Aug 042019

Julie Edgley Immature white tailed eagle.


An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)
Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)
Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)
Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)
Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)
California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports
America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)
We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)
The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)



Two mass shootings in the US, Iran seizes another tanker and police in France and Hogn Kong chase protesters. Must be Sunday.

Well, yes, it’s been about plunder for as long as our ‘civilization’ exists. We prefer to use other terms, that’s all.

An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)

Capitalists have claimed responsibility for America’s past economic success. Let’s begin by setting the record straight. American success had little to do with capitalism. This is not to say that the US would have had more success with something like Soviet central planning. Prior to 1900 when the frontier was closed, America’s success was a multi-century long success based on the plunder of a pristine environment and abundant natural resources. Individuals and companies were capitalized simply by occupying the land and using the resources present. As the population grew and resources were depleted, the per capita resource endowment declined.

America got a second wind from World War I, which devastated European powers and permitted the emergence of the US as a budding world power. World War II finished off Europe and put economic and financial supremacy in Washington’s hands. The US dollar seized the world reserve currency role from the British pound, enabling the US to pay its bills by printing money. The world currency role of the dollar, more than nuclear weapons, has been the source of American power. Russia has equal or greater nuclear weapons power, but it is the dollar not the ruble that is the currency in which international payments are settled. The world currency role made the US the financial hegemon.

This power together with the IMF and World Bank enabled the US to plunder foreign resources the way vanishing American resources had been plundered. We can conclude that plunder of natural resources and the ability to externalize much of the cost have been major contributors right through the present day to the success of American capitalism. [..] Essentially, capitalism is a plunder mechanism that generates short-run profits by externalizing long-run costs. It exhausts natural resources, including air, land, and water, for temporary profits while imposing most of its costs, such as pollution, on the environment.

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And economics is designed to justify the plunder.

Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)

[..] neoclassical economics has so deeply entrenched the notion that markets are better than all other ways of organising life, that decisions escape rational scrutiny. Academic economists will tell you that their discipline offers a far more complex picture of the world. But, at the policy level, what tilts a spending decision one way or the other is the simple power of the seeming “folk wisdom” that markets are best. It becomes the rule of thumb. They might look less good if the assumptions on which the equilibrium models that got us here were more widely known. The idea of perfect markets under perfect competition, for example, asks us to believe in a world where everybody knows everything, there are an infinite number of companies, no barriers to setting up a business, where any product can stand in for any other (say, a banana for a tractor) and, crucially, there are no “externalities” (economic speak for “consequences”) from production or consumption.

All models use a few simplifying assumptions, but those underpinning mainstream economics more often distort and detach from reality. It’s one of the reasons why students have rebelled, forming groups to demand that universities take a more pluralistic approach to teaching economics. Katie Kedward left a banking job in the City for ethical reasons and sought a degree that would make sense of economics. Despairing at the unreality of mainstream courses, she found a rare exception: a master’s in ecological economics at the University of Leeds. The course, though, isn’t even taught in the economics department but the School of Earth and Environment. That’s why new groups are emerging to promote heterodox economics, which draws on the insights of the study of complexity, neuro and behavioural science, ecology, feminism and the core economy of family, mutualism and community.

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Yeah, don’t just sit there, do something instead. Like seize Joe’s wealth.

Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a message for the millennial generation: Stop complaining if you aren’t going to engage with politics. The 2020 Democratic presidential contender stood by the skepticism he expressed last year when asked about young adults’ belief that they face outsize hurdles to secure housing and pay off debt. “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break,” Biden said in January 2018. Asked to explain what he meant, Biden began talking about his personal experience growing up with “very modest means” and how he felt upon learning about a study that found relatively few young people today would consider running for political office.

“We have an obligation to get engaged,” Biden said at Saturday’s AFSCME forum, co-moderated by HuffPost. “You all have an obligation to get engaged.” “Don’t tell me how bad it is. Change it. Change it. Change it,” he said. He added: “My generation did it.” = Biden drew some criticism the first time he went after millennials, more than a year before he announced his candidacy. Conservative New York Times opinion writer and climate denier Bret Stephens later sided with Biden in a column criticizing the millennial generation, which Stephens said specializes in “histrionic self-pity and moral self-righteousness.”

As HuffPost’s Michael Hobbes reported in 2017, there is a large amount of research and data that paints a bleak financial future for young people, many of whom are already reporting that they’re finding themselves priced out of the housing market. Although Biden has consistently polled highest among the wide field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, his supporters skew older and more moderate. At the forum, he went on to say, “I just don’t want people telling me on a college campus, ‘Oh, woe is me, I’ve got it so bad.’ … Come on.”

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Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Lawmakers will be unable to stop a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 by bringing down Britain’s government in a vote of no confidence next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide has advised, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Dominic Cummings, one of architects of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, told ministers that Johnson could schedule a general election after the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if he loses a vote of no confidence in parliament, the newspaper said, citing sources. Johnson has promised to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal but has a working majority of just one after his Conservative Party lost a parliamentary seat on Friday.

Some of his lawmakers have hinted they would vote against him to prevent a no-deal Brexit — a rising prospect that has sent the pound tumbling to 30-month lows against the dollar over the last few days. Lawmakers are unable to table a motion of no confidence before next month because the House of Commons is in recess until Sept. 3. “(Lawmakers) don’t realise that if there is a no-confidence vote in September or October, we’ll call an election for after the 31st and leave anyway,” Cummings was quoted by one of the Sunday Telegraph’s sources as saying. Johnson has said he would prefer to the leave the EU with a deal but has rejected the Irish backstop — an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland — which the EU says is key to any agreement.

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“..the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.”

Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)

Nearly two years of fruitlessly hunting for collusion between US President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government cost the country $31.7 million, the Justice Department has revealed. The cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month probe was released in a Justice Department accounting report on Friday. While the last six months of the investigation, which concluded in May with Mueller’s resignation, cost “only” $6.5 million as he began sending prosecutors home and writing up the 448-page report, turning the full force of the country’s investigative apparatus against a president and his campaign isn’t cheap. From May 2017 to September 2018, the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.

Some $2.4 million of the last phase’s expenses would have been spent anyway on Department salaries, according to the report, but the itemized breakdown provides an interesting window into the bureaucratic swamp that produced the pricey nothingburger. “Transportation of Things” may have cost just $229, but Justice Department employees billed the government for $235,812 to work out of the special counsel’s office instead of their own offices (filed under “Travel and Transportation of Persons”). While the special counsel investigation infamously turned up no proof of the promised Russian collusion, that did not stop Trump’s political opponents from attempting to reframe the expensive endeavor as a victory – based on the handful of process crimes levied against Trump associates – or a “roadmap to impeachment,” since Mueller did not explicitly say Trump should not be prosecuted and outlined 10 potential scenarios of obstruction of justice.

Adding insult to injury, several key “facts” in the report have already been proven wrong or misleading, such as the identity of Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller described as having links to Russian intelligence but who was actually a US State Department asset. And last month, a federal judge found that Mueller had utterly failed to prove that the company running the “troll farm” that supposedly committed “sweeping and systematic” interference in US elections on behalf of the Russian government had any government connections at all.

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Who’s powerful enough to remain hidden?

Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)

In Room 270, the records management unit, on the second floor of an imposing granite and marble courthouse in lower Manhattan, 167 documents totaling more than 2,000 pages are being kept under lock and key. But they are about to be unsealed and made public – making a host of important people around the world, including celebrities, politicians and royals, very nervous. The files contain explosive allegations in the case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims to have been Jeffrey Epstein’s teenage “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and the billionaire’s former girlfriend, for defamation.

The case was settled in May 2017 on the eve of the trial but the details were not disclosed and the final judgment and supporting documents were sealed, with the court noting the “highly sensitive nature of the underlying allegations.” According to other court documents that have been published, Ms Giuffre has made allegations of sexual abuse against “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.” An appeal to unseal the rest of the documents was launched by the Miami Herald newspaper, which has spearheaded media investigations into Epstein. It was rejected three times. But last month the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered their release, ruling that the public’s right to know outweighed the privacy rights of the high-profile individuals named.

It what may be an indication of the fame of those individuals, the judges made a striking plea to the media to “exercise restraint” in reporting the allegations about to come to light. They also allowed parties involved to apply for minor redactions, delaying the release. Another delay is possible as Miss Maxwell has launched an appeal to keep the documents sealed, her lawyers arguing that a full release would trigger a “furious feeding frenzy.” They wrote: “Plaintiff Giuffre made numerous allegations of sexual, if not criminal, conduct against a wide range of third parties. Because of the media no reference to anyone in this case is benign: a reference to any person is toxic and lethal to that person’s reputation. Facts and truth are all but irrelevant.”

Prince Andrew, Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2001

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Have you no shame?

California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports (ZH)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has scrubbed arrest records from Sen. Kamala Harris’s controversial tenure as the state’s top law enforcement official, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The purge was conducted during a ‘routine website redesign,’ removing public access to several key incarceration reports. Twice a year, the CDCR releases information about the number of new individuals incarcerated in the California prison system as part of its “Offender Data Points” series. These reports provide important information on demographics, sentence length, offense type, and other figures relevant to criminal justice and incarceration.

Until recently, these reports were publicly available at the CDCR’s website. A search using’s Wayback Machine reveals that as of April 25, 2019—the most recent indexed date—ODP reports were available dating back to the spring of 2009. As of August 2019, the same web page now serves only a single ODP report, the one for Spring 2019. The pre-2019 reports have been removed. -Washington Free Beacon During the Democratic debates on Wednesday night, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) excoriated Harris’s record as California Attorney General, rattling off a laundry list of ‘inconvenient’ facts – such as the 1,500-plus Californians Harris sent to prison for marijuana-related offenses, blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until forced to do so by the courts, and using prison inmates as cheap labor. Harris did not refute any of Gabbard’s statements.

The now-scrubbed records were used by the Free Beacon in prior reporting – “specifically the finding that more than 120,000 black and Latino Californians were sent to prison while she was in the State A.G.’s office.” A CDCR employee claims that the changes have nothing to do with Harris’s campaign, and were instead prompted by California law AB 434 which ‘sets standards for web accessibility.’

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Reeks too much of fear-mongering to me. Alastair Crooke can theorize all he wants.

America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)

Something is ‘up’. When two Financial Times columnists – pillars of the western Establishment – raise a warning flag, we must take note: Martin Wolf was first off, with a piece dramatically headlined: The looming 100-year, US-China Conflict. No ‘mere’ trade war, he implied, but a full-spectrum struggle. Then his FT colleague Edward Luce, pointed out that Wolf’s “argument is more nuanced than the headline. Having spent part of this week among leading policymakers and thinkers at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado,” Luce writes, “I am inclined to think Martin was not exaggerating. The speed with which US political leaders of all stripes have united behind the idea of a ‘new cold war’ is something that takes my breath away. Eighteen months ago the phrase was dismissed as fringe scaremongering. Today it is consensus.”

A significant shift is underway in US policy circles, it seems. Luce’s final ‘take’ is that “it is very hard to see what, or who, is going to prevent this great power rivalry from dominating the 21st century”. It is clear that there is indeed now a clear bi-partisan consensus in the US on China. Luce is surely right. But that is far from being the end of it. A collective psychology of belligerence seems to be taking shape, and, as one commentator noted, it has become not just a great-power rivalry, but a rivalry amongst ‘Beltway’ policy wonks to show “who has the bigger dick”.

And quick to demonstrate this, at Aspen (after others had unveiled their masculinity on China and Iran), was the US envoy for Syria (and deputy US National Security Adviser), James Jeffrey: A US policy boiled down to one overriding component: ‘hammering Russia’. “Hammering Russia” (he insisted repeatedly), will continue until President Putin understands there is no military solution in Syria (he said with heightened verbal emphasis). Russia falsely assumes that Assad has ‘won’ war: “He hasn’t”, Jeffrey said. And the US is committed to demonstrating this fundamental ‘truth’.

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We must change it to preserve our own mental health.

We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week. A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground. In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states. It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events.

[..] The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced. Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

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First since 1780.

The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)

Sea eagles have returned to the Isle of Wight 239 years after they were last seen there. Six chicks brought from Scotland were taken to the island last month as part of a programme to reintroduce the birds to England’s south coast. Also known as white-tailed eagles, the birds will be released into the wild in the next few weeks. Over the next five years 60 young sea eagles – which grow to have a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres (8ft) and are Britain’s largest bird of prey – will be released on the island in a programme approved by Nature England. It is hoped the birds will begin breeding there by 2024.

“Sea eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe but were lost centuries ago,” said Roy Dennis, who has pioneered the reintroduction of the birds to Britain. “This project aims to reverse that situation by restoring them to their ancestral nesting places.” Dennis added that the last pair of sea eagles in England bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. A spokesperson for Forestry England said the new chicks had been doing well since their arrival and that once their health had been checked they would be released into the wild at several different locations in the next few weeks.

White tailed eagle. Photo:Arturo de Frias Marques

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Assange: The persecution






Dec 112018
 December 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »

Wilhelm Trübner A Gorgon‘s head 1891


The news still isn’t the news, and I’m getting afraid it never will be again, because not the news just simply sells so much better than plain old real events. Maria Butina suddenly popped back into the public eye, because she was either charged with something or confessed to it. And I’m thinking, excuse me, but that poor girl has been kept in isolation for how long now? And for what reason exactly?

I vividly remember thinking that when she first became ‘news’ for ‘infiltrating’ the NRA, for which there were plenty cute pictures taken, I remember thinking she would have been 22 or 23 years old when as a super- devious Russian redhead she allegedly penetrated the trillion dollar NRA, and the trillion dollar Republican Party, and the Trump campaign, which according to some people is now worth negative $1 trillion.

If any of said organizations allow for a 22-year old to take all of their most secret and damning secrets and send them to her alleged puppet master Vladimir Vladimirovich, I say they deserve everything they’re getting. But it IS the sort of thing that if you want to report it like it’s actual news, you sure need to be convincing, you need proof, that sort of thing, not the anti-Putin innuendo US media rely on as their main standard today. Butina with no proof is just a nice by now 30-year old girl who happens to be Russian.

As for the Trump campaign having a negative $1 trillion value, I derive that from all the people who’ve once again, after a handful Mueller tidbits, started saying the Donald will be impeached any moment now, and many around him will go to jail for decades. You know, I can read too, and that’s not what I see. Much of what I see comes down to the reasoning that Trump has not yet been impeached as President because .. he is the President.

Yes, that is pretty funny, but it’s not humor beyond my abilities, and I’m not a comedian by trade. We’re still, even after those Mueller bits, stuck with Papadopoulos who’s been framed and went to jail for 2 weeks for it (shame on Mueller for that, deep deep shame!), there’s Cohen who lost his tracks in between lying for Trump and lying about Trump, and Manafort, a thirteenth wheel on a wagon of which there are dozens in DC, fixers and handlers.

You tell me why Manafort faces years in jail while Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. But if you’d actually want to explain, I suggest you prepare well, maybe talk to a few lawyers in the process. Washington attracts shady characters like dung beetles to horse shit and honey bees to Mountain Dew, and only a special counsel would ever think of picking them off one by one if he can’t find any of the actual crimes that he was appointed for to find. Cue: Rahm Emanuel.


Meantime my pal in arms Jim Kunstler thinks Michael Flynn is laying low as Mueller whoops his ass because he can, only to hit back at Mueller as soon as he’s freed from what are at best shaky allegations. Talking to a Russian is not a crime, not even, or even especially, when you’re the security adviser to the next president.

Michael Flynn’s real suspicious job was advising Turkey on security issues, but then that’s not what Mueller targeted him for. So yeah, let Flynn rise. And once again, don’t let’s forget that he said when the whole circus began, that he saw no way he could defend himself against anything Mueller might have thrown at him, that his entire family was on the verge of bankruptcy.

“But you talked to a Russian!” say the news media. Cue mushroom clouds in the remote background. But don’t you see, Trump is a criminal with decades of crimes under his belt, and all of his family are too! Look, I don’t know these people, and I’m fine not knowing them, not my cup of tea, but how much time did any of them spend behind bars so far?

And now they would have to go to jail just because Donald was elected president and the DOJ appointed a friendly ex-FBI head special counsel on the basis of a dossier paid for by his political opponents? To what extent does that spell justice to you? Yes, feel free to cue Rahm Emanuel again.

See, if certain people can be sent to jail because they rise too high in certain circles that don’t want them to disturb the power inherent in their sphere, while other operatives from the exact same mold though perhaps another political affiliation, are nominated to lofty and lucrative careers and positions, isn’t there something awry?

Are any of them perfectly innocent? Hell no, but then if they were, they wouldn’t be in the positions they’re in, the very positions that allow Robert Mueller to target them. From that point of view, it obvious it’s just a little power game played out in front of your eyes, you who have nothing to do with it but think you’re supposed to have an opinion on it.

Is Donald Trump a worse and bigger criminal than George H.W. Bush was? One half of America can answer that in no time flat. The other is thinking they wouldn’t be so sure. How many people has the Donald condemned to death so far? And he’s already about half way through the time Bush41 spent in the White House.

Perhaps it’s not about who’s a criminal, but about who’s the prosecutor. And with Mueller’s role in the sordid Whitey Bulger tale, and his even more sordid testimony in the Iraq WMD fantasies that led to millions of legalized murders celebrated as victory by both Washington and the US media, which kettle is blaming which pot here?


But hey, I’m ready to be corrected. And it’s by no means just the US that feels twisted these days, either. How about French president Emmanuel Macron, who hadn’t addressed his people live for 10-12 days as the Yellow Vests protests just got worse and more violent by the day, and then yesterday decided to make his long awaited response to them through a pre-recorded video? Honestly, how far removed from reality can one be?

The only answer Macron has to the thousands of people who want him out, and who have been willing to express that opinion in 4 consecutive weekends, is money. He thinks if he gives them €100 a month extra, and some tax breaks, they’ll let them continue on his little Napoleon trip. Well, if they do, we’ll know who they are. But are they? I don’t think Macron counts on that.

And then, as Macron increasingly retreats into his little palace(s), cue Marie Antoinette, only to communicate with the unwashed masses who want him gone through pre-scripted and recorded promises of crumbs off his table in exchange for no power at all, British PM Theresa May reacts to her latest and ostensibly worst -though it’s hard to keep track- defeat by … fleeing the country.

That’s how its ‘leaders’ rule Europe these days. Angela Merkel says she’s gone, though she wants to be Chancellor until 2021 (that way no-one can hold her responsible for anything), Theresa May hops on a plane to Europe to grovel some hopelessly more in her already defeated stance.

And Macron has his servants shove crumbs off his table, a gesture that still costs him more than everything Salvini and Di Maio wanted to do in Italy which got them whistled down by Brussels. C’mon, who still believes in the EU? Everyone’s running away from it.

If Macron must hide from his own French people, how can he reform the EU? If May must flee the UK and go to the EU to get a Brexit deal, what’s her authority back home where 50% voted against that same EU?

And if Merkel can only remain in charge by relinquishing her power, who exactly’s going to run Europe? It’s kind of like the same question as for the US. Who’s going to run it? Not Trump, if Mueller and the Democrats have any say although they lost the election. Not Hillary, says about everyone else.


We all tend to think that these things are normal and eternal. Just politics. But all the usual suspects appear to be under siege. In Europe, France, UK, Germany are shaking heavily. Italy’s already overboard. That’s the biggest 4 EU members. That’s the EU. No certainties, no future, though the EU itself will never admit it, and instead just push for more EU.

And what’s certain politically in the US anymore? Trump has eviscerated the entire GOP, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The Democrats killed off Bernie Sanders to allow Hillary to continue her dead before arrival power grab. She came she saw she lost.

My point, I think, is that political strongholds are being defeated everywhere at the same time. And when that happens, there’s always a reason for it. I think that reason can be found in the fact that the global economy is rumbling and crumbling as we speak, with politics and economics acting as precursors for one and other.

Like, Macron can only save his political ass by violating the EU budget terms he just chided Italy for. Merkel can only save her legacy by creating a situation she’s no longer responsible for. And Theresa May would be well advised, now that she’s on the continent, to simply stay there and let Britain figure things out without her.

The US won’t and can’t be so lucky. We’re still up for much more, marathon more, of Trump vs Mueller, and there will be many more courts and judges who have to speak on all of it before there’s anything even remotely resembling a conclusion. Because the whole Mueller circus -reluctantly- threatens to open up a Pandora swamp that’s been DC’s lifeblood forever.

Yeah, you got your Flynn and Manafort, but you also got your Podesta brothers. Yeah, there’s the Trump Foundation, but there’s also the Clinton Foundation, and Uranium One. Who’s worse? Good one!

Both things should be investigated, it shouldn’t just be Trump and Mueller, Hillary and the DNC and Comey etc etc also must be under the microscope. Or America will forever lose its faith in democracy. Not that there’s much of it left, mind you, but hey, at the very least it’s the thought that counts.

Bottom line: it all appears to be about local, domestic, national politics, but don’t be deceived: the global economy is tanking, and all of the political mayhem on all these levels is just a derivative of that. The dinosaurs want to live another day.

None of which is going to make your situation any better, but who knows, you just might feel better about it for a bit. Until you don’t.



Aug 052018

Claude Monet Hollowed Cliff near Étretat 1883


The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)
The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)
Light It Up (Kunstler)
IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)
Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)
Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)
UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)
Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)
How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)
Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)
Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)



But we’ve given them all the power…

The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)

[..] the real threat to the Fed’s independence isn’t coming from Trump—it’s coming from Wall Street. The Fed’s structural flaws have led to regulatory capture, which compromises its ability to set monetary and regulatory policy in a manner that isn’t tilted to favor those at the very top of the economic ladder. Trump may have broken a norm by commenting on monetary policy, but the Fed’s status quo is unaccountable, opaque decision-making shaped by deep conflicts of interest with the very financial institutions the Fed is ostensibly supposed to supervise. Consider, for instance, the abrupt resignation in March of David Cote from the New York Fed’s board of directors—a move that came as a shock to many Fed watchers.

Cote was one of just a couple people responsible for choosing the next president of the New York Fed, the most powerful economic policymaking position in the country that Trump doesn’t control. Yet before the search for New York Fed President Bill Dudley’s successor had formally concluded, Cote left the board to pursue “new business opportunities that could affect his eligibility to serve”—later revealed to be helping Goldman Sachs undertake an ambitious corporate acquisition strategy. The New York Fed claims that Cote and his fellow board members had already decided on former San Francisco Fed President John Williams to succeed Dudley by the time that Cote announced his resignation, but that means that Cote was simultaneously negotiating a new gig at Goldman Sachs while selecting one of Goldman’s top regulators.

The entire ordeal served as an unsettling reminder of the cozy relationship between the Federal Reserve and the biggest behemoth on Wall Street. Prior to being selected as New York Fed president in 2009, Dudley was Goldman Sachs’s chief economist. In 2008, Goldman Sachs Director Stephen Friedman chaired the New York Fed’s board of the directors at the same moment that it was reviewing Goldman’s application to become a bank holding company. In 2014, leaked tapes exposed New York Fed regulators pressuring one of their examiners to back off of a finding that would have imperiled Goldman Sachs’s ability to engage in a deal with Banco Santander. And in 2015, the Fed chose three consecutive men with strong ties to Goldman Sachs to be new Federal Reserve Bank presidents.

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Only if we let them.

The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for America’s high-flying technology stocks, even by their own unique standards. Their shares have been soaring since the start of the year, despite being buffeted by trade war fears as President Trump talked of limiting Chinese investments in the US and restricting American technology imports to China. But now there are signs that cracks may be starting to appear in some of the biggest firms in the sector. Facebook suffered the biggest ever one-day drop in a company’s market value – losing more than £90bn – after its growth slowed in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Twitter lost 20%, or $5bn, as it reported a surprise fall in active monthly users, while streaming service Netflix missed its targets for subscriber numbers.

On the other hand, electric car specialist Tesla managed to head in the right direction despite making a $717m second-quarter loss, as its controversial chief executive, Elon Musk, regained investor confidence after apologising for previous outbursts. That was in marked contrast to a conference call for the company’s previous set of figures, when he accused a Wall Street analyst of “boring bonehead questions” and ignored queries from investors. But the pick of the bunch remains Apple, which beat Amazon and Google to reach the landmark $1 trillion valuation on Thursday.

Despite the recent rollercoaster ride, the five key tech stocks, known as the “Faangs” – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet-owned Google – have reached breathtaking heights. The total value of the five companies amounts to a staggering 19% of total US GDP. But their surge in value has prompted fears of a re-run of the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, when technology businesses dominated the stock market before coming crashing to earth. Russ Mould at investment group AJ Bell says: “That [19%] compares to the 15.5% of US GDP reached by the five biggest companies by value at the US stock market’s peak in the fourth quarter of 1999, just before the technology, media and telecoms bubble burst and that particular mania came to grief.”

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“That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?”

Light It Up (Kunstler)

The Guardians of the Galaxy at National Public Radio were beside themselves Wednesday night reporting that “the lights are blinking red for a 2018 election attack by Russia.” Well, isn’t that an interesting set-up? In effect, NPR is preparing its listeners in advance to reject and dispute the coming midterm election if they’re not happy with the results. Thus continues America’s institutional self-sabotage, with the help of a news media that’s become the errand boy of the Deep State.

What do I mean by the Deep State? The vested permanent bureaucracy of Washington DC, and especially its vastly overgrown and redundant “Intel Community,” which has achieved critical mass to take on a life of its own within the larger government, makes up its own rules of conduct, not necessarily within the rule of law, and devotes too much of its budget and influence defending its own prerogatives rather than the interests of the nation.

Personally, I doubt that President Putin of Russia is dumb enough to allow, let alone direct, his intel services to lift a finger “meddling” in the coming US midterm election, with this American intel behemoth vacuuming every digital electron on earth into the NSA’s bottomless maw of intercepted secrets. Mr. Putin must have also observed by now that the US Intel Community is capable of generating mass public hallucinations, to the beat of war-drums, and determined not to give it anything to work with. That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?

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Turkey double-crossed the US in a prisoner swap deal. Bad idea of course. Erdogan wants Gulen, but this is not the way.

IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)

While the climate of uncertainty is discouraging investments, inflation is eroding real incomes and curbing domestic consumption. As a result, the shrinking demand is bearing on economic growth, which has relied largely on the domestic market. The Turkish economy, which grew 7.4% in 2017, is expected to slow in the third quarter before beginning to contract.

The growing uncertainties are discouraging also the inflow of hot money from abroad, which Turkey desperately needs. Moreover, existing foreign investors have been fleeing the Turkish stock market, albeit slowly — a trend that contributes to sustaining the high prices of foreign exchange, especially the dollar. Accordingly, Turkey’s risk premium — reflected in credit default swaps (CDS) — is on the rise. Turkey’s CDS, which had stood at 166 basis points Feb. 1 and 199 basis points May 1, hit a record high of 334 basis points on the evening of Aug. 1 — up from 321 points in the morning. The increasing risk premium means that Turkey will now face higher interest rates when it tries to borrow from foreign creditors.

The country’s external financing needs for the next 12 months amount to $230 billion, including $180 billion to roll over external debts and $50 billion to cover its gaping current account deficit. Hence, the question of how the required funds will be secured and at what cost is crucial. The tensions with Washington came amid this already serious crunch, exacerbating the woes of Erdogan’s regime. The row over Brunson had flared last week, as both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions unless Ankara took “immediate action” to release the pastor, who is being held on what Washington sees as bogus charges of espionage and collaboration with terrorist groups.

The warnings had an immediate economic effect, pushing up Turkey’s risk premium, as pundits sought to predict the scope of the upcoming sanctions. Some suggested that Washington’s hardening stance would bear on the flow of foreign capital to Turkey and the support it might seek from the IMF, while others saw trouble looming over Halkbank, the Turkish public lender embroiled in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, Washington announced sanctions on Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul under the 2016 Magnitsky Act, which targets individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses. According to Bloomberg, this “could be just the start of what would look like a US assault on Turkey’s vulnerable economy,” including a potentially hefty fine on Halkbank.

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There’s Mark Warner again, the guy who with Comey screwed up the Assange deal with the DOJ.

Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)

You may have seen a story this week detailing how Facebook shut down a series of accounts. As noted by Politico, Facebook claimed these accounts “sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States, and said their activity was similar — and in some cases connected — to that of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.” Similar? What does “similar” mean? The death-pit for civil liberties is usually found in a combination of fringe/unpopular people or ideas and a national security emergency. This is where we are with this unsettling new confab of Facebook, Congress and the Trump administration.

Read this jarring quote from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about the shutting down of the “inauthentic” accounts: “Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation… I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress…” This was in a story in which Facebook stated that it did not know the source of all the pages. They might be Russian, or they might just be Warner’s idea of “sowing division.” Are we comfortable with that range of possibilities?

[..] Facebook was “helped” in its efforts to wipe out these dangerous memes by the Atlantic Council, on whose board you’ll find confidence-inspiring names like Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former acting CIA head Michael Morell and former Bush-era Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. (The latter is the guy who used to bring you the insane color-coded terror threat level system.) These people now have their hands on what is essentially a direct lever over nationwide news distribution. It’s hard to understate the potential mischief that lurks behind this union of Internet platforms and would-be government censors. As noted in Rolling Stone earlier this year, 70 percent of Americans get their news from just two sources, Facebook and Google. As that number rises, the power of just a few people to decide what information does and does not reach the public will amplify significantly.

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Makes sense. But too much of the whole thing doesn’t.

Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)

May’s cabinet colleagues, fanning out across the continent like Patton’s Third Army to advance her Chequers compromise, do not appear to have fared any better. Especially embarrassing are the efforts of Jeremy Hunt, the new foreign secretary. He gravely warned puzzled Europeans last week that Britain was heading for “no-deal by accident” by pushing itself off a cliff. The UK would not “blink first”, he added. Perhaps Hunt thinks he is Clint Eastwood. It matters not. On Brexit, this government has its eyes tight shut. It is blind to the consequences – and the waiting chasm. Blinking does not come into it. What part of the EU’s unchanging position on the principles governing Britain’s future relationship with Europe does May’s government not understand?

For two years or more, Barnier, the chief negotiator, firmly backed by 27 governments, has been telling London there can be no compromise and no fudge that weakens the integrity of the single market, pan-European customs and legal regulations and Europe’s borders. Yet May’s Chequers plan, seeking exceptional (and unworkable) arrangements, blithely ignores all that. In case the European public did not appreciate what was at stake, or was taken in by chauvinistic Tory claims of EU vindictiveness and dogmatism, Barnier published an op-ed in 20 European newspapers last week. Amid Brexit’s baffling complexities, his concision and clarity were refreshing. He explained the EU’s justified fears about the impact of Brexit on Europe and why it cannot reasonably be expected to bow to May’s demands for special treatment:

“The UK knows well the benefits of the single market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years. And yet some UK proposals would undermine our single market, which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements. The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order. The UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws,” Barnier wrote.

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Oh, yeah, they’re going to blame it on the EU.

UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)

British trade minister Liam Fox said “intransigence” from the European Union was pushing Britain toward a no-deal Brexit, in an interview published on Saturday by the Sunday Times. With less than eight months until Britain quits the EU, the government has yet to agree a divorce deal with Brussels and has stepped up planning for the possibility of leaving the bloc without any formal agreement. Fox, a prominent Brexit supporter in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, put the odds of Britain leaving the European Union without agreeing a deal over their future relationship at 60-40. “I think the intransigence of the commission is pushing us toward no deal,” Fox told the Sunday Times after a trade mission in Japan.

“We have set out the basis in which a deal can happen but if the EU decides that the theological obsession of the unelected is to take priority over the economic wellbeing of the people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit — not a people’s Brexit — (and) then there is only going to be one outcome.” It was up to the EU whether it wanted to put “ideological purity” ahead of the real economy, Fox said. If Britain fails to agree the terms of its divorce with the EU and leaves without even a transition agreement to smooth its exit, it would revert to trading under World Trade Organization rules in March 2019.

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All sociopaths do it. They are defined by their lack of empathy.

Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)

Donald Trump’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant parents and children at the US border has been greeted with shock and abhorrence. Around the world, people have listened to audio of young children sobbing for their parents while federal agents crack jokes and heard the stories of children locked up in cages in the richest country in the world. Even the prime minister broke with her usual timidity about Trump’s transgressions to call his family separation policy “deeply disturbing”. What hypocrisy. Less noticed – although no less inhumane – is the British government’s policy of separating parents from their young children as part of immigration detention, all conducted on Theresa May’s watch, first as home secretary, then as prime minister.

Charities such as Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) have for years been raising the cases of children, many of whom are British citizens, taken into care because their parents have been detained, or even deported, without them. In recent months, a long list of cruelties meted out in the name of the government’s “hostile environment” policy has come to the public’s attention: people who’ve lived in Britain legally for decades, paying their taxes, suddenly denied life-saving NHS care; young people who’ve grown up in Britain facing many thousands of pounds in fees and a multi-year slog to get permanent residency; children raised in care facing the risk of deportation as an adult to a country they don’t know. Any sense of basic justice or human compassion seems to have eluded the Home Office.

But separating tiny children from their parents is cruelty of a whole different order. Today, we report on the case of Kishi, a young mother who dropped her two-year-old off at nursery in order to attend an appointment at an immigration reporting centre. There, she was restrained by immigration security officials and taken to an immigration removals centre. No arrangements were made for her toddler, who was put into emergency foster care when no one came to pick her up, and Kishi was not told where her daughter was for two days. It was another month before she saw her. Kishi and her child are not alone. BID says more than 300 children were removed from their parents in the last 12 months, an increase of 16% on the previous year. Many of those will have been taken into care as a result. The Home Office does not keep records on this; perhaps because it contravenes its own guidance, which says children must not be separated from their parents for immigration purposes if it means they will be taken into care.

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Sometimes I think in Britain it’s not only the economists.

Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)

This month, the pressure group Rethinking Economics said Britain’s universities were failing to equip economics students with the skills that businesses and the government say they need. Following extensive interviews with employers, including organisations such as the Bank of England, it found that universities were producing “a cohort of economic practitioners who struggle to provide innovative ideas to overcome economic challenges or use economic tools on real-world problems”. Moreover, the group said, “when political decisions are backed by economics reasoning, as they so often are, economists are unable to communicate ideas to the public, resulting in a large democratic deficit.”

You could easily level that criticism at the economists forecasting the impact of AI. What are people supposed to think when those who study the field come up with such wildly varying predictions? More importantly, what will politicians think they should do? Nothing, probably, given the confusion. The Rethinking group is concerned that university departments only train, rather than educate, huge numbers of graduates for econometrics jobs across the banking, insurance and consulting sectors. In our increasingly student-led system, these young people don’t want to mess around with history or modules on inequality. They are on a mission to make money for themselves in the private sector.

If they were diverted into discussions of economic history, they might find out we are about to repeat the mistakes of the past and trigger another financial crisis. Even more inhibiting, their course might show that higher inequality dampens workers’ incentives to increase productivity, and might prompt them to ask why young economists in the City are paid colossal amounts of money to analyse bond yields or forecast oil prices. Pay them less, share the money around, and productivity might improve. Failing that, let a robot do their job.

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John put something like dictatorship in the title. Bit much.

How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)

The last burgeoning growth sector on the Planet is the pursuit of redefinition. The idea is first to confuse, then create a climate of acceptance, and finally do away with every form of liberty that stands in the way of power. Both Capital and Labour are actively following the same road. It will be the end of the road for citizen freedom unless they’re both stopped. John Williams at reckons that the real unemployment rate in the US is 21.4%. Unimpressed by the US State’s insane assumption that all those no longer able to claim unemployment welfare “have found a job”, Mr Williams provides further fuel for my longstanding thesis that no real recovery can occur – if more and more mass-market consumers work fewer and fewer hours for less and less money or have no job at all – because their personal disposable income is disappearing out of sight. The term ‘in employment’ has been redefined.

When he arrived at the UK Treasury as Chancellor, George Osborne immediately gave notice that he’d be switching from the higher RPI measure of inflation (then at 5.2%) to the lower CPI at 4.5%. That doesn’t sound like much, but one has to remember two things: first, that is a 14% difference in levels that makes inflation look much lower; and second, over time the different impression given is huge: from 1996 to 2011, under the RPI system prices rose 53.6%….but using the CPI method, it only came to 35.6%. Significantly, the CPI system excludes financial services costs and government charges to the consumer. Just fancy that. So the term ‘inflation’ has been redefined.

Within two years of taking office, the Conservative-led coalition’s leader David Cameron started claiming that “the Government’s long-term economic plan is working to create more jobs”. Government Party Political Broadcasts showed the statistics, and yes, it certainly looked that way. But “a job” to most people over the last half century meant 38-40 hours a week with a month’s notice. When analysed, these new jobs were averaging 20 hours a week, often at unsocial hours and frequently on no contracts at all. They typically demand, for example, that the “employee” be ready to come into the workplace without notice. When using the weasel term ‘job’, Cameron was comparing meat and two veg with bread and dripping. So the term ‘job’ has been redefined.

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One thing: people earning a low income ‘rate’ is much higher than 10.6%, and up by much more than 2% in 10 years. Lost in translation?

Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)

Greece tops all countries in the developed world in unemployment according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Employment Outlook 2018. Greece has suffered a dramatic spike in unemployment, with the 2017 total climbing to 21.7% of the working population, more than double the 2006 figure.

Large increases in unemployment and an underutilized workforce were accompanied by falling output, very high debt, a serious GDP deficit and deflation, the report says. Along with its impact on employment levels, the financial crisis caused a reduction in wage growth in a lot of countries, leading to a drop in living standards for many.

The proportion of working-age people earning the “low-income” rate jumped to 10.6%, up from 9.56% a decade earlier. Although Korea, Mexico, and Chile have seen a decrease in the number of low-income households, most of the countries hit hardest by the euro crisis, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Slovenia, have suffered a 2% rise.

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Thank you Brussels and Berlin.

Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)

The point is that this kind of economic collapse is usually the symptom of a broader state collapse. Which is why it almost never happens in rich countries. That’s clear enough if you look at the late Angus Maddison’s historical GDP per capita numbers. Going back to 1900, there have been only three general times when European economies have shrunk over a 10-year period as much as Greece’s has since 2008: after World War I, after World War II and after the fall of communism. Most of the exceptions to this involve other wars – in particular, the Balkan wars of the 1910s, the Spanish Civil War, the Greek Civil War and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s — but there is one that largely took place during peacetime. That was Weimar Germany’s hyperinflation.

It’s worth pointing out what isn’t here: the Great Depression. That wasn’t quite as bad in Europe as it was in the United States — at its nadir in 1933, the U.S. 10-year decline was actually comparable to Greece’s today — partly due to the fact that most European countries were quicker to leave the gold standard when things did start to get more dire. That allowed them to inject enough monetary stimulus into their economies to jump-start almost immediate recoveries. The problem, of course, is that it’s a lot harder for Greece to do the equivalent of that right now. The gold standard and the euro are similar in that they are both fixed-exchange rate systems that can get countries into trouble if they are hit by a big enough shock that their economy “needs” a cheaper currency than it has under the system.

But they’re different in that it’s a lot simpler to say your currency won’t be worth as much gold as it used to than to replace all of your currency with a new one. So instead of stimulus, Greece has gotten austerity — and a lot of it. Under the terms of its just-about-to-be-completed bailout agreement, Greece is actually supposed to keep running primary budget surpluses of at least 2.2 percent of GDP until 2060. That’s right: four more decades of austerity. It’s no wonder, then, that Greece’s economy might not get back to where it was in 2008 until 2030. This is what Europe calls a success: an economy that has shrunk so much it looks war-torn.

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Jan 132018

Rembrandt van Rijn The flight into Egypt – a night piece 1651


The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)
The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)
Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)
Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)
Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)
The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)
Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)
Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)
Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)
Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)
The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)



It’s your borrowing that will do you in.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December. Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government. But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.” The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November. The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008). Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher. The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.

At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010. [The next] chart shows household debt service payments as a percentage of after-tax income: “Debt service” is interest + principal payments. With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest. This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows. Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic. What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments. Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008. The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018. However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble. This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble. This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

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Until it does.

The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)

The New Year’s rally has pushed the S&P 500 Index to its best start since the administration of George W. Bush. Now it’s bumping against speed barriers that marked the upper limits of bull markets for decades. Up eight times in the first nine days of 2018, the S&P 500 has broken away from a trend line, its 200-day moving average, with a velocity unseen since 2013, the best year for equities in a generation. The benchmark now sits more than 11% above the level, putting it in the 92nd percentile of momentum, data going back 20 years show. Something has changed in equities. If 2017 was a slow but steady slog, 2018 has been off to the races, with shares rising at four times last year’s daily rate on the back of Donald Trump’s tax package and gathering signs of economic strength.

Forty seven companies in the S&P 500 are already up at least 10% this year, compared with just two down as much. “Even if you were the bullest of the bulls, this crazy rally start to the year took you off guard,” said Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. “We’ve completely run out of ways to describe what’s happening. We get asked a lot, are you seeing anything different that could explain the rally? The answer is no.” Fear of missing out is rampant not just on Wall Street but worldwide. Globally, stock funds saw a $24 billion inflow in the five days through Thursday, the sixth largest weekly total ever. Concern the U.S. stocks have jumped too much too fast prompted Morgan Stanley’s Andrew Sheets to cut the U.S. stocks’s exposure in favor of European equities this week.

Sheets isn’t the only one having a hard time keeping up. The average of 23 strategists predictions is for the S&P 500 to reach 2,914 at year-end. If stocks were to maintain the same upward trajectory they’ve exhibited in the last nine days, it would take roughly two more weeks to reach the strategists’ target. At 3.4 times its book value, the S&P 500 trades at the most expensive level since 2002, while its 14-day relative strength index reached a level unseen since 1996. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 2,786 this week, pushing the spread between the gauge and its 200-day moving average to 11.5%, the widest in five years.

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Because it can.

Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)

The Federal Reserve’s income from operations in 2017 dropped by $11.7 billion to $80.7 billion, the Fed announced today. Its $4.45-trillion of assets – including $2.45 trillion of US Treasury securities and $1.76 trillion of mortgage-backed securities that it acquired during years of QE – produce a lot of interest income. How much interest income? $113.6 billion. It also made $1.9 billion in foreign currency gains, resulting “from the daily revaluation of foreign currency denominated investments at current exchange rates.” For a total income of about $115.5 billion. Those are just “estimates,” the Fed said. Final “audited” results of the Federal Reserve Banks are due in March. This “audit” is of course the annual financial audit executed by KPMG that the Fed hires to do this.

It’s not the kind of audit that some members in Congress have been clamoring for – an audit that would try to find out what actually is going on at the Fed. No, this is just a financial audit. As the Fed points out in its 2016 audited “Combined Financial Statements,” the audit attempts to make sure that the accounting is in conformity with the accounting principles in the Financial Accounting Manual for Federal Reserve Banks. Given that the Fed prints its own money to invest or manipulate markets with – which makes for some crazy accounting issues – the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that apply to US businesses to do not apply to the Fed. This annual audit by KPMG reveals nothing except that the Fed’s accounting is in conformity with the Fed’s own accounting manual.

The Fed pays the banks interest on their “Required Reserves” and on their “Excess Reserves” at the Fed. Excess Reserves are the biggie: As a result of QE, they jumped from $1.7 billion in July 2008, to $2.7 trillion at the peak in September 2014. They’ve since dwindled, if that’s the right word, to $2.2 trillion:

When the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meets to hash out its monetary policy, it also considers what to do with the interest rates that it pays the banks on “Required Reserves” and on “Excess Reserves.” In this cycle so far, every time the Fed has raised its target range for the federal funds rate (now between 1.25% and 1.50%) it also raised the interest rates it pays the banks on “required reserves” and on “excess reserves,” which went from 0.25% since the Financial Crisis to 1.5% now:

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They’ve been working to achieve it for a decade, and now they manage to fool themselves into thinking they got it, it’s not what they want.

Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)

“I‘m disagreeing with that framework,” Rosengren said at the Global Interdependence Center in San Diego, referring to the Fed’s “balanced” approach to achieving a 2% inflation target and full employment. The Fed adopted this framework six years ago and has reaffirmed it each year since. Now, as Fed Governor Jerome Powell prepares to take the reins as Fed chief from Janet Yellen when her term ends early next month, a growing number of Fed policymakers want to rethink that framework. Rosengren’s comments Friday put the sharpest point to date on the debate, suggesting that a strict 2-percent inflation target could force the Fed to slam the brakes on the economy with aggressive rate hikes if the unemployment rate, now at 4.1%, continues to sink. It is already below the level that many economists think can be sustained without putting upward pressure on inflation.

While inflation running stubbornly below 2% has so far allowed the Fed to lift rates only gradually, that may change, Rosengren warned. “My concern is if we get too far away from where we want to be on a sustainable unemployment rate, and we use this current framework, then we will get to a situation where we have to raise rates fast enough that we will actually find it very difficult to get back to full employment without causing a recession,” Rosengren said. Rosengren suggested replacing the 2% inflation target with a target range for inflation of between 1.5% and 3%, in line with actual experience over the last 20 years. Under current conditions of low productivity and labor force growth, he said, the Fed would target inflation at the upper end of that range, and would be more patient with rate hikes.

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“Marketable borrowings..”

Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)

During yesterday’s surprisingly candid remarks by Bill Dudley, the second most important person in the Federal Reserve – the organization that is responsible for the third consecutive and largest ever yet asset bubble in history – said that one risk he was increasingly worried about was, drumroll, elevated asset prices. Because, supposedly, the Fed has little to input in how asset prices came to be where they are… Just as ominous was Dudley’s admission that the second risk he was concerned about is “the long-term fiscal position of the United States” i.e. US debt. Specifically, Dudley said that the Trump tax cut “will increase the nation’s longer-term fiscal burden, which is already facing other pressures, such as higher debt service costs and entitlement spending as the baby-boom generation retires.”

Oddly there was no mention of which administration doubled US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in under a decade, and which organization enabled this to happen by keeping rates at record low levels, while crushing savers, and bailing out habitual gamblers. In any case, now that the narrative has shifted, and Donald Trump will be scapegoated not only for the upcoming “tremendous” market crash – something he has made especially easy by taking credit for every single uptick in the S&P – but also for the inevitable fiscal collapse of the United States, it is time to provide the backing for this particular strawman, and to do that, this morning Dudley’s former employer, Goldman Sachs released a report in which the bank’s chief economist said the he is updating his Treasury issuance forecast to account for recent revised deficit projections.

As a result, US marketable borrowings will more than double from below $500 billion in 2018 to over $1 trillion in 2019 as the debt tsunami finally get going. To build up the strawman, Goldman explains that US borrowing needs will rise for three reasons: First, recently enacted tax reform legislation is estimated to raise the deficit by more than $200bn, on average, each of the next four years, and Congress looks likely approve substantial new spending as well. Second, Fed portfolio runoff will increase the amount of debt the Treasury must issue to the public. Third, the Treasury’s cash balance is likely to rise by around $200bn once a longer-term debt limit suspension is enacted, which will also necessitate additional borrowing.

Goldman expects that the “substantial increase” in borrowing needs will be announced by the Treasury when it lays out its plans at the February quarterly refunding. What Goldman has left unsaid is what happens to interest rates at a time when on one hand US debt supply is set to double and on the other the Fed is set to continue shrinking its balance sheets, the ECB and BOJ are set to accelerate (and begin) tapering their own QEs and when global inflation is expected to keep rising. What is also unsaid is just who will be the marginal buyer of this debt tsunami when central banks increasingly shift away from debt monetization.

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2018 will show us just what bad shape Britain is in.

The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)

You may never have heard of Carillion. There’s no reason you should have. Its lack of glamour is neatly summed up by the name it sported in the 90s: Tarmac. But since then it has grown and grown to become the UK’s second-largest building firm – and one of the biggest contractors to the British government. Name an infrastructure pie in the UK and the chances are Carillion has its fingers in it: the HS2 rail link, broadband rollout, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the Library of Birmingham. It maintains army barracks, builds PFI schools, lays down roads in Aberdeen. The lot. There’s just one snag. For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90%, it’s issued profit warnings, and it’s on to its third chief executive within six months. And this week, the government moved into emergency mode.

A group of ministers held a crisis meeting on Thursday to discuss the firm. Around the table, reports the FT, were business secretary Greg Clark, as well as ministers from the Cabinet Office, health, transport, justice, education and local government. Even the Foreign Office sent a representative. Why did Chris Grayling give the HS2 contract to a company that was already in existential difficulties? That roll call says all you need to know about the public significance of what happens next at Carillion. This is a firm that employs just under 20,000 workers in Britain – and the same again abroad. It has a huge chain of suppliers – and its habit of going in for joint ventures with other construction businesses means that a collapse at Carillion would send shockwaves through the industry and through the government’s public works programme.

To see what this means, take the HS2 rail link, where Carillion this summer was part of a consortium that won a £1.4bn contract to knock tunnels through the Chilterns. If Carillion goes under, what happens to the largest infrastructure project in Europe? What happens to its partners on the deal, British firm Kier, and France’s Eiffage? The project will need to be put back and the taxpayer will almost certainly have to step in. Imagine that same catastrophe befalling dozens of other projects across the UK and you get a sense of what’s at stake. Jobs will be cut, schools will go unbuilt (just a couple of months ago, Oxfordshire county council pulled the plug on a 10-year schools project) – and the government’s entire private finance initiative (PFI) model for building this country’s essential services will be shaken to the core.

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Good cop bad cop.

Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Spanish and Dutch finance ministers have agreed to push for a Brexit deal that keeps Britain as close to the European Union as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra met earlier this week and discussed their common interests in Brexit, according to the person, who declined to be identified. Both have close trade and investment ties and are concerned about the impact of tariffs. They are also worried about losing U.K. contributions to the EU budget, the person said. The pound jumped to the strongest level since the referendum in 2016, trading 1.2% higher at $1.3690.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish Economy Ministry stressed that both ministers support chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s efforts, and said they’re not working together toward a soft Brexit deal. Earlier, a Spanish economy ministry official said that the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. A spokesman for Hoekstra declined to comment. The 27 remaining EU nations maintained a united front in the first phase of divorce talks, though the solidarity is already showing signs of strain as national interests diverge in the face of future trade discussions. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned countries to be disciplined and stick together to protect all their interests, in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. EU countries have delegated the job of negotiations to Barnier.

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Steve reply to the one-dimensional Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s latest issue.

Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)

Modern Economics is as conformist, and bland, as country and western music. This leaves radical thinkers singing the Blues as their voices go unheard. I’ve had an epiphany about my place in the Universe, and I owe it to the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and its special issue on “Rebuilding Macroeconomic Theory.” I am Elwood Blues, and the Universe (the part I inhabit anyway) is Bob’s Country Bunker. Halfway through the classic movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues cons the band into performing at a bar called Bob’s Country Bunker. When his incredulous brother Elwood asks the bar owner’s wife “What kind of music do you usually have here?” she cheerily replies “Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western”.

So that’s it. I’m a Blues singer, and I’m surrounded by Country and Western fans—otherwise known as Mainstream Economists. Their musical spectrum ranges from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton, and if I play anything outside it — say, some Otis Redding or Muddy Waters — they’ll throw beer bottles at me. Sometimes, even full ones. Suddenly, it all makes sense. This epiphany arrived, not as a Divine revelation, but as a tweet (as they would, were Moses alive today; so much more convenient than stone tablets) on January 1, as the Review touted its soon-to-be-released special issue.

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“ much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?”

Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)

The moral panic of “the Resistance” is back in DefCon 1 mode overnight just as the righteousness orgasm of the Golden Globe Awards was wearing off. Mr. Trump’s casual question to a couple of Senators vis-à-vis immigration policy — “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” — pushed the “racism” button at Resistance Central and CNN staged yet another of the orchestrated anxiety attacks it has perfected over the past year. The spotlight in this three-ring circus of perpetual offense, indignation, and alarm shifts back from the alleged sufferings of movie actresses to another intersectional victim group from the Dem/Prog pantheon of oppressed minorities: would-be immigrants-of-color. The President’s vulgar animus proves the charge that at least half the country is a lynch mob.

Of course, the most interesting feature of this neurotic zeitgeist is the displacement dynamic among the political Left as its frantic virtue-signaling attempts to distract everybody else in the room from its own dark and shameful emotions about the composition of American culture. As a born-and-bred Boomer (ex-)liberal from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I can assure you from direct experience that this group has, at best, ambiguous feelings about the lower orders of mankind — my Gawd, did he actually say that? — and, at worst, a certain unmanageable contempt that stirs deep fears of moral failure. Mr. Trump’s remark raises another interesting question that has not received much analysis amidst the latest panic: namely, how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?

I would avouch, contrary to the limp narrative of boom times, that the USA is visibly whirling around the drain in just about every way that matters. Except for the centers of financialization — New York, Washington, San Francisco — most of our cities are hollowed-out wrecks, and visitors to San Francisco will tell you that the place is literally a shithole, from the army of homeless people who, by definition, have no bathrooms. Our ghastly suburbs, where so many formerly middle-class Americans are now marooned in debt, despair, and civic alienation, have no prospects for serving as a plausible living arrangement anymore, and were so badly built in the first place that their journey to ruin is destined to be an epically short leap that will amaze historians of the future roasting ‘possums around their campfires.

All of the important activities in this land have been converted into odious rackets, by which I mean nakedly dishonest money-grubbing scams, especially the two sectors that used to be characterized by first, doing no harm (medicine), and seeking the truth (education). But everything else we do is infected by engineered falsehood and mendacity, including the news media, the law, banking, government, retail commerce, you name it. We’re living in a culture of pervasive control fraud, in which authorities set up looting and asset-stripping operations without any restraint.

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They should be testing us, not the other way around.

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)

Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old.

But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development.

Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.

The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it. The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.

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A loss of 2% oxygen is all it takes.

The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms. The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960. Two% might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life. Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago. Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history. “[Two%] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “That’s actually pretty scary.” Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years. It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

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Nov 232017

Nicolas de Staël Mer du nord 1954


Punxsutawney Phil Hammond, the UK chancellor, presented his Budget yesterday and declared five more years of austerity for Britain. As was to be expected. One doesn’t even have to go into the details of the Budget to understand that it is a dead end street for both the country and for Theresa May’s Tory party.

So why the persistent focus on austerity while it becomes clearer every day that it is suffocating the British economy? There are many answers to that. Sheer incompetence is a major one, a lack of empathy with the poorer another. Conservative Britain is a class society full of people who dream of empire, and deem their class a higher form of life than those who work low-paid jobs.

When you see that the British Parliament has even voted that animals don’t feel pain or emotions, you’d be tempted to think it’s a throwback all the way back to the Middle Ages, not just the British Empire. They’re as lost in time as Bill Murray is in Groundhog Day. Only worse.

But perhaps incompetence is the big one here. The inability to understand that if your economy is not doing well, you need to stimulate it, not drain even more of what’s left out of it. The people in government don’t understand economics, and therefore rely on economic theory for guidance. And the prevailing theories of the day prescribe bloodletting as the cure, so they bloodlet (let blood?). Let it bleed.

This is not a British problem, it’s pan-European if not global. Neither is the UK Tory party the only one being killed by it, all Conservative parties share that faith. They’re just lucky that their left wing opponents have all committed hara kiri, and joined their ranks when it comes to economics. All of Europe’s poorer have lost the voices that were supposed to speak for them, to economic incompetence.

Obviously, the US democrats did their own hara kiri years ago. One might label -some of- Bernie Sanders’ views left-wing, but he’s trapped in a system that won’t let him breathe.


All of this leads me to question the following:

A letter in the Guardian published on Sunday called on Chancellor Philip Hammond, ahead of his budget presentation on Wednesday, to end austerity in the UK. It is signed by 113 people, a veritable who’s who from the academic field, one -economics- professor after another. They include people like Joe Stiglitz, Steve Keen, Dave Graeber.

Looking at the letter itself, and then the entire list, makes me wonder: I’m sure you all mean well, guys, but I think perhaps you should first of all ask yourselves how it is possible that such a large group of well-educated ladies and gentlemen has become so utterly sidelined over time when it comes to major economic decisions, has allowed itself to be sidelined.

It’s one thing to ask what someone else is doing wrong, it’s another to ask yourself what you have done wrong. My question to y’all would be: where were you? Shouldn’t you have written and/or signed this letter 7 years ago, or 5, even just 3? Isn’t calling on the Chancellor to ‘end austerity now’ a bit late in the game?

Is it even the right call, or should you maybe be calling for him to simply resign (along with the entire cabinet)? After all, what are the odds that the Tories are going to turn on a dime and reverse their entire economic policies? They would look stupid, and they will avoid that like the plague. Here’s that letter:


The Chancellor Must End Austerity Now – It Is Punishing An Entire Generation

Seven years of austerity has destroyed lives. An estimated 30,000 excess deaths can be linked to cuts in NHS spending and the social care crisis in 2015 alone. The number of food parcels given to impoverished Britons has grown from tens of thousands in 2010 to over a million. Children are suffering from real-terms spending cuts in up to 88% of schools. The public sector pay cap has meant that millions of workers are struggling to make ends meet. Alongside the mounting human costs, austerity has hurt our economy.

The UK has experienced its weakest recovery on record and suffers from poor levels of investment, leading to low productivity and falling wages. This government has missed every one of its own debt reduction targets because austerity simply doesn’t work. The case for cuts has been grounded in ideology and untruths. We’ve been told public debt is the outcome of overspending on public services rather than bailing out the banks. We’ve been told that while the government can find money for the DUP, we cannot afford investment in public services and infrastructure.

We’ve been told that unless we “tighten our belts” we’ll saddle future generations with debt – but it’s the onslaught of cuts that is punishing an entire generation. Given the unprecedented economic uncertainty posed by Brexit negotiations and the private sector’s failure to invest, we cannot risk exacerbating an already anaemic recovery with further public spending cuts. We’ve reached a dangerous tipping point. Austerity has failed the British people and the British economy. We demand the chancellor ends austerity now.

If you ask me, Britain reached that ‘dangerous tipping point’ years ago. And talking about ‘an anaemic recovery’ sounds like total nonsense. There is no recovery, as you yourselves make clear with the examples you provide of the consequences of austerity. So why say it?

I don’t know if we can blame individual economists for missing out on the effects of political measures, although when those measures affect economics, we probably should. But regardless, the big game in town these days is politics, not economics. Everywhere there are ‘leaders’ fighting for survival, and it’s telling that Donald Trump is not nearly the most besieged among them.

That Theresa May is still PM of the UK is as surprising as it is ridiculous. But it also points to the lack of coherence and timing among her opponents, including those 113 academics. That once May goes, which could be soon, the Tories get to pick yet another one of their own as PM, is even more ridiculous. To top off the absurdity, the next in line could be Boris Johnson.

A country that finds itself in a quandary as immense as the UK faces post-Brexit vote, should not let one party that had a mere 42% of the vote, run all the plans, decisions and negotiations, be they domestic and/or international. There is no surer way for disaster to ensue. It’s the system itself that fails if that possibility exists, more than that one party.

The UK needs, more than anything, a national government (or something in that vein), an option in which at least a majority of the population is represented. That is much more important than some call for some policy to be halted.

Moreover, everyone should see this in the light of international political developments as a whole. What’s happening in Albion is not an isolated event, and it doesn’t happen under the influence of isolated forces or developments. What happened overnight on Sunday with the failure of Angela Merkel’s attempt to form a German coalition government makes that more obvious than ever.

Traditional political parties, left and right, have been swept out of power all over Europe. Germany is just one more example. The process doesn’t have the same shape, or the same speed, everywhere. But it’s real. It’s due to a mixture of rising inequality, deteriorating economic conditions and no left left to represent the people, the victims, at the bottom of societies. Well, and there’s the incessant lies about economic recovery.

But let’s take a little detour first. Just in order to illustrate the point even more. The Guardian ran a piece, also on Sunday, on newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron and his government and party, that is pretty hilarious.


New Head Of Macron’s Party Vows To Recapture Its Grassroots ‘Soul’

A fiercely loyal, self-styled “man of the people” has been appointed to lead Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling political movement, La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move, or La REM), promising to recapture the party’s“soul” after a hiatus since the recent election win. Christophe Castaner, 51, a burly member of parliament with a southern accent, styles himself as both in touch with everyday voters and devoted to Macron’s well-oiled communications machine. He was handpicked by the French president to take over the running of La REM.

Castaner, currently a minister and government spokesman, was a Socialist mayor of a picturesque small town in Provence for more than a decade before becoming one of the first politicians to jump ship to Macron’s centrist project in its early days. He grew up in a military family in the south of France, left school before his final exams – which he retook as an adult – and has a reputation for straight-talking. At La REM’s first party congress in Lyon this weekend, Castaner was the lone candidate for the role of party director.

He was picked by Macron at a presidential palace dinner, then confirmed by a group of party members with a show of hands rather than a secret ballot, sparking criticism from the media and political observers about undemocratic internal party practices. A small group of 100 party followers went public last week with an open resignation letter, claiming the party had no internal democracy. Others, including La REM members of parliament, responded that Castaner was “the obvious choice”.

Macron founded his own movement because he saw an opening to defeat all traditional French parties. He won the presidential elections, and only after that organized the movement into an actual political party ahead of parliamentary elections. I’d still like to see someone explain who paid for the campaigns of hundreds of candidate parliamentarians. It’s a mystery. France’s banking and business sector?

Macron has set an example for many people in other countries, provided they can unravel that mystery, of how they, too, can defeat incumbents and other long time power blocks. There are two countries where such tactics have until now not seemed possible: the UK and US. But that, too, will change.

In many other European countries, age-old blocks have already been beaten into submission. Even if many deep state powers in France et al have merely shifted allegiances. As their peers elsewhere will. But that’s just the way things are. It doesn’t negate the huge shifts in politics. Voters all over feel they’ve been had for too long. It’s all part of a tectonic shift. Deteriorating economic conditions will do that for you.

What makes the article on Macron et al so entertaining is the mention of the promise to “..recapture the party’s grassroots “soul”. A political party that’s barely a year old does not have grassroots, let alone a soul. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking. And that is a good thing to keep in mind, because Macron’s example – and success- will inspire similar initiatives in many places, and similar nonsensical narratives.


Ironically, if that’s the right word, the world -or at least the EU- is now Macron’s oyster. Angela Merkel has shown her weaknesses, and she has blinked first, in her failed attempt to form a new cabinet, and she will not recover from that, not with anything remotely like her past clout. Maybe -more than- 12 years as head of state is not such a good idea.

While Macron is a blank sheet without a soul or grassroots, Merkel and her CDU party possess both in spades. It’s just that in today’s world these things tend to easily turn against you. You’re better off without a past that you can be blamed for. Macron has no past. And no soul.

Merkel leaves an enormous void both in Germany and in Europe (even globally). And it’s one thing for her to have become too powerful at home, but it’s quite another for the same to have been allowed on the entire continent. Germany, under any leadership, will remain the only power in Europe that matters, no matter what grand plans Macron devises. And that is the EU’s fatal flaw. If you have 27-28 sovereign countries and you try to order them around all the time, you have a problem on your hands.


There is an inherent contradiction in being both the leader of political union’s strongest country and -simultaneously- of the union as a whole, and Merkel has bitterly failed in addressing, let alone solving, that contradiction. Merkel didn’t create it, true enough, but because she is/was the boss, it is her responsibility to address it. Even if it’s ultimately unsolvable.

In the present setting, any German leader, Angela or someone else, will be voted in by Germans, and focus on their interests, to hold on to these votes. But German interests are not always the same as those of other countries. That means Germany will always come out on top, and more so as time passes. Ever more wealth will flow to Berlin. That’s the fatal flaw, and at present there’s no way out of it.

With Merkel weakened, or soon even gone, lots of voices will speak up across Europe for their countries’ sovereignty, and the attack on them from Brussels. We already have Poland, Czechia and Hungary. Expect a lot more noise from Italy in the run-up to its elections. The power balance that Merkel held together is gone for good.

Yes, her refugee policy backfired, which is no surprise given that she decided on it like some empress. But what may be more important is that her traditional opponent, the left wing SPD, was not only her coalition partner, but it has no ideas that are notably different from her conservatives, and its new head is the former head of the European Parliament.

Where does one turn as a German who doesn’t want all that more EU all the time? Either far left or far right. Everything else has become a homogenous blob, all across Europe. And all of that blob is in favor of imposing ever more austerity on the most unlucky in their societies, because bloodletting is the most advanced treatment they know of.


It’s not even so much the financial crisis that has caused a political crisis in Europe, it’s the answers to it, the incompetence. Greece is a far worse-off victim of austerity than Britain is, and Yanis Varoufakis has described very well why that is: an absolute stonewalling refusal to talk about any alternatives to bloodletting. Because austerity is an ideology bordering on religion, executed by people who care much more about their own careers than they do about their people.

Greece is beyond salvation, its economy has been so thoroughly destroyed it will take decades to recover, if it ever can. Britain is set to follow the Greek example. The blame for that will be put on Brexit, not disastrous economic ‘policies’. In the same way that the Greek crisis was blamed on the Greeks, not the German and French banks that treated the country like an overleveraged game of Texas Hold ’em.

After Merkel Europe will fall victim to a vast power vacuum. In effect, today’s already ‘After Merkel’, even if it will take people a while to understand that. The EU is unraveling, and the blame goes to austerity and its incompetent priests. Including Angela. The bloodletters destroy their own economies, and they don’t understand that either.

Merkel hasn’t just demolished Greece, she has, in doing that, fatally undermined the foundations of the EU as well. And Germany. Look, ‘Mutti’ Merkel invited a million refugees to her country, and now refuses to let hundreds of war-traumatized children stuck on Greek islands join their parents in Germany, because she fears it could cost her votes. Talk about priorities. Theresa May does the same as we speak.

There’s a price to be paid for incompetence. It’s a shame that Merkel and Theresa May and Punxsutawney Phil Hammond won’t be the ones paying -the worst of- it.



Jan 062017
 January 6, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »

Joel Meyerowitz Girl On A Scooter 1965

Intel Report Says US Identifies Go-Betweens Who Gave Emails To WikiLeaks (CNN)
All US Envoys Appointed By Obama Told To Quit By Inauguration Day (R.)
FBI Never Requested Access To Allegedly Hacked DNC Server (DM)
The Coup Against Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)
Rebuild the Fed From the Bottom Up (DiMartino Booth)
Annual US Auto Sales Fell for First Time since 2009 (WS)
Dismal Holiday Sales At Macy’s And Kohl’s Cast Gloom Over Sector (R.)
Half Of Jobless US Men Not In The Labor Force Take Daily Pain Medication (AP)
The Real Reasons Brexit Is Succeeding (Ashoka Mody)
Economics is in Crisis – BOE’s Haldane (G.)
Why Has The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom? (G.)
UK Unsecured Consumer Credit Grows At Annual Rate Of 11% (G.)
No End In Sight For Europe’s Banking Troubles (CNBC)



What a circus this has become. No matter how hard they try, they still have to admit that “..there is no single intercepted communication that qualifies as a “smoking gun” on Russia’s intention to benefit Trump’s candidacy or to claim credit for doing so.” As for the go-betweens, WikiLeaks will never give info on sources.

Intel Report Says US Identifies Go-Betweens Who Gave Emails To WikiLeaks (CNN)

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday. In a Fox News interview earlier this week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied that Russia was the source of leaked Democratic emails that roiled the 2016 election to the detriment of President-elect Donald Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, US intelligence has received new information following the election that gave agencies increased confidence that Russia carried out the hack and did so, in part, to help Trump win. Included in that new information were intercepted conversations of Russian officials expressing happiness at Trump’s win. Another official described some of the messages as congratulatory.

Officials said this was just one of multiple indicators to give them high confidence of both Russian involvement and Russian intentions. Officials reiterated that there is no single intercepted communication that qualifies as a “smoking gun” on Russia’s intention to benefit Trump’s candidacy or to claim credit for doing so. Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with PBS NewsHour that an unclassified version of an intel report provided to him will be released “very shortly” and will “lay out in bold print what” the US knows about the hacking. “I think it will probably confirm what a lot of the American people think,” he said, adding that it would “state clearly” the Russians involvement in the hacking.

In response to the interview, Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “Julian Assange said “a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta” – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump has been publicly skeptical of Russia’s involvement in the hacking, as well as has been publicly deriding the US intelligence community for its unanimous conclusion that Russia hacked Democratic Party groups and individuals to interfere in the US presidential election. Officials told CNN there’s been a disconnect between Trump’s remarks about the intelligence community and his behind-the-scenes behavior when he’s present at private intel briefings.

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Oh lovely.

All US Envoys Appointed By Obama Told To Quit By Inauguration Day (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has issued a blanket mandate requiring politically appointed ambassadors installed by President Barack Obama to leave their posts by Inauguration Day, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand said on Friday. “I will be departing on January 20th,” Ambassador Mark Gilbert said in a Twitter message to Reuters. The mandate was issued “without exceptions” through an order sent in a State Department cable on Dec. 23, Gilbert said. He was confirming a report in the New York Times, which quoted diplomatic sources as saying previous U.S. administrations, from both major political parties, have traditionally granted extensions to allow a few ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.

The order threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain, the New York Times reported. A senior Trump transition official told the newspaper there was no ill will in the move, describing it as a simple matter of ensuring Obama’s overseas envoys leave the government on schedule, just as thousands of political aides at the White House and in federal agencies must do. Trump has taken a strict stance against leaving any of Obama’s political appointees in place as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20, aiming to break up many of his predecessor’s signature foreign and domestic policy achievements, the newspaper said.

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And why not? Throw on some more…

FBI Never Requested Access To Allegedly Hacked DNC Server (DM)

The FBI never asked the Democratic National Committee if it could examine a computer server that was the subject of cyber attacks last year. Instead federal law enforcement relied on data that, Crowdstrike, a private computer security company, gathered from the device. The FBI later endorsed the conclusion that Russian intelligence services were behind the hacking, and that their goal was to help Donald Trump win the November presidential election. ‘The DNC had several meetings with representatives of the FBI’s Cyber Division and its Washington Field Office, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and it responded to a variety of requests for cooperation,’ DNC deputy communications director Eric Walker told BuzzFeed, ‘but the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers.’

Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on a Thursday morning conference call that ‘the DNC is on the record saying the FBI never contacted them to validate claims by Crowdstrike, which is the third-party tech security firm, and never actually requested the hacked server.’ ‘You know, I would equate this to no one actually going to a crime scene to actually look at the evidence,’ Spicer declared. Walker said there were no restrictions on what the FBI could request from its private security company’s findings. ‘Beginning at the time the intrusion was discovered by the DNC, the DNC cooperated fully with the FBI and its investigation, providing access to all of the information uncovered by CrowdStrike – without any limits,’ he said.

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Restructuring US intelligence can be a hazardous occupation.

The Coup Against Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)

Washington is so intent on its anti-Russian propaganda that Congress has passed, and Obama has signed, an intelligence bill that contains a section, Title V, that authorizes active measures to counter purveyors of false news. These purveyors are alternative media websites, such as this one, that challenge the official lies. The truthful alternative media is accused of being under Russian influence. Last summer a website shrouded in secrecy was created that recently posted a list of 200 websites alleged to be under Russian influence, either directly or indirectly. The Washington Post irresponsibly published a long article endorsing the fake news of 200 websites working for the Russian government. In other words, the suppression of the truth is the last defense of the corrupt American ruling establishment.

During the last 24 years three Washington regimes have murdered millions of peoples in nine or more countries along with US civil liberty. To cover up these vast crimes, unparalleled in history, the presstitutes have lied, slandered, and libeled. And the Washington criminal regime holds itself up to the world as the indispensable protector of democracy, human rights, truth, and justice. As the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said recently, what makes America exceptional is the use of might in the service of evil. Washington brands not only its opponents but all who speak the truth “Russian agents,” hoping that the demonization of Russia has sufficiently frightened the population that Americans will turn their backs to those who speak the truth.

It would seem obvious even to the insouciant that an establishment that has gone so far out on a limb that the CIA director publicly attributes the election of Donald Trump to Russian interference but is unable to produce a shred of evidence—indeed in the face of totally conclusive evidence to the contrary—is determined to hold on to power at all costs. The CIA’s open, blatant, and unprecedented propaganda attack against a president-elect has caused Trump to throw down the gauntlet to CIA director John Brennan. There are reports that Trump intends to revamp and reorganize the intelligence agency. The last president who said this, John F. Kennedy, was murdered by the CIA before he could strike against them. Kennedy believed that he could not take on the CIA until he was re-elected. The delay gave the CIA time to arrange his assassination.

Trump appears to understand his danger. He has announced that he intends to supplement his Secret Service protection (which was turned against JFK) with private security. Isn’t it striking? The president of Russia states publicly that Washington is driving the world to thermo-nuclear war and that his warnings are ignored. The president-elect of the United States is under full-scale attack from the CIA and knows that he cannot trust his official security force. One might think that these extraordinary topics would be the only ones under discussion. But you can find such discussion only on a few alternative media websites, such as this one, branded by PropOrNot and the Washington Post as “under Russian influence.”

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Why am I under the impression that what Danielle DMB is describing is still an inside(r) job? Can economists clean up the Fed? Can it be cleaned up at all?

Is it as hazardous as redoing intelligence?

Rebuild the Fed From the Bottom Up (DiMartino Booth)

Today the institution of the Fed is as intellectually entrenched as it has ever been. It has become the largest employer of people with doctorates in economics. It has hired or contracted with more than 1,000 of these economists, who actively endeavor to validate, rather than question, orthodox theories and policies. The pipeline of talent filling new positions at the Fed is sourced from the same stagnant academic pool that produced the current leadership. Is it any wonder criticism within the Fed has been quashed? Now the door is open for an outsider to bring the outside world back into the Fed. The last time that all seven governor positions on the Federal Reserve Board were occupied was in 2013. Trump can expeditiously fill these seats, but, more important, he can remake the culture inside the Fed.

Armies of consultants have presumably been busy making a list of potential board nominees. If these advisers have the interests of those who voted for Trump at heart, they will look for individuals who have been on the receiving end of monetary policy and therefore understand it. They will find CEOs who would rather have invested in the future of their companies, thus creating more jobs and opportunities, rather than be pressured to buy back their shares with cheap debt because of regulatory uncertainty. They will seek out the handful of pension fund managers who have insisted on using assumptions for lower rates of return, to better reflect the reality of lower returns on fixed-income securities, and who resisted the siren call of inappropriate investments to offset the dearth of options in a low-interest-rate world.

They will seek rational critics of Fed policy who empathize with, not roundly dismiss, the plight of savers in this environment. Once a full complement of possible nominees is in place, the new administration can concentrate on redrawing the institution to reflect the tremendous change the U.S. economy has undergone in the more than 100 years since the Fed first came into being. Right now, there are 12 Fed districts. Some regions of the U.S. have become more economically powerful over the years. California is the largest economy followed by Texas. They should have their own Fed districts. A third one could encompass most of the rest of the West. At the same time, the regions that have become less economically relevant should be consolidated.

For example, Missouri no longer merits two Feds. St. Louis can be incorporated into the Chicago Fed, along with Cleveland. New York is the third-largest state economy. It seems economically reasonable, from Philadelphia north, to have two Fed districts rather than three. Then give the presidents of the 10 districts that remain permanent votes on the Federal Open Market Committee. This is a necessary act to begin dismantling the over-concentration of power at the board in Washington and at the New York Fed.

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Turning their back on their gods?

Annual US Auto Sales Fell for First Time since 2009 (WS)

The media hoopla has been deafening. In December, “new vehicles sales” – defined as the number of new cars, trucks, and SUVs that dealers sold to their customers, including fleets – rose 3.1%. That was stronger than “expected.” And in the media reports, there was euphoria between the lines. Automakers and dealers had certainly tried. Inventories are high, layoffs and plant closings have already been announced, and so every effort was made to move the iron and pull out the year. No incentive was spared to get the job done. With this gain in December, total sales for 2016 edged up 0.4% to a record 17.55 million vehicles, according to Autodata. Sales of light trucks and SUVs rose 7.2% for the year, but sales of cars sagged 8.1%. Gasoline is cheap, and Americans love big implements.

Car sales at GM dropped 4.3% in 2016, at Ford 13.0%, and at Fiat Chrysler a catastrophic 33.5%! Plants that build cars were the ones mostly (but not exclusively) hit by shutdowns and layoffs. Then there was the whole to-do about Trump, Ford, and the plant in Mexico. Alas, while some automakers posted record sales for the year, the biggest automakers were not among them. And you probably didn’t see this in the media unless you started digging through the data yourself. Somehow this one slipped by the media’s attention. Because something ugly happened in 2016, something we haven’t seen since 2009. For ALL of the big three US automakers, plus for a number of others, sales in 2016 actually fell. For them it was the first annual sales decline since nightmare-year 2009.

Here they are, in terms of the annual decline in their total vehicles sales, as measured by dealer sales to their customers (in descending order of sales): • GM -1.3% • Ford -0.1% • Toyota -2.0% • Fiat-Chrysler -0.4% • Volkswagen -3.3% • BMW -9.7% • Mazda -6.7%. The sales of these seven automakers combined amounted to 11.5 million vehicles in 2016, or 65% of total US sales! And combined, their sales were down 1.5% from the prior year. So this is what Ford meant earlier this year, when it began mentioning the “car recession.”

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‘T is the season to be folly.

Dismal Holiday Sales At Macy’s And Kohl’s Cast Gloom Over Sector (R.)

Disappointing holiday-season sales at Macy’s and Kohl’s underscored the uphill task facing department stores to win back shoppers, who are increasingly turning to online retailers and spending less on apparel. Macy’s shares fell as much as 14% on Thursday, their biggest percentage drop in seven months. Kohl’s stock dropped as much as 20.5%, its biggest decline in more than 14 years. Both reported lower-than-expected sales for November and December and cut their full-year profit forecasts on Wednesday. Macy’s, known the world over for its flagship Herald Square store in Manhattan and its annual Thanksgiving Day parade, is considered a bellwether for department stores. However, it is expected to relinquish its position as the largest U.S. apparel retailer to as soon as this year as it struggles to compete on prices and the convenience offered by online shopping.

Amazon said last week it had its “best ever” holiday season, shipping more than 1 billion items worldwide. Shares of other department store operators, including J.C. Penney and Nordstrom also fell as the dismal showing took investors by surprise. Expectations were high that department stores would get a good boost from a strong holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation had forecast that 2016 holiday period sales would rise 3.6% to $656 billion. A jump in spending in the last days of December was expected to make up for a slow start to the shopping season. “The strength around Thanksgiving and Christmas was insufficient to offset the sales weakness in the balance of the quarter,” Stifel, Nicolaus & Co analyst Richard Jaffe wrote. “In addition, these peak selling periods were characterized by greater promotions which contributed to weaker than anticipated gross margin as well,” he said in a client note. Struggling Sears, the operator of Sears and Kmart stores, reported a 12-13% drop in same-store sales for November and December on Thursday.

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Brought up as a mere detail in the AP article, but what a striking one. We’re talking many millions of men: “Health problems and the opioid epidemic may also be a major barrier to work, according to research by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and former Obama adviser. Nearly half of men ages 25 through 54 who are neither working nor looking for work take pain medication daily, Krueger found.” Go back 100 years and imagine this then.

Half Of Jobless US Men Not In The Labor Force Take Daily Pain Medication (AP)

If President-elect Donald Trump is going to meet his pledge to energize the U.S. economy, there’s a simple yet tough way to do so: Put more men to work. The proportion of men in their prime working years who either have a job or are looking for one has been dropping for decades — and limiting economic growth in the process. The full brunt of the 60-year decline burst into view during the 2016 election. Trump triumphed in part by vowing to restore jobs at steel mills, auto plants and coal mines — the types of work that had once employed legions of men who lacked a college education. Bringing more non-college-educated men into the workforce is a Herculean challenge that has long bedeviled economists. Among the root causes:

• Automation. Factory robots and computer software have eliminated the need for many workers, wiping out an array of jobs that once provided a middle class lifestyle. • Global competition. U.S. workers have been competing for jobs with cheaper foreign workers, a trend that’s led to some offshoring of jobs and curbed pay in some industries. • Criminal records. Stricter criminal laws have left over 20 million Americans with felony convictions and prison records — a fourfold increase from 30 years earlier. That background has made it hard for them to get hired. • Prescription drug use. Nearly half of jobless men who are no longer looking for work are on pain medication, research has found.

Still, Trump appears to endorse a straightforward fix: Bump up economic growth, and workers will land good jobs at decent wages. “Many are dropping out of the labor force because they cannot find good-paying jobs in an economy operating near stall-speed,” the Trump campaign said before the election. To chart the problem and any progress Trump might achieve over the next four years, his team has pointed to an obscure gauge called the “labor force participation rate.” This is the proportion of people who are either working or looking for work. It excludes anyone who’s stopped searching for a job.

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Mody’s been smoking the real good stuff. Bankers leave? Great! Housing market crashes? Even better! Pound plummets? Fantastic!

It’ll all add up to Britain becoming “a beacon amidst the desolate and depressing decay of Western politics and social norms.”

The Real Reasons Brexit Is Succeeding (Ashoka Mody)

Banks are expected to leave for the European continent, taking with them jobs and tax revenues. But if banks do leave, that would be another good outcome for the British economy. Banks have fuelled the finance-property price nexus and have drawn the best talent to flip financial assets. A smaller banking sector will mean a more balanced British economy. And as for those who expect that the economy will suffer when the details of the divorce with the European Union are revealed, their logic does not work. It is the uncertainty of what lies ahead that should depress the economy. Once details become clearer, businesses will adapt. The fact that six months after the decision, the economy is doing so well is a judgement that Brexit could deliver a net economic dividend.

But the greater prize from Brexit lies in a possible political dividend. Western democracy is under the threat of authoritarian populism. Mainstream political parties, having for long failed to heed the calls of those being left behind, are being pushed aside by charlatans. The Brexit vote was a cry of despair by the poorly educated and those employed in dead-end jobs; many such Brexiters have reason to fear that their children will do even worse than them. Through their vote to leave the European Union, the most vulnerable have given another opportunity to the Conservative Party rather than to a Government run by self-promoting and destructive extremists.

Brexit will happen. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government must heed the true message of the Brexit vote. The task is to regenerate the communities that have turned into wastelands and spread quality education to prepare ever larger numbers of British citizens for the rigours of a 21st century competitive global economy. If the Government succeeds in this greater task, then Britain would not only have done well for itself, it would become a beacon amidst the desolate and depressing decay of Western politics and social norms.

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The crisis in economics should not be confused with that inside the BOE, where Carney turned political to influence the Brexit vote. In vain.

Economics is in Crisis – BOE’s Haldane (G.)

The Bank of England’s chief economist has admitted his profession is in crisis having failed to foresee the 2008 financial crash and having misjudged the impact of the Brexit vote. Andrew Haldane, said it was “a fair cop” referring to a series of forecasting errors before and after the financial crash which had brought the profession’s reputation into question. Blaming the failure of economic models to cope with “irrational behaviour” in the modern era, the economist said the profession needed to adapt to regain the trust of the public and politicians. Haldane described the collapse of Lehman Brothers as the economics profession’s “Michael Fish moment” (a reference to when the BBC weather forecaster predicted in 1987 that the UK would avoid a hurricane that went on to devastate large parts of southern England).

Speaking at the Institute for Government in central London, Haldane said meteorological forecasting had improved markedly following that embarrassing mistake and that the economics profession could follow in its footsteps. The bank has come under intense criticism for predicting a dramatic slowdown in the UK’s fortunes in the event of a vote for Brexit only for the economy to bounce back strongly and remain one of the best performing in the developed world. Haldane is known to be concerned about mounting criticism of experts and the potential for Threadneedle Street’s forecasts to be dismissed by politicians if errors persist. Former Tory ministers, including the former foreign secretary William Hague and the former justice secretary Michael Gove, last year attacked the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, for predicting a dramatic slowdown in growth if the country voted to leave the EU.

Prominent Brexit campaigners have also besieged the central bank. Before the vote, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson accused the bank of risking undermining economic confidence by issuing warnings about the potential effects of a vote for Brexit. During her conference speech following the vote, on 6 October, the prime minister, Theresa May, criticised the bank’s reaction to the vote after it cut interest rates further and boosted its package of stimulus measures by £60bn to £435bn.Gove said last week that when he said experts needed to be challenged, he meant economists in particular. In a debate with Stephanie Flanders, the former BBC economics editor, he cited an academic study to support his argument that expert economists were not good at making predictions.

Gove said: “Sometimes we’re invited to take experts as though they were prophets, as though their words were carved in tablets of stone and that we had to simply meekly bow down before them and accept their verdict. “I think the right response in a democracy, to assertions made by experts, is to say ‘show us the evidence, show us the facts’. And then, if experts or indeed anyone in the debate can make a strong case, draw on evidence and let us think again – then of course they deserve respect.”

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For the answer, check the article below this one.

Why Has The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom? (G.)

First it was manufacturing. Then it was construction. Now the hat-trick of upbeat economic news has been completed by the strongest performance by the services sector in 17 months. It goes without saying that this is not what the Treasury or the Bank of England expected at the time of the EU referendum last June. At the time, there was talk of the economy plunging straight into recession. This week’s reports from purchasing managers point to growth of 0.5% in the final three months of 2016 compared with 0.6% in the third quarter. Post-referendum forecasts for 2016 were quickly shredded by the Bank of England when it became clear that activity had not collapsed. Likewise, predictions for 2017 may also soon be revised upwards. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the economy had momentum in late 2016 which will persist into the first few months of 2017.

Secondly, the international outlook is looking brighter than it was a few months ago. Donald Trump’s tax-cutting agenda means the US economy is going to grow rapidly this year and that’s good news for UK exporters. Finally, the stance of both fiscal and monetary policy in the UK has become more growth friendly since the referendum. Philip Hammond throttled back on the government’s austerity plans in last November’s autumn statement, reinforcing the impact of Bank of England’s decision three months earlier to cut interest rates and embark on a new round of quantitative easing. When it cut rates to 0.25% in August the Bank signalled that a further cut was likely to be needed. Clearly, that is no longer going to happen. Official borrowing costs will remain where they are for now but there is a good chance of the next move from Threadneedle Street being a rate rise.

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This is why “The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom”.

UK Unsecured Consumer Credit Grows At Annual Rate Of 11% (G.)

Britain went on a bit of a borrowing binge as Christmas approached. Unable to resist all the bargains on offer on Black Friday, shoppers pulled out the plastic. The rise in unsecured consumer debt in November was the biggest for more than a decade. News of the increase in consumer debt is not exactly a surprise. When the Bank of England cut interest rates in August last year, the aim was to making borrowing cheaper and therefore more attractive. The message came through loud and clear: UK households need little encouragement to buy on the never-never. Unsecured credit is growing at an annual rate just shy of 11% Rising consumer debt is not necessarily a problem. When unemployment is low and real incomes are rising, it can make perfectly good sense to borrow for a big-ticket item, especially when, as on Black Friday, it is on offer at a knockdown price and when interest rates are so low.

But anybody who believes consumers can continue to amass credit at 11% a year is living in cloud cuckoo land. The UK has been through these credit cycles many times in the past, and things have never ended well. Annual growth in unsecured borrowing is edging back up towards the 16% peak reached in the early 2000s, as is unsecured debt as a proportion of disposable income. The danger comes when unemployment rises, real incomes are squeezed or interest rates start to go up. At that point, borrowing becomes less a matter of personal choice and more a sign of financial distress. Britain is not at that point – yet. Consumers are not optimistic about the outlook for the economy but they are relatively happy about the state of their own finances. That could change as inflation starts to climb.

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100% guaranteed.

No End In Sight For Europe’s Banking Troubles (CNBC)

There is another pressing issue to solve in Europe’s banking system: Novo Banco – a Portuguese bank that emerged from the collapse of the country’s biggest lender. The Portuguese Central Bank and government have to find a solution for Novo Banco by August – a deadline agreed with European regulators, after previous failed attempts to recover the 4.9 billion euros ($5.2 billion) used to save the bank. Portugal’s Finance Minister Mario Centeno told a newspaper on Wednesday that “all options are on the table”, including a nationalization. Earlier last year, the government had rebuffed calls for the nationalization of the bank. Such a solution could spark further political turmoil at a sensitive time in European Union politics.

“It’s here (in the stability of the Portuguese government) where I find risks,” Diogo Teixeira dos Santos, chief executive officer at Optimize Investment Partners, told CNBC over the phone. Nationalizing the bank would be more of a political problem rather than an economic issue, he explained. Portugal is being governed by a minority-socialist led government, who enjoys parliamentary support from two leftist parties (the Left Bloc and the Communist Party). Though there are no general elections scheduled for 2017, it is clear that there are divergent views between the three parties when it comes to Novo Banco, which could shake the stability of the government.

The Left Bloc has previously mentioned that Novo Banco should be state owned, but the government continues to push for a private solution – just like the Italian government did for Monte dei Paschi, until the political turmoil forced a state intervention. More importantly, the leftist parties want the solution to have zero impact for taxpayers. The government lent nearly 4 billion euros to the rescue of the bank – an amount that it hopes to recover with a sale. Any losses from the sale will have to be paid gradually by the other Portuguese banks. But, even the best private option at the moment has “a potential impact on public accounts,” Lisbon’s central bank said Wednesday. The bank announced that an offer from Lone Star, a U.S. fund, is the best placed in ongoing negotiations.

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Nov 232016
 November 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »

Cyclone, Oklahoma, 1898

Dow 19,000 Is No Cause For Celebration (MW)
Global Wealth Update: 0.7% Of Adults Control $116.6 Trillion In Wealth (ZH)
We Could Be In A ‘Lost Decade’ Of Global Wealth Growth (CNBC)
Willing To Oppose Trump, Some Senate Republicans Gain Leverage (R.)
EU Draft Plan Eyes New Bank Creditor Class To Bear Losses (R.)
Economists Need To Get Into The Real World, Says BOE’s Haldane (Tel.)
Of Dunces, Fools, Drones and Heroes (Dmitry Orlov)
Renzi’s Party Wants Early Election in Italy If Referendum Lost (BBG)
Erdogan Says EU Lawmakers’ Vote On Turkish Membership ‘Has No Value’ (R.)
EU Finance Ministers To Discuss IMF, Greek Debt (Kath.)
Trump: ‘Open Mind’ On Quitting Climate Accords (AFP)
Sea Ice Reaches A New Low (Economist)



Arbitrary numbers.

Dow 19,000 Is No Cause For Celebration (MW)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 19,000 on Tuesday for the first time. How is this news? I’m sure you remember the spell-binding chase for the Dow to break 18,000, or those thrilling days when the Dow crossed 17,000, or hunted for 15,000. If you don’t remember those benchmark days – which occurred in December 2014 and July 2014 respectively, the latter being 14 months after the Dow had crossed 15,000 – then you also recognize that Dow 19,000 is equally no big deal, post-election rally notwithstanding. In fact, the Dow itself is no big deal. The Dow is the Kardashian of indexes – a celebrity benchmark, famous because it’s known rather than because of what it does.

Every round number on the index hits the news cycle hard, largely because there is so little real news out there. In early November, for example, people were talking about nine straight down days on the S&P 500 – the first nine-day losing streak in 36 years – as if that was somehow meaningful, even though the total decline on the index amounted to just 3.1%. (By comparison, the S&P 500’s last nine-day skid – which ended in December 1980 – shaved 9.4% off the index, according to FactSet). Tuesday’s headlines included a 13-day winning streak for the Russell 2000, its longest win streak in more than 20 years. The Russell benchmark gained roughly 15% during that stretch – an achievement largely unnoticed because it wasn’t the Dow or S&P 500.

Round numbers and little factoids are amusing and interesting, and are obvious fodder for the talking heads. Currently, the talk is whether the post-election rally can continue and if the Dow can roar on to 20,000, or if the quick rebound since the election has pushed us closer to a point of go-no-further. Focusing on the meaning of the Dow passing a landmark, however, misses the bigger point, which is that the Dow is a virtually meaningless benchmark. The Dow is important to people because it’s what they know, the staple of every market-oriented website, every radio-station market update, every newspaper’s daily business section, and the centerpiece of the 20 seconds of coverage that every national newscast guarantees the investing world each day.

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Criminal. And deadly. The ultimate pyramid scheme.

Global Wealth Update: 0.7% Of Adults Control $116.6 Trillion In Wealth (ZH)

Today Credit Suisse released its latest annual global wealth report, which traditionally lays out what is perhaps the biggest reason for the recent “anti-establishment” revulsion: an unprecedented concentration of wealth among a handful of people, as shown in its infamous global wealth pyramid, an arrangement which as observed by the “shocking” political backlash of the past few months suggests that the lower ‘levels’ of the pyramid are increasingly unhappy about.

As Credit Suisse tantalizingly shows year after year, the number of people who control just shy of a majority of global net worth, or 45.6% of the roughly $255 trillion in household wealth, is declining progressively relative to the total population of the world, and in 2016 the number of people who are worth more than $1 million was just 33 million, roughly 0.7% of the world’s population of adults. On the other end of the pyramid, some 3.5 billion adults had a net worth of less than $10,000, accounting for just about $6 trillion in household wealth. And inbetween is the so-called global middle class – those 1 billion people who rising anger at the status quo made Brexit and Trump possible.

[..] How about the very top? Things here are even more nuanced, with 28.9 million people whose net worth is between $1 and $5 million gradually tapering off to just 140,900 Ultra High Net Worth individuals who control more than $50 million in assets each. Of these, 50,800 are worth at least USD 100 million, and 5,200 have assets above USD 500 million. The total number of UHNW adults is about 3% higher than a year ago (4,100 individuals), and the increase has been relatively uniform across regions, except for the higher than average rise in Asia- Pacific countries (10%)

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How about a lost century?

We Could Be In A ‘Lost Decade’ Of Global Wealth Growth (CNBC)

Concerns that we are in a “lost decade” for global wealth growth have been given further credence by the latest “Global Wealth Report” released by the Credit Suisse Research Institute on Tuesday. According to the researchers, “In recent years, there has been a growing sense that the economic recovery is shallow, and has not reached all layers of society. Evidence from our global wealth database supports this view.” “While exchange rate movements sometimes obscure trends, wealth per adult and median wealth have grown well below their potential during the last nine years, compounding fears that we are in the midst of a lost decade for global wealth growth,” the paper continues.

The 1.4% rise in global wealth over the 12 month period to June 30 has only kept in line with population growth, meaning that for the first time since 2008 the wealth per adult measure has remained flat, according to the research. The paper burrows down into country level data which show that exchange rate fluctuations were the biggest drivers of changes in wealth for different nations over the period. Most notably, the 15% plunge in the British pound driven by Brexit translated to a $1.5 trillion loss for the U.K.. Meanwhile Japan’s 19% jump – which added $3.9 trillion to its wealth pile – was exactly aligned with gains in the yen as the Japanese currency bounced back from earlier weakness as its central bank was increasingly seen as running out of tools with which to force its depreciation.

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Trump will listen. But these folks must recognize why he won and they did not: they can’t command the room like he can.

Willing To Oppose Trump, Some Senate Republicans Gain Leverage (R.)

It is no surprise that Democrats in the U.S. Congress will oppose Donald Trump but the most important resistance to fulfilling the president-elect’s agenda is beginning to emerge from Republicans on Capitol Hill. A small number of influential Republicans in the Senate are threatening to block appointments to Trump’s administration, derail his thaw with Russia and prevent the planned wall on the border with Mexico. The party held onto control of the Senate at the Nov. 8 election but by only a thin margin, putting powerful swing votes in just a few hands. That empowers Republican Senate mavericks such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both were bitter rivals to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Paul, a libertarian lone wolf, says he will block Senate confirmations if Trump nominates either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be secretary of state. South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham has started publicly outlining places he might be willing to oppose Trump. He is against the Mexican border wall and is delivering warnings against Trump’s intention to revoke legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children – although that would not require congressional approval. Graham, a traditional Republican foreign policy hawk, strongly disagrees with Trump’s attempt to improve ties with Russia. “I am going to be kind of a hard ass” on Russia, Graham told reporters recently. “We can’t sit on the sidelines” and let cyber attacks blamed on Russia “go unanswered.”

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Accounting tricks are supposed to keep zombies alive.

EU Draft Plan Eyes New Bank Creditor Class To Bear Losses (R.)

European banks would be able to issue a new category of debt that could be wiped out in a crisis only after shares and bonds, but before more secured instruments, such as covered deposits, under a draft EU law seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The proposal aims at facilitating the building up of capital buffers for banks against losses at time when shares and bonds are losing value, forcing lenders to pay more to build the required cushions. The draft law, to be published by the European Commission on Wednesday, would create a new category of “non-preferred” debt instruments that would be bailed-in -suffer losses- only during a bank resolution, the draft text said.

The document is part of a wider legislative package aimed at reviewing EU rules on capital requirements for banks. Only debt instruments with a maturity of one year, and that are not derivatives, can be included in the new class. Lenders issuing such instruments will have to stress in contracts their ranking, which will be lower than secured debt such as covered deposits, derivatives or tax liabilities. The law is also aimed at creating a uniform ranking of bail-in-able liabilities across EU countries, which have so far applied in divergent ways new bail-in rules in force since the beginning of this year. The bail-in regime is meant to reduce costs to taxpayers in the event of a bank crisis, while increasing losses for the lenders’ creditors.

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The field is still very slow to wake up, even if more of them raise their -timid- voices.

Economists Need To Get Into The Real World, Says BOE’s Haldane (Tel.)

Economists are too detached from the real world and have failed to learn from the financial crisis, insisting on using mathematical models which do not reflect reality, according to the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane. The public has lost faith in economists since the credit crunch, he said, but the profession has failed to thoroughly re-examine its failings to come up with a new model of operating. Instead, he fears, it is still using the same failed analyses, and is still failing to speak effectively to the public. This applies to an all manner of areas, from studies of the financial meltdown to analysis of the Brexit vote. “The various reports into the economic costs of the UK leaving the EU most likely fell at the same hurdle. They are written, in the main, by the elite for the elite,” said Mr Haldane, writing the foreword to a new book, called ‘The Econocracy: the perils of leaving economics to the experts’.

The chief economist said that the Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in a major overhaul of economic thinking, led by John Maynard Keynes, who emerged “as the most influential economist of the twentieth century”. But the recent financial crisis and slow recovery has not yet prompted this great re-thinking. “Thus far at least, the present crisis has yet to spawn a Keynes for the twenty-first century. And nor have we witnessed any great leap forward analytically. Perhaps it is simply early days,” he said. “Salvation for the economics profession probably lies not among existing academic and policymaking dinosaurs, like me, but among the new generation of students of the discipline.” For now, economists need to focus on reviewing their models, accepting a diversify of thought rather than one solid orthodoxy, and on communicating more clearly.

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A bit hard to convey what Dmitry means in a news overview, you’ll have to read the article.

Of Dunces, Fools, Drones and Heroes (Dmitry Orlov)

Some time ago I posted three T-shirt designs, with no explanation as to why. “Here are some shirts,” I wrote, “reasonably priced, in all styles and colors, free shipping on orders over 100 USD, yadda-yadda.” Just as I expected, a few people got it, and a few of those ordered some shirts. The rest had no idea; some even confessed to that in the comments. That was a test. It was a success. Now that all eight of the planned designs are available, I offer the full explanation and rationale behind this, my latest humanitarian intervention/fundraising effort.

In all my travels and conversations, I have proven to myself beyond all doubt that the decision on who to talk to should have nothing to do with race, age, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, IQ, profession/trade, educational level, criminal record, party affiliation, gang/militia membership, religious persuasion, military training/rank, drinking/drug habits and whatever else you might try to use to categorize people. Categorizing people based on their public attributes just doesn’t work. So, in determining who is worth talking to, all we have to go on is gut feeling, first impressions and happy accidents. But is this, I ask you, in any way optimal? No, it is not!

That is why I decided to step in and help. The eight designs may have some artistic merit, but they are not exactly art; in fact, they should be regarded as precision mental calibration instruments. Each design features a simple nautical motif consisting of a circle and the 16 compass points. Around the circle is a tag line. Inside the circle is a fish. The tag line is a pun about the fish. Confused? Read on! Each of the designs is a cognitive test. As you walk around wearing one of these shirts, looking for people worth talking to, you can apply specific methods, explained below, to interpret the way they react to your shirt. You can then make an objective determination as to whether a particular person is worth talking to. The determination is based on that staple of business consultants, Four-Quadrant Analysis.

In this case, the two dimensions being mapped are:
x-axis: Did the person get it? (No | Yes)
y-axis: Did the person laugh? (No | Yes)

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Yeah, bring in the old guard. The return of Monti. That’ll work miracles.

Renzi’s Party Wants Early Election in Italy If Referendum Lost (BBG)

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s party would seek early elections in Italy by the summer of 2017 if he loses a referendum on constitutional reform, according to a senior official. Lorenzo Guerini, deputy-secretary of Renzi’s Democratic Party, said in an interview that the group would try to reform the electoral system and then push for a fresh ballot if the “No” campaign wins on Dec. 4. He declined to say whether the premier would stay on to lead that effort or honor his promise to resign after a defeat, but he insisted Renzi would remain leader of the biggest party in parliament. “If there is the political will, we can work over a brief period on a new electoral law, and have elections with a new electoral law soon, by the summer of 2017,” Guerini said in his Rome office.

“If there are not the political conditions and the electoral reform is used as an excuse for a weak government surviving, we’re not interested.” Both the euro and Italian bonds have fallen this month amid concern that a rising populist mood will derail Renzi’s plans for reform and put another crack in the European project. The insurgent Five Star Movement is aiming to capitalize on a “No” vote to force Renzi out and wants another referendum, this time on Italy’s membership of the euro area. With Five Star just behind the Democratic Party in the polls, part of the Italian establishment is looking to hold off another vote until the current parliamentary term ends in February 2018.

Mario Monti, who headed a technocratic government between 2011 and 2013, said he expected there to be no early ballot whatever happens and said Italy should prioritize stability rather than rushing into another vote. “In case the ‘No’ were to win, I would expect first of all Mr Renzi to stay on after all,” Monti said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua. “If he at all costs wanted to leave, I would expect the president of the republic to form a new government with a new prime minister, but very much from the same center-left political spectrum which is now the Renzi majority.”

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I’m waiting till Putin takes revenge for the Russian jet downed last year. The West is too weak to take on Erdogan.

Erdogan Says EU Lawmakers’ Vote On Turkish Membership ‘Has No Value’ (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that a vote by the European Parliament on whether to halt EU membership talks with Ankara “has no value in our eyes” and again accused Europe of siding with terrorist organizations. “We have made clear time and time again that we take care of European values more than many EU countries, but we could not see concrete support from Western friends … None of the promises were kept,” he told an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Istanbul. “There will be a meeting at the European Parliament tomorrow, and they will vote on EU talks with Turkey … whatever the result, this vote has no value in our eyes.”

Leading members of the European Parliament on Tuesday called for a halt to EU membership talks with Turkey because of its broad purges in the wake of a failed July coup. More than 125,000 people – including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists and Kurdish leaders – have been detained or dismissed over their alleged backing for the putsch, in what opponents, rights groups and some Western allies say is an attempt to crush all dissent.

Erdogan said on Tuesday the measures had significantly weakened the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are accused of infiltrating state institutions over several decades and carrying out the coup attempt. Erdogan, and many Turks, were angered by the Western response to the putsch, viewing it as more concerned about the rights of the plotters than the gravity of the events themselves, in which more than 240 people were killed as rogue soldiers commandeered fighter jets and tanks. He has also repeatedly accused Europe of harboring members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is deemed a terrorist organization by the EU and United States.

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Get so sick of this. More reforms will be called for. Rinse and repeat.

EU Finance Ministers To Discuss IMF, Greek Debt (Kath.)

Finance ministers of core European Union countries are expected to meet later this week in Berlin to discuss the possible concessions Brussels could offer to secure the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third international bailout, paving the way for debt talks. Government officials suggest that the IMF, which has yet to decide whether to join Greece’s third bailout, is to blame for the slow process of talks between Greece and its creditors. In a media briefing on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos acknowledged that the differences between Greece and its creditors remain too great for an agreement on all prior actions to be reached by the December 5 Eurogroup meeting and said that Athens was aiming for a political agreement by that time.

There is enough time until December 5 for agreements to be reached in talks on labor laws, fiscal issues and the overhaul of the Greek energy sector, Tzanakopoulos said, noting that the government has shown the political will necessary to achieve a breakthrough by the deadline. However, he said, this political will does not include “a willingness for new austerity measures and concessions on matters of principle such as labor rights.” Elaborating, government sources said authorities will not retract their demands for the restoration of collective labor contracts. If all differences have not been bridged by December 5, Greece’s creditors should issue a political decision and make good on their pledge to launch talks on debt relief, Tzanakopoulos said.

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Denouncing the CON21 accord is not the worst of things. Because it doesn’t achieve a thing.

Trump: ‘Open Mind’ On Quitting Climate Accords (AFP)

US President-elect Donald Trump said Tuesday he has an open mind about pulling out of world climate accords and admitted global warming may be in some way linked to human activity. “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much,” he told a panel of New York Times journalists. Asked whether he would make good on his threat to pull the United States out of UN climate accords, he said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.” But he said he was also wanted to see how much the Paris climate accord “will cost our companies” and its impact on US competitiveness.

The Republican billionaire businessman has called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China and threatened to pull out of the agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The accord was reached in Paris in December 2015 after negotiations involving 195 countries. The worldwide pact to battle global warming took effect on November 4. The agreement sets a goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial revolution levels. The United States, the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, ratified the accord in early September, with strong backing from President Barack Obama.

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What are you going to do about it?

Sea Ice Reaches A New Low (Economist)

Measuring sea ice is difficult. Not only does it only appear in the most remote, inhospitable parts of the world, it is constantly either melting or forming. Since 1979, satellites have made the job easier, but they can give a misleading picture. Using satellite images to tot up the total area of sea ice risks mistaking surface melt for open water during the summer melting season. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado instead measure sea-ice extent by dividing the images into grids and counting any squares with more than 15% ice concentration as “ice covered”. Sea-ice extent is always larger than sea-ice area, but this method eliminates melt-season inaccuracies.

Scientists are interested in sea ice as a marker -and amplifier- of climate change. Its bright surface reflects 80% of the sunlight that hits it back into space. When it melts, the uncovered dark ocean surface absorbs 90% of the sunlight, which heats it up, causing more ice to melt. In recent years, the melting season in the Arctic has been ending later in the year, leading to less time for new ice to form. As a consequence, the total sea-ice extent in September 2016 was over 3m km2. smaller than in September 1980, although not as small as in September 2012, the worst year on record.

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Oct 232016
 October 23, 2016  Posted by at 7:55 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Ungovernability

Inge Morath Street Corner at World’s End London 1954


Over the summer I introduced a two-fold assertion: 1) global economic growth is over (and has been for years and won’t come back for many more years) and 2) the end of growth marks the end of all centralization, including globalization. You can read all about these themes in “Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not” and “Why There is Trump” There are also extensive quotes of the second essay in wicked former UK MI6 spymaster Alastair Crooke’s “‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent”.

When I say ‘the end of growth’, I don’t mean that in a Limits to Growth kind of way, or peak oil or things like that. Not because I seek to invalidate such things, but because I mean economics, finance only. Our economies simply ceased growing, and quite a few years ago. The only reason that is not, and very widely, recognized is the $21 trillion and change that central banks have conjured up ostensibly to kickstart a recovery that always remains just around the corner.

That those $21 trillion will have massive negative effects on all of us is not my point either right now. Just that growth is gone. And that’s hard enough to swallow for a system that’s based uniquely on that growth. That is what this ‘essay’ is about: what consequences that will have.

All that said, I don’t have the idea that too many people are willing to accept the notion of the end of eternal economic growth (let alone right this minute), nor of globalization’s demise. Which may be partially understandable, but not more than that. Instead, quite a few people may honestly feel that the end of growth will make ‘leaders’ try for more, not less, centralization/globalization, but that, if it happens, is temporary. Unless, as I wrote earlier, we see dictators in the west.

Because, as I said in those articles, the overbearing principle is, and must be, that when centralized power ceases to deliver benefits to people, they will no longer accept that decisions about their – ever poorer- lives are taken by people hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they live. People allow that only when they reap sufficient benefits from it. With growth gone, there are no such benefits left. Look at Greece and Italy and Brexit, and look at why Trump is where he is.


Since it will apparently take a while for the above to sink in – which is not because I’m wrong-, I’m a little hesitant to introduce the next assertion, which is very closely related to the other two and takes it a step further. That assertion is that there are multiple countries in the western world -and perhaps beyond- today that run a serious risk of becoming de facto ungovernable. I’ll refrain from using the term anarchy.

I’ve been playing around in my head for a while with the thought that it is striking that the last two major global powers, which together have dominated world politics and economics for over 200 years, look well on their way towards becoming ungovernable. It is perhaps even more striking that nobody appears to understand or even contemplate this.

Both Britain and America are caught in an apparent trap in which various groups of their citizens blame each other for everything that’s going wrong with their lives -which admittedly is plenty-. But that’s where the end of growth and globalization comes in: societies are in urgent need of new ways of organizing themselves, of formulating new goals, priorities and policies.

And since nary a soul recognizes that the old ways have expired, this is bound to be a very difficult process. Before formulating anything new, we will first see (well, we already do) forces, movements and individuals rise to the fore whose claim to fame is kicking against the existing grain without providing much in the way of -coherent- ideas of what should come next.

In fact, most of these ‘transitory forces’ don’t even realize or acknowledge the need for any novel paradigms; they -often hugely- gain in popularity basing themselves on talk of tweaking existing paradigms, on the notion of pretty much leaving things as they are but with a few different focus points here and there. Re-arranging deckchairs.

And if anyone would try on ‘real change’, they’d likely be voted down in record numbers, because the end of growth will mean loss of wealth and prosperity everywhere. And neither the people nor the times are ready for that message. Let alone the media machine or the establishment it serves. Which would rather go to war than admit they lost and give up their profits.


Before moving on to the most prominent and perhaps urgent examples, the US and UK, let’s take a look at a handful or so European countries. By the way, the European Union is a prime example of an entity that is caught blinded on the way towards being ungovernable like a deer in 27/28 pairs of headlights. No growth, no EU.

In the same way that, as I explained in the earlier articles, all supranational entities face the fate of the dodo. Or at least the existing ones do, with their structures geared towards ever increasing centralization of power and money. Countries, societies, people will always find ways to trade and cooperate, and they will again, but the next time they do it will be only if and when they keep control over decisions that concern what’s important to them.

But on to those European countries on their way towards challenging existing power structures and governability. Italy has a -constitutional- referendum on December 4, and it looks right now like PM Renzi will lose that, opening the way for our friend Beppe Grillo and his M5S Five Star movement to take over. Beppe wasn’t against the euro when we met in 2010, but he is now. And M5S has since grown hugely, into a solid national force.

In the rich core of the EU, there are general elections in Holland in March 2017, France in April and Germany in September 2017. Holland’s traditional parties have been losing clout for a long time, and Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam anti-EU pro-Freedom party scores big in the polls. And that in a country that says it’s doing great, talks about raising wages across the board and is stuck in a massive housing bubble.

France has a president, Hollande, who’s polling lower numbers (a while ago it was 6%) than any US president probably ever did in history, and that’s saying something. France has new crown princes on Hollande’s Socialist side in PM Manuel Valls and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, but they are badly tainted by Hollande’s ‘achievements’.

They have old crown princes for the Republican conservative party in ex-PM Sarkozy and the for some reason very popular Alain Juppé, but both can really only try and steal votes from Marine Le Pen’s Front National by leaning ever further right. Which leaves Le Pen, who has sworn to take France out of the EU, as the no. 1 contender.

Given what might happen in Italy, Holland and France, one must wonder what the September 2017 German elections will even matter anymore when they happen. Unless an M5S type movement stands up there, Merkel will have no choice but to pull sharply to the right to try and hold off the right wing AfD from getting into a kingmaker position. Germany’s once proud and strong left wing movement looks bound for near extinction.

Belgium and Spain don’t have elections scheduled for 2017, but both have recently endured long periods without functioning governments, and both look no closer to solving the issues than they were before. Just look at Wallonia blocking the CETA trade deal between the EU and Canada. One might say they already are, for all intents and purposes, on the verge of being ungovernable.

Grillo, Wilders, Le Pen and Spain’s Podemos are very different people and movements, but what they have in common is they can produce such a backlash in their respective countries, win or lose, that they can render the existing political structures obsolete and thereby their countries ungovernable. Maybe, then, those structures are already obsolete, and maybe that’s why they’ve gained such popularity?!


Plenty of candidates in Europe for governmental chaos; and I haven’t even touched on many countries, including in Eastern Europe, where the end of growth will shatter many dreams and promises of better lives that have been put on hold indefinitely. Even as many Czechs and Polish workers risk being sent back home from countries like Britain. Europe truly is a continent full of powder kegs. Even before you add refugees.

However, I still think the US and UK are first in line when it comes to the risk of being rendered ungovernable. Partly simply because of timing, and partly because the differences between various ‘groups’ and movements are as pronounced as they are already today. Both countries are running out of carpet to sweep their dirt under.

A conspicuous part in all this is played by the nations’ respective media, who seem to have given up all attempts at pretending to be neutral, a.k.a. ‘journalistic’. Traditional media, newspapers and radio and TV channels, used to have reporters and then, separately, they would have opinion columns, and the difference would be clear. But that’s all gone, every single article is now an opinion piece, which goes a long way towards explaining why people turn their backs on them.

The MSM media are digging their own graves. Or, rather, their graves were being digitally dug anyway, and they’re greatly speeding up the process of their own demise. What America and Britain would need right now is a ‘traditional media outlet’ -just one- that is actually objective; the first one that tries that approach could make a killing, but all are scared of being killed in the process.

Moreover, most ‘reporters’ have fooled themselves into thinking that they ARE objective; that ‘objective’ means Trump and Brexit MUST be condemned, as well as everyone and everything that has anything to do with the two, and some that don’t, like Putin. Which happens to play a major role into how both countries inexorably slide down into a state of chaos.

Their traditional political parties are self-immolating as we speak, and yet in neither country is there space for new parties to stand up. That seems to be a major difference (perhaps it’s an Anglo thing?) from countries in continental Europe, and even there things are screaming out of hand. The post-growth model appears to be: new parties or not, the incumbents are toast. Plenty room for big gaping holes.


Post Brexit, the UK has the Tories, who lost the Brexit vote but for some reason are still in power, just with a different figurehead. But they are hopelessly divided in pro-Brexit and pro-EU factions, and they appear so far to be messing up anything at all having to do with Brexit. All the egos collide too, of course; egos are all that politics has left to provide us.

Then there’s the Labor Party, which is equally hopelessly divided into the pro-Corbyn camp and the anti-Corbyn ‘Blairites’, which have conducted a kind of guerrilla warfare that might put the Viet Cong to shame. The Blairites have made such a fuss over Corbyn not being electable that they made their wishes come true like a boomerang. But that’s the MPs, not the voters or even the party members, who are behind Corbyn in massive droves.

The UK doesn’t have a general election scheduled until 2020, but with all the infighting and even more importantly the ‘real’ start of Brexit that’s supposed to come in early 2017, and/or a potential parliamentary vote seeking to make the referendum null and void, it’s hard to see how the country could NOT descend into total chaos way before 2020.

The people who were comfortable before June 23 blame it all on ‘Brexiteers’, but they conveniently forget that before that date they completely ignored the people who did vote to Leave the EU, and are therefore now grasping at straws when it comes to explanations. The term ‘deplorables’ has been patented by the Hillary camp, but it seems to express quite well how Remain feels about Brexit voters today. And that’s toxic for any society.

This is just not good enough. Brexit voters from what I can see are a mix between those who have been hit hardest by former PM Cameron and his goon squad (and ignored by Remainers), and those who really find the EU a failed experiment, an aspect I rarely see discussed in Britain. They should be elated to be rid of Brussels, but it’s all only about how much money they will have short term, not about identity or pride or anything.

A country full of people pointing fingers at others, while remaining blind to their own failures. The mote and the beam, a recipe for mayhem. So you have this entire godawful political mess, and now imagine throwing in the end of growth, and deteriorating economic circumstances from here on in.

Britain had better start some kind of National Conversation first on where it wants to go, hire something in the vein of a bunch of National Therapists to tell people it’s not okay to blame everything on somebody else, whether they’re Brits or foreigners, or, with Scotland planning another independence vote, we could be back all the way to Braveheart.


That leaves the US. The country that has elections before any of the other ‘basket cases’. And, this being America, the land that’s better than anyone at painting pictures of itself as tempting as they can be false, the antagonism is dripping off the walls and through the streets. The land that discusses which lives matter.

It’s glaringly obvious that the majority of the US media would like you to believe that when it comes to ungovernability, a Trump victory would be a sure bet to lead the US into political mayhem. That may be true, though it’s by no means guaranteed, they make it up as they go along, but a Hillary win may well end up being even worse.

As I wrote mid-September in “Hillary Became Unelectable Long Ago”, Mrs. Clinton faces a ton of unanswered questions that will not just go away just because she might win a vote. If anything, scrutiny may well increase, and a lot, if she wins on November 8. And that’s not just because the Donald is a sore loser (which also may or may not be true).

There are a lot of intelligence (FBI) voices protesting the decision to not charge Hillary for her email shenanigans. There are plenty of serious issues related to the capture of the DNC by Hillary’s campaign, and the subsequent ousting of Bernie Sanders and all his supporters. The campaign went so far as to pay people to -violently- disrupt Trump events. Now spell democracy for me.

What may play an even bigger role going forward is the unrelenting blame game played by the campaign on Russia and Vladimir Putin, a litany of allegations for which precious little proof, if any, has been presented. Trying to link Putin to Trump to Julian Assange may have seemed a winning election strategy, and it may prove to be one, crazy as it is, but on November 9 the world will still keep turning and-a churning. And where are they all then?

Trump will not forget this. The Republicans won’t. The FBI won’t. All the people who support Wikileaks won’t. Vladimir Putin won’t. And neither will the leaders of a lot of other countries. They have now seen that sovereign nations and their leaders can be used as cannon fodder in a US election, or any other US political purposes, and that’s going to make them feel queasy, and then some, for a long time.

It’s very hard to see how Hillary and her people, as well as the American media, can climb down from the stance they’ve taken. It’s not exactly something you can easily apologize for after the fact. So the only thing to do would be to dig in and persevere.


For the media, as I said, it’ll be merely another step towards irrelevance. Just a bit steeper. For Hillary and her supporters, it won’t be that smooth of a way down. When they dig in deeper into their trenches, all that’s left them is to try and escalate the Russia tension.

But while an attack on Russia may go down reasonable well in American minds, Hillary would need to involve NATO, and there are plenty of member countries, and their citizens, who will not accept anything of the kind, no matter what their leaders say. The fact that NATO relies on unity would become a liability instead of an asset, in the same way that the EU will experience.

NATO would fall apart if the US under a Hillary presidency attacks Russia. So would the EU, which will fall apart anyway. And that’s just on the international front.

Domestically, the Obama reign has been ‘saved’ by those trillions from the Fed, by the crazy growth in debt, both public and private, and by a list as long as your arm of questionable ‘official’ data, unemployment numbers, personal ‘wealth’, that sort of thing. While we all know that there would not be a Trump if those numbers reflected Americans’ real lives.

Trump may go away, though it won’t be in silence, but what he represents will not. And what he represents is 180º squarely removed from Hillary. And it’s not going to be subdued, silent or obedient. Blaming that on Trump, or on things he says, misses the point by a mile.

Given what the Hillary campaign has perpetrated, given the links to the Clinton Foundation, and given a ton of other things, it’s not all that crazy that Trump says he may not accept an election result off the bat. And given what many voices in the Democratic party, including Obama, have said in the past about elections and systems being rigged, it’s nonsense to try and demonize him for suggesting that.

Of course American elections can be rigged. Hanging chads or not. As long as people have to wait in line for hours in certain districts to cast their vote, and as long as Diebold machines are used, they can be rigged. But you can’t say it out loud?


Look, if Trump wins, how docile will the Democrat crowd be, given the propaganda machine targeted at Putin and Assange and anyone else (Bernie!) who dared stand in Hillary’s way? If the result is close, will Hillary accept it without a single protest or question? She won’t. But if Trump says he’ll keep you in suspense about the exact same thing, he’s a threat to democracy itself?

Points of view and belief are so far apart that indeed, democracy is under threat. But not because of Trump. That threat goes back to times long before him.

Hillary owes her position, and her wealth, to the Saudis and Qataris and Wall Street banks and US industrial/military neocons. And they will all demand that she return the favor. But they want something completely different than the people who vote for her. And since the economy is shrinking, she will have to take whatever it is they demand in return for putting her on her pedestal, away from the people who voted for her.

And no matter how much propaganda is unleashed upon Americans, as they see their lives deteriorate, they will be on to this, more and more. And they will lean towards Trump or Bernie Sanders -or someone else in the future-, anyone they feel expresses their frustration.

Hillary won’t be able to ‘cure’ the economy any more than Obama has, she won’t have the Fed’s virtual trillions to help her veil the real state of the economy, and she’s already close to the lowest ‘likeability’ rate in history to begin with.

I’m thinking Trump would probably be an awful president, but he perhaps wouldn’t be the worst option. And I’m saying that from the point of view of keeping America governable going forward, something he may well screw up yuugely, but at least he’s not certain to.

It’ll be hard to keep America quiet in the years to come whoever wins, and I’m going to have to think about this more, I just wanted to say for now that what many people think and claim is a given, is not. And that is a big thing given that the elections are only 16 days away.

Oct 072016

Andre Kertesz Bumper cars at amusement park in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris 1930

I read a lot, been doing it for years, about finance and affiliated topics (a wide horizon of them), which means I’ve inevitably seen a wholesale lot of nonsense fly by. But for some reason, and I think I know why, Q3 2016 has been gunning for a top -or bottom- seat in that regard, and Q4 is looking to do it one better/worse.

Apart from the fast increasingly brainless political ‘discussions’ that don’t deserve the name, in the US and UK and beyond, there are the transnational organizations, NATO, IMF, EU and all those things, all suffocating in their own hubris, things I’ve dealt with before in for instance Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not and Why There is Trump. But none of it still seems to have trickled through anywhere that I can see.

The end of growth exposes the stupidity and ignorance of all but (and even that’s a maybe) a precious few (of our) ‘leaders’. There is no other way this could have run, because an era of growth simply selects for different people to float to the top of the pond than a period of contraction does. Can we agree on that?

‘Growth leaders’ only have to seduce voters into believing that they can keep growth going, and create more of it (though in reality they have no control over it at all). Anyone can do that. So ‘anyone’ who’s sufficiently hooked on power games will apply.

‘Contraction leaders’ have a much harder time; they must convince voters that they can minimize the ‘suffering of the herd’. Which is invariably a herd that no-one wants to belong to. A tough sell.

Any end to growth will and must therefore inevitably change the structure of a democracy, any democracy, any society for that matter. It will lead to new leaders, and new parties, coming to the front. And it should not surprise anyone that some of these new leaders and parties will question the very structure of the democracy they are part of, if only because that structure is already undergoing change anyway.

The tight connection between an era of economic growth (and/or contraction) and the politicians that ‘rule’ during that era is reflected in Hazel Henderson’s“economics is nothing but politics in disguise”.


On the one hand you have the incumbent class seeking to hold on to their waning power, churning out false positive numbers and claiming that theirs is the only way to go (just more of it), and on the other hand you have a loose affiliation – to the extent there’s any affiliation at all- of left and right, individuals and parties, who smell change that they can use to their own benefit.

They just mostly don’t know how to use it yet. But they’ll find out, or some of them will. Blaming people and groups of people for what’s gone wrong will be a major way forward, because it’s just so easy. It’s another reason why the incumbents class, the traditional parties, will go the way of the dodo: they will be blamed, and rightly so in most cases, for the fall of the economic system.

That’ll be the number one criteria: if you’re -perceived as- part of the old guard, you’re out. Not at the flick of a switch, but nevertheless the rise of Trump and Farage and all those folks has been much faster than just about anyone would have thought possible until very recently.

They feed on discontent, but they can do so only because that discontent has been completely ignored by the ruling classes everywhere. Which has a lot to do with the rulers in all these instances we see pop up now still being well-off, while the lower rungs of societies definitely are not.

Moreover, if most people still had comfortable middle-class lives, the dislike of immigrants and refugees would have been so much less that Trump and Wilders and Le Pen and Alternative for Deutschland could never have ‘struck gold’. It’s the perception that the ‘new’ people are somehow to blame for one’s deteriorating living conditions that makes it fertile ground for whoever wants to use it.

And since the far left can’t go there, the right takes over by default. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have brave ideas on redistribution of wealth, but there is still too much resistance, at the moment, to that, from the incumbent class and their voters, to have much chance of getting anywhere.

Of course the traditional right wing smells the opportunity too, so Hillary (yeah, she’s right wing) and Theresa May and Sarkozy and Merkel are all orchestrating sharp turns to the right, away from their once comfortable seats in the center. They all sense that power will not be emanating from the center going forward, and it’s power, much more than principles, that they are after.


But enough about politicians and their parties, who can and will all be voted out of power. Much harder to get rid of will be the transnational organizations, like the EU and IMF (there are many more), though they represent the ‘doomed construction’ perhaps even more than mere local or national power-hungries. The leading principle is simple: What has all the centralization led to? To today’s contracting economies.

To that end, let’s just tear into a recent random Bloomberg piece on this week’s IMF meeting, and the ‘expert opinions’ on it:

Existential Threat To World Order Confronts Elite At IMF Meeting

Policy-making elites converge on Washington this week for meetings that epitomize a faith in globalization that’s at odds with the growing backlash against the inequities it creates. From Britain’s vote to leave the EU to Donald Trump’s championing of “America First,” pressures are mounting to roll back the economic integration that has been a hallmark of gatherings of the IMF and World Bank for more than 70 years. Fed by stagnant wages and diminishing job security, the populist uprising threatens to depress a world economy that IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says is already “weak and fragile.”

The calls for less integration and more trade barriers also pose risks for elevated financial markets that remain susceptible to sudden swings in investor sentiment , as underscored by recent jitters over Deutsche Bank’s financial health. “The backlash against globalization is manifesting itself in increased nationalistic sentiment, against the outside world and in favor of increasing isolation,” said Louis Kuijs at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong, a former IMF official. “If we lose consensus on what kind of a world we want to have, the world will probably be worse off.”

Oh, but we do have consensus, Louis: Ever more people don’t want what they have now. That too is consensus. And since you said that what it takes is consensus, we should be fine then, right?!

Also, I find the term ‘elevated markets’ interesting, even if I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean. I can only guess.

In its latest World Economic Outlook released Tuesday, the fund highlighted the threats from the anti-trade movement to an already subdued global expansion. After growth of 3.2% in 2015, the world economy’s expansion will slow to 3.1% this year before rebounding to 3.4% in 2017, according to the report, keeping those estimates unchanged from July projections. The forecasts for U.S. growth were cut to 1.6% this year and 2.2% in 2017.

“We’d like to see an end to the creeping protectionism in the world and more progress on moving ahead with free-trade agreements and other trade-creating measures,” Maurice Obstfeld, director of the IMF’s research department, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene. Lagarde said last week that policy makers attending the Oct. 7-9 annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank have two tasks. First, do no harm, which above all means resisting the temptation to throw up protectionist barriers to trade. And second, take action to boost lackluster global growth and make it more inclusive.

I can see how a vote against the likes of Hollande, Hillary or Cameron constitutes a “the backlash against globalization”. What I don’t see is how that has now become the same as the anti-trade movement. When did Trump express any feelings against trade? Against international trade deals as they exist and are further prepared, yes.

But those deals don’t define ‘trade’ to the exclusion of all other definitions. As for ‘protectionism’, that’s just a term designed to make something perfectly fine and normal look bad. Every single society on the planet should protect its basic necessities from being controlled by foreigners, either for money or for power.

Nothing good can come of relinquishing that control for any society, ever. There‘s not a thing wrong with protecting your control of your own water and food and shelter, and these are indeed things that should never be traded or negotiated in global markets.

So claiming that ‘do no harm’ equals NOT protecting your basics is nothing but a self-serving and dangerous kind of baloney coming your way courtesy of those people whose sociopathic plush seats and plusher bank accounts depend on your ongoing personal loss of control over what you need to survive.

It’s what any ‘body’ does that has reached the limits of its growth: it starts feeding on its host. Be it a cancerous tumor, the Roman Empire or our present perennial-growth driven economic models, they’re all the same same thing because they are fueled by the same -thoughtless- principle.

Ilargi: See that upward line at the end? Well, it’s an IMF growth ‘forecast’. Which are always so wrong, and always revised downward, that you must wonder if the term ‘forecast’ is even appropriate


Achieving even those modest objectives may prove elusive. Free trade has become polling poison in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now criticizing a trade deal with Pacific nations, which isn’t yet ratified in the U.S., that she had praised when it was being negotiated. Republican challenger Trump has lashed out at Mexico and China, threatening to slap big tariffs on imports from both nations. Rattled by the U.K.’s June vote to leave the EU, European leaders know it may just be the start of a political earthquake that’s threatening the continent’s old certainties.

In case you didn’t catch it, “..the continent’s old certainties” is a goal-seeked term. Old in this case means not older than, say, 1950, if that. Look back 100 years and “the continent’s old certainties” dress in a whole other meaning.

Next year sees elections in Germany and France, the euro area’s two largest economies, and in the Netherlands. In all three countries anti-establishment forces are gaining ground. With growing resentment of the EU from Budapest to Madrid, policy makers have described the current surge in populism as the greatest threat to the bloc since its creation out of the ashes of World War II. There are also growing signs that the union and Britain are heading for a so-called “hard exit” that would sharply reduce the bloc’s trade and financial ties with the island nation. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said on Oct. 2 that she’ll begin her country’s withdrawal from the EU in the first quarter of next year.

I have addressed the misleading use of the term ‘populism’ before. In its core, it simple means something like: for, and by, the people. How that can be presented as somehow being a threat to democracy is a mystery to me. They should have picked another term, but settled on this one.

And in the western media consensus, it comprises anything from Trump to Beppe Grillo, via Hungary’s Orban and Nigel Farage, Spain’s Podemos, Greece’s Syriza and Germany’s AfD. All these completely different movements have one thing only in common: they protest the failed and fast deteriorating status quo, and receive a lot of support from their people for doing that.

Because it’s the people that bear the brunt of the failure, not the leadership; even Greece’s politicians still pay themselves a comparatively lush salary.

As for Britain, it’s the textbook example of utter blindness. Those who were/are well provided for, be they politically left or right, missed out on what was happening around them so much they had no idea Brexit was a real option. And in the 15 weeks since the Brexit vote, all anyone has done in the UK is seeking to blame someone, anyone but themselves for what they all failed to see coming.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of free trade over the past generation, China, still restricts access to many of its key industries, with economists worried about increasingly mercantilist policies. It’s also seeking a larger role in the existing global framework, with entry of the yuan into the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies on Oct. 1 the most recent example. An all-out trade war would be a disaster for China’s economy, with Trump’s threatened tariff potentially wiping off almost 5% of its GDP, according to a calculation by Daiwa Capital Markets.

John Williamson, whose Washington Consensus of open trade and deregulation was effectively the governing ethos for the IMF and World Bank for decades, said the 2008-09 financial meltdown had undercut support for economic integration. “There was agreement on globalization before the crisis and that’s one thing that’s been lost since the financial crisis,” said Williamson, a former senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics who is now retired.

The growing opposition to economic integration has been fueled by a sub-par global recovery. “Perhaps the most striking macroeconomic fact about advanced economies today is how anemic demand remains in the face of zero interest rates,” former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard wrote last week in a policy brief for the Peterson Institute.

These ‘experts’ seem to have an idea there’s something amiss, but they don’t have the answers. Which is impossible to come and say out loud if you’re an expert. Experts must pretend to know it all, or at least know why they don’t know. “There was agreement on globalization before the crisis”, and now it’s no longer there. That they see.

That they ain’t coming back, neither the agreement on it nor globalization itself, is a step too far for them. To publicly acknowledge, at least. That Blanchard expresses surprise about ‘anemic demand’ at the same time that interest rates are equally anemic is something else.

That both are two sides of the same coin, or at least may be, is something he should at least mention. That is to say, low rates induce deflation, though they are allegedly supposed to induce the opposite. Economists are mostly very misguided people.


The world economy is getting some lift after rising at an annual rate just shy of 3% in the first half of this year, according to David Hensley, director of global economics for JPMorgan. But much of the boost will come from a lessening of drags rather than from a big burst of fresh growth, said Peter Hooper at Deutsche Bank Securities, a former Federal Reserve official. Recessions in Brazil and Russia are set to come to an end, while in the U.S. cutbacks in inventories and in oil and gas drilling will wane.

Please allow me to chip in here. ‘Lessening of drags’ in a nonsense term. And so is the idea that “..recessions in Brazil and Russia are set to come to an end”. That’s all goal-seeked day-dreaming. Smoke or drink something nice with it and you’ll feel good for a few hours, but that doesn’t make it real.

“I’m characterizing the global economy as something akin to a driverless car that’s stuck in the slow lane,” said David Stockton, a former Fed official and now chief economist at consultants LH Meyer. “Everybody feels like they’re being taken for a ride but they’re pretty nervous because they can’t see anybody in control.”

I really like this one, because off the bat I thought Stockton had it all wrong. What I think is the appropriate metaphor, is not “a driverless car that’s stuck in the slow lane”, but one of those cars in a carousel at a carnival, a merry-go-round, where you can sit in it forever and you always end up in the same spot. And the only one who’s in control in the boss who hollers that you need to pay another quarter if you want to keep on riding.

Or, alternatively, and to stay at the carnival, it’s a bumper car, which allows you to hit other cars and get hit, but never to leave the rink. That’s the global economy. Not getting anywhere, and running out of quarters fast.

Still, for the first time in the past few years, Stockton said he sees a real upside risk to his forecast of continued global growth of around 3% next year. And that’s coming from the possibility of looser fiscal policy in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S., both Clinton and Trump have pledged to boost infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and the like. In Europe, rising populism provides a powerful incentive for governments to abandon austerity ahead of the elections next year – and perhaps beyond. Whether such a shift will be enough to mollify those who have been on the losing side of globalization for decades is debatable, however.

“The consensus in policy-making circles was that more trade meant better economic growth,” said Standard Chartered head of Greater China economic research Ding Shuang, who worked at the IMF from 1997 to 2010. “But the benefits weren’t shared equitably, so now we see a round of anti-globalization, anti-free trade. “Globalization will stall for the moment, until we can find a way to share those benefits,” he added.

Globalization is done. And while we can discuss whether that’s of necessity or not, and I continue to contend that the end of growth equals the end of all centralization including globalization, fact is that globalization was never designed to share anything at all, other than perhaps wealth among elites, and low wages among everyone else.

The EU and IMF have not delivered on what they promised, in the same way that traditional parties have not, from the US to UK to basically all of Europe. They promised growth, and growth is gone. They may have delivered for their pay masters, but they lost the rest of the world.

Anything else is just hot air. But that doesn’t mean they will hesitate to use their control of the military and police to hold on to what they got. In fact, that’s guaranteed. But it would only be viable in a dictatorial society, and even then.

We are transcending into an entirely different stage of our lives, our economies, our societies. Growth is gone, it went out the window long ago only to be replaced with debt. And that’s going to take a lot of getting used to. But there’s nothing that says we couldn’t see it coming.

Aug 192016
 August 19, 2016  Posted by at 2:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »

Opening of Golden Gate Bridge May 27 1937

This is an absolute must see, and a joy to watch. Longtime friend of the Automatic Earth Steve Keen was on BBC’s Hardtalk over the weekend. I already really liked the 2.30min clip the BBC released earlier this week. Now Steve himself has posted the entire interview, while the BBC only has an audio podcast (for anyone outside the UK).

You can see that Steve came prepared for some ‘hard’ questioning, and the format fits him very well. Kudo’s! Also, kudo’s to the BBC for having him on, perhaps alternative views on economics have become more palatable in Britain post-Brexit? Interviewer Stephen Sackur sound quite typical of what I see in British media almost 2 months after Brexit: fear and uncertainty and the overall notion that leaving the EU is a very bad thing. Time to move on, perhaps?

I’m not sure Steve would join me in professing the term Beautiful Brexit, but our views on the EU are remarkably alike: it’s a dangerous club (and it will end up imploding no matter what). And that is in turn remarkable unlike the view of our friend Yanis Varoufakis, who is seeking to reform the union.

I went to see Yanis’ presentation of his DiEM25 initiative on the island of Aegina, off Athens, last week, and I found far too much idealism there. There were DiEM25 members from France, Italy and Spain, and they all seemed to agree on one thing: “we need” a pan-European organization -of sorts-. But do we? And why? In my view, they ignore those questions far too easily.

Moreover, even if we choose that path, why the EU? For me, as I said to the people I was with last week, reforming the EU is like reforming the mafia: you don’t want to go there, you want to dissolve it and shut it down. What the EU is today is the result of 60+ years of building an anti-democratic structure that involves and feeds tens of thousands of people, and you’re not going to break that down in any kind of short term.

Though it’s politically ‘not done’, I do think Boris Johnson was on to something when he said during the Brexit campaign: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods [..] But fundamentally, what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.”

When he said it in May, it was used as campaign fodder by the Remain side, though ironically they never mentioned Napoleon, only Hitler. “How dare you make that comparison!” But Johnson could have mentioned Charlemagne or Charles V, or Julius Ceasar just as well. They all tried to unify Europe, and all with pretty bloody results.

And just like all the idealism I see today in DiEM25, there were plenty idealists at the foundation of the EU, too. But again it’s going awfully wrong. Diversity is what makes Europe beautiful, and trying to rule over it from a centralized place threatens that diversity. European nations have a zillion ways to work together, but a central government and a central bank, plus a one-currency system, that is not going to work.

Still, before I get people proclaiming for instance that Steve Keen is a fan of Boris Johnson, which I’m sure he’s not and neither am I, we’re both fans of Yanis Varoufakis, just not on this issue, but before I make people make that link, I’ll shut up and hand you over to Steve.

But not before reiterating once more that in my view none of this EU talk really matters, because centralization can exist only in times of -economic- growth (or dictatorship), and we’re smack in the middle of a non-growth era kept hidden from us by a veil of gigantesque debt issuance. The future is going to be localization, protectionism, name it what you want; feel free to call it common sense. It will happen regardless of what you call it.