as well go back to elections,” Salvini said. Later 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said he expected there to be a decision on whether the president would back the government within 24 hours. 5-Star also defended Savona’s nomination. “It is a political choice … Blocking a ministerial choice is beyond (the president’s) role,” Alessandro Di Battista, a top 5-Star politician, said.

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“Everybody’s practically euphoric and Trump is a good cheerleader. But, there is a lot of weakness behind the numbers..”

We’re Engaging In Self-Deception And Unsupported Hopefulness (Ron Paul)

When you think about it, I was born in 1935, in the middle of the Depression. I remember my early life. I remember when I was 3 years old and 5 years old and the Depression lasted through World War II and the conditions were such as I remember very clearly, but it wasn’t a big deal for me even though we lived in close quarters and we didn’t have a lot of shoes and were just skimping by. So, we went through a Depression and World War II. Those were pretty tough times and since that time — since the war issue’s always been a big issue with me — I remember the tragedies of World War II. We had relatives in Germany, so it always caught my attention. Then we had the Korean War. I could remember my mother saying, “another war this soon?”

We just got over one, so she was negative on that and then we had the Vietnam War and I knew that I probably would be drafted and that was one of the reasons that helped me move toward medicine. So, those were pretty bad times. Think of the people that were dying over those first 30 or 40 years. Things weren’t great economically either. In America, we were not even allowed to own gold. Those were conditions that existed that changed for the better to some degree. Philosophically, I think, we’re still on the wrong track overall, although some things have improved. Once again, we’re able to own gold. The United States government and I pushed it along when I was in Congress to mint gold coins again and talk about monetary policy.

Philosophically, we are making progress in some areas, though, and I give a lot of credit to the institutions that do this, like the Mises Institute and FEE. And of course, I want to participate in changing foreign policy and we keep working on that through the Ron Paul Institute. But, on the downside of all this, I see we’re on a disastrous course even though the official economic indicators look great and wonderful. Everybody’s practically euphoric and Trump is a good cheerleader. But, there is a lot of weakness behind the numbers, and we’re engaging in self-deception and unsupported hopefulness that things will be all good, there will be no inflation or high unemployment, and there’ll be no major war. I think when I look at the seeds that have been sown, the future looks rather bleak in many ways, even compared to what it was like as we finished World War II and Vietnam.

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“Breaking the rules is becoming the new rule..”

Putin Warns “US Sanctions Hurt Trust In Dollar As Reserve Currency” (ZH)

Despite his absence from Vladimir Putin’s annual economic showcase – which included such US allied luminaries as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, China’s Vice President Wang Qishan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde – the conversation kept coming back to President Trump. Led by an unusually outspoken Putin, Macron – who seemed more enamored with Putin than the rest, agreed with the Russian president’s concerns over the erosion of trust and the specter of a global crisis brought on by Washington’s disruptions. “The free market and fair competition are being squeezed by confiscations, restrictions, sanctions,” Putin said. “There are various terms but the meaning is the same – they’ve become an official part of the trade policy of certain countries.”

The “spiral” of U.S. penalties is targeting “an ever larger number of countries and companies,” undermining “the current world order,” he said. Macron replied: “I fully share your point of view.” Such warnings only confirm Mr Putin’s world view. Without mentioning the US, he complained that the multilateral economic world order was being “crushed” by a proliferation of exceptions, restrictions and sanctions. The “darkest cloud” on the economic horizon is the “determination of some to actually rock the system,” Lagarde said, prompting Wang, a new point-man for Chinese foreign policy, to agree. “Politicizing economic and trade issues, and brandishing economic sanctions, are bound to damage the trust of others,” he said.

[..] The global economy is facing a threat of a spiraling protectionist measures that can lead to a devastating crisis, Vladimir Putin warned. Nations must find a way to prevent this and establish rules on how the economy should work. The Russian president spoke out against the growing trend of using unilateral restrictions to achieve economic advantage, as he addressed guests of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Friday. “The system of multilateral cooperation, which took years to build, is no longer allowed to evolve. It is being broken in a very crude way. Breaking the rules is becoming the new rule,” he said. Putin sharply criticized the sanctions, saying they signal “not just erosion but the dismantling of a system of multilateral cooperation that took decades to build.”

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Which will cause them to do the exact opposite.

Erdogan Calls On Turks To Convert Dollar, Euros Into Lira (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks on Saturday to convert their dollar and euro savings into lira, as he sought to bolster the ailing currency which has lost some 20 percent of its value against the U.S. currency this year. “My brothers who have dollars or euros under their pillow. Go and convert your money into lira. We will thwart this game together,” Erdogan said at a rally in the eastern city of Erzurum ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24.

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One moment they claim to have gotten it done, the next they start all over again..

Spain’s Ciudadanos Party Open To Alternative Candidate To Oust PM Rajoy (R.)

Spain’s center-right Ciudadanos party said on Saturday it would be willing to back an unspecified neutral candidate to oust Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over a far-reaching graft case engulfing members of his People’s Party (PP). Jose Manuel Villegas, secretary-general of Ciudadanos, told a news conference his party could work with the opposition Socialists to support an alternative candidate in a no-confidence vote to unseat its former ally Rajoy, who leads a minority government beset by numerous corruption scandals. Rajoy said on Friday he would fight the no-confidence vote and finish his four-year term, ruling out early elections.

Pro-business Ciudadanos (meaning Citizens in English) declined to support the no-confidence motion put forward by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez earlier that day. But Villegas said on Saturday his party could back a “practical candidate” who was neither Sanchez nor Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. To succeed, the two parties would need to agree a joint candidate to replace Rajoy and on other questions such as calling a snap election. They would also need the backing of leftist party Podemos. A no-confidence vote requires the candidate to gather 176 or more votes in Spain’s lower house, a difficult task in the fragmented parliament where nationalists, among them two Catalan separatist parties, could be decisive if the larger parties cannot reach an agreement.

Speaking to Cope radio on Saturday, Socialist Secretary General Jose Luis Abalos said the party would not work with Catalan separatist parties and called on Ciudadanos to support Sanchez’s bid to replace Rajoy as PM in exchange for a promise to call snap elections soon after taking office. [..] The graft case, which relates to the use of a slush fund by the PP in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns, has plagued Rajoy since he took office in 2011. He has always denied wrongdoing. 29 people related to the PP, including a former treasurer and other senior members, were convicted on Thursday of offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes. They were sentenced to a combined 351 years behind bars.

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They just keep at it. Jail time is required.

Daimler Threatened With Recall Of Over 600,000 Diesel Models (R.)

Daimler faces a recall order for more than 600,000 diesel-engine vehicles including C-Class and G-Class models because of suspected emissions manipulation, German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday. Germany’s KBA vehicle authority is probing concrete suspicions that the affected cars were fitted with illicit defeat devices designed to manipulate emissions levels, the magazine said, without citing sources. Daimler said on Friday it had not received a formal summons from KBA regarding its C-Class and G-Class models, a precursor to a recall, but declined to comment in detail on the Spiegel report.

The report comes a day after the KBA ordered Daimler to recall the Mercedes Vito van model fitted with 1.6 liter diesel Euro-6 engines because of engine control features to reduce exhaust emissions which KBA said breached regulations. Daimler has said it is appealing the KBA findings on the Vito and will go to court if necessary. Since rival Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating U.S. emissions tests, German carmakers including VW, Daimler and BMW have faced a backlash against diesel technology in which they have invested billions of euros.

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And that calls for a royal visit…

British Arms Exports To Israel Reach Record Level (G.)

British defence contractors are selling record amounts of arms to Israel, new figures reveal, just days after it was confirmed that Prince William will represent the UK government on a visit to the country next month. Figures from the Campaign Against Arms Trade reveal that last year the UK issued £221m worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel. This made Israel the UK’s eighth largest market for UK arms companies, a huge increase on the previous year’s figure of £86m, itself a substantial rise on the £20m worth of arms licensed in 2015. In total, over the past five years, Israel has bought more than £350m worth of UK military hardware.

Licences issued to UK defence contractors exporting to Israel last year include those for targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. In 2016 the UK issued licences for anti-armour ammunition, gun mountings, components for air-to-air missiles, targeting equipment, components for assault rifles, components for grenade-launchers and anti-riot shields. Human rights groups have questioned the wisdom of sending a senior royal to a country whose use of lethal force last month has been the subject of concern from the UK government.

“After the appallingly excessive response of the Israeli security forces at the Gaza border, tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories are likely to be close to boiling point when Prince William makes this historic visit,” said Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director.

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Kim makes a call, and they meet less than 24 hours after. That is a big change all by itself.

Koreas Discuss Non-Aggression Pledge, Peace Treaty Ahead Of Summit (R.)

North and South Korea are discussing a possible non-aggression pledge by the United States to the North and a start of peace treaty talks to address Pyongyang’s security concerns before a North Korea-U.S. summit, a senior South Korean official said on Sunday. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a surprise second meeting on Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump called off his talks, set for June 12 in Singapore, before floating a reinstatement of the plan.

“For the success of the North Korea-U.S. summit, we’re exploring various ways of clearing North Korea’s security concerns at the working level,” the senior South Korean presidential official told reporters. “That includes an end to hostile relations, mutual non-aggression pledge, a launch of peace treaty talks to replace the current armistice,” the official said. The two Koreas are also in talks over a three-way declaration of the end to 1950-53 Korean War but there has not been any agreement yet over a tripartite summit, the official said.

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Everyone’s deleting emails. The FBI is all over this. Assange was framed. If prosecutors are not independent, this is what you get. And she’s a lousy liar to boot.

How Did The Swedish Matter End? (Justice4Assange)

The extradition warrant from Sweden was revoked on 19 May 2017, when the prosecutor also closed the entire underlying investigation. Having obtained Mr. Assange’s testimony, the prosecutor decided it would be disproportionate to proceed. The investigation had already been found to be baseless by Stockholm’s senior prosecutor, Eva Finne, who found that the conduct alleged by the police “disclosed no crime at all”. SMS messages from the alleged complainant made public in 2015 showed that she “did not want to accuse Assange of anything”, that she felt “railroaded by police and others around her”, and “police made up the charges”.

The UK’s role in the Swedish affair was exposed in emails obtained under Freedom of Information Act which revealed that Sweden moved to drop the investigation in 2013, but the UK Crown Prosecution Service persuaded Sweden to keep it alive. Emails show the UK advised Sweden not to interview Mr. Assange in the UK in 2011 and 2012. UK prosecutors admitted to deleting key emails concerning Assange and engaged in elaborate attempts to keep correspondence from the public record. The Swedish prosecutor admitted to deleting an email from an FBI agent about Assange which she received in 2017, and claimed it could no longer be recovered (Video in English and Swedish):

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May 212018
 


Margaret Bourke-White Great Ohio River Flood, Louisville, Kentucky 1937

 

The Soaring Dollar Will Lead To An “Explosive” Market Repricing (ZH)
Draghi Calls for Consolidation of Debts? (Martin Armstrong)
Italy’s Organic Crisis (Thomas Fazi)
Italy Has A New Government As Populist Parties Agree On New Premier (ZH)
Argentina: From The “Confidence Fairy” To The -Still Devilish- IMF (CF)
US-China Trade War ‘On Hold’ As America Backs Off On Tariffs (Ind.)
Bill Aimed At Saving Community Banks Is Already Killing Them (Dayen)
EU Blocking Cities’ Efforts To Curb Airbnb (G.)
End Of Greek Bailout Means Fresh Cuts To Salaries, Pensions (K.)
Why Boomtown New Zealand Has A Homelessness Crisis
Hundreds Of Homeless People Fined And Imprisoned In UK (G.)
Scientists Revise Their Understanding of Novichok (Slane)

 

 

Dollar shortage grows as interest rates grow.

The Soaring Dollar Will Lead To An “Explosive” Market Repricing (ZH)

Something curious took place one month ago when the PBOC announced on April 17 that it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 1% to ease financial conditions: it broke what until then had been a rangebound market for both the US Dollar and the US 10Y Treasury, sending both the dollar index and 10Y yields soaring…

… which led to an immediate tightening in financial conditions both domestically and around the globe, and which has – at least initially – manifested itself in a sharp repricing of emerging market risk, resulting in a plunge EM currencies, bonds and stocks.

Adding to the market response, this violent move took place at the same time as geopolitical fears about Iran oil exports amid concerns about a new war in the middle east and Trump’s nuclear deal pullout, sent oil soaring – with Brent rising above $80 this week for the first time since 2014 – a move which is counterintuitive in the context of the sharply stronger dollar, and which has resulted in even tighter financial conditions across the globe, but especially for emerging market importers of oil.

Meanwhile, all this is playing out in the context of a world where the Fed continues to shrink its balance sheet – a public sector “Quantitative Tightening (QT)” – further tightening monetary conditions (i.e., shrinking the global dollar supply amid growing demand), even as high grade US corporate bond issuance has dropped off a cliff for cash-rich companies which now opt to repatriate cash instead of issuing domestic bonds, with the resulting private sector deleveraging, or “private sector QT”, further exacerbating tighter monetary conditions and the growing dollar shortage (resulting in an even higher dollar).

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Europe has no bond market left. Japan has no bond market left. All they have is central banks.

Draghi Calls for Consolidation of Debts? (Martin Armstrong)

COMMENT: You were here in Brussels a few weeks ago. Suddenly, the ECB is talking about the need to merge the debts to prevent a crisis. So your lobbying here seems to work. – RGV, Brussels. REPLY: I do not lobby. It is rather common knowledge I have made those proposals since the EU commission attended our World Economic Conference held back in 1998 in London. I focused on the reason the Euro would fail if the debts were not consolidated. So it is not a fair statement to say I meet in Brussels to lobby for anything. I meet with people who call me in because of a crisis brewing.

So everyone else understands what this is about, the ECB President Mario Draghi has come out and proposed interlocking the euro countries to create a “stronger” and “new vehicle” as a “crisis instrument” to save Europe. He is arguing that this should prevent countries from drifting apart in the event of severe economic shocks. Draghi has said it provides “an extra layer of stabilization” which is a code phrase for the coming bond crash. He has conceded that the legal structure is difficult because what he is really talking about is the consolidation of national debts into a single Eurobond market. There is no bond market that is viable in Europe after the end of Quantitative Easing. There will be NO BID.

There is no viable bond market left in Europe. The worst debt is below US rates only because the ECB is the buyer. Stop the buying and the ceiling comes crashing down. This is why what he is saying is just using a different label. He is not calling it debt consolidation, just an extra layer of stabilization to bind the members closer together. It will be a hard sell and it may take the crisis before anyone looks at this. You have “bail-in” policies because of the same problem. If the banks in Italy need a bailout from Brussels, then other members will look at it as a subsidization for Italy which is unfair. There is no real EU unity behind the curtain which is when the debt was NEVER consolidated from day one. They wanted a single currency, but not a single responsibility for the debt.

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“..20% of Italy’s industrial capacity has been destroyed, and 30% of the country’s firms have defaulted..”

Italy’s Organic Crisis (Thomas Fazi)

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci coined the term “organic crisis” to describe a crisis that differs from ”ordinary” financial, economic, or political crises. An organic crisis is a “comprehensive crisis,” encompassing the totality of a system or order that, for whatever reason, is no longer able to generate societal consensus (in material or ideological terms). [..] Gramsci was talking about Italy in the 1910s. A century later, the country is facing another organic crisis. More specifically, it is a crisis of the post-Maastricht model of Italian capitalism, inaugurated in the early 1990s.

[..] The downfall of the political establishment—and the rise of the “populist” parties—can only be understood against the backdrop of the “the longest and deepest recession in Italy’s history,” as the governor of the Italian central bank, Ignazio Visco, described it. Since the financial crisis of 2007–9, Italy’s GDP has shrunk by a massive 10%, regressing to levels last seen over a decade ago. In terms of per capita GDP, the situation is even more shocking: according to this measure, Italy has regressed back to levels of twenty years ago, before the country became a founding member of the single currency. Italy and Greece are the only industrialized countries that have yet to see economic activity surpass pre–financial crisis levels.

As a result, around 20% of Italy’s industrial capacity has been destroyed, and 30% of the country’s firms have defaulted. Such wealth destruction has, in turn, sent shockwaves throughout the country’s banking system, which was (and still is) heavily exposed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Italy’s unemployment crisis continues to be one of the worst in all of Europe. Italy has an official unemployment rate of 11% (12% in southern Italy) and a youth unemployment rate of 35% (with peaks of 60% in some southern regions). And this is not even considering underemployed and discouraged workers (people who have given up looking for a job and therefore don’t even figure in official statistics).

If we take these categories into consideration, we arrive at a staggering effective unemployment rate of 30%, which is the highest in all of Europe. Poverty has also risen dramatically in recent years, with 23% of the population, about one in four Italians, now at risk of poverty—the highest level since 1989.

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Europe gets nervous.

Italy Has A New Government As Populist Parties Agree On New Premier (ZH)

Taking the biggest step toward forming Italy’s next government, the head of the anti-immigration League party Matteo Salvini said he’s reached a deal with Five Star leader Luidi Di Maio on forming a populist government, and picked a premier. According to a report in Corriere, Florence University law professor Giuseppe Conte was chosen as prime minister, while Matteo Salvini would be proposed as interior minister, and Five Star head Luigi and Di Maio would be labor minister. On Saturday, Il Messaggero reported that Salvatore Rossi, the Bank of Italy’s director general, could be picked as finance minister.

Today, Ansa added that according to Di Maio, Five Star will head joint ministry of economic development and labor; separately Giancarlo Giorgetti, Matteo Salvini’s right-hand man, will be proposed as economy minister, while Nicola Molteni would become minister of the infrastructure and transport and Gian Marco Centinaio would head the department of Agriculture and Tourism. ANSA added that Salvini will present the proposal to President Sergio Mattarella on Monday. As Bloomberg adds, the endgame follows a week of turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks triggered by reports about the coalition’s spending plans and rejection of European Union budget rules.

Italy’s 10-year yield spread over German bonds shot up to 165 bps on Friday, the most since October, prompting a warning from Paris. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a Sunday interview with Europe 1 radio that “if the new government took the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit and the cleanup of banks, the financial stability of the entire euro zone will be threatened.” Salvini fired back on Twitter, suggesting the warning was “unacceptable” interference. “Italians first!” he said, clearly referencing Donald Trump.

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No crisis until now because so much was borrowed. Crisis now because so much was borrowed. It’s like a blue print for the entire world.

Argentina: From The “Confidence Fairy” To The -Still Devilish- IMF (CF)

[..] looking at the external front, one may even be forgiven for asking: why did this crisis take so long to burst? Argentina was haemorrhaging dollars for many years, and with no sign of reversal: since 2016 the domestic non-financial sector acquired an accumulated amount of USD 41 billion in external assets. During the same period, the current account deficit totalled another USD 30 billion, in the form of trade deficit, tourism deficit, profit remittances by foreign companies and increasing interest payments. The well-known factor that allowed all these trends to last until now is the foreign borrowing spree that involved the government, provinces, firms, and the central bank, including the inflow from short-term investors for carry trade operations.

In the case of debt issuance, since 2016 the central government, provinces and private companies, have issued a whopping USD 88 billion of new foreign debt (13% of GDP). In the case of carry trade operations, since 2016 the economy recorded USD 14 billon of short-term capital inflows (2% of GDP). The favourite peso-denominated asset for this operations were the debt liabilities of the central bank called LEBAC (Letters of the Central Bank). Because of this, the outstanding stock of this instrument has now become the centre of all attention. It is important to understand the LEBACs. They were originally conceived as an inter-bank and central bank liquidity management instrument.

Since the lifting of foreign exchange and capital controls and the adoption of inflation targeting, the stock of LEBACs grew by USD 18 billion. Moreover, the composition of holders has changed significantly since 2015: At that time, domestic banks held 71% of the stock, and other investors held 29%. In 2018 that proportion has reverted to 38% banks/62% to other non-financial institution holders, which includes other non-financial public institutions (such as the social security administration) (17%), domestic mutual investment funds (16%), firms (14%), individuals (9%), and foreign investors (5%). That means that a large part of all the new issuance of LEBAC is held by investors outside the regulatory scope of the central bank, especially individuals and foreign investors. [..] these holdings could easily be converted into foreign currency, causing a large FX depreciation.

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They’re talking.

US-China Trade War ‘On Hold’ As America Backs Off On Tariffs (Ind.)

The US will hold off on imposing steep tariffs on China that ignited fears of a trade war as both sides pursue a broader deal, a top economic official said. “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “We have agreed to put the tariffs on hold”. The announcement of a detente in the escalating trade dispute came after Chinese officials visited Washington last week, leading the White House to release an optimistic statement about both sides agreeing to take “measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China” and to work on expanding trade and protecting intellectual property.

Donald Trump has railed against trade imbalances, particularly with China, as he seeks to renegotiate America’s economic relationship with other nations he accuses of exploiting the US. Breaking with some of his top economic advisers, Mr Trump announced earlier this year that he would levy tariffs on steel and aluminium. He also signed a memorandum seeking tariffs on $60bn worth of Chinese goods. [..] Mr Mnuchin signalled that America was using the leverage from tariff threats to pivot to negotiation, saying talks with Chinese officials had produced “very meaningful progress” – including a “Very productive” oval office meeting between Mr Trump and a top Chinese official.

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Unintended?

Bill Aimed At Saving Community Banks Is Already Killing Them (Dayen)

After initial reluctance, House Republicans have finally reached an agreement to move forward on a bipartisan bank deregulation bill that the Senate passed in March. Its stated aim — to help rural community banks thrive against growing Wall Street power — appears to have been enough to power it across the finish line. But banking industry analysts say the bill is already having the opposite effect, and its loosening of regulations on medium-sized banks is encouraging a rush of consolidation — all of which ends with an increasing number of community banks being swallowed up and closed down. “We absolutely expect bank consolidation to accelerate,” Wells Fargo’s Mike Mayo told CNBC the day after the Senate passed the deregulation bill in March.

The reason? Banks no longer face the prospect of stricter and more costly regulatory scrutiny as they grow. And regional banks in Virginia, Ohio, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have already taken note before the bill has even passed into law, announcing buyouts of smaller rivals. The expected consolidation simply furthers an existing trend. Community banks have been struggling for decades against an epidemic of consolidation; the number of banks in America has fallen by nearly two-thirds in the past 30 years. Ironically, the one state that has seemingly figured out how to arrest this systemic abandonment of smaller communities is North Dakota, the home state of the bill’s co-author, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. That’s because North Dakota has a public bank.

Using idle state tax revenue as its deposit base, the Bank of North Dakota partners with community lenders on infrastructure, agriculture, and small business loans. It has thrived, earning record profits for 14 straight years, which have funneled back into state coffers. And while Heitkamp has complained that the Dodd-Frank Act has been disastrous for community banks, in North Dakota they appear to be doing well. According to a Institute for Local Self-Reliance analysis of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, North Dakota has more banks per capita than any other state, and lends to small businesses at a rate that is four times the national average.

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The wonders of lobbying.

EU Blocking Cities’ Efforts To Curb Airbnb (G.)

The explosive rise of short-stay Airbnb holiday rentals may be shutting locals out of housing and changing neighbourhoods across Europe, but cities’ efforts to halt it are being stymied by EU policies to promote the “sharing economy”, campaigners say. “It’s pretty clear,” said Kenneth Haar, author of UnfairBnB, a study published this month by the Brussels-based campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory. “Airbnb is under a lot of pressure locally across Europe, and they’re trying to use the top-down power of the EU institutions to fight back.” While it might have started as a “community” of amateur hosts offering spare rooms or temporarily vacant homes to travellers, Airbnb had seen three-digit growth in several European cities since 2014 and was now a big, powerful corporation with the lobbying clout to match, Haar said.

The platform lists around 20,500 addresses in in Berlin, 18,500 in Barcelona, 61,000 in Paris and nearly 19,000 in Amsterdam. Data scraped by the campaign group InsideAirbnb suggests that in these and other tourist hotspots, more than half – sometimes as many as 85% – of listings are whole apartments. Many of the properties are also rented out year-round, removing tens of thousands of homes from the residential rental market. Even in cities where short-term lets are now restricted, about 30% of Airbnb listings are available for three or more months a year, the data indicates. In those where they are not, such as Rome and Venice, the figure exceeds 90%.

[..] local attempts to protect residents’ access to affordable housing and preserve the face of city-centre neighbourhoods are being undermined, campaigners say, by the EU’s determination to see the “collaborative economy” as a key future driver of innovation and job creation across the bloc. “The commission seems almost hypnotised by the prospect of a strong sharing economy, and not really interested in its negative consequences,” said Haar. “Commissioners talk about ‘opportunities, not threats’. The parliament, too, recently condemned cities’ attempts to restrict lettings on online platforms.”

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The torture never stops. Death by a thousand cuts.

End Of Greek Bailout Means Fresh Cuts To Salaries, Pensions (K.)

Millions of salaried workers and pensioners stand to lose at least one monthly payment within two years, in 2019 and 2020. For Greece to boast of a successful – as the government desires – exit from the third bailout program without facing any obstacles by August, the Finance Ministry has ruled out the option of avoiding a reduction to pensions from 2019 and will also be proceeding with demands to reduce the minimum tax threshold as of 2020. [..] January 2019 is when the barrage of cuts to pensions is due to start, lasting at least until 2022, with reductions to main as well as auxiliary pensions and also the abolition of family benefits. The bulk of cuts will affect some 1.1 million retirees, who will see their main pension slashed as of this December (when the January 2019 pensions are paid out) by up to 18%.

In total, in the private and public sector, the reduction of pension expenditure from this particular measure in 2019 is estimated at 2.13 billion euros. Reductions will start at 5 euros a month and may reach up to 350 euros a month. There will even be cuts to pensions where there is no personal difference, owing to the abolition of family benefits currently being paid out with the pensions in the public and private sectors. This is expected to concern around 1 million pensioners. Some 200,000 pensioners will also be affected by the cut of the personal difference from auxiliary pensions. According to the midterm fiscal plan, the reduction in 2019 will amount to savings of 232 million euros for state coffers, which is the amount pensioners will also be deprived of.

According to the government’s plans, the sum of cuts that will become evident as of this December will mean that new pensions will eventually be 30 percent below the original level before the law introduced in May 2016 by then labor minister Giorgos Katrougalos. Therefore, the vast majority of monthly pensions will hover in the 700-euro range, even for retirees who used to bring in an average of 1,300 euros.

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“They’re a long way down a hole that was created by somebody else..”

Why Boomtown New Zealand Has A Homelessness Crisis

New Zealand’s dairy-fuelled economy has for several years been the envy of the rich world, yet despite the rise in prosperity tens of thousands of residents are sleeping in cars, shop entrances and alleyways. The emerging crisis has created a milestone that New Zealanders won’t be proud of: the highest homelessness rate among the 35 high-income OECD countries. It’s a curious problem afflicting boom towns where some residents get pushed onto the streets as they can no longer afford the rocketing rents in a flourishing economy – let alone purchase a house as the price of property has soared. “I have no assets at the moment,” said 64-year-old Victor Young, who spoke to Reuters at a soup kitchen in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington.

“It’s not a kind country, it’s not an easy country. I slept in my car 20 days last year. I worked 30 hours a week.” That sentiment is something the country’s popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would like to reverse. Last Thursday, across town from the Sisters of Compassion Soup Kitchen, her Labour-led government unveiled its first budget with an ambitious plan to build social infrastructure. The government has allocated NZ$3.8 billion ($2.62 billion) of new capital spending over a five-year period. This includes an extra NZ$634 million for housing, on top of the NZ$2.1 billion previously announced to fund Kiwibuild, a government building program to increase affordable housing supply.

[..] But experts say the government’s first budget underwhelms on the radical reforms the wider public wanted. “They’re a long way down a hole that was created by somebody else and they haven’t really got a great or easy solution,” said John Tookey, professor of construction management at Auckland University of Technology. He said the government’s much-vaunted Kiwibuild could come unstuck because there weren’t enough skilled workers to deliver on its ambitious target to build 100,000 homes in the next decade.

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Where does this originate? WIth Theresa May of course.

Hundreds Of Homeless People Fined And Imprisoned In UK (G.)

Growing numbers of vulnerable homeless people are being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for begging and rough sleeping. Despite updated Home Office guidance at the start of the year, which instructs councils not to target people for being homeless and sleeping rough, the Guardian has found over 50 local authorities with public space protection orders (PSPOs) in place Homeless people are banned from town centres, routinely fined hundreds of pounds and sent to prison if caught repeatedly asking for money in some cases. Local authorities in England and Wales have issued hundreds of fixed-penalty notices and pursued criminal convictions for “begging”, “persistent and aggressive begging” and “loitering” since they were given strengthened powers to combat antisocial behaviour in 2014 by then home secretary, Theresa May.

Cases include a man jailed for four months for breaching a criminal behaviour order (CBO) in Gloucester for begging – about which the judge admitted “I will be sending a man to prison for asking for food when he was hungry” – and a man fined £105 after a child dropped £2 in his sleeping bag. Data obtained by the Guardian through freedom of information found that at least 51 people have been convicted of breaching a PSPO for begging or loitering and failing to pay the fine since 2014, receiving CBOs in some cases and fines up to £1,100. Hundreds of fixed-penalty notices have been issued. Lawyers, charities and campaigners described the findings as “grotesque inhumanity”, saying disadvantaged groups were fined for being poor.

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“..one of its primary effects is to generate in its victims a strong desire to go out for a beer followed by a pizza.”

Scientists Revise Their Understanding of Novichok (Slane)

Warning: This article is likely to contain traces of satire. In the aftermath of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4th March, scientists are currently re-evaluating their understanding of A-234 – or Novichok as it is more commonly known. Prior to the poisoning, it had been thought that the substance was around 5-8 times more toxic than VX nerve agent, and therefore that just a tiny drop would be likely to kill a person within minutes or possibly even seconds of them coming into contact with it. In the unlikely event of a person surviving, it was believed that their central nervous system would be completely destroyed, and that they would suffer numerous chronic health issues, including cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, and epilepsy before dying a premature and miserable death, probably within a year or so.

However, according to an anonymous source at the Porton Down laboratory, which is located just a few miles down the road from Salisbury, scientists now believe they may have completely misunderstood the properties and effects of the chemical: “All the available information we had about Novichok before March this year suggested that it was by far the most lethal nerve agent ever produced, and we had assumed that even the tiniest drop would kill a person within minutes. However, after studying the movements of the Skripals after being poisoned, we have now revised our understanding, and we now believe that one of its primary effects is to generate in its victims a strong desire to go out for a beer followed by a pizza.”

Yet it’s not only the effects of the substance that have led to this reappraisal, but also its mysterious ability to move about from location to location, seemingly at will. According to the source: “At first, differing reports of the location of the poisoning baffled us. First it was the restaurant, then it was the pub, followed by the bench, the car, the cemetery, the flowers, the luggage, the porridge, and then finally the door handle three weeks after the incident. However, we now believe we have an explanation for this phenomena. When Novichok was developed, we think it may have been given the ability to appear in one place, only to then disappear and turn up in an entirely different place.

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Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 29 2018


Paul Gauguin The wave 1888

 

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)
Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)
Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)
Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)
The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)
Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)
May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)
Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)
The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)
The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)
Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)
Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)
Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

 

 

Stormy Daniels boosts Da Donald’s stats. What’s not to like?

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)

The last few days have seen a rapid rush to the ‘safe-haven’ dollar, stalling a seemingly non-stop drop in the world’s reserve currency.

Which raises the question, is the correlation between President Trump’s approval rating and ‘king dollar’ about to reignite?

President Trump’s approval rating has been rising since the start of the year, and the results from the most recent presidential job approval survey by CNN shows that Donald Trump is now at an 11-month high. Although he still has majority disapproval, 42% of respondents are currently giving him a thumbs up – the highest rate recorded by CNN since March 2017 where the president was on 44%. So how, during a time of seemingly endless scandals trying to burst their way into the public sphere, is Trump seemingly on the up? [..] Despite being criticized from some corners for his protectionist approach, Trump following through on his America First campaign promises is seemingly helping to win some voters back around. In many ways, the road ahead is looking far from smooth for the president, but having come through scandal and controversy relatively unscathed in the past, who knows where this current wave will lead.

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Just on rumors Trump doesn’t like them. Wait till he starts tweeting on the topic.

Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)

Move over, Facebook. U.S. investors have a new punching bag among the FAANGs: Amazon.com, Inc. Facebook Inc. gave up the top loser spot to Amazon.com, which lost $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that President Donald Trump is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce behemoth. The social media giant had previously underperformed the tech megacap group amid concern over the company’s handling of its users’ personal information. The FAANG stocks, once assumed to be a monolith of performance, have suffered degrees of decoupling recently, including the outperformance by Netflix Inc. earlier in the year.

Amazon.com fell as much as 7.4% Wednesday before paring some losses to close 4.4% lower after a Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst said the weakness created a buying opportunity. Facebook diverged from the group in early trading, rallying 0.5% after announcing it’s redesigning a menu of privacy settings in response to public outrage over the user data practices. Netflix was the second-biggest loser in the FAANG group of stocks, sliding 5% on the heels of the #DeleteNetflix campaign. “Netflix and Amazon haven’t really experienced the intense selling that Facebook did,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. “The ‘flu’ that Facebook got is now spreading to the others.”

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There’s only one real mistake here: the Fed itself.

Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)

Uncertainty over trade policy may be the primary driver of the U.S. stock market at the moment, but the real policy risk facing equities could be coming from the Federal Reserve, with the potential downside a lot more pronounced than investors are currently anticipating. Last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the economic outlook had strengthened, but he painted a mixed picture about what policy might look like going forward. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates but indicated it would only do a total of three rate hikes in 2018, which some saw as a dovish signal given that a number of investors had expected four this year. However, the Fed pushed up its expected rate path in 2019 and 2020.

Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel, said it was a concern that the Fed’s view for 2019 and 2020 had grown more hawkish, which raised the risk of the central bank making a policy mistake. “What matters for investors is that any decline is likely to be unusually rapid and occur as a result of P/E compression, resulting from policy risks not weak GDP,” he wrote in a research report. “Investors need a bit more acrophobia, as our best model points to a bear market and lost decade for stocks.” Bannister argued the new Fed, under Powell, “wishes to fade the ‘Fed put,’” or the idea that the central bank would step in to prop up falling equity prices. “The cost may be a 16% P/E drop,” he wrote, referring to price-to-earnings, a popular measure of equity valuation.

The Fed is expected to regularly raise rates over the coming years, and some investors think it may hasten its pace of increases to rates in the event that inflation returns to the market in a more pronounced fashion. “Maybe it is not that the Fed has actually made an error, perhaps it is fear the Fed may make an error,” Stifel wrote (emphasis in original). “The late-2010s echo the late-1990s as ‘bookends’ for global imbalances. Unlike the yield curve inversion in [the first half of the 2000s] in anticipation of 2% inflation that led to an S&P 500 peak, investors may simply worry that the same outcome is possible in this cycle, causing equities to decline.”

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And now I can’t get that song out of my head anymore.

Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)

Elon Musk’s creditors are suddenly having a serious bout of buyer’s remorse. In August, they lined up for the chance to finance Tesla’s ambitious rollout of its Model 3 sedan. Wooed by Musk’s personal appeals, bond investors pretty much ignored the carmaker’s prolific cash burn and repeated failures to meet production targets and lent it $1.8 billion at record-low interest rates. But now, after a spate of fresh setbacks in the past week, including a fatal Tesla crash and a credit-rating downgrade, bondholders are asking hard questions about whether Musk can deliver on his bold promise to bring electric cars to the masses before the company runs out of cash. On Wednesday, Tesla’s notes plunged to a low of 86 cents on the dollar, the clearest sign yet creditors aren’t totally sure the company will be money good.

“It’s getting worse and worse every single day” for Tesla, said Bill Zox at Diamond Hill Investment Group. “That’s the nature of being in this negative feedback loop. Everyone is worried.” The consequences are significant. Tesla’s woes have played out most visibly in the stock market, with its shares suffering a two-day, 15% drop that’s the biggest since 2016. But surging borrowing costs, which are now near 8%, could hamper the carmaker’s ability to finance itself at a critical time. The company, which has never shown an annual profit in the 15 years since it was founded, will need to raise over $2 billion to cover not only its cash burn this year, but also about $1.2 billion of debt that comes due by 2019, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Bruce Clark said in a report Tuesday.

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One of a million pieces denouncing Bolton. Can’t we send Stormy Daniels to his hotel room?

The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)

There is no daylight between the ethos of a thug with a lead pipe shaking down a pedestrian for money and John Bolton, except that one has a J.D. from Yale. Bolton is particularly dangerous because he combines devotion to the ruthless exercise of power for American interests with a glassy-eyed faith in the durability of that same power. Anyone even remotely in touch with reality will have viewed the past two decades as a profound lesson in the limits of American military might — a fact that, ironically, helped Trump come to power. Not Bolton. Despite the ever worsening failure of the war he so desperately wished for, he has been heedlessly slavering for ever more destruction, still entranced by schoolboy myths about American power that the Right long ago turned into a near-evangelical worldview.

Unless Trump grows tired of Bolton’s mustache in record time, the Korean peninsula or the Middle East is very likely headed for war. Yet despite what Bolton thinks — and despite the Democrats’ abdication of this responsibility under Obama — a president cannot declare war without congressional authorization. The question is whether Congress will finally reassert this role under Trump or simply line up behind him. The good news is that Democrats are poised to make significant gains in this year’s midterms, including possibly retaking the House. The bad news is that if they do, they will do so with one of the most conservative and militaristic batch of new Democrats in modern memory.

Whatever happens, Bolton’s dismaying rise to power couldn’t have happened without the Reagan and Bush presidencies that liberals and centrists are now so eager to rehabilitate. Nor could it have happened without the many news outlets that have provided him a platform and legitimized him as a serious foreign policy thinker, instead of the deluded fanatic that he is. Perhaps this will spur some soul-searching, but let’s take things one day at a time.

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Yeah. No. This does it for me. They’re making it up one chapter at a time.

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months, after the father and daughter were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury earlier this month.

Local police have retaken control of The Maltings shopping centre, where the Skripals were first discovered, and London Road cemetery from counter-terrorism detectives, where officers focused their investigation into the nerve agent attack in previous weeks. More than 130 people could have been exposed to the chemical weapon in the aftermath of the poisoning in Salisbury, which the UK government believes was committed by the Russian state. In response to the poisoning, more than 150 Russian officials have been expelled from more than 25 countries, and the UK government is considering further measures to punish Russia, including a ban on the City of London from selling Russian sovereign debt.

Public health experts are still working to establish whether the nerve agent attack presents a long term risks to Salisbury’s residents, which will receive a £1m support package from central government to help recover. Deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said: “At this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door. “We are therefore focusing much of our efforts in and around their address. Those living in the Skripals’ neighbourhood can expect to see officers carrying out searches as part of this but I want to reassure them that the risk remains low and our searches are precautionary.”

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Translation: City tells May what to do.

May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)

Theresa May has agreed to look into imposing a ban on the City of London from helping Russia to sell its sovereign debt, which prop ups the Russian economy. Last month, City clearing houses, working alongside a major sanctioned Russian bank, helped issue $4bn (£2.83bn) of eurobonds to finance Russian sovereign debt, of which nearly half was sold in London markets. Nearly half the debt was bought by London-based investors, predominantly institutional investors. A loophole in EU and UK legislation has allowed sanctioned Russian banks, primarily VTB bank, to act as the main organisers – known as book runners – for the issuance of Russian debt.

A public call for the loophole to be closed has been made three times in the past week by the foreign affairs select committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat. On each occasion ministers seemed to be unaware of the issue, but the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week described the idea as interesting. Speaking to the liaison committee of MPs on Tuesday, the prime minister said she would report back on the policy options. The foreign affairs select committee is setting up an inquiry into how the UK financially props up Vladimir Putin’s allies, and the measures the UK has taken to clamp down on corrupt Russian money in London.

Tugendhat has been briefed by a British research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Emile Simpson, who has argued Russia’s greatest weakness is its dependence on western investors. He contends a policy blindness leads the west to sanction individuals, and sometimes sectors, but not to look at sanctioning the Russian state as a whole. He said: “At present, Russia can borrow in EU and US capital markets despite western sanctions and then can support the sanctioned Kremlin-linked banks and energy companies that can no longer do so”. Tugendhat has proposed that Russian bond sales are no longer made available to key western clearing houses such as Euroclear and Clearstream, making them effectively untradeable on the secondary market and so deterring the majority of EU and US investors from buying them.

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Know why? Skripal.

Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)

Ecuador has cut Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy, where the founder of the whistleblowing WikiLeaks website has been living for nearly six years. The Ecuadorian government said in statement that it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”. It said Assange’s recent behaviour on social media “put at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations”. The move came after Assange tweeted on Monday challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury earlier this month.

The WikiLeaks founder also questioned the decision by the UK and more than 20 other countries to retaliate against the poisoning by expelling Russian diplomats deemed spies. Assange has lived in the embassy since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sex crimes he denies. Sweden has dropped the case but Assange remains subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail and fears he will be extradited to the US for questioning about WikiLeaks’ activities if he leaves the embassy building.

[..] Assange’s comments on the nerve agent attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia prompted the British foreign office minister Alan Duncan to call him a “miserable little worm” during a Commons debate on Tuesday. Duncan said he should leave the embassy and surrender to British justice. Assange replied: “Britain should come clean on whether it intends to extradite me to the United States for publishing the truth and cease its ongoing violation of the UN rulings in this matter. “If it does this disgraceful impasse can be resolved tomorrow. I have already fully served any theoretical (I haven’t been charged) ‘bail violation’ whilst in prison and under house arrest. So why is there a warrant for my arrest?”

The former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and the music producer Brian Eno said in a statement they had heard “with great concern” about Assange’s lost internet access. “Only extraordinary pressure from the US and the Spanish governments can explain why Ecuador’s authorities should have taken such appalling steps in isolating Julian,” they pair said, adding Assange had only recently been granted citizenship. “Clearly, Ecuador’s government has been subjected to bullying over its decision to grant Julian asylum, support and ultimately, diplomatic status.”

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In the end, it’s simple.

The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)

How do you know a major financial crisis is coming? Look for a spike in privately held debt, by households and corporations. That’s the argument of Richard Vague, author of The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. Having worked for more than 30 years in consumer banking, Vague describes how he saw the build-up of private debt in the mortgage and credit card industries first hand–even though it’s an issue that neoclassical economists like Milton Friedman barely acknowledge. To avoid another crisis, Vague says firms and governments need to take debt forgiveness–the biblical “jubilee”–seriously. As he says, after the financial crisis “We helped the banks, we didn’t help the households.”

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We wish Yanis godspeed.

The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)

Yanis Varoufakis is back to rescue Greece and rock the European establishment again. Or so he hopes. On Monday night the flamboyant former finance minister, who enraged European authorities at the height of Greece’s debt crisis in 2015, launched his new Greek political party at a theater here. That year, his country bowed to strict austerity demands. Now his solution to Greece’s sky-high debt is the same as his unsuccessful push before: to show creditors who’s boss. If elected, he told the gathering of around 300 people, he will run looser budgets. Greek banks will be revived with public money. He will swap Greece’s bonds for new ones whose payments depend on economic growth.

These and other policies to end Greece’s “debt colony status” will be implemented on day one, he said. And this time, unlike in 2015, he vowed there will be no negotiation with Europe, no surrender. His party is called the European Realistic Disobedience Front. His refrain is that Europe’s establishment is unrealistic, not him. “When they start sending orders, they will receive strong disobedience,” he said. “They will have to bear the cost of defenestrating us from the euro, or accept our policies,” he said to warm applause.

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Here comes Merkel’s biggest nightmare. She deserves it. The refugees do not.

Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)

Authorities on the Aegean islands were on standby on Wednesday after nearly 300 migrants reached Lesvos on eight boats following several days without new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. Apart from the 295 people who landed on Lesvos, another 50 migrants arrived on Kos. Sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry expressed concern about the spike in arrivals, noting that no boats reached the islands on Monday, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was meeting with European Union leaders in Varna, Bulgaria, for talks that touched on an EU-Turkey migration pact signed in March 2016. The diplomatic stance struck by Erdogan in Varna was in sharp contrast to a string of threats and hostile language against Greece last week. Ministry sources said the next few days would indicate whether the increase in arrivals represents a new trend or not.

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I’ve said it many times before: this risks getting terribly out of hand. He doesn’t mention Turkey by name of course.

Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Wednesday sought to send another firm message to Ankara amid increasingly hostile rhetoric from across the Aegean as a Greek military readiness exercise got under way in the southern Aegean. “Greece will strongly support its borders and those of Europe,” Pavlopoulos said during a visit to the Salamina naval base, repeating that “there are no gray zones” in the Aegean. Defending “international legitimacy… is not simply our right, it is also our duty to the international community,” he said. The president, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, once again called on Turkey to respect international laws and treaties, noting that the only issue of dispute between the two countries relates to the delineation of the continental shelf.

Pavlopoulos said he observed the “readiness of the country’s navy to defend our national sovereignty and borders, and consequently the borders of the European Union.” Kammenos had ordered the one-day exercise, code-named Pyrpolitis (Fire-raiser), to be carried out in the Aegean, northwest of Rhodes, following a long meeting with military officials on Tuesday night, during which the recent activity of Turkish armed forces in the region was discussed. The exercise involved a Hellenic Navy frigate, assault and transport helicopters and a Zubr military hovercraft carrying members of the special forces, and also saw the participation of Hellenic Air Force planes.

The aim of the exercise was to test the readiness of Greek armed forces in a crisis scenario, such as the need to recapture an islet. It was completed successfully at the end of the day without any signs of Turkish transgressions of Greek air space or territorial waters. However, Turkey’s National Security Council issued a stern message on Wednesday, toward Greece as well as the European Union and US, declaring that it will not give up its claims in the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and northern Syria, where Turkish troops have occupied Afrin.

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Well, that was fast… Did make a screenshot last night though.

Surprised? Neh… Some people are just so lost they will never be found.

Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

The Guardian has taken down its Greece crisis-porn holiday package “Greece and the Euro” after a shitstorm on social media. Not only Greeks but also foreigners, among them many from UK, slammed the daily for offering a vacation tour to the debt-ridden country under the perspective meet the suffering Greeks at £2,500 for 7 days. The tour package was taken down sometime late on Wednesday evening. In a statement to Greek media correspondent in London, Thanassis Gavos, the Guardian said: “The Guardian has been working with Political Tours to provide informative trips to Greece and other countries for people who wish to develop their understanding of the political and social landscapes in these places. On reflection we have now paused this project in order to reconsider our approach. All Political Tours/Guardian packages to Greece, Bosnia, Ukraine have been removed from site.”

In other words what the daily says is we will find other ways, less obviously insulting to exploit the suffering of people in areas of economic crisis and wars in the future. In the company of journalists, including the daily’s correspondent in Athens, the happy but crisis conscious traveler will swill wine and then go visit Greek families who will unfold their daily drama in front of people they have never seen before and who have paid to listen to them. It is unknown whether the Greek crisis victims will get a small commission for being live witnesses of an 8-year-old economic crisis. NGOs on the island of Samos and the port of Piraeus will explain every facet of the Refugee Crisis and drama.

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