Sep 242023

Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934



I don’t think we ever had a movie review before, and this is not really one either. Dr. D. sent me this yesterday, and now you can all go find out what it means. It feels to me like he has Keanu Reeves solve all of world politics. But then, I only saw some bits of John Wick 1, and I’m afraid I stopped there. So what do I know, really?



Dr. D. :

For a change of pace, let’s do a light off-the-cuff movie review of John Wick 4. Now being no expert, I don’t keep very close track of the plot or the names, but with a spoiler alert, here’s how this exciting and deadly action movie goes.

Johnny, a retired Mafia killer, has gotten into trouble in Wick 1, where his former Mafia boss’s idiot drug-addled son is so offensive that he has to come out of retirement to oppose them. After the many turns of Wick 2 and 3, and finds himself “Excummunicado”. That is, his bad behavior in taking just revenge means he is wanted dead by all the other mafias, headed by a mysterious “High Table”, a secret and untouchable collective of old European money.

In revenge for not bringing Johnny to heel and controlling or eliminating him, the designated authority of the High Table, the young Marquis, attacks downtown NY, leveling their prime location and casino there called “The Continental”, murdering the NY Concierge, and leaving the NY Manager alive as a warning to others.

The young Marquis of old Europe then enlists China, a blind assassin who is indifferent to the job, but capable of killing rebellious Johnny, but only through deadly blackmail of killing his progeny, his young and protected daughter.

Asked why he destroyed his own focus and financial center in NY, the Marquis says he must destroy the very “idea” of rebellion, by destroying everything it touches worldwide. He is advised by London, his agent and advisor, on the problems of destroying your own paying assets simply to make a point, but is dismissed.

Johnny then travels to Japan, where he has loyal friends willing to advise or even possibly help him. However, the very act of coordinating puts Japan under massive attack and they are also destroyed. As his last act, Japan authorizes Johnny to kill everyone involved without quarter. The hungry China is also there eating noodles and concludes the attack on Japan near a watery pool, but leaving Japan’s young daughter intact.

We also find that The Tracker, a beer-drinking American everyman and his dog, have been following Johnny’s every move and is biding his time for action. He is disregarded by Europe as an irrelevant Mr. Nobody, beyond consideration or engagement, a deplorable.

Johnny returns to hiding among the Street People, the Bowery King, and is contacted by NY who tells him he can end the persecution by toppling the High Table. If he kills the Marquis himself, he will merely be replaced by another. But if he can Topple the Table or force them to negotiate, he can make terms for lasting peace. This is done via a seldom-used direct war, in personal combat. The constant possibility and risk of such a direct and personal war is the only thing holding nation’s mafias in check. So Johnny must fight Old Europe directly, one-to-one.

However there is no premise for doing this. To get a basis for single combat, Europe vs Johnny, he needs a seat, a “ticket” from a nation’s mafia to make such a challenge. He cannot be on the outside, a stateless free agent. But there is such a one who wants to take revenge in Russia.

Johnny meets the Russian mafia in Germany, who immediately shoot and hang him out of revenge and distrust. She says she cannot forgive the killing of her father once, when she then had to bow subservience to Old Europe for years. Johnny argues they now have a common enemy and should take out the Marquis and the Table instead of each other. Russia reluctantly agrees but only if Johnny can prove himself. To do so, he must take out all Germany, and hand her his gold as token.

They then arrange this ruse that Johnny shall be delivered as prisoner and slave to massive, muscular Germany. On arrival in his office, they find China already knows and is waiting. The Tracker is also there, and so we have all three sitting down together in Germany, all wanting to kill rebel Johnny, either for threats, or or money, or for German dominance and credibility. Germany then reveals he deals off the bottom of the deck and cheats at everything.

In the ensuing battle, Johnny attacks Germany in a way he doesn’t expect, cutting at his arteries, and after an endless and pounding exchange, he delivers Germany’s gold teeth to Russia.

Johnny is then authorized as an agent and alliance with Russia, to then attack Old Europe in single combat.

NY delivers the challenge to the hotheaded young Marquis, however encouraging him that if he should kill Johnny, the young Marquis would most certainly be lauded as master and take over everything. Also should Johnny win this combat, then NY will be rebuilt and reinstated at Europe’s expense, thus NY’s interest in the matter. If Europe wins, however, NY will be killed. This is agreed as they depart under the painting of the “Liberty Guiding” by Eugène Delacroix and comment Sic Semper Tyrannis.

In the meeting of terms under the London moderator and arbiter, they arrange combat with pistols at dawn at Sacré-Cœur, the Sacred Heart. Instead of fighting Johnny himself, however, Europe nominates China instead, who again is forced to agree, but likes it even less.

Europe’s Eurotrash soldier then warns the Marquis that in the bodyguard’s opinion, this is a bad idea, as to be seen not fighting for yourself makes you appear weak, is a greater risk, and even winning may not transfer power to him. The Marquis clearly seems to feel he cannot beat Johnny in open combat and continues on the smart and clever route, as it will all be over soon anyway, with the rebellious Johnny erased.

The Marquis then continues to cheat, increasing the money paid for Johnny to amazing heights of $26M. This brings out every scoundrel and hit man worldwide, who then attack Johnny in the public square, under the Arc de Triomphe in France. Hour after hour they attempt to take him out, before and so the direct combat cannot occur. Man after man, attempt after attempt, they fail.

However, the American Everyman is interfering indifferently, saving Johnny’s life repeatedly as he wants the prize for himself: peace and a decent retirement. At the same time, and at the last minute, China then arranges to insure the combat of Old Europe vs the newly authorized Johnny – agent of the Russian Mafia – occurs as agreed, all overseen by London as referee. They climb the last 222 steps of the Rue Foyatier, taking out the last Eurotrash soldier in the process.

Everyman, while intending to kill rebel Johnny, was not offered enough by Europe, repaid a quid pro quo, and was too much delayed to kill Johnny before the open combat and therefore opens a beer and is a mere spectator to the duel from a nearby bench, his exhausting work complete.

At last the open combat of Europe vs rebel Johnny begins, pistols at down at last, with China as his proxy. They shoot each other mercilessly, but no one falls, and they proceed to the third round at 10 paces, impossible to miss. As they are both shot a third time, Johnny falls and Europe interferes to make the coup de grace on the “idea of rebellion” himself. Johnny however, although shot has only been appearing weak. He had arranged with China and not shot his pistol at all, having ammunition in reserve. With the help of NY distractions, he shoots and kills Europe, ending the matter and bringing the situation back to peace.

London concurs and frees both NY and China from their obligations. Russia is victorious and the High Table is brought to heel.

However as a soldier and a killer, Johnny is no longer needed and dies on the steps nearby, thinking of his Lady, and is buried in the last scene as “Faithful Husband.”

So, highly stylized and pretty cool movie, eh? Well, we now return to our regularly scheduled program that’s filled with boring finance and geopolitical wrangling instead.





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Jun 022020
 June 2, 2020  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »

Harris&Ewing F.W. Grand store, Washington, DC 1925


China Delayed Releasing Coronavirus Info, Frustrating WHO (AP)
Distancing And Masks Cut COVID19 Risk – Review (R.)
Why Europe is Irrelevant to Challenging China (Balding)
The Forgotten Coup Against ‘The Most Loyal Ally’ (John Pilger)
That Change You Requested…? (Jim Kunstler)
State, Independent Autopsies Agree On George Floyd Homicide, Not On Cause (R.)
Bellingcat: Russians Didn’t Kill George Floyd, But Are Still Bad (RT)
In Appellate Brief, DOJ Unloads On Behavior Of Judge In Flynn Case (Davis)
Julian Assange Too Unwell To Attend Court Hearing (CW)



Hardware problems this morning, my Chrome on MacBook started crashing and kept on doing it. Figured out it was due to Zerohedge’s ad settings conflicting with that set-up. Will look at the site in Forefox now. Cost a lot of time though.

Thanks for your support for our homeless project in Athens. Some of you are so generous it’s absolutely humbling.



Brazil overtakes the US for largest COVID-19 growth in the past week.

1 week of NEW cases:
Brazil: 151,600+
US: 144,000+
Russia: 61,400+
India: 51,600+
Peru: 44,500+
Chile: 31,100+




Cases 6,394,316 (+ 106,140 from Saturday’s 6,288,176)

Deaths 377,966 (+ 3,372 from Saturday’s 374,327)




Note: I dropped the SCMP graph, it doesn’t appear very relevant anymore.

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:



From Worldometer:










On January 14, China’s no. 1 health official ordered the country to prepare for a pandemic. Only 8 weeks later did teh WHO declare a pandemic. Explanation?!

“On Jan. 13, WHO announced that Thailand had a confirmed case of the virus, jolting Chinese officials. The next day, in a confidential teleconference, China’s top health official ordered the country to prepare for a pandemic, calling the outbreak the “most severe challenge since SARS in 2003”..”

[..] “On Jan. 22, WHO convened an independent committee to determine whether to declare a global health emergency. After two inconclusive meetings where experts were split, they decided against it — even as Chinese officials ordered Wuhan sealed in the biggest quarantine in history. The next day, WHO chief Tedros publicly described the spread of the new coronavirus in China as “limited.“

China Delayed Releasing Coronavirus Info, Frustrating WHO (AP)

Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,” and said its work and commitment to transparency were “very impressive, and beyond words.” But behind the scenes, it was a much different story, one of significant delays by China and considerable frustration among WHO officials over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, The Associated Press has found. Despite the plaudits, China in fact sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.

Tight controls on information and competition within the Chinese public health system were to blame, according to dozens of interviews and internal documents. Chinese government labs only released the genome after another lab published it ahead of authorities on a virologist website on Jan. 11. Even then, China stalled for at least two weeks more on providing WHO with detailed data on patients and cases, according to recordings of internal meetings held by the U.N. health agency through January — all at a time when the outbreak arguably might have been dramatically slowed. WHO officials were lauding China in public because they wanted to coax more information out of the government, the recordings obtained by the AP suggest.

Privately, they complained in meetings the week of Jan. 6 that China was not sharing enough data to assess how effectively the virus spread between people or what risk it posed to the rest of the world, costing valuable time. “We’re going on very minimal information,” said American epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, now WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, in one internal meeting. “It’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning.” “We’re currently at the stage where yes, they’re giving it to us 15 minutes before it appears on CCTV,” said WHO’s top official in China, Dr. Gauden Galea, referring to the state-owned China Central Television, in another meeting. [..] Although international law obliges countries to report information to WHO that could have an impact on public health, the U.N. agency has no enforcement powers and cannot independently investigate epidemics within countries. Instead, it must rely on the cooperation of member states.

[..] “It’s obvious that we could have saved more lives and avoided many, many deaths if China and the WHO had acted faster,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. However, Mokdad and other experts also noted that if WHO had been more confrontational with China, it could have triggered a far worse situation of not getting any information at all. If WHO had pushed too hard, it could even have been kicked out of China, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a global health professor at the University of Sydney. But he added that a delay of just a few days in releasing genetic sequences can be critical in an outbreak. And he noted that as Beijing’s lack of transparency becomes even clearer, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s continued defense of China is problematic.

“It’s definitely damaged WHO’s credibility,” said Kamradt-Scott. “Did he go too far? I think the evidence on that is clear….it has led to so many questions about the relationship between China and WHO. It is perhaps a cautionary tale.”

Read more …

Because there are idiots who’d want to contest it. The sky is not blue.

Distancing And Masks Cut COVID19 Risk – Review (R.)

Keeping at least one metre apart and wearing face masks and eye protection are the best ways to cut the risk of COVID-19 infection, according to the largest review to date of studies on coronavirus disease transmission. In a review that pooled evidence from 172 studies in 16 countries, researchers found frequent handwashing and good hygiene are also critical – though even all those measures combined can not give full protection. The findings, published in The Lancet journal on Monday, will help guide governments and health agencies, some of whom have given conflicting advice on measures, largely because of limited information about COVID-19.

“Our findings are the first to synthesise all direct information on COVID-19, SARS, and MERS, and provide the currently best available evidence on the optimum use of these common and simple interventions to help ‘flatten the curve’”, said Holger Schünemann from McMaster University in Canada, who co-led the research. Current evidence suggests COVID-19 is most commonly spread by droplets, especially when people cough, and infects by entering through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or via contaminated surfaces. For this analysis, an international research team conducted a systematic review of 172 studies assessing distance measures, face masks and eye protection to prevent transmission of three diseases caused by coronaviruses – COVID-19, SARS and MERS.

Read more …

“..other than rubber rafts and unused vacation time, Europe can and will contribute nothing to Indo Pacific focused institutions, policies, and security strategies. The US should not be bound by historical alliances to fight different security threats and economic objectives.”

Why Europe is Irrelevant to Challenging China (Balding)

One of the most widely watched geopolitical events is how will Europe respond to Chinese aggression from the national security law in Hong Kong to the invasion of India as well as a range of other events. Given that many have built a counter Trump foreign policy contingent upon attracting European allies to confront China, the importance of Europe in the unfolding geopolitical tragedy becomes even more important. The only problem with the Old World obsession? Europe is almost entirely irrelevant to the China problem. America has a European obsession. Coming out of a post World War II geopolitical environment there is good reason why that was the focus of resource allocation.

This resulted in significant work that focused on the trans Atlantic relationship from bilateral and multilateral alliances and institutions to economic and security relationships that built the post war world. In a post war world, rebuilding Europe rapidly and building alliances to confront the Soviet Union was tantamount. This formed the foundation for the post war institutional and alliance order. However, even beyond the broader institutional and alliance focus many in America looked to Europe as a natural ally that shared the same values but also behaved differently acting as a type of moderating influence on US foreign policy. They preferred to highlight different policy domains like the environment and human rights. They focused on institution building whether it was the European Union or whether it was NATO and post 1989 institutions.

This endeared them to many foreign policy wonks in the United States who admired European sensibilities. However, these threads of foreign policy and institutional alliances also overlooked key problems. First, much of this European cooperation flowed from the need to solve uniquely European centric problems. Whether the NATO security alliance facing the USSR to the United Nations Security Council with the two major victorious European powers as members or receiving financial benefits to rebuild Europe, enormous amounts of the cooperation involved European centric or adjacent needs, alliances, and institutions. In a post WWII world this is not a major problem. In a 2020 Asia focused threat theater, this is a problem.

Read more …

Australia went from being a loyal vassal in one empire to the same in the next. A country without an identity or an opinion.

The Forgotten Coup Against ‘The Most Loyal Ally’ (John Pilger)

The Australian High Court has ruled that correspondence between the Queen and the Governor-General of Australia, her viceroy in the former British colony, is no longer “personal” and the property of Buckingham Palace. Why does this matter? Secret letters written in 1975 by the Queen and her man in Canberra, Sir John Kerr, can now be released by the National Archives. Kerr infamously sacked the reformist government of the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, and delivered Australia into the hands of the United States. Today, Australia is a vassal state bar none: its politics, intelligence agencies, military and much of its media are integrated into Washington’s “sphere of dominance” and war plans. In Donald Trump’s current provocations of China, the U.S. bases in Australia are described as the “tip of the spear”.

There is an historical amnesia among Australia’s polite society about the catastrophic events of 1975. An Anglo-American coup overthrew a democratically elected ally in a demeaning scandal in which sections of the Australian elite colluded. This is largely unmentionable. The stamina and achievement of the Australian historian Jenny Hocking in forcing the High Court’s decision are exceptional. Gough Whitlam was driven from government on Nov. 11, 1975. When he died six years ago, his achievements were recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. The truth of the coup against him, it was hoped, would be buried with him. During the Whitlam years, 1972-75, Australia briefly achieved independence and became intolerably progressive.

The last Australian troops were ordered home from their mercenary service to the American assault on Vietnam. Whitlam’s ministers publicly condemned U.S. barbarities as “mass murder” and the crimes of “maniacs”. The Nixon administration was corrupt, said the Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Cairns, and called for a boycott of American trade. In response, Australian dockers refused to unload American ships. Whitlam moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement and called for a Zone of Peace in the Indian ocean, which the U.S. and Britain opposed. He demanded France cease its nuclear testing in the Pacific. In the UN, Australia spoke up for the Palestinians. Refugees fleeing the CIA-engineered coup in Chile were welcomed into Australia.

Read more …

“’s not just black people who struggle to thrive in the USA, but everybody else of any ethnic group who is not a hedge fund veep, an employee of BlackRock Financial, or a K-Street lobbyist..”

That Change You Requested…? (Jim Kunstler)

The nation was already reeling from the weird twelve-week Covid-19 lockdown of everyday life and the economic havoc it brought to careers, businesses, and incomes. In Minnesota, the stay-at-home order was just lifted on May 17, but bars and restaurants were still closed until June. Memorial Day, May 25, was one of the first really balmy days of mid-spring, 78 degrees. People were out-and-about, perhaps even feeling frisky after weeks of dreary seclusion. So, once the video of George Floyd’s death got out, the script was set: take it to the streets!

Few Americans were unsympathetic to the protest marches that followed. Remorse, censure, and tears flowed from every official portal, from the mouth and eyes of every political figure in the land. The tableau of Officer Chauvin’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck was readymade for statuary. Indeed, there are probably dozens of statues extant in the world of just such a scene expressing one people’s oppression over another. And yet the public sentiments early-on after the George Floyd killing had a stale, ceremonial flavor: The people demand change! End systemic racism! No justice, no peace! How many times have we seen this movie?

What is changing — and suddenly — is that now it’s not just black people who struggle to thrive in the USA, but everybody else of any ethnic group who is not a hedge fund veep, an employee of BlackRock Financial, or a K-Street lobbyist — and even those privileged characters may find themselves in reduced circumstances before long. The prospects of young adults look grimmest of all. They face an economy so disordered that hardly anyone can find something to do that pays enough to support the basics of life, on top of being swindled by the false promises of higher education and the money-lending racket that animates it. So, it’s not surprising that, when night falls, the demons come out.

Things get smashed up and burned down. And all that after being cooped up for weeks on end in the name of an illness that mostly kills people in nursing homes. Ugly as the ANTIFA movement is, it’s exactly what you get when young people realize their future has been stolen from them. Or, more literally, when they are idle and broke and see fabulous wealth all around them in the banks’ glass skyscrapers, and the car showrooms, and the pageants of celebrity fame and fortune on the boob tube. They are extras in a new movie called The Fourth Turning Meets the Long Emergency but they may not know it.

Read more …

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner tried to get away with “no strangulation”, didn’t expect to be corrected.

State, Independent Autopsies Agree On George Floyd Homicide, Not On Cause (R.)

The medical examiner’s finding that the death was a homicide confirms the same conclusion of the independent autopsy that was also released on Monday, but there are key differences over the cause. A press release from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner said that Floyd, who struggled to breathe as an officer pinned him down by kneeling on his neck, had “recent methamphetamine use” and “fentanyl intoxication” – along with hypertension and coronary artery disease – all of which were possible contributing factors to his death. But two doctors who carried out that independent autopsy of Floyd, 46, and two attorneys for the family said that he had no underlying health conditions that may have contributed to his death.

They argued that not only the officer who was kneeing Floyd’s neck killed him, but also two officers who were pressing their weight onto Floyd’s back while he was on the ground. They added that they did not have information on toxicology and any drug or alcohol use by Floyd. Dr. Allecia Wilson of the University of Michigan, one of the two forensic doctors who performed the independent autopsy, said the evidence pointed to homicide by “mechanical asphyxia” meaning from some physical force that interfered with oxygen supply. While the county’s full autopsy report has not yet been released – Monday’s press release appeared to show authorities walked back their conclusions on what killed Floyd.

The original criminal complaint against the police officer who pinned Floyd with his knee cited the medical examiner’s office when it said it found no findings of strangulation. Carolyn Marinan, a spokeswoman for Hennepin County, did not confirm any reversal, saying only that Monday’s press release were the “final findings.”

Read more …

“Your ‘expose’ is multiplying the stupidity in the world.”

Bellingcat: Russians Didn’t Kill George Floyd, But Are Still Bad (RT)

Bellingcat, the UK-based enablers of Western narratives in Syria and Ukraine now fueling US race riots, selectively translated a satirical post from Russian social media shared by RT’s editor-in-chief to get her “canceled.”
On Sunday, Margarita Simonyan shared a Telegram post by Dmitry Steshin, a war correspondent for the newspaper KP, which purported to give “advice” to rioters in the US on how to make their uprising more “successful” along the lines of the 2014 US-backed coup in Ukraine. Given that the post was entirely in Russian, it was obvious that the real objective of Steshin – and Simonyan – was to comment on the Maidan uprising in Kiev and the ensuing war in Ukraine. Not so, declared the self-proclaimed experts on “open-source” intelligence.

Bellingcat selectively translated a handful of sentences from Steshin’s post and accused Simonyan of – what else? – racism. “Bellingcat accusing me of racism for a repost that used the Russian word for a black person is as baseless as me accusing Bellingcat of racism for calling me Russian, and not Armenian (I am both),” Simonyan said in response to the accusations. RT also responded to Bellingcat on Twitter, pointing out that they “missed the point” of the Telegram post, which was not aimed at black protesters in 2020, but satirized the 2014 Ukrainian unrest. Indeed, Simonyan’s post starts with “good advice to black people of Minnesota from a journalist who covered seven Maidans and color revolutions” – referring to US-backed astroturfed protests that often escalated into riots for the purpose of regime change.

Being in Russian, though, the advice was clearly not meant for Minnesotans. While Steshin’s post might have used rough language, “humor norms vary by country. More so in countries not dealing with [the] burden of once being such enthusiastic African slave traders,” RT noted in a retort to Bellingcat. [..] It needs to be said that the declaration by Bellingcat’s founder Eliot Higgins that “Russia is behind the killing of George Floyd to provoke protests and riots” is a stupid take. It’s also a straw man, because even the media outlets stoking the riots only talk of some “Russian playbook” and sowing discord, and other such vague and unprovable insinuations, just as they’ve done for years with ‘Russiagate.’

Read more …

The court’s deadline for Sullivan to explain his ruling was yesterday. Did he comply?

In Appellate Brief, DOJ Unloads On Behavior Of Judge In Flynn Case (Davis)

The Department of Justice on Monday unloaded on the antics of the rogue federal judge overseeing the Michael Flynn trial, accusing him of usurping the constitutional authority of the executive branch to make prosecutorial decisions and ignoring both statutory law and federal court precedent requiring him to dismiss the case against Flynn. After Judge Emmet G. Sullivan refused to grant the unopposed DOJ motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn after the government unearthed and relevant reams of evidence that the government had abused its power and unlawfully targeted Flynn, Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell filed a writ of mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asking it to order the trial court to dismiss the charges against Flynn.

The appellate court ordered Sullivan to respond by close of business on June 1 and invited DOJ to file its own response as well. [..] Sullivan, who at one point accused Flynn, a decorated military combat veteran, of being a traitor to his country, refused to dismiss the charges and instead appointed John Gleeson, a former federal judge, to make arguments to the court about why the unopposed motion to dismiss charges should be denied. Days before Gleeson was appointed by Sullivan, Gleeson co-authored a Washington Post column calling on Sullivan to deny DOJ’s motion to dismiss the Flynn charges. Sullivan also asked Gleeson to provide the trial court with arguments to support new charges of perjury against Flynn.

“The failure to dismiss the indictment was error,” DOJ wrote in its brief. “And the court’s efforts to pursue additional charges of contempt compounded its error.” “When, like many other defendants, petitioner pleaded guilty but later asserted his innocence, he did not expose himself to prosecution for criminal contempt of court,” Francisco and the other DOJ attorneys noted. “The court lacks authority to bring its own prosecution of petitioner, for two independent reasons.”

Read more …

But the judge simply claims Julian refused to attend. She needs to be excused.

Julian Assange Too Unwell To Attend Court Hearing (CW)

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was too unwell to attend a court hearing by video link today at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, told the court that his client had had respiratory problems for some time. The WikiLeaks founder faces 17 charges under the 1917 Espionage Act after WikiLeaks published a series of leaks from Chelsea Manning, a former US Army soldier turned whistleblower, in 2010-11. The 48-year-old faces a further charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charges, filed in an indictment by the Easter District of Virginia, carry a maximum sentence of 175 years. Observers and journalists dialled in to a short court hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, but frequently had difficulty hearing what the lawyers and judge were saying over noises on the line.

According to one journalist present at the court, district judge Vanessa Baraitser said the court had received an email from Belmarsh Prison, saying Assange was “refusing to attend the hearing and refusing to sign a refusal form”. Fitzgerald told the judge that Assange’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, had sent the court an email on Friday explaining that Assange was unwell with respiratory problems, 7 News reported. The judge said she had hoped to provide the name of the crown court that could hear Assange’s extradition case today, but said she was still waiting for confirmation of the venue. The court heard that the prosecution had been unable to complete a psychiatric report on Assange because a medical expert had been unable to gain access to Belmarsh Prison during the lockdown.

The judge gave the prosecution a deadline of 31 July to produce the psychiatric report on Assange. James Lewis for the prosecution said the defence had served new evidence that would need to be examined to determine admissibility. The judge ordered the prosecution to present a new skeleton argument to the court on 25 August, with the defence skeleton argument due on 1 September, 7 News reported. The next scheduled hearing will take place on 29 June, and a full three-week hearing is due to start on 7 September. In a separate development, 36 members of the European Parliament have called for Assange to be released from Belmarsh on press freedom and humanitarian grounds.

Read more …



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“Only A Pawn In Their Game”
March on Washington
August 28, 1963



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Mar 152020

Dorothea Lange One nation indivisible. San Francisco 1942


New York Will Be The Next Italy (M.)
America Has No Real Public Health System – Coronavirus Has A Clear Run (Reich)
Hoboken Mayor Imposes Mandatory Nightly Curfew (NBC)
Coronavirus: Why It’s So Deadly In Italy (M.)
France, Spain Implement Massive and Dramatic Quarantine Restrictions (Slate)
UK Doctor: ‘We Don’t Have The Masks, Goggles – Or The Staff’ (G.)
China Could Have Cut 95% Of Cases If It Acted On Whistleblower Warning (HKFP)
Japanese Man Tests Positive For Coronavirus, Again (NHK)
Anti-Inflammatories May Aggravate COVID-19, France Advises (G.)
Google Says It Is Developing A Nationwide Coronavirus Website (R.)
Fed May Announce Commercial Paper Facilities Sunday – BofA (R.)
American Airlines To Cut Nearly All Long-Haul International Flights (R.)
Virgin Atlantic Boss Seeks £7.5 Billion UK Airline Bailout (R.)
‘Euroleaks’: Varoufakis Leaks Recordings Of Secretive Eurogroup Talks (RT)



France, Spain increase their lockdown measures, but France and Germany still exist on holding their municipal elections. Must be more important than virus response. More important than the survival of small firms too.

In France, over half of COVID19 patients in intensive care are under 60. Holland has 40-50 patients in intensive care, over half of whom are under 50. Some are children. The family of a 16-year old boy on life support in IC pleads with people to take the disease seriously.

Politicians of all colors invent the wheel as they go along, mostly as ignorant as the media whose ignorant news stories they base their decisions on. The model is simple: do the same as others do, so you can blame them when things go awry.

Belgium shut all its stores and bars, Holland did not yet, so Belgians go drinking in cramped Dutch bars en masse. The EU says it has few powers in this, thus ensuring it can’t be blamed.

The US is set for the worst disaster of all, it has to enforce travel restrictions very rapidly or else, ground domestic flights, close down highways, the works. And get hospitals working for ten times as many patients as they’re designed for. Good luck.

The calls for a UBI will grow louder at both sides of the Atlantic, and the power bastions will reject them with equal vehemence and bail out zombie companies instead. Our political systems work only in good times.


Cases 157,477 (+ 11,150 from yesterday’s 146,327)

Deaths 5,845 (+ 402 from yesterday’s 5,443)


The numbers in this graph are terrifying. 3,500 new cases in Italy in 24 hours.

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)



This set of graphs from Worldometer has turned almost straight north:

From Worldometer (NOTE: mortality rate is back up to 7%!)



From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)



From (New format lacks new cases and deaths)





“Close everything but grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies. Convert schools into food distribution centers. Bring in the National Guard to provide essential services like food and augment police and emergency services. Issue checks to all New Yorkers for the length of the quarantine for at least $500 per person per month.”

New York Will Be The Next Italy (M.)

Analysis strongly suggests that the NYC metro area has 5–10 days to quarantine the city or face dramatically overwhelmed hospitals, extremely high death rates, and a ruined economy. The outlook for NYC and COVID-19 is bleak. The policy response is far too slow and too weak to meet the needs of the moment.

The Analysis – The NYC region has approximately 400 cases reported as of Friday Mar 13. That number is obviously an underestimate. After accounting for undercounting of asymptomatic cases and failing to detect cases due to under testing, we estimate that between 1,281 and 2,280 people are infected as of yesterday.

Using an SIR Epidemiology Model (described in greater detail in my previous Medium post), we can use the Low and High estimates for infections on 3/13 to project #COVID19 growth through March. Then using those projections for infections, we can use a conservative 10% severity rate to get the number of people who are infected on that day that will require hospitalization (severe & critical cases).

The NYC region has between 1,200 and 3,000 open hospital beds. This analysis suggests that enough people will become infected by March 23 and March 25 that NYC’s hospitals will be fully at capacity approximately 7 days later. (Infected people who will become severely ill do not immediately need medical care upon being infected. There is approximately a 5–7 day incubation period. After which, most severe cases present to the hospital within 2–3 days.)

The Obvious Choice – NYC must implement more severe social distancing measures and potentially fully shut down no later than a week from now in order to avoid overwhelming its hospital system. Think about the choices here: The Status Quo: The governor and the mayor continue to allow the virus to spread at schools, subways, restaurants, cafes, and workplaces. This is the exact same approach Italy took at the beginning of its outbreak. Seriously take a look at this article from two and a half weeks ago when Italy only had 160 cases (vs NYC’s 500+).

“Strict emergency measures were put in place over the weekend, including a ban on public events in at least 10 municipalities, after a spike in confirmed cases in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced severe restrictions in the affected regions, which included the closure of public buildings, limited transport, and the surveillance and quarantine of individuals who may have been exposed to the virus. “We are asking basically that everyone who has come from areas stricken by the epidemic to remain under a mandatory house stay,” Speranza said at a Saturday press conference.” — CNN, Feb 24 2020

Sound familiar? It’s the exact same thing New York is trying now. It won’t work here either. After that fails here too, we will wind up with the Italian situation. Overflowing hospitals. Demand at two, three, five times the capacity of the hospitals’ ability to deliver care. What’s worse is that their capacity will decline as cases overflow. Their doctors and nurses will be exposed and have to be quarantined, reducing an already strained workforce. Soon after, chaos in the hospitals will lead to fear in the whole city. You will see reports of people dying in their apartments because there isn’t capacity for them in hospitals. This fear alone will shut down the city. The economy will be ruined and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of New Yorkers will die this year. This could all start at the beginning of April, if we don’t act within the next 5–10 days.

The Better Alternative: Shut down the city this week. Close everything but grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies. Convert schools into food distribution centers. Bring in the National Guard to provide essential services like food and augment police and emergency services. Issue checks to all New Yorkers for the length of the quarantine for at least $500 per person per month. Limit travel outside of the region. Slow the growth of the virus to a crawl immediately.

Read more …

“In America, the word ‘public’ means a sum total of individual needs, not the common good..”

Robert Reich has drowned himself for 3 years in repetitious and utterly boring Orange Man Bad rhetoric, but this is worth a read.

America Has No Real Public Health System – Coronavirus Has A Clear Run (Reich)

As the coronavirus outbreak in the US follows the same grim exponential growth path first displayed in Wuhan, China, before herculean measures were put in place to slow its spread there, America is waking up to the fact that it has almost no public capacity to deal with it. Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job. At their best, both systems respond to the needs of individuals rather than the needs of the public as a whole. In America, the word “public” – as in public health, public education or public welfare – means a sum total of individual needs, not the common good.

Contrast this with America’s financial system. The Federal Reserve concerns itself with the health of financial markets as a whole. Late last week the Fed made $1.5tn available to banks, at the slightest hint of difficulties making trades. No one batted an eye. When it comes to the health of the nation as a whole, money like this isn’t available. And there are no institutions analogous to the Fed with responsibility for overseeing and managing the public’s health – able to whip out a giant checkbook at a moment’s notice to prevent human, rather than financial, devastation. Even if a test for the Covid-19 virus had been developed and approved in time, no institutions are in place to administer it to tens of millions of Americans free of charge. Local and state health departments are already bare bones, having lost nearly a quarter of their workforce since 2008, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Healthcare in America is delivered mainly by private for-profit corporations which, unlike financial institutions, are not required to maintain reserve capacity. As a result, the nation’s supply of ventilators isn’t nearly large enough to care for projected numbers of critically ill coronavirus victims unable to breathe for themselves. Its 45,000 intensive care unit beds fall woefully short of the 2.9 million likely to be needed. The Fed can close banks to quarantine financial crises but the US can’t close workplaces because the nation’s social insurance system depends on people going to work. Almost 30% of American workers have no paid sick leave from their employers, including 70% of low-income workers earning less than $10.49 an hour.

Vast numbers of self-employed workers cannot afford sick leave. Friday’s deal between House Democrats and the White House won’t have much effect because it exempts large employers and offers waivers to smaller ones. Most jobless Americans don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because they haven’t worked long enough in a steady job and the ad-hoc deal doesn’t alter this. Meanwhile, more than 30 million Americans have no health insurance.

Read more …

Each on and for his own.

Hoboken Mayor Imposes Mandatory Nightly Curfew (NBC)

Days after Hoboken officials announced the city’s first positive case of COVID-19, the mayor declared a mandatory nightly curfew in the latest attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Mayor Bhalla detailed the curfew in a city blogpost late Saturday night, outlining the details of a nightly curfew that will run from 10 p.m. and end at 5 a.m. each night. The curfew is scheduled to begin Monday evening. All Hoboken residents will be required to remain indoors during the curfew hours except for emergencies and required work, the mayor said.

“As I am writing this message on a Saturday evening, I received a call from our Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante notifying me of a bar fight in downtown Hoboken, with at least one person falling in and out of consciousness, and our police having to wait for over 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, because our EMS is inundated with service calls,” the mayor said in an online statement. “This is unfortunately a contributing factor why we cannot continue bar operations which can trigger calls for service that are delayed in part because of this public health crisis.” In addition to nightly curfews, restaurants and bars within city limits will only be allowed to offer takeout and delivery options, the mayor said. Food and drink establishments will not be allowed to seat diners during the mandated curfew.

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Sort of nice, but not satisfying for me. The tweet below says why: testing “methods” are very different. South Korea tests everyone, Italy only tests suspected cases.

Coronavirus: Why It’s So Deadly In Italy (M.)

Many people have already pointed out that Italy has an older population than South Korea. The higher Italian CFR might therefore reflect a higher likelihood that an old person becomes infected with the coronavirus simply because there are more old people among the Italian population. We can easily check the plausibility of this argument by comparing the age structure of the coronavirus cases with the age structure of the total population for both countries. The population data are from the United Nations’ World Population Prospect 2019.

In South Korea, the age structure of the coronavirus cases is remarkably similar to the age structure of the population, in particular for the older age groups. The 20–29-year-olds are still hugely overrepresented among the confirmed cases relative to their population share, but their surplus is balanced by the underrepresentation of cases among the 0–9- and 10–19-year-olds. These three youngest age groups face a very low risk of dying from COVID-19. The South Korean CFR is hence not depressed or exaggerated by an under- or overrepresentation of older Koreans among the confirmed cases.

The same is not true for Italy: The share of confirmed cases at age 70–79 exceeds the population share of this age group by more than a factor of two. Among those aged 80 and more, the case share is almost three times as high as the population share. By contrast, young people and hence low-fatality-risk people are visibly underrepresented among the confirmed cases.

Hence, the question remains why the age distribution of cases is shaped so differently in Italy compared to South Korea. It has also been pointed out that the testing procedures for coronavirus in the countries are very different — Italy has predominantly been testing people with symptoms of a coronavirus infection, while South Korea has been testing basically everyone since the outbreak had become apparent. Consequently, South Korea has detected more asymptomatic, but positive cases of coronavirus than Italy, in particular among young people.

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The continent locks down. People expect this to last 2 weeks or so. What happens if that becomes 4 months?

France, Spain Implement Massive and Dramatic Quarantine Restrictions (Slate)

More European nations have joined Italy in enacting dramatic measures meant to keep their citizens in their homes for all but the most necessary of circumstances in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. On Saturday, Spain ordered all of its citizens to stay in their homes unless they absolutely have to leave to go to work, buy food, seek medical care, or help out elderly or otherwise vulnerable people in need of assistance. All bars, restaurants, and schools were ordered to close. France also ordered all restaurants, bars, cafes, movie theaters, and other “non-indispensable businesses” to close starting at midnight. Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations are some of the only exceptions.

Both countries had seen an uptick in cases in recent days. Spain saw 2,000 new cases on Saturday alone, bringing its total up to more than 5,700. The number of cases in France has recently doubled and the country now has around 4,500 confirmed cases. Italy, the country with the most cases after China, has been operating under these restrictions in a full quarantine since Monday. More than 21,000 people have contracted the virus there, and more than 1,440 people have died from it.

Some non-European countries have taken similar measures. Starting Sunday, all restaurants, cafes, calls, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and schools in Israel will be closed. Israel, which has less than 200 cases, also banned any foreign visitors from entering the country and gatherings of more than 10 people. Iran, which follows Italy as the third hardest-hit, has closed all schools, universities, sporting events, cafes, restaurants, museums, and movie theaters. And like Italy, it cracked down on travel within the country.

Read more …

Health care for profit doesn’t appear to be the best idea out there. In a nutshell: Systems need redundancy.

UK Doctor: ‘We Don’t Have The Masks, Goggles – Or The Staff’ (G.)

NHS staff are asking the same questions as everyone else about coronavirus. How deadly is it? How do we protect ourselves? Are the government’s tactics right? And how will the health service cope when – and it is when – it leaves large numbers of people seriously ill, many fighting for their lives? These questions are even more pressing for us because within two weeks we will be part of the frontline against a threat that we’ve never seen the like of before. I’m worried that our hospital’s beds are already 98% full. We are full of “social patients” – people medically fit to go but who can’t be discharged because there isn’t a place in a care home for them, or the care package to allow them to go home hasn’t been sorted.

So where are all the people needing life-or-death care from Covid-19 going to go? We’re barely two weeks from being in the same situation as Italy, with huge numbers of people needing to be in hospital. Yet we don’t have enough protective equipment like masks and goggles. And the NHS is under-staffed. We have to haggle with management about a minuscule pay rise for doctors willing to work extra shifts and expose themselves to danger. We don’t have enough isolation rooms or ventilators, which will be vital. Intensive care units will be the NHS’s most precious resource, but ours are close to full most of the time. We’re told of plans to increase ICU capacity. Yet you need a specially trained nurse for each ICU bed. Where will the extra staff come from?

Too few beds, staff and equipment; I’m worried that the NHS is completely ill-equipped to handle Covid-19. When Boris Johnson talks about our wonderful NHS and how well-prepared it is, that’s bullshit. He either doesn’t have a clue or is trying to falsely reassure people. The NHS has been hit hard before, by underfunding, terrorist attacks and tough winters. But usually crises are stretched over a period of time. With coronavirus it will all come at once.

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Just as Xi starts boasting about the approach, these guys try to spoil the party. Do a study like this for Italy too. And the US.

China Could Have Cut 95% Of Cases If It Acted On Whistleblower Warning (HKFP)

China could have prevented 95 per cent of coronavirus infections if its measures to contain the outbreak had begun three weeks earlier, research from the University of Southampton suggests. However, China only took vigorous action in late January – weeks after police silenced a doctor for trying to raise the alarm. First detected in Hubei, more than 146,000 people globally have now been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 5,500 have died from the SARS-like disease. The study published this week by population mapping group WorldPop measured the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions. The researchers examined how China isolated ill persons, quarantined exposed individuals, conducted contract tracing, restricted travel, closed schools and workplaces, and cancelled mass gatherings.

The analysis – which has yet to be peer-reviewed – found that early case detection and contact reduction were effective in controlling the virus and combined measures can reduce transmission. They can also delay the timing and reduce the size of the epidemic’s peak, and thus buy time for healthcare preparations and drugs research. The simulations drew on human movement and illness data to model how combined interventions might affect the spread of Covid-19. Coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 66 per cent if the measures were taken a week earlier, the study suggested, or by 86 per cent if action began two weeks earlier. If action was taken three weeks later, then the situation could have worsened 18-fold.

Most efforts to tackle the outbreak took place in late January, weeks after Wuhan ophthalmologist Dr Li Wenliang tried to warn about the mystery disease on December 30. He was among eight people who were punished by police on January 1 for spreading “rumours” about the virus. The Public Security Bureau made Li sign a letter stating that he had made “false comments” and had “severely disturbed the social order.” He died last month of the disease, aged 34, prompting widespread outrage in China.

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Reinfection, false negative?

Japanese Man Tests Positive For Coronavirus, Again (NHK)

Officials in western Japan’s Mie Prefecture say a man who was a passenger on a cruise ship that was hit by the coronavirus has again tested positive after recovering from infection. The man, who is in his 70s, first tested positive for the virus on February 14 while he was onboard the Diamond Princess, which was under quarantine off Yokohama. He left a medical facility in Tokyo on March 2 after he was confirmed negative. He returned to his home in Mie by public transportation. But he started to feel sick and developed a fever of 39 degrees Celsius on Thursday. He went to hospital on Friday, and on Saturday was confirmed to be infected again. He is now receiving treatment at a hospital in the prefecture. Prefectural officials plan to trace his recent activities and carry out checks of people who have had close contact with him.

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Something for our medical commentariat.

Anti-Inflammatories May Aggravate Covid-19, France Advises (G.)

French authorities have warned that widely used over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs may worsen the coronavirus. The country’s health minister, Olivier Véran, who is a qualified doctor and neurologist, tweeted on Saturday: “The taking of anti-inflammatories [ibuprofen, cortisone … ] could be a factor in aggravating the infection. In case of fever, take paracetamol. If you are already taking anti-inflammatory drugs, ask your doctor’s advice.” Health officials point out that anti-inflammatory drugs are known to be a risk for those with infectious illnesses because they tend to diminish the response of the body’s immune system.

The health ministry added that patients should choose paracetamol because “it will reduce the fever without counterattacking the inflammation”. French patients have been forced to consult pharmacies since mid-January if they want to buy popular painkillers, including ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin, to be reminded of the risks. Jean-Louis Montastruc, the head of pharmacology at Toulouse hospital, told RTL radio: “Anti-inflammatory drugs increase the risk of complications when there is a fever or infection.”

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We really need their greedy fingers in that too.

Google Says It Is Developing A Nationwide Coronavirus Website (R.)

Alphabet’s Google said on Saturday that it was working with the U.S. government to develop a nationwide website that would help Americans with questions about coronavirus symptoms, risk factors and testing. “We are fully aligned and continue to work with the U.S. government to contain the spread of COVID-19, inform citizens, and protect the health of our communities,” Google said in a statement on Twitter. President Donald Trump had thanked Google on Friday for developing a website that he said would help people determine whether they needed a coronavirus test, saying that 1,700 engineers were working on it.

That prompted the search and advertising giant to respond that, in fact, a life sciences division, Verily, was in the early stages of developing a tool to help triage Americans who may need testing for the coronavirus and that it would be tested in the Bay Area and expanded over time. Alphabet’s shares closed up more than 9% after the Friday announcement by the president. Pressure has been rising on U.S. officials to increase and improve testing for the fast-spreading virus, which has reached almost every U.S. state, closed schools and forced the cancellation of thousands of sporting events, conferences and concerts amid efforts to stop its spread by keeping Americans out of big crowds.

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But bloated corpses contain toxic and smelly gases.

Fed May Announce Commercial Paper Facilities Sunday – BofA (R.)

The Federal Reserve may announce measures on Sunday night aimed at bolstering liquidity in the commercial paper market, used by companies for short-term loans, analysts at Bank of America wrote. The bank’s analysts said they believe the Fed will announce a Commercial Paper Funding Facility, an operation previously used in 2008 in which the Fed buys commercial paper from issuers directly, and a Commercial Paper Dealer Purchase Facility in which the Fed would buy commercial paper from dealers directly. The measures, if taken, would be aimed at buffering the market ahead of potentially large outflows from money market funds in coming days, analysts at the bank wrote.

“We believe it imperative the Fed roll out these facilities on Sunday night given the looming expected prime (money market fund) outflows and necessity of their ability to sell (commercial paper) in order to raise cash,” the report said. “If the Fed waits too long the (money market fund) outflow pressure could mount and the risk of a large scale (money market fund) run could increase.” Liquidity – or the ability for buyers and sellers to easily transact – has dried up in the commercial paper market in recent weeks as the coronavirus has roiled credit markets and hit the price of commercial paper. Expectations of a rush of new issuance has also driven prices lower.

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“..the changes will result in the airline parking nearly its entire widebody fleet..”

American Airlines To Cut Nearly All Long-Haul International Flights (R.)

American Airlines on Saturday said it will implement a phased suspension of nearly all long-haul international flights starting March 16, amid reduced demand and travel restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Between March 16 and May 6, American will reduce its international capacity by 75% on a year-over-year basis, it said in a statement, adding the changes will result in the airline parking nearly its entire widebody fleet. The airline also anticipates its domestic capacity in April will be reduced by 20% on a year-over-year basis. Domestic capacity for the month of May will be reduced by 30%, the company added.

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First you bloat your company beyond proportions, then you demand your recently bloated shape is saved from normalizing.

Save people, not companies.

Virgin Atlantic Boss Seeks £7.5 Billion UK Airline Bailout (R.)

Virgin Atlantic’s chairman Peter Norris will write to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday saying the country’s airline industry needs emergency government support worth 7.5 billion pounds ($9.20 billion) or risks the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, Sky News reported on Saturday. The letter would ask the British government to provide airlines with a credit facility to help them through a potentially prolonged period of slumping revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sky News said, citing sources.

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Snowing under in the virus.

‘Euroleaks’: Varoufakis Leaks Recordings Of Secretive Eurogroup Talks (RT)

The former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, has released a cache of audio files, secretly recorded in 2015 during the bailout talks with the Eurogroup – a powerful group of eurozone’s finance chiefs.
The recordings and their transcripts were released by Varoufakis on the website of his ‘pan-European’ DiEM25 party on Saturday. The files –dubbed ‘Euroleaks’– were recorded between February and July 2015, when cash-strapped Athens was entangled in painful talks with its creditors. In 2015, Varoufakis was the chief negotiator for then-ruling Syriza party, dealing with the Eurogroup and those behind it – the so-called ‘troika.’ It comprises the three main lenders of the eurozone nations – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

While the Eurogroup is de-jure an informal group, it is actually a powerful decision-making institute that lacks accountability and transparency – and does not keep any records. The main goal in releasing the recordings is to shed light on its secretive activities, Varoufakis said in a video announcing the Euroleaks. The lenders took a tough, ‘take it or leave it’ stance on Greece, effectively presenting it with an ultimatum. At the same time, they blamed Greek negotiators for stalled talks – and no records were available to prove them wrong.

“You will hear the [then-]president of the Eurogroup [Jeroen Dijsselbloem] and other ministers warn me that if I dare table written proposals within the Eurogroup meetings, that would be the end of the negotiations,” Varoufakis said. “At the very same time they were leaking to the press that I was arriving at Eurogroup meetings without any proposals.” Apart from bringing into the limelight the “intransparent action by an unelected group of politicians who influence all our lives,” the leaks also serve another purpose. The putting in the public domain of the secret recordings is aimed at fighting attempts by the incumbent Greek government to “weaponize fake news,” produced by the Eurogroup back in 2015 to justify new austerity measures for the country, Varoufakis said.

Read more …




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Aug 052019

Odilon Redon Peyrelebade landscape 1880


It’s never easy to gauge what exactly is happening in China, or why the CCP Politburo takes the decisions it does. Today, or overnight, is no exception to that. However, one thing that appears certain, but which I don’t see reflected in all the analyses, is that Beijing pushing the value of the renminbi (yuan) down below 7 to the USD in one fell swoop, is a major setback for Xi Jinping and his government.

Yes, China may have given up hope of reaching positive conclusions in its trade talks with the US. And yes, some may think, even in China itself, that devaluing the currency is a tool that can be useful in a potential currency war. But there’s another side to this coin. It’s not even about the value itself, or the change in it, it’s the heavy-handed way it’s executed.


China wants, and desperately needs too, for the yuan to be a force in global financial markets. In very simple terms this is true because if it then wants to buy something, it can simply print the money for it. But only about 1% of global trade today is executed in yuan. That is not nearly enough. It means China needs dollars and euros, all the time. And devaluing the yuan means the country needs even more of those.

You’d almost think: why would you want to do that? What are the long-term prospects for a move like this? You’re telling forex markets that the value of the yuan is not trustworthy, because if Xi or the PBOC decides in the next five minutes that it should go up or down by 10% or 20%, they can do it. The Fed and ECB also have tools to manipulate their currencies (re: interest rates), but none of that magnitude.


The crux of the dilemma probably lies in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which I’ve been saying for years is just China’s way to sell its overcapacity and overproduction abroad. Sure, there may be loftier goals, and surely in the glitzy brochures, but the fact remains that China has tried to be an economic miracle, doing in 10 years what took the US a century, and it never slowed down its growth, at least not voluntarily, even if that might have been a wise move.

Already lately, purchases by Chinese citizens and companies of real estate and businesses abroad have been curtailed, and not a little bit, by Beijing. There’s no better way to convince Chinese people of the miracle’s success than to let them travel the world and spend there, but that, too, may well soon be cut. It kills foreign reserves.

If Beijing could charge participating countries in the Belt and Road Initiative in yuan, and they could pay for the overcapacity’s steel and cement and what not in yuan, that could be a game-changing program for the entire planet. But these countries have no reason to hold yuan, other than the BRI itself. And they, too, were watching the overnight move above 7 and must have thought: let’s be careful now.

And to top it all off, China right now needs for these countries to pay in dollars instead of yuan, because its foreign reserves are shrinking so fast. It’s Catch-22 all the way down. China’s need for dollars goes against everything BRI stands for.


Could the move hurt the US as well? Absolutely. But the long-term view behind the tariffs, and the talks China appears to have lost faith in, is to move the US away from its near all-encompassing addiction to Chinese production, and to move at least some of that production back home. Problem of course is, that is precisely what China’s miracle growth has been built on.

If the US starts bringing production home, who is Beijing going to sell its (over-)production to? Yes, I hear you, to the BRI countries. But there it runs into the currency problems mentioned before. To Europe? The top of that trade route is also behind us. Europe will have to follow the US to an extent, and also bring factories back to the continent (and not just to Germany either).

China could perhaps sell more than it does today to Russia. But that country still does produce a lot of things, and has been forced to be much more self-sufficient due to US and EU sanctions. It’s also a mighty small market compared to 350 million North Americans and 500 million Europeans, who are on average much richer than your average Russian to boot.


There is a way for China to make the yuan more important in global trade (but devaluation is definitely not that way): Beijing could let go of its central and total control over the value of its currency, and let forex markets figure it out. That would give traders -and everyone else- faith in the value. Problem with that is, this is not how central control communist governments think.

Beijing wants both: central total control AND a prominent place in world trade. And it may take them a long time to figure out that is not going to happen, unless of course they first conquer the entire world militarily. That is not an option, at least not for the foreseeable future. Come see me next century.


It wouldn’t be the first time for me to say I can see China retreat into itself, into its own borders and culture and market (1.3 billion people!). If the Communist Party wants to remain in power, and there’s no doubt it does, this may be only possible choice going forward. If growth has indeed left the miracle -as many observers think-, it can implode in very rapid succession. And even if growth hasn’t yet evaporated, it may well very soon. Without the growth, there is no miracle anymore.

And if China can no longer grow its exports, its domestic growth will also become a thing of the past. Domestic consumption can only grow as long as exports do too. Seen from that angle, the problems with trade and the currency look downright ominous. If you need dollars that badly, and you notice that you’re already getting fewer of them, not more, you’re in trouble.

Devaluing your currency may afford you some temporary respite, but it can’t possibly solve your troubles. It can make them much worse though.

I think China has wanted too much too fast, got carried away and forgot to take care of a few potential barriers to its growth, in particular the standing its currency had and still has in the world, and the grinding need for dollars that stems from it. And the Communists have no answer to this problem.





Jan 142019
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 7:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »

Johannes Vermeer The soldier and the laughing girl 1657


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Jun 292018
 June 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »

René Magritte Mysteries of the horizon (a.k.a. The Masterpiece) 1955


Don’t know if you noticed, but the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 takes place one day after the soccer World Cup final, Sunday July 15. Now it seems clear that Trump doesn’t care about soccer, though he apparently knows Christiano Ronaldo, but that factoid is significant because the World Cup takes place in Russia.

It’s amusing to contemplate that Putin told Trump’s people he would love to meet with his counterpart, but not until after the Cup Final. So they settled on the very next day.

The same people who now express worries about the summit, also had worries about the nasty things that could happen to players and supporters in Moscow and other cities. There has not been one single incident. No police violence, no hooliganism, the stadiums are beautiful, the organization is pitch perfect. There’s been only sunshine, too.

The only problem reported in the media was that some cities ran out of beer, because the Russians hadn’t expected the Aussies and British to drink as much of the stuff as Russians themselves do. They probably didn’t expect them to show up in such large numbers either. But those Russians don’t see a real problem: “we always have enough vodka”.


Patrick Lang called the fact that Trump sent uber-neocon John Bolton to Moscow to organize the summit a stroke of genius. The man who wants WWIII more than anyone must now make sure a summit that may serve to prevent it, successful. But what does Trump really want? And what do the neo-cons want?

First off, US and Russian presidents should meet all the time. It’s beyond reason that Trump has been in the saddle almost a year and a half without such a summit. Trumped up allegations of election meddling in about half the nations on the planet, about poisonings in Britain and about chemical weapons in Syria, have prevented a summit so far.

It looks like Trump got tired of all that. But of course all we’ll see the next two+ weeks is more ‘Trump is Putin’s lapdog’ memes. While there are very serious issues to be discussed. A major one, undoubtedly, is Syria. There has been a lot of movement politically on that.

The US has indicated it will no longer support the Syrian rebels. It has acknowledged that regime change, and removal of Assad, is not going to happen. Because Russia will not leave Assad to fend for himself.


There are signs that another false flag chemical attack in the country is being prepared, but if that happens before July 16, Trump himself will jump in to condemn the nonsense. He wants the meeting, and he wants it bad. As he should, and not for some nefarious reason.

Regime change in Syria is off the calendar because of Putin. Regime change in Iran, apparently still on that calendar, will also fail because while Putin may -but just may- be willing to give in, China will not. And not even a Saudi-US-UAE-Israel cabal can withstand both China AND Russia. Those days are over.

The neocons are way behind the action. They think in terms of something that has long since passed its best before date. Yeah, wonder how John Bolton sees these things these days. Maybe he had a crash course upon entering the White House.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the US warmonger faction may be outdated, they are still very powerful and very present. They can still attempt to force Trump’s hand with a false flag here or there. Their plans to conquer Russia, though, will have to be shelved for now. Or do they?

Tyler Durden has a lengthy report on the proposed spending in Europe by the US military. I won’t get into the details (tons of infrastructure spending close to Russian borders), but here’s the money shot:


The request for additional funding would more than double the military’s infrastructure projects under the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), from the 2018 request, when just a few years ago, the Pentagon was scaling back its Cold War-era footprint in Europe. According to Defense News, the EDI request increased to $6.5 billion from $4.8 billion in 2018, military construction projects in the EDI request jumped from $338 million in 2018, while pre-positioning funds soared from $2.2 billion to $3.2 billion.

The Air Force would spend roughly $368.6 million to pre-position equipment and $363.8 million for military construction projects. While the spending is almost equal to what was expensed in fiscal 2018, it is a huge jump from 2017, when the Air Force was only allotted $31.2 million in pre-positioning funds and $85.4 million for military construction.


And I know what you’re thinking: didn’t Trump say not so long ago that he wanted Europe to pay more for its own defense? Well, yes, he did, but Europe is other wise engaged, it’s now planning its own ‘army’, which can’t NOT take away from its contributions to NATO.

So Trump meets Putin on July 16, who knows all of this and a boatload more, and what’s he going to tell him? When Putin asks him about these new US ‘investments’ in Europe, what’s he going to say?

Putin will state that Russia’s military expenditures have only fallen over the past decade+, and that he doesn’t understand why the US spends that much more, because Russia’s new weapons are decades ahead of America’s. (I don’t think he’s kidding).

Of course Putin knows better then anyone that his military spending takes place for a whole different purpose than that in the US: he builds a strong defense, while America feeds its private contractors arms industry as much taxpayers’ money as it can get away with. What did the Pentagon lose track of again, was that $21 trillion?

And of course Putin knows that to an extent Trump is trapped inside the military-industrial complex Ike warned about. And that John Bolton is such a docile and eager servant of.

One thing we can be sure of is that just like the World Cup, the summit won’t be a boring event, the media will be all over it, each with their own favorite, and over half the world will follow the ‘games’. And the outcome of Helsinki is as unpredictable as that of the final in Moscow. One more thing that’s for sure: the US won’t be in that final. Not even John Bolton.



Nov 022015
 November 2, 2015  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »

RLOppenheimer New flag for EU 2015

To reiterate: People are genetically biased against change, because change means potential danger. People are also genetically biased against acknowledging this bias, because they wish to see themselves as being able to cope with both change and danger. Put together, this means that when changes come, people are largely unprepared or underprepared.

Take this beyond the bias of the individual, and apply it to that of the group (s)he belongs to, the vantage point of a society, and you find the bias multiplies and becomes self-confirming. That is, the members of the group reinforce each other’s bias. When change comes in small and gradual steps, as it mostly does, this can be said to work relatively well. When it comes in large and sudden steps, trouble ensues.

This little bit of psychology 101 may seem redundant, but it is indispensable if we wish it to recognize the implications of Europe -and the entire world with it, in its slipstream- having already entered a period of change so profound it is impossible to predict what the impact will be. We can do a lot better at this than we do today, where so far the drivers of change, and indeed the changes themselves, are ignored and/or denied.

This ignorance and denial threatens to lead to a needless increase in nationalism, fascism, violence, misery, death and warfare. If we were to acknowledge that the change is inevitable, and prepare ourselves accordingly, much of this could be avoided.

There are two main engines of change that have started to transform the Europe we think we know. First, a mass migration spearheaded by the flight of refugees from regions in the world which Europeans have actively helped descend into lethal chaos. Second, an economic downturn the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 80 years or so (think Kondratieff cycle).

Negative ideas about refugees are already shaping everyday opinion and politics in many places, and this will be greatly exacerbated by the enormous economic depression that for now remains largely hidden behind desperate sleight-of-hands enacted by central bankers, politicians and media.

People, first in Europe, then globally, will need to learn to share what they have, and do with much less. This is not optional. The refugees won’t stop coming, and neither will the depression. It would be much better if people were prepared for this by those same central bankers, politicians and media, but the opposite is happening.

It’s not only individual people who are biased against change, societies are too, and that means so are those who ‘lead’ these societies. They are all motivated, consciously or not, to resist change, because their positions and their powers depend on things remaining -largely- the same.

‘Leaders’ in Brussels and various European capitals still operate on the assumption that the refugee stream is a fleeting phenomenon they can and must stop. In a sort of positive feedback loop with their populations, this idea is continuously reinforced.

This leads to today’s reality in which at least one baby drowns every single day (and more in the past few days) off the shores of Greece, on Europe’s borders, and easily ten times as many members of their families. Moreover, the count is accelerating fast. Weather forecasts for the coming week call for Beaufort 7 winds.

There’s no society, no civilization that allows such atrocities to happen, and is not subsequently down for the count, and bound to dissolve, crumble and disappear. Societies all need common values, based on minimum levels of humanity and compassion, just to survive. And they need a whole lot more if they wish to flourish. No such values, as we see on a daily basis, exist in Europe today.

And that means it has no future – at least not in its present EU structure. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Denied and ignored as the simple fact may have been from the start, it was always clear that the European Union, if it failed to solidly unify the continent, risked becoming a force for division. And it looks as if the first real crisis the union faces will be enough to generate that division. There’s no union in sight other than in name.

Scores of people still hail Angela Merkel for her role in the refugee crisis, but they should think again. Merkel demanded the protagonist role for herself and Germany in setting if not dictating the conditions in the Greek debt negotiations over the first half of 2015, but she’s nowhere to be seen in a leading role now.

Merkel, true, has opened German doors to refugees, but she has utterly failed in expanding any such policy to the EU as a whole. And since she’s the only recognized leader in the entire union, leaving people like Hollande and Juncker far behind, she must acknowledge responsibility if things go wrong. Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to cherry-pick your challenges, it’s a package deal. Merkel cannot today act as German leader only.

But as fast increasing numbers of refugees and their children are drowning in the Aegean, in an act of supreme cynicism Merkel last week went to China to sell Volkswagens and weapons, as well to talk about… human rights. That is to say, the human rights of Chinese people. Not those of the refugees making their way to Europe, who apparently don’t even have the right to safe passage.

It’s that safe passage that must be Europe’s first and main concern right now, not how to stop people from coming. There are many voices clamoring for the ‘Evros fence’, built by Greece three years ago on a stretch of land on its border with Turkey, to be opened, so the drownings stop.

This would seem to be a good first step to halt would should by now be labeled a refugee disaster, rather than crisis. But it’s a step that could have been taken months ago, and the fact that it hasn’t even after Merkel visited Turkey recently, doesn’t bode well. Tsipras is set to visit Turkey this week in the wake of Erdogan’s election victory yesterday, but Tsipras may not get the green light from Berlin to tear down the fence.

The best thing would perhaps be for ordinary people to organize themselves into a large group, 10,000+, travel to Evros, and tear down the fence themselves, rather than wait for politicians to do it. Perhaps the time to rely on others, politicians or otherwise, to do things, has passed.

The world has seen mass migrations before, numerous times, and Europe sure has had its share. The manner is which these migrations take place typically depends to a large extent on people’s human values and their willingness to share their wealth. What’s happening with Syrian refugees today bears some eery resemblances to the boats carrying Jewish refugees prior to WWII that were refused in many ports. Let’s not go there again.

Refugees almost always make a positive contribution to the country they resettle in, both economically and in other ways. We know that, just like we know many other things. But that doesn’t lead our reactions, fear does. And the more wealth people have, the more they seem to fear losing it.

I’ve quoted before how the German federal police warned Merkel at least 8 months ago that a million refugees would be at the country’s doorstep. And that nothing was done with this knowledge for about half a year, leaving Germany woefully unprepared when the warning turned out to be correct.

UN Geneva Director General Michael Moller puts the warning even further into the past; he says EU leaders were told about it at least two years ago.

Refugee Crisis Was Not Unexpected, Top UN Official Says

Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva, Denmark’s Michael Moller, expresses optimism that the agency’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) will help toward ending extreme poverty but he has no illusions about the refugee crisis[..]

“The crisis we have today, we knew it was going to happen. The leaders of Europe were told it was going to happen at least two years ago. So a little prevention and a little preparation in terms of the narrative to their voters would have gone a long way.”

“This very negative, xenophobic and frankly racist narrative that we’re seeing in many countries, including my own country – I don’t recognize my own country – is unacceptable [..] one of the things that I find very puzzling is that there’s some sort of global amnesia going on. In the early 80s we had pretty much the same problem in Southeast Asia, with much bigger numbers of boat people.

It took a while and then someone decided we must deal with it in a more rational way and they came up with a plan of action which was the product of an international conference where international solidarity kicked in in a much broader way than now. Then we put in place a whole series of measures in a way that minimized the pain and over seven years we resettled 2.5 million people. I don’t see why we can’t take a page or two or three out of that book. To me what’s happening isn’t a European problem, it’s an international problem.

[Washington] are evolving as well. First of all, the number [of refugees the US would accept] was 10,000 but now they’ve upped it to 100,000. I’ve talked to some of the politicians.

[..] looking at this crisis as an isolated incident doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. We are going to have more of these things and a lot worse. The moment climate refugee problems kick in we are going to be in real trouble, unless we sit down globally and figure out structures and ways to deal with this in the future. Not to reinvent the wheel every damn time that happens, but to rethink completely the humanitarian system, because I guarantee you that it will happen again.

The refugee disaster is only the first step in a long and multi-pronged process of profound change in the lives of all citizens of -formerly- rich countries. And if we collectively screw up step 1 as badly as we have and still do, what’s going to happen when our economies fall to pieces? When our alleged ‘financial security’ crumbles, our pensions, our benefits?

Are we going to blame it all on the refugees, and vote in right wing simpletons? Too many of us undoubtedly will. Whether there’s enough decency to counter that is a toss-up. What is not is that the numbers of refugees will keep rising at the same time that our economies keep sinking.

It’s up to us, wherever we live in the world, to find the best way to deal with it. We have a choice in how we react to these developments, not in whether they happen or not.

Sep 232015
 September 23, 2015  Posted by at 2:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma 1936

At the moment I start writing this, leaders of European nations are in a meeting in which they talk about refugees that, though it was announced over a week ago, was nevertheless labeled an ’emergency’ meeting. The only thing that truly tells you is that Europe still refuses to see the refugee situation as an emergency. And that’s not just semantics.

Of course there’ll be all sorts of bickering about the difference between migrants and refugees, and tons of words about how “we” should separate the two, and send people back, and strengthen European borders, and fight the human smugglers. None of which addresses reality, or at least at best a tiny sliver of it.

“Smugglers” are not the problem, it’s the people they “smuggle” that are. Or perhaps we should turn that around and admit that in fact it’s the European leaders who are the problem. It’s they who lack any courage or vision, or even a basic understanding of what is going on.

Angela Merkel has gotten a lot of accolades when she opened Germany’s borders to Syrians, even though that only lasted a few days. But people seem to forget that she is Europe’s most powerful politician, and that makes her responsible for a lot of the drowned children who lose their lives on a daily basis in a small stretch of the Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.

Merkel should have acted much faster. She’s just as culpable as all the other jokers in Brussels and various EU capitals. They all were, and still are, hoping this issue would go away by itself. Instead, the issue has only just started, and the whole continent is woefully unprepared to this day.

German paper Die Welt ran a story this weekend (in German) that detailed how Merkel and her government were warned in Q1 by the German federal police (Bundespolizei) that a million refugees would be coming to Germany in 2015. And did nothing. The paper didn’t provide a precise date, but Q1 ended close to 6 months ago, so we know Merkel et al could have acted on this information -and prepared- at least half a year ago.

Have they? Given the chaos that developed within a few days of allowing refugees to enter the country, our money’s on a resounding NO. So those portraits we’ve seen with Angela dressed up as Mother Teresa can now be filed away as ludicrous.

The outcome of today’s meeting is very easy to predict. There will be promises of millions of dollars, and of saddling Greece and Italy with huge camps to house refugees in, far away from whoever is either too comfortable or too right-wing to deal with Europe’s new reality.

There will be nothing in writing that comes even close to what is needed, neither financially nor in practical terms. All politicians will feel free to pander to, and hide behind, their bigoted populations.

These talks should have taken place at least half a year ago. That might have saved children’s – and adults’- lives both in the meantime and in the future. That nothing of true value happened between the moment Merkel got her warning and last week’s announcement of this week’s “emergency” meeting not only tells you all you need to know about Merkel and her peers, it also is certain to both have made matters worse and to continue doing so going forward.

There is precious little to be expected from Europe’s leadership, because there is so little of it. They all like the power but skirt the responsibility. The EU apparently seeks to charge 14 nations with 19 cases of violating EU asylum treaties, but countries like Croatia and Hungary were so unprepared for what happened to them, this could only have led to panic and fences and police dogs. It’s a miracle nobody shot a whole bunch of refugees. Yet.

It could all have been prevented if Merkel had decided not to shelve that warning from her federal police force, and instead had called a high level summit then and there. But she was too busy whipping Greece into submission, and hoping, as all other did, that one morning it would all prove to have been a bad dream.

One would suspect that French secret services also had information on what was to come, but François Hollande is a dunce who spends his time counting votes and reading polls. David Cameron would probably prefer to drown and/or shoot that ‘swarm’, and the other heads of state either don’t count for much in terms of population numbers or elect to keep their mouths shut lest they risk the next election.

If Europe’s leaders don’t tackle the issue now, and in an effective way, we risk, with a likelihood bordering on certainty, much worse than we have seen so far. The refugees will not stop coming to Europe. But with autumn now on the doorstep, their journeys will become much more perilous, and deadly.

Europe is set to change, and in very sweeping ways. That cannot be altered. What can be done is to treat refugees like they are human beings, whose lives matter the way German and French lives matter.

Moreover, if Merkel had called that EU meeting in early spring, she would rapidly have concluded that it was not enough. That this is not a European problem. Very few of the refugees, after all, are European. It is, therefore, a global problem. And there is a political body to deal with those, the UN. Merkel would have called a UN meeting long ago if only she had called that EU meeting first.

Why the UN itself hasn’t even opened its mouth, other than to chide Europe, is a mystery. It’s on a fast track to becoming redundant.

The US has announced it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees – who may take two years to be processed. For perspective: in the space of just three hours this morning, 2,500 arrived on the island of Lesbos alone. The US cannot deny its share of the blame for causing the crisis. It can still, however, start acting in a humane fashion.

Not like Hollande and Cameron whose main target today is increased bombing of the very places the refugees are fleeing from, not providing them with asylum away from those places.

The refugee question should be the top priority in the talks Obama has with the Pope in America in the next few days. As it should be in the meeting(s) with Chinese president Xi Jinping, who’s also in the country. But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen. It’ll be a sidenote at best.

Merkel has a narrow window to right her wrongs, and it’s closing fast. If she doesn’t act now, we’ll see Europe’s lack of humanity and abundance of disgrace bared even more, and increasingly so.

There will be blood.

Sep 032015
 September 3, 2015  Posted by at 5:30 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  10 Responses »


This is a rerun of an article I wrote on August 10, 2012. It seems to have regained quite a bit of relevance in recent days. I was thinking earlier today, how can I write about finance when Europe continues to offend people’s, and humanity’s, most basic dignity the way it does, but it does. It gets more incomprehensible by the hour, what happens there. But it does.

So here’s a different view, 50+ years old, of what Europe could, and perhaps should, have been, instead of the sad and amoral place it has become. Just for perspective.

One note: Freddy Heineken would never have allowed for toddlers to drown. He was not that kind of man. He would have sent in all he could to prevent more suffering. Europe no longer seems to have than kind of man. Or woman. No leadership, no vision, no humanity. No nothing.

Just about everyone will recognize the family name. Fewer will be familiar with the man behind it. But Alfred (Freddy) Heineken was an interesting man regardless. Starting in 1941, he took over the family firm founded by his grandfather, bought back shares and never looked back. Freddy built the Heineken brand into one of the best marketed ones in the world for any product, and today, 10 years after his death, it is still in the very top of world breweries.

But Heineken didn’t just think about beer. When the European Union was formed, he devoted time to letting his light shine on that project too (Heineken was a known Europhile). What he brought to the table was that, of course, he knew Europe well, from his own unique personal business experience. He oversaw, hands on, not just sales, but also marketing in all the different European languages and cultures.

Heineken didn’t trust that the European Union would work the way it was proposed – and eventually organized -. According to him, if Europe were to be a success, it would have to be divided in far smaller units than the nation states that had been formed post-WWII.

It’s reminiscent a little of Joel Garreau’s “Nine Nations of North America”, published in 1981. I don’t know if Heineken knew the book, but given his overall curiosity and his wide array of contacts with business leaders, politicians and artists all over the world (Heineken was a very wealthy man), it wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, his vision is based on completely different ideas than Garreau’s.

For those who are not familiar with Garreau’s work, here’s a map of how he “envisioned” North America:

Garreau divided the continent into units that he thought would be most coherent from the point of view of culture, political ideals and economic interests. Interesting notions, and a good book to pick up.

Back to Heineken, who would have found Garreau’s units far too sizeable for his liking. He was thinking along the lines of optimally manageable untis.

Immediately after the 1992 Maastricht Treaty saw European nations sign away the first real chunks of sovereignty, Freddy Heineken published his pamphlet The United States of Europe (A Eurotopia?), written with Dutch historians Henk Wesseling and Wim van den Doel. The underlying idea here is that the individual units (statelets) should have no more than 5-10 million inhabitants.

Philip Ebels revoked the idea in an article written for EU Observer last week:

For the United Statelets of Europe

[..] If the EU was considered a country, it would be seventh on the list of biggest countries and third on the list by population size. And, as officials in Brussels never tire of repeating, first on the list of biggest economies.

The time is [..] gone when people were ignorant and obedient. The time when they did not annoy their leaders with demands of transparency, efficiency, democracy and accountability.

Technological progress has always led to political turbulence, often at the expense of those in power. The Internet, just like the printing press before, gives people access to information and the power to create and distribute, undermining establishments everywhere – not only in the Arab world.

That is why states are doing what they need to accommodate an ever more demanding and emancipated people: decentralise. The UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy: all have passed down powers over the last couple of decades. The closer the power, the more transparent, efficient, democratic and accountable it is.

Everything which has a function, one could argue, has an optimal size. A pen can be bigger or smaller, you still need to be able to use it. The European welfare state has multiple functions. It needs to protect its territory from outside, uphold the rule of law, provide healthcare, education, take care of the roads and the forests and – to a more or lesser degree – distribute wealth.

The problem is that each of those functions has its own optimal size and that, as the world continues to change, they continue to diverge. The result is not that the state does not work anymore – it just does not work very well. Like a pen as big as a broom or as small as a splinter – you might still be able to use it, but it is not very practical.

It is a trend that will continue as long as technology continues to progress. China and other rising giants will continue to rise; the ruled will continue to undermine their rulers. And then there will come a day – or has it come already? – that the European states of today do more harm than good [..]

Heineken called it “Eurotopia” – a contraction of Europe and utopia. He was well aware of the skepsis the idea would garner. But radical times call for radical measures. And the way things are going, I prefer utopia over dystopia.

Here’s a nice version of Heineken’s map:


More background comes from Peter Jan Margry in 2008:

Memorialising Europe: Revitalising and Reframing a ‘Christian’ Continent

“(…) Heineken was convinced of the positive consequences of this process of the decay of centralism in favour of a Eurotopia as he called it. Immediately after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 many were already afraid of a Europe that was becoming too large and too powerful, despite the fact that, as an antidote for this, a representational Committee of the Regions had been included in the Treaty in order to weaken these tendencies and, at the same time, answer the call for more regional autonomy.

Initially, as a hypothetical response to this, Heineken went public with his plan for a United States of Europe. This involved a union composed of 75 independent states, created on the basis of political, historical, linguistic, cultural and ethnic affinities and sensitivities. Taking cultural differences into account in precisely this way would strengthen Europe as an entity. Although nothing was ever done politically as a consequence of this idealistic proposal, the underlying analysis is not inconsistent with developments in the years that followed – on the contrary.

The proposed decentralization and federalizing of Europe on the basis of smaller geographic units proceeded from the central idea that it would prevent conflicts and promote stability and equality. This assumption was based, on the one hand, on the theory of the British historian C. Northcote Parkinson that smaller national units could be less centralized, more efficient and therefore more stable, and, on the other hand, on the thesis of the Austrian sociologist Leopold Kohr (1957) that ‘bigness is a problem’. In effect, both embroider [Denis] de Rougemont’s initial preference for a regionalized, federalist Europe.

As early as the late 1960s, as a result of the European Communities, a process of growing regional autonomy had slowly got under way. The converging supranational and diverging national forces would, it was supposed, bring Europe more to its ‘natural state’, preserving the various regional identities. Because of regionalist tendencies the nation-state network was breaking down, and within various member states regions were gaining far-reaching autonomy.

According to an almost apodictic commentary in The Economist, if the logic for splitting up Czechoslovakia could be carried through, then there was all the more reason that the same should be done in Belgium, with its even greater language and economic divisions. Meanwhile, Spain fears the regional autonomy claimed by the Basques and Catalans, while France has to deal with a Corsican struggle for autonomy; similar claims are made by the Scots, Hungarian minorities throughout the Balkans, and so on.”

So why all this attention for a billionaire beerbrewer’s spare time activities? The answer lies in those last lines. “Spain fears the regional autonomy claimed by the Basques and Catalans, while France has to deal with a Corsican struggle for autonomy; similar claims are made by the Scots, Hungarian minorities throughout the Balkans, and so on.”

The map of Heineken’s utopia could quite feasibly serve as the blueprint for a dystopia. When the financial crisis starts to bite for real, and it will, count on it, it appears inevitable that nations and/or parts of nations begin preparing for independence. There are plenty of regions in Europe that hang on as parts of larger entities only for economic reasons. When these reasons no longer exist, appeals for separation will become louder.

It won’t be a coherent movement, far from it. It will be chaotic. But there seems to be no way that certain regions will not fall prey to populists, nationalists, and in general the resurrection of age-old ideas that never disappeared, but that simply lay dormant under a thin veneer of riches.

Why would the Catalans or the Basques elect to continue to be a part of Spain, when the government in Madrid has nothing to offer but empty coffers? Why would they let others decide for them when that brings them no economic advantages? Any charismatic leader might convince them that they would be better off as a separate unit. And that leader might be right to boot.

Why should the Scots remain in the United Kingdom? And what might happen in for instance Galicia, Silesia, Moravia, regions that have seen many different rulers in recent history only? What ancient cultural, religious or other divides will rise to the surface all over again?

It is not at all imaginary that regions want (back) their independence. And neither is it that borders between regions will be contested, that people will be told that only warfare will be sufficient to show “those over there”, who committed untold horrible if not unspeakable atrocities an untold number of years ago, that now is the time to avenge the ancestors who died to defend the land they now live on.

For obvious reasons, we call this scenario the Balkanization of Europe.

It will not develop exactly along the lines and borders that Freddy Heineken saw as desirable. But we may well one day think back of that map, and not for the reasons Heineken meant it for. I think along those lines on a regular basis when I see the likes of Monti, Draghi and Rajoy present their grandiose plans to save the union, and their place in it, far more costly than any can afford, as it’s sinking ever deeper into its overwhelming debt morass.

Aug 312015
 August 31, 2015  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Farm family fleeing OK drought for CA, car broken down, abandoned Aug 1936

Perhaps Angela Merkel thought we didn’t yet know how full of it she is. Perhaps that’s why she said yesterday with regards to Europe’s refugee crisis that “Everything must move quickly,” only to call an EU meeting a full two weeks later. That announcement show one thing: Merkel doesn’t see this as a crisis. If she did, she would have called for such a meeting a long time ago, and not some point far into the future.

With the death toll approaching 20,000, not counting those who died entirely anonymously, we can now try to calculate and predict how many more will perish in those two weeks before that meeting will be held, as well as afterwards, because it will bring no solution. Millions of euros will be promised which will take time to be doled out, and further meetings will be announced.

But the essence remains that Europe doesn’t want a real solution to the crisis. That’s why Merkel refuses to acknowledge it as one. The only solution Europe wants is for the refugees to miraculously stop arriving on its shores. If more people have to drown to make that happen, Berlin and Brussels and London and Paris are fine with that.

If those who make it must be humiliated by not making basic needs available, by letting them walk dozens if not hundreds of miles in searing heat, then the so-called leaders are fine with that too.

Europe needs leadership but it has none. Zero. At the exact moment that it is time for all alleged leaders to stop talking about money, and start talking about human lives. It’s matter of priorities, and everything Europe has done so far points to nobody in charge having theirs straight.

That goes for Greece too: Tsipras, Varoufakis, all of them, need to stop campaigning on money issues, and direct their attention towards lives lost. That may well lead to a Grexit not on financial grounds, but on humanitarian ones. And those are much better grounds on which to leave Europe. Get your priorities straight.

Europe needs to, first, meet tomorrow morning and engage in immediate action to facilitate humane treatment of all refugees. And then it needs to call subsequent meetings at the highest levels to look at the future of this crisis. Not doing this guarantees an upcoming disaster the scope of which nobody can even imagine today.

The media focus on a truck in Austria where 70 human beings died, and on a handful of children somewhere who were more dead than alive when discovered. These reports take away from the larger issue, that there are dozens such cases which remain unreported, where there are no camera’s present and no human interest angle to be promoted that a news outlet thinks it can score with.

Brussels and Berlin must throw their energy and their efforts at ameliorating the circumstances in the countries the refugees are fleeing. They need to acknowledge the role they have played in the destruction of these countries. But the chances of any such thing happening are slim to none. Therefore countries like Greece and Italy must draw their conclusions and get out, or they too will be sucked down into the anti-humanitarian vortex that the EU has become.

Europe needs to look at the future of this crisis in very different ways than it is doing now. Or it will face far bigger problems than it does now.

Italy’s Corriere della Sera lifted part of the veil when it said last week (Google translation):

The desperation of millions of human beings, manipulated by traffickers and by terrorist groups is also an instrument of disintegration of the countries of origin and of destabilization of the host countries.

It is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next twenty years. Of these, at least 200 million are young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.

That is the future. It will no more go away by itself, and by ignoring it, than the present crisis, which, devastating as it may be, pales in comparison. Europe risks being overrun in the next two decades. And as things stand, it has no plans whatsoever to deal with this, other than the military, and police dogs, barbed wire, tear gas, fences and stun grenades.

This lack of realism on both the political and the humane level will backfire on Europe and turn it into a very unpleasant place to be, both for Europeans and for refugees. Most likely it will turn the entire continent into a warzone.

The only solution available is to rebuild the places in Syria and Libya et al that the refugees originate from, and allow them to live decent lives in their homelands. If Brussels, and Washington, fail to realize this, things will get real ugly. We haven’t seen anything yet.

At present, it is as impossible for Greece and Italy to define their own policies on the refugee issue as it is on their economic policy. They will be drawn down with the rest of the continent if they allow the EU to take charge of either issue, but the most important one today is the refugee crisis.

Stop talking about money, start talking about people. Or you will desperately regret it in the years to come. Consider yourselves warned.