Jun 162017
 
 June 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Dora Maar au chat 1941

 

‘It’s A ‘Scary’ Time With A Global Crisis On The Way’ (CNBC)
Angry Trump Decries Being Target Of Russia Probe (AFP)
Putin Comey Comment ‘Remark On Circus-like Russia Nonsense Gripping US’ (RT)
Theresa May Is Now Almost As Unpopular As Pre-Campaign Corbyn (YouGov)
UK Student Loan Debt Soars To More Than £100 Billion (G.)
UK Gov Still Hasn’t Submitted Brexit Papers For Talks Starting Monday (Ind.)
Germany, Austria Slam US Sanctions Against Russia (AP)
Debt Deal Gives Clarity To Markets – Greek FinMin Tsakalotos (AP)
Eurogroup Approves Greek Loans, Details Debt Relief, IMF To Join (K.)
IMF Won’t Fund Greek Bailout Until It Gets More Clarity On Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Have The Greek Bailouts Worked? (BBC)
Greek Government Sabotages Its People With Water Privatization Scheme (Occupy)
Half of Athens’ Ambulances Are Out Of Action (AP)
Uptick In Migrant Arrivals Eyed With Concern By Greece’s Islanders (K.)

 

 

Louis Vuitton CEO knows it; where’s the rest?

‘It’s A ‘Scary’ Time With A Global Crisis On The Way’ (CNBC)

A financial crisis could be just around the corner, according to the chief executive of LVMH, who has described the global economic outlook as “scary”. “For the economic climate, the present situation is…mid-term scary,” Bernard Arnault told CNBC Thursday. “I don’t think we will be able to globally avoid a crisis when I see the interest rates so low, when I see the amounts of money flowing into the world, when I see the stock prices which are much too high, I think a bubble is building and this bubble, one day, will explode.”

Arnault, who is responsible for the world’s largest luxury goods company, couldn’t say whether the crash would be imminent or within the next few years, but he insisted that almost a decade on from the global financial crisis of 2008, one was due. “There has not been a big crisis for almost ten years now and since I’ve had a business I have seen crises more than every ten years, so be careful.” Longer term, however, Arnault said he was “optimistic”, pointing to advances in technology and innovation, which he said would stimulate the economy.

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The echo chamber expands.

Angry Trump Decries Being Target Of Russia Probe (AFP)

President Donald Trump responded angrily to reports he is under criminal investigation Thursday, deriding a “witch hunt” against him led by some “very bad” people. Trump responded to reports he is personally being investigated for obstruction of justice with a characteristic scorched earth defense: claiming mistreatment of historic proportions and calling into question the probity of his accusers. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Trump said in an early morning tweet. Trump did not directly address the allegations that he is being probed for possibly obstructing justice – a potentially impeachable offense. Nor did he deny he has entered the miniscule ranks of sitting presidents who have become the subject of a criminal investigation.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” he wrote. Trump’s young presidency has been battered by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI — that Russia interfered to sway the 2016 election in his favor, in possible collusion with Trump’s campaign team. The FBI probe, now in the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, shifted its focus to allegations of obstruction in the days after Trump fired the agency’s then director James Comey on May 9. The new allegations against Trump center on his own admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, and suggestions he asked several top intelligence officials for their help altering the direction of the inquiry.

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“..that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend.”

Putin Comey Comment ‘Remark On Circus-like Russia Nonsense Gripping US’ (RT)

Russia wants ties with the US improved, but the American domestic political situation is close to hopeless and while the Russian door is open, no one is going to lose their breath waiting to hold it open, political analyst Adam Garrie said, commenting on Putin’s statement. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin held his annual live marathon Q&A session with the public, titled: “Direct Line with the president.” During the session, he said Russia was ready to grant former FBI director James Comey asylum. “[Comey] suddenly said that he had recorded a conversation with the president, and then gave the recording of this conversation to the media via his friend. Well, that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend. Then what’s the difference between the FBI director and Mr. [Edward] Snowden? Then he is not the head of the special services, but a human rights advocate who defends a certain position,” Putin said.

Political analyst Adam Garrie described the parallel between Comey and Snowden as “brilliant.” “It was a masterful moment for Vladimir Putin,” he told RT. “With all the lies and disinformation about the Russian president in Western mainstream media, people forget that, like most intelligent men, he’s got a wonderful sense of humor, he can be very cheeky, he can be sarcastic.” “Like Snowden, who thought he was doing a public good, Comey said that he thought he was doing the same. Should things get hairy for Comey, the doors to Russia are equally open to him.

I thought that was a very important remark by Putin on the whole sort of circus-like element of the whole Russia nonsense that’s gripping and probably will grip for some time the pundits in Washington. It just makes it clear that the entire tone of Putin’s statements about America is that we [Russia] want to get on with having good relations. It’s crucial not just bilaterally, but to the wider world, if the two of the three major superpowers do have improved relations, but that the situation domestically in America is close to hopeless – so that while the Russian door is open, no one in Russia is going to lose their breath or their cool waiting to hold it open,” Garrie said.

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She has no authority to negotiate anything anymore. That is a much bigger problem than people seem to think.

Theresa May Is Now Almost As Unpopular As Pre-Campaign Corbyn (YouGov)

New YouGov research highlights just how badly the election campaign and result damaged the public’s view of both the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and how much it boosted Labour and its leader. In April, Theresa May had a healthy net favourability rating of +10. At the end of May, following the campaign and negative reception of the Conservative manifesto, it fell to -5. Following the election result it has plummeted to -34. The Prime Minister is currently about as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn was in November last year, when he scored -35. Meanwhile, the Labour leader has experienced a remarkable turnaround in public perception. Having experienced increasingly worse favourability ratings since Theresa May took office last summer, Jeremy Corbyn sank to a low of -42 in late April, just after the election was called.

However, the public’s view of the Labour leader improved markedly over the campaign, reaching -14 in the last YouGov favourability survey before election day. Now, following the result, his net favourability score is +0 – meaning that as many people now have a favourable view of him as have an unfavourable view. [..] It is remarkable that there has been such a sharp turnaround for the leaders of the two main political parties. When the election was called, Theresa May was secure in her position and many were speculating over the future of the Labour leader. Now, the roles are reversed, with Jeremy Corbyn having silenced his critics and won over large sections of the public while the Prime Minister faces criticism from across the board.

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Burden the young. An idea with future.

UK Student Loan Debt Soars To More Than £100 Billion (G.)

Student loan debt in the UK has risen to more than £100bn for the first time, underlining the rising costs young people face in order to get a university education. Outstanding debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier, according to the Student Loans Company. England accounted for £89.3bn of the total. “Lots of prospective and current university students will see these figures and worry about being part of an increasing pool of graduate debt,” said Jake Butler of at money advice website Save the Student. “As fees increase this number will only go up, as more and more money is lent out each year. There is some cause for concern here, mainly for the government, as it is now widely accepted that the majority of graduates will never pay off their whole student loan debt before it is wiped off 30 years after their graduation.”

Sorana Vieru, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said student debt had risen to “eye-watering levels”. The rise in student debt has been driven partly by rules introduced in 2012, allowing universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. In the year ending 31 March 2012, student debt was less than half the current level, at £45.9bn. Jeremy Corbyn made younger voters a key focus of Labour’s election campaign, promising to scrap tuition fees for new university students. A strong turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds at last week’s election helped the party to win 262 seats, an increase of 30. Sebastian Burnside, a senior economist at NatWest, said student debt was rising at a faster pace than any other form of debt, and eclipsed credit card debt of £68bn. “These latest figures show student debt is becoming of greater priority with every passing year. Student debt is the fastest growing type of borrowing and is rapidly becoming economically significant.”

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Maybe May intends to blame the EU and gather Brits together against them?

UK Gov Still Hasn’t Submitted Brexit Papers For Talks Starting Monday (Ind.)

The British Government has still not sent papers outlining its opening position for Brexit talks to the European Union, despite negotiations beginning on Monday. EU sources told The Independent Brussels had sent its “positioning papers” to London four days ago and while similar documents were expected in return, nothing has arrived as Theresa May’s administration struggles to get on its feet. Brexit Secretary David Davis confirmed on Thursday that talks to pull Britain out of the EU will begin on Monday regardless, despite cabinet splits over how to approach them and Ms May’s withdrawal plans not even being cemented in a Queen’s Speech.

Chancellor Philip Hammond cancelled a speaking event in which he was expected to signal new softer Brexit proposals focusing on jobs, amid fears it might spark an internal row with other Tories demanding Ms May stick to her immigration-centred approach. It came as the Prime Minister confirmed that a Queen’s Speech would go ahead, but only on 21 June – two days later than originally planned. It is still unclear if she has locked in the support of the Northern Irish DUP to prop her up in the House of Commons and give her the majority she needs to pass a vote approving the agenda set out in the Queen’s Speech. Conservatives signalled that talks with the unionists could even continue beyond the start of Brexit talks and the Queen’s Speech, as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams warned that any deal struck could breach the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

On Monday this week, the EU sent to London its positioning papers, officially outlining its negotiating stance ahead of talks, and had expected similar documents to come back in good time before discussions begin. But with the EU’s papers arriving as Ms May staved off a cabinet coup, convinced backbenchers to support her and held talks about realigning Brexit plans, nothing had been sent back to Brussels by Thursday night. One source across the Channel said it was “unbelievable” that the UK had still not sent the “basic” papers for the start of negotiations, with just over three days left before they begin. They added: “The talks are beginning on Monday. There are no positioning papers yet. It’s a basic thing that should happen beforehand. It doesn’t bode well.”

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Haha, Gazprom.

Germany, Austria Slam US Sanctions Against Russia (AP)

Germany and Austria voiced sharp criticism Thursday of the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas. The United States Senate voted Wednesday to slap new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals over its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and its aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The measures were attached to a bill targeting Iran. In a joint statement, Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern and Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was important for Europe and the United States to form a united front on the issue of Ukraine, where Russian-based separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.

“However, we can’t accept the threat of illegal and extraterritorial sanctions against European companies,” the two officials said, citing a section of the bill that calls for the United States to continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would pump Russian gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. Half of the cost of the new pipeline is being paid for by Russian gas giant Gazprom, while the other half is being shouldered by a group including Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, French provider Engie, OMV of Austria and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall. Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.

Gabriel and Kern accuse the U.S. of trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. They said the possibility of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations,” they said. In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said.

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It’s getting close to outright lying.

Debt Deal Gives Clarity To Markets – Greek FinMin Tsakalotos (AP)

Greece’s finance minister says financial markets now have “much greater clarity” about the future of Greece’s debts, which will help the country regain market access when its current bailout program ends next year. Speaking after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers, Euclid Tsakalots said the country can “look forward with much greater confidence.” As well as securing €8.5 billion in bailout funds, which will help Greece meet a big summer repayment, Tsakalotos won a promise on future measures to ease the country’s debt burden and possible IMF financial involvement in the coming year. Greece has relied on bailout money for seven years and hopes that it will be able to stand on its own feet when the bailout ends. Tsakalotos said one big benefit from the deal Thursday was that future debt repayments could be linked to Greece’s growth. In essence, that could mean payments could be postponed in the event of an adverse shock.

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No , there are no details on debt relief, that’s the whole story.

Eurogroup Approves Greek Loans, Details Debt Relief, IMF To Join (K.)

Greece’s international creditors agreed on Thursday to approve the disbursement of €8.5 billion in bailout loans and to detail medium-term debt relief measures following talks in Luxembourg. Describing the agreement as “a major step forward,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the deal aimed to get Greece standing “on its own feet again,” noting that debt relief would be linked to the country’s growth rates, in line with a proposal that had been promoted by French officials. The deal also outlined the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout with the Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde saying she would formally recommend the IMF’s participation with $2 billion on a standby basis.

As regards the debt relief aspect of the agreement, Lagarde remarked that it was not the best solution for Greece as it was only an agreement in principle but the “second best” solution. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pierre Moscovici sought to focus on the positive aspects of the deal. “Tonight, Greece can see the light at the end of its long tunnel of austerity,” he said. “From tonight, the watchwords are jobs, growth and investment.” His comments were echoed by Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who, in a separate press conference, said the deal provided greater clarity, for both citizens and investors, “more light at the end of the tunnel.” A spokesperson for the European Central Bank, whose bond buying program Greece wants to join, described the Eurogroup agreement as “a first step towards securing debt sustainability.”

However it remained unclear whether the deal was adequate to pave the way for the ECB to buy Greek bonds or not. The breakthrough last night came after Athens appeared to have shifted its stance slightly from earlier in the week when tensions between Greece and Germany had peaked and two top government ministers had said publicly that Athens mistrusts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Speaking from Thessaloniki, where he met Israeli and Cypriot leaders for talks on energy cooperation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras remarked to reporters, “The good guys win in the end.” Greek officials have insisted over the past week that Greece has won the right to debt relief.

“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in comments published in Germany’s Handelsblatt. He appealed to Schaeuble to abandon his persistent opposition to Greek debt relief. “Anything else would not be worthy of a great European politician,” he said. “It is important for us that our creditors secure the viability of the debt. Otherwise the ECB cannot buy Greek state bonds,” he said, referring to the European Central Bank.

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But the article above said “IMF to join”!

IMF Won’t Fund Greek Bailout Until It Gets More Clarity On Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

The IMF wants Greek debt to become more sustainable before it channels funds into the country’s bailout program, the organization’s managing director Christine Lagarde told CNBC. “For us to engage and for us to participate financially, more needs to be clarified, defined and approved in terms of restructuring,” she said late on Thursday. “What we believe will be needed is a deferral of interests, an extension of maturity, and a mechanism by which there is an adjustment based on growth … this is where further discussion and negotiation is needed.” Lagarde was speaking in Luxembourg after European finance ministers approved a €8.5 billion loan for Athens that will enable the cash-strapped nation to meet a major July repayment deadline.

European countries have been shouldering the burden of Greece’s current €86 billion rescue fund — its third bailout package since 2010. The IMF financially contributed to Athens’ previous bailouts but refused to join the current pact because it believes Greece needed debt relief — something that European creditors aren’t comfortable with. The organization’s absence has been a thorn in the sides of heavyweight European countries, particularly Germany, who view IMF participation as a key credibility factor. For Berlin to continue backing euro zone loans to Athens, Germany’s parliament is now insisting on IMF contribution. On Thursday, the IMF agreed to offer Athens a standby arrangement of less than $2 billion but won’t be disbursing any of the funds until euro zone countries offer more detail on potential debt relief measures in 2018.

“I’ve always said that the (bailout) program walks on two legs: the leg of policies and the leg of debt sustainability,” Lagarde told CNBC on Thursday. Athens has proved its commitment to key structural reforms, which cover pensions, tax, serial procedures, and labor markets, but the second leg of the bailout program — debt restructuring — needs to be further clarified, she continued. “Progress has been made today, no question about it but more is needed.” Lagarde praised Thursday’s loan agreement, stating that Athens would now be protected from future crisis moments because its financial needs in terms of debt service will be low.

“It (Athens) will actually produce a primary surplus and it should be, in terms of liquidity and stability, in a fairly solid situation to develop its economy to cultivate growth, generate investment , and proceed with the privatization that they have agreed to complete.” On the matter of Brexit negotiations, the IMF chief advised European and U.K. officials to adopt a risk-averse approach. “What is more predictable, more certain, can be calibrated, can be anticipated, can be transitioned into, is going to be more reliable and safer for the people and the economy.” Circumstances were still too premature for the IMF to forecast future economic developments, she added.

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They have for Germnay, yes.

Have The Greek Bailouts Worked? (BBC)

As eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels for crucial talks on Greece, Reality Check looks at whether the bailouts the country has received have secured Greece’s economic survival or just created unsustainable debt. Neither Greece nor its creditors would say they are happy with how it has worked out. In 2010, when the Greek debt crisis started, Greece received €110bn in bailout money. And in 2012, the country received a second bailout of €130bn. These loans, from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were deemed necessary to stop Greece going bankrupt. In exchange, Greece was required to make deep public spending cuts, raise taxes and introduce fundamental changes to the public sector and labour legislation. In August 2015, the eurozone countries agreed to give Greece a third bailout, of up to €86bn, on the condition of further changes.

The next tranche of that bailout, which Greece needs in order to honour repayments due in July, is being discussed at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting on Thursday. In 2010, they managed to keep Greece in the euro and prevented the collapse of the common currency. So, from the perspective of the eurozone as a whole, a chaotic “Grexit” did not happen. But seven years on, and many more billions of euros later, was this price worth paying, both from the point of view of Greece’s creditors and of the Greek people? It is impossible to know what the situation would be like now had Greece not received the bailouts, but the consequences of receiving them have been painful. For the Greek people, the bailouts and the austerity measures implemented with them have come at a huge cost.

• Unemployment remains staggeringly high: 22.5% of Greeks were unemployed in March 2017. And almost half of people under the age of 25 were out of work
• Those who do work, earn less. The minimum monthly wage at the beginning of the crisis was €863. It has now fallen to €684
• Pensioners have been hit particularly hard. Pension changes since 2010 mean 43% of pensioners now live on less than €660 a month, according to the Greek government
• Government spending on health was almost halved between 2010 and 2015, while the education budget was cut by 20%

Greece’s creditors, strongly influenced by Germany, demanded that Greece start spending less than it earned. In 2016, for the first time, Greece achieved this. The surplus is small, at €1.3bn or 0.7% of GDP. But this can hardly be seen as a success – the economy has shrunk and the overall debt pile is still going up, not down.

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Tsipras is not going to grow a pair anymore. Rule 1 for every country and society should be: Never give up your water.

Greek Government Sabotages Its People With Water Privatization Scheme (Occupy)

The “fire sale” privatization of Greece started in 2015, following the infamous Syriza referendum in which more than three-fifths of the Greek people voted to reject Troika-imposed bailout conditions – and yet their government, led by Alexis Tsipras, chose to accept the deal anyway. The privatization process reached its peak the next year, when the Greek government sold the public transport giant TrainOSE to the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros. This happened after a very brief bidding period and despite considerable employee pushback, including a 24-hour strike that paralyzed the country. Now, a second round of fire sales is taking place ahead of the upcoming third bailout negotiations for Greece, whose current bailout package will expire in August 2018.

Since last year, the sale of the country’s roads, rights to the use of its ports, and other public sector resources have only yielded around €4 billion – a far cry from the projected €50 billion that were promised when the privatization plan was put in motion. At best, it will result in a 6 billion euro profit, nowhere near enough to cover the ailing Greek economy’s massive overhead spending. In 2016, under the EYATH initiative (representing Thessaloniki’s public sector water workers) and activists, Save Greek Water was launched in an attempt to curb the Syriza administration’s efforts to privatize public water reserves. The initiative enjoyed enormous support from the public and media, and seemed to curbing further efforts to move the privatization talks forward. That was until last December, when an article published by Stavroula Symeonidou, president of the Workers Union of DEYA of Drama, revealed that Greece’s public water sector was being purposefully sabotaged by its own government.

“…DEYAs are not financially dependent on the State/Central Government, therefore they do not, in any way whatsoever, contribute to the public debt… however they are equally restricted in (actually barred from) recruiting any new personnel, which means that over time their already limited resources will reach zero,” Symeonidou wrote. The article also warned about the danger of further levies being imposed on Greek farmers using public water sources like ground- and rainwater wells. This dire prediction came to pass last month, when an “irregular water source charge” was imposed on the major rural regions of the country, directly targeting farmers and households in the affected areas. According to a statement released by the Syriza administration, 2.5% of the proceeds from this levy will be invested in the interest of supporting the Greek public sector – but not the DEYA initiative. This is being seen as an obvious attempt to further hobble any resistance to privatization.

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Let me guess, this is part of making the country competitive again? This is criminal.

Half of Athens’ Ambulances Are Out Of Action (AP)

Greece’s financial woes have clobbered spending on state-provided health services, even as demand has spiked because fewer Greeks can pay for private treatment. Some of Athens’ ambulances have up to 1 million kilometers (620,000 miles) — nearly three times the distance to the moon — on the clock, and about half are idle because of a lack of spare parts. At night, fewer than 40 vehicles cover a population of more than 4 million. Paramedic Dimitris Dimitriadis says the service is obliged to respond to every call it receives, even if the callers are just taking advantage of a rule that patients brought to hospitals by ambulance jump the line for treatment. “But then you also get elderly people who can’t afford a taxi fare to the hospital, so they call an ambulance,” he said, driving toward a reported suicide in central Athens. Upon arrival, the crew was told that the injured person had been taken to a hospital by relatives.

Unions say rescuers do their best against the odds, focusing on getting urgent cases to emergency treatment within minutes of receiving a call. But other patients, who may still require hospital treatment, can end up waiting well over an hour. Athens ambulance workers’ union leader Giorgos Mathiopoulos says about 70 of the capital’s 140 ambulances are out of action, and the fleet needs to be doubled in size. “Up to 30% of the immobilized ambulances can’t be repaired” and many are stripped for parts to keep others going, Mathiopoulos said. “When we’re trying to get to an incident as fast as possible … and the ambulance has that many kilometers on the clock, it’s a worry.”

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Something’s going to break.

Uptick In Migrant Arrivals Eyed With Concern By Greece’s Islanders (K.)

Official data on Thursday showed an uptick in refugee and migrant arrivals from Turkey to Greece’s shores, increasing concerns among residents on the Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. A total of 151 people were reported as entering Greece in 24 hours on Thursday, 74 of whom landed on Chios, 54 on Lesvos and 23 on other islands, slightly above the 146 arrivals in the previous 24-hour period. According to official figures, the number of migrants and refugees that reached Greece between June 8 and Thursday morning came to 538, a significant rise from May when daily arrivals were in the double digits.

The upsurge is stoking fears on islands such as Chios that are already struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and migrants stranded by slow processing and deportation procedures. Residents of Chios held a rally on Thursday night to protest plans for a pre-departure facility on the island, where authorities said they will temporarily detain dozens of migrants who are not eligible for asylum before they are deported. Protesters say that the official line in favor of the facility, pointing to a decrease in arrivals on Lesvos since a similar center was opened there, are disproved by the uptick observed in recent days. A similar rally was also held on the island of Samos on Thursday.

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Jun 042017
 
 June 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Eugène Delacroix Les femmes d’Alger 1834

 

Theresa May Suppresses Release Of Report On Who Funds Terrorism In UK (Ind.)
‘Sensitive’ UK Terror Funding Inquiry May Never Be Published (G.)
British PM May’s Election Gamble In Doubt As Poll Lead Falls To One Point (R.)
What Young People Think About This Election
The Biggest Real Estate Bubble Of All Time Just Did The Impossible (ZH)
Australia’s Record-Breaking Run Teeters On Edge With ‘Paltry’ Growth (Smh)
Why A $15 Minimum Wage Is Good For Business (MacLeans)
Noam Chomsky: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy (Nation)
Clapper Says Russians ‘Genetically Driven’ To Be Untrustworthy (Ryan)
A Moment of Intoxication (K.)
Greece Debt Relief Could Mean Creditors Waiting For Up To €123 Billion (R.)
EU Mulling Secret Plan B For Greece (K.)
Mediterranean Death Rate Doubles As Migrant Crossings Fall (G.)
Far Right Raises £50,000 To Target Boats On Refugee Rescue Missions In Med (G.)

 

 

This is a few days old (Mey 31). Think it’ll get more attention after last night’s attacks? A report, supposed to be out in early 2016, commissioned by Cameron while May was Home Secretary, is ‘disappeared’ now she is PM.

Theresa May Suppresses Release Of Report On Who Funds Terrorism In UK (Ind.)

An investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. The inquiry commissioned by David Cameron, was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Isis into Syria. But although it was due to be published in the spring of 2016, it has not been completed and may never be made public due to its “sensitive” contents. It is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which the UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to. A spokesperson from the Home Office told The Independent a decision on the publication of the report would be taken “after the election by the next government”.

But in a separate interview with The Guardian, a spokesperson said the report may never be published, describing its contents were “very sensitive”. Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has written a letter to the Prime Minister pressing her on when the report will be published and what steps she proposes to take to address “one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK”. “You will agree with me that the protection of our country, of the British people, is the most important job of any government,” he wrote. “Certainly, more important than potential trade deals with questionable regimes, which appear to be the only explanation for your reticence. “When will this report be finished and published? And what steps do you propose to take to address one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK?”

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Same report. I’m doubling up.

‘Sensitive’ UK Terror Funding Inquiry May Never Be Published (G.)

An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis. The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015. Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.

The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron. However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”. A decision would be taken “after the election by the next government” about the future of the investigation, a Home Office spokesman said. In his letter to May, Brake wrote: “As home secretary at the time, your department was one of those leading on the report. Eighteen months later, and following two horrific terrorist attacks by British-born citizens, that report still remains incomplete and unpublished.

“It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hardline Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.”

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How can you have an election in these circumstances? Campaigning this time has been suspended only until the end of the day…

British PM May’s Election Gamble In Doubt As Poll Lead Falls To One Point (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble on a June 8 snap election was thrust into doubt after a Survation poll showed her Conservative Party’s lead had dropped to a new low of just one percentage point. While British pollsters all predict May will win the most seats in Thursday’s election, they have given an array of different numbers for how big her win will be, ranging from a landslide victory to a much more slender win without a majority. Some of the polls indicate the election could be on a knife edge that would throw Britain into political deadlock just days before formal Brexit talks with the European Union are due to begin on June 19.

In a sign of how much her campaign has soured just five days before voting begins, May’s personal rating turned negative for the first time in one of ComRes’s polls since she won the top job in the turmoil following the June 23 Brexit referendum. Survation said the Conservatives were on 40% and Labour on 39%, indicating May’s lead has collapsed by 11 percentage points over two weeks and that her majority was now in doubt. “Prime Minister May’s overall majority now hangs in the balance based on our most recent data,” Survation founder Damian Lyons Lowe told Reuters. “The risk of May not having an overall majority has increased significantly based on our data.”

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The Tories rely on the ‘grey’ vote.

What Young People Think About This Election (HnH)

Nearly two-thirds of young people say that they are certain to vote in Thursday’s General Election, which, if it happens, could see them play a decisive role in many marginal seats and thus, in the final outcome. Of those who are registered and say they are certain to vote, two-thirds (68%) plan to back Labour. That’s according to an exclusive ICM poll commissioned by Hope Not Hate and supported by the National Union of Teachers (NUT). If the turnout is anywhere near the 63% of young people who said that they were “certain” to vote, then this represents a major increase on the 43% who voted in the 2015 General Election.

Living in a key battleground seat could be an important factor in youth turnout, with four out of ten (39%) of 18-24 year-olds saying that living in a marginal constituency would make them more likely to vote. With the latest Lord Ashcroft polling, out yesterday, suggesting that there are 70 constituencies where the two leading parties’ estimated vote shares are within 5% of each other, the turn out rate amongst young people could define the outcome. Among the marginal seats where the youth vote could decide the outcome are Leeds North West, Norwich South, Cambridge, and Cardiff Central. But it is not just the big University seats where the youth vote could make the difference. In Harrow West, for example, Ashcroft’s polling predicts there is only 2% between Labour and Conservatives and according to the 2011 census, there are 9,500 18-24 years in the constituency.

Even if only two-thirds of them are registered, a turnout of 60% could have a major influence on the result. Our poll found huge support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, with two-thirds of those who were registered and certain to vote saying they supported Labour (68%), with half (50%) saying Jeremy Corbyn had the right qualities to be Prime Minister (vs 28% for Theresa May).

Trust, or more precisely the lack of it, remains a major issue for young people. Most of them also felt that tabloid newspapers and wealthy individual donors had an unhealthy influence on British politics. The BBC came out as a trusted source of information for 49% of young people, making it the single most trusted news platform. This compares to just 22% who trust newspapers (and 42% distrusted) and 18% social media (and 45% distrusted). Family and friends were trusted by 46%.

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Vancouver doesn’t stop. Not by itself. Do all these people think they’ll be bailed out when the crash comes? The government can hardly afford to bail out the banks.

The Biggest Real Estate Bubble Of All Time Just Did The Impossible (ZH)

One month ago, we said that “the Vancouver housing bubble Is back, and it’s (almost) bigger than ever.” Fast forward to today, when we can scrap the almost part: according to the latest data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, nearly a year after British Columbia implemented a 15% property tax targeting foreign buyers, in May the biggest real estate bubble of all time did the impossible and in a testament to the persistence of Chinese oligarchs, criminals, money launderers and pretty much anyone who is desperate to park their cash as far away as possible, after a modest drop following last summer’s tax the Vancouver housing bubble has bounced right back to new all time highs, as prices of detached, attached houses and apartment all surged to new record highs.

The only thing that did fall in May was the number of actual transactions, as residential property sales in the region totaled 4,364 in May 2017, a decrease of 8.5% from the 4,769 sales in May 2016, an all-time record. In other words, all that the 15% surtax achieved was to drastically slowdown the rate of transactions (or perhaps home flipping). Meanwhile, as sellers held out to find more aggressive buyers, they were in luck as the new wave of buyers has emerged, and undeterred by the 15% premium, they have been slowly but surely lifting all available offers. While there is little we can add to this month’s update that we didn’t already say a month ago, below we again put Canada’s housing market, and bubble, in perspective with some of our favorite charts, first showing total Canadian household debt compared to the US. Most of this is in the form of mortgages.

[..] the punchline: indexed home prices in Canada compared to the US. This needs to commentary.

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Slow bursting bubbles are exceedingly rare.

Australia’s Record-Breaking Run Teeters On Edge With ‘Paltry’ Growth (Smh)

Australia is on the brink of hitting a technical recession just as it breaks the record for the longest run of uninterrupted economic growth in the developed world. While Treasurer Scott Morrison has insisted there are “better days ahead,” consumers are suffering from a dual frustration of weak wages and underemployment hitting household budgets, fuelling low levels of growth and restricting how much they are willing to spend. Three of Australia’s major financial institutions are forecasting a “paltry” growth of 0.1% or less, with the National Australia Bank the first to tip negative growth for the three months to March when National Accounts figures are released on Wednesday. Morgan Stanley has predicted negative growth of 0.3%. If it were to happen, it would only be the fourth time since the recession of the early 1990s that Australia had endured a quarter of negative territory.

The sluggish outcomes offer some good news for home owners, with many tipping the Reserve Bank will keep interest rates on hold for the forseeable future, and, when they do move, it will be a cut. The prediction comes after house prices Australia wide fell for the first time in 18 months, also giving some hope to aspiring home owners struggling to get into the market. If Wednesday’s gross domestic product figures reveal a contraction, it would be the second in three quarters, narrowly avoiding the technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Analysts say there is a “small possibility of a negative GDP” in the next quarter, due to the impact of Cyclone Debbie, which would take Australia “into technical, but not real, recession”, according to the National Australia Bank. “While some of the contraction has undoubtedly been driven by the weather and other one-offs, the question for next week will be whether the slowdown includes signal as well as noise, and implies a more fundamental economic slowdown,” said NAB Chief Economist Alan Oster.

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There’s one thing missing from here: You have to take into account how much of what’s for sale in a society is produced within it. If too much of it is imported, no minimum wage can save anything, the money will just vanish.

Why A $15 Minimum Wage Is Good For Business (MacLeans)

When higher income households see wage gains, some of it goes to savings. Additional consumption also often flows to vacations and luxury goods, often imported. In other words a non-trivial part leaks out of the local economy. When lower income households see a sustained rise in incomes, they spend virtually all of it. Most goes to food (more nutritious food or eating out), better health care and more education. Sometimes it also goes to rent (moving to a better neighbourhood). Almost all of this spending stays in the local economy. So boost the minimum wage and you boost the economy from the bottom up.

You may be surprised to learn nearly 30% of Ontario’s labour market earned less than $15 an hour in 2016. The nation’s biggest labour market has more people working at low wages than any other big economic engine of Canada (Quebec, B.C., Alberta) While some workers may lose their job after the minimum wage increase (more on that in a minute), a very large number of workers will see an important pay hike, and that will loop back into the economy. Increased consumer spending will grow the top line of businesses, and increase the need for more workers to meet the higher demand for goods and services…and earning better pay. Rising costs will also raise productivity, something virtually every business and economist says we want and need. That’s harder to do if you’re doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Canada has been running a low-wage economy for decades, relatively speaking, according to Statistics Canada. In fact, at last count Canada outpaced the U.S. in the reliance on low-wage work. Within Canada, Ontario has the highest reliance on low-wage work. Boosting wages may knock out some jobs and some marginal businesses. The remaining enterprises that rely on low-wage work will see improved productivity, less absenteeism and turnover, reducing recruitment and training costs. We shouldn’t rue the loss of a few poorly paid jobs, particularly when rising minimum wages also help meet the twin challenges of the early 21st century: constrained revenue growth and higher service needs due to population aging. We’ve got to spur change, and a substantially higher minimum wage will surely spur change.

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Good long interview with Noam. We’re going to miss him something awful when he dies. Societies need thinkers like him, no matter what the political views are.

Noam Chomsky: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy (Nation)

I think is if you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence—both from the Second World War. One of them is familiar. In fact, both are by now familiar. The Second World War ended with the use of nuclear weapons. It was immediately obvious on August 6, 1945, a day that I remember very well. It was obvious that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster. Scientists certainly understood this. In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists inaugurated its famous Doomsday Clock. You know, how close the minute hand was to midnight? And it started seven minutes to midnight. By 1953 it had moved to two minutes to midnight.

That was the year when the United States and Soviet Union exploded hydrogen bombs. But it turns out we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epic. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epic in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environment. It moved again in 2015, again in 2016. Immediately after the Trump election late January this year, the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since ’53. So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some. A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism.

There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on— Social democracy, yeah. That’s sometimes called “the golden age of modern capitalism.” That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, it’s crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy. It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.”

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Russiagate is rotting America.

Clapper Says Russians ‘Genetically Driven’ To Be Untrustworthy (Ryan)

The former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper thinks Russians have some sort of biological predilection to be an untrustworthy bunch. I wish I was making that up, but sadly, I’m not. Clapper said it during last Sunday’s episode of Meet The Press on NBC, during a response to a question about Jared Kushner’s ties to Moscow. The Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever” — was the exact quote.There’s great irony in that comment by Clapper, with his own record of perjury, implying that an entire ethnicity can’t be trusted. So, of course, widespread outrage followed the blatantly xenophobic comment. Nah, I’m only joking. No one actually noticed or cared.

Chuck Todd, the interviewer, let the comment slide without even acknowledging that Clapper had said something untoward. If there was a debate about Clapper’s comment and it was deemed somehow acceptable, that would be bad enough — but it’s actually worse than that, because anti-Russian sentiment is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche, that no one even notices when a high profile figure like Clapper makes a comment about the “genetics” of Russians in an effort to brand them as inherently devious and conniving. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Unlike any other group of people, it’s been well-established that you can say pretty much whatever you like about Russians with no repercussions or backlash of any kind, particularly if you pass it off as comedy.

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“We want a peaceful Europe, not one where Germany puts itself above all.”

A Moment of Intoxication (K.)

With Donald Trump elected to the office of president of the United States, developments are following their predetermined course, with the relationship between Washington and Berlin being sorely tested. Some had maintained hope that the new president of the US would adjust to the reality that’s been established for years. Trump, however, is battling and trying to overthrow this reality, treating it as something that’s against American interests. The informal NATO summit in Brussels and the G7 have dashed the optimists’ expectations. Trump strongly criticized his European partners, including Germany, for being inconsistent with their financial obligations toward NATO. Germany’s disappointment with this was to be expected, but less so was the audacity that followed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strong remarks at a Munich beer tent, that Europe cannot rely on its American and British partners and that it should take its fate into its own hands, were the product of arrogance. They represent the beginning of a rupture, even if some attempt to attribute a “strategic depth” to the whole issue – something like an emancipation for the European Union and a fresh impetus for the completion of the EU project. Except that the introduction of the common currency, rather than make Europe more united, has created a two-tiered Europe, divided between north and south, and Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies have accelerated centrifugal trends. It doesn’t require much intelligence for one to realize the likely outcome of another amateur initiative like a “common European defense” structure without the active participation of the US and the UK.

This would be opportunism with disastrous consequences. It goes without saying that Greece outside the UK/US defense system puts us in grave danger. We haven’t, of course, reached that point just yet. We’ve simply reached a period of typical European babble and confusion. The hope is that it doesn’t last too long. Nevertheless, the cries of German politicians must stop. Of course, Pax Americana has been violently disputed from time to time. We have already had a taste of Germany in a dominant economic role, as implemented by Wolfgang Schaeuble. Let us consider the remarks by Chancellor Merkel as a moment of intoxication at the beer tent. We want a peaceful Europe, not one where Germany puts itself above all.

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Creative accounting as an excuse not to do the obvious. Germany’s power must be clipped or else.

Greece Debt Relief Could Mean Creditors Waiting For Up To €123 Billion (R.)

A Greek debt relief scenario that put back interest payments until 2048 would mean the nation’s eurozone creditors deferring receipt of up to €123 billion, according to a forecast by Germany’s Finance Ministry. The ministry’s calculations, which were contained in a letter to a member of parliament seen by Reuters on Friday, contemplated the various restructuring scenarios laid out by the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). “With such an interest deferral, it would de facto be a new loan with a volume that depends on the development of interest rates,” the document said. “The estimated volume of the deferred interest up until 2048 would be around €118-123 billion.”

The IMF says it cannot contribute loans to Greece’s current bailout unless it gets assurances that its debt will be sustainable. The Fund has estimated that the Greek economy will only grew by 1% per year on average and that Greece will return to a primary surplus of 1.5% from 2023 after five years at 3.5%. Greece needs about €7 billion in loans from its €86 billion rescue package to repay debt maturing in July, but the disbursement hinges on its lenders’ assessment of its bailout progress, the conclusion of the so-called second review.

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No IMF.

EU Mulling Secret Plan B For Greece (K.)

In the wake of last week’s Eurogroup impasse, European officials are mulling a plan B for Greece that would sideline the IMF, curb debt relief and reduce the need for austerity after 2019, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, European officials have already started discussing an alternative plan that could be put into effect in the fall, after September elections in Germany, which have made Berlin cautious of any politically contentious moves. The plan being considered would ensure that the IMF is no longer in the “driving seat of the Greek bailout program,” the sources said, adding that it would offer Greece less debt relief than it had hoped for but also less austerity in 2019 onward, after the current bailout has expired.

That would mean Athens could revoke some of the tough austerity measures it pushed through Parliament last month. The pension cuts and tax increases are due to come into effect in 2019 and 2020 respectively. However, a worse deal for Greece as regards debt relief would be a hard sell for the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has basically reneged on all pre-election promises and is keen to deliver something concrete with respect to the country’s debt. His government has already started shifting its narrative away from an insistence on a “comprehensive solution on the debt” to a “solution that will pave the way for accessing the markets.” Athens is still expected to make one last push for a deal at a Eurogroup summit on June 15.

According to sources, Tsipras will aim to broach the issue at a subsequent summit of EU leaders on June 22 if no solution transpires at the Eurogroup, as is expected. The Greek leader has already secured the support of French President Emmanual Macron for such a discussion to take place, sources say. Earlier this week German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble hit out at Tsipras, claiming the leftist premier has not shifted the burden of austerity away from poorer Greeks as he had pledged and that party influence in the public administration has increased, not decreased, during his time in government. Tsipras did not respond in person but a government source issued a terse response. “The responsibility of Schaeuble in managing the Greek crisis has been recorded historically,” the source said. “There is no point in his ascribing it to others.”

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Merkal won’t lift a finger until her election. Those are the priorities. And no other country can do a thing without her.

Mediterranean Death Rate Doubles As Migrant Crossings Fall (G.)

The death rate among migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to enter Europe has almost doubled over the past year. Comparing the first five months of this year with the same period last year, UN agency data reveals that the mortality rate grew from 1.2% to 2.3%. The death rate during all of 2015 was 0.37% – a sixth of its current level. Details of the drownings came as it emerged that far-right activists are planning to send boats to the Mediterranean this summer to disrupt search-and-rescue vessels that are attempting to save the lives of refugees. The new figures prompted calls for the international community to stop turning a blind eye to the unfolding crisis. Aid agencies said the rising death rate was caused by a shortage of search-and-rescue vessels and the increasingly unsafe boats being provided by smugglers and traffickers in Libya.

Last week a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) vessel rescued 1,500 people in 10 hours, more than double the boat’s capacity. Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK, accused world leaders of turning their backs on refugees and choosing to focus on border security instead of adopting a humanitarian approach that would lower the Med’s death toll. “The deterrence policies implemented to keep people away from Europe have little regard for the human consequences. As a result, the Mediterranean has turned into a giant cemetery with over 1,500 missing or dead so far this year and tens of thousands of people detained inside Libya.” Leonard Doyle, chief spokesman for the UN migration agency, the IOM, said it had detected a hardening of attitude towards economic migrants from Africa, who were looking for work as they moved north towards Europe.

“These are impoverished, black, sub-saharan Africans and there’s definitely less interest in them and less warmth towards them than there was towards the refugees coming in from Syria last year, there’s no question about that,” said Doyle. He added: “The rate of deaths has gone sky high. People looking for work are being told to get into a dinghy and they’ll get a job. These are very vulnerable people ending up in exploitative situations.” During the first five months of last year the IOM recorded 205,858 migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean with 2,512 deaths. So far this year a far smaller amount – 71,029 – of migrants and refugees have crossed the Med to enter Europe yet the number of deaths stands at 1,650.

Research by the University of Warwick published last week – the first large-scale comparative study of the backgrounds and aspirations of refugees and migrants heading for Europe – challenged the prevailing view that they pick Europe as their destination of choice. Instead, researchers found that many did not even know anything about the EU prior to their arrival and had in fact been manipulated by traffickers who promised them work.

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Inevitable in view of government- and media rhetoric.

Far Right Raises £50,000 To Target Boats On Refugee Rescue Missions In Med (G.)

Far-right activists are planning a sea campaign this summer to disrupt vessels saving refugees in the Mediterranean, after successfully intercepting a rescue mission last month. Members of the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant “Identitarian” movement – largely twentysomethings often described as Europe’s answer to the American alt-right – have raised £56,489 in less than three weeks to enable them to target boats run by aid charities helping to rescue refugees. The money was raised through an anonymous crowdfunding campaign with an initial goal of €50,000 to pay for ships, travel costs and film equipment. On Saturday the group confirmed they had reached their target but were still accepting donations. A French far-right group hired a boat for a trial run last month, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. They claimed they had slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coastguard intervened.

Figures from the UN’s migration agency, the IOM, reveal that 1,650 refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year with a further 6,453 migrants rescued off Libya and 228 bodies pulled from the waters. Humanitarian charities operating in the Mediterranean have helped save the lives of thousands of refugees, with women and children making up almost half of those making the crossing. The threat from the far right infuriates charities operating in the Mediterranean. One senior official, who requested anonymity, said politicians had helped create a climate where supporters of the far right felt emboldened to act in such a way. “When the British government and its European counterparts talk about ‘swarms’ of migrants, or perpetuate the myth that rescue operations are a ‘pull factor’ or a ‘taxi service’, that gives fuel to extreme groups such as this. The simple reality is that without rescue operations many more would drown, but people would still attempt the crossing,” the official said.

[..] During the first five months of 2015, no European or NGO search-and-rescue operations took place with 1,800 people drowning trying to make the crossing. In April alone 1,000 lives were lost. All search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean are coordinated by the official Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome in accordance with international maritime law. Yet the European far-right groups have accused NGOs of working with traffickers to bring migrants to Europe and claim that search-and-rescue boats are not carrying out a humanitarian intervention. The central aim of the new wave of far-right groups is preserving national differences in the belief that white Europeans will be replaced by immigrants, a stance that is articulated with anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-media sentiments but repackaged for a younger audience.

The number of far-right groups is difficult to establish, but Génération Identitaire has held demonstrations in France that drew around 500 people, while its Facebook page has 122,662 likes. Its Austrian counterpart, Identitäre Bewegung Österreich, has 37,628 likes on Facebook, although critics warn of increasing links with the US alt-right which helped to propel Donald Trump to the White House. Also on the boat that attempted to obstruct SOS Méditerranée’s vessel last month was the Canadian alt-right journalist Lauren Southern, who has 278,000 Twitter followers and whose presence confirms a transatlantic convergence.

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May 232017
 
 May 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Bathers by a River 1910

 

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)
The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)
UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)
US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)
China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)
China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)
Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)
Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)
Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)
Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)
EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)
Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)
German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)
1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)
Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

 

 

Congress will never accept this.

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)

President Donald Trump would dramatically reduce the U.S. government’s role in society with $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years in a budget plan that shrinks the safety net for the poor, recent college graduates and farmers. Trump’s proposal, to be released Tuesday, claims to balance the budget within a decade. But it relies on a tax plan for which the administration has provided precious little detail, the elimination of programs backed by many Republican lawmakers, and heavy use of accounting gimmicks. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal has already been declared dead on arrival by many of his Republican allies in Congress. The plan would slash Medicaid payments, increase monthly student loan payments and cut food stamps and agricultural subsidies, each backed by powerful constituencies.

The administration is unbowed. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and back in charge of their own lives.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he expects the Republican-led Congress to largely ignore the proposal, saying in an interview last week with Bloomberg News that early versions reflected priorities that “aren’t necessarily ours.” The president’s proposal would fulfill his campaign promise of leaving Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare untouched while increasing national security spending. He’s also proposing severe cuts to foreign aid and tighter eligibility for tax cuts that benefit the working poor. He also seeks cuts in food stamps and disability insurance.

The plan calls for some new domestic spending, including $25 billion over 10 years for nationwide paid parental leave – a cause championed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump – and an expansion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students. The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would increase $3 billion versus the final full year of President Barack Obama’s term, while the Pentagon’s budget would see a $6 billion increase over that same time. The sheer ambition of the president’s plan, which would cut domestic agencies by 10% in 2018 and by 40% in 2027, make the budget even less likely to gain traction on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers regularly flout the annual blueprint offered by the executive branch. But lawmakers are also likely to view some of the administration’s accounting gimmicks with extreme skepticism.

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Now add another financial crisis to that.

The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)

The evidence that the middle class in America is dying continues to mount. As you will see below, nearly half the country would be unable “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”, and about two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time. Of course the economy has not been doing that well overall in recent years. Barack Obama was the only president in all of U.S. history not to have a single year when the economy grew by at least 3%, and U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was an anemic 0.7%. During the Obama era, it is true that wealthy enclaves in New York, northern California and Washington D.C. did thrive, but meanwhile most of the rest of the country has been left behind. Today, there are approximately 205 million working age Americans, and close to half of them have no financial cushion whatsoever.

In fact, a new survey conducted by the Federal Reserve has found that 44% of Americans do not even have enough money “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”… “Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.” Not only that, the same survey discovered that 23% of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month…

“Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.” But just because you can pay your bills does not mean that you are doing well. Tens of millions of Americans barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck each and every month. In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 75% of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time…

“Three-quarters of Americans (75%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 15% said they usually do and 23% said they always do. While making ends meet is a struggle for many post-recession, those with minimum wage jobs continue to be hit the hardest. Of workers who currently have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, 66% said they couldn’t make ends meet and 50% said they had to work more than one job to make it work.” So please don’t be fooled into thinking that the U.S. economy is doing well because the stock market has been hitting new record highs. The stock market was soaring just before the financial crisis of 2008 too, and we remember how that turned out.

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Politicians can only react to tragedies in regurgitated bland terminology. Only, they now do it on Twitter. Progress?

UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)

Theresa May and the leaders of other political parties have suspended campaigning for the general election following the terrorist attack in Manchester, which has killed at least 22 people. The prime minister, who had been due to speak at a campaign event in southwest England, will instead chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee. May said the incident at Manchester Arena was being treated by police as an “appalling terrorist attack”. She added: “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was to have spoken in the West Midlands, said it was a “terrible incident”. He tweeted: “My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.” In a later statement, Corbyn said: “I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events. “I have spoken with the prime minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.” The Scottish National party was due to unveil its election manifesto on Tuesday, but it has now postponed the event.

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Saved by the terror attack?

Theresa May Ditches Manifesto Plan With ‘Dementia Tax’ U-Turn (G.)

Theresa May has announced a U-turn on her party’s social care policy by promising an “absolute limit” on the amount people will have to pay for their care but is not planning to say what level the cap will be set at before the election. The prime minister’s decision came after Conservative party proposals to make people pay more of the costs of social care were branded a “dementia tax” – but she insisted it was simply a clarification. “Since my manifesto was published, the proposals have been subject to fake claims made by Jeremy Corbyn. The only things he has left to offer in this campaign are fake claims, fear and scaremongering,” she said, during a speech in Wrexham to launch the Welsh Tory manifesto. “So I want to make a further point clear. This manifesto says that we will come forward with a consultation paper, a government green paper. And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs.”

The prime minister said key elements of her party’s social care policy – to limit winter fuel allowance to the poorest and take people’s properties into account in the means test for social care at home – would remain in place. It is understood that the party will not pre-empt the consultation with a figure, not least because the level will depend on where the means test is set for winter fuel allowance. But the Conservative manifesto and a briefing for journalists on the policy had made no mention of a cap, with the policy only announced after days of backlash and amid a slight tightening in the opinion polls. May immediately faced a string of difficult questions from reporters, with one saying the announcement amounted to a “manifesto of chaos”. A testy prime minister responded by insisting that there was always going to be a consultation and the “basic principles” of the policy were unchanged.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed,” she added tersely, raising her voice when asked towards the end of the session if anything else in the Tory manifesto was likely to be altered. The prime minister accused a Guardian journalist of borrowing a term from the Labour party after it was suggested that the “dementia tax” would still mean a wide disparity between the children of Alzheimer’s and cancer sufferers. “This is a system that will ensure that people who are faced by the prospect of either requiring care in their own home or go into a home are able to see that support provided for them and don’t have to worry on that month by month basis about where that funding is coming from. They won’t have to sell their family home when they are alive, and they will be able to pass savings on to their children,” she said.

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Yeah, curious.

US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)

The healthcare industry is beginning to shift blame for Obamacare’s 2018 rate hikes and an unstable individual insurance market to Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. An alliance of health insurers, doctors and employers are urging the Trump administration and Congress to fund cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Politico reported Friday that Trump is telling “advisers he wants to end key Obamacare subsidies.” If cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) aren’t funded through 2018, Trump and Republicans will be responsible for more insurers leaving public exchanges and a rate hike of nearly 20% on average, reports indicate.

The cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) are used to help 7 million Americans pay less out of pocket for healthcare services. “There now is clear evidence that this uncertainty is undermining the individual insurance market for 2018 and stands to negatively impact millions of people,” several powerful groups representing hospitals, doctors, patients, insurance companies and U.S. employers wrote in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

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The worst idea in a long time. But since they bought Syngenta, probably inevitable.

China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)

China will carry out a nationwide poll next month to test the public’s acceptance of genetically-modified food, a technology the government says would boost yields and sustainable agriculture in a country that’s seen consumption soar. [..] China is the world’s fourth-largest grower of GMO cotton and the top importer of soybeans, most of which are genetically modified and used for cooking oil and animal feed for pigs and chickens. But public concern over food safety issues and skepticism about the effects of consuming GMO foods have made the government reluctant to introduce the technology for staple crops. A 2012 trial of so-called Golden Rice – a yellow GMO variant of the grain that produces beta-carotene – caused a public storm after reports that the rice was fed to children without the parents being aware that it was genetically modified.

“Many Chinese turn pale when you mention the GMO word,” said Jin in his small office. Some still believe GMO food can cause cancer and impair childbirth, due to misleading reports in newspapers and social media, he said. A recent decision by a local legislative body against growing GMO crops has added to public confusion, Jin said. The national survey aims to discover what the public’s concerns are so that the government can resolve the confusion, Jin said. “If the government pushes ahead before the public is ready to accept the technology, it would be embarrassing – like offering a pot of half-cooked rice to eat.” Jin said he expected the poll result to show that the general public’s perception of GMO is still negative, but “as more people get to know the technology, more would be willing to accept it.”

The lack of an authoritative scientific institution to answer questions, the widespread illegal cultivation of GMO crops, and public mistrust of government authorities after a series of food scandals have all contributed to skepticism about GMO, Jin said. [..] Syngenta, which produces genetically modified seeds for corn, is gearing up for rapid expansion in the country after shareholders accepted a $43 billion offer for the Swiss agribusiness by China National Chemical. The Chinese state-owned company is expected to complete the deal this month. The American Chamber of Commerce in China had complained that U.S. strains of GMO suffered from slower and less predictable approval for import into China. Chinese and U.S. officials have agreed to evaluate pending U.S. biotechnology product applications by the end of the month, including corn and cotton.

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The GMOs will be used globally.

China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)

Faced with a shrinking area of good arable land and a population of 1.4 billion people who are eating more, Chinese agriculture companies have been buying or leasing farms abroad for decades. After the world food crisis, when grain prices soared from 2006 to 2008, that investment went into overdrive. But many projects were plagued by corruption, mistrust, local resistance and trade restrictions. “By and large, they have not achieved the goals they have set,” said Shenggen Fan, an agricultural economist who grew up on a farm near Shanghai and now heads the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. “The general conclusion was that it was not a good investment—it was too quick.”

[..] China will still need to source an increasing amount of food from overseas as its growing middle class eats more and demands better quality and variety. The nation already consumes about half of the world’s pork and whole milk powder, and about a third of its soybeans and rice. So, as the global food crisis abated, Chinese companies turned their attention elsewhere—to finding farms with quality producers in more developed countries whose products would sell for a premium in Shanghai and Beijing. “China is just getting started,” said Kartini Samon, who runs the Asia program for Grain, a non-profit focused on farmers’ rights that tracks Chinese farm deals. “They’re slowly building their power and their supply chains.”

Chinese firms have spent almost $52 billion on overseas agriculture deals since 2005 and food industry-related transactions have quadrupled over the past six years, according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. “More and more of what we’re seeing is Chinese companies wanting to buy really good food businesses, as opposed to buying any food businesses,” said Ian Proudfoot, the Auckland-based global head of agribusiness for KPMG. They include WH Group’s 2013 purchase of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, and China National Chemical’s $43 billion agreement to take over Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta.

In a key rural policy statement issued by the Communist Party in February, the government said it supports Chinese companies investing in agriculture overseas, from production and processing to storage and logistics. “They won’t just want the production facilities, they’ll be looking for the story and the brand,” said Proudfoot. Of the 17 agricultural deals made by Chinese companies over the past two years, only two were in developing countries—Cambodia and Brazil—and six were in Australia, according to the AEI/Heritage Foundation data. Shanghai Pengxin, which has dairy-farming interests in New Zealand and a Brazilian grain-trading business, is looking for well-known brands in developed countries that can generate fast returns in markets like Shanghai, said a spokesman..

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This is based on ‘findings’ by Moody‘s, but it rated Santander ABS as high as AAA as late as February. We’ve definitely seen this before.

Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)

Santander Consumer USA, one of the biggest subprime auto finance companies, verified income on just 8% of borrowers whose loans it recently bundled into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s. The low level of due diligence on applicants compares with 64% for loans in a recent securitization sold by General Motors Financial’s AmeriCredit unit. The lack of checks may be one factor in explaining higher loan losses experienced by Santander Consumer in bond deals that it has sold in recent years, Moody’s analysts Jody Shenn and Nick Monzillo wrote in a May 17 report, which reviewed data required of asset-backed bond issuers that’s recently been made available. Limited verification of loan applicants’ stated incomes and employment “creates more uncertainty around whether borrowers will be able to afford their monthly payments, which becomes particularly important if they have poor credit records and risky loan terms,” the analysts wrote.

Andrew Kang, Dallas-based Santander Consumer’s treasurer, acknowledged Moody’s findings and said the company’s practice on income verification has been consistent over time even if it’s lower than levels reported among competitors. The higher losses in the loans backing the bonds have been visible to investors, Kang said. Investors have been protected because Santander Consumer included extra loans in the securities in case some went bad, for example, creating a buffer against losses, he said. The Moody’s analysts didn’t make any claim that noteholders were at risk as the bond-grader simply looked at the new data available in the deals to provide analysis on how lenders underwrite. Moody’s rated the Santander deal as high as Aaa in February. Investors who bought into the securities included Massachusetts Mutual Life, according to data.

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Martin Luther rubber duckies. Nothing is holy. Our crisis is spiritual too.

Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)

From burgers to rubber duckies to liquor, Wittenberg is cashing in on its 16th century resident, who changed Christendom forever. It is on a door of a church here that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses in 1517, leading to a split with the Roman Catholic Church and giving birth to Protestantism. As Germany commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the seismic theological shift started by Luther, Wittenberg is decked out in full Luther regalia. On arrival at the town’s main train station, visitors are greeted with a giant rectangular block labelled “The Bible – Luther’s translation”. Walk a few metres and a billboard seeks to tempt the weary with a “Luther Burger”. In the display windows of shops running one kilometre through the centre of the old town, there is something for everyone – a toddler-sized Luther teddy bear, bags of Luther pasta and Luther tea.

Born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483, Luther moved to Wittenberg in 1511. It was in the eastern town where he married Katharina von Bora, became a father of six children, and published his ideas attacking papal abuses and questioning the place of saints. The theologian, who died in 1546, argued that Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God, marking a turning point in Christian thinking. But Luther also came to be linked to Germany’s darkest history, as his later sermons and writings were marked by anti-Semitism – something that the Nazis used to justify their horrific persecution of the Jews. Yet the theologian’s part in reshaping the religious order has unequivocally secured his place as one of the most important figures in European history.

For the 500th Reformation anniversary, Germany has declared an exceptional public holiday on October 31. And tens of thousands of Christians from across the world are descending on the town of 47,000 inhabitants where history was made. [..] going by the number of tourists carrying jute bags featuring Luther’s image, or the steady stream of people picking up Luther cookies, it is clear that the crowd just can’t get enough of the theologian. The boom in Luther souvenirs has been driven by this year’s celebrations, Ruske noted. “There are Luther noodles, Luther tomatoes, Luther chocolate and also Luther coffee. There are many great products that we sell… but there are also bizarre souvenirs. But as long as the demand is there, there’ll always be offers,” said Ruske. The tourism office itself has been stocking 500 Playmobil figurines of Luther every month over the past year. “But they keep selling out,” she said.

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“The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible..”

Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)

In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness. What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.

The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al. So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz.

Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and though somehow the national clock might be turned back. The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.

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Pilger is the source to turn to.

Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)

Julian Assange has been vindicated because the Swedish case against him was corrupt. The prosecutor, Marianne Ny, obstructed justice and should be prosecuted. Her obsession with Assange not only embarrassed her colleagues and the judiciary but exposed the Swedish state’s collusion with the United States in its crimes of war and “rendition”.

Had Assange not sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he would have been on his way to the kind of American torture pit Chelsea Manning had to endure. This prospect was obscured by the grim farce played out in Sweden. “It’s a laughing stock,” said James Catlin, one of Assange’s Australian lawyers. “It is as if they make it up as they go along”. It may have seemed that way, but there was always serious purpose. In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.

Perhaps this was understandable. WikiLeaks has exposed the way America dominates much of human affairs, including its epic crimes, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale, often homicidal killing of civilians and the contempt for sovereignty and international law. These disclosures are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistle blowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the Obama campaign boasted on its website that Obama had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined. Before Chelsea Manning had even received a trial, Obama had publicly pronounced her guilty.

Few serious observers doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, he is on a “Manhunt target list”. Threats of his kidnapping and assassination became almost political and media currency in the US following then Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist”. Hillary Clinton, the destroyer of Libya and, as WikiLeaks revealed last year, the secret supporter and personal beneficiary of forces underwriting ISIS, proposed her own expedient solution: “Can’t we just drone this guy.” According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has sought for almost seven years to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy.

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The Troika has no intention of solving the issue. They demand a 3.5% surplus for years to come, making sure Greece can’t grow.

EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)

Eurozone finance ministers failed to agree on a deal which would have released vital rescue funds for Athens on Monday night, after Greece’s creditors rejected calls for an upfront commitment to reduce the country’s debt burden. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the Eurogroup of finance ministers, said the ministers had held an “in-depth discussion” on debt sustainability and said they were “very close” to an agreement. However, he added that they had “not reached an overall agreement on that part of the discussion”. “Tonight we were unable to close a possible gap between what could be done and what some of us had expected should be done or could be done. We need to close that by looking at additional options or by adjusting our expectations.”

“Both are possible and both perhaps should be done, and that I think will bring us to a more positive and definite positive conclusion at the next Eurogroup in June,” Mr Dijsselbloem said. Talks are expected to continue over the coming weeks ahead of the next meeting on June 15. Prior to the meeting, Eurozone finance ministers had said they were confident that a political agreement could be reached on Monday evening. This would have paved the way for a fresh tranche of financial aid to ensure Greece avoids a summer cash crunch. However, officials were at odds with the IMF over the critical issue of debt relief, which is a condition of the Fund’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn bail-out. The IMF had stressed that debt relief was necessary to ensure the country can return to fiscal health, and had called for details on the scope and timing of relief before it joined the programme.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, Mr Dijsselbloem had said he was optimistic that creditors would release new loans to Athens after the Greek parliament passed fresh austerity measures last week, including pension cuts. Greece’s debt share currently stands at around 180pc of GDP, but Mr Dijsselbloem said detailed relief measures would not be thrashed out until 2018. Insiders said talks aimed at bridging the gap between the IMF and some of Greece’s creditors would be difficult. “Discussions are going to be long, and I am not sure they will be successful,” said one. Others said everyone was working hard to secure a deal that included the Fund. “If we lose the IMF now, we lose the IMF forever,” said one source.

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Macron is nothing but Merkel’s little helper.

Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)

French President Emmanuel Macron says his new administration will push for an international debt relief deal for austerity-weary Greece. Macron’s office says that he spoke Monday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and stressed “his determination to find an accord soon to lighten the burden of Greek debt over the long term.” The phone conversation was the first contact between the two since Macron’s election earlier this month. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, named last week, is joining EU finance ministers for talks Monday and Tuesday expected to focus on Greece’s debt problems. Athens hopes that the ministers will agree this week on a deal on easing Greece’s debt repayment terms. Successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

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But no-one has the guts to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble.

German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)

Germany’s coalition government split along party lines on Monday over the question of debt relief for Greece ahead of a crunch meeting in Brussels to tackle the thorny issue. Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund are meeting to seek a deal on Greek debt relief that balances the IMF’s demand for a clear “when and how” with Berlin’s preference for “only if necessary” and “details later”. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, caused the divergence in views by demanding that the euro zone make a firm commitment on granting debt relief to Greece, effectively criticising conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s tough stance. “Greece has been promised debt relief over and over again if reforms are carried out,” Gabriel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper. “Now we must stand by this promise.” “This must not fail due to German resistance,” said Gabriel.

Without the deal no new loans can be granted to Athens, even though the bailout is now handled only by euro zone governments and Greece needs new credit to repay some €7.3 billion worth of maturing loans in July. Schaeuble later described reforms agreed by Greece as “remarkable” but said the Greek economy was not yet competitive and that Athens must press ahead with implementing its existing reforms-for-aid program. “We are not talking about a new program but the implementation of the program agreed in 2015,” Schaeuble said. “At the end of the program, in 2018, we will, if necessary, put in place additional measures that we have defined.” “It is about one goal – namely to help Greece become competitive,” Schaeuble said, adding Greece was not there yet. Speaking at a regular government news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said institutions such as the IMF and the EC were not far apart in their assessment on Greece. “Germany should have an interest in not isolating itself too much,” Schaefer said.

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So obviously, more cuts are needed to make Greece ‘competitive’ again. Contradiction in terms.

1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)

The report of the Unified System of Control and Payment of Pensions “ILIOS” made public by the Labor Ministry shows that 1.2 million Greek pensioners live on less than €500 per month. The figures date from December 2016 and show analytical pension data after Greece’s creditors have asked that pension data calculated with the new methodology should be made public at regular intervals. According to the “ILIOS” report, the average main pension is €722 per month, the average supplementary pension is 170 euros and the average dividend to State pensioners is €97 per month. The report shows that there are 2,892,259 main pensions paid each month, 1,252,241 supplementary pensions and 409,620 dividends with a total cost of €2,342,431,276.95. The figures show that 1.2 million pensioners are paid less than €500 per month.

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Elliniko is the site of the former main airport. It’s horrific. But cynically, it is being evacuated not because of the refugees’ conditions, but because there are plans to develop the site from a consortium of Greek, Chinese and Arab investors.

Amnesty should address Berlin on this, not Athens.

Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

Greek authorities must ensure that refugees and migrants expected to start being evacuated from three Elliniko camps on Tuesday, are provided with safe, adequate, alternative housing, Amnesty International said in a press release on Monday. “Whilst no one will mourn the closure of these uninhabitable, unsafe camps, the failure to provide people living there with information about their imminent removal has only served to increase their fears and anxieties,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner. “There has been no consultation with Ellinko residents who have been kept in the dark as to when and where they will be moved to. The authorities must urgently guarantee that no one will be rendered homeless or placed at risk as a result of the closure. Safe and secure adequate alternative housing which takes account of the particular needs of women and girls must be made available,” she said.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, an Amnesty International member said: “All NGOs active in Elliniko were asked to leave the area, except the two that provide medical help.” Sources from the ministry of Migration Policy denied the report on an imminent evacuation, saying that authorities will instead begin an “information campaign for the people who live in Elliniko,” adding that “misinformation doesn’t help in the real handling of the issue.” Amnesty International had requested to visit the camps between May 21 and 23 but was refused, however, its researchers managed to interview residents outside the camp. One Afghan man told Amnesty International: “They don’t give us information, which creates a lot of anxiety…They want to confuse us so that we cannot decide and they’ll decide for us.” An Afghan woman said: “We talked with everyone but no one tells us anything. I am really worried about ending up on the street.”

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May 052017
 
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Fred Stein Under the El New York 1949

 

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)
Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)
Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)
Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)
Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)
Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)
Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)
Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)
Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)
Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)
Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)
EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)
EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)
Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)
Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)
Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)
Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

 

 

This could take a while. And that’s a good thing.

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)

Several key Senate Republicans said they will set aside the narrowly passed House health-care bill and write their own version instead, a sign of how difficult it will be to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate health committee, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, both described the plan, even as the House was celebrating passing its repeal after weeks of back and forth. The decision will likely delay even further the prospect of any repeal bill reaching President Donald Trump’s desk. Hospital stocks dipped on the House vote, but quickly bounced back on the news the Senate would start over with its own version, with the BI North America Hospitals Index up 0.9% at 2:39 p.m. Hospitals fear the winding-down of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will leave them with more customers who can’t afford to pay.

Trump celebrated the House vote with a news conference at the White House, standing alongside dozens of Republican lawmakers. “This has really brought the Republican Party together,” he said. But in the wake of the House’s razor-thin 217-213 vote, the Senate made clear it was going in a different direction. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who has been very critical of the House bill, said Thursday she hopes they start with “a clean slate” in the Senate. To get some kind of bill through his chamber, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need to unite moderate and conservative wings of the party that want to pull the measure in entirely different directions. The GOP controls the chamber 52-48, meaning he can lose no more than two Republicans and still pass it, given the united Democratic opposition.

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At ZIRP.

Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)

With debt ceilings, spending plans, and tax reforms focusing all eyes on Washington, we thought it notable that for the first time in US history, the cost of interest on US government debt has risen above half a trillion dollars… One wonders, given the grandiose spending plans, if we will ever get back below half a trillion dollars?

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We’ve been saying all along OPEC cuts were fantasy. US shale is a minor factor. Lack of demand is a major one.

Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)

Oil slid below $45 a barrel for the first time since OPEC agreed to cut output in November as U.S. shale confounds the producer group’s attempts to prop up prices. Futures have collapsed 11% this week, slumping to the lowest since Nov. 15 – two weeks before OPEC agreed to production curbs to boost prices and ease a global glut. The decline is being driven by expanding U.S. output that’s countering the group’s curbs. Energy companies in Asia slumped on Friday, after their American counterparts were hammered in the previous session. While news of OPEC’s cuts drove prices in early January to the highest since July 2015, that increase encouraged U.S. drillers to pump more.

The result has been 11 straight weeks of expansion in American production in the longest run of gains since 2012. Prices are still more than 50% below their peak in 2014, when surging shale output triggered crude’s biggest collapse in a generation and left rival producers such as Saudi Arabia scrambling to protect market share. “There’s disappointment that the production cuts we’ve seen from OPEC and others has not had any impact at this stage on global inventory levels,” said Ric Spooner, a chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The market seems to be much further away from a balanced situation than some had previously forecast. There is a possibility that oil could be headed to the low $40s range from here.”

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Expecting the dollar to fall. Doesn’t look all that wise.

Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)

Emerging-market companies are showing up to the U.S. debt market at the fastest pace ever, and finding plenty of appetite for their bonds. Sales of dollar-denominated notes have climbed to about $160 billion this year, more than double offerings at this point in 2016 and the fastest annual start on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1999. Emerging-market assets tanked after Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, but they’ve quickly recovered, with bonds returning 4% this year and outperforming U.S. investment-grade and high-yield debt. The deluge of issuance began when companies anticipating a surge in borrowing costs amid economic stimulus from Trump rushed to sell notes before his inauguration Jan. 20.

But the expected jump never materialized, extending the window for companies like Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Petroleos Mexicanos to pursue multi-billion-dollar deals. They found plenty of demand from investors keen to buy shorter-dated debt that’s better insulated against rising U.S. interest rates. Jean-Dominique Butikofer, the head of emerging markets for fixed income at Voya Investment Management in Atlanta, said he’s seen new interest in emerging markets from investors who already own U.S. high-yield bonds or emerging market sovereign debt that’s more vulnerable to rising interest rates. “You want to be less sensitive to U.S. rates, but you still want to diversify and you still want to play the EM catch-up growth story,” said Butikofer, whose firm manages $217 billion. “You’re going to gradually add emerging-market corporates.”

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There should never be something like a pesticides and seeds group. Break them up.

Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)

ChemChina has won more than enough support from Syngenta shareholders to clinch its $43 billion takeover of the Swiss pesticides and seeds group, the two companies said on Friday. The deal, announced in February 2016, was prompted by China’s desire to use Syngenta’s portfolio of top-tier chemicals and patent-protected seeds to improve domestic agricultural output. It is China’s biggest foreign takeover to date. It is one of several deals that are remaking the international market for agricultural chemicals, seeds and fertilisers. The other deals in the sector are a $130 billion proposed merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont, and Bayer’s plan to merge with Monsanto. The trend toward market consolidation has triggered fears among farmers that the pipeline for new herbicides and pesticides might slow.

Regulators have required some divestments as a condition for approving the Syngenta deal. Based on preliminary numbers, around 80.7% of Syngenta shares have been tendered, above the minimum threshold of 67% support, the partners said in a joint statement. [..] The transaction is set to close on May 18 after the start of an additional acceptance period for shareholders and payment of a special 5-franc dividend to holders of Swiss-listed shares on May 16. Holders of U.S.-listed depositor receipts will get the special dividend in July. Syngenta shares will be delisted from the Swiss bourse and its depository receipts from the New York Stock Exchange. Chief Executive Erik Fyrwald played down the transition from publicly listed group to becoming part of a Chinese state enterprise, stressing that Syngenta would remain a Swiss-based global company while under Chinese ownership.

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May has nothing, election or not. “..the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)

The President of the EU’s ruling Council has intervened to calm Brexit tensions 24 hours after Theresa May launched a vicious attack on “Brussels bureaucrats” on the steps of No 10. Donald Tusk warned that talks would become “impossible” if emotions got out of hand between the UK and EU and called for “mutual respect” between the negotiating parties. The call for calm comes after Theresa May accused the EU’s bureaucracy of trying to influence the result of Britian’s general election by maliciously leaking the content of discussions to the media. In an aggressive speech on Wenesday she tore into officials, warning that her government would not let “the bureaucrats of Brussels run over us”.

The European Commission this morning reacted indignantly to Ms May’s conspiracy theory, with a spokesperson telling reporters that the organisation was “rather busy” and preoccupied with more important matters than trying to fix the poll. But Mr Tusk, a Polish national who represents the EU states’ heads of government in Brussels, said on Thursday afternoon: “Brexit talks [are] difficult enough. If emotions get out of hand, they’ll become impossible. Discretion, moderation and mutual respect needed. “At stake are the daily lives and interests of millions of people on both sides of the Channel.”

The call for calm contrasts with that of a Commission spokesperson earlier today, who said: “We are not naive, we know that there is an election taking place in the United Kingdom. People get excited whenever we have elections. “This election in the United Kingdom is mainly about Brexit. But we here in Brussels, we are very busy, rather busy, with our policy work. “We have too much to do on our plate. So, in a nutshell, we are very busy. And we will not Brexitise our work. “To put it in the words of an EU diplomat, the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

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10 years too late? 20?

Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)

Alitalia will be put up for sale in two weeks having earlier this week fallen into administration. In a radio interview cited by the Financial Times, Carlo Calenda, the country’s economic development minister, said that the priority is for the whole company to get bought. “Within 15 days the commissioners will be open to expressions of interest,” he said. On Tuesday, Alitalia started bankruptcy proceedings for the second time in a decade after employees rejected job cuts and concessions linked to a €2bn recapitalisation plan. Shareholders voted unanimously to file for special administration. According to the Financial Times, the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has extended a bridge loan of €600m to keep Alitalia afloat for the next six months, but has ruled out nationalisation.

This loan should give the commissioners appointed by the government time to come up with a strategy that will ensure the airline’s fleet is not grounded. Speaking to the broadcaster, Mr Calenda said the €600m loan would be the “maximum” of state aid on offer. Speaking about possible buyers, Mr Calenda said “any idea is welcome”. He stressed, however, that “Alitalia needs an alliance with a big European group”. Alitalia, whose major shareholders are Abu-Dhabi based Etihad Airways and Italian banks, has about 12,500 employees. It has been struggling ever since a previous bankruptcy in 2008.

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Somone will buy it for pennies on the buck. China?

Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)

Given its rich history, Italy is rightly attached to its relics. Unfortunately, this affection for the past does not stop at the Colosseum: It applies to failing companies too. Take Alitalia, Italy’s loss-making flag carrier, which has survived for years thanks to a string of public and private rescues. On Tuesday, the airline went into administration, prompting the government to provide a fresh loan worth €600 million ($655 million) to guarantee another six months of operation. Surely the time has come for Italy to stop losses. Unless Alitalia can find a buyer, the government should allow it to go bust. Politically, that is a tall order, of course. Politicians want to protect workers, who stand to lose their jobs if a company shuts down. But every euro used in a bailout is one that can’t be spent elsewhere; what economists call “opportunity cost.” How many more jobs could have been created had the government invested €600 million into upgrading Italy’s digital infrastructure?

Keeping Alitalia alive is also a burden on productivity, since it takes resources that might be deployed by more efficient competitors. Last year, a study for the European Commission found that the misallocation of workers and capital in Italy has steadily worsened since 1995, accounting for a large fraction of Italy’s productivity slowdown. If the government is serious about Italy returning to sustainable growth, it should stop helping losers get in the way of productive companies. There are also questions of financial stability. Between 1974 and 2014, Italian taxpayers have spent €7.4 billion propping up Alitalia, according to Mediobanca. Italy’s addiction to helping companies in trouble has contributed to its huge government debt, which now stands at nearly 133% of GDP, exposing Rome to the risk of a financial crisis.

The same problem also applies to banks. From UniCredit to Intesa Sanpaolo, many of Italy’s big lenders have granted hundreds of millions in credit lines to Alitalia, only to see their loans go up in smoke. The list also includes Monte Dei Paschi di Siena, the troubled bank which in December had to apply for a multi-billion euro government bailout. The reason? It was struggling under the weight of non-performing loans, like those it provided to Alitalia. While European rules on state aid will make it difficult for Rome to help Alitalia beyond the initial six months, one should never underestimate the ability of the Italian government to find a way to stitch together another flawed rescue. But if Italy is to finally start focusing on future growth, it will have to stop dwelling on the ruins of the past.

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A great economist died.

Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)

William Baumol — an economist who just died at the age of 95 — had a famous idea, commonly known as Baumol’s cost disease, that explains a lot about our modern world. It explains why barbers make more in San Francisco than in Cleveland and why services such as health care and education keep getting more expensive. And it provides a possible explanation for why rich countries like America are devoting more and more of their workforces to low-productivity services, dragging down the economy-wide rate of productivity growth. In the 1960s, Baumol was trying to understand the economics of the arts, and he noticed something surprising: Musicians weren’t getting any more productive — playing a piece written for a string quartet took four musicians the same amount of time in 1965 as it did in 1865 — yet musicians in 1965 made a lot more money than musicians in 1865.

The explanation wasn’t too hard to figure out. Rising worker productivity in other sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, was pushing up wages. An arts institution that insisted on paying musicians 1860s wages in a 1960s economy would find their musicians were constantly quitting to take other jobs. So arts institutions — at least those that could afford it — had to raise their wages in order to attract and retain the best musicians. The consequence is that rising productivity in the manufacturing sector of the economy inevitably pushes up the cost of labor-intensive services like live musical performances. Rising productivity allows factories to cut prices and raise wages at the same time. But when wages rise, music venues have no alternative but to raise ticket prices to cover the higher costs.

This became known as Baumol’s cost disease, and Baumol realized that it had implications far beyond the arts. It implies that in a world of rapid technological progress, we should expect the cost of manufactured goods — cars, smartphones, T-shirts, bananas, and so forth — to fall, while the cost of labor-intensive services — schooling, health care, child care, haircuts, fitness coaching, legal services, and so forth — to rise. And this is exactly what the data shows. Decade after decade, health care and education have gotten more expensive while the price of clothing, cars, furniture, toys, and other manufactured goods has gone down relative to the overall inflation rate — exactly the pattern Baumol predicted a half-century ago.

Baumol’s cost disease is a powerful tool for understanding the modern economic world. It suggests, for example, that the continually rising costs of education and health care isn’t necessarily a sign that anything has gone wrong with those sectors of the economy. At least until we invent robotic professors, teachers, doctors, and nurses, we should expect these low-productivity sectors of the economy to get more expensive. While some argue that prices keep rising because the government subsidizes health care through programs like Medicare and college educations through student loans and grants, you see the same basic pattern with services like summer camps, veterinary services, and Broadway shows that aren’t hamstrung by government regulations and subsidies.

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Putin keeps his enemies close.

Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)

Russia said it’s ready to send peacekeepers to Syria as it won backing from Turkey and Iran for a plan to establish safe zones inside the war-torn country in an effort to shore up a shaky cease-fire brokered by the three powers. The three countries signed a memorandum on the creation of so-called de-escalation areas on Thursday after two days of talks in Kazakhstan that also included representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups. Opposition leaders distanced themselves from the plan, saying they can’t accept Iran as a guarantor of the truce and that they want “clear and tangible” guarantees the deal will be enforced. The U.S. also expressed doubts. “Russia is ready to send its observers” to help enforce the safe zones, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters in the Kazakh capital, Astana. “We believe the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through political methods.”

Putin said on Wednesday that he’d secured the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump for the proposal, which could include a ban on bombing raids. But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. has “concerns” about the accord, “including the involvement of Iran as a so-called “guarantor,”’ and said Russia should do more to stop violence. [..] The latest initiative would establish four zones patrolled by foreign forces – possibly including Russian ones – in the northwestern Idlib province, Homs province in the west, the East Ghouta suburb of the capital Damascus and southern Syria. It will take a month to finalize the maps of the proposed safe zones, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari said. The United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who also attended the Astana talks, described the agreement as a “step in the right direction.”

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That’ll go down well with Wolfowitz et al.

Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)

The safe zones which are being created in Syria will be closed for warplanes of the United States and those of the U.S.-led coalition, Russian news agencies quoted Russian envoy at Syria peace talks Alexander Lavrentyev as saying on Friday. Turkey and Iran agreed on Thursday to Russia’s proposal for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations but met with scepticism from the United States.

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Stop selling rubber boats, problem solved!

EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)

The European Union wants China to help prevent migrants and refugees using Chinese-made inflatable boats to get into the bloc by stopping the boats reaching them, the European Commissioner for Migration said on Thursday. Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting Chinese Minister for Public Security Guo Shengkun, said the rubber boats used by people smugglers were made in China. “The rubber boats used by the smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China, they are exported to the countries in Asia and they are used by them,” Avramopoulos said.

“So I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good of the country. It is a very dangerous tool in the hands of ruthless smugglers.” He gave no further details, but said he and Guo had not discussed the possibility of China taking any of the refugees or migrants. More than a million people sought asylum in Europe’s rich north in 2015, mostly in Germany but also in large numbers in Sweden, straining the capacity of countries to cope. A contentious deal with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Greece and the overland route to Germany, in return for EU funds, has reduced flows to a trickle, though thousands of migrants still try to reach Europe from Libya via sea routes.

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Who cares about the law? “..a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights..”

EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)

Merkel has promised that the refugee crisis seen two years ago will not be repeated: Never again will Europe see an uncontrolled inflow of millions of people. The refugee deal with Turkey is working, we are repeatedly told, and the crisis is over. That, though, could turn out to be wrong. With German voters set to go to the polls on Sept. 24, Merkel’s re-election campaign hinges on there not being a repeat of the refugee crisis, even if it’s not as substantial as the 2015 influx. But west of the closed Balkan route, a new migrant stream has been growing since the beginning of the year. From Jan. 1 to April 23, 36,851 migrants have followed the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy. That represents a 45% increase over the same period last year, when a record 181,000 people crossed the Mediterranean on the route.

Even more concerning is the fact that summer hasn’t even begun. Experience has shown that most migrants only climb into the boats once the Mediterranean grows calmer. Italian authorities estimate that a quarter million people will arrive on its shores this year. “There are challenges ahead,” says a senior German security official. Berlin is particularly concerned because it’s not just Africans who are taking the Mediterranean route to Italy. An increasing number of South Asians are as well, which could mean that the route across the sea to Italy is now seen as a viable alternative to the defunct Balkan route. People from Bangladesh now represent the second largest group of migrants that have crossed over from Libya this year. From January to March 2016, by contrast, exactly one Bangladeshi was picked up on the route. Pakistanis have also chosen the Mediterranean route more often in recent months.

[..] The EU is currently working on an emergency plan in case a “serious crisis situation” develops. The discussions are focusing on a scenario under which more than 200,000 refugees would have to be redistributed each year. An unpublished report by Malta, which currently holds the rotating European Council presidency, calls for a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights in such a case. In other words, should too many migrants begin arriving, the EU will increase efforts at deterrence. Controversial proposals for reception camps to be established in North Africa also remain under discussion. Most of those currently fleeing from countries like Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast are doing so to escape grinding poverty and in the hopes of finding better opportunities in Europe. Very few of them have much chance of being granted asylum. That reality has made redistribution within the EU even more difficult. According to current law, those with no chance at asylum are supposed to be sent back home as quickly as possible and not sent to other European countries.

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Now add a huge rise in arrival numbers.

Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)

Tensions are rising on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, which is currently favored by human smugglers ferrying migrants over from neighboring Turkey, with an increasing number of brawls at overcrowded state reception centers and local residents’ tolerance wearing thin. Clashes between migrants of different ethnicities are an almost daily occurrence, residents said following a violent confrontation on Tuesday night between Afghan and Algerian nationals at the Vial reception facility. That incident started as a fight between two small groups throwing stones at each other and escalated into a full-blown brawl involving around 60 people. Riot police stationed nearby were eventually obliged to enter the facility and break up the fight.

According to sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, migrants have been arriving in greater numbers on Chios as it still lacks a so-called pre-departure camp due to protests by local residents against the creation of new facilities on the island. As a result, migrants landing on Chios and deemed ineligible for asylum are not being deported to Turkey as foreseen in an agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in March last year. Around 200 migrants have arrived on Chios this week, according to government figures, compared to virtually none on other islands in the eastern Aegean. And, according to a top-ranking police official, the problem is unlikely to be resolved until a center is set up. “The message being sent to those deciding to make the journey is that if you get to Chios they won’t send you back,” he said.

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NGOs to be thrown off the islands this summer, Greek army and the Greek Red Cross to take over.

Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)

The Greek government is giving cash incentives for rejected asylum seekers on the islands to forgo their legal rights to appeal their cases. Some €1,000 and free plane tickets home are now part of a largely EU-financed package to send them packing as quickly as possible. “This is quite complicated and quite immoral,” a Greek lawyer working for Save the Children, an international NGO, told EUobserver on Tuesday (2 May). The move is part of a larger effort to return people to Turkey and free up administrative bottlenecks, but the plan has generated criticism from human rights defenders who say asylum seekers are being pushed into taking the money. People have five days to decide whether to take the cash, with reports emerging that even that short delay was not being respected by authorities. Previously, people were entitled to the assistance even if they appealed.

The scheme only applies to those in so-called eu hotspots on the Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesvos, and Samos islands, where arrivals are screened, given that Turkey does not accept people back from mainland Greece. Greek minister of migration Ioannis Mouzalas has said the financial bait was needed to prevent bogus claimants from abusing the asylum system. The new rules on excluding people who appeal their cases, imposed last month, also come after the European Commission pressured Athens into shortening its appeal process and removing administrative barriers to send more people home. The EU-Turkey deal last year was supposed to ensure that new asylum arrivals whose applications have been declared unfounded would be returned to the country. But only around 1,500 have been sent back since its launch, with the Greek appeals system consistently ruling in favour of initially rejected asylum seekers over broader concerns that Turkey was not safe.

[..] The whole appears to be part of bigger plan to squeeze asylum-seeker rights on the islands and get them out of Greece as fast as possible. It also comes on the heels of a new plan that aims to boot NGOs from the islands. “Many NGOs will longer be on the islands after July, it means there is going to be a lot less scrutiny and a lot less visibility on what is going on as well,” said Claire Whelan from the Norwegian Refugee Council, an independent humanitarian organisation. NGOs working in the medical field in the Vial hotspot in Chios island have already been replaced by the Greek army and the Greek Red Cross. All were informed earlier this year that DG ECHO, the EU Commission’s humanitarian branch, would no longer fund them. Instead, the money will be coming from the Commission’s interior and security department, DG Home. “One of the biggest gaps we see, that remains, is access to legal assistance and legal counseling. And I don’t know if that will be funded under DG Home and the government,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Whelan said.

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Europe doesn’t care what Greece wants.

Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Greece’s international lenders on Thursday to reach an agreement on easing its debt burden by May 22, when eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the country’s bailout progress. Athens and its creditors reached a long-awaited deal at staff-level this week on a series of bailout reforms Greece needs to unlock loans from its €86 billion rescue package, the country’s third since 2010. The EU and the IMF, which has yet to announce if it will participate in the bailout, have now started negotiations over Greece’s post-bailout fiscal targets, a key element for granting it further debt relief. Greece is being firm that it has done what was asked of it and now wants to see movement from the other side. “Medium-term debt relief measures must be clearly defined by the May 22 Eurogroup meeting,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Thursday.

“Greece has done its part and all parties must now fulfill their commitments.” The creditors have been not been quite as upbeat and there is no guarantee that the May 22 meeting will actually sign off on the new tranche of loans, let alone draft up debt relief. But Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramenga did cite progress when speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Luxembourg. “We’re one step closer. They [Greece] over-performed last year, they are on track this year, we have now an agreement looming that we will hopefully agree on in Eurogroup,” he said. “Those who have been pessimistic all the time have been proved wrong. I’m very pleased about that. The worst case is not always the scenario that plays out.” Greece’s economy and budget have improved markedly recently, although major problems of poverty and unemployment persist.

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Additional 18% cuts to come.

Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

At least 23 cuts have been inflicted on pensioners since 2010, with losses adding up to more than €50 billion. For some, their benefits have fallen by as much as 50%. The United Pensioners network has just added a 23rd cut to its list – the reduction of up to 18% of main and supplementary pensions agreed by the government this week. Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos says the cuts have impoverished pensioners. The other 22 cuts on the list are as follows:

– In 2010, Christmas, Easter and holiday bonuses ended.

– In 2011, all pensioners under the age of 60 took a 6-10% cut.

– In the same year, pensioners were also slapped with a solidarity levy ranging from 3 to 13% for monthly pensions over €1,400. Also cuts to supplementary pensions started, from 3 to 10%.

– Main pensions to under-60s were slashed in 2011 and supplementary pensions of more than 150 euros a month fell by 15-30%.

– From January 2012, there were fresh cuts to any “high” pensions not affected until then.

– In 2012, monthly pensions over 1,000 euros were hit with a new cut.

– Summer 2014 saw a 5.2% cut to all supplementary pensions.

– In 2015, minimum pensions fell.

– In the same year, all early retirements incurred a 10% cut.

– From last May, all new pensioners were informed they would get up to 30% less.

– Some 250,000 supplementary pensions fell by up to 40%.

– The EKAS benefit to 160,000 low-income pensioners was ended.

– Civil servants’ share fund dividends were slashed 45%.

– High pensions took a retroactive cut from late 2016 to end-2018.

– Widows’ benefits fell and stricter criteria were introduced.

– The pensions of people with employment were slashed 60%.

– Early retirees took big cuts.

– Retirement lump sums shrank 15-20%.

– New disability pensions were slashed last May.

– The healthcare levy on main pensions rose.

– A similar 6% levy was imposed on supplementary pensions.

– Since January, 650,000 farmers have had to pay a 14% income levy.

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Feb 262017
 
 February 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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DPC Elephants in Luna Park promenade, Coney Island 1905

 

President Trump: Replace The Dollar With Gold (F.)
Marine Le Pen’s Aides Meet With Bankers To Discuss Euro Exit (BBG)
Dutch Parliament Commissions Report On Future Of Euro (R.)
Dutch Voters Are About To Set The Stage For Europe’s Elections (G.)
Fannie, Freddie Investors Lose In Court (Econ.)
Underground Network Readies Homes To Hide Undocumented Immigrants (CNN)
Washington Governor Bans Employees From Aiding Trump Immigration Crackdown (I.)
Be Clear About What Happened To Keith Ellison (Bruenig)
Half of Germans Against Debt Relief For Greece (R.)
The Living Fabric Of The World Is Slipping Through Our Fingers (G.)

 

 

Using the Fed to go for gold?

President Trump: Replace The Dollar With Gold (F.)

What would be the outcome of Trump’s following his instincts and going for the gold? Prosperity, that’s what. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan just provided a barely noticed Big Reveal. In an interview with the World Gold Council’s Gold Investor Chairman Greenspan, stating “I view gold as the primary global currency,” went on to explicitly reveal, for the first time to my knowledge, that “When I was Chair of the Federal Reserve I used to testify before US Congressman Ron Paul, who was a very strong advocate of gold. We had some interesting discussions. I told him that US monetary policy tried to follow signals that a gold standard would have created.”

The period of “following signals that a gold standard would have created,” called the Great Moderation under President Clinton, was one of the most equitably prosperous in modern American history. That era saw the creation of over 20 million jobs. Robust growth converted the federal deficit into a surplus. It was, if only virtually rather than institutionally, a golden age. After the Fed abandoned its Great Moderation America experienced almost no net job creation under President George W. Bush and very mediocre job creation under President Obama. Sad! I want the American Dream back. We all do, very much including President Trump. How might President Trump go about turning this around? He has a unique opening to forcefully pivot America toward epic prosperity.

As Paul-Martin Foss of the Menger Center astutely points out the Federal Reserve Board currently has three vacancies. If Trump were to fill those vacancies with three sophisticated gold standard advocates from the short list of Lewis E. Lehrman (whose eponymous Institute I formerly served), Dr. Judy Shelton (who served as an advisor on his presidential economic transition team), former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and John Allison, former CEO of BB&T (preferably as vice chairman for regulation) the president would create a super “beachhead team” at the Fed to seriously restore equitable prosperity.

These appointments would be the safe and sure first steps out of economic stagnation for America. Couple these with a White House “Team B” to plan the enactment of the Jack Kemp Gold Standard Act and removal of the regulatory and tax barriers to using gold as currency. Then watch an American economic miracle take place. Mr. President: “No such thing as a global currency?” The dollar is the global currency. Want prosperity? Heed Chairman Greenspan and do not just view but restore “gold as the primary global currency.” President Trump: replace the dollar with gold as the global currency to make America great again. We have the gold.

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Not if but when.

Marine Le Pen’s Aides Meet With Bankers To Discuss Euro Exit (BBG)

Top advisers to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have met with strategists and analysts from BlackRock, Barclays and UBS, among other firms to explain their economic program and plans to withdraw France from the euro. While such meetings are common for campaign officials from mainstream parties in France and other European countries, this is the first time Le Pen’s National Front has been approached, the candidate’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot and her business aide Mikael Sala said in interviews. In the last seven months, they have met with analysts from British and American financial institutions in Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg at the firms’ request.

The interest from financial markets underlines how seriously financial analysts take the possibility that Le Pen may win power in the euro zone’s second-largest economy. Polls have shown her holding a lead in the first round of voting for more than a year, though all surveys predict that she will also lose the run-off ballot on May 7. “These strategists see that Le Pen may be the next president of France and they are doing their due diligence,” Monot said. “They’re very much looking for a detailed account of our plans.” Monot and Sala, who head Le Pen’s business advisory council Croissance Bleu Marine, said they also met or spoke with representatives from the Medley Advisors and CheckRisk consultancies. Monot added that he met with U.S. pension funds without naming them.

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Every EU country should do this, and do it honestly.

Dutch Parliament Commissions Report On Future Of Euro (R.)

The Netherlands’ future relationship with the euro will be comprehensively debated by its parliament following elections in March, after lawmakers commissioned a report on the currency’s future. The motion approving the investigation by the Council of State, the government’s legal advisor, coincides with a rising tide of euroscepticism in Europe, which populist parties are hoping to tap into in a series of national elections this year also taking in euro zone powerhouses France and Germany. The probe will examine whether it would be possible for the Dutch to withdraw from the single currency, and if so how, said lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt. Omtzigt, of the opposition Christian Democrats, tabled the parliamentary motion calling for the investigation, which legislators passed unanimously late on Thursday.

It was prompted by concerns the ECB’s ultra-low interest rates are hurting Dutch savers, especially pensioners, and doubts as to whether its bond purchasing programmes are legal, he said. Its findings will be presented in several months, by which time the make-up of parliament will have changed dramatically. While most Dutch voters say they favour retaining the euro, the eurosceptic far-right party of Geert Wilders is expected to book large gains though it is unlikely to win enough votes to form a government. The most probable outcome of the March 15 vote is a new centrist coalition including some parties, such as Omtzigt’s Christian Democrats, that have been vocal in their opposition to current ECB policy. “The problems with the euro have not been solved,” Omtzigt said. “This is a way for us to look at ways forward with no taboos.” Thursday’s motion instructs the Council to look at “what political and institutional options are open for the euro,” and “what are the advantages and disadvantages of each.”

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“Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice.”

Dutch Voters Are About To Set The Stage For Europe’s Elections (G.)

Across Europe, we can see three trends in elections, which can be described in the famous terms of the German-American economist Albert Hirschman: exit, voice and loyalty. In two of these the Dutch lead the way, but one bucks the broader trend. To start with exit (non-voting), throughout Europe turnout in national and European elections has been dropping. Although the trend is not universal, the past 10 years has seen a sharp drop in several countries. Perhaps most shocking is the situation in Greece, a country that has compulsory voting, although it is not really enforced. In 1985 the abstention rate in national elections was “just” 16.2%, in 2004 it was 23.4%, and in the last elections, in September 2015, it was a staggering 44%. In other words, in a country with compulsory voting a modest majority of 56% turned out.

Compared with that, the decrease in turnout in Dutch national elections is modest: in 1986 turnout was 86% and in the last two elections it was still a commendable 75%. Expectations are that turnout might actually go up in this year’s elections. With regard to loyalty (the vote for established parties), the Netherlands is very much in line with the European trend. Most European countries have seen a sharp decline in electoral support for established parties. While this development is related to societal changes that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, such as secularisation and a shrinking working class, the decline of the established parties only became a broader issue in the 1990s, and has significantly increased during the great recession. The process has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands.

Throughout the 1980s the three established parties – the Christian democratic CDA, the social democratic PvdA, and the conservative VVD – received around 80% of the vote. In 2002 that dropped to about 60% as a consequence of the rise of Fortuyn’s LPF, and it stayed like that until 2012 – although Rutte’s VVD is now bigger than the CDA and the PvdA. However, in the most recent polls the three parties only have some 40% of the vote, half of what they had in the 1980s. At the same time, voice (the support for populist parties) has increased significantly. In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds.

[..] The two most likely outcomes of the Dutch elections are either a very broad coalition of four or five parties, with or without Wilders’s PVV, or a minority government, dependent upon temporary coalitions to get some policies through. Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice. That is the main European lesson of the Dutch elections.

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Wait till the new bubble pops too, and the hedge funds want to transfer their losses to the public.

Fannie, Freddie Investors Lose In Court (Econ.)

One unresolved issue from the financial crisis is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two firms that stand behind much of America’s housing market. Fannie and Freddie purchase mortgages, bundle them into securities and sell them on to investors with a guarantee. When America’s housing market collapsed a decade ago, the government had to bail them out. Its treatment of the firms since then has created a titanic legal struggle. Shareholders have cried foul. On February 21st, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling in the government’s favour. At issue is the Obama administration’s decision in 2012 to hoover up all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits. Until then, it had received a fixed dividend on its investment. The timing of the shift was striking—just before a surge in the firms’ profitability. Since 2008 the Treasury has sucked in about $250bn from the firms, 30% more than the cost of the bail-out.

The change enraged hedge funds who had bought Fannie and Freddie’s shares and found themselves expropriated. The investors’ lawsuit held that the government overstepped its authority by seizing all profits. A federal court dismissed that claim in 2014; it has taken until now for an appeals court to uphold the most important parts of the decision. An odd aspect of the ruling is that it largely ignored the substantive arguments but concluded the court lacked the authority to curb the government’s actions. Its ruling sent shares in Fannie and Freddie tumbling (see chart). That reversed about half of the rally sparked by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Investors reckon that Mr Trump’s administration will be more favourable to Fannie and Freddie’s investors. Initially Steve Mnuchin, now treasury secretary, told a business-news network that Fannie and Freddie should be privatised again.

But in his confirmation hearing before the Senate in January, he seemed to roll back those remarks. The firms are hardly robust. The Treasury is running down their capital by $600m a year. By 2018 they will have none left. From then on, should the firms make a loss, they will need to draw on an emergency line of credit from the government. Doing so would be characterised by some as a second bail-out. That worrying prospect should provide some impetus to the search for an alternative solution. But it will be hard to find an ownership structure for Fannie and Freddie that satisfies everyone. The firms keep mortgages cheap by lumping taxpayers with a staggering amount of risk. (If the housing market collapsed, the cost to the Treasury could be 2-4% of GDP, according to an analysis by The Economist). Few will want investors to make profits on the back of such a taxpayer guarantee.

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Oh man, it’s WWII in Europe. The Underground Railroad in the US. And here we were thinking that was in the past.

Underground Network Readies Homes To Hide Undocumented Immigrants (CNN)

A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smoothes the grain of the wood floor in the dining room. But this home Pastor Ada Valiente is showing off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home. “It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says. By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation. The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California. The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.

“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says. At another Los Angeles neighborhood miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday. The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door. “I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”

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Great legal battles.

Washington Governor Bans Employees From Aiding Trump Immigration Crackdown (I.)

A state governor has banned his employees from cooperating with Donald Trump’s policies on immigration. Jay Inslee signed an executive order that bars the state of Washington’s agencies from denying services to people based on their citizenship or legal status and from helping detain immigrants for breaking civil rules. It came after memos were released by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly showing his department planned to prioritise the removal of undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offence”, following directives from the President. This will include those who “have abused any programme related to receipt of public benefits”.

Governor Inslee said: “Washington will not be a willing participant in promoting or carrying out mean-spirited policies that break up families and compromise our national security and community safety. “Our officers are here to keep the public safe by enforcing the criminal laws, not to act as [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers or enforce civil violations.” He added that it reaffirmed “the state’s commitment to tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness” and the order was “designed to ensure that all state agencies under my executive authority carry out only those duties and responsibilities prescribed to them in state and federal law.” He said: “In Washington state we know this: we do not discriminate based on someone’s race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. That remains true even as federal policies create such uncertain times.”

Washington agencies must comply to the extent to which they are permitted under federal law, he said. The agencies are ordered not to collect any more information about people than is necessary to perform their basic duties. Mr Inslee’s office said immigrants make up 17% of Washington’s workforce and contribute some $2.4bn in taxes. Mr Kelly has insisted there will be “no mass deportations” during the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. He told reporters in Mexico City there would be “no use of military force for immigration operations” and said enforcing new policies would be done legally and with respect for human rights.

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The losers are still in charge.

Be Clear About What Happened To Keith Ellison (Bruenig)

On the Monday after the 2016 election, Keith Ellison announced that he intended to run for DNC chair. At the time of his announcement, Ellison had the support of prominent establishment Democrats (Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer) and prominent left-wing Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Raúl Grijalva). He was the clear frontrunner. His challengers were mostly insignificant or bygone figures that nobody thought posed a threat to his bid. Around a week after he announced, the New York Times reported that Obama’s people were not happy with Ellison and that they were scouring the benches for someone to beat him: But after steadily adding endorsements from leading Democrats in his bid to take over the party, Mr. Ellison is encountering resistance from a formidable corner: the White House.

In a sign of the discord gripping the party, President Obama’s loyalists, uneasy with the progressive Mr. Ellison, have begun casting about for an alternative, according to multiple Democratic officials close to the president. The Obama people did not rally around an existing candidate in the field that they thought was better. They went out and recruited someone. The point of this recruitment was to beat back the left faction that Ellison represented. They considered many potential avatars for this anti-Ellison effort and eventually settled on Tom Perez. On December 15, Tom Perez came into the DNC race. Around the same time, the establishment forces mounted a brutal smear campaign against Ellison, placing stories all over the place about how he was (or still is) an anti-semitic, Farrakhan-loving, Nation of Islam guy. This effort ultimately paid off with Perez narrowly winning the DNC chair election over Ellison.

During and after the DNC chair race, many moderate pundits and posters took the position that who wins the DNC chair does not really matter and also that infighting between left and right factions of the Democratic party is unhelpful in the times of Trump. But this, bizarrely enough, wasn’t self-criticism of the moderate establishment wing of the party. No, it was criticism that was and continues to be lobbed at the left-wing sorts who backed Ellison. Before this gets turned into another thing where the establishment Democrats posture as the reasonable adults victimized by the assaults of those left-wing baddies, let’s just be very clear about what happened here. It was the establishment wing that decided to recruit and then stand up a candidate in order to fight an internal battle against the left faction of the party. It was the establishment wing that then dumped massive piles of opposition research on one of their own party members. And it was the establishment wing that did all of this in the shadow of Trump, sowing disunity in order to contest a position whose leadership they insist does not really matter.

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What happens when nobody tells them the truth.

Half of Germans Against Debt Relief For Greece (R.)

Around half of Germans are against granting debt relief to Greece and around three in 10 want it to quit the eurozone, a survey showed on Friday. The INSA poll for the Bild newspaper showed 46.4% of people living in Germany, Europe’s paymaster, thought giving Greece debt relief would be unfair for other eurozone countries. That compared with around a fifth (18.4%) who did not share that view and 9.1% who said they did not care.

Athens and its creditors agreed on Monday to resume talks on a long-stalled review of Greece’s bailout, but only after Greece accepted examination of its reforms for 2019 onward. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said on Wednesday that Greece does not need a haircut on its debt at the moment but added that debt restructuring and interest rate cuts on bailout loans were necessary. The German government, preparing for an election on September 24, is against debt relief for Greece.

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Half of all species could be extinct by the end of the century. Or before.

The Living Fabric Of The World Is Slipping Through Our Fingers (G.)

One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere. “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week. Threatened creatures such as the tiger or rhino may make occasional headlines, but little attention is paid to the eradication of most other life forms, they argue. But as the conference will hear, these animals and plants provide us with our food and medicine.

They purify our water and air while also absorbing carbon emissions from our cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing us with aesthetic inspiration. “Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

Monday’s meeting is one of a series set up by the Vatican on ecological issues – which Pope Francis has deemed an urgent issue for the Catholic church. “We need to unravel the processes that led to the ills we are now facing,” said one of the conference’s organisers, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, of Cambridge University. “That is why the Vatican symposia involve natural and social scientists, as well as scholars from the humanities. That the symposia are being held at the Papal Academy is also symbolic. It shows that the ancient hostility between science and the church, at least on the issue of preserving Earth’s services, has been quelled.”

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 December 1, 2016  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC K & W Tire Co. Rainier truck, Washington, DC 1919

Oil Price Surges As OPEC Agrees First Output Cut Since 2008 (G.)
Preet Bharara to Stay On as Manhattan US Attorney Under Trump (WSJ)
Trump’s Tax Cut Means Billion-Dollar Writedowns for US Banks (BBG)
6 Million Americans Are Delinquent On Auto Loans (MW)
‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices 12 Times Annual Income (SMH)
Melbourne Apartment Prices Drop by Most Since 2014 (BBG)
Greece Isn’t ‘Crying Wolf’ on Debt Relief (BBG)
Angry Mobs Lock Up Indian Bankers As Cash Chaos Soars (ZH)
The Pillars Of The New World Order (Pieraccini)
More Than 250,000 People Are Homeless In England (BBC)
Climate Change Will Stir ‘Unimaginable’ Refugee Crisis, Says Military (G.)

 

 

How long will the illusion last?

Oil Price Surges As OPEC Agrees First Output Cut Since 2008 (G.)

The price of oil has surged by 8% after the 14-nation cartel Opec agreed to its first cut in production in eight years. Confounding critics who said the club of oil-producing nations was too riven with political infighting to agree a deal, Opec announced it was trimming output by 1.2m barrels per day (bpd) from 1 January. The deal is contingent on securing the agreement of non-Opec producers to lower production by 600,000m barrels per day. But the Qatari oil minister, Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, said he was confident that the key non-Opec player – Russia – would sign up to a 300,000 bpd cut. Russia’s oil minister, Alexander Novak, welcomed the Opec move but said his country would only be able to cut production gradually due to “technical issues”. A meeting with non-Opec countries in Moscow on 9 December has been pencilled in.

Al-Sada said the deal was a great success and a “major step forward”, but the news that Saudi Arabia had effectively admitted defeat in its long-running attempt to drive US shale producers out of business was enough to send the price of crude sharply higher on the world’s commodity markets. Brent crude was trading at just over $50 a barrel following the completion of the Opec meeting in Vienna – an increase of almost $4 on the day. Saudi Arabia will bear the brunt of Opec’s production curbs, having agreed to a reduction in output of just under 500,000 bpd. Iraq has agreed to a 210,000 bpd cut, followed by the United Arab Emirates (-139,000), Kuwait (-131,000) and Venezuela (-95,000). Smaller countries are also reducing output, but Iran – which has only recently returned to the global oil market after the lifting of international sanctions – has been allowed to continue raising output.

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Let’s say that the jury’s out.

Preet Bharara to Stay On as Manhattan US Attorney Under Trump (WSJ)

Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, has agreed to stay in his current role under the Trump administration, a surprise move that could signal the president-elect is serious about cracking down on Wall Street wrongdoing. Mr. Bharara, famous for his aggressive prosecutions of insider trading and corruption in New York, met with President-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower on Wednesday. Afterward, Mr. Bharara told reporters that Mr. Trump asked whether he was prepared to remain as U.S. attorney, and Mr. Bharara said he was. “We had a good meeting,” Mr. Bharara said. “I agreed to stay on.” Since 2009, Mr. Bharara has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the highest-profile U.S. attorney’s offices in the country.

An appointee of President Barack Obama, he rose to prominence after pursuing dozens of insider-trading cases, leading to his moniker as the “sheriff of Wall Street.” The office is also seen as a leader in public corruption, cybercrime and terrorism prosecutions. His office has brought corruption charges against a dozen state lawmakers in New York and convicted the leaders of both legislative houses. Keeping Mr. Bharara appears to be at odds with other picks Mr. Trump has made. Despite campaigning against Wall Street excesses and the largest banks, Mr. Trump has tapped Wall Street investors for key positions in his cabinet, including a former Goldman Sachs executive, Steven Mnuchin, for Treasury Secretary and a billionaire private-equity investor, Wilbur Ross, to run the Commerce Department.

Partly as a result, financial services executives have quickly warmed to the prospect of a Trump presidency. His team has promised to roll back parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law enacted in the wake of the financial crisis, saying it has cut back on lending. But the decision to keep Mr. Bharara is likely to temper speculation that a Trump administration might focus less on corporate wrongdoing, white-collar lawyers said.

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“In one fell swoop, a significant part of their net worth goes up in smoke.”

Trump’s Tax Cut Means Billion-Dollar Writedowns for US Banks (BBG)

Donald Trump’s planned U.S. corporate tax cuts could translate to a big one-time earnings hit for many of the biggest U.S. banks, thanks to tax benefits they generated during the 2008 financial crisis. Citigroup would take the deepest earnings hit – perhaps $12 billion or more, according to recent estimates by the bank’s chief financial officer and several banking analysts. Others, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo could face multibillion-dollar writedowns. The banks might have to write down deferred tax assets, which often pile up when a company loses money and can’t immediately enjoy the tax benefits of those losses.

Any writedowns won’t have much impact on capital levels for the banks for regulatory purposes, and lower taxes will allow for higher earnings in the long run. But a one-time hit to earnings can make for a bruising quarter – and even year – for a bank’s results. “It’s a traumatic experience for companies with large” amounts of such assets, said Robert Willens, an independent tax and accounting expert in New York. “In one fell swoop, a significant part of their net worth goes up in smoke.” Deferred tax assets, as disclosed in securities filings, consist of benefits that companies expect to use to cut their future tax bills.

For most companies, the bulk of their value is tied to the current U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%. (Assets stemming from, say, state tax bills are tied to state tax rates.) The assets include unused credits for foreign taxes companies have paid; deductions they’re allowed to take in future years for prior losses; and future tax advantages that stem from so-called “timing differences” – or gaps between when income or expenses are reported to shareholders and to the Internal Revenue Service. Analysts say that calculating the value of assets associated with timing differences can be as much an art as a science.

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America without a car.

6 Million Americans Are Delinquent On Auto Loans (MW)

The number of subprime auto loans sinking into delinquency hit their highest level since 2010 in the third quarter, with roughly 6 million individuals at least 90 days late on their car-loan payments. It’s behavior much like that seen in the months heading into the 2007-2009 recession, according to data from Federal Reserve Bank of New York researchers. “The worsening in the delinquency rate of subprime auto loans is pronounced, with a notable increase during the past few years,” the researchers, led by Andrew Haughwout, said Wednesday in a blog on their Liberty Street Economics site. Weakness among the lowest-rated borrowers plays out against a robustly growing vehicle lending market.

Originations of auto loans have continued at a brisk pace over the past few years, with 2016 shaping up to be the strongest of any year within the NY Fed’s data, which began in 1999. It’s worth noting that the majority of auto loans are still performing well—it’s the subprime loans, those with associated credit scores below 620, that heavily influence the delinquency rates, the researchers said. Consequently, auto finance companies that specialize in subprime lending, as well as some banks with higher subprime exposure are likely to have experienced declining performance in their auto loan portfolios. Credit officials have stressed that the contagion risk to the financial system from poor auto loans isn’t like the risk posed when subprime mortgage lending pushed the U.S. into the Great Recession.

That’s in large part because repossessed cars are easier to resell than bank-owned homes. Cars can’t sink whole neighborhoods with foreclosure blight. Subprime mortgage lending remains at very low levels since the financial crisis. But as the financial system has recovered, subprime auto lending has ramped up with little hesitation. New auto loans to borrowers with credit scores below 660 have nearly tripled since the end of 2009. So far in 2016, about $50 billion of new auto loans per quarter have gone to those borrowers and about $30 billion each quarter has gone to borrowers with scores below 620, according to data the Fed provided, citing credit-score tracker Equifax.

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WHAT? “Property experts disagree furiously about whether prices are in a bubble..”

‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices 12 Times Annual Income (SMH)

Sydney houses now cost 12 times the annual income, up from four times when Gough Whitlam was dismissed. As many first time buyers turn to the bank of mum and dad to top up their deposits, a new report “Parental guidance not recommended” warns Australians are being caught up in a classic “Ponzi scheme”. The report by economic consultancy LF Economics – which has previously sensationally warned of a “bloodbath” when Sydney’s property bubble bursts – estimates it will now take the average first time buyer in Sydney nine years to save a deposit, up from three years in 1975. Baby boomers, who have benefited from skyrocketing prices, are increasingly able to fast track their children’s path to property ownership by either stumping up part of the deposit or putting up their own homes as collateral.

LF Economics, founded by Lindsay David and Philip Soos, warns this may be helping a new generation to over-leverage into mortgages they can’t afford, leaving their parents’ homes exposed. “Unfortunately, this loan guarantee strategy in a rising housing market for securing ever-larger amounts of debt is essentially pyramid or Ponzi finance. This leaves many parents in a dangerous predicament should their children experience difficulties making loan payments, let alone defaulting and suffering foreclosure.” “In reality, many parents – the Baby Boomer cohort – are asset-rich but income-poor. The blunt fact is few parents have enough savings and other liquid assets on hand to meet their legal obligations without selling their home if their children default,” the report warns.

Property experts disagree furiously about whether prices are in a bubble and about the best measure of housing affordability. Treasury secretary John Fraser has said that Sydney house prices are in a “bubble”. But many economists remain wary of the term and point out that supply constraints and strong population growth will underpin prices, even if slower wages growth inhibits further price gains. LF Economics argues that price gains have outstripped the fundamental worth of properties. “Financial regulators have ignored the Ponzi lending practices by lenders, believing the RBA will have the adequate ability to bail them out at taxpayers’ expense the day this classic Ponzi lending scheme breaks down.”

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Bailout?

Melbourne Apartment Prices Drop by Most Since 2014 (BBG)

Apartment prices in Melbourne fell at the fastest pace in more than two years in November, reinforcing concerns about a looming oversupply of units in Australia’s second-largest city. The 3.2% month-on-month drop is the largest such decline since May 2014, according to figures from data provider CoreLogic Inc. This dragged down the overall increase in dwelling values across the nation’s state capitals to 0.2%, the smallest rise since March this year. Record low interest rates put in place by the Reserve Bank of Australia to help ease the economy’s shift away from mining investment and combat low inflation have helped to spur a housing boom in the nation’s biggest centers and the central bank has repeatedly voiced concern that apartment gluts are developing in central Melbourne and Brisbane.

“Risks around the projected large increases in supply in some inner-city apartment markets are coming to the fore,” the RBA said in its quarterly financial stability review in October. Shayne Elliott, CEO of Australia and New Zealand Bank, said Wednesday that the lender had become increasingly cautious about parts of the housing market. He warned about pockets of over-building, particularly in the small apartments segment. “There are emerging signs of stress” in the economy, the head of Australia’s third-biggest bank told a Reuters event in Sydney. The difficulty for both the RBA and commercial lenders in judging the state of the market is that in other areas house prices have been accelerating. In Sydney, where auction clearance rates have been around the 80% mark for the past three months, the median dwelling price has risen to A$845,000 ($625,000).

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Schäuble invites in the vultures.

Greece Isn’t ‘Crying Wolf’ on Debt Relief (BBG)

Paul Kazarian says he’s spent “tens of millions of dollars” mobilizing a team of a hundred analysts to scrutinize Greece’s assets and liabilities. According to him, everyone else – including the IMF, the credit-rating agencies, the EU and the Greek government itself — is massively overstating the problem of the nation’s debt burden relative to economic output. The problem is, the more he tries to convince the world to accept his version of the numbers, the harder it may get for Greece to win the additional debt relief that most economic observers agree is vital to its recovery. Kazarian, an alumnus of (where else) Goldman Sachs, says the investment firm he founded in 1988, Japonica Partners, is the largest private holder of Greek government debt.

Since he first made his interest known about four years ago, he’s declined to be specific about how much he’s invested, or what prices he paid, or whether he’s up or down or sideways on the trade. This isn’t just your standard tale of a bondholder trying to boost the value of his investments by talking his book. What Kazarian has tried to do for the past four years is treat the sovereign nation of Greece the same way he might a private company he’d taken over: by detailing its assets and liabilities, looking for ways to enhance asset value while reducing liabilities, and, most importantly, seeking to install his own managers to take charge. The more you reflect on that latter notion, the more disturbing Kazarian’s larger-than-life presence on the Greek financial scene becomes.

As the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens on Monday, the bespectacled, straight-talking American succeeded in turning the afternoon into The Paul Kazarian Show, berating his audience and his fellow speakers with an odd combination of derision and self-effacing charm and dominating the proceedings by sheer force of personality. (In a previous existence, he gained notoriety for firing BB guns into the empty executive chairs in the boardroom of a company he’d seized control of, accompanying the shots with shouts of “Die!”) Presenting a selection of gems from a presentation that runs to more than 110 slides (Kazarian clearly knows them all by heart), the financier leveled a damning accusation against his hosts: Greece, he said, is “crying wolf for debt relief.”

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Payday coming up.

Angry Mobs Lock Up Indian Bankers As Cash Chaos Soars (ZH)

India’s demonetization campaign is not going as expected. Overnight, banks played down expectations of a dramatic improvement in currency availability, raising the prospect of queues lengthening as salaries get paid and people look to withdraw money from their accounts the Economic Times reported. While much of India has become habituated to the sight of people lining up at banks and cash dispensers since the November 8 demonetisation announcement, bank officials said the message from the Reserve Bank of India is that supplies may not get any easier in the near future and that they should push digital transactions. “We had sought a hearing with RBI as we were not allocated enough cash, but we were told that rationing of cash may continue for some time,” said a banker who was present at one of several meetings with central bank officials.

“Reserve Bank has asked us to push the use of digital channels to all our customers and ensure that we bring down use of cash in the economy,” said a banker. This confirms a previous report according to which the demonstization campaign has been a not so subtle attempt to impose digital currency on the entire population. Bankers have been making several trips to the central bank’s headquarters in Mumbai to get a sense of whether currency availability will improve. Some automated teller machines haven’t been filled even once since the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes ceased to be legal tender, they said. Typically, households pay milkmen, domestic helps, drivers, etc, at the start of the month in cash. The idea is that all these payments should become electronic, using computers or mobiles.

This strategy however, appears to not have been conveyed to the public, and as Bloomberg adds, “bankers are bracing for long hours and angry mobs as pay day approaches in India.” “Already people who are frustrated are locking branches from outside in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu and abusing staff as enough cash is not available,” said CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association. The group has sought police protection at bank branches for the next 10 days, he added. Joining many others who have slammed Modi’s decision, the banker said that “this is the fallout of one of the worst planned and executed government decisions in decades.”

He estimates that about 20 million people – almost twice the population of Greece – will queue up at bank branches and ATMs over the coming week, when most employers in India pay their staff. In an economy where 98% of consumer payments are in cash, banks are functioning with about half the amount of currency they need. As Bloomberg notes, retaining public support is crucial for Modi before key state elections next year and a national contest in 2019, however it appears he is starting to lose it. “We are bracing ourselves for payday and fearing the worst,” said Parthasarathi Mukherjee, CEO at Laxmi Vilas Bank. “If we run out of cash we will have to approach the Reserve Bank of India for more. It is tough.”

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It’s kind of funny that Trump is seen as the end of a 70-year era.

The Pillars Of The New World Order (Pieraccini)

Looking at US history over a fairly long period of time, it is easy to see the destructive path that has accompanied the expansion of the American empire over the last seventy years. While World War II was still raging, US strategists were already planning their next steps in the international arena. The new target was immediately identified in the assault and the dismemberment of the Soviet empire. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet economic model as an alternative to the capitalist system, the West found itself faced with what was defined as ‘the end of’ history, and proceeded to act accordingly. The delicate transition from bipolarity, the world-order system based on the United States and the Soviet Union occupying opposing poles, to a unipolar world order with Washington as the only superpower, was entrusted to George H. W. Bush.

The main purpose was to reassure with special care the former Soviet empire, even as the Soviet Union plunged into chaos and poverty while the West preyed on her resources. Not surprisingly, the 90’s represented a phase of major economic growth for the United States. Predictably, on that occasion, the national elite favored the election of a president, Bill Clinton, who was more attentive to domestic issues over international affairs. The American financial oligarchy sought to consolidate their economic fortunes by expanding as far as possible the Western financial model, especially with new virgin territory in the former Soviet republics yet to be conquered and exploited. With the disintegration of the USSR, the United States had a decade to aspire to the utopia of global hegemony. Reviewing with the passage of time the convulsive period of the 90’s, the goal seemed one step away, almost within reach.

The means of conquest and expansion of the American empire generally consist of three domains: cultural, economic and military. With the end of the Soviet empire, there was no alternative left for the American imperialist capitalist system. From the point of view of cultural expansion, Washington had now no adversaries and could focus on the destruction of other countries thanks to the globalization of products like McDonald’s and Coca Cola in every corner of the planet. Of course the consequences of an enlargement of the sphere of cultural influence led to the increased power of the economic system. In this sense, Washington’s domination in international financial institutions complemented the imposition of the American way of life on other countries. Due to the mechanisms of austerity arising from trap-loans issued by the IMF or World Bank, countries in serious economic difficulties have ended up being swallowed up by debt.

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Not surprised. A country that needs to refind itself.

More Than 250,000 People Are Homeless In England (BBC)

More than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England, an analysis of the latest official figures suggests. Researchers from charity Shelter used data from four sets of official 2016 statistics to compile what it describes as a “conservative” total. The figures show homelessness hotspots outside London, with high rates in Birmingham, Brighton and Luton. The government says it does not recognise the figures, but is investing more than £500m on homelessness. For the very first time, Shelter has totted up the official statistics from four different forms of recorded homelessness. These were: • national government statistics on rough sleepers • statistics on those in temporary accommodation • the number of people housed in hostels * the number of people waiting to be housed by social services departments (obtained through Freedom of Information requests).

The charity insists the overall figure, 254,514, released to mark 50 years since its founding, is a “robust lower-end estimate”. It has been adjusted down to account for any possible overlap and no estimates have been added in where information was not available. Charity chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the 1960s slums. “But while those troubled times have faded into memory, 50 years on a modern-day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country. “Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas.

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Just in case you thought things are bad now.

Climate Change Will Stir ‘Unimaginable’ Refugee Crisis, Says Military (G.)

Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the “new normal”. The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conflicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required.

“Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,” said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one metre of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. “We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people.” Previously, Bangladesh’s finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, called on Britain and other wealthy countries to accept millions of displaced people.

Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, said: “Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal. “Climate change impacts are also acting as an accelerant of instability in parts of the world on Europe’s doorstep, including the Middle East and Africa,” Cheney said. “There are direct links to climate change in the Arab Spring, the war in Syria, and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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Nov 262016
 
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Fidel Castro and Che Guevara ca. 1957

Cuban Revolutionary Fidel Castro Dies At 90 (AFP)
Wisconsin Agrees To Statewide Recount In Presidential Race (R.)
Bid To Challenge Brexit Gathers Pace Among Pro-Remain Politicians (G.)
Houses Have Never Been More Expensive To Buyers Who Need A Mortgage (Hanson)
Black Friday: The Death of Department Stores (WS)
US Payday Lenders Seek Emergency Court Help Against Regulators (R.)
When Money Dies (Bhandari)
Here’s What Happened When Ancient Romans Tried To ‘Drain The Swamp’ (Black)
Innovation Is Overvalued. Maintenance Matters More (Aeon)
Australia Eases Limits On Foreign Buyers As Apartment Glut Looms (AFR)
Australia Ceases Multimillion-Dollar Donations To Clinton Foundation (News)
Australia Joins Norway, Cuts Clinton Foundation Donations To $0 (ZH)
New Zealand Media Merger Risks Growth Of ‘Glib, Click-Bait’ Coverage (G.)
Greek Debt Relief Plan Said to Entail $35 Billion Bank Bond Swap (BBG)

 

 

How many people remember it was the US that drove Castro into Russian arms? He visited the US shortly after becoming president. Eisenhower refused to talk. Everything after that is propaganda and fake news.

Cuban Revolutionary Fidel Castro Dies At 90 (AFP)

Guerrilla revolutionary and communist idol, Fidel Castro was a holdout against history who turned tiny Cuba into a thorn in the paw of the mighty capitalist United States. The former Cuban president, who died aged 90 on Friday, said he would never retire from politics. But emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 drove him to hand power to Raul Castro, who ended his brother’s antagonistic approach to Washington, shocking the world in December 2014 in announcing a rapprochement with US President Barack Obama. Famed for his rumpled olive fatigues, straggly beard and the cigars he reluctantly gave up for health reasons, Fidel Castro kept a tight clamp on dissent at home while defining himself abroad with his defiance of Washington.

In the end, he essentially won the political staring game, even if the Cuban people do continue to live in poverty and the once-touted revolution he led has lost its shine. As he renewed diplomatic ties, Obama acknowledged that decades of US sanctions had failed to bring down the regime – a drive designed to introduce democracy and foster western-style economic reforms – and it was time to try another way to help the Cuban people. A great survivor and a firebrand, if windy orator, Castro dodged all his enemies could throw at him in nearly half a century in power, including assassination plots, a US-backed invasion bid, and tough US economic sanctions.

Born August 13, 1926 to a prosperous Spanish immigrant landowner and a Cuban mother who was the family housekeeper, young Castro was a quick study and a baseball fanatic who dreamed of a golden future playing in the US big leagues. But his young man’s dreams evolved not in sports but politics. He went on to form the guerrilla opposition to the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup. That involvement netted the young Fidel Castro two years in jail, and he subsequently went into exile to sow the seeds of a revolt, launched in earnest on December 2, 1956 when he and his band of followers landed in southeastern Cuba on the ship Granma. Twenty-five months later, against great odds, they ousted Batista and Castro was named prime minister.

Once in undisputed power, Castro, a Jesuit-schooled lawyer, aligned himself with the Soviet Union. And the Cold War Eastern Bloc bankrolled his tropi-communism until the Soviet bloc’s own collapse in 1989. Fidel Castro held onto power as 11 US presidents took office and each after the other sought to pressure his regime over the decades following his 1959 revolution, which closed a long era of Washington’s dominance over Cuba dating to the 1898 Spanish-American War.

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How much of the $5 million so far was furnished by Soros?

Wisconsin Agrees To Statewide Recount In Presidential Race (R.)

Wisconsin’s election board agreed on Friday to conduct a statewide recount of votes cast in the presidential race, as requested by a Green Party candidate seeking similar reviews in two other states where Donald Trump scored narrow wins. The recount process, including an examination by hand of the nearly 3 million ballots tabulated in Wisconsin, is expected to begin late next week after Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign has paid the required fee, the Elections Commission said. The state faces a Dec. 13 federal deadline to complete the recount, which may require canvassers in Wisconsin’s 72 counties to work evenings and weekends to finish the job in time, according to the commission. The recount fee has yet to be determined, the agency said in a statement on its website.

Stein said in a Facebook message on Friday that the sum was expected to run to about $1.1 million. She said she has raised at least $5 million from donors since launching her drive on Wednesday for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – three battleground states where Republican Trump edged out Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by relatively thin margins. Stein has said her goal is to raise $7 million to cover all fees and legal costs. Her effort may have given a ray of hope to dispirited Clinton supporters, but the chance of overturning the overall result of the Nov. 8 election is considered very slim, even if all three states go along with the recount. The Green Party candidate, who garnered little more than 1 percent of the nationwide popular vote herself, said on Friday that she was seeking to verify the integrity of the U.S. voting system, not to undo Trump’s victory.

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In the same way that life imitates art, UK and US imitate each other.

Bid To Challenge Brexit Gathers Pace Among Pro-Remain Politicians (G.)

A series of informal but concerted efforts by pro-remain politicians to reshape or even derail the Brexit process is under way and gaining momentum, according to people involved. MPs from across the parties had discussed how to push the government into revealing its Brexit plans and to ensure continued single market access, sources said, as a series of senior political figures made public interventions suggesting the result of the EU referendum could be reversed. Tony Blair and John Major both suggested this week that the public should be allowed to vote on or even veto any deal for leaving the EU. However, those connected to efforts by serving pro-remain MPs say the former prime ministers’ views had little support in the Commons.

More significant, they argued, were strategy discussions involving MPs from all parties “caught between their own views and those expressed at the ballot box” in the referendum. “It’s a long process of gradually bringing people round to our way of thinking, on all sides,” said someone who works closely with pro-remain figures. “A lot of people are a bit unsure what to do – they’re caught between their own views and those expressed at the ballot box, often by their own constituents. “There’s a growing realisation that this is a long game. There’s actually very little information out there, and very little substance to get into. It’s hard to coalesce people around particular policy positions when the government has no policy to speak of. That’s quite a challenge.”

Major told a private dinner that there was a “perfectly credible case” for holding a second referendum on the terms of a Brexit deal. He said the views of the 48% of people who voted to remain should be taken into account and warned against the “tyranny of the majority”. Blair, in particular, is known to be sounding out opinion on Brexit as part of his re-emergence into political life. The former Labour prime minister’s office said he had discussed the issue with the former chancellor George Osborne, among “many people”.

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Be careful out there.

Houses Have Never Been More Expensive To Buyers Who Need A Mortgage (Hanson)

Houses have NEVER BEEN MORE EXPENSIVE to end-user, mortgage-needing shelter buyers. The recent rate surge crushed what little affordability remained in US housing. It now it requires 45% more income to buy the average-priced house than just four years ago, as incomes have not kept pace it goes without saying. The spike in rates has taken “UNAFFORDABILITY” to such extremes that prices, rates, and/or credit are now radically out of scope. At these interest rate levels house prices are simply not sustainable even in the lower-end price bands, which were far more stable than the middle-to-higher end bands (have been under significant pressure since spring). [..] The Data (note, for simplicity my models assume best-case 20% down and A-grade credit, which is the “minority” of lower-to-middle end buyers).

1) The average $361k builder house requires nearly $65k in income assuming a 4.5% rate, 20% down, and A-grade credit. Problem is, 20% + A-credit are hard to come by. For buyers with less down or worse credit, far more than $65k is needed. For the past 30-YEARS income required to buy the average priced house has remained relatively consistent, as mortgage rate credit manipulation made houses cheaper. Bottom line: Reversion to the mean will occur through house price declines, credit easing, a mortgage rate plunge to the high 2%’s, or a combination of all three. However, because rates are still historically low and mortgage guidelines historically easy, the path of least resistance is lower house prices.

2) The average $274k builder house requires nearly $53k in income assuming a 4.5% rate, 20% down, and A-grade credit. Problem is, 20% + A-credit are hard to come by. For buyers with less down or worse credit, far more than $53k is needed. For the past 30-YEARS income required to buy the average priced house has remained relatively consistent, as mortgage rate credit manipulation made houses cheaper. Bottom line: Reversion to the mean will occur through house price declines, credit easing, a mortgage rate plunge to the high 2%s, or a combination of all three. However, because rates are still historically low and mortgage guidelines historically easy, the path of least resistance is lower house prices.

3) Bonus Chart … Case-Shiller Coast-to-Coast Bubbles Bottom line: IT’S NEVER DIFFERENT THIS TIME. Easy/cheap/deep credit & liquidity has found its way to real estate yet again. Bubbles are bubbles are bubbles. And as these core housing markets hit a wall they will take the rest of the nation with them; bubbles and busts don’t happen in “isolation.”

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What does this mean for the future of human interaction?

Black Friday: The Death of Department Stores (WS)

There are still four weeks left to pull out the year. And hopes persists that this year will be decent. But online sales are hot, according to Adobe Digital Index, cited by Reuters. Online shoppers blew $1.15 billion on Thanksgiving Day, between midnight and 5 pm ET, according to Adobe Digital Index, up nearly 14% from a year ago. Sales by ecommerce retailers have been sizzling for years, growing consistently between 14% and 16% year-over-year and eating with voracious appetite the stale lunch of brick-and-mortar stores, particularly department stores. The lunch-eating process began in 2001. The chart below shows monthly department store sales, seasonally adjusted, since 1992. Note the surge in sales in the 1990s, driven by population growth, an improving economy, and inflation (retail sales are mercifully not adjusted for inflation). But sales began to flatten out in 1999. The spike in January 2001 (on a seasonally adjusted basis!) marked the end of the great American department store boom.

Even as the US fell into a recession in March 2001, ecommerce took off. But department store sales began their long decline, from nearly $20 billion in January 2001 to just $12.7 billion in October 2016, despite 14% population growth and 36% inflation! The decline of department stores is finding no respite during the holiday season. Not-seasonally-adjusted data spikes in October, November, and December. But these spikes have been shrinking, from their peak in December 2000 of $34.3 billion to $23.4 billion in December 2015, a 32% plunge, despite, once again, 14% population growth and 36% inflation!

In other words: the brick-and-mortar operations of department stores are becoming irrelevant. Ecommerce sales include all kinds of merchandise, not just the merchandise available in department stores. So it’s a broader measure. They have skyrocketed from $4.5 billion in Q4 1999 ($1.5 billion a month on average) to $101 billion in Q3 2016 ($33.7 billion a month on average).

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From the “It’s Just Not Fair!” department.

US Payday Lenders Seek Emergency Court Help Against Regulators (R.)

Payday lenders asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for emergency relief to stop what they called a coordinated effort by U.S. regulators to stop banks from doing business with them, threatening their survival. In Wednesday night filings, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) and payday lender Advance America, Cash Advance Centers Inc said a preliminary injunction was needed to end the “back-room campaign” of coercion by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Advance America said its own situation became dire after five banks decided in the last month to cut ties, including a 14-year relationship with U.S. Bancorp, putting it “on the verge” of being unable even to hold a bank account.

Payday lenders make small short-term loans that can help tide over cash-strapped borrowers. But critics say fees can drive effective interest rates well into three digits, and trap borrowers into an endless debt cycle in which they use new payday loans to repay older loans. The CFSA said other payday lenders are also losing banking relationships as a result of “Operation Choke Point,” a 2013 Department of Justice initiative meant to block access to payment systems by companies deemed at greater risk of fraud. “Protecting consumers from credit fraud is, of course, a commendable goal,” Charles Cooper, a lawyer for the CFSA, wrote. “But the manner in which the defendant agencies have chosen to pursue that ostensible goal betrays that their true intent has always been to eradicate a disfavored industry.”

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I don’t know to what extent Modi is the psychopath he’s made out to be here, but I do like the decentralization described (fits in with my end of centralization themes). “What a crazy idea it is to have a State monopoly on money..” [..] “In a tribalistic and irrational society, decentralization makes life much safer and makes the market more free, as complex decisions will be taken on the local level, where they belong”

When Money Dies (Bhandari)

Most people — particularly the salaried middle class – still seem to have a favorable opinion of Mr. Modi. They have been indoctrinated – in India’s extremely irrational and superstitious society – to believe that this demonetization will somehow alleviate corruption and that anything but support of Modi’s actions is anti-national and unpatriotic. This gives me pause to reflect. What a crazy idea it is to have a State monopoly on money, particularly a money that carries no inherent value and depends on regulatory edicts. On a deeper level, it makes me reflect on why for the culture of India – which is tribalistic, nativistic, superstitious and irrational – “India” is actually an unnatural entity. Such a society should consist of hundreds of tribes and countries, which is what “India” was before the British consolidated it.

In a tribalistic and irrational society, decentralization makes life much safer and makes the market more free, as complex decisions will be taken on the local level, where they belong . India’s institutions – not just organizations, but larger socio-political beliefs – have begun to decay and crumble after the British left, losing their underlying essence, the reason for which they had been institutionalized in the first place. This degradation is now picking up pace. They must eventually fall apart – including the nation-state of India – to adjust to the underlying culture. Let us consider some of these institutions. Western education implanted in India has mutated. It is making individuals cogs in a big machine, all for the service of one great leader. Public education and the mass-media have become instruments of propaganda.

Complexity and the diversity of options that technology brings make an irrational thinker extremely confused, forcing him to seek sanity in ritualistic religion —hence the increase in religiosity in India and elsewhere in the region. This has happened despite the explosion in information technology. The concept of the nation-state, when it took hold in Europe, was about the values the emergent rational and enlightened societies of Europe shared and had collectively come to believe in, at least among their elites. In India, the idea of the nation-state has morphed into a valueless thread, which binds people together through nothing but a flag and an anthem, symbols completely devoid of any values. It has collectivized tribalistic and irrational people (an irrationality that is amply epitomized by the negative force Islam has become in the last two decades).

In India and many similarly constituted countries, institutions that are not natural to their culture – the nation state, education, monetary system, etc. must eventually face entropy, slowly at first, and then rapidly. India has now entered the rapid phase. The death of money – amid a lack of respect for property rights (which again are a purely European concept that emerged from the intellectual revolutions of the last 800 years) – has been sudden and will very likely be catastrophic. It is a man-made disaster of gargantuan proportions. It will fundamentally change India in a very negative way, particularly if the demonetization effort succeeds, as it will have created the foundations enabling the rapid emergence of a police state.

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Yeah, expecting peaceful transitions is perhaps a bit much.

Here’s What Happened When Ancient Romans Tried To ‘Drain The Swamp’ (Black)

In late January of the year 98 AD, after decades of turmoil, instability, inflation, and war, Romans welcomed a prominent solider named Trajan as their new Emperor. Prior to Trajan, Romans had suffered immeasurably, from the madness of Nero to the ruthless autocracy of Domitian, to the chaos of 68-69 AD when, in the span of twelve months, Rome saw four separate emperors. Trajan was welcome relief and was generally considered by his contemporaries to be among the finest emperors in Roman history. Trajan’s successors included Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, both of whom were also were also reputed as highly effective rulers.

But that was pretty much the end of Rome’s good luck. The Roman Empire’s enlightened rulers may have been able to make some positive changes and delay the inevitable, but they could not prevent it. Rome still had far too many systemic problems. The cost of administering such a vast empire was simply too great. There were so many different layers of governments—imperial, provincial, local—and the upkeep was debilitating. Rome had also installed costly infrastructure and created expensive social welfare programs like the alimenta, which provided free grain to the poor. Not to mention, endless wars had taken their toll on public finances. Romans were no longer fighting conventional enemies like Carthage, and its famed General Hannibal bringing elephants across the Alps.

Instead, Rome’s greatest threat had become the Germanic barbarian tribes, peoples viewed as violent and uncivilized who would stop at nothing to destroy Roman way of life. Corruption and destructive bureaucracy were increasingly rampant. And the worse imperial finances became, the more the government tried to “fix” everything by passing debilitating regulation and debasing the currency. In his seminal work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon wrote: “The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long.”

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Progress as a blind faith. “Critics wondered if Nixon was wise to point to modern appliances such as blenders and dishwashers as the emblems of American superiority.”

Innovation Is Overvalued. Maintenance Matters More (Aeon)

Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite. As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations. The fates of nations on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain illustrate good reasons that led to the rise of innovation as a buzzword and organising concept.

Over the course of the 20th century, open societies that celebrated diversity, novelty, and progress performed better than closed societies that defended uniformity and order. In the late 1960s in the face of the Vietnam War, environmental degradation, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and other social and technological disappointments, it grew more difficult for many to have faith in moral and social progress. To take the place of progress, ‘innovation’, a smaller, and morally neutral, concept arose. Innovation provided a way to celebrate the accomplishments of a high-tech age without expecting too much from them in the way of moral and social improvement.

Before the dreams of the New Left had been dashed by massacres at My Lai and Altamont, economists had already turned to technology to explain the economic growth and high standards of living in capitalist democracies. Beginning in the late 1950s, the prominent economists Robert Solow and Kenneth Arrow found that traditional explanations – changes in education and capital, for example – could not account for significant portions of growth. They hypothesised that technological change was the hidden X factor. Their finding fit hand-in-glove with all of the technical marvels that had come out of the Second World War, the Cold War, the post-Sputnik craze for science and technology, and the post-war vision of a material abundance.

Robert Gordon’s important new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, offers the most comprehensive history of this golden age in the US economy. As Gordon explains, between 1870 and 1940, the United States experienced an unprecedented – and probably unrepeatable – period of economic growth. That century saw a host of new technologies and new industries produced, including the electrical, chemical, telephone, automobile, radio, television, petroleum, gas and electronics. Demand for a wealth of new home equipment and kitchen appliances, that typically made life easier and more bearable, drove the growth. After the Second World War, Americans treated new consumer technologies as proxies for societal progress – most famously, in the ‘Kitchen Debate’ of 1959 between the US vice-president Richard Nixon and the Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev. Critics wondered if Nixon was wise to point to modern appliances such as blenders and dishwashers as the emblems of American superiority.

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Just wow. No lessons learned from Vancouver, keep digging while in that hole.

Australia Eases Limits On Foreign Buyers As Apartment Glut Looms (AFR)

The federal government has announced it will make it easier for foreigners to buy new apartments amid concerns of a looming glut that will drive down prices. Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government will make changes to the foreign investment framework to allow foreign buyers to buy an off-the-plan dwelling that another foreign buyer has failed to settle as a new dwelling. Previously, on-sale of a purchased off the plan apartment was regarded as a second hand sale, which is not open to foreign buyers. Foreign buyers can only buy new dwellings. The move effectively opens up the pool of buyers who can soak a potential flood of apartments hitting the residential markets due to failed settlements.

“This change addresses industry concerns, and means property developers won’t be left in the lurch when a foreign buyer pulls out of an off-the-plan purchase,” Mr Morrison said in an announcement. “It is common sense that an apartment or house that has just been built, or is still under construction and for which the title has never changed hands, is not considered an established dwelling.” The policy change comes after Mirvac said it experienced a rise in the default rate for the settlement of off-the-plan residential sales, above its historic average of 1%. The changes will apply immediately and regulation change will be made soon to enable developers to acquire “New Dwelling Exemption Certificates” for foreign buyers of these recycled off-the-plan homes.

On top of defaults, the Australian apartment markets – which boomed in the last four years – are facing other fresh risks. On Friday, HSBC said an oversupply of apartments in Melbourne and Brisbane could send unit prices down by as much as 6% in 2017. The apartment building boom, an ongoing concern for the Reserve Bank of Australia, especially in inner city Melbourne is likely to “start showing through” in price drops of between 2% and 6% in that city next year, HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said in a note. It’s a similar story in Brisbane where apartment prices are forecast to fall by as much as 4%. “A national apartment building boom, which has been part of the rebalancing act, is likely to deliver some oversupply in the Melbourne and Brisbane apartment markets, which is expected to see apartment price falls in these markets,” Mr Bloxham said.

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No play no pay.

Australia Ceases Multimillion-Dollar Donations To Clinton Foundation (News)

The Clinton Foundation has a rocky past. It was described as “a slush fund”, is still at the centre of an FBI investigation and was revealed to have spent more than $50 million on travel. Despite that, the official website for the charity shows contributions from both AUSAID and the Commonwealth of Australia, each worth between $10 million and $25 million. News.com.au approached the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment about how much was donated and why the Clinton Foundation was chosen as a recipient. A DFAT spokeswoman said all funding is used “solely for agreed development projects” and Clinton charities have “a proven track record” in helping developing countries. Australia jumping ship is part of a post-US election trend away from the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate’s fundraising ventures.

Norway, one of the Clinton Foundation’s most prolific donors, is reducing its contribution from $20 million annually to almost a quarter of that, Observer reported. One reason for the drop-off could be increased scrutiny on international donors. The International Business Times reported in 2015 on curious links between donors and State Department approval. IBT wrote that the State Department approved massive commercial arms sales for countries which had donated to the Clinton charity. More than $165 billion worth of arms sales were approved by the State Department to 20 nations whose governments gave money to the Clinton Foundation, data shows. The countries buying weapons from the US were the same countries previously condemned for human rights abuses. They included Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

But what does Australia gain from topping up the Clinton coffers? The Australian reported in February that Australia was “the single biggest foreign government source of funds for the Clinton Foundation” but questions remain unanswered about the agreement between the two parties. “It’s not clear why Canberra had to go through an American foundation to deliver aid to Asian countries (including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam). There is now every chance the payments will become embroiled in presidential politics.” The Daily Telegraph wrote in October that “Lo and behold, (Julia Gillard) became chairman (of the Clinton-affiliated Global Partnership for Education) in 2014”, one year after being defeated in a leadership ballot by Kevin Rudd.

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“After contributing $88mm to the Clinton Foundation over the past 10 years, making them one of the Foundation’s largest contributors, Australia has decided to pull all future donations.

But why would they stop funding now that Hillary has so much more free time to focus on her charity work?

Australia Joins Norway, Cuts Clinton Foundation Donations To $0 (ZH)

For months we’ve been told that the Clinton Foundation, and it’s various subsidiaries, were simple, innocent “charitable” organizations, despite the mountain of WikiLeaks evidence suggesting rampant pay-to-play scandals surrounding a uranium deal with Russia and earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti, among others. Well, if that is, in fact, true perhaps the Clintons could explain why wealthy foreign governments, like Australia and Norway, are suddenly slashing their contributions just as Hillary’s schedule has been freed up to focus exclusively on her charity work. Surely, these foreign governments weren’t just contributing to the Clinton Foundation in hopes of currying favor with the future President of the United States, were they? Can’t be, only an useless, “alt-right,” Putin-progranda-pushing, fake news source could possibly draw such a conclusion.

Alas, no matter the cause, according to news.com.au, the fact is that after contributing $88mm to the Clinton Foundation, and its various affiliates, over the past 10 years the country of Australia has decided to cease future donations to the foundation just weeks after Hillary’s stunning loss on November 4th. And just like that, 2 out of the 3 largest foreign contributors to the Clinton Foundation are gone with Saudia Arabia being the last remaining $10-$25mm donor that hasn’t explicitly cut ties or massively scaled by contributions. [..]
News.com.au confirmed Australia’s decision to cut future donations to the Clinton Foundation earlier today. When asked why donations were being cut off now, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official simply said that the Clinton Foundation has “a proven track record” in helping developing countries. While that sounds nice, doesn’t it seem counterintuitive that these countries would pull their funding just as Hillary has been freed up to spend 100% of her time helping people in developing countries?

“Australia has finally ceased pouring millions of dollars into accounts linked to Hillary Clinton’s charities. Which begs the question: Why were we donating to them in the first place? The federal government confirmed to news.com.au it has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million. News.com.au approached the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment about how much was donated and why the Clinton Foundation was chosen as a recipient. A DFAT spokeswoman said all funding is used “solely for agreed development projects” and Clinton charities have “a proven track record” in helping developing countries.”

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Fake News Inc.

New Zealand Media Merger Risks Growth Of ‘Glib, Click-Bait’ Coverage (G.)

A group of distinguished former newspaper editors has launched a scathing attack on plans for New Zealand’s largest print media companies to merge, calling it a threat to democracy which could see a concentration of power exceeded “only in China”. The merger of NZME and Fairfax Media, which was proposed in May, would not be healthy in a country that “already suffers from a dearth of serious content and analysis”, the editors say in a submission to the commerce commission. The group, which includes Suzanne Chetwin, former Dominion chief Richard Long and ex-New Zealand Herald editor Gavin Ellis, also criticise the trend towards “click-bait stories” at a time when television has “all but abandoned current affairs and our public discourse is increasingly glib”.

“The merger would see one organisation controlling nearly 90% of the country’s print media market (and associated websites), the greatest level of concentration in the OECD and one that is exceeded only by China. “That cannot be healthy, particularly in a society like New Zealand’s that has so few checks and balances in its constitutional arrangements.” The submission went on to state the greatest threat to New Zealand media came from off-shore publishers who had “no feel for New Zealand’s social fabric”, and urged the commerce commission to decline the merger. The merger was sold as an attempt by both companies to stem revenue losses and drastic staff and budget cuts, particularly to rural and regional newsrooms.

Dunedin’s The Otago Daily Times would be the only newspaper in the country to remain independent, although it too could be affected as they have content sharing agreements with NZME’s The New Zealand Herald. Radio stations and magazines owned by both companies would also be affected.

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That’s not debt relief, it’s Schauble-friendly creative accounting.

Greek Debt Relief Plan Said to Entail $35 Billion Bank Bond Swap (BBG)

Greece’s battered banks are being asked to swap about 33 billion ($35 billion) euros in floating-rate bonds for 30-year, fixed-rate securities under a euro-area plan to shield Athens from future interest rate increases, three people with knowledge of the matter said. The swap is part of a package of debt-relief proposals for Greece to be presented at a Dec. 5 meeting of euro-area finance ministers, according to the people, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The notes were issued by the European Financial Stability Facility, the region’s crisis-fighting fund, to re-capitalize Greek lenders in 2013.

While the current EFSF holdings of Greek banks fall due between 2034 and 2046, the fixed-rate notes will expire in 2047, the people said. That will reduce Greece’s interest rate risk, but it may come at a cost for its four systemically important lenders, which could be left with securities that are more difficult to trade. The technical aspects of the operation are still being hashed out. “There are discussions going on as to proposals which will improve the sustainability of the Greek debt,” Piraeus Bank Chairman George Handjinicolaou said in an interview Thursday. “Part of this proposal is a change in the EFSF bonds for something else, some form of fixed-rate debt, which would improve the predictability of the sustainability of the Greek debt profile.”

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Nov 172016
 
 November 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men 1939

Who’ll Get Hit by Fallout of $11 Trillion US Commercial Property Bubble? (WS)
US Mortgage Applications Crash 30% As Borrowing Rates Surge (ZH)
Congressional Panel Urges Ban On China State Firms Buying US Companies (R.)
Foreign Central Banks Liquidate Record $375 Billion In US Paper (ZH)
Panic In India As Gold Price Skyrockets After Currency Ban (AM)
Modi May Need Six More Months to Replace India’s Junk Banknotes (BBG)
NATO Prepares for Trump Presidency (Spiegel)
Singapore’s Recession Risk Rises As October Exports Show 12% Decline (R.)
China Civil War Is the Real Black Swan (RV)
You Are Still Crying Wolf (Scott Alexander)
One In Three UK Working Families Struggle To Pay Energy Bills (G.)
Canadian Province To Give Every Citizen $1,320 Basic Income (Ind.)
Obama Defends Globalization On Germany Visit (BBC)
Athens Clings To Obama’s Words As Focus Shifts To Berlin (Kath.)
Schaeuble Crushes Greek Debt Relief Hopes that Obama May Have Sowed (GR)
37.8% of Greek Children At Risk Of Poverty (Kath.)
Drowning Deaths In Mediterranean Already 20% Higher Than All Of Last Year (G.)

 

 

“The Green Street Commercial Property Price Index has soared 107% from the trough in May 2009 and now exceeds the peak of the totally crazy bubble in 2007 by 26%“.

Who’ll Get Hit by Fallout of $11 Trillion US Commercial Property Bubble? (WS)

Warnings about the loans, bonds, and commercial-mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) tied to the vast $11-trillion commercial property sector in the US have been hailing down for months. Moody’s Investor Services just warned about the rising delinquency rate of some $360 billion in CMBS it rates. Delinquencies of 60+ days jumped from 4.6% last year to 5.6% in September. Fitch Ratings has been fretting about valuations in the sector, and CMBS, for months. “Valuation and lending trends are not sustainable in the medium term,” it said most recently in its November report. It pinpointed debt backed by apartment buildings as a particular trouble spot. But now it’s also fretting about construction loans, which “experienced the highest loss severity in the last crisis, and we expect a similar trend in the next downturn,” it said.

It’s worried about the banks, whose commercial real estate (CRE) lending has reached “record levels”: “All of the most concentrated banks – those with more than 300% of risk-based capital in CRE – have less than $50 billion in assets and most have assets below $10 billion. These smaller banks also have varying degrees of sophistication in their risk management practices.” Fitch laments that the “timing and severity of this softening is uncertain and depends on factors including interest rates and overall economic conditions.” Alas, since the report was released on Election Day, interest rates have alread jumped. This comes at the worst possible moment, at the peak of the most gigantic CRE price bubble the US has ever seen. The Green Street Commercial Property Price Index has soared 107% from the trough in May 2009 and now exceeds the peak of the totally crazy bubble in 2007 by 26%:

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Let’s see if a normal economy can still work.

US Mortgage Applications Crash 30% As Borrowing Rates Surge (ZH)

Dear Janet…In the last few months, as The Fed has jawboned a rate hike into markets, mortgage applications in America have collapsed 30% to 10-month lows – plunging over 9% in the last week as mortgage rates approach 4.00%.

 

We suspect the divergent surge in homebuilders is overdone…

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“We don’t want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States, why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?”

Congressional Panel Urges Ban On China State Firms Buying US Companies (R.)

U.S. lawmakers should take action to ban China’s state-owned firms from acquiring U.S. companies, a congressional panel charged with monitoring security and trade links between Washington and Beijing said on Wednesday. In its annual report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Chinese Communist Party has used state-backed enterprises as the primary economic tool to advance and achieve its national security objectives. The report recommended Congress prohibit U.S. acquisitions by such entities by changing the mandate of CFIUS, the U.S. government body that conducts security reviews of proposed acquisitions by foreign firms.

“The Commission recommends Congress amend the statute authorizing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to bar Chinese state-owned enterprises from acquiring or otherwise gaining effective control of U.S. companies,” the report said. CFIUS, led by the U.S. Treasury and with representatives from eight other agencies, including the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security, now has veto power over acquisitions from foreign private and state-controlled firms if it finds that a deal would threaten U.S. national security or critical infrastructure. If enacted, the panel’s recommendation would essentially create a blanket ban on U.S. purchases by Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The panel’s report is purely advisory, but could carry extra weight this year because they come as President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is formulating its trade and foreign policy agenda and vetting candidates for key economic and security positions. Congress also could be more receptive, after U.S. voter sentiment against job losses to China and Mexico helped Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate in last week’s election. Trump strongly criticized China throughout the U.S. election campaign, grabbing headlines with his pledges to slap 45 percent tariffs on imported Chinese goods and to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office. “Chinese state owned enterprises are arms of the Chinese state,” Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told a news conference. “We don’t want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States, why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?”

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Normalization?

Foreign Central Banks Liquidate Record $375 Billion In US Paper (ZH)

One month ago, when we last looked at the Fed’s update of Treasuries held in custody, we noted something troubling: the number had dropped sharply, declining by over $22 billion in one week, one of the the biggest weekly declines since January 2015, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.805 trillion, the lowest since 2012. One month later, we refresh this chart and find that in last week’s update, foreign central banks continued their relentless liquidation of US paper held in the Fed’s custody account, which tumbled by another $14 billion over the course of a week, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.788 trillion, a new post-2012 low.

Today, to corroborate the disturbing weekly slide in the Fed’s custody data, we also got the latest monthly Treasury International Capital data for the month of September, which showed that the troubling trend presented one month ago, has accelerated to an unprecedented degree. Recall that a month ago,  we reported that in the latest 12 months we have observed a not so stealthy, actually make that a massive $343 billion in Treasury selling by foreign central banks in the period July 2015- August 2016, something unprecedented in size. Fast forward to today when in the latest monthly update for the month of September, we find that what until a month ago was “merely” a record $346.4 billion in offshore central bank sales in the LTM period ending  August 31 has – one month later – risen to a new all time high $374.7 billion, or well over a third of a trillion in Treasuries sold in the past 12 months. 

Among the biggest sellers – on a market-price basis – not surprisingly was China, which in August “sold” $28 billion in US paper (the actual underlying number while different, as this particular series is adjusted for Mark to Market variations, will be similar), bringing its total to $1.157 trillion, the lowest amount of US paper held by Beijing since 2012.

It wasn’t just China: Saudi Arabia also continued to sell its TSY holdings, and in August its stated holdings (which again have to be adjusted for MTM), dropped from $93Bn to $89Bn, the lowest since the summer of 2014. This was the 8th consecutive month of Treasury sales by the Kingdom, which held $124 billion in TSYs in January, and has since sold nearly 30% of its US paper holdings.

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Eyewitness: “97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill.”

Panic In India As Gold Price Skyrockets After Currency Ban (AM)

I went to convert my banned banknotes into new ones. The largest amount one can have converted is Rs 4,000 ($60), until further notice. There was a huge rush of people at the bank. Arguments were erupting, as people refused to stand in queues and the banks gave no explanation of what needed to be done. Fights were breaking out. Amid the chaos I finally learned that there were three queues I had to go through in a sequence. I had to get a form from one counter, which I had to fill in with my name and address, my ID card details, the serial numbers of all the bills I wanted to exchange, and my cell-phone number. At the second counter, I then had to present the completed form along with a photocopy of my ID card. I had to sign on the photocopy which an official then stamped.

With my banknotes, the form and the photocopy of my ID card, I then went to the next queue to get my currency converted at a third counter. The whole process took about two hours. For most people in the busier parts of the cities, it took much longer.Anyone who thinks that a country which wastes two hours of every citizen’s life to convert his own $60 can ever hope to be an economic power is drinking too much Kool-Aid and cannot do primary level math. Forget any possibility of removing unaccounted for money or reducing corruption, what Modi is doing is a recipe for the destruction of whatever legitimate economy there is. That same afternoon, I went to the post office with a friend who wanted to get his money converted. After waiting a long time there, we found out that the post office had run out of cash.

Since then most ATMs have had limited amounts of cash available and banks keep running out of cash as well. The queues have continued to grow. People start lining up late into the night waiting for banks to open and still have to go back home with no cash. What started with two hours of queuing is becoming an endless slog now. Half of India’s citizens do not have a bank account and around 25% do not even have an ID card. These are the country’s poorest people, who have no way of converting their money – even if they learn how to do it, which is already a nigh insurmountable hurdle. Also, those who are old, disabled or sick have no choice but to suffer, for without personally visiting a bank branch office, one cannot convert one’s banknotes. 97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill.

The daily-wage laborer, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in a country with GDP per capita of a mere $1,600, no longer has work, as his employer has no cash to pay his wages. His life is in utter chaos. He is not as smart as Modi — despite the fact that Modi has no real life experience except as a bully and perhaps in his early days as a tea-seller at a train-station. He has no clue where his life is headed from here. These people are going hungry, and some have begun to raid food shops. People are dying for lack of treatment at hospitals. Old people are dying in the endless queues. Some are killing themselves, as they are unable to comprehend the situation and simply don’t know what to do. There are now hundreds of such stories in the media.

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There are now voices that claim Modi used the measure to deprive oppositon parties of their campaign cash. Elections coming up in a key state.

Modi May Need Six More Months to Replace India’s Junk Banknotes (BBG)

For Indians expecting respite from the government’s clampdown on cash, here’s a reality check: it probably won’t come soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration may need until May 2017 to replenish the stock of now worthless bills, according to Saumitra Chaudhuri, an economist who advised Modi’s predecessor. The government on Nov. 8 banned 500 ($7.5) and 1,000 rupee notes in a surprise move against graft and tax evasion. Delays in replacing the currency risk prolonging the pain in the $2 trillion economy, where about 98 percent of consumer payments are made in cash. Deutsche Bank predicts the crunch could easily shave off a half-point from India’s growth in October-December, which could imperil its position as the world’s fastest-growing major market.

This is how Chaudhuri reached his conclusion, which he published in a blog post on the Economic Times’ website: Extrapolating from central bank data, he estimates that Modi’s move sucked out about 16.6 billion notes of the 500-denomination, and 6.7 billion 1,000-rupee bills. That means more than 23 billion notes totaling 15 trillion rupees. Modi intends to replace these with new 2,000-rupee and 500-rupee bills. However, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt., which prints the higher denomination currency, has a stated capacity of just 1.3 billion notes a month. That’s with working double shifts. Raise this to triple shifts and it becomes 2 billion bills, which means it will need until the end of 2016 to replenish in value the 1,000-rupee notes.

Security Printing & Minting Corporation of India Ltd., whose capacity Chaudhuri estimates at 1 billion pieces a month, will need several more months to meet the 500-rupee target, even if it joins forces with BRBNM, he said. “Ergo, currency shortages will remain with us for many months and economic contraction will rule this period,” he wrote. “At the end of the period, confidence will be at new lows and recovery will take time.” In what could make matters worse, the presses – busy with the new bills – have almost completely stopped printing 100-rupee notes, Bloomberg Quint reported Wednesday citing central bank sources it didn’t name. These bills are the bread-and-butter of India’s $780 billion informal economy, which employs more than 90 percent of the workforce.

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“..at the next NATO summit, in the spring of 2017, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had planned to extend a hearty welcome to the new US president, Hillary Clinton.” “..even the female English pronouns “she” and “her” had crept into internal written correspondence..”

NATO Prepares for Trump Presidency (Spiegel)

Everything had been so perfectly planned. Construction of the new NATO headquarters building near the Brussels Airport, a giant glass-and-steel structure to house the world’s most powerful military alliance in the future, will have cost more than €1 billion ($1.07 billion) by the time it opens next year. The mammoth building was supposed to be officially dedicated at the next NATO summit, in the spring of 2017, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had planned to extend a hearty welcome to the new US president, Hillary Clinton. At least that’s how officials at NATO headquarters planned it. Anything else seemed unthinkable. So unthinkable that even the female English pronouns “she” and “her” had crept into internal written correspondence to refer to the future occupant of the White House.

But there will be no female president. Instead of Clinton, a reliable partner and good, old acquaintance in many trans-Atlantic circles, Donald Trump will be coming to Brussels – the same man who described the alliance as “obsolete” in his campaign. If he even comes, that is. Fearing that Trump won’t even attend the NATO summit, only a few weeks after his inauguration, the alliance has postponed the event. A meeting of NATO leaders without the presence of the American president, after all, would be a signal of its decline. Now organizers are envisioning a date next summer, in the hope that, by then, Trump will have recognized that the United States will also need NATO in the future. There are enormous doubts that this will happen. Consternation over the election of Donald Trump as the next US president is especially great within the Brussels alliance.

[..] In their most favorable scenario, the NATO strategists assumed that the new US president would only strictly insist that the Europeans spend more money on their security. During the campaign, after all, Trump left no doubt that he intends to radically change burden sharing within the Western alliance. One of Trump’s closest advisers, General Mike Flynn, the former head of US military intelligence, told SPIEGEL in an interview in July that, when it comes to money, Trump will pay little attention to the carefully tended harmony in the alliance. “We have to have these alliances going forward and see who’s going to pay for them,” Flynn said. He added that “NATO as a political alliance does need to be relooked at in terms of everything, (including) resourcing and capabilities,” soon after Trump’s administration takes office.

At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, the member states agreed to a goal of spending 2% of their national GDP on defense. But few countries are currently meeting that goal. Germany, the second-strongest economy in the alliance, next to the United States, spends only 1.19% of its GDP on defense. Trump is now threatening to make the mutual defense commitment under Article 5 dependent on fulfilling this goal, or even to increase the%age. For Germany, 2% would already signify a dramatic increase in the defense budget, from about €34 billion today to roughly €65 billion. In any case, NATO officials are preparing themselves for growing demands on the Europeans. “Europe has no other choice: It has to strengthen the European column in NATO,” says EU foreign policy expert Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party.

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Global trade again. Plummeting exports and imports across Asia.

Singapore’s Recession Risk Rises As October Exports Show 12% Decline (R.)

Singapore’s exports in October shrank more than expected as sales to major markets fell, with those to Europe contracting sharply and raising risks of a recession in the trade-dependent economy. Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) skidded 12% last month from a year earlier, the trade agency International Enterprise Singapore said in a statement on Thursday, far worse than the median forecast of a 3.5% decline in a Reuters poll. In September, overseas shipments slumped a revised 5% on-year though the decline in sales to China slowed. On a month-on-month, seasonally adjusted basis, exports decreased 3.7% in October, missing a forecast of a 1% slide in the survey. Exports to the EU contracted 28.6% last month from a year earlier, compared with 9.9% growth in September. Contraction in sales of pharmaceuticals, non-electric engines & motors, as well as personal computers led the decline in October.

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It’s not even a black swan. I’ve warned of this risk for a long time. Without constructing bubble upon bubble, and without the shadow system that finances them, China has a long way to fall.

China Civil War Is the Real Black Swan (RV)

TL Tsim has studied the Chinese political scene since the 1980s, with a background in journalism, including the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Economic Journal before starting his own consultancy. In an interview with Real Vision TV he said the greatest misconception among its people is that Chinese dynasties are super stable structures that last a long time. That’s not really the case, he argued, because none of them lasted longer than the Habsburgs in Austria, who ruled for over 800 years. The last one in China – the Qing dynasty – lasted 260 years, which is much shorter in comparison. People also underestimate the length of the civil wars between Chinese dynasties, which can last for 150 years, he adds. “That is something most Chinese people do not understand. And it has a bearing on the way we go forward,” Tsim said.

“In spite of all of the intelligence, the learning, and the experience of the Chinese people over 5,000 years, they have not come up with a system of government which can deal with the effective and peaceful transfer of power. In the West, you do it through the ballot box. So Brexit is Brexit. You accept it. But in China, the fight goes on.” The shortest dynasty of any size and power in Chinese history was the Yuan dynasty, which lasted just less than 100 years, Tsim said. “This government, this administration, the Chinese Communist Party, came to power in 1949. And so it’s been around for 67 years. “We don’t know when something like the Russian collapse, the implosion of the former Soviet Union might take place. We don’t know whether this is going to be the Yugoslavian model, when the country broke up into six or seven parts. So to speculate on the timing of it is something I do not do.“

But it is not idle to speculate on how this is going to happen. The most likely scenario is a power struggle over-spilling into a coup d’etat and then over-spilling into civil war. That would be the trajectory.” The real concern for Tsim – and he said for the Chinese leaders as well– is that if you look at the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the problem was internal, arising out of disagreements within the center of the party itself. [..] “And sadly, I think we’re not going to see a Yugoslavian model either, because there they did have a civil war. But the civil war– the war was small, in terms of size and scale, and didn’t last very long. That is not the Chinese model either. The Chinese model is a bitter, long-standing civil war– very destructive, very divisive. This is the real black swan.”

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I know many people won’t like to, but I would recommend reading at least part of this very long expose. How racist is Trump? And how do you know?

You Are Still Crying Wolf (Scott Alexander)

Back in October 2015, I wrote that the media narrative of Trump as “the white power candidate” and “the first openly white supremacist candidate to have a shot at the Presidency in the modern era” were being fabricated out of thin air. I said that “the media narrative that Trump is doing some kind of special appeal-to-white-voters voodoo is unsupported by any polling data”, and predicted that: “If Trump were the Republican nominee, he could probably count on equal or greater support from minorities as Romney or McCain before him.” Well, guess what? The votes are in, and Trump got greater support from minorities than Romney or McCain before him. You can read the Washington Post article, Trump Got More Votes From People Of Color Than Romney Did, or look at the raw data.

Trump made big gains among blacks. He made big gains among Latinos. He made big gains among Asians. The only major racial group where he didn’t get a gain of greater than 5% was white people. I want to repeat that: the group where Trump’s message resonated least over what we would predict from a generic Republican was the white population. Nor was there some surge in white turnout. I don’t think we have official numbers yet, but by eyeballing what data we have it looks very much like whites turned out in equal or lesser numbers this year than in 2012, 2008, and so on. The media responded to all of this freely available data with articles like White Flight From Reality: Inside The Racist Panic That Fueled Donald Trump’s Victory and Make No Mistake: Donald Trump’s Win Represents A Racist “Whitelash”.

I stick to my thesis from October 2015. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.

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But today’s headlines are all about unemployment reaching 11-year lows. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?!

One In Three UK Working Families Struggle To Pay Energy Bills (G.)

One in three working families struggle to pay their energy bills, it has been claimed, as pressure mounts on suppliers to do more to help poorer households move on to the cheapest deals. 29% of families do not put on the heating even when the house is cold, said comparison website uSwitch, while two-thirds fear cutting their energy use to save money will affect their family’s health. “It’s appalling that even families in work are struggling to pay their energy bills,” said uSwitch’s energy expert, Claire Osborne. “Suppliers must play their part by doing all they can to help their customers move to their best deal.” The energy regulator, Ofgem, backed calls for suppliers to alert customers to cost-saving schemes such as the warm home discount (WHD).

The initiative forces firms with more than 250,000 customers to offer a £140 discount to low-income pensioners and other vulnerable groups, though it has been criticised for long delays in delivering the reduction. “We want suppliers to engage more actively with customers, particularly those on standard variable tariffs, to help them get a better deal,” said an Ofgem spokesperson. This week the business minister criticised energy companies amid claims they were profiteering from deals that do not offer good value. “Customers who are loyal to their energy supplier should be treated well, not taken for a ride, and it’s high time the big companies recognised this,” Greg Clark said. “I have made clear to the big firms that this can’t go on and they must treat customers properly or be made to do so.”

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I’ll keep saying that a basic income for only parts of a society -as the pilot is set up- is doomed to fail.

Canadian Province To Give Every Citizen $1,320 Basic Income (Ind.)

A Canadian province is to run a pilot project aimed at providing every citizen a minimum basic income of $1,320 a month. The provincial government of Ontario confirmed it is holding public consultations on the $25m (£15m) project over the next two months, which could replace social assistance payments administered by the province for people aged 18 to 65. People with disabilities will receive $500 more under the scheme, and individuals who earn less than $22,000 (£13,000) a year after tax will have their incomes topped up to reach that threshold. The pilot report was submitted by Conservative ex-senator Hugh Segal, who suggested the project should be tested on three distinct sites: in the north, south and among the indigenous community of Ontario.

Areas with high levels of poverty and food insecurity should be chosen for the test project, Mr Segal recommended. “It is in fact the precinct of rational people when looking to encourage work and community engagement and give people a floor beneath which they’re not allowed to fall,” he said. “We can do this for seniors without having to add any more bureaucrats or civil servants, we respect their freedom to choose, we give them the money, they decide what’s important. Why would we treat other poor people differently? “What Ontario is doing is saying let’s have a pilot project, let’s calculate the costs, let’s calculate the positive and the nudge effects behaviourally.” Mr Segal confirmed that participation in the project, which is due to launch in spring 2017, will be voluntary and promised “no one would be financially worse off as a result of the pilot”.

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he can defend it all he wants, but defending the past shows you are blind to the present.

Obama Defends Globalization On Germany Visit (BBC)

US President Barack Obama has made a strong defence of globalisation as he arrived in Germany on his final visit to Europe before leaving office. In a joint article, Mr Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that with the global economy developing faster than ever, co-operation was vital. Mr Obama arrived in Germany from Athens where he had warned of threats to modern democracy. He is seeking to calm unease following the election of Donald Trump. In the article in the business magazine, Wirtschaftswoche (in German), he and Mrs Merkel made a strong case for international trade in contrast to Mr Trump’s more protectionist stance. “There will be no return to a world before globalisation,” they wrote. “We owe it to our companies and our citizens, indeed to the entire world community, to broaden and deepen our co-operation.”

The two leaders voiced support for the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU. By contrast, Mr Trump is a fierce critic of global free trade agreements and welcomed the UK’s decision in June to leave the EU. In Athens, Mr Obama acknowledged that globalisation had created a “sense of injustice” and a “course correction” was needed to address growing inequality. “When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes… this feeds a profound sense of injustice,” he told Greek leaders. Mr Obama’s visit to Greece was marked by street protests by leftist groups which denounced US “imperialism”. Police used tear gas against about 2,500 demonstrators who had tried to reach the city centre on Tuesday. The US president will stay in Germany until Friday and then head to Peru.

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But the words were again empty.

Athens Clings To Obama’s Words As Focus Shifts To Berlin (Kath.)

Greece on Wednesday hailed the support expressed by outgoing US President Barack Obama for debt relief for the country even as the latter arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has consistently resisted restructuring Greece’s debt burden. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos expressed “satisfaction” with Obama’s references to the crucial issues of debt, the refugee crisis and Cyprus. “The US president made clear that austerity cannot lead to economic prosperity,” he said. Asked why an intervention by Obama in favor of Greek debt relief now that he is on his way out of the presidency should make a difference, Tzanakopoulos said that the situation in Europe is now very different and there is a shift against austerity.

“There is a very good possibility that by the end of the year we will have very positive developments as regards the Greek debt,” Tzanakopoulos said, noting that Athens was on course for a Eurogroup meeting on December 5. The spokesman described Obama’s visit as “an event of global significance” while sources indicated that the outgoing president had been “very friendly” to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Earlier in the day, Obama delivered a stirring speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, exalting the virtues of democracy and ancient Greece’s contribution to the modern world. “I came here with gratitude for all that Greece – ‘this small, great world’ – has given to humanity through the ages,” Obama said, referring to Aeschylus, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Socrates and Aristotle.

Obama took advantage of the speech to highlight the democratic values he sought to honor while in office and implicitly prodded his Republic successor Donald Trump to do the same. He also emphasized his respect for Greece’s efforts to respond to Europe’s refugee crisis despite its own problems. “Because our democracies are inclusive, we’re able to welcome people and refugees in need to our countries. And nowhere have we seen that compassion more evident than here in Greece,” he said.

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“Whoever says ‘we will relieve your debts’ is doing Greece a disservice..”

Schaeuble Crushes Greek Debt Relief Hopes that Obama May Have Sowed (GR)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Greece raised fresh hopes for debt relief that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble rushed to quash. He said late on Tuesday that granting Greece its debt relief would not be helping the country, describing such a move as a “disservice.” A German Finance Ministry spokesman confirmed that Schaeuble had indeed made this statement, but that it was not in direct response to Obama’s visit to Greece. “Whoever says ‘we will relieve your debts’ is doing Greece a disservice,” said Schaeuble, according to the report by the daily newspaper, Passauer Neue Presse. His comments are not surprising bearing in mind that Germany has long supported the notion that no immediate debt relief is needed for Greece as this would discourage structural reforms.

“We have noted that President Obama has pointed to the importance of debt relief. The euro group agreed in May on a timetable on exactly that subject, regarding measures for the short term, and later in 2018 for mid-term measures,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert at a news conference. He added that Obama’s visit had not changed Germany’s position on the matter, during a government news conference. Seibert added that Obama’s view that austerity on its own does not create growth is a viewpoint that reflects that of the German government, adding that two things needed for long-term growth are a sustainable budget and the need for structural reforms.

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Think Obama went to see them?

Share of Greek Children At Risk Of Poverty Rises To 37.8% (Kath.)

More than a third, or 37.8%, of children aged up to 17 in Greece were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2015, compared to 28.7% in 2010, according to a report published by the European Statistics Agency (Eurostat). This means that they were living in households with at least one of the following characteristics: at-risk-of-poverty after social transfers (income poverty), severely materially deprived or with very low work intensity. The increase, which took the total number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Greece to 710,000, is the largest in the European Union since 2010. After Greece, Cyprus was the country with the highest rise since 2010, with 7.1%.

At the same time, the EU average dropped from 27.5% in 2010 to 26.9% in 2015, which corresponds to the alarming figure of approximately 25.26 million children. Greece was third in the EU in the total number of children faced with such a predicament, behind Romania at 46.8% and Bulgaria at 43.7%. Hungary was fourth at 36.1%, ahead of Spain at 34.4% and Italy at 33.5%. The lowest rates were recorded in the Scandinavian countries, with Sweden at 14%, ahead of Finland and Denmark, with 14.9% and 15.7% respectively.

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At some point you may want to wonder if it’s a bug or a feature of the system.

Drowning Deaths In Mediterranean Already 20% Higher Than All Of Last Year (G.)

About 240 people are suspected to have drowned this week in four separate incidents in the Mediterranean, raising the total annual death toll to an unprecedented 4,500. Deaths in the Mediterranean are now nearly 20% higher than last year’s total of 3,771, which was the previous annual record. About 130 asylum seekers are missing after a rubber boat capsized on Sunday night, while another 100 are thought to have drowned on Tuesday night in a separate incident, the UN refugee agency said. Up to 10 people died in two further tragedies in recent days, bringing the death toll this week to at least 240.

In the accident on Sunday 15 survivors were left in the water for 10 hours, clinging on to a piece of a capsized boat, before being rescued by an oil tanker. Nine are still in hospital, Iosto Ibba, a spokesman for UNHCR, said in a phone call. Migration between Turkey and Greece has lessened significantly since March, after Turkey agreed to re-admit people deported from Greece. But crossings between Libya and Italy continue unabated. More than 165,000 people have reached Italy so far this year from north Africa, and the final annual total is likely to surpass the previous record of 170,000.

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Aug 282016
 
 August 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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DPC On the beach, Coney Island 1907

‘If You’re Investing For The Long Term, You’re Crazy’ (MW)
“The Next Time The World Comes To An End” – Jim Rogers (RV/ZH)
The Housing Markets In The Hamptons, Aspen And Miami Are All Crashing (ZH)
As Fed Nears Rate Hikes, Policymakers Plan For ‘Brave New World’ (R.)
Coeure Says ECB May Need to Dive Deeper If Governments Don’t Act (BBG)
BOJ’s Kuroda Says Ready to Ease as Jackson Hole Debates Options (BBG)
The Sinister Side of Cash (Rogoff)
The Thing About The EU That Drives So Many Up The Wall (Worstall)
Greece PM Says EU Sleepwalking Toward Cliff, Wants Debt Relief By End 2016 (R.)
Germany Expects ‘Up To 300,000’ Migrants This Year (BBC)

 

 

“We’re on the edge of a cliff right now. We have never been here before…”

‘If You’re Investing For The Long Term, You’re Crazy’ (MW)

Robert Kiyosaki, author of several best-selling books including “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” joined MarketWatch for a live interview on Facebook today. He offered up insights on making money, becoming an entrepreneur and even touched on politics. “The rich do not work for money. Most people do not understand that, because they’re taught to go to school and get a job for money. The rich don’t work for money. And one of the reasons for that is money is no longer money. One of the reasons for that is in 1971, President Nixon took the U.S. Dollar off the gold standard and basically screwed the world. It’s bad for the poor and middle class. As Bernie Sanders said, ‘wealth and income inequality is the greatest moral crisis facing America as well as the world today.’

The gap is growing between the rich and poor. The rich don’t work for money. If you went to school and got a job, and you’re saving money and investing in the stock market today, you’re going to lose.” “We’re on the edge of a cliff right now. We have never been here before. If you’re still saving money when interest rates are negative, you’ve got to be crazy. When you’re investing for the long-term in the stock market, where there is no connection between stock price and reality, you’re crazy.”

Read more …

Jim Rogers is always interesting, and this 50 min interview is no exception. Zero Hedge has a lot of quotes from it.

“The Next Time The World Comes To An End” – Jim Rogers (RV/ZH)

China is going to have problems too. It’s just the way the world works. In 2008, when the world fell apart, China had a lot money saved for a rainy day, and they started spending it when it started raining. This time, China has a lot of debt themselves. It’s amazing how much debt has built up in China in just a few years. And so this time, while China’s in better shape, or less bad shape than most of us, China’s got a lot of debt, and they’re not going to be able to help us like they did before. Beijing has said we’re going to let people go bankrupt, which I hope they do. They don’t do that in the West. The red Chinese, the communist Chinese are going to let people go bankrupt, because they’re good capitalists.

Americans won’t let anybody – and the Europeans won’t let anybody go bankrupt so they can save the world. But China has said they will let people go bankrupt. It’ll be a shock for the people who go bankrupt. It’ll be a shock for the world. But it will certainly be good for China, and for the world, if they do let mistakes get cleaned up. But it will mean that they will not be able to save us as much as they did before. So the next time the world comes to an end, it’s going to be a bigger shock than we expect.

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Pretty big numbers.

The Housing Markets In The Hamptons, Aspen And Miami Are All Crashing (ZH)

One month ago, we said that “it is not looking good for the US housing market”, when in the latest red flag for the US luxury real estate market, we reported that sales in the Hamptons plunged by half and home prices fell sharply in the second quarter in the ultra-wealthy enclave, New York’s favorite weekend haunt for the 1%-ers. Reuters blamed this on “stock market jitters earlier in the year” which damped the appetite to buy, however one can also blame the halt of offshore money laundering, a slowing global economy, the collapse of the petrodollar, and the drastic drop in Wall Street bonuses. In short: a sudden loss of confidence that a greater fool may emerge just around the corner, which in turn has frozen buyer interest.

We concluded this is just the beginning, and sure enough, several weeks later a similar collapse in the luxury housing segment was reported in a different part of the country. As the Denver Post reported recently, high-end sales that fuel Aspen’s $2 billion-a-year real estate market are evaporating, pushing Pitkin County’s sales volume down more than 42% to $546.45 million for the first half of the year from $939.91 million in the same period of 2015. [..] Ask a dozen market watchers why, and you’ll get a dozen answers. Uncertainty around the presidential election. Fear of Trump. Fear of Clinton. Growing trade imbalances with China. Brexit. Roller-coaster oil prices. Zika. Wobbling economies in South America. The list goes on. “People are worried about all kinds of stuff these days,” says longtime Aspen broker Bob Ritchie. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

[..] According to the latest report by the Miami Association of Realtors, the local luxury housing market is just as bad, if not worse, than the Hamptons and Aspen. The latest figures out of Miami this week showed residential sales are down almost 21% from the same time last year. But as bad as this double-digit decline may seem, it pales in comparison to what’s happening at the high end of the market. A closer look at transactions for properties of $1 million or more in July shows just 73 single-family home sales, representing an annual decline of 31.8%, according to a new report by the Miami Association of Realtors. In the case of condos in the same price range, the number of closed sales fell by an even wider margin: 44.4%, to 45 transactions.

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There’s nothing in sight that would stop this madness. Looks like it will have to run its natural course.

As Fed Nears Rate Hikes, Policymakers Plan For ‘Brave New World’ (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers are signaling they could raise U.S. interest rates soon but they are already weighing new tools they may need to fight the next recession. A solid U.S. labor market “has strengthened” the case for the first rate increase since last December, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told a central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Several of her colleagues said the increase could come as soon as next month if the economy does well. Further rate hikes are expected to be few and far between as the U.S. central bank tries to balance a desire to fuel growth against worries it could overheat the economy.

But Fed officials at three-day conference that ended Saturday also said they need to consider new policy tools for use down the road, such as raising the inflation target or even Fed purchases of non-government-backed assets like corporate debt. Such ideas would test the limits of political feasibility and some would need congressional approval. The view within the Fed is that it could take effort to win over a public already skeptical of the unconventional policies the Fed undertook during the last crisis. Policymakers think new tools might be needed in an era of slower economic growth and a potentially giant and long-lasting trove of assets held by the Fed. And they are convinced the time to vet them is now, while rates look to be heading up.

“Central banking is in a brave new world,” Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. At the center of the Fed’s discussions is its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, built up by bond-buying sprees to combat the 2007-09 recession but which has been criticized by many lawmakers. While policymakers have maintained the Fed should eventually reduce its bond holdings, Lockhart said some officials were closer to accepting that they needed to learn to live with them. “I suspect there are colleagues who are contemplating at least maybe a statically large balance sheet is just going to be a fact of life and be central to the toolkit,” he said.

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The ECB should stop pretending it has a clue.

Coeure Says ECB May Need to Dive Deeper If Governments Don’t Act (BBG)

European Central Bank Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said unconventional monetary policy may have to be used differently and more frequently if governments don’t act to boost the growth potential of euro-area economies. “We may see short-term rates being pushed to the effective lower bound more frequently in the event of macroeconomic shocks,” Coeure said Saturday in a speech at the U.S. Federal Reserve’s annual policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His remarks were posted on the ECB’s website. “We will fulfill the price stability mandate given to us,” Coeure said. “But if other actors do not take the necessary measures in their policy domains, we may need to dive deeper into our operational framework and strategy to do so.”

While slowing growth and inflation present difficulties for central banks around the industrialized world, the Frankfurt-based ECB has particular cause to urge pro-expansion measures by the 19 nations that use the euro. High unemployment, political spats and banking systems loaded with soured loans are hampering the region’s recovery from a debt crisis that started six years ago. “We face an exceptional situation where the real equilibrium rate is very low,” said Coeure. “All the monetary policy measures we have taken were a necessary response to this. They stabilized the euro-area economy and anchored medium-term price stability. But they were done on the assumption that low real rates would be temporary, because other policies would act in their fields of responsibility.”

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The word ‘ease’ takes on whole new meanings by now.

BOJ’s Kuroda Says Ready to Ease as Jackson Hole Debates Options (BBG)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said he won’t hesitate to boost monetary stimulus if needed, reiterating a pledge during an annual policy retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at which central bankers stressed their need for backup from fiscal policy. “There is no doubt that there is ample space for additional easing in each of the three dimensions,” Kuroda said Saturday, referring to the BOJ’s package of asset buying, monetary-base guidance, and negative interest rates. “The bank will carefully consider how to make the best use of the policy scheme in order to achieve the price stability target,” he told the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s symposium.

Central bankers, struggling to spur persistently disappointing growth, gathered in the Grand Teton National Park to debate how best to tackle low inflation despite having already cut interest rates to near zero or, in some cases, below zero. They heard Fed Chair Janet Yellen on Friday describe future potential options to jump-start the economy, while saying that the case for a U.S. rate hike had strengthened. Even though the Bank of Japan is currently engaged in a review of its monetary-policy settings, due for completion in September, Kuroda’s comments underline his stance that the exercise won’t mean any reduction in stimulus despite growing doubts about its effectiveness. “One of the key elements of our policy is to push up inflation expectations to our price stability target and anchor them there,” Kuroda said. “The Bank of Japan will continue to carefully examine risks to activity and prices at each monetary policy meeting, and take additional monetary policy measures without hesitation.”

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Wow. and I thought Rogoff was a reasonable smart man. Saying that cash causes crime is not smart. It’s nonsense.

The Sinister Side of Cash (Rogoff)

When I tell people that I have been doing research on why the government should drastically scale back the circulation of cash—paper currency—the most common initial reaction is bewilderment. Why should anyone care about such a mundane topic? But paper currency lies at the heart of some of today’s most intractable public-finance and monetary problems. Getting rid of most of it—that is, moving to a society where cash is used less frequently and mainly for small transactions—could be a big help. There is little debate among law-enforcement agencies that paper currency, especially large notes such as the U.S. $100 bill, facilitates crime: racketeering, extortion, money laundering, drug and human trafficking, the corruption of public officials, not to mention terrorism.

There are substitutes for cash—cryptocurrencies, uncut diamonds, gold coins, prepaid cards—but for many kinds of criminal transactions, cash is still king. It delivers absolute anonymity, portability, liquidity and near-universal acceptance. It is no accident that whenever there is a big-time drug bust, the authorities typically find wads of cash. Cash is also deeply implicated in tax evasion, which costs the federal government some $500 billion a year in revenue. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a lot of the action is concentrated in small cash-intensive businesses, where it is difficult to verify sales and the self-reporting of income. By contrast, businesses that take payments mostly by check, bank card or electronic transfer know that it is much easier for tax authorities to catch them dissembling.

Though the data are much thinner for state and local governments, they too surely lose big-time from tax evasion, perhaps as much as $200 billion a year. Obviously, scaling back cash is not going to change human nature, and there are other ways to dodge taxes and run illegal businesses. But there can be no doubt that flooding the underground economy with paper currency encourages illicit behavior. Cash also lies at the core of the illegal immigration problem in the U.S. If American employers couldn’t so easily pay illegal workers off the books in cash, the lure of jobs would abate, and the flow of illegal immigrants would shrink drastically. Needless to say, phasing out most cash would be a far more humane and sensible way of discouraging illegal immigration than constructing a giant wall.

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“.. the idea that we average peeps just shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about complicated things like Europe.”

The Thing About The EU That Drives So Many Up The Wall (Worstall)

Gus O’Donnell, who used to be the head of the civil service, has floated the idea that Britain won’t in fact leave the European Union after all. After a couple of years of negotiating about it we’ll end up with something that’s very like we have now and politicians will just settle for that. This, at root, is exactly what the whole dang vote in favour of Brexit, in favour of leaving, was about anyway. For it is, again, the idea that we average peeps just shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about complicated things like Europe. We should allow our betters, our betters being those who had the good grace to go into the bureaucracy, to take care of everything for us. And that is actually the driving aim of the EU itself.

The entire point over the decades has been to take power away from the various peoples, and from politicians directly accountable to them, and place said power in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels. And that’s to a very large extent, what the upsurge which led to Brexit was about. No, thanks, very much, but we’ll rule ourselves. And O’Donnell’s not doing himself any favours by repeating the idea from a purely British perspective. Being told that “The Man in Whitehall knows best” enrages Brits just as much as the idea that someone in Brussels does. Largely on the basis that we’ve all too much evidence pointing the other way. Thus this is somewhere between simply wrong and evidence of having an entirely tin ear:

”A former top civil servant says a British exit from the European Union is not inevitable, although voters backed that course in a June referendum.[..] But Gus O’Donnell, who was U.K. cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2011 and today sits in the House of Lords, says Britain could remain within a reformed EU following talks that would take “a very long time.” He’s actually going a bit further than that: “Lord O’Donnell of Clapham, the former Cabinet Secretary, says Britain might not really leave the EU. Perhaps the EU will now change in a way that makes it more appealing to British people, he suggests. And anyway, even if we do actually go through with the whole Brexit thing, not much will change because, when we come to really think about it, we’ll realise that all those rules and regulations that originated with the EU are actually OK so they should remain in place.”

There are indeed times when civil servants can be left to get on with things. Whether the forms for unemployment pay use Times Roman or Comic Sans would be a useful level of that sort of thing. But when the populace at large has been asked a simple question like “In or Out of the EU?” then that’s not something that the civil servants should be either second guessing nor gainsaying. That’s the exact thing about the EU that drives a significant portion of the population up the wall.

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How much longer can Tsipras last? Or the EU for that matter?

Greece PM Says EU Sleepwalking Toward Cliff, Wants Debt Relief By End 2016 (R.)

Greece said on Sunday the EU was “sleepwalking towards a cliff” by sticking to austerity rules that created huge inequalities among members, and it expected a debt relief deal for itself to be honored by end-2016 so that its economy could recover. Athens, facing a second bailout review entailing an unpopular loosening of labor laws in the autumn, is keen to show that painful tax rises and pension cuts as part of its 86-billion-euro bailout deal last year will bear fruit. “Greece has kept its part of the agreement and expects the same from its partners. We are not simply seeking, we are demanding and expecting specific measures that will render debt sustainable as part of the deal we are implementing,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the Sunday newspaper Realnews.

“This (debt relief) will be followed by reduced (budget) surpluses after 2018, which will open the way for the economy’s recovery,” he said. Greece has committed to attaining a primary budget surplus – excluding debt servicing costs – of 3.5% of economic output by 2018 as part of its third bailout package since 2010. The IMF, which has yet to decide whether it will fund the third bailout, has said that surplus targets of 3.5% beyond 2018 are not realistic for Greece and has pushed for softer fiscal goals to take part in the financing. Greece’s leftist-led government and the central bank also want lower primary surplus targets, arguing this will give Athens room to cut taxes and help the battered economy return to growth after a protracted recession.

The economy has shrunk by a quarter in six years and the jobless rate is 23.5%. Tsipras also told Realnews that the European Union was “sleepwalking towards a cliff” as the Stability Pact’s tough fiscal rules had engendered deep inequalities among member states. “Brexit will either awaken European leaderships or it will be the beginning of the end of the EU,” he said, referring to Britain’s June vote to leave the 28-nation bloc. He criticized Germany for acting as Europe’s “savings bank” with excessive surpluses, frozen wages and low inflation, at a time when the EU’s deficit-ridden southern members have broken all records for unemployment. “If Schaueble’s dogma for a multi-speed Europe and economic zones of low-cost labor is not abandoned, Europe will be brought to the brink of dissolution,” Tsipras was quoted by Realnews as saying.

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As Hungary and Austria are throwing up more barriers.

Germany Expects ‘Up To 300,000’ Migrants This Year (BBC)

Germany expects up to 300,000 migrants to arrive in the country, according to the head of Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag paper (in German) his office would struggle if more people came. But he said he was confident the number of new arrivals would remain within the estimate. More than one million migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa arrived in Germany last year. The German interior ministry says more than 390,000 people applied for asylum in the first six months of this year. It is not clear how many of these may have arrived in the country in 2015. Mr Weise said Germany would try to get as many of them on the job market as possible. But he said the migrants’ integration in German society “would take a long time and cost a lot”.

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May 312016
 
 May 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)
One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)
The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)
You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)
Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)
Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)
Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)
The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)
Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)
Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)
Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)
German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)
Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)
More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)

The chief of Mizuho Financial Group said Japan risks a credit-rating downgrade if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delays a scheduled sales-tax increase without explaining how the government plans to cut its deficit. Yasuhiro Sato, president of Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, said Mr. Abe’s framing of such a decision would determine whether it sparked concerns about the government’s credibility regarding its plans for fiscal consolidation. “The worst scenario is [the government] will just announce a delay in the tax increase. That could send a message that Abenomics has failed or Japan is heading for a fiscal danger zone and then it will harm Japanese government bonds’ credit ratings,” Mr. Sato said in an interview, referring to the prime minister’s growth program.

Mr. Abe acknowledged for the first time Friday that he was considering delaying an increase in the sales tax to 10% from 8% scheduled to take effect in April next year. He said he would decide before an upper house election to be held in July, but Japanese media have reported that a decision could come this week. Mr. Abe has delayed the tax increase once, after the rise to 8% in April 2014 derailed an economic recovery. Consumer spending has yet to fully rebound, and some economists say the prospect of another tax increase next year is already weighing on spending. Mr. Sato acknowledged that raising the tax again would pose a risk to Japan’s economy. “There will be a risk in either case of raising the tax or not, so as long as the government demonstrates a clear road map for fiscal reconstruction, Japanese credibility likely won’t be hurt so much,” he said.

Some bankers say Japan could damage its international credibility if it fails to raise taxes on schedule. The tax increases are part of long-standing efforts to reach a primary government surplus by 2020. A primary surplus is a balanced budget excluding interest payments on government debt. Japan’s government debt is among the largest in the world relative to the size of its economy. Moody’s Investors Service said in a March report, “Postponing the next [sales-tax] increase regardless of the reason would pose a big fiscal burden for Japan.”

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Last year, “Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak”. But there’s simply money in shorting China; you can’t stop that.

One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)

Chinese stock-index futures plunged by the daily limit before snapping back in less than a minute, the second sudden swing to rattle traders this month. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. More than 1,500 June contracts changed hands in that period, the most all day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The China Financial Futures Exchange is investigating the tumble, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. The swing follows a similarly unexplained drop in Hang Seng China Enterprises Index futures in Hong Kong on May 16, a move that heightened anxiety among investors facing slower Chinese economic growth and a weakening yuan.

Volume in China’s stock-index futures market, which was the world’s most active as recently as July, has all but dried up after authorities clamped down on what they deemed excessive speculation during the nation’s $5 trillion equity crash last summer. Tuesday’s volatility had little impact on the underlying CSI 300, which rose 3%. “Liquidity in the market is really thin at the moment,” Fang Shisheng at Orient Securities said by phone. “So the market will very likely see big swings if a big order comes in. The order looks like it’s from a hedger.” Chinese policy makers restricted activity in the futures market last summer because selling the contracts is one of the easiest ways for investors to make large wagers against stocks. Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak after officials raised margin requirements, tightened position limits and started a police probe into bearish wagers.

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Xi Jinping is one nervous man right now.

The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)

Chinese equities are once again in the cross hairs of short sellers. Short interest in one of the largest Hong Kong exchange-traded funds tracking domestic Chinese stocks has surged fivefold this month to its highest level in a year, according to data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg. The last time bearish bets were so elevated, such pessimism proved well-founded as China’s bull market turned into a $5 trillion rout. While trading in the Shanghai Composite has become subdued this month amid suspected state intervention, pessimists are betting that equities face renewed selling amid a slumping yuan. The Chinese currency is heading for its biggest monthly loss since last year’s devaluation as the nation’s economic outlook worsens and the Fed prepares to raise borrowing costs, driving a rally in the dollar.

“Some macro funds are seeking opportunities to short index futures to play the currency movement,” said Wenjie Lu at UBS. “A higher chance of a Fed rate hike means there’s pressure for the yuan to soften.” Short interest in the CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF climbed to 6.1% on May 25, the highest level since April 2015, two months before Chinese equities peaked, and up from 1.3% at the end of last month. Bearish bets in the U.S. traded iShares China Large-Cap ETF jumped to a two-year high of 18% of shares outstanding on the same day, up from 3% a month ago. Even as Chinese equities rallied on Tuesday, traders were rattled by a sudden plunge in index futures. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at around 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. The move had little effect on the underlying stock gauge, which rose 2.6% at the break.

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I think there’s more to it than that.

You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF. What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism.

Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition. The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree.

And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”. Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses.

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You kidding me? They’re overloaded to their necks in overvalued property loans.

Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)

Today they face little competition in their home market and have benefited tremendously from Australia’s strong growth, underpinned by China’s seemingly insatiable demand for the country’s gas, coal, iron ore and other raw materials. During the 2012 European debt crisis, Australia’s banks were worth more than all of Europe’s. But Australian financial institutions have made the same fundamental mistake the rest of the country has, assuming that growth based on “houses and holes” – rising property prices and resources buried underground – can continue indefinitely. In fact, despite a recent rebound in Chinese demand, commodities prices look set to remain weak for the foreseeable future. Banks’ exposure to the slowing natural resources sector has reached nearly $70 billion in loans outstanding – worryingly large relative to their capital resources.

If anything, their exposure to the property sector is even more dangerous. Mortgages make up a much bigger proportion of bank portfolios than before – more than half, double the level in the 1990s. And they’re riskier than they used to be: many loans are interest-only, while around 80% have variable rates. With a downturn likely – everything from price-to-income to price-to-rent ratios suggests houses are massively overvalued – losses are likely to rise, especially if economy activity weakens. Australian banks are also more vulnerable to outside shocks than they may first appear. Their loan-to-deposit ratio is about 110%. Domestic deposits fund only around 60% of bank assets; the rest of their financing has to come from overseas. While that hasn’t been a problem recently, Australia’s external position is deteriorating.

The current account deficit is expected to climb to 4.75% in the year ending June 30. Weak terms of trade, a rising budget deficit, slower growth and a falling currency are likely to drive up the cost of funds. If Australia’s economy or the financial sector’s performance falters, or international markets are disrupted, banks’ access to external funds could be threatened.

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“..only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP..”

Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement. More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago. But TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.

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Would anyone doubt it?

Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)

Britain has been described as the most corrupt country in the world, according to a journalist and expert on the Italian Mafia. Roberto Saviano, who wrote best-selling exposés Gomorrah and ZeroZeroZero, made the claim at the Hay Literary Festival. The 36-year-old has been living under police protection for 10 years since revelations were published about members of the Camorra, a Neapolitan branch of the mafia. Mr Saviano told the audience at Hay-on-Wye: “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK. “It’s not the bureaucracy, it’s not the police, it’s not the politics but what is corrupt is the financial capital. 90% of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore.

“Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it. “That is why it is important why it is so crucial for me to be here today and to talk to you because I want to tell you, this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.” David Cameron came under pressure for the UK to reform offshore tax havens operating on British overseas territories at an anti-corruption summit earlier this month. Mr Saviano also weighed in on the EU referendum debate, warning a vote to leave the union would see Britain even more exposed to organised crime. He added: “Leaving the EU means allowing this to take place. It means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russian Mafia to gain even more power and HSBC has paid £2 billion in fines to the US government, because it confessed that it had laundered money coming from the cartels and the Iranian companies. “We have proof, we have evidence.”

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How power rules.

The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)

Failure was not an option. It was July 1974. A steady predawn drizzle had given way to overcast skies when William Simon, newly appointed U.S. Treasury secretary, and his deputy, Gerry Parsky, stepped onto an 8 a.m. flight from Andrews Air Force Base. On board, the mood was tense. That year, the oil crisis had hit home. An embargo by OPEC’s Arab nations—payback for U.S. military aid to the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War—quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. Officially, Simon’s two-week trip was billed as a tour of economic diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East, full of the customary meet-and-greets and evening banquets.

But the real mission, kept in strict confidence within President Richard Nixon’s inner circle, would take place during a four-day layover in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. And according to Parsky, Nixon made clear there was simply no coming back empty-handed. Failure would not only jeopardize America’s financial health but could also give the Soviet Union an opening to make further inroads into the Arab world. It “wasn’t a question of whether it could be done or it couldn’t be done,” said Parsky, 73, one of the few officials with Simon during the Saudi talks.

At first blush, Simon, who had just done a stint as Nixon’s energy czar, seemed ill-suited for such delicate diplomacy. Before being tapped by Nixon, the chain-smoking New Jersey native ran the vaunted Treasuries desk at Salomon Brothers. To career bureaucrats, the brash Wall Street bond trader—who once compared himself to Genghis Khan—had a temper and an outsize ego that was painfully out of step in Washington. Just a week before setting foot in Saudi Arabia, Simon publicly lambasted the Shah of Iran, a close regional ally at the time, calling him a “nut.” But Simon, better than anyone else, understood the appeal of U.S. government debt and how to sell the Saudis on the idea that America was the safest place to park their petrodollars.

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Inappropriate, illegal, and a public service, all at the same time.

Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents. “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “Now I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. Holder said Snowden jeopardized America’s security interests by leaking classified information while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency in 2013.

“He harmed American interests,” said Holder, who was at the helm of the Justice Department when Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance secrets. “I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.” Snowden, who has spent the last few years in exile in Russia, should return to the U.S. to deal with the consequences, Holder noted. “I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

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Times editors’ curious timing.

Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)

European leaders congratulated themselves last week for reaching an agreement to provide more loans to Greece and eventually ease the terms of the country’s huge debt. But there is little to celebrate. Greece is bankrupt in all but name. The country has a debt of more than €300 billion, or about 180% of its GDP, a sum it cannot hope to repay in full. Most of that money is owed to Germany, France, Italy and other countries in the eurozone. After an 11-hour meeting last week, the eurozone finance ministers said that they would lend another €7.5 billion to Greece next month to help it pay off debt and grant it some relief, possibly including lower interest rates and extended payment periods, but not until mid-2018.

The reality is that Greece can’t be squeezed any harder. But the finance ministers are seeking still more spending cuts and increased taxes. They want to see a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP before interest payments by 2018. A stable and fast-growing country might be able to hit that target, but it is preposterous to expect that from Greece. The IMF wants to see a more realistic surplus of 1.5%. Delaying meaningful debt relief until 2018 will further harm the struggling Greek economy. The Greek unemployment rate was 24.4% in January, and Greece’s economy shrunk in the first three months of the year. The I.M.F., which has also lent Greece money, recently estimated that at its current trajectory, the country’s debt would eventually grow to 250% of GDP.

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Forcing Greece into foolish measures: “..Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall.”

Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)

There was fresh concern on Monday that there could be further delays in the disbursement of much-need bailout money to Greece owing to a disagreement between Athens and its creditors, who have demanded changes to prior actions passed in Parliament earlier this month. EU officials on Monday appeared to dismiss Greece’s refusal to implement some of these changes, saying that these are issues that have already been agreed with the Greek government. The country’s lenders had given the green light for the disbursement of a tranche of 10.3 billion euros last week, on the condition the government made amendments to recent legislation it passed on pension, bad loans and privatizations.

However, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had informed the European Commission representative and the IMF in a letter last week that their demands could not be met, neither could Athens fulfill the demands enshrined in the bailout deal signed last summer to privatize ADMIE, the country’s grid operator, and to freeze the wages of essential services, like those of the coast guard and police. Greece desperately needs the new bailout money to pay state arrears as well as debt repayments to the IMF and European Central Bank in the coming weeks. There were reports on Monday that the government is planning to submit its own amendments on Wednesday to Parliament. If the disagreement between Greece and its creditors persists, then it is likely it will be discussed at the Euro Working Group on Thursday.

In comments on Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall. “This is why Greece needs an effective public administration,” Schaeuble told a conference on fiscal sustainability, observing that Greek tax collection must be improved to bring in the higher revenues that are being targeted.

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Germany has exported its unemployment to Greece and Spain.

German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)

German unemployment declined more than economists estimated, pushing the jobless rate to the lowest level since reunification. The number of people out of work fell by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 2.695 million in May, data from the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg showed on Tuesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for a decline of 5,000. The jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent. The report comes two days before ECB officials convene in Vienna to set monetary policy and assess whether they’ve done enough to sustain an economic recovery in the 19-nation euro region.

The ECB is expected to keep its stimulus plan unchanged after President Mario Draghi announced an expansion of quantitative easing by a third to €80 billion in March and cut the deposit rate further below zero. Unemployment dropped by 8,000 in western Germany and declined by 3,000 in the eastern part of the country, the report showed. Growth momentum in Europe’s largest economy remains strong after gross domestic product expanded at the fastest pace in two years in the first quarter. German business sentiment rose to the highest level in five months in May and consumer prices unexpectedly halted their decline. The Bundesbank predicts the economy will retain its underlying strength, even though expansion will probably slow somewhat this quarter.

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Obviously not a surprise for me, or Automatic Earth readers. And lest we forget: Norway does a lot of good in silence. But more austerity is definitely not going to fix anything at all.

Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)

71% of the Greek capital’s homeless population has ended up on the streets in the last five years and 21.7% in the last year alone, a study by the City of Athens’s Homeless Shelter (KYADA), funded by the Norwegian government and other European countries, has found. According to the study, which was conducted as part of the “Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion” program and whose findings were presented by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis on Monday evening, 62% of the capital’s homeless are Greeks, the overwhelming majority (85.4%) are men and most (57%) are aged between 35-55. Of the 451 respondents questioned by KYADA workers from March 2015 until the same month this year, 47% said they ended up on the street after losing their job and 29% said they do not want to move to a shelter or other organized facility.

Less than half of the respondents (41.2%) admitted to using drugs, 7.3% to alcohol and 2% to both. Kaminis also said that in the one-year period, the solidarity program helped distribute 46,156 supermarket food coupons worth around 1.85 million euros to nearly 9,000 beneficiaries in over 3,700 families. “Through its social structures and strong alliances with agencies, partners and simple citizens, the City of Athens help give support to more than 25,000 residents,” Kaminis said at the presentation, which was also attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Athens Jorn Eugene Gjelstad.

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Who we are. Not including debt slaves.

More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

More than 45 million men, women and children globally are trapped in modern slavery, far more than previously thought, with two-thirds in the Asia-Pacific, a study showed Tuesday. The details were revealed in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, a research report by the Walk Free Foundation, an initiative set up by Australian billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest in 2012 to draw attention to the issue. It compiled information from 167 countries with 42,000 interviews in 53 languages to determine the prevalence of the issue and government responses. It suggested that there were 28% more slaves than estimated two years ago, a revision reached through better data collection and research methods.

The report said India had the highest number of people trapped in slavery at 18.35 million, while North Korea had the highest incidence (4.37% of the population) and the weakest government response. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. They may be held in debt bondage on fishing boats, against their will as domestic servants or trapped in brothels. Some 124 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol and 96 have developed national action plans to coordinate the government response.

In terms of absolute numbers, Asian countries occupy the top five for people trapped in slavery. Behind India was China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million). As a %age of the population, Uzbekistan (3.97%) and Cambodia (1.65%) trailed North Korea, which the study said was the only nation in the world that has not explicitly criminalised any form of modern slavery.

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