May 162015
 
 May 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Workers stringing beans in J.S. Farrand Packing Co, Baltimore 1920

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)
Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)
US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)
Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)
China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)
China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)
A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)
Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)
Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)
Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)
Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)
Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)
Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)
Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)
Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)
Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)
US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)
Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)
The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)
Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

WIth today’s exteremely distorted asset prices, risk must get distorted too.

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)

U.S. and German government bonds are gyrating as they rarely do. Yields are shooting higher for no apparent reason, and sometimes falling back within hours for equally unclear motives. Such turbulence in the biggest and most liquid bond markets is ushering in a new era. The traditional concept of risk-free returns has been turned on its head. Ten-year Bund yields have multiplied by 16 times, to a high of 0.80% on May 7 from 0.05% on April 17. And German bond prices, which move inversely to yields, have suffered a larger drop than in 99% of the three-week periods of the last 25 years, UBS Wealth Management strategists calculate. Meanwhile, comparable U.S. yields have risen by more than a quarter in less than four weeks, peaking at 2.37%.

The brutal moves are creating what Jan Straatman, global chief investment officer at Lombard Odier Investment Managers, calls “return-free risk”. Investors have two problems as a result. The first is sharply practical. Safety has become expensive, or less safe. Holding cash in the form of a rock-solid currency, such as the Swiss franc, is punitive, since policy interest rates are close to zero, or even negative. Gold is supposed to be a solid store of value, but the price is in thrall to the dollar’s volatile exchange rate. And now U.S. and German government bonds are looking risky.

These days, the hunt for safety is not a big theme for most investors. They would rather take some risks in return for higher yields. But that brings up the second problem with the new era. High turbulence in supposedly safe bond markets complicates the pricing of risk. The standard asset pricing model relies on a benchmark risk-free interest rate. Riskier investments – from corporate bonds through shares to artworks – are supposed to promise a probable additional return in exchange for additional uncertainty and price volatility. The model is like a compass pointing in the direction of the right price. But this compass goes haywire when safe debt becomes extraordinarily volatile. Investors are left at sea.

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“And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.”

Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)

A trio of profitable trades over the past year – long U.S. dollar, long Treasuries, and long European equities – have taken a big hit in the second quarter of 2015. Over at Jefferies, chief market strategist David Zervos puts his finger on the source of these sell-offs: German debt. Zervos writes: “The Dollar, the U.S. bond market, and the European stock market have all recently become infected with a highly contagious disease. The source of this nasty fever appears to be coming from none other than the sleepy old German bond market.” The yield on 10-year German sovereign debt has spiked from below 0.1% in mid-April to 0.635% as of publishing. That’s the kind of move you’d expect to see about once every six decades.

Investors who bought bunds, Zervos argues, bet on the wrong horse following the introduction of quantitative easing by the ECB. “When QE begins folks sadly get excited about front running central bank duration purchases, and then they take a very rich asset and make it stupid rich,” he writes. “And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.” The sell-off in bunds began at a time when European credit growth was beginning to turn up, the economy began to improve, and a pair of fixed income legends, Jeffrey Gundlach and Bill Gross, offered some very bearish commentary on German bonds. The sell-off also came at a time of extreme positioning in major markets.

According to Zervos, the toppling of this domino is currently rippling through other asset classes. He considers this a period in which all these popular trades will get hit as the market purges the good QE trades from the poor ones. “Right now we have to get through this nasty period of contagious spring fever in Europe, or what the Germans would call Frühjahrsmüdigkeit,” he writes. “I honestly don’t know how long this fever will last (or how to pronounce that crazy German word), but none of this nasty price action dissuades from believing in the long-term QE-induced reflationary trend for European risk assets.”

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US ag gets hit from many sides at once, from drought to credit drought.

US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)

Despite the government’s ‘advice’ to young debt-laden students, the tragedy of the American farmer continues with worryingly pessimistic views on the future of the industry. With farmland prices falling for the first time in almost 30 years, credit conditions are weakening dramatically and the Kansas City Fed warns that persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity, and JPMorgan concludes, the industry is currently in dire straits with the potential for a liquidity crunch for farmers into 2016.

Not so long ago, US farmland – whose prices were until recently rising exponentially – was considered by many to be the next asset bubble. Then, almost overnight, the fairytale ended, and as reported in February, US farmland saw its first price drop since 1986. Looking ahead, very few bankers expect price appreciation and more than a quarter of survey respondents expect cropland values to decline further in the next three months. And now, The Kansas City Fed warns that Agricultural credit conditions are worsening rapidly…

Credit conditions in the Federal Reserve’s Tenth District weakened as farm income declined further in the first quarter of 2015. Persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity. Funds were available to meet historically high loan demand, but loan repayment rates dropped considerably. Although profit margins in the livestock industry have remained stable, most bankers do not expect farm income or credit conditions to improve in the next three months.

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“..economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced..”

Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)

This is the talk I gave at the 8th Subversive Festival in Zagreb on May 15th 2015. I start with the Queen of England’s question “If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them? Why did nobody notice it?” and then show how private debt was the missing ingredient in the models that conventional economists have, which is why they missed the crisis. I finish with the assertion that economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced. I recommend a “Modern Debt Jubilee” as the way to do this.

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As we predicted many times, China is failing in its attempts to smother the shadow banking system, which is A) too big to fight and B) too crucial for the economy.

China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)

China is reversing course on a major effort to tackle its hefty local government debt problem, marking a setback for a priority reform aimed at getting its financial house in order. The move could provide the economy with some short-term help. But it restores a backdoor way that enabled local governments to load up on debt in recent years, providing a drag on growth at a time when Beijing is looking for ways to rekindle it. According to an announcement made Friday by the State Council, China’s cabinet, the authorities relaxed controls on the ability of local governments to raise money by allowing them to tap government-sponsored financing companies—the very entities that have been blamed for a rapid run-up in China’s local debt load over the past few years.

The move undermines an October policy intended to prevent those financing firms from taking on new debt. It comes as China’s long push toward financial reform—part of its broader effort to make the economy rely less on big investments but more on consumer spending—increasingly bumps up against a more pressing national goal: boosting growth. “To transition to a consumer-led economy, China will have to push through painful reforms and accept recession,” said Geoffrey Barker at Asian Macro Fund in Hong Kong. “But at least for now, the government appears unwilling to do that.” The latest move comes as the world’s second-largest economy endures slower-than-expected growth. A barrage of monetary-easing measures since last year has proved insufficient to counter a real-estate downturn and flagging factory output.

Earlier this week, China reported a sharp drop-off in growth of investment in factories, buildings and other fixed assets in the first four months compared with a year ago, partly because local governments found credit hard to come by to invest in big projects due to Beijing’s crackdown on local borrowing. Now, by backtracking on the local-debt cleanup initiative, Beijing is resorting to greater stimulus efforts to meet GDP targets. “We take this as a significant policy easing signal,” said chief China economist Zhiwei Zhang at Deutsche Bank. The need to bolster growth gained urgency after an April tour by Premier Li Keqiang of China’s three Rust Belt provinces in the northeast, including Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the leadership’s thinking.

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CHina is simply too addicted to debt to move away smoothly.

China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)

China is in a tough spot and it’s starting to show up in what look like contradictory policy decisions. The problem goes something like this. In the interest of curbing systemic risk and decreasing the percentage of total social financing (TSF) comprised of off-balance sheet financing, China has moved to rein in the shadow banking boom that helped fuel the country’s meteoric growth. The effort to deleverage a system laboring under some $28 trillion in debt is complicated by the fact that the export-driven economy is growing at the slowest pace in 6 years (and that’s if you believe the official numbers), a scenario which calls for some manner of stimulus.

Unfortunately, the yuan’s dollar peg has served to further pressure China’s exports while rising capital outflows (plus an IMF SDR bid) make currency devaluation an undesirable tool for boosting the economy. Beijing has thus resorted to slashing policy rates, cutting the benchmark lending rate three times in six months and RRR twice this year (and they aren’t done yet). This of course flies in the face of attempts to deleverage the system. That is, lowering real interest rates encourages more leverage, not less, but Beijing has little choice. It must walk the tightrope, because at some point, the deceleration in economic growth will become so readily apparent that China will no longer be able to stick to the (likely) fabricated 7% output figure.

As we discussed on Thursday, the country’s local government debt dilemma is a microcosm of the challenges facing the broader economy. Local governments used shadow banking conduits to skirt borrowing limits, accumulating a massive pile of high-yield debt in the process. The total debt burden for these localities sums to around 35% of GDP and because a non-trivial portion carries yields that are much higher than traditional muni bonds, the debt servicing costs have become unbearable. To remedy the situation, Beijing is implementing a debt swap program which allows local governments to swap their high-yielding loans for long-term bonds with lower coupons.

In order to create demand for the new issues, the PBoC is allowing banks that purchase the new bonds to post them as collateral for cash that can then be re-lent to the broader economy, presumably at a healthy spread. So while the program is designed to help local governments deleverage by cutting hundreds of billions from debt servicing costs, the PBoC’s move to allow the new LGBs to be pledged for cash by the purchasing banks, means that on net, the entire refi program will actually add leverage to the system as banks use the cash they receive from repoing their LGBs to make new loans.

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“The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction..”

A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)

[..] .. agreement on a new development model for Greece requires overcoming two hurdles. First, we must concur on how to approach Greece’s fiscal consolidation and our management of public debt. Second, we need a comprehensive, commonly agreed reform agenda that will underpin that consolidation path and inspire the confidence of Greek society on the one hand and our partners on the other. Beginning with fiscal consolidation, the issue at hand concerns the method. The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction: They set a date (say, the year 2019) and a target for the ratio of nominal debt to national income (say, 120%) that must be achieved before money markets are deemed ready to lend to Greece at reasonable rates.

Then, under arbitrary assumptions regarding growth rates, inflation, privatization receipts, and so forth, they compute what primary surpluses are necessary in every year, going backwards to the present. The result of this method, in our government’s opinion, is an ‘austerity trap’. When fiscal consolidation turns on a pre-determined debt ratio to be achieved at a predetermined point in the future, the primary surpluses needed to hit those targets are such that the effect on the private sector undermines the assumed growth rates and thus derails the planned fiscal path. Indeed, this is precisely why previous fiscal-consolidation plans for Greece missed their targets so spectacularly.

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Greece is getting tired of the institutions.

Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has taken control of the country’s reform talks with its international lenders at a “critical” point in the negotiations, Greek government sources told CNBC. The sources, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, told CNBC that the Greek prime minister had taken command of the negotiating process and was involved in discussions with the Brussels Group of the country’s creditors – the IMF, European Commission and ECB as well as the European Stability Mechanism.

The sources added that a teleconference held Thursday on the reforms were held at the prime minister’s office – an incident denied by the government’s official spokesman. The Athens government has been in debt deadlock with its international creditors since it came to power in late January. While the left-wing Syriza party was elected on an anti-austerity ticket, those holding the purse-strings on its multibillion-euro bailout are insisting on strict economic and welfare reforms. The sources added that Tsipras’ move to lead the talks was an attempt to show his commitment to finding a resolution to the country’s impasse with lenders.

Greece certainly needs a deal over reforms, which could release a vital €7.2 billion euros worth of aid from its second bailout program. The country has millions of euros worth of loan repayments to pay over the next few weeks and months to lenders and money is running out. The sources noted that Tsipras wanted to be more involved in the talks as they entered a “delicate and critical” phase, adding that the prime minister was focusing on the “political” side of the deal while Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Euclid Tsakalatos (currently in charge of Greece’s negotiating team) had been looking after the “technical side.”

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“Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors..” Huh? Where did democracy go?

Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece won’t cross its red lines in negotiations with international creditors just because time is pressing to close a deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said. “Those who think that our red lines will fade as time goes on would do well to forget it,” Tsipras said at a conference in Athens late Friday. “I want to assure the Greek people that there’s no way the government will back down on the issue of pension and wage cuts,” he said. “A deal must be reached but it must be mutually beneficial.” Tsipras will address the standoff in bailout negotiations on the sidelines of a meeting of European Union leaders to be held May 21-22 in Riga, Latvia. More than 110 days of talks between Greece and its creditors have failed to produce an agreement to unlock further aid and avert default.

The standoff has triggered a liquidity squeeze, pulling the country back into a recession and renewing doubts over Greece’s future in the euro area. “The bottom line is that pressure on Greek authorities to come to a deal is rising,” JPMorgan’s Barr and Mackie wrote in a note to clients Friday. “The pressures on central government cash flow, pressures on the banking system and the political timetable are all converging on late May-early June. At that point some form of interim deal will need to be struck” and “it’s clear that time is running out,” they said. Negotiations in the so-called Brussels Group of Greek and creditor institution representatives will continue over the weekend and into next week.

While Greece has found common ground with its creditors in areas including fiscal targets, a marginal change to the sales tax rate and tax administration reform, there are “still open issues” concerning labor market and pension system reforms, Tsipras said. Greece may seek an additional meeting of euro-area finance ministers by the end of May, Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said on May 14, as the cash crunch intensifies. It remains unclear how Tsipras will deal with the likely objection by the Left Platform section of his Syriza party to the content of any deal, Barr and Mackie said. “Even small countries can stand upright to confront imperialist pressures and threats,” Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said today in Athens following a meeting with Venezuela’s ambassador to Greece. Lafazanis leads the Left Platform.

Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors, Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said in an interview Friday.

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Wise.

Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)

Greece avoided another financial crisis by paying about €500 million in wages to public sector workers, but suffered another downgrade of its credit rating. “The mid-May payments of wages and pensions … were made within the scheduled time frame,” the finance ministry said. They had been due on Friday. The payment came as Greece remained locked in talks with its creditors in an effort to release €7.2bn of bailout funds to avoid a default and exit from the eurozone. In a sign the leftist Syriza government was preparing to compromise over some of the reforms demanded by Brussels and the IMF, it said it would push ahead with privatisation of its biggest port, Piraeus.

It is in talks with China’s Cosco Group, which manages two container piers at the port, about selling a majority stake. “We are in very advanced talks to expand this cooperation very soon in relation with the inclusion of a railway network as well,” the defence minister, Panos Kammenos, told an economic conference in Athens. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said his country was “very close” to reaching a vital deal with bailout lenders, but insisted there was “no possibility” of giving in to key demands including further cuts to pensions and wages.

Tsipras said the government had not abandoned its goal to try to persuade lenders to restructure Greece’s debt. “It appears that we have reached common ground with the institutions on a number of issues, and that makes us optimistic that we are really very close to an agreement,” Tsipras said, noting convergence on harmonised sales tax rates and tax administration reforms. “But several issues remain open … I want to reassure the Greek people that there is no chance or possibility for the Greek government to retreat on the issue of wages and pensions. Wage earners and pensioners have suffered enough.”

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28.1% of mortgages are non-performing.

Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)

Owning or even renting a home has become a bane rather than a boon for Greeks – to say nothing of the taxes ownership and utilization of a property entail – as the latest Housing Europe report shows that Greece has the highest housing costs as a percentage of disposable income among all European Union states. The cost of maintaining a home comes to 37% for average households, soaring to 65% for those close to the poverty line, the annual study found. The respective average rates in the EU are 22.2% and 41%. The survey counts costs as rent for tenants or mortgage payments for owners, spending on heating, electricity, water and sewage, and telephony, as well as building maintenance and other expenditures.

The continual decline in household revenues – mainly through cuts to salaries and pensions – coupled with the steady increase in other costs such as power rates and heating oil, meanwhile, is putting an increasing number of households at serious risk. Denmark comes second on the list, with 30% of people’s disposable income going into the maintenance of their home, followed by Germany with 28%. Both of these countries, however, have a low rate of home ownership compared with Greece, so the cost of rent takes up a bigger chunk of housing expenditure. This also suggests that Greece’s high rate is due to the decline in incomes after the outbreak of the financial crisis and the spike in unemployment, rather than to an increase in expenditure.

According to the latest available data, from the 2011 census, the rate of people living in their own homes comes to 73.2%, while 21.7% live in rented properties. In Germany, home ownership amounts to just 45.4% and in Denmark it stands at 51%. According to EU data in 2012, Greece also had the highest share of people overburdened by housing costs at 33.1%. This country also tops other unenviable lists, as it has the highest rate of people with unpaid utilities (31.8%), as well as of mortgage borrowers with arrears and of tenants owing rent (both around 15%). The rate of bad loans has soared in recent years, with nonperforming mortgages climbing from 3.6% in 2008 to 28.1% of all mortgages in end-2014.

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Britons will take to the streets.

Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)

George Osborne will reveal how the government plans to cut £12bn from Britain’s welfare bill when he announces a fresh wave of austerity measures in his second budget in less than four months on 8 July. The chancellor said he wanted to make a start delivering on the commitments made in the Conservative party manifesto and pledged that his package would be a budget for “working people”. Announcing his decision in an article in the Sun, Osborne said he would provide details of how the government plans to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit – forecast to be £75bn this year – and run a surplus by the end of the parliament.

“On the 8th of July I am going to take the unusual step of having a second budget of the year – because I don’t want to wait to turn the promises we made in the election into a reality … And I can tell you it will be a budget for working people.” Treasury sources said the budget would address Britain’s poor productivity record, which has held back growth in living standards, and would also announce plans to create 3m new apprenticeships. However, the centrepiece of the package will be a fresh bout of austerity, with Osborne keen to get unpopular measures out of the way early in the parliament, in readiness for pre-election tax cuts once the public finances have improved.

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“In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million.”

Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)

The human costs of the war really do beggar belief. The first and most obvious costs are the people (primarily men between the ages of 19 and 40) who were actually killed in combat. And, as you might expect, these losses were positively enormous: in some age cohorts, fully half the men who should have been alive in 1946 were not. Somewhat surprisingly the biggest absolute and proportional losses seem to have fallen on those men who were roughly 30 years old when the war started. In most cinematic depictions of the war that I’ve seen the average rank and file soldier is presented as a fresh-faced recruit straight out of high school, but this evidently isn’t a particularly accurate presentation of what actually happened.

Another thing that was somewhat surprising was the relative paucity of losses among the female part of the population. The German occupation of the Baltics, Ukraine, and large sections of European Russia was famously barbaric. Civilians living in those areas were treated brutishly, often for a period of many years. Any number of films display in quite excoriating detail the horrific ways in which the Nazis treated the people whom they occupied. But unlike the entire generation of young men that was “missing” as a result of the war, from a demographic standpoint Soviet women were not impacted to nearly the same degree. Given what I had read about the egregious losses among civilians in places like Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Rostov this was unexpected.

But what really blew me away was the “unseen” demographic cost of the war: those children that would have been born had pre-war fertility patterns been sustained throughout the 1940’s. Here the losses are even more nightmarish than those suffered by young males of prime combat age. In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million. These losses of four million lost births won’t show up anywhere on a monument or a casualty roster, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Indeed, from the standpoint of their impact on Russia’s future they were likely even more significant than the millions of young men who died in combat, permanently lowering Russia’s potential population.

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WIll there be more of these cases coming soon?

Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)

Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars to two terror suspects allegedly tortured by the CIA in a secret facility in this country – prompting outrage among many here who feel they are being punished for American wrongdoing. Europe’s top human rights court imposed the penalty against Poland, setting a Saturday deadline. It irks many in Poland that their country is facing legal repercussions for the secret rendition and detention programme which the CIA operated under then-President George W Bush in several countries across the world after the 9/11 attacks. So far no US officials have been held accountable, but the European court of human rights has shown that it does not want to let European powers that helped the programme off the hook.

The court also ordered Macedonia in 2012 to pay €60,000 to a Lebanese-German man who was seized in Macedonia on erroneous suspicion of terrorist ties and subjected to abuse by the CIA. The Polish foreign ministry said on Friday that it was processing the payments. However, neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used. For now, it remains unclear how a European government can make payments to two men who have been held for years at Guantánamo with almost no contact to the outside world. Even lawyers for the suspects were tight-lipped, though they said the money would not be used to fund terrorism.

The European court of human rights ruled last July that Poland violated the rights of suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by allowing the CIA to imprison them and by failing to stop the “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” of the inmates. It ordered Warsaw to pay €130,000 to Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and €100,000 to Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. Poland appealed against the ruling but lost in February. The foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said at the time that “we will abide by this ruling because we are a law-abiding country”. The country apparently received millions of dollars from the United States when it allowed the site to operate in 2002 and 2003, last year’s report on the renditions program by the US Senate intelligence committee said in a section that appears to refer to Poland though the country name was redacted.

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Default.

Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)

Crunch talks on Ukraine’s national debt hang in the balance after the finance minister warned creditors that “all options were on the table” as the economic outlook for the war-torn country worsens. Natalie Jaresko made the comments ahead of a restructuring deadline next month. They came as official figures showed Ukraine experienced an even deeper slump than expected in the first quarter, with gross domestic product shrinking 17.6% year on year. The central bank had previously estimated a 15% contraction. The scale of the slump deepened international concerns over the country’s economy. Figures showed inflation spiked to some 61% in April, because of sharp increases in utility tariffs on top of the weakness of the national currency, the hryvnia.

Ukraine’s government is struggling to convince creditors to accept a haircut as part of plans to restructure $23bn of debt. The atmosphere surrounding the talks has become increasingly acrimonious as both sides this week issued statements accusing the other of failing to engage “substantively” with the process. The stand-off over Ukraine’s debt restructuring, alongside the Greek debt crisis, leaves the international community facing potential default risks by two European countries. Analysts suggested Ms Jaresko’s reference to “all options being on the table” was a hint the government was prepared if necessary to impose a moratorium or suspension of debt servicing.

Failure to agree a restructuring with debtholders by June could put at risk the next tranche of a $17.5bn loan from the IMF. The loan is part of a broader $40bn assistance programme that includes $7.5bn in bilateral aid, but also assumes a $15bn debt restructuring over four years that Kiev says should include a haircut, reductions in the coupon, and maturity extensions. [..] In March, credit rating agency Moody’s announced that Ukraine’s chances of defaulting on its debt were “virtually 100 per cent”.

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Rajoy is not going to like this.

Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)

As one of the founders of the Mortgage Victims’ Platform, Ada Colau has spent the past six years battling the most visible scars of Spain’s economic crisis, from growing inequality to home evictions. Now the 41-year-old activist could become Barcelona’s next mayor. Polls have put Colau, and the Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common) citizen platform she leads, in the top spot in the runup to Spain’s regional and municipal elections. A grassroots coalition of several political parties, including Podemos, and thousands of citizens and activists, Barcelona en Comú has become the brightest hope for the many in Spain pushing for democratic regeneration.

Crowd-funded and guided by a code of ethics composed by its members, the group promises to focus on job creation, combat growing inequality in the city and usher in a culture of transparency and anti-corruption measures in the city’s institutions. “We want to show that you can do politics another way,” Colau told the Guardian. “It’s a historic opportunity.” If they win, the group’s members have prepared a to-do list for its first months in power – what Colau calls “commonsense measures” – ranging from limiting her monthly salary to €2,200 to eliminating official cars and expense budgets for attending meetings. The details of any meetings involving city officials would be posted online, they say. The thorny issue of tourism will also be tackled, with an effort to design a more sustainable model for the city.

“Tourism is out of control,” said Colau, pointing to areas such as the historical centre that have become saturated with hotels and tourist apartments. Rents have rocketed as a result and neighbourhoods and small businesses have been pushed out of the area. “Everyone wants to see the real city, but if the centre fills up with multinationals and big stores that you can find in any other city, it doesn’t work,” she said. Colau’s voice rises with excitement as she muses about the possibility of being elected on 24 May. “What most excites us is the idea that Barcelona could become a world reference as a democratic and socially just city. Barcelona has the resources, the money and the skills. The only thing that has been missing to date has been the political will.”

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“CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!”

US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)

World War Three will break out when the US finally tires of the RT TV channel, and decides to bomb it; in retaliation, Russia will destroy CNN, writes film director Emir Kusturica, in an article published on Thursday. “Everything is different to how it was during the Cold War! Because of that it is useless to talk about a return to how things used to be, and listen to Henry Kissinger scare us. In the meantime, China has become the strongest world economy, Russia has recovered from Perestroika, India is growing into a genie! Military experts don’t argue that Americans have the most organized army, but there remains the unsolvable puzzle for NATO generals, who have called one of the Russian rockets ‘SATAN.'”

“The devil never comes alone! At the same time with this rocket and numerous innovations, the TV Channel RT has also appeared among the Russian arsenal.” “The program is broadcast in English, and watched by around 700 million people in 200 countries. The secret success of this television is the smashing of the Hollywood-CNN stereotype of the good and bad guys, where blacks, Hispanics, Russians, Serbs are the villains, and white Americans, wherever you look, are OK!” “Congressman, and those in the State Department are continually upset by RT,” writes Kusturica, adding that the US Secretary of State is “the loudest.”

“Kerry and the congressmen are bothered by the fact that RT sends signals that the world is not determined by the fatalism of liberal capitalism, that the US is leading the world into chaos, that Monsanto is not producing healthy food, that Coca-Cola is ideal for cleaning automobile alloys and not for the human stomach, that in Serbia the percentage of people who die from cancer has risen sharply due to the 1999 NATO bombings, that the social map of America is falling from day to day, that the fingerprints of the CIA are on the Ukrainian crisis, and that BlackWater fired at the Ukrainian police, and not Maidan activists.”

In contrast, writes the film director, “CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!” “As time goes on RT will ever more demystify the American Dream and in primetime will reveal the truth hidden for decades from the eyes and heart of average Americans, in their own homes, in perfect English, better than they use on CNN.”

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How sugar bankrupts societies.

Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)

When we think of health, most of the time we are thinking of treatments and about patients getting better. Basically we’re thinking about the effects of bad health. Hardly ever do we think of the causes. It’s really complicated to intervene on the causes. That means making changes to the economy that is making us sick. It means altering the very structure of the society in which we live. The air that we breathe, the food that we eat – these are the poisons that make us sick. The medical doctor can only treat the patient, and that is often the last hope, for instances for cases of tumours. The lawmaker should be protecting the citizens, and should be using preventative measures to safeguard health.

However this involves clashing with a variety of multinationals, with the effects of globalisation, with the criminal financial world that not doesn’t mind who it offends and doesn’t even know of the existence of ethics. And in the face of these obstacles, the medical doctor can do very little. The only true remedy is information. Prevent bad health by having access to information, and by your lifestyle. Any diabetes specialist will tell you that sugar is bad for you, but we are bombarded with advertisements for sweet snacks and sugary drinks. These are especially targeted at children who are the most vulnerable. Health care, food, and public spending are all interconnected.

from “Pappa Mundi“ by Francesco Galietti: “It could seem paradoxical, but the structural solution to the crisis in public financing is also linked to the solution of the food issue. In most of the Western World, the public spending that’s classed as “health care” is concentrated on the treatment of pathologies (diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers) and these are linked to the unrestrained consumption of sugars, fats, etc. This has been confirmed in the public consultation that took place in the first quarter of 2014 for the World Health Organization guidelines on the consumption of sugars. In the thoughtful report of a research project issued by their think-tank – the McKinsey Global Institute: obesity has become much more than a cultural problem or one due to the lack of knowledge about foods.

Today, the impact from obesity is roughly $2.0 trillion, or 2.8% of global GDP. This is the impressive figure combining falls in productivity, health-care costs and various types of investment to mitigate the impact. The order of magnitude is roughly equivalent to the global impact from armed violence, war, and terrorism.“ It then goes on to say: “Thus it is not surprising to witness the growing interest and the possible boom in the use of surrogate natural sugars (like stevia) by global giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Nor is it surprising to see the outcry from the associations of sugar producers who are reluctant to take the blame for the excesses of individual people as well as for the gaping holes in national accounts … The more people get hold of the idea that unhealthy foods have negative repercussions even for the badly organised public finances, the more the producers of unhealthy foods will start to be targeted by national governments. “

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“Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat..”

The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)

There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence. The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit. We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius.

That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” the effects of which will be “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions,” stalling or reversing decades of development work. “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,” said the World Bank president. But that’s where we’re headed. It will take enormous effort just to avoid that fate. Holding temperature down under 2°C would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon. And so, awful shit it is. [..]

The sad fact is that no one has much incentive to break the bad news. Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat — there is a powerful craving for the message that things are, basically, okay, that the system is working like it’s supposed to, that the current state of affairs is the best available, or close enough. To be the insisting that, no, things are not okay, things are heading toward disaster, is uncomfortable in any social milieu — especially since, in most people’s experience, those wailing about the end of the world are always wrong and frequently crazy.

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Access to water will decline sharply going forward.

Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

Ensuring universal access to water is vital in order to address food security and improve nutrition, yet recognition of the links between water and food are too often missed. A major report on water for food security and nutrition, launched on Friday by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE), is the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition. This report goes far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture. Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to human development and wellbeing. Yet inadequate access to clean water undermines people’s nutrition and health through water-borne diseases and chronic intestinal infections.

The landmark report, commissioned by the committee on world food security (CFS), not only focuses on the need for access, it also makes important links between land, water and productivity. It underlines the message that water is integral to human food security and nutrition, as well as the conservation of forests, wetlands and lakes upon which all humans depend. Policies and governance issues on land, water and food are usually developed in isolation. Against a backdrop of future uncertainties, including climate change, changing diets and water-demand patterns, there has to be a joined-up approach to addressing these challenges.

There are competing demands over water from different sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry. With this in mind, policymakers have to prioritise the rights and interests of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women, when it comes to water access. There is vast inequality in access to water, which is determined by socio-economic, political, gender and power relations. Securing access can be particularly challenging for smallholders, vulnerable and marginalised populations and women.

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