President Trump is not going to be too happy with the New York Fed’s latest nowcast for Q3 2018. The staff projection, based upon the latest data, shows annualized quarter-on-quarter GDP growth slowing to 2% per annum. At the end of 2017 it was 4%, and even at the end of Q2 it was 3%.
The Atlanta Fed’s nowcast, which calculates GDP growth in the same way as the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, also shows GDP growth slowing in Q3, though from a higher level. The Atlanta Fed’s growth estimate for Q3 is 4.1%. President Trump will no doubt be happy with this, but not so happy with the fact that at the beginning of August the estimate was 5%.
So what has gone wrong? Why are the nowcasts suggesting that U.S. economic growth is beginning to slow? The indicators that go into the NY Fed’s nowcasts have been gradually turning red for some time now. There appears to be something of a downturn going on in the housing market; both new starts and sales have fallen. Exports have fallen and imports have risen, apparently because of worsening terms of trade, most likely due to the strong dollar. Most recently, manufacturers have drawn down inventories, and there is a fall in orders and shipments for durable goods. There are no dramatic drops, but it all adds up to a gradual economic slowdown.
Euro zone countries have asked for too much from the Greek people in return for international bailout loans, former Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview on Dutch television on Saturday. “On reforms, we have asked a lot from the Greek people, too much,” Dijsselbloem told current affairs program Nieuwsuur. “Reforms are hard enough to accomplish in a society with a well-functioning government, but this was obviously not the case in Greece.” Greece emerged from the biggest bailout in economic history on Aug. 20, after receiving 288 billion euros in financial aid since 2010, with the European Union as its biggest lender.
During the crisis, the Greek economy shrank by a quarter, pushing a third of the population into poverty and driving thousands to move abroad. “Greece is obviously not a success story,” Dijsselbloem said. “Their crisis has been so deep, that you can’t call it a success.” Dijsselbloem chaired the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers from 2013 until the beginning of 2018, and led dozens of lengthy emergency meetings during which bailouts for Greece, Cyprus and the Spanish banking sector were grudgingly pieced together.
European authorities never allowed a conversation around the core imperative of reducing Greece’s debt burden. Syriza formed a government on January 25, 2015. On January 31, Erkki Liikanen, governor of Finland’s central bank and, in that capacity, a member of the ECB’s Governing Council, threatened that the ECB would stop funding Greek banks if the Greek government did not agree to the terms of the creditors. And on February 4, the ECB decided Greece’s fate. In an aggressive move that took everyone by surprise, the ECB cut off funding to Greek banks, preemptively immobilizing the Greek government before it could begin negotiations with its creditors.
The ECB withdrew an earlier arrangement under which Greek banks used their government bonds as collateral (security) to obtain funds for running their day-to-day operations. Although Greek government bonds had a junk rating and normally only higher-rated bonds qualified as collateral, the ECB had waived that requirement to help the banks stay afloat. With its February 4 decision, the ECB revoked that waiver. Greek banks could now borrow only from the Greek central bank under an Emergency Liquidity Arrangement (ELA); ELA funds carried a higher interest rate and, moreover, could be turned off at any time, thus choking the Greek financial system.
Stock prices of Greek banks fell sharply, and two days later, the rating agency S&P pushed the government bonds’ rating further into junk territory. With continuing deposit flight from Greek banks and the threat of a financial meltdown, the Syriza government rapidly lost all leverage before it could use its economic argument in a political negotiation.
Ethiopia has been lauded by experts from China’s ruling Communist Party as a “model country” in Beijing’s $126 billion Belt and Road initiative to build rail, road and sea links tying China to Eurasia and Africa. But as the Horn of Africa nation of 100 million people faces debt distress, there are signs that China, a major creditor, is slowing financing to Ethiopia as doubts grow over the profitability of some infrastructure projects there. “The intensifying repayment risks from the Ethiopian government’s debt reaching 59 percent of GDP is worrying investors,” China’s mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa said on its website in July.
It said that Chinese investment in the country was cooling and that the China Export and Credit Insurance Corp was reducing the scale of its investment there. Against a backdrop of rising worry over African indebtedness to China, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will visit Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which starts on Monday. He is due to meet Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and is expected to court investment from Chinese firms into Ethiopia’s agro-industrial and pharmaceutical businesses, China’s Xinhua news agency said. Ethiopia has been a top destination for Chinese loans in Africa, despite its lack of natural resources, with state policy banks extending it more than $12.1 billion since 2000, according to the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington (SAIS).
Theresa May has insisted she will not be forced into watering down her Brexit plan during negotiations with the EU. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister says she will “not be pushed” into compromises on her Chequers agreement that are not in the “national interest”. But Mrs May also warns she will not “give in” to those calling for a second referendum on the withdrawal agreement. She says it would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy and… trust”. The People’s Vote, a cross-party group including some MPs, is calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal. The UK is on course to leave the EU on 29 March and the government had previously ruled out another referendum.
The prime minister writes that the coming months are “critical in shaping the future of our country”, but that she is “clear” about her mission in fulfilling “the democratic decision of the British people”. She adds that following the Chequers agreement in July – which led to the resignation of two cabinet ministers – “real progress” has been made in Brexit negotiations. While there is more negotiating to be done, Mrs May writes: “We want to leave with a good deal and we are confident we can reach one.” The government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario, even though this would create “real challenges for both the UK and the EU” in some sectors, she says. But the PM adds: “We would get through it and go on to thrive.”
Just as they’ve voted in Imran Khan, who once suggested he might order the shooting down of U.S. drones if they entered Pakistani airspace, [and] has opposed the United States’ open-ended presence in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military said it has made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against militants, in a new blow to deteriorating ties. The so-called Coalition Support Funds were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump at the start of the year, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.” The Trump administration says Islamabad is granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies. But U.S. officials had held out the possibility that Pakistan could win back that support if it changed its behavior.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in particular, had an opportunity to authorize $300 million in CSF funds through this summer – if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents. Mattis chose not to, a U.S. official told Reuters. “Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said. Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress. He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million. The disclosure came ahead of an expected visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad. Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that combating militants would be a “primary part of the discussion.”
Cancelling out Monsanto’s name and keeping only that of Bayer, does not mean forgetting the wrongdoings of a company which, according to the verdict of the Monsanto Tribunal of The Hague, is stained with crimes of ecocide. With Bayer’s official takeover of Monsanto, the giant multinational also inherits its liabilities. On the eve of the start of the integration process, Monsanto has been held liable for causing cancer through the use of its glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup and ordered to pay $289 million of damages to the plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson in the first landmark case, settled in California in mid August 2018. The jury also found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression.”
According to Reuters, the number of lawsuits brought against Bayer’s newly acquired Monsanto is approximately 8000 in the US alone. UN experts Ms Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food and Mr. Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, defined the ruling “a significant recognition of the human rights of victims, and the responsibilities of chemical companies.” Revelations in reports published last year, most notably the “Monsanto Papers” and the “Poison Papers“, have shed light on strategies of big agrochemical groups to expand their empires: from lobbying, interference in government agencies’ proceedings, attacks in collusion with institutions on independent science, to mega mergers and acquisitions.
For the first time part of these documents were shown to a jury, which were able, among other things to also see that, “at least starting 20 years ago, Monsanto has known that their product can cause cancer, and has gone out of its way to ignore it and/or fight any science that suggests a link”, as declared to Democracy Now by Brent Wisner, the lead trial counsel for Dewayne Lee Johnson in his lawsuit against Monsanto. Added to this, in the same week, California’s Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Monsanto to the state’s decision to include glyphosate in its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens.
I am standing on the ocean. Ahead of me, the world is split into two perfect halves: blue sky above, white sea ice below. The view is clean and simple, but a continuous waltz of swirling and shunting is hidden inside those two colours: the inner workings of the Arctic engine. This place is special for many reasons, and to appreciate one of the most unusual all I need to do is to live; to breathe. The air is -2C, but the air coming from my lungs is invisible. The familiar wisps of cold breath that I associate with crisp winter air in Britain are absent. They cannot form here. And that anomaly is connected in a fundamental way to our presence here, on a scientific expedition to study this environment. For two months, the Swedish icebreaker Oden is home to 74 of us, living and working at the top of the world to tap into the stories that the blue and the white have to tell.
The Arctic has held on to its mystique for centuries. Many western explorers have pitted their wits, strength, and endurance against this environment, while traditional Arctic communities have learned to work with the complexities of the ice rather than against them. Those of us who live well south of the Arctic circle hear a lot about how the white in the north is changing, but less about how it is. It’s hard to construct a secondhand mental image of what it’s like here. There are no landmarks and you cannot step in the footprints of the past. This is an ocean with an icy shell that cracks and shifts as it’s pushed by the wind, breaking apart into separate floes or piling up to form ridges.
The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending December 6, released today, completes the second month of the QE-unwind. Total assets initially zigzagged within a tight range to end October where it started, at $4,456 billion. But in November, holdings drifted lower, and by December 6 were at $4,437 billion, the lowest since September 17, 2014:
“Balance sheet normalization?” Well, in baby steps. But the devil is in the details. The Fed’s announced plan is to shrink the balance sheet by $10 billion a month in October, November, and December, then accelerate the pace every three months. By October 2018, the Fed would reduce its holdings by up to $50 billion a month (= $600 billion a year) and continue at that rate until it deems the level of its holdings “normal” – the new normal, whatever that may turn out to be. Still, the decline so far, given the gargantuan size of the balance sheet, barely shows up. As part of the $10-billion-a-month unwind from October through December, the Fed is supposed to unload $6 billion in Treasury securities a month plus $4 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) a month.
The Fed doesn’t actually sell Treasury securities outright. Instead, it allows some of them, when they mature, to “roll off” the balance sheet without replacement. When the securities mature, the Treasury Department pays the holder the face value. But the Fed, instead of reinvesting the money in new Treasuries, destroys the money – the opposite process of QE, when the Fed created the money to buy securities. This happens only on dates when Treasuries that the Fed holds mature, usually once or twice a month. In October, the big day was October 31, when $8.5 billion of Treasuries on the Fed’s books matured. The Fed reinvested $2.5 billion and let $6 billion “roll off.” Hence, the amount of Treasuries fell by about $6 billion from an all-time record $2,465.7 billion on October 25 to $2,459.8 billion on November 1.
This rising tide isn’t lifting many boats. Wage growth in the U.S. has failed to pick up this year despite a steady decline in the unemployment rate. The sluggishness has been relatively broad-based across the labor market, including among low-skilled workers, who might seem to be the most likely candidates for bigger pay increases as labor becomes scarcer. The bottom 20% of workers by average industry pay received a 3.9% increase in hourly earnings in October from a year earlier, marking an acceleration from a 3.4% advance in the year through October 2016. The detailed industry numbers for October were released on Friday along with the Labor Department’s main employment report for November.
However, the following chart shows that the entire pickup over the last year can be traced to a single industry: security and armored car services, which only accounts for 0.6% of private-sector employment, but has seen wages shoot up by almost 20%. Removing security and armored car services from the picture knocks the 3.9% wage growth for the bottom quintile down to 3.3%. That means it’s been more than a year since workers in the other low-paying industries have seen any acceleration in wage growth. The biggest employers of low-skilled workers are restaurants, general merchandise retailers, grocery stores, elderly care services, janitorial services and child day-care. Among those industries, restaurants are doling out the biggest pay increases (4.4% in the year through October), even though wage growth for those workers has been decelerating this year. General merchandise stores are giving out the smallest raises of the group at 1.4%.
On Nov. 12, someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange. The news soon rippled through online forums, with bitcoin traders arguing about whether it meant the owner was about to sell the digital currency. Holders of large amounts of bitcoin are often known as whales. And they’re becoming a worry for investors. They can send prices plummeting by selling even a portion of their holdings. And those sales are more probable now that the cryptocurrency is up nearly twelvefold from the beginning of the year. About 40% of bitcoin is held by perhaps 1,000 users; at current prices, each may want to sell about half of his or her holdings, says Aaron Brown, former managing director and head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management.
What’s more, the whales can coordinate their moves or preview them to a select few. Many of the large owners have known one another for years and stuck by bitcoin through the early days when it was derided, and they can potentially band together to tank or prop up the market. “I think there are a few hundred guys,” says Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital. “They all probably can call each other, and they probably have.” One reason to think so: At least some kinds of information sharing are legal, says Gary Ross, a securities lawyer at Ross & Shulga. Because bitcoin is a digital currency and not a security, he says, there’s no prohibition against a trade in which a group agrees to buy enough to push the price up and then cashes out in minutes.
Crypto-‘currency’ or total carnage? Mike Novogratz doesn’t see “quick adoption” of Bitcoin as a currency, preferring to think of it as ‘digital gold’. Perhaps this is one reason why. Amid its meteroic rise, Bitcoin is now 20 times more volatile than the US Dollar… As MINT Partners’ Bill Blain exclaims, next week sees the improbable launch of Bitcoin futures:
“This looks like having the potential to be a clusterf*ck of monumental proportions when it bursts. Every bank knows BTC’s extraordinary gains are a crowd delusion fuelled by the extraordinary promise of free wealth! Yet, many will be willing to trade and settle them for their clients – largely retail. Bitcoin has become the ultimate Klondyke. Most folk don’t have a clue what BTC and the associated Blockchain ledger might be, but everyone knows what the price action has been. Where that price is going is clouded by a lack of clarity on the technological nuances, distorted by Libertarian/Geek monetary gobbledy-gook, confused by a plethora of me-too coin offerings, speculators who see the chance of a quick buck, and investors scared they are missing out.”
“I’ve spent most of this week learning more and more about the limitations of Blockchain and two things are crystal clear – it doesn’t work, and it’s an evolutionary dead end that nimbler cryptocurrencies will take the niche of. But I still don’t understand why we need them at all? If its central banks you object to, let’s have a private cryptocurrency based on gold, or oil, or something else tangible… but based on some computer babble? Not for me. On the other hand, the long-term possibilities that BTC exploits in terms of Blockchain distributed ledgers are very real. Blockchain applications are going to utterly change finance.
The third round of QE was officially halted in 2014 in the USA. However, the world’s other main central banks acted in rotation — passing the baton of QE, like in a relay race — so that when the US slacked off, Japan, Britain, the ECB, and the Bank of China, took over money-printing duties. And because money flies easily around the world via digital banking, a lot of that foreign money ended up in “sure-thing” US capital markets (as well as their own ). Mega-tons of “money” were created out of thin air around the world since the near-collapse of the system in 2008. And magically, with no negative consequences! Yet. Now, Europe and Japan are making noises about dropping their batons. China’s banking system is so opaque and perverse — because it is unaccountable except to the ruling party with its own agenda — that it’s quite impossible to tell what they are really doing, though the signs of mal-investment are obvious and startling.
And the UK’s finances are tied up in its messy divorce proceedings with the EU (with the British standard of living dropping markedly meanwhile). In short, the torrent of global “liquidity” looks to be slowing to a trickle. The expectation is that this would make stock markets go down and bond interest rates to go up (fewer buyers), perhaps a lot. The dirty open secret here is that these central bank interventions are the only means for keeping the capital markets up, and that the markets are just a Potemkin false front for Western economies that are drying up and blowing away. That is certainly the experience here in the USA, where banking hocus-pocus now accounts for about 30% of GDP, and most of that activity is either out-and-out fraud or swindling, or collecting rents and dividends on past frauds and swindles.
Dem/Prog America in its Silicon Valley gourmet employee bistros and Hamptons lawn parties thinks that the flyover Trumpist Red State world of meth, joblessness, and anomie is some kind of a Netflix hallucination. But no, it’s for real. The center of the ole US of A is hollowed out. The bad news is that it probably has enough juice left in its disaffected youth, and certainly enough weaponry, to start a very serious insurrection if it continues to get dissed. Enter the joker in the deck: Bitcoin. Though it pulled back a couple of thou overnight, this strange investment vehicle blasted through $18,000-per-Bitcoin in the past 24 hours, roughly tripling from $6000 in one month. It even endured the hacking of one of its exchanges, NiceHash, where $70 million was looted without so much as a stutter in the upward thrust of the chart. Whatever else Bitcoin is — and I would suggest a “Ponzie,” a “mania,” a “con” — this thing is a message.
China’s banking association is organizing discussions on the nation’s proposed new asset-management rules, the group said in a social media posting, dismissing as “untrue” reports that some lenders have submitted a petition to policy makers on the subject. The statement comes after regulators last month proposed sweeping guidelines to curb risks in the nation’s $15 trillion of asset-management products, prompting a three-day drop in sovereign bonds and driving stocks to a two-month low before a late rally amid speculation state-backed funds would stem excessive losses.
The rules are scheduled to come into effect in 2019. Earlier this week, Reuters cited three people it didn’t identify as saying that some Chinese joint-stock banks had objected to the proposals, saying they would have a big impact on financial markets and possibly trigger systemic risks. The China Banking Association, in its WeChat post Friday, said it is helping formulate opinion on the draft. The new rules will be applied to the 29 trillion yuan ($4.4 trillion) of wealth-management products issued by banks, 17.5 trillion yuan of trust products, as well as asset-management plans sold by insurers, fund managers and brokerages, according to the regulators’ statement. Institutions will be required to set aside risk provisions equivalent to 10% of the management fees, they said.
Steinhoff International Holdings – which acquired nine companies in the past two years, including Mattress Firm Holding in the US, and which presides over a cobbled-together empire of retailers and assorted other companies in the US, Europe, Africa, and Australasia – issued another devastating announcement today: It cancelled its “private” annual meeting with bankers in London on Monday and rescheduled it for December 19. This is the meeting when the company normally discusses its annual report with its global bankers. The annual report should have been released on Wednesday, December 6. But on precisely that day, the company announced cryptically that “accounting irregularities” had “come to light” that required “further investigation,” and that CEO Markus Jooste had been axed “with immediate effect,” and that it would postpone its annual report indefinitely.
This is raising serious questions about the company’s viability as a going concern. The lack of transparency doesn’t help. To soothe investors, the company announced on Thursday that it was trying to prop up its liquidity by selling some units ASAP. And it made more cryptic statements: It “has given further consideration to the issues subject to the investigation and to the validity and recoverability” of some assets of “circa €6 billion” ($7 billion). “The validity and recoverability” of assets worth $7 billion? The company is infamous for its opaque communications which equal its opaque corporate structure. It’s considering selling “certain non-core assets that will release a minimum of €1 billion of liquidity.” It also “committed” to wringing out €2 billion from its subsidiary Steinhoff Africa Retail Limited (STAR) by refinancing “on better terms” some debt that the subsidiary owes the parent company, which the subsidiary should be able to handle, “given the strong cash flow.”
With these measures, it hopes “to be able to fund its existing operations and reduce debt.” Shareholders and bondholders were aghast. The shares, traded in Frankfurt and held widely by international investors, had still been in the €5-range in June. But in August, German prosecutors said they were probing if Steinhoff had booked inflated revenues at its subsidiaries. Shares began to drop. By Tuesday, there were down 41% at €2.95. On Wednesday, after the “accounting irregularities” had “come to light,” shares crashed 64% to €1.07. By Friday, they’d dropped to €0.47. Market capitalization plunged by about €18 billion ($21 billion) since June to €2 billion.
CNN on Friday corrected an erroneous report that Donald Trump Jr. had received advance notice from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks about a trove of hacked documents that it planned to release during last year’s presidential campaign. In fact, the email to Mr. Trump was sent a day after the documents, stolen from the Democratic National Committee, were made available to the general public. The correction undercut the main thrust of CNN’s story, which had been seized on by critics of President Trump as evidence of coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. It was also yet another prominent reporting error at a time when news organizations are confronting a skeptical public, and a president who delights in attacking the media as “fake news.”
Last Saturday, ABC News suspended a star reporter, Brian Ross, after an inaccurate report that Donald Trump had instructed Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, to contact Russian officials during the presidential race. The report fueled theories about coordination between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, and stocks dropped after the news. In fact, Mr. Trump’s instruction to Mr. Flynn came after he was president-elect. Several news outlets, including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, also inaccurately reported this week that Deutsche Bank had received a subpoena from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for President Trump’s financial records. The president and his circle have not been shy about pointing out the errors.
[..] CNN’s erroneous scoop, about the email to Donald Trump Jr., rocketed around cable news and social media on Friday morning. But it fell apart after The Washington Post reported that the email — which included a decryption key to access hacked documents — was dated Sept. 14, not Sept. 4, as CNN initially reported. WikiLeaks publicized links to the documents in question on Sept. 13. CNN said that its report had been based on information from two sources and vetted by the network’s in-house fact-checking team. But both sources were apparently incorrect about the date of the message. [..] “Between this and Brian Ross’ Flynn mistake, the mainstream media is doing a great job of bolstering Trump’s claims about fake news,” wrote James Surowiecki, a former columnist for The New Yorker. “It’s the most obvious thing to say, but reporters need to SLOW DOWN. Being right is more important than being first.”
The main aim of the first Greek memorandum, especially, was to rescue investors outside Greece, outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem admitted in the Europarliament on Thursday. “There were mistakes in the first programmes, we improvised. The way we dealt with the banks was expensive and ineffective. It is true that our aim was to rescue investors outside Greece and for this reason I support the rules for bail-ins, so that investors aren’t rescued with tax-payers’ money,” said Dijsselblem in reply to independent Greek MEP Notis Marias. Dijsselbloem noted that it had been a huge crisis because the fiscal sector had faced the risk of a total collapse that would have left many countries with a high debt. However, he pointed out that banks had only needed €4.5 billion in the third programme because the private sector had a huge participation.
Referring to the non-performing loans, he said that a private solution that did not once again place the burden on tax-payers was near. He also pointed to measures being taken in Greece for the protection of the socially weaker groups, to make sure that they were not the victims of the auctions. Referring to the early payment of the IMF loans with the remaining money of the programme, the Eurogroup chief said that this made sense financially, given that the IMF’s loans were more expensive than those of the Europeans. However, from a political point of view, the Eurogroup prefers that the IMF remain fully involved in the Greek programme, with its own responsibilities, he added. In any case, he noted that the final decisions on debt relief will be made later, when the programme is concluded and the sustainability of the Greek debt has been examined.
Before speculative bubbles could form around Dotcom companies (late-1990s) or housing prices (mid-2000s), some of the first financial bubbles formed from the prospect of trading with faraway lands. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why. Companies like the Dutch East India Company (known in Dutch as the VOC, or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) were granted monopolies on trade, and they engaged in daring voyages to mysterious and foreign places. They could acquire exotic goods, establish colonies, create military forces, and even initiate wars or conflicts around the world. Of course, the very nature of these risky ventures made getting any accurate indication of intrinsic value nearly impossible, which meant there were no real benchmarks for what companies like this should be worth.
The Dutch East India Company was established as a charter company in 1602, when it was granted a 21-year monopoly by the Dutch government for the spice trade in Asia. The company would eventually send over one million voyagers to Asia, which is more than the rest of Europe combined. However, despite its 200-year run as Europe’s foremost trading juggernaut – the speculative peak of the company’s prospects coincided with Tulip Mania in Holland in 1637. Widely considered the world’s first financial bubble, the history of Tulip Mania is a fantastic story in itself. During this frothy time, the Dutch East India Company was worth 78 million Dutch guilders, which translates to a whopping $7.9 trillion in modern dollars.
When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. Don’t worry, this essay isn t going to be a jeremiad against them, that would be too easy, and too shallow, but that is where the story of how modern economics failed the economy and how to understand how to undo it should begin. Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.
What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place. If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.
Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like. Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.
Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while, creating no value themselves. The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?
It was *because* finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t. And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.
The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech. Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place.
There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element. Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.
The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.
But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many – or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.
A flattening of government bond yield curves that may presage an economic downturn could prompt verbal interventions in the coming week by central bankers still struggling to hit this cycle’s inflation targets. ECB chief Mario Draghi, U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and BOE head Mark Carney will form an all-star panel on Tuesday at an ECB-hosted conference in Frankfurt. The subject? “Challenges and opportunities of central bank communication.” Curve-flattening on both sides of the Atlantic, but more markedly in the United States, suggests investors have doubts over the future path of inflation and may be starting to price in a downturn just as the global economy picks up speed.
Since the Fed began raising rates in 2015, the difference between long- and short-term U.S. yields has shrunk to levels not seen since before the 2008 financial crisis, reaching 67 basis points – its flattest in a decade – in the past week. That partly reflects uncertainty about the passage of a Republican-sponsored bill to cut U.S. taxes, which has hauled down longer-term projections of inflation while expectations for upcoming rate increases push short-term yields higher. With curve-flattening typically signaling a muted outlook for both growth and inflation, the trend suggests investors see a risk that the Fed’s current monetary tightening cycle will start to slow the world’s biggest economy. A flatter curve, which makes lending less profitable, also poses a risk to the banking sector, nursed back to fragile health by central banks after it nearly collapsed a decade ago. But with crisis-era policies still largely in place, how would central banks cushion the impact of a downturn?
There has been a lot of hand-wringing about junk bonds this week, that they have gotten clobbered, that losses have been taken, that this is a predictor of where stocks are headed, etc., etc., because after a steamy rally in junk-bond prices from the February 2016 low, there has now been a sell-off. When bond prices fall, bond yields rise by definition. And the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds – the upper end of the junk-bond spectrum – did this:
No one likes to lose money, and junk bonds did lose money this week, an astounding event, after all the easy money that had been made since early February 2016. But how far have yields really spiked? The chart below shows the same BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield BB Effective Yield index, but it puts that “spike” into a three-year context:
For further context, the BB yield spiked – a true spike – to over 16% during the Financial Crisis, as bond prices crashed and as credit froze up. Currently, at 4.36%, the average BB yield is off record lows, but it’s still low, and junk bond prices are still enormously inflated, given the inherent credit risks, and have a lot further to fall before any hand-wringing is appropriate. The low BB yield means that risky companies with a junk credit rating can still borrow money at near record low costs in a world awash in global liquidity that is trying to find a place to go. This shows that “financial conditions” are very easy. The market has now four Fed rate hikes under its belt and the QE unwind has commenced. Another rake hike is likely in December. Tightening is under way. By “tightening” its monetary policy, the Fed attempts to tighten financial conditions in the markets. That’s its goal.
But that hasn’t happened yet. While short-term yields have responded to the rate hikes, longer-term yields are now lower than they’d been at the time of the rate hike in December 2016. Stocks have rocketed higher. Volatility indices are near record lows. And various yield spreads have narrowed sharply – for example, the difference between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year Treasury yield is currently just 0.73 percentage points. In other words, raising money is easy and cheap. And “financial stress” in the markets, as measured by the St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index, has just hit a record low. In the chart below, the red line (= zero) represents “normal financial market conditions.” Values below the red line indicate below-average financial market stress. Values above the red line indicate higher than average financial stress. The latest reading of the index dropped to -1.60, by a hair below the prior record low in 2014:
In other words, financial conditions have never been easier despite the current series of rate hikes, the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization, and the hand-wringing about junk bonds this week. The chart below shows the Financial Stress Index going back to 2014. In that time frame, all values are below zero. Financial stress in the markets was heading back to normal in late 2015 and early 2016, as a small sector of the total markets – energy junk-bonds – were getting crushed and as the S&P 500 index experienced a downdraft. But in early February 2016, everything turned around:
Europe’s problem is huge: “..the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.” Thing is, it’s Draghi who keeps the global economy going.
The ECB faces the Devil’s Alternative that Frederick Forsyth mentioned in one of his books. All options are potentially risky. Mario Draghi knows that maintaining the so-called stimuli involves more risks than benefits, but also knows that eliminating them could make the eurozone deck of cards collapse. Despite the massive injection of liquidity, he knows that he can not disguise political risks such as the secessionist coup in Catalonia. The Ibex reflects this, making it clear that the European Central Bank does not print prosperity, it only puts a floor to valuations. The ECB wants a weak euro. But it is a game of juggling to pretend a weak euro and at the same time a strong economy. The EU countries export mostly to themselves. Member countries sell more than two-thirds of their goods and services to other countries in the eurozone.
Therefore, the more they export and their economies recover, the stronger the euro, and with it, the risk of losing competitiveness. The ECB has tried to break the euro strength with dovish messages, but it has not worked until political risk reappeared. With the German elections and the prospect of a weak coalition, the results of the Austrian elections and the situation in Spain, market operators have realized – at last – that the mirage of “this time is different “in the European Union was simply that, a mirage. A weak euro has not helped the EU to export more abroad. Non-EU exports from the member countries have been stagnant since the monetary stimulus program was launched, even though the euro is much weaker than its basket of currencies compared to when the stimulus program began. The Central Bank Trap. This shows that export growth is not achieved by artificial subsidies such as a devaluation, but from added value, something that the EU has stopped looking for.
Escape From The Central Bank Trap explains that the ECB has got itself in a problem that is not easy to solve. The first evidence is that it should have finished its stimuli months ago according to its own plan, but is unable to do it. The second is that, with more than a trillion euros of excessive liquidity, the ECB keeps a figure of repurchases that were clearly unnecessary and that have resulted in the figure of excess liquidity being multiplied by more than ten. The third is that perverse incentives have taken over the European economic policy. Risks are relevant. This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston and I explained that the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.
Now that the ECB “reduces” these repurchases to 30 billion euros per month, it will continue to be more than 100% of net issuances. What does that mean? That the US always maintained a healthy secondary market alive, which guaranteed that there would not be huge risks of collapse when tapering started, because the Federal Reserve bought less than what was issued, paying attention to the market accepting the valuations of bonds and financial assets. By extending the repurchase program, the ECB admits that it does not know if there is a secondary market that would buy European government bonds at current yields. Ask yourself a question. Would you buy bonds from a heavily indebted state that has stopped its reform impulse with a 10-year yield of less than 2%, if the ECB did not buy them back? Exactly. No.
President Donald Trump wanted to call it the Cut Cut Cut Act. Congressional Republicans settled on the less catchy and no more descriptive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. What the legislation that began making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives in early November actually would do is sharply reduce taxes for business while rearranging the personal income tax with a mix of cuts and increases. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “a game changer for our country.” The president said it was “the rocket fuel our economy needs to soar higher than ever before.” That’s a lot to expect from some changes in the tax code. But then, here in the U.S. we’ve come to expect big things of our income taxes. On the right, cutting them has been portrayed for decades as a near-magical growth elixir. On the left, raising or rearranging them is seen as essential to making society fairer.
And across the political spectrum, economic and social policies have come to rely on carving credits, deductions, and other exceptions out of the tax code to favor this or that behavior. It can sometimes feel, in fact, as if “we have lost sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues to fund government.” That was the lament of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform in November 2005. But this bipartisan group of worthies couldn’t agree on how to raise those revenues either, instead offering two plans with differing priorities. Both were mostly ignored by Congress at the time, though some of the recommendations—such as shrinking the tax deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes—have found their way into this year’s bill. Overall, though, it appears that the legislation will only make it harder to raise revenue to fund government.
The House and Senate have passed budget resolutions clearing the way for $1.5 trillion in revenue losses over the next decade from the tax changes. That’s $150 billion a year to add to a federal deficit that totaled a sinister-sounding $666 billion, 3.5% of GDP, in the just-ended fiscal year. All of which is a longer way of saying that we’ll almost certainly be back at this once again in the all-too-foreseeable future, trying to figure out a better way to fund the government. Since 1981, the year of President Ronald Reagan’s big tax cut, Congress has passed and presidents have signed 55 bills that the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center counts as “major” tax legislation. During the prior 36 years there had been just 18. [..] Ominously, most previous U.S. tax eras ended with major wars that required big increases in government revenue. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that to break us out of the cut-reform-increase-repeat loop we’re currently trapped in.
Tesla’s first-ever pure corporate bonds are trading under water, boding ill for the Silicon Valley car maker’s next attempt to tap capital markets. Tesla sold $1.8 billion in the senior notes in August at a yield of 5.300%, at the height of excitement about the Model 3 and expectations the sedan’s production ramp would run as smoothly as Chief Executive Elon Musk had predicted. That same month, Tesla shares rose 10% to mark their last monthly gain this year so far. The stock lost 4.2% in September and 2.8% in October. The stock is down 9% so far in November, on the heels of a quarterly miss earlier in the month and news that the company has further pushed out its Model 3 production targets. “Third-quarter results put some pressure on the cash flow needs,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with CFRA Research.
The wider-than-expected quarterly loss and production delays “makes it harder for them to get a sweeter deal than they had in the past,” on capital raising, be it when selling bonds or equity, he said. The 5.300% notes, which mature in 2025, were trading at 94 cents on the dollar on Friday to yield 6.287%, according to trading platform MarketAxess. On a spread basis, they were trading at 393 basis points above comparable Treasurys. The bonds fell under par within a week of issuance, but were holding above 97 cents for much of October. Wall Street has long seemed to accept that Tesla’s high capital expenses and negative free cash flow will be the reality for the company at least in the short term.
But the weak performance of the bonds may be a sign that bond investors, at least, are starting to disbelieve Tesla’s growth story and will be looking for higher premiums to take on higher risk, said Trip Miller, a managing partner at hedge fund, Gullane Capital LLC. That higher cost of borrowing will have its own negative implications, he said. “Maybe the dam is starting to break for Tesla,” Miller said. Gullane does not have a position in Tesla because “their balance sheet is very, very troublesome for us,” he said.
China must win its battle against corruption or face being erased by history, its new top graft buster said in an editorial on Saturday, underscoring the ruling Communist party’s focus on eliminating corrupt behaviour. Zhao Leji, appointed to the new seven-member politburo standing committee last month and tasked to lead president Xi Jinping’s signature war on corruption, wrote in the state-run People’s Daily that failure would lead to the party’s downfall. “If our control of the party is not strong and party governance is not strict, then the party won’t be able to avoid being erased by history and the historic task the party carries will not be able to be fulfilled,” Zhao wrote. Xi, like others before him, has warned corruption is so serious it could lead to the end of the party’s grip on power.
The president’s corruption fight has ensnared more than 1.3 million officials. At last month’s five-yearly party congress he said it would continue to target both “tigers” and “flies“, a reference to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats. Zhao, formerly a low-profile official, replaced Wang Qishan, whose sweeping anti-graft campaign had made him China’s second most-powerful politician. “The facts tell us and warn us that the party’s position as the top political leader and power is the foundation of our political stability, economic development, national unity and social stability,” Zhao wrote. Zhao leads the central commission for discipline inspection, having previously been in charge of the party’s powerful organisation department, which is in charge of personnel decisions. He added that there would be no tolerance of people who “just do what they want to do” and ignore orders or carry on with banned behaviours such as trying to get around policy decisions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed a joint statement on Syria on Saturday that said they would continue joint efforts in fighting Islamic State until it is defeated, the Kremlin said. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the Kremlin announcement or the conversation the Kremlin said took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang. The Kremlin said the statement on Syria was coordinated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson especially for the meeting in Danang. Putin and Trump confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to take an active part in the Geneva political process, it said.
Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, according to the text of the joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website. Television pictures from Danang showed Putin and Trump chatting – apparently amicably – as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea. Earlier pictures from the meeting show Trump walking up to Putin as he sits at the summit table and patting him on the back. The two lean in to speak to each other and clasp each other briefly as they exchange a few words. Although the White House had said no official meeting was planned, the two also shook hands at a dinner on Friday evening. Trump has shown little appetite for holding talks with Putin unless there is some sense that progress could be made on festering issues such as Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.
The ride-hailing firm Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights, in a case that could have major ramifications for labour rights in the growing gig economy. The US company, which claims that drivers are self-employed, said it would launch a further appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, meaning the case could end up in thesupreme court next year. Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case last year after arguing they should be classified as workers, citing Uber’s control over their working conditions. Uber challenged the ruling at the tribunal in central London, warning that it could deprive riders of the “personal flexibility they value”. It claims that the majority of its drivers prefer their existing employment status.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which backed the appeal, said drivers will still be able to enjoy the freedoms of self-employment – such as flexibility in choosing shifts – even if they have worker status. The union said the decision showed companies in the gig economy – which involves people on flexible working patterns with irregular shifts and minimal employment rights – have been choosing to “deprive workers of their rights”. Farrar said: “It is time for the mayor of London, Transport for London and the transport secretary to step up and use their leverage to defend worker rights rather than turn a blind eye to sweatshop conditions.” “If Uber are successful in having this business model, obliterating industrial relations as we know them in the UK, then I can guarantee you on every high street, in retail, fast food, any industry you like, the same thing will go on.”
Farrar said he was willing to fight the case all the way to the supreme court if necessary but called on Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, to intervene instead. “We’ve asked to meet him when he came to London and Uber declined to do that, which tells you everything.” Aslam said: “Today is a good day for workers, we made history. The judge confirmed that Uber is unlawfully denying our rights.” “It’s about making sure workers across the UK are protected. Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage. That can’t be allowed to happen.”
Greece is cracking down on undeclared income of owners leasing residential lodgings on a short-term basis. Tax authorities are creating an online platform where Airbnb lodged properties should be declared, or face a hefty fine. According to a report in Naftemporiki, registration will be mandatory and it will provide property owners with a certification number, which should be declared on any digital platform, website and social media where it is advertised – including the Airbnb website. The platform will demand the declaration of the property, the names of the renters and the duration of the lease, or otherwise face a fine of up to €5,000. Naftemporiki says that income from short-term residential leasing will be taxed based on income.
Specifically, for a taxpayer with a yearly income of up to 12,000 euros, the tax rate for income derived from short-term residential leasing will reach 15%; 35% for a taxpayer with between 12,000 to 35,000 euros in annual income. Above an annual income of 45,000 euros, a taxpayer’s income from short-term residential leasing will reach the astronomical rate of 45%, i.e. nearly one in two euros goes to the state. Tax authorities aim to collect revenue from people who put their property for lease on Airbnb, as many crisis-hit Greeks try to make ends meet by renting their homes to foreign visitors. It is estimated that three million tourists will be hosted in Greek homes in 2017.
Outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem acknowledged on Thursday that Greece’s creditors put too much emphasis on saving the banks at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. In an exchange of views on Greece in the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Dijsselbloem was asked if he agrees with the view that Greece’s first bailout programme was designed to support the banks. Dijsselbloem noted that “banks were the biggest problem in all countries,” at the start of the crisis. “We had a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis and we spent a lot of the tax-payers’ money – in the wrong way, in my opinion – to save the banks so that the people criticizing us and saying that everything was being done for the benefit of the banks were to some extent right,” he said.
“This was the reason why we introduced the banking union and the introduction of higher standards, better supervision and a reform and rescue framework when banks have losses…Precisely so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again,” Dijsselbloem added. Dijsselbloem also claimed that the labour market reforms adopted by Greece had brought “clear improvements” that were reflected in the latest unemployment figures in the country. Referring to the programme as a whole, the outgoing Eurogroup president said the economic situation in Greece had improved as a result of the reforms and stressed the need to conclude the third review on time.
The siege by Scotland Yard agents around the red brick building in Knightsbridge has been gone for two years now. And with Sweden dropping the rape investigation last May, even the European arrest warrant hanging over Julian Assange’s head like the sword of Damocles has gone. Many expected the founder of WikiLeaks to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been confined for over five years, after spending one and a half years under house arrest. But Assange hasn’t dared leave the Embassy due to concern he would be arrested, extradited to the US and charged for publishing WikiLeaks’ secret documents.
Julian Assange’s situation is unique. Like him and his work or not, he is the only western publisher confined to a tiny embassy, without access to even the one hour a day outdoors maximum security prisoners usually receive. He is being arbitrarily detained, according to a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision which has completely faded into oblivion. December 7th will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange.
That is why next Monday, La Repubblica will appear before a London Tribunal to defend the press’ right to access the documents regarding his case, after spending the last two years attempting Freedom of Information requests (FOI) without success. It is entirely possible, however, that we will never be able to access many of these documents, as last week London authorities informed us that “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered”. A questionable choice indeed: Close is the lawyer who supported the Swedish prosecutors in the Swedish investigation on Julian Assange from the beginning. What was the rationale for deleting historical records pertaining to a controversial and still ongoing case?
Interesting. I’m sure Lagarde has no idea why productivity fell. She has some textbook explanation, for sure, but her ‘solutions’ are bland: education and technology. But those were available all along as productivity was falling. Plus, technology costs jobs too. Then again, for the IMF there’s always ‘reforms’ of course: more globalization. But wait: that also costs jobs. Question then: if you lose enough jobs, will productivity rise?
The head of the IMF has issued a stark warning that living standards will fall around the world unless governments take urgent action to increase productivity by investing in education, cutting red tape and incentivising research and development. Christine Lagarde used a speech in Washington to tell policymakers they could not simply wait for innovation to drive up productivity growth and help living standards recover from the legacy of the global financial crisis. She highlighted a poor global record on productivity growth in recent years and said IMF analysis suggested GDP in advanced economies would be about 5% higher today if the pre-crisis trend had continued for total factor productivity growth – a broad measure of what goes into production, such as research spending.
“That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy,” the IMF managing director in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. Legarde warned the world could not afford to leave productivity growth in the doldrums. “Another decade of weak productivity growth would seriously undermine the rise in global living standards. Slower growth could also jeopardise the financial and social stability of some countries by making it more difficult to reduce excessive inequality and sustain private debt and public obligations. “Leaning back and waiting for artificial intelligence or other technologies to trigger a productivity revival is simply not an option.”
[..] In the UK, productivity growth has been sluggish for years and is behind most other big economies, prompting the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to pledge more investment in infrastructure and other areas with a £23bn national productivity investment fund. Calling on all governments to do more, Lagarde sought to emphasise productivity as the most important source of higher income and rising living standards. “For example, the average American worker today works only about 17 weeks to live at the annual real income level of the average worker in 1915,” she said. That kind of progress had been seen in many countries, she added. “But this engine of prosperity has slowed down in recent years, with negative consequences for growth and incomes that look very hard to unwind.”
She also echoed concerns over how rapid changes in technology had cost jobs in some sectors, hitting lower skilled workers hardest. Governments must help such workers through targeted education programmes, Lagarde said. That in turn would help solve productivity problems and create more inclusive and sustainable growth.
Something unexpected happened on the road to Obama’s economic “recovery” – according to Gallup, over the past two years, a record two-thirds, or an average of 67% of lower-income U.S. adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country. They are not alone: concern has also increased among middle- and upper-income Americans, but they still worry far less than do lower-income Americans. Some details: since 2001, worry has been highest among those residing in lower-income households, likely because those with limited financial resources are more at risk of going hungry or becoming homeless. A consistent majority of lower-income adults worried about the problem before 2012, but that has only increased in the past five years. Concern among middle-income Americans in 2016-2017 falls just short of the majority level at 47%, while 37% of upper-income Americans are worried.
Rising concern among all income groups could be a result of the political and media attention devoted to U.S. income inequality in recent years. Americans may also worry more about hunger and homelessness when other issues are not dominating the national consciousness, such as the economy and budget deficit were in 2010-2011 and terrorism was in the years after 9/11. Overall, 47% of Americans now worry about hunger and homelessness “a great deal,” according to Gallup’s March 1-5 survey, tied with 2016 as the high in the trend. Previously, concern had been as low as 35% in 2004 and as high as 45% in 2001, the first year Gallup asked the question.
trade imbalances were mostly determined by direct differences in the cost of traded goods, while capital flowed from one country to another mainly to balance trade flows. Today, however, conditions have changed dramatically. Capital flows dwarf trade flows, and investment decisions by fund managers determine their direction and size. This has profound implications for trade. Large, persistent trade surpluses such as the one China runs with the U.S. are no longer the consequence of explicitly mercantilist measures. Instead, they’re driven by policies that distort domestic savings rates by subsidizing production at the expense of households. Take Germany, for example. After a decade of trade deficits and high unemployment, worried leaders in Berlin implemented labor reforms in 2003-05 whose main effect was to weaken wage growth.
As unemployment dropped and business profits surged, the reforms also shrunk the share of national income allocated to ordinary households, driving down the consumption share as well. German businesses, blessed with higher profits, responded unhelpfully. They paid down debt instead of investing the profits, increasing the share of national income devoted to savings. As the growing gap between German savings and investment soon became among the largest in history, so did the German trade surplus. German banks exported the excess savings into other European countries, no longer protected by the interest-rate and currency adjustments proscribed under the rules of the euro. By 2009, after insolvency prevented one European country after another from absorbing any more of the German tsunami of capital outflows, these shifted to countries outside Europe.
While the experiences of China and Japan may seem different on the surface, they were broadly similar in impact. China, for example, severely repressed interest rates in order to boost growth. This simultaneously reduced the household share of Chinese GDP to among the lowest ever recorded and raised Chinese savings to among the highest – so high that, even with the fastest-rising investment in the world, China still needed large trade surpluses to make up for weak domestic demand. What happens next is the most confusing part for economists who don’t understand how trade has changed. When new capital pours into advanced economies that have always had easy access to investment – such as the U.S. and southern Europe – it doesn’t boost investment further. Instead it automatically causes savings to contract.
In Toronto, some homebuyers are so desperate to win bidding wars that they’re rushing to make offers without even getting an inspection. The average price for a detached home in Canada’s largest metropolitan area jumped to C$1.21 million ($905,950) in February, up a third from a year earlier, amid a dearth of properties for sale. In the same period, Toronto-based home-inspection firm Carson Dunlop saw a 34% drop in volume. Murray Parish, president of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, said he’s seen a 30% decline at his firm, Parish Home Inspections. “The bottom line is we are in a shortage of supply,’’ said Tasis Giannoukakis, a Century 21 broker based in Toronto, adding that it’s not uncommon to see bids of as much as C$200,000 over the asking price.
“That pressure is what’s causing everybody to remove the conditions on an inspection.’’ Home-price increases in North America’s fourth-largest city and its suburbs have outpaced growth in places including Manhattan, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, leading local officials to search for ways to control price gains and spurring concerns a correction may be coming. The frothy market, buoyed by low interest rates, is resulting in frenzied bidding wars, causing many shoppers to leave once-standard clauses such as a professional home inspection and financing contingencies out of their purchase offers. A move away from inspections isn’t unique to Toronto.
Vancouver, Canada’s hottest real estate market until Toronto took that mantle last year, saw a surge in unconditional purchase offers in the first half of 2016, said Adil Dinani, an agent with Royal LePage West Real Estate Services in the West Coast city. The same is true in hot U.S. markets. Mark Attarha, president of Bay Sotheby’s International Realty, which has seven offices in the in San Francisco Bay area, said he’s seeing a spate of offers without contingencies, along with a raft of “overbidding.” Attarha estimates that 75% of prospective buyers he works with are accepting a home-inspection report from the seller rather than ordering their own or including an inspection clause in their purchase offers.
From Australia to Canada, authorities are learning a hard lesson in their efforts to curb the foreign money flooding their property markets: deterrents quickly lose their punch. In recent years, regulators in several countries have raised taxes on residential real-estate purchases, required banks to demand bigger down payments and taxed empty homes—to little long-term avail. Now they are trying again. Australian regulators on Friday ordered banks to limit the flow of interest-only loans—a villain in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis—to 30% of new loans from about 40% now and to restrict loans to people making small down payments. The country’s corporate regulator said on Monday it was investigating whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately promoting interest-only loans.
New South Wales state, home to Sydney, is considering a further property-tax rise for foreigners. The moves are an attempt to blunt a price rise that has resumed after the last crackdown starting in late 2014. House prices in Sydney and Melbourne, the nation’s two biggest cities, rose by about 19% and 16% in the year through Mar. 31, much of it in the last six months, according to an analysis by data company CoreLogic released on Monday. The median house price in Sydney hit $821,000 last year, according to Demographia, a U.S. think tank. It said the figure, equivalent to 12.2 times the average annual wage, made Sydney the world’s second most expensive city after Hong Kong on a house-price-to-income ratio. Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week, said Giles Bray, a local mortgage broker.
Developers are now building 300-square-foot apartments—roughly a third of the average new American unit—with 8-foot ceiling heights to pack in more units. In the past three years, foreigners have bought thousands of them sight unseen. “They are poorly built and lack light,” Mr. Bray said. The gains are testing the limits of government measures aimed at preventing housing bubbles from developing in cities around the world. The frothiness is driven by ultralow interest rates at central banks that spur investors to hunt for returns in tangible assets. Chinese investors also are a big driver of the phenomenon. The concern: foreign, speculative investors are making properties unaffordable for locals and adding economic risk because these buyers are more likely to flee in a downturn. In 2010 the Reserve Bank of Australia tightened policy to cool things off. But lately the central bank has been keeping rates at a record-low 1.5% to aid an economy that is still struggling to adjust at the end of a long mining boom.
The Susan Rice story has many quirks. A big one: what did Obama know? RandPaul wants her to testify under oath to that. It could go a long way towards proving Trump’s wiretap allegations. But also very odd: BBG and NYT sat on the story for -at least- days. And yes, Cernovich is a bit of an oddball. But he has proof, something that’s still sorely lacking for all of the Russia narrative. So much so that it doesn’t matter anymore if proof comes eventually: the US media have published millions of words of innuendo and accusations without any proof. That may work in the echo chamber, but it kills your credibility outside of it.
Ever since Mike Cernovich dropped the bombshell report over the weekend outing Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, as the person behind the unmasking of the identity of various members of Trump’s team who were ‘incidentally’ surveilled during the 2016 campaign, a report which was subsequently confirmed by Eli Lake of Bloomberg earlier this morning, everyone has been wondering who within the Trump White House or the intelligence community supplied him with such a massive scoop. But, as it turns out, Cernovich didn’t need a ‘deep throat’ within the NSA or CIA for his blockbuster scoop, all he needed was some well-placed sources inside of a couple of America’s corrupt mainstream media outlets. As Cernovich explains below, his sources for the Susan Rice story were actually folks working at Bloomberg and the New York Times who revealed that both Eli Lake (Bloomberg) and Maggie Haberman (NYT) were sitting on the Susan Rice story in order to protect the Obama administration.
“Maggie Haberman had it. She will not run any articles that are critical of the Obama administration.” “Eli Lake had it. He didn’t want to run it and Bloomberg didn’t want to run it because it vindicates Trump’s claim that he had been spied upon. And Eli Lake is a ‘never Trumper.’ Bloomberg was a ‘never Trump’ publication.”
“I’m showing you the politics of ‘real journalism’. ‘Real journalism’ is that Bloomberg had it and the New York Times had it but they wouldn’t run it because they don’t want to run any stories that would make Obama look bad or that will vindicate Trump. They only want to run stories that make Trump look bad so that’s why they sat on it.”
“So where did I get the story? I didn’t get it from the intelligence community. Everybody’s trying to figure out where I got it from. I got it from somebody who works in one of those media companies. I have spies in every media organization. I got people in news rooms. I got it from a source within the news room who said ‘Cernovich, they’re sitting on this story, they’re not going to run it, so you can run it’.”
“If you’re at Bloomberg, I have people in there. If you’re at the New York Times, I have people in there. LA Times, Washington Post, you name it, I have my people in there. I got IT people in every major news room in this country. The IT people see every email so that’s how I knew it.”
“Anyone, including experienced journalists, who raises questions or recommends caution is immediately dismissed as a Putin stooge or a Trump apologist by an army of progressives convinced, with obdurate certainty, of who is guilty and what is true.”
US progressives are clinging on to false heroes like the FBI and CIA in their existential battle to dethrone Trump. [..] In Comey’s case, his rather abrupt and miraculous transformation from devil to saint came after his March 20 testimony before a House Intelligence Committee where he finally, belatedly, confirmed that the FBI was indeed investigating the disturbing, cob-web-like connections between the Trump campaign team and Russia before, during and after the presidential election. Ah, now that the G-men are on the case, the indictments would surely follow, the familiar progressive chorus wrote. Trump’s days are numbered. Resignation and impeachment are in the offing. The cavalry is riding to America’s rescue. Comey’s role in torpedoing Clinton’s chances at becoming America’s first female president has fast receded into the rear-view mirror.
The political executioner has become a prince of probity and the rule of law. Defying history and credulity, joining Comey and the FBI in the progressives’ new-found white knight brigade are, incredibly, the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA). Like the FBI, the spooks are also being widely celebrated as guardian angels in the existential battle to dethrone the treasonous King. The thinking – such as it is – goes something like this: the CIA and NSA must have the surreptitious “goods” on Trump and his gang of Russian mob and FSB consorting thugs that they will, in time, share with Americans and the world. The “goods” perhaps involves oodles of various types of intercepted and incriminating communications and possibly even a notorious Moscow hotel videotape, starring the deviant king himself.
And the hope is that, taken together, it will all eventually expose and doom him. Apparently, these days, the “deep state” is no longer working for the bad guys, but the good guys. It has, in effect, changed sides. Sure, the deep state may have denied Clinton her rightful and long overdue crown and has, for years, systematically spied on, collected and stored intimate details about the lives of countless people with little or no oversight, let alone a warrant. But progressives are too busy letting bygones be bygones to remember. The good guys have fixed their crosshairs on Trump and treacherous company and that’s all that matters.
“One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot..” Journalism should not ever be about ‘belief’, but about proven facts. But there are none. oh, and the syndrome doesn’t ‘arrive’, it’s been here for a long time.
So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump’s national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia’s ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity. For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal! Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy. He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He’ll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin’s help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.
I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven’t seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true? What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense? This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.
Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own. One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.
Illustrating what a dud the European Parliament is. They want the man who’s negotiating with Greece to come explain what he does, and he simply refuses. Imagine that in Congress. A Dutch MP said Dijsselbloem is now effectively a ‘persona non grata’ in the European Parliament. And remember: the Eurogroup has no official status, so what can thay do?
European Parliament lawmakers on Monday “unanimously condemned” the refusal by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to appear at a hearing on Greece this week. Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, has been facing calls to step down since he suggested in an interview in a German newspaper that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. In the wake of the controversy, the parliament had invited the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers to discuss the stalled Greek bailout at this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Expectations were that MEP’s would use the opportunity to harshly criticise Dijsselbloem.
“Unanimous condemnation by the European Parliament against Jeroen Dijsselbloem for umpteenth refusal to answer questions on sacrifices made by our citizens,” European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani posted on Twitter. MEP Gianni Pittella, the head of the left-of-centre S&D group, said Dijsselbloem’s refusal to attend was “a further slight after his previous shameful remarks”. “He should resign,” Pittella added. In a letter on Thursday, Dijsselbloem said he was unable to attend the hearing because of a scheduling conflict.
To repeat: Why are Greek pension costs relatively high? Because “The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system”. And it can’t of course, because that would cost money it’s not allowed to spend by Brussels. Let’s see all benefits expenditures for all nations, and then talk again.
Greece is set to miss yet another self-imposed deadline with no accord expected when the Eurogroup meets in Malta on Friday. While there has been “a lot of progress,” there will be no agreement on April 7, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the group’s chief, said on March 31. “That’s too early.” Europe has become impatient with Greece as the region prepares for Brexit and the threat from emerging populist movements. The failure to reach an accord stems in part from the conflicting political interests of the two sides — Tsipras doesn’t want to face a scheduled general election in 2019 at the same time as pensioners take a cut of as much as 30% in their monthly payments. Creditors worry that if the plan is put in place after 2019, a new government that’s not a signatory of the accord might not implement it.
The IMF, backed by Greece’s euro-area creditors, is pushing Athens to save €1.8 billion, or 1% of GDP, from pension cuts. Greece spends more than 13.3% of its GDP on old-age pensions, the highest proportion in the EU, Eurostat figures show. Greece, which crossed what it once characterized as a red line and accepted the need for pension cuts, is asking creditors to give the country more time to see how measures agreed to last year work before embarking on anything new. The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system , making pensions the de facto safety net for many families, supporting several generations. A survey in January showed that 49% of households relied on pensions as a primary source of income.
Further cuts in pensions has become a thorny issue to sell at home as pensioners use their ever-shrinking income to support jobless children at time when youth unemployment stands at more than 40%. Take Panagiotis Papapetrou, for example. The 65-year-old retiree and his wife, who collectively take home a pension of €1,480 a month, support two grown children. “Not only can we not afford any kind of entertainment, but we also have made cuts in our diet,” he said. “We eat less meat and we seek to buy cheap goods.”
This economy cannot survive. It will keep on shrinking. There is no other possibility as long as there is a Troika. Economies run on consumer spending, and that keeps on falling in Greece. It needs stimulus, not austerity. Europe is creating a powder keg here.
More than seven years into a brutal economic crisis worsened by austerity measures hitting workers, pensioners and the poor, Greek households are continuing to cut food purchases, even for essential items. Repeated salary and pension cuts have left millions unable to keep up, with a survey by the Marketing Laboratory of the Athens University of Economics and Business showing consumers spending almost €40 ($42.72) less a month at supermarkets this year compared to 2016. Average monthly household expenditure came to €274 against €310 a year earlier, with the 13% decline also reflected on supermarket turnover as the sector struggles to lure customers despite sales and 2-for-1 deals.
The study was aimed at average consumers who make up the bulk of supermarket customers drawing a bleak picture of their ability to buy what they want and as more turn away from brand names in favor of cheaper goods. Some 63.4% of Greeks said they buy fewer products and 45.8% buy only the absolute necessities with 54.4% turning to private-label chain products. Data from Nielsen researchers showed that in 2016, some 51% of brand products sold in supermarket were on special offer, up from 33.1% in 2009 and after super markets wouldn’t cut prices despite the crisis, until they were forced to do so by lagging sales. Sales fell another 4% in 2016, driving the cumulative downturn to 18% since 2009, as the crisis began and a year before the then-ruling PASOK Socialists asked for what turned into €326 billion in three bailouts.
The data compiled by Nielsen researchers showed that besides a sharp decline in demand and with more people turning as well to generic brands and looking for offers, that mergers and acquisitions had taken a big bite out of the sector. The phenomenon is likely to continue for several more years with analysts expecting a further drop of 2-3%. In 2016, the sales value of food retailing – including small grocery stores – amounted to about €10.78 billion, down 4.1% from 2015, pushing the sector back to 2005 levels and showing the devastating effect of the crisis and harsh austerity measures that brought big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. The number of small food retail stores has dropped from about 32,000 in 2005 to 27,000 in 2015 with major chains showing their sales values plummet at the same time with only the discount food chain Lidl showing increases.
For all the continued momentum in the euro-area recovery, differing prospects for young people across the bloc show the wounds of the debt crisis remain very raw. The unemployment rate for those under age 25 was at 19.4% in February, according to data on Monday. While that’s an improvement compared with a year ago – and is the lowest since 2009 – it’s more than twice the total for the euro-area of 9.5%. In four southern European countries – Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus – at least three in 10 young people are still out of work. [..] the unevenness across geography and age groups show how complicated it is for the ECB to set monetary policy for 19 nations.
In Germany, the youth unemployment rate is just 6.6%. That’s lower than the overall rate in Spain has ever been since the euro’s introduction. In Greece, still struggling seven years after its first bailout, the figure in December was almost seven times greater than Germany’s, at 45.2%. Draghi has said that monetary policy can’t take the whole weight of the economic recovery, and repeatedly urged governments to implement reforms to reduce structural unemployment. That’s made harder by the rise of populist parties across Europe, with France and Germany all facing general elections in the coming months.
President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called on Turkish voters in Europe to defy the “grandchildren of Nazism” and back a referendum this month on changing the constitution, comments likely to cause further ire in Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad. Both the Germans and Dutch have been incensed by the comparisons to Nazism and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the references must stop. “With this determination, we will never allow three or four European fascists … from harming this country’s honor and pride,” Erdogan told a packed crowd of flag-waving supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, where his family comes from.
“I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe…give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism.” Erdogan is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers. But ties with Europe have deteriorated in the run-up to the campaign. Erdogan last month said Turkey would reevaluate its relationship with the bloc, and may even hold a second referendum on whether to continue accession talks. On Monday, he said he could take the issue of whether Turkey should restore the death penalty to referendum if necessary. “The European Union will not like this. But I don’t care what Hans, George or Helga say, I care what Hasan, Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse and Fatma say. I care what God says… If necessary, we will take this issue to another referendum as well,” he told the rally.
Is common sense beginning to creep into US policy in the Middle East? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the longer-term status of Syrian President Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people.” The media reported this as a radical shift in US foreign policy, but isn’t this just stating what should be obvious? What gives any country the right to determine who rules someone else? Washington is currently paralyzed by evidence-free rumors that the Russians somehow influenced our elections, but no one blinks an eye when Washington declares that one or another foreign leader “must go.” It’s only too bad that President Obama hadn’t followed this back in 2011 instead of declaring that Assad had to go and then arming rebel groups who ended up being allies with al-Qaeda.
Imagine how many thousands of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved by following this policy in the first place. Imagine the millions of refugees who could still be in their homes, running their businesses, living their lives. Will the Trump Administration actually follow through on Tillerson’s Syria policy statement? It is too early to tell. The President has illegally sent hundreds of US troops to fight on the ground in Syria. Current US positions in eastern Syria suggest that Washington may be looking to carve out parts of oil-rich areas of the country for some kind of future federation. The White House followed up on Tillerson’s comments by stating that getting rid of Assad was no longer a top priority for the US. This also sounds good. But does this mean that once the current top priority, destroying ISIS, is completed, Washington may return to its active measures to unseat the Syrian president?
Neocons in Washington still insist that the rise of ISIS in Syria was due to President Assad, but in fact ISIS did not appear in Syria until the US began trying to overthrow Assad. They haven’t given up on their desire to overthrow the Syrian government and they do have influence in this Administration. If the Trump Administration is serious about letting the people of Syria decide their fate he needs to take concrete steps. Rather than sending in more troops to fight an ISIS already on its last legs, he must bring US troops home and prohibit the CIA from further destabilizing the country.
It would also be nice if Congress would wake up from its long slumber and start following the Constitution. The President (and his predecessors) have taken this country to war repeatedly without proper Constitutionally-required authority to do so. The president has reportedly decided not to even bother announcing where next he plans to send the troops. Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.
Last month, an Italian prosecutor opened an investigation into whether nonprofits working to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean had connections to smuggling operations. “We want to know who is behind all these humanitarian groups that have proliferated in the last few years,” the prosecutor said, and “where all the money they have is coming from.” The implication of the investigation is inflammatory: Why would humanitarian groups want to have anything to do with human traffickers or smugglers? But the idea that nonprofits are directly involved in smuggling people into Europe has swept through conservative media in recent months, fueled by a news report that the EU’s border agency, Frontex, had “accused charities operating in the Mediterranean of colluding with people smugglers.”
The report, which appeared in the Financial Times in December, didn’t name any particular charities, and it quickly started to show holes; within a week, the paper issued a correction and Frontex distanced itself from the accusations. Despite the walk-back, the story stuck, and the Italian prosecutor cited Frontex’s concerns about “collusion with smugglers” in announcing his investigation. The Intercept has obtained a full copy of the Frontex report on which the Financial Times story was based. The report, along with video evidence and interviews with rescue workers who witnessed the incident described in it, further undermines the allegations of collusion. In the report, Frontex does say that people were smuggled to Europe via an NGO ship. But the report provides little evidence for the allegation, and what it does contain is contradicted by the rescue crew.
The confusion shows the fraught conditions of rescue work in the Mediterranean – where smugglers and opportunists do take advantage of refugees and their rescuers, but where the situation is not always so cut and dry. In dire rescues, if a nonprofit accepts help from nearby Libyan boats, they may have no idea who they are working with. “It’s not us that force the people on the boats and cause them to be out there. But once they are out there, we all have to apply maritime law,” said Ruben Neugebauer, who works with the group Sea-Watch. “If there is a boat in distress, we are obliged to help, but also a potential smuggler is also obliged to help.”
Watching TV. Still far more important than other media. “..television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time..” and “if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.”
Carpe diem – seize the day – is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in Western history. First uttered by the Roman poet Horace over 2,000 years ago, it retains an extraordinary resonance in popular culture. Ask someone to spell out their philosophy of life and there’s a good chance they will say something like “seize the day” or “live as if there’s no tomorrow” – even if they appear to be trapped by routine or paralysed by procrastination. It’s a message found in Hollywood films like Dead Poets Society, in one of the most successful brand campaigns of the last century (“Just Do It”), and in the social media hashtag #yolo (“you only live once”). Almost every language has an equivalent expression for the original Latin phrase. Carpe diem has been a call to arms for everyone from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, who in the first century bce asked, “If not now, when?”, to the Rastafarian sage Bob Marley, who sang out: “Wake up and live!”
However, in the course of writing my new book on the vanishing art of seizing the day, I discovered that carpe diem has been hijacked – in part, by the most popular leisure pursuit in the Western world. I loved television as a kid, fitting in an hour before school each day (Thunderbirds, Superheroes) and at least an hour-and-a-half before dinner (5.30: Wheel of Fortune, 6.00: The Goodies, 6.30: Dr Who). What I didn’t realise as a teenager, as I sat on my beanbag in suburban Sydney making the agonising decision whether to break tradition and watch Gilligan’s Island instead of The Goodies, was that I was absorbed in a ritual that ranks as one of the most momentous cultural transformations ever experienced by humankind. Within less than 50 years of the first ever television demonstration in
Selfridges London department store in 1925, around 99 per cent of Western households had a set. Today the typical European or American watches an average of around three hours per day, whether it’s on flat-screen TVs, computers, phones or other devices. This is apart from time spent engaged in digital pursuits such as internet surfing, social media, texting or video games. So television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time, and more time than we spend doing any other single activity apart from work or sleep. Perhaps the best way to grasp how much TV has colonised our lives is to tape the following statistic to your remote control: assuming your viewing habits are somewhere near average, if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.
Long analysis by Hudson. Trump as Obama’s legacy. And ousting Bernie has left America without a Democratic party, like some self-fulfilling prophecy. (Graph is from another source, but a very good fit)
Trump is sufficiently intuitive to proclaim the euro a disaster, and he recommends that Greece leave it. He supports the rising nationalist parties in Britain, France, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, all of which urge withdrawal from the eurozone – and reconciliation with Russia instead of sanctions. In place of the ill-fated TPP and TTIP, Trump advocates country-by-country trade deals favoring the United States. Toward this end, his designated ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, urges the EU’s breakup. The EU is refusing to accept him as ambassador. At the time this volume is going to press, there is no way of knowing how successful these international reversals will be. What is more clear is what Trump’s political impact will have at home. His victory – or more accurately, Hillary’s resounding loss and the way she lost – has encouraged enormous pressure for a realignment of both parties.
Regardless of what President Trump may achieve vis-à-vis Europe, his actions as celebrity chaos agent may break up U.S. politics across the political spectrum. The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia. They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.
Trying to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails didn’t work. Promising “hope and change,” he won by posing as a transformational president, leading the Democrats to control of the White House, Senate and Congress in 2008. Swept into office by a national reaction against the George Bush’s Oil War in Iraq and the junk-mortgage crisis that left the economy debt-ridden, they had free rein to pass whatever new laws they chose – even a Public Option in health care if they had wanted, or make Wall Street banks absorb the losses from their bad and often fraudulent loans. But it turned out that Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail.
Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors. He did not even pull back from war in the Near East, but extended it to Libya and Syria, blundering into the Ukrainian coup as well. Having dashed the hopes of his followers, Obama then praised his chosen successor Hillary Clinton as his “Third Term.” Enjoying this kiss of death, Hillary promised to keep up Obama’s policies. The straw that pushed voters over the edge was when she asked voters, “Aren’t you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Who were they going to believe: their eyes, or Hillary? National income statistics showed that only the top 5% of the population were better off. All the growth in GDP during Obama’s tenure went to them – the Donor Class that had gained control of the Democratic Party leadership. Real incomes have fallen for the remaining 95%.
Miami-Dade’s spectacular condo flipping mania is in turmoil, with sales plunging, inventory-for-sale soaring, and new supply flooding the market. It’s not like Miami hasn’t been through this before. In February, existing home sales of all types fell 10% year-over-year, to 1,835 homes. These sales “do not include Miami’s multi-billion dollar new construction condo market,” the Miami Association of Realtors clarified in its report on March 23. And this new construction market that is not included has become distressed. Sales of single-family homes fell 10% in February, to 881 houses. The report blamed the shortage of properties “in popular price points.” Prices have been rising sharply, and at the price points where people could actually buy a house – below $250,000 – few sellers were playing ball.
Hence a stalling market. Sales of high-priced units rose, but they weren’t enough to pull out the totals. Condo sales fell 10% as well, to 954 units. This time, the report didn’t blame the lack of supply. Instead: “Existing condo sales are competing with a robust new construction market.” At the same time, inventory of existing condos for sale, not including new units, rose 10% to 15,289. At the current sales rate, supply soared 29% to 14 months. This chart by StatFunding shows the plunge in sales and the surge in condos listed for sale. I circled the last five Februaries on the sales line (red). From February 2014 to February 2017, condo sales have plunged 25%. Andrew Stearns, StatFunding’s founder and CEO, calls the resale inventory – the dark green line that has soared 90% since early 2013 – “scary”:
As a result of countless failures by central banks to normalize monetary policy over the past 7 years, the market – especially bonds and rates – has become openly cynical and outright skeptical regarding the possibility of a successful renormalization of policy by global central banks. After all, Japan has been trying to do that for over 30 years and has yet to succeed; the ECB hiked in 2011 resulting in near collapse of the Eurozone. Ironically, the recent Trumpflation trade – which few expected as a result of the “shocking” Trump election victory – has emerged as the most credible catalyst to prompt inflation not only in the US but around the globe, resulting in two Fed rate hikes in rapid succession.
Still, now that Obamacare repeal has failed, and questions are rising whether Trump will be able to implement his proposed Tax reform, the market has aggressively faded not only the broader Trumpflation trade, but also all of the recent dollar strength since the US election: in short, bets on a “bening” global reflation are rapidly fading, suggesting that the latest push to normalize monetary policy will once again result in failure. And yet, “what if it goes according to plan” this time? That’s the question posed by Barclays’ Christian Keller who notes that, at least for the time being, “The synchronized upswing in the global economy continues, supporting sentiment, which thus far has ignored elevated policy uncertainties. Headline inflation is increasing due to stable oil prices, while core inflation rates are mixed.”
And, assuming nothing changes, this sets the backdrop for monetary policy normalization, albeit at different speeds and modes. Taking this thought experiment one step further, what would happen if indeed this time central banks are successful to renormalize monetary policy without leading to a market crash. In that case, Barclays expects three Fed hikes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The ECB is likely to taper further in 2018 and to start increasing depo rates in parallel (in 2018). Conveniently, Barclays has created the following chart which lays out what “coordinated global renormalization” would look like. It can serve as a benchmark to those keeping tabs on where various central banks are in the current attempt to restore monetary normalcy.
Populism is a political and social phenomenon that arises from the common man, typically not well- educated, being fed up with 1) wealth and opportunity gaps, 2) perceived cultural threats from those with different values in the country and from outsiders, 3) the “establishment elites” in positions of power, and 4) government not working effectively for them. These sentiments lead that constituency to put strong leaders in power. Populist leaders are typically confrontational rather than collaborative and exclusive rather than inclusive. As a result, conflicts typically occur between opposing factions (usually the economic and socially left versus the right), both within the country and between countries. These conflicts typically become progressively more forceful in self- reinforcing ways.
Within countries, conflicts often lead to disorder (e.g., strikes and protests) that prompt stronger reactions and the growing pressure to more forcefully regain order by suppressing the other side. Influencing and, in some cases, controlling the media typically becomes an important aspect of engaging in the conflicts. In some cases, these conflicts have led to civil wars. Such conflicts have led a number of democracies to become dictatorships to bring order to the disorder that results from these conflicts. Between countries, conflicts typically occur because populist leaders’ natures are more confrontational than cooperative and because conflicts with other countries help to unify support for the leadership within their countries.
In other words, populism is a rebellion of the common man against the elites and, to some extent, against the system. The rebellion and the conflict that comes with it occur in varying degrees. Sometimes the system bends with it and sometimes the system breaks. Whether it bends or breaks in response to this rebellion and conflict depends on how flexible and well established the system is. It also seems to depend on how reasonable and respectful of the system the populists who gain power are.
[..] In the period between the two great wars (i.e., the 1920s-30s), most major countries were swept away by populism, and it drove world history more than any other force. The previously mentioned sentiments by the common man put into power populist leaders in all major countries except the United States and the UK (though we’d consider Franklin D. Roosevelt to be a quasi-populist, for reasons described below). Disorder and conflict between the left and the right (e.g., strikes that shut down operations, policies meant to undermine the opposition and the press, etc.) prompted democracies in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan to choose dictatorships because collective/inclusive decision making was perceived as tolerance for behaviors that undermined order, so autocratic leaders were given dictatorial powers to gain control.
In several major economies it’s crunch time for the future of cash. Goldman Sachs notes that this is largely policy-driven: tangible steps are being taken to wean economies off cash (e.g. India, Europe); but adds that, at the same time consumer expectations around convenience are rising and enabling technologies have proliferated in the shape of contactless cards, mobile wallets, cryptocurrencies and more. So, they ask, does the decline in cash payments imply the demise of cash? Not necessarily. Technology has been an important catalyst for shrinking cash usage, but it is by no means a new phenomenon. As we wrote in 2012, the first technological step-change in the payments arena was the shift from cash to plastic money, i.e. credit and debit cards, which happened in the 1960s.
There are many parallels to be drawn between that period and the ongoing shift to digital money: an initial period of an increasing number of providers was followed by a consolidation stage that established a few players (Visa and MasterCard primarily) as the industry standards, eventually accelerating the adoption of plastic money. However, the availability of technology alone has not ensured the demise of cash. As the following chart shows, there are several advanced economies in which it is still the dominant mode of payment in volume terms (surprisingly quite a few European countries are in the bottom left quadrant).
Japan is a striking example of this; lots of tech and lots of cash. The US also stands out, and this could at least partly be attributed to the fact that regulators in the US have explicitly stated that the market should manage the shift to digital payments by itself. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries are on the cusp of becoming some of the first cashless societies, as a result of industry-co-ordinated steps and government initiatives. Swish, a payment app developed jointly by the major Swedish banks, has been adopted by nearly half the Swedish population, and is now used to make over nine million payments a month. About 900 of Sweden’s 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on hand or take cash deposits and many, especially in rural areas, no longer have ATMs.
In conjunction with that, cash transactions were just c.2% of the value and 20% of the volume of all payments made last year (down from 40% five years ago). Denmark’s move to a cashless society is a deliberate result of policy, with the government removing the obligation for some retailers to accept payment in cash. Without this legislative push, we believe cash is very difficult to disrupt and substitute. After all, it is a free and convenient mode of transacting. So far, the selling point of the most broadly used alternatives to cash (cheques and cards) is greater convenience. But that hasn’t been sufficient to meaningfully reduce the market share of cash in countries outside Scandinavia and Canada.
Back 18 months the team of Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who has since gained the economics Nobel) released a famous paper pointing out that white rural Americans were killing themselves. So much so that expected lifespans were in fact falling such was the rise in middle aged morbidity. That original paper found that the effect was geographically concentrated. And as I remarked at the time that’s a bit of a problem for the causality of that rise in morbidity. For we’ve got rather a lot of migration out of those rural areas. And it’s the better educated doing the leaving. Thus it is possible (no, no one has studied this in enough detail as yet for anyone to know) that the effect found is entirely down to those migration effects.
We know very well that poorer and less educated people are more likely to die in middle age than richer and better educated. So, if all the better educated and thus, in our current society, higher income people move away we will observe a rise in the death rate among the remnant population. Case and Deaton have returned to this subject with a new paper. And they agree that there is some of this compositional effect in their earlier findings: “It is important not to focus on those with less than a high school degree, a group that has grown markedly smaller over time, and is likely to be increasingly negatively selected on health.” And: “.. we note that for age-groups younger than 45, there has been a decline in the fraction of WNHs with only a high school degree, so that selection may be playing some role for the younger groups.”
Excellent, so that intuition of mine about those compositional effects was indeed correct at least in part. However, this new paper then drives a steamroller through my explanation by showing that this rise in morbidity is country-wide among that class and age group, middle aged and less educated whites. Except, well, I’m not quite sure it does. Fortunately, as I said last time, this is such an important result coming from such a well known name that it will be fully investigated. It’s not just going to be either ignored nor accepted at face value either. People will keep picking away at this until the definitive answer is understood.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU has been described by the Italian prime minister as “closed nationalism” that belongs in the past during a summit in Rome to celebrate the bloc’s 60th anniversary. In an address at the Orazi and Curiazi Hall of the Capitol in the Piazza del Campidoglio, where the EU was founded six decades ago, Paolo Gentiloni expressed his discomfort with the motives behind the referendum result. He blamed the EU for not responding adequately to the economic crisis of 2008, but said: “That triggered in part of public opinion, unfortunately the majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom, it triggered a crisis of rejection. It brought forward the closed nationalism that we thought has been closed down in the archives.”
The leaders of the 27 member states that will make up the EU after the UK’s departure assembled on Saturday to mark the day on which six nations signed what was to become the Treaty of Rome. They signed a Rome declaration, which offered ringing phrases about peace and unity, and the importance of maintaining the union. “We, the leaders of 27 member states and of EU institutions, take pride in the achievements of the European Union: the construction of European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour,” it says. “Sixty years ago, recovering from the tragedy of two world wars, we decided to bond together and rebuild our continent from its ashes.
“We have built a unique union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare. “European unity started as the dream of a few, it became the hope of the many. Then Europe became one again. Today, we are united and stronger: hundreds of millions of people across Europe benefit from living in an enlarged union that has overcome the old divides.” The document stipulates that the EU will make progress on a social dimension, building on its citizens’ rights, and that some member states will enhance their cooperation, particularly in the field of defence. The text concludes: “We have united for the better. Europe is our common future.”
When it comes to consumables, though, blowing it on drink is not such a southern European thing. On old professor of mine, an expert in the history of booze (among other substances) often observed that Europe is divided into north and south by distinct cultures of intoxication rooted in our prehistory – the grape in the south, the grain in the north, originally the function of geography and climate which in turn determined access to different sources of plant sugar.
It is the grain-fermenting northerners who have traditionally drunk themselves to oblivion, and it is them that felt the teetotal backlash of the protestant reformation, whereas the Mediterranean world used their fermented grape juice more sparingly and even made it “taboo” by ghoulishly turning it into blood in the Christian sacrament. It is said that you can still observe this divide by walking down the main street of any Mediterranean town hosting a Club 18-30 resort in high tourist season. Some might say, therefore, that Jeroen is merely projecting his own cultural inclinations. They don’t call it Dutch courage for nothing.
No, when it comes to consumables, another famous one-line aetiology of the Greek crisis comes to mind: “We ate it together” (”Mazí ta fágame”), is what PASOK grandee Theodoros Pangalos poffered in 2010 in response to the question “where did the money go?”. A succinct description of the workings of clientelism, delivered by a true master of the art. The saying survives and thrives, in large part because it had a grotesque, evocative appeal in light of the speaker’s own well-fed physique, an apparent embodiment of gluttony openly admitting to the sin and beckoning us to join him at the trough. In the popular imagination it conjured up images of the Greek political class, bloated with greed both physical and metaphorical, sharing a well-furnished table with their clients, the ordinary voters.
And although we, too, like to accuse our elites of eating Marie Antoinette’s cake and caviar (or perhaps the Greek pre-crisis equivalent, lobster spaghetti), the most appropriate fare loading down the table would be a cholesterol feast, most likely at Baïraktaris, the legendary Athens kebab house and political hangout. Not the starched white tablecloths of Washington’s Palm Grill, London’s private clubs, or the Michelin-starred chateaux of Gallic political intrigue, but oilcloth and stacks of paper napkins, the great equaliser, where we do indeed tuck in together in large, boisterous groups. You may recall Baïraktaris as the scene of another famous apophthegm, by another regular, former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, to the effect that “five pimps run this country”. And that is as far as I will go with the “women” element.
Portugal’s Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, whose Dutch party lost elections this month, should quit as chairman of the European finance ministers’ group after his comments about the duties of nations getting aid were deemed offensive. “It would be the best thing for Europe and the best thing he could do,” Cabral said in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “He just lost an election and I think he should not be trying to blame others for his own failures.” Dijsselbloem is under pressure to resign as leader of the euro area’s finance ministers after a German newspaper cited him saying, “I can’t spend all my money on women and drink and then at the end ask for your help.”
That remark inflamed tensions between stronger economies in the north and weaker nations including Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The Eurogroup chief has said he regrets causing offense, but doesn’t intend to resign. “I don’t think we can let the Eurogroup be divided in that way, and for that reason that person should be out,” Cabral said. “One of the worst things that some European responsibles have done in the past is not being leaders and trying to surpass their own difficulties at home by accusing other countries. This is a way of destroying Europe.”
On the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union, Cabral said the bloc must focus on getting good results from negotiations in the next two to five years and then moving on to other issues. He said broader trade pacts should be the goal rather than making Brexit the only thing on the agenda for Europe and the U.K. The EU should focus on trade talks that give serious results and make a priority “of opening to the world, of negotiating with Asia, of being part of this intuitive of One Belt-One Road with China and establishing links with Asia,” he said in the interview.
President Donald Trump has marked Greek Independence Day with a rather ominous message. At a White House reception, Trump said that in the years to come “we don’t know what will be required to defend our freedom.” But he said it will take “great courage, and we will show it.” Greek Independence Day commemorates the start of the 1821 war that led to Greece’s independence after nearly 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. It’s celebrated annually on March 25. Trump told the crowd, “I love the Greeks.” He also introduced Greek-American members of the White House staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus. Trump said Priebus is “really terrific and hard-working,” along with being “one of the top Greeks in the country.”
Hundreds of Syrian asylum seekers are struggling to survive in the UK, with some facing destitution and others forced into exploitative work because they are afraid of being detained and deported. The Observer has found Syrian asylum seekers working in warehouses, construction sites and garages for as little as £10 a day. Many had stopped signing in with the Home Office after being held in detention centres for months. Hundreds more are living in destitution, reliant on charities for food parcels and clothes. Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: “A two-tier system, where Syrian nationals who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are left vulnerable to exploitation, seems completely at odds with the spirit behind the government’s commitment to offer a safe home to 20,000 Syrian refugees under its resettlement programme.
The Observer interviewed 10 Syrians, all living in limbo because of the Dublin regulation, which means asylum seekers can be sent back to the first EU country they reach. The men were fighting removal to countries including Bulgaria, where Human Rights Watch found asylum seekers being shot at, beaten with weapons by uniformed officials and sent back to Turkey. Several of the men we spoke to were being threatened with removal to Hungary, despite the fact that the Home Office told the Observer that it is not currently returning asylum seekers there. At least 50 Syrians have been removed under the regulation since the start of 2015, prompting some to drop off the radar. Eight of the men interviewed said that they had stopped signing in with immigration authorities because they were afraid of detention and removal. Most had family in the UK and were supporting themselves by working illegally.
[..] The Red Cross said it had seen 1,341 destitute Syrian asylum seekers in Britain last year, up from 1,159 the year before. In South Yorkshire, a quarter of all destitute asylum seekers seen, of all nationalities, said they experienced hunger every day. In nearly half of all the cases seen by the Red Cross, asylum seekers were facing destitution, despite receiving the full £36 a week afforded to them under government rules. The Syrians the Observer interviewed said they were often too scared to pick up their allowance for fear of being detained.
For the past 60 years, the Ogallala has been pumped out faster than raindrops and snowmelt can seep back into the ground to replenish it, thanks largely to irrigation machinery like the one sleeping nearby. As a result, in parts of western Kansas, the aquifer has declined by more than 60% during that period. In some parts, it is already exhausted. The decline is steady now, dry years or wet. In 2015 rain was exceptionally heavy—50 to 100% above normal. Even so, water levels in the wells dropped again. Wilson’s field report will put the best face on it, noting it was the slowest decline in five years.
Tagging along with Wilson, I am nearing the end of a 5,000-mile journey along the back roads of Ogallala territory, from South Dakota to Texas. My drive has taken me through some of the most productive farmland anywhere, home to at least a $20-billion-a-year industry that grows nearly one-fifth of the United States’ wheat, corn, and beef cattle. It’s also a place facing hard choices: Farmers can reduce consumption of water to further extend the life of the aquifer. Or they can continue on their path toward an end that is already in sight. Some don’t like to frame the dilemma quite so starkly. But if they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60%, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.
The draining of North America’s largest aquifer is playing out in similar ways across the world, as large groundwater basins in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East decline rapidly. Many of these aquifers, including the southern Ogallala, have little ability to recharge. Once their water is gone, they could take thousands of years to refill. “The consequences will be huge,” says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead researcher on a study using satellites to record changes in the world’s 37 largest aquifers. “We need to sustain groundwater to sustain food production, and we’re not doing it. Is draining the Ogallala the smartest thing for food production in the U.S. and globally? This is the question we need to answer.”
If Southern Europeans were a race, say there were something like a Mediterranean race, Jeroen Dijsselbloem would definitely be a racist. Since there is not, the -demissionary- Dutch Finance Minister and -still- president of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, escapes the label, albeit narrowly.
He will still enter history as a misogynist, though. It’s hard to tell if the man is simply really ‘thick’, or there’s something else going on, but his latest remarks have disqualified him for any position, at any time in the future, in European politics. Or they should have; in Europe these days it’s hard to tell.
It’s not as if his actions as Eurogroup head should not have already disqualified him, but nobody seemed interested or smart enough to understand why, except for the Greeks. But unfortunately for Brussels, Dijsselbloem is not even the actual problem, he’s a mere symptom. First, here’s what he said to German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday. Let’s start with the Telegraph’s version:
The head of the eurozone’s finance ministers has been criticised for stating that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who leads the group, made the comments in an interview on Monday with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “During the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis,” he said.
“As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. “But you also have obligations. “You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.” Inside the European parliament, MEPs turned on Mr Dijsselbloem on Tuesday, calling his remarks “insulting” and “vulgar”. Gabriel Mato, a Spanish MEP, said the remarks were “absolutely unacceptable” and an “insult” to southern member states – claiming he had lost his neutrality as finance chief.
What the remarks make clear is that he never had “neutrality as finance chief”. And it gets better: he accuses Greece, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, even Ireland (?!) of not ‘showing the same solidarity as northern eurozone states’. Boy, that’s rich. The Greeks should show more solidarity while being dragged down to a 3rd world country level by the ‘northern eurozone states’. That reeks of Stockholm Syndrome; Greece should be grateful for being beaten into submission.
Because there are -slightly- different translations of the remarks (the interview might have been done in Dutch or English or German originally, I don’t know, and can’t find the original), and therefore also different interpretations, here’s another version, from Politico.eu :
Without naming names, Dijsselbloem told the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Monday that “countries in crisis” should stick to the deficit targets set by the European Commission and show the same solidarity as northern eurozone states during the financial crisis. “As a social democrat, for me solidarity is extremely important,” Dijsselbloem said. “But those who call for it (solidarity) also have duties. I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and plead for your support afterwards. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and also European level.”
On Tuesday, Pittella described these comments as “shameful and shocking.” “Dijsselbloem went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe,” he said. “There is no excuse or reason for using such language, especially from someone who is supposed to be a progressive.”
[..] Pittella said it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.” “I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” he added.
In between different translations and interpretations, what is clear is that this is how Dijsselbloem sees the world. “Pittella said it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.”
For Dijsselbloem, Greeks -and Italians etc.- are lazy people who drink too much and frequent prostitutes a lot. That is the only possible conclusion to draw from his words. And that is painfully close to the picture Europeans and Americans alike have long held of not only the peoples of southern Europe, but also of those with ancestors in Africa. And you can throw in South America for good measure.
Dijsselbloem, in just a few words, sets back the advances made in western culture in the 20th century towards ‘other people’, and in his case that includes all women, by many years. But he doesn’t seem to get it. Indeed, he refuses to apologize, but seeks to merely walk his comments back ‘a tad’. As the Telegraph continues:
He continued: “It is not about one country, but about all our countries.” He then attempted to dig himself out of the hole by saying all countries had failed to uphold the financial rules set by the EU. “The Netherlands also failed a number of years ago to comply with what was agreed,” he said. “I don’t see a conflict between regions of the eurogroup.”
Asked on Tuesday in a European Parliament hearing whether he apologised for his comment, Dijsselbloem answered: “No, certainly not. That’s not what I said.” But when Ernest Urtasun, an MEP from the Catalonian radical left, read his comment, Dijsselbloem said: “I know my statement, it came from this mouth.”
This is the man who, alongside Germany’s FinMin Schäuble, has already brought much of Greece to a state of absolute desperation, for no other reason than to save their own banks from having to write down their gambling losses, and to make the country an example to scare off any others who might harbor any thoughts at all of leaving the very ‘Union’ that does this to one of its member states.
This is a classical case of a man who has inadvertently, whatever he says from now on in, exposed himself as a major league bigot. You can’t walk back from that kind of goof. This is also the man who is supposed to chair the next meeting of the Eurogroup, where more decisions regarding the further descent of Greece into servitude will be taken.
All Europeans should hope that Spain and Italy will, alongside Greece, finally grow a pair, or Dijsselbloem might, as inconceivable as it may look -and should be-, be able to continue in his destructive role as Eurogroup head. And that goes to the core of the real problem that he is merely a symptom of. EU Observer again:
“Dutch voters didn’t elect me as Eurogroup president, it was the other ministers,” he argued, suggesting that losing his portfolio at home should not mean the end of his term in Brussels. Dijsselbloem stated that “It’s an important responsibility from which I don’t want to walk away.”
That real problem is that people don’t get to vote for who controls Brussels. Or let’s take it a step further: that there is no way to allow people to vote for that. 10 million Greeks can vote for whomever they want, but in the end they won’t have anything to say. When real decisions are taken, it’s all Germany all the time. 80 million people ultimately control a Union that has at present some 510 million inhabitants. It’s actually much less, of course, because not nearly all Germans have voted Merkel.
So even if Dijsselbloem is ousted, the powers that be, Germany, Holland, Finland, Austria, will simply appoint another one of their pawns in his place. Not even France is sure of its place at the top of the heap anymore, and Marine Le Pen, for all of her many flaws, is right about pointing that out. because
The fatal flaw in the EU structure is that voters in Germany or Holland or France choose their own domestic leadership, political parties, who subsequently become Europe’s leaders. But when important decisions must be made, in which what’s best for Germany may conflict with what’s best for the continent, these leaders of rich countries are bound first and foremost to the people at home who voted for them, not to Greeks or Italians.
There’s no possibility that model can survive for long; it will only work in times of plenty but fall apart when times get tougher. Germans will vote their own selfish interests, even if it means hammering others, and their politicians will follow. This is a very essential problem, and there is no way to solve it from within the present model. Because the only participants with the power to reform the EU would have to do so against their own interests.
Also, remember: Europe doesn’t have the ‘transfer payments’ system that the US has, where rich states pay to keep poor states from collapsing, a system designed to keep the country from being torn to bits. Without it, the USA would have long ceased existing, either through peaceful secessions(s) or through battles. Everyone understands that. So why expect the EU be able to survive without such a system? There is no way.
The EU in its present form cannot continue, and any options that would have allowed reforming it have been closed off due to its very structure. To preserve the EU, Germany would have to convince its own people to take quite a few steps back. That is never going to happen.
But hey, in the meantime we had us some fun, right, Jeroen? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to minimizing the suffering of the herd here in Hellas. Boy, I can’t believe I haven’t seen any female European voices telling Dijsselbloem to go stuff it where the sun don’t shine after his comments. Don’t you girls realize what he said?
How to Kill a City part 831. I should write the article I’ve long had in my head. But this is the trendline. Which will break, but then you have untold millions of ‘homeowners’ with properties worth much less than their mortgages -and a low interest rate is but a detail-, and a banking system threatening to topple. Again.
A former city planner warns if Vancouver doesn’t start protecting dedicated housing for middle-income residents, there won’t be a middle class left in the city in the future. “The estimates are by 2030, if you’re a Millennial household with about $72,000 to $75,000 in your income, you won’t be able to be in this housing market at all. In fact, it would take all of your income to buy a very modest place,” explained Larry Beasley, who is currently a professor with the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. Beasley says the solution to the problem is to create secure middle income housing. “We have a low-income sector that’s all owned by government and it’s basically rental and we have a market sector for all the rest,” he said.
“We need to protect a middle income sector of housing … It would be protected from being in the open market where it could sell at any price and rent at any price … It would be delivered, either rented or sold, time and time again to middle income people.” Although some middle income people get help from their parents, buy further away or buy smaller places, he said, this cushion won’t last forever and eventually middle income residents will be completely shut out of the city’s real estate market. “It doesn’t matter how much you save and it doesn’t matter how much you borrow from government, you still won’t be able to get into the market. People will face some pretty stark choices.” [..] “If you rule out the middle class, you rule out the potential of creativity. You rule out the people who are doing the jobs everyday and you rule out the people who are driving the day-to-day economy.”
Financial analyst, Author and fmr. Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Nomi Prins sits down with EIR’s Paul Gallagher to discuss just how rotten the current financial system is, making a sobering case that we are far worse off today than we were before the 2007-08 crisis. Prins refers to her political and financial road map for 2017, (nomiprins.com) and discusses the important, combined role China and Japan can play in bringing the US back from the brink and into the new paradigm of investment in the real economy.
Former Goldmanite and current Minneapolis Fed president, Neel Kashkari, conducted another #AskNeel session on Twitter where the dovish FOMC voter (he was the only one to dissent in last week’s rate hike decision) received numerous question. Among them was the following one from Zero Hedge:
.@neelkashkari You recently admitted the Fed has a “third mandate.” What is the biggest S&P drop the Fed will accept before intervening?
At this point we would like to “timestamp” Kashkari’s claim that a “stock market drop is unlikely to trigger a crisis” It was not clear just how the Fed president separates a market crash from “financial instability”, but Kashkari’s response that the Fed is not concerned about the level of the S&P500, and instead is more focused on comprehensive market stability, is not being taken well by the market which has continued to sell off as Kashkari responds to further questions, among which the following exchanges:
In response to a question about rising inflation, Kashkari said he would tolerate 2.3% inflation for as long as U.S. has had below-target inflation, “if we really believe 2% is a target. That is what a target means” and adds that “Not sure if my colleagues wld really buy into that however.” We wonder how that question would look like if instead 2.3% inflation one used 3.6%, which is the current true level of inflation according to PriceStats. At least the Fed has been polite enough to advise America it will tolerate a material “overshoot” in its inflation target.
When asked about the two latest rate increases, he said that “data didn’t support a hike. Data basically hasn’t changed. Moving sideways rather than toward dual mandate.” He also said that he would like to see plan on balance sheet normalization soon, adding: “I would prefer to see it before we increase the federal funds rate again” and added that the balance sheet “needs to grow as economy and demand for dollars grows. We will shrink but not to 2006 levels.”
In short, Kashkarhi – who allegedly does not care about the level of the S&P500 – is willing to risk a market crash and a Fed balance sheet-driven bond tantrum. Or, to paraphrase Richard Breslow, “The Fed Is Making This Up As They Go Along“”
The head of the eurozone’s finance ministers has been criticised for stating that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who leads the group, made the comments in an interview on Monday with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “During the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis,” he said.“As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. “But you also have obligations. “You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.” Inside the European parliament, MEPs turned on Mr Dijsselbloem on Tuesday, calling his remarks “insulting” and “vulgar”.
Gabriel Mato, a Spanish MEP, said the remarks were “absolutely unacceptable” and an “insult” to southern member states – claiming he had lost his neutrality as finance chief. Ernest Urtasun, another Spanish MEP, said: “Maybe this is funny for you, but I don’t think it is. I would like to know if this is your first statement as a candidate to renew your post as president of the eurogroup.” Mr Dijsselbloem’s term ends next year, and he is believed to be considering running for re-election. He attempted to brush off the criticism, telling the MEPs: “Don’t be offended.” He continued: “It is not about one country, but about all our countries.” He then attempted to dig himself out of the hole by saying all countries had failed to uphold the financial rules set by the EU. “The Netherlands also failed a number of years ago to comply with what was agreed,” he said. “I don’t see a conflict between regions of the eurogroup.”
If the money was spent on drinks and women, it wasn’t the Greeks
Jeroen Dijsselbloem is “not fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” Socialist MEP leader Gianni Pittella said Tuesday, accusing the Dutch finance minister of making “discriminatory comments” about southern EU countries in German media. Without naming names, Dijsselbloem told the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Monday that “countries in crisis” should stick to the deficit targets set by the European Commission and show the same solidarity as northern eurozone states during the financial crisis. “As a social democrat, for me solidarity is extremely important,” Djisselbloem said. “But those who call for it (solidarity) also have duties. I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and plead for your support afterwards. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and also European level.” On Tuesday, Pittella described these comments as “shameful and shocking.”
“Dijsselbloem went far beyond by using discriminatory arguments against the countries of southern Europe,” he said. “There is no excuse or reason for using such language, especially from someone who is supposed to be a progressive.” Dijsselbloem has been Eurogroup president since January 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in July 2015. However, his Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) did badly in last week’s election and he will almost certainly not stay on as finance minister. Pittella said it was “not the first time” that Dijsselbloem has expressed opinions “which are openly in contradiction with the line of the European progressive family.” “I truly wonder whether a person who has these beliefs can still be considered fit to be president of the Eurogroup,” he added. Portuguese Foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva joined in the criticism, saying Dijsselbloem should not be able “to remain at the head of the Eurogroup and the Portuguese government shares this opinion.”
Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem was targeted by a mail bomb which had been “intercepted,” his spokesman said Tuesday, a day after Greek police found eight “suspect” packages addressed to European officials. “I can confirm that Minister Dijsselbloem was the target of a mail bomb,” Coen Gelinck told AFP. “It was however intercepted,” said Gelinck, declining to give any further information or to confirm whether it was one of the packages found in Athens. Police in the Greek capital found eight packages Monday at the postal service’s main sorting centre north of Athens. The news came after a domestic militant group last week sent mail bombs to the IMF and the German finance ministry.
Monday’s packages were intended for “officials at European countries,” Greek police said. A police source later said the packages were intended for officials at the Eurogroup and other global institutions. Last week, a mail bomb sent to the IMF’s offices in Paris exploded and injured a secretary. A second bomb sent to the German finance ministry was intercepted by security. The investigation so far suggests that both the IMF and the German finance ministry bombs were sent by a far-left group called the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, which police thought they had mostly dismantled in 2011.
Greece will not last in the eurozone in the long run and officials working on a review of its bailout package should prepare for such a possibility, a senior member of the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Greece has lost a quarter of its national output since it first sought financial aid in 2010. Its current bailout package is the third in seven years. “Greece is unlikely to survive in the eurozone over the long term,” Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder told the Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. Soeder urged officials working on the bailout review to develop a “Plan B” or alternative plan. “We’ll see if Greece meets the conditions. I’m very skeptical,” Soeder said, adding that the participation of the International Monetary Fund was essential.
Soeder’s Christian Social Union is the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and has long accused Greece of failing to implement reforms promised under its bailout packages. Germany faces national elections in September and the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which has been particularly critical of eurozone bailouts, is expected to perform well. Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said on Monday he planned to stay in Brussels for further consultations with his country’s creditors towards finalizing the latest bailout review. He said he hoped for a preliminary deal by April 7. Greece and its international lenders are still at odds over pension, labor and energy market reforms that are needed before new loans can be disbursed to Athens. The IMF has yet to decide whether to participate in Greece’s €86 billion bailout, expressing deep concerns over debt sustainability in the crisis-hit nation.
The IMF wants Greece’s political opposition to also approve any new agreement for fiscal measures and targets after 2019, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin maintained on Tuesday, an abrupt revelation that would further complicate ongoing negotiations between Athens and its institutional creditors if proved true. The French minister also expressed his surprise over the Fund’s latest demand vis-a-vis the Greek program. “Can you image if they asked us, the French, to ask for the opposition’s commitment,” he said, adding that such a demand is unrealistic. Moreover, he referred to the IMF’s “obsessions” with labor market liberalization and social security reform.
With fiscal targets dictating an annual primary budget surplus of 3.5% (as a percentage of GDP) in the “medium term” after 2019, the IMF has pressed for – and European creditors have accepted – that austerity measures are enacted now in order to ensure that targets are achieved after the third bailout ends in mid 2018. Sapin made the statement in Brussels, a day after yet another Eurogroup meeting ended without a staff-level agreement between creditors and the increasingly embattled leftist-rightist government in Athens. Finally, he said all parties should assume their responsibilities in concluding the now utterly delayed second review of the Greek program, which he said will have repercussions on others, and not just the Greek economy.
With Greece’s international creditors indicating that insufficient progress has been achieved for bailout monitors to return to Athens, government sources have threatened to block the Rome Declaration, Kathimerini understands, connecting it to the negotiations on the second review. According to sources, the Greek official participating in preparatory talks ahead of the drafting of a common statement that EU leaders are expected to sign at a summit in Rome on Saturday, regarding the bloc’s common values and principles, told his interlocutors that Greece cannot agree to such a text while being pressed to implement unrealistic demands of the IMF.
Sources said that Greek officials aim to ensure that the joint declaration includes a paragraph referring to European regulations protecting citizens’ labor rights. It is the issue of labor rights — and the IMF’s demands for further liberalization of the sector — that has become the major sticking point in talks between Greece and its lenders. On Monday, finance ministers discussing Greek bailout negotiations deemed that inadequate progress had been achieved for foreign auditors to return to Athens. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos commented that he and other Greek ministers would remain in Brussels for further negotiations in a bid to establish enough common ground for bailout monitors to return to the Greek capital and resume talks.
The number of people registered as unemployed at Greece’s Manpower Organization (OAED) rose by about 6,000 in February to almost 1.1 million at the end of the month, a dramatic rate which is expected to continue until at least the end of 2017. This trend corresponds with the rise seen in the quarterly jobless rate late last year. The sum of OAED-registered unemployed who are seeking work amounted to 936,110 people, with more than half of them (503,431 people or 53.78%) having been registered for at least 12 months. There is a significant difference between men and women, as they break down into 576,491 women (61.58%) and 359,619 men (38.42%). Another 159,756 people were registered who are not seeking work, of whom 32,897 or 20.59% had been on the register for at least a year. The number of unemployment benefit recipients came to 178,105 people last month, of whom 73,205 (41.1%) were seasonal workers in the tourism industry.
Italy’s anti-establishment and anti-euro party Five Star Movement (M5S) represent the greatest threat to euro area stability, analysts told CNBC on Tuesday, as the populist party surged ahead of its political rivals in the latest opinion poll, putting it on course to be the biggest party if elections were called. M5S leader Beppe Grillo has enjoyed a recent, and remarkable, uptick in support, buoyed in part by the divisions in the ruling Democratic Party (PD) as former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attempts to regain support. Grillo, who has campaigned for Italy to hold a referendum on the single currency if elected, has overseen M5S’s support grow to 32.3%, according to an Ipsos poll published in daily newspaper Correa della Sera on Tuesday.
“If Five Star Movement could secure 30 or 40% of the vote then of course that would be extremely worrying for the euro area’s stability. Whether they can gain an absolute majority… we’ll have to wait and see,” Claus Vistesen, chief euro zone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics told CNBC via telephone. Italy is due to hold its next national election by early 2018 and, although Europe’s heavy political calendar has pushed the thought of Italy to the back of most investors’ minds, Deutsche Bank analysts argued it is Rome that poses the greatest threat to the euro area’s stability. The German lender suggested its base case scenario is for Renzi’s PD party, currently second in the polls, to fracture as a result of internal feuds. If this were to happen, it would then leave M5S in the driving seat ahead of the country’s general election.
[..] At the moment, parties in Italy are still looking to draw up a new electoral law, which most observers expect to result in a form of proportional representation that could reward a stable majority government to any party that can secure over 40% of the vote. M5S are significantly below the 40% threshold and have ruled out any desire to form a coalition government. However, Vistesen and Stringa both suggested with some confidence that Italy could expect weak economic growth throughout 2017 and therefore it would be conceivable for Grillo’s M5S to enjoy even greater support in the run up to a vote. Both France and Germany are due to elect new premiers before Italy and Vistesen concluded that, so long as the political favorites are able to win in each country, then Europe should be strong enough to manage a “mad man” like Grillo becoming Italy’s Prime Minister.
Germany has rejected more requests for arms exports to Turkey during the past 5 months than in five years between 2010 and 2015, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday. The sharp increase in rejections, mainly handguns, ammunition and parts needed in weapons production, is due to “the risk of a deployment in the context of internal repression or the Kurdish conflict,” according to a written response by State Secretary Matthias Machnig to a question posed by lawmaker Jan van Aken. “Respect for human rights is a matter of particular importance for arms export decisions,” the answer from Machnig of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also outlined.
“This is a first step,” van Aken told Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “And the next must be that Turkey does not get any weapons from Germany,” the Left Party (Die Linke) law maker said, adding that the Turkish government is waging a war both within its own borders and in Syria while fast becoming a dictatorship. Relations between Germany and Turkey are strained. Turkey’s plans to campaign in Germany ahead of the referendum were refused on several occasions and Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Germany of Nazi measures.
Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to help stem the largest flow of refugees since World War II is inching closer to collapse, according to Turkey’s minister in charge of EU integration. By hosting about 3 million refugees – the most of any nation – and halting their migration to Europe, Turkey has saved the EU from a “racist” backlash that threatens the bloc’s democratic character, Omer Celik said in an interview on Tuesday in Ankara. Describing the deal as one-sided, he said Turkey is under no obligation to continue implementing it, adding that his country’s commitment to seeking EU membership wasn’t unconditional. “We won’t abandon these people to their deaths, but an agreement has two sides and if one side doesn’t abide by its obligations, neither will the other,” Celik said. “If the refugee agreement collapses, what we foresee is clear: we won’t cooperate with any mechanisms acting on behalf of the EU.”
The prospects of Turkey joining the union are dissipating as politicians lash out ahead of a series of votes that could define relations for decades. In Europe, populists are campaigning on anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment, while in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been appealing to nationalists ahead of an April referendum on endowing his office with full executive authority. European officials have voiced their disapproval of the plebiscite, saying it would undermine democracy in the NATO member. [..] While support in Turkey for EU membership remains high, belief that it will happen has collapsed, Celik said. Ultimately, the issue could be put to the public as part of a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty, he said. “This issue depends on whether relations with the EU are maintained or not.” he said. “It is up to the Turkish people whether to keep the EU process or halt it.”
I’ve had this sitting in a tab for a while. It’s good that people are now picking it up, but it always seems weird that these things need to be explained this way. Economics truly is a blind field. Nature? Nature of man? Nah..
With Adam Smith, and hints before in Ricardo and others, economics took the path of treating the economy as a natural object that should not be interfered with by the state. This fit the Newtonian ethos of the age: science was great, science was mathematics; science was true, right and good. But along the way the discussion in, for example, Montaigne and Machiavelli — about the powers of imagination, myth, emotions, sentiment, human relations and community — was abandoned by the economists. (Adam Smith had written his Theory of Moral Sentiments 20 years earlier and sort of left it behind, though the Wealth of Nations is still concerned with human well-being.) Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the same year as Smith’s Wealth, but hardly read today by most economists.
In philosophy and the arts (romanticism among others) there was great engagement in these issues economics was trying to avoid. But that philosophy and art criticism have not been widely read for many years. The effect of ignoring the human side of lives was to undermine the social perspective of the “political,” by merging it with the individually focused “interest.” So, instead of exploring the inner structure of interest (or later utility or preference), or community feeling and the impact of culture, these were assumed to be irrelevant to the mechanics of the market. Politics, having to do with interest groups and power arrangements, is more vague and harder to model than economic activity. Those who wanted economics to be a science were motivated by the perception that “being scientific” was appreciated by the society of the time, and was the path to rock-solid truth.
But the move towards economics as a science also happened to align with a view of the landed and the wealthy that the economy was working for them, so don’t touch it. We get the equation, embracing science = conservative. This is still with us because of the implication that the market is made by god or nature rather than being socially constructed. Since economics is the attempt at a description of the economy, it was more or less locked in to the naturalist approach, which ignores things like class and ownership and treated capital as part of economic flow rather than as a possession that was useable for social and political power. Even now, economics still continues as if it were part of the age of Descartes and avoids most social, historical and philosophical thought about the nature of man and society. Names like Shaftesbury and Puffendorf, very much read in their time, are far less known now than Hobbes, Descartes, Ricardo, Mill and Keynes.
Karl Polanyi is much less well known than Hayek. We do not learn of the social history such as the complex interplay in Viennese society among those who were classmates and colleagues such as Hayek, Gombrich, Popper and Drucker. The impact of Viennese culture is not known to many economists. The result is an economics that supports an economy that is out of control because the feedback loops through society and its impact of the quality of life – and resentment – are not recognized in a dehumanized economics, and so can’t have a feedback correcting effect. The solution, however, is not to look for simplicity, but to embrace a kind of complexity that honors nature, humans, politics, and the way they are dealt with in philosophy, arts, investigative reporting, anthropology and history. Because the way forward cannot be a simple projection of the past. We are in more danger than that.
Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump. In a Washington Post op-ed on March 7, Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and a key architect of the Iraq War, jabbed at Republicans for serving as “Russia’s accomplices after the fact” by not investigating more aggressively. Then, Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the neocon American Enterprise Institute, and his wife, Kimberly Kagan, president of her own think tank, Institute for the Study of War, touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 15.
Yet, as much standing as the Kagans retain in Official Washington’s world of think tanks and op-ed placements, they remain mostly outside the new Trump-era power centers looking in, although they seem to have detected a door being forced open. Still, a year ago, their prospects looked much brighter. They could pick from a large field of neocon-oriented Republican presidential contenders or – like Robert Kagan – they could support the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose “liberal interventionism” matched closely with neoconservatism, differing only slightly in the rationalizations used for justifying wars and more wars. There was also hope that a President Hillary Clinton would recognize how sympatico the liberal hawks and the neocons were by promoting Robert Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, from Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to Secretary of State.
Then, there would have been a powerful momentum for both increasing the U.S. military intervention in Syria and escalating the New Cold War with Russia, putting “regime change” back on the agenda for those two countries. So, early last year, the possibilities seemed endless for the Family Kagan to flex their muscles and make lots of money. As I noted two years ago in an article entitled “A Family Business of Perpetual War”: “Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.
[..] But things didn’t quite turn out as the Kagans had drawn them up. The neocon Republicans stumbled through the GOP primaries losing out to Donald Trump and then – after Hillary Clinton muscled aside Sen. Bernie Sanders to claim the Democratic nomination – she fumbled away the general election to Trump. After his surprising victory, Trump – for all his many shortcomings – recognized that the neocons were not his friends and mostly left them out in the cold. Nuland not only lost her politically appointed job as Assistant Secretary but resigned from the Foreign Service, too. With Trump in the White House, Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment was down but far from out. The neocons were tossed a lifeline by Democrats and liberals who detested Trump so much that they were happy to pick up Nuland’s fallen banner of the New Cold War with Russia.
The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people. A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities. The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person. The judges cited the example of the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Maori people. people, which was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week. Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries would be “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.
The court in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries. It ordered that a management board be established within three months. The case arose after officials complained that the state governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges. Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said the practical implications of the decision were not clear. “There are already 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage entering the river each day, and 500m litres of industrial waste,” he said. “All of this will become illegal with immediate effect, but you can’t stop the discharge immediately. So how this decision pans out in terms of practical reality is very unclear.”
China now has more than 100 cities of over 1 million residents, a number that is likely to double in the next decade. According to the Demographia research group, the world’s most populous country boasts 102 cities bigger than 1 million people, many of which are little known outside the country – or even within its borders. Quanzhou, for example, on the south-east coast of China, was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world a millennium ago, when it served as a hub for traders from across Asia and the Middle East. It is now home to more than 7 million people, nearly 800,000 more than Madrid. But while Madrid is a cultural powerhouse and the centre of Spanish politics, Quanzhou, with its 1,000-year-old mosque and charming cafes, is rarely discussed even within Chinese media, whereas Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong continue to get most of the headlines.
Outside China, meanwhile, few will even have heard of Kaifeng, a former imperial capital that was once a terminus on the Silk Road, or Weihai, both cities bigger than Liverpool (estimated population of urban area 880,000). The scale of China’s urban ambitions is staggering: it now has 119 cities bigger than Liverpool. By 2025, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, that number is predicted to have more than doubled. One reason is that the government is actively encouraging rural residents to urbanise. China aims to have 60% of its people living in cities by 2020, up from 56.1% currently, and the World Bank estimates a billion people – or 70% of the country’s population – will be living in cities by 2030. Thousands of government officials have campaigned across the country to convince farmers to move to newly built urban districts, turning centuries-old villages into ghost towns.
People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report. Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found. Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
A study team of 11 researchers at the Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies for the report, which is the most wide-ranging probe yet into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing. The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation. “The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature,” said Robbie Blake, a nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, which commissioned the analysis.
This is a great story, which should have many people follow the example, for if we would all plant just one tree every day, we would never have a lack of trees again.
And of course I can’t post this without adding a famous French 1953 story by Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees, which inspired Québec’s Frédérick Back to make his 1987 Oscar winning animation. What a masterpiece it still is. Please watch. It’ll make you feel so much better.
When Antonio Vicente bought a patch of land in São Paulo state and said he wanted to use it to plant a forest, people called him crazy. It was 1973 and forests were seen by many as an obstacle to progress and profit. Brazil’s then military government encouraged wealthy landowners to expand by offering them generously subsidised credit to invest in modern farming techniques, a move the ruling generals hoped would boost national agriculture. But water, or an impending lack of it, was Vicente’s concern as he worriedly watched the expansion of cattle grazing and industry, the destruction of local forests, and the growth of the population and the rapid urbanisation of the state. One of 14 children, Vicente grew up on a farm where his father worked. He’d watched him cut down the trees at the owners’ orders, for use in charcoal production and to clear more land for grazing cattle.
Eventually the farm’s water springs dried up and never returned. Maintaining forests are essential for water supplies because trees absorb and retain water in their roots and help to prevent soil erosion. So with some donkeys and a small team, he worked on his little patch – 31 hectares (77 acres) of land that had been razed for grazing cattle – and set about regenerating. “The area was totally stripped,” he says, demonstrating by pointing to a painting of the treeless land in 1976. “The water supplies had nearly dried up.” His neighbours, who were cattle and dairy farmers, used to tell him: “You are dumb. Planting trees is a waste of land. You won’t have income. If it’s full of trees, you won’t have room for cows or crops.” But what started off as a weekend gig has now become a full-time way of life. More than 40 years later, Vicente – now 84 – estimates he has replanted 50,000 trees on his 31 hectare Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range property.
“If you ask me who my family are, I would say all this right here, each one of these that I planted from a seed,” he says. [..] Vicente has seen first-hand the devastating effects of mass deforestation. He travelled at one point to Rondonia, now one of Brazil’s most deforested Amazon states, in 1986 during a drive by the Brazilian government to settle the region which proved disastrous as following mass deforestation, the land yielded poor results. “The government were giving the land away for cheap, but the land didn’t serve for anything,” he says. “People cut down the trees but after 3 to 4 years, the soil turned into sand and nothing grows.” Speaking of his own project in the Mantiqueira mountain range: “I didn’t do it for money, I did it because when I die, what’s here will remain for everyone.” He adds: “People don’t call me crazy any more.”
Sweden’s welfare state supposedly allows for success while providing a safety net for those unable to keep up with the market. In principle, it is an ideal, utopian-like state. However, Sweden’s touted economic success has come at the expense of its currency, the Krone (SEK), and long-term sustainability. Riksbank, the Swedish Central Bank, like its European contemporaries, has undertaken experimental policy, driving real and nominal interest rates below zero. Since 2014, Swedish deposit rates have been negative. Not only has overall negative real interest rate policy affected housing, but it also drove Swedish consumers deeper into debt. Embarking on the dual mandate policy may have staved off recession, but it created greater problems for the future.
Although current deposit rates are at a record low of -1.25%, the latest GDP print came in at 2.3%, and the growth rate has been tapering since 2015. Sweden’s “hot” GDP growth – hot relative to the region – could be attributed, not to industrial growth, but rather increased government spending, funding social programs. Additionally, with no incentive to save, consumer debt has taken off, along with the housing prices, while disposable income lagged. Swedish household debt is now at a record high. Hence, the Swedish growth story is not organic but rather a borrow-and-spend one.
Swedes, like Norwegians, are victims of the “exchange rate versus housing price shell game.” The SEK received today for the sale of their inflated flats has fallen 30% against the US dollar (average USDSEK in 2014 was 6.86 vs. 8.95 on March 15, 2017). Stockholm housing rose 31% during the same period in SEK terms, negating the recent gains over the same period. The SEK fell 23% against gold in the same period. Hence, the “Swedish Model” is under attack. The egalitarian underpinnings, unwinding with the negative rates, are driving a wedge into Swedish society, creating extremes on both sides of the economic spectrum. The rampant consumerism, encouraged by artificially low rates, continues to widen the wealth gap. Coincidentally, the middle class deteriorated the most between 2014 and 2015: the same time that deposit rates took a dive. Furthermore, the negative savings rates are driving the average person to “gamble” on speculative investments instead of saving and building a future over the long term.
[..] instead of undertaking experimental rate policy, Riksbank and the Swedish government should be engineering a soft-landing or a “controlled crash”, adjusting taxes and policy to ensuring a smooth transition to sustainability for the general population. There is precedent from Iceland that already exists. It is clear that the negative rate experiment is neither sustainable nor helpful to economic growth. It only inflates bubbles while widening the wealth gap in Swedish society. A once prudent and financially conservative people are now getting drunk on debt, wrecking their future. The very premise of Swedish society is under attack.
Former prime minister Paul Keating has labelled as “scandalous” the Turnbull government’s suggestion it might allow young people to raid their superannuation for house deposits. Ahead of the May budget, Mr Keating argues the idea would rob younger Australians of a large block of savings at the end of their working lives. “As an economic idea, this is scandalous. But, of course, for the Liberal Party, this is an ideological proposal,” he writes in Fairfax Media today. Mr Keating, who spearheaded Australia’s superannuation sector in 1992, said if the government were to proceed with this “irresponsible” idea it would put at risk the financial future of generations.
“It would potentially destroy superannuation for those, in the main, under 40 years of age, while at the same time, driving up the cost of the housing they are seeking to purchase,” he said. The federal government earlier this month set up a taskforce to look at new ways to promote millions of dollars of investment in community housing that could benefit one in three Australians. The taskforce will be headed up by Stephen Knight, who has had extensive experience in debt capital markets as CEO of the Treasury Corporation in NSW and as a member of the Australian Office of Financial Management advisory board. The group will report back to the government by the middle of the year. Treasurer Scott Morrison said housing affordability issues were impacting on the 30% of Australians who live in rented homes, and those who relied on affordable and social housing.
“The government intends to pause the surging home prices, and let them walk steadily up later,” said Xia Dan, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications Co., adding that if curbs on demand are lifted, prices will rise further. “The government doesn’t want the prices to run all the time and ferment bubbles.” As Bloomberg notes, China’s biggest cities have seen a round of home price surges in the past year. In Beijing, new home prices rose 24% in February from a year earlier, while Shanghai saw a 25% gain. Shenzhen prices increased 14% in the same period. “Beijing’s tightening will have a short-term effect to stabilize the market, but the power of policy has become increasingly weaker,” Zhang Hongwei at Tospur Real Estate Consulting, said Friday, adding more local tightening may follow.
Or maybe not, because one may ask: is the rebound really unexpected. Perhaps not: as the WSJ reported on Sunday, “this year it seemed China was finally going to make headway on an idea familiar to U.S. homeowners: a property tax. For many Chinese families, owning a home is one of few options to build wealth, driving buying frenzies as people rush to purchase before prices soar. Imposing costs on homeowners through a property tax is seen as a way to tame such speculation, while also helping fund local governments. Lu Kehua, China’s vice housing minister, last month said the government needed to “speed up” a property-tax law. Economists and academics have long recommended the move. Yet the annual National People’s Congress came and went this month with no discussion of the topic. An NPC spokeswoman said a property tax wouldn’t be on the legislative agenda for the rest of the year.
In short, China evaluted the risk of a potential housing bubble burst, and deciding that – at least for the time being – it is not worth the threat of losing a third of Chinese GDP in “wealth effect”, got cold feet. Expect the recent dip in home prices to promptly stabilize, with gains in the short-term more likely that not.
The Federal Reserve might be doing the right thing for the U.S. economy by moving to bring interest rates back up to normal. But for foreign companies and governments that have borrowed trillions of U.S. dollars, the adjustment could be painful. Thanks in large part to a prolonged period of extremely low U.S. interest rates, borrowers around the world have gone on a dollar binge over much of the past decade – making them more vulnerable to the Fed’s policy decisions than ever before. As of September, non-bank companies and governments outside the U.S. had some $10.5 trillion in dollar-denominated debt outstanding, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s more than triple the level of September 2004, the last time the Fed was about this far into a cycle of rate increases. Here’s a chart:
If the Fed sticks with its plan of raising rates more than a percentage point by the end of next year, the increased interest costs could stunt growth and weigh on borrowers’ finances in places as far flung as the U.K. and China. It could also mean losses for investors holding the debt, particularly given that the duration of dollar-denominated bonds – a measure of their price sensitivity to changes in interest rates – is close to its highest point in at least two decades. An increase of 1 percentage point, for example, would take $500 billion off the value of the bonds included in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. Dollar Global Corporate and High Yield Index. Here’s a chart showing how that number has changed over the years (thanks to a combination of increased dollar debt and increased duration):
Oil prices fell on Monday, with already-bloated markets pressured by rising U.S. drilling activity and steady supplies from OPEC countries despite touted production cuts. Prices for benchmark Brent crude futures were 35 cents, or 0.68%, below their last settlement at 0646 GMT, at $51.41 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 46 cents, or 0.94%, at $48.32 a barrel. Traders said that prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies by OPEC despite its pledge to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) together with some other producers like Russia.
“There is good, strong momentum to the downside,” futures brokerage CMC Markets said in a note on Monday. U.S. drillers added 14 oil rigs in the week to March 17, bringing the total count up to 631, the most since September 2015, energy services firm Baker Hughes Inc said on Friday, extending a recovery that is expected to boost shale production by the most in six-months in April. Sukrit Vijayakar of energy consultancy Trifecta said the rising drilling activity was “reinforcing the expectation of higher U.S. production offsetting (OPEC’s) supply cuts”. U.S. oil output has risen to over 9.1 million bpd from below 8.5 million bpd in June last year.
“..for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.
“The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”
It is time to say that attempts to memorialise the Holocaust have failed and may even be counterproductive. The dead are still dead; anti-Semitism still exists and sometimes thrives. Myths of Jewish power circulate, now with the added insult of “playing the Holocaust card (that you presumably picked up at a Holocaust memorial gift shop)”. A clutch of these memorials, all counselling kindness to the refugee, could not save Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. In January the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, posted a picture of herself signing a Holocaust remembrance book on Twitter. “We must never forget,” she wrote. It reminded me of my favourite line from the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters: “The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”
Two weeks later, Rudd announced that the “Dubs amendment” – which aimed to offer sanctuary to solitary child refugees and was sponsored by Lord Dubs, who came to the UK from Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport in March 1939 – would be discontinued after resettling just 350 children. (Even the Cameron government, no friend to the vulnerable, suggested that it could take about 3,000.) I do not expect Rudd to know that, in response to the Évian Conference on Jewish refugees, held in France in 1938, Adolf Hitler offered German Jews to the world but the world did not want them. Britain took 10,000 children, sponsored privately, and left their parents to die. After 1945, Britain agreed to take another 1,000 Jewish children but it could not find 1,000 still alive. It took 732. I now see that, for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.
But if that’s what you think, you never knew anything to forget. Rudd couldn’t see the connection between the British government of 1938 leaving children to die in far-off lands and the British government of 2016 doing the same. Her signing of a Holocaust remembrance book was so meaningless that it was, at best, hand exercise and, at worst, a cynical PR gesture. This act of Holocaust memorialising was a failure. I hope that Rudd is prevented from approaching any Holocaust-related stationery in future. But that won’t happen. The orthodoxy in these circles is: let them all come to bear witness, no matter what they do with it. Some of them might learn something. This policy led to a friend hearing a young Polish boy, touring Auschwitz, describe a fellow visitor as “a rich Jewish bitch in all that jewellery”. The boy had learned nothing, but the man had. He punched him in the face, and that is the only cheerful anecdote in this article.
Maybe Germany and the US should make this very clear: “..the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt.”
Doubts expressed by Germany’s spy agency regarding the role of a U.S.-based cleric in last year’s attempted coup in Turkey are proof that Berlin supports the organization behind the attempt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Sunday. Ibrahim Kalin made the comment in a live interview with broadcaster CNN Turk. On Saturday, German news magazine Der Spiegel published an interview with the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt. “Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but so far it has not succeeded,” Bruno Kahl was quoted as saying. Kalin said those comments were proof that Berlin supported the coup. Germany and Turkey have been locked in a deepening diplomatic row after Berlin banned some Turkish ministers from speaking to rallies of expatriate Turks ahead of a referendum next month, citing public safety concerns.
Ankara launched a new wave of anti-German rhetoric on Sunday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling out the German chancellor in a televised speech. “When we call them Nazis, they (Europe) get uncomfortable. They rally together in solidarity. Especially Merkel,” Erdogan said. “But you are right now employing Nazi measures,” he said, addressing Merkel directly and using the unofficial, personal way of saying “you” in Turkish. Erdogan has previously accused both the Netherlands and Germany of acting like Nazis after the two countries prevented Turkish ministers from holding campaign rallies on their territory. In his Sunday speech, Erdogan accused Merkel personally of using Nazi methods against his “Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers.”
The row with Europe “showed that a new page had been opened in the ongoing fight against our country,” he added. Berlin was decidedly not amused, saying that the Turkish president had “gone too far.” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Passauer Neue Presse that he warned Ankara against continuing this “shocking” rhetoric. “We are tolerant but we’re not stupid,” Gabriel said. “That’s why I have let my Turkish counterpart know very clearly that a boundary has been crossed here.” Ankara also responded furiously to a Kurdish rally in Frankfurt yesterday, where participants carried flags and symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and called for a ‘no’ on the upcoming referendum. The Turkish government said the rally showed Berlin’s hypocrisy after halting similar events for the ‘yes’ camp. They also summoned the German ambassador over the incident.
The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the euro zone’s bailout fund – should ultimately be turned into a European version of the International Monetary Fund, the head of euro zone finance ministers told a German newspaper. “I think it would make a lot of sense for the euro zone bailout fund ESM to be developed into a European IMF in the medium to long term,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Monday’s edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He said that would also mean that Greece’s current “troika” of lenders – the European Commission, ECB and the IMF – would need to be broken up in the longer term. “The ECB feels increasingly uncomfortable in its troika role, and rightly so I think,” Dijsselbloem said, adding that the European Commission had other “important tasks” that it should concentrate on.He said the ESM should “build up the technical expertise that only the IMF has at the moment”.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has also proposed turning the ESM into a European monetary fund to improve the management of crises in Europe. Dijsselbloem said the institutions should maintain their roles for Greece’s current bailout and said he still expected the IMF to decide on a new programme, adding that it would be “most welcome” if this happened by the summer. Germany, which holds elections in September, wants the IMF on board before new money is lent to Athens. But it disagrees with the IMF over debt relief and the fiscal targets that Greece should maintain after the bailout programme ends in 2018. Dijsselbloem said he did not expect the current review of Greece’s bailout programme to be concluded quickly, adding that he did not think the institutions will complete it before a Eurogroup meeting in Malta in April.
Under the current government, the PvdA’s rightward shift took on a whole new meaning. The party gained significant ground during the 2012 elections by arguing that a vote for Labour was the only way to avoid a VVD-led austerity government. Immediately after the elections, the party turned around and started negotiating the formation of a coalition with those very opponents. This government launched a massive austerity program, entailing almost fifty billion euros in cutbacks. PvdA ministers prided themselves on taking some of the most difficult posts, including social affairs and employment (PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher) and finance (Jeroen Dijsselbloem).
A PvdA minister of the interior loyally executed the VVD’s anti-refugee policies. And Dijsselbloem not only enthusiastically applied the European Union’s fiscal stringency to the Netherlands but, as chairman of the Eurogroup, became its main enforcer against the Syriza government. Nothing could more fully demonstrate the PvdA’s neoliberal drift than the fact that Alexander Pechtold, leader of the liberal-democratic party Democrats 66 (D66), repeatedly suggested Dijsselbloem could continue to represent the Netherlands in Brussels “so that he can finish the job.” [..] The same anger and anxieties that created violent shocks to the political system — of which the PvdA’s collapse is only the latest example — also continue to drive large numbers to vote for allegedly safe parties that they wrongly believe will at least not make things worse.
Greece spends more on pensions because it is the only fallback the economy has, they play the role that in other countries is played by unemployment benefits. The Troika knows this very well. It’s hard not to conclude that the lenders are trying to create a civil war in Greece.
Greece is set to miss yet another deadline for unlocking bailout funds this week, edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse. Euro-area finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will reiterate that the government of Alexis Tsipras has yet to comply with the terms attached to the emergency loans that have kept the country afloat since 2010. While Tsipras had promised the long delayed review of the latest bailout would be completed by March 20, a European official said last week that reaching an agreement even in April is now considered a long shot. The two sides are still far apart on reforms demanded by creditors in the Greek energy market and the government in Athens is resisting calls for additional pension cuts. And while discussions continue on how to overhaul the labor market, a finance ministry official said in an email to reporters on Friday that the issue can’t be solved in talks with technocrats.
Stalled bailout reviews and acrimony between successive governments and auditors representing creditor institutions are all too familiar themes in the seven-year crisis that has reduced the Greek economy by a quarter. Failure to resolve the latest standoff before the summer could mean that Greece may not be able to meet debt payments due in mid-July. Even as Greek bonds have performed better than most of its euro-area peers this year on expectations that the government will capitulate, uncertainty has weighed on economic activity, raising the risk that an additional bailout may be needed. Unemployment rose in the last quarter of 2016, the economy unexpectedly contracted, and a bleeding of deposits from the nation’s battered lenders resumed.
For a story of waste and suffering, it’s notable that some of the worst decisions in response to the refugee crisis in Greece were born of good intentions. An archipelago of some 50 small refugee camps was scattered over Greece in preference to concentrating asylum seekers in larger ghettos. As an idea it had merits. In practice it was disastrous. Authorities still struggle to say how many camps there are. The Ministry of Migration Policy lists 39 but the UN says there may be more than 50. Many of these sites, which are in various states of closure, were clearly unfit for human habitation in the first place. The choice to build so many of them multiplied infrastructure costs for things like sewage systems built on private property or remote sites that will serve no public purpose in the future. Meanwhile, the Public Power Corporation is building substations at sites that will likely face closure.
The European Commission and its humanitarian operations agency ECHO are expected to cease support for all but 10 of Greece’s mainland camps in the near future. As the main donor, this will be decisive. There is similar confusion over how many asylum seekers remain in Greece from the 1.03 million who entered in 2015-16. Again the ministry and the UN disagree, with the former saying 62,000 and the latter nearer 50,000. European officials say privately that both numbers are overestimates. This shroud of confusion has contributed to a mess that will be remembered as the most expensive humanitarian response in history. Some $803 million flowed into Greece from the beginning of 2015, according to an investigation by Refugees Deeply, an independent reporting platform. The bulk of these funds were meant to be spent on services for the 57,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece when the borders shut one year ago. That translates to a rough cost per beneficiary of $14,000.
Nobody believes this has been money well spent. One senior aid official admitted that as many as $70 out of every $100 spent had been wasted. As anyone who followed the response in Haiti or Kosovo would affirm, the aid industry is inherently wasteful but this was excessive. The scale of this became obvious from November onward when refugees were pictured in tents in the snow and it sparked a blame game. None of the actors emerge with much credit. The UN refugee agency played mute witness to failures in refugee protection for fear of offending its second largest donor, the EU. The European Commission was content to make grandiose statements that exaggerated the funding it had committed, while doing nothing to correct the mistakes it witnessed on the ground. It also made promises on asylum service assistance that were not kept. The bigger the mess in Greece, the greater the deterrent and the stronger the message to future asylum seekers not to come this way.
Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.
[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.
Around 3,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Sunday as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the Italian coast guard told AFP. “After some calm days, migrants are arriving in large numbers, taking advantage of a window of favorable weather,” said a coast guard official. The rescue was undertaken in 22 separate operations coordinated by the Italian coast guard. One participant was the Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors. An MSF video showed three young children smiling and dancing on the ship to the sound of drumming. The migrants rescued by the Aquarius had been found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats. According to the Italian government, 16,206 people have been rescued in the sea by Friday — compared to 11,911 by the same time last year.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was gravely troubled by recent reports that federal agents were “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration law,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. Trump has vowed to increase deportations and has widened the net of illegal immigrants prioritized for detention and removal. “We will review the letter and have no further comment at this time,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email.
Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have entered courthouses with increased frequency this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, said National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney. “It’s definitely an issue we’re seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration,” Keaney said by phone on Thursday. Cantil-Sakauye stopped short of questioning the legal right of federal agents to enter courthouses to locate and detain unauthorized immigrants. Her letter said the presence of immigration agents in California courthouses could undermine “public trust and confidence in our state court system,” which serves “millions of the most vulnerable Californians.”
Washington has a knack for ignoring long-term financial shortfalls and painting overly rosy scenarios about the future to make their numbers work in the here and now. Case in point: Donald Trump’s unrealistic projection that the U.S. economy will grow at 3% this year, when the latest GDP forecasts have actually been reduced to 1.8% by a number of economists. Then there is Social Security. Many politicians are just too intimidated, uninformed or complacent to tackle the unsustainability of Social Security — which by the latest tally will see its trust fund go to zero just 17 years from now, in 2034. But while fudging GDP numbers is dangerous for America’s economic outlook and the demise of Social Security in two decades is a serious long-term concern, America faces a mathematical problem that dwarfs both of these items: A pending pension crisis that could leave millions of Americans high and dry in the very near future.
Sure, it would be difficult for many if the U.S. economy stumbles under misguided Trump policies. And yes, the idea of even modest cuts to Social Security in the coming decades could serious affect millions of seniors. But take a look South Carolina’s government pension plan, which covers roughly 550,000 people – one out of nine state residents – but is a staggering $24.1 billion in the red. This is not a distant concern, but a system already in crisis. Younger workers are being asked to do much more to support the pensions of retirees. An analysis by the The Post and Courier of Charleston noted recently that “Government workers and their employers have seen five hikes in their pension plan contributions since 2012, and there’s no end in sight.” (Most now contribute 8.66% of their pay, vs. 6.5% before the changes.) At the same time, the pension fund has been chasing more stocks and alternative investments instead of relying on stable investments like bonds that may be much less volatile but generate only meager returns.
After the surprise election of Donald Trump, the head of Norway’s biggest oil company headed to Washington D.C. this month looking for reassurance. He came away as worried as ever. “I was looking for clarity, also some guidance, good advice, and also some people to talk to – new relationships within the administration,” Statoil CEO Eldar Saetre told a conference in Oslo on Thursday. “I have to be honest with you – I didn’t get much of any of it.” Saetre, whose company has stakes in three U.S. onshore areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, was concerned about the protectionist bent of the new president’s rhetoric. Combined with last year’s Brexit vote and looming elections in Europe where nationalists are gaining influence, he sees Trump’s victory as a threat to global free trade.
“From Brexit to Trump, we see warning signs that globalization could be going in reverse,” Saetre said at the annual Swedbank Energy Summit. “For our industry, I believe that would be very negative.” Trump’s energy policies could benefit oil producers in the U.S. by loosening regulations and freeing up more areas for drilling. However, his protectionist agenda could affect economic growth and trading relations with countries from neighboring Mexico to Asia. “Global collaboration and integrated markets have been and will remain key to make our industry prosper,” Saetre said. “Fair, open access to markets are keys to enable investments, value creation and jobs in our industry.” Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change, making it “more important than ever,” Saetre said.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the Trump administration has no desire to get into trade wars, but certain trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer for U.S. workers. At a news conference with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump views trade as important for economic growth. But when asked whether the Group of 20 finance ministers should explicitly reaffirm their past vow to resist protectionism, Mnuchin repeated his view that some U.S. trade relationships need to be re-examined to make them fairer and more reciprocal. “It is not our desire to get into trade wars,” Mnuchin said. “The president does believe in free trade but he wants free and fair trade.” Differences over trade could become a sticking point for G20 finance officials at a meeting in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany this weekend.
Schaeuble told Reuters in an interview that it was unclear whether the anti-protectionism language would remain in the G20 statement to be issued at the meeting’s close on Saturday. Given that Trump’s “America First” agenda, trade issues could be set aside for G20 leaders to tackle at a summit in July, Schaeuble said. But both Schaeuble and Mnuchin both said they had a constructive discussion ahead of the G20 meeting and pledged to work together through differences to promote growth. “It was a good start,” Schaeuble said of the meeting, adding that it was a positive sign for international cooperation and the G20 process. “We have found a good basis to talk openly about issues where we don’t have the same stance from the outset,” Schaeuble said. Mnuchin said the ministers agreed that they should fight currency manipulation.
This viral story looks sensationalized. Meals on Wheels gets just part of its funding from the Community Development Block Grant program. I included the article anyway because we’re getting into Bizarro World territory here: “You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, unveiled on Thursday, would cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides daily meals to millions of low-income seniors across the country. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a press conference Thursday that Meals on Wheels “sounds great.” But he said that along with other anti-poverty programs, it is “not showing any results.” “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” Mulvaney told reporters. “We’re not going to spend money on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”
Trump’s budget would strip $3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant program, which supports a variety of community-development and anti-poverty programs. Those include Meals on Wheels, which provided 219 million meals to 2.4 million seniors in 2016. CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked Mulvaney if the funding cuts were “hard-hearted.” Mulvaney responded that reducing government spending on ineffective programs is “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” “You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re only focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.'”
Jeroen Dijsselbloem may have to stand down as president of the Eurogroup which coordinates policy in the eurozone if he cannot retain his role as Dutch finance minister in a new coalition after his party was routed in Wednesday’s election. The Labor Party crashed from second to seventh place in preliminary results, losing more than three-quarters of its seats and making it hard for victorious liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte to retain Dijsselbloem in such a senior cabinet post, even though he has made clear his appreciation of his work. Neither man commented on the matter directly Thursday. Dijsselbloem is due to represent the Eurogroup at a G20 meeting in Germany Friday and to chair the monthly meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.
While other eurozone finance ministers may seek his role, there is a lack of obvious contenders, particularly given that many governments will resist appointing a politician from the right because conservatives hold most other top EU jobs. It is just possible Dijsselbloem might retain his Dutch portfolio. There has also been speculation that the Eurogroup could keep him on as chairman even if he loses his national job – although some senior officials say that is most unlikely. Dijsselbloem, whose second 30-month term ends in January, has been popular with fellow ministers, balancing a background on the left with support from conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, who wields Germany’s power on the Eurogroup and insists on strict terms for Greece and other states awarded bailout loans.
The Dutchman will remain in office for weeks, and possibly months, as Rutte struggles to put together a new coalition after Wednesday’s election. Rutte’s own party lost seats and the anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders finished in second place. Eurogroup rules do not stipulate that its president must be a serving finance minister. But senior eurozone officials have said lately that they do not believe fellow ministers would keep Dijsselbloem on if he lost his main job in The Hague. In the longer term, there has been talk of making the position a full-time one, with its own staff. But that is not yet agreed.
Anyone who doubted that the IMF is in deep trouble over its inane involvement in the toxic Greek bailout, and Berlin’s policy of extending Greece’s insolvency ad infinitum while the country’s social economy shrinks, should now have no more doubts. Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, yesterday introduced the IMF Reform and Integrity Act, which would require the U.S. to oppose the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) co-financing of a third Greek bailout with the European Stability Mechanism. If such co-financing were to go forward, the bill would prohibit the U.S. from supporting an IMF quota increase until funds are repaid in full.
“The IMF is supposed to be a lender of last resort, not a fig leaf of first resort for Eurozone members,” said Congressman Huizenga. “The IMF isn’t a fund to rescue political parties in creditor nations, nor should it be a junior partner to outside organizations that lack the commitment to do their work. For seven years now, the IMF has been used to shield Eurozone officials from their voters, which has tarnished the Fund’s reputation, prolonged Greece’s misery, and put off hard choices about Europe’s future that must be made regardless. As the IMF’s largest shareholder, the U.S. should ensure that the Fund remains independent and free from politicization that could put taxpayer dollars at risk. This bill will help make that a reality.”
In addition, the IMF Reform and Integrity Act cancels supplementary IMF funds that have already been deactivated, rescinding them and sending those resources back to the U.S. Treasury. The bill also clarifies existing law to require the U.S. Executive Director of the Fund to oppose any loan to a country whose debt is unsustainable.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and a group of his colleagues are calling on the newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately investigate how US taxpayer funds are being used by the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support Soros-backed, leftist political groups in several Eastern European countries including Macedonia and Albania. According to the letter, potentially millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled through USAID to Soros’ Open Society Foundations with the explicit goal of pushing his progressive agenda. “Unfortunately, we have received a credible report that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political group over others. We find these reports discoraging and, if true, highly problematic.”
“Much of the concerning activity in Macedonia has been perpetuated through USAID funds awarded to implementing entities such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. As the recipient of multiple grant awards and serving as a USAID contractor implementing projects in this small nation of 2.1 million people, our taxpayer funded foreign aid goes far, allowing Foundation Open Society – Macedonia (FOSM) to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left. Our foreign aid should only be used to promote a political agenda if it is in the security or economic interests of our country to do so, and even at that, we must be cautious and respectful in such an endeavor. We should be especially wary of promoting policies that remain controversial even in our own country and that have the potential to harm our relationship with the citizens of recipient countries.”
As Fox News pointed out, USAID gave nearly $15 million to Soros’ Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, and other Soros-linked organizations in the region, in the last 4 years of Obama’s presidency alone. “The USAID website shows that between 2012 and 2016, USAID gave almost $5 million in taxpayer cash to FOSM for “The Civil Society Project,” which “aims to empower Macedonian citizens to hold government accountable.” USAID’s website links to www.soros.org.mk, and says the project trained hundreds of young Macedonians “in youth activism and the use of new media instruments.” The State Department told lawmakers that in addition to that project, USAID has recently funded a new Civic Engagement Project which partners with four organizations, including FOSM. The cost is believed to be around $9.5 million. A citizen’s initiative called “Stop Operation Soros” has also published a white paper alleging U.S. money has been funding violent riots in the streets [..]
China may avoid having to pull out the big stick when it comes to reining in a record short-term borrowing spree by its smaller banks. The increased cost to lenders of issuing so-called negotiable certificates of deposit will naturally deflate a market that jumped by 90% in February from a year earlier, according to Ping An Securities. Demand is also waning for the securities, used by Chinese banks as a way of leveraging up investments and expanding their balance sheets, with mutual funds cutting their holdings to the lowest level in at least a year in January. “It’s unsustainable for commercial banks to take such high costs,” said Shi Lei at Ping An, a unit of China’s second-largest insurer. “NCDs are now even more expensive than short-term commercial paper. It will be corrected as lenders complete their adjustments in the term structure of the debt.”
Introduced by the People’s Bank of China in 2013 as a fresh source of money for smaller lenders which have difficulty competing for savings against big state banks, NCDs have morphed into a way for them to fund purchases of each other’s wealth-management products. That boosts refinancing risks in a banking system that will see a record 3.65 trillion yuan ($529 billion) of the notes maturing this quarter. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the authorities, with the PBOC looking at classifying NCDs as interbank liabilities, Caixin.com reported in January, a move that would quell growth in the market given limits on how much in interbank debt Chinese lenders are allowed to hold relative to their overall liabilities. The central bank has been ramping up its campaign to contain leverage since August, tightening money-market rates as a way of discouraging borrowing. The PBOC boosted borrowing costs for lenders Thursday, just hours after the Federal Reserve lifted benchmark interest rates.
On 10 January 2017 Canadian PM Justin Trudeau fired his minister of external affairs, Stéphane Dion, and replaced him with Chrystia Freeland, who was then minister of international trade. This cabinet shuffle might not have gotten much public notice except that Dion is a distinguished parliamentarian, former leader of the party and leader of the opposition, and a former key minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. Freeland, on the other hand, is a well-known Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and self-declared Russophobe and hater of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sacking of Dion was also noteworthy because Trudeau had run on an electoral platform in 2015 promising, inter alia, to improve Canadian relations with Russia, spoilt by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. When Dion became minister of external affairs, he confirmed the Liberal commitment to re-establish more constructive Canadian-Russian relations.
[..] Why should Canadians care one way or another whether their government supports the Ukraine and sends arms and advisors there to strengthen Ukrainian military forces? Well, the most important reason is that the present government in Kiev is illegitimate in spite of democratic appearances. It is the spawn of a violent coup d’état in February 2014, brokered and supported by the United States and the European Union, which overthrew the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovich. The vanguard of the Kiev coup d’état are neo-Nazi, fascist or ultra nationalist political and paramilitary organisations, notably the political party Svoboda, the paramilitary Pravyi sektor and various other paramilitary forces such as the so-called Azov and Aidar battalions. These paramilitary units were and are used to crush opposition in those parts of the Ukraine controlled by Kiev.
Neo-Nazi violence and intimidation worked in many places, but not in others. In the Crimea, the population united almost to the last man and woman, to toss out the putschist authorities and to vote for reunification with Russia. In the east, in the Donbass, the anti-fascist resistance repulsed Kiev punitive forces with heavy losses. These remarkable feats of arms, redolent of so many others in Russian history, were wasted by Moscow, which disregarded a first principle of war that one never lets an enemy withdraw to fight another day. «He who spares the aggressor», Stalin once remarked, «wants another war.» It may shock some people to hear Stalin quoted, but Plutarch, Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz might have said the same thing. Moscow supported the so-called Minsk peace accords which were never respected by the Kiev authorities. Ultra-nationalists even boasted that they had agreed to Minsk solely in order to rest and refit their beaten forces. It was only a ruse de guerre.
These are the forces which the Canadian government now supports with the enthusiastic backing of Minister Freeland. For her, it must be a lifelong dream-come-true. There has been much press comment during the last week or so about Freeland’s Ukrainian grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Freeland claimed that he was only a refugee from Stalinist violence. He might have been, but he also collaborated with Nazi Germany. In many places in Europe, France and Italy, for example, collaborators were summarily shot or imprisoned after the war. In France, more than 5,000 were executed including Pierre Laval, a prominent French politician, who sided with Nazi Germany and vaunted collaboration to oppose the USSR. Another 38,000 French collaborators were jailed. Chomiak was lucky he was not hanged and that he ended up in northern Alberta, to die a well-to-do farmer.
The National Health System (ESY) is on the the brink of collapse, according to the Panhellenic Medical Association (PIS), which cited chronic shortages in staff and equipment at public hospitals around the country due to limited finances, and disruptions in the primary healthcare system. The association added that the only reason the health system is still running is due to the efforts of existing staff, whose endurance levels, however, are being put to the test. “The average age of ESY doctors is 60. And these people will be leaving in a few years,” said PIS president Michail Vlastarakos, adding that public hospitals need 6,500 additional permanent medical staff.
There was a 339% increase of in the number of first-time asylum applicants in Greece in 2016, which rose to 49,875 in 2016 from 11,370 in 2015, according to figures released by Eurostat on Thursday. On the basis of these figures, Greece ranks second among EU countries for the total number of asylum applications filed in relation to its population. Germany is first with 8,789 applications per million population, followed by Greece with 4,525 applications per million population. Third is Austria with 4,587, followed by Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). The number of new asylum applicants on an EU level dropped to 1.204 million in 2016, for a percentage change of -4%, but were more than double the number of applicants in 2014. Most asylum applicants in EU member-states were Syrians (28%), Afghans (15%) and Iraqis (11%). In Greece, Syrians accounted for more than half of asylum applicants (53%), Iraqis for 10% and Pakistanis 9%.
Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading asylum policies that fall short of the democratic values Europe would normally uphold, say refugee groups marking the first anniversary of a deal designed to slow arrivals to the continent. The accord struck last year between Turkey and the EU has been praised in some quarters for having slowed arrivals into Europe and reduced deaths in the Aegean sea. But basic human rights were lost in the process, the organisations claim. “Greece has become a testing ground for policies that are eroding international protection standards,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, in a joint report based on extensive fieldwork on Aegean islands where more than 14,000 men, women and children are trapped in abysmal conditions.
“Over the course of the year, there have been deaths, suicide attempts, people engaging in self harm, and children, women and men exposed to abuse and sexual violence.” The withering assessment, coming almost 12 months to the day since the agreement was reached between Ankara and Brussels, is in stark contrast to the official view of an accord hailed by the EU, at the time, as a breakthrough in the migration crisis. Agreed in exchange for €6bn in refugee aid to Ankara, it was seen as a vital step in resolving a crisis that at its height threatened to tear the bloc apart. Since its implementation, the number of refugees and migrants going to Europe via Turkey has dropped dramatically.
Islands such as Lesbos, which is near Turkey, are reporting 100 arrivals or fewer a day, while in 2015, when more than 1 million people streamed into Europe, it received 10,000 men, women and children over one weekend. But NGOs say the reality on the ground is that the deal has prolonged and exacerbated human suffering. The report found that, incarcerated on Greek islands, asylum seekers had been made to live in substandard and overcrowded conditions for months on end. With limited access to fair and effective asylum procedures they were subject to “a convoluted and constantly changing process” that lacked oversights and checks and balances. Often legal experts were unable to keep track of a system that was impossible for people to navigate alone.
A separate report by Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières warned that there were worrying levels of mental health problems among migrants and refugees in the Greek camps. It said people including children as young as nine were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with the “endless misery”. Mental health was “rapidly deteriorating due to the conditions created as a result of this deal”, Save the Children said. [..] The report expressed the NGOs’ fears that the deal would become a blueprint for crises elsewhere. “Beyond the deeply concerning situation in Greece, the EU is looking to replicate this model elsewhere, and, in so doing, risks setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world,” said the report.
Desperate refugees trapped in Greece are self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of “disastrous” EU policies, aid agencies have warned. More refugees are dying than ever before while attempting to reach Europe, almost a year after a controversial deal was struck with Turkey in an effort to prevent boat crossings across the Aegean Sea. The agreement has stranded thousands of asylum seekers in Greece, where aid agencies say children are among rising numbers of migrants trying to kill themselves after months trapped in squalid camps. Research by Save the Children found more than 5,000 minors are living in “appalling conditions” that are driving a mounting mental health crisis. It has recorded children as young as nine self-harming and 12-year-olds attempting suicide, sometimes filming themselves in the act, as well as a spike in drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers who are exploited by dealers in camps.
Violent protests and deaths are traumatising the youngest and most vulnerable refugees, whose families say they are too scared to let their children play out of sight in case they are hurt or abused. Save the Children staff report that some unaccompanied children live in “24-hour survival mode” and sleep in shifts to try to stay safe, while others disappear or pay smugglers to leave the Greek islands. “The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of ‘irregular migrants’ to Greece, but at what cost?” said Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s humanitarian representative. “Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” Since 20 March 2016, all migrants arriving on Greek islands have been held, under threat of deportation to Turkey, while their asylum applications are processed, but legal blocks have slowed transfers and left refugees in overcrowded tent camps for up to a year.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday slammed “shameful” politicians who ignore refugees as he launched a giant art installation centered on their fate at the National Gallery in Prague. Called “Law of the Journey”, the show features a 70-metre-long (230-foot-long) inflatable boat with 258 oversize refugee figures. A tribute to the thousands who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean, the piece is Ai’s biggest-ever installation. It will be on display until the end of the year. “My message is very clear: being a politician or a political group, you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain,” Ai told AFP. “I think this is very, very shameful behaviour,” he added.
The Czech Republic and the other post-Communist central European members have rejected EU plans to allow Muslim refugees on their territories throughout the migrant crisis. Immigration from Muslim countries has become a hot political topic in these states, although most refugees have opted for wealthier western countries like Germany or Sweden. “If we see somebody who has been victimised by war or desperately trying to find a peaceful place, if we don’t accept those people, the real challenge and the real crisis is not of all the people who feel the pain but rather for the people who ignore to recognise it or pretend that it doesn’t exist,” said Ai. “That is both a tragedy and a crime,” said the 59-year-old painter, sculptor and photographer. Ai spent the last year visiting such migrant and refugee hotspots as the US-Mexican border badlands to the Turkish-Syrian frontier and crowded holding camps on Greek islands.
Earlier this week I was talking in Athens to a guy from Holland, who incidentally with a group of friends runs a great project on Lesbos taking care of some 1000 refugees in one of the camps there. But that’s another topic for another day. I was wondering in our conversation how it is possible that, as we both painfully acknowledged, people in Holland and Germany don’t know what has really happened in the Greek debt crisis. Or, rather, don’t know how it started.
That certainly is a big ugly stain on their media. And it threatens to lead to things even uglier than what we’ve seen so far. People there in Northern Europe really think the Greeks are taking them for a ride, that the hard-working and saving Dutch and Germans pay through the teeth for Greek extravaganza. It’s all one big lie, but one that suits the local politicians just fine.
By accident(?!), I saw two different references to what really happened, both yesterday in the UK press. So let’s reiterate this one more time, and hope that perhaps this time someone in Berlin or Amsterdam picks it up and does something with it. There must be a few actual journalists left?! Or just ‘ordinary’ people curious enough, and with some intact active neurons, to go check if their politicians are not perhaps lying to them as much as their peers are all over the planet.
What I’m talking about in this instance is the first Greek bailout in 2010. While there are still discussions about the question whether the Greek deficit was artificially inflated by the country’s own statisticians, in order to force the bailout down the throats of the then government led by George Papandreou, there are far fewer doubts that the EU set up Greece for a major league fall just because it could, and because Dutch, French, German politicians could use that fall for their own benefit.
The reason to do all this would have been -should we say ostensibly or allegedly?-, to get Greece in a situation where the Germans and the French could abuse the emergency they themselves thus created, to transfer the Greece-related bad debts of their banks to the EU public at large, and subsequently to the Greek public, instead of forcing the banks to write these debts down. That is still the core of the Greek problem to this day. It’s also the core problem with the IMF’s involvement: the fund’s statutes prescribe it should have insisted on writedowns long ago, from the very first moment it got involved.
The bailout, as Yanis Varoufakis repeats below, was not -and never- meant to help Greece. Instead, it was meant to do the exact opposite, to enable Europe’s richer countries -and their banks- to escape the only just punishment for reckless lending practices, by unloading their debt onto the Greek people.
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis [..] said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.
He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”.
The Financial Times, in a rare moment of lucidity, and with an unintentionally hilarious headline, puts its fingers on that same issue, as well as a few additional sore spots, and with admirable vengeance and clarity:
This week the enduring problem of Greece took a new and disturbing turn. It was revealed that the executive board of the IMF is split on the question of what fiscal surplus Greece should be required to hit — which in itself will affect whether it needs official debt relief to reach sustainable growth.
[..] the fact that the fund admitted a division between its member countries is significant. European nations are over-represented on the board relative to their size in the global economy. Wielding that power to dissuade the fund from demanding debt relief from eurozone governments is a clear conflict of interest and poses a threat to the fund’s credibility and independence.
[..] The fund, which over the years has come to take a more realistic view of Greece’s debt sustainability, has dug its heels in and said it will not continue to participate without further reductions in the burden. This leaves eurozone countries, particularly Germany, in a quandary. Berlin insists it will not continue with the rescue without the involvement of the IMF but it fiercely opposes the debt writedown that the fund is demanding.
The point at issue is the fiscal surplus Greece is required to hit. The IMF says that reaching and maintaining a primary surplus of 1.5% of gross domestic product is sufficient; the eurozone wants an improbable 3.5%. [..] The European directors on the board, who want the IMF to agree to the higher fiscal surplus number, are undoubtedly conflicted by having an eye on the effect on their own governments having to write down debt.
Forthcoming elections in the eurozone, including Germany and France, mean that the political as well as economic cost of being seen to give in to Greece is considerable.
Greece’s own government has also been shaken by the conflict, and through its intransigence, the eurozone may force yet another change of administration, with the Syriza government being replaced by the centre-right opposition. At the margin, that may result in Greece being offered a slightly better deal than under the current administration. But short-term political manoeuvring is a terrible way to try to set Greece on a path to long-term debt sustainability and economic stability.
Right from the beginning of the Greek crisis in 2010, the political need to shield first their banks and investors, and then their taxpayers, has warped the response of eurozone governments. They have consistently signed up to hugely over-optimistic growth and surplus targets rather than accepting the need for more external finance and, if required, debt writedowns.
The rest of the IMF’s membership should be prepared to overrule the recalcitrant Europeans. The complaints of a self-interested cabal cannot be allowed to get in the way of Greece’s best interests. Eurozone governments have behaved poorly on this issue. They deserve to be defeated.
First of all, to put Greece and ‘sustainable growth’ together in one sentence is as preposterous as it is to do the same with Greece and ‘surplus’. But more importantly, the FT is right in just about every word here. Europe de facto decides what the IMF does. So despite all the recent conflicts between the Troika members (though they reportedly just announced they agreed on what to dictate to Greece over the weekend), it’s really all EU (i.e. Germany, France) all the time. Greece never stood a chance, and neither did justice.
The point about upcoming elections in Holland, France and Germany gets more important by the day. Since former EU parliament chief Martin Schulz left that post to head the ‘socialist’ SPD in Germany’s elections, he’s seen his poll numbers soar so much that Merkel and Schaeuble are getting seriously nervous about their chances of re-election. Like in all countries these days, certainly also in Europe, their knee-jerk reaction is to pull further to the right. Which is the opposite of setting the record straight with regards to.
As for Dijsselbloem, Schaeuble’s counterpart as finance minister for Holland, his Labor Party (PVDA) -yes, that twit claims to be a leftie- is down so much in the polls that you have to wonder where he gets the guts -let alone the authority- to even open his mouth. PVDA has 38 seats in the Dutch parliament right now and are predicted to lose 27 of them and have just 11 left after the March 15 vote, taking them from 2nd largest party to 7th largest. And out of power.
And he still heads the eurogroup, including in the negotiations with Greece and the IMF?! It’s a strange world. Dijsselbloem proudly proclaimed this week that without the IMF being involved in the next bailout, Holland wouldn’t ‘give’ Greece another penny anymore. Think Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble don’t know what happened in 2010? Of course they do. They know better than anyone.
It’s simply better for their careers -or so they think- to further impoverish the entire Greek nation and the poorest of its citizens than it is to come clean, to tell their people the whole story has been based on dirty tricks from the start. And since their media refuse to tell the truth, too, the story will last until at least after their respective elections. Thing is, Dijsselbloem will be out of a political job by March 16, so what’s he doing, setting himself up for a juicy job at one of the banks whose debts were transferred to Greek pensioners in 2010? No conscience?
Perhaps Greece’s best hope is, of all people, Donald Trump. Yeah, a long shot if ever you saw one. But Trump can overrule the IMF board simply because the US is the biggest party involved in the fund. He can tell that divided board to get its act together and stop harassing a valuable NATO member. At least he has the business sense to understand that a country with 23% unemployment -and that’s just the official number- and 50-60% youth unemployment cannot recover no matter what happens, and that sustainable growth, any kind of growth, is an impossibility once you take people’s spending power away.
Meanwhile, elite and incumbent Europe seems to think that publicly agitating against Trump is the way to go (they may come to regret that stance, and a stance it all it is). Trump’s apparent choice for EU ambassador, economist Ted Malloch, was accused by European Parliament hotshots Weber and Verhofstadt -in a letter, no less- of “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”, for saying the Union needs ‘a little taming’. For some reason, they don’t seem to like that kind of thing. “Outrageous malevolence”, we’re talking Nobel literature material here.
Malloch also said EU president Juncker was a “very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg.” And that he “should go back and do that again.” And Malloch said on Greek TV this week that Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro.”
Why would he say that? How about because of the numbers in this by now infamous graph, straight out of the IMF itself, which shows EU countries have conspired to plunge one of their fellow “Union” member states into a situation far worse than the US was in during the Great Depression? Would that do it?
And we haven’t even touched on the role that Goldman Sachs plays in the entire kerfuffle, with its fake loans and derivatives, yet another sordid tale in this Cruella De Vil web of power plays spun by incompetent petty men. And Americans think they got it bad… Guess that Goldman role makes it less likely for Trump to interfere in Greece’s favor. Which would seem a bad idea, for everyone involved, not least of all because of rising tensions with Turkey over islands and islets and rocks (I kid you not) in the Aegean Sea.
It would be much better and safer for Trump, and for all of Europe, to make sure Greece is a strong nation, not a depressed and demoralized penal colony for homeless and refugees. That is asking for even more trouble. But nary a soul seems to be tuned in to that, it’s all narrow windows, short term concerns and upcoming elections. No vision.
Or perhaps Merkel will do something unexpected. Word has it that Greek finance minister Tsakalotos is meeting with Angela this weekend, a move that would seem to bypass Schaeuble, who once again said yesterday that Greece can only get a debt writedown if it leaves the eurozone. And that’s something Merkel is not exactly keen on. If only because it means unpredictability, volatility, not a great thing if your popularity as leader is already on shaky ground.
But to summarize, the Greek people didn’t do this. Of course plenty of Greek citizens borrowed more money than they should have in the first decade of the millenium, stories about credit cards in people’s mailboxes with a ‘free’ €5000 credit on them are well known in Athens. But they were by no means the ones who profited most. And the country has a long history of corruption and tax evasion. Which is what the French and German banks ‘cleverly’ played into as their politicians acted like they had no idea. Still, none of that comes even close to a reason or an excuse for completely eviscerating a fellow member of both the EU and NATO.
And it makes little sense. Do these people really want to risk peace in the eastern Mediterranean, or inside Greece itself (which will inevitably explode if this continues), just in order to keep Commerzbank or BNP Paribas out of the trouble they rightfully deserve to be in?
No, it’s not Tim Malloch’s ‘statements that reveal’ “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”. It’s the actions of the European Union itself that do.