Mar 302019
 
 March 30, 2019  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The muscles of the sky 1927

 

May Hopes To Hold Fourth Vote On Brexit Deal (Ind.)
May Ready To Trigger Election Within 10 Days (Ind.)
EU Gives Britain 11 Days To Come Up With New Brexit Plan (G.)
The Democrats Are Self-Destructing (PCR)
Wokester’s Nightmare (Kunstler)
Barr Says Mueller Report Will Be Released In Mid-April ‘If Not Sooner’ (AP)
On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won (Taibbi)
US Readying Sanctions On Russia Over Nerve-Agent Attack In Britain (R.)
Southwest To Keep Boeing 737 MAX Off Schedules Through May (R.)
TUI Sticks With Boeing, Sees 737 Maxs Flying By Mid-July (R.)
Human Population Explosion Squeezes Out Wildlife On African Savannah (Ind.)
The Places in America that Use the Most (and Least) Pesticides (PO)

 

 

Get me Bill Murray on the phone.

May Hopes To Hold Fourth Vote On Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May hopes to bring her Brexit deal back to parliament again next week after it was rejected for a third time by MPs – and appears poised to trigger a general election if parliament fails to agree a way forward. Despite the embattled prime minister’s dramatic promise on Wednesday that she would hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street if her Tory colleagues backed the withdrawal agreement, parliament voted against it on Friday, by 344 to 286. The Commons vote was held on the day when Britain was meant to be leaving the European Union, as Parliament Square outside overflowed with raucous pro-Brexit protesters.

A string of leave-supporting Conservative backbenchers who had twice rejected the deal, including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides to support the agreement. But with Labour unwilling to shift its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs implacably opposed, it was not enough to secure a majority for May. The result was a sense of stunned disbelief in Westminster. Asked what could happen next, one government source said: “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Immediately after the defeat was announced, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave. The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April. In just 14 days’ time.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, if May had passed her withdrawal agreement this week, Brexit would have been delayed until 22 May. Now, she will have to return to Brussels for an emergency European council summit on 10 April. The EU27 expect her to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to participate in the European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit two days later. However, her aides hope the 22 May date could still be in play if her deal is accepted next week.

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So what’s she waiting for?

May Ready To Trigger Election Within 10 Days (Ind.)

Britain is veering towards a new general election after MPs voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time on Friday. She strongly hinted after the defeat that she will take the country to the polls if parliament does not pass a deal respecting the 2016 referendum result in the next 10 days. Ministers told The Independent a new election was a clear possibility featuring in the prime minister’s thinking, with her likely to have one final attempt to push her deal through next week. As thousands of pro-Brexit protesters shouted outside parliament, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish nationalists, who form the third biggest group in the House of Commons, also called for an election.


It comes as MPs will once again take control of the chamber’s schedule on Monday to hold indicative votes to see if a soft-Brexit compromise can achieve a majority. [..] Asked whether an election was now becoming a clear possibility, one cabinet source told The Independent without hesitation: “Yes. Absolutely. No question.” There had been speculation that the vote itself was set up for 29 March to make a show of Mr Corbyn’s party voting against Brexit ahead of a pending election campaign. One cabinet minister later said: “We would throw at them the question of ‘what did your MP do on exit day?’ “This is going to be difficult for a lot of individual Labour MPs in Leave areas.”

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10 days, 11 days, they’re intent on entertaining us every single day.

EU Gives Britain 11 Days To Come Up With New Brexit Plan (G.)

The EU has given the British government 11 days to come up with a fresh Brexit plan to avoid crashing out of the bloc at 11pm on 12 April. In the immediate aftermath of the crushing rejection of the prime minister’s deal, the European council president, Donald Tusk, called an emergency leaders’ summit. Should the UK seek a lengthy extension, leaders will debate any request at an extraordinary meeting on 10 April. EU capitals would require a clear justification at least two days earlier from Downing Street on the reason for a lengthy delay to allow officials to prepare. “We expect the UK to indicate a way forward before then, well in time for the European council to consider,” an official said.


EU heads of state and government expressed their alarm at the continued impasse in Westminster following the third defeat of May’s deal. The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “It is up to the UK to indicate how it plans to proceed in order to avoid a no-deal scenario. The European council has agreed unanimously that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.” However, he added: “I believe we must be open to a long extension should the UK decide to fundamentally reconsider its approach … I believe that will result in a generous and understanding response from the 27.”

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Haven’t heard from Paul Craig Roberts in a while. Is that just me?

The Democrats Are Self-Destructing (PCR)

I know Democrats are disappointed not to have Trump’s head presented to them by Mueller on a silver platter. But surely not even Democrats are stupid enough to believe the Russiagate conspiracy tale. It was all cooked up by the military/security complex to prevent Trump from normalizing relations with Russia, thereby removing the enemy that justifies the $1,000 billion annual budget. Before writing such nonsense as Hartmann has written, he should have read Barr’s summary of the report. Barr quotes Mueller directly from the report: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Again from Mueller’s report: “The evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”


Other Democrats who cannot cope with their disappointment claim that although cleared of election theft collusion Trump was not cleared of obstruction of justice. This is nonsensical even for Democrats. As Trump committed no crime, what evidence did he obstruct? The evidence of his innocence? Just as murder requires a body, obstruction requires a crime to obstruct. But facts are boring to Democrats. They were certain that all the lies that they and the media whores told would find their way into Mueller’s report. Mueller’s staff was Democrat to the core, and Mueller used every dirty trick in the book in his effort to get something on Trump. It simply couldn’t be done. Democrats will never get over it, just as they never have got over Iran-Contra. Hartmann couldn’t write about the “Russiagate coverup” without dragging in Ronald Reagan and the “Iran-Contra coverup.”

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“It’s also very likely that Robert Mueller learned that the Steele Dossier was a fraud in the summer of 2017, if not shortly after his appointment in May of that year..”

Wokester’s Nightmare (Kunstler)

All of a sudden, a whole lot of people who have been punking the public-at-large will have to answer for their behavior. Despite the fog of misdirection blowing out of The New York Times, The WashPo, CNN, and MSNBC, it’s become obvious that the RussiaGate hoax was kicked off by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a cabal of Obama appointees in several executive agencies. The evidence is public, fully documented, and overwhelming that the so-called Steele Dossier was the sole animating instrument in both the 2016 pre-election effort to incriminate the Golden Golem of Greatness, and the Mueller Investigation launched post-election to cover-up those same political misdeeds of the Clinton campaign, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, NSA, and State Department.


It’s also very likely that Robert Mueller learned that the Steele Dossier was a fraud in the summer of 2017, if not shortly after his appointment in May of that year, and yet he dragged out his investigation for almost two years in order to defame and antagonize Mr. Trump — and deflect attention from the ugly truth of the matter. It is certain Mr. Mueller knew that the Steele Dossier was purchased by Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS political “research” company, which was simultaneously in the paid employ of Mrs. Clinton and the Russian political lobbying agency Prevezon (as reported by Sean Davis in The Federalist). If the FBI brass did not bring that to Mr. Mueller’s attention right away, then either their incompetence is epic or they are criminally liable for concealing the hoax.

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Mueller’s doing the redacting with Barr.

Barr Says Mueller Report Will Be Released In Mid-April ‘If Not Sooner’ (AP)

Congress should expect to receive a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation by mid-April, Attorney General William Barr said Friday. In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Barr said he shares a desire for Congress and the public to be able to read Mueller’s findings, which are included in the nearly 400-page report Mueller submitted last week. Barr said he does not plan to share the report with the White House before making it public. He said that while President Donald Trump would have the right to assert executive privilege over certain parts of the report, “he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.”

Mueller officially concluded his investigation when he submitted the report last Friday. Two days later, Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress that detailed Mueller’s “principal conclusions.” Mueller’s report did not find that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with Russia, Barr wrote, and did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided on their own that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to establish that the president committed obstruction.

Barr said he is preparing to redact multiple categories of information from the report. Those include grand jury material; information that would compromise sensitive sources and methods; information that could affect ongoing investigations, including those referred by Mueller’s office to other Justice Department offices; and information that could infringe on the personal privacy and reputation of “peripheral third parties.” “Our progress is such that I anticipate we will be in a position to release the report by mid-April, if not sooner,” he said.

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Getting a bit tired of all the regurgitating and gloating, but this look back is nice.

On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won (Taibbi)

Nate Silver, the ex-baseball stats guru and renowned “National Oracle™” (as Gizmodo cheekily called him), laughed at Trump’s chances[1]. His site, FiveThirtyEight, ran a story called “Why Donald Trump Isn’t a Real Candidate, In One Chart.” The piece said Trump was more likely to “play in the NBA finals” or cameo in another Home Alone movie than win the nomination. Dana Milbank in the Washington Post: “I’m so certain Trump won’t win the nomination that I’ll eat my words if he does. Literally.” Milbank ended up actually doing this, for which he deserves a lot of credit. “Donald Trump is going to lose because he is crazy,” was the take of Jonathan Chait, who would soon be writing Trump might have been recruited by the KGB in 1987.

It isn’t just that wizards of prognostication were wrong. The bigger issue was why they were so confident. A common take was the political establishment just wouldn’t allow it. Former “The Note” writer Mark Halperin used to talk about having his finger on the pulse of the “Gang of 500,” which he described as “campaign consultants, strategists, pollsters, pundits and journalists who make up the modern-day political establishment.” The subtext of Halperin’s pieces was that the Gang of 500 decided elections. It’s hard to understand how it never occurred to Halperin or anyone else that people might be grossed out by the concept of 500 self-appointed guardians of democracy deciding the presidency for 300 million people.

In this case, just by saying out loud the idea that the people who mattered would never let Trump win, probably helped Trump win. It validated his talk about “elites.” Nate Cohn of The New York Times wrote Trump had “just about no shot of winning the nomination no matter how well he is doing in the early polls.” He prefaced this by saying it is “the party elites who traditionally decide nomination contests.” When Trump defied these predictions and sealed up the Republican nomination, he immediately became subject to a new legend, about how he was destined to be the biggest landslide loser in history of general elections: bigger than Alf Landon or even George McGovern, whose very name in America is synonymous with “loser.”

Here are some takes on Trump’s campaign after he sealed up the nomination: David Brooks: Trump will be the “biggest loser” in American politics. The Week: “Trump is poised to lose the biggest landslide in modern American history.” George Will: “Donald Trump may find a place in history – by losing just that badly.” I belong on this infamous list myself. In one of the worst mistakes of my career, I ended up changing my mind about “free-falling” Trump’s chances, spending the stretch run predicting doom for Republicans. I read too many polls and ignored what I was seeing, i.e. that even the post-Access Hollywood Trump was still packing stadiums.

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I swear I thought it was an April Fools prank.

US Readying Sanctions On Russia Over Nerve-Agent Attack In Britain (R.)

The White House has received a package of new sanctions to be imposed on Russia in retaliation for the 2018 nerve-agent attack on a Russian double agent in Britain, Bloomberg reported on Friday. Officials at the U.S. Treasury and State Departments have vetted the sanctions and are awaiting approval from the White House to issue them, Bloomberg said, citing people familiar with the matter. Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March 2018 after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to the front door of Skripal’s home.


Both Skripal and his daughter survived. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack. Asked about Friday’s report, a Trump administration official noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call in February that the United States was determined to hold Russia accountable for the attack through sanctions.

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Don’t think they’ll make it.

Southwest To Keep Boeing 737 MAX Off Schedules Through May (R.)

Southwest Airlines Co said on Friday it was pulling its Boeing Co 737 MAX jets from flight schedules through May, extending its earlier timeline from April 20, according to a company memorandum seen by Reuters. “This will impact the lines in May, but, now that the decision has been made, we can construct our schedule without those flights well in advance in hopes to minimize the daily disruptions,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and the company said in the joint memorandum. Boeing’s top-selling 737 MAX jetliner has been grounded in the wake of two deadly crashes involving that model in five months, one in Indonesia last October and another on March 10 in Ethiopia.

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Europe’s no 1 tour operator. Note how nice Boeing and them are to each other:“..he was “very certain” of receiving some compensation from Boeing, probably next year.|”

TUI Sticks With Boeing, Sees 737 Maxs Flying By Mid-July (R.)

TUI remains committed to its Boeing 737 MAX orders despite two fatal crashes that have led to the grounding of the plane worldwide and caused the Anglo-German tour operator to issue a profit warning on Friday. TUI said its profit would fall by at least 200 million euros ($225 million) this year due to the cost of substituting planes, loss of business and lower fuel efficiency – further evidence of the financial impact of the two deadly accidents after warnings from North American airlines. The holiday firm’s shares fell to an all-time low.

Global airlines and travel groups have had to make contingency plans after 737 MAX planes were taken out of service following an Ethiopian Airlines disaster on March 10 that killed 157 people, five months after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189. Boeing is planning a software fix to address an issue that can arise when the MAX’s anti-stall system, MCAS, repeatedly pushes the plane’s nose down. The MCAS system is at the center of safety investigations into the two crashes. Based on feedback from Boeing and EU regulator EASA, the planes should be flying again in July, TUI’s Chief Executive Friedrich Joussen told analysts on a call.

CEO Joussen said: “We are saving $1 million per year per aircraft in fuel, but – and here comes the but – safety first.” TUI has little scope to cancel flights, as some airlines are doing, because the flights feed its hotel and cruise business. It is leasing planes complete with crews to replace those due to have been flown by 737 MAXs at the cost of $1 million each per month, executives said, adding they had seen some tightening of the so-called wet-leasing market. Bookings were down by 10 percent in major markets since the Ethiopian crash, Joussen said, adding he was “very certain” of receiving some compensation from Boeing, probably next year.

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“.. a 400 per cent increase in human population over the last decade, while more than three quarters of the populations of some of the larger species of migrating animals like wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have been wiped out..”

Human Population Explosion Squeezes Out Wildlife On African Savannah (Ind.)

Encroachment by people into one of Africa’s most celebrated ecosystems is “squeezing the wildlife in its core”, by damaging habitation and disrupting the migration routes of animals, a major international study has concluded. Boundary areas of the Serengeti-Mara region in East Africa have seen a 400 per cent increase in human population over the last decade, while more than three quarters of the populations of some of the larger species of migrating animals like wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have been wiped out, scientists revealed after examining 40 years of data. Despite being one of the most protected ecosystems on Earth, the influx of people and livestock around both the Serengeti and Masai Mara has had a detrimental impact on plants, wild animals and soils.


This has occurred in two main ways, the study found. Firstly, the protected areas’ or “buffer zones” where more livestock including cattle are being reared, are leaving less and lower quality grasses for wildebeest, zebra and gazelle to graze. Secondly, the presence of people and farm animals has also reduced the frequency of natural fires, which in turn impacts the variety of vegetation, altering grazing opportunities for wildlife in the core protected areas. Publishing their findings in the journal Science, the authors said the impacts were cascading down the food chain. Animals were forced to eat less palatable herbs and therefore the beneficial interactions between plants and microorganisms that enable the ecosystem to flourish were being altered.


Zebra, gazelle and wildebeest populations have fallen as human populations have risen on the edges of protected areas (Getty)

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h/t Tyler

The Places in America that Use the Most (and Least) Pesticides (PO)

We decided to analyze data to uncover which states in the United States had the most and least exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals, with a particular focus on glyphosate, the active ingredient that is in the news right now. We looked at data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to see which compounds were most popular and which locations had the highest usage levels of these chemicals. By a significant margin, the most popular herbicide in the United States is glyphosate, which is four times more popular than the second most popular chemical. Not surprisingly, large agricultural states like California, Washington, and Illinois use the most pesticides.

However, some states that use a lot of these chemicals see very little glyphosate usage, while others nearly exclusively use the compound. In California for example, only 6 percent of pesticide usage is glyphosate, while in Montana, 52 percent of such usage is from glyphosate. [..] By a significant margin, glyphosate is the most popular pesticide used in American agriculture. Over 130 million kilograms were used in 2016, which was approximately four times more than the second-place pesticide, Atrazine. In total, just over 544 million kilograms of pesticides were used in the U.S. in 2016, and 24 percent of that was glyphosate. It’s hard to overestimate just how pervasive Roundup and glyphosate are this country.

Read more …

Feb 042019
 
 February 4, 2019  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Morning star 1938

 

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)
Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)
Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)
Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)
UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)
Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)
NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)
D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)
MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)
The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)
Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)
Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

 

 

Maduro has been practicing the Trump style.

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has warned Donald Trump he will leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insists on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. “Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?” He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.” He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”

Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed through the capital, Caracas, on Saturday to demand the exit of a president who has led the oil-rich South American nation into economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. [..] in his television interview Maduro – who came to power after the 2013 death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez – signalled that he had no plans to go anywhere. “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said. The UN estimates that more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled overseas in recent years to escape hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and healthcare and chronic insecurity. That number is expected to rise to more than 5 million this year.

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Trump and Trudeau, a happy couple. And of course Canada belongs in a regional bloc with Venezuela, it’s right next door.

Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)

A major bloc of Latin American nations and Canada will discuss on Monday how to maintain pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections as he faces widespread calls to resign after last year’s disputed presidential vote. Sources briefed on the matter said that the 14-nation Lima Group looked set, though, to hold off imposing further sanctions on the Maduro government when it meets in Ottawa. Most group members say Maduro should quit in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido – who declared himself interim president last month – and are calling for a new presidential election in the troubled OPEC nation.

The United States, which is not a member of the group, also wants Maduro gone. “How can we continue to support the opposition to keep the pressure up on the regime and push for new elections? Certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at,” said a Canadian government official. Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, said in an interview that aired on Spanish television channel Antena 3 on Sunday: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone,” adding: “I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024.” [..] Trudeau spoke on Sunday to Guaido and the two “discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime,” Trudeau’s office said.

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How the Tories got their Brexit.

Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Welfare cuts and other austerity measures implemented under the Conservatives pushed vital swing voters to back Brexit and won the EU referendum for the Leave campaign, according to a new report. Research published by the Social Market Foundation suggests the best indicator of a person’s referendum vote was not age or education, but happiness or sadness about their personal finances – with unhappy people tending to vote Leave and contented ones preferring Remain. The report, which analysed the level of cuts in each area of the UK alongside each area’s growth in support for Ukip, argues that had it not been for austerity, the referendum would not have turned out the way it did.

It found that in districts that received the average austerity shock, Ukip vote shares were on average 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum than in districts with little exposure to austerity. As well as area-level analysis, the report looked at individual-level data and found that some people directly affected by welfare cuts shifted their political support to Ukip and rejected the political establishment. “Households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted to support Ukip and experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cuts,” the paper stated.

As much as 9 percentage points of the 52 per cent support for Leave – around 3 million votes – was decided by concern about austerity and related issues, the researchers estimated. It suggests that without the effect of the “austerity shock” on welfare and public services, the Leave share of the referendum vote could have been as low as 43 per cent, delivering a comfortable win for Remain.

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Ruled out by EU.

Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)

Hard Brexiters have warned Theresa May that the only proposal they are likely to support to break the Brexit impasse is a version of the “Malthouse compromise”, which envisages removing the backstop from the draft European Union exit treaty. Steve Baker, vice chair of the European Research Group, said that he and other Conservative Eurosceptics could not support the alternative they believed Theresa May favoured – an addendum to the existing EU withdrawal agreement. Baker is one of five backbench MPs who will meet Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, on Monday, in the first meeting of a new working group aimed at examining whether technological solutions could eliminate the backstop.

The “Malthouse compromise” – named after the junior minister, Kit Malthouse, who brokered it – is a proposal to replace the unpopular backstop with alternative technological arrangements to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland. It is supported by Baker, other Eurosceptics and the pro-remain former ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, both of whom will attend further meetings with Barclay on Tuesday and Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned the Malthouse compromise is the only game in town if we’re going to reach an agreement in Brussels,” Baker said, indicating that only rewriting the draft withdrawal agreement to remove the backstop would satisfy Tory Brexiters.

Last week MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of new customs arrangements but it is unclear that the necessary technology exists. May also instructed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to examine two other proposals that could be taken to Brussels – whether it would be possible to time-limit the backstop or to introduce a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK.

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53 days to go: plenty time to waste.

Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)

Theresa May has been accused of “wasting valuable time” in the countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU as she announced plans to establish a Commons group probing alternative plans for the Irish border post-Brexit. Despite the prime minister’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement already being dashed by EU leaders with just 53 days to go until Brexit, the new committee made up of senior Tory MPs will meet for the first time on Monday. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is expected to attend the sessions, alongside support from officials at HM Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and No 10. The group will aim to provide “alternative arrangements” to the backstop – the EU’s insurance policy in the withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

[..] But the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has already dismissed using existing technology as an alternative solution to the question of the Irish border. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said last week. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also rubbished the idea of “alternative arrangements”, adding in The Sunday Times: “This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used.

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So they leave on March 29 and hold elections 2-3 months later?

UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)

Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop. The home secretary dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline. “The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”

There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the Tories on a “war footing” last week and increased fundraising activities under the cover of the local elections in May. A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives seven points ahead of Labour on 41%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017, when its overall majority was lost. “I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.

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“[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.”

Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)

Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.” Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.

The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.” Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin. His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.

In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” [..] The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage. But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.

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It’s a model that works inside the echo chamber.

NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)

NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election. To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.’”

[..] In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race. That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).

Read more …

They’ll just paper it all over.

D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)

The Australian government is due to release on Monday the final recommendations of the independent inquiry that exposed systemic wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year, likely leading to sweeping changes to the country’s banking industry. The big banks, insurers, pension funds and regulators who oversee the financial industry are bracing for a brutal summary of their misdeeds and weaknesses, and a list of tough recommendations including possible criminal charges. The Royal Commission was a quasi-judicial independent body led by a former high court judge that was tasked by the government, reluctantly at first, with investigating financial sector misconduct following a string of banking scandals.

For 11 months its public hearings shocked the country and wiped more than A$60 billion ($43.4 billion) from top financial stocks as investors factored in the prospect of tougher regulation, higher compliance costs and thinner margins. Regulators were also grilled by the commission’s barristers about why they seemed reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing, sometimes penalizing firms with little more than a mildly worded press release. “There will be nothing positive in the recommendations because the banks have clearly breached various obligations in the laws, and obligations to good customer service,” said Matthew Wilson, a banking analyst at Deutsche Bank.

Read more …

Pepe appears blind to China’s multiple bubbles. I could see them halt any expansion and close their borders first to sort out the financial mess.

MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)

We should know by now that the heart of the 21st Century Great Game is the myriad layers of the battle between the United States and the partnership of Russia and China. Even the U.S. National Defense Strategy says so: “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers.” The recently published assessment on U.S. defense implications of China’s global expansion says so too. The clash will frame the emergence of a possibly new, post-ideological, strategic world order amidst an extremely volatile unpredictability in which peace is war and an accident may spark a nuclear confrontation.

The U.S. vs. Russia and China will keep challenging the West’s obsession in deriding “illiberalism,” a fearful, rhetorical exercise that equates Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival. It’s immaterial that Russia’s economy is one-tenth of China’s. From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities. China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.

The long game indicates Russia and China will break down language and cultural barriers to lead Eurasian integration against American economic hegemony backed by military might. One could say the Eurasian century is already upon us. The era of the West shaping the world at will (a mere blip of history) is already over. This is despite Western elite denials and fulminations against the so-called “morally reprehensible,” “forces of instability” and “existential threats.” Standard Chartered, the British financial services company, using a mix of purchasing power exchange rates and GDP growth, has projected that the top five economies in 2030 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan and Russia. These will be followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and the UK. Asia will extend its middle class as they are slowly killed off across the West.

[..] Beijing is realizing it can’t meet its geo-economic goals on energy, security, and trade without bypassing the U.S. dollar. According to the IMF, 62 percent of global central bank reserves were still held in U.S. dollars by the second quarter of 2018. Around 43 per cent of international transactions on SWIFT are still in U.S. dollars. Even as China, in 2018, was the single largest contributor to global GDP growth, at 27.2 percent, the yuan still only accounts for 1 percent of international payments, and 1.8 per cent of all reserve assets held by central banks.

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Our history. A proud story. We bring democracy and freedom and prosperity.

The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)

How did East Asians come to be referred to as yellow-skinned? It was the result of a series of racial mappings of the world and had nothing to do with the actual colour of people’s skin. In fact, when complexion was mentioned by an early Western traveller or missionary or ambassador (and it very often wasn’t, because skin colour as a racial marker was not fully in place until the 19th century), East Asians were almost always called white, particularly during the period of first modern contact in the 16th century. And on a number of occasions, even more revealingly, the people were termed “as white as we are”. The term yellow occasionally began to appear towards the end of the 18th century and then really took hold of the Western imagination in the 19th.

But by the 17th century, the Chinese and Japanese were “darkening” in published texts, gradually losing their erstwhile whiteness when it became clear they would remain unwilling to participate in European systems of trade, religion, and international relations. Calling them white, in other words, was not based on simple perception either and had less to do with pigmentation than their presumed levels of civilisation, culture, literacy, and obedience (particularly if they should become Christianised). Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus decided that varieties of homo sapiens could be similarly separated into four continental types, one of which was called homo asiaticus. The colour of that group, he said, was fuscus, which can be best translated as “dark”. This was in 1735.

Evidently there was some difficulty deciding on a precise colour for Asian Man, since the other three types, European, African, and American, could be “unproblematically” identified according to already accepted stereotypes of white, black, and red. In the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ taxonomy, however, published in 1758, fuscus was silently changed to luridus, meaning “lurid”, “sallow”, or “pale yellow”. The reasons for this alteration were never explained, although luridus also appeared in several of Linnaeus’ botanical publications to characterise unhealthy and toxic plants. Was Asian Man also to be viewed as sickly or dangerous?

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Animals and birds? You sure about that?

Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)

Wildlife and pets are under increasing threat from plastic waste and litter, according to new data from the RSPCA, which shows the number of incidents of animals hurt by plastic litter has risen sharply on previous years. Plastic litter led to 579 cases of damage to wildlife or pets that were reported to the animal charity in England and Wales in 2018, up from 473 in 2015. That rise came against a background of falling damage to animals from other forms of litter, down from 4,968 reported incidents in 2015 to 4,579 last year. Water birds and marine animals were particularly at risk, with 28 incidents involving seals hurt by plastic litter in 2018, compared with five in 2015. Among birds, swans were among the worst affected, followed by geese and gulls.

Plastic has become an increasing focus of concern, as it does not break down in the natural environment and can continue to cause problems in waterways for years. The government has increased charges on disposable plastic bags to discourage their overuse, and businesses from supermarkets to consumer goods companies are changing their practices to use less plastic packaging in response to public concerns. But the biggest source of damage to wildlife from litter comes from angling, according to the RSPCA’s findings, with discarded equipment such as lines, nets and hooks causing more than 3,200 of last year’s reports.

“[Fishing] lines can wrap around necks, causing deep wounds in flesh and cutting off the blood supply,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “Hooks can pierce beaks or feet, become embedded in skin or get caught in the bird’s throat, and weights can be swallowed causing internal injuries and blockages.”

Read more …

It just got a whole lot scarier. Has plastic been banned where you live yet?

Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

Plastic in the oceans is being turned into an even greater threat to small sea creatures than previously thought because bacteria are sticking particles of it together, scientists have discovered. Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny bits of plastic to form larger clusters that marine animals could mistake for food, experts fear. They also worry that the clumping could divert the natural flow of food from the ocean surface to the seafloor, leading to deep sea creatures being starved. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh staged experiments with seawater, adding plastics in conditions simulating the ocean surface. Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together with bacteria, algae and other organic particles to form larger clumps.

The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover that large masses of biopolymers – molecules made by organisms – formed the bulk of the plastic clusters. About eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year, research shows. Team member Stephen Summers said: “This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. “This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biogeochemistry occurs.” The clumps became visible to the naked eye. “The fact that these agglomerates become large enough to see raises concern, as they are likely to be seen as a food source by small marine animals,” he said.

Read more …

Jan 142019
 
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 7:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The soldier and the laughing girl 1657

 

There will be elections for the European Parliament on May 23-26 2019. They will likely change the face of Europe more than anything has done since the EU was founded. That is not some wild prediction. Many European countries have held elections since the last European elections in 2014, and just about all had outcomes that shook up domestic political ratios.

In most cases, countries went from traditional parties to newly founded ones. France erased the Socialists and center-right in 2017, and the final round of the presidential elections was between Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Emmanuel Macron’s brand-new En Marche. Macron won sort of by default, because France as a country would never have voted for Le Pen.

In Italy, M5S and Lega have taken over. In Germany, Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition lost bigly though it remained the biggest party, but Angela lost her ‘socialist’ SPD partner which gave up so much it didn’t want to be in government anymore. In Spain, Mariano Rajoy’s center right lost enough to cede power to the Socialists who came up tops because they played a smart game, not because the Spanish wanted it to rule.

We don’t have to go through all 27/28 different countries to establish that there are almost tectonic shifts happening all over, away from traditional parties and towards whoever showed up without insanely extreme views. And if you think this move is now completed, you may want to think again.

It’s amusing to realize that the country with the biggest political shift, the UK, is the only one that still hangs on to its traditional parties, and seeks its protest voice in a different way, namely through Brexit. That is, Britain shows it can get no satisfaction from the EU, whereas in the other major EU nations the dissatisfaction is projected onto domestic parties.

The underlying thought is the same: people are fed up with incumbent politicians and their affiliation with the European project. And nobody in Brussels really appears to be willing to realize this: the only thing they talk about is more Europe. But all these changes will now be reflected in the power politics of the European parliament.

And they do know that. They just hope they can limit the damage through the model in which power is divided in Europe. And to get any of that power, national parties need to find partners from other countries to form European parties (blocks) with. You need parties from at least 7 other nations to run for the European Parliament.

 

There are really only two parties in that parliament that really matter: the center right European People’s Party (EPP) which has 217 MEPs (members of European Parliament), and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) which has 190 MEPs. Then there are the European Conservatives and Reformists – 74 MEPs, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – 70 MEPs, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE) – 52 MEPs, and the European Greens/European Free Alliance – 50 MEPs.

These numbers, like the national ones, are set to change, a lot. How exactly is hard to predict, because it’s not clear which block which -relatively- new party will be part of. But it’s not a wild guess to think that at the end of May the division of powers will not be left vs right (both of which are pretty much fake anyway), but pro-EU and anti-EU. Or rather, More Europe vs Less Europe.

Germany’s up-and-coming real right-wing AfD at their conference this weekend voted in a resolution that calls for getting rid of the European Parliament itself, calling it undemocratic, and claiming the “competence to make laws is exclusively for nation states.” Similar sentiments play out in Italy, Poland, Hungary and many other member states.

Given the changes in vote ratios mentioned before, it’s hard to see the More Europe model survive the elections. But that of course doesn’t keep the main parties (blocks) from running outspoken pro-Europe candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head chief after the elections. The EPP has German Europe stalwart Manfred Weber as ‘Spitzenkandidat’, the so-called Socialists/Democrats have Dutch Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s right-hand man.

They think they will be able to continue business as usual, and accumulate more power and sovereignty in the process, while support for the EU crumbles more by the day. But that’s all in the far far future, that is a whole 4 months away. And who knows what Europe will look like by then? Brussels sure doesn’t seem to know, or want to.

 

In Germany, the entire political system will have to reinvent itself after Merkel. And as said before, with an entire new look as far as vote numbers go. Far right and the Greens are on their way to becoming new power blocks, the Christian center right CDU/CSU and the formerly left SPD are on their way to much less support.

This is a pattern that plays out all over Europe, but what happens in Germany is, because of the way the EU is set up, crucial for all EU member states. Nothing happens in Europe without approval from Berlin. And what will the other 26 remaining members do when that level of power moves towards the AfD?

Of even more immediate concern may be Germany’s economic performance. Because the latest signs are not encouraging. Germany and Holland have done very well, but that is because they have all the others as their ‘domestic’ market. And now not even that turns out to be enough. Germany’s numbers are going down fast:

 

 

Then again, for now, worries about Germany will be trumped by those about France and Britain. The numbers of Yellow Vests in the streets of France was much larger again the past weekend than the last few ones. Macron keeps on making ever bigger mistakes. This Saturday, his riot police was filmed carrying semi-automatic weapons with live ammo. As he claimed that many of his people want to get things without making any effort.

Macron all along has tried to drive a wedge between the protesters and the people. But a large majority of the people support the protests, even if they don’t don a yellow vest. Still, Paris claims that the protesters are not the Republic, and they’re trying to overthrow democracy. When the Yellow vests approached government buildings last weekend, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux fled, saying: “It wasn’t me who was attacked, it was the Republic.” Ergo: Not the people are the Republic, the government is. That should sell well.

For a very large number of French this sounds like they are not actually considered French by their own government. And now Macron insists on holding a national debate, in which everyone can have their say, but at the same time he insists he will not change his policies, which are what the Yellow Vests are protesting in the first place.

What they see is that Little Napoleon hasn’t hardly appeared in public for a very long time (big no-no!), but he does try to dictate to them what democracy is, and then in the same breath that they only have the choices he gives them. Protests are only allowed if the government gives permission, Paris proclaims.

Macron has cancelled his spot in the upcoming Davos spectacle for the wealthy and powerful, and I bet you the thought has crossed his mind that if he went he wouldn’t be allowed back in to his country. Not decisive, but that thought surely counts. He’s seen the whole Let Them Eat Cake scenario play out in his mind’s eye. Before putting his hand over his heart while looking in the mirror.

Macron does everything wrong than he can. And in that France has a lot in common with our for now last topic, subject, victim, take your pick, the UK.

 

Tomorrow Theresa May is going to lose another vote, and even if she doesn’t, chaos is still guaranteed. Both the Leave and the Remain camps, opposites as they are, are divided into countless other camps, and there is no way there will ever be an agreement. You’d have a hard time finding even just two people who think Brexit means the same, let alone millions.

I wrote earlier today I wondered how come Britain is so quiet in the face of that, with the Yellow Vests example just a few miles away. And I really don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow. The EU has hinted Brexit may not happen until the summer, not on March 29. But that’s the EU, and that’s what the Brexit vote was meant to move away from, not let them dictate even more.

Theresa May basically sat on her hands for two years, and wanted to do the work in 6 months, but that was always going to be a pipedream. The UK, in 40-odd years of EU membership, signed up to thousands of pieces of legislation, which contain hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. All that must be checked, if need be changed, negotiated about, voted on, etc.

Not something anyone can do in half a year, and that has nothing to do with liking the EU or not. May has held her country hostage for the entire time she’s been PM, and she does that even more now, as she’s saying it’s either her deal or no Brexit at all. She’s decided No Deal is not an option. Which may be wise in view of all those documents, but who is she to decide eth entire nation future for decades to come? She wasn’t even elected as PM.

We’ll know more tomorrow after that Parliament vote, which May will lose. Or will we? If Brussels accepts a major delay in Brexit, chances are May will stay in office, and we’ll have 4-5-6 more months of the same road to nowhere. Second referendum, general election? Poisoned chalices all of them.

Even if May wins the vote Tuesday, because she’s scared a sufficient number of MPs into a catatonic state, nothing will change either. All possible outcomes are guaranteed to have a large group of people standing against them. All options will create the appearance of a small group of people dictating life-changing events for everyone else.

Where are the British Yellow Vests? The mayor of Poland’s second-biggest city, Gdansk, was stabbed to death in public on a stage where he held a speech, Is that where we’re going?

And lest we forget, what happens in Europe is not very different from what happens in the US; things merely play out slightly differently in different locations. In the US, as in the UK, there are no whole new parties taking over, no AfD and Macron and Yellow Vests and Salvini, but there is Trump and Brexit.

The common denominator is people’s anger with the economic models that leave them scrambling to make do, all the while seeing their lives being taken away from them bit by bit while whoever’s in power keeps bankers and other rich folk contented.

It’s not much use seeing all this as separate incidents or developments. It’s a big wave that will reshape the world as we know it. Let Them Eat Cake has gone global, and there’s not nearly enough cake to go round.

 

 

Dec 072018
 
 December 7, 2018  Posted by at 8:05 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Almasy Paris 1950

 

The concept of the EU might have worked, but still only might have, if a neverending economic boom could have been manufactured to guide it on its way. But there was never going to be such a boom. Or perhaps if the spoils that were available in boom times and bust had been spread out among nations rich and poor and citizens rich and poor a little more equally, that concept might still have carried the days.

Then again, its demise was obvious from well before the Union was ever signed into existence, in the philosophies, deliberations and meetings that paved its way in the era after a second world war in two score years fought largely on the European continent.

In hindsight, it is hard to comprehend how it’s possible that those who met and deliberated to found the Union, in and of itself a beneficial task at least on the surface in the wake of the blood of so many millions shed, were not wiser, smarter, less greedy, less driven by sociopath design and methods. It was never the goal that missed its own target or went awry, it was the execution.

Still, no matter how much we may dream, how much some of the well-meaning ‘founding fathers’ of the Union may have dreamt, without that everlasting economic boom it never stood a chance. The Union was only ever going to be tolerated, accepted, embraced by its citizens if they could feel and see tangible benefits in their daily lives of surrendering parts of their own decision making powers, and the sovereignty of their nations.

There are 28 countries in the Union at this point, and one of them is already preparing to leave. There are 28 different cultures too, and almost as many languages. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, a hill far too steep for mere greed to master and conquer. History soaked Europe in far too much diversity through the ages for that. To unify all the thousands of years of beauty and darkness, of creativity and annihilation, of love and hatred, passed on through the generations, a lot more than a naked and bland lust for wealth, power and shiny objects was needed.

And sure, maybe it just happened on the way, in the moments when everyone was making new friends and not watching their backs for a moment. But they all still should have seen it coming, because of those same thousands of years that culminated in where they found themselves. The European Union is like a wedding and marriage without a prenup, where partners are too afraid to offend each other to do what would make them not regret the ceremony later.

 

Today, there are far too few of the 28 EU countries that have been lifted out of their poverty and other conditions that made them want to join the Union. And within many of the countries, there are way too many people who are, and feel, left behind. While Brussels has become a bastion of power that none of the disadvantaged feel they can properly address with their grievances.

The main fault of the EU is that the biggest party at the table always in the end, when things get serious, gets its way. The 80 million or so people of Germany de facto rule the 500 million of the Union, or you know, the three handfuls that rule Germany. No important decision can or will ever be taken that Berlin does not agree with. Angela Merkel has been the CEO of Europe Inc. since November 22 2005, gathering more power as time went by. That was never going to work unless she made everyone richer. Ask the Greeks about that one.

Merkel was the leader of both Germany and of Europe, and when things got precarious, she chose to let German interests prevail above Italian or Greek ones. That’s the fundamental flaw and failure of the Union in a nutshell. All other things, the Greek crisis, Salvini, Macron, Brexit, are mere consequences of that flaw. In absence of a forever economic boom, there is nothing left to fall back on.

 

Traditional right/left parties have been destroyed all across Europe in recent national elections. And it’s those traditional parties that still largely hold power in Brussels. As much as anyone except Germany and perhaps the European Commission hold any power at all. The shifts that happened in the political spectrum of many countries is not yet reflected in the European Parliament. But there are European elections in less than 6 months, May 23-26 2019.

About a quarter of the votes in the last such election, in 2014, went to euroskeptic parties. It’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination to presume that they’ll get half of the votes this time. Then we’ll have half or more of representatives speaking for people who don’t have faith in what they represent.

And on the other hand you have the Brussels elite, who continue to propagate the notion that Europe’s problems can best, nay only, be solved with more Europe. Of that elite Emmanuel Macron is the most recent, and arguable most enthusiastic from the get-go, high priest. Which can’t be seen apart from his domestic nose-diving approval rating, and most certainly not from the yellow vest protests and riots.

Macron won his presidency last year solely because he ran against Marine Le Pen in the second round of the elections, and a vast majority on the French will never vote for her; they’ll literally vote for anyone else instead. In the first round, when it wasn’t one on one, Macron got less than 25% of the votes. And now France wants him to leave. That is the essence of the protests. His presidency appears already over.

 

Among the 28 EU countries, the UK is a very clear euroskeptic example. It’s supposed to leave on March 2019, but that’s by no means a given. Then there’s Italy, where the last election put a strongly euroskeptic government in charge. There are the four Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. No love lost for Brussels there. In Belgium yesterday, PM Michel’s government ally New Flemish Alliance voted against the UN Global Compact on Migration.

Spain’s Mariana Rajoy was supported by the EU against Catalonia, and subsequently voted out. The next government is left-wing and pro EU, but given the recent right wing victory in Andalusia it’s clear there’s nothing stable there. Austria has a rightwing anti-immigration PM. Germany’s CDU party today elected a successor for Merkel (in the first such vote since 1971!), but they’ve lost bigly in last year’s elections, and their CSU partner has too, pushing both towards the right wing anti-immigrant AfD.

And with Macron gone or going, France can’t be counted on to support Brussels either. So what is left, quo vadis Europa? Well, there’s the European elections. In which national parties, often as members of a ‘voting alliance’, pick their prospective candidates for the European Parliament, then become part of a larger European alliance, and finally often of an even larger alliance. You guessed right, turnout numbers for European elections are very very low.

 

Of course Brussels is deaf to all the issues besieging it. The largest alliances of parties, the EPP (people’s party) and the “socialists”, have chosen their crown prince ‘spitzenkandidat’ to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, and they expect for things to continue more or less as usual. The two main contenders are Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, convinced eurocrats. How that will work out with 50% or more of parliamentarians being euroskeptic, you tell me. How about they form their own alliance?

The Union appears fatally wounded, and that’s even before the next financial crisis has materialized. Speaking of which, the Fed has been hiking rates and can lower them again a little if it wants, but much of Europe ‘works’ on negative rates already. That next crisis could be a doozy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First thing on the menu is Macron tomorrow, and the yellow vests in the streets of Paris and many other French cities -and rural areas. He has called for 90,000 policemen on the streets, but they’ll come face to face with their peers who are firemen, ambulance personnel, you name it, lots of folks who also work for the government. Will they open fire?

Can Macron allow for French people to be killed in the streets? Almost certainly not. There’ll be pitchforks and guillotines. The only way out for him, the only way to calm things down, may be to announce his resignation. The French don’t fool around when they protest. And who’s going to be left to drive the reform of Europe then? Not Merkel, she’s gone, even if she wants to be German Chancellor for three more years. But then who? I’m trying to think of someone, honest, but I can’t.

It’ll be quite the day Saturday in Paris.

 

 

Nov 132018
 
 November 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peasant burning weeds 1883

 

Dow Plunges 600 Points As Apple Leads Tech Rout (CNBC)
The Economic Consequences Of Debt (Roberts)
The Fed Supports Capital In Its Eternal War With Labor (Hunt)
China State Banks Selling Dollars In FX Market To Arrest Yuan Losses (R.)
Goldman Sachs Down Most In 7 Years On 1MDB, ‘Fear Of The Unknown'(BBG)
Banking Consolidation In Europe Is ‘Inevitable’ – UBS Chief (CNBC)
China Scours Social Media, Erases Thousands Of Accounts (R.)
Working to Protect the World from Bananas (Epsilon)
Turkey, France Spar Over Khashoggi Killing (AFP)
US Federal, State Elections Still In Flux (R.)
Rock the Vote (Kunstler)
Crucifying Julian Assange (Chris Hedges)
Stan Lee Leaves a Legacy as Complex as His Superheroes (DB)

 

 

“..the FANG trade is dead and the market is struggling to find a replacement.”

Dow Plunges 600 Points As Apple Leads Tech Rout (CNBC)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 602 points on Monday after a big decline in Apple shares, a rise in the U.S. dollar and lingering worries about global trade weighed on investor sentiment. Monday’s losses bring the Dow’s decline over the past two sessions to 804 points; it closed at 25,387.18. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite pulled back 2.8 percent to 7,200.87 and fell back into the correction territory it first entered during the October market rout. The S&P 500 dropped 2 percent to 2,726.22 as financials tanked, led by Goldman Sachs. In late-afternoon trading, the major indexes hit their lows of the day after Bloomberg News reported the White House was circulating a draft report on auto tariffs. Shares of General Motors turned negative following the report.

Apple shares tanked by 5 percent after Lumentum Holdings, which makes technology for the iPhone’s face-recognition function, cut its outlook for fiscal second quarter 2019. Lumentum CEO Alan Lowe said one of its largest customers asked the company to “materially reduce shipments” for its products. Shares of Lumentum plunged 33 percent. The decline in Apple pressured the broader technology sector. The Technology Select Sector SPDR dropped 3.5 percent. Alphabet and Amazon shares pulled back 2.7 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively. Amazon shares fell into bear-market territory, down about 20 percent from its 52-week high. [..] Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, said “the FANG trade is dead and the market is struggling to find a replacement.”

Read more …

I’m partial to the last graph. It shows an undeniable long term trendline.

The Economic Consequences Of Debt (Roberts)

The relevance of debt growth versus economic growth is all too evident as shown below. Since 1980, the overall increase in debt has surged to levels that currently usurp the entirety of economic growth. With economic growth rates now at the lowest levels on record, the growth in debt continues to divert more tax dollars away from productive investments into the service of debt and social welfare. It now requires nearly $3.00 of debt to create $1 of economic growth.

Another way to view the impact of debt on the economy is to look at what “debt-free” economic growth would be. In other words, without debt, there has actually been no organic economic growth.

In fact, the economic deficit has never been greater. For the 30-year period from 1952 to 1982, the economic surplus fostered a rising economic growth rate which averaged roughly 8% during that period. Today, with the economy expected to grow at just 2% over the long-term, the economic deficit has never been greater.

But it isn’t just Federal debt that is the problem. It is all debt. When it comes to households, which are responsible for roughly 2/3rds of economic growth through personal consumption expenditures, debt was used to sustain a standard of living well beyond what income and wage growth could support. This worked out as long as the ability to leverage indebtedness was an option. The problem is that when rising interest rates hit a point where additional leverage becomes problematic, further economic cannot be achieved. Given the massive increase in deficit spending by households to support consumption, the “bang point” between rates and the economy is likely closer than most believe.

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The Fed must step back as wages rise.

The Fed Supports Capital In Its Eternal War With Labor (Hunt)

For 46 years, from 1951 to 1997, we were no more and no less rich than our economy grew. Which makes sense. That’s the neutral vision of monetary policy, where you’re not trying to pull forward future growth through leverage and easy money in order to create more wealth today. For the past 20 years, however, we have had a series of wealth bubbles – first the Dot-Com bubble, then the Housing Bubble, and today the Financial Asset Bubble – that have made us richer than our economy grows. Each of these bubbles was intentionally “blown” by the Fed through monetary policy. That’s the tried and true method of creating a wealth bubble in the modern age of fiat money – you artificially lower the cost of money to encourage borrowing and leverage, which in turn pulls future growth into the present. It’s a neat trick so long as you can keep it going.

But that’s the problem, of course. The Fed can’t keep it going, not if it wants to satisfy its raison d’etre, which is to keep inflation bottled up, particularly wage inflation. Once wage inflation starts to pick up, the Fed ALWAYS stops blowing bubbles. Why? Because the Fed, like every central bank, was created to support Capital in its eternal war with Labor. It’s in the name. They are bankers. I know that sounds all Marxist and conspiratorial and all that, but it’s really not. It’s very straightforward. It’s Alexander Hamilton, not Karl Marx. In case you haven’t noticed, wage inflation has started to pick up. The Fed has stopped blowing this Financial Asset Bubble. Then isn’t the inescapable conclusion that we are now inevitably heading back to that GDP growth line? And if that IS the conclusion, then how bad could it get for investors?

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A very ominous sign.

China State Banks Selling Dollars In FX Market To Arrest Yuan Losses (R.)

Major state-owned Chinese banks were seen selling dollars at around 6.97 per dollar in the onshore spot foreign exchange market in early trade on Tuesday, three traders said, in an apparent attempt to arrest sharp losses in the local currency. The onshore spot market opened at 6.9681 per dollar, weakening to a low of 6.9703 at one point in early deals. “Big banks were selling (dollars) to defend the yuan,” said one of the traders. The move by the state-run banks helped the yuan recover to 6.9550. The onshore spot yuan was trading at 6.9645 as of 0237 GMT.

Traders attributed the sharp morning losses in the yuan to broad strength in the U.S. dollar, which hit 16-month highs against a basket of six other major currencies. They also suspect the authorities are keen to prevent the yuan from weakening too sharply before U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping’s meeting later this month. The two countries’ leaders plan to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit, in Argentina at the end of November for a high-stakes talk.

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The Squid got hungry.

Goldman Sachs Down Most In 7 Years On 1MDB, ‘Fear Of The Unknown'(BBG)

Goldman Sachs Group’s reputation is facing one of its biggest crises of the decade – and now its shares are, too. Since prosecutors implicated a trio of Goldman Sachs bankers in a multi-billion-dollar Malaysian fraud early this month, investors have endured an almost daily drip of news on the firm’s ties to the scandal. The barrage culminated on Monday (Nov 12) as Malaysia’s finance minister demanded a “full refund”, tipping Goldman’s shares into their biggest drop since 2011. Across Wall Street, analysts expressed surprise over the dive, noting the bank – which hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing – can probably stomach any payment that might be extracted in the case. Instead, some said, the decline appeared to be due to a combination of concern over the persistently harsh spotlight and uncertainty about what’s to come.

It was also a generally bad day in US markets. “It’s not so much the dollar amount,” said Mr Gerard Cassidy at RBC Capital Markets. “It’s more that we don’t know all of the facts yet; we don’t know all of the important points to the story at this time. It’s the fear of the unknown.” On Nov 1, at least three senior Goldman Sachs bankers were publicly implicated by the US Department of Justice in a multi-year criminal enterprise that included bribing officials in Malaysia and elsewhere and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars. The firm has said it’s cooperating with the investigations and may face “significant” fines. [..] The Malaysia probe focuses on the country’s scandal-plagued state investment company, 1Malaysia Development Bhd and the US$6.5 billion it raised in 2012 and 2013. Goldman Sachs handled the deals, reaping almost US$600 million in fees.

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“..technology will make the sector more “effective and more efficient.”

Banking Consolidation In Europe Is ‘Inevitable’ – UBS Chief (CNBC)

The European banking system needs consolidation and “as time goes by, it will become more and more inevitable,” the head of one of the largest banks in Europe told CNBC on Tuesday. Often investors, policy-makers and other industry experts refer to fragmentation as one of the biggest hurdles to European banks. UBS chief Sergio Ermotti told CNBC that the issue is “not sustainable.” “That’s something that as time goes by will become more and more inevitable, is part of the solutions. For sure consolidation needs to happen, in particular in Europe, where we see a lot of fragmentation that it is not sustainable,” Ermotti told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche. He further added that technology will make the sector more “effective and more efficient.”

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Self-media: social media not run by government.

China Scours Social Media, Erases Thousands Of Accounts (R.)

China’s top cyber authority has scrubbed 9,800 social media accounts of independent news providers deemed to have posted sensational, vulgar or politically harmful content on the Internet, it said late on Monday. China’s strict online censorship rules have tightened in recent years with new legislation to restrict media outlets, surveillance measures for media sites and rolling campaigns to remove content deemed unacceptable. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement that the campaign, launched on Oct. 20, had erased the accounts for violations that included “spreading politically harmful information, maliciously falsifying (Chinese Communist) party history, slandering heroes and defaming the nation’s image.”

CAC also summoned social media giants, including Tencent’s Wechat and Sina-owned Weibo, warning them against failing to prevent “uncivilized growth” and “all kinds of chaos” among independent media on their platforms. “The chaos among self-media accounts has seriously trampled on the dignity of the law and damaged the interests of the masses,” CAC said. The term “self-media” is mostly used on Chinese social media to describe independent news accounts that produce original content but are not officially registered with the authorities.

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Despair no more. Big Brother is here.

Working to Protect the World from Bananas (Epsilon)

The main story is the increased pace and arc of the Chinese system overall, not the ‘play-by-play’. With technology, even totalitarian surveillance technology, there typically is no ‘big bang’, just a bunch of independent systems coming on line, getting adopted over time, then getting networked together, resulting in a series of subtle shifts in personal behavior, and then a tipping point. Having watched this system come on line for nearly 20 years, the deployment of the Chinese technology-driven domestic surveillance system was pretty limited even up until 2010, but has been absolutely rip-roaring and accelerating over the last five years thanks to the same driving forces of most other tech advances since 2010:

• Ubiquitous handheld connected device • App adoption • Cheap sensors (inc. cameras) • Cheap massive data storage • Sophisticated statistical algorithms • Leaps forward in compute power and cost. All of these advances are so powerful for surveillance with its inherent big, unstructured data characteristics that I think we are now really close to an inflection point where the system is starting to really work in a functional day-to-day way, which will then lead to a behavioral tipping point. I don’t think the main story is that controversial at this point, i.e., I don’t think anyone, even the Chinese government, denies this system is being built, the intention of it, or that it is starting to work in a practical way.

Therefore, I think the more interesting story in many ways is the sub-story of the willful ignorance of the main story by the West. I was at an event last week where a new fancy think tank on AI ethics based here in San Francisco was presenting and expounding their tenet of “Working to protect the privacy and security of individuals”, whilst simultaneously welcoming Baidu into their organization. I’m sorry, but that’s like “Working to protect the world from bananas” while signing up Del Monte as a member. Bananas. With hypocritical sprinkles. And a big ignorant cherry on top.

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They’ve all heard the tapes, but not one of them talks about the content.

Turkey, France Spar Over Khashoggi Killing (AFP)

Turkey on Monday lashed out at “unacceptable” and “impertinent” comments by the French foreign minister who accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of playing a “political game” over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had shared recordings linked to the Saudi journalist’s murder last month with Riyadh, the United States, France, Britain and other allies, without giving details of the tapes’ specific content. In an interview with France 2 television on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he “for the moment was not aware” of any information transmitted by Ankara. Asked if the Turkish president was lying, he said: “It means that he has a political game to play in these circumstances.”

His comments provoked fury in Ankara. “We find it unacceptable that he accused President Erdogan of ‘playing political games’,” the communications director at the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, told AFP in a written statement. “Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded even more sharply, saying that his French counterpart’s accusations amounted to “impertinence”. “It does not fit the seriousness of a foreign minister,” he said, accusing Le Drian of “exceeding his authority”.

[..] Altun said Ankara had shared evidence linked to the murder with officials from a large number of countries and that France was “no exception”. “I confirm that evidence pertaining to the Khashoggi murder has also been shared with the relevant agencies of the French government,” he said. A representative of French intelligence listened to the audio recording and examined detailed information including a transcript on October 24, he added.

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The US is incapable of building a strong election system. How disgraceful is that?

US Federal, State Elections Still In Flux (R.)

Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 elections and Republicans held onto a majority in the U.S. Senate, but more than a dozen races remain undecided nearly a week later. The outcomes of two Senate races, 13 House seats and two governorships had yet to be settled on Monday. The results of Arizona’s U.S. Senate race became clear on Monday, when Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema declared victory and Republican candidate Martha McSally conceded after multiple media outlets called the race for Sinema. Florida ordered a recount in the race where Democratic Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Florida also ordered a recount for its gubernatorial race, while the winner of the governor’s race in Georgia remained uncertain, with a December runoff still possible. In one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate races, Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and her Democratic challenger, Mike Espy, will contest a runoff on Nov. 27 after neither won a majority. Vote tallies continue to trickle in for the 13 U.S. House races that appear too close to call, and there is no consensus among media outlets and data provider DDHQ that a victor has emerged. Democrats held narrow leads in eight of those races, according to unfinished tallies compiled by DDHQ.

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“.. C-Span will be livelier and more colorful than the WWE Wrestlemania round-robin, midget division.”

Rock the Vote (Kunstler)

It warmed my heart to read in The Wall Street Journal that Hillary Clinton is preparing to re-enter the Washington DC swamp from her deluxe exile in the woods of Chappaqua, New York, and make another run for the White House — though it’s hard to calculate how many porters in sandals and loincloths will be required to lug all her baggage around the campaign trail. Will hubbie hit the hustings with her? That would be rich. I can just imagine the pussy-hatted legions shrieking #MeToo at every stop. Surely there is no better way to put the Democratic Party out of its misery. The post-election melodramas in Georgia and Florida grind on, despite the various rules and laws about deadlines for certifying ballots and accounting for their origin.

What is a ballot after all but a mere scrap of paper, easily reproducible, and interchangeable. Sometimes, they make strange journeys out of election headquarters in trucks and SUVs, seeking fun and excitement, and they have been known to mysteriously turn up by the hundredweight in broom closets where they retreat to caucus. Only one thing is certain: the ballot fiasco is a billable hours bonanza for DC lawyers arriving on the scene to sort things out — which they may not manage anyway. If the vote count somehow remains in favor of the provisional winners — Republicans Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis (Fla), and Brian Kemp (Ga) — you can be sure we’ll be in a frenzy of sore loserdom that will make the Medieval ergot outbreaks of yore look like episodes of Peewee’s Playhouse.

If the provisional votes get overturned, the attorneys billable hours will quickly exceed the national debt, and we’ll find ourselves in a new era where the free citizens of this republic can‘t be trusted to the simple task of counting ballots, or even holding elections in the first place. [..] Meanwhile, the new Democratic majority congress prepares to ramp up its longed-for multi-committee inquisition against Trump and Trumpism, and the Republican Senate will counter-punch with binders of criminal referrals against the superstars of the Resistance. C-Span will be livelier and more colorful than the WWE Wrestlemania round-robin, midget division.

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The role of the MSM demands much more scrutiny.

Crucifying Julian Assange (Chris Hedges)

Assange was once feted and courted by some of the largest media organizations in the world, including The New York Times and The Guardian, for the information he possessed. But once his trove of material documenting U.S. war crimes, much of it provided by Chelsea Manning, was published by these media outlets he was pushed aside and demonized. A leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch dated March 8, 2008, exposed a black propaganda campaign to discredit WikiLeaks and Assange.

The document said the smear campaign should seek to destroy the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and blacken Assange’s reputation. It largely has worked. Assange is especially vilified for publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials. The Democrats and former FBI Director James Comey say the emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, by Russian government hackers. Comey has said the messages were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary. Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

The Democratic Party—seeking to blame its election defeat on Russian “interference” rather than the grotesque income inequality, the betrayal of the working class, the loss of civil liberties, the deindustrialization and the corporate coup d’état that the party helped orchestrate—attacks Assange as a traitor, although he is not a U.S. citizen. Nor is he a spy. He is not bound by any law I am aware of to keep U.S. government secrets. He has not committed a crime.

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Enough controversy for ten.

Stan Lee Leaves a Legacy as Complex as His Superheroes (DB)

He was born Stanley Martin Lieber in the Bronx. For nearly 22 years, beginning almost immediately after graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he labored in obscurity as a writer, editor, and art director in a publishing industry just one cultural rung above pornography: comic books. And then, in 1961, he became one of the pivotal 20th century figures who elevated comics into the first draft of American pop culture. Stan Lee, who died Monday, November 12 at age 95, is synonymous with Marvel Comics. Nearly every movie released by Hollywood upstart-turned-juggernaut Marvel Studios can trace part of its creative origins to Lee. (The exceptions are the Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and forthcoming Captain Marvel franchises.)

Among people who shaped the legacy of the Disney company, which purchased Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, Lee is probably second only to Walt Disney himself. George Lucas is third because of the debts Star Wars owes to the comics creations of Lee’s greatest creative partner and bitterest foe, Jack Kirby. Lee’s legacy at Marvel is immortal. But so too is the debate and controversy over what that legacy specifically is. In some quarters in comics, and especially to devotees of Kirby, Stan Lee is a supervillain–a man who stole credit, and corresponding fortunes, from the people who truly shaped Marvel creatively in the ’60s, relegating them to also-ran obscurity.

Aspects of that critique, uncomfortably, have merit. Lee had a maestro’s instincts for what we now call branding, and it cast a shadow long enough to keep his Marvel collaborators in darkness. In press interviews, his endless public appearances, and his own writing, Lee portrayed himself as the driver of the Marvel Universe, rendering artists like Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko as afterthoughts.

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Sep 252018
 
 September 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:55 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Galatea of the Spheres 1952

 

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan “broke” the story yesterday morning that Rod Rosenstein was going to resign before he would be fired, and he was on his way to the White House for that. Just about every would-be journalist in the US followed suit with speculation and ‘updates’ by anonymous sources either close to the White House or to Rosenstein.

Through the day it became clear that Swan’s entire story was pure speculation (though he just published an alleged resignation letter), and at the end of the day Rosenstein is still the Deputy AG, scheduled for a talk with Trump on the entire matter on Thursday. In short, Jonathan Swan dented Axios’ credibility by more than he will admit. So who has any credibility left by now? It’s not a long list anymore. Where can you get your news? Not where you used to.

Several voices volunteered that the White House had pumped the Rosenstein story in order to deflect attention from the Kavanaugh narrative. That made little sense: why would they do that? There may be some who think that Kavanaugh means a whole lot of trouble from Trump, but are they really paying attention, or merely thinking wishfully?

Kavanaugh himself didn’t look all that destroyed in his interview last night. And he made a very bold move: he said he was a virgin until well past high school. All it would take to break down that claim is one woman to step forward and say she had sex with him. And if he did have consensual sex even just once, nothing to do with assault, he’d still be exposed as a liar, so why make such a claim unless it’s true?

All this puts the allegations made against him in an eery light. Christine Blasey Ford’s story looked shaky from the start, because of all the things she said she couldn’t remember, but many people were granting her the benefit of the doubt. Then Deborah Ramirez added an allegation that if anything looked even less coherent. Even the New York Times could find no-one to corroborate her story, and she herself couldn’t, either.

Now, for all we know Kavanaugh may have been an adolescent monster, but we would still need proof of that before we nail him to a cross, or, worse still, keep him off the Supreme Court. Which is, obviously, what got the whole circus started.

 

Thursday will be yet another eventful day in the guaranteed to be always entertaining presidency of Donald Trump, and we wonder in eager anticipation how Axios and all the other news outlets will cover the events. Their Kavanaugh narrative looks shot right now, but we’d expect another woman, or two, or ten, to pop up with inflammatory tales.

Look for the one about consensual sex, that would seem to have a better chance than another assault with a penis chapter, and he set it up himself last night by his virgin declaration. Also, look for desperate attempts to smear the judge. There are still many people in Washington and beyond who really really don’t want him confirmed.

But then, everything they tried so far has backfired, even if that’s not what they see. That same thing may well happen in the Rosenstein saga. It’s no secret, never has been, that Trump has different opinions than Rosenstein, or for that matter Jeff Sessions, have on several matters. But they’re both still in their jobs.

Trump appointed Rosenstein, and he appointed Sessions, who turned around and recused himself from the Russian collusion case, putting Rosenstein in charge of that. Rosenstein appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, though it was obvious from miles away that the FBI was heavily involved in the case.

Now, after all the Strzok/Page mails and the Andrew McCabe bumbling, we know that Robert Mueller, after almost two years, still hasn’t found any proof of collusion. We know this because he hasn’t presented any, which he would have been obliged to do if he had any, simply because the allegation of working with a foreign government to undermine the US is so serious; you can’t hold back that sort of information.

 

That all said, is it so strange that Trump has perhaps had enough of this? That he might like an actual Attorney General who actually takes charge of the case, and a Deputy AG who has some distance from Mueller and asks him to finish up the investigation which hasn’t produced anything but tax evasion charges for Manafort and 14 days in jail for Papadopoulos, who presumably pled guilty because, like Michael Flynn, he couldn’t afford to defend himself?

There are times one gets the impression the whole thing only continues because newspapers and TV channels make so much money off of painting Trump as the modern Antichrist. And while the man undoubtedly is full of flaws, that’s not what they’re all aiming for. They go for Russiagate, because it sells to have an archenemy to talk about, and they go for Stormy Daniels and Kavanaugh’s penis, because sex sells more than anything.

Along with all the anti-Trump rhetoric, there is a running story about a Blue Wave that will hand the Democrats back control over the House and perhaps the Senate. But while I think it might be good to restore some balance in Washington, if only so people must actually talk, I also think that Blue Wave thing is perhaps the biggest mistake America’s formerly left can make.

Because the Democrats, no matter how they see themselves, have no identity. Other than they’re not Trump and they hate the man. We saw that loud and clear the other day when they helped the GOP push a record military budget through the House. They’re merely a flipside of a coin. They have nothing of their own.

Yes, there’s Ocasio-Cortez and a handful others who try to define something different, but surely they must know that when you call yourself Socialist in America you’re tying an arm and a leg behind your back. Kudos for trying, but that’s not going to work. Bernie Sanders is done after allowing Hillary’s DNC to push him aside; people remember such things.

That leaves the usual suspects, Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, calcifying in their seats, with Hillary in the wings for a glorious return to viability in 2020. And they think that combo will make them win elections, and win them big, just because voters are so sick of Trump? Methinks perhaps they have started to believe their own stories, while neglecting those of their one-time voters.

 

But sure, let’s see what happens on Thursday, and before, with Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, and with Rosenstein’s friendly chat with the President. I’m thinking there’s nothing so bizarre I would count it out, but I may have to rethink that. Maybe Robert Mueller will resign tomorrow before Rosenstein can be fired -assuming Trump would want to-, maybe Kavanaugh had sex with an entire boys’ choir twice a week, leaving him technically still a virgin.

Our fantasy is just about endless. But that’s the exact biggest problem with everything about this: there’s far too much fantasy involved, far too many allegations that remain unproven but leave traces left and right, far too many accusations that nobody is made to own up to.

One last thing: if it turns out Christine Blasey Ford can prove none of her accusations vs Kavanaugh, and he’s been telling the truth all along, what does that mean for all the women who’ve told their stories of rape and assault under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag? How betrayed will they feel, how tricked? Or will they continue to insist that he must be guilty even if there is zero proof?

And no, it’s not Just the Democrats, it’s Washington as a whole, egged on by despairing media who see their revenues and credibility plunge and resort to cheap tricks. The Republicans with their inane plans to re-open the hunt on grizzlies are just as bad. Want to Make America Great Again? Start with protecting the grizzlies and manatees and moose and eagles. They are what makes the country rich. There won’t be anything great about a barren desert land devoid of life.

But the urgent question in Washington right at this moment is, in light of Rosenstein and Kavanaugh: how deeply can you divide a country, for political ends, before it bursts? And what will it take, what can still be done today, to pull it away from the looming abyss?

 

 

Apr 262017
 
 April 26, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


EdgarDegas A la mer 1863

 

Something hit me this week. The maps which came out on Monday and detailed the outcome of the French elections, were telling a story, and a familiar one by now. A story of deep division. There are a number of such maps now depicting the Brexit vote in the UK, the US presidential elections, and its French counterpart.

In all three cases they leave me wondering something along the lines of: ‘Are you guys sure you want to remain in the same country with each other?’ Because to me that is not all that obvious, and I think it’ll get less so as time passes. For instance in the case of France, the ‘ideological’ differences between Macron and Le Pen are substantial to say the least, they’re worlds apart.

And if you’re worlds apart, why live in the same country? Here’s that French map:

 

 

As you see, the country is sharply divided between west (Macron) and east (Le Pen). So much so that you wonder what these people still have in common, other than their language. There’s no doubt it’s also a dividing line between the richer part of the country, and the poorer.

Thing is, that same dividing line is visible in a similar map of the November 8, 2016 US election results, in a slightly different way.

 

 

In the US it’s not east versus west, it’s coast versus interior (flyover land). But the difference is equally clear and sharp. In fact, probably what we’re looking at is that France has only one coastline, while the US has two, and in both countries people living close to the ocean are on average richer than those who live more inland.

And in both cases there is no doubt that wealth is a deciding factor in dividing the nations to the extent that they are. We see that in an ‘urban versus rural area’ comparison as well. Cities like New York, LA and Paris are strongholds for the incumbent and establishment, the parties that represent the rich.

There can be no doubt that we’ll see more of that going forward. It won’t be there in smaller countries, Holland for instance is not nearly large enough for such dynamics. But Italy very well might. It’s always had a strong north-south-divide, and its present crisis has undoubtedly deepened that chasm.

Looking at things that way, it’s also glaringly obvious that Macron is Obama (and is Renzi is Cameron etc.). A well-trained good looking mediagenic puppet with a gift of teleprompter gab, fabricated and cultivated by the ruling financial and industrial world to do their bidding. Macron, to me, looks the most artificial of the crop so far, the Obama, Rutte, Cameron, Renzi crop. There will be more, and they will get more artificial. Edward Bernays is just getting started.

Of course there is also a strong move away from established parties. It is more pronounced in France -where they were eradicated at least in the presidential elections- than in the US or UK, but that may be more of a superficial thing. Trump and Bernie Sanders are simply America’s version of France’s ‘ultra’ right wing Le Pen and ‘ultra’ left wing Melenchon. And Trump is running into problems with the remnants of the established parties as much as Macron will if he’s elected president.

Anglo countries seem to take longer diversifying away from tradition than others, but they too will get there. The various deteriorating economies will make sure of that.

 

A third map is of the UK Brexit vote. Once again, a sharp division, and once again with a ‘character’ of its own. If you ignore Scotland for a moment, what you see is blue=poor and yellow=rich. Broad strokes, I know, but I’ve been doing that with the first two maps too. There are only a few pockets of yellow=rich=remain. But yeah, fewer people live there. Same thing as in the US and France.

That the whole Brexit thing should now be negotiated by the Tories is a cynical irony the country owes to its adherence to tradition. That is how that backfires, too little flexibility. How the UK will solve its many ignored issues is anyone’s guess. Will Scotland leave the no-longer-very United Kingdom? Will voters wake up in time to not present the Tories with a free hand to make the rich-poor divide even worse?

 

 

There’s one more, and more detailed, map of France, which shows even better to what extent ‘Le Pen country’ is eerily similar to America’s flyover land. It’s almost poetic, a poem about how countries fall apart, about centers that cannot hold. It also makes me think of a locust invasion, by the way.

 

 

Every French and European body and their pet hamster is presently telling voters in France to please please not vote for Le Pen, in a move that resembles similar calls against Trump and Brexit. And who knows, it might work this time around. The anti-Le Pen frenzy is even stronger than the others, and it has Marine’s crazy father to use as a warning sign.

But as these maps show, it’s not about Le Pen, or Trump, or Nigel Farage. It’s about people being left behind in ever larger numbers, susceptible to voices other than the ones they’ve known for a long time and who never listened to them. And nothing is being done to address these people’s claims; on the contrary, things are only getting worse for them.

I saw a headline today that said ECB president Mario Draghi’s “Stimulus Could Blunt Populism as Unemployment Declines”. There’s only one possible reaction to that: what happens when he stops his stimulus?

The growing divides that all these maps bear witness to will keep growing, unless someone decides that neo-liberalism has gone too far. But the only person who could make such a decision would have to be one who neo-liberalism itself has made rich and powerful. So don’t count on that happening.

Count instead on more Trumps and Le Pens and Sanders’s. And also on more Obama’s and Macrons for the rich to deploy to protect their power and hold on to their riches. Increasingly it would seem they have to limit democracy -even further- to remain in power. So count on that happening too.

But don’t count on all these countries surviving as sovereign nations. The chasms are widening too fast and too much.

Mar 132017
 
 March 13, 2017  Posted by at 5:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincenzo Camuccini La Morte Di Cesare 1804

 

I don’t think Holland realized they planned their election on the Ides of March, don’t remember the date or event ever being mentioned when I lived there as a child. That Washington knew what it was doing when back in 2013 it set the end of the latest debt ceiling compromise to March 15 is not likely either. Nor is Janet Yellen deliberately setting the Fed’s ‘next’ rate hike on the date. They may all, in hindsight, wish they had possessed a little more historical knowledge.

When Shakespeare (and Plutarch before him) wrote ‘Beware the Ides of March’, he was talking about the murder of Julius Ceasar in 44 BC, by a group of senators, which included Brutus. But the incident can also be more broadly seen as the separation line between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. And now we’re getting somewhere interesting when looking at present day events. Democracy under threat of absolutism.

Leafing through the Dutch press, opinions differ on which politicians will profit most from the sudden row with Turkey that flared up over the weekend. Is it far right Wilders, who can now claim that he always foresaw things like this? Or is it “just a little less right” PM Rutte, who gets to look like a statesman and a decision maker? None of the other parties, there are 31 in total, look positioned to reap any gains from the bewildering developments.

The Netherlands is the ‘capital of fascism’, said Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu on Sunday in France, where he ended up after being refused landing rights on Saturday. I know I’m biased, but no matter how you twist and turn it, that’s quite a statement about the country of Anne Frank, which lost most of its extensive Jewish population, and it was only a follow-up to Turkish president Erdogan earlier calling the Dutch ‘nazi’s and ‘remnants of fascists’.

Erdogan later managed ‘banana republic’. And declared that no-one can treat ‘his citizens’ the way a photograph taken Saturday night seemed to depict, in which a Turkish protester was attacked by a police dog. Apart from the question whether dogs should ever be used in quelling protests, this raises another issue crucial to the whole story. That is, Turkey insists that people who’ve lived in other countries for decades are nevertheless ‘its citizens’ (and not of their adopted countries).

As an aside, that story and photo of the dog – a German shepherd- reminds me of ‘When We Were Kings’, the movie about the Rumble in the Jungle fight in Kinshasa between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which the latter emerges, upon arrival, from his plane with a huge German shepherd and thereby loses the sympthy of the local people, and some say the whole fight, people had very bad memories about such dogs.

 

So what happened in Holland? About 10 days ago, someone announced there would be a meeting (a rally) on Saturday March 11 in a ‘party hall’ in Rotterdam, that would be attended by Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu. This set off an alert inside the Dutch government, because in Germany similar meetings had been cancelled in the preceding days. The reason for the cancellations is that these are political rallies to gain support from Turks living abroad for an April 16 referendum designed to give Erdogan very far-reaching powers.

Turkey claims the right to freedom of speech and political gathering. And they would perhaps have been granted this, if not for the July 15 2016 coup in the country, and especially its aftermath. Both Germany and Holland have been aware of Erdogan and his people putting pressure on their ‘citizens’ living abroad to for instance report ‘hidden’ Gülen supporters to embassies and consulates and mosques. In other words, to create divisions between one group of (Dutch or German) Turks and another.

Needless to say, neither Berlin not The Hague wants anything to do with that. But they want to reach some sort of compromise. No matter how they may feel about the country post-coup, Turkey is a NATO partner and the EU has an all-important deal with Ankara to keep refugees away from Europe. Even though it was obvious from the start that this was the dumbest deal with the devil anyone since Faust has ever signed, elections trump common sense and principles.

Over the next days, the Dutch tell Ankara they consider foreign minister Cavusoglu’s planned rally ‘undesirable’. Rotterdam mayor Aboutaleb, a Dutch-Morrocan muslim, bans the planned meeting. But the Turks respond that Cavusoglu will come no matter what, and for Holland to arrange an alternative venue. The Dutch don’t like this at all, but try to compromise with a meeting with a small group of invitees. On Friday, Turkey suggests the Rotterdam residence of the Turkish consul. Aboutaleb is not amused: the location of the home ‘invites’ the gathering of a large number of people outside.

Saturday morning comes with a lot of discussion. The consulate is suggested as a venue. Then, Turkey sends a message to a large group of Dutch Turks to come to the consulate. And while talks are ongoing, Cavusoglu tells CNNTürk TV that if Holland revokes his plane’s landing rights, something that has been mentioned in negotiations only as a last resort, there will be ‘economic and political sanctions’.

 

Rutte and his crew see no other choice than to do just that: revoke the landing rights. To which the response is to drive the -female- Turkish Minister of Family Affairs, Kaya, who’s in Germany, to Rotterdam. There were allegedly even multiple convoys, with decoys and all, so Holland wouldn’t know what car she was in. Meanwhile, the allegations of nazism and fascism had started to be unloaded on The Hague.

As someone remarked: all Erdogan wanted was a photo-op, a picture with 10,000 Turks waving their flags in the streets of Holland. Things turned out different. Minister Kaya made it to Rotterdam, but was refused entry into the consulate, declared an undesirable alien and told she must return to Germany. It took many hours, but finally she was put into a different car than the one she came in and driven back across the border.

From where she took a private plane to Istanbul. Turkey apparently was not clear on the difference between someone having a diplomatic passport and having diplomatic immunity. These things are regulated in the Vienna Convention, and Turkey wants Holland to be found in violation of it. But it doesn’t look like they are. And there are a few other things as well:

 

 

What I don’t get: where in the world does it say that you are free to hold political campaign events in any country you choose? Can you see Guatemalan rallies in the streets of LA? With the risk of clashes between rival groups? And what would Turkey say if an anti-Erdogan protest were held in Berlin tomorrow? You think political rallies by foreigners are allowed in Turkey?

And then the rioting started late Saturday night in Rotterdam. What struck me in the pictures of the riots, and in other footage, is how many times they contain men making hand-signs of either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Grey Wolves, an ultra right wing Turkish group. I don’t get how that fits in the streets of countries like Germany and Holland, and I don’t get how it fits in with the man who’s seen as a demi-god in Turkey, founder in 1923 of the secular country of Turhey, Kemal Atatürk.

It looks like Erdogan is trying to idolize Atatürk, as any Turkish leader would have to do to get votes, and at the same time make the country an islamic state, something Atatürk definitely did not want, but which could Erdogan hand a majority for the referendum next month. Why else does he accuse western Europe of being Islamophobic?

Oh, and how does Michael Flynn fit into this picture? Trump’s former security adviser worked for Erdogan -indirectly- while sitting in on security meetings, and pushed the US to extradite Erdogan’s no. 1 enemy, Fethullah Gülen. If Washington had had proof that Gülen was behind the coup last year, one would think he’d already have been extradited. Flynn’s role gets curiouser by the day. Is this why he was cast out of the Trump team? For being a foreign agent?

 

Also curious is the fact that Erdogan on Friday, the day before the Holland situation played out, was visiting Russia to meet with Putin. He arrived back home to say something about an anti-missile defense system they could build together, and suggested that Putin agreed with him on the danger of the Kurdish fighters in Syria and beyond. Only, Putin never acknowledged such a thing, and Putin has never forgiven Erdogan for downing a Russian jet in November 2015. He just waits for the right payback time. But Turkey is a NATO country.

The EU should never have kept the Union membership carrot dangling in front of Erdogan’s face, knowing full well Turkey would never be accepted as a member, zero chance. It should not have signed the refugee deal either; that could only ever have blown up into its face. The first and major victim of that will once again be Greece. Another country that Erdogan has been trying to bully.

Turkish jets violating Greek airspace are so common people tend to ignore them. Recently, army ships have been sailing into Greek waters too. The idea seems to be some sort of preparation for contesting the 1923 Lausanne Treaty , which settled ownership disputes post-Ottoman Empire. There are so many islands and islets and rocks, anyone who wants to can always find something to fight over. And then of course there’s still Cyprus; negotiations are ongoing, but so are efforts to frustrate them.

And it’s not that the Turkish economy is doing so well, the lira lost 30% in 2016 and another 10% so far this year. But unlike Greece, Turkey still has its own currency, and therefore the ability to devaluate it and absorb financial shocks. Still, 40% in 15 months is a lot. Imports are getting very expensive. Maybe that’s what Erdogan is trying to drown out with his fighting words.

 

This afternoon, Turkey’s Parliament Speaker compared Dutch PM Rutte to Hitler, Franco AND Mussolini. Pol Pot must have slipped his mind for a moment. Denmark, France, Angela Merkel and Brussels have all told Turkey to tone down. But at the same time, German TV network ZDF reports there are 30 more Erdogan rallies and meetings planned in the country in the next month.

Erdogan is trying to let his people see him as a strongman, not afraid of anyone. He only has to paint this picture for another month, through his state owned TV channels, and he’ll get his near absolute powers. Meanwhile, the US and all of the EU are too busy trying to manage their own election issues. But that may not be such a wise choice. On April 17, they may be faced with a near dictator as member of NATO, and with a pro-Islam and anti-EU agenda.

Erdogan is done winning in Europe, and it was even only ever for his home audience to begin with. His biggest gains in votes -and he looks to be 48%-52% behind right now- will have to come from the war theater, where he pretends to fight ISIS only to send his army to kill the Kurds. It would be a good thing if besides Putin there were a few other powers to tell him that’s a no-go. Donald?! Turkey will never beat the Kurds, it’s just an endless bloody battle. Time to make Kurdistan a nation, one way or the other.

It all sort of fits in with the whole political picture these days, doesn’t it? And with Ceasar and the Ides of March.

 

 

Feb 112017
 
 February 11, 2017  Posted by at 4:28 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Outrageous Malevolence


Henri Cartier Bresson Salamanca 1963

 

Earlier this week I was talking in Athens to a guy from Holland, who incidentally with a group of friends runs a great project on Lesbos taking care of some 1000 refugees in one of the camps there. But that’s another topic for another day. I was wondering in our conversation how it is possible that, as we both painfully acknowledged, people in Holland and Germany don’t know what has really happened in the Greek debt crisis. Or, rather, don’t know how it started.

That certainly is a big ugly stain on their media. And it threatens to lead to things even uglier than what we’ve seen so far. People there in Northern Europe really think the Greeks are taking them for a ride, that the hard-working and saving Dutch and Germans pay through the teeth for Greek extravaganza. It’s all one big lie, but one that suits the local politicians just fine.

By accident(?!), I saw two different references to what really happened, both yesterday in the UK press. So let’s reiterate this one more time, and hope that perhaps this time someone in Berlin or Amsterdam picks it up and does something with it. There must be a few actual journalists left?! Or just ‘ordinary’ people curious enough, and with some intact active neurons, to go check if their politicians are not perhaps lying to them as much as their peers are all over the planet.

What I’m talking about in this instance is the first Greek bailout in 2010. While there are still discussions about the question whether the Greek deficit was artificially inflated by the country’s own statisticians, in order to force the bailout down the throats of the then government led by George Papandreou, there are far fewer doubts that the EU set up Greece for a major league fall just because it could, and because Dutch, French, German politicians could use that fall for their own benefit.

The reason to do all this would have been -should we say ostensibly or allegedly?-, to get Greece in a situation where the Germans and the French could abuse the emergency they themselves thus created, to transfer the Greece-related bad debts of their banks to the EU public at large, and subsequently to the Greek public, instead of forcing the banks to write these debts down. That is still the core of the Greek problem to this day. It’s also the core problem with the IMF’s involvement: the fund’s statutes prescribe it should have insisted on writedowns long ago, from the very first moment it got involved.

The bailout, as Yanis Varoufakis repeats below, was not -and never- meant to help Greece. Instead, it was meant to do the exact opposite, to enable Europe’s richer countries -and their banks- to escape the only just punishment for reckless lending practices, by unloading their debt onto the Greek people.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis [..] said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”.

The Financial Times, in a rare moment of lucidity, and with an unintentionally hilarious headline, puts its fingers on that same issue, as well as a few additional sore spots, and with admirable vengeance and clarity:

Conflict Over Athens’ Surplus Needles The IMF

This week the enduring problem of Greece took a new and disturbing turn. It was revealed that the executive board of the IMF is split on the question of what fiscal surplus Greece should be required to hit — which in itself will affect whether it needs official debt relief to reach sustainable growth.

[..] the fact that the fund admitted a division between its member countries is significant. European nations are over-represented on the board relative to their size in the global economy. Wielding that power to dissuade the fund from demanding debt relief from eurozone governments is a clear conflict of interest and poses a threat to the fund’s credibility and independence.

[..] The fund, which over the years has come to take a more realistic view of Greece’s debt sustainability, has dug its heels in and said it will not continue to participate without further reductions in the burden. This leaves eurozone countries, particularly Germany, in a quandary. Berlin insists it will not continue with the rescue without the involvement of the IMF but it fiercely opposes the debt writedown that the fund is demanding.

The point at issue is the fiscal surplus Greece is required to hit. The IMF says that reaching and maintaining a primary surplus of 1.5% of gross domestic product is sufficient; the eurozone wants an improbable 3.5%. [..] The European directors on the board, who want the IMF to agree to the higher fiscal surplus number, are undoubtedly conflicted by having an eye on the effect on their own governments having to write down debt.

Forthcoming elections in the eurozone, including Germany and France, mean that the political as well as economic cost of being seen to give in to Greece is considerable.

Greece’s own government has also been shaken by the conflict, and through its intransigence, the eurozone may force yet another change of administration, with the Syriza government being replaced by the centre-right opposition. At the margin, that may result in Greece being offered a slightly better deal than under the current administration. But short-term political manoeuvring is a terrible way to try to set Greece on a path to long-term debt sustainability and economic stability.

Right from the beginning of the Greek crisis in 2010, the political need to shield first their banks and investors, and then their taxpayers, has warped the response of eurozone governments. They have consistently signed up to hugely over-optimistic growth and surplus targets rather than accepting the need for more external finance and, if required, debt writedowns.

The rest of the IMF’s membership should be prepared to overrule the recalcitrant Europeans. The complaints of a self-interested cabal cannot be allowed to get in the way of Greece’s best interests. Eurozone governments have behaved poorly on this issue. They deserve to be defeated.

First of all, to put Greece and ‘sustainable growth’ together in one sentence is as preposterous as it is to do the same with Greece and ‘surplus’. But more importantly, the FT is right in just about every word here. Europe de facto decides what the IMF does. So despite all the recent conflicts between the Troika members (though they reportedly just announced they agreed on what to dictate to Greece over the weekend), it’s really all EU (i.e. Germany, France) all the time. Greece never stood a chance, and neither did justice.

The point about upcoming elections in Holland, France and Germany gets more important by the day. Since former EU parliament chief Martin Schulz left that post to head the ‘socialist’ SPD in Germany’s elections, he’s seen his poll numbers soar so much that Merkel and Schaeuble are getting seriously nervous about their chances of re-election. Like in all countries these days, certainly also in Europe, their knee-jerk reaction is to pull further to the right. Which is the opposite of setting the record straight with regards to.

As for Dijsselbloem, Schaeuble’s counterpart as finance minister for Holland, his Labor Party (PVDA) -yes, that twit claims to be a leftie- is down so much in the polls that you have to wonder where he gets the guts -let alone the authority- to even open his mouth. PVDA has 38 seats in the Dutch parliament right now and are predicted to lose 27 of them and have just 11 left after the March 15 vote, taking them from 2nd largest party to 7th largest. And out of power.

And he still heads the eurogroup, including in the negotiations with Greece and the IMF?! It’s a strange world. Dijsselbloem proudly proclaimed this week that without the IMF being involved in the next bailout, Holland wouldn’t ‘give’ Greece another penny anymore. Think Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble don’t know what happened in 2010? Of course they do. They know better than anyone.

It’s simply better for their careers -or so they think- to further impoverish the entire Greek nation and the poorest of its citizens than it is to come clean, to tell their people the whole story has been based on dirty tricks from the start. And since their media refuse to tell the truth, too, the story will last until at least after their respective elections. Thing is, Dijsselbloem will be out of a political job by March 16, so what’s he doing, setting himself up for a juicy job at one of the banks whose debts were transferred to Greek pensioners in 2010? No conscience?

 

Perhaps Greece’s best hope is, of all people, Donald Trump. Yeah, a long shot if ever you saw one. But Trump can overrule the IMF board simply because the US is the biggest party involved in the fund. He can tell that divided board to get its act together and stop harassing a valuable NATO member. At least he has the business sense to understand that a country with 23% unemployment -and that’s just the official number- and 50-60% youth unemployment cannot recover no matter what happens, and that sustainable growth, any kind of growth, is an impossibility once you take people’s spending power away.

Meanwhile, elite and incumbent Europe seems to think that publicly agitating against Trump is the way to go (they may come to regret that stance, and a stance it all it is). Trump’s apparent choice for EU ambassador, economist Ted Malloch, was accused by European Parliament hotshots Weber and Verhofstadt -in a letter, no less- of “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”, for saying the Union needs ‘a little taming’. For some reason, they don’t seem to like that kind of thing. “Outrageous malevolence”, we’re talking Nobel literature material here.

Malloch also said EU president Juncker was a “very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg.” And that he “should go back and do that again.” And Malloch said on Greek TV this week that Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro.”

Why would he say that? How about because of the numbers in this by now infamous graph, straight out of the IMF itself, which shows EU countries have conspired to plunge one of their fellow “Union” member states into a situation far worse than the US was in during the Great Depression? Would that do it?

 

 

And we haven’t even touched on the role that Goldman Sachs plays in the entire kerfuffle, with its fake loans and derivatives, yet another sordid tale in this Cruella De Vil web of power plays spun by incompetent petty men. And Americans think they got it bad… Guess that Goldman role makes it less likely for Trump to interfere in Greece’s favor. Which would seem a bad idea, for everyone involved, not least of all because of rising tensions with Turkey over islands and islets and rocks (I kid you not) in the Aegean Sea.

It would be much better and safer for Trump, and for all of Europe, to make sure Greece is a strong nation, not a depressed and demoralized penal colony for homeless and refugees. That is asking for even more trouble. But nary a soul seems to be tuned in to that, it’s all narrow windows, short term concerns and upcoming elections. No vision.

Or perhaps Merkel will do something unexpected. Word has it that Greek finance minister Tsakalotos is meeting with Angela this weekend, a move that would seem to bypass Schaeuble, who once again said yesterday that Greece can only get a debt writedown if it leaves the eurozone. And that’s something Merkel is not exactly keen on. If only because it means unpredictability, volatility, not a great thing if your popularity as leader is already on shaky ground.

But to summarize, the Greek people didn’t do this. Of course plenty of Greek citizens borrowed more money than they should have in the first decade of the millenium, stories about credit cards in people’s mailboxes with a ‘free’ €5000 credit on them are well known in Athens. But they were by no means the ones who profited most. And the country has a long history of corruption and tax evasion. Which is what the French and German banks ‘cleverly’ played into as their politicians acted like they had no idea. Still, none of that comes even close to a reason or an excuse for completely eviscerating a fellow member of both the EU and NATO.

And it makes little sense. Do these people really want to risk peace in the eastern Mediterranean, or inside Greece itself (which will inevitably explode if this continues), just in order to keep Commerzbank or BNP Paribas out of the trouble they rightfully deserve to be in?

No, it’s not Tim Malloch’s ‘statements that reveal’ “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”. It’s the actions of the European Union itself that do.

May 052015
 
 May 5, 2015  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Row houses, Baltimore 1940

Liquidity Drought Could Spark Market Bloodbath, Warns IIF (Telegraph)
“Nor Any Drop To Drink,” Citi Maps The Liquidity Paradox (Zero Hedge)
Economic Policy Turned Inside Out (Stephen Roach)
Most Greeks Want Euro Even With New Bailout Deal (Kathimerini)
Deal Or No Deal, Greece Still Faces Bankruptcy (CNBC)
France’s Far-Right Leader: EU Is Mocking Greece (CNBC)
IMF Takes Hard Line On Aid As Greek Surplus Turns To Deficit (FT)
Pension, Labor Disputes Dog Greek Talks As Cash Dwindles (Reuters)
Greece Vows To Pay Debts As It Awaits Handout From Creditors (Guardian)
Pressure Grows In Greek Talks (Kathimerini)
Greek Talks Drag On as New EU Data Set to Underscore Crisis (Bloomberg)
Juncker: If Greece Leaves, Anglo-Saxons Will Try To Break Up Eurozone (EurActiv)
Greece Plan Health Booklets For The Uninsured (Kathimerini)
China’s Crazy Stock Market, Charted (Bloomberg)
ECB Said to Consider Delegating Powers to Ease Oversight Burden (Bloomberg)
Australia Cuts Benchmark Interest Rate to Record Low 2% (AP)
All The British Parties Are Eurosceptic Now (Münchau)
Russell Brand Has Endorsed Labour – And The Tories Should Be Worried (Guardian)
Intelligence Scandal Puts Merkel in a Tight Place (Spiegel)
Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn (Thad Beversdorf)
Fukushima’s “Caldrons of Hell”: 300 Tons of Highly Radioactive Water Daily (GR)
The Other Royal Baby Was Born on the High Seas (Daily Beast)

“Once you bring the rapid change in major benchmark prices and a change in the architecture of the global financial system together, you could end up with outcomes that are pretty painful, and certainly unknowable.”

Liquidity Drought Could Spark Market Bloodbath, Warns IIF (Telegraph)

Investors face a “painful” adjustment in a world of evaporating liquidity and higher US interest rates that will trigger huge market swings with potentially catastrophic consequences, the Institute of International Finance has warned. Timothy Adams, the chief executive of the IIF, which represents the world’s biggest banks, described liquidity as the “top issue” at high level meetings of central bankers, chief executives and other financial institutions. He warned that the raft of regulation introduced in the wake of the 2008 crisis could potentially cause market gyrations larger than last October’s “flash crash” in US Treasuries. While Mr Adams supports tougher rules that have made the banks more resilient, he said a complex web of regulatory reform may have left banks less able to respond to the next crisis.

“There’s just less capacity for making markets,” he said. “Officials will say: we expect some volatility and this was part of this broader scheme of regulatory reform. But for the private sector there is this issue of: is the total effect of all of these various regulatory changes likely to produce outcomes larger than each individual regulatory reform and its consequences? “The cumulative unintended could end up being much larger than the one-off intended – we just don’t know.” Market liquidity, or the ease with which an investor can quickly buy or sell a security without moving its price, has evolved since the financial crisis. Investment banks, which traditionally supported liquidity in times of stress, have been shrinking their activities. Corporate bond inventories have fallen by 75pc in the US and 50pc in Europe since 2007, according to IIF data.

While much of this has been driven by banks unwinding large credit books, regulation has also discouraged them from holding large quantities of bonds that could help cushion violent swings in prices. Mr Adams said a “dramatic revolution” of the players and risks of market making had also pushed risk “out into the shadows” of non-bank lending. “We’ve rewired and re-engineered the global financial regulatory system and as a result we’re having profound impacts on institutional arrangements. At the same time we’ve had this rapid change in benchmark prices such as a 50pc drop in the price of oil, a rapid change in the dollar and other exchange rates and another drop in commodity prices,” he said. “Once you bring the rapid change in major benchmark prices and a change in the architecture of the global financial system together, you could end up with outcomes that are pretty painful, and certainly unknowable.”

Read more …

“..the very same investors who are buying today seem deeply concerned about their ability to get out tomorrow”

“Nor Any Drop To Drink,” Citi Maps The Liquidity Paradox (Zero Hedge)

The lack of liquidity in corporate credit markets couldn’t come at a worse time. Yield-starved investors have been herded into corporate debt after central banks drove yields on risk-free assets into the ground, leaving market participants with little choice but to venture into IG and then into HY. Corporations have been more than happy to oblige by issuing record amounts of debt (the proceeds from which are plowed into buybacks) at what, to management teams, seem like bargain-basement borrowing costs, but what to investors look like great income-generating opportunities compared to the growing number of government bonds that actually have a negative carry. And so, with the entire financial universe suddenly fixated on liquidity (or a lack thereof), we bring you the following from Citi’s Matt King:

From the BIS to BlackRock, and Jamie Dimon to Jose Vinals, everyone seems to be talking about market liquidity. Chiefly they seem to be fretting about a lack of it. Primary markets might be wide open, thanks in large part to the largesse of central banks, but the very same investors who are buying today seem deeply concerned about their ability to get out tomorrow… We take issue with the widespread notion that the problem is solely due to regulators having raised the cost of dealer balance sheet, and could be ameliorated if only there were greater investment in e-trading or a rise in non-dealer-to-non-dealer activity.

To be sure, we see the growth in regulation – leverage ratio and net stable funding ratio (NSFR) in particular – as one of the main reasons why rates markets are now starting to be afflicted, and indeed we expect further declines in repo volumes to add to such pressures. But illiquidity is a growing concern even in markets like equities and FX, which use barely any balance sheet at all, and where e-trading is the already the norm rather than the exception. Instead, we argue that in addition to bank regulations, there is a broad-based problem insofar as the investor base across markets has developed a greater tendency to crowd into the same trades, to be the same way round at the same time.

This “herding” effect leads to markets which trend strongly, often with low day-to-day volatility, but are prone to air pockets, and ultimately to abrupt corrections. E-trading if anything reinforces this tendency, by creating the illusion of lliquidity which evaporates under stress. To date, the air pockets and flash crashes represent little more than a curiosity, having mostly been resolved very quickly, and having had little or no obvious feed-through to longer-term market dynamics, never mind to the real economy.

But we think ignoring them would be a mistake. Each has occurred against a largely benign economic backdrop, with little by way of a fundamental driver. And yet with each one, investors’ nervousness about the risk of illiquidity is likely to have been reinforced. When the time comes that investors do see a fundamental reason all to sell – most obviously because they start to doubt the extent of central banks’ support – their desire to be first through the exit is liable to be even greater.

Read more …

“Despite the abject failure of Japan’s approach, the rest of the world remains committed to using monetary policy to cure structural ailments.”

Economic Policy Turned Inside Out (Stephen Roach)

The world economy is in the grips of a dangerous delusion. As the great boom that began in the 1990s gave way to an even greater bust, policymakers resorted to the timeworn tricks of financial engineering in an effort to recapture the magic. In doing so, they turned an unbalanced global economy into the Petri dish of the greatest experiment in the modern history of economic policy. They were convinced that it was a controlled experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The rise and fall of post-World War II Japan heralded what was to come. The growth miracle of an ascendant Japanese economy was premised on an unsustainable suppression of the yen. When Europe and the United States challenged this mercantilist approach with the 1985 Plaza Accord, the Bank of Japan countered with aggressive monetary easing that fueled massive asset and credit bubbles.

The rest is history. The bubbles burst, quickly bringing down Japan’s unbalanced economy. With productivity having deteriorated considerably – a symptom that had been obscured by the bubbles – Japan was unable to engineer a meaningful recovery. In fact, it still struggles with imbalances today, owing to its inability or unwillingness to embrace badly needed structural reforms – the so-called “third arrow” of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic recovery strategy, known as “Abenomics.” Despite the abject failure of Japan’s approach, the rest of the world remains committed to using monetary policy to cure structural ailments. The die was cast in the form of a seminal 2002 paper by US Federal Reserve staff economists, which became the blueprint for America’s macroeconomic stabilization policy under Fed Chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke.

The paper’s central premise was that Japan’s monetary and fiscal authorities had erred mainly by acting too timidly. Bubbles and structural imbalances were not seen as the problem. Instead, the paper’s authors argued that Japan’s “lost decades” of anemic growth and deflation could have been avoided had policymakers shifted to stimulus more quickly and with far greater force.

Read more …

They’ve voted without realizing the consequences.

Most Greeks Want Euro Even With New Bailout Deal (Kathimerini)

The majority of Greeks want the country to stay in the eurozone should ongoing negotiations with foreign creditors fail, even if that means signing a new bailout deal, a new survey has found. Asked whether they want to keep the euro or return to the drachma, 66.5% said they preferred the common currency over 27% who would prefer a return to the nation’s old currency. A smaller majority, 55.5% over 35%, were in favor of euro membership if that entailed signing up to a new memorandum. The opinion poll by the research institute of the University of Macedonia was commissioned by Skai TV.

The survey also featured a breakdown by political party of those in favor of euro membership: 53.5% of SYRIZA voters want in, compared to 92.5 of New Democracy, 100% of To Potami and PASOK, 36.5 of Independent Greeks and 27.5% of Communist Party (KKE). Golden Dawn voters were evenly split, the poll said. On the prospect of a new memorandum as a prerequisite for euro membership, support among SYRIZA voters fell to 34 voters compared to 58% who would rather return to the drachma. Backing was at 95.5 among ND voters, 90 for PASOK, 83.5 for To Potami, 37.5 for Independent Greeks, 6 for KKE and 58.5 for GD.

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“I might not be right this year, but ultimately Greece will have to default..”

Deal Or No Deal, Greece Still Faces Bankruptcy (CNBC)

Despite hopes that Greece and its lenders will come to some agreement in May, not everyone is convinced that a deal – which could unleash a last tranche of much-needed bailout aid – can resolve the country’s looming debt problem. Talks over reforms Greece has to make in return for aid continued this weekend after months of wrangling which have led to growing fears that the country could default, or even exit the euro zone – a scenario dubbed a “Grexit.” “I think the end of the road is still bankruptcy for Greece,” Steen Jakobsen, chief economist at Saxo Bank, told CNBC Monday. “Whether it becomes a Grexit is a different story but I think they’re just playing for time.” He added that the Greek problem likely had two solutions.

“(Firstly) by defaulting, which I think will happen in the bankruptcy case. Or you can grow yourself out of it,” Jakobsen said. “But in no shape or form is Greece willing or able to enact a program that is going to set growth in motion.” The comments come after several days of technical talks between Greece and the so-called Brussels Group, made up of the bodies overseeing Greece’s bailout program, the IMF, ECB and European Commission. On Monday, Greece’s Labour Minister Panos Skourletis told Mega TV that the country had chosen to meet its debt payments and reach an agreement with its lenders, Reuters reported. An agreement with lenders on reforms could see Greece receive a vital last tranche of bailout aid worth €7.2 billion that it desperately needs to make loan repayments to the IMF and ECB in the next few months.

The next key date for Greece and its lenders is the Eurogroup meeting of euro zone finance ministers on May 11, and Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipas hopes a deal can be reached by then. But comments by Labour Minister Skourletis reflected the stumbling blocks between Greece and its lenders over reforms. He said the IMF was unyielding on its demands for labour reforms, including pensions cuts, mass layoffs and resisting a plan by the leftist-led government to raise the minimum wage, Reuters reported. The Greek government, led by the leftist Syriza party, wants to relax austerity measures to ease financial pressure on the public, but its lenders insist that it must cut spending and adhere to austerity measures.

As discussions drag on, time is running out. Greece has a loan repayment of €744 million due to the IMF on May 12 and more repayments totaling over €1 billion in June. Against this backdrop of pressing repayments, Jakobsen said he believed that Greece would still have to default. “I might not be right this year, but ultimately Greece will have to default because the burden on the economy and corporations in Greece is so large that it’s impossible to sustain without deep-rooted reform, which certainly Syriza is not standing for,” he said.

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“..the euro and austerity are indissolubly linked..”

France’s Far-Right Leader: EU Is Mocking Greece (CNBC)

France’s far-right Front National party leader, Marine Le Pen, has said that the tense talks over the debt deal with Greece has revealed the “real face” of European Union which has “brushed aside” the wishes of the Greek people. Le Pen, who described herself as a “ferocious” opponent to the EU, described the group as a “Euro dictatorship” and insisted that it was up to the Greek government to take responsibility of its future. “I think that Greece, by saying that it will not quit the euro, in reality it’s making promises that it cannot keep. For the simple reason that the euro and austerity are indissolubly linked,” Le Pen told CNBC.

Greece has been in talks with its euro zone creditors for months, as the country is running out of cash and needs a last tranche of bailout aid in order to meet debt repayments and to pay its domestic wages and pension bill this month. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reshuffled the team which is handling its fraught bailout negotiations, widely seen as a way to push outspoken Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to the sidelines. “It (the EU) mocks and brushes aside the popular wish expressed in the Greek elections and it seeks to impose a policy of austerity, the continuity of policy of austerity which the Greek people no longer want. And confronted with the choice, who will win? Democracy or Euro-Dictatorship? It’s up to the Greek government to take up its responsibilities,” she said.

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Just two weeks ago, the IMF was playing the good cop part.

IMF Takes Hard Line On Aid As Greek Surplus Turns To Deficit (FT)

Greece is so far off course on its $172bn bailout programme that it faces losing vital International Monetary Fund support unless European lenders write off significant amounts of its sovereign debt, the fund has warned Athens’ eurozone creditors. The warning, delivered to eurozone finance ministers by Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European department, raises the prospect that it may hold back its portion of a €7.2bn tranche of bailout aid that Greece is desperately attempting to secure to avoid bankruptcy. Half of the €7.2bn, which is the subject of intense negotiations between Athens and its creditors in Brussels-based talks that resumed on Monday, is due to come from the IMF. Without the funds, Greece is expected to run out of cash this month.

Eurozone creditors, who hold the vast bulk of Greek debt, are adamantly opposed to debt relief. But IMF support is crucial both for its funds and to sustain political backing for the Greece bailout, particularly in Germany. According to two officials present at a contentious meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Riga last month, Mr Thomsen said initial data the IMF had received from Greek authorities showed Athens was on track to run a primary budget deficit of as much as 1.5% of gross domestic product this year.
Under existing bailout targets, Athens was supposed to run a primary surplus — government receipts net of spending, excluding interest payments on sovereign debt — of 3% of GDP in 2015.

With the large surplus now turning into a sizeable deficit, Greece’s debt levels would begin to spike again. This would force either Athens to take drastic austerity measures or eurozone bailout lenders to agree to debt write-offs to get Athens’ debt back on a sustainable path, the IMF believes. Officials said Mr Thomsen specifically mentioned the need for debt relief during the three-hour meeting. “The IMF thinks the gap between the two realities is very large right now,” said one senior official involved in the talks. He noted that both Athens, which was resisting new economic reforms, and eurozone creditors would probably fight the IMF on the issue.

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“The IMF is the most inflexible side … the most extreme voices of the Brussels Group..”

Pension, Labor Disputes Dog Greek Talks As Cash Dwindles (Reuters)

Wide differences over pension and labor reforms continued to dog intensive negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international creditors despite progress in other areas as the country’s cash position becomes increasingly critical. Government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis sounded the alarm on Monday, saying that while Athens intended to meet all its payment obligations, including nearly 1 billion euros to the IMF in May, it needed fresh funds before the end of the month. “Liquidity is a pressing issue,” Sakellaridis told a news conference. “The Greek government is not waiting until the end of May for a liquidity injection. It expects this liquidity to be offered to the Greek economy as soon as possible.”

Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said the IMF, Greece’s second biggest creditor after euro zone governments, was insisting on tough policy conditions for an interim deal to unlock frozen bailout aid. The global lender was unyielding in demands for pensions cuts, rules to ease mass layoffs of private sector workers and opposition to a government plan to raise the minimum wage, Skourletis told Mega TV. “They are asking us to not touch anything (of the austerity measures) that have ruined Greek people’s lives in the last five years,” he said. “The IMF is the most inflexible side … the most extreme voices of the Brussels Group,” the minister said. “But there are also calmer voices.” Greece faces repayments to the IMF totaling 970 million euros by May 12. It has been borrowing from municipalities and government entities to meet obligations.

Intensive talks on an interim deal between a reshuffled Greek negotiating team and representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, renamed the “Brussels Group”, have been under way since last Thursday. A European Commission spokesman said the negotiators worked through the weekend. Talks were “constructive” but work remains, he said, declining to give details. The aim is to achieve a technical-level accord that would enable euro zone finance ministers to declare when they meet on May 11 that there is a prospect of concluding the bailout review successfully. That could give the ECB grounds to permit Greek banks to buy more short-term treasury bills, easing the government’s cash crunch.

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A very suggestive headline from the Guardian.

Greece Vows To Pay Debts As It Awaits Handout From Creditors (Guardian)

Greece has vowed to honour heavy debt repayments over the coming weeks but says it is counting on international creditors to release billions of euros in rescue funds before the end of the month as crisis talks between the two sides grind on. But as the European commission described discussions over the long weekend as constructive, albeit with more work to be done, one Greek minister criticised the International Monetary Fund’s “extreme” demands for austerity cuts. Greece’s creditors are demanding reforms in exchange for bailout money, but the government of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, recently elected on an anti-austerity ticket, has said it will resist significant changes to pensions or the labour market.

On Monday, the Greek labour minister, Panos Skourletis, singled out the IMF as “inflexible” and “extreme”, saying the creditor was demanding pension cuts and opposing a government plan to raise the minimum wage. “They are asking us to not touch anything [of the austerity measures] that have ruined Greek people’s lives in the last five years,” Skourletis told Mega TV. “The IMF is the most inflexible side … the most extreme voices of the Brussels group” of creditors, he said. “But there are also calmer voices.” Greece owes money to the Brussels Group – the IMF, European commission and ECB – following its two bailouts in 2010 and 2012.

A further €7.2bn (£5.3bn) in bailout money is still to be paid out and fears are growing that without it Greece will default on its debts, potentially precipitating the country’s exit from the euro. The most pressing of its obligations are payments to the IMF totalling almost €1bn by 12 May. But Skourletis tried to sound a note of reassurance that payments would be met. “The country has chosen to pay its obligations and reach an agreement [with lenders]. We are trying to have the money,” he said.

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The IMF wants Europe to provide debt relief. And get paid in full itself.

Pressure Grows In Greek Talks (Kathimerini)

As negotiations continue at the technical level in Brussels, Greek government officials have significant meetings planned on Tuesday in European capitals in a bid to tackle the country’s looming cash crunch even as the IMF raises the pressure. The IMF reportedly suggested that it would pull out of Greece’s loan program if steps are not taken to lighten the country’s huge debt burden. Of the €7.2 billion installment in pending aid that Greece has been seeking to secure from creditors, €3.5 billion is an IMF tranche. A report in Monday’s Financial Times said that IMF official Poul Thomsen warned eurozone finance ministers at a summit in Riga last month that Greece would post a primary deficit of up to 1.5% of gross domestic product.

This contrasts sharply with a target set by creditors of 3% of GDP which Greece wants to reduce to 1.5% of GDP. Billions of euros in measures would be required to plug the gap. But, according to the report, Thomsen underlined the need for debt relief. Shortly after reports that the IMF has upped the pressure in debt talks, Tsipras “discussed matters relating to the current negotiations” with the Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde, his office said. The development comes as Greece aims to seek a liquidity boost from another of its creditors, the European Central Bank. Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis is to meet with ECB President Mario Draghi in Frankfurt on Tuesday afternoon along with Euclid Tsakalotos, the alternate foreign minister who has been tasked with “coordinating” Greece’s negotiating team.

The visit comes just a day before the ECB’s governing council is to decide on whether to extend more emergency liquidity to Greece even as speculation mounts that the ECB will up pressure on Greece by increasing the haircut on collateral that is accepted in exchange for funding. Athens has a much more optimistic plan in mind: It aims to push the ECB to raise the ceiling on the amount of treasury bills Greece is allowed to issue. As Dragasakis and Tsakalotos meet with Draghi in Frankfurt, Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is due in Paris Tuesday morning for talks with his French counterpart Michel Sapin. He is then to fly to Brussels for talks with European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

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“.. it also provides Greece with some bargaining power when they negotiate the primary surplus for this year and next.”

Greek Talks Drag On as New EU Data Set to Underscore Crisis (Bloomberg)

Greece’s talks with international creditors dragged on as the European Commission prepares new forecasts that are expected to underscore the scale of the crisis facing the country’s government. While officials on all sides have reported progress, six days of talks have yet to provide the breakthrough Greece needs to guarantee the flow of liquidity to its banks. The prolonged cash squeeze is threatening the country’s fragile recovery, with a person familiar with the talks saying that the Commission is likely to slash its growth and budget estimates when it releases new figures on Tuesday. The fiscal noose is tightening after weeks of brinkmanship and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras needs to show European officials that he’s willing to find a compromise if he’s to head off the risk of capital controls.

At the same time, the weakening economic outlook may give his negotiating team more leeway to argue that Greece can’t meet the budget targets demanded by its creditors. “Greek economic conditions are deteriorating quite fast,” said Frederik Ducrozet at Credit Agricole in Paris. “It’s negative in terms of the fiscal revenues and the backdrop for the negotiations. But it also provides Greece with some bargaining power when they negotiate the primary surplus for this year and next.” In a sign that leaders are stepping up the drive for an agreement, Greek Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis will meet ECB President Mario Draghi in Frankfurt on Tuesday. In Paris, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will have a meeting with his French counterpart Michel Sapin.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker dismissed the notion of a Greek exit from the euro and said Tsipras had to take into account the other countries in the currency. “Grexit isn’t an option,” Juncker said in a televised speech in Leuven, Belgium. In February, the Commission forecast economic growth of 2.5% this year and a primary budget surplus at 4.8% of gross domestic product. Greece argues that such a surplus target is unachievable and says a goal of 1.5% is more realistic. Greece’s banks need some signs of progress in the Brussels talks, as the ECB keeps the liquidity they need for survival on a tight leash. A breakdown could prompt the ECB to raise the haircut it demands on Greek collateral as soon as May 6, a decision which would risk pushing the country further toward financial chaos.

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What a douche: “..the government of Mr. Samaras was doing the right things, [and] those who were contesting these right things won the elections..” ‘Right things’=misery.

Juncker: If Greece Leaves, Anglo-Saxons Will Try To Break Up Eurozone (EurActiv)

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said that if Greece left the single currency area, the “Anglo-Saxon world” would try everything to break it up. Speaking at the Catholic University of Leuven on May 4, Juncker made it clear that a ‘Grexit’ was not an option, because it would be an existential threat to the 19-member economic and monetary union. Juncker, who chose French to deliver his 40-minute speech at the Flemish university, said: “The world wants to know which way we are going. We should make sure that everyone understands that the economic and monetary union is irreversible, that the euro is a currency that is here to stay, which is not going to be abolished or suspended. “

Juncker added that he had discussed the issue the same day with former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who was also present at the event. “Grexit is not an option. If Greece would accept it, if the others would accept it, that the country would exit the zone of security and prosperity constituted by the eurozone, we would be exposed to huge danger, because the Anglo-Saxon world would do everything to try to decompose, at a regular rhythm, by (the) sale, apartment by apartment, of the eurozone,” he said. Later, in the Q&A session, Juncker returned to the issue, speaking this time in English.

“We have to know that Greece was misbehaving in the past, that the government of Mr. Samaras was doing the right things, that those who were contesting these right things won the elections. Now they are confronted with their election promises, and we have to deal with that,” he said, referring of the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras. “My concern is not the Greek government. My concern is the Greek people. We don’t have the right to deal with the Greek people as if they were the neglected part of Europe. The Greek people have great dignity. This is a great nation, although being from time to time a weak state, and we have to show solidarity with the Greeks. And the [present] Greek government has to know that at the level of the eurozone, we have to deal with 19 democracies, not only with one, not only with Greek democracy,” he said.

One of the questions referred to the UK, and the push of the present government to renegotiate its status in the EU. “I want a fair deal with Britain, but Britain is not in a situation to impose its exclusive agenda to all the other member states of Europe”, Juncker said. “I’m a strong defender of the freedom of movement of workers”, he continued, alluding to the rhetoric against workers from the Eastern European countries in the UK . He added: “This is a basic principle of the EU laid down in the Treaty of Rome. So the British are kindly invited to present a list of their requests, we’ll take this under exam, with friendly attention, and then we will see. I don’t want Britain to leave the EU, but I don’t want the EU to follow an exclusive British commandership.”

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Hunger and healthcare. That’s the real Greek crisis.

Greece Plan Health Booklets For The Uninsured (Kathimerini)

Health Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis on Monday unveiled a plan aimed at helping some 2.5 million uninsured citizens gain access to free healthcare. Under Kouroublis’s plan, which is expected to be enforced by next month, millions of uninsured citizens will be able to apply for health booklets at Citizens’ Information Centers (KEPs). Greeks and immigrants who are legally resident in Greece will be eligible, as will children and pregnant women irrespective of their legal status. Apart from free access to medical assistance and drugs, uninsured patients will also be able to undergo health tests at state hospitals.

Alternate Administrative Reform Minister Giorgos Katrougalos, who also attended Monday’s press conference, said the new reform was a crucial one “that we have to do, whatever the cost.” Kouroublis said Greece’s crisis had created deep inequalities in society which a leftist government cannot accept. The government’s plan is to be put up for public consultation until May 11. Then, once the best of the proposed improvements have been applied, a biministerial decision will be signed, paving the way for the legislation to be implemented. Although existing Greek law allows uninsured citizens access to health services free of charge, many hospital units and public services interpret the legislation in varying ways and so the law is not always enforced.

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The bankrupt casino that buys the west.

China’s Crazy Stock Market, Charted (Bloomberg)

The Financial Times reports that every one of the 29 IPOs that took place in Shanghai and Shenzhen last month have risen by the daily limit each day since. Meanwhile, the Shanghai Composite Index is up a delirious 39% so far this year, while the CSI 300 Index has gained 35%. For many Chinese investors, that is some tantalizing price action. Openings of Chinese brokerage accounts have surged in recent months as has the take-up of margin accounts which offer investors the ability to borrow against their stock portfolios.

How high could the whole thing go, you ask? The Macquarie analysts estimate that, at an extreme, investors could borrow RMB 85.7 for every RMB 100 of collateral in their portfolios. That suggests the theoretical ability to increase margin finance loans from the current 1.7 trillion yuan to as much as 9.4 trillion yuan, or 461% higher than the current level. While it’s doubtful that would ever happen (banks, after all, do not have unlimited lending capacity and the government has already instituted some curbs on margin lending) even a moderate increase in margin borrowings could be meaningful. At 3.2% of total market cap, China’s margin debt has already eclipsed bubble-era Japan as well as pre-Asian Financial Crisis Korea.

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“The central bank nominally has a “strict separation” between supervisory and monetary-policy operations.”

ECB Said to Consider Delegating Powers to Ease Oversight Burden (Bloomberg)

The ECB is considering delegating more power to its supervisory arm to avoid monetary-policy makers becoming entangled in low-level details, said people familiar with the matter. Since assuming oversight of the euro area’s largest lenders in November, ECB officials have come to the conclusion that the legal requirement for each decision to be seen by the 25-member Governing Council isn’t sustainable, the people said, asking not to be named as the deliberations aren’t public. An ECB spokesman declined to comment. The discussions highlight the Frankfurt-based institution’s struggle to incorporate fresh responsibilities after 16 years of focusing on price stability. They may also provide ammunition to critics of the current set-up who want the Single Supervisory Mechanism to be split off entirely.

The SSM expects to take around 6,000 decisions a year across 19 countries on topics including capital plans and approval of bank management – all of which must pass through the Governing Council. One option being considered is ‘umbrella decisions’ that can cover multiple cases, two of the people said. Officials may make adjustments after a planned review of procedures due by the end of this year. The ECB was given responsibility for banking supervision by European Union leaders in 2012, as the first pillar of a Banking Union to mitigate future financial crises. Under the leadership of France’s Daniele Nouy, the SSM has aggressively pursued its mandate, scrutinizing bank balance sheets in an unprecedented review last year and pushing for higher capital levels.

Even so, the watchdog’s powers are effectively limited by the EU regulation written as the SSM was hastily constructed. That document must comply with Article 129 of the EU’s basic treaty, which states that the decision-making bodies of the ECB are the Governing Council and the Executive Board. It’s unlikely that the ECB will seek to change the treaty or even amend the SSM regulation, two of the people said. Instead, lawyers are examining how the rules can be adjusted to fit with existing laws, they said. SSM officials are anxious to avoid conflicts with the monetary-policy side of the ECB and have erred on the side of legal prudence with regard to the running of the institution, one of the people said. The central bank nominally has a “strict separation” between supervisory and monetary-policy operations.

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Not chasing the bottom is so yesterday.

Australia Cuts Benchmark Interest Rate to Record Low 2% (AP)

Australia’s central bank on Tuesday cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low of 2% in a bid to jolt the nation’s economy which is weighed by falling commodity prices and weakening demand from China. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s quarter percentage point rate cut was the first in three months. Before the last cut in February, the interest rate had been steady at 2.5% since August 2013. Economists largely anticipated the move, although some thought the bank would hold off until after the government released its budget next week for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Resource-rich Australia managed to avoid a recession during the global financial crisis thanks to a decade-long mining boom.

But with the economy weakening in China, which is Australia’s largest export market, prices for commodities such as iron ore and coal have dropped. RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said in a statement the global economy was expanding at a moderate pace, but commodity prices have declined over the past year, in some cases sharply. “Looking ahead, the key drag on private demand is likely to be weakness in business capital expenditure in both the mining and non-mining sectors over the coming year,” Stevens said. Public spending is also expected to be subdued. The economy was therefore likely to be operating with a degree of spare capacity for some time yet.

The central bank forecast inflation to remain within the target range of between 2 and 3% over the next one to two years, even with a lower exchange rate. “Low interest rates are acting to support borrowing and spending, and credit is recording moderate growth overall, with stronger lending to businesses of late,” Stevens said. The Australian dollar has declined sharply against a rising U.S. dollar over the past year, though less so against a basket of currencies. “Further depreciation seems both likely and necessary, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices,” Stevens said.

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Good!

All The British Parties Are Eurosceptic Now (Münchau)

The aftermath of the British elections is one of the most pressing issues on the minds of EU policy makers. It ranks some distance behind a breakdown of the Minsk II ceasefire agreement in Ukraine, but some way ahead of a sudden Greek exit from the eurozone. Yet British voters do not return these attentions. Astonishingly, given the importance of this Thursday’s elections for Britain’s future in the EU, Europe has played hardly any role in the debate. What I can predict with some degree of confidence is that the outcome of these elections will have a profound effect on Britain’s future membership of the EU. The trouble is that the effect is hard to calculate – no matter who wins. A British exit from the EU is possible under virtually any election outcome.

David Cameron has promised an in-out referendum in 2017 if the Conservative party wins. If, instead, the Tories form a coalition with the more pro-European Liberal Democrats, the odds of a referendum are less clear. It would depend on the outcome of coalition negotiations that have yet to take place. The Labour party is viewed as, on the whole, more pro-EU than the Conservatives. That is true, but misleading. Labour has not chosen to raise the EU as a central election issue either. Of the 83 pages of the Labour party’s manifesto, the EU occupies little more than a single page – on page 76. That section consists of a very odd compilation of statements and proposals. I get the sense that I am spending more time summarising them than they spent writing them.

The short passage asks for less austerity and more budget discipline at the same time. It wants a “red card mechanism” to allow national parliaments to veto EU legislation. The overarching goal is “to change the EU in the best interests of Britain” and “to protect our national interest”. There is no mention of the EU’s interest, something that the social democratic parties of continental Europe nowadays commit to as well. Naturally, Labour rules out joining the euro. If you were reading this without knowing anything about the party and its history, you might conclude that there was a greater degree of overlap between Labour’s manifesto and that of the National Front in France, than with centre-left parties elsewhere in the EU.

To a continental European, this reads like a profoundly eurosceptic programme. If you ask people in Britain and the rest of the EU whether they support reform of the EU, the majority would say yes. But they mean opposite things by these assertions. What Labour has in common with the Conservatives, but not with social democrats and socialists in continental Europe, is support for returning certain EU powers to national parliaments.

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Brand doesn’t remember Tony Blair.

Russell Brand Has Endorsed Labour – And The Tories Should Be Worried (Guardian)

He has nearly 10 million Twitter followers; his YouTube interview with Ed Miliband received well over a million hits and counting; he is listened to by hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Britons, particularly young people who have been repeatedly kicked over the last few years. Russell Brand matters. And however much bluff and bluster the Tories now pull – maybe more playground abuse from David Cameron, who called Brand a “joke” – his endorsement of Labour in England and Wales will worry them. More people have registered to vote than ever before: between the middle of March and the deadline to register, nearly 2.3 million registered, over 700,000 of them 24 years old or younger. In countless marginal seats, disillusioned voters who were either going to plump for a protest party or not vote at all could well decide whether we are ruled by David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith for another half a decade.

Naturally, Brand’s endorsement is being portrayed as a giant U-turn, and sure enough, he has abandoned his “no vote” stance. But Brand has been on a very public political journey, previously indicating his support for voting for Scottish independence and Syriza in Greece. He has been supportive of the Greens, and still calls on the people of Brighton Pavilion to return Caroline Lucas to parliament. And it isn’t quite as big a U-turn as you might think. Brand has thrown his support behind grassroots struggles, particularly over housing. He believes that change “comes from below, movements putting pressure on governments”, but if those in power are resolutely hostile, then there are limitations to what such pressure can achieve.

He’s not advocating a vote for Labour because he’s become a born-again Milibandite, but because he believes Labour are far more amenable to pressure than Tories who will happily shred the welfare state, the NHS, social housing and workers’ rights. When Ed Miliband met Brand, the comedian-cum-activist explained, he made it clear he “welcomes and wants pressure from below”. Brand is sometimes bizarrely portrayed as the cause of voter disengagement: obviously, it’s our political and media elites who are responsible for that. But actually he is a symptom. He achieved such traction because he summed up how millions of people already felt. He has won the ear of a section of the population that practically no other public figure has.

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She should resign over this.

Intelligence Scandal Puts Merkel in a Tight Place (Spiegel)

July 14, 2013 was an overcast day. The German chancellor was reclining in a red armchair across from two television hosts with the country’s primary public broadcaster. With Berlin’s Spree River flowing behind her, Angela Merkel gave her traditional summer television interview. The discussion focused in part on the unbridled drive of America’s NSA intelligence service to collect as much information as possible. Edward Snowden’s initial revelations had been published just one month earlier, but by the time of the interview, the chancellor had already dispatched her interior minister to Washington. Having taken action to confront the issue, Merkel was in high spirits. Merkel’s interviewers wanted to know exactly what data had been targeted in Germany.

Reports had been making the rounds, they reminded her, of “economic espionage.” Merkel sat quietly. “So, on that,” she said, “the German interior minister was clearly told that there is no industrial espionage against German companies.” Only a few hundred meters away from the red armchair, though, more was known. In Merkel’s Chancellery, staff had long been aware that the information provided by the United States wasn’t true. By 2010 at the latest, the Chancellery had received indications that the NSA had attempted to spy on European firms, including EADS, the European aerospace and defense company that is partly owned by German shareholders. They also knew that the Americans were seeking to join forces with Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), in their spying efforts.

It would be astonishing if Merkel herself had not known about these occurrences long before she sat down for the interview. Indeed, she would look even worse had she not known. Officially, the chancellor is in charge of oversight of foreign intelligence and Merkel has an entire department in the Chancellery responsible for formulating the BND’s assignments, managing them and, most importantly, keeping an eye on the agency. But the Chancellery wasn’t just sloppy in exercising this oversight. It failed completely. As such, the scandal surrounding NSA spying, and the evident cooperation between the BND and the NSA, is an affair for Chancellor Merkel, as well. An online report by SPIEGEL triggered the latest intelligence service scandal a week ago Thursday.

SPIEGEL reported that the NSA had made massive efforts to target and spy on German and European targets using BND facilities. Despite having had indications for years, the Chancellery had essentially done nothing to stop it. The scope of the affair became increasingly apparent over the past week. It now appears that the NSA, via its cooperation with the BND, didn’t just spy on companies, but also on politicians and institutions in Europe. The conclusion can be drawn from search criteria the Americans supplied to their German partners. The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office is now reviewing whether there is “initial evidence for a criminal offense that would fall under our jurisdiction.” Within the federal public prosecutor’s jurisdiction is the prosecution of crimes relating to espionage and treason.

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Thad can be wonderfully angry.

Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn (Thad Beversdorf)

I find it shocking how often I have people tell me the Constitution is out of date and is no longer relevant or necessary. Then there are the vast majority of people that think about the Constitution the same way they think about religion; it makes us feel good to believe in it and we’ll even worship it on a holiday or two. The reality is that those who seem to get very worked up to the point that they are willing to act in defense of the Constitution even against the highest levels of government make up a very small minority of Americans. This is a real problem. You see if people gave a damn the government couldn’t get away with negating the Constitution.

But the vast majority of people just don’t give a damn and so the government very easily provides ridiculous and false legal sounding arguments to explain away why they have become a higher law than the Constitution. Now I’ve tried to understand why it is that we Americans are so damn apathetic about everything the government and government officials do. Let me give a couple examples for which our apathy just boggles my mind. We know they took us into wars on false pretenses resulting in the wrongful deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and yet we’ve prosecuted no one.

Hell they’ve admitted to hacking into millions of our home webcams and downloading videos and pictures of us in our most private moments and maintaining those downloads on government servers and then sharing these files with foreign governments. But because today’s American is simply a shell of a citizen none of the criminal atrocities creates even a stir from us. Sure we all read about these atrocities and we are angered in the moment but it passes rather quickly and we fall back into our self induced ignorant bliss. Only two things can get Americans to formidably rise up. The first is a very direct and immediate impediment to our comfort. For example try cutting back on the monthly social welfare checks. You’ll have riots. The second way is if the mainstream media relentlessly instructs us to be upset about a particular issue. Outside of that there is absolutely nothing the new American won’t move past like water off a duck’s back.

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“The first thing I would do as Prime Minister is evacuate all the children that are in the contaminated areas.”

Fukushima’s “Caldrons of Hell”: 300 Tons of Highly Radioactive Water Daily (GR)

Yauemon Sato, the ninth-generation chief of a sake brewery operating here since 1790 [and president of electric power company Aizu Denryoku] likens the crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to “caldrons of hell.” In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Sato said the nuclear disaster “continues to recur every day”… Excerpts from the interview follow: Question: What drives you to be so active, including in the use of renewable energy?

Sato: You know the caldron of hell? You will be sent to hell and will be boiled in that caldron if you do evil. And there are four such caldrons in Fukushima… And the disaster has yet to end. It continues to recur every day. More than 300 tons of water, contaminated with intense levels of radioactive substances, are being generated every day… Hiroaki Koide, professor at Kyoto Univ. Research Reactor Institute (retired), Apr 24, 2015:

11:30 – The Prime Minister [said Fukushima] had been brought to a close. My reaction on hearing his words was, ‘Stop kidding.’ Reality is, though 4 years have passed, the accident has not yet been brought to a close at all.
15:15 – What is the situation within the core? How much has melted? Where is the fuel exactly? We do not know… This is an accident of a severity that cannot be imagined anywhere else… As you can see, we are facing a very, very difficult situation. The only choice that we have open to us is to somehow keep the situation from getting worse.
30:30 – We are in a very terrible situation, I would even call it a crisis.
55:30 – The Japanese government has issued a declaration that this is an emergency situation. As a result, normal laws do not have to be followed. What they are saying is that, in these very high radiation exposure level areas, they have basically abandoned people to live there. They’ve actually thrown them away to live there… The Cs-137 that’s fallen onto Japanese land in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, so much so that this area should all be put under the radiation control area designation [the Kanto region includes Tokyo and is home to over 40 million people].
1:01:00 – I really do want to impress upon you that the accident effects are continuing.
1:02:00 – Bahrain’s Ambassador to Japan: If you were the Prime Minister of Japan, what are you going to do with this very complicated situation?… Koide: When you have an emergency legally declared, regular laws are put on hold. What that means is people can be thrown away into areas where normally people should not be… The first thing I would do as Prime Minister is evacuate all the children that are in the contaminated areas.

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It would be good if the Windsors adopt that baby, set up a college fund etc. Who am I kidding?

The Other Royal Baby Was Born on the High Seas (Daily Beast)

She’s not a princess. We don’t even know her name. But the image of this child swaddled in a hazmat suit has brought tears of joy and pain to millions of Italians. Around the time Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, then in the early stages of labor, hopped into their armored Land Rover and headed to the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London on Saturday morning, another pregnant woman started her own journey towards motherhood. We know well the minute details of the royal princess’s birth; but we believe the second baby girl born over the weekend has a story worth telling, too. She was delivered onboard the Italian Navy’s patrol boat Bettica after her mother was rescued from a rubber dinghy with hundreds of other migrants several hours after they left the Libyan coastline.

The Italian Navy says the young mother was already in labor when smugglers forced her onto the rubber boat on the Libyan coast. In the absence of an easel or trumpet like the ones brought out for the royal princess, after the migrant baby girl was born the Italian Navy doctors swaddled her in a disposable hazmat suit (used to try to protect the wearer from dangerous chemicals and infections) and tweeted her picture as a sign of hope. The Italian press have dubbed her “rose petal.” We don’t yet know the migrant mother’s name, her nationality or why she felt that crossing the perilous Mediterranean Sea to Europe was worth such a risk for her and her unborn child. She arrived in Pozzallo, Sicily, on the Bettica on Monday along with 654 people who were saved from four sinking vessels over the weekend.

The mother will be processed and questioned, and both she and her infant daughter will be given basic medical care and a checkup before being moved to a refugee camp somewhere in Italy. If they are lucky, they will get to spend a few nights in a hospital. Unlike the Duchess of Cambridge who left St. Mary’s ten hours after giving birth, a hospital stay probably sounds like a luxury for the migrant mother after all she has been through. We don’t know if the baby’s father was with her, or if he was one of the ten men who died over the weekend during which 6,771 migrants were saved from the sea.

The migrant baby doesn’t have a name yet, either. But the Italian press have dubbed her “rose petal.” She is one of now thousands of babies and children who survived the crossing this year so far. Italy’s branch of Save The Children says there has been a 60% increase in minors and pregnant women arriving by sea over last year. Of course that means that of the estimated 1,750 people who have died making the deadly crossing since the beginning of the year, many are likely to be children and hopeful mothers, too.

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