Jun 072018
 


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

 

 

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:

 

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals?

“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.

But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.

Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.

[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.

This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.

This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.

The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.

It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.

But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.

 

 

Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.

 

 

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity

 


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Jul 072017
 
 July 7, 2017  Posted by at 8:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Francis Bacon Triptych 1976

 

All Eyes On Trump-Putin Dynamics As They Meet For First Time At G20 (R.)
Deep State Begins Anti-Russia Media Blitz Ahead Of Trump-Putin Meeting
Anti-G20 Protesters Clash With Hamburg Police ‘Like Never Before’ (RT)
The Party Is Over: Central Banks Pull The Plug On Bond Market Rally (CNBC)
Central Bank Easy Money ‘Era Is Ending’ – Ray Dalio (CNBC)
Ray Dalio’s ‘Beautiful’ Deleveraging Delusion (ZH)
‘It’s Too Late’: 7 Signs Australia Can’t Avoid Economic Apocalypse (News)
World-Beating Wealth Props Up Qatar Against Arab Sanctions (R.)
Home Sales In Greater Toronto Area Plunged 37.3% Last Month (CP)
The Fast Track to “Carmageddon” (David Stockman)
Clinton, The IMF And Wall Street Journal Toppled Suharto (Hanke)
Our Political Parties Are Obsolete (CH Smith)
Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse (R.)

 

 

If only they could have a decent conversation.

All Eyes On Trump-Putin Dynamics As They Meet For First Time At G20 (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to size each other up in person for the first time on Friday in what promises to be the most highly anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Trump has said he wants to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That means every facial expression and physical gesture will be analyzed as much as any words the two leaders utter as the world tries to read how well Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality television star, gets along with Putin, a former spy. The fear is that the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, will be less prepared than Putin, who has dealt with the past two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.

“There’s nothing … the Kremlin would like to see more than a (U.S.) president who will settle for a grip and a grin and walk away saying that he had this fabulous meeting with the Kremlin autocrat,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on MSNBC. As investigations at home continue into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia the U.S. president has come under pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin. Moscow has denied any interference and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia. On Thursday, Trump won praise from at least one Republican hawk in the U.S. Congress after his speech in Warsaw in which he urged Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.

“This is a great start to an important week of American foreign policy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump on security issues. But earlier in the day, Trump declined to say definitively whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials who have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. “I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said at a news conference, before slamming Democratic former President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop hacking.

Read more …

So much for that decent conversation. James Clapper, who not long ago stated there is no proof of Russian election hacking, now claims that there is no proof of anyone BUT the Russians being involved.

Deep State Begins Anti-Russia Media Blitz Ahead Of Trump-Putin Meeting

It’s been relatively quiet in the last few weeks on the “the Russians did it, and Trump’s Putin’s best-buddy” propaganda-fest, but it appears the Deep State had three stories tonight – just hours ahead of Trump’s face-to-face with Putin – claim Russian hackers are targeting US nuclear facilities, the Russians are nonchalantly stepping up their spying, and that Russia alone interfered with the US election. With all eyes on the ‘handshake’ as Putin and Trump come face-to-face for the first time as world leaders, it seems the Deep State is desperately fearful of some rapprochement, crushing the need for NATO, and destroying the excuses for massive, unprecedented military-industrial complex spending.

And so, three stories (2 anonymously sourced and one with no facts behind it) in The New York Times (who recently retracted their “17 intelligence agencies” lie) and CNN (where do we start with these guys? let’s just go with full retraction of an anonymously sourced lie about Scaramucci and Kushner and the Russians) should stir up enough angst to ensure the meeting is at best awkward and at worst a lose-lose for Trump (at least in the eyes of the media). First off we have the ‘news’ that hackers have reportedly been breaking into computer networks of companies operating United States nuclear power stations, energy facilities and manufacturing plants, according to a new report by The New York Times.

“The origins of the hackers are not known. But the report indicated that an “advanced persistent threat” actor was responsible, which is the language security specialists often use to describe hackers backed by governments. The two people familiar with the investigation say that, while it is still in its early stages, the hackers’ techniques mimicked those of the organization known to cybersecurity specialists as “Energetic Bear,” the Russian hacking group that researchers have tied to attacks on the energy sector since at least 2012.” And Bloomberg piled on…”The chief suspect is Russia, according to three people familiar with the continuing effort to eject the hackers from the computer networks.” So that’s that 5 people – who know something – suspect it was the Russians that are hacking US nuclear facilities (but there’s no proof).

Next we move to CNN who claim a ‘current and former U.S. intelligence officials’ told them that Russian spies have been stepping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the U.S. since the election, feeling emboldened by the lack of significant U.S. response to Russian election meddling. “Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar with Trump administration efforts. “The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the US. They have a lot more intelligence officers in the US” compared to what they have in other countries, one of the former intelligence officials says.”

Read more …

Holding it in Hamburg is a conscious decision intended to show muscle, and the necessity to show that muscle. Do it in the middle of the Pacific and you can’t show off your new high tech water cannon.

Anti-G20 Protesters Clash With Hamburg Police ‘Like Never Before’ (RT)

An anti-G20 rally in Hamburg has erupted into a violent confrontation between police and protesters. Dozens of officers have been injured by rioters as sporadic clashes on the streets of the German city continued into the night. “There have been offenses committed by smaller groups [but] we now have the situation under control… I was there myself, I’ve seen nothing like that before,” Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill told German broadcaster ZDF. The ‘Welcome to Hell’ anti-globalist rally started off relatively peacefully as activists marched through the streets chanting slogans and holding banners. Clashes begun in the early evening after roughly 1,000 anti-globalism activists, wearing face masks, reportedly refused to reveal their identity to the authorities.

According to an official police statement, the trouble started when officers tried to separate aggressive black-bloc rioters from peaceful protesters at the St. Pauli Fish Market but were met with bottles, poles and iron bars, prompting them to use justifiable force. Police used pepper-spray on rioting protesters. Water cannons were also deployed by authorities and several people seemed to be injured as a number of people were seen on the ground or with bloody faces being led away by police. Footage from the scene also showed columns of green and orange smoke rising above the crowds. At least 76 police officers were injured in the riots, most, though, suffered light injuries, Bild reports. Five of them were admitted to hospital, a police officer told AFP. One policeman suffered an eye injury after fireworks exploded in front of his face. The number of injured demonstrators has not yet been released by authorities, DW German notes.

As a result of the violence, organizers declared the protest over Thursday evening, but pockets of activists remained on the streets throughout the night. Police confirmed persistent sporadic attacks on security forces in the districts of St. Pauli and Altona. Damage to property has also been reported throughout the city. According to RT’s correspondent on the scene, Peter Oliver, one of the protesters’ grievances was that they received no clear directives from the police as to where they were allowed to march and found themselves kettled by officers in riot gear once they set off. “They are macing everyone,” one witness at the scene told RT. “As far as I could tell, they were attacking the demonstration with no reason.” “I’m from Hamburg, [and] I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve had fights about squatted houses and all that, [but] I’ve never seen anything like that. The aggression, as far as I could tell, the purposelessness… my face hurts, I’ve got mace and everything, this is unbelievable.”

Read more …

Central bankers trying to deflect the blame.

The Party Is Over: Central Banks Pull The Plug On Bond Market Rally (CNBC)

Central banks are shutting down the music and turning on the lights after a near decade-long bond market party that resulted in ultra-low yields and low volatility. In the past two weeks, interest rates have been rising, at the prodding of the world’s central banks. Some bond strategists now see the possibility of a shift to a more fundamental-driven market, which could result in higher, more normal interest rate levels that will affect everything from home mortgages to commercial loans. That doesn’t mean the wake-up call will be a jolt, with rates snapping back violently or markets spinning out of control—though it could if rates begin to move too quickly. For now, market pros expect the rising interest rates of the past several weeks to be part of an orderly adjustment to a world in which central banks are preparing to end excessive easy policies.

The Federal Reserve is about to take the unprecedented step of reducing the balance sheet it built up to save the economy from the financial crisis. Since June 26, the U.S. 10- year yield has risen from 2.12% to Thursday’s high of 2.38%. The move has been global, after ECB President Mario Draghi last week pointed to a less risky outlook for the European economy, and Fed officials made consistently hawkish remarks. Some of those officials said they were even concerned that their policies created a too easy financial environment, meaning interest rates should be higher. The stock market caught wind of the rate move Thursday, and equities around the world responded negatively to rising yields. Bond strategists say if higher yields trigger a bigger sell off in stocks it could slow down the upward movement in interest rates, as investors will seek safety in bonds. Bond prices move opposite yields.

Friday’s June jobs report could be a moment of truth for the bond market. Strategists are looking to the wage gains in the report, expected at 0.3%. If they are as expected, the move higher in yields could continue. But a surprise to the upside could mean a much bigger move since it would signal a return of inflation. The Fed has said it is looking past the recent decline in inflation, but the market would become more convinced of the Fed’s rate-hiking intentions if it starts to rise.

Read more …

“..our responsibility now is to keep dancing but closer to the exit and with a sharp eye on the tea leaves..”

Central Bank Easy Money ‘Era Is Ending’ – Ray Dalio (CNBC)

Ray Dalio has declared the era of easy money is ending. The founder and chief investment officer of the world’s biggest hedge fund said Thursday in a commentary posted to LinkedIn that central bankers have “clearly and understandably” signaled the end of the nine-year era of monetary easing is coming. They are shifting strategy and are now focused on raising interest rates at a pace that keeps growth and inflation in balance, risking the next downturn if they get it wrong. “Recognizing that, our responsibility now is to keep dancing but closer to the exit and with a sharp eye on the tea leaves,” Dalio wrote.

In May, Dalio posted a commentary that said he was worried about the future, concerned that the magnitude of the next downturn could produce “much greater social and political conflict than currently exists.” On Thursday, he said the aggressive easing policies brought about “beautiful deleveragings,” and it was time to pause and thank the central bankers for pursuing them. “They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated.” Dalio ends by saying he doesn’t see a big debt bubble about to burst, largely because of the balance sheet deleveraging that came about in the last few years. But, he said, “we do see an increasingly intensifying ‘Big Squeeze.'”

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“..the only reason the world is in its current abysmal socio-political and economic shape is due to the cumulative effect of their disastrous policies..”

Ray Dalio’s ‘Beautiful’ Deleveraging Delusion (ZH)

For some inexplicable reason, Ray Dalio still thinks the the world not only underwent a deleveraging, but that it was “beautiful.” Not only did McKinsey prove that to be completely false two years ago, but for good measure the IIF confirmed as much last week, when it revealed that global debt has hit a record $217 trillion, or 327% of GDP… while Citi’s Matt King showed that with no demand for credit in the private sector, central banks had no choice but to inject trillions to keep risk prices from collapsing.

And now, replacing one delusion with another, the Bridgewater head has penned an article in which he notes that as the “punch bowl” era is ending – an era which made Dalio’s hedge fund the biggest in the world, and richer beyond his wildest dreams – he would like to take the opportunity to “thanks the central bankers” who have ‘inexplicably’ been “more maligned than appreciated” even though their aggressive policies have, and here is delusion #1 again, “successfully brought about beautiful deleveragings.” “In my opinion, at this point of transition, we should savor this accomplishment and thank the policy makers who fought to bring about these policies. They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated. Let’s thank them.” They fought hard to print $20 trillion in new money? Now that is truly news to us.

That said, we can see why Dalio would want to thank “them”: he wouldn’t be where he is, and his fund would certainly not exist today, if it weren’t for said central bankers who came to rescue the insolvent US financial system by sacrificing the middle class and burying generations under unrepayable debt. Still, some who may skip thanking the central bankers are hundreds of millions of elderly Americans and people worldwide also wouldn’t be forced to work one or more jobs well into their retirement years because monetary policies lowered the return on their savings to zero (or negative in Europe), as these same “underappreciated” central bankers created three consecutive bubbles, and the only reason the world is in its current abysmal socio-political and economic shape is due to the cumulative effect of their disastrous policies which meant creating ever greater asset and debt bubbles to mask the effects of the previous bubble, resulting in unprecedented wealth and income inequality, and which have culminated – most recently – with Brexit and Trump.

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Amen.

‘It’s Too Late’: 7 Signs Australia Can’t Avoid Economic Apocalypse (News)

Australia has missed its chance to avoid a potential “economic apocalypse”, according to a former government guru who says that despite his warnings there are seven new signs we are too late to act. The former economics and policy adviser has identified seven ominous indicators that a possible global crash is approaching – including a surge in crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin – and the window for government action is now closed. John Adams, a former economics and policy adviser to Senator Arthur Sinodinos and management consultant to a big four accounting firm, told news.com.au in February he had identified seven signs of economic Armageddon. He had then urged the Reserve Bank to take pre-emptive action by raising interest rates to prevent Australia’s expanding household debt bubble from exploding and called on the government to rein in welfare payments and tax breaks such as negative gearing.

Adams says he has for years been publicly and privately urging his erstwhile colleagues in the Coalition to take action but that since nothing has been done, the window has now closed and Australia is completely at the mercy of international forces. “As early as 2012, I have been publicly and privately advocating that Australian policy makers take pre-emptive policy action to deal with the structural imbalances within the Australian economy, especially Australia’s household debt bubble which in proportional terms is larger than the household debt bubbles of the 1880s or 1920s, the periods which preceded the two depressions experienced in Australian history,” he told news.com.au this week. “Unfortunately, the window for taking pre-emptive action with an orderly unwinding of structural macroeconomic imbalances has now closed.”

Adams has now turned on his former party and says both its most recent prime ministers have led Australia into a potential “economic apocalypse” and Treasurer Scott Morrison is wrong that we are heading for a “soft landing”. “The policy approach by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments as well as the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which has been to reduce systemic financial risk through new macro-prudential controls, has been wholly inadequate,” he says. “I do not share the Federal Treasurer’s assessment that the economy and the housing market are headed for a soft landing. Data released by the RBA this week shows that the structural imbalances in the economy are actually becoming worse with household debt as a proportion of disposable income hitting a new record of 190.4%.

“Because of the failure of Australia’s political elites and the policy establishment, the probability of a disorderly unwinding, particularly of Australia’s household and foreign debt bubbles, have dramatically increased over the past six months and will continue to increase as global economic and financial instability increases. “Millions of ordinary, financially unprepared, Australians are now at the mercy of the international markets and foreign policy makers. Australian history contains several examples of where similar pre conditions have resulted in an economic apocalypse, resulting in a significant proportion of the Australian people being left economically destitute.”

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Sanctions don’t really work in this case.

World-Beating Wealth Props Up Qatar Against Arab Sanctions (R.)

A month after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism, it is suffering from isolation but is nowhere near an economic crisis. The alliance against it, meanwhile, may not have options to inflict further damage. As the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, Qatar is so rich – at $127,660, its gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power terms is the highest of any country, according to the IMF – it can deploy money to counter almost any type of sanction. In the past month it has arranged new shipping routes to offset the closure of its border with Saudi Arabia, deposited billions of dollars of state money in local banks to shore them up, and drawn the interest of some of the West’s biggest energy firms by announcing a plan to raise its LNG output 30%.

The success of these initiatives suggests Qatar could weather months or years of the current sanctions if it has the political will to do so – and that further sanctions being contemplated by the alliance may not prove decisive. On Wednesday, the alliance said Qatar, which denies any support for terrorism, had missed a deadline to comply with its demands. Further steps against Doha will be taken in line with international law “at the appropriate time”, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. Saudi media reported this week that the new sanctions would include a pull-out of deposits and loans from Qatar by banks in alliance states, and a “secondary boycott” in which the alliance would refuse to do business with firms that traded with Qatar. Those steps would cause further pain for Qatar, but not to the point of destabilizing its financial system or breaking the peg of its riyal currency to the U.S. dollar, senior Qatari businessmen and foreign economists said.

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“..a soft month for Toronto real estate market..”, “..a better supplied market and a moderating annual pace of price growth…”

Home Sales In Greater Toronto Area Plunged 37.3% Last Month (CP)

The number of homes sold last month in the Greater Toronto Area plunged a whopping 37.3% compared to the same month a year ago, the city’s real estate board said Thursday, weeks after Ontario introduced measures aimed at cooling the housing market. The Toronto Real Estate Board said 7,974 homes changed hands in June while the number of new properties on the market climbed 15.9% year over year to 19,614. The average price for all properties was $793,915, up 6.3% from the same month last year. In April, the Ontario government implemented rules intended to dampen Toronto’s heated real estate market, where escalating prices have concerned policy-makers at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Ontario’s measures, retroactive to April 21, include a 15% tax on foreign buyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, expanded rent controls and legislation allowing Toronto and other cities to tax vacant homes. “We are in a period of flux that often follows major government policy announcements pointed at the housing market,” TREB president Tim Syrianos said in a statement. “On one hand, consumer survey results tell us many households are very interested in purchasing a home in the near future, but some of these would-be buyers seem to be temporarily on the sidelines waiting to see the real impact of the Ontario Fair Housing Plan. On the other hand, we have existing homeowners who are listing their home because they feel price growth may have peaked. The end result has been a better supplied market and a moderating annual pace of price growth.”

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60-odd years later, it’s still true: “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.”

The Fast Track to “Carmageddon” (David Stockman)

Back in the 1950s when GM had 50% of the auto market they always said that, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” That was obviously a tribute to GM’s economic muscle and its role as the driver of growth and rising living standards in post-war America’s booming economy. Those days are long gone for both GM and the nation. GM’s drastically reduced 20% market share of U.S. light vehicle sales in June was still an economic harbinger, albeit of a different sort. GM offered a record $4,361 of cash incentives during June. That was up 7% from last year and represented 12% of its average selling price of $35,650 per vehicle, also a record. But what it had to show for this muscular marketing effort was a 5% decline in year-over-year sales and soaring inventories. The latter was up 46% from last June.

My purpose is not to lament GM’s ragged estate, but to note that it — along with the entire auto industry — has become a ward of the Fed’s debt-fueled false prosperity. The June auto sales reports make that absolutely clear. In a word, consumers spent the month “renting” new rides on more favorable terms than ever before. But that couldn’t stop the slide of vehicle “sales” from its 2016 peak. In fact, June represented the 6th straight month of year-over-year decline. And the fall-off was nearly universal — with FiatChrysler down 7.4%, Ford and GM off about 5% and Hyundai down by 19.3%. The evident rollover of U.S. auto sales is a very big deal because the exuberant auto rebound from the Great Recession lows during the last six years has been a major contributor to the weak recovery of overall GDP.

In fact, overall industrial production is actually no higher today than it was in the fall of 2007. That means there has been zero growth in the aggregate industrial economy for a full decade. Real production in most sectors of the U.S. economy has actually shrunk considerably, but has been partially offset by a 15% gain in auto production from the prior peak, and a 130% gain from the early 2010 bottom. By comparison, the index for consumer goods excluding autos is still 7% below its late 2007 level. So if the so-called “recovery” loses its automotive turbo-charger, where will the growth come from?

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20th Anniversary, Asian Financial Crisis.

Clinton, The IMF And Wall Street Journal Toppled Suharto (Hanke)

On August 14, 1997, shortly after the Thai baht collapsed on July 2nd, Indonesia floated the rupiah. This prompted Stanley Fischer, then the Deputy Managing Director of the IMF and presently Vice Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, to proclaim that “the management of the IMF welcomes the timely decision of the Indonesian authorities. The floating of the rupiah, in combination with Indonesia’s strong fundamentals, supported by prudent fiscal and monetary policies, will allow its economy to continue its impressive economic performance of the last several years.” Contrary to the IMF’s expectations, the rupiah did not float on a sea of tranquility. It plunged from a value of 2,700 rupiahs per U.S. dollar to lows of nearly 16,000 rupiahs per U.S. dollar in 1998. Indonesia was caught up in the maelstrom of the Asian Financial Crisis.

By late January 1998, President Suharto realized that the IMF medicine was not working and sought a second opinion. In February, I was invited to offer that opinion and was appointed as Suharto’s Special Counselor. Although I did not have any opinions on the Suharto government, I did have definite ones on the matter at hand. After nightly discussions at the President’s private residence, I proposed an antidote: an orthodox currency board in which the rupiah would be fully convertible into and backed by the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate. On the day that news hit the street, the rupiah soared by 28% against the U.S. dollar on both the spot and one year forward markets. These developments infuriated the U.S. government and the IMF. Ruthless attacks on the currency board idea and the Special Counselor ensued. Suharto was told in no uncertain terms – by both the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the Managing Director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus – that he would have to drop the currency board idea or forego $43 billion in foreign assistance.

Economists jumped on the bandwagon, trotting out every imaginable half-truth and non-truth against the currency board idea. In my opinion, those oft-repeated canards were outweighed by the full support for an Indonesian currency board by four Nobel Laureates in Economics: Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, Merton Miller, and Robert Mundell. Also, Sir Alan Walters, Prime Minister Thatcher’s economic guru, a key figure behind the establishment of Hong Kong’s currency board in 1983, and my colleague and close collaborator, endorsed the idea of a currency board for Indonesia. Why all the fuss over a currency board for Indonesia? Merton Miller understood the great game immediately. As he said when Mrs. Hanke and I were in residence at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, the Clinton administration’s objection to the currency board was “not that it wouldn’t work, but that it would, and if it worked, they would be stuck with Suharto.”

Much the same argument was articulated by Australia’s former Prime Minister Paul Keating: “The United States Treasury quite deliberately used the economic collapse as a means of bringing about the ouster of Suharto.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger weighed in with a similar diagnosis: “We were fairly clever in that we supported the IMF as it overthrew (Suharto). Whether that was a wise way to proceed is another question. I’m not saying Mr. Suharto should have stayed, but I kind of wish he had left on terms other than because the IMF pushed him out.” Even Michel Camdessus could not find fault with these assessments. On the occasion of his retirement, he proudly proclaimed: “We created the conditions that obliged President Suharto to leave his job.”

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Hmm. Treating this is an American phenomenon is not useful. It’s global. And that has a lot to do with deteriorating economic conditions. Centralization is only accepted as long as it has tangible benefits for people.

Our Political Parties Are Obsolete (CH Smith)

History informs us that once something is obsolete, it can disappear far faster than anyone expected. While we generally think of obsoleted technologies vanishing, social and political systems can become obsolete as well. Should a poor soul who entered a deep coma a year ago awaken today, we must forgive his/her astonishment at the political wreckage left by the 2016 election. The Democratic Party, a mere year ago an absurdly over-funded machine confident in an easy victory in the presidential race, is now a complete shambles: its leadership in free-fall, its Fat-Cat donors disgusted, and its demented intoxication with pinning collaboration with Russia on the Trump camp eroding whatever feeble legacy legitimacy it still holds. What the party stands for is a mystery, as its Elites are clearly beholden to insiders, special interests and Corporate donors while glorifying the worst excesses of globalism and the National Security State’s endless war on civil liberties.

The newly awakened citizen would also marvel at the chaotic war zone of the Republican Party, in which the Insider Warlords are battling insurgent Outsiders, while the same Elites that fund the Democratic machine are wondering what they’re buying with their millions of dollars in contributions, for it’s unclear what the Republican Party stands for: it’s for Small Government, except when it’s for Bigger Government, which is 95% of the time; it’s for more law enforcement and the militarization of local police, and more intrusion into the lives of the citizenry; it’s for stricter standards for welfare, except for Corporate Welfare; it’s for tax reform, except the thousands of pages of give-aways, loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations all remain untouched, and so on: a smelly tangle of special interests masked by a few sprays of PR air freshener to the millions left behind by the globalization that has so enriched Corporate America and the class of financier-owners, bankers, insiders and technocrats–the same group that funds and controls both political parties.

Political parties arose to consolidate centralized control of the central state. We have now reached the perfection of this teleology: the political elites and the financial elites are now one class. In our pay-to-play “democracy,” only the votes of wealth and institutional power count. As I have often noted here, the returns on centralization are diminishing to less than zero. The initial returns on centralizing capital, production and social-political power were robust, but now the centralized cartel-state is eating its own tail, masking its financial bankruptcy by borrowing from the future, and cloaking its political bankruptcy behind the crumbling facades of the legacy parties. Now that technology has enabled decentralized currency, markets and governance, the centralized political parties are obsolete.

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Erdogan was never going to withdraw his troops. That’s the whole story. Guterres just looks foolish.

Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse (R.)

Talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus collapsed in the early hours of Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after a stormy final session. “I’m very sorry to tell you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties … the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” he told a news conference. The collapse marked a dramatic culmination of more than two years of a process thought to be the most promising since the island was split more than 40 years ago. Guterres had flown in on Thursday to press Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to seal a deal reuniting the east Mediterranean island, while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had phoned to urge them to “seize this historic opportunity”.

Diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus have failed since the island was riven in a 1974 Turkish army invasion triggered by a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece. The week of talks in the Swiss Alps, hailed by the United Nations as “the best chance” for a deal, ground to a halt as the two sides failed to overcome final obstacles. Diplomats said Turkey had appeared to be offering little to Greek Cypriots wanting a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, although the Greek Cypriots had indicated readiness to make concessions on Turkish Cypriot demands for a rotating presidency, the other key issue. Guterres finally called a halt at 2 a.m. after a session marred by yelling and drama, a source close to the negotiations said. “Unfortunately… an agreement was not possible, and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem,” Guterres said.

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Dec 082016
 
 December 8, 2016  Posted by at 4:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Nov 032015
 
 November 3, 2015  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jovcho Savov Guernica 2015

The Market May Have Had Enough of Share Buybacks (Bloomberg)
Debt Traders Send Warning On Corporate America’s Balance Sheet Fiesta (BBG)
Money Is Flooding Out Of Canada At The Fastest Pace In The Developed World (BBG)
The Self-Defeating, ‘Grand Delusion’ of Monetary Policy (WSJ)
Foreign Banks Use US Repo Deals To ‘Window-Dress’ Risk (FT)
China State Owned Enterprise Debt Explodes By $1 Trillion In September (Chiecon)
Six Ways to Gauge How Fast China’s Economy Is Actually Growing (Bloomberg)
China Financial Crackdown Intensifies as Funds, Banks Targeted (Bloomberg)
VW Emissions Scandal Widens To Include Porsche, Audi Claims (Guardian)
ECB Officials Met Regularly With Financial Institutions on Key Moments (WSJ)
Standard Chartered Cuts 15,000 Jobs And Raises $5.1 Billion (BBC)
TransCanada Requests Suspension of US Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline (WSJ)
Coywolf: Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts (Economist)
Melting Ice In West Antarctica Could Raise Seas By 3 Meters (Guardian)
Abrupt Changes In Food Chains Predicted As Southern Ocean Acidifies Fast (SMH)
October’s Migrant, Refugee Flow To Europe Matched Whole Of 2014 (Reuters)
Merkel Rejects Shutting Border Amid Standoff With Party Critics (Bloomberg)
Erdogan’s Election Win Means He Can Dictate Terms To EU On Refugees (Guardian)
Winter Is Coming: The New Crisis For Refugees In Europe (Guardian)
No Place Left On Lesvos To Bury Dead Refugees (AP)
Powerful Gestures: America and Refugees (New Yorker)

What will Apple do now?

The Market May Have Had Enough of Share Buybacks (Bloomberg)

It’s no secret that companies have been borrowing in the bond market to pay their shareholders through generous buybacks. But Citigroup credit analysts, led by Stephen Antczak, suggest that the robbing Peter to pay Paul dynamic that has dominated the investment landscape in recent years may be coming to an end as the credit cycle begins to turn and a meaningful pickup looms in the corporate default rate. In fact, they say, there is evidence this is already happening.

“The three-fold increase in share buybacks in the past five years has been the key driver of corporate re-leveraging. In large part, buybacks have been the result of strong incentives provided to corporate managers by activists in particular and equity investors in general … Companies that spent more on shareholder handouts and less on investments have tended to get higher price/earnings ratios in the market. But there are signs that this may be changing. Recent conversations that we’ve had with equity [portfolio managers] suggest that they have become far more focused on revenue growth, and are placing far less of a premium on any financially engineered EPS growth. The fact that a basket of stocks that [has] been reducing shares outstanding is meaningfully underperforming the S&P 500 on a beta-adjusted basis suggests that this view may not be that of just the investors we talk to, but far more broadbased (Figure 1).”

The theory here is that as the credit cycle turns and the prospect of an increase in the corporate default rate becomes a reality for the first time in many years, shareholders who have a claim on the future cash flows of companies will stop rewarding behavior that might meaningfully jeopardize those cash flows. Corporate leverage, or company indebtedness, has already been rising, much to the detriment of bond investors.

Read more …

If the Fed doesn’t raise rates, the markets will.

Debt Traders Send Warning On Corporate America’s Balance Sheet Fiesta (BBG)

Credit traders are sending an ominous message to U.S. companies: Either stop borrowing so much money or prepare to face some serious consequences. Investors are now demanding a 61% bigger premium over benchmark rates to own top-rated bonds of industrial companies compared with June 2014. Such debt has lost 4.2% in the period when stripping out gains from benchmark government rates, with relative yields rising to 1.8 percentage points from 1.1 percentage points 16 months ago, BoAML index data show. Part of this is just saturation in the face of yet another year of record-breaking bond sales. Investment-grade companies have issued more than a trillion dollars of bonds so far in 2015 on top of the $5 trillion in the previous five years, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

But this year’s weakness in credit markets isn’t just a technical blip; it highlights a significant deterioration in corporate balance sheets. After all, what have these companies done with the money they’ve raised? They’ve bought back their own shares and paid dividends to their shareholders. What they haven’t done is use the money to improve their businesses. It’s getting to the point where even stockholders are tiring of their companies’ repurchasing shares and borrowing money simply because it’s cheap. [..] equity investors are essentially asking corporations to be more conservative with their balance sheets. Here’s why: Top-rated non-financial companies have increased their median leverage to 2.2 times debt relative to income, compared with 1.6 times in 2011, according to JPMorgan Chase.

Bond investors, meanwhile, are still buying top-rated issues, because what else are they going to buy? Central banks from China to Europe are injecting more stimulus into their economies, driving yields lower even as the Federal Reserve debates raising benchmark rates in the U.S. All-in yields of 3.4% on U.S. investment-grade company bonds look pretty generous when compared with the 0.5% yields on 10-year German government bonds. “There are some fundamental problems here,” said Lisa Coleman, head of global investment-grade credit at JPMorgan Asset Management. “This is representative of late-cycle growth. We’re more cautious on credit.” Cracks are starting to form, and they’re getting deeper. This is the first year since 2009 that credit-rating downgrades are significantly outpacing upgrades. Also, the more debt these companies pile on, the more vulnerable they become to a bad blowup that will leave them with extremely bloated balance sheets relative to revenues.

Read more …

Where will the loonie go?

Money Is Flooding Out Of Canada At The Fastest Pace In The Developed World (BBG)

Money is flooding out of Canada at the fastest pace in the developed world as the nation’s decade-long oil boom comes to an end and little else looks ready to take the industry’s place as an economic driver. Canada’s basic balance — a measure of national accounts that spans everything from trade to financial-market flows – swung from a surplus of 4.2% of GDP to a deficit of 7.9% in the 12 months ending in June, according to analysis from Kamal Sharma at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That’s the fastest one-year deterioration among 10 major developed nations. More recent data on where companies and mutual-fund investors are putting their money show the trend extended into the second half of the year, suggesting demand for the Canadian dollar and the country’s assets is still ebbing.

The currency is already down 11% this year, after touching an 11-year low against the U.S. dollar in September. “This is Canadian investors that are pushing money abroad,” said Alvise Marino at Credit Suisse in New York. “The policy in Canada the last 10 years has greatly favored investments in energy. Now the drop in oil prices made all that investment unprofitable.” Crude oil, among the nation’s biggest exports, has collapsed to about half its 2014 peak. The slump has derailed projects this year in Canada’s oil sands — one of the world’s most expensive crude-producing regions. Shell’s decision to put its Carmon Creek drilling project on ice last week lengthened that list to 18, according to ARC Financial.

Canadian companies, meanwhile, have been looking abroad for acquisitions. Royal Bank of Canada is expected to close its US$5.4 billion purchase of Los Angeles-based City National Corp. Monday, its biggest-ever takeover. It’s part of a net outflow of $73 billion this year for mergers and acquisitions, both completed and announced, according to Credit Suisse data. Nine of the 10 best-performing companies on the country’s benchmark stock index in the past two years have favored buying growth abroad rather than expanding at home. Individuals are following suit. While international appetite for Canadian financial securities has held steady this year, domestic mutual-fund investors have pulled money from Canada-focused funds and plowed it into global choices for six straight months, the longest streak in two years, according to data compiled by Bank of Montreal.

Read more …

Central banks need to have their powers cut.

The Self-Defeating, ‘Grand Delusion’ of Monetary Policy (WSJ)

Signs persist that the global economy isn’t well. In China, the official manufacturing PMI remained at 49.8, under the 50-line that delineates expansion and contraction. In the U.S., the ISM’s October manufacturing survey fell to 50.1, its lowest rate in two years. Both reports are just the latest in what has largely been a string of disappointing data. Six years after the market bottomed, the data also highlights the struggles the world’s central banks have had lighting a fire under the global economy. The Fed alone has pumped more than $3.5 trillion into the economy since the financial crisis. Yet economic growth has continually fallen short of expectations. Now a growing chorus is arguing that these central-bank policies appears to be self-defeating.

The zero-rate environment is hampering the economy, J.P. Morgan’s David Kelly argued in a paper last week, by short-circuiting the kinds of fundamental trends that usually attend to healthy economies – savings, for example, and the wealth that comes from investment income when rates are higher. It also sends a distinctive signal about the Fed’s own expectations for the economy. Why should anybody feel confident, invest in their future, if the Fed itself isn’t confident enough to take rates off the floor? Through a series of granular arguments, he arrives at the conclusion that the Fed needs to start raising rates. Not aggressively, but modestly. It will encourage savings, which will improve wealth growth, since higher rates will lead to higher interest income for savers. It will encourage borrowing, as borrowers will want to lock in lower rates while they can.

It will also send a strong message that the Fed is confident in the economy. All this will ultimately boost demand, Mr. Kelly says, not sap it. “The most urgent point is simply that, right now, the economy could do with a little more demand,” he said. “We believe that the positive impacts of income, wealth, confidence and expectations effects are only slightly offset by negative price effects and thus the first few rate increases would actually boost demand.” He isn’t holding his breath, however. He doesn’t expect the Fed will at all be swayed by his arguments.

“After almost seven years full years of a zero-interest rate policy, this seems like wishful thinking,” he said. “Sadly, it is probably more likely that we get stuck in a ‘stagnation equilibrium’ where a zero interest rate policy actually reduces demand in the economy, prompting the Federal Reserve to prescribe even further doses of a medicine that, for a longtime, has been impeding rather than promoting economic recovery.” Ultimately, he says the Fed is operating from a false premise: that raising rates will hurt demand. Or he could have stated it more bluntly, as Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research did in his Monday note: the Fed’s notion that it can control the business cycle, he said, is a “grand delusion.”

Read more …

“..routinely cutting about $170bn of balances at the end of each quarter to appear safer and more profitable..”

Foreign Banks Use US Repo Deals To ‘Window-Dress’ Risk (FT)

Foreign banks operating in the US short-term debt markets are “window-dressing” their accounts, routinely cutting about $170bn of balances at the end of each quarter to appear safer and more profitable, says a new study. The study from the Office of Financial Research describes a pattern of behaviour that has prevailed since July 2008, and suggests that the banks are carrying more risk than their investors or customers can easily see. The study examines the vast market for repurchase agreements, or repos, where banks lend out assets in return for short-term financing. It finds that dealers sell heavily to customers in the last days of the quarter, and immediately buy assets back once the new quarter starts. By trimming their balance-sheets over that brief period, the foreign banks can report better quarter-end ratios of capital to total assets.

US banks, which have to report average daily balances over the quarter, do not make similar adjustments, the study found. This abrupt, seasonal rhythm .. is consistent with a pattern of ‘window-dressing’, wrote Greg Feldberg at the OFR, in a blog post. Analysts said the behaviour outlined in the study has shades of the notorious “Repo 105” trades that Lehman Brothers used to bring down its reported leverage in the quarters leading up to its collapse. In that programme, the broker accepted a relatively high 5% fee in order to count its repo transactions as true sales, even though it remained under a contractual obligation to buy the assets back. Joshua Ronen at New York Stern School of Business said the OFR’s study – which did not cite individual banks by name – showed that lenders with the lowest capital ratios were making the biggest quarter-end reductions.

One bank pointed out that foreign banks will have to adopt US-style daily leverage reporting requirements by January 2018, and that many had already begun to adjust their repo activities to comply with daily averaging — including reducing the absolute amounts and quarter-end adjustments. For now, though, outsiders should take the banks’ reported ratios with a pinch of salt, said Mayra Rodriguez Valladares of MRV Associates, a former official at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “If they’re moving assets around to look better it is a big problem for us, as we don’t get to see the day-to-day information,” she said.

Read more …

China is a Ponzi.

China State Owned Enterprise Debt Explodes By $1 Trillion In September (Chiecon)

China’s state owned enterprises added almost 6 trillion yuan (around 1 trillion dollars) of debt in September, described by Luo Yunfeng, an analyst at Essence Securities, as “an unprecedented increase in leverage”. This means that not only is the government abandoning its deleverage policy, it is actually increasing leverage. Latest Ministry of Finance data shows that by the end of September total SOE debt had reached 77.68 trillion yuan, representing a increase of 5.93 trillion yuan on August, and an increase of over 11 trillion yuan in 2015. According to Luo “it’s possible that debt that was originally classified as government debt, has been reallocated as SOE debt”. This might be a reflection of how the government plans to tackle its massive debt.

Luo mentions that one of the obstacles to managing government debt is that it remains difficult to draw a line between government and SOE debt. The crux of current reform plans to increase the role of market forces is aimed at resolving this issue. If it really is the case of shifting government debt to SOEs, then it represents a step forward for this reform, and the prospect of revaluing credit risk. Another implication, it seems unlikely there will be a pause in government debt increase over the fourth quarter. This raises the more important question of what will be the impact of this enormous debt? Over the past few years credit expansion has surpassed economic growth, and with the governments aggressive leverage, will this lead to a greater waste of resources?

In order to protect economic growth, the Chinese government has increased leverage since 2008. According to calculations by The Economist, the proportion of total debt to GDP has risen sharply, already standing at more than 240%, with total debt reaching 161 trillion yuan ($25 trillion). In the past four years, this debt to GDP ratio increased by nearly 50%. The Economist points out this is a double-edged sword, as the incremental growth effects diminish with increasing leverage. Whereas in the six years prior to the financial crisis an increase in debt of 1 yuan resulted in Chinese economic output increasing by 5 yuan, these days it only results in an increase of 3 yuan.

Even if this is the case, with China experiencing slowing economic growth, and no turnaround on the horizon, its seems likely the Chinese government will continue to increase leverage. In September, China Merchants Securities stated that since Chinese government debt leverage ratio is still low, lower than the US, Europe and Japan, there is still more room for leverage. Haitong Securities said at the start of the year that in order to prevent systemic risk the focus over the next few years will be on government leverage. Based on the experience of other countries, monetary easing almost certainly follows an increase in government leverage, with interest rates in the long term trending to zero.

Read more …

No, I will not apologize for picking the lowest two estimates. I’m too inclined to think the likes of Bloomberg will be reluctant to publish really bad numbers, lest Beijing will restrict their access.

Six Ways to Gauge How Fast China’s Economy Is Actually Growing (Bloomberg)

Statistics with Chinese characteristics make it difficult to get a handle on how well the world’s second-largest economy is doing. In particular, questions surrounding the way China adjusts its growth figures into real terms often leave investors searching for a better way to judge its economic momentum. Thankfully, Wall Street economists have developed a number of proxies, using an array of indicators, to gauge Chinese growth better. Recently, Bloomberg Intelligence Chief Asia Economist Tom Orlik compiled six of these metrics in a report for Bloomberg Briefs. “All of the proxies suggest growth in 2015 has been lower than the 6.9% reported by the National Bureau of Statistics for the third quarter,” he wrote.

“Most show an increasing divergence with the last year or two, suggesting the official numbers may be upward biased during downturns.” One common problem for economists in constructing these proxy indexes: the dearth of data on the Chinese services sector. Orlik notes that this may serve as a partial explanation for the difference between the proxy gauges and the official data, as the tertiary sector has been gaining ground on the industrial segments of the economy.

Capital Economics draws on five indicators to build its proxy for Chinese activity: freight volume, passenger numbers, electricity output, seaport cargo volume, and the area of floor space currently under construction. “The China Activity Proxy suggested that the official figures were broadly accurate until around 2012,” wrote chief Asia economist Mark Williams. “Since then, it has added weight to the view that the official GDP data overstate the true rate of economic growth—most recently by a couple of percentage points or more.” According to this metric, Chinese GDP growth came in at 4.4% in the third quarter, the slowest pace of expansion implied by all the proxies featured in the brief.

Lombard Street employs a novel approach in putting together its estimate for Chinese growth. The official statistics for real GDP growth have been too smooth over the years, economist Michelle Lam and head of research Diana Choyleva believe, suggesting that the manner in which the data are adjusted might be faulty. As such, the pair uses nominal GDP (not adjusted for price changes) as its starting point, then uses a range of price indexes to deflate the figures into “real” terms. “Our preliminary estimates show growth at an annual rate of just 2.9% in the third quarter of 2015, way lower than the official 7.4%,” they wrote.

Read more …

A typical newsline: “Agricultural Bank of China President Zhang Yun was taken away to assist authorities with an investigation..”

China Financial Crackdown Intensifies as Funds, Banks Targeted (Bloomberg)

China’s crackdown on its financial industry is intensifying as authorities investigate strategies blamed for exacerbating a $5 trillion stock-market rout. Shanghai police raided hedge fund Zexi Investment on Sunday, taking away computers and other materials, according to a person familiar with the matter. General manager Xu Xiang was detained, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Executives at Yishidun International Trading and Huaxin Futures were arrested, Xinhua said in a separate report. Adding to evidence that a clampdown on the financial industry is spreading, Agricultural Bank of China President Zhang Yun was taken away to assist authorities with an investigation, people familiar with the matter said on Monday, without giving details.

The Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is carrying out its first broad checks on the finance industry since President Xi Jinping became the party’s head in November 2012. The summer’s stock-market rout in China has triggered investigations that have snared executives from the country’s biggest securities firm as well as a fund managers and a top regulatory official. “The biggest-ever storm is brewing for China’s financial industry and more heads will roll,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. Xu, who founded the top-performing hedge fund firm Zexi, was detained on charges including insider trading and stock manipulation, the Xinhua reported.

Two executives at Jiangsu-based Yishidun International Trading and the technical director at Shanghai-based Huaxin Futures were arrested after a police investigation showed they made 2 billion yuan ($316 million) in “illegal profit,” Xinhua reported separately, citing the Ministry of Public Security. Sina.com reported earlier on Monday that Agricultural Bank’s Zhang had been taken away and didn’t attend a disciplinary committee meeting. Assisting with an investigation doesn’t mean Zhang is accused of wrongdoing.

Read more …

The lies keep coming. A sign that things are set to get much worse, that there’s lots more in the closet?

VW Emissions Scandal Widens To Include Porsche, Audi Claims (Guardian)

The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal has deepened after US authorities accused the carmaker of installing defeat devices into luxury sports cars including Porsches. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which uncovered the initial emissions rigging at VW, claims the carmaker installed defeat devices in VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles with three-litre engines in models with dates ranging from 2014 to 2016 This marks the first time that Porsche, which is owned by VW, has been dragged into the scandal. It is troubling for the new chief executive of VW, Matthias Müller, because he ran Porsche before becoming boss of the group.

The EPA has made the allegations after conducting further tests on diesel vehicles in the US since VW admitted in September it had used defeat devices to cheat emissions tests. The new allegations include the 2015 Porsche Cayenne as well as the 2014 VW Touareg and the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L, and Q5. In total, it involves 10,000 vehicles in the US. In a statement VW denied it had fitted any devices on the vehicles. The statement said: “Volkswagen AG wishes to emphasise that no software has been installed in the 3-liter V6 diesel power units to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner. Volkswagen will cooperate fully with the EPA clarify this matter in its entirety.”

VW has already admitted fitting a defeat device to 11m vehicles worldwide, but this related to cars with smaller engines and did not include any Porsche cars or SUVs. Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the office for EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance, said: “VW has once again failed its obligation to comply with the law that protects clean air for all Americans. All companies should be playing by the same rules. EPA, with our state, and federal partners, will continue to investigate these serious matters, to secure the benefits of the Clean Air Act, ensure a level playing field for responsible businesses, and to ensure consumers get the environmental performance they expect.”

Read more …

Almost normal.

ECB Officials Met Regularly With Financial Institutions on Key Moments (WSJ)

Top officials from the European Central Bank met regularly with representatives from financial institutions over the past 15 months, including one meeting that occurred on the same day as a key gathering of the ECB’s governing board, according to documents released Monday by the ECB. The disclosure of the appointment calendar of the ECB’s six-member executive board, as part of a public-access request, came amid changes to the ECB’s communications policies following the release of market-sensitive information in May to a closed-door conference that included hedge-fund managers. Such meetings aren’t unusual, but the calendar points to the delicate balance for officials who benefit from the market intelligence provided by private-sector economists and investors but must also avoid the perception that individual banks are benefiting from this access.

According to the calendars, ECB executive board member Benoît Coeuré met with representatives of BNP Paribas on the morning of Sept. 4, 2014, hours before the ECB announced a reduction in its interest rates and the creation of a new four-year lending program for banks. The day before that two-day meeting began, Mr. Coeuré met with UBS on Sept. 2, as did another executive board member, Yves Mersch, according to the meeting calendars. Mr. Mersch also met with BNP Paribas on Sept. 4 last year, although that was after the ECB meeting concluded. “The ECB does not operate in a vacuum. Regular contacts with different groups, including representatives from the financial sector help us understand the dynamics of the economy and financial markets. We make sure that at such meetings no financial market-sensitive information is disclosed,” an ECB spokeswoman said.

Read more …

Banks no longer need bankers.

Standard Chartered Cuts 15,000 Jobs And Raises $5.1 Billion (BBC)

Standard Chartered, the Asia-focused UK bank, is to cut 15,000 jobs and raise $5.1bn to create a “lean, focused and well-capitalised” group. About $3bn being raised in the rights issue will cover restructuring costs. The strategic review was announced as Standard Chartered reported a “disappointing” third-quarter operating loss of $139m for the three months to September. That figure compared with a profit of $1.5bn a year earlier. Bill Winters, who replaced Peter Sands as Standard Chartered’s chief executive in June this year, announced a strategic review of the bank’s organisational structure when he took over. He put a new management team in place in July and analysts have been expecting the bank to seek additional capital to shore up its balance sheet for some time.

Standard Chartered shares fell 4% on the Hang Seng stock exchange in Hong Kong. Mr Winters acknowledged the challenging business environment within which the lender was operating. Growing regulatory costs and controls in the wake of the financial crisis have weighed on big lenders in the UK, US and Australia. Standard Chartered has already shed some businesses, in Hong Kong, China and Korea, to help improve its capital position. Among its various plans outlined on Tuesday, Standard Chartered said a “step-up in cash investment” by more than $1bn would be used to help reposition its retail banking, private banking and wealth management businesses, as well as upgrade its Africa franchise and yuan services.

“This comprehensive programme of actions will result in a lean, focused and well capitalised international bank, poised for growth across our dynamic and growing markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” Mr Winters said. Temasek, Singapore’s state investor and Standard Chartered’s largest shareholder, supported the share sale, the bank said. Standard Chartered employs 86,000 people and makes about 90% of its profits from operations across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Read more …

It’s dead.

TransCanada Requests Suspension of US Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline (WSJ)

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline on Monday asked the U.S. government to suspend its permit application, throwing the politically fraught project into an indefinite state of limbo, beyond the 2016 U.S. elections. In a letter, TransCanada asked the State Department, which reviews cross-border pipelines, to suspend its application while the company goes through a state review process in Nebraska it had previously resisted. The move comes in the face of an expected rejection by the Obama administration and low oil prices that are sapping business interest in Canada’s oil reserves. “In order to allow time for certainty regarding the Nebraska route, TransCanada requests that the State Department pause in its review of the presidential permit application,” the Calgary, Alberta, company said in the letter.

TransCanada’s move comes as the State Department was in the final stages of review, with a decision to reject the permit expected as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter. It must now decide whether to accept the company’s request or proceed with a final decision. TransCanada in September signaled it was shifting its strategy when it dropped state legal challenges and efforts to seize land in Nebraska for the pipeline. Company officials hoped those moves would extend the review process in Washington—perhaps until a potential Republican administration in 2017 would approve the project—while details on the Nebraska portion of the route were worked out.

Read more …

“As well as having small territories, coywolves have adjusted to city life by becoming nocturnal. They have also learned the Highway Code, looking both ways before they cross a road.”

Coywolf: Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts (Economist)

Like some people who might rather not admit it, wolves faced with a scarcity of potential sexual partners are not beneath lowering their standards. It was desperation of this sort, biologists reckon, that led dwindling wolf populations in southern Ontario to begin, a century or two ago, breeding widely with dogs and coyotes. The clearance of forests for farming, together with the deliberate persecution which wolves often suffer at the hand of man, had made life tough for the species. That same forest clearance, though, both permitted coyotes to spread from their prairie homeland into areas hitherto exclusively lupine, and brought the dogs that accompanied the farmers into the mix Interbreeding between animal species usually leads to offspring less vigorous than either parent—if they survive at all.

But the combination of wolf, coyote and dog DNA that resulted from this reproductive necessity generated an exception. The consequence has been booming numbers of an extraordinarily fit new animal spreading through the eastern part of North America. Some call this creature the eastern coyote. Others, though, have dubbed it the “coywolf”. Whatever name it goes by, Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, reckons it now numbers in the millions. The mixing of genes that has created the coywolf has been more rapid, pervasive and transformational than many once thought. Javier Monzón, who worked until recently at Stony Brook University in New York state (he is now at Pepperdine University, in California) studied the genetic make-up of 437 of the animals, in ten north-eastern states plus Ontario. He worked out that, though coyote DNA dominates, a tenth of the average coywolf’s genetic material is dog and a quarter is wolf.

The DNA from both wolves and dogs (the latter mostly large breeds, like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds), brings big advantages, says Dr Kays. At 25kg or more, many coywolves have twice the heft of purebred coyotes. With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer. A pack of them can even kill a moose. Coyotes dislike hunting in forests. Wolves prefer it. Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain and densely wooded areas, says Dr Kays. And even their cries blend those of their ancestors. The first part of a howl resembles a wolf’s (with a deep pitch), but this then turns into a higher-pitched, coyote-like yipping.

The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago. This is astonishing. Purebred coyotes never managed to establish themselves east of the prairies. Wolves were killed off in eastern forests long ago. But by combining their DNA, the two have given rise to an animal that is able to spread into a vast and otherwise uninhabitable territory. Indeed, coywolves are now living even in large cities, like Boston, Washington and New York. According to Chris Nagy of the Gotham Coyote Project, which studies them in New York, the Big Apple already has about 20, and numbers are rising.

Read more …

Interesting seemingly contradictory reports.

Melting Ice In West Antarctica Could Raise Seas By 3 Meters (Guardian)

A key area of ice in west Antarctica may already be unstable enough to cause global sea levels to rise by 3m, scientists said on Monday. The study follows research published last year, led by Nasa glaciologist Eric Rignot, warning that ice in the Antarctic had gone into a state of irreversible retreat, that the melting was considered “unstoppable” and could raise sea level by 1.2m. This time, researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research pointed to the long-term impacts of the crucial Amundsen Sea sector of west Antarctica, which they said “has most likely been destabilised.” While previous studies “examined the short-term future evolution of this region, here we take the next step and simulate the long-term evolution of the whole west Antarctic ice sheet,” the authors said in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They used computer models to project the effects of 60 more years of melting at the current rate. This “would drive the west Antarctic ice sheet past a critical threshold beyond which a complete, long-term disintegration would occur.” In other words, “the entire marine ice sheet will discharge into the ocean, causing a global sea level rise of about 3m,” the authors wrote. “If the destabilisation has begun, a 3m increase in sea level over the next several centuries to millennia may be unavoidable.” Even just a few decades of ocean warming can unleash a melting spree that lasts for hundreds to thousands of years. “Once the ice masses get perturbed, which is what is happening today, they respond in a non-linear way: there is a relatively sudden breakdown of stability after a long period during which little change can be found,” said lead author Johannes Feldmann.

The authors noted that Antarctica’s situation presents the largest uncertainty in sea level projections for the coming centuries, and that studying the vast region poses many challenges. And indeed, just days before the PNAS study was released, another scientific paper used Nasa satellite data form 2003 to 2008 to show that Antarctic ice had gained mass, and had packed on enough to exceed the amount lost in other areas. “We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of west Antarctica,” said a statement by Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with Nasa Goddard Space Flight centre whose study was published on 30 October in the Journal of Glaciology.

“Our main disagreement is for east Antarctica and the interior of west Antarctica – there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.” According to climatologist Michael Mann, who was not involved in either study, the use of older satellite data could be the cause for the disconnect. “It sounds to me as if the key issue here is that the claims are based on seven-year-old data, and so cannot address the finding that Antarctic ice loss has accelerated in more recent years,” he told AFP.

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We would do well to get a lot more material on acidification.

Abrupt Changes In Food Chains Predicted As Southern Ocean Acidifies Fast (SMH)

The Southern Ocean is acidifying at such a rate because of rising carbon dioxide emissions that large regions may be inhospitable for key organisms in the food chain to survive as soon as 2030, new US research has found. Tiny pteropods, snail-like creatures that play an important role in the food web, will lose their ability to form shells as oceans absorb more of the CO2 from the atmosphere, a process already observed over short periods in areas close to the Antarctic coast. Ocean acidification is often dubbed the “evil twin” of climate change. As CO2 levels rise, more of it is absorbed by seawater, resulting in a lower pH level and reduced carbonate ion concentration. Marine organisms with skeletons and shells then struggle to develop and maintain their structures.

Using 10 Earth system models and applying a high-emissions scenario, the researchers found the relatively acidic Southern Ocean quickly becomes unsuited for shell-forming creatures such as pteropods, according to a paper published Tuesday in Nature Climate Change. “What surprised us was really the abruptness at which this under-saturation [of calcium carbonate-based aragonite] occurs in large areas of the Southern Ocean,” Axel Timmermann , a co-author of the study and oceanography professor at the University of Hawaii told Fairfax Media. “It’s actually quite scary.” Since the Southern Ocean is already close to the threshold for shell-formation, relatively small changes in acidity levels will likely show up there first, Professor Timmermann said: “The background state is already very close to corrosiveness.”

Below a certain pH level, shells of such creatures become more brittle, with implications for fisheries that feed off them since pteropods appear unable to evolve fast enough to cope with the rapidly changing conditions. “For pteropods it may be very difficult because they can’t run around without a shell,” Professor Timmermann said. “It’s not they dissolve immediately but there’s a much higher energy requirement for them to form the shells.” Given the sheer scale of the marine creatures involved, “take away this biomass, [and] you have avalanche effects for the rest of the food web”, he said.

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“Certainly in 2016, we have to expect this level of arrivals to continue, and that’s because the facts that are causing people to move aren’t going away..”

October’s Migrant, Refugee Flow To Europe Matched Whole Of 2014 (Reuters)

The number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea last month was roughly the same as that for the whole of 2014, United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday. The monthly record of 218,394 also outstripped September’s 172,843, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said. “That makes it the highest total for any month to date and roughly the same as the entire total for 2014,” he said. The UNHCR puts 2014 arrivals by sea at about 219,000. At the peak, 10,006 arrived in Greece’s shores on a single day, Oct. 20. The vast majority of refugees and migrants to Europe have traveled via Turkey to Greece, a switch from the previously more popular African route via Libya to Italy. The largest group by nationality are Syrians, accounting for 53% of arrivals, as a result of the civil war that has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Afghans come second, making up 18% of the total. The flow of refugees into Europe, however, is still dwarfed by the numbers in Syria’s neighbors. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have Syrian refugee numbers exceeding 2 million, 1 million and 600,000 respectively. Globally, 60 million people are refugees or displaced within their own country, not counting economic migrants. UNHCR said in October that it was planning for up to 700,000 refugees in Europe this year and a similar or greater number in 2016. But that plan has already been eclipsed, with 744,000 arriving so far. Some 3,440 are estimated to have died or gone missing in the attempt to escape to Europe. “Certainly in 2016, we have to expect this level of arrivals to continue, and that’s because the facts that are causing people to move aren’t going away,” said Edwards. “It is the new reality that we all have to deal with.”

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Merkel needs to call a ‘heavy’, highest-level UN emergency summit. Obama needs to be there, and Putin, Xi Jinping. Assad perhaps, Erdogan. Tsipras. Tens of billions of dollars must be assigned.

Merkel Rejects Shutting Border Amid Standoff With Party Critics (Bloomberg)

Angela Merkel refused to bow to pressure to shut borders even as the German leader struggles to fix a rift in her governing coalition over how to tackle the country’s biggest influx of migrants since World War II. Facing unrest from within her Christian Democratic Union, the chancellor fielded questions from party members at an event Monday in the western city of Darmstadt. “I’m working, just as you expect, to ensure that the number of refugees goes down,” Merkel told CDU members. “But to all those who say we should shut the German border to Austria, I don’t think that will solve the problem.”

As Germany braces for as many as a million people seeking shelter from war and poverty this year, Merkel said the country can’t afford to turn inward, but has to instead embrace geopolitical challenges “much more actively.” The refugee crisis shows that Germany can’t resist the globalizing forces around it. “We’re experiencing something we’ve never experienced before, that conflicts that appear to be far away suddenly are here on our doorstep,” Merkel said. With public concern mounting and party support on the slide, the political veteran is navigating yet another stormy week as lawmakers return to Berlin for a parliamentary session that will again be dominated by the crisis. A Tuesday caucus meeting will provide a baromoter of anti-Merkel sentiment even if she’s in no immediate political danger.

After meeting for some 10 hours over the weekend with Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, her biggest internal critic, Merkel offered qualified support for so-called transit zones to weed out economic migrants. Sending back migrants from safe-origin countries wouldn’t end the turmoil because “there are so many” making their way to Germany, she said. With Bavaria the main gateway to Germany for those pouring over the border from Austria, Seehofer has said the state government would take unspecified action if Merkel didn’t meet his demands. In the last two months, 344,000 refugees entered Bavaria, according to the state’s interior ministry. “The number of refugees has to be urgently limited or reduced,” Seehofer said.

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The EU is prepared to sell European souls and refugees’ lives to the devil.

Erdogan’s Election Win Means He Can Dictate Terms To EU On Refugees (Guardian)

Europe is praying that the return of Turkey s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) to a solid parliamentary majority will help it cope with the mass movement of people northwards and westwards from the Middle East. There is a strong chance the prayers will end in tears. On Monday the European commission had only good things to say about the triumph of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey s irascible leader. Sunday’s election ‘reaffirmed the strong commitment of the Turkish people to democratic processes’, Brussels said. The EU will work with the future government to enhance the EU-Turkey partnership and cooperation across all areas.

The main area is immigration since Turkey is the pivotal country between Europe and Syria and is the main source of the hundreds of thousands trekking up the Balkans to the gates of the EU. Brussels and Berlin are desperate to get Erdogan onside to stem the flow. At home, he is walking tall again. Thirteen years after leading his party into power, he has secured another parliamentary majority despite suffering a major setback to his ambitions in a stalemated poll in June. The power equation in the troubled Ankara-Brussels relationship has also just tilted decisively in his favour. The three weeks preceding Sunday s election saw an unseemly rush to Turkey by European politicians, the busiest bout of diplomacy between the two sides in years, solely driven by the migration crisis.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, cleared her diary to get to Istanbul. Erdogan came to Brussels. The commission watered down and delayed publication of a critical report on Turkey s authoritarian drift under Erdogan, while drafting in record time an ‘action plan for immigration control with Turkey’. Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, brushed aside concerns about human rights abuses and media crackdowns. He tried to get Turkey added to an EU list of third countries deemed to be safe for refugees. Merkel, too, is known to believe that when it comes to the immigration emergency and Turkey, European interests may have to hold sway over European values. It is arguable whether the sudden EU wooing of Erdogan helped him to his surprise majority.

The photo opportunities with Merkel, at the very least, did no harm. But while there was no proper government sitting in Ankara (which had been the case since June), it was clear there could be no quick deal on refugees. That has now changed. Erdogan rules the roost at home and he is a strong exponent of the winner-takes-all school of politics. He will also be dictating the terms for the Europeans. The price for any pact to contain the flow will be extortionate.

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How can Europe survive this?

Winter Is Coming: The New Crisis For Refugees In Europe (Guardian)

Record numbers of migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October – just in time for the advent of winter, which is already threatening to expose thousands to harsh conditions. The latest UN figures, which showed 218,000 made the perilous Mediterranean crossing last month, confirm fears that the end of summer has not stemmed the flow of refugees as has been the pattern in previous years, partly because of the sheer desperation of those fleeing an escalating war in Syria and other conflicts. The huge numbers of people arriving at the same time as winter is raising fears of a new humanitarian crisis within Europe’s borders. Cold weather is coming to Europe at greater speed than its leadership’s ability to make critical decisions.

A summit of EU and Balkan states last week agreed some measures for extra policing and shelter for 100,000 people. But an estimated 700,000 refugees and migrants, have arrived in Europe this year along unofficial and dangerous land and sea routes, from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, north Africa and beyond. Tens of thousands, including the very young and the very old, find themselves trapped in the open as the skies darken and the first night frosts take hold. Hypothermia, pneumonia and opportunistic diseases are the main threats now, along with the growing desperation of refugees trying to save the lives of their families. Fights have broken out over blankets, and on occasion between different national groups. Now sex traffickers are following the columns of refugees, picking off young unaccompanied stragglers.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is distributing outdoor survival packages, including sleeping bags, blankets, raincoats, socks, clothes and shoes, but the number of people it can reach is limited by its funding, which has so far been severely inadequate. Volunteer agencies have tried to fill the gaping hole in humanitarian provisions in Europe. Peter Bouckaert, the director of emergencies for Human Rights Watch, said that all the way along the route into Europe through the Balkans “there is virtually no humanitarian response from European institutions, and those in need rely on the good will of volunteers for shelter, food, clothes, and medical assistance”.

Europe has found itself ill-prepared to deal with its biggest influx of refugees since the second world war. It is hurriedly improvising new mechanisms so that it can respond collectively as a continent rather than individual nations, but it is a race against time and the elements – a race Europe is not guaranteed to win. “There is a risk of collapse”, said Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief. “Because when you’re facing a challenge and you don’t have the instruments to do it, you risk failing. So it could be that if we don’t manage to create common instruments to deal with this on a European level, we fall back on the illusion that we can face it through national instruments, which we see very clearly doesn’t work. Mogherini added: “Either we take this big step and adapt or yes, we do have a major crisis. I would say even an identity crisis”.

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Can it get any sadder?

No Place Left On Lesvos To Bury Dead Refugees (AP)

The mayor of the Greek island of Lesvos says theres no more room to bury the increasing number of asylum-seekers killed in shipwrecks of smuggling boats coming in from nearby Turkey. Mayor Spyros Galinos told Greece’s Vima FM radio Monday there were more than 50 bodies in the morgue on his eastern Aegean island that he was still trying to find a burial location for. Galinos said he was trying to fast-track procedures so a field next to the main cemetery could be taken over for burials. Hundreds of thousands of people have made the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greek islands this year. With rougher fall weather coming on, the bodies of 19 people were recovered from the Aegean in three separate incidents on Sunday alone.

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“In the end, the U.S. admitted more than a million Southeast Asian refugees.”

Powerful Gestures: America and Refugees (New Yorker)

President Jimmy Carter championed human rights, but his Administration had been reluctant to open America’s doors to Cambodians fleeing starvation and fighting between Vietnam’s army of occupation and the guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge. In late 1979, as the crisis turned catastrophic, Carter came under pressure from his Democratic rival, Senator Edward Kennedy, and he sent his wife to the chaotic border camps. Rosalynn Carter walked among the hungry and the dying, trailed by a hundred and fifty reporters. She held a starving baby in her arms while speaking to the infant’s mother, who lay on the ground. “Give me a smile,” she told another woman, kissing her forehead. Afterward, Mrs. Carter said that she wanted to hurry home “and tell my husband.” The spotlight that her trip shone on the camps helped to mobilize international aid and resettlement efforts.

In the end, the U.S. admitted more than a million Southeast Asian refugees. Most of them proved adaptable to American values. It’s easy to forget that every act of American generosity toward refugees has had to overcome stiff resistance based in ignorance. Historically, Presidential action has made the difference. After the Second World War, Congress passed legislation that made resettlement in the U.S. harder for Jewish victims of Nazism than for Germans uprooted by the war Hitler started. The chairman of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, Chapman Revercomb, of West Virginia, wrote, “Many of those who seek entrance into this country have little concept of our form of government. Many of them come from lands where Communism had its first growth and dominates the political thought and philosophy of the people.”

It took the angry persistence of President Harry Truman to get Congress to expand the numbers and remove the discriminatory provisions. There are four million refugees from the Syrian civil war, surpassing the staggering Indochinese numbers, and making this one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War. Last month, as many as nine thousand people a day were crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. But the U.S. has accepted fewer than two thousand Syrians. In September, President Obama announced an increase in the quota for the coming year to ten thousand. That figure represents just half the monthly total of Indochinese refugees brought here in 1980. One refugee advocate called it “an embarrassingly low number.” And yet even this humble goal is unlikely to be reached.

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