May 022019
 


Bugatti Atlantic Coupé 1935

 

Julian Assange Legal Team Begin ‘Big Fight’ Over Extradition (G.)
US May Have To Stop Borrowing Later This Year – Treasury (R.)
From 2024, All US Debt Issuance Will Be Used To Pay For Interest On Debt (ZH)
Fed Sees No Strong Case For Hiking Or Cutting Rates (R.)
Venezuela and Binary Choice (Murray)
Nellie Ohr’s ‘Hi Honey’ Emails On Russia Collusion Should Alarm Us All (Hill)
Barr Cancels Second Day Of Testimony, Escalating Battle With US Congress (R.)
WSJ: Dems Vilifying Barr For ‘Acting Like A Real Attorney General’ (Hill)
737 Max Sensor Had Been Flagged Over 200 Times To FAA (CNN)
US Environment Agency Says Glyphosate Is Not A Carcinogen (R.)

 

 

Straight from the horse’s foul-smelling mouth, the Guardian. First judge called Assange a narcissist. This one says he cost taxpayers £16m. Judges in Britain are apparently not required to be objective. Here’s praying he’ll receive better treatment today.

Julian Assange Legal Team Begin ‘Big Fight’ Over Extradition (G.)

A struggle over the US request for Julian Assange’s extradition will open in court on Thursday morning, a day after the WikiLeaks founder was jailed for just under a year for breaching bail conditions to avoid being extradited to Sweden. Wednesday’s sentence was decried as an “outrage” by Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of the whistleblowing website, who said the hearing at Westminster magistrates court to oppose Assange’s extradition would be the start of the “big fight” – a process he said would be “a question of life and death for Mr Assange”. A judge largely rejected the mitigating factors put forward by lawyers for Assange – who took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has denied – and told the 47-year-old it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of the offence.

“You remained there for nearly seven years, exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country,” said Judge Deborah Taylor, as she sentenced him at Southwark crown court. “Your actions undoubtedly affected the progress of the Swedish proceedings. Even though you did cooperate initially, it was not for you to decide the nature or extent of your cooperation with the investigations. They could not be effectively progressed, and were discontinued, not least because you remained in the embassy.” Assange, who was arrested last month when Ecuador revoked his political asylum and invited Metropolitan police officers inside the country’s Knightsbridge diplomatic premises, had written a letter in which he expressed regret for his actions but claimed he had been left with no choice.

“I apologise unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I have pursued my case. This is not what I wanted or intended,” he said in the letter read out by his lawyer, Mark Summers QC. “I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances for which neither I nor those from whom I sought advice could work out any remedy. I did what I thought at the time was the best and perhaps the only thing that could be done – which I hoped might lead to a legal resolution being reached between Ecuador and Sweden that would protect me from the worst of my fears.”

Assange, wearing a black blazer and shorn of the beard worn when police carried him out of the embassy last month, was told by the judge that his continued residence there had cost £16m of taxpayers’ money “in ensuring that when you did leave, you were brought to justice”. “It is essential to the rule of law that nobody is above or beyond the reach of the law,” said the judge, who said Assange’s written apology was the first recognition that he regretted his actions.

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Don’t they say that all the time about twice a year?

US May Have To Stop Borrowing Later This Year – Treasury (R.)

The U.S. government will have to stop borrowing money between July and December if Washington doesn’t agree to raise a legal restriction on public debt, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday. Hitting that so-called “debt ceiling” could trigger a U.S. default on its debt and an immediate recession, a risk that has become a regular facet of U.S. politics over the last decade. The current debt limit was set in March. Treasury has been able to continue borrowing from investors by using accounting measures such as limiting government payments to public sector retirement funds.


“Treasury expects that the extraordinary measures will be exhausted sometime in the second half of 2019,” Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Smith said in a statement announcing the department’s quarterly debt issuance plans. Wall Street also sees Treasury exhausting its borrowing authority in the third or fourth quarter, according to the minutes of a meeting of a Treasury advisory committee of financiers. The debt ceiling is already affecting how the government funds itself. Issuance of Treasury bills – short-term debt – is expected to gradually decline over the second quarter due to debt ceiling constraints, Smith said.

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“..while we don’t know yet what the next reserve currency – either fiat, hard or digital – after the US dollar will be, we urge readers to own a whole lot of it.”

From 2024, All US Debt Issuance Will Be Used To Pay For Interest On Debt (ZH)

As part of today’s Treasury Presentation to the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, there is a chart showing the Office Of Debt Management’s forecast for annual US debt issuance, broken down between its three component uses of funds: Primary Deficit, Net Interest Expense, and “Other.” That chart is troubling because while in 2019 and 2020 surging US interest expense is roughly matched by the other deficit components in the US budget, these gradually taper off by 2024, and in fact in 2025 become a source of budget surplus (we won’t be holding our breath). But what is the real red flag is that starting in 2024, when the primary deficit drops to zero according to the latest projections, all US debt issuance will be used to fund the US net interest expense, which depending on the prevailing interest rate between now and then will be anywhere between $700 billion and $1.2 trillion or more.

In short: in the stylized cycle of the US “Minsky Moment”, the US will enter the penultimate, Ponzi Finance, phase – the one in which all the new debt issuance is used to fund only interest on the debt – some time around in 2024. From that point on, every incremental increase in interest rates, which will eventually happen simply due to rising inflation expectations, will merely accelerate the ponzi process, whereby even more debt is sold just to fund the rising interest on the debt, requiring even more debt issuance, and so on, until finally the “Minsky Moment” arrives. At that point, while we don’t know yet what the next reserve currency – either fiat, hard or digital – after the US dollar will be, we urge readers to own a whole lot of it.

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Get rid of the Fed or you will have no economy left. You already don’t have markets anymore, because the Fed became the market, and with the markets the economy will vanish too.

Fed Sees No Strong Case For Hiking Or Cutting Rates (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday held interest rates steady and signaled little appetite to adjust them any time soon, taking heart in continued job gains and economic growth and the likelihood that weak inflation will edge higher. “We think our policy stance is appropriate at the moment; we don’t see a strong case for moving it in either direction,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a press conference following the end of the central bank’s latest two-day policy meeting. Overall, he said, “I see us on a good path for this year.” Fed policymakers said ongoing economic growth, a strong labor market and an eventual rise in inflation were still “the most likely outcomes” as the U.S. expansion nears its 10-year mark.


“The labor market remains strong … economic activity rose at a solid rate” in recent weeks, the Fed said in a policy statement a day after President Donald Trump called on it to cut rates by a full percentage point and take other steps to stimulate the economy. The policy statement, and particularly Powell’s insistence the Fed saw no compelling reason to consider a rate cut in response to weak inflation, prompted a modest selloff in stock markets and pushed bond yields higher. The S&P 500 index fell 0.75 percent, its largest daily decline since mid-March. Interest rate futures also reversed direction, signaling a lower degree of confidence the next Fed move would be a rate cut, exactly the point Powell was driving at in a “stay-the-course” message, said analysts at Cornerstone Macro.

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“Juan Guaido has been groomed for 15 years as a long-term CIA project.”

Venezuela and Binary Choice (Murray)

When a CIA-backed military coup is attempted by a long term CIA puppet, roared on by John Bolton and backed with the offer of Blackwater mercenaries, in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, I have no difficulty whatsoever in knowing which side I am on. Juan Guaido has been groomed for 15 years as a long-term CIA project. His coup attempt yesterday, which so far appears to have stalled, was the culmination of these efforts to return Venezuela’s oil reserves to US hegemony.

It is strange how the urgent installation of liberal democracy by force correlates so often with oil reserves not aligned to the USA, as in Libya, Iraq or Venezuela, while countries with massive oil reserves which permit US military domination and align with the West and Israel can be as undemocratic as they wish, eg Saudi Arabia. Venezuela is an imperfect democracy but it is far, far more of a democracy than Saudi Arabia and with a much better human rights record. The hypocrisy of Western media and politicians is breathtaking.

Hypocrisy and irony are soulmates, and there are multiple levels of irony in seeing the “liberal” commentators who were cheering on an undisguised military coup, then complaining loudly that people are being injured or killed now their side is losing. Yesterday the MSM had no difficulty in calling the attempted coup what anybody with eyes and ears could see it plainly was, an attempted military coup. Today, miraculously, the MSM line is no coup attempt happened at all, it was just a spontaneous unarmed protest, and it is the evil government of Venezuela which attempts to portray it as a coup. BBC Breakfast this morning had the headline “President Maduro has accused the opposition of mounting a coup attempt”… Yet there is no doubt at all that, as a matter of plain fact, that is what happened.

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We’re going to have a civil war. But it won’t be civil.

Nellie Ohr’s ‘Hi Honey’ Emails On Russia Collusion Should Alarm Us All (Hill)

First came the text messages between FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which gave us a painful glimpse at potential political bias inside America’s most famous crime-fighting bureau. Now, a series of “Hi Honey” emails from Nellie Ohr to her high-ranking federal prosecutor husband and his colleagues raise the prospect that Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research was being funneled into the Justice Department during the 2016 election through a back-door marital channel. It’s a tale that raises questions of both conflict of interest and possible false testimony.

Ohr has admitted to Congress that, during the 2016 presidential election, she worked for Fusion GPS — the firm hired by Democratic nominee Clinton and the Democratic National Committee to perform political opposition research — on a project specifically trying to connect Donald Trump and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to Russian organized crime. Now, 339 pages of emails from her private account to Department of Justice (DOJ) email accounts, have been released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. And they are raising concerns among Republicans in Congress, who filed a criminal referral with the Justice Department on Wednesday night.

They clearly show that Ohr sent reams of open-source intelligence to her husband, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, and on some occasions to at least three DOJ prosecutors: Lisa Holtyn, Ivana Nizich and Joseph Wheatley. The contents tracked corruption developments in Russia and Ukraine, including intelligence affecting Russian figures she told Congress she had tried to connect to Trump or Manafort. “Hi Honey, if you ever get a moment you might find the penultimate article interesting — especially the summary in the final paragraph,” Nellie Ohr emailed her husband on July 6, 2016, in one typical communication. The article and paragraph she flagged suggested that Trump was a Putin stooge: “If Putin wanted to concoct the ideal candidate to service his purposes, his laboratory creation would look like Donald Trump.” Nellie Ohr bolded that key sentence for apparent emphasis.

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Still don’t get why they insist on lawyers asking their questions for them.

Barr Cancels Second Day Of Testimony, Escalating Battle With US Congress (R.)

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday canceled plans to testify before the House of Representatives about his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, further inflaming tensions between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress. Barr was due to face the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but pulled out after the two sides were unable to agree on the format for the hearing. “It’s simply part of the administration’s complete stonewalling of Congress,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Nadler’s proposal to have committee lawyers question Barr was “unprecedented and unnecessary,” saying questions should come from lawmakers.


The Justice Department also said on Wednesday it would not comply with a Nadler-issued subpoena seeking an unredacted version of Mueller’s report and underlying investigative files from the probe. Earlier on Wednesday, Barr spent more than four hours before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee where he fended off Democratic criticism of his decision to clear Trump of criminal obstruction of justice and faulted Special Counsel Robert Mueller for not reaching a conclusion of his own on the issue.

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The Wall Street Journal takes a very strong stand.

WSJ: Dems Vilifying Barr For ‘Acting Like A Real Attorney General’ (Hill)

The Wall Street Journal editorial board on Wednesday excoriated Democrats for making Attorney General William Barr out to be a “villain,” defending Barr as merely “acting like a real Attorney General.” “Washington pile-ons are never pretty, but this week’s political setup of Attorney General William Barr is disreputable even by Beltway standards,” the board wrote in an op-ed published just hours after Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The editorial, which was shared by President Trump on Twitter, slammed Democrats’ criticism of Barr’s handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.


The board also took issue with Mueller, saying that the letter he wrote to Barr expressing concerns with how the attorney general summarized his investigation amounted to “posterior covering.” “Democrats leapt on the letter as proof that Mr. Barr was somehow covering for Donald Trump when he has covered up nothing,” the board wrote, arguing that Barr’s four-page memo adequately summarized the chief findings of Mueller’s investigation. The board wrote that the “trashing of Barr shows how frustrated and angry Democrats continue to be that the special counsel came up empty in his Russia collusion probe.”

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“Single sources of data are considered acceptable in such cases by our industry..” As I explained when this came out, you need three sources. One is crazy, two is too dangerous.

737 Max Sensor Had Been Flagged Over 200 Times To FAA (CNN)

The device linked to the Boeing 737 Max software that has been scrutinized after two deadly crashes was previously flagged in more than 200 incident reports submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, but Boeing did not flight test a scenario in which it malfunctioned, CNN has learned. The angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor, as it’s known, sends data to a 737 Max software system that pushes the nose of the aircraft down if it senses an imminent stall. That software, triggered by erroneous data from AOA sensors, is believed to have played a role in crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines jets. Former Boeing engineers and aviation analysts interviewed by CNN have criticized Boeing’s original software design for relying on data from a single AOA sensor, claiming that those devices are vulnerable to defects.

FAA data analyzed by CNN supports that assessment. The FAA has received at least 216 reports of AOA sensors failing or having to be repaired, replaced or adjusted since 2004, according to data from the FAA’s Service Difficulty Reporting website. [..] In one 2011 case, the flight crew on a Boeing 737-800 reported that the “angle of attack and airspeed failed” and declared an emergency. An AOA sensor was then replaced. The FAA also issued two directives for various Boeing aircraft models before the 737 MAX was released, indicating that Boeing was aware of the potential for the sensors to cause problems in its planes. A 2013 directive mandated inspections of certain AOA sensors to prevent possible problems that included “obstacles after takeoff, or reduced controllability of the airplane.”

Another FAA directive published in 2016 warned that AOA sensors on Boeing MD-90-30 airplanes needed to be modified and tested to address “the unsafe condition on these products.” While those directives did not involve the 737 Max, Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a CNN aviation analyst, said AOA sensors fundamentally work the same on different aircraft models. “This is a fairly simple external device that can get damaged on a regular basis,” Goelz said. “That’s important because Boeing made the decision to rely on them as single sources for streams of data.”

In a statement to CNN, a Boeing spokesperson said the 737 Max and its stall-prevention system, called MCAS, were certified in accordance with all FAA requirements, and that Boeing’s analysis for the plane determined that in the event of erroneous inputs from an AOA sensor, pilots would be able to maintain control of the plane by following established procedures. “Single sources of data are considered acceptable in such cases by our industry,” the Boeing spokesperson said.

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Unbelievable. Might as well end the EPA too. There is only one way to deal with GMO and the poisons that keep them alive: precautionary principle.

US Environment Agency Says Glyphosate Is Not A Carcinogen (R.)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Tuesday that glyphosate, a chemical in many popular weed killers, is not a carcinogen, contradicting decisions by U.S. juries that found it caused cancer in people. The EPA’s announcement reaffirms its earlier findings about the safety of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup. The company faces thousands of lawsuits from Roundup users who allege it caused their cancer. “EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” the agency said in a statement.


Farmers spray glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in U.S. agriculture, on fields of soybeans and other crops. Roundup is also used on lawns, golf courses and elsewhere. The EPA did previously find ecological risks from the chemical and has proposed new measures to protect the environment from glyphosate use by farmers and to reduce the problem of weeds becoming resistant to it. Bayer said it was pleased the EPA and other regulators who have assessed the science on glyphosate for more than 40 years continue to conclude it is not carcinogenic. “Bayer firmly believes that the science supports the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides,” it said in a statement. The company has repeatedly denied allegations that glyphosate and Roundup cause cancer.

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Jul 222017
 
 July 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 22 2017


Jackson Pollock Pasiphae 1943

 

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)
Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)
Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)
Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)
The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)
Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)
US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)
A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market
No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)
The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)
EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)
German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)
Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)
Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)
All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

 

 

PCR short and to the point. And don’t you ever forget it.

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)

Despite unrealistic plots and weak characterization (except for Francis Urquhart), Michael Dobbs’ books, House of Cards, Play the King, and The Final Cut were best sellers that provided the basis for a long-running TV series. I haven’t seen the films, but I have read the books. I conclude that plot and characters are mere props for the didactic lesson of the novels: Democratic politics is concerned only with power and sex. Nothing else is in the picture. There is no such thing as a politician concerned with the people’s well being or capable of marital fidelity.

The media are as bad as the politicians. Female journalists use their bodies for access to power and become accomplices in political intrigues. Idealism is merely another vehicle used in the competition for power. I suspect the novels and TV series were popular because they expose politics for what it is. Politics serves only personal ambition. This is a lesson that liberals and progressives, who present government as a public-spirited alternative to private greed, need to learn. In showing politics in service to personal ambition, Dobbs is a master of truth despite his shortcoming as a novelist.

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Yeah, the future of the world depends on the definition of “tight”. Do you buy it?

Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)

The Western economic system is deeply flawed with countries such as the U.S. and Britain contributing to the lowest quality economic recovery the world has ever seen, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, told CNBC on Friday. “The economic model is deeply flawed and the system in the west is deeply flawed, particularly in the English speaking part of the world and it needs to change,” Watling said. “I think this is undoubtedly the lowest quality economic recovery we have seen globally… full stop,” he added. The Longview Economics CEO explained that a debt-laden global economy could be vulnerable to looming interest rate hikes. The Federal Reserve is on a course to gradually increase interest rates, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. “This is a world that is more indebted than it was before the global financial crisis in 2007, there’s no productivity growth, asset prices are very elevated, a lot of debt that corporates have built up has gone to share buy backs (and) the number of ‘zombie companies’ has doubled since 2007,” Longview Economics’ CEO explained. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Bond guru Bill Gross also warned that the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be detrimental for the economic recovery. He argued that raising interest rates would increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals currently hold. When asked whether an imperfect system constituted a clear and present danger for the financial markets, Watling replied, “Whatever you want to call it doesn’t really matter but these sorts of things always unwind when you tighten money. The problem is judging what is tight? And that is sort of the million dollar question.”

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What are shorts worth in a world without price discovery? Shorts are there to chase off zombies. But central banks keep them alive.

Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)

Times are tough for skeptics of the bull market. Flummoxed by the endurance of a 2017 rally that produced its 27th S&P 500 record this week, investors are backing off bets that major indexes are headed downward. Bets against the SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fund, the largest ETF tracking the broad index, fell to $38.9 billion last week, the lowest level of short interest since May 2013, and remained near those levels this week, according to financial-analytics firm S3 Partners. Short sellers borrow shares and sell them, expecting to repurchase them at lower prices and collect the difference as profit. Bearish investors say they are scaling back on these bets not because their view of the market has fundamentally changed, but because it is difficult to stick to a money-losing strategy when it seems stocks can only go up.

They believe the market moves are at odds with an economy that remains lukewarm as it enters its ninth year of growth, stock valuations that are historically high and a delay of business-friendly policies in Washington like tax cuts and infrastructure spending. “There seems to be an overall view that people are invincible, that things will always go up, that there are no risks and no matter what goes on, no matter what foolishness is in play, people don’t care,” said Marc Cohodes, whose hedge fund focused on shorting stocks closed in 2008. Mr. Cohodes is now a chicken farmer based in California who is looking to get into goat herding in Canada. He shorts a handful of individual stocks personally, but isn’t focused on the broader market.

[..] The practice of shorting companies is also going by the wayside as stocks continue to notch records. Short-biased hedge funds had $4.3 billion in assets at the end of March, down from $7.1 billion at the end of 2013, according to HFR Inc. The difficulty for stock-market bears stems from a Goldilocks-like market environment, in which the economy is expanding fast enough to support corporate earnings, but slow enough for the Federal Reserve to keep rates relatively low. Years of low rates and easy-money policies have boosted stocks, defying forecasts for a steep, prolonged downturn. “The shorts have been frustrated now for quite a while,” said Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, which has $260 billion in assets under management. The scenarios that might lead to a payout for market bears—an economic recession or a sharp rise in interest rates—don’t seem imminent, either, Mr. Minerd added.

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Sure, I believe you.

Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)

City bond traders have put the champagne on ice. They had a good run. For some it lasted almost a year. But it’s over now and the “new normal” of low trading volumes and weak profits is reasserting itself. On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs took the biggest hit. This week the firm reported profits had plunged 40% in the second quarter on its bond, currency and commodities trading desks. All the other big names in the US investment banking world saw bond trading profits dive in the three months to the end of June, save for age-old Goldman rival Morgan Stanley, which restricted the loss to 4%. Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman boss who rose through the ranks of bond traders to the top job, was unlikely to be sanguine about the turn of events amid concerns that his bank suffered more than most for relying on out-of-favour hedge funds as clients.

Back in October 2016 the story was very different. Barclays was on a high after what it said was a summer bonanza for its bond traders, pushing quarterly profits to a two-year high. Likewise Goldman, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan were raking in the trades. Much of the reason for their optimism was a change of stance at the Federal Reserve. The US central bank signalled in late 2015 that the post-crash era of low inflation and low interest rates was coming to an end. To combat the threat of inflation, it would start to raise rates consistently through 2016 and 2017. This move put two trends in motion that spelled a big payday for the banks. First, the price of bonds started to fall, making them more attractive to buy. Second, not long afterwards, it became clear the other central banks were not going to follow suit in raising rates.

That broke seven years of agreement among the major central banks to hold interest rates at near zero as a way to boost economic activity. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan were still on board, but Janet Yellen at the Fed had broken away. Without a consistent story, investors in fixed-income securities, the jargon name for bonds, found themselves needing to back several horses. And investors demanded the banks buy and sell their securities more frequently as uncertainty translated into an ever-changing mood in the market. The main measure of volatility – the Vix index – was still well below the 2009 peak, but it was elevated in 2016. And traders make money in periods when uncertainty and confusion raise levels of volatility.

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Thomas Frank (re-)writes my article from a few weeks ago, Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber.

The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication. The people of the respectable east coast press loathe the president with an amazing unanimity. They are obsessed with documenting his bad taste, with finding faults in his stupid tweets, with nailing him and his associates for this Russian scandal and that one. They outwit the simple-minded billionaire. They find the devastating scoops. The op-ed pages come to resemble Democratic fundraising pitches. The news sections are all Trump all the time. They have gone ballistic so many times the public now yawns when it sees their rockets lifting off.

A recent Alternet article I read was composed of nothing but mean quotes about Trump, some of them literary and high-flown, some of them low-down and cruel, most of them drawn from the mainstream media and all of them hilarious. As I write this, four of the five most-read stories on the Washington Post website are about Trump; indeed (if memory serves), he has dominated this particular metric for at least a year. And why not? Trump certainly has it coming. He is obviously incompetent, innocent of the most basic knowledge about how government functions. His views are repugnant. His advisers are fools. He appears to be dallying with obviously dangerous forces. And thanks to the wipeout of the Democratic party, there is no really powerful institutional check on the president’s power, which means that the press must step up.

But there’s something wrong with it all. The news media’s alarms about Trump have been shrieking at high C for more than a year. It was in January of 2016 that the Huffington Post began appending a denunciation of Trump as a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully” to every single story about the man. It was last August that the New York Times published an essay approving of the profession’s collective understanding of Trump as a political mutation – an unacceptable deviation from the two-party norm – that journalists must cleanse from the political mainstream. It hasn’t worked. They correct and denounce; they cluck and deride and Trump seems to bask in it. He reflects this incredible outpouring of disapprobation right back at the press itself.

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Contemplating the horrors of bankers leaving your society.

Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)

I’ve no fondness for wealthy bankers, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t sometimes right. An example of that is Goldman Sachs International chief executive Richard Gnodde, who has just entered the Brexit debate to urge a “significant” transition period. Mr Gnodde is currently pouring money down a bottomless pit labelled “Brexit Contingency Plans”. There aren’t many Britons who will feel all that much sympathy for him over that. That money pit will mean less is available for the bonuses he and his colleagues are so fond of. So tough luck. Trouble is, his masters in New York won’t see it that way. They will eventually say that’s enough of that, start moving your people over to Frankfurt. Actually, the process has already begun. Some jobs are moving over to Germany.

Still more are simply staying in New York, which, for all the scrambling being done by Frankfurt, and Paris, and Dublin, has quietly become the biggest winner from this whole sorry affair. There are many who would shrug some more. What do we lose by inconveniencing a few thousand wealthy bankers anyway. They don’t exactly contribute much to society. Well, they pay a lot of tax for starters. It’s also true that they should pay more. But that’s just another debate. Despite that, I have for years argued that London’s financial centre has played too central a role in the nation’s economy, and that it would be a good idea for the Government to pursue a more balanced economic approach rather than coddling it (as it did until recently).

The trouble is it is now happening at a dangerously fast pace and it is impossible to see, as things stand, quite what is going to replace those tax revenues, which contribute to things like the NHS, schools, roads without potholes, and any number of other things. There are also a lot of support staff who work for banks like Goldman in the City. They’re not rich, by any means, and they’re unlikely to be able to move like the bankers so they’ll just lose their jobs. If it’s unpalatable hearing about this from Mr Gnodde – as it will be to an awful lot of people – consider also that the CBI has said much the same thing as have most sensible, and even semi-sensible, businesses both in the square mile of the City of London and beyond.

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Everyone walks. Yawn.

US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)

U.S. prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against two former JPMorgan Chase derivatives traders implicated in the “London Whale” trading scandal that caused $6.2 billion of losses in 2012. In seeking the dismissal of charges against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, the Department of Justice said it “no longer believes that it can rely on the testimony” of Bruno Iksil, a cooperating witness who had been dubbed the London Whale, based on recent statements he made that hurt the case. Prosecutors also said efforts to extradite Martin-Artajo and Grout, respectively citizens of Spain and France, to face the charges have been “unsuccessful or deemed futile.” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan asked a federal judge for permission to drop charges that included securities fraud, wire fraud and falsifying records. Martin-Artajo and Grout were indicted in September 2013.

“After four long years of protracted litigation, we are very pleased that the government has decided to do the right thing, and dismiss the criminal case,” Grout’s lawyer, Edward Little, said. The dismissal request marks a fresh setback in U.S. efforts to prosecute individuals for financial crimes. This has included the undoing of several insider trading convictions and pleas that had been won by Kim’s predecessor Preet Bharara. It has also included this week’s overturning of the convictions of two former Rabobank NA traders for rigging the Libor interest rate benchmark. Martin-Artajo and Grout were accused of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars of losses within JPMorgan’s chief investment office (CIO) in London by marking positions in a credit derivatives portfolio at inflated prices.

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At risk of, you said? Weird that if you let investors and analysts discuss this, turns out they have no idea what’s really going on. But doesn’t that cluelessness hurt their investments. their clients?

A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market

The Greek government might be preparing to return to the bond market but there are many structural problems that have yet to be resolved to make the economy more sustainable, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. Greece is currently on a third financial program since 2010, due to expire next year. According to James Athey, fixed income investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, despite the reforms implemented until now, “it still doesn’t seem we are particularly far down the road in solving the structural issues of Greece.” “Until the Greek economy has got a business model which works and it’s productive and it’s creating stable, secure growth that it’s not reliant on debt relief, external support and constantly bailouts from the Europeans, then it’s difficult to believe that the path is towards something more healthy rather than something less healthy,” Athey told CNBC on Friday.

The IMF agreed Thursday to make a loan of $1.8 billion to Greece as part of its current bailout program, but warned that the country will have to continue reforming in order to receive that money. Greece has to continue focusing on reducing the level of bad loans in its financial sector and extend labour market reform to liberalize Sunday trade and allow for collective dismissals, the fund said. However, with the bailout program due to end in 2018, Greece wants to come back to bond markets to show the rescue has been successful and the economy is able to fund itself. The government is studying when and how such a comeback will be more appropriate. Though Athens refuses to comment on this issue, it is widely expected that Greece will issue bonds next week.

The move is somewhat confusing given that Greek government bonds do not qualify for the ECB’s asset purchase program. They are considered junk by credit rating agencies, and thus cannot feature on the central bank’s balance sheet. When asked how Greece would convince investors to buy bonds if the ECB isn’t buying these assets, Athey said: “I don’t know.” “I guess from a Greek perspective it seems to be a window of opportunity, we’ve seen Greek yields have fallen fairly consistently throughout the year…the fact that Greece might come to market at what optically looks like an attractive yield for a Greek issuer must be tempting to them, especially considering that we are expecting the QE program to ultimately come to a conclusion over the next 6 to 12 months, they certainly would not want to wait until then,” he suggested.

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Absolute fantasy predictions. That’s the only way left to sell their stories. They all want Greece back in ‘markets’ before the next bailout expires next year.

No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)

Bond markets responded calmly on Friday to the debt sustainability analysis (DSA) of the IMF, which found Greece’s debt exceptionally unsustainable, while deciding to participate in the Greek bailout program with 1.6 billion euros. The markets’ reaction allows for the government to issue the five-year bond as early as on Monday. The DSA reiterates that the eurozone’s commitments to secure the sustainability of the Greek debt are not sufficient. The IMF estimates the debt will slide to 160% of GDP in 2020 and to 150% in 230, before soaring to 190% in 2060. Servicing the debt will exceed 15% of GDP in 2028, reaching as high as 45% in 2060.

The Fund argues that the estimates of Athens and the eurozone on growth rates, primary surpluses and other parameters affecting the debt are optimistic and insists its own views are realistic, saying that Greece has historically been weak in implementing reforms and cannot support high primary surpluses for many years. It goes on to say that revenues from privatizations will not exceed €2 billion by 2030 and believes that the state will not collect any substantial funds from the sale of the bank shares it acquired in the last few share capital increases. It therefore calls on the eurozone to reach an agreement on a realistic strategy for easing Greece’s debt.

The IMF’s proposal for a new stress test on Greek banks and a fresh asset quality review were met with a clear dismissal on Friday by a ECB spokesman, who pointed to Frankfurt being the sole monitoring authority that decides on such issues. The strong ECB response was also addressed at the IMF’s estimate that Greek lenders will require fresh recapitalization to the tune of €10 billion. On Friday Standard & Poor’s stopped short of raising the country’s credit rating, affirming it at ‘B-,’ but pointed to an upcoming upgrade switching Greece’s outlook from stable into positive.

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How much longer? We know there are reports.

The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)

Theresa May has oddly declined to comment on the reported arrest of the mini-skirted lass who was videotaped cavorting through an ancient Najd village this week, provoking unexpected roars of animalistic male fury in a kingdom known for its judicial leniency, political moderation, gender equality and fraternal love for its Muslim neighbours. May should, surely, have drawn the attention of the rulers of this normally magnanimous state to the extraordinarily uncharacteristic behaviour of the so-called religious police – hitherto regarded as extras in the very same kingdom’s growing tourism industry which is supported by its newly appointed peace-loving and forward-thinking young Crown Prince.

But of course, since May cannot possibly believe that a single person in this particular national entity would give even a riyal or a halfpenny to “terrorists” – of the kind who have been tearing young British lives apart in Manchester and London – she’s hardly likely to endanger the “national security” of said state by condemning the arrest of the aforementioned young lady. In any event, a woman so proper that she would not risk soiling her hands by greeting the distraught survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has no business shedding even a “little tear” for middle class girls who upset what we must now call The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All. Or at least, we do not dare to speak its name.

It’s now a week since this extraordinary woman – our beloved May, not the cutie of Najd – declined to publish perhaps the most important, revelatory document in the history of modern “terrorism” on the grounds that to identify the men who are funding the killers running Isis, al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah and sundry other chaps, would endanger “national security”. Note that Amber Rudd, May’s amanuensis, intriguingly declined to specify whose “national security” was at risk. Ours? Or that of The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All – henceforth, for brevity’s sake, the KSA – which must surely be well aware which of its illustrious citizens (peace-loving, moderate, gender-equalised, etc) have been sending their lolly to the Isis lads.

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If you read carefully, you see that it’s all been a mess for many years. The only difference is Trump doesn’t try to hide that.

EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)

As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf. In a recent letter to the agency, the Center for Biological Diversity told the EPA that the dumping of drilling wastewater – which can contain fracking chemicals, drilling fluids and pollutants, such as heavy metals – directly into Gulf waters is unacceptable and prohibited under the Clean Water Act.

Under current rules established by the Obama administration, offshore oil and gas platforms can discharge well-treatment chemicals and unlimited amounts of “produced waters” from undersea wells directly into the Gulf as long as operators perform toxicity tests a few times a year and monitor for “sheens” on the water’s surface. About 75 billion gallons of produced water were dumped in the Gulf in 2014 alone, according to EPA records. Offshore fracking, which typically involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into undersea wells to improve the flow of oil and gas, has rapidly expanded in the Gulf of Mexico over the past decade.

The latest draft of the pollution discharge permit, which was largely prepared under the Obama administration, would require drillers to collect information on the fracking chemicals they dump overboard. Regulators want to know what these chemicals are; their catalogue of offshore fracking chemicals has not been updated since 2001, despite advancements in technology.

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Here’s real collusion for you: “special committees of up to 200 employees”. It wasn’t just software, they also agreed to use too small versions of the ‘tanks’ that clean emissions. Now VW is talking, trying to get its own fines diminished.

Oh, and you think nobody in government ever knew about this? Prediction: Merkel will push EU into lower fines. Prediction 2: they will comply.

German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)

German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the country’s powerful automakers have been meeting in secret since the 1990s—and their joint decisions on dealing with diesel emissions may have laid the groundwork for Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scandal. According to Der Spiegel, VW admitted to German authorities that it may have engaged in “anti-competitive behavior” with rivals BMW and Daimler via special committees of up to 200 employees that set prices, agreed on suppliers, and engaged in other forms of coordination. One major topic of the meetings was how to manage emissions from diesel engines. The result, as we now know in Volkswagen’s case, was the installation of emissions-cheating software, which was uncovered by American regulators in 2015 and has cost the automaker dearly since.

Daimler tried to get ahead of things this week by recalling 3 million diesel vehicles in Europe for a free emissions-system alteration. Audi followed suit today, with a similar offer to “improve emissions behavior” for 850,000 cars. Spiegel says that German regulators discovered signs of an illegal agreement between the automakers this summer, when they were investigating Volkswagen on suspicion that carmakers were fixing the price of steel. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW declined to comment on the Spiegel report, with the latter two calling it “speculation.” Germany’s automakers are anxious as a backlash against diesel motors gathers pace. Several European cities—including Stuttgart, the home of Porsche—have called for a ban on diesel cars, which accounted for around 47% of cars sold in Europe’s five biggest markets in the second quarter of this year.

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Nice society you got there. Britain’s way overdue for a complete make-over.

Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)

Councils across England are housing the equivalent of an extra secondary school of pupils per month as the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation soars, according to local government leaders. The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are providing temporary housing for around 120,540 children with their families – a net increase of 32,650 or 37% since the second quarter of 2014. It said the increase equates to an average of 906 extra children every month. The LGA said placements in temporary accommodation can present serious challenges for families, from parents’ employment and health to children’s ability to focus on school studies and form friendships. The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England, said the extra demand is increasing the pressure on local government.

It said councils need to be able to build more “genuinely affordable” homes and provide the support that reduces the risk of homelessness. This means councils being able to borrow to build and to keep 100% of the receipts of any home they sell to reinvest in new and existing housing, the LGA said. Council leaders are also calling for access to funding to provide settled accommodation for families that become homeless. Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “When councils are having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of pupils every month, and the net cost for councils of funding for temporary accommodation has tripled in the last three years, it’s clear the current situation is unsustainable for councils, and disruptive for families.

“Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness, with some truly innovative work around the country – and we now need the Government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes, and taking steps to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.”

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EU policies bring the vermin our of the woodwork.

Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)

A Sicilian mayor is seeking to block a ship chartered by a group of far-right activists attempting to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, has urged authorities in the port city on the island’s east coast to deny docking rights to C-Star, a 40-metre vessel hired by Generation Identity, a movement made up of young, anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists from across Europe, for its sea mission to stop migrants entering Europe from Libya. The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday, and the group intends to launch its mission next week. “I’ve told [the relevant] authorities that allowing the ship to dock in our port would be very dangerous for public order,” Bianco said in a statement to the Guardian.

“I also consider it to be a provocation by those involved, with their sole purpose being to fuel conflict by pouring fuel on the fire.” Under a vigilante scheme called “Defend Europe”, the activists crowdfunded more than €75,000 (£67,000) to hire the boat. In a “trial run” two months ago, the ship successfully intercepted a charity rescue ship off Sicily. The activists’ aim is to expose what they claim to be wrongdoing by “criminal” NGO search and rescue vessels, which they accuse of working with people smugglers to transport illegal immigrants to Europe. They also plan to disrupt the work of the crews by calling the Libyan coastguard and asking them to take migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to war-torn Libya.

Anti-racism groups across Sicily have also urged authorities to take action against the group, to prevent them interfering in the life-saving missions. “Sicily is a place where every family has an emigration story,” Bianco said. “In recent years we have welcomed thousands of people fleeing from war and hunger, people who were saved from dying in the Mediterranean by European vessels, and those who have lost one or more family members crossing the sea. Talking about ‘defending Europe’ is not just demagogic, it’s unworthy.”

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“Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.”

All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Last August a boy died of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, and 20 other infected people were treated and survived. Anthrax hadn’t been seen in the region for 75 years, and it’s thought the recent outbreak followed an intense heatwave in Siberia, temperatures reaching over 30C that melted the frozen permafrost. Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground.

Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas. Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around. There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt. Methane is of huge concern. It is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a massive release of methane in the Arctic could pose a significant threat to the global climate, driving worldwide temperatures even higher.

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Feb 072017
 
 February 7, 2017  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Sharecropper mother teaching children in home, Transylvania, LA. 1939

Trump To Be Barred From UK Parliament Over ‘Racism and Sexism’ (BBG)
Trump’s Wall Street Deregulation ‘The Last Thing We Need’ – Draghi (Ind.)
Meet The Men Who Could Topple Donald Trump (G.)
California Is Not ‘Out Of Control,’ Leaders Tell Trump (R.)
Our Part In The Darkness (Alameddine)
The New York Times Just Doesn’t Understand This Economics Stuff (Worstall)
The Fed’s Mortage-Bond Whale (BBG)
When The Money Supply Dries Up (IM)
Army Corps Of Engineers May Decide On DAPL By Week’s End (BBG)
New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases
Too Late For Couples Therapy? (DiEM25)
Varoufakis: Tsipras Should Prepare To Break Deal With Greece’s Creditors (FR)
Rare Split On IMF Board Puts Greek Bailout At Risk (MW)
Greece Won’t Meet Fiscal Surplus Targets Set By Europe, IMF Says (BBG)
Third Quake Over 5-Richter Magnitude Rattles Lesbos (K.)

 

 

Really dumb stuff. If only because Trump loves it.

Trump To Be Barred From UK Parliament Over ‘Racism and Sexism’ (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump must not be allowed to address the U.K. Parliament during a state visit to Britain, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said. Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to visit the U.K., but there have been calls by lawmakers not to give the president the honor of addressing both houses of Parliament after he introduced a ban on people from some majority-Muslim countries traveling to the U.S. “Before the imposition of the migrant ban I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall; after the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I’m even more strongly opposed,” Bercow told lawmakers on Monday.

He added, “I feel very strongly our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.” Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI have all been invited to speak to members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. [..] The announcement was greeted with cheers and – a rare event in the House of Commons – applause from the opposition benches. A motion arguing that Trump shouldn’t be invited to speak has been signed by 163 out of Parliament’s 650 members.

Bercow said he has a veto over a speech in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, and would block one. It would also be a breach with tradition if Trump spoke in the Royal Gallery behind the Lords without his name on the invitation, he said. “An address by a foreign leader to both houses of Parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honor,” Bercow said. “There are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country that do not include an address to both houses of Parliament.”

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Meet Mario the kettle.

Trump’s Wall Street Deregulation ‘The Last Thing We Need’ – Draghi (Ind.)

Donald Trump’s roll-back of Wall Street regulation is “very worrisome” and “the last thing we need” the President of the ECB, Mario Draghi, has warned. Giving evidence to the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs on Monday, Mr Draghi was asked about the American President’s assault on the US post-crisis Dodd-Frank legislation, which had curbed the risk-taking of US banks, raised their capital requirements and introduced more safeguards for consumers. “The last thing we need is a relaxation of regulation,” Mr Draghi said. “The fact that we are not seeing….significant financial stability risk is the reward of the action of supervisors…. Nowadays financial intermediaries are strong. The idea of repeating the conditions of before the crisis is very worrisome.”

Mr Draghi added: “If we were to look at historical experience and ask what are the main reasons for the financial crisis starting in 2007 onwards, well, one can disagree [over] whether it was too expansive monetary policy or the dismantling of financial regulation in previous years – but surely we can agree it was a combination”. Last week President Trump signed an executive order to relax Dodd-Frank, prompting warnings that he is preparing the ground for another financial crisis. Phil Angelides, who served as chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, branded President Trump’s decision “insane”. “In the wake of the financial crisis, millions of families lost their homes. Millions of people lost their jobs. The economy was wrecked and communities across the country were devastated. Big Wall Street banks admitted wrongdoing and paid tens of billions of dollars in fines. And now, with bankers at his side, President Trump begins to rip apart protections put in place to protect America’s families and our economy,” he said.

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As I said a few dats ago: “More interesting right now is how strongly this is dividing the White House team. Kelly refused to enact some of Bannon’s demands. Tillerson and Mattis are not sitting comfortable either.”

Meet The Men Who Could Topple Donald Trump (G.)

When Trump began putting together his cabinet, liberals and some in the media expressed concern over the number of retired generals he was appointing to top positions. “Trump hires third general, raising concerns about heavy military influence,” blared a headline in the Washington Post during the presidential transition. “I am concerned that so many of the president-elect’s nominees thus far come from the ranks of recently retired military officers,” the Democratic representative Steny Hoyer told the Washington Examiner in December. The fretting over Trump’s generals was always misplaced, not least because the number of retired generals Trump has appointed to top positions in his administration is hardly unprecedented.

Trump nominated the retired Marine generals James Mattis and John Kelly to lead the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, respectively, and tapped the retired army general Mike Flynn to be his national security adviser. When entering office after winning the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama also appointed three retired generals to top positions and few batted an eyelid. But those concerned about Trump’s presidency should be thankful that the generals are there, particularly Mattis and Kelly. By all accounts, they are men of great honor and courage with strong backbones. Kelly led men into battle and lost a son fighting in Afghanistan. Mattis may be the most distinguished and respected Marine officer of his generation, revered for his dedication to his troops and his intellect. I had the honor of spending an hour with him one-on-one last May when he was a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Our conversation was off the record, but make no mistake, this is not a man to be trifled with.

Trump may have actually boxed himself in by picking highly respected generals such as Kelly and Mattis to helm top posts in his administration. Even conservatives who publicly stand by the president latch on to the appointments of Mattis and Kelly as their best evidence that Trump’s presidency will not be as problematic as his temperament and actions sometimes suggest, or some of his more troubling White House advisers portend. But if Mattis or Kelly were to resign in protest, that might change everything. There have already been reports that Mattis and Kelly are less than happy with some of what has gone on in the White House. During the transition, Mattis reportedly clashed with the Trump transition team over key appointments to the defense department. Tensions boiled over when Mattis and Kelly weren’t given sufficient consultation over the recent immigration executive order.

The Democratic representative Seth Moulton, a retired Marine who served under Mattis during the Iraq war, says insiders have informed him that after the executive order fiasco, some top appointments like Mattis began thinking about what would make them leave the administration. “What I’ve heard from behind the scenes,’’ Moulton told the Boston Globe: “What will make you resign? What’s your red line?”

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This is the kind of confrontation the country badly needs. Where everyone has to argue and define their viewpoints.

California Is Not ‘Out Of Control,’ Leaders Tell Trump (R.)

California leaders pushed back on Monday against President Donald Trump’s claim that the state is “out of control,” pointing to its balanced budget and high jobs numbers in the latest dustup between the populist Republican and the progressive state. The state’s top Democrats called Trump cruel and his proposals unconstitutional after the businessman-turned-politician threatened to withhold federal funding from the most populous U.S. state if lawmakers passed a so-called sanctuary bill aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants. “President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities,” state Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said in a statement on Monday.

State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, an L.A.-area Democrat, said the state has the most manufacturing jobs in the nation, and produces a quarter of the country’s food. “If this is what Donald Trump thinks is ‘out of control,’ I’d suggest other states should be more like us,” Rendon said. The latest war of words between Trump and Democratic leaders in California, where voters chose his opponent, Hillary Clinton, two-to-one in November’s election, began Sunday, in an interview between Trump and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. During the interview, O’Reilly asked Trump about a bill in the state legislature, authored by de Leon, to ban law enforcement agencies in the state from cooperating with immigration officials in most circumstances. Cities who have enacted similar bans are known as sanctuary cities, and de Leon’s bill, if passed and signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, would effectively extend such rules to the entire state.

Trump disparaged the bill as ridiculous, saying that sanctuary cities “breed crime.” “We’ll have to, well, de-fund,” Trump said. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California.” Trump went on to say he viewed funding as a weapon. “California in many ways is out of control,” Trump said to O’Reilly. “Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for me.” Last week, Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from the University of California at Berkeley, where violent protests led to the cancellation of a speech by an editor for the right-wing Breitbart News. But experts said it would be difficult for the President to withhold funds from either the university or the state. Court rulings have limited the power of the president to punish states by withholding funds, and most appropriations come from the Congress and not the executive branch.

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Really excellent. Don’t miss.

Our Part In The Darkness (Alameddine)

Right after the election, my Twitter feed exploded with shock and moans. It seemed that everyone’s favorite phrase was “We are better than this.” I considered the statement so obviously wrong. I understood the convoluted logic of it, the jolt and hurt that would lead someone to type this, but it was not true. We are not better than this. We are this. The man was elected President. Ipso facto, America is this, we are this. I say this not to suggest that we must be blamed, or that someone who did not vote for Donald Trump is just as culpable as one who did. What I keep trying to point out, to friends, to anyone who will listen, is that too few of us are willing to acknowledge responsibility—not necessarily to accept blame, but to stand up and say, “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.”

I remember when the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib came to light. The response was similar. This is not us. Those soldiers were rotten. It began at the top, with George W. Bush, and it filtered down. But we would never do such a thing. Of course, we did do those things, and we kept on doing them over and over, and doing worse. Some objected, but most of us simply moved on, chose to forget. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” the Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once wrote. Trump bans Muslims and we claim that this is un-American, that we are not this. I don’t have to talk up “ancient” history to show that we are. I won’t bring up settler colonialism, genocide, and land theft, or harp on slavery, or internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

I won’t refer to the Page Act banning those deemed “undesirable,” the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, or the Emergency Quota Act. I don’t have to mention the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans deported in the nineteen-thirties, or the thousands of Jews escaping Nazi violence who were turned away. It was F.D.R., not Trump, who claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security. I won’t mention any of this, because this happened so long ago. We can always delude ourselves by saying that America was this but now we are better. Let me just say that in 2010 and 2011, state legislatures passed a hundred and sixty-four anti-immigration laws.

Many were upset when Trump campaigned on a Muslim registry, but I was surprised to find out how few knew that we’d already had one: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or nseers, implemented on September 11, 2002. From the Atlantic: “It consisted of two ‘special registration’ programs: one that required foreign nationals from certain countries to check in with the government before entering and leaving the country, and another that obliged some foreigners living in the United States to report regularly to immigration officials.” Obama did not suspend the program until 2011. He dismantled it right before he left office.

[..] I was in Lesbos a year ago, helping Syrian refugees. At Moria, the biggest camp on the island, thousands of refugees were being processed every day. The crisis had been ongoing for more than six months. I’d heard that every big N.G.O. had taken a turn at leading the camp, but each one failed because of mismanagement, backstabbing, interagency bickering, governmental interference, what have you. But, as horrid as the situation was in the camp, I thought that it was being well managed, as well as it could be with so many people in and out. I met this unassuming man, a retired Mormon from Utah, who had been volunteering at the camp since the first boats arrived. He spoke no Arabic or Farsi, had no medical training of any kind, none of the identifiable skills, yet both volunteers and refugees sought him out with every conceivable question about what to do. It seems that he had arrived to offer whatever help he could. He slowly began to fill in wherever he was needed. As the N.G.O.s began to wash their hands of the camp, he was needed more and more. When I was there, he was running the damn place. We are this. We can be better.

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“That is just a howling error, to talk about the number of jobs and wages as if they are different things.”

The New York Times Just Doesn’t Understand This Economics Stuff (Worstall)

The Editorial Board of the New York Times tells us all that repealing parts of or all of Dodd Frank will damage the economic recovery. It’s possible to see the glimmerings of a point there, no one does think that if half the banks fall over again then all will be toodle dandy. However, they do manage to betray a terrible ignorance of the basics of economics and wages in the same editorial. Really, this is such a basic point that even Karl Marx was able to understand it: Mr. Trump may believe that ending Dodd-Frank will lead to more jobs by making it easier for businesses to get loans. But even if looser credit would help hiring — a very big if — the main problem in the job market today is not too few jobs, but wages that have been too low for too long. A rollback of Dodd Frank will not help that, and will hurt by forfeiting the stability that has helped the economy come this far.

That is just a howling error, to talk about the number of jobs and wages as if they are different things. They are the same thing–it is full employment which lifts the workers’ wages, nothing more and nothing less. As I say this is such a fundamental concept that even Karl Marx was able to get it right. If we have unemployment, that reserve army of the unemployed, then a capitalist can increase his labour force just by hiring some more of those unemployed. He doesn’t have to tempt anyone in with higher wages, he doesn’t need to pay his own workforce more as profits rise. For anyone gets bolshie he can just hire more of those unemployed people. However, the moment that reserve army is exhausted, the moment that there are no unemployed to hire it all changes. Suddenly, to gain access to more labour temptation must be employed.

It is necessary to tempt labour away from the jobs they are already doing. The capitalists, therefore, are in competition with each other for the profits that can be made by employment. At which point of course wages have to rise. To tempt labour into factory B away from factory A then B must pay more than A (in some form, could be shorter hours, better scheduling, more pay, whatever).And factory B had better raise its own wages for the extant workforce to stop A tempting it away. This is how wages rise over time. The capitalists compete for the profits that can be made by employing labour. And in the absence of unemployment they can only do this by raising wages as productivity rises. This process has been going on some 200 years by now, ever since productivity rises became a general feature of the economy.

And there’s no reason to think that it has stopped nor that it will. That is, contrary to the editorial board f the New York Times, it’s not that wages and jobs are different issues. It’s that wages haven’t risen because there haven’t been enough jobs. And seriously, if your understanding of capitalist and market economics is behind even that of Karl Marx are we sure that you should be writing newspaper articles on the subject of economics?

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If you create an artificial recovery, there will be a price to be eventually.

The Fed’s Mortage-Bond Whale (BBG)

Almost a decade after it all began, the Federal Reserve is finally talking about unwinding its grand experiment in monetary policy. And when it happens, the knock-on effects in the bond market could pose a threat to the U.S. housing recovery. Just how big is hard to quantify. But over the past month, a number of Fed officials have openly discussed the need for the central bank to reduce its bond holdings, which it amassed as part of its unprecedented quantitative easing during and after the financial crisis. The talk has prompted some on Wall Street to suggest the Fed will start its drawdown as soon as this year, which has refocused attention on its $1.75 trillion stash of mortgage-backed securities.

While the Fed also owns Treasuries as part of its $4.45 trillion of assets, its MBS holdings have long been a contentious issue, with some lawmakers criticizing the investments as beyond what’s needed to achieve the central bank’s mandate. Yet because the Fed is now the biggest source of demand for U.S. government-backed mortgage debt and owns a third of the market, any move is likely to boost costs for home buyers. In the past year alone, the Fed bought $387 billion of mortgage bonds just to maintain its holdings. Getting out of the bond-buying business as the economy strengthens could help lift 30-year mortgage rates past 6% within three years, according to Moody’s. Unwinding QE “will be a massive and long-lasting hit” for the mortgage market, said Michael Cloherty at RBC Capital Markets. He expects the Fed to start paring its investments in the fourth quarter and ultimately dispose of all its MBS holdings.

Unlike Treasuries, the Fed rarely owned mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. Over the years, its purchases have been key in getting the housing market back on its feet. Along with near-zero interest rates, the demand from the Fed reduced the cost of mortgage debt relative to Treasuries and encouraged banks to extend more loans to consumers. In a roughly two-year span that ended in 2014, the Fed increased its MBS holdings by about $1 trillion, which it has maintained by reinvesting its maturing debt. Since then, 30-year bonds composed of Fannie Mae-backed mortgages have only been about a percentage point higher than the average yield for five- and 10-year Treasuries, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s less than the spread during housing boom in 2005 and 2006.

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Don’t know if it’s money supply drying up or debts becoming overwhelming. Not the same thing. But the last paragraphs of the piece are interesting:

When The Money Supply Dries Up (IM)

Whenever the ability to enforce draconian legislation goes into decline, the people of a nation suddenly realise that they’ve been living in fear of a paper tiger. It doesn’t take long before some people choose to defy the system. When they’re seen to succeed, others follow in droves. So, what does this say of the US and its power? Well, as Doug Casey has been known to say, “Countries fall from grace with remarkable speed.” Quite so. On an international level, this means that international leaders will be watching the economic decline of the US closely. Countries such as China and Russia have been loading up on precious metals in preparation for a collapse in fiat currency. In addition, they’ve created their own version of the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and have been hard at work inking deals with other nations for international settlement in currencies other than the dollar.

Most people in the world today cannot remember a time before Bretton Woods, yet they may soon witness the Bretton Woods agreement becoming a dead duck. But, if we extend this premise, we also should be questioning the other constructs of the postwar period that have become dinosaurs. What of the United Nations? This organisation was once meant to be a body for arbitration and world planning, but has in latter decades become a quagmire of bickering and gainsaying—with its decisions rarely being adopted by the nations in question. And yet the US alone pays some $8 billion annually to keep the UN afloat. Surely, when the world at large ceases its willingness to carry further US debt, the US government will jettison the expense for the UN before it cuts either its military spending or its entitlement programmes.

Similarly, NATO, which requires $2.8 billion annually (with only five of its 28 members currently meeting the recommended payments) would experience a similar fate. With the above entities heading south, the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which has since 1992 been the basis of US aggression policy, would become unachievable. In addition to the decline or cessation of the above international adventurism, enforcement of revenue pursuit in the guise of FATCA and OECD schemes would equally suffer from a loss of funding. It would not be a question of whether the empire still wished to squeeze the lemon more than ever before—it would. But once the funds to do so dried up, the US and EU would find themselves in the situation that we currently observe in Venezuela: The money to pay for the enforcement is simply not there anymore.

The decline would begin with bounced cheques, followed by massive layoffs in the enforcement departments, followed by a decline in receipts, necessitating further layoffs, and continuing in a downward spiral. At present, countless people live in fear of the present empires and their ever-increasing efforts at usurpation. However, as history shows, once debt has reached its nadir and begins its rapid fall, so does the empire’s ability to enforce draconian confiscations.

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Army vs veterans?!

Army Corps Of Engineers May Decide On DAPL By Week’s End (BBG)

The U.S. Army may decide by week’s end whether to approve construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across North Dakota’s Lake Oahe and lands claimed sacred by Sioux Indian tribes. Justice Department lawyer Matthew Marinelli outlined the planned timeline for the Army’s decision to a federal judge in Washington hearing a three-way dispute over the planned path of the Energy Transfer Partners LP-led project. Marinelli didn’t say which way the decision might go. President Donald Trump last month issued a memorandum urging the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its review of the conduit’s path after the federal agency put the brakes on ETP’s nearly complete $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile conduit for shunting crude from northwestern North Dakota to a Patoka, Illinois, distribution center last year amid protests raised by environmental groups and the Sioux.

[..] While U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, and then a federal appeals court, declined to grant the tribes’ request for an order halting the project, the corps stopped construction anyway, stating it was reconsidering whether to issue easements required for tunneling under the lake bed. Jan Hasselman, lead lawyer for the suing Sioux tribes, told the judge that because the Army Corps had already committed to an environmental impact review of the lake crossing, any easement granted before that analysis is complete “would be unlawful.” The Corps turned the decision to the U.S. Army. The tribes will likely file a second bid to halt the project, citing environmental impact concerns, if the pipeline project gets a U.S. government go-ahead, Hasselman said.

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Now use that to get a deal that actually achieves something.

New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases (EW)

Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill to curtail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to address climate change. The “Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017” (HR637) would amend the Clean Air Act so that: “The term ‘air pollutant’ does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.” The bill was introduced by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and has already racked up 114 Republican co-sponsors. Palmer is a climate denier who once said that temperature data used to measure global climate change have been “falsified” and manipulated.

Palmer’s latest proposal would nullify the EPA’s regulation of carbon pollution, stating that “no federal agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under current law” and “no attempt to regulate greenhouse gases should be undertaken without further Congressional action.” Liz Perera, climate policy director at the Sierra Club, told Huffington Post that the resolution would make it nearly impossible for the federal government to fight climate change. “This is the legislative equivalent of trying to ban fire trucks while your house is burning,” she said, adding its sponsors “should be embarrassed for so blatantly ignoring reality and ashamed of themselves for so recklessly endangering our communities.”

[..] Fortunately, the bill does not seem to have any legs. David Doniger, a senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program told The Guardian that HR637 does not have much of a chance breaking through a Senate filibuster as Democrats would have near-universal opposition to it and even some moderate Republican Senators would vote against it as well.

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Yes. Annul the wedding. Before someone gets hurt.

Too Late For Couples Therapy? (DiEM25)

For the past seven years, Greece has been stuck in an abusive marriage with its European partners. Of course, she has not been the perfect partner, but who has? No one deserves violence. No one deserves abuse. Everyone deserves hope, and not the delusional “you will be done by 2060, if you can maintain the hilariously unsustainable 3.5% primary budget surplus” kind of hope offered by Mr Schäuble. The hypocrisy and pseudo-morality of European lenders and the IMF is painful. Germany’s “no debt-reduction” stance is particularly exasperating, when that very same country has experienced both the economic, social and political disaster that vindictive, self-righteous hardheadedness can lead to after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, as well as the miraculous quality of debt-reduction when its own debt was cut by half (!) at the London Debt Agreement of 1953.

The more years pass, the closer Greece and the rest of Europe edge from a post-modern 1919 to a post-modern 1933. And now, with news of Greece’s three-week window to resolve its next instalment before economically imploding – a piece of news which some media outlets appeared surprised about, bless them – many of us cannot help but wonder: when will we get serious about resolving this? The obvious answer is: when there is political will for a resolution. The only place where this seems to be the case is the nation-patient itself. Two summers ago, under remarkable socio-economic pressure, amid capital-controls and an overwhelmingly pro-EU media landscape, 62% of Greeks came out and refused the terms of a third bailout. Anyone with half-an-understanding of economics and finance seems to agree that the current approach to Greek debt is unsustainable economically, socially and politically: all in all, a disaster.

Even the master chef of the entire travesty, the IMF, has come out and admitted that neo-liberalism and austerity simply do not work. So what are we waiting for? Why are millions of Europeans still suffering under utterly misguided political and economic dogmas? Quite simply because to admit defeat at this point would mark the end of a number of powerful careers. Having poisoned European voters against the lazy PIIGS, it would be nothing short of political suicide to turn around and give in to Greek demands. When would be the next electoral victory in Europe for austerity’s architects if it was revealed that the years of financial and social suffering was a pointless self-inflicted wound with only negative economic results?

So it is becoming increasingly obvious that Greece has to work its own way out of this mess. At this stage, that means an immediate halt of repayments to lenders; a stance that will either force its partners to a vital debt-reduction, or will lead the country to an exit from the Euro. With Germany (in clear breach of EU rules) stubbornly maintaining its 9% budget surplus and refusing to increase imports, Europe is at an impasse, and no one is hurt more by this than Greece. Although the former outcome would be preferred – avoiding to rock the European boat at a time of major global instability is a major plus – the latter is still preferable to the status quo.

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Translation of Greek article by Varoufakis I posted about earlier.

Varoufakis: Tsipras Should Prepare To Break Deal With Greece’s Creditors (FR)

Through a recent article at the Efimerida ton Syntakton (Newspaper of Editors), the former Minister of Finance of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, referred to Tsipras retreat against Greece’s creditors and called him to prepare seriously this time, to break the destructive continuous agreements. As Varoufakis wrote among other things: The night of the Greek referendum, I tried hard to explain to the Greek PM that the submission of Greece to the third memorandum was Schäuble’s real plan (not Grexit). In reality, there was no hope that the 3rd toxic “program” for Greece would be rationalized progressively through the support of the European Commission to Athens. Meaning, there was no hope that IMF’s austerity and anti-social measures could be softened.

The fact that Moscovici, Juncker, Sapin and others made such promises, is no excuse because the Greek government knew since May 2015 that these people know how to tell lies, or, they are unable to keep their promises when they don’t lie. Suddenly, the Schäuble-IMF-ECB attacked on Greece, demanding exhausting measures, while Merkel-Hollande-Commission didn’t do anything. Tsipras then retreated for one more time in order to “save” Greece. This was Schäuble’s plan. With his stance, Tsipras sank Podemos, made an approach with the collapsing (ethically and politically) Social Democracy, disappointed the progressive Europeans. And all these happened at the same time where nationalism triumphs everywhere.

Tsipras promises, one more time, that he will not retreat (this time!) by legislating new austerity even after 2018. If he means it, I remind him what we had agreed that is necessary and which – even today – is the only thing that may prevent the worst things to come. Prepare for unilateral restructuring of Greek bonds held by the ECB, which must be repaid in July (and after). Prepare the electronic system of transactions through Taxisnet which I had designed, I had started building it and even announced it to the new Minister of Finance, Euclid Tsakalotos, when I delivered the Ministry. Therefore, if indeed the Greek PM means it this time that he will not retreat, he should prepare for breaking the deal with the creditors, so that to prevent it. The design of a parallel system for payments is ready since 2014, as he knows.

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Make it stop!

Rare Split On IMF Board Puts Greek Bailout At Risk (MW)

Some members of the IMF are growing concerned with the terms of Greece’s bailout program, fueling fears the fund might pull out of the much-needed rescue plan for the country. The IMF’s annual review of the Greek economy published on Tuesday revealed a rare split among its board members, showing they are in disagreement over the austerity measures imposed on Athens and over the country’s huge debt burden. The report said that “most” of the 24 IMF executive directors agreed Greece is on track to reach a fiscal surplus of 1.5% of GDP. It said Athens does “not require further fiscal consolidation at this time, given the impressive adjustment to date.” However, some of the board members argued that Greece still needs to bring the surplus up to 3.5%, as agreed in the last bailout in 2015.

“Most Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal, while some Directors had different views on the fiscal path and debt sustainability,” the IMF said in the assessment. The IMF usually keeps its deliberations confidential, so any differences on the board are rarely exposed to the public. The yield on 10-year Greek government debt surged 26 basis points after the report on Tuesday to 7.925%, according to electronic trading platform Tradeweb. Economists consider borrowing costs above 7% unsustainable in the long term.

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This is getting sadistic.

Greece Won’t Meet Fiscal Surplus Targets Set By Europe, IMF Says (BBG)

Greece is on track to fall short of budget-surplus targets set under a bailout by the nation’s euro-zone creditors, the IMF said. Greece’s primary budget surplus will rise to 1.5% over the long run from about 1% last year, amid a modest recovery, the IMF said Monday after executive directors met to discuss the fund’s annual assessment of the nation’s economy. Still, the projected surplus falls short of the 3.1% forecast by the country’s European creditors. The fund reiterated its view that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. Most of the executive directors don’t believe the economy needs more fiscal consolidation, the IMF said. The IMF has said it would consider giving Greece a new loan to supplement the 86 billion euros ($92 billion) it’s receiving from euro-area countries, but only if the nation’s debt-reduction plans are credible.

Greece’s European creditors also want the IMF to sign off before disbursing the next tranche of the euro-zone bailout. Greece’s government debt will reach 275% of its gross domestic product by 2060, when its financing needs will represent 62% of GDP, the IMF said in a draft staff report obtained by Bloomberg last month. Public debt will reach 181% of GDP this year, the IMF projected Monday. Greece’s economy is expected to grow 2.7% this year, up from 0.4% in 2016, the fund said. However, long-run growth is expected to slip to about 1%, the IMF predicts. The IMF’s assumptions aren’t based in reality and don’t take into account the reform of Greece’s public finances, according to a European Union official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are sensitive.

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Yeah, sure, add some more crap. For some reason this makes me think of George Clinton: “Do Fries Come With That Shake?”

Third Quake Over 5-Richter Magnitude Rattles Lesbos (K.)

Seismologists in Greece are keeping a close eye on activity in the eastern Aegean, as a third quake in 24 hours measuring above 5 Richter rattled the area in the early hours of Tuesday. The tremor hit at 4.24 a.m. and measured 5.3 on the Richter scale, according to the Geodynamic Institute in Athens, with the epicenter located 15 kilometers north of Lesvos. With a depth of just 10 kilometers, the quake was felt quite strongly on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios. Seismologist Efthimios Lekkas on Monday said two tremors – with a magnitude of 5.1 and 5.3 respectively – were not linked to the North Anatolian Fault Line, the source of powerful quakes in the past.

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Jan 252017
 
 January 25, 2017  Posted by at 11:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Family of Dennis Decosta, Portuguese Farm Security Administration client 1940

US Demoted To ‘Flawed Democracy’ (CNBC)
David Stockman: Prepare for Fiscal Bloodbath, Not Fiscal Stimulus (DR)
Donald Trump Claims ‘Environmentalism Is Out Of Control’ (Ind.)
Trump Administration Seeks To Muzzle US Agency Employees (R.)
Trump Poised To Build Wall, Ban Many Middle East Immigrants (WSJ)
Trump Pins Keystone, Dakota Pipeline Fate on Renegotiation (BBG)
Pricier Oil Means China’s Foreign Reserves Will Shrink Even Faster (BBG)
A $90 Billion Wave of Debt Shows Cracks in US Real Estate Boom (BBG)
A New Deal to Save Europe (Varoufakis)
The European New Deal (Varoufakis)
Karl Rove’s Prophecy (Unz)
Bumblebee Added to US Endangered Species List (VoA)
Half Of Families In Greece Live On Pensions (Kath.)
Cold Weather Reignites Fears For Refugees Poorly Sheltered In Greece (G.)

 

 

“..Washington can’t point fingers at President Donald Trump for the nation’s downgrade. “The U.S. has been teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy for several years..”

US Demoted To ‘Flawed Democracy’ (CNBC)

The U.S. has been demoted from a full democracy to a flawed democracy for the first time, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Every year, the firm’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of global democracy by scoring countries on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Nations are then classified under four types of governments: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime.America’s score fell to 7.98 last year from 8.05 in 2015, below the 8.00 threshold for a full democracy, the EIU announced in a report on Wednesday. That put the world’s largest economy on the same footing as Italy, a country known for its fractious politics.

A flawed democracy is a country with free elections but weighed down by weak governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation, according to the EIU. Other flawed democracies in 2016 included Japan, France, Singapore, South Korea and India, the report said. However, Washington can’t point fingers at President Donald Trump for the nation’s downgrade. “The U.S. has been teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy for several years, and even if there had been no presidential election in 2016, its score would have slipped below 8.00,” the report explained. Instead, dwindling trust in government, elected representatives and political parties is to blame.

“Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the U.S. This has had a corrosive effect on the quality of democracy,” the report found. As other developed countries experience a similar trust deficit, contemporary democracy is undergoing a crisis, the EIU said. The increasing role played by non-elected technocrats, increased voter abstention and curbs on civil liberties are among the main symptoms of this global malaise, the EIU said, noting that almost half of the 167 countries covered by its index registered a decline in overall scores between 2006 and 2016.

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“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline says there will be no recession through 2026. That is 206 months. The longest one we have ever had is about 100 months, under a much better circumstance.”

David Stockman: Prepare for Fiscal Bloodbath, Not Fiscal Stimulus (DR)

“I have lots of hope and zero faith.” “Somehow the idea that Donald Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan has gotten in the mix. Wall Street has priced it in. It is just completely wrong.” David Stockman served within the Ronald Reagan administration as the director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1981-1985 and is a two term Congressman. Stockman is also the recent bestselling author of Trumped! His book hits at the heart of exactly what the incoming administration must do in order to correct the dangerous direction toward financial turmoil. Cavuto then pressed on fiscal stimulus and the Reagan approach, where Stockman replied, “We are not going to get big tax cuts. We are in a diametrically different position. In 1980 the public debt was $930 billion, that was 30% of GDP.

There was huge running room and an open balance sheet for the accidental Keynesian stimulus. This resulted from the tax cuts and the defense increase, along with a massive deficit.” “Ronald Reagan actually increased the public debt by $1.8 trillion, or two times more than had been generated by the first 39 presidents.” “Today we have used that all up. We are at $20 trillion of debt.” “The base case forecast is so optimistic, such a rosy scenario, that they are going to need reflow of extra economic growth to get back to where they started. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline says there will be no recession through 2026. That is 206 months. The longest one we have ever had is about 100 months, under a much better circumstance.”

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Yeah, we need more cars…

Donald Trump Claims ‘Environmentalism Is Out Of Control’ (Ind.)

President Donald Trump has claimed that “environmentalism is out of control”. Mr Trump spent the morning meeting with auto executives as part of a push to bring jobs back to the US. Mr Trump told his guests at the White House that he was looking to ease regulations to help car companies and other businesses wishing to operate in the US. Among the attendees at the breakfast meeting were Ford chief executive Mark Fields, Fiat Chrysler chairman Sergio Marchionne and General Motors chief executive Mary Barra. Mr Trump called on car firms to increase production in the United States and boost American employment, adding that he hoped to see new auto plants built in the country. “We have a very big push on to have auto plants and other plants,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised companies for building cars in Mexico and elsewhere and has threatened to impose 35 per cent tariffs on imported vehicles. The President often singled out Ford’s Mexico investments for criticism during his election campaign. The gathering was the first time the CEOs of the big three car makers have met jointly with a US president since a July 2011 session with former president Barack Obama to highlight a deal to raise fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on the eve of the meeting that Mr Trump was looking forward to meeting the CEOs and “hearing their ideas about how we can work together to bring more jobs back to this industry”.

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This will only lead to more publicity.

Trump Administration Seeks To Muzzle US Agency Employees (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has moved since he took office last week to curb the flow of information from several government agencies involved in environmental issues, in actions that may have been designed to discourage dissenting views. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have seen directives from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate to the public, according to multiple sources. The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

All of the agencies affected by the actions have some input on issues related to the environment and have been involved in various efforts related to climate change, including effects on natural resources and human health. On Tuesday, a source at the EPA said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named. Asked if the EPA had been gagged, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday: “I don’t know … we’re looking into it. … I don’t think it’s a surprise we’re going to review the policies, but I don’t have any info at this time.”

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No surprise here. That may come when these things become real.

Trump Poised To Build Wall, Ban Many Middle East Immigrants (WSJ)

President Donald Trump was set to announce plans to expedite construction of his promised wall along the Mexican border, and was preparing orders banning entry to the U.S. of people from countries deemed risky and suspending the U.S. refugee program, people familiar with the planning said. Trump planned to travel Wednesday to the Department of Homeland Security, where he said he would be announcing his border security plans. Trump has given few details about his promise for a border wall, a project that is estimated to cost at least $10 billion and possibly much more.

Congressional Republicans have been mulling appropriating funds in spending legislation that must pass by April to keep the government funded, but Trump may be able to divert funds from other projects to begin work sooner. The other executive actions on immigration were possible for later in the week. That includes a ban on entry, which was expected to include Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, one person familiar with the planning said. During his presidential campaign, Trump initially said he would ban entry by Muslims but later modified his proposal to call for suspending visas to people from any place “where adequate screening cannot occur.”

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“White House spokesman Sean Spicer cast that possible renegotiation of the Dakota Access project as a way to address concerns by stakeholders, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe..”

Trump Pins Keystone, Dakota Pipeline Fate on Renegotiation (BBG)

President Donald Trump took steps to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, while demanding a renegotiation to get a better deal for the U.S. government. Trump stopped short of green lighting construction on either pipeline but put a deadline on the government’s review of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL to transport Alberta oil sands crude to U.S. refineries. Trump also announced policies to encourage the use of American-made products in U.S. pipeline projects and to curtail federal environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects. “If we’re going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipes should be made in the United States,” Trump said.

The moves, taken on Trump’s fourth full day in office, are a major departure from the Obama administration, which rejected the Keystone proposal in 2015 and has kept Dakota Access blocked since September. Environmentalists, concerned about climate change and damage to water and land, now face an executive branch that’s less sympathetic to their efforts. For the oil industry, it heralds more freedom to expand infrastructure and ease transportation bottlenecks. White House spokesman Sean Spicer cast that possible renegotiation of the Dakota Access project as a way to address concerns by stakeholders, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is concerned about Native-American cultural sites and the safety of its water supply.

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As I said a while ago: throw in a major devaluation and see what you get then.

Pricier Oil Means China’s Foreign Reserves Will Shrink Even Faster (BBG)

Much focus is on how China’s capital outflows will impact the world’s biggest pile of foreign-exchange reserves, but another issue in need of attention here is the rally in crude, argues Goldman Sachs. In a country where oil prices play “a disproportionate role” in the balance of payments – and China’s crude output is forecast to fall as much as 7% this year – the commodity’s bullish outlook poses a serious threat to reserves that have already shrunk more than 20% in the past two years. “The outlook for the balance of payments has deteriorated from a year ago, because oil prices are now on an upward trajectory, which could push the current-account surplus to around $200 billion this year, down from $331 billion as recently as 2015,” Goldman analysts Robin Brooks and Michael Cahill wrote in a Jan. 23 note.

That 40% slump is part of the picture for reserves, which contracted to $3.01 trillion at the end of 2016 from a record $3.99 trillion in mid-2014. A stronger dollar will also drive outflows. Goldman estimates the greenback will strengthen 15% by the end of 2019 against its major developed-market peers, so China is likely to keep weakening its currency fixing to maintain stability. The analysts reckon this could trigger a renewed pick-up in capital flight, which abated to $532 billion in 2016 from $736 billion in 2015. China even registered net inflows via its capital and financial accounts in December for the first time for 1 1/2 years.

Still, Goldman sees capital outflows slowing this year to $500 billion, and it expects reserve losses to accelerate to $394 billion from $369 billion in 2016 because the deterioration in the current account, led by surging oil prices, is “so sizable.”

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Like this: “Extremely low interest rates over the last four or five years have forgiven a lot of sins.”

A $90 Billion Wave of Debt Shows Cracks in US Real Estate Boom (BBG)

A $90 billion wave of maturing commercial mortgages, leftover debt from the 2007 lending boom, is laying bare the weak links in the U.S. real estate market. It’s getting harder for landlords who rely on borrowed cash to find new loans to pay off the old ones, leading to forecasts for higher delinquencies. Lenders have gotten choosier about which buildings they’ll fund, concerned about overheated prices for properties from hotels to shopping malls, and record values for office buildings in cities such as New York. Rising interest rates and regulatory constraints for banks also are increasing the odds that borrowers will come up short when it’s time to refinance. “There are a lot more problem loans out there than people think,” said Ray Potter, founder of R3 Funding, which arranges financing for landlords and investors. “We’re not going to see a huge crash, but there will be more losses than people are expecting.”

The winners and losers of a lopsided real estate recovery will be cemented as the last vestiges of pre-crisis debt clear the system. While Manhattan skyscraper values have surged 50% above the 2008 peak, prices for suburban office buildings still languish 4.8% below, according to an index from Moody’s Investors Service and Real Capital Analytics Inc. Borrowers holding commercial real estate outside of major metropolitan areas are now feeling the pinch as they attempt to secure fresh financing, Potter said. The delinquency rate for commercial mortgages that have been packaged into bonds is forecast to climb by as much as 2.4 percentage points to 5.75% in 2017, reversing several years of declines, as property owners struggle with maturing loans, according to Fitch Ratings. That sets the stage for bondholder losses.

Banks sold a record $250 billion of commercial mortgage-backed securities to institutional investors in 2007, and lax lending standards enabled landlords across the U.S. to saddle buildings with large piles of debt. When credit markets froze the following year, Wall Street analysts warned of a cataclysm, with $700 billion of commercial mortgages set to mature over the next decade. “At the depths of the panic, it was just that: panic,” said Manus Clancy, a managing director at Trepp, a firm that tracks commercial-mortgage debt. “That made people’s future expectations extremely bearish. Extremely low interest rates over the last four or five years have forgiven a lot of sins.”

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Yanis ignores the role the decline of growth plays. That is a shame.

A New Deal to Save Europe (Varoufakis)

“I don’t care about what it will cost. We took our country back!” This is the proud message heard throughout England since the Brexit referendum last June. And it is a demand that is resonating across the continent. Until recently, any proposal to “save” Europe was regarded sympathetically, albeit with skepticism about its feasibility. Today, the skepticism is about whether Europe is worth saving. The European idea is being driven into retreat by the combined force of a denial, an insurgency, and a fallacy. The EU establishment’s denial that the Union’s economic architecture was never designed to sustain the banking crisis of 2008 has resulted in deflationary forces that delegitimize the European project. The predictable reaction to deflation has been the insurgency of anti-European parties across the continent.

And, most worrying of all, the establishment has responded with the fallacy that “federation-lite” can stem the nationalist tide. It can’t. In the wake of the euro crisis, Europeans shudder at the thought of giving the EU more power over their lives and communities. A eurozone political union, with a small federal budget and some mutualization of gains, losses, and debt, would have been useful in 1999, when the common currency was born. But now, under the weight of massive banking losses and legacy debts caused by the euro’s faulty architecture, federation-lite (as proposed by French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron) is too little too late. It would become the permanent Austerity Union that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has sought for years. There could be no better gift to today’s “Nationalist International.”

Simply put, progressives need to ask a straightforward question: Why is the European idea dying? The answers are clear: involuntary unemployment and involuntary intra-EU migration. Involuntary unemployment is the price of inadequate investment across Europe, owing to austerity, and of the oligopolistic forces that have concentrated jobs in Europe’s surplus economies during the resulting deflationary era. Involuntary migration is the price of economic necessity in Europe’s periphery. The vast majority of Greeks, Bulgarians, and Spaniards do not move to Britain or Germany for the climate; they move because they must. Life for Britons and Germans will improve not by building electrified border fences and withdrawing into the bosom of the nation-state, but by creating decent conditions in every European country.

And that is precisely what is needed to revive the idea of a democratic, open Europe. No European nation can prosper sustainably if other Europeans are in the grip of depression. That is why Europe needs a New Deal well before it begins to think of federation. In February, the DiEM25 movement will unveil such a European New Deal, which it will launch the next month, on the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. That New Deal will be based on a simple guiding principle: All Europeans should enjoy in their home country the right to a job paying a living wage, decent housing, high-quality health care and education, and a clean environment.

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The practical measures in Yanis’ ’manifesto’.

The European New Deal (Varoufakis)

The European New Deal should include five precise goals and the means to achieve them under existing EU treaties, without any centralization of power in Brussels or further loss of sovereignty:

· Large-scale green investment will be funded by a partnership between Europe’s public investment banks (the European Investment Bank, KfW, and others) and central banks (on the basis of directing quantitative easing to investment project bonds) to channel up to 5% of European total income into investments in green energy and sustainable technologies.

· An employment guarantee scheme to provide living-wage jobs in the public and non-profit sectors for every European in their home country, available on demand for all who want them. On condition that the scheme does not replace civil-service jobs, carry tenure, or replace existing benefits, it would establish an alternative to choosing between misery and emigration.

· An anti-poverty fund that provides for basic needs across Europe, which would also serve as the foundation of an eventual benefits union.

· A universal basic dividend to socialize a greater share of growing returns to capital.

· Immediate anti-eviction protection, in the form of a right-to-rent rule that permits homeowners facing foreclosure to remain in their homes at a fair rent set by local community boards. In the longer term, Europe must fund and guarantee decent housing for every European in their home country, restoring the model of social housing that has been dismantled across the continent. Both the employment scheme and the anti-poverty program should be based on a modern version of an old practice: public banking for public purpose, funded by a pragmatic but radical currency reform within the eurozone and the EU, as well as in non-EU European countries. Specifically, all seigniorage profits of central banks would be used for these purposes.

In addition, an electronic public clearing mechanism for deposits and payments (outside the banking system) would be established in each country. Tax accounts would serve to accept deposits, receive payments, and facilitate transfers through web banking, payment apps, and publicly issued debit cards. The working balances could then be lent to the fund supporting the employment and anti-poverty programs, and would be insured by a European deposit insurance scheme and deficits covered by central bank bonds, serviced at low rates by national governments. Only such a European New Deal can stem the EU’s disintegration.

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“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Karl Rove’s Prophecy (Unz)

In a famous exchange between a high official at the court of George W. Bush and journalist Ron Suskind, the official – later acknowledged to have been Karl Rove – takes the journalist to task for working in “the reality-based community.” He defined that as believing “that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Rove then asserted that this was no longer the way in which the world worked: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” (Ron Suskind, NYTimes Magazine, Oct. 17, 2004).

This declaration became popular as an illustration of the hubris of the Bush-Cheney government. But we could also see it as fulfilled prophecy. Fulfilled in a manner that no journalist at that time would have deemed possible. Yes, the neoconservatives brought disrepute upon themselves because of the disaster in Iraq. Sure, opposition to the reality Rove had helped create in that devastated country became a first rung on the ladder that could lead to the presidency, as it did for Barack Obama. But the neocons stayed put in the State Department and other positions closely linked to the Obama White House, where they became allies with the liberal hawks in continuing ‘spreading democracy’ by overthrowing regimes. America’s mainstream news and opinion purveyors, without demurring, accommodated the architects of reality production overseen by Dick Cheney.

[..] publications that used to be rightly known as quality newspapers have turned into unreadable rags. The newspaper that was my employer for a couple of decades used to be edited on the premise that its correspondents rather than authorities were always correct in what they were saying. Today greater loyalty to the reality created in Washington and Langley cannot be imagined. For much of northern Europe the official story that originates in the United States is amplified by the BBC and other once reliable purveyors of news and opinion like the Guardian, the Financial Times and the (always less reliable) Economist.

[..] How could Rove’s predictions so totally materialize? There’s a simple answer: ‘they’ got away with momentous lies at an early stage. The more authorities lie successfully the more they are likely to lie again in a big way to serve the purposes of earlier lies. The ‘they’ stands for those individuals and groups in the power system who operate beyond legal limits as a hydra-headed entity, whose coordination depends on the project, campaign, mission, or operation at hand. Those with much power got away with excessive extralegal use of it since the beginning of this century because systems of holding the powerful to account have crumbled on both sides of the Atlantic. Hence, potential opposition to what the reality architects were doing dwindled to almost nothing. At the same time, people whose job or personal inclination leads them to ferret out truth were made to feel guilty for pursuing it.

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Your children’s children are going to love you for this.

Bumblebee Added to US Endangered Species List (VoA)

A small insect is getting a lot of attention in the United States. The rusty patched bumblebee is the first of its species to be declared endangered in the lower 48 states – meaning every state except Alaska and Hawaii. The rusty patched bumblebee is named for a rust-colored line on its back. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service announced this month it was adding the bee to its endangered species list. The insects are “on the brink of extinction,” according to the service. It said the bees were once found in 28 states. But there now are only small populations remaining in 13 states. The government agency will make a plan to help the dying bees recover. The agency said that such a plan might help other insects, like butterflies.

U.S. officials think land owners can take small steps to help the rusty patched bumble bee. They say land owners can be friendlier towards bees by using native plants in their gardens. The insects directly fertilize many kinds of fruit and vegetable crops. And they fertilize grain crops used to feed cattle and milk cows. It costs billions of dollars to duplicate the job the bees do for free. Land owners are also being urged to cut back on their use of pesticide products. The officials also suggest that gardeners leave their plants alone at the end of the summer instead of cutting them. That way, the bees will have a place to live over the winter. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the rusty patched bumblebee was added to the endangered species list partly because of habitat loss. Other reasons were disease, pesticides and climate change.

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It gets worse by the day.

Half Of Families In Greece Live On Pensions (Kath.)

Greek society is evolving into a sum of households surviving on pensions while its most dynamic section, young people aged between 18 and 35, are abandoning it or considering abandoning it to seek a better life abroad, a survey by the Small Enterprises Institute of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (IME GSEVEE) has concluded. The report published on Tuesday suggests that the long-term financial crisis, whose main victims are the middle class, is not only leading to a further decline in incomes and the broadening of inequalities, but also openly threatening social cohesion. The so-called therapy, with its constantly increasing direct and indirect taxes, may lead to primary budget surpluses but this is not returned to taxpayers in the form of public services, as at the same time public spending on health and education is also being reduced.

The survey, conducted between November 14 and 26, used a sample of 1,000 households across Greece. It found that more than three-quarters of households (75.3%) had endured significant declines in their income in 2016. Crucially, 37.1% of households said that they live on less than €10,000 per year, while 49.2% said that their main source of income is pensions. This was actually higher in December 2014 (at 52%), and the small decline is attributed to the cuts in pensions. Salaries are the main source of revenues for 37.9% of households, up from 37.3% in the 2015 survey, while 9% said that they mainly rely on incomes from businesses.

Almost one in every three households has an unemployed member, which amounts to 1.1 million households, while the long-term unemployed amount to 73.3% of all jobless. Financial problems are not limited to the unemployed though, as 22.4% of households also include an employee who earns less than the minimum monthly salary of €586 gross. No wonder 9.7% of respondents said at least one member of their family has left the country.

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The entire aid industry must be overhauled, from EU to NGOs and ‘charities’, or this will continue. Brussels likes the agony because it thinks it’s a deterrent, the NGOs are profit seekers. The model is completely broken.

Cold Weather Reignites Fears For Refugees Poorly Sheltered In Greece (G.)

A new bout of cold weather across southern Europe has reignited fears for thousands of refugees and migrants sheltered in deplorable conditions in Greece. Forecasts of freezing temperatures have also been met with trepidation by international agencies, aid groups and local mayors on islands. “Thousands of people are poised to suffer needlessly in conditions that are becoming increasingly desperate,” said Eva Cossé at Human Rights Watch. “Europe’s failed policies have contributed to immense suffering for people warehoused on the Greek islands.” Greece was the focus of public outcry this month after shocking footage emerged of refugees on Lesbos living in flimsy, snow-swamped tents as an arctic blast sent temperatures plummeting to -14C.

The outcry prompted the government to dispatch a naval ship to temporarily house up to 500 people detained at the island’s vastly overcrowded Moria reception centre. Others were moved into heated containers, hotel rooms and apartments. But the measures have proved inadequate and with more severe weather on the way officials, volunteers and human rights defenders fear the worst. Sub-zero temperatures are expected by Thursday. Since the closure of the Balkan route into Europe, more than 62,000 men women and children have been trapped in Greece, according to government figures. Every day a steady trickle continues to arrive on rickety boats from Turkey, placing increasing pressure on Lesbos and other eastern Aegean islands close to the Asia Minor coast. “It is not much talked about, but this month alone 900 people have reached Greece,” said Gianmaria Pinto, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“Right now I am on Chios and in one camp there are people living on the beach, in small tents, exposed to the wind and rain. They should be moved to better and more humane conditions and the structures and opportunity for that are only on the mainland.” Under a controversial deal agreed by the EU and Turkey to curb an influx that surpassed a million people in 2015, Greek authorities last year accepted the introduction of a policy of containment in order to process asylum seekers at accelerated rates. By restricting refugees to islands it was hoped “secondary movement” into Europe could be reduced and those undeserving of asylum easily repatriated to Turkey. Instead, the policy has backfired with thousands of refugees being forced to endure dire conditions in overcrowded camps while their asylum requests are processed slowly. Many have been in the facilities since March when the EU-Turkey accord was signed.

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Sep 222015
 
 September 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Accident on US 40 between Hagerstown and Cumberland, MD 1936

“We Are On The Precipice Of A Liquidation In Emerging Markets” (FT)
Currency Market Braces For Renminbi Weakness (FT)
‘Made In Germany’ Lies In The ‘Gutter’ After Volkswagen Caught Cheating (AEP)
Volkswagen Said Focus of U.S. Criminal Probe on Emissions (Bloomberg)
It Took More Than a Year of EPA Pressure to Get VW to Admit Fault (NY Times)
VW’s Worst Nightmare Is For The Scandal To Spread To Europe (Bloomberg)
VW Emissions Scandal Could Snare Other Firms, Whistleblower Claims (Guardian)
VW Faces More Legal Fallout From Cheating – This Time at Home (Bloomberg)
Volkswagen: The Curse Of The World’s Biggest Carmaker (Forbes)
Alexis Tsipras Has Been Set Up To Fail (Yanis Varoufakis)
Greece’s New Government ‘Doomed To Fail’ Over Flawed Bail-Out (Telegraph)
Greece’s Tsipras To Demand EU Action On Refugees (Reuters)
Eastern European Leaders Defy EU Effort To Set Refugee Quotas (Guardian)
EU Set To Water Down Refugee Relocation Plan (AFP)
Putin’s Plan: Moscow Handles Syria, US Looks After Iraq (AlArabiya)
Are Financial Markets Losing Faith In The Fed? (CNBC)
Fed Cred Dead (Jim Kunstler)
Catalans Threaten Not To Pay Public Debt If Spain Refuses Secession Deal (SP)
Joris Luyendijk: ‘Bankers Are The Best Paid Victims’ (Standard)
Sumatran Rhinos Likely To Become Extinct (Guardian)

“The wrong people got the capital..”

“We Are On The Precipice Of A Liquidation In Emerging Markets” (FT)

The world economy is locked on a course towards an emerging markets crisis and a renewed slowdown in the US, regardless of the Federal Reserve holding off on a rise in rates last week, according to one of 2015’s most successful hedge fund managers. John Burbank, whose Passport Capital has placed a raft of lucrative bets against commodities and emerging markets this year, forecast that the Fed would eventually be forced into a fourth round of quantitative easing to shore up the economy. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Burbank said years of QE had caused a misallocation of capital across the world, while the end of QE last year triggered a dollar rally with consequences that were only now beginning to be realised.

“The wrong people got the capital — emerging markets countries and corporates and a lot of cyclical companies like mining and energy, particularly shale companies — and this is now a major problem for the credit markets,” he said. Passport, based in San Francisco, manages $4.1bn in three main funds. Its $2.1bn Passport Global fund was up 14.6% at the end of August and a smaller, more concentrated “special opportunities” fund was up 30.6%. Both funds are in the top 15 best performers, year to date, according to the industry league table compiled by HSBC. Among Passport’s publicly-declared short positions is Glencore, the commodities trader that has suffered a 55% tumble in its share price this year.

The Fed last week decided against raising US interest rates from their present level of zero. Although one dissident member of its Federal Open Market Committee did vote for a quarter of a point increase, the committee took a cautious stance, warning of “global economic and financial developments” that could restrain US growth.

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“I don’t think [China] had any idea just how many people there are out there who think their economy is collapsing..”

Currency Market Braces For Renminbi Weakness (FT)

It is hard to say who was more surprised by China’s devaluation of the renminbi last month — international markets, with no inkling whatsoever it was coming, or Chinese officials, stunned by the resulting reaction overseas. This week, President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington will at least allow officials from both sides to have it out. The common view outside of the mainland is that China bungled it, rocking asset prices from government bonds to iron ore as well as the currency world with its unexpected promise of a “market-based” regime — a pledge its subsequent heavy intervention implies is dead at least for now. The biggest casualty came last week, however, with the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold, not raise, overnight interest rates following the market turmoil triggered by China’s move to shift exchange rate policy and push the renminbi lower.

For Fed chair Janet Yellen, the move by the People’s Bank of China clearly rankled as she highlighted global concerns, pointedly questioning “the deftness with which [Chinese] policymakers were addressing those concerns”. Hence, what China does next with its currency is critical — to the dollar’s path, market sentiment, the Fed’s rate deliberations and the US economy. Stuart Oakley, managing director, global EM, Nomura, says the renminbi would remain stable for the duration of the state visit. “After that, the chance of another leg of weakness for the [renminbi] rises considerably,” he said. “The PBoC will undoubtedly be very mindful of how its own policy decisions on the [renminbi] will affect the dollar on the broader level. I think they will have no issue with seeing the dollar stronger still from here.”

To China bears, the PBoC’s dramatic 1.9% devaluation of August 11 looked like a desperate attempt to bolster flagging exports by starting a currency war under the figleaf of introducing the sort of market-friendly reform designed to impress the IMF. Another interpretation is that Beijing really was focused on the IMF and winning acceptance for the renminbi as a reserve currency, and misjudged the likely reaction. “I don’t think [China] had any idea just how many people there are out there who think their economy is collapsing,” said Chris Wood at CLSA, the pan-Asia brokerage. He thinks further big moves this year are unlikely as officials continue to focus on moving from an investment-led to a consumer-driven economy. “A big devaluation would be an admission their economic shift had failed,” he added.

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“The US press is already calling VW the “Lance Armstrong” of the car market..”

‘Made In Germany’ Lies In The ‘Gutter’ After Volkswagen Caught Cheating (AEP)

Volkswagen has suffered a shocking loss of credibility after conspiring to violate US pollution laws and dupe customers on a systemic scale. The scandal has once again exposed a culture of corrupt practices at the top of German export industry. “We are facing a blatant abuse of consumer trust and a degradation of the environment,” said Jochen Flasbarth, the German state secretary in charge of pollution enforcement. The scandal is intrinsically worse than the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. While BP and its contractors may have been negligent, VW appears to have engaged in a cynical plan to trick regulators in a wholesale breach of the US Clean Air Act.

“It is profoundly serious. The accusation is that VW deliberately set out to mislead regulators with a cleverly hidden piece of software,” said Max Warburton from AllianceBernstein. It is of an entirely different character from earlier breaches of US law by Hyundai and Ford, which stemmed mostly from errors. The US Justice Department is weighing serious criminal charges. “‘Made in Germany’ in the gutter,” said German newspaper Bundesdeutsche Zeitung. The financial daily Handelsblatt called the deception a “catastrophe for the whole of German industry”, warning that it had completely undermined a joint campaign by Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Bosch and VW to convince Americans that diesel is no longer dirty and is the best way to meet tougher US emission standards.

Germany is the world leader in clean diesel. Its car companies have bet heavily on the technology, hoping to win the strategic prize in the US as new rules come into force imposing fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. “We are worried that the justifiably excellent reputation of the German car industry and in particular that of Volkswagen will suffer,” said Sigmar Gabriel, the country’s vice-chancellor and economy minister. Volkswagen’s own vow to become the “greenest” car producer in the world by 2018 has been exposed as a hollow publicity stunt. Theoretically, the company could face fines of $18bn in the US, based on a standard penalty of $37,500 for each of the 482,000 cars fitted with “defeat devices”, which allowed them to mask exhaust emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in pollution control tests.

The actual release of these toxic particles – blamed for emphysema and respiratory diseases – is in reality 40 times above the acceptable levels imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The cars will be recalled and modified, greatly reducing their fuel efficiency. The US press is already calling VW the “Lance Armstrong” of the car market, an apt allusion to drug cheating in sport, and a deadly epithet in an industry where brand image and goodwill are the lifeblood of sales. VW’s share price crashed 19pc in Frankfurt. The company’s strategic ambition to dominate clean diesel sales in the US lies in ruins. “There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this. The best case for VW is probably still a multi-billion dollar fine, pariah status in the US, and damage to its leading position in diesel,” said Mr Warburton.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Volkswagen Said Focus of U.S. Criminal Probe on Emissions (Bloomberg)

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Volkswagen over its admission that it cheated on federal air pollution tests, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the inquiry. That adds the specter of criminal proceedings to challenges the world’s biggest automaker already faces from regulators, lawmakers and vehicle owners in the three days since it admitted that it had rigged diesel vehicles to pass emissions tests in the lab. The vehicles emitted as much as 40 times the legal limit of pollutants when they were on the road, the Environmental Protection Agency alleges.

The criminal probe, which the officials described on condition of anonymity because it is continuing, will provide an early test of the Justice Department’s newly stated commitment to holding individuals to account for corporate wrongdoing. Earlier this month, the department said companies that want credit for cooperating with investigators must name individuals they allege are responsible for misconduct. The probe is being led by the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, which prosecutes violations of pollution-control laws, according to the officials.

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Good account.

It Took More Than a Year of EPA Pressure to Get VW to Admit Fault (NY Times)

Two years ago, the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit environmental group staffed by a number of former E.P.A. officials, had been testing the real-world performance of so-called clean diesel cars in Europe, and were less than impressed with the emissions results. The group decided it would test diesel-powered cars in the United States, where regulations were much more strict, as a way of almost shaming the European automakers to tighten their compliance. The group fully expected the American cars to do well, and run cleaner than their counterparts across the pond. What they could not have foreseen was that they would stumble onto one of the biggest frauds in recent automotive history.

Further, on the campus of West Virginia University, a group of emissions researchers who mainly dealt with heavy trucks noticed an unusual posting by the transportation council, which was looking for a partner to test diesel-powered cars. “No one had done that before in the U.S.,” said Arvind Thiruvengadam, a professor at the university. “It sounded very interesting, to test light-duty diesel vehicles in real-world conditions. We looked around at each other said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ” The university’s team bid on the project and got the contract. Mr. Thiruvengadam and his colleagues never envisioned where it would lead. “We certainly didn’t have an aim of catching a manufacturer cheating,” he said. “It didn’t even cross our minds.” The study also did not target Volkswagen specifically.

It was something of a fluke, he said, that two out of three diesel vehicles bought for the testing were VWs. It did not take long for suspicions to set in. The West Virginia researchers were well-versed in diesel performance on real roads, and had certain expectations for how the test cars should ebb and flow in their emissions. But the two Volkswagens behaved strangely. “If you’re idling in traffic for three hours in L.A. traffic, we know a car is not in its sweet spot for good emissions results,” Mr. Thiruvengadam said. “But when you’re going at highway speed at 70 miles an hour, everything should really work properly. The emissions should come down. But the Volkswagens didn’t come down.”

Even then, however, it is difficult for most researchers to be sure exactly what is going on. There are so many factors involved in real-world driving — speed, temperature, topography, braking habits. It is not unheard-of for cars to perform much differently in on-the-road tests than one expected. But this time there was a key difference: the California Air Resources Board heard about the groups’ tests and signed on to participate. The regulators tested the same vehicles in their specially equipped lab used to judge cars’ compliance with state emissions standards. That gave the project what most studies lacked: a baseline. “That broke loose everything,” Mr. Thiruvengadam said.

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But in Europe, Merkel reigns. And she won’t want one of Germany’s largest corporations to go down.

VW’s Worst Nightmare Is For The Scandal To Spread To Europe (Bloomberg)

Just days after General Motors settled with federal prosecutors for its deadly negligence over faulty ignition switches, Volkswagen has admitted that it cheated for years on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests. Having built its brand in the U.S. around diesel technology, VW faces severe damage to its reputation here, along with billions in EPA fines and now a federal criminal investigation. Worse for consumers, there’s no guarantee that the fallout of this scandal will be limited to VW alone. Clearly, shareholders are spooked: No amount of damage to VW’s relatively weak U.S. market position could justify the huge declines in VW’s stock price (near 23% on the day, for a market-value hit of $17.6 billion).

The fear, almost certainly, is that this scandal could end up affecting VW’s European market dominance, which is also highly dependent on diesel sales. Having to bring its entire EU fleet into compliance could cost orders of magnitude more than U.S. market repairs, as well as the firm’s widely-respected chief executive officer, Martin Winterkorn, his job. In the U.S., nearly a half-million vehicles equipped with VW’s 2.0 liter TDI engine have been deemed out of compliance with EPA regulations after the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit watchdog group, discovered they emitted far more nitrogen oxide in normal driving than in testing environments. Faced with an EPA threat to decertify new diesel models, VW admitted that it had installed a “defeat device” to give artificially low emissions results in Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models.

The EPA is raining righteous fury down on Volkswagen, but its record of clamping down on automakers’ malfeasance shows it’s on thin ice here. A 2012 scandal in which Hyundai and Kia goosed the numbers on fuel-efficiency tests provided ample evidence that the agency’s protocol – which allows automakers “broad latitude” to test their own vehicles and involves spot-checks on just 10% to 15% of all models – is an invitation to corner-cutting and outright cheating. Until emissions tests are improved, or a consistent complimentary “real world” testing regime is put into place, regulators will lack the leverage to pressure automakers into admitting who is cheating and who is merely gaming the rules. Nor will the agency know if the common discrepancies between test and real-world results reflect shortcomings in the test procedure itself.

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Seems inevitable. But political pressure will be severe.

VW Emissions Scandal Could Snare Other Firms, Whistleblower Claims (Guardian)

The emissions-fixing scandal that has engulfed Volkswagen in the US could extend to other companies and countries, one of the officials involved in uncovering the alleged behaviour has told the Guardian. Billions of pounds have been wiped off the value of global carmakers amid growing concerns that emissions tests may have been rigged across the industry. “We need to ask the question, is this happening in other countries and is this happening at other manufacturers? Some part of our reaction is not even understanding what has happened exactly,” said John German, one of the two co-leads on the US team of the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), the European-based NGO that raised the alarm.

Shares in Volkswagen fell by almost a fifth after the world’s second biggest carmaker issued a public apology in response to US allegations that it used a defeat device to falsify emissions data. South Korea said on Tuesday it would investigate emissions of VW Jetta and Gold models and Audi A3 cars produced in 2014 and 2015. If problems are found, South Korea’s environment ministry said its probe could be expanded to all German diesel imports, which have surged in popularity in recent years in a market long dominated by local producers led by Hyundai. US Congress confirmed it is investigating the scandal on Monday. House energy and commerce committee chairman Fred Upton and oversight and investigations subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy announced that the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing.

The US Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Volkswagen admission, according to Bloomberg, which cited two officials familiar with the inquiry. The company could face a fine of up to $18bn, criminal charges for its executives, and legal action from customers and shareholders. The US law firm Hagens Berman has already launched a class-action law suit on behalf of customers who bought the affected cars. VW shares fell by 19% in Frankfurt, wiping almost €15bn off its value. Shares in Renault, Volkswagen’s French rival, also dropped by 4%, while Peugeot was down 2.5%, Nissan 2.5% and BMW 1.5% amid concerns they could be caught up in investigations.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Friday that VW had installed illegal software to cheat emission tests, allowing its diesel cars to produce up to 40 times more pollution than allowed. The US government ordered VW to recall 482,000 VW and Audi cars produced since 2009. In response, Martin Winterkorn, chief executive of VW, said on Sunday he was “deeply sorry” for breaking the trust of the public and ordered an external investigation. German tipped off regulators at the California Air Resources Board (Carb) and the EPA after conducting tests that showed major discrepancies in the amount of toxic emissions some VW cars were pumping out compared with the legal limits. Max Warburton, an analyst at the financial research group Bernstein, said: “There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this – this is really serious.”

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The biggest challenge may come from investors, car owners and environmental groups.

VW Faces More Legal Fallout From Cheating – This Time at Home (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen’s legal problems started in the U.S., but the world’s biggest carmaker is finding the fallout over its cheating on U.S. environmental tests and declining share price is extending to its home market. The German company’s shares lost nearly a quarter of their value Monday in Frankfurt, and financial regulator Bafin is looking at possible violations of German rules. VW also faces legal threats from investors and environmental groups. “Like in comparable cases, with strong share movements we look at the VW stock as to insider trading, market manipulation, and ad-hoc disclosure rules,” Bafin spokeswoman Anja Schuchhardt said in an e-mail. “But this is a matter of routine.”

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based company admitted to fitting its U.S. diesel vehicles with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday. With 482,000 autos part of the case, the U.S. fine could total more than $18 billion. During normal driving, the cars with the software – known as a “defeat device” – would pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the EPA estimated. The discrepancy emerged after the International Council on Clean Transportation commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles including a Jetta and Passat, then compared them to lab results. VW halted sales of the models involved on Sunday and said it’s cooperating with the probe and ordered its own external investigation.

Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn, who has led the company since 2007, said he was “deeply sorry” for breaking the public’s trust and that VW would do “everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused.” Andreas Tilp, a lawyer representing investors in German court, says VW may have to pay damages to stockholders in Germany if the allegations of U.S. authorities are upheld. Investors may seek to recover losses incurred because of the stock’s decline. “We’re convinced that VW failed to properly inform the markets and is liable to investors who can seek billions,” Tilp said. “Concealing for years the immense risks of the pollution manipulation and the U.S. probes is a violation of capital market rules.”

Environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe said it will sue carmakers to have diesel vehicles removed from the streets starting 2016. It will also take legal action to have Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority revoke licenses for the vehicles. While rules on emissions are similar in the U.S. and Germany, the Federal Motor Transport Authority isn’t properly controlling its implementation, Juergen Resch, DUH’s director, said in an e-mailed statement. The German agency isn’t controlling pollution, and should use recalls in case of violations of environmental rules, Resch said.

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It’s lonely at the top.

Volkswagen: The Curse Of The World’s Biggest Carmaker (Forbes)

GM ruled as the No. 1 seller for decades before the problems that led to its 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout. But those issues caused GM to lose the title in 2008 to Toyota, which spent that decade on a deliberate expansion plan. Once it got to the top, however, Toyota found itself awash in an existential safety crisis that its chief executive, Akio Toyoda, blamed in part on Toyota’s quest to build a global manufacturing empire. Now comes VW, which has been on its own worldwide march over the past five years. It was not aiming to achieve dominance of the car market before 2018, only to find itself taking the top spot this past year, due to its manufacturing growth, especially in China.

Veteran auto industry executives know not to gloat when a car company runs into difficulty. They understand that any carmaker can have “its turn in the barrel,” as the saying goes. The industry has seen what happens when a Japanese company gets in trouble with American regulators, and what transpires when an American company encounters its own scandal. Now, as with Volkswagen’s reign at the top of the industry, the automobile world will see how it handles its emissions case. The one saving grace for VW is that unlike GM or Toyota, the emissions situation did not result in fiery crashes or devastation for the families of accident victims.

It’s primarily a technology issue, on a specific type of vehicle, and in far smaller numbers than affected GM and Toyota. So, it’s possible that recalls can be handled faster, and VW can get the issue behind it more quickly. Nonetheless, it will likely be a huge challengefor Winterkorn,who could face skepticism that he should continue to lead VW, according to at least one analyst. At a time when his company otherwise could have reveled in its industry dominance, VW should expect scrutiny from Congress, legal problems, a potential multibillion-dollar fine and a batch of uncomfortable headlines. GM and Toyota know what that’s like.

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Greece as a country has been set up. As I wrote on July 19: Was Greece Set Up To Fail?

Alexis Tsipras Has Been Set Up To Fail (Yanis Varoufakis)

Alexis Tsipras has snatched resounding victory from the jaws of July’s humiliating surrender to the troika of Greece’s lenders. Defying opposition parties, opinion pollsters and critics within his ranks (including this writer), he held on to government with a reduced, albeit workable, majority. The question is whether he can combine remaining in office with being in power. The greatest losers were smaller parties occupying the extremes of the debate following the referendum. Popular Unity failed stunningly to exploit the grief felt by a majority of “No” voters following Tsipras’s U-turn in favour of a deal that curtailed national sovereignty further and boosted already vicious levels of austerity. Potami, a party positioning itself as the troika’s reformist darling, also failed to rally the smaller “Yes” vote.

With the all-conquering Tsipras now firmly on board with the troika’s programme, new-fangled, pro-troika parties had nothing to offer. The greatest winner is the troika itself. During the past five years, troika-authored bills made it through parliament on ultra-slim majorities, giving their authors sleepless nights. Now, the bills necessary to prop up the third bailout will pass with comfortable majorities, as Syriza is committed to them. Almost every opposition MP (with the exception of the communists of KKE and the Nazis of Golden Dawn) is also on board. Of course, to get to this point Greek democracy has had to be deeply wounded (1.6 million Greeks who voted in the July referendum did not bother to turn up at the polling stations on Sunday) – no great loss to bureaucrats in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington DC for whom democracy appears, in any case, to be a nuisance.

Tsipras must now implement a fiscal consolidation and reform programme that was designed to fail. Illiquid small businesses, with no access to capital markets, have to now pre-pay next year’s tax on their projected 2016 profits. Households will need to fork out outrageous property taxes on non-performing apartments and shops, which they can’t even sell. VAT rate hikes will boost VAT evasion. Week in week out, the troika will be demanding more recessionary, antisocial policies: pension cuts, lower child benefits, more foreclosures.

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“Greece would return to economic growth if it complied with economic reforms, the European Commission said…” Only in fairy tales can economies grow in which people are forced to reduce spending.

Greece’s New Government ‘Doomed To Fail’ Over Flawed Bail-Out (Telegraph)

Investors cheered the return of Alexis Tsipras as Greece’s new prime minister despite concerns that the new government was doomed to fail in its bid to keep the country in the eurozone. Greece’s 10-year bond yields, a key indicator of default risk, dropped to a yearly low of 8.09pc, as markets bet that political continuity would ease the implementation of the country’s draconian third bail-out programme. Economists, however, warned that the left-wing Syriza party – who lost only four seats in Sunday’s general election – would struggle to jump through the hoops of an €86bn bail-out programme. Athens faces a punishing schedule over the next few months, where it will be required to pass 60 “prior action” laws through parliament by the end of the year. These include hiking taxes on food, hotels and baked goods.

Bail-out monitors will carry out their first review of the government’s progress in October. The reforms are unlikely to be blocked in the majority pro-euro parliament, but Mr Tsipras, who was sworn into office on Monday, still faces a sizeable majority of disgruntled MPs in his own party Failure to make satisfactory progress is set to hinder the prime minister’s battle for much-needed debt relief for the ravaged economy. “Mr Tsipras is unlikely to lie down and accept every new measure forced upon Greece by its creditors and the eurozone’s ‘institutions’,” said Jonathan Loynes, at Capital Economics. “The days of extended negotiations at late-night Brussels summits are not necessarily over,” he added. Despite being plunged into recession, Greece would return to economic growth if it complied with economic reforms, the European Commission said.

GDP is set to contract by more than 2pc this year.] “The underlying growth potential is still there,” said EU vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis. “If the reforms agreed in the new ESM programme are properly implemented, Greece can grow again quite quickly.” But cracks were already beginning to emerge between the new government and Brussels. European parliament president Martin Schulz welcomed Mr Tsipras’s reappointment but questioned the premier’s “bizarre” decision to continue his coalition with the anti-bail-out Independent Greeks (Anel). “I called [Tsipras] a second time to ask him why he was continuing a coalition with this strange, far-right party,” Mr Schulz told French radio on Monday. “He pretty much didn’t answer. He is very clever, especially by telephone. He told me things that seemed convincing, but which ultimately in my eyes are a little bizarre.”

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He’s had 10 months to do that. Why would it work now?

Greece’s Tsipras To Demand EU Action On Refugees (Reuters)

As an icon for many on Europe’s left, Greece’s newly elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, can be expected to rattle the cages of the continent’s elite whenever he can. After Sunday’s solid re-election, he may start with the migrant crisis, which he believes is emblematic of the European Union’s failure to stick with its founding principles of unity. “When the Mediterranean turns into a watery grave, and the Aegean Sea is washing dead children up on its shores, the very concept of a united Europe is in crisis, as is European culture,” he told a campaign rally last week. European unity, Tsipras reckons, was also sorely lacking when the EU began imposing harsh austerity on his country when it needed to be bailed out over debt.

But not unlike in the debt crisis, Tsipras must balance his outrage at what he sees as the European Union’s failure to respond to the migrants with a need for its help in meeting the cost to frontline Greece. And as over debt, the criticism goes both ways. Most of the refugees who make their way to Europe arrive via Greece, which transports them from its islands to the mainland, from where they trek north via the Balkans. Croatia said on Monday it would demand Greece stop moving the migrants on. Athens received €33 million in EU aid earlier this month to help cope with the migrants. But Nicos Christodoulakis, caretaker economy minister during the election campaign, said a lack of preparation meant Greece was missing out on up to €400 million in EU aid for the crisis.

Tsipras’ first international meeting after re-election will be a Wednesday discussion in Brussels with his EU counterparts about the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants pouring into Europe, many via Greek islands that border Turkey. Officials from his leftist Syriza party say he will ally again with other EU countries bordering the Mediterranean such as Italy and demand that the bloc shares the burden of dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees. “Member states (must) take and share the responsibility, that’s where the rupture is,” a senior Syriza official said.

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Will this be the straw that breaks the Union’s back?

Eastern European Leaders Defy EU Effort To Set Refugee Quotas (Guardian)

Central and eastern European leaders have defied attempts by Brussels and Berlin to impose refugee quotas ahead of two days of high-stakes summits in Brussels to try to decide on what already looks like a vain attempt to limit the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe. After months of being consistently behind the curve in grappling with the EU’s huge migration crisis, interior ministers will meet on Tuesday to focus on the highly divisive issue of mandatory quotas to share refugees across the union. There will then be an emergency summit of leaders on Wednesday. Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, who is chairing Tuesday’s meeting, failed to reach a breakthrough in Prague on Monday with his counterparts from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Latvia.

The Czech government wrote to Brussels arguing that compulsory quotas were illegal and that it could take the issue to the European court of justice in Luxembourg, while the anti-immigration Hungarian government brought in new laws authorising the army to use non-lethal force against refugees massing on its borders. “There are still a few problems to solve,” said Asselborn. “We still have 20 hours.” “The terrain is still very uncertain,” said a senior source from Luxembourg. “We don’t yet have agreement. It’s going to be very, very difficult.” This week’s fresh attempt to agree on a quota system comes amid the deepest divisions between western and eastern Europe since the former Soviet-bloc countries joined the EU a decade ago.

At issue is the paltry figure of 66,000 refugees being shared across the EU after being moved from Italy and Greece. They have already agreed to share 40,000 and were to redistribute a further 120,000. But 54,000 of those were from Hungary, which passed a law on Monday allowing the army to use non-lethal force on migrants and whose hardline government wants no part of the scheme. Given that up to a million people are expected to enter Germany alone this year and that Frontex, the EU’s border agency, says 500,000 are currently preparing to leave Turkey for the EU, the figures being fought over in Brussels are risible.

But the numbers are not the real issue. The row is about power and sovereignty. In the end it seems that all countries will join in sharing refugees, with the exception of Britain, which has opted out of the scheme. The other two countries with opt-outs – Ireland and Denmark – have agreed to take part, leaving the UK isolated.

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Oh, wait, there’s always backpaddling…

EU Set To Water Down Refugee Relocation Plan (AFP)

EU ministers are considering a watered down plan to relocate 120,000 refugees throughout the bloc, which drops binding quotas and leaves Hungary out of the scheme, sources said Monday. The softer stance emerged on the eve of a new emergency meeting in Brussels of the 28 EU interior ministers, who last week failed to agree on a European Commission plan for compulsory quotas for refugees fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “Whether voluntary or mandatory, that is an artificial debate,” a source from Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters, despite Commission officials insisting that they still want compulsory quotas. Another Luxembourg source said the word “mandatory” will not appear in the draft document that will go before the ministers when they meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss how many refugees each country will take.

Hopes of a unanimous deal last week collapsed in the face of opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, officials said. With populist parties exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment, many eastern countries argued that a Europe-wide relocation plan made little sense for refugees who preferred to settle in wealthier northern European nations. The original plan envisaged quotas for the relocation to other EU states of 54,000 asylum seekers from Hungary, 50,400 from Greece and 15,600 from Italy. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that by being included in the plan, his country would be erroneously confirmed as a frontline state for refugee arrivals. He insists that many of the migrants are coming from Greece and should have been registered there first and kept there under EU rules.

“It is established that Hungary will not appear in the draft as a beneficiary country,” a Luxembourg source told AFP. “However, it will have to join the solidarity” by hosting refugees from Greece and Italy, the source added. The figure of 120,000 to be relocated will remain in the draft, but it is not immediately clear which countries will now benefit from the relocation of the 54,000 asylum seekers that were originally earmarked in Hungary, sources said. One proposal is for Italy and Greece to benefit, while a second is for other countries along the Western Balkans route, such as Croatia and Slovenia, to be given relief. Despite failing to reach a deal on the larger figure, the EU ministers last week formally approved a plan first aired in May to relocate 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy.

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Obama’s new headache.

Putin’s Plan: Moscow Handles Syria, US Looks After Iraq (AlArabiya)

At the end of this month, New York will be see several initiatives, talks, understandings, and deals come together under two main themes: terrorism and immigration. Both issues in the minds of world leaders are closely linked to Syria and other crises in the Arab world. U.S. President Barack Obama called for a world summit on terrorism, with ISIS first and foremost in his mind. And Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to chair a ministerial session of the U.N. Security Council titled “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Settlement of Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and Countering the Terrorist Threat in the Region.” The common denominator between the U.S. and Russian priorities today is reducing the Syrian issue to a terrorism issue.

President Putin has effectively declared to the world that Russia intends to fight a war directly against ISIS and similar groups in Syria, while keeping the Syrian regime as a key ally in this war. Russia wants the United States to be a military partner – including of the Syrian regime – in this bid. Putin wants to meet with Obama on the sidelines of the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Obama is now considering whether the meeting will serve one of the key goals behind the Russian leader’s movements in Syria, namely, diverting attention away from Ukraine. The U.S. president is also considering whether he really wants to be drawn into the Syrian crisis, which he has avoided for years. He might therefore bless Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war against ISIS, as long as Putin does not ask the US to officially bless the alliance with the Assad regime.

It is worth quickly examining what Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s shrewd envoy to the U.N., told the U.S. network CBS about the Russian strategy. He said: “I think this is one thing we share now with the United States, with the U.S. government: They don’t want the Assad government to fall. They don’t want it to fall. They want to fight (ISIS) in a way which is not going to harm the Syrian government.” He added: “On the other hand, they don’t want the Syrian government to take advantage of their campaign against [ISIS]. But they don’t want to harm the Syrian government by their action. This is very complex.” It is not clear whether what Churkin is saying is based on assumptions or whether it is a fact that the U.S. government does not acknowledge publicly. If this is just a Russian interpretation of U.S. policy, then it is part of its strategy to sell its pitch because it assumes that Washington will not demur.

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Long lost.

Are Financial Markets Losing Faith In The Fed? (CNBC)

When the U.S. Federal Reserve kept rates on hold on Thursday, the central bank explained it made the decision because of the unstable global outlook. However, some investors have criticized the move, warning that the world could soon lose faith in the Fed. “They (Fed) should not base a rate decision on market volatility, because if you do that, then nobody is going to predict what you’re going to do,” David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, told CNBC Monday. “Not only does this now put into doubt when the first rate hike will be, but it means when they begin to raise rates, we don’t know if something could happen in overseas markets and suddenly they stop raising rates.”

In last Thursday’s statement, the central bank pointed to concerns over “global economic and financial developments” as reasons to delay a rate hike, but now investors worry whether this is the right decision and whether this would greatly influence the U.S. economy. St. Louis Fed president, James Bullard, echoed this Monday, telling CNBC it is “inappropriate” for the U.S. central bank to react to financial market turmoil, and focus more on growth and labor markets. Bullard added that to avoid a “1994 scenario”, the Fed should “go early, go gradually”, giving them flexibility to react to future problems that occur. If the U.S. central bank publicizes its concerns over financial markets, markets will in turn become more uncertain over when the Fed will hike, Kelly added.

“Markets hate uncertainty and what the Federal Reserve managed to do is add a huge serving of uncertainty to markets,” Kelly argues, adding that before the Fed had a clear criteria as to what should trigger a first hike and how to maintain, but now talk about China, volatility and commodities adds a whole host of uncertainty for markets. By keeping rates so low, the Federal Reserve is actually helping subdue the U.S. economy, Kelly adds, saying that instead of speeding up economic growth, the central bank is afraid over fears that the economy could be too weak. “If they are going to get derailed by any move in market volatility, then it just makes it more and more cloudy. That is not good for financial markets.”

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“The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn.”

Fed Cred Dead (Jim Kunstler)

Last week was the watershed for central banking and for the illusion that the current disposition of things has a future. The Federal Reserve blinked on its long-touted Fed funds interest rate hike and chairperson Janet Yellen was left standing naked in the hot glare of her own carbonizing credibility, a pitiful larval creature, still maundering about “the data,” and “the median growth projection,” and other previously-owned figments spun out of the great PhD wonk machine in the Eccles Building. The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn.

What seemed like a good idea at the time when Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke stepped into the pilot house now just looks like the fraud of frauds: enabling corporations to borrow ever more money from the future to pretend that their balance sheets are sound. That scam has nowhere left to go, except into the black hole that has been waiting for it. All the Fed really has left is to destroy the value of the dollar (to save it! Just like Vietnam!). This ought to be an interesting week in the financial markets as the players have had a long, anxious weekend to absorb the death of Fed cred. And October, too. Expect dramatic re-pricing. Sometime a few months down the line, financial markets will present a “relief rally.” Don’t get suckered on that one.

Meanwhile, what remains on the other head of this two-headed economy besides driving to-and-from the Walmart? Pornography? The tattoo industry? Meth and narcotics? Prostitution? Professional sports on the flat screen? Kim and Kanye? Grand theft auto? Do you really think Donald Trump can fix this?

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This may be quite the event this weekend. More Merkel headaches.

Catalans Threaten Not To Pay Public Debt If Spain Refuses Secession Deal (SP)

The First Minister of Catalonia, Artur Mas, decried the comments made by the Governor of the Bank of Spain, Luis María Linde, earlier in the day as “immoral, irresponsible and indecent” and warned an independent Catalonia might not pay its share of the public debt if Spain refused to do a deal. Mr. Mas, echoing what other Junts Pel Sí candidates had said over the weekend, said the central government was promoting a pre-electoral climate of fear to pressure Catalans before the vote on Sunday: “It won’t work, we won’t swallow it”. “The stakes are high for Spain”, he said, according to a report in El País: “Imagine there is no agreement on Spanish public debt. How would the state face its debt if there is no agreement for Catalonia to assume its part?”

On Monday morning, the governor of the Bank of Spain, Luis María Linde, had said during a breakfast meeting in Madrid that capital controls in a newly independent Catalonia were a possibility, although he said his remarks were made in reference to a “highly unlikely future scenario”, according to a report in Europa Press. He also confirmed what others had said before him—including Angela Merkel, David Cameron and European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas—about a newly independent Catalonia immediately being left out of the European Union. “There are people who have power and don’t want to lose out”, said Mr. Mas in reference to Mr. Linde: “Today we have another example, the governor of the Bank of Spain. People at the service of the state who don’t want to lose power”.

“It is irresponsible and indecent”, said the First Minister: “to threaten things that no democratic country would dare to insinuate”. On Friday evening, after the close of business, Spain’s leading banks issued a statement via the Spanish Banking Association (AEB) warning of the risks of secession to financial security and the banks’ own continued presence in Catalonia should an attempt at secession be made. The governor of the Bank of Spain said on Monday that the banks’ statement “said very obvious things” and that the secession of Catalonia would create “insecurity, uncertainty and tension”.

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” If interest rates return to a historical average of 6%, [London] is finished. It will just go boom.”

Joris Luyendijk: ‘Bankers Are The Best Paid Victims’ (Standard)

When Joris Luyendijk was interviewing bankers, many clearly felt his deepest desire was to be them. “It’s cult-like,” he says of the City. “The macho, master of the universe type has bought into this idea so deeply: ‘I may be working 80 hours a week, I don’t see my family, and my body looks 10 years older than it is, but I am living the life. Everybody wants to be me.’” And as in a cult, insiders were afraid to speak out, fearing expulsion. Whenever he was talking to a financier in a coffee shop and a colleague walked in, they would morph into a “shivering wreck”: “How much of a master of the universe are you if you’re afraid to give your views to a fellow citizen?” Yet many still spoke to him. “I wondered why they would risk their jobs. Some said: ‘I am terrified about what my bank can do to society, and how it is being run’.”

Luyendijk, a 43-year-old investigative journalist, used to cover the Middle East — “interviewing real terrorists not financial terrorists”. But then he started talking to banking employees about the 2008 financial meltdown. The conversations became a Guardian blog and now a book, Swimming With Sharks. It has been so successful in his native Netherlands that he jokingly calls it “Fifty Shades of Joris”. He wants the book to help others see past the obfuscation of the City: “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding that we’re too stupid to understand the problems of finance. A seven-year-old understands perverse incentives. Tell them: ‘Half the class doesn’t do their homework, half does and they all get the same grade; what will happen?’ That’s the bank.”

His view of the future is frightening. “We’ll continue to have ever bigger crashes, until we can no longer save the system. And then we will do what we could do now: rebuild it.” He feels little has changed in banking in the seven years since the crash. “The old mindset is intact: ‘If it’s legal, we’ll do it, and our well-paid lobbyists will ensure it’s legal’. You have these financial empires: too vast, too complex, too toxic to manage. Something happens and they blow up like nuclear reactors.” He has two major predictions. The first is that the next crisis could be caused by terrorists hijacking banking IT systems. “They’re so vulnerable. Because banks were merging and acquiring like crazy, they glued systems together. Imagine if a bank says we can no longer access our data and companies can no longer get their money.”

The second is that the London housing bubble will burst. “It’s a when and not an if. If interest rates return to a historical average of 6%, this city is finished. It will just go boom. Everybody knows this, just as all the [analysts] knew the subprime market in America would explode. It’s just really attractive for George Osborne to reinflate the bubble, so all the home-owning voters are happy.” On the 2008 crisis, Luyendijk argues it wasn’t a failure of capitalism: it showed finance wasn’t really capitalist at all. “I go to the heart of capitalism and I find…” he pauses for effect. “Socialism. Because in most niches, four or five banks control the market, divide it up among themselves and they can’t go bust. Rather than going on about greed, we should make sure there are free market forces in finance again.”

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Another notch in our belts.

Sumatran Rhinos Likely To Become Extinct (Guardian)

Earth’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos are edging perilously close to extinction, according to one of the world’s top conservation bodies. There are fewer than 100 of the animals left in the rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Kalimantan province of Borneo. The last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia was spotted two years ago in the Sabah region of Borneo but experts last month declared the species extinct in that country. That has prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to sound the alarm over the species’ fate, which it said is headed for extinction if urgent action is not taken.

“It takes the rhino down to a single country,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely.” The rhino is the smallest of the three Asian rhino species – there are also just 57 Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and more than 3,000 Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). The population of the Sumatran species is believed to have halved in the last decade. The last official assessment in 2008 put their number at about 250 but Stuart said, with hindsight, the true number then had probably been about 200.

Poachers kill the rhinos for their horn, which is even more valuable than that of African rhinos. “For hundreds of years, we’ve been unable to stem the decline of this species. That’s due to poaching. It’s due to the fact they get to such a low density the animals don’t find each other and they don’t breed. It’s due to the fact that if the females don’t breed regularly, they develop these tumours in their reproductive tract that render them infertile,” he said. A large number of females in the wild were likely infertile because they do not breed often enough, he said. The only Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, a male called Harapan, is due to be flown from Cincinnati Zoo in the US to a rhino sanctuary in Sumatra this autumn to help the species breed. There are only nine of the animals in captivity worldwide.

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Sep 222015
 
 September 22, 2015  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


NPC Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 88 Holiday Sedan for 1957, Columbus GA 1908

Angela Merkel has another huge headache on her plate. She seems to attract those these days. And given how she’s been dealing with the last few migraines coming her way, perhaps she deserves them.

For now, it’s a story of one carmaker, Volkswagen. And in one country, the USA. A country in which the diesel engine is somewhat of an orphan, making up just a few percent of the total car market. But the “defeat device” scandal will not stop there.

In Europe, diesel accounts for about half of all vehicles sold. And there’s no reason to presume VW didn’t use the same software tricks in Europe that it did in America. Nor, for that matter, does it seem reasonable to think VW is the only carmaker to apply sleight of hand to its emissions tests. The competition would have had to be profoundly asleep at the wheel not to know about the “device”.

What Volkswagen has been caught cheating on concerns emissions of nitrous oxide. As for its CO2 levels, who knows what can, and maybe will, be found? The crucial question perhaps is, are we ever going to know?

Volkswagen spent the past few years as the biggest carmaker in the world. It’s safe to put that in the past tense now. But given the size of the company, it’s equally safe to assume that Merkel’s people are cooperating with the company on damage control. Whoever may come down hardest on VW, it won’t be Merkel. There’s too much at stake, economically and therefore politically.

Perhaps France, where way more than half the cars are diesel powered, will see an opportunity to bash VW in order to provide a boost to its own automobile industry. But Merkel would see that coming from miles away, and threaten Hollande into submission. Moreover, how ‘clean’ are French engines? Can Hollande be confident about that?

Perhaps this will not go anywhere unless private investors and citizens align in massive litigation, class action suits. That might work, but it also might take many years to move through court.

The EPA has acted at least somewhat faster, though not as fast as you might think. It has forced VW to recall 500,000 cars in the US, and suspend all further sales. However, it took over a year of EPA pressure for Volkswagen to even admit to what it was doing.

And it took a while before that for the EPA to pick up on research conducted by the California Air Resources Board. Who in turn had joined up with studies already underway at West Virginia University and the non-profit International Council on Clean Transportation, which started ‘investigating’ diesel emissions two years ago.

The fact that the EPA has ordered recalls of vehicles dating back as far as 2009 is an indication of how long’s it’s taken to get this thing to the surface.

Sales of diesel luxury cars are set to plummet; not only Volkswagens, and not only in the US. Which is a big headache, too, for the likes of Mercedes, Renault, Peugeot-Citroën, and a handful of Japanese carmakers.

It’s time for everyone, government agencies, environmental groups, to engage in very thorough testing. We at least know what to look for, and at, now. Or let’s say we know at least one thing that requires severe scrutiny.

But this risks turning into one big political game, being conducted from Merkel’s offices in Berlin. Carmakers are powerful corporations, as of course are diesel producers.

We must first of all look at the reasons why Volkswagen went as far as to develop specialized software systems to hide real emissions. Surely it must have tried to develop engines that would not emit the 10-40 times legal limits they have been found to do at present, before turning to its programmers to ‘solve’ the issue.

And if Volkswagen couldn’t make those engines, why should other carmakers be able to? They all have the ability to take each other’s vehicles apart and find out exactly how they function. It’s not an industry that has too many secrets lying around. Once your product’s on the market, your secrets are too.

Investigators should go talk to the programmers who wrote the software, see what they have to say about why they did it, and who ordered them to. There must be pockets of deep shame and guilt, and fear of repercussions, among programmers and engineers alike. Someone’s bound to give up the goods.

If anything, this could be a good test of the transparency of our societies, our legal systems, and the political clout of major corporations. And that last bit should temper our expectations.